A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “X-COM UFO Defense

Waiting for XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Okay, I’ve pre-ordered XCOM: Enemy Unknown. October can’t get here fast enough.

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you the contents of the PC Special Edition pre-order.

1) A fold-out poster of the XCOM base

2) Art book detailing the conceptual journey of re-imagining the classic.

3) Patch of the XCOM “Vigilo/Confido” insignia.

4) “Digital bonus items including multi-monitor desktops, soundtrack, and more.”

There’s also the Elite Soldier Pack DLC in launch copies of the game. The contents:

1) Complete Color Customization: A variety of colors and tints for all armor sets in the game allow players complete control to customize their squad’s look.

2) Soldier Deco Packs: Players can customize their soldier with several aesthetic upgrades to armor suits including the new Hyperion and Reaper soldier armor kits.

3) Classic X-COM Soldier: Players will instantly receive a new recruit in their Barracks inspired by the original X-COM: UFO Defense. The khaki jumpsuit and blonde, flattop hairstyle will return in its full glory, modernized with the rest of the XCOM universe.

My reaction? AWESOME. Let me clarify: typically you have to get special edition copies of the game these days to get any material awesome-sauce with your game. I remember a time when buying a game got you a manual, quick reference cards, and occasionally other goodies like a map and a poster. The Wing Commander games always gave you a manual for the game and a book that gave you more context about what’s going on in the form of a Jane’s Fighting Ships book or a ship-wide publication like Victory Streak or Claw Marks. Getting an art book? Getting the soundtrack? I expect this stuff from a pre-order. Getting the poster and the patch? That’s old school and I love it.

On the DLC: YES I GET AN ORIGINAL XCOM AGENT! I will name him Wolfgang and give him a string of numbers instead of his surname to reflect his stats! He will use a laser rifle and he will have a flying suit! Er… maybe.

So, yeah, I’m excited. I can’t really wait. In the meantime I’m playing the original here and there to get my fix of alien fighting goodness. Oh, by the way, watch the original intro and then watch the footage of the new one. There’s significant parallels in the intros to the two games and that’s heartening. I can’t wait.


Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. I think this is more appropriate than any quote I can conjure up for today:

Looking Forward to the Up and Coming

For as long as I’ve been paying attention to the gaming industry, I’ve always tried to find something to get excited about… something to genuinely look forward to. I’ve got a couple of things I’d like to share that I’m excited about.

1) XCOM Enemy Unknown – If you’ve ever poked through my previous posts, you’ve probably heard me talk about X-COM UFO Defense and Enemy Unknown is a reimagination of the original (although, the European version of the original was actually called X-COM Enemy Unknown). I’m exceptionally excited about this game. I’ve always been a proponent of taking older games and updating them to more modern mechanics, graphics, and sounds. X-COM is an old game that I still pick up every now and again to play and it was my introduction to tactical level combat. I love it greatly and I’m truly excited about this new take on my old favorite. I have a hunch I’ll still go back to play the original from time to time, but the new one definitely caters to my sense of what I love in games by taking a couple of pages from Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition to help combat move smoothly (at least, that’s the way it seems to me).

2) Star Wars: The Old Republic – I think I’m always going to be excited about the updates for this game. Now that I have a legacy, I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what extra little bits they’re going to be adding to it come 1.3 and so on. Further, I absolutely love the Smuggler storyline and I’m truly immersed in my character. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Captain Vyris Tykin, Republic Privateer!

3) Star Trek Online – Season 6 is just around the corner and they’re announcing that it’s all about Fleet Advancement and getting your own Fleet Starbase. I’m sure there’s going to be some other adjustments and so forth, but also lined up for the future is much much more cool stuff that just makes a Star Trek fan excited to be alive. I’m really glad I have a lifetime account.

4) Mass Effect 3 DLC – I always look forward to anything Bioware releases for Mass Effect. They have a grand grasp of what’s good for the franchise and they’re always making great decisions. The upcoming extension for the ending of the game is intended to give closure to those of us who really needed more than the original ending gave. Further, their continued events for multiplayer keep me coming back. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Thus far, that’s all I’m really looking forward to in gaming… well… there IS one other thing that I’m kind of looking forward to…

5) Diablo III – I spent many a year playing the prior installments and I’m fascinated by it. I want to see how, with the Worldstone destroyed in the previous game, the people of Sanctuary can keep the war between Heaven and Hell from utterly obliterating the world. Also, I kind of owe it to myself to finish things out. I know that after this game Diablo is going to become an MMO (that’s just how the Bioware properties seem to go… three initial games and than an MMO… and it makes sense to me), so I’m going to revel in the single-player-ness as long as I can. The last game gave me nearly 10 years of gaming (I forced myself to stop playing and replaying the game because it would get quite old), let’s see what this new one can do for me.

