Twilight 2000

Twilight 2000, the classic semi-postapocalyptic tabletop RPG, is a very contradictory game, one of the most so I’ve ever seen.

See, the plot is good enough. It’s more realistic than many WWIIIs in that the nukes fly, but manages to stay intact enough so that all the cool toys aren’t taken away. And whatever the many plausibility issues, it works for the sake of setting up an adventure.

The problem is in the dichotomy. The mechanics have a detailed, often-realistic unglamorous focus on the dirty work-logistics, disease, and the like. Characters are quite vulnerable. This mixed with the shattered, post-nuclear war-bandit setting means it should be poised for a low-tier, somber look, right?

Wrong. Sharing equally with the dirty-work mechanics are detailed stats of individual guns, tanks, and artillery pieces, starting dubious already but taken to excess in supplements. The post-apocalyptic setting is there to provoke challenges, but it’s also clearly there to take away the command post and those pesky orders. The target audience and themes are for the “bored soldier and military enthusiast” crowd, not exactly something somber. It’s like This War of Mine was jumbled together with Medal of Honor Warfighter and printed, to use later video games as analogies.

And then some of the later supplements got-weird. I’m talking “save Arkansas from evil airships” weird.

It’s still fascinating, both as a product of its time and for the “excesses” and contradictions it has.

 

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Bad Fiction Spotlight: James G’s WW3

On alternatehistory.com, there have been published a handful of World War III in 198X stories by user “James G”, formerly known as jimmygreen2002. The finished stories are:

Lions Will Fight Bears

For Queen and Country

National Volksarmee

Fight to the Finish

Going West

Spetsnaz: Week of the Chameleons

And I really don’t like them. Even I don’t know exactly why. Applied in isolation, they’d just be dry sequence-of-events war fics. And they even have better prose than a lot of them-which may be the problem. Because somehow, mysteriously, through a way I might not even recognize, they push every single one of my buttons in a way that Red Storm Rising itself, many of its imitators, and even fellow 198X WW3 stories on AH.com do not.

(To give credit where it’s due, Week of the Chameleons isn’t as bad as the rest. I think it’s structural, being inherently more interesting.)

Why? I think it’s a melding of the board culture and text itself into a group of factors that, all together, make it something that stands out from the pack. It’s a bunch of little things and slightly-worse-than-normal stuff that adds up.

  • First there’s the obvious. Clunky prose, little characterization, a sequence of events plot with little flow, and a nonsensical background. But if this alone were the criteria, it wouldn’t be enough.
  • I’ll start with the prose. It’s just good enough to make me take the stories more seriously. This isn’t like say, bashing a fanfic with bad prose and grammar where the narrator overslept and had to get an unusual choice as his first Pokemon. This series has enough skill to get it to a higher threshold for taste.
  • The prose is clunky, but what’s worse than the usual overly descriptive descriptions and infodumps is the tone. There’s a sort of feeling of forced Deep, Solemn Seriousness that goes through every update of every story. And while I can get most of it (I mean, it is about World War III after all), even a story in that setting would benefit from different moods.
  • The characterization is, interesting. First, like the prose, that there’s characterization at all means I view it from the perspective of a story and not a pseudohistory. But a lot of the characterization-when mentioned at all, is not only in shown-not-told infodumps, but infodumps that feel like the description of how many T-___ tanks or ____-class sloops were made before the war began. It’s a writing trait I find telling.
  • The plot, well, the plots start with the usual ridiculous ways to get the war to start, and I can forgive those. They have no flow, and cut from a scene that individually offers a bit of at least potential poignancy to another update that does nothing but remind the reader that yes, Military Unit _____ does in fact exist. It’s a great example of bowl-of-ingredients writing, where all the individual parts are there but the whole is not.
  • Lots of undeveloped viewpoint characters. This almost goes without saying.
  • Action I feel absolutely no involvement in. Far too clinical. It’s more even-handed than an outright nationalist fantasy, which paradoxically makes it worse instead of better. Imagine if an 80s action movie had semi-realistic firing at the occasional muzzle flash (but without any drama) and then cut back to some general at his desk at random intervals and you get the idea.
  • The setting, well, hmm. It’s basically the same story in the same place repeated multiple times with slightly different names. I’ve said some bad fiction resembles a dry, overly literal let’s play/AAR. This feels like different LPs of the same game with different time and difficulty settings. Oh it’s easy mode this time. Or hard mode! Map X as opposed to Map Y!
  • And it’s like the stories set out to hit every single cliche that the niche genre had. That’s how many of them there are.

