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Tag Archives: Command & Conquer

 

 

Mishima.

 

 

Cycle-1:

 

On my grandmother’s balcony, in the village.

Laptop open.

Mid-afternoon summer. Lebanon. End of the 90’s.

I sit back in my chair.

I watch the leaves shake on the tree.

It’s quiet. The sun is high.

I look at the screen and it’s Unreal showing where I died.

A multiplayer match against bots.

I fell off a bridge, into a valley.

I’d never played a game like this.

I enjoy its fusion of nature and architecture.

I look past the tree. I roll my eyes along the mountains on the horizon.

The abandoned hospital glimmers: Bombed and abandoned.

The afternoon call to prayer begins.

I start another match.

I try to understand the novelty and limits of my trackball.

I look up into the sky. I jump down again.

I shut the computer off. I stand up. I grab my gun.

I cross the road. I walk into the valley.

I sit in the forest.

I watch a cow skull bake in the sun.

I imagine all the dead here.

If you look hard enough through the mud, you can still find bullet casings from the war.

I found a grenade here once.

I get up.

I walk to the graveyard below.

 

Cycle-2:

 

It’s dark.

The sky is quiet at last.

Our anxieties cool.

“You want to go for a ride?”

“Where?”

“KM.”

A neighboring village.

We are rivals in every sense.

I look at my cousin:

“Just for a ride or is there something you want to do?”

“I hear they have an internet cafe where you can play games.”

“Alright.”

I tell my father I’m leaving for a while.

He doesn’t like the idea.

I get in the car anyway.

My cousin drives.

He lays into the gas. We scream through.

KM is dark. The electricity is out.

The cafe sits at the edge of the village.

They run the generator.

It’s packed and hot.

We walk up to the manager:

“How much for an hour?”

“3000.”

Two US Dollars.

We pay and sit down.

I look around at the other screens.

Half are playing Counter-Strike. Half are chatting on MSN Messenger.

I check my email. I load up CS.

I don’t play well. I look at my cousin’s screen.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m chatting with this girl…”

“You know her?”

“No.”

I nod.

Social anonymity.

I load up a new round.

de_dust.

Terrorist.

 

Cycle-3:

 

Summer ’95.

The village-wide soccer championship.

They changed the location at the last second.

It moved to a concrete bowl at the top of the village.

I follow all the kids up the hill. I talk with my friends.

We’re excited. This is a big deal.

They have a real trophy this year.

We get to the top. The organizer shouts the rules.

The match starts.

20 minutes in and an IDF warplane comes down low.

A loud explosion.

A Lebanese soldier runs out from a nearby camp.

He waves his arms for us to leave.

The organizer begs us to stay.

I turn to run away.

Crying. Shaking. Confused.

I see my aunt drive up.

I dive into her car.

She takes me back down.

She tries to calm me.

The memory burns in.

Three years later: Summer ’98.

My uncle buys a mid-grade PC in the city.

My cousins are obsessed with World Cup ’98.

They play on mouse and keyboard. The game has good friction.

It feels light. It has joy in it.

I watch an older cousin going through the rosters.

We were alone.

I ask him why he thinks Arab nations never take the World Cup.

He nods:

“We got close once in 1982…”

“What happened?”

“The West got scared.”

 

Cycle-4:

 

I hate this city.

Mid-morning and I’m in Saida.

It smells like traffic, garbage, and sea.

I stare at a green Mickey Mouse painted outside a store.

His head is too thin. His eyes are too wide.

He looks crazed. Hungry.

Deceitful.

‘Dismey.’ ‘Abidas.’ ‘Mike.’

Everything is ripped off and shifted here.

Clothing. Films. Cigarettes. Video games.

I walk on.

I walk into a media store.

It’s dark. It’s full of dust.

I look through the electronics. Mostly Chinese garbage.

‘SegaMega.’ ‘Polystation.’

I flip through the PC games.

All pirated.

All in small plastic bags with printed, confused covers.

Call of Duty‘ printed on the Army Men cover.

Commandos‘ with Kane’s face from Command & Conquer.

Barbie Riding Club‘ with ‘The Sims.’

I laugh.

I buy a martial arts book by Bruce Lee in Arabic.

I cross the street. I buy some ice cream from a cafe.

I sit down near the shore.