So, that’s what I’ve got lined up for me… three updates/patches/whatever and two actual games. Here’s hoping 2013 can hold up to the awesomeness that is 2012.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “It’s been a dream of ours to recreate X-COM with our unique creative vision. We’re huge fans of the original game and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-envision a game that is as beloved as X-COM,” said Steve Martin, president of Firaxis Games. “We were careful to keep XCOM: Enemy Unknown true to the elements that made X-COM such a revered game while delivering an entirely new story and gameplay experience for both die-hard X-COM fans and newcomers to the franchise.” – Game Informer

The Three Games That Have My Attention Right Now

I felt that since it’s still a rather new year, it might be a good idea to talk about what games I’ve been playing lately and it just turns out to be three.

First (and the game I happen to play the least… if by least, you mean about eight or so hours of gameplay in the last four days) I’ve been playing X-COM UFO Defense off and on. This is a game that gives you some special moments. Like the time my base was invaded just the other day… every soldier came out of that one barely alive (seriously, if there wasn’t a save/load feature, I would’ve lost so badly). And there was the terror incident in Lima where that same crew of soldiers slaughtered their way through a pack of snakemen and chryssalids and where I accidentally killed a civilian but shrugged it off as, “Hey, he was two steps away from being turned into a zombie!” It was amazingly good fun, but I was shocked my team survived most of the time.

The second game is Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve been playing this game a lot less lately as I burned myself out on it a week or so ago. It’s okay though, it’s not going anywhere. I’ve got a couple of friends who exclusively play particular characters and they’re in the early to mid 40s and I’m a bit jealous of their progress, but I stopped to look around and smell the flowers. I’m a gamer and being wholly dedicated to one game for weeks on end goes against my nature. I need to play other games. That said, I deleted my Imperial Agent and my Sith Inquisitor the other day and restarted them. My Imperial Agent is going Sniper and my Sith Inquisitor is going Assassin. I got my Agent to level four and I was (surprisingly) falling asleep at the keys. Last night I was playing my Inquisitor (dear God, I designed her to be as cute as a button) and I was (equally surprisingly) wanting to stay up later and play even more. I guess that was my body saying, “Hey, I prefer the force users!” To date, my highest level character is a Jedi Guardian on the Rubat Crystal RP server at level 31. I’d just started the Tatooine bonus series when I’d decided to take a break. I’ve developed a new approach to the game: I’m just going to blitz past the group content. If I can’t do it by myself, well, I don’t want to linger around waiting for people to get their stuff together and group up with me, so I’m going to blast past flashpoints and Heroic 4’s.

The game that’s been getting the most of my time or at the very least has been getting some daily attention is Star Trek Online. Since they went Free to Play, they’ve revamped the skill tree and I’ve been having fun taking advantage of the Tour the Universe event to build up money and commendation experience. I’m able to build up just over 1 million credits per hour of Tour the Universe as well as 1200 exploration, 990 trade, 120 recruitment, and 90 development commendation experience. How is this possible? Well… I have the Assimilated Subtranswarp Engines that allow me to exceed warp 10 in sector space and I combine that piece of equipment with the Driver Coil skill that was recently added. Driver Coil does as follows:

This skill improves your Starship Warp Speed and turn rate in Sector Space. This skill will not allow your ship to travel faster than Warp 10 with standard Warp Drive. However, this restriction does not apply to Slipstream Drive or other specialty ‘faster than light’ sector space propulsion systems. This skill also improves your Full Impulse speed and Full Impulse turn rate as well as reduce the power drain on your other systems while in Full Impulse.

So, with a standard warp drive (Aegis Hyper-Impulse Engines) I can travel at warp 10. With the Borg engines on their own I can travel at warp 14. With the Borg engines and a full 9 ticks in Driver Coil I’m traveling between stars at warp 20.93. Before the Driver Coil skill was implemented, the Quantum Slipstream Drive allowed you to travel at warp 20 for 30 seconds with a 2 minute cooldown. Now the Slipstream allows me to travel at warp 29.90 for 30 seconds with a 2 minute cooldown. I can Tour the Universe three times in less than an hour. Hence the payout I described above.

