The Generals Repelled The Fandom Attack

I’ve spent years, almost since I started both playing the game and expanding my military reading material, trying to come up with a more “grounded” take on the game Command and Conquer Generals.

Constantly rolling a boulder up a hill would be more pleasant.

The game is nothing then an early 2000s pop culture view of the military. That’s why F-117s are more stealthy in-game than F-22s (they’re distinctive looking, ok?), the ramshackle terrorist force is made with just enough leeway to avoid a backlash while still meeting the villain of the week quotient, and Iowa battleships fight alongside beam cannons. China is the second faction because Russia was still picking itself up, and you get the idea.

Ok, so the real conflicts in Syria and Libya have featured conventional wars with ramshackle technical contraptions, so in hindsight it’s slightly better. Fair enough. But battles ranging from the pyramids to the Pacific, with the US able to traipse around as it pleases in Iran and even Russia (!), and geography being a dubious afterthought. Yeah, it still has some way to go.

The cancelled Generals sequel, to its credit, did try to turn the GLA into a more diverse and less blatant world populist uprising, but that still leaves everything else.

Sometimes settings just aren’t salvageable, and aren’t even fun to try and salvage. Generals is another setting with no foundation.

The Monster I4s from Central Asia

My latest obsession is something that succeeds because it finds a way for me to be different within an inherently limited structure. It also succeeds in that it appeals to my weird alternate history sense (i.e, yes, politics are totally different, but what of the cars?)

So, in my latest project in Automation, I struck gold. Monster inline-four engines, by a producer that, in the timeline, has become the biggest foreign brand in the US by market share.

The inspiration started when I looked at World War II Soviet jeeps and saw one powered by a three liter inline-four engine. This engine style was, thanks to its huge size and common block configuration, both build-able and different. (A more exotic engine configuration could be imagined, but would fall victim to Automation’s understandably limited engine types, while I wanted something different from a smaller I4).

There’s a good reason why I4 engines normally aren’t that big. The Super Three, as I nicknamed it, has the bulkiness of a large engine with the inherent limitations of an I4, and has an incredibly low RPM that is spared from being even lower by its rugged parts.

Once the Super Three got built in the engine maker, in 1946, I had to make over a decade worth of later cars that used it. Engine limitations like this are both more realistic and challenging than simply giving each new car a custom-built engine. So far, the cars built only stood out in the “muscle” category-understandably.

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Now for the “background”. This is based on the The Big One timeline, and I make no real claims to total, or even much plausibility. Said timeline would be a total mess regarding cars-Germany is nuked to ruin, which takes out both its car industry and machine-tools that set the rest of the world back, Japan remains economically backwards, and the US hogs all the remaining advanced tooling for its military-industrial complex. Thus its cars are even clunkier, to the point where the author said that to keep gas prices “down”, they have to not tax gasoline.

Also, Russia and Eastern Europe go capitalist far earlier, which could mean something other than old Fiats coming out of their lines.

(Incidentally, the main timeline is such a boring wish-fulfillment pushover that I find thinking about cars much more interesting than the main divergences. TBO was the ‘existing alternate history setting’ I mentioned in this old post.)

Enter the company TAZ. It stands for a Russian translation of “Tashkent Auto Factory” (Tashkent Avto Zavod).

TAZ’s fictional history is such-it starts out as a wartime plant producing military vehicles and/or engines for such in the safety of Central Asia. To survive after the war and privatization, it takes its one product-the Super Three engine, and turns itself into a maker of civilian autos.

The engine is far more suited for utility vehicles than passenger cars. But for whatever reason, TAZ ends up deciding to make such vehicles in addition to light trucks. Stuffing the Super Three into an auto gets you-a proto-muscle car. It’s too big to fit into smaller city cars, and doesn’t match the power of the true monsters, but it has the raw force in a smaller package.

As a niche car, it sells well enough to keep both its parent and said parent’s auto business functional. They begin crossing the oceans (where they become low-end muscle cars), and they give TAZ a foot in the door and a “theme” of power that helps them stay distinct. Although not the sole engine once they expand, the fondness for the Super Three keeps large I4s under the hoods of subsesquent TAZes.

Although technological progression and trends would be far different beyond the initial 1950s period given the previously mentioned differences, I reimagined a more modern TAZ, making a “3-21” three liter, 21st Century inline-four-and am in the process of building the “3-21” series in Automation now.

Question marks for TAZ remain. Their big engines are vulnerable to oil price increases, the inherent limitations of large I4s could work against them, the geography of their initial location isn’t the most efficient, and there’s politics that could harm them.

(Canon TBO reverts the USSR back to a large Russia while glossing over the inevitable awkward politics surrounding the non-Russian republics. Solidarity around an even bloodier Eastern Front and a postwar boom would repress it for a while, but it might very well come back after another bust).

Still, as an exercise, it’s very fun.

Fallout-Tale: The Improbable Pacifist

An RPG was recently released. This game, released to much applause, stood out for its ability to progress through the entire game without the main character killing any enemies. The name of this RPG was-

 

-Fallout 4. What, you thought it was Undertale? Oh, it was that too. The two are as different as games in the same nominal genre can be. While Undertale was designed for this (and in fact, to get the best ending requires it), Fallout clearly wasn’t. Someone found a way to win at Fallout 4 without technically killing any enemies. Note that it should be said technically. They still end up dead, it’s just that your counter stays perfectly clear.

Fallout 1 has zero required kills (directly, at least). Fallout 2 has only one. Fallout 3 has a handful. The game I’ve played the most, New Vegas, could theoretically be done with one direct kill (Mr. House on a Yes Man route), or zero if one assumes the Brotherhood of Steel’s evacuation procedures are very efficient (blow up the bunker as House requires without killing anyone inside).

4 is far more combat-focused, and has unskippable, unavoidable encounters. The player managed to do it anyway, though pushing the already wobbly game past its limit at some points. And watching it is interesting, to say the least. (Just in the first video the player “level grinds” through putting up a million wooden bureaus).

The result can be seen in this playlist.

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.