Writing On The Blank Slates

So, what do I do when confronted with a semi-blank slate character?

Make up an incredibly ridiculous backstory, of course. Undertale is a good example in point, because of how deliberately vague everything in it is-given my fertile imagination. Obligatory spoiler warning despite the game having been out for quite some time now.

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The main character of the game is intended to be a blank slate. Their low-res appearance is intended to be of an ambiguous gender.

Nearly of my Frisks are girls, based solely on me thinking the sprite looked more like one. But more importantly, all of them have extant human families. The story of the one who climbed the mountain varies a lot-ranges from the child of two wealthy financiers to a struggling parent, to a crackpot “analyst”. But the one variable is that all of them are kind and loving. The worst I got was an unscrupulous and hideously ambitious “stage mom” who pushed her daughter too hard and, post-pacifist end, sees her as a way up-but who is still ultimately caring and not outright abusive.

I tend to dislike kicked-puppy backstories, and for someone like Frisk, it makes even less sense that an abused, beaten child could be as friendly and forgiving as them (to say nothing of their incredible will to live).

One of my crazier, not serious ones is Frisk as a Little Sister style test subject, the antithesis of that. One of my crazier ones is her as a descendant of a Circle Trigon fighter, but that’s just me liking that crazy taxpayer-funded Esperanto empire too much.

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Chara, the other human in the game, is a harder case. A kicked-puppy background is easier to justify for them, as they “hated humanity” and ended up committing suicide.  At first, I made Chara a boy named Charlie, but now they’re sometimes a girl with that as their proper name.

To be honest, Chara never held that high a place in the story for me. They’re long dead by the time Frisk drops into the underground, and that’s that. No genocide route and none of the increasingly twisted “narrator Chara possession” theories.

But I still wanted a backstory, and my most recent attempt at one was surprisingly large. Chara’s father was a war criminal who met a violent end, leaving his/her De’Londa Bryce-esque mother to try and preserve her lavish lifestyle on his dwindling ‘prize money’. When Chara got old enough, reading about their father’s actions and mother’s stress made something in them snap and they ran off to the mountain where it was rumored no one returned from. The rest was history.

Although, the words “war criminal” and “cutesy Earthbound homage” don’t exactly go well together. Oh well…

 

Coiler’s Crazy Colosseum (Celtic Centered)

As it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I have this Celtic themed fanon fight.

cloverforbattle

Clover (Payday 2)

vs.

hollyforbattle

Holly Short (Artemis Fowl).

 

(I’m guessing Holly will win because of her superior technology and magic, but the Payday Gang have done so much crazy stuff that you can’t count Clover out.) They’re thematic contrasts as well, with Clover as a notorious criminal and Holly a policewoman.

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.

Army Unit Names

So, when naming fictional military units, I like to use fictional names rather than real equivalents. There are many reasons for this, from creating a sort of “wall of separation” between fiction and reality that makes me feel more comfortable writing them, to just the fun of thinking up appropriate names in the same general class.

Regrettably, US Army units encounter both of the seemingly contradictory stumbling blocks I described in an old post on unit names at Baloogan Campaign. Its current divisions are (comparatively) few and in many cases distinctive, especially specialty units like the 82nd Airborne. Almost like aircraft carriers.

However, they’re also numbered-and the US has a huge pool of inactive World Wars-only divisions that make putting a number above them an exercise in stumbling over triple digit units.

130_inf_div_ssi

The shoulder patch for the phantom 130th Infantry Division.

This is not an insurmountable issue, and in fact I have an in-jokey way. I’ve used the phantom units used in WWII as “real” units. So units that were fictional in real life become real in fiction.

Plus it’s also somehow less of an issue for units not American, especially from fictional countries. There I can add all the 1st and 3rd and 82nd divisions I want to.

Arrows And Torpedoes

Now, only recently have I looked more in-depth at the legendary Preston Tucker and his failed attempts at building cars.