Well, those are the three timesinks of my day. Today there’s a patch for STO and I’m going to be hopping onto SWTOR to play my adorable Inquisitor for a while. I’m planning on making all light side decisions for her just to see how that affects her story. I like being a contrary Sith.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. Instead of a quote, you should watch this video. I’ve become quite addicted to QI with Stephen Fry and I’ve spent several evenings watching it online. This particular video is pricelessly funny. “They say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is…”

Whoops! I forgot to post something!

Yesterday was Monday. There wasn’t a post. It completely slipped my mind. So, here’s some stuff to tide you over this week.


Also, check out the Star Trek Online Free-to-Play trailer.


Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. Ex astris, scientia. From the stars, knowledge. – Starfleet Academy motto.

Discussion – Inventory Maintenance

Hey everyone! As promised, the discussion on Inventory Maintenance in games!

Inventory maintenance in games is essentially the act of messing around in your inventory… from rearranging things so they fit better to just selling off the clutter, this is an integral part of a great many Role-Playing Games, Turn-Based Strategy Games and Action Role-Playing Games. Allow me to demonstrate…

X-COM UFO Defense (all these screens will be 300×200 resolution even though I took them at 1280×800… yay DOSBox?):

Okay X-COM has a rather robust inventory system. Your soldiers carry equipment (armor, weapons, etc), your aircraft carry equipment either for the soldiers to use or for air combat, and your bases hold all that equipment for the soldiers and aircraft to use. The above picture is indicative of the amount of stuff you can put on your soldiers. The armor is equipped on the soldier back at base as one unit, so you never really have to worry about that in the field. If you note, the objects that this soldier happens to have possess specific shapes. This comes into play when you’re juggling grenades (1 square), heavy plasma rifles (2 squares wide by 3 squares tall), magazines (1 square), heavy explosives (2 squares wide by 1 square tall), mind probes (2 squares wide by 2 squares tall), and pistols (1 square wide by 2 squares tall). Personally, I think less is more, hence the Laser Rifle (1 square wide by 3 squares tall) and the Medi-pak (1 square wide by 2 squares tall). At night they get an Electro-flare (1 square).

Next up is the Aircraft/Soldier Inventory. You’re allowed to have a maximum of 80 items on the Aircraft (although it never says the limit unless you hit it). Therefore, you need to consider balancing the desire to have Heavy Plasma weapons on all your soldiers (in a Skyranger, you can have 14 soldiers, so that works out to a Heavy Plasma per soldier plus at least one clip, I prefer two, and that works out to 42 items out of your 80 right there), and the wish to have other equipment. Late in the game one craft can be built called the Avenger. It can hold 26 soldiers and at that point I either start using mixed arms (a smattering of Heavy Plasma and Laser Rifles) or I just go ALL Laser Rifles (yeah, 1 item per person or 3 items per person… when you have an 80 item limit versus 26 people?). In this case, the Tank/Laser Cannon counts as one item that takes up four soldier spots on the transport (it’s a simple way of reducing the number of items per soldier that you need, but tanks can’t gain experience or use equipment at all… oh well, they’re good expendable scouts).

This next screen is here to show you a specific line… Stores. Essentially you need to keep an eye on your population (another inventory subset if you will) as well as your facility usage. You can build General Stores in your base that hold 50 items per. As you can see here, even with 5 General Stores, it’s easy to max out. Here’s where the next screenshot comes in:

This is the result of clicking the Stores button on the previous screen. Here you see that 20 Heavy Plasma’s equal 4 space in your General Stores and so forth (BTW, see that Elerium-115? NEVER SELL IT!… hence the 182 space it takes). Also… what happens if you try to buy more items than you have space? Well, you get this friendly message!

Yeah… and I’ve played this game from 1995 to now. I am well trained in the art of inventory management according to X-COM UFO Defense (it pained me to create this screenshot actually, but it happens if you already have maxed out stores like I showed above).

I’ve got two more examples of inventory management for you in the guise of Star Trek Online and Torchlight. First Star Trek Online (and it’s got a 1280×800 screenshot!):

STO gives you plenty of space as you play. Firstly, as you rank up (going from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander to Commander and so on) you gain more personal inventory space and personal bank space (you see the Inventory page on the right there? Yeah, that’s the side effect of being a Vice Admiral). Also, the bigger/better your ship is, the more stuff you can put on it (a Light Cruiser has two forward weapons and one aft whereas I’m rocking four and four). Further, each of your bridge officers can handle one weapon, one suit of armor, and four devices. You can personally handle TWO weapons (that you can switch between), a suit of armor, a special skills kit, and four devices. Every item in this game only takes up one box (unlike in X-COM where things have drastically differing shapes and sizes at the soldier level).

