Imperial Command of the Raccoon General

Thoughts and Memoirs of a Ring-tailed and Masked Dominator of the World

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General of the mighty Raccoon Army

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Games and I: Part 5

All Good Things Comes to an End

Nobody stays one place forever. I may have stayed in Cyberjaya longer than quite a number of my comrades, but I know it won't be till the end of time. Eventually we all would leave when the time comes, some sooner than others.

Ash eventually left, went back to his homeland. He was in fact a 'Jabba the Hut' in that he travelled around very little, did not do much, yet affected the surrounding with his (lazy) presence. It is not a formalized custom but the next one to sit at the same spot in A3-3-3 after Ash would come to define the gaming scene there as well.

In similiar manner, I would call this next phase the Raj Era.

Under the aegis of this era, I find that the traditional RTS scene declined a little. Certainly by then C&C: Generals wasn't as big, both Act of War and Empires were largely defunct, Homeworld series completed and aside Naz, no one else plays starship games. Dawn of War declined as well, though more in terms of its intensity. New expansions kept it going long enough to a point we can see the age of the game finally showing, but to all extents and purposes it was not as epic or intense as the game was initially. We might blame that on making it more 'noob' friendly, but ultimately I think we got too good to a point it finally lacked the challenge.

Raj was never as keen on such games anyways. His known method in Dawn of War was even far cheesier than Ash's power play style; Raj spams turrets. And when that ability was nerfed in the expansions, Raj lost quite a lot of interest in Warhammer. He played some FPS as well, and much like Ash before him, loved women player characters with magically aligned tendencies in RPGs. I cannot fairly say how he was into the whole thing, because it seemed he wasn't as keen into deeper RPGs and more inclined for Diablo-esque action RPGs.

Additionally he played football games. Especially those... unbelievably 'exciting' football management games.

But what Raj did best was of course Warcraft 3 and its many variants.

I mentioned on Warcraft 3 and my opinions towards it in the past. While we did relive Warcraft 3 multiplayer in 'vanilla' style, the greater inclination was towards its many mods. Certainly Raj had passion for tower defense games, which is quite a staple thing among the modders.

But none of this would highlight the era better than DotA.

Defense of the Ancients (All Stars) is a basically simple concept. It is divided into two sides with each side periodically spawning NPC troops that march forward automatically along 3 seperate pathways towards the enemy base, engaging anything of the opposing side that comes along the way. As a player on each team, we pick a character/hero, progress by gaining experience and earning money to buy equipment whilst supporting the NPC forces as we push towards enemy base.

The genius of the game is that in such simple mechanics, a great deal of variety can be found by its ever increasing choice of heroes and items. Certainly, as I would realize later, this mechanic helped emphasize an individual players psychology.

Raj was the dominant sponsor and supporter of this game. It became a routine for him at times.

I remember the first time playing it. Not being a cyberia resident, let alone a full time A3-3-3 tenant, I lagged behind in discovering and honing my skills in the game. So it was that one day, I came to A3-3-3 and was pushed into playing DotA without so much as any introduction or guidance on the gameplay.

I certainly remember Naz, Raj and probably Omar being in the opposite team. Why this 3 are significant will be told shortly, but suffice to say for now, they represent some of the top players we have, and they DEFINITELY have had practice on the game before (Note: I also recall now it was a few days since my prior visit that time, so at best the guys could have had several days head start in getting used to the game). In their defense, as they always claimed later on, these 3 enjoy being in the same team because there is a harmony in their gameplays with each other, and they can rely on each other to fulfill roles. But as a first time player, and always having a semi-outsider feel to the whole of A3-3-3, I always felt a touch of being bullied by what is clearly a superior player base. In my view, placing the absolute newbie with the clearly lesser players in one time, while the better players all congregate against us was quite the imbalance. It would not be the only time I had to go against a more skilled and stronger group in this game.

I remember a few key details of the match. I played the Panda, got killed or at least severely punished everytime I tried to confront ANY of their heroes, and my own team mates seem uncoordinated. As it felt that it was getting stupid from that point on, I decided to play on what I know. Certainly I have a feeling they know they face the lesser team, and seemingly appear not as focused as they should have been. My choice was thus to decline confrontation with them; I helped push the line forward alongside the troops, turned away when they came to strike (hopefully agitating them enough by denying them a kill), and tried what I can to organize the other 2 team mates, which was tricky regardless.

