The legends of online
The programs for playing dots, described in the previous article, appeared at the turn of the millennium. They were interesting, but, like many pioneers, remained in the shade of the first truly successful project. That project was the “Points XT”. It was the culmination of the game programs which had to be installed on the user’s PC. It was actively used for many years. It became a standard in respect of gaming and social functionality. It made a valuable contribution to the standardization of the game rules. The first stable community of players formed around the project. Thanks to a few years of regular games with each other the players raised the average standard of skill to the unprecedented level. The players laid the foundation for the tactics and strategy of the game, and clearly demonstrated the huge combination potential of dots. Some representatives of that community still play dots. The statistics of the “Points XT” main star Vladimir Borodin (SUPERZmei) can be conditionally considered unsurpassed.
All the more surprising, that it is almost impossible now to tell in details about the creation of the program and the first years of the project. There isn’t much objective information, but the founders of the project, with rare exceptions, completely ignore the attempts to communicate or they respond very briefly, as if they are afraid to break some security label.
The client version 2.2.0 is available now. However, since its creation the project has already changed several servers and portals, which were supported by different people. Besides, we can hardly speak about the continuity in this case. The details about the program in the client contain the information only about the last support team. The only link to the past is the nickname of the creator – iXy, to which the bot of the client still reacts. But his real name is still unclear. Both in the client and the portal, to which it is currently “assigned”, the author’s name is stated as Yaroslav Azarov. Such person is truly present in one of the social networks and there is a reason to believe that he is the iXy, but the surname Azarov is apparently fictional. He ignored all the attempts to communicate. However, in 2006 Vitaliy Kolosov (VETASKA) who was directly related to the formation and the development of the project (this will be discussed later), published the book “Dots, the workout for the mind”, where the creator of the program was specified as Yaroslav Volkov. The same opinion is shared by aforementioned Vladimir Borodin. We can easily trace the connection between Volkov and “Azarov”. “Azarov” promotes the site about the computer games, actively using the nickname iXy. The reference to the site with the comment “the project of the author of Points XT client” is available on the website owned by Kolosov. The hometown of “Azarov”, Barnaul, seems to be a part of this legend as well. In reality Volkov lived in Kerch in the mid-2000s. This fact is confirmed by the information on the page of the user iXy, who was one of administrators of a closed forum of the project (the data is stored in the web archive). There is no accurate information about the date of the program creation. Kolosov states in his book that it was in 2004, without specifying a month and a day. Borodin agrees with this date. The files with the oldest games refer to July 2005. But Sergey Efimov (SeregaMF), who played on the Points XT from the beginning, says that he has such a file: “SeregaMF vs Xtar-01 11.01.05 18-33.sav”. This means that the game was played on January 11, 2005. According to the Web archive, the first portal of the project appeared on the Web no later than October 24, 2006.
As stated above, the “Points XT” was the program which had to be downloaded and installed on your computer. It allowed playing with yourself, as well as with other players through a remote server that used the IRC protocol. It was the first truly multiplayer client that also allowed you to communicate with other players using the general and private chat rooms. Of course, at first it hadn’t supported all of the functionality that became available in the latest version. Its exterior was also different at the beginning; however, we can’t trace the stages of its development using the information available on the web.
The “Points XT” was remarkable for its reliability and stability, for its laconic black design and for simple and user-friendly interface with fairly rich range of settings. According to Borodin, the rules of the game were basically formulated by Volkov and then they were improved thanks to interaction with players. These rules became standard for computer dots. The encirclement was carried out at the minimum path, the dots could be put into the houses, extra moves were not used, the field size was 39×32 cells (the standard sheet of paper), there was the initial crossing or a limited area for the first move if the crossing was absent, the landing rule was used, there was a time limit for a move. Later, the blitz mode was invented: 5 seconds limit for a move and automatic placement of a dot in a random location after time expiration.
The online players were displayed in a single list. The system of starting the game was clear. The player could set the “busy” status. The program allowed playing the game as well as watching other people’s games as a spectator. There was a function that allowed saving the game files and watching them later using the client. The logs of general and personal chats were saved, so the client could be used as a communication tool. The exterior of the playing field (lines, dots and encirclements) gradually acquired the usual modern form. The only anachronism inherited from the paper dots was an option that allowed painting over not only the encirclement areas, but also the adjacent spaces between them and the dots standing right up to them. The color of the lines and the background could be chosen from the palette, and the color of dots – from several fixed options. There were sounds for various processes, such as the placement of a dot, a personal message or trying to attract attention of another player. There were settings for field scale, program window exterior, chat and language, which were supplemented by an extensive and well-written manual.
