Jutland 100-The Rules of The Game

On the 100th anniversary of Jutland, World War I’s largest naval battle, I should talk about one of the longest and most influential books I’ve read, which happens to feature the battle considerably. That book is Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of The Game.

It was one of the first real deep, scholarly military history books I obtained. The book, which I saw as incredible upon my first, long-ago readings of it, has faded somewhat. In terms of describing the battle itself and the history of the Royal Navy, it’s still amazing.

But in terms of analyzing the history, it falls short.

The book describes not just the fleets, but also the personalities. The reader hears about John Jellicoe, the cautious yet respected commander of the Grand Fleet and David Beatty, the brash, ambitious, not-so-respected battlecruiser commander. Another far more unknown but pivotal figure is Hugh Evan-Thomas, an organization man put in charge of the four most modern Queen Elizabeth battleships of the fleet.

Gordon covers the battle until the moment where Evan-Thomas continues to sail towards the German fleet because he did not receive a signal, and then shifts to the 19th century, from the development of steam engines, increased signalling, the romanticization of central control, and the effort by George Tryon to reform it, cut short by his death in the HMS Victoria disaster.

After going up to World War I proper, it returns to May 31st, 1916, and ends with the post-engagement (and postwar) recriminations. The attention to detail Gordon has is incredible. So why have I (slightly) soured on it?

The answer can be summarized in one sentence. It’s too Pentagon Reformer.

  • Gordon shows a fatalistic view of communications technology, stating that it will always be pushed past its limits. While true, this is a glass-half-empty view of it, the reverse being that said limits themselves keep expanding.
  • The love of the “dashing maverick” hurts his view. Gordon seems to be reluctant to acknowledge the big picture-that fleet engagements were a luxury compared to the blockade, and that said blockade worked-the RN knew how to do it, and did it well. While he acknowledges it, it seems to be with gritted teeth.
  • Said “dashing maverick” also makes him one of a very few historians who hold David Beatty highly. What it amounts to is “Well, yes, Beatty was an egomaniac, yes he botched his deployment so that his best ships were in the back, with fatal consequences, yes he failed to do his job as a high-end scout, but hey, he understood initiative more than Jellicoe. This isn’t convincing.


Finally, the biggest problem with analysis (as opposed to presentation), is that it’s working off a sample size of one. This is not Gordon’s fault, this was the nature of WWI at sea. But even the most experienced forces can stumble, and so making a grand narrative of decline based on one single incident, no matter how big, is flawed. If the British had declined from Nelsonic initiative to centralization and then smashed the German fleet anyway, a hypothetical Andrew Gordon’s account would sound less like a chronicle of decline and more like the Reformer post-Gulf War “But you didn’t hit any Scud launchers” sour grapes screeds.

If the reader can keep these caveats in mind, The Rules of The Game is still a fantastic book.


The Horsepower War

I chuckle at the ridiculous horsepower figures given for the latest internet supercars.

(To make a long story short, the limitations of tires if nothing else means that increased engine power will pass the point of diminishing returns before it reaches the theoretical limit.)

In my Automation playthroughs, the jewel in the horsepower crown has been a 574 horsepower engine with development starting in the mid 1980s and, going by engineering time, being ready for mass production in the early 1990s. It’s a V8 rather than a V12.

Naturally, the car is a two-seat supercar with an inflation-adjusted price of over $300,000.

Enter this creative writing exercise.

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“Now, this sort of thing only happens once. We seek a partner, and can use the marque as an overall luxury one. We have a perfectly good plant for high-end, low value production, and we have the Folino brand. Otherwise, we run up a ton of debt trying to build a successor to the Power8 and hope lightning strikes twice.”

Samuele Lelli had heard a variation of that argument a million times before. From a business perspective, it made total sense.

Sell most of-but not all of your stake in L-F, then start or join a small engine tuner, and live your performance dream there.