That was my first match in DotA, and barring myself from getting Hero-kills which I am just to new to know how to get em easily, I won that first match. A thousand kills would mean squat if your lines are broken and your citadel is being hacked away by enemy troops. And that was what happened to them. In the future, I would play at least once more with such odds; and that match was even closer than this first one, but my side still won.

True the opposition wasn't giving it all their best, which if they did, they could easily have won, but they didn't; either because by adopting such stance a defeat would not be so humiliating or because largely underesmating my side, I don't really know. In either case, I took opportunity of that to snatch victory from the enemy's claws.

What makes the player base significant in this era was that, in one match (which I being the only one who was employed and needed sleep for the night, was therefore no present to even be a spectator), the triumvirate of Raj-Naz-Omar won in a 3 vs 5 match up, in which the three were all melee characters. To date, it can be said as the house' most significant match and disproportionate victory. From then one, these 3 would the FFs, or Forbidden Formation, so called because they would always win if playing together that they must be seperated in the name of fairness. On side note, they later wanted to expand the FF ranks, probably to irk those who whine about them as well, which included myself as an extended member.

But the FFs, despite being offered an honorary position in it, is something minor in my recollection. I was always a fan of the underdog, David vs Goliath, the small overcoming the big. Being a superpower had a cushy feel to it, but beating a superpower when one himself is not, gives great amount of pride. More than being FFs, I recall the times when I had to go against fellow FFs. More than the ease of mutual understanding that leads to smooth victorious gameplay, I would recall the nerve wrecking, sometimes quite frustrating moments in organizing a shaky coalition against the former.

In a way, DotA gave some clear reflection of a person's psychology. I know on one of the players in the house is a power player, favouring a heavy direct damaging ability to be superior. I recall some of them that totally abhorred risk to the point of cowardly whilst one constantly flirts with risk. I know some who favoured fast strikes and using speed and stealth to gain victory over brute strength, and without a doubt Raj was the most notorious for always playing in the most disruptive manner that leaves little wonder why many would seek to 'remove' him first from the battlefield. And I being not a twitcher, know that direct confrontation is not my best thing. Whether I am thus defensive or a simply a line-pusher, it is probably best for others to decide. Personally, I always felt that all others are subordinate to victory. Victory alone gives measure to achievements.

DotA was in fact a high water mark of gaming in A3-3-3. Afterwards, there was precious few games that generated as much intense following among the majority of the people there, and by then real life started to creep up on the rest as well. Most got jobs at that one place, to a point it irks me to hear them talking incesantly about their workplace while at dinner or any sort of outing. (No, I didn't choose to invade upon these excursions on quite a number of times, I was invited to it). Eventually, A3-3-3 was a congregation of people with currently, relatively similiar fields and not as heavy gamers anymore; a point that seems to alienate me even more.

People fall out, things get old, and when you are as detached as I am to a place, or at the very least not as attached to the place as the others are, these declines can be downright sudden and baffling to you. I visited A3-3-3 to play games with other people. This has been true since the Ash era, where multiplayer began to be dominant. After DotA declined, and many new games were not enthusiastically received my some members of the house (Raj was against C&C 3 somehow), my visits then were largely for computer usage. Eventually, with no multiplayer going on as much, and finally I have started to save enough for my own PC, the scene quietly died for me.

In this essence, I can say that this becomes quite like a second retirement for me from LAN gaming. I love my PC, and I am deeply proud of it, but until internet and income of the people I know can come to accomodate group-multiplayer gaming again, the glory that was the 2 eras of A3-3-3 are gone, and perhaps never to be repeated.

(next: finale) :p

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

That old place, that memorable place...

I will eventually get to wrapping up my "Games and I" series of posts soon, just thought of reminiscing on other memories as well.

I never could say there was more a work place that left an impression on me than that one place in Kelana Jaya. I find the memories of it hanging on both ends of the rope, good and the... not so good. Never have I felt utterly drained of my being that when I was there, but never yet have I felt a sense of belonging than when I was there. It was neither a hell nor was it home. It was that place in between, a kaleidoscope of sentiments, a torrent of black and white.

Could it be said that it was a place that afforded me least benefits? No, I am certain by what I have seen since that other places would give back to you much less than that place. Nor can I say it has given me the most; I do earn more, in a way, where I am now instead.

If then it would mean that it was just an average place, then again I would have missed the mark. It was anything but average. It can get monotonous, but then which work place doesn't? But it did offer me something I find somewhat lacking in other places.