Those are the main issues with the stories themselves, with “take a genre cliche, make each genre cliche slightly worse than the norm, then pile them up and make it just ‘big’ enough to judge by a literary standard” pushing them over the top. But maybe it’s the AH.com board culture that sets it apart, as my dislike of the stories grew with the dislike of the site. That could be a reason why I feel the way I do. I can’t say I’m unbiased given that I’ve been in arguments in the threads, so I don’t want to go into detail about those. And I feel like I shouldn’t make an appeal to that-the stories should speak for themselves.

So yeah, that’s them. I wonder if my personal biases and experiences skewed them from mediocre to terrible in my own eyes, or if the works by themselves merit a Bad Fiction Spotlight.

The Weirdest Crossover

On AH, I saw a story called Night Witches and dismissed it as something to throw in the pile of mediocre 198X World War III. Then, seeing the story on Fanfiction.net again much later, I saw the context. It was a crossover/AU/Fusion with the cartoon Daria. And I was like “wah”?

I love weird crossovers, but that was something even for me. Really, really something.

Although the mere fact of the story’s existence is far more bizarre and interesting than anything inside it (The entire plot is that the cliche checklist of 198X WW3 is checked off and Daria flies an F-111), it can be seen on Fanfiction.net here.

World War 3 1987 Blog

I will share, for your pleasure and amusement, a blog that I recently found providing a “play-by-play” of a theoretical World War 3, the classic fiction and wargaming topic.

This is Third World War 1987. By my incredibly low standards (read: I’ve seen so many downright awful World War III stories on the internet that anything exceeding them is at least good in perspective) it’s good, and certainly readable. Not the best, but far, far, from the worst either.

 

Indian Ocean Fury

Gunner98 has released two new Command scenarios for testing. This one is the Indian Ocean Fury set, taking place in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. (The out of order numbers are no cause for alarm, simply because some scenarios take longer to make than others)

The two are Indian Fury 1: Persian Pounce and Indian Ocean Fury 3: Socotra Scramble.

Both are as big and complex as you’d expect. I’ve noticed that Gunner98 throws in a lot of minor nations as allies to the USSR-everyone from Algeria to Finland to Eritrea has thrown their hat in the ring in his various “_____ Fury” scens. I don’t know how much of this is motivated by plot concerns and how much of it is motivated by gameplay ones.

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”.

_ _ _

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.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: World War III 1946

There exists a particularly egregious timeline that in terms of its actual content is mediocre, but in terms of internet arguments is something else.

Something much like the previous Bad Fiction Spotlight subject, The Big One, but with far less technical knowledge on the part of the author.

That timeline is “World War III 1946“. The plot goes as follows.

-In 1943, a Mary Sue named “Sergo” starts work on super-tech projects for the USSR.

-In 1946, Stalin attacks west.

This started off as a scenario set/way to use the advanced planes in Il-2 Sturmovik. Then it became something worse. Rather than just being a narrative whose contents wouldn’t have been examined closely, Hairog [the author’s screen name] viciously defended it. There’s a reason I suspect he was so tough in the defense, but here’s the “what”.

Hairog based the land war off of contemporary worst-case plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Justifiably worried about the Eastern Front-winning Red Army but in many ways ignorant of the logistical and political problems said military would face, these plans involved retreating all the way to the Pyrenees and Sicily while conducting a heavy air attack.

(One genuine way to give the Soviets a free boost would be to have the Western Allies spook and retreat far more than they needed to, but Hairog didn’t portray it like that).

With hindsight, in 1946, central Europe was too shattered to support a substantial advance, and the Soviets needed to demobilize to save their economy and secure their new vassal states. Even many of the harshest critics said “give them a few years to catch their breath, and it’s more plausible”. Nope. Gotta be 1946.

The air war was ahistorical and crazy. With the aid of their omniscient spies (that can destroy the US nuclear program and provide essentially real-time updates on air raids), the Soviets foil everything with SAMs and launch a Second Battle of Britain (yes, with an entirely tactical air force). They have German wonder planes-see the inspiration in Il-2, as reenacted by the author:

The prose isn’t good, but it would sit in the forgettable middle of the bad fiction pack-

-if Hairog hadn’t spent hundreds and hundreds of pages across multiple boards defending every last bit of its plausibility. Countless ones, that consisted of him doing everything from simply shoving sources at people without understanding them to declaring that they were simple racist fools that couldn’t bear the thought of the Soviets actually winning.

I found the likely answer when I saw him referring to Sergo as “Hairogski” in an early post. It’s not about criticizing the Soviet plans, it’s about criticizing his plans. Plans that range from using B.F. Skinner’s pigeons as SAM guidance systems to making German midget subs into long-range raiders via mothership submarines.