Command Community Pack Commentary

The latest Command Community Pack has been released, with a whopping 29 new scenarios available in it.

I made two of them, Brazil Abroad and Human Limitation, and figured I’d give a “director’s commentary”.

  • Brazil Abroad was both logistically limited power production, and a slow-paced, sustained ops air campaign, something I feel has been underutilized in Command. I wanted to give the player limited resources and a wide array of freedom when pursuing a target, which in practice meant a LOT of targets.
  • Human Limitation is a concept I’ve been interested in for a while, even before I got Command. Not just of Gaddafi’s African adventures leading him to Rhodesia, but the basic min-max concept of lots of equipment and little skill vs. the exact opposite.

What will I make next? I’m considering a Circle Trigon scen or doing what I’ve long scoffed at, making a pull-out-all-the-stops classic WWIII.

FE Battalion Operations

To put the FE Battalion on the offense or defense?

I’m leaning towards defense. A basic foot infantry battalion is more capable in defense, especially in closed terrain than it is on offense against a heavier conventional foe. Then again, I’m considering putting them in a mechanized battalion, because a foot one is simply too limited.

I don’t want to put them in some sort of special forces unit, even though bizarrely it’s what arguably fits them the best[1].

Now for the enemy. In military terms, this is easy-it’s the Circle Trigon/Krasnovia/Donovia. In other words, an enemy made as a bland opposing force in an artificial battle. Good for artificial battles (and it’s not like the canon FE games are the most deep and intricate anyway), not so good for character development or a sense of meaning.

Now for what their parent regiment/brigade will be like-will it be composed of other high fantasy turned-soldier transplants? Regular troops regarding it as a weak link?

Good news is I have a command staff.

Robin as CO.

Cordelia as XO

Mark as Operations Head

Matthew as Intelligence Head

Merlinus as Logistics Head

Oh no, I’ve stacked the staff with people from my favorite game (FE7) and the most popular (Awakening)! :p.

Now to figure out where to put the more problematic ones…

[1]FE characters have some anime physics and a few superhuman strength feats. I call them “Captain America level”, but their lower durability means they can’t be wasted in a line unit. At least if I wanted to be practical.

The Commander

I’ve been looking at surplus military manuals from various time periods to give me the important information of where a formation commander would physically be during a battle.

Obviously, the answer is “it depends”. Especially at lower levels, the rule of thumb (at least according to American military manuals) is “behind the lead subunit, so you aren’t at the very tip, but can still control the march and battle”. Of course, what the lead subunit is depends on the formation and the circumstances. The manuals themselves do not give a set location for where the command post should be (for very good reasons of both safety and flexibility), and throughout decades of major updates and technological changes, are adamant that the commander personally move often to the best location, which is frequently not the main command post.

Thus this gives me a feel for writing. The nuts and bolts of every specific engagement matter less than general details like where the commander would (in-theory) be. There are exceptions to the norm, for better and worse, which many of the manuals cover to their credit. Naturally, these won’t stop me from putting commanders into very weird situations, because I like weird.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve seen in my numerous forays into bad fiction examples of rather dumb commander placement, on all extremes. Many of which are not justifiable in either a tactical or literary sense.

And of course, pre-mechanized command is an entirely different story.

 

 

 

What Every Writer Has Learned

In lieu of Command Fiction today, because I’m having a case of writer’s block, I guess I should share something that I’ve learned, along with every single writer.

That lesson is that the speed of typing, actually pressing on the keys and making a paragraph, is much faster than the speed of writing, that of actually gathering one’s thoughts into something worth putting down.

Because I read and type fast, I’ve occasionally underestimated how long it takes to actually write something.

Source Extinguishing

So, I got and beat Pokemon Moon. I’m impressed that I managed a totally unspoilered playthrough. The game is good, even if I think the Pokemon franchise/formula is showing signs of limits. Still, it’s a cash Miltank.

But what it quenched was my SII commando fic concept, simply because playing a cutesy kids game shows just how much force is required to wedge in realistic special operators. The one idea I had was an SII agent in Alola-on her honeymoon.

