Monday, March 16, 2015
That said, I have enjoyed scanning through a number of entries in the LP Archive concerning video games like Dark Seed, the original X-COM, and Dwarf Fortress, as well as other little odds and ends found around the web. By far my favorite piece of video game fanfic has to be Kleptomaniac: The Not-So-Bright Project, which is a rather hilarious retelling of the classic stealth FPS Thief: The Dark Project. I've tried my hand at writing a few tales of my own. The first I can remember penning was based on the old Lucas Arts game X-Wing. Since I was a teenager at the time it actually predated Rogue Squadron by several years. Other than that, I wrote about the obscure Mac game The Colony and Bunjie Studios' Marathon 2: Durandal. More recently I've done some mission reports for Kerbal Space Program and now I'd like to share my latest outing; a sample of my Homeworld fanfic. I must confess that I'm a big admirer of the Starfire-series by David Weber and Steve White, not to mention the Wing Commander novelizations (which I already discussed in detail here). The setting for Homeworld is so rich it's very easy to project a far more detailed story than the one given in the actual game. What I've done here is an attempt to be faithful to the original, but increase the scope and depth somewhat. Since this is a bit long for a blog post I embedded the story below, just pick the button to view the whole text. Hopefully it will be as fun for you to read as it was for me to write.
Flotilla Captain Harkov paced the cramp bridge restlessly. Once every lap or so he glanced at the monitors that lined the walls of the ship's nerve center, inwardly cursing his command. The Taiidan assault frigate Astora didn't have any real windows looking out into the void of space. It was a safety precaution, he knew, designed by the finest naval architects to improve the chances of survival in the even of a direct hit to the command tower. Plasta-steel hull plating, after all, was substantially more resilient than translucent silicon glass. Still, if Captain Harkov had his way, he would have windows on the bridge - risks be damned. A lifetime spent in the imperial navy had taught him to only trust what he could see with his own eyes.
"Six large objects detected!" It was the Sensors Officer talking, barely an adult and fresh out of the academy. This was the youth's first taste of action and he still sounded like a cadet. Despite the fact that the Astora had been held in reserve the entire engagement, and was now performing what amounted to glorified clean-up duty, the excitement in his voice was clearly audible. "They appear to be container vessels."
"Put it on the main screen," Harkov ordered has he lowered himself into the captain's chair. The readouts snapped onto the two-dimensional wall display. In the background was the burning planet. In high orbit sat a dense debris field that used to be a construction scaffold. Vice Admiral Gloval's attack force had destroyed it only a short while ago, yet they had missed these nearby targets. In fact they were so close to the wreckage that it would have been easy to spot them with the naked eye against the blackness of space. Out here in the galactic rim visible stars were few in number, and something as large as those six containers would standout to all but the blindest fighter pilot.
"How could Gloval have missed these?" Harkov muttered under his breath, his voice kept too low to be heard by the rest of the bridge crew. The Vice Admiral was a clumsy as he was stupid, allowing his carrier and escorts to be mauled by the primitive missile defense system deployed around the planet. There had been such a rush to deliver the atmosphere deprivation devices to the inhabited northern polar region of that desert world, Gloval had neglected to give his strike craft enough time to perform a thorough sweep, let alone clear a safe path for the capital ships. Captain Harkov intended to submit a full report of his senior officer's incompetence to high command once they returned to base. Calling in a favor or two should ensure Gloval's forced resignation, and maybe even a promotion for himself. Already the Vice Admiral was trying to cover his back by withdrawing his damaged fleet to a remote location for emergency repairs. Even the thick-headed Gloval must have known that triumphant returns aren't made in ships leaking breathable atmosphere and ionized plasma from their bulkheads.
"Sensors Officer, perform a detailed scan of all debris within firing range of those containers," Captain Harkov commanded.
The youth hesitated for a moment before answering, "no defense platforms or mines detected. It looks safe to approach."
Captain Harkov shot a menacing glance at the Sensors Officer. He did not like the youth's presumptuousness. "What's your designation, boy?"
"Second Lieutenant Andros, Sir!" the junior officer hastily replied, momentarily looking up from the console.
"I will have a word with you in private once this operation is complete." Harkov spoke icily, making sure not to grace the Second Lieutenant anymore with his full attention. "Helmsman! Bring us within plasma bomb range. Coms! Signal the Polaris to follow and assist."
There was a short delay before the Astora's sister-ship sent a reply. "Polaris acknowledges and will obey," an officer in the com-pit reported.
Harkov glanced again at his Sensor Officer. Second Lieutenant Andros gave a hard swallow and kept his head down. Satisfied with the current situation the flotilla captain settled further into his chair and allowed himself a slight, but smug, grin.
