The Rollback Conundrum

I’ve made two scenarios (the latter more of a Lua experiment than a proper scenario) detailing a planned “Rollback Campaign”. The idea was for a scenario set in Command featuring plans theorized in the 1990s to oust Saddam Hussein by using air power to back a native opposition army.

The actual plans were highly dubious, even in comparison to the actual Iraq War. The non-Kurdish Iraqi “opposition” was far too small to be effective and had very little popular support. And even if the campaign “succeeded”, it would lead to simply another repeat of contemporary Libya’s power vacuum.

But as a Command scenario pack, it held some promise. I made a scenario with the hideously overconfident title of “The First of Many”-naval F-117s conduct a secret attack on the bridging equipment of the Iraqi Army. The remnants of Saddam’s military oppose them.

Then I kind of stalled. There were some inherent problems beyond just the effort.

-Strength of the opposition was one. I didn’t feel like scenario after scenario of the player just beating on MiG-21s, and I didn’t want an “Oh, that SA-2 rolled a one-now you have a major defeat you wouldn’t have if it rolled a ten” situation. There was another option-state the sanctions failed and Iraq was able to rebuild its military with better equipment. This wouldn’t change the outcome, but it would make the battles a lot more challenging-except that ran into plot.

-If the sanctions fail and the Iraqi military is more powerful, having the internal opposition alone being able to defeat it on the ground is an even more questionable concept. While I could use any justification, that one got me stuck.

-One scenario with the working title “Kickoff” stumped me. Huge arrays of enemy ground units, little opposition, but no margin for error (each unit would be worth say, a point destroyed and you needed hundreds of points for victory), massive air forces on your side-it felt like a hard-work little reward experience.
-I’m thinking of scaling Kickoff down into the saga of one smaller unit during the battle.

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Crimefest 2015 Reflections

So, the last update released as part of Payday 2’s Crimefest 2015 event has been installed, and now I can write my retrospective. This was an event that had a lot of drama and had a lot of flaws in its structure.

So, Overkill Software, the developers of Payday 2, released a “Road To Crimefest” event, with mystery clues unlocked by players completing long, repetitive challenges like playing a certain number of heists a large amount of times, or using a certain weapon to defeat so many enemies. The event ended on two stressful ones-a coordinated effort to get double the usual amount of players online at any one time, and a down-to-the-wire heist completion one finished on the last day of the event.

Then on the first day of the event itself, the reward was a Counter Strike: Global Offensive-style weapon skin market. To introduce an inevitably controversial new feature as the initial “reward” was not exactly the best move, and the reaction was immediate and angry. Overkill did make a large change in response to the initial criticism, allowing the “drills” that unlocked the “safes” holding the weapons skins to be received in in-game pickups rather than just being purchased.

But microtransaction controversy aside, I do think the whole “mystery reveal” combined with grinding challenges wasn’t the best setup even if it hadn’t started with such an awkward move as that. If one ran Rats a million times and found the reward was just a mask, a reaction of “That’s it?” would not be surprising. I think Overkill set expectations too high with the mystery, with the inevitable disappointment when the small-scale rewards were finally revealed.

With all that criticism, I still enjoyed the content. I basically shrugged at the microtransaction introduction, liked playing the new heists, and had fun with the masks. Payday 2 still remained the fun game I continue to enjoy, even if the event wasn’t the best-conceived.

Story Concepts

See, I don’t really know what to write. I want to write a narrative web serial fiction, but I have so many concepts and only one that I could really focus on. The ones I’ve narrowed it down to are (working titles, I know they’re bad):

“One, Two, Three, Dead”-the story of a disturbed man who is given a chance to change history and be on top of his fate-if he becomes the mysterious agent known as the “Four of Spades”.

“Todd, Jane, and Steve’s Amazing Xenotech Adventure”-this is a screwball, goofier story about a guy recruited to work in a dead-end convenience store no one goes to-except people seeking “xenotech”, since the store is a front for a mysterious agency.

“Attack of the Mosaics”-a more conventional military thriller about the multiverse’s biggest “contractor”.

All three would take place in the same setting, which I made extremely broad on purpose.

I’ll be posting the first draft chapters of all three later. For now, comments are welcome.

Cats Balancing Radars on Fulcrums-Iran’s Advanced Aircraft

Earlier, I theorized about an air battle over Iran and posted the results of several informal Command demonstrations that supported the seemingly obvious conclusion. The third generation fighters in the Iranian Air Force are not match for those of their likely opponents. But those were not the strongest or most recent planes.

First are the MiG-29s. Fulcrums get a kind of undeserved reputation as hopelessly inferior to F-16s simply because of the way they were designed-as the next type of short-range point defense fighter with very limited ground attack ability that was designed to work inside a Soviet integrated system rather than the F-16’s offensive multirole design. If I was to put MiG-29s on that Bushehr tethered intercept in their element, they’d do better.

F-14s are the most dangerous components of the Iranian air force, though not because of their threat to enemy fighters. They’re more dangerous than F-4s, to be sure, and I’ve frequently upped the proficiency to symbolize the prestigious nature of their assignments. But against an enemy F-15, they just go from “loses, but has a small chance of taking one down with it” to “loses, but has a somewhat better chance of taking one with it”.

They’re still a 1970s fighter that, Top Gun reputation aside, was more of a clunky missileer than a aerobatic champion in actual service. No, the biggest threat the F-14 poses is to support aircraft. The ability (assuming availability, of course) to fire long-range AIM-54 missiles is one that threatens the multitude of necessary but vulnerable platforms on the other side-AWACS, tankers, intelligence planes. The F-14 can also function as a sort of semi-AWACS by itself thanks to its huge radar.

