My five least favorite antagonists

In no particular order, some of my least favorite antagonists in fiction:

SCP-682 (SCP Foundation)

“The Greek” (The Wire)

The Soviet Leadership (Red Storm Rising)

Andries Rhoodie/The Rivington Men (Guns of the South)

Missingno (Pokemon)

_ _ _ _ _

Missingno:

Missingno is just a glitch. It bugs me so much how a programming error can be treated by fans as some sort of creepypasta scary monster. It’s like making a Fallout or Elder Scrolls fic starring the Glitched Monster From ________.

SCP-682

Now this is what happens when “meme” powers become reality. The lizard is indestructible. That’s it. It’s dull and lame and boring.

“The Greek”

That he’s in one of my favorite shows of all time illustrates that even good works of fiction can gave bad antagonists. A sneering one-dimensional mustache-twirler whose entire gimmick is that he’s greedy, “The Greek” is a bad character in a good story. “The Greek” is supposed to represent unrestrained capitalism, but Stringer Bell shows it in a much more balanced and nuanced way. And even his own lieutenant, Spiros, comes across as a much better and more charismatic character.

The Soviet Leadership

The Politburo scene in the beginning of Red Storm Rising has aged poorly and exists to set up the excuse plot for WW3. Sneering supervillain Soviets might work in a Red Alert game, but in a serious book, it’s a headdesk moment. Their entire plan is invading Europe so they can invade the Middle East later. And this is one of the things the copycats have copied. Ugh.

Rhoodie

Guns of the South does many things right. One thing it does wrong is its antagonists. The Rivington Men are some of the worst antagonists. They exist to make the Confederates look better in race relations by comparison (ulp), and then, when they decide that Lee has to go, with all their futuristic technology, they… have guys with Uzis fire wildly in his general direction.

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Tone

It’s very, very important for fiction to have an appropriate tone. As for the difficulty of that, it’s strange. On one hand, I’ve seen many otherwise bland stories at least manage to keep an appropriate and decent tone. On the other, I’ve seen just as many ones-and these include professional and/or long works- that don’t.

I view maintaining a suitable tone as a kind of art that’s not easily explainable in terms of how to do, because you have no one answer for every story. What I also see is that getting the right tone is a very key factor in separating a proper story from a bowl-of-ingredients clunker where you have events and characters but they’re not really integrated. Not everything, but a big part.

Supertanks

So, my big dilemma can be summed up in one work. Supertanks.

There are a bewildering array of paper supertanks that the fall of the USSR nipped in the bud. These, both western and eastern, range from conventional upgrades of previous-gen tanks (many of which were actually made, at least in prototype) on one end, to ultra-exotic “Crew of two and they’re both in the hull” designs on the other. 140 and 152mm monster guns, uncrewed turrets with innovative autoloaders, the list goes on and on. They’re interesting to see, and I’m wondering “If I’m making a semi-grounded fictional supertank, what real one should it most resemble?”

And yet, for one of my main antagonist groups, the question of supertanks gives way to the more important one of “are they the kind who’d have large formations of tanks at all, be they surplus or super”. That’s the question I should be asking.

Superhero teams

Ah, superhero teams. Even more so than individual superheroes, they’re tricky and the most subject to the inherent flaws of the big two comics model. I’ve entertained one team of superheroes, and it’s tricky, especially the bigger the hero team becomes.

I think the Fantastic Four, and to a lesser extent the X-Men, are the way to do a superhero team right. They’re (to an extent in the X-Men, and definitely in the FF) built from the ground-up as part of a team from the get-go. The Avengers and Justice League are the way to do it wrong, taking existing solo characters and stuffing them into an inherently artificial team (see this Spacebattles post by “Unhappy Anchovy” for a similar view).

To use a sports analogy, the Fantastic Four are a proper team. The Avengers and Justice League are an artificial all-star team.

COIN in wargames, a response

So, there’s been a really good article on counterinsurgency and wargames posted on The Wargamer. Take a read, it’s a well-written and certainly thought-provoking piece. For an examination of Vietnam 65 and Afghanistan 11 on Spacebattles, regarded as the height of well-designed COIN in gaming and far more positive towards them than even the article, see here.

However, I also have some quibbles with it, that I think are worth a response. The first, and it’s purely stylistic is that I think the tone is a little too axe-grindy for my tastes-I’ve been working extremely hard to avoid such a tone even in my own mind, so I’m a little sensitive, maybe more so than someone else would be.

