Monday, November 29, 2010

RTS! OR, Premises and how quickly I abandon them

I was all set tonight to write about how exciting the field of ARG or Alternate Reality Gaming is becoming but then I finished off Thanksgiving leftovers which reduced my brainpower to such a reptile-like state that I had to reach into my emergency topic pile and pull out something safe instead. Sorry, ARG fans, your day will come, I promise. Also, I now have an excuse if this post reads about as well as a steaming turd.

When you (I) Google Image Search Alternate Reality Gaming, this is what you (you still) get.

Instead, we're going to be talking about the incredibly popular genre of (primarily) computer gaming known as RTS. For those of you reading this who SOMEHOW also don't know what RTS stands for (which is actually probably going to be a substantial number of people since I'm mostly hawking this blog on Facebook right now), I grant you Real Time Strategy. What this means is that while you're sitting there and strategizing, planning your moves, the computer or other human players are also doing their own thing. You know, in real time. As an extension of that concept, this also means that, unless you're Korean (and no, not that one, I'm talking about the one with individual freedoms) you're probably going to lose almost every game you play. I sure do, anyway. This in no way means I'm just bad at RTS. I DOES mean that, but it also means you're all bad at it, too. I'm sure you'll dig up some "concrete evidence" or something to the contrary but this probably just means you hate me.

Micro after the jump.

I got my (terrible) start with the RTS genre with the sweet SNES port of Populous in 1991. I really loved this game and to this day there's still a bit of nostalgic warmth and fuzziness associated with the title. I was also 9 years old and stupid. At that age, it was an amazing concept. You play a god and you have to help your little villagers who worship the heck out of you prosper, preparing them for the day when they meet the Other God's villagers and then they start Rock 'Em Sock 'Eming each other to death. Do you know who doesn't read instruction manuals? Nine year olds. You know who had no idea there were even supposed to be enemies in the game until it was too late? Me, 19 years ago.

This is how I learned about religion and how to hate the RTS.

Despite all the joys associated with my memories of Populous, it never got better for me. I would run into the bad guys each time then start the game over so I could just play up to that point because that was all I had any sort of aptitude for, not really coming to terms with the fact that I was completely missing the point of the entire game. This would be a recurring theme for me forever.

A few years later, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans came out. This was the era where you could go to the store and buy a disc full of roughly 800 shareware games for about $2.00. Basically, it was the greatest time to be alive ever. Somewhere in the middle of playing 30 hours of DOOM per day, I stumbled upon Warcraft. Whoa, what is this map? Is this Populous II? It should be stated that at the time I had no idea Populous II had already been out for years and discounted the fact that I could plainly see the game was called something else. There was a green map and there were little dudes walking around I could tell to do things. Strategically. This was a lot of fun! I started having guys collecting gold and wood and building little houses annnnnnd the AI and it's awful terrible orcs found me and that was the end of that little experience.

It was about this time that I started to pick up on the trend. I was bad at whatever style of game this was. I didn't come close to getting fooled by Starcraft. That wasn't even clever. Blizzard replaced the "W" with an "S" and a "t" and I had developed the handy skill of looking at the back of the box in the store. Eventually, the 2000s came along with Age of Empires (the sequels anyway). Man PC graphics sure have improved since I last played and...whoa, are these research trees? This I guess. Err, wait, who are those guys and why are their uniforms different colors than mine? Don't worry, my naivete DOES end up breaking long before my entire empire is in flames.

I'm not sure what shuts off in my brain. It just happens. Every new RTS that comes down the pike I take a look at and think, "Aha! This time...will be different!" I don't know why I think that. I think it's because I'm brain-damaged or something and this is just one overly elaborate methodology designed to eventually enlighten me as to my illness because it's way more fun for the doctors that way.

Anyway, by the mid 2000s I was firmly mired in the 4X genre of empire building games. The Civilization series and such. I'd been an adult for awhile and I was at peace with the fact that, you know, there were all these other types of games out there that it just didn't matter that I was bad at RTS. I could enjoy myself so many other ways without involving torture.

Then I ran into Dwarf Fortress. Dwarf Fortress married RTS with Roguelikes (explanation another time, I'm already running longer than I should with the level of carbohydrates currently circulating in my body. I'll show a picture and that will have to be good enough for now) with a liberal scoop of boundless insanity poured on top. I had been playing MUDs for a full decade and a half up to this point so getting me to sign on board was a mere formality. Somehow, beyond all logic, I had no idea what I was in for.

I love this game and I still have no idea what's going on here.

Dwarf Fortress introduced the most punishing and non-newbie friendly learning curve of all time. It's also probably the best game of all time if you can fully figure out the ins and outs of gameplay which would most likely require a Ph. D. in...I dunno, whatever it takes to make heads or tails of the above image. I spent a few hours trawling around this lovely little title and then goblins or something started attacking my industrious little dwarves and, since I'm not a nuclear physicist, I couldn't figure out how to make weapons and that was the end of my fledgling dreams of becoming king of all dwarves and their fortresses.

I don't actually hate the genre, to be honest. I'm just not very good at it. When I'm not very good at things I get jealous and catty and start saying things I don't mean or aren't true. It's the same reason why I don't get too far into listing the sports I like. I don't find basketball detestable because I hate rap (or any other unfortunate implications), it's because I can't dribble and move in any direction at the same time without bouncing my head off the ground and slipping in and out of lucidity for the next 12 hours.

I guess the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem and boy do I ever. As much as I love games I simply can't deal with Real Time Strategy. I blame the adults in my childhood for telling me that I was supposed to take turns. Who wants to play chess? I DO BECAUSE I AM A GENTLEMAN.

No clue. Heat - Celtics?


  1. This video takes place in real time.