To be honest, I barely remember the specific deadlines, only the rough amount of time given to us for a particular work. I don't remember exactly when I had the most issues with the management nor when each of the time I felt like loosing my temper over how things were there. It's enough that I remembere there were such instances. That in itself is nothing new, for I still see that elsewhere.

I lost count on how many parties we had there, only that we did have quite a few. I don't remember specific awards was bestowed upon the place, or whether it was in my time or otherwise; only that it did gain its share of acclaim.

But I do remember the faces.

And the names.

There were (and some are probably still there) amongst the most memorable of people that I had the opportunity of meeting, for they all carried a flaw within them, some more pronounced than others, but it is sometimes those very flaws that one remembers fondly. They had character. They were unique people to say the least. But they were great. In over a year since I last left the place, there has been far too few people that truly remained as vivid a memory as the people there.

Some I was close to, some I barely knew, but all are part of the place; pieces of a puzzle that shows the greater picture. I remember them fondly.

Most especially, what I feel strongly in comparison to as I am now is that these people helped me. And helped each other too, even without even interacting with one another. There was a spirit of dedication there, not the obsessive purely concentrated kind but of the more calmer type that does not wish to dissapoint the next person. Whether or not I hated the work, I was compelled to excel anyways. And hate I did have plenty.

There is many things not to like about being there. Foremost as I said, why be there when you could get better rewards elsewhere? Secondly, most would not want to make it their home, but it was thrust upon us to spend so much time there, at work, when for the longest times the thought of being home was all that I could have at times. Why be there in a place that seems only to appreciate your hard work by rewarding you with even more work?

For the people I suppose. You are not perfect, in fact I have reasons to call out against many of them by specifics. But when absent for so long, and a picture of them, and of that old place surfaces, you cannot help but smile. And if you could do that, then for whatever the cause otherwise, I would think that you are, upon seeing that picture, reliving good memories. And in good memories lived these good people, all of whom the likes of which I have yet to know any who could replace any of them.

I worked through a kind of hell there, the likes of which I haven't encountered since, but I have never achieved more than what I did there afterwards. I spent far too much time there, robbing myself of my own precious personal free time, but I still cannot find myself to regret it. And I can bitch about many of them there each day, but I cannot but contain a smile at the thought of them now.

What I am saying maybe touchy-feely, but if one cannot be honest about ones own perception of fond memories, then when else to be honest?

I do not know what has it become today, how things have changed there. I would reckon quite a lot, even if some of the faces remain. But that old place, that memorable place... it is to me, today, a place of legend...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Games and I: Part 4

A New Empire

With the advent of FPS, the twitchers took over the multiplayer gaming scene at the CyberCafes and tactical and strategic thinkers like myself retreated into the realm of singleplayer gaming; venturing only on some rare occasion to relive the wonderful days of multiplayer RTS. As people were running amok on CS (CounterStrike) and Quake 3 (which I was truly dissapointed, as the previous Quake games were story-based games, not mindless arena frag-chasing idiocies), I took the time off from competitive gaming with new genres or newer line up of RTS from little known publisher/developers. Most people do not really recall or have indulge in RTS games such as Total Annihilation, Dark Reign, Dark Colony, Mech Commander I or KKND (Krush Kill N Destroy).

As this coincide with my end of schooling years, it was initially a retirement of sorts from multiplayer gaming. From then on, I was no longer the competitive, aggressive gamer that I used to be in matches of Starcraft and C&C series.

In between my time finishing school and joining MMU, I was in a perpetual limbo where without a PC I can rely on, I was largely cut off from gaming as much as I used to, and for the time being devoted myself to my artistic pursuits instead. Additionally, falling in love with a chick can help time pass away as well.... sigh.

MMU began for me like many other places I've been to, full of uncertainty yet failed to impress me. What I began to realize a little later was that here, PCs are a common commodity and that friends are more likely to let you use their computers than certain siblings. Let's not be coy, my brother hogged the PC as much as he can at home, lining it up with passwords and stuff to reduce my usage of it, and at times even when I am on it, used a pretext of important work or necessary technical operations to get me off the PC, and later when said work is done, he will queitly start gaming and then I'd have better luck waiting for chickens to hatch from their eggs than getting back on the PC anytime soon.

The first years had little multiplayer gaming for me, and followed a trend of completing single player games more often than competing against other people. The network in campus however was a heaven sent thing, despite its usual lagginess. Following CS-craze, that was the popular platform for multiplayer gaming on that network platform. But it did instill the idea or the possibility of using it for other purposes.

