Desert Shield Simulations

Last year, I did a three part series of posts on Baloogan Campaign detailing a big what-if that many alternate history scholars have speculated-if Iraq had been more proactive in the 1991 Gulf War, how damaging would it have been to the US-led coalition?

Now I’ve decided to link back to them, seeing another “WI greater Iraq competence” thread on alternatehistory.com (where I cited the simulation posts).

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3/Conclusion

 

The Fall of the Technothriller

I have recently read an extraordinarily good article detailing the ascent and descent of the military technothriller.

The article touches on many of the influences on the genre and speculates that the fall of the USSR was a gigantic blow to it. I agree, but think that they’re neglecting to mention what I consider my own theory for the fall of the story-that, as I said in my review of the prototypical example of the genre, the very ubiquity of high technology in warfare made it lose almost all of its novelty value. There’s also the substantial changes to the publishing business as a whole that are not mentioned, although out of fairness, that’s a totally different subject than what the author wanted to talk about.

Another feeling I have is that technothrillers may have simply burned themselves out. Reading multiple Dale Brown books, where the setups get increasingly ridiculous but the structural flaws mentioned in the article are never countered, gives me that feeling.

This might just be my contrarian attitude, but for all that I’ve enjoyed some of the classic technothrillers, the decline in the genre has not exactly been one that I’ve shed the most tears over.

Kind of like adventure games.

A Journey Through Ambiguity

Ok, I’ve been on a kick regarding nightmarishly ambiguous fiction. I don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve been on.

Sometimes, an ambiguous work of fiction is best left ambiguous. There’s a quote from an author (it might have been Tolkien, although given his love of detail, it doesn’t sound like him) that I vaguely remember as being how a landscape often looks more beautiful from far away.

Sometimes it can work, and sometimes it doesn’t.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR YUME NIKKI, THE HOTLINE MIAMI GAMES, UNDERTALE, OFF, AND MONKEY ISLAND

 

 

 

 

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On one extreme, you have an old horror/adventure game called Yume Nikki (lit. “Dream Diary”). The game has essentially no plot beyond “a young woman who won’t leave her home has creepy nightmares, collects twenty-four ‘effects’, and then throws herself off a balcony.”

The speculation gap was filled because of that, with countless interpretations of the strange characters, the history of the protagonist Madotsuki, and even the seemingly straightforward suicide ending.

The alternative approach to the ending intrigues me. I honestly think it’s more than just trying to shove a happy ending into a game that obviously isn’t a happy one in the slightest.

What the alternate theory amounts to is that even the ‘real’ world is a dream by itself, that Madotsuki is confined/trapped there (somehow), and that the suicide is only killing her “dream” self and waking up. There are countless pieces of “evidence” for this (many of which are things that could be explained ‘out of character’ as game engine limitations), but I think an appeal is that it gives the game a story more adaptable to a conventional narrative, and consider it telling that the manga adaptation went (mostly) with said theory.

Then there are the other popular interpretations of Madotsuki, one depicting her as a psychotic fugitive (one of the effects is a knife, and the player can use it)…

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Rather than go even farther down the dream-rabbit hole that is Yume Nikki speculation[1], I’ll turn to another dark, bloody minimalist game-which did everything that I warned it shouldn’t do.

That game was Hotline Miami-the original. The original was a simple, confusing, game. The sequel explained everything. And not in a good way. Any sort of hideous speculation is gone, and in its place is just a nonsensical storyline of the USSR invading Hawaii, turning the US into a puppet state, “resistance” fighters with animal masks taking on mobsters, and everything being nuked at the end.

Behind the curtain was a clotheless emperor holding nothing but shock value. The questions and fog surrounding Jacket were gone, replaced by a entire leading cast.

(A part of me thinks that the entire game was just angry trolling by the developers. With a strong suspicion that their hearts weren’t in it and that they didn’t want to make a sequel at all, the reveal is just a “look-here it is-nothing but (insert expletive here)” moment. This may just be me being too cynical for my own good.)

