I’ve had a tremendously poor Internet quality these last couple of weeks and it just kept getting worse – it took me several minutes to check my email for example – but fortunately it is fixed now so we can get back to our regular scheduling! Many thanks also to Rilgon for his excellent post yesterday, giving us a little look into a genre that Pike and myself don’t pay quite enough attention to (Largely because the genre will never equal what Treasure made in my eyes).
I have recently finished a World Conquest in the KR mod for Darkest Hour, playing as an enlightened, democratic Japan. That flung dozens of nukes around and killed tens if not hundreds of millions in her global conquest. Enlightened!
And now Pike and myself have settled down for a wonderful evening of Civilization IV, where we face the famous Confucian Egyptians, among others!
Tell us, dear readers, both what you will be playing this weekend and of your favorite alternate history situations in videogames, either as settings or ones you have yourself created!
Here’s a thing we’ve all experience! Something that shows just how wonderful games can be, as rare with games as a real pageturner with books, and the mark of a classic. One More Turn!
A couple of nights ago my co-host Pike had gone to bed early and I found myself not yet tired enough to do the same. “I know” I thought “I shall play a little Hearts of Iron for half an hour or so.” Two and a half hours later I noticed the same, and also the sunrise, and finally crawled into bed. The thing with a lot of games which have this appeal is that they have some really tangible sense of progression. I think that’s why we generally it call “One more turn” – it came from playing Civ until the wee hours.
With strategy games, good ones at least, you’ve always got something really tangible dangling in front of you. You’re always about to build a wonder, or conquer a city, or research a technology, or otherwise get some sort of reward. (Incidentally I think this is the major area where Civ V falls down; you get punished for many things, compared to Civ IV’s model where at worst you’ve lost due to opportunity cost. You might build unwisely but you still get something from it.) For me on Tuesday it was the conquest of Ethiopia, then of Egypt, then I had to fight Hashemite Arabia and Persia. After that I took on the Ottomans and their allies in Libya, Armenia, and Crete. Then I was ready to grab the remains of National French Africa. Throughout this I was researching new units and building new units and factories to improve my industry. See how it always cascades and there’s always something new to look towards? It’s admittedly a real-time game, but it functions similarly enough to turn-based for this to still work.
Compare to other games with more discrete levels. You do a level, great! Maybe you got a new toy in it. But now the level is over, there’s little that keeps you immediately hooked, the game might be superb but the immediacy matters a great deal in hooking you and keeping you hooked. I was playing some Skyrim and had a great time in this little dungeon, it was fun to explore, lots of fights, all that stuff. But once it was done, it was, well, done. I still want to play Skyrim but there was nothing keeping me there right at that moment.
Which games have the strongest One More Turn effect for you guys? We all know that Pike’s answer is SMAC, but what about our dear readers?
Thanks in no small part to the beneficence of Gaben, I’m currently drowning under a cavalcade of games. I’ve finished Saints Row The Third, and by finished I mean done one ending without getting close to 100% so I’ve not finished it at all (Hypershort review: Exceptional game filled with awesomeness and hilarity but what happened to the great cutscenes you did in SR2 this is a disjointed mess Volition?), there’s Skyrim, which is just stupidly huge, and now I’ve gone and picked up Star Ruler, Space Empires IV, and Portal 2, and I’m hungrily eying the new Legends expansion for Distant Worlds.
And this isn’t even counting the games I’ve not got around to yet, such as twenty years of classics that GoG insist on foisting upon me, or Arkham City for example, NOR does it count the games I have but that I’ve not yet managed to give sufficient time to like Jagged Alliance 2 or Master of Orion 2, or SMAC, though the latter is here mostly because it is literally not possible to give enough time to SMAC. I’ve still not finished Human Revolution.
Plus of course there’s all the regular stuff I play that demands time and attention; Darkest Hour, SMAC, SimCity 4, GalCiv 2, Baldur’s Gate, EU3, Vicky 2, Dorf Fort, Open TTD, Project Zomboid, the list goes on and on! Thank Talos that I’ve shaken the WoW bug for the time being.
Busy weekend! What about you all, do you ever get overwhelmed by all the games that need to be played? How do you deal with it? What are you playing this Thanksgiving weekend?
Finally I am taking altogether too much enjoyment in watching Notch act like a petulant child. I’m not even a fan of the Yogscast, it’s not my thing, but dang if one side in this debacle isn’t being a lot classier than the other. Which is double amusing because the classy side is a couple of lads who mess around doing silly voices and getting into vidya hi-jinx on YouTube whilst the one being an entitled imbecile has a multi-million Euro business!
I was recently reading this preview for an upcoming game by Paradox, Crusader Kings II. Here’s the final paragraph of the review:
Of course there are problems in a game of this scope, when the mechanics become obscure and events make no sense. When he was five Harold invaded Scotland, forcing the Duke of Lothian to surrender his claim on Northumberland, but a month into the ceasefire he managed to usurp it back and even Harold’s babysitter doesn’t know how. So once again, the only way to really work out the game’s nuances is by sticking with it and putting in the hard graft. The hard graft though, is that much more enjoyable than in the rest of Paradox’s strategy games. We’ll see if it can still be as engaging in the long run when it’s released in February, but the preview does leave a distinct impression: it’s still a spreadsheet, but it’s a spreadsheet with a soul.