That being said, I think it’s a little too unforgiving. If I had to distill them into three main arguments, it’d be…

  • Gameplay still matters.
  • Asymmetric war exists on a spectrum.
  • Existing games can model asymmetric war better than the article lets on if done intelligently.

Gameplay Still Matters.

Ok, I’ll be honest. This statement tripped a circuit in the scenario-developer part of my mind.

And even then those games are really forgiving when it comes to fog of war. Sure, you can run a company into an ambush in Vietnam or get hoisted by an IED in Afghanistan. But neither game shows the accumulated stress, propaganda-fueled racism or simple evil of your soldiers resulting in atrocities. You don’t risk calling in an airstrike on a wedding or an errant hospital because CIA doesn’t really care about where the information comes from. You don’t need to deal with Generation Kill’s Captain America-level subordinates who will annihilate villages with artillery because they’re scared. In those games, you don’t need to deal with your own side working against you. The military establishment is almost Command and Conquer-like in not being affected by human failings.

My thought was that this sort of thing is a lot more interesting and easier to do in theory than it is in practice. This may be do to my bias against making things too luck-based, but it’s also because the meaning of a game is lost if it’s too difficult or unresponsive to play.

Again, I like it in theory. (Heck, I even included a target that turns out to be a falsely identified building full of innocents in one of my Command scenarios). It’s just that my “better is the enemy of good enough” mind views a somewhat unrealistically “smooth” command system as the price to pay for the experience overall.

And on the subject of atrocities, I view them as something that has to be handled with extreme care, and has the potential to be a “be careful what you wish for” moment if they’re implemented in the wrong way. Because there are people online who’ve been asking, in games like Hearts of Iron, to be able to commit war crimes deliberately. And there the path leads to something far uglier than simple Rambo II-style wish fulfillment fantasies.

 Asymmetric War Exists on a Spectrum

I never thought that the OPFOR chart I did a little while ago on a lark would be legitimately useful to make a point. But it symbolizes, given the prospective threats identified on it, a continuum between the two extremes of “occasional attack insurgency” on one end to “World War III” on the other. I think my own Black Gold Blitz is somewhere in the middle, not just because Iran is closest to the Light OPFOR/ROWEN fictional opponent, but because it’s a conventional conflict where one side still has to try using asymmetric tactics to counter their weakness in traditional arms.

So I’m in total agreement that real, serious COIN would require a game built from the bottom up-to be honest, my biggest inspiration wouldn’t be any existing wargame, but SimCity. It also would be niche even by the standard of the wargaming genre, and have the potential to, as any risky project would, be a swing and a miss that doesn’t live up to its potential. However, especially if the scope was narrowed and the enemy identified/changed to go up the threat scale slightly, there’s something more suitable for a conventional wargame to handle.

Existing Games Can Model-If Done Intelligently

The key word is “if done intelligently”. The comment from “some guy” that helped prompt the original article does not sound like a reasoned, intelligent approach to using an existing model to address a sensitive issue. The words “politically correct” give it all away.

But if narrowed down, it can at least potentially work, especially if it’s toned down to “one tactical engagement”. One option is the classic Mirbat-style “attack on Outpost X”, with an enemy force at least slightly above the bottom of the threat spectrum. At least in regards to Command, I find such an encounter works better in older (definitely up to at least Vietnam, and increasingly so even up to 1991) time periods where the AAMG they lugged up can post a threat to your friendly aircraft that has to fly low to hit anything rather than a more modern scenario where the fighter can fly above and safely attack with smart bombs.

That’s the easy-to-make Command scenario.

The considerably more ambitious, and difficult to make one was something I brought up earlier in the release stream of Black Gold Blitz. Where you do have some “Stuff”-even a lot of it, but where there’s a giant set of proper ROEs, fleeting targets, concern for collateral damage, and so on. It’s still ultimately tactical, and it’s still not for everybody, but it’s a huge variation on the standard Command theme that illustrates the challenges of a low-intensity environment. (Ironically, one of the biggest inspirations, and showing how these restrictions can be modeled, came from a totally conventional PVO-vs-SR-71 scenario)

In conclusion

So, that was my response. I probably came across as more critical towards the original article than I actually am. I have to say it’s because I’m a pretty critical person, even towards stuff I enjoy greatly, and it’s just easier for me to say what I didn’t like about something than what I did.

But I don’t disagree with the main points of the article, whatever my other critiques may have been. I hope my critique and commentary are well-received, and I hope any readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed making it.