Kind of illuminating overall, and a reason why I want more fanfic writers to be involved in the source material-(which seems like a no-brainer but sadly isn’t).

 

On Trying to Not Be Spoiled

I’m trying not to be spoiled by blockbusters until I finally read/watch/play them. It’s harder than it seems, but I’ve managed it on more than one occasion. I got most of the way through Undertale without being spoiled, and my experience was all the better for it.

Though I have to admit there’s little middle ground with games for me. It’s either a bumbling blind playthrough or a robotic walkthrough.

Another one where I wasn’t spoiled before experiencing it was the name of the traitor in Payday 2′ Hoxton Revenge. Then again, I only had a <30 minute mission to sit through, not a long, detailed game.

Working around a writing weakness

When looking around for new books to read, I remembered Tanya Huff’s Valor series, and got a new spin-off by, An Ancient Peace. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as the originals-my impression is that her heart just wasn’t in it. Or maybe my tastes have changed and it’s been too long since I read the original books.

Be that as it may, the books were little more than cheap thrillers with bad sci-fi tropes (apostrophe-ridden names, cliche alien design, etc…). But they were good cheap thrillers, and I bizarrely respected them more after seeing Huff’s background as a fantasy writer. She was not one with military experience, but was able to work around her weakness to an incredible degree.

How did she do that? By writing fantasy-adventurer situations with small groups and not conventional battles. The heroine takes part in exactly one big engagement, and it’s made deliberately short and vague before moving on to something she was more comfortable writing.  Such an admission of one’s own weakness is interesting and admirable, compared to numerous other writers who’ve overreached beyond their skills.

 

The Perspective That Destroyed The Technothriller

So, I have an additional theory about the technothriller’s fall. It’s not on the central level that Nader Elhefnawy argued (the fall of the USSR took away the biggest immediate driver), or my own speculation (high technology weapons became so common that they ceased being ‘new and exciting’). This is secondary to those.

The theory is that of a precedent that made it (even) harder to continue the thriller in its post-1991 climate. This is, for lack of a better term, the “high level focus”.

As Elhefnawy describes it:

“Rather than having his protagonist Jack Ryan conveniently turning up in the right place at the right time, every time, so as to dominate the narrative, the story’s action is widely diffused among a large number of organizationally and geographically dispersed viewpoint characters. (11) This includes a large number of minor ones, whose sole connection to one another is their playing some small part in the evolution of a common crisis; and whose sole function in the story is to provide a higher-resolution view of some particularly interesting bit of the larger situation.”

A lot of technothrillers would adopt this high-level focus. While I understand the reasoning behind it, I’ve found that more often than not, it’s detrimental. If I had to describe why, the two biggest reasons would be:

-The perspective-hopping gets in the way of a continual flow, turning it into a “this happened, then this happened, then this happened…” clunker.

-The large number of characters and plots make it harder to develop any specific one in detail.

Those are general critiques that could apply to any genre. Where I think the high-level focus amplifies the problem with the technothriller in general, and the post-1991 one in particular is:

-Going into a genre the author isn’t the best at writing. I’m especially thinking politics here, where it became an increasingly tinny “Stupid politicians getting in our way” at worst and flat at best.

-Most crucially, in terms of threat to the main characters. If there’s a low-level focus and all you need to do is write a challenge to the individuals, that’s fairly easy regardless of how ineffective the threat as a whole is. A single SA-2 battery to a fighter plane, whatever the on-paper threat, is still a guided telephone pole-sized explosive heading straight for it. If on the other hand, one has to go all the way up the chain of command, it becomes harder to present a force with obsolescent equipment as a true threat. And since the conventional threats got harder to find after the Gulf War and fall of the USSR…

This is not to say that a high-level focus can’t be done well, or that a low-level one can’t be done poorly. However, I’ve found low-level works that aren’t the best quality to still be fun (and not in a so-bad-its-good way) that bad high-level ones aren’t.

Before I finish, I should give a recommendation/example: Raven One is a largely low-level work that, while not award-winning, is still a good military thriller.

 

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.