A lot of aforementioned game rules and client functions were not novelties in the full sense, because they had been used in the earlier projects in one way or another. However, Volkov was the first to join them into a single set that brought the work of his predecessors to its logical conclusion. Some solutions could be undoubtedly considered revolutionary.
The system of the game time countdown was peculiar. It wasn’t applied anywhere else. In the non-blitz games the player had the time limit of three minutes for every five moves. However, it wasn’t possible to lose over the timeout, because on the expiry of three minutes the dot was automatically put in a random crossing of the field, and the move passed to the opponent. This rule, however, intersected with another specific function, which allowed canceling the move during 2.5 seconds after it. Namely, 3 times per a game the player could cancel the placement of a random dot with the help of the “cancel” button. Such rules, as well as the large size of the field made the games of equal opponents very lengthy. Moreover, the function that allowed saving the games into files made it possible to interrupt the game at any time and to continue it later.
The “Points XT” was the first project where a rating system was implemented up to standard. It was a slightly modified Elo system. For example, during the first five games any newcomer gained the ranking points, and his opponent didn’t lose them in case of his defeat. A draw did not lead to a change of the opponents’ rating in any case. After the introduction of this system in the client configuration, the possibility to choose between a rated and an unrated game was added. With the help of specific service commands you could always see your or someone else’s statistics as well as the list of the best players. It should be mentioned that the problem of the so-called clones (additional characters of the same player) did not exist on the “Points XT”. Since the program had been installed on the computer, all the nicknames created later were tied to a particular system and all of them were displayed in the list of statistics. That is, another computer was necessary to create an absolutely new clone. The obtained rating did not change over time, but if the rating games were not played within a month, the player disappeared from the top list.
The first project server was irc.kerch.net. Its exact statistics is unknown, so we have to be content with the approximate data from Kolosov’s book. According to him, the total number of visitors amounted to 6000 people in the first two years. One thousand users played at least one game. Of course, this rate is miserable judging by today’s standards. However, the audience had grown considerably compared with its predecessors. Some work aiming at the increase of attendance was carried out by the creator of the program and by some players. We have already mentioned that the project’s website was launched in 2006. The visitors could download the program there and could chat on forum. In addition, the go players as well as Polish players of dots (they already had the resources devoted to dots then) were invited to the “Points XT”. For example, Borodin, who needed serious opponents to compete, was actively engaged in advertisement. According to him, such measures improved the one-time online from initial 3-5 to 10 and more players.
Despite the technical excellence and a greater social component, the “Points XT” as well as the previous projects was only an amateur initiative based mostly on enthusiasm. The “Points XT” had been actively developed during two or three years until the creator’s desire and the effect of novelty ended. There appeared a group of motivated players. These players helped Volkov in a functional improvement, in the development of the rules and in popularization. Constantly playing with each other they significantly raised the average level of skill. The restricted inflow of newcomers allowed teaching them fairly quickly that increased the competition further. The project quickly became a kind of elite club with its special atmosphere, the game style and the etiquette. The players, who had been raised on the “Points XT”, were usually distinguished by certain romanticism with the rejection to play using the obvious defense. They didn’t try to use the opponent’s random mistakes or technical failures to achieve victory. Borodin remained the indisputable authority, but other leaders were outstanding masters of their time as well. There were no weak players on the “Points XT” at all.
The first attempts to develop and systematize the theory of the dots game also belong to that period. For example, some articles with theoretical instructions were published on the project forum by Vladimir Schelokov (vms) and Anton Morjakov (morjik). The Morjakov’s article about blitz game, written in January 19, 2007, can be read now. The most thorough attempt to bring together the history, theory and practice of the dots was the aforementioned Kolosov’s book “Dots, the workout for the mind”, published in 2006 under the auspices of the Ukrainian public organization “The country of intelligence“. Kolosov was one of the moderators of the channel irc.kerch.net. He worked on the “Points XT” project from the beginning. He was a strong player. Kolosov’s personal ambitions and initiative allowed him to become the most prominent figure in the dots community. At the time of publication his book became an important event and it surely made a particular contribution to the development and popularization of dots. Some chapters devoted to the game rules, the specific tactical and strategic methods, and a collection of exercises are still relevant and can be recommended for reading to the beginners. As for the rest, unfortunately, it is quite an unreasoned compilation which contains little useful information and a lot of “water”. A deliberate exploitation of “Oriental” theme with constant appeals to kinship of dots and go seems false. An attempt to ride the popularity of the ancient game is understandable. However, such “advertising” leads to much more damage than profit, because guided by such ideas the reader inevitably comes to the conclusion that the dots is secondary to go. Especially since the author reduces the game history to the distortion of the rules of go, and he also ignores everything that happened before the launch of Volkov’s program.