 

Nostalgia and Innovation

One of the games I remember as a child, and one of my first “Git Gud” games where I remember progressing from “clunking around” to “no-hit runs”[1], was Wario Land 4. The game itself is a solid, effective platformer with the typically “quirky” (to put it mildly) Wario style.

But one thing I thought was interesting about it was how it was a step forward in shaking off the anachronistic arcade holdover of “extra lives”. There’s no “game over”, and dying simply fails the individual level. (It’s one that the proper Mario games have noticeably been considerably slower at going for, simply because of a “why mess with what works” attitude). Plus the score system, another arcade holdover, actually has some value in WL4. It’s interesting to look back on in hindsight.

[1]And deliberately doing poorly so I could see all the bad endings.

OPFOR Effectiveness Graph

My love of useless graphs and a desire to do some practice with Excel led to me creating this simple chart on the fake exercise punching bag-I mean nations.

OPFORStrength

(For information on the OPFORs in question, see my posts on the subject at Baloogan Campaign. )

Now for the “data” (quotations deliberate). This is based on wild guesses and gut feelings, is oversimplified, and only deals in “conventional” threats. Quibbles include.

  • Whether there was too small a leap from the non-state opponents to the state ones.
  • How to group the Basic Forces and Heavy OPFOR, as they’re both benchmarking the same force. I gave the latter a slightly higher score, as it takes the first step to Mobile Forces organization.
  • How much greater the “Mobile Forces” are at the top from their closest rivals.

I did not include any “Hybrid” opponents, nor did I include any historical comparisons. These are purely in relation to each other.

 

Wither the RTS

I’ve enjoyed many a real time strategy game as a child, being (for the most part) a Command and Conquer player, with everything from Generals to Red Alert. I also played my share of Starcraft and Empire Earth.

Now that I’ve said that, I’ll say the controversial thing. In my opinion the RTS genre was/is fundamentally flawed from the start, and its decline was both understandable and deserved.

As for the biggest problem with their gameplay, I think this post by “Reaper_93” on Spacebattles explains it far better than I could. (The short version is that they require two different and seemingly contradictory skills, which limits their appeal).

There’s another one I’ve noticed myself, and that’s that in RTSes, the single and multiplayer might as well be two completely different games. Evidently, their userbase agrees, because I’ve heard and read that a majority of RTS players (including me) never even touched the online multiplayer. This is understandable. There’s another problem, in that the single-player experience is either an AI skirmish mode that’s a twisted parody of online multiplayer, or a campaign.

Campaign missions, are, by and large, terrible once you take off the rose-tinted glasses. At least without the context of the story and mission. There are exceptions, but most of them amount to “survive the early game. Then build a blob of of units. Smash. Repeat if necessary until victory”.

So you’re left with either an ultra-crunchy (especially with later RTSes chasing the esports white whale) multiplayer game that isn’t beginner friendly, or you get a cinematic campaign just as linear and forced as the stereotypical FPS that has no replay value.

I may be too harsh, but it’s what I feel about the traditional RTS genre. I enjoyed it when I was younger, but you like a lot of things when you’re younger that you don’t when you grow up. After all, when I was younger I enjoyed playing the infamous Shadow the Hedgehog too.

The Tank Army Out Of Nowhere

It may be implausible, but I love the concept of the tank army out of nowhere. I’ve seen it in a few cheap thrillers of dubious quality, and if the context allows it, I love it. It’s just a sign that the author simply does not care about those silly things like “logistics”, or “direct plausibility”.

Where I think I love the tank army out of nowhere (again, assuming the right context, which boils down to not taking things too seriously) has to do with my own hang-ups, where I’ve been too focused on “plausibility”. As a literary tool, seeing the tank army out of nowhere without any explanation save for a lame excuse (and sometimes not even that) makes me think “Ok, here’s tanks-this is going to be ridiculous, whether the author intends it or not.”

And I like ridiculousness in my fiction.

Worm 2 (or Ward) is here.

After nine teaser previews and much anticipation, the first chapter of Worm II (with the formal name Ward) has been posted.

I read it. It’s at least fresh, even if I still have issues with Wildbow’s prose and the excesses of the setting. One literary note is that the narrator’s name (Victoria Dallon) is somewhat clunkily inserted, and done at the very end of the chapter as a cliffhanger.

I’ve hopefully absorbed enough Worm knowledge through Spacebattles to get the general setting view. And speaking of Spacebattles, I’ll just say I’m glad there’s a seperate Worm forum in CRW.