The preview’s implication, if you read the whole thing, is that this game adds a personal touch to what would otherwise be another Paradox game by focusing on people and families more than countries. This, the article states, gives the game a “soul”.
It’s an intriguing idea, and it sort of got me to wondering what gives a game this mythical quality of “soul”. Can this soul be found in other games– even games that are widely considered “spreadsheets”?
I’ve been playing Hearts of Iron 2 pretty solidly over the past few days inbetween working on my NaNoWriMo. I’ve been playing as Canada, which I find really fun to play for some reason. My main goal of the game was to turn Canada into a surprise industrial powerhouse while also providing some backup for my brothers in arms across the Atlantic.
One of the benefits you have as a player in a video game based on a historic event– in this case, World War II– is that you know when things are going to start happening and you can prepare accordingly. In this case, I was able to shuttle some troops across to France and line them all up along the Maginot Line. My hope was that maybe, if I could provide enough help, we could thwart Germany’s advance into France entirely and mess with history a bit– isn’t that the point of Paradox games, after all?
This didn’t happen. We put up quite a nasty fight but in the end the Nazis overran us. My forces retreated into one lone province, and I remember watching quite helplessly as they put up a last stand there against the Germans. And you know, for one fleeting minute there, I felt that I had failed. Not as a player. Not as a strategist. But as a leader. Suddenly, for a few brief seconds, I could see in my minds’ eye the desperate last fight of a group of soldiers facing the numberless hordes of the enemy. I thought about how a few in-game years prior I had made them say goodbye to their families and friends and sent them across the ocean to a foreign country. I wondered what they must be thinking, there in their little province surrounded by Nazis. I wondered if they thought this was the beginning of the end of the world. I wondered if someone made a stirring, spur-of-the-moment speech, inspiring them not to go down without a fight. I wondered what their last thoughts were.
I wondered all of this and then seconds later they were gone.
They weren’t “real”, per se. They were bits of computer data represented by a couple of pixels on my monitor. But they represented real events and real emotions that have happened before and will happen again, and because of that, for those few brief seconds, I found the soul in the spreadsheet.
And that is one of the many reasons why I will always love this medium.
We do apologize for the paucity of updates this week; Pike has had various matters of consequence to attend to (more here) whilst my Internet decided to be nonfunctional for almost a full 24 hours, then I came back online and just watched Saints Row The Third trailers until I remembered we have a blog that should probably be attended to!
Honestly I’ve not been doing much special in videogaming terms lately. I’m playing Baldur’s Gate, playing Saints Row 2, and messing around with my usual array of 4x/grand strat games. There are a couple of things that might be worth relating though!
First is that I still can’t wrap my head around how great Master of Orion 2 is. I mean I’ve heard all the hype and stuff for years, and I finally got around to playing it, and it lives up to every word. It really is that good. And it has an amazing soundtrack as well!
You may or may not have heard that Sword of the Stars 2 came out this weekend, and that the release was the very definition of a clusterfuck. Kerberos not only uploaded a beta version to Steam but, once they fixed that and had a real version up… it was no better! They’re working hard on getting it up to par, and I’m sure they will given the gulf between SotS at release and SotS today, but Kerberos + Paradox making a game was a pretty amazing recipe for disaster. I think they’re trying to top that time CCP deleted everyone’s boot.ini.
As I said I would I’ve spent some time with Hearts of Iron 3, and I can safely say it’s really not my cup of tea. I’m not a fan at all and I feel that I have given it a fair shake now; I can see what they were aiming for but it just didn’t work out that way, sadly. Oh well, it’s not like HoI2 has gone anywhere!
But we’re moving into the busy season now, so hopefully we’ll have plenty to say over the coming weeks! And of course what we’re going to talk about is old strategy games. Funny story, when Pike and me first planned this we considered making a strategy gaming blog, but considered it too limiting. And now look at us!
Oh yes, and there was the GTAV trailer, wasn’t there? I’m blown away by the graphics and San Andreas is a great setting. I’m actually not too worried if they’re taking a serious route with it; that’s a perfectly legitimate thing for them to want to do, and R* do it very well. But I have to admit, I’m more excited for Saints Row nevertheless.
(66% of consoles have 100% of the games; #OccupyMS+Ninty)
Okay, I’ve been thinking all day and for the life of me I can’t devise any kind of serious or worthwhile or even flippant and jejune topic for this so, lest I overtax my brain and end up in a febrile state, I shall fall back on something I presciently set up awhile ago: What are you playing this weekend?!
MEIOU Mod for EU3: Divine Wind
The only major mod to be updated for Divine Wind so far, and it’s pretty great. All those new countries! In any strategy game I fetishize alternative countries and scenarios heavily (If Cascadia is available, I play Cascadia) so this pleases Gaga.
Because let’s face it, I’m hopelessly addicted now.
Sword of the Stars
I played this a little some considerable time ago and it didn’t click, but I’m giving it another try now because I need the 4X, and it seems to be going better.