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With Hotline Miami being a perfect example of how not to maintain good ambiguity, an example of one that is “straightfoward” yet incredibly surreal is OFF (of which an excellent Let’s Play can be found here). The very setting gives rise to a lot of fan theories, and also does the more famous Undertale[2], where we know the Underground but little beyond it.

Even the more “non-surreal” Payday has its own mystery moment-the strange Dentist’s Loot[3], which is a heavy case with the infamous eye-pyramid, that is never talked about in any detail. What it is, and why it ended up in a casino vault is deliberately unclear.

 

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I’ll conclude this rambling by talking about what I think is an example of something that became ambiguous when it wasn’t meant to be. Yes, I’m talking about the Monkey Island II ending. I said people were overthinking it-call me a hypocrite.

There’s obviously no way of telling for sure, but I have a suspicion that the ending was the result of muddled changes. My guess is this: The writers use the ‘it was just a kid’s fantasy in a theme park’ ending they’d originally wanted to use in the original. But it doesn’t work in a long-installment setting the way it would in a standalone game. So, spurred by either by LucasArts’ hand or their own, they change it to the “illusion” ending that the later games used.

However, with the scene becoming famously bizarre, the developers make the understandable decision to run with the romance of it. After all, it’s far more fun to hint and wink rather than admit that it two unambiguous ones mashed together through the need to accommodate a series.

At least that’s what I think.

And I have some weird theories of my own, which I hope to share.

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[1]”rabbit-hole” is not an unintentional pun, there’s a lot of fan art crossing over Yume Nikki with American McGee’s Alice, thanks to the many similarities.

[2]Probably the most dubious and loudest claim is the “Sans is Ness from Earthbound” one. Look it up yourself, I think it’s garbage not worth discussing further.

[3]One of my many bizarre theories is that the Dentist himself is a being from another universe. No one knows anything about him, and he’s the only one able to fence the most famous diamond in existence successfully.

Spoiler Warning

My favorite Let’s Play series of all time would have to be Shamus Young’s Spoiler Warning. You can see the videos here.

Combining knowledge of gaming with lots of fun, the cast has been skewering many games for quite some time. My favorite set is the Hitman Absolution one.

 

The Girl Who Held The Atom in her Hand

The Girl Who Held The Atom In Her Hand

Breakfast came early for her, and by now she knew the routine-eat as quick as possible, before the big blast came.

Gulping down the scrambled eggs and washing them down with some orange juice, she moved over to the couch and did what she normally did. That would be sitting blankly and waiting for the big smash. There were near-constant little smashes, ones that she knew she had to deal with, since after all, the young woman was overseeing a war.

And then it hit her again, a barrage of terror, pain and fear. Into her mind flowed the waves of hundreds if not thousands. This time it was at sea, on a warship near “Iceland”. It was always Iceland. No one would know the place names in another universe if it wasn’t their job, but she knew them better than any geographer.

Fulda. Iceland. Kola. Orkney. Norway. Berlin. Bonn. Kamchatka. Hokkaido. Sakhalin. Occasionally there was some variety, like “Long Island”, “Newfoundland” and once “Moscow”.

She grimaced and got to work, which was falling asleep and dealing with more of her battle nightmares. Whether or not they were better handled asleep than awake was an open question. There could be a dream of burning up in a tank, then waking up, thinking “oh, it’s a dream”, and then getting hit by a cluster bomb.

Besides, the child knew it was not a dream.

She was saving the world. Or the worlds.

Or was she?

Was she just being an enabler? The elders understood the mechanics of the “subconscious projection.” She did not. But what she felt and suspected was that if the true fear of nuclear combat was there, would it not keep them from sliding into the wars she felt every single day?

That would be nonsense-she was giving them a chance to be resolved without an apocalypse. But was it better off being held off altogether? She didn’t know how they started or how they happened, only that they happened.

And somehow, she didn’t want them to happen. But they kept going on nonetheless.

Another blast hit her, this time of a barracks being hit by a “B-52” (this had given her an experience in the education of weapons systems, too). There was a fire, and it seemed like it was spreading to her body, making her double over. The B-52 was shot down-that’s what it was, and it was making her hurt even more.