The SEC charges were rather weak and there is no evidence to indicate that Tucker was an outright scammer, but even many of his defenders state that he was unaware of what going into the brutal auto industry actually meant. Kaiser-Frazer and Crosley, started by far more successful businessmen with more resources, still failed.

(The car itself did have many innovative and unique features, but even some of those were pared back in development. Never facing the stress test of sustained use marketing gives the vehicle an unnaturally rosy picture).

The Tucker cars remind me of another lost vehicle that attracts a disproportionate amount of nostalgia. This vehicle is the Avro Arrow. The Arrow was at best a limited F-4 or Western equivalent of the Su-15. Its main reason for being dropped dramatically after the Soviets shifted to missiles.

What makes the Tucker and Arrow stand out is the belief among far too many devotees that their success would have been game-changing. With the Arrow, Canada would be cranking out hordes of fighter jets. With Tucker, Detroit would have been nimbly pushed into shape, so that when the imports started arriving, they’d have far less of an opening.

I find both of these claims highly dubious.

Command Fiction: Elephant Tusks

Intro:

This Command Fiction vignette is based on the scenario Standoff-21, a futuristic version of the Black Buck air raids of Falklands fame. In real life the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled, but in Command it exists as a hypothetical unit, including a variant armed with Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

This is kind of “Britain YEAH!”, which is weird because I’m American. Oh well.

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Maybe they were white elephants all along, a last gasp of the British Imperial mentality. But as the Nimrods returned to the field on Ascension Island, one thought went into the mind of the technician watching them.

Even white elephants have tusks.

They’d flown through the tanker chain-far and away the hardest part of the mission-, released their Storm Shadows, and hit their targets on the Argentine mainland. Now the crews were getting ready to repeat the process.

They weren’t foolish enough to try and invade en masse, instead settling for a mixture of small ops. While the Army, Navy, and FDF had dealt with them, they weren’t stopping. The time had come to up the stakes and let Buenos Aires know what HM Armed Forces could do.

All it needed was the political go-ahead, and once that was achieved, they were off. Off without a hitch.

Now it could very well have been done more efficiently. But it was done. And what a suitable fiftieth birthday present for the Nimrod-for that was how long it had taken between its service introduction and something like the events to happen.

Command Fiction: Democratic War Theory

Intro:

For whatever reason, a Command scenario that has stayed in my imagination long after I released it was Regaining Honor. Perhaps it’s the unconventional drone gameplay or something else. While its description of the state of the Yemeni armed forces has turned out to be the exact opposite of what happened in real life, the circumstances-similar to real life but also different, have gripped me.

So I’m writing this “Command Fiction”, describing the aftermath of a scenario. There will be more of this, from multiple perspectives.

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June 12, 2015.

The irony of it all. A Middle Eastern nation with little history of anything but authoritarianism holds a democratic election and hands over power. Under most circumstances, it would be cheerful.

Not today.

On April 2, routine drone operations turned into the largest aerial combat losses for the United States since the Vietnam War. Four American fighters, including two of the previously unbeaten F-15s, fell. In return, they shot down at least seventeen Yemeni planes. The regional buildup has accelerated, and now a fleet of warships sits off the coast, backed by hundreds of land-based aircraft everywhere from Jordan to Djibouti.

All against a military that, even before the loss of half its air force, was hideously weak even by regional standards. But every American from President Winslow down to the lowest-ranked enlisted knows that striking first after the event would be politically suicidal. Even the initial sweep and cruise missile strike (apparent an awkward enactment of a CENTCOM contingency plan for the loss of a crewed aircraft over Yemen) was considered by many domestic and international observers as overreacting.

An immediate snap election was called. The ruling YPP won 79 out of 141 seats in the Yemeni national parliament, allowing it to (theoretically) form a cohesive leadership without the awkward dealings and rumblings that characterized the past two years of civilian rule. No one believes its large victory to be the result of anything but fear and a desire for some kind of stability.

