Sep. 14th, 2013

sinanju: The Shadow (Default)
And lo, Sinanju was not dead these many months, but only slumbering.

So, lo these many years ago (we're talking the early-mid 90s, people), Sinanju discovered the game X-Com: UFO Defense. It was laughably primitive by the standards of today's games, but at the time it was a hell of a lot of fun. You were in control of the defense of earth against invading aliens. It was two games in one. In one game, a real-time strategy game, you were in overall control of earth's defense--deciding where to site your bases, and how to spend your budget. You could build bases, add facilities, hire scientists, engineers, and soldiers. Equip them. Research alien technology. It was a constant struggle to do as much as possible as effectively as possible with a limited budget.* You also had to build fighter interceptors to chase down and destroy or disable UFOs, and send out teams of soldiers to fight the aliens and bring back corpses, live aliens for interrogation, and alien tech to research.

That was the second game. A tactical turn-based game of squad combat. You had to send your soldiers out in a Skyranger aircraft to investigate downed UFOs (and kill or capture the survivors), UFO landing reports, and terror missions (where the aliens landed in a populated area to terrorize and kill civilians and destroy property). There were a variety of alien types, each with their own special abilities, and you never knew what you would face until you confronted them.

I spent many a happy hour fighting the aliens. I played that game off and on for years and years. Even long after computer tech had evolved past the limits of the time, and it required special software (DOSBOX, for instance) to keep playing it. Or most recently, playing it via Steam online. Nor was I the only one who played that game. There were sequels. None, however, where anywhere near as entertaining (to me) as the original. As the years passed, people tried to mod or upgrade or duplicate X-Com. None succeeded, really.

Until now. I am now happily playing X-Com: Enemy Unknown via Steam. It's an updated and streamlined version of the game. You only have one base now, instead of several.** The graphics and interface are greatly improved, but the game is largely the same. You still have to balance a limited budget against a huge number of options in terms of research, manufacture, and the equipping of your fighter craft and soldiers. You still have a turn-based tactical game of squad combat. It's a great deal of fun.

As with the original X-Com, you can customize the names (and in this version, the appearance and voice, to a limited extent) of your soliders. I'm currently using Hollywood celebrities (and semi-celebrities) to fight the aliens. Clare Danes and Michelle Rodriguez are kicking ass and taking names, to name two. Matt Damon, alas, did not fare so well; he died in an early mission. The aliens are just as vicious, nasty and dangerous as in the original game, and the graphic are much more...graphic. I'm pleased to announce that the civilians I must rescue are less moronic than in the original game (they tend to hide, rather than walk around at random in a firefight, or stop blocking doorways you desperate need to use...resulting in some "accidental" civilian casualties when you're trying to prevent them).

It's still early days for me on this version of the game. I haven't encountered psionics yet.*** But I will, I'm sure.

So that's what I'm doing for my entertainment these days.

* In the original X-Com you could sell excess weapons and equipment (including alien equipment and corpses!) on the black market. To whom, they never said. This could be a godsend when you were short on cash but had lots of captured goodies to dispose of (you only really needed one of most things for research). But once you learned how to build laser cannons, it was all over. They were the item that was cheapest to manufacture and most profitable to sell in the whole game. It eventually became SOP for me to build one dedicated base (usually named LaserFab One) to house a small army of engineers and a bunch of labs, to churn out laser cannons by the scores, and sell them as fast as they could build them. Once LaserFab One was up and running, I could make literally MILLIONS of dollars a month and no longer have to worry about the relative pittance (by comparison) that the nations of the world were giving me. I literally had more money than I could spend; the only real bottleneck in building and upgraded bases and equipment at that point was construction time and storage. WIll this work in the new version? I don't know yet.

**Which means, sadly, that I can't expect to fight a desperate base-defense battle. Those could be terrifying (especially before you learned to keep a fully armed and armored team of soldiers on call while your A-Team was out on a mission), and you could lose an entire base if it went badly. They were fun. I've heard/read people saying they never had a successful base defense in X-Com, to which I can only reply: then you weren't doing it right. A properly designed base forced the aliens (who had to enter through the hangars) into a bottleneck corridor where you could pour fire on them as they tried to advance. With a generous supply of weapons and ammo (and soldiers on hand to use them), you could almost count on winning...though the cost could be high.

***In the original, the aliens could use psionic powers to make your soldiers panic. Or worse, take over their minds and turn them against you. Early in the game, there was nothing you could do about that. Later on, you could research and then build psionic testing and training facilities and run your soldiers through it. You'd discover which ones had potential and could (someday) use alien psionic devices against the enemy. I must confess that I seldom bothered. Instead, I simply made it a practice to engage in summary execution (in the field) of soldiers who too often panicked or were mind-controlled. Alternatively, I'd make likely subjects of psionically-induced panic walk around with a primed grenade in one hand (usually walking point, to spot aliens--hey, they're expendable). If they panicked, they'd drop everything they were holding. Including the grenade. Bang! No more problem. It was ruthless but efficient, letting me spend my money on more important things.

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