Daabir hung his head out of the open cockpit of his Mk.5 Interceptor. From where he sat it was easy to see the twin rotary mass drivers than made up the spine of the fighter. Above, a number of umbilical-like tubes had been connected supplying fuel, coolant, oxygen and electricity. From underneath he could hear the ground crew yelling to each other as they worked frantically to reload drums of mass driver ammunition.
The intercom was broadcasting a message from Fleet Intelligence, "All pilots will be briefed in case hostiles have penetrated farther into the Kharak system."
Daabir could hardly contain a snort of disgust. There weren't enough strike craft left operational for the pilots who had already seen combat today. The entire scout squadron had been declared unfit before the Mothership had gone into hyperspace. Not a single Arrow that made it back to the hanger had less than a dozen holes punched in it by enemy fire.
"On our return to Kharak, the final outfit of the Mothership must be accelerated in order to defend against possible future attacks. Many major Mothership systems are still incomplete," Fleet Intelligence continued as stoic as ever.
They'd be lucky if the squadron managed to return to pre-engagement strength a week from now. As is, the two interceptor squadrons were being folded into one and even then they were still one fighter short. Daabir was in the minority in that he was one of the few "bomb jockeys" whose Blade was still relatively unscathed.
"We will notify the Kharak Missile Defense System of this possible threat. The Mothership will then dock with the scaffold for repairs."
"Sajuuk be praised!" called one of the ground crew from down below. Daabir wasn't sure if the man had spoken in regards to the ship-wide broadcast or something having to do with the task at hand.
"Standby for exit to Kharak," was the last thing Daabir heard before the scramble alarm sounded.
Taiidan assault frigates, such as the Astora and Polaris are outfitted with four swivel-mounted mass driver turrets, each of which is capable of engaging a different target of opportunity. However, their true firepower is the twin plasma bomb launchers mounted in the nose. These two bruisers draw plasma directly from the ship's fusion reactor core via a magnetic shunt. The range is limited and aiming requires the vessel to align the target along its main axis, but when the first salvo struck one of the containers, there was no denying the lethality of the weapon system.
"Gunners report a direct hit," came a voice from the coms-pit. Even so it was obvious from the tactical display that several more salvos would be needed to destroy even one of the six.
"Continue bombardment," Captain Harkov ordered, "and tell the Polaris to do likewise."
"Sir!" One of the Coms Officers called out, "I'm picking up an emergency distress beacon. I believe it is coming from the container."
"Silence it," the Captain said impassively. Another volley of plasma leaped from the two assault frigates tearing into the already damaged container. Gouts of vapor and debris erupted from the points of impact, but still the distress signal persisted.
Harkov was actually beginning to enjoy the fireworks when the Sensors Officer suddenly yelled, "Hyperspace signature detected!"
"Is it Vice Admiral Gloval?"
"Negative, it's too massive..." Harkov's mind started to race with possibilities; Turanic Raiders? Bentusi Traders? The Emperor?
"It's not one of ours," Andros was saying, "I can't identify it."
"Show me!" Harkov snapped, unable to suppress his ire. Sure enough the readouts indicated a Mothership-class vessel unlike he had ever seen before. Already numerous smaller craft were pouring out of its hanger. Very quickly it became apparent to everyone one on the bridge of the Astora that some of those smaller ships were making a beeline toward them.
"First container vessel destroyed," the Second Lieutenant announced, his voice filled with growing distress. "Judging by their size and speed, the approaching ships are strike craft...there's at least a dozen of them."
The tension on the bridge of the Astora had become palatable. Nervous glances passed between junior officers. From the coms-pit a voice called up, "Polaris is requesting instructions. What are your orders Captain?"
Harkov gritted his teeth. Aside from the Polaris, no other Taiidan ships were within communications range. They couldn't run under conventional drives, nor could they escape into hyperspace with all the plasma that had been vented from their reactor cores. There was only one choice. "Bring our might to bear!" The Captain roared, "Tell Polaris to fire everything at those approaching threats!"
To the credit of the assault frigate gunners, they really did give all they had. It just wasn't enough to beat back the determined onslaught of those nimble fighters that, heedless of their own safety, dove in delivering a slow death-of-a-thousand-cuts to the frigates. As the fighters danced and spun though it became apparent to Harkov that the ferocity of the enemy would be his salvation. Soon the limited fuel in those tiny craft would be exhausted, forcing them to return to their mothership to resupply. In the interlude he could make a strategic withdraw.