I imagine one day Lebanon being covered in internet cafes.

I wonder how deep the piracy will go.

I wonder if we’ll ever get a shot at legitimacy.

A few years later and there will be a consumer uproar in the village:

Football Manager sold as FIFA.

 

Cycle-5:

 

Early morning.

A quaking.

An explosion.

We wake up startled.

We ask each other what happened.

My uncle walks in:

“It was just a sonic boom.”

IDF warplanes and intimidation.

We get up.

We throw Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit into the PC.

I watch my brother and my cousins take turns.

I watch the game.

I only played it on console. I like how it filtered aggression and speed.

We turned down the resolution to make it run smoother.

The PC wasn’t holding up.

No gamepad. Keyboard and mouse again.

I watch them burn out by the ocean.

I watch the cops win.

Years later and M. and I get into his trashed-up blue Honda.

He drives like the last demon on earth.

We barrel through the village and our eyes are on fire.

“Hey, remember when we used to play Need for Speed?”

He nods. He responds:

“Yeah! And remember how we’d evade the cops. . .?”

He jerks the wheel left and right like a deranged rally driver.

My cell phone rings. I ignore it.

We make a turn. We slow down.

We hit an army checkpoint.

My cousin hides his knife in a broken AC vent.

The soldiers stop us. They ask us to get out.

Their commander asks me for my draft papers.

I tell him I don’t have any.

He grabs me and starts shoving me towards the convoy.

My cousin yells:

“Wait! He’s American! He’s American!”

The pushing stops. The soldier looks at me:

“Can you prove it?”

I pull out my wallet. I show him my driver’s license, my school ID.

He accepts it and apologizes. We ask him what this is about.

“A big fight happened and someone got stabbed…”

We get back into the car. We drive off.

My cousin fishes his knife out from the vent.

We laugh like idiots.

 

Cycle-6:

 

Summer. 2006. Downtown Damascus.

The July War still raging.

We tried to stick it out.

We decided to run away when Hezbollah hit an Israeli warship off the coast of Beirut.

Damascus is worse than Saida.

Hotter. Nastier.

Everyone paranoid.

We had to give up our passport information to buy SIM cards.

We’re waiting to find tickets back to the United States.

We’re stuck. We’re empty.

My uncle hires a guide. He takes us around.

He tells us that Damascus is surrounded by graves of Nephilim.

I imagine their enormous corpses rotting.

My mother takes us to the Shrine of Zaynab.

Everyone crying.

I sit down and relive the entire war. I’m tired.

I’m dead.

We go back.

I go up to the hotel roof. I look out over the edge.

There’s an enormous hammer and sickle in front of the building across the street.

I go down. I cross the street. I stand in front of the building.

I walk in.

The walls are covered in red.

Old pictures of Soviet men and women.

Old propaganda art.

A Soviet community center.

I look down to the bottom floor.

I see rows of computers.

I pay the attendant.

I sit down.

I check Facebook.

I recall old haunts like Children of Acid and Myspace.

I look through the games.

I launch Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2.

I play a skirmish game against the AI.

I choose the Soviets.

I build as many Kirov Airships as I can and erase everything.

I end it. I start another. I pick Iraq.

I use all my resources to build Desolators.

I poison entire strips of land.

I exit the game. I get up.

I walk out. The sun is setting.

And I am full of rage.

And I am powerless.

I walk to the large intersection near the hotel.

I look around.

I lock eyes with an enormous picture of Hafez Al-Assad.

He’s grinning.

I remember the stories of him burying entire villages.

I remember his borderline genocides.

I let my madness go a little bit.

I walk to a cafe. I sit by the window.

I listen to the AC hum. I watch the headlights flash.

I order tea and hookah.

I weep at the table.

I kick the chair in front of me.

People stare. No one says anything.

They know.

I feel myself dissolve.

I stare at my reflection in the window.

I don’t know what I am anymore.

I feel myself devolve into a desolate wasteland.

I feel myself rot like raw meat in the belly of some cold-blooded animal.

I realize how deep the fantasies run.

I realize how much power games give us.

And I realize how much of it the world takes away.

 

 

 

 

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Legends.

 

 

The first computer we had in our house was a Packard Bell desktop my family bought from Sears.

