|Phantasy Star Online Episode III: Card Revolution|
Original Box Art
Phantasy Star Online EP3 is a turn based RPG video game that was first released for the Gamecube in 2003. It has a card based play style, making it unique among the series. The story takes place twenty-one years after the first two episodes.
Games are played either against computer players or against real-world players, using a customizable deck of exactly 30 cards. In the offline story mode, players fight against computer controlled opponents to unlock new missions and advance the story. In the online mode players battle each other under customizable settings. There is also an offline free battle mode, which allows multiplayer battles for up to four players offline. Battles are turn-based and take place on a grid of varying size. During their turn, players can activate cards from their deck to equip weapons, summon monsters and attack the enemy. Cards can also be used during the opponent's turn to defend against their attacks. A dice roll at the beginning of each turn determines how many actions can be taken in a single turn. The battle ends when one player has lost all their hit points. After each battle, the player receives new cards to use in their deck. More cards are received if the battle was won.
Players can choose to play as either the Hunters (heroside) or Arkz (darkside) in battle. They must also choose one of 12 characters from each side, each with varying special abilities and hit points. The two sides fight in different ways. Heroside players fight by equipping weapons, mags (small flying robots which augment the character's abilities) and shields, whilst darkside players have only one set weapon, and use their decks to summon creatures to attack for them. For both sides there is a limit to how many cards can be in play. More powerful cards use up more of this limit than weaker ones. A battle ends when one side either depletes the deck or hit points of the other side. Many of the weapons, mags, techniques and creatures available are the same as those found in Episodes I and II.
When not in battle, the player controls a customizable commander character on board pioneer 2. During offline play, the player can customize decks, interact with computer characters to discover information about the plot, and choose which battle to fight next. Online, the character is used to interact with other online players to arrange battles and tournaments.
To play the game online, a GameCube modem or broadband adapter is needed. To play using the official server requires the purchase of a 30-day "Hunter's licence". The same licence can be used to play Episodes I and II, as well as Episode III. On April 1, 2007, the official Sega server for online play was shut down. This was a sad day for everyone.
In Phantasy Star Online Episodes I and II, the spaceship Pioneer 2 arrived at the uninhabited planet Ragol in hopes of colonization in response to the failing ecosystem of the home planet Coral. In Episode III, Pioneer 2 remains in orbit above Ragol, but still has not begun colonization. The inner strife of the government of Pioneer 2, which has since gained independence from Coral, in addition to the exploitation of the planet's resources prevent colonization.
The government of Pioneer 2 also hopes to exploit "the germ", a mysterious substance discovered on the planet, which they use to power the newly developed "C.A.R.D. technology", which is used to store items such as weapons as cards and allow them to be used much more efficiently. C.A.R.D. is an acronym for "compressed alternate reality data". The game can be played as either the "Heroside" or the "Darkside". The "Heroside" are government-appointed officials, who take orders from the government to explore, research, and capture the Arkz, an anti-government faction. The "Darkside" are the Arkz, founded by a man known only as Red. The Arkz try to intercept and destroy the government's plans for the exploitation of the planet. They also oppose the use of C.A.R.D. technology due to its unpredictability and the lack of complete understanding of the germ. They still, however, use a stolen version of the technology in order to be able to compete with Heroside. Both sides also search for the location of the "Great Shadow", which is believed to be the source of the germ.
Within the two factions, each character has their own goals and aspirations, and playing as certain characters in battle will reveal different aspects of the story. When both sides of the story are completed, one after another, it is discovered that the government, while experimenting with the germ for clone technology, is attempting to create bio-soldiers with the genetic material of Red's deceased twin daughters. The final boss for Heroside is a rejected mutated clone of Pollux. The final boss for Darkside is a rejected mutated clone of the other twin, Castor. After completing the storylines and their boss battles, there is a final battle with the source of the germ, Amplam Umbra. Once the source is destroyed, Pioneer 2 finally lands on Ragol, and the colonization of the planet begins.
A history of Phantasy Star Online Episode III On Schtserv, as written by Kayak:
Schtserv was started in 2004, however this was not the start of Episode 3. In fact, PSO EPIII was the first game Schthack ever paid sega to play online. He recorded some of his own logs to at least get the basic game functionality working. He couldn't get anything complex working however because of his lack of cards. Luckily, Sega made the brilliant decision to make the last month of the server free to everyone. (March 2007) The other logs that we have were taken by various people during that month.
To my knowledge, there was a team of people working on things once Sega's server went down, but they gave up due to the lack of knowledge regarding the massive packets Episode III sent to the player. EPIII was the first game that sega made that was mainly controlled by the server, so unlike EP1&2, it was much harder to get it working. Schthack made a design choice to program scripts into the server so that he didn't have to program every single ability. These scripts are still used today, however, some abilities are being removed from there and being hard coded into the server instead because of the nature in which they work.
Fast Forward to 2012, a few years after Schthack gave ownership of the server to Crono. Myself and Eyce confronted Crono about doing some programming with EPIII. I ended up donating $20 to him so he could have a Gamecube and do some testing on his end. (This was before the advent of playing on the wii and PC online) We actually ended up getting quite a bit done improving things through the scripting and coding a few new functions into the server as well (with help from Schthack). But alas, we couldn't get any further because of Crono's lack of programming knowledge in relation to the game, so the project was abandoned for the time being.
Fast Forward to 2016, when Schtserv came back from a lengthy crash.(About a year or more) Luckily, he still had all the EP3 work we had done, but future support for the game was uncertain. I proposed to the staff to continue doing work, and I mentioned that I still had the old sega logs which would help going forward. Luckily for everyone who plays EPIII, Schthack was now the admin again for the server. This meant that we had a real shot of getting things in a better working state. Eyce even came forward and gave what files he had when he was doing work with Crono in 2012.
In May of 2016, Schthack basically rewrote the core code of the server for EPIII. In the beginning, this broke many things but was expected. After about 2+ weeks of play testing, we had the functionality back to where it was before, but quality of play was much higher. Over the next couple months, development continued and many abilities that never worked previously began working. For the first time in about 10 years you could even use the spectate battle function, which doesn't work anywhere else. These were exciting times for Episode 3. Development once again however ceased for a few years due to real life stuff getting in the way for all of us.
January 2019, I once again confronted Schthack about doing Episode 3 work again, and he was more than happy to do so. His knowledge on the packets of the game was greatly improved than before, so the actual sega logs became a lot more useful. I was even given a tool to look for cards in the sega logs that weren't working. This allowed me to find several packet related abilities, like status effects. We've gotten a few of them working, as well as many other things that were previously impossible due to the nature of how the packets are. Going forward, things look bright. Schthack is confident we can get the rest of the broken abilities (50 as of 1/25/2019) working in a few months of solid work. (Although, we will be taking a break soon) Luckily, we have a good size support group willing to test things when fixes are applied. I look forward to the day where I can write in here saying that every ability works. Hopefully we see that day in 2019.