Why I Love Strategy Games. But Not All Strategy Games.

I was the first kid in class to have a PC at home. It was 1995, and most of the children in the periphery of southern Russia had been getting their dose of digital entertainment from a Chinese copy of NES called Dendy. But video games weren’t the only go-to place to spend free time. Looking back, it seems I’ve been quite a busy kid—playing Space Quest 5 on PC and Contra on Dendy Junior took just a fracture of my non-school activities. Socializing with friends outdoors was a thing back then, and searching for new ways to achieve neat cuts and bruises from climbing every climbable surface was a time-consuming business. Nevertheless, more than everything in the world, I loved to play with my «robots.» It was a general term to describe all kinds of toy soldiers and action figures my parents spoiled me with, despite being just slightly less poor than everybody else in 90s Russia.

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Dawn of War: Not That One.

It’s the second half of the 1990s. Everybody wants to jump on the RTS train, put in motion by the success of Command & Conquer and Warcraft. While the talks about genre oversaturation begin to surface, there’s still a chance: unusual setting, innovative mechanic, or exceptionally wholesome implementation of existing ideas—and you win the ticket for a ride. The stakes are getting high, though. Stumble while jumping, or forget to consider a shift in economic winds, and you miss disastrously. It wasn’t SouthPeak Interactive fault that their game wasn’t released as planned in 1998. It was the fault of the publisher, Virgin Interactive, that found itself caught by the financial storm. The game’s pre-release version, almost finished, resurfaced in the year 2000. But it was already too late. It became forgotten. Then, a more successful game was released, using the looser’s name, deepening the depths of the poor soul’s oblivion.

But then a little miracle happened. It is always miraculous when an old piece of software that was considered lost resurfaces and preserves itself with the help of enthusiasts. Several years ago, the pre-release version of the game was uploaded for the whole world to see. May we now judge whether the game had any chance for success if it was released in time? In 1998—perhaps; in 2000—absolutely not. But who cares? It’s an artifact. Let’s dissect it!

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Souls

It took years for Dark Souls trilogy to finally click with me. I have been enamored with its setting and aesthetic since the very release of Prepare to Die Edition on PC. The port was poor, though, and it scared me away. By the time when modders fixed it, the ‘difficulty discourse’ caught up on me, and I didn’t bother. I didn’t want to ‘git good’ to enjoy the game and didn’t want to suffer—why should I waste time on that if there are plenty of instantly enjoyable games?

Then the dark times came. I was pretty depressed, and for some unexplainable reason, suffering through some hardcore unfair videogame became a far more acceptable idea. 2017 was the year when I finished Dark Souls I. It was accompanied by lots of suffering, cursing, panicking, and dying. Even with the ‘tank’ build—focus on strength and HP, Havel armor, etc. I still didn’t get it. I’ve tried playing Dark Souls II several times for the next five years—every time dropping the game out of pure frustration. A couple of Dark Souls III test runs ended with the same result.
Something has changed since then. I killed Aldia, Scholar of the First Sin couple of weeks ago and now getting through Dark Souls III twenty hours in. Some of dying here and there, a little bit of cursing, almost no panicking. Zero suffering. I’m enjoying every second. It took me ten years to finally stop worrying and enjoy the fucking game.

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RTS Galore! Episode 4: Spice Must Flow

«RTS Galore!» is a series of posts where I arbitrarily overthink real-time strategy games. My definition of the real-time strategy game and some sort of a methodological vector for the series have been explained here.

Previously we saw examples of how RTS games simplify various existential issues for the sake of creating addictive and unapologetically fun gameplay. Populous, for instance, gamified religious conflicts without making any meaningful theological statements, while Mega-Lo-Mania basically gamified the nationalistic total war concept and presented it as a natural in-game order of things without delving much into its problematics.

In this article we’re going to see what happens when RTS games are based on other works of fiction, specifically lengthy books filled with thematic intricacies and ideological complexities. Tough to find a better example for this than Westwood’s Dune series. Also, with a new Villeneuve’s version of Herbert’s story hitting the theaters in a couple of days, it’s a great time to write something about Dune. Good for the clicks, y’know.

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Mass Alienation and Social Atomization in Bloober Team’s Observer

There are several ways you can summarize the plot of the Bloober Team’s Observer. For example, you can say that this is a game about a futuristic cop, played by Rutger Hauer, who chases after a murderous monster in the cyberpunk dystopian setting. This way, Observer reminds us of Split Second—a 1992 sci-fi action flick—not explicitly smart or insightful but nevertheless fun in a guilty-pleasure sense.

But another way to summarize Observer is to see it as a story about the post-plague world, where people live in constant fear of the new outbreak, ready for routine lockdowns. This way, the game paints the picture of a totally atomized society where each individual is tightly confined to the limits of their tiny apartment, which reminds us of something wider and deeper than a ’90s movie. It reminds us of our current reality.

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RTS Galore! Episode 3: Mega-Lo-Mania & Populous II

After trying its design philosophy in an entirely atheistic setting, Bullfrog returned to its god-game roots with a sequel to Populous, making the gamification of the ‘holy war’ concept more fun and ideologically safe. A couple of months earlier, another British developer, Sensible Software, also released a game about gods and their bloody conflicts. But Mega-Lo-Mania’s focus was more human-centered—even almost political, I’d say.

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Neofeud: Pastiche and Critique

Initially, I intended to write a short review of Neofeud and explain how it touched me with its admirable intentions despite several evident flaws in its design. Then I’ve played a bit more and figured that there is something more interesting going on under the covers. Finally, the game’s ending left me with a rather unusual feeling that I couldn’t leave unresolved. Here’s the attempt to fit the experience of playing Neofeud in my head.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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RTS Galore! Episode 1: Populous

It was an early December morning. The streets were still engulfed in darkness when I took a sip of fresh coffee. Clouds were gathering above the horizon, and lightning flashes in the distance heralded a coming storm. Then it hit me! I have to play as many RTS games as I possibly can! Because of reasons, you know. It seemed a perfectly logical decision for me at the moment; why the hell haven’t I thought about it earlier?

Edit: There is another thing I should’ve thought about earlier: the need to establish a more solid framework to avoid misunderstandings and make the series less arbitrary and more. Here it is.

So join me on this lengthy, turbulent, and perilous journey through those worlds filled with violence, warfare, moral bankruptcy, and intense mouse-clicking! We’ll start with Populous.

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Heroes of Might & Magic: The Rise and Fall

1999 was one of the wealthiest years for gaming history. Legendary titles spawned one shortly after another, leaving gamers—exhausted but happy—no time for rest. Just think about it: Age of Wonders, Homeworld, Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri, SimCity 3000, Planescape: Torment, Dungeon Keeper 2, Quake 3, Jagged Alliance 2, Age of Empires 2, etc. They all saw the light of day in the glorious 1999. Like dozens of smaller suns, those masterpieces rose to the skies, making them brighter and brighter.

One of the first titles in this pantheon of ‘99 was the game eagerly awaited by hundreds of thousands of people. In late February 1999, New World Computing released Heroes of Might & Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia—the game condemned to greatness.

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