Diplomacy 2000
The Game of Skill and Cunning Negotiation in Cyberspace

by Nic Chilton

reprinted with permission from The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,
the only corner-stapled WebZine

A storm is about to whip up in Japan with news of the impending release of Diplomacy 2000, the new multi-player Internet plug-in game for the Super-VR Computer Console. Console owners will be able to don their cyber-visors and not only immerse themselves in the 3D Cyberspace of the Global Computer Web, but engage in a game of international intrigue with players from around the world. Computer suppliers and games players in the United States and Europe will be avidly watching the Japanese release to predict how it will go down when it gets its western release next year. It seems a whole new generation of games players are about to be introduced to the world of Diplomacy.

Diplomacy 2000 was developed as a continuation of Avalon Hill's policy of releasing computerised versions of their board games. What makes this game different is that it their first game to be released on the Super-VR, and what a game. The Super-VR's main selling point was the ability to allow users to fly around the Global Computer Web in three dimensions in practically real time. The special rendering hardware of the Super-VR and its built-in 3D model database ensure it can work reliably over standard ISDN, and even the 28.8k modems still in use. The game cleverly uses the models to create a three dimensional board and pieces, as well as full body representations of the seven leaders. You can invite other players into secret rooms, pull up maps out of mid-air, and see the outcome of different scenarios with the press of a button. They have even built in a games hall where you can arrange to meet others, post announcements for new games, see what games are about to start, or just hang around. This is one monster of a game, and Avalon Hill seem to have chosen the perfect company in CyberWave, to do justice to a classic board game.

The Review

We have got hold of a pre-release PROM version that is loaned out to games testers and reviewers, and I can tell you it has caused quite a stir in the office - I have never seen so many people simultaneously offer to work over the weekend without pay! Still, it was very useful to help me examine the multi-player capabilities when compiling this review for you, which I am sure you are anxious to hear. To start off with I will examine the different components that make the game and then look at the overall feeling the game presents.

The Interface

The games interface makes good use of the Super-VR effectors (the cyber-visor head mounted display and a wired cyber-glove that links your real hand to your virtual one) that comes with the console that allows you to fully experience flying over landscapes or sitting in virtual rooms. The cyber-visor allows you to view the game world in three dimensional stereo (since it has a screen for each eye) and its built in headphones and microphone allow you to communicate, whether secretly to one player in the corner of the room or to everyone in the Game Hall. Every player in the game has their own virtual body (chosen from one of the hundreds built in into the machine), so if you look down whilst wearing your cyber-visor you will see a pair of feet! The cyber-glove, which you can wear on either hand (since they have included an option for handedness!) is connected to your virtual hand in the game. This way you can pick up objects or choose options from the pop up menu, including a 3D keyboard to type in your orders away from prying eyes!

The Diplomacy Room map

This is the place where you play the game, and undoubtedly where most of you want to go to. The room is very simple in its design, and isn't really a 'room'. It is a big black space with a three dimensional version of the Diplomacy map at its centre. This is all you really need since during a game you will either be concentrating on the map or off negotiating with other players. During the game I played all seven players floated around the edges of the board, with the Games Master appearing just before each deadline to ask for orders. The Games Master is not a real person, but part of the program. There is a built in option to allow a real person to play the role, though I do not know if this will be used in practice.

The Games Hall

This will undoubtedly be the busiest place in the game, since it is the place you arrive at when you start a session. Many people will go straight off to games, but I do not doubt that others will stay around to meet new people and join in discussions. The hall itself, is a large building set in the middle of park land. There are various activities going on in the different areas of the hall: in one corner there are master classes where people new to diplomacy can learn tactics, which is next to the debating club discussing a variety motions; in another is the new games testing ground where you can try out new games before they are on general release. There are a whole variety of other areas in the building, but since these can change (the game has been designed to be very fluid) depending on the participants, then I will not describe them here. This is one of the beauties of the game since it gives it a life of its own, and you will wander around the grounds to see what's new. This game is far more than Diplomacy in 3D, its a whole new environment, a global convention that goes on 24 hours a day and 365 days a year! You can join and leave, as many times you like, and for as often as you like. Its flexibility allows you to be completely spontaneous, so if you have a board game you would like to play, then bring it along I am sure there will be many people from around the globe who would like to play it too. I for one will be spending many a weekend there.
wandering dip room

Some History behind Diplomacy 2000's development

Diplomacy was a board game that was first published back in 1958, and then later published by its current owners Avalon Hill. The game was played "over the board", and postally by sending orders through the land mail system. In the early 1990's it enjoyed a small renaissance in the United States with the establishment of electronic mail Diplomacy. This was never that substantial with the youth in the late 1980's and early 1990's more interested in high detailed, computer intensive, computer games. The tide started to change in the mid-1990's when games players bored with the low level of artificial intelligence of computer games started demanding multi-player games with real opponents. Games were developed that allowed the use of dial-up Modems and computer Local Area Networks to add challenge and an extra dimension to computer games. These included Civ-Net and Deathmatch Doom, which built on the single human player games of Civilisation and Doom. Although these games were only on the Personal Computers, the potential was seen, and the first Internet ready console came out in 1996, that could plug straight into a normal analogue phone socket. From then on computer games would never be the same. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of games players loved the idea of multi-player strategic games where you had to make diplomatic negotiations with real opponents. This spawned the idea for Diplomacy-2000. Research showed that the demand for such a game would be astronomical. The reaction by games players in the far east have proven this. It looks like once again Diplomacy will take the world of games players by storm, but never before has the world market been so large, or so accessible.

Nic Chilton

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