Fast forward a year or two later. A friend had his own apartment, and now networks are localized and connecting small groups of PCs, all belonging to people we know. Warcraft 3 was out, and multiplayer was a blast. I remarked around then how rusty I was at multiplayer gaming by then, having been in relative retirement for a few years. It didn't help that as I've found out, Warcraft 3 had a tendency to be somewhat of a micromanage-twitching hell for me; to be very adept at it, one has to do something like this in the outset of battle when your little army group encounters the enemy army group... "select group> target enemies >TAB> second subgroup of units in group highlighted>Cast spell> target at enemy>TAB>Cast protective/Buff Spell on allies>TAB>Select fighting mode etc>Select Group 2>Target Enemy>TAB>Cast Spell/Buff>Target enemy>TAB> secondary spell caster group if any> Select Group 1 again"... and likely repeat all. Said process seems required to be done within 2-3 seconds at MOST, because apparently in Warcraft 3, even 0.5 seconds can make a difference.

I feel fatigued and stressed just recalling that.

It had its fun moments, but it wasn't all that for me. Better yet were the bouts of RedAlert 2 and their ridiculous units and funny vids, though somewhat of an old school vanilla RTS, at least I didn't need to handle the controls like I was playing the accordian.

All this was still a precursor of sorts to the next gaming empire, so to speak.

It began (and somehow, appropriately, ended...) at A3-3-3.

For me, A3-3-3 gaming was divided into 2 eras, named after the occupants of a particular PC spot in the house who somehow was always the IT/PC tech guy of the group. The Ash Era and the Raj Era was distinctly marked by our tendencies for certain genres.

I recall Ash as a type of SteamRolling Power player in RTS. The simplest and direct methods are his preference to get things done. Ash Era was strongly emphasized on RTS games like C&C: Generals and Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War. While there are a smattering few bouts of UT2004, CS, Quake 3 and such FPS (They probably played a lot, but I chose not to join as much). Also worth noting was that at this there was little to no CyberCafe gaming at all; the house was the only arena. Under Ash's preferences we loved "big things that go boom". C&C: Generals catered to this, for the most part. An official add-on and a few mods later, Generals became an exercise of fireworks for us, we as a team worked to produce the most awesome fireworks display possible, on the enemy AI of course.

A notable event would be the few times we did a PvP match up on Generals. Based on written facts, if any can be said as such, would say that most of the matches results in Ash or whatever side he is with winning the game. In fact, I got into one such match myself and my side lost to his. Whining and shifting blame seems like the unspoken anathema of the house eventually, but on my opinion, it had nothing to do with Ash superiority at all; he was usually fighting inferior people anyways, and in my 2 on 2 match up, it was hardly a fair thing, because 3 of 4 players had strengths to rely on, superior defense and sneaky tactics for me; strong, fast offense on one side, and the deadly steamrolling on Ash's part. The 4th player was a weak link, and given the nature of the people of the house, I know for a fact that certain people have been singled out as such, and the better ones usually don't like having these 'lessers' on the same team as they are. In short, being not a true occupant of A3-3-3 I am one of those usually getting stuck with such sort on my side. Oh well, nevermind, the 4th guy did not contribute much, and against strong ground and air offensives, I cannot hold. But that's not to say I did not accomplish much at all; I raided the airforce base, had a few buildings taken down, and I stole a Nuclear missile silo belonging to Ash, right under his nose.

In the Ash Era, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War came about. This would be out constant gaming platform for a long time, and eventually outlived Ash's Era. There is too much to say of this game, it was intense, yet somehow balanced between management and action. It was neither too 'vanilla' like the C&C series, nor was it a concert of keyboard control tapping like Warcraft 3. Suffice to say that some of the most EPIC battles were fought here, and the constant add ons delivered for the game and the increasing number of factions kept the experience somewhat fresh all along. We played Dawn of War at A3-3-3 and beyond, eventually having played so at Cyber Cafes once A-3-3-3 was largely defunct.

I would like to think that the diversity (in total 9 playabla factions), enchanced combat system (squad based, equipment changes, cover systems) and bloody violence was the key to making it an excellent game, not to mention a degree of customization for individual armies. Ah, the days of me planting a flag bearing a raccoon on it, onto a strategic point.... or Ash's hot-chick banner.