The first attempts to give the official status to the dots community are also associated with the “Points XT”. The site of the project posted the following declaration for a long time: “We need people from different regions of the country to legalize the dots movement in Ukraine. Anyone who can assist, please, contact us via ICQ… or e-mail”. The aforementioned public organization “The country of intelligence” should be also remembered as far as this aspect of dots is concerned. The information about this organization on the web is briefly given on Kolosov’s website. These initiatives, unfortunately, got no further development.
The year 2006 was also the beginning of the tournaments history of dots. This important and broad topic will be discussed in a separate chapter.
The last update of the “Points XT”, the version 2.2.0, was released on August 14, 2006. It was the peak of the project development and the start of its decline, which became evident a year later. The role of the program creator was too important in the life of the small community of enthusiasts. Therefore, after Volkov’s withdrawal from business the problems began. One of the eyewitnesses, Pavel Milov (sai), described that process on his website (now also inoperative) as follows: “the cult program for playing dots has been the most advanced dots project for a long time. It united the best players. But now it has to exist in miserable conditions. The decline began with the founder iXy’s loss of interest in the project. In autumn 2007 the oldest dots server irc.kerch.net stopped working, and soon the pointsxt.ru domain was lost. As a replacement of the game server, the team of the “World of logic” project launched the logicsworld.net irc-server (which is scarcely visited now). The content of the Points XT site and forum was moved to the pointsxt.logicsworld.net. In 2008 another branch of the Points XT project was launched. One of the moderators of the irc.kerch.net channel, known under the nickname VETASKA, launched his own channel for the game the irc.tochki.org as a part of the tochki.org project. After a while, the old statistics bot and the ratings of players were restored on irc.tochki.org. However, the restoration of the former management has not significantly improved the miserable situation. Although the Points XT program is still available, it is outdated and it isn’t developed in any way. The transfer of players from server to server, in its turn, hit the project from another side. The community of the Points XT players was divided. A lot of players lost interest in the game having been deprived of their usual medium of communication”.
Indeed, the last stored copy of the pointsxt.ru web site in the archive is dated August 10, 2007. On December 13, 2007 the first copy of the new site appeared.
The new site functioned for quite a long time: the last copy was stored on October 25, 2012. At the same time its attendance was, apparently, minimal. The latest posts on the forum are dated to 2009. The fragmentation of community, however, had become earlier. On June 11, 2007 the first copy of the Kolosov’s website appeared (it is still operates, although in a significantly shortened version). In the course of time, the forum, the owner’s blog, various thematic materials, information about the tournaments and many other things appeared on tochki.org project. For several years the site held the leading position among the dots resources. Kolosov was the first who tried to get away from the purely amateur format and to convert the interest to dots into real money through advertising. Besides the enthusiasm, the maintenance of the game channel and the website, and the conducting of offline tournaments required considerable investments. Milov tried to compete with Kolosov for a while. We should say, that Milov’s website, tochki.su, created in early 2008, was distinguished by good quality of content (articles and reviews). However, the site was rarely updated, and it could not boast of high attendance and it survived only due to the author’s enthusiasm which lasted until mid-2012.
In addition, Milov was the co-author of the ambitious, but never implemented project – the “OpenDots” game client. According to its creators’ plans (the aforementioned “World of logic” team) the new project was to become a worthy replacement for the “Points XT” and unite the divided community. Judging by the website pages from the web archive, the work on the project development began in 2008 and proceeded extremely slowly and it stopped in the same year.
In this case, the proverb saying that one could not step twice into the same river, was confirmed. The expectations of natives of the “Points XT” (who were co-authors of the “OpenDots”) to repeat the success of the cult dots project through the upgrade of the same program and appellation to the good old days failed. The concept, which was revolutionary at the beginning of the decade, clearly exhausted itself by the decade end. Therefore, fundamentally different technical and social technologies were necessary to make a qualitative leap. Similar examples will be seen later: unfortunately, the errors tend to repeat themselves.