But his heart didn’t want to put engines in Fords, Cadillacs or Tatras. What his heart wanted was to build a car from the ground up, a street car that could win the war. Leapfrog ahead, with the dream. The years he’d spent designing the Power8 had been the happiest of his life, and he wanted to keep going, to reach the goal of-

10,000 horsepower. Ten. Thousand. Horsepower.




The Limits of the Fishbed in Command

The introduction of what I call “tethered intercepts” has gone a long way to increasing the viability of the MiG-21 (and its closest western counterpart, the F-104) in Command.

For what a tethered intercept is, I’ll let this dev video explain.

Even with tethered intercepts, the lightweight third-gen fighter has very real limits. I’ve been testing those limits.


An Iraqi fighter, the guinea pig. (The original photo caption said it was a MiG-21 but the cockpit shape makes it look like it could be an F-7)

This started as part of my on-and-off “Rollback” series, where Iraq decides to sacrifice its fleet of MiG-21s. For both that and for a last-ditch effort (in either 1991 or 2003), I was curious to see how they’d fly.

Against a “Big Blue Blanket”, they were toast. Against small groups, with low proficiency, they occasionally got an endgame calc in and even more occasionally scored a victory, but were still ultimately toast.

Upping the proficiency only slightly improved matters.

Note that assuming such a mission is possible at all (beyond game mechanics) depends on the willingness of the pilots to fly such a dangerous operation. For the truly fanatical, determined, and/or naive, it’s possible. But for an already demoralized, broken force, it’s not.

Lua and the event editor enable the possibility of such a mission, although programming in dozens of MiG-21s is not the same as programming in a half-dozen Su-27s (as I did in one previous scenario with random options).

Supercar Struggles

I made a supercar in Automation. The 80s supercar I made is an illustration of just how tough the supercar business is.

Designing the car itself wasn’t the hardest part-I had to use different size tires to brute-force my way to a decent understeer score without digging into the suspension (turns it wasn’t unheard of, especially on RWD performance cars). The “markets” segment was when it hit.

Development costs for a supercar are incredibly high. So are development costs for everything car-related, but here you’re pushing the limit. It’s making an SR-71, not a Piper Cub.

And you can’t rely on volume. The only strategy is to roar up the price a lot and hope your supercar stands out from the pack. Most really big supercars are experimental platforms/advertisements, and are expected to lose money.

So, my supercar, similar in backstory if not mechanically to the (failed) Cizeta-Moroder V16T   gets a few mulligans. A celebrity backing, arriving at exactly the right time for a pent-up urge to splurge, and good luck. Even then, it’s probably going to come at the expense of other supercar firms. And be temporary.


The Most Exotic Cars I’ve Seen in Person

The most exotic cars I’ve seen in person are:

-A Ferrari convertible yesterday.

-A Saleen supercar.

-A Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

-A Cadillac Brougham.

-An old Chrysler Imperial.

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However, I’ve also seen some arguably even rarer cars-old economy models. For a pampered luxury vehicle, seeing it after its time is one thing. For an econobox, that’s something else. I was pleasantly surprised by seeing a Plymouth Horizon and Kia Sephia.


All Bad Things…

So, I finished reading The High Frontier, the de facto final work in The Big One series, chronologically speaking. The setting technically continues in the form of its longstanding infodump timeline, but Stuart has turned his attention to World War II and said it’s doubtful that there’d be any novels chronologically after this one.

The book, featuring the end of the Easy Mode Cold War, did not have the entertainment factor that I had when rereading Lion Resurgent. Maybe it was that I was “prepared” for the novelty. Seeing “I’m briefing Reagan and he likes it!” fantasies isn’t as amusing the second time around. Maybe the book itself was just more dull.

I should have felt “that’s it, now good riddance”.

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And yet I felt a surprisingly bittersweet feeling when I read the end. Seeing the weird elements I knew and ‘loved’- the repeated bashing of NASA and ballistic missiles, the equivalent of seeing Brezhnev personally lead a campaign into Afghanistan and then get killed in action, the equivalent of the August Coup plotters trying to nuke a space station-and knowing that was the conclusion made me, if not sad, at least-fulfilled. From here on out it’s bad battles in a conflict I know and have little interest in.