Here’s Torchlight (also at 1280×800):

Here you can also see the now lovely “one item per slot” design that’s become popular since Diablo II (I’ll talk about that in a bit). However, note that space is ALWAYS an issue. The developers of this game did a few neat things that I really liked. First, they added tabs to your personal inventory, so if you picked up spells, they’d go to a separate inventory page (which is awesome and makes finding them way easy). Further…

They gave you a pet. The pet has the same amount of inventory space as YOU do and they let you send it back to town to sell its pack full of crap that you don’t want. Then, the pet returns to gift you with the monetary amount you are owed. Genius.

Now, here’s why I mentioned Diablo II. Diablo II basically DEFINED the term Inventory Maintenance for me. First off, you had very limited personal inventory space and objects frequently took 2×3 parcels of space (Bows, Armor, Longswords, Large Shields, the list goes on). Further, before the expansion showed in 2001, the Stash was about as big as the inventory in Torchlight (only one tab though) and it was pitiful. When the expansion hit, they made your stash huge, but still, you had the same limitations. The Horadric Cube works in a pinch for giving you a 3×4 space that only takes up 2×2 in your inventory, but still… it’s a pain. At least gold didn’t take up inventory space any more like in Diablo. At least I picked up on Spatial Relationships pretty quickly.

Anyways, inventories in all their flawed glory have played an integral part in my gaming experience over the last 15+ years and I have a feeling that I’ll miss it when it gets streamlined down to a ghost of its former self. You can’t get rid of the joy of picking up cool new toys as you go. It’s just too rewarding. Next time you take a look at your inventory screen, wonder… where did this come from and where is it going? It’s fascinating.

Until next time, don’t forget to sell your junk loot!

– Elorfin

P.S. “He who knows he has enough is rich” – Tao Te Ching Chapter 33

P.P.S. “Capitalism tries for a delicate balance: It attempts to work things out so that everyone gets just enough stuff to keep them from getting violent and trying to take other people’s stuff.” – George Carlin

Discussion: Video Game Remakes and Re-releases

I was listening to some video game music on YouTube this morning and I happened to glance down at the comments. There were a couple of people saying how awesome it would be if there was to be a remake of the game to which the music belonged. A few commented that any remake would not be as faithful as we would hope. Mind, that’s just my interpretation of YouTube comments… they’re typically not so verbose or well worded (not to mention improper spelling and grammar).

I’ve been around almost as long as the video game industry. I’ve been playing games for most of my life. Some of the games I grew up on have built up a rather impressive catalog (Civilization just hit its fifth iteration, X-COM is seeing a reboot as a first person shooter without the hyphen, Sim City spawned the incredibly successful Sims series, etc). For the purposes of this discussion, sequels aren’t remakes or reboots, they’re just the logical (sometimes illogical) evolution of a game.

There has been a clamor for remakes and re-releases these days by my generation. We want to see our old games brought back to the fore and given the attention they deserve now in this age of the internet where we can discuss them openly instead of getting a bunch of blank stares from gamers half our age. I’ll get into the age issue later, but for now, let’s take a look at some remakes and re-releases.

In my opinion (and since this is my little site, everything here is my opinion), one of the best remakes/ports has to be the continuing of Lunar: The Silver Star since 1992. I wrote about it earlier here, so I won’t go into too much detail. The original game came out in 1992 on Sega CD (well, the Japanese version; the North American version was 1993), the first remake was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Sega Saturn in 1996-7, and later released on the Playstation in 1998-9. Further, there was a Game Boy Advance remake in 2002 called Lunar Legend and lastly the Playstation Portable remake in 2009-10 named Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Each of these remakes showed improvements in the graphics and/or voice acting (especially in the PSP release) and introduced new or different gameplay elements (or in one case, changing the main character’s hobby from playing a harp to playing an ocarina and rewriting the game to reflect that).

In the case of other games (this whole paragraph is now off the top of my head), I own a copy of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS which is a graphical update from the original. I’m not sure about the gameplay or anything else (except to reflect the touch screen and dual screen nature of the console, which I consider an assumed update). Also, there was a release of Final Fantasy I and II for the PSP, Final Fantasy VI for the GBA, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI on the Playstation, Chrono Trigger for the Playstation (that added animated cutscenes) and later the Nintendo DS (that has additional gameplay). Even more modern games like Disgaea has been rereleased on the PSP and the DS with appropriate gameplay adjustments and the whole Ace Attorney series originally came out on the GBA and was re-released on the DS. Final Fantasy Tactics got an amazing revisit when it was remade for the PSP 10 years after its original Playstation release and it added cell-shaded cutscenes, voice acting, a rewrite of the script to eliminate some of the mistranslated speech, and multiplayer gameplay.