Amazingly, in our time playing RTS and looking for EPIC fights, we managed to attain one such battle in a relatively average game; Empires: Dawn of the Modern World. Made up names as well as specific units like Longshanks, Battle for Cameron Highlands, Trafalgar Square, V2 Rockets, King Tigers, SAS would invoke memories of 4-hour long battles that lasted through the night, ending with satisfied exhaustion and retelling battle stories in the morning of the recent massive conflict. Truly, for me, this was an RTS milestone. In times of 30 minute matches, a 4 hour game is a testament to our pursuit of epic battles.

I can't be sure under which era does Act of War fall in, and awesome as it was, I still think that what Act of War did was not so much as an overall new thing, but rather a direction into which games like Generals could evolve into. Yes, it was awesome. Yes, it produced quite a few engaging memories.But ultimately, I felt that it was rather short lived, and a pity too, because I feel it should have been longer.

In anycase, the barrier which limited my experiences to single player on has lifted by then. Multiplayer was back....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Games and I: Part 3

Playing God: The Role Playing Element

RTS was not the only genre around.

By the very end of my time in Secondary school, a growing new trend seems to eclispse even the popularity of the strategy-turned-twitching game; Starcraft. Strategy games in fact were losing dominance as the premier network game at cyber cafes. First Person Shooter (FPS) was on the rise.

Years and years after Wolfenstein 3D and the Doom and Quake series were initially launched, First Person shooters did not dominate the multiplayer scene as much, or at least not from where I was then. Late 1999 however, a game by some developers called Valve changed that. Half Life proved not only a compelling story driven game, it was also wonderfully enjoyable as a multiplayer game as people flocked to blow each others brains out. I theorized that the personal nature of engaging violence has something to do with it, but earlier games probably did not cater enough in their mechanics to overthrow RTS.


However, great as Half Life was, and not to mention phenomenal was Counter-Strike, a Half Life mod then, these are games that are somewhat deeply rooted in the twitch culture, and as I have mentioned, I despise twitch gaming. It is an interesting paradox, because I find some of these FPS are thoroughly enjoyable, but I despise the somewhat unspoken prequisite required to be competitive in these games; twitch skills. This resentment was further deepened when Counter Strike introduced this most hateful of culture amongst gun-wielding personas; the Jump Sniping.

(I have covered my loathing for this in a post in the past, so I will not elaborate further on this)

But I was awakened to the joy of a more personal attachment to game elements as opposed to the somewhat detached nature one would have playing RTS. This in turn steered me towards another genre; Role Playing Games (RPG). One of the most pronounced difference in RPGs over FPS despite both being about controlling just one entity/character was that in RPG it was still largely governed by in-game statistics. The characters speed, response, strength, agility and all that is not a reflection of your finger-skills, but your character-building and development. Therefore, I can have a tad bit slower reflex or less steady finger/hand aiming skills than most, but my avatar can still kick ass.

I have seen RPGs before and heard excessive talks about them by others. For the most part, Dungeons & Dragons style things seemed to nerdy and complex, and those darn Final Fantasy games just doesn't seem to make sense for me.

The first PC RPG I played was Diablo. Not any of the deeper D&D inspired platforms, or such; just plain simple straightforward Diablo. This is good because, in my case, I feel it is better not to dive straight to complexities, and indulge in something easily understood first. By giving quick and easy interface, simple intuitive concepts, I was soon immersed in the quest to destroy the demon lord awaiting at the 16th level of the underground dungeons. It was from this game also that I find myself in preference to relying on 'steel over sorcery'. Magic is powerful, but there seems to be so much intricacies to it that it irritates me; mana consumption, avoiding being closed in, different spells for different situations etc.

It took several years before Diablo 2 came out. It was, and still is quite an enjoyable RPG. At its announcement, my prediction was that the Necromancer would be my class of choice. True, I despise magic, but having multitudes of henchmen seems awesome. Plus, Paladin feels to generic of the old warrior class in the first game, and Barbarian isn't my thing; I was then already an advocate of Legionaries, and despised unruly barbarians, and preferred disciplined soldiery.

It is worth noting that these choices are in fact somewhat of a role playing element, and this can be said as new to me, because in RTS I cater to a side that can suit my strategies; here it seems purely on vain reasons.

