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SVC/Staff Influence on Methodology

The influence that Stephen V. Cole and his SFB Staff has had on the way that games are made today.

Marc Michalik, Blogger

April 29, 2016

6 Min Read

Stephen V. Cole created the organization that is today known as the "Star Fleet Battles Staff" in 1978.  Originally, it was called the "Rules Committee", and was the group of advisers that made the second "Designer's Edition" of the game.  Steve Cole made the original "Pocket Edition" without the assistance of a design staff.  The "Rules Committee" operated through the US mail.  Almost as soon as the capability existed, Steve Cole moved his adviser group's activity online to the General Electric Network Information Exchange (GEnie) which made communication between himself and his advisers much more efficient, which in turn allowed him to have a larger group of advisers.  The half-dozen or so original "Rules Committee" members were immortalized as simply "The Committee" and the name of his advisory group changed to the "Star Fleet Battles Staff".  Including the Rules Committee, this organization has existed and continuously worked on all of the games of the Star Fleet Universe for nearly 40 years now.  It is the original group of such advisers, the model for the process by which modern games are made today.  This is why many fans of SVC and his SFU consider him to be "the father of modern game design".  Because it is somewhat obvious that he actually is, and just doesn't get the credit for it.  Credit that SVC would never seek for himself, as he is a humble man out of his time, of a different era than we live in today.  Things like modesty and honor are far more important too him than our generation is really even able to understand.  I think the fact that as part of the process of updating the SFU wiki I had to send SVC an E-Mail asking him not to erase what I have added, because otherwise he almost surely would have, speaks volumes to this point.

Some, like myself, even consider the broad-reaching SFB rulebook to be a kind-of game design bible that is, more often than not, applicable to game design in general in addition to being the rules of the most massive and most complex game ever conceived.  The "great grandfather" of so many things that are today so loved and admired in games across most, if not all, genres.

There have always been many ways for SFU players to have their names published within the game, often in "Captain's Log", a Star Fleet Universe magazine that has been in print since the early 1980's.  Placing high in tournaments, having term papers published (tactical essays where most of the named tactics and concepts, such as The Gorn Anchor or The Kaufman Retrograde, of the SFU originated), getting scenarios published, or a few other ways.  All players were listed by at least a "rank" (special ranks could be earned, a previously unknown player was a "Cadet") and "ship" (USS... and their location by state or nation).  So, even before the days of Windows 95 and the internet being in wide use, the SFU community was connected with each other, and many knew of each other and their achievements within the SFU.  They were every bit the same in these regards as a modern gaming community of today long before they had the tools to make that an easy thing to do.  They were also a far more serious group of people than their distant descendants of today that are used by the modern game industry when they make games.  Many, if not most, members of the SFB Staff have some type of alphabet soup associated with their names.  They either were, or went on to become... doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, game designers, and military officers.  

New World Computing was essentially born of the SFB Staff.  NWC was founded by a group of SFB Staff members and known aces, led by 1986 SFB National Champion Jon "Top Phaser" Van Caneghem.  I would imagine that JVC still displays his "Gold Hat" prominently somewhere in his home or office to this day.

The SFB Staff was also the driving force behind the only sanctioned tournament system for a game that had ever actually come near rivaling the World Chess Federation in it's size and scope, until the recent boom in "e-sports".  Each staff member, of course, played with a local group of friends that served as a single isolated playtest group from Steve Cole's perspective.  Most of these groups included a sanctioned tournament judge that would run either an annual, or more often bi-annual, local tournament.  A winner of a local sanctioned tournament (at least 16-player single elimination run by a sanctioned judge) earned a "Rated Ace" card, and multiple Rated Ace cards could be achieved over the course of a players tournament career.  Other players in locations that did not have any SFB Staff present also emulated this and ran their own local tournaments, you didn't have to be a staff member to become a sanctioned tournament judge.  During the "glory days" of the SFB Tournament system tournaments were held all over the world on a regular basis with the 256-player single-elimination "Super Bowl of the Star Fleet Universe" held annually at the ORIGINS game convention.  The SFB National Champion received the coveted symbolic "Gold Hat", and the special title of "Fleet Captain" for publication purposes reserved only for former SFB National Champions.  SFB tournaments have been held on military bases, on aircraft carriers, and as approved R&R events inside active theaters of war such as Iraq during the "Desert Storm" operation.  SFB was particularly popular with people who served in the US armed forces.  And, of course, no discussion of the SFB Sanctioned Tournament System would be complete without mention of 5-time National Champion Paul Scott and 6-time National Champion Tom Carroll, the "Michael Jordan's" of the Star Fleet Universe.

Stephen V. Cole is the "father of modern game design" and he practically created the process by which games are made today.  This is simply the truth.  You've never heard of him before, because both he and his game are the Rodney Dangerfield of the gaming world.  "They don't get no respect."  Star Fleet Battles is the second most influential game in the history of games second only to Dungeons & Dragons.  Provably.  Almost every space game you've ever played was influenced by the Star Fleet Universe by a large degree, either directly or indirectly.  Any game that features "energy allocation", that's Star Fleet Battles.  Any game that uses "system displays", that's Star Fleet Battles.  Any time that any game contained any hint of Dungeons & Dragons everyone knew it, but when a game contains elements of the Star Fleet Universe it is like some big secret or something.  Stephen V. Cole and his SFB Staff made what might be the best game of all time.  It is certainly the most massive and most complex game ever made, and has certainly been one of the most influential as well... and it continues to be to this day.

The staggering impact of Stephen V. Cole, his Star Fleet Battles Staff, and their Star Fleet Universe are also felt profoundly in the way, the process, that modern games are made today.  He and his staff have had a deep impact on not only the almost inconceivable number of games that they have influenced with their work, but also on the process used to make most games today through the example they set in how they did their work.  These are the great grandparents that modern game industry professionals never knew they had... the designers and the process, not just the game.

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