Also, there has been a resurgence of re-releases courtesy of digital download services like Steam and Impulse. I’ve got full access to X-COM UFO Defense on Steam (which experienced a re-release or two) and Master of Orion II on Impulse. These are both mid-1990’s games that I spent a lot of time playing (and if you look at my Steam profile for X-COM, I still do). With access to old games, I’ve noticed something about myself… I’m BETTER at them now than I used to be. Not just through repetition of gameplay (because I stopped playing them when Windows decided to not let me run them ordinarily), but through the fact that I’m a much more experienced gamer today. I was playing Master of Orion II recently and discovered that the easy difficulty setting was too easy, which was odd because it used to be fine for me. I cranked up the difficulty to average and it was STILL too easy. I think I’m going to kick it up to hard next and see what happens.

For someone like me who grew up with these older games, a remake is a mixed bag. Part of the experience of these older games was dealing with the copy protection and the low resolution, DOS command lines and the early generations of sound cards that could only generate 8-bit music (eventually better). However, I would love to see my old games revisited and updated… better graphics, better music, glitches fixed, gameplay streamlined, but I don’t want any significant changes. Often when there’s a remake, the fear is that the developer will change the fundamental aspects of the game. This is partly unfounded as I’ve never seen a remake that drastically changed the way the game played, but I have seen sequels that are nothing like the original (Master of Orion 3 was a disaster).

This leads me to my perspective: I want to see faithful remakes of the games I grew up playing. I want to see graphical, musical, effects upgrades across the board, but I want the gameplay to essentially remain the same. Sure, some of the fan-made projects for X-COM has made playing the game more interesting and convenient (like a map randomizer to mix things up a bit or a mechanism for the game to remember what equipment was on which team members). I feel that these re-releases on Steam and Impulse could be the beginning of something incredible if companies would tackle such things. Admittedly, most companies are more interested in making new or derivative games instead of revisiting older ones for overhauls. Plus, in the case of some games like X-COM Interceptor, the source code has apparently vanished and any fixes or remakes are just not in the cards. Honestly, remakes/re-releases of games like Lunar, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger are thrilling for me and I jump on them when I can. I love having a portable copy of Chrono Trigger and Lunar and Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d love to see a PSP version of X-COM UFO Defense one day, but seeing as they’ve already started pulling away from the UMD hardware (from what I’ve noticed), I doubt I’m going to get my wish.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. There’s something in it that makes us look upon the things we treasured way back when through our rose colored lenses and value the old over the new. Remakes are a kind of compromise and even today, remakes are often derided as worse than the original. A prime example of this is a forum thread I was reading last night regarding Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP. In it, some posters commented that it was easier than the original, that it was somehow less than the original. This kind of thinking is dangerous for those of us who would love to see our old favorites revisited in the future. I wonder if these people ever considered that because they played the original, they were somehow better at later versions of the same game. I’ve played Lunar in nearly every iteration and to me, it’s the same game every time. Of course, I don’t have the luxury of being able to play the original Sega CD version next to the newer PSP version. This issue occurs with movies too (anyone notice the whole “I hate the new Star Wars trilogy” thing mostly coming from those people who grew up with the original?). The older we get and the more advanced we become with regards to education and technology, the more critical and demanding we become of our forms of entertainment. Why can’t it be like the good old days? Because those days are long gone, but if you open your mind just a bit, you might find that your favorite story has inspired a slew of others just like it… Master of Orion was the original game that inspired the coining of the term 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) with regards to video game genres and has since inspired games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations and many more. Wolfenstein 3D inspired every first person shooter we have today, from Unreal Tournament to Medal of Honor. It’s good to go back to the beginning to see where it all started and awesome if you experienced it as it happened, but take a look outside every now and again and try something new. I promise, you won’t be disappointed (unless you want to be, in which case, that’s your problem).

I suppose my new point is this: don’t rely on the remakes and re-releases, but if they do come along, vote with your money and let the companies know that their effort in revisiting their older games is a welcome diversion. In the mean time, let developers pay tribute to older games by making new ones and vote with your money on those too. Feel free to compare the old and the new, but understand that if that old game were made today, it would be completely different due to the reduced limitations on technology. Apparently Silent Hill was much scarier back when there was a ton of fog (which was implemented since the hardware was limited in what it could show) and now today you can see all the way to the horizon and things aren’t so scary any more. Be understanding.