Meanwhile, the “Points XT” continued to function. After the transfer of ratings and statistics to the irc.tochki.org a small, but close-knit community of players was formed there again. It consisted of some veterans and representatives of the new generation. Exploiting the former client’s glory, Kolosov actively promoted his portal as official and non-alternative. He regularly conducted the offline and online tournaments, trying to gather the dots community round a single center and to attract attention of sponsors and advertisers.
In the course of time, when other projects, including the much more visited, began to appear, the “Points XT” turned into a kind of order of the dots crusaders. The regular customers often raided other sites checking the skills of aborigines and promoting the “true faith”. SUPERZmei was usually used as a banner. By that time SUPERZmei had almost stopped playing and turned into the living legend. In their turn, the players from other projects could not be considered successful until they proved their strength on the “Points XT”. Almost all the current leaders, except the youngest, passed this way. There really was some sense in this initiation, because the average skill level of “Crusaders” remained quite high, and the whole tournament activity (without which the sports growth is unthinkable) for a long time took place due to Kolosov’s initiative. Such blend of the quantity, provided by other projects, and the quality preserved on the “Points XT”, gave a good result and seemed to be the most promising way of dots development.
However, reality made its cruel adjustments. The most mass dots project of that time, which will be discussed in a separate chapter, tragically crashed on takeoff. The stream of newcomers dried up. Therefore the “Points XT” very quickly turned into a private communication club for the old friends. The games activity ran low and revived only at the time of rare tournaments. The obvious lack of prospects led to the fact that the payment for the game server as well as the maintenance of the sports and social components became burdensome for Kolosov. For a while he tried to share the costs with the players. However, he met no understanding. So he shut down the server on December 15, 2010. Then the forum on the portal stopped working too. The last offline tournament was held in Kyiv in spring 2010.
However, even Kolosov’s disengagement did not lead to the absolute decline of the surprisingly hardy project. A group of players under the informal leadership of Vasiliy Novikov (vn91) continued to support the project. He was a dots enthusiast and a programmer who made a significant contribution to the game development. The program was located on the ircworld.ru channel for some time. In June 2011 it was transferred to the newly created channel pointsgame.net. The new website was opened on June 17, 2011. Up today this website has been a home for the long-suffering but the legendary “Points XT”. The program has almost lost the game and social importance, but it is still kept as a relic. Due to its incomparable reliability the client still hosts the rare tournaments. Moreover, an extra function was added to the program in 2011 – the game against the artificial intelligence, created on the basis of algorithms of Evgeniy Kurnevsky (keij) and Ivan Kochurkin (KvanTTT).
What did the “Points XT” give to dots? What conclusion can we make, summarizing the interim result of its history? In addition to the obvious merits briefly described earlier in this chapter, there was also something much more important. The project demonstrated the absurdity of the stereotype that the dots had no sports value and was good only as an entertainment for the bored pupils. It was the “Points XT” that proved for the first time that a folk image of the school champion had nothing in common with the real top of the dots mastery. It also instilled confidence in numerous people that their favorite game was not an ugly duckling among intellectual combats and it fully deserved its place under the Sun. These memories of this legendary project did not allow a handful of enthusiasts to give up at the moments when the collapse of dots movement seemed absolutely inevitable. For this only the “Points XT” deserves the eternal life. It should be kept as a symbol, as a flag, as a precious tradition. Our young game hasn’t got many traditions yet to allow one of them to sink into oblivion.
As an epilogue to this chapter I would like to say a few words about two rather curious projects which were obviously tardy with their arrival.
In 2008, the author, known only under the nickname FrozenFire, created two programs with the straightforward title “Dots”. The first one allowed playing together locally or via a remote server. The second one was a unique program that supported the game for three players using the dots of blue, red and green colors. Both projects were never finalized. They exist only in the test versions, which can be still downloaded from the web archive. From technical and functional points of view both projects were hopelessly outdated even at the moment of their appearance. They are interesting only as a part of the dots history.
The last of the Mohicans was, probably, the project which finished the era of the dots programs installed on the computer. Only the archived copy of the page, dated December 2010, and the name of the program, “Points GT”, remained from it. No other information is available.
The relentless progress brought the other characters to the forefront, opening up new horizons and producing new challenges.
Alexander Parfenov. October 20, 2015