Kaiserreich Mod for Darkest Hour
They’re continuing to work on this thing pretty rapidly, and it’s still great.
So. This game. Hearts of Iron 2. It’s a Grand Strategy game, which means it looks a little like this:
There are two types of people in this world. Those who will look at this screenshot, raise an eyebrow, and slowly back away, and those who will look at this screenshot and promptly go something like this:
If you are one of the latter, then you have probably played this game already. If not… then you seriously need to look into it. Never has pushing tiny armies around a tiny map been so detailed and intricate. Also, that tech tree. That tech tree.
Anyways! I’ll refrain from delving into the details because there’s not a lot I can say about this game other than you should seriously look into it if you like strategy and history and micromanagement and geeking out over details.
And watch out for those Germans, they’ll stab you in the back when you least expect it! (…which I suppose makes sense, it being World War II and all…)
Fair warning: This post is going to deal with some unpleasant issues, such as the Holocaust, concentration camps, and so forth.
I’ve been playing plenty of Hearts of Iron 2 over the years, and as my last post said, I’ve been spending time with Darkest Hour over the weekend. It’s a lot of fun! And yet I am constantly reminded of what I regard as a significant shortfall in the game – the absence of atrocities. From Paradox’s own forum: Short version is No Anything Nasty, No Talking about why there’s Nothing Nasty.
Now, if you are hesitant, I can understand where you are coming from. Videogames are not exactly renowned as an especially thoughtful medium, certainly not one which is ready to tackle weighty issues like the most horrific crimes in human history. As an aside, I would question how they ever can become that if we don’t start taking some faltering steps in that direction. Nonetheless if there is hesitation or concern I am, as I say, understanding of this sentiment. We are the medium of grisly chainsaw deaths, where a gunshot to the gonads is rewarded with an amusing animation and as often as not some sort of bonus, a medium where very few games even conceive of avoiding violence, let alone using non-violence as a primary arbiter of solving problems.
So yes, I can see where the concern would come from. I have concerns myself. I’m not confident that too many developers could do something as unpleasant as World War 2, the real unpleasantness of it I mean, in a way that is anything other than an appeal to prurient sadism or rubbernecking. And, let’s be honest here, in other games how many of us really have acted like genocidal maniacs in games where it’s possible? I’ve blown up stars because it’s easier to do that than to mount a regular invasion of a solar system. When abstracted -or when not based in recent historical events – players are given leeway to commit acts so overwhelmingly evil that the inhabitants of the 40K Universe would balk. Allowing the player to engage in such actions will mean players engage in such actions.
But here’s the thing: Hearts of Iron deals with a very specific period of history, involving very specific actors, whose choices had wide-ranging effects. Nazi Germany was not a fighting power who happened to devote some effort to exterminating millions because it sounded like a good idea at the time – it was a core ideological conceit of the state and it had a significant impact on their conduct of the war effort itself. However insane their policies, however divorced from reality, they nevertheless existed and were consequential. When things began to go badly on the Eastern Front for the Third Reich, they still devoted an enormous effort of industry and infrastructure to the extermination of ‘untermenschen’. They shipped tools and talent to the camps rather than to the front. Imagine a Germany where antisemitism never escalated beyond the norm of 1930s Europe. The Jewish scientists never fled to England and America, and suddenly the Nazi regime didn’t kill or exile all the people responsible for developing the atomic bomb.
My point is this: You cannot separate World War Two from its atrocities. Well, you can if you have a narrow-focus view. An FPS through Operation Overlord isn’t going to turn up too much of the truly nasty stuff, because the truly nasty stuff wasn’t happening in Northern France, and that is a completely fair choice for developers to make. But a grand strategy game which avoids doing it is capitulating, both in terms of not including something vital for understanding what the war was and factors which influenced how it played out, but because it ends up making the Nazis (and the Empire of Japan) seem like, well, a bunch of invading Germans (Or Japanese). They are militaristic, nothing more, and nothing within the game indicates that they are functionally different from anyone else. I believe that this approach actually whitewashes the Nazis to some extent because it divorces them from their gravest crimes, which were far worse than simply waging wars.
In Paradox’s defense, there are European governments who would pitch a hysterical fit about a game where you could click a little button that said “Exterminate the Jews” or you got a big spreadsheet of undesirable elements and could choose whether to exterminate, sterilize, herd in ghettos, levy additional taxes, and so on. Additionally you can drop nukes on people, and that certainly does have an effect on manpower, indirectly suggesting massive deaths. As I’ve said myself I’m not sure such a thing could be done in entirely good taste and, even if it was, many players would most probably approach it with less than noble intentions themselves. Nonetheless I feel it is even more tasteless to act as though it never happened, and that it is detrimental to anything attempting to simulate WW2 on a grand scale.
4. “Heisenberg/Zuse/Von Braun/[insert other historical boyfriend here], you beautiful man. <3"
5. "YOU MAD, POLAND? YOU CROSS? WHY SO CROSS? AHAHAHAHA *maniacal laughter*"
(You guys may think I'm exaggerating. I'm not. Mister Adequate can confirm this to you. This game, it... it does things to me.)