SubSpace (computer game)

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Screenshot (from SSCX Star Warzone), click on the picture for more information.

SubSpace is a two-dimensional space shooter computer game. This freeware game incorporates quasi-realistic zero-friction physics into a massively multiplayer online game. The action is viewed from above, which presents challenges very different from those of a three-dimensional game. The game has no built-in story or set of goals; players may enter a variety of servers, each of which have differing objectives, skins, sounds, and graphics.


Client Confusion

SubSpace utilizes a client-server architecture. Initially, the game existed as a server and client both provided by the creators, but these applications are used less and less for the game. The original SubSpace client has been almost completely supplanted by the Continuum client. The original server software (though heavily modified) is still the most used, but it too is losing ground.

Game dynamics


SubSpace is divided into different "zones", or servers, to which the player can connect. A zone usually has a main "arena", in which a certain game is played. Many, such as SSCX Star Warzone and SSCX Extreme Games, are warzone flagging zones, in which one team (called a "frequency") must capture and hold all the flags, which resemble small spheres, in the zone for a predetermined amount of time to win. A variation of this (played in the most populated zone, SSCU Trench Wars) is turf flagging, in which the flags are stationary. Other zones involve powerball, which resembles soccer; a team must attempt to get one or more powerballs, which appear in the default graphics set as small orange balls, into an enemy goal. Some zones are free-for-all (or "melee") zones, such as SSCX Alpha West SVS. In this type of zone, the only objective is to kill enemy players.

Zones are organized into arenas, with certain arenas designated as public arenas being the main areas of gameplay. However, sub-arenas exist in most zones. Many sub-arenas are used for hosting events where different maps and settings than those present in the main arena(s) are needed. There are frequently arenas for players to fight and practice without interference from other players. Many squads have their own private arenas as well.


This screenshot from SSCX Omega Fire shows the game's various items and weapons.
This screenshot from SSCX Omega Fire shows the game's various items and weapons.

A player can fire a number of different weapons at enemy players. The basic weapons, bullets, bombs and mines, require energy to use. This energy is also used to power a ship's shields; if a player's energy reaches zero, he dies (and is usually immediately respawned). In most zones, a player's energy constantly recharges. This forces a player to carefully evaluate his or her ability to attack based upon how much damage the player's ship can absorb. The maximum energy levels of ships and other settings, such as maximum ship thrust and speed, can be upgraded with "prizes" or "greens", which are small green boxes that can upgrade (or downgrade) a ship that runs over them. Greens can also give the player special items such as "Thor's hammer" (essentially a bomb that flies through walls), "repel" (pushes nearby enemies, enemy mines & fire, etc. away from the player), "rocket" (gives the player greater speed for a short time period) and others. Again, the available weapons vary greatly by zone.

Competitive play

Many SubSpace players are organized into squads. These squads serve the same purpose as clans or teams do in other online games and allow players to cooperate and improve their skills, as well as to become more familiar with fellow players. In addition, many squads compete in competitive leagues hosted by various zones. These leagues are typically run like professional sport leagues, with a preseason, regular season, and playoffs for the highest-ranked squads. Dueling is another favorite pastime of many SubSpace players, and many zones have separate arenas for this purpose alone.


SubSpace evolved from Sniper, a project to test the effects and severity of lag in a massively multiplayer environment over dialup connections. After its creators realized its viability as an actual game, public beta testing began in 1996 and it was released commercially in fall 1997 with a list price of US$30 for unlimited play. It required no monthly or hourly fees. The game was developed by the United States branch of now-defunct Virgin Interactive (abbreviated VIE, for Virgin Interactive Entertainment).

While in the beginning the game only offered four playable ships, a couple of servers, and limited numbers of maps, during a costly and extensive testing period the game developed depth and replay ability unrivaled by many games before and since. When the game was eventually officially released, it was not a commercial success due to poor marketing and the relative newness of the massively multiplayer online genre. In addition, after two years of playing for free, many core players were so addicted that when the beta ended, they refused to pay for a game that they had beta tested for two years and instead developed software cracks to bypass the CD check. The server software had been distributed with the commercial release, so a few independent servers not run by VIE appeared and gathered a small following. Once VIE went under in 1998, many of its remaining US assets were purchased by Electronic Arts, but the SubSpace license was not. This caused all of the commercially hosted servers, including the official VIE servers, to eventually go offline permanently, and independent servers became the only choices. The community lost a lot of players, but continued to survive.