The YPP’s coalition partners accepted the defeat (at least for the time) and the new single-party cabinet was sworn in on June 10.

Unresolved issues include POW Jim Butterfield, an F-15 pilot captured during the air battle (Two were killed and a third was safely rescued).

The elected, civilian government chose to shoot down the drones as a political move-an irony that, for the claims of “democratic peace theory”, it proved more belligerent than its authoritarian predecessors.

Whatever, markets have jittered and oil prices spiked since the start of the crisis. While Yemen has little interdiction capability and the American buildup would make any attempt near-impossible, the instability is bringing fear. If Winslow hoped that a large buildup would reassure financial leaders, he is mistaken.

Barton Motors

How to keep a small American car company alive and independent? The thought kept going through my mind, and went to the forefront after the release of the latest open beta for Automation.

Barton Motors is one of my concept car companies. An independent auto manufacturer in New Jersey, it survives World War II and then…

Something. I want it to be a general purpose producer, at least at first. The only problem is that general purpose is in many ways the toughest segment. The only options for a poor independent once the artificial boom of the late 1940s subsides are:

  • Go head to head against the Big Three with fewer resources. This was tried by AMC’s Rob Abernethy in the 1960s, with predictable results.
  • Try to fill a niche. At first, compact cars were the niche, the problem being that every independent tried to pile into a small market. Then came AMC’s Ramblers, followed by renewed competition from the Big Three compacts and imports. This need not be limited to compacts-if an independent got a Mustang-style car before the Mustang (or something else), a similar logic would undoubtedly occur.

 

What I decided was Barton getting enough of a certain image to survive by going upmarket. Starting as a mass volume producer, it decides to live on as a low tooling cost, niche producer after one device fails. Of course, this means it goes from thousands to hundreds of employees, but at least it’s still in business for longer.

To my knowledge, there is no real life precedent (the closest is BMW, who built everything from tiny bubble cars to giant luxury vehicles before settling on the upper-mid premium market.) There was, however, an attempt-the Alchemy proposal for the MG Rover group, that would have slimmed it down to a low-production sports car company. This was rejected in favor of a politically preferable bid that kept the workforce employed in full, the disastrous Phoenix Four.

There’s skepticism that the original offer was actually viable-other British sports-car firms have gone decades without making a profit. But the theoretical precedent is there. I still wouldn’t bet on Barton surviving to the present. But you never know.

 

Car Company Names

What do I name my car companies? The car companies across the world have many historical precedents.

  • Founder names (Ford). These are the easiest-I just need to find a family name of the appropriate nationality and slap it on.
  • Geographic names (BMW). The example of BMW stands for “Bavarian Motor Works”, which fits its initial business as an aircraft engine manufacturer. One of my companies, TAZ (Tashkent Avto Zavod/Tashkent Auto Factory), has a geographic name. These are harder.
  • Non-founder/non-geographic names (Mitsubishi). The absolute hardest, especially for non-English names (which I’ll admit I’m not good at pronouncing, much less understanding).

So far, an incomplete list of companies, for Automation and imagination:

TAZ (Russia/USSR, general purpose, geographic)

Lelli-Folino (Italy, supercars, founder)

Barton Motors (US, general purpose, founder)

Air Force Coups

So, one of my endeavors in Command has been to make a scenario where the player controls the plotters of a coup attempt. At first, the main stumbling block was what country to set it in, and at what time. I figured that out.

The problem is that fixed-wing aircraft are inherently the worst tools to use for a coup. Coups are about seizing, even more so than conventional battles. Because of this, there have been only a handful of historical coup attempts that relied largely on aircraft and all of them failed.

The paradox is this-if the circumstances make the coup likely to succeed, the fighter aircraft are superfluous. If the circumstances make it likely to fail, they’re irrelevant no matter what their performance.

I do have an idea of how to model their niche, so that’s not an issue with making the scenario.

Just an observation that shows why an unorthodox situation is unorthodox.