Mockably bad works like this are rare, and now that I’ve seen it to the end, it’s over.

And at least it ended on a good stopping point. Tom Kratman’s Carrera series de facto ended (or at least slowed down) on a cliffhanger.


The 100th Blog Post

This is the 100th post I’ve made since starting this blog. It’s been in many ways an incredible experience for me.

I hope the readers have had as much fun reading the 100 posts as I’ve had writing them.

The visual novel gameplay paradox

There is a massive paradox I face with playing a lot of visual novels or text adventures. In theory, they should be less stressful, as there’s no gameplay beyond choose-your-own adventure choices. In practice, while I’ve played and enjoyed many of them, I find it often isn’t the case.

I think the paradox is this. The two default choices I have are either blunder my way through blindly and get the default bad ending, or robotically follow a guide. One you know won’t be as fulfilling, and the other has little sense of mystery.

Rereading Lion Resurgent

So I read a bad book again. This was rereading it, and I honestly had more fun looking at it again than I expected.

When I first read the book Lion Resurgent several years ago, my first thought was that it was dull even by the standards of The Big One series it belonged to. That it was unmockably bad, and in an Amazon review, I even called it “the flat-out worst book I’ve read”.

I decided to read it again. Why? I had nothing better to do.

I was “pleasantly” surprised.

  • The book has, very early on, a briefing given to President Reagan. Not only are there a million “Look how much better he was than Carter” claims, but that it’s the Mary Sue Seer giving the briefing puts it over the top in terms of wish fulfillment. “See, I’m-I mean, the guy I know is giving briefings to Reagan and he’s liking them!”
  • Then there’s the “plot”. Like watching a scene in an action movie where the hero has to try to act, this can be unintentionally funny. There’s a death scene that is, with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, extremely foretold. Then there’s a spy plot that’s about on the same level as the shoved-in footage in They Saved Hitler’s Brain where “agents” with bad post-Sergeant Pepper Beatles mustaches spent several minutes getting and out of cars before the ‘real’ story began.  The icing on the cake is a plot with South Africa whose sole contribution is-delivering armored vehicles.
  • Then it was back to drudgery with the main story of the alternate Falklands War. Everything has to be explained, even something as simple to show and not tell like the missiles are missing their targets. 
  • In my first reaction, I said the following about the battles. “The Americans get a “look we’re awesome” scene like they do in all the books, the British take more casualties but you have as much attachment to them as you do to CMANO units so it doesn’t have any emotion”. This was unfair to the units of Command.
  • The most interesting part-Packard and Studebaker are still in the passenger car business. A part of me was going “Well, even with a different market their survival is dubious because they historically failed at the height of the domestic industry’s power.” That’s what I was thinking of. Cars.
  • The whole thing has a sort of detachment to it-like Stuart’s trying to tell of naughty seductions, but it’s told through the filter of an old military encyclopedia, with exactly as much emotion.
  • The plots don’t connect. Not just mechanically, but creatively. It’s like there’s a story of a conspiracy of long-lived “immortals” mixed with a military story. Like mixing some of the Assassin’s Creed plots together with The War That Never Was.


The book is still very bad, but I had fun with the reread.

The Alternate History Line

What separates good alternate history online from bad alternate history online (besides the usual literary qualities)? I think it’s whether or not the authors have a “not one step back” attitude.

Not whether or not they’re willing to defend their choices, but how willing they are to let implausibilities slide, to treat fiction like fiction instead of “This is my genius, so I’m offended that you’d attack my genius”.

This is why I liked a story called “Zhirinovsky’s Russian Empire” for all its flaws (including a contrived way of getting the title character into office in the first place), while the work in previous Bad Fiction Spotlights stood out for authors who stubbornly defended every last bit.