Within a short amount of time, many cheats - most notably Twister - appeared, and eventually a new client and associated software was developed primarly by the players PriitK (who also happens to be one of the creators of Kazaa) and Mr Ekted (Frontend), arresting the cheating epidemic. The client, named Continuum, is now the only client allowed to connect to most servers. In addition to the security improvements, Continuum added increased media and gameplay capabilities. Continuum is closed source; the source code will not be released (ostensibly for security reasons, although see also security through obscurity).


The standard ships of SubSpace.
The standard ships of SubSpace.

Within any given zone, a player can choose between up to eight different ships (l-r in picture): Warbird, Javelin, Spider, Leviathan, Terrier, Weasel, Lancaster, and Shark.

Many zones restrict the available ships. For instance, in the SSCX Powerball zone, gameplay is comprised of two teams, a Warbird team and a Javelin team. A player can also spectate the game (known as spec mode). Spectators can choose to spectate a specific player, a special item (such as a ball or flag), a fixed point in space, or they can roam the map. They can have the ability to see cloaked ships, change teams, and chat normally; in essence, they are participating in the game without actually playing it.

In the original incarnation of SubSpace, most zones (namely those on the VIE servers) used many of the same settings; each ship had at most one or two unique abilities, but the mechanical differences between them were trivial. With the ability to infinitely customize zones, many zone creators have deviated from this established model. However, a few zones still use these original settings (approximately), and are identified as SVS, or "Standard VIE Settings".

Following is an explanation of each ship and its original role in the game. In the Continuum era, these roles generally apply only to SVS zones, as many of the more popular zones use their own settings.


The Warbird was often considered to be the bread-and-butter ship of SubSpace. It has an effective combination of speed, agility, energy recharge, and firepower that satisfies newbies and veterans alike. As such, it is generally the ship of choice to drive a turret (series of ships attached to another teammate) because of its maneuverability. Beyond that, however, it possesses no special abilities.


Like the Warbird, the Javelin does not possess any special abilities. Still, it does differ from the Warbird slightly. The Javelin can attain a faster top speed and has a slightly higher recharge rate. However, it also achieves those at the cost of slower acceleration/deceleration and rotation speeds, thereby making it less maneuverable. Its speed makes it an adequate choice for turreting, although it is rarely used in that role.


Slightly slower and less maneuverable than the Warbird, the Spider's primary purpose is covert operations. It was originally the only ship equipped with a cloaking device, making it invisible to any enemy not using XRadar.

While this proves advantageous in creating an element of surprise, it does not come without its tradeoffs. Enabling the cloak creates an energy drain, causing a slower recharge rate. To be rendered completely undetectable, both visually and on radar, a Spider pilot would also have to enable Stealth as well, further dropping the recharge rate. Plus, the ship cannot stay cloaked while firing its weapons. And, of course, Cloak and Stealth can both be foiled by a nearby ship using XRadar.


Perhaps the clumsiest ship in the game, the Leviathan also packs the heaviest punch. It is the only ship capable of firing Level 3 bombs (all other ships can only achieve, at most, Level 2). The Leviathan cannot outrun, and can only sometimes out-maneuver, any other type of ship. It also suffers from a relatively slow recharge rate, which is crucial since L3 bombs require more energy to fire. However, a skilled Leviathan pilot can be deadly. Two well-placed L3 bombs in succession should be sufficient to kill any ship.


The Terrier is generally comparable to the Warbird in terms of speed and agility. However, it possesses a unique ability: it is the only ship equipped with double barrel guns, allowing it to fire two bullets at a time and four with Multifire (instead of one and three, respectively, with all other ships). Since the bullets are fired in a wider swath, the likelihood of hitting the target is increased. However, energy is essentially used twice as fast as a normal ship, since twice as many bullets are being fired.


The Weasel is one of the more interesting ships because it possesses two unique abilities. First, it is the only ship capable of firing EMP bombs and mines. Upon sustaining a hit from an EMP bomb, a ship will not only take normal damage, but its recharge rate will also be frozen at zero for a few seconds before returning to normal. EMP bombs and mines look different from normal bombs and mines, although they do not require extra energy to fire. They are also the only bombs which do not dispense shrapnel. The Weasel also has the innate ability to see mines on its radar screen. However, in terms of speed and maneuverability, only the Leviathan is slower.


Roughly comparable to the Spider's speed and agility, the Lancaster has one particularly strategic ability. Its bombs innately bounce off any surface, such as a wall or asteroid. A bomb will bounce once before turning into a normal bomb. It will explode upon contact with an enemy ship, regardless of whether it has already bounced or not. The bouncing bombs open up plenty of possibilities for firing at something not directly in your line of fire.