Daabir watched as the fuel readout changed from yellow to red. At this rate he would be lucky to make one more strafing run and still have enough juice to make it back to the Mothership. He was about to pass on this pertinent information when the flight leader's fighter took a direct hit to the fuselage. The turrets on those capital ships weren't particularly fast tracking, but they packed a lot of punch. "Get out of there!" Daabir yelled on the squadron's com channel. The flight leader didn't answer, instead he turned directly toward the closer of the two frigates. Daabir watched in horrified fascination as the bright ion trail of that wounded Blade drew a line directly into the bow of the much larger, but less agile warship.
Someone yelled, "For Kharak!" It was an un-coded transmission on all frequencies.
On the bridge of the Astora there was only the hum and beep of electronics mixed with faint reverberations against the outer hull. All eyes were fixed on the tactical display of the Polaris as it was enveloped in an expanding ball of molten plasta-steel and super-heated glasses. The Astora's sensors array had difficult keeping track of it all. Andros quickly adjusted some of the controls at his console, but it was several moments before he could get clear enough readings to identify individual strike craft again. It took the Captain a moment more to realize that two of those craft were corvette-class vessel approaching the Astora in a slow pincer movement. "Evasive maneuvers!" Harkov screamed. Before the helmsman could carry out the order though the assault frigate lurched hard as a loud clamping noise echoed throughout the ship. The Captain was nearly thrown from his chair and some of the other bridge crew had to collect themselves before manning their posts. Meanwhile a series of cries rang out across the bridge.
"She won't answer to helm!"
"Weapon systems jammed!"
"All communications are down!"
The sensors array was still working though, and from it Harkov could easily see that his ship was being brought slowly, but inexorably toward that unidentified mothership.
"What do we do Captain?" Andros asked. He was looking directly at Harkov.
"We wait, Second Lieutenant. We wait."
Saturday, March 14, 2015
The risk of failure is used as a tension building device which can be mitigated somewhat by careful planning and good tactics. Sadly, there are times when lady luck turns her back on us, laying waste to even the best strategies. Good games mitigate this with the opportunity to make a dramatic comeback. However, I notice an alarming tendency for pessimism among certain segments of the video gaming populous. When they're having a good streak it's what's expected, but when fortune turns foul then RNG has screwed them again (rather than the inevitable results of probability).
My inclination is to dismiss such individuals as ill-tempered teenagers, but the reality is this sort of disdain for chance is extremely prevalent among board gaming communities. Statistics gathered from the database website board game geek strongly indicates that the community there dislikes games that utilize randomness in the mechanics. It's a sentiment I can't really relate to since, to me, nothing is more boring/frustrating than knowing what the outcome is yet being powerless to change it. If I were to play a competitive match of chess or "go" against a grand master, my defeat would be guaranteed. On the other hand, if the game has an element of chance then the possibility exists for a different outcome even in the face of a vastly more skilled opponent. That's perhaps overly optimistic way of looking at things, but lets face it; real life has a lot of RNG, and I don't want to hate life.
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Allow me to begin jogging your memory with the names of classic brawlers like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, JRPGs such as Phantasy Star 2, 3 and 4, tactical RPGs like Shining Force, puzzle games such as Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, RTS precursors like Populous, Powermonger, Herzog Zwei, and Dune II: Battle for Arrakis, hardcore sci-fi side-scrollers such as Another World (or alternatively Out of this World) and Flashback: Quest for Identity. There were all kinds of great platform driven action/adventure games like Strider, Shinobi, Rolling Thunder, Rocket Knight Adventures (that's one awesome possum!), Kid Chameleon, and Earthworm Jim, as well as genuinely fun kid-friendly Disney licensed games represented by QuackShot and Castle of Illusion Staring Mickey Mouse. Conversely, there was no shortage of brutally challenging games; The Immortal, Target Earth, Ghouls and Ghosts, not to mention the top-down/side-scrolling shooter hybrid Thunder Force. I, for one, was very glad I never played any of those last four in a quarter-gobbling arcade. No shortage on the sports front either with the NBA, NHL and NFL licences all held by Sega. Then, there were also a number of non-traditional sports titles like Road Rash, Mutant League, and Pig Skin (basically football played circa 621 A.D.).
Sunday, March 1, 2015
The third category is by far the worst offender. At least with the aforementioned content and perks categories there are theoretical limits to how much one can spend. However, resource driven models of revenue tend to encourage repurchasing the same in-game "currency" for real world money over and over again. It's a system designed to prey on "whales," a euphemism for fools and the rich. No matter how one slices it the practice is disgusting (both metaphorically and literally). Problems with perks and resources have become so endemic in mobile games that the Apple has begun to segregate pay-once-to-play games into a special section of their online app store for customers who have grown sick and tired of micro-transactions. For me it's a welcoming trend that needs to be more wide spread.