Until next time, keep on playing the classics you love and give the descendants a chance to become new classics!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones.” from Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

P.P.S. Yes, I want a remake/re-release of Terranigma. I think out of the three Quintet/Enix titles (Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma) the last one is the best and deserves a DS release at the very least.

What makes a great game? – Part 2: Heroes

So, we’ve discussed a bit on music and today I found myself asking the question: “Why do I play games?” This can extend into why I watch certain television programs or movies or read certain books, but I’ll hold it to games for now. In part, I think I play games to be the hero or at least be a party to something heroic.

This day and age we’re surrounded by “everyday heroes” in our police, firefighters, military, etc. These are all well and good and generally awesome, but I have to ask, are there any classic heroes any more? By classic, I refer to the knight in shining armor stereotype (yes, I know it never really existed, but stay with me on this). How about the Jedi Knight, the superhero (or team of superheroes), the wandering samurai, the battle-hardened special forces team that saves the Earth from certain destruction time and again? These examples all come from the classic heroes of old like Hercules and so forth. So, I suppose the stories have been updated, but why do I want to experience the story of a hero?

It’s possible that living the story of a hero through an interactive and immersive experience allows me to feel like I’m a hero too. That my life is more than just sitting in front of the computer or console. Games allow us to experience fantastic events vicariously. By assuming the role of the hero, we become invested. It’s more or less what I call the “one more turn” syndrome (updated to be the “five more minutes” syndrome).

Heroism gives us hope somehow. I’m not entirely sure about the why’s and wherefore’s but that’s my experience. When I’m witnessing the actions of a hero (either AS the hero in a game or reading about it or watching it in a movie or show) I have a feeling that everything will work out for the better. That somehow, the hero will pull through. In a way, the hero is the safe emotional investment (depending on the hero’s creator, Damn You David Willis!). You can frequently rely on the hero to be there tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The hero usually grows, overcomes great adversity, and triumphs over an ultimate enemy of sorts. All the while, I remain enraptured. I want to do that. I want to be there.

Let’s look at some of the games I like:

  • X-COM UFO Defense – team of unnamed heroes (well, generic names, but no one stands apart from the others)
  • Final Fantasy VI – team of heroes, each with a special ability that makes them valuable
  • Lunar: Silver Star Harmony – again, a team of heroes, but the story revolves around Alex becoming more and more of a hero as the game progresses
  • Mass Effect – you’re Shepard, the actual shepherd of your flock of teammates and what you says goes where your personal motives and play-style dictate the direction of the game
  • Wing Commander – you are the hero, the pilot that saves your carrier time and again and over time the crew rewards you with trust and a compelling storyline and a reason to continue to protect that beloved carrier
  • The Monkey Island Series – Guybrush is something of an unlikely hero, but when he first arrived, he knew exactly what he wanted: to be a mighty pirate; he got it and THAT is what being a hero is all about
  • Dungeons & Dragons – a place to build up from nothing; going into a hero, D&D is a reflection of work ethic, attention span, and a firm grasp of the rules (aka, the world you work in)

Lastly, I’ll touch on Star Wars. Star Wars as a universe of movies, books, and games, encompasses a wide variety of heroes. You have the vanilla hero (Luke Skywalker) that starts as a nobody, but rises to to occasion and to great heights of heroism. You have the rogue-type hero (Han Solo) that starts out as a mischief-maker and winds up proving himself in the face of real danger and becoming a better person because of it. You have the headstrong princess (Leia, of course), who stays strong the whole time but appears to learn that strength must be tempered with patience and mercy, and of course, the occasional sleight of hand that she picks up from the rogue. Hell, there are degrees of reluctant heroes and anti-heroes and on and on.

I believe games speak to that inner being that so desperately wants to be the hero. No matter how wonderful or terrible your life is, a game can speak to you and bring you to a world where YOU are the hero, YOU are the center of the story, YOU make things happen and YOU are the most important person in the room. For those of us who go through life ignored or trampled, a game can give us the self-esteem and inspiration to push forward in our daily life or give us enough satisfaction with life that we don’t need to push so hard to get what we want on a daily basis. All by letting us play pretend for just a little while.

I’m not sure if this stayed on point the whole time, but essentially, I love to be the hero. I love to ride to the rescue, I love to prove that being prepared solves a ton of problems, I love to vanquish monsters and champion causes. Games let me be the knight in shining armor, the Shepard in N7 armor, and the Jedi in knight’s robes.