Eventually, panting, the girl sat up again.

Looking at the clock, she grimaced. Eighteen hours to go before another day of “atomic peace”.

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This came about from the “nuclear handwave” common to World War III stories. I’ll admit the exact mechanism is reminiscent of Louis Lowry’s The Giver, but that was more about emotion in general.

I’ve wanted to write this for a while, and now have done the basic story. The reason why the hands are off the nuclear button is that someone is forcing them-and destroying their mind and life in the process.

The hardest boss fight in history

The term “hardest boss fight” is used far too commonly. However, I have found one that takes the cake.

It started when I was watching Saltybet, and noticed (repeatedly), a character called “General”. Looking up the origins of the general, I found that he was from a game called Kaiser Knuckle (known as Global Champion in a small US release), an unsuccessful and otherwise unspectacular Street Fighter knockoff.

Stylistically, the General is nothing but a cheap imitation of the legendary M. Bison, but in gameplay terms is so hard that it took twenty years for proof of a legitimate victory to be posted.

This is the proof of the victory over the General.

The boss got so hard that the developers nerfed him in a subsequent (and never actually released) update to the game.

 

The General is a relic of an era of less-strict game design-only stronger to his cheap-boss compatriots in relative terms, but overwhelmingly stronger nonetheless. Whether due to rushing the game or just horrible quality control, what should have been dialed back in testing ended up as this footnote in history.

Sometimes a limit can be reached, and the General was apparently that limit.

One final note: It’s a sign of MUGEN munchkin arms races that the General is not on the absolute highest tier in Saltybet.

 

 

Blank Slate Heroes

I have to admit, I have less enthusiasm for Fallout 4 now than I did when it was released. Part of this is me knowing what happened rather than going into the game excitedly, but that’s not everything. (After all, I loved New Vegas despite my runs adhering rigidly to walkthroughs)

I think one big thematic misstep, which one of my favorite game bloggers, Shamus Young agrees with, is making the protagonist voiced. It’s a sort of uncanny valley where they’re too detailed to just be a blank slate, but aren’t detailed enough to be an interesting character themselves.

(That I’m not impressed by the voice acting doesn’t help matters either)

I had three couriers for my New Vegas playthrough. One was a talker who sided with the NCR, one a brute who sided with Caesar’s Legion, and one a physically weak ex-gangster who sided with Mr. House to redeem themselves. (Said courier compensated for her physical weakness by getting power armor and blasting the final boss with a super-railgun).

Even games without the customization of New Vegas make blank slates. For the protagonist of Undertale, the players (eventually) know their name, that they’re nice, and that’s it. For a Pokemon trainer, their family is known, but they’re not.

I do invent backstories for blank slate characters that often contradict the rest of the setting. Why not?

A Big Whoop Indeed: Monkey Island’s Ending

Twenty years before Mass Effect 3, there was another video game that had a hugely controversial ending. It also happens to be a game that I played when I was very young. This game was Monkey Island 2.

(The Monkey Island games were the first real adventure games I’ve played-I still have good memories about them.)

Anyway: ENDING SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

Now, the whole “theme park” ending has been interpreted as controversial and bizzare. What struck me was that I didn’t think it was the case. I thought the straightforward interpretation-that it was nothing but an illusion made by LeChuck, was obvious, and so did an annoyed LPer.

Then a fansite laid out a case for the theme park ending including a quote from a developer (but not Ron Gilbert himself). Confusing things even more was that in the first drafts of the original Monkey Island, it was indeed intended to end as just a kid’s fantasy.

Gilbert personally pleads the fifth to any question about the ending, which is actually a bit of a red flag for me, since it would very easy to say that the “illusion ending” (which the makers of the non-Gilbert involved third game ran with) was real without giving away the titular “secret”.

Me. I still think it’s an illusion, but I’m slightly warming to a clunky sequel setup mixed with the ‘final’ theme park ending. I also believe that people are overthinking the ending to a comedy game.