My brother and I spent a lot of time poking around on it, trying to figure out how to make it fun.

At first, we played a lot of Kidspace: A software suite that came pre-installed.

Kidspace had some cheap, strange games in it:

An odd medical game where you entered a patient’s body and attacked infected cells.

Another game where the player was a paleontologist exploring a barren world of static dinosaurs.

Kidspace was quiet and calm.

We spent a lot of our time there, it was pure in that it didn’t try to market anything.

Kidspace is what turned my brother and I on to PC Gaming.

We later moved on to Megarace.

Megarace grabbed us: It felt fast and dark.

It took place in something resembling a cyberpunk future with biker gangs.

Akira with none of the relevance.

Megarace was obnoxious and entertaining and we stuck with it for a while.

We only stopped playing when we couldn’t ever beat the fifth or so level.

The first ‘real’ PC game my brother and I tried to play was Star Wars: Rebel Assault II.

At the time, neither of us was interested in the Star Wars franchise, but this seemed like a fun, arcade-like rail shooter.

RAII pushed our desktop to its limits.

It ran well enough to play, but it wasn’t a smooth experience and would often crash.

Having played on consoles most of our childhood, we didn’t understand that PC gaming involved constant hardware upgrades.

Around this time, Command & Conquer: Red Alert released and all the kids at school were talking about it.

I had never heard of the RTS genre.

When I started Red Alert, I was disappointed that this wasn’t a first-person game.

That feeling soon faded as I began to enjoy the fulfillment of commanding and developing armies across alternate historical campaigns.

Due to the low hardware requirements, Red Alert ran much better on our desktop than RAII.

Red Alert was a substantial game.

It evolved so much from its predecessor: Command & Conquer.

I still play the original Red Alert today.

Around 1998, we finally upgraded our computer.

We bought a stock HP desktop in which my brother installed a dedicated graphics card.

This is where our love of PC Gaming soared.

We bought Half-Life, downloaded Counter-Strike, and played Unreal Tournament endlessly.

Playing these classic 3D games was formative.

Today, each one has reached mythical status in terms of pioneering design and action.

We understood that there was a lot we missed out on in those early years with our Packard Bell.

There were lineages, lines of thought we couldn’t follow on PC back then.

And when Diablo II released, I had little reference for what it was doing.

 

Careen.

 

The only game I played that was aesthetically similar to Diablo II was Red Alert.

I did have an understanding of different types of RPGs (Action, Tactical, Turn-based, etc.) due to the 90’s boom of JRPGs on console, but I had never played one with the strange, static, isometric camera of Diablo.

I did appreciate not having to always worry about moving the camera around since it locked onto the character.

Red Alert was exhausting about managing the camera.

I loved Diablo II’s dark atmosphere and art style.

The music was some of the best I heard in a PC game.

What struck me about D2 the most was how it felt like an action game, but it wasn’t.

It sat in a strange space where different RPG genres met.

It felt like the sort of game that could only belong on PC, but also seemed translatable to console.

Of course at the time I saw the line between PC and console as non-porous and rigid.

The strange loyalties of children: Being attached to wherever they are.

In the ignorance o f that age, I recall seeing games like Doom and Diablo I on Playstation and getting angry about how they don’t belong there.

This sentiment was stronger with regards to Diablo because Diablo II was exclusive to PC and MacOS.

It never felt as though we would ever see a Diablo II port on console and we still haven’t.

I spent years in D2’s world.

Its action was so immediate and satisfying, it took a long time for the game to grow stale.

It eventually did, but only by virtue of time.

By the time Diablo III released in 2012, the world of PC games had shifted.

The PC gaming market had gone through a difficult period where consoles were setting the tone and creating markets for games, but the PC had begun to ascend as the dominant consoles began to show their age.

Also, the PC platform had begun a shift away from relying solely on large, AAA releases to a more balanced approach between innovative, cheap, independent games and well-known franchises.

Independent titles like Torchlight tried to capture and innovate on Diablo’s established formula in 2009, three years before Diablo III released.

But something always felt off about games like Torchlight and Path of Exile, something about their action felt unsatisfying.

The first time I played Diablo III I realized how much I had missed its solid responsiveness.

It took awhile for me to get used to the new art style and the real money auction house was unnecessary, but overall it still felt like Diablo.