To tie this in with the music from Part 1, when the music lends itself to the moment where you show your heroism, where the music starts that crescendo, the trumpets sound,  and you defeat that dragon or Reaper or Sith… well, it’s no wonder I keep going back.

Until next time, keep playing the hero, and maybe it’ll stick!

– Elorfin

P.S. Yes, I know the stories of heroes are tales where the characters and events most likely did not exist. There are no actual fire-breathing dragons in the world and metaphorical dragons, however real and problematic, don’t really measure up to the mythological dragon we fantasize of defeating. Still, when I try to answer the classic question that schools ask schoolchildren (what do you want to be when you grow up?), I hate to say that astronaut, firefighter, or policeman doesn’t cut it any more! *laughs*

P.P.S. On a more psychological note, playing the hero in a game is quite possibly a way of addressing the feeling of unsuccessfulness in some aspect of life. By feeling satisfied in entertainment, one achieves some sort of parity between that and regular life. The more one plays the game and strives to save the day in a fictional setting, the more the player might need something similar in the real world. Just a theory. I know I play games in part as escapism, but also because they’re just plain enjoyable and I love a good soundtrack and a good story and… well, I’ll touch on it more in later posts!

X-COM UFO Defense – Impression

A quick preface here: I’ve been playing this game for the better part of half my life. I always come back to it and it’s just amazingly fun and frustrating and awesome all at the same time.

X-COM stands for Extraterrestrial Command (I believe) and it’s all about defending the Earth of 1999 against the invading alien armies consisting of a wide variety of pesky critters. You start out with one base and a few guys and eventually need to build up to several bases and lots of soldiers, scientists, and engineers to fight, research, and build your way to winning the war.

There’s a lot of aliens and here’s a quick breakdown of them:

Sectoids (little grey guys with limited psionic powers) [most often the first one you encounter]

Floaters (flying purple guys)[I’ve encountered them first sometimes]

Mutons (purple guys wearing green bodysuits) [really hard to kill sometimes]{I’ve encountered them first before and it sucked}

Snakemen (orange snake people)[I’ve encountered them first before]

Ethereals (orange cloaked, powerful psionic abilities)

Cyberdiscs (effectively flying tanks that shoot plasma, they accompany Sectoids)

Reapers (big bipedal monsters that bite, they accompany Floaters)

Celatids (little squishy pink things that spit highly concentrated stomach acid) [accompany Mutons]

Silacoids (moving purple and pink boulders, they’re supposedly burning hot) [accompany Mutons]

Chryssalids (freaky buggers that turn people they hit into zombies that then hatch into new Chryssalids) [accompany Snakemen]

Sectopods (mechanical versions of Reapers that shoot plasma, they accompany Ethereals)

These pictures are very helpful and saved me a lot of time in descriptions! Go ahead and click on them to get the info I spent DAYS in game trying to gain. These screens are courtesy of www.xcomufo.com and their UFOPaedia.

Combat is on a tactical level with micromanagement on a global level. By this, I mean that combat is where you control individual units versus individual enemies and base management with UFO interception is handled on a larger scale. First, a look at combat:

Combat is turn-based, meaning that you take your turn, hit the end turn button, and then the aliens get to go. Then it’s your turn again (assuming you survived). Your troops can wield a variety of ballistic and energy weapons, either captured, purchased, or manufactured. Eventually, you can even equip them with suits of armor and the best armor lets your guys fly around! It’s awesome! You do spend a significant amount of time on the “battlescape” tackling the wide variety of aliens described above in Terror Missions, Base Assaults, Base Defenses (when they attack your base, it’s a real change of pace), and the very common UFO landing/crashing investigation. The objective is to kill or capture all of the aliens without losing your units or retreating. Simple, right? Yeah, sometimes the computer has wicked good weapon accuracy and those bastards sure love their grenades.

When managing your base, the above is the screen you enjoy (yours might be slightly different on the left depending on what you put in your base). You can maintain up to 8 individual bases throughout the world and each of them with the possibility of housing your soldiers, scientists, engineers, and/or interception craft. You can build facilities ranging from Living Quarters (50 people per), Hangars (1 vehicle per), Alien Containment (for those pesky live buggers), Laboratories (inquiring minds want to know!), Workshops (to build all those exotic toys), and a variety of defenses (missile, laser, plasma, etc) and UFO detection gear. On this screen, the game world is paused. The number on those facilities? Days to completion. Oh, your base has maintenance costs too…

Whoa, whoever took this screenshot is in serious financial trouble unless that’s their only base… seriously, cut back on the scientists unless you’re drawing in tons of cash via item sales!

