January 2008 Archives

So a few days ago, Adam sent me an invite to LinkedIn, which is a "social networking site for professionals."  I'm a little suspicious about the whole "social networking" thing anyway, especially the ones where it's a competition to see who can get the most "friends," when they don't know half of them, but I have heard good things about LinkedIn from other people, and it's no surprise to anyone that knows me that I am interested in finding a new job and getting the hell out of Dodge, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a shot.

After creating my profile, I decided to poke around and see who else I was linked to with a few vague keywords like "game design," "roleplaying games," and a few other things.  I expected to get a fair number of hits, especially because Adam knows a lot of people in the field (surprise, surprise) and a few other friends of mine are somewhat involved with computer games industry or have friends who are, but I did not expect to see some of the names there that I did.  Probably the most surprising was to see Tom Dowd listed as three degrees away from me; as a screaming Shadowrun fangirl, that was pretty sweet.  I also saw that I was three degrees from Greg Costikyan and a VP of Engineering at CCP, both of which were pretty neat.

I'm somewhat suspicious of claims that this will totally revolutionize my world, but as a networking tool it's actually kind of neat.  Much better than my previous experiences with these sorts of things; the test will be to see if it actually helps me out in the long run.

One of my presents for my brother this year was World in Conflict, a real-time strategy game about an alternate history where World War III is taking place in 1989, and the Soviets invade the United States.  A few people have mentioned it on RPGnet as a good comparison piece to the Company of Heroes games, so I was curious to see what it was like after I gave it to him.  Seeing him playing it on Christmas Day made me curious enough to check it out, and the demo was pretty good, so I bought the game last week.  The Cold War-style technothriller was one of my favorite genres when I was in high school, with the Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising being some of my favorite books at the time, so there was some definite appeal here.

I think my favorite part of World in Conflict has been the storyline (by Larry Bond, co-author of Red Storm Rising) for the game, which is surprisingly compelling for a genre where the story often takes a back seat to the gameplay (though there have been notable exceptions, such as the excellent Homeworld series and Starcraft).  Though the single player campaign is relatively short (14 missions), each mission unfolds in such a way that you become invested in the characters in the game and their plight, and there are a few places in the plot where I was somewhat shocked to feel some serious empathy for the three main characters (aside from "yourself").  Alec Baldwin's narration is excellent as well.  Most of them were surprisingly layered, and the cutscenes between the missions that showed "slice of life" scenes among the resisting US forces in the Pacific Northwest were good as well; perhaps the most amusing had one soldier showing off his brand new portable CD player to an amazed fellow soldier.

Elements like that last one go a long way toward creating a feeling of verisimilitude.  In the same vein, the first mission, with the Russian attack on Seattle and US forces fleeing the amphibious assault, has one plot point which focuses on evacuating civilians from the Kingdome (demolished in 2000 in reality), and a mission that takes place in New York City shows the two towers of the World Trade Center on the horizon.  When you return to Soviet-occupied Seattle later, giant propaganda billboards are posted everywhere encouraging people to reject their capitalist oppressors (reminicent of pretty much every Cold War WW3 imagining, such as Red Dawn).  While I can't speak to the accuracy of the Seattle maps in regard to 1989 Seattle, I have to admit that the area around the Space Needle didn't seem to match what I remembered from my visit there (but I imagine a lot changed in 16 years).

As far as gameplay goes, the game revolves around control of capture points, which are generally 2-4 areas that must be held at the same time to control some sort of landmark, such as a bridge, part of town, or building.  In the most common multiplayer and skirmish games, the more capture points you control swings the control of the map in your favor, and the longer you hold it, the closer you get to victory (marked by a bar at the top of the screen split between a US/NATO flag and a Soviet flag).  Capture points can be fortified by keeping a unit in the point for a period of time, though this leaves it vulnerable to artillery and air strikes.

Capturing capture points and inflicting casualties on enemy forces gets you tactical aid points, which can be used for a variety for special abilities.  These range from free units, like airborne commandos or a light tank, to a variety of special purpose attacks, like napalm, antitank strafing runs, or bunker busters, to more general artillery barrages, including a tactical nuke.  These can definitely turn the tide of battle (with a well-placed napalm strike wiping out a cluster of infantry holding off an attacking force, or knocking out a bridge) but it seems that they often lead to one side turning a commanding victory into an insurmountable one, which I'm not sure I'm so thrilled about.

The three available sides (US, NATO, and Soviet) are pretty much functionally identical, with the only differences being cosmetic, though there are a few units with differences, such as the heavy artillery.  Honestly, this didn't bother me too much; it makes the multiplayer experience, which is the game's strength.  In a welcome change from most RTS titles, there is no real base building aside from fortifying capture points and there is no resource gathering; reinforcements are pulled from a pool of points that is gradually replenished as units are lost on the field of battle.  Games tend to be faster paced and the domination games tend to be heavily focused on offensive maneuvers, with "turtling" being effectively impossible.  The multiplayer game style called assault incorporates a defensive element, with one side trying to hold off the other over a series of capture points, but in my experience an effective defense, when you can't push back and recapture points, is extremely difficult, with the goal of the defending force tending to be more delaying the inevitable than halting the advance.

Overall, I'm having a lot of fun with the game, and going for a random multiplayer game has given me some surprisingly good experiences, even though I've learned I'm not the greatest at the game (surprise, surprise).  The interface for requesting help from teammates, the way each player takes a role (infantry, armor, air, or support), and the built in VoIP give a good "carrot" to encourage team play even among people you don't know at all.  I'm really looking forward to playing this with some friends; if you've got the game and you're interested, I'm (what else) Black Isis on MassGate.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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