The music was still quiet and deep, the game’s somber tone was left untouched, the enemies were varied and interesting.

However, Diablo III felt like a more universal game than D2, from the beginning Diablo III felt like a game for everyone and anyone.

It walked a very thin line between the casual and core audiences: The beginning of the game felt streamlined and, even on normal difficulty, it was too easy (especially with the introduction of followers).

At the same time, Diablo III boasted a ‘Hardcore’ mode that featured character permadeath.

Over time Blizzard pruned away at the game.

By removing unnecessary, game-breaking features like the auction house and by expanding core elements like the game’s difficulty and loot, Blizzard sincerely focused the game.

When the Reaper of Souls expansion released earlier this year, Diablo III had gone from being a great game diluted by under-developed ideas to an elegant action RPG.

Having become the game it always should have been, it was ready to fulfill its promise of universality.

 

Library.

 

When Blizzard announced that Diablo III would be coming to current-gen consoles in 2013, I remember the vitriol erupting from a portion of the embedded PC community.

They were offended that Blizzard had released this game on PC with a lot of questionable decisions (like the removal of the skill tree) that were only justifiable had Blizzard been trying to streamline the game for console release.

The assumption in the beginning was that like Diablo II, D3 was going to be a PC exclusive.

This sentiment wasn’t due to the PC community not wanting the console community to enjoy PC games, it emerged more out of the environment Diablo III released into.

Late in the console life-cycle, publishers and developers were looking to cash in with quick and cheap console game ports on PC.

Often these ports would be missing what were considered key PC features: thorough graphics options, dedicated servers, universal gamepad support, multi-monitor support.

The PC community was shown little consideration.

The mechanical simplicity of Diablo III was no longer seen as just trying to boost the audience on PC, but rather that Blizzard had developed D3 with the intention of releasing to consoles at some point.

When the last-gen console versions did release in September 2013, the anger had died down and the game was left to be judged on its own merits.

It was well-received critically, but it didn’t garner much discussion.

This seemed like the game’s lowest point: Its original fans felt betrayed and the console fans didn’t pay as much attention to it.

But Blizzard did manage to find a near-perfect balance one year later on the new-gen platforms.

In the year between D3’s last-gen and current-gen release, the game changed.

With the introduction of Reaper of Souls the game was modified down to its core.

It was more polished and more expansive.

While I didn’t play Diablo III on last-gen consoles, I did pick it up on the Playstation 4.

I hadn’t touched Diablo III in over a year and I was surprised at how different the game felt on console.

This wasn’t a matter of one version being better than the other, the two were just different.

On PC, Diablo III feels like a western Action RPG.

It feels like a game about numbers and exploration.

What struck me on console is how much more it feels like an arcade game.

It’s a faster game.

Blizzard implemented a dodge move making the character more mobile, more fluid.

It’s as if the two versions of the game each explores and emphasizes a different face:

The PC version filters the game as a number-crunching, exploratory RPG.

The console version, as a fast, smooth, arcade action game that reminds one of Gauntlet.

It was the inverse of what RAII had represented.

This is a testament to the Diablo series’ malleability.

A testament of its ability to change shape in order to emphasize one of its many successes of identity and mechanics.

A lot of games try to be Diablo, but they only ever succeed at one aspect of it.

Few games are confident enough about what they are to succeed on different platforms by altering their identity.

With its difficult and complicated trajectory over the past two years, Diablo III has hammered itself back into significance, back into coherence, by embracing its ability to diverge.

Diablo III is like a circus acrobat with a rocky past:

Always seeking to forget about where it came from while contorting itself to entertain as many people as possible.

 

Always reaching out through action while exposing its dense, fluid heart to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Deform.

 

 

When I first picked up Advance Wars in 2001, I had no idea what I was doing.

I enjoyed strategic war games, but I never played them with any tactical focus.

Always brute forcing through missions.

In Command & Conquer: Red Alert, I would spend hours amassing huge tank swarms, sending them into the enemy base at once.

In Age of Empires II, I would scour the map for every last remaining enemy before the mission ended.

I always thought of myself as a strategic person, but I needed a narrative draw to act strategically.

In RPGs, I did well at managing my parties and character abilities.

But whenever the narrative layer was removed, I had no drive, no patience, for strategy.