Shooting down UFO’s is an interesting interlude. I mean, either you wait for them to land or you shoot them down. The standard interceptor’s maximum speed is 2100 units (can’t remember if it’s knots or miles or whatever), but the smallest of UFO’s can go 2200. Often your interceptor is outrun by the aliens until you develop newer craft (I have an opinion on these, but that’s for later). The music here though is so awesome.

Okay, my opinion on how to run a successful game:

1) Plant your first base in the middle of Europe. That way you can protect several funding nations earlier in the game. I further recommend the strategic placing of your future bases in such a way that you can cover by radar (if nothing else) a majority of funding nations. The USA is a major supporter, so I recommend a second base over there somewhere or in Asia (because there are more supporters in Asia than in North America).

2) Do your initial research straight for Laser Rifles. They’re the best weapon available that early without further research. They’re easy to produce, lightweight, and have infinite ammunition. A fantastic investment for ALL of your troops.

3) Buy enough troops to fill out your first Skyranger. It holds 14 soldiers. Oh, while you’re buying soldiers, keep in mind that a bravery of less than 30 isn’t ideal. Bravery is the stat that determines how quickly they panic or lose morale if crap goes downhill. The higher, the better.

4) If you maintain troops at other bases and are using Skyrangers, invest in only 10 troops and give them a tank of some sort. Preferably a laser tank with an upgrade later to a hover plasma tank. An expendable scout is great for the lower ranking soldiers to take cover behind or even support. Plus, it saves you money on soldier salaries.

5) Either keep your scientist numbers low or use the transfer trick to save money on their nearly prohibitive salaries. Personally I’m too lazy to do the transfer trick, so I don’t invest in more than 50 scientists unless I can provide enough money from UFO item sales.

6) If you don’t use it, don’t keep it. You only need ONE of each item you receive from the aliens for research purposes. Sell everything else. If you keep ammunition and their requisite weapons, keep a 2:1 ratio of ammo to weapons. Oh, and sell those damn corpses. They smell.

Addendum to 6) DO NOT SELL ELERIUM UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! This is the fuel you will use for your shiny new planes later on. Also, it allows you to build the flying suits your troops will definitely want. You CANNOT beat the game without some of this material in your stores. Trust me.

Those are just some of my pointers that I adhere to these days. Now, some complaints about the game:

1) There is an 80 item limit on EVERY mission. When your base is attacked, the FIRST 80 ITEMS are taken from your general stores and provided for your use. This could be awesome or tragic, depending if you actually get weapons or if you just get the ammunition that you forgot to sell for the gun you did sell. I understand an item limit on missions, but when my base is raided? Seriously?

2) I can’t stand the Firestorm interception craft. It’s a lightweight with a crappy range to fuel ratio. The standard rental interceptor is way more efficient, if slower. I wish you could upgrade the standard interceptor or other craft with researched components.

3) The aliens are frustratingly accurate at the times where my troops are frustratingly inaccurate. I use my Dad’s trick of using the whole “Save/Reload” feature when things go sour. I don’t like to lose troops.

4) Speaking of losing troops, when a soldier dies, you don’t get their armor back. In a way, it makes sense, but you don’t even get salvage out of it and flying suits are expensive.

Now, a comment or two:

1) Chryssalids scare the crap out of me and always have. Seriously, those buggers can move clear across the screen, so I make them priority targets. Fortunately, they only appear during terror missions or in Snakeman bases. Oh, yeah, and in Snakeman battleships. I hate those guys. Here’s a screen of the autopsy research… and they’re STILL SMILING THAT CREEPY SMILE!!!

2) This game used to creep me out in general. The battlescape music is very appropriate for the alien hunt that typically ensues. I still jump when the aliens start shooting and wish my guys would duck when I do.

So, yeah… this is my favorite old school game that I dust off every now and again. It’s much easier to play now that it’s on Steam. 5 bucks, you know you want it! I used to play this in DOS with copy protection and all. Then the collection came out and I played that on CD. Now it’s on Steam and all I have to do is install Steam, install the game, and I’m back in the mid-90’s trading strategies with my Dad about which base designs are most effective at repelling alien invaders and how one of our soldiers became really awesome and how I used a blaster launcher to punch a hole in the hull of the alien ship so I could invade it from above and below. This is one of the games I bonded with my Dad over and many of the strategies and management techniques he taught me back then are still in use today.

Thanks Dad. I love this game.

Until next time, keep on playing.

– Elorfin

P.S. Oh, other screens (the smaller ones when you click on them) come from the DOS screens on the MobyGames page for this game.