The Shark is the newest ship, added to the game during the retail release of SubSpace (previously it had existed as the UFO, a special ship only a sysop could receive - this functionality remains). Essentially, it is a more maneuverable Spider. It has the ability to cloak, although the same energy constraints as the Spider apply.


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Some examples of sub-arenas in SSCU Trench Wars. Click on the picture for more information.


As mentioned above, a zone is a server to which players can connect using a client. Perhaps the most attractive feature of SubSpace is the extremely high degree of customization that zone sysops can implement. Almost every element of the game can be replaced, from the ship graphics to colors and sounds. Apart from a few basic settings, the game settings, such as ship speeds, energy levels, and such, can also be changed. This allows a vast variety of zones to exist. The Continuum client and server developments such as ASSS (A Small SubSpace Server) have made many new customizations possible.

Zone administration

Zones are traditionally administered by a hierarchy of staff members. Typically, a server host pays for and maintains the zone server. In addition, there are several levels of access within zones:

Sysop (System Operator)

This is the highest level of access available. Sysops can modify all zone settings and access lists, as well as control players in the zone.

Smod (Super Moderator)

Smods have a very high degree of access. They can modify most access lists and have access to user commands. However, they have little control over zone settings.

Mod (Moderator)

Mod is the lowest official level of access in zones. Mods can ban users, although they have limited control over access lists. They have some ability to discipline, control, and reward users in the zone.


Many zones have other, non-official levels of access. For example, zones that host leagues often grant referees a limited degree of access to moderator commands and abilities.

Almost all zones also utilize bots to remove players with excessive lag and to perform mundane tasks such as storing prized items, giving game results, and maintaining equal teams. ASSS makes possible server-side modules which can accomplish much more than traditional bots.


The two most prominent SubSpace server applications are Subgame, and ASSS, both downloadable from the Server Help site (

Subgame is derived from the original VIE server software and runs natively only on Microsoft Windows.

ASSS [1] ( is open source and can potentially be run on any platform. It was designed for use on Linux and other unix/like operating systems, but can be configured for use on Microsoft Windows.

The server takes its settings from numerous files; server.ini and server.cfg are the two most important. These configuration files store the startup configurations and main arena settings for the zone, respectively. The main .lvl and .lvz files are important as well. Lvl files are level or "map" files, usually created with an editor such as SubSpace Map Editor ( (SSME). Lvz files are compressed files that contain graphics or sounds and configurations to replace or add to the game's default media. Large servers may have dozens or even hundreds of these files, as many subarenas use settings and graphics different from those of the main arena(s), and so require different .lvl, .cfg, and .lvz files. news.txt is another important file that contains news and information regarding the zone. There are other files useful for administration, such as sysop.txt, smod.txt, moderate.txt, and vip.txt, which store the lists of players with server access, obscene.txt, which stores a list of obscene words to be blocked by the game's chat filter, and restricted.txt, which keeps a list of playernames not allowed in the zone.


The counterpart to the server application is the billing server. This server, which stores player data and scores and links zones together, is named for its originally intended function (in VIE's Subgame server) to store records of who had paid for the game and, therefore, was allowed to play it. Obviously, once VIE went out of business, this function was no longer necessary. Billing servers now serve many additional functions, such as proving a network-wide ban service superior to the one built into Subgame and allowing players in different arenas or zones to chat with each other over chat channels. There are several large biller networks for SubSpace. By far, the largest is SSC, which is the de facto official biller. It is owned by PriitK, the creator of the Continuum client. However, space on this network is limited, and many have criticized it for alleged favoritism and a lack of updates. Consequently, several large alternative billers exist, including SSN, SSP, and SSZ.

Directory servers

Directory servers comprise the final piece of the server "puzzle". These servers are much like Domain Name System servers; they maintain lists of zones and their IP addresses and port numbers, allowing clients to connect.

Software compatibility

The Subgame server software and Continuum client are both Microsoft Windows-only programs. This is partially due to the game's heavy reliance on DirectDraw. A Linux version of the SubSpace client, called Snrrrubspace, was developed, but by the time it was completed, the new private encryption written for the since-released Continuum client rendered the Linux client useless in most zones. ASSS is compatible with all major operating systems.

See also

External links

  • Server Help (, a resource for zone staff.
  • SSQDB (, a database of in-game quotes.
  • SubSpace Central (, a site providing game news and resources.
  • (, a beginner's guide to SubSpace.
  • SubSpace Downloads (, a massive collection of game-related files.
  • SubSpaceHQ (, news, links to zone homepages, downloads and other information about SubSpace. The Continuum client can be downloaded here.
  • The MobyGames entry for Subspace (,3/gameId,725/)

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