When I first picked up Advance Wars, I had no idea what I was doing.

The game frustrated me because unlike Red Alert and AoE, I didn’t have total control.

Each mission was tight. The parameters were clear.

There was no free rein to sit back and amass units.

There was no brute forcing the enemy.

Because of the tight margins, Advance Wars taught the player how to be tactical, but only if the player had the right kind of eyes.

Advance Wars required the right kind of mind.

I struggled with the game because I had neither. I resented its limitation.

I hated the game for keeping me focused.

I stopped playing.

 

Contort.

 

Advance Wars lingered in the back of my mind the following years.

Whenever I came across a war game that gave me the space to breathe and slow the game down, I felt like a fraud.

I’d recall my time feeling stressed and pushed to act in AW’s world.

That urgency felt more authentic in a strategy war game.

No one else seemed to get it right.

Advance Wars became the lens through which I would assess myself in other war games:

“Would this strategy have worked in an Advance Wars level?”

The answer was always no.

My tactics, my strategy, lacked all focus and urgency.

I was using war games to fulfill my inherent desire for spectacle and completion.

I was using strategic war games as engines of ego.

I needed to return to a place of focus.

I went back to Advance Wars, 13 years later.

What shocked me was how the game had lingered in my mind.

The controls were so elegant and logical that they were impossible to forget.

The rest of the game struck me as lean and clear.

Now that I had the right kind of eyes, now that I approached the game with a softer mind:

I understood what the missions were.

I understood what the game was.

 

Arms.

 

Advance Wars is a strategy puzzle game hiding within a turn-based war game.

AW is more about solving than attacking. Much like Ikaruga, it is about adapting.

The ‘puzzle’ elements of Ikaruga (switching the ship’s colors to absorb bullets) slow the game down and it becomes a sequence of novel set-pieces.

By not giving the player free rein to hold back or charge forward, digging out the ideal strategy for the mission is much more engaging in Advance Wars.

Unlike other war games, the UI in AW is simple and concise.

The player can do everything  inside of two small menu screens.

It avoids the clutter and bloat of larger games.

It rewards a player’s attention. The proper strategies are not immediately obvious, but also are not buried under layers of difficulty.

They are there if the player chooses to focus.

In spite of all that it does stunningly well, Advance Wars does have its design problems.

Rather than acutely increasing the difficulty each mission, the game increases the options available to the player.

The player might gain a new Commanding Officer (CO’s determine the special passive stats and active abilities that a player has access to) or the ability to build and manage units, or adding new units.

Intelligent Systems did an excellent job in gradually ramping up the player’s options.

But by focusing so much on access to options, the difficulty is uneven.

There is no gradual development of difficulty, only plateaus.

The ratio seems to be 3:1 or 4:1. For every three or four missions, there is one which spikes.

Advance Wars is a game about patience, but it doesn’t take the time to teach the player how to be patient. It operates as if it expects the player to stick through it.

These vertical difficulty spikes were one of my problems with Dark Souls II.

One of the stranger things about Advance Wars is the art style.

It is a war game that does not take itself too seriously. The colors are bright, the unit icons are bubbly, and the dialogue can be childish.

This creates a fair bit of dissonance considering that soldiers are supposed to be dying.

This clash of style and substance has left me with quite a bit of  cognitive dissonance.

On the one hand, I’m happy to play a war game with a different aesthetic: One that isn’t entirely drab and brown.

On the other hand, this is trivializing the worst parts of us.

The way the COs carry on talking as if no one is dying adds to the sense that of avoidance. It’s happening everywhere, but no one talks about it.

Intelligent Systems has worked very closely with Nintendo since the very early NES days.

Seeing as how Nintendo likes to keep their games from tackling cultural issues like homosexuality in their latest Tomodachi Life release, I could see them not having a problem white-washing the brutality of war.

Although, IS is also the developer behind the Fire Emblem series and does not seem to have an issue tackling questions of sovereignty, nationalism, death, and sacrifice in that series.

In spite of these issues, Advance Wars is a substantial game, especially for an aging portable system.

It is a thorough study of excellent design.

With clean controls, a unique aesthetic, and tight levels: It is a strategy game that out-maneuvers nearly every other war game in the genre.

13 years after its release and the game still shines…

long after many have forgotten it.