I did not want to play as women back then. (Also I have posted before on playing females in RPGS so I won't elaborate on the merits of it much) This stems more from the old childhood mentality like "Girls are loosers and annoying". It was not so strange that I ended up finding the fragile nature of the Necromancer a tad bit annoying, but it was new experience for me to find that I enjoy playing the Amazon. Granted, thigh-baring skin-tight outfit, and seeing her bum wiggle about as she runs around the world is a tad bit sexy, and I have said I am all in support of sexy chicks in games, but still, this is Role Playing, and there I was, my character a chick.

I will only say this; I believe my natural acceptance in playing chick characters is made easy, aside from my liking of sexy chicks, is that as an avid RTS player, I NEVER felt the need to represent myself on the battlefield. Unlike many who play RPGs with their character as an avatar or alter ego of themselves, I view the character as a creation, an extension of an arsenal I wield. I was commanding the character, not being the character.

And just as the Tomb Raider series creator said, if you're going to spend hours playing the game, might as well have a character that is nice to look at.

Later on, Neverwinter Nights came out, and this was character development and storytelling on a much deeper level than Diablo-style games. I feel that for a complete newbie, it can get a little overwhelming. Neverwinter Nights did not start out explosively action packed, and it wasn't all about just killing things. Some people could lose interest. Fortunately, by this time I was well entrenched in preference for RPG gaming that it prepared me enough to take up the challenge.

And yes, I made a chick character.

For the most part, what intrigued me on RPGs like Neverwinter Nights was firstly the relationships one can have with other NPCs, ranging from hostility to friendly comaraderie to even romantic relationships. This for me is epitomized finally in Mass Effect with your character having seduced and made love to an NPC which you have made your character very...chummy with.

That aside, Bioware for one have been remodelling and redifining character alignments, bad or good, lawful or unlawful etc. What started out as generic good and evil turned to shades of grey with Jade Empire's Open Palm vs Closed fist and Mass Effect's Paragon and Renegade alignments in whcih both are not opposites of each other or cancel each other out, but are added traits to a character.

Lastly, where Diablo offered a template of characters based on specific classes, the physical appearance of your character in Neverwinter Nights for example is far more customizable.

Over time, RPGs themselves evolved, an action RPGs ala Diablo are but one of the varieties to choose from and even RTS games began importing elements of RPGs to spice up their gameplay. Deeper RPGs with incredible storytelling though began to capture my imagination more, and from then on, I would name Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout 3, Mass Effect and the like among my top favourite games.

But along side these pure deep RPGs I also enjoy the occasional Diablo-style action RPG, especially with Diablo 2, Titan Quest, Sacred and Dungeon Siege series. Also for me worth noting is the FPS/RPG hybrid of Vampires: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. This was a rather rough edged or unpolished game that could have benefited with further debugging and cleaner visuals. Yet the concept and story was somewhat inspiring, and the dynamics it gave of vampire society made it much more than just Half Life 2 clone (It uses Hlaf Life 2's engine). Vampires lets you customize appearance as much as Diablo does, which is by class or in this case by Clan. However it does include character stats and attribute that further adds or enhances your avatar's abilities in game. Observing some civilized codes while roaming in the game of conduct also means there is more to this than just blind combat.

RPGs in short allows me a more in depth immersion into fantasy, and with the need to worry less over the big picture and focus from a more singular point of view. As my second choice of genre to play, I feel that this category is worth its own chapter.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Games and I: Part 2

(Warning: Real Time Strategy gaming terminologies used)

The Dawn Of Strategy

The first Command and Conquer started sometime in the early mid 90s, followed closely after by Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. These are the next evolution of the game made by Westwood Studios, Dune 2. Command and Conquer (C&C; also called Tiberian Dawn) was made by Westwood Studios itself, whilst Warcraft is made by the studio that is practically a household name for gamers today, Blizzard Entertainment. Warcraft was soon followed by its sequel Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness, whilst C&C is followed by the expansion Covert Ops and much later the spin off C&C: Redalert.

When I first got my hands on C&C it was late in my primary school years, and as is usually the case, the PC at home would not suffice, so I had to play it at this shop that my brother found out, which allowed us to game for some reason. For free at that. I missed Warcraft almost completely, and only got my hands on Warcraft 2. In short these early eras of RTS was a small though significant footnote in my gaming history. I did nothing but got myself acquainted further with the evolving dynamics of the genre.

When I was in Form 2 (14 years old) and studying in Ipoh and far away from home, the seeds of a booming cybercafe mania has been planted at the area near my school. There, I played Command and Conquer: RedAlert.