The capabilities of these two types of planes are not to be exaggerated-their weaknesses are still known, there aren’t that many of them in service compared to the Phantoms and Tigers, and they have known serviceability issues. That being said, they are more capable.

A Scenario I Enjoyed Making And Playing

Of all the Command scenarios that I made, which is my favorite? There’s normally little novelty in running scenarios that you’ve made and have playtested many times, but there’s one that I’ve enjoyed playing several times since I made it-and that’s a little surprising to me.

That scenario is Regaining Honor, set in April 2015 (it was made in 2014). You control the 1960s to 1980s-vintage planes of the Yemeni Air Force, and to get the people to rally to the unsteady national government, the defense minister has proposed a plan to shoot down several American drones operating above the country. They’re just drones, so the US wouldn’t possibly counterattack…

Regaining Honor. Drones hit targets, civilians travel, and a pair of Yemeni fighters takes off and heads west.

What I like about the scenario is several things:

-There’s an element of random chance. Every time you shoot down a drone, there’s a small chance the counterattack will begin. So it’s possible to play the scenario, shoot down a few, and then return home and not risk the counter-or get hit with the attack right away.

-You’re weaker, but not totally helpless. I’ve wanted to make Command scenarios where you’re the outmatched opposition against the “big blue blanket”, and seemed to get it right here. The Yemeni Air Force falls when confronted with the opposition, but can still, if played right, take a few fighters down with it.

-Just the character of it. I have civilians, and although the missions for them are a little rough, they still fit. The drone targets are a separate side by themselves. Just letting the scenario run makes it feel more-immersive.

A large update wouldn’t hurt, but the scenario in its original form is something I enjoyed playing as well as building.

The Fall of Advance Wars

I loved Advance Wars. First turn-based strategy I really got into, and I played every installment from the initial English release to the (as of now) final one, Days of Ruin.

The Advance Wars series had two big problems after the release of Dual Strike, the installment for the DS. The first had to do with the content. Dual Strike wasn’t a bad game, but it had taken every element of the series-a goofy atmosphere that didn’t quite gel with the whole “war” theme, and CO abilities-and taken it to excess. Allied COs stopped to “have battles” (not exercises, battles) in the middle of a campaign, and you ended up with “Tag powers” that turned into “win buttons” instead of the tide-tipping CO powers of past games.

The second had to do with the sales. Namely, that Japanese sales were hideous, and since it was being made by Nintendo, that was a problem. So, for Days of Ruin, Intelligent Systems tried to fix it. They didn’t release it in Japan at all, reset the plot to something darker, and toned down the mechanics. The result was a bittersweet series-ender.

The gameplay is good enough-possibly a little bland, but a welcome enough change from the bombastic Dual Strike. But the plot and setting? Days of Ruin has the largest disconnect between story and gameplay I’ve seen. The tutorial is the most immersive part. Really.

You have the impression of being a small group of fighters in a post-apocalyptic world, with very limited supplies. Then you get the ability to build new units-and it all collapses. You’re back to cranking out tons of tanks, military aircraft, and even carriers. And rather than just ignoring it as gameplay, the writers used a weird explanation of “mechanical units that only work close to the factory they’re built it” that caused more problems than it solved.

The plot is also bad. First, the darkness is on the surface, and there’s no moral complexity beyond it. Second, by the end-game they’re back to their comfort zone of mad science superweapons and totally happy endings. The result is a mess of missed opportunities and confusion.
Save for a virtual console port of the first Advance Wars game, there have been no more Advance Wars’, meaning Days of Ruin probably finished off the series.

Two Months of Blogging Here

Today, it has been two months since I started this blog. I’ve blogged about stuff I’ve talked about on Baloogan Campaign, and stuff I haven’t.

I’ve been happy blogging here (although always wishing, in true perfectionist style, that I’d done more), but longer-term, I want to move on to web-serial narrative fiction. The story, when written, will be on a separate blog. In the meantime, I will keep posting on everything from pocket battleships to pocket monsters.

Pokemon What Ifs

There are many possible artistic what-ifs, that although far less consequential than historical ones, can still have an effect on the genre in question. Here’s a few for Pokemon.

-No Pikachu. Or rather, no famous Pikachu. In the actual Pokemon Red/Blue, Pikachu is just an out-of-the-way Pokemon in the Viridian Forest that you have a good chance of missing altogether. In the anime, it became Ash’s starter, and the rest is history. Pikachu was a way to avoid being biased in favor of any of the game’s three ‘real’ starters.

If they had picked one, it may have led to the series being ever-so-slightly less successful-Pikachu is photogenic and “cute” in a cross-cultural way that the three real starters kinda-aren’t. In the fandom, you’d have people who picked one starter have that sweet and all-too-rare feeling of canon vindication.

(If you wanted to be mean, make it Charmander, then watch as the kids wanting to follow Ash meet the wall of the Pewter Gym).

-Pokemon games follow Gold/Silver’s precedent of multiple regions.

In Pokemon Gold/Silver, you could go back to the region of Red/Blue. This was messily implemented, as it stretched the Gameboy’s abilities to their limits, but it was still sixteen gyms rather than the usual eight. From Ruby/Sapphire on, it was the cash-Miltank of new region, eight gyms. There’s a part of me that hopes that following GS’s lead would lead to a more interesting or non-linear setting, but there’s another part that thinks it would just spread the game too thin.

-Cinnabar Island shenanigans.

All it would take is a few tiles in the east of Cinnabar Island changed, and you lose your greatest ability to munchkin rare candies break Pokemon Red/Blue. That would make one lose out on a cheat/bug, but little more. A more interesting difference in quality control would be to remove the ability to skip the Seafoam Islands by just flying back to Pallet Town and surfing down.

In the actual game, you can skip one of the hardest maps easily.

What would the trade-off be? Better maps, worse Pokemon?

I love weird stuff like this.