The miraculous achievement of cyber cafes there, for me at least, was that they networked the computers together (still something new for me and most of the people I know at that time). While I grinded away at RedAlert in solo skirmish and missions, there was now the option to fight, against a human opponent. I would have liked to brag on specifically how I rose to become well reknowned in the field of RedAlert, but frankly I can barely recall much details. I know in general though that I displayed a certain level of aptitude towards the game which was evident only among a select few of us. What is certain however is that even at this so early in the stages of RTS gameplay, the notion of beating your opponents by outclicking him in building battle tanks has emerged. The idiocy of the tank rush has begun.

By the time I was finally challenged by one of the 'better' players, many other lesser players have begun playing and adopting the use of tank rushes. It came to no surprise then that such tactic, which so heavily favors the Russian faction of the game would be my opponents choice, as is my leaning for naval combat and the Allied factions superiority became the basis for my opponent choosing a combat area without any seas for me to employ my powerful naval units. I decided to play along, and refused to choose Russians instead.

Everyone watching and us playing would have opted for a titanic clash of battle tanks. It never happened. Using a few tanks with imfantry support, I attacked fast and early, keeping him on his toes, which of course he wasnt worried. Already he had a bigger tank force and had multiple Tesla coil defenses at his base, which he easily used to beat my raids. It did not matter as I was just seeting up the tone of his expectations. When I finally did attack, it came not in the form of tanks but attack helicopters. With only one SAM defense, there was little he could do to stop me.

Taking out his key production in one swoop, all the while maintaning the offense did the trick. In truth he had sufficient tanks to wipe me out still, but so demoralized as he was, he resigned. That was my first truly memorable victory, and it is still something I keenly recall.

The next few years saw some improvements in RTS gaming, and by the time C&C 2:Tiberian Sun came out we ended that with a big bang of a 3 on 3 team game, which my side won; significantly while my overwhelming deception trick was not at all used, the idea of fast early raids with just 'weak' infantry enabled us to control the pacing of the game and ultimately won us the fight.

Most significant though, of the RTS of this time, was Starcraft. Made by Blizzard, Starcraft represent a new style of RTS where the opposing faction are diversely different from one another, down to the very infrastructure of their respective developments. This key issue balances out further by having limited unit cap, and the having strong counters to almost every weapon type. Starcraft was a game that could not be won by simple tank rush tactics.

I approached Starcraft in a typical manner; first to study it via singleplayer mechanics, then trying whatever method I can exploit over the generic and somewhat dull system of resourcing-researching-reaping the fields with uber units. The zergling rush, was in a sense almost a tank rush except it could never really win extended games on its own. Rather, the rush had stronger psychological effects, in which it severely supresses an enemy very early in the game, a hallmark of my style by then. The Nydus canal exploit, Protoss Recall ability, Nuking, Marine rushes, and all that soon began to be a regular item on the menu. The first most especially enabled me to achieve a crushing defeat on a fellow Zerg player.

I loved Starcraft, and the Broodwar expansion even more. But Starcraft was also the seed in which began to spawn in the future a trend that I personally do not like. Very soon, probably pioneered by Koreans or Chinese, Starcraft began to be less of a game of wits and more of a test of formula. Gamers would thus memorize and practice a formula in establishing themselves, and define themselves by being better and fast over others in implementing said formula. Innovation slackened and routine crept up.

Once a solid formula was set, and it became a contest of who had better finger reflexes to implement these the fastest, my ultimate bane, twitch gaming, has finally invaded the realm of strategy.

At around this time, I began exploring other RTS, especially ones where innovation and creativity is most paramount to succeeding. These games were almost infinitely slower than Starcraft, so to speak, but also requires more thought and patience to accomplish its given goals.

Two of note would be Mech Commander and the very game that begun my space odyssey: Homeworld.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Games and I: Part 1

I recently bought a new Core i7 Processor with an awesome Republic of Gamer's ASUS Rampage II Extreme motherboard that comes loaded with a SoundBlaster X-Fi inside. Inclusive of the cost of new triple channel and a huge new casing and mouse, I spent well over RM3,000 on these upgrades. Counting the high end graphics card, flatscreen monitor and Cooler Master 850W True Power supply unit, and 2 SATA hard disks, The overall amount of money poured in this venture likely exceeds RM 6,000.

At long last, the world is set right. At long last, as is proper and should be, I have a gaming system that is superior to that of quite a LOT of other people that I know. A true gaming machine for a true gamer, I would like to think... *smug grin*.

I feel so overwhelmingly satisfied and happy, because in my history of gaming, it wasn't always good, and in terms of hardware and such I rarely and almost never get first pickings. I had to compromise and settle for lesser items, or I have to place myself at the mercy of other people's preference by playing on THEIR platforms.

I think it is curious how I came to be here, given how I began being involved in gaming.

In the Beginning...

Some time in the early to mid 1990s or so, my family had two items of note that burns brightly in the obscureness of my memories. On one hand, we had bought a Sega: Megadrive console, which if I recall correctly was among the top consoles of its time. Console games are quick access games that offer direct single and multiplayer fun at just the plug of a cartridge (which was the medium in which games are stored at the time).

The most notable thing about Sega was that it was mostly Japanese, and therefore, as is typical of them, they had really hot babes in their games. It was an introduction of sorts for me to the world of hot game chicks.

The memory remains clear as day on that matter; for those curious enough, the main chicks of Golden Axe and Bare Knuckle (also known as Streets of Rage in US version I think) are most notable. Looking back, I find it amusing that for some kid clueless on matters of sexiness and all (if you are all that curious, I learnt about sex some 3 years or so after that) to actually be able to just swallow whole the idea of some seriously hot chick fighting monsters and badguys with a sword and wearing nothing but a bikini... and not question the practicality of it.

But aside that, I learnt that a lot of games for the console (back then) lacked a certain kind of depth, and usually, in cases of arcade fighting style games especially, it required a kind of skill that rests heavily on hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes; otherwise what we would call twitch gaming. And of course, much to my dismay, I learnt that my twitch abilities does not seem to grow on the same level as quite a number of other people.

I would soon largely abandon console gaming but that stigma would remain.

Aside from the console, some years later my dad bought an 80386 Computer, which ran on a 1MB RAM and 40MB hard disk. It was one of those systems that was a precursor to the Intel Pentium series (which will be out a year or two after that if I am not mistaken). If memory serves, we obtained a copy of Wolfenstein 3D; the grand daddy of First person shooters, from a collegue of my mom's, who used to play it at the office. Wolfenstein was fun and unique for its time, and if anything, firing a chaingun at Hitler himself until we.... liquify him is awesome fun. I couldn;t tell though if I was better at it or my brother, but generally I concede in these matters to my brother.

The other booming game genre we had was flight simulators. Flight sims comes in two flavours, twitch and non twitch; that is to say, action packed fast paced combat sims, or tactical sims. I had little play time on the former, because we never own such titles like X-wing vs Tie Fighter and such ourselves, so whenever we could get our hands on it, it was usually my brother's hands. We did get a copy on the later type, which was a F117 Nighthawk flight sim. I was given some time trying it out this time, and while there was a sentiment for me to try to obtain ranks and promotion in the game, I could not however match my brother's enthusiasm in the genre. Flight sims until today remains something largely my brother's cup of tea.

At one point though, and from sources I have absolutely no recollection of, we managed to get another game. Though I started by viewing it with the same enthusiasm as with previous games (which is largely just average amount of amusement, but not putting too much passion into it, because my brother will hog all the time on it anyways), this next one would end up seriously defining my gaming diet. That game was Dune 2.

Dune 2 was interesting. We had buildings we can make, defense turrets and walls to further line our beautifully built establishment, which we will then use to churn out military forces to attack the enemy's base. Today we call the concept Real-Time strategy (RTS), but back then I call it simply pure awesomeness. As always though, my brother, in all his usual annoyingness hogged as much time as he could on that game. It would be much later before I can get my hands on it personally, but that I did, and many a times I played without having him looking over my shoulder.

Even on that most basic of RTS, the rule that bigger is not always best, has begun to be applied. I think most people are imprinted with that idea, bigger is best, because I can fairly say that my brother very much preferred building just the biggest and baddest and toughest unit he can in any given mission of the game. I started by following this path too, until one day... a breakthrough.

All these games have a system of scoring and all, and some a measure of time; as in how long you took to run the course. To keep it in general terms, there comes this one mission, where I somehow just... saw.... a logic. An idea. A simple.... strategic choice. A cheaper unit in that game, I saw, could be more effective than the biggest unit available then, provided it was handled carefully. I tried the idea, and through a series of maneuvers, this army of cheaper units beat the mission at better efficiency and par time than my brother ever could.

I realize then that I can never have my brother's enthusiasm on sims, or other people's twitchiness, but here, on the plains of strategy, I had at last found a calling...

A General is born.

(to be continued....)