I’ve been known to hold forth on how annoying compulsory deaths are in these community levels. Deaths that are impossible for the player to avoid. Deaths that occur because the level designer was incompetent or lazy, or showing off. I almost wrote this week’s level–Desert 5.0–off and deposited it into that file. Glad I didn’t. Because there’s a difference between an arbitrary death, and a death that teaches you something…namely the rules of the game. This isn’t a great level, by any means, but it taught me a lesson. How to learn the rules through dying and not bitch about it.
Much like how you learn to win a good RTS by losing a few rounds.
Wait…did I say a good RTS?
After the jump, I meant great
A couple of weeks ago at Shoot Club–our weekly LAN gathering–the dude who drew the short straw chose Company of Heroes for us all to play. There was general rejoicing. We had not played CoH in a good while and Tom had just reinstalled it after doing a games podcast about it. Folks were keen to try it. Except for me. The name “Company of Heroes” sounds cool. It sounds like it’ll be a shooter. I knew better. I wasn’t fooled by the ‘C-word’ of ‘Fill-in-the-Blank’ namefoolery. This wasn’t going to be a shooter. This was a Real Time Strategy game. An RrrrrTeeeeeEsssss. So what? You ask. Why should I care?
Because a dingus can fake his way through a shooter and win a few rounds. He tries to fake his way through an RTS and…well…it’s not gonna be pretty.
At least that’s what I always think when someone chooses an RTS at Shoot Club. My shoulders slump, my crest falls, and I sigh heavily. Tom rolls his eyes and gets ready to launch into Pep Talk Mode. Thing is, at Shoot Club, if you’re going to do it right, you play the game that’s chosen and that’s that. If there are enough guys to fill the computers then you can go and play Beach Spikers on the teevee with a clear conscience. If there’s not, you’re playing the chosen game. Doesn’t matter if you suck at it or don’t like it. You’re playing. That’s the social contract. If you don’t, next time you pull the short straw you’ll be playing Endeavor at the kitchen table alone. How’s that taste?
Truth is, while I was dragging my feet at the idea of playing an RTS–not because I hate them, but because I suck at them–I was kind of excited. That podcast had piqued my curiosity. So I’d get pummeled. Oh well. It happens.
As it turns out, a dingus can win a few rounds. Quite handily. Over and over again. Hoo-ah! Until…
In the first week’s matches I was on a team with Tom. This made all the difference. Let me make one thing clear, our weekly LAN gathering consists mainly of dudes who are fair-to-middling at most games. We do have our areas of competency. There are some guys who rock at shooters. Some guys who rock at console fighters. Some guys who rock at strategy games. Some guys who rock at board games. And some guys who rock at rocking out. Unfortunately since Rock Band came out fifteen years ago in gamer years, nobody wants to play rocking out games anymore so those guys who rock at rocking out no longer have a chance to pwn with the drums at Shoot Club anymore and therefore he is totally screwed AND IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT THIS IS THE ONLY GAME HE IS GOOD AT AND NOBODY EVEN THINKS OF IT AS A GAME AND—
Ahem. Deep breath. Sorry about that.
That first week I was paired with Tom in a 2v2 of Company of Heroes and we won. And won and won and won. I had a blast! I was winning at an RTS and having a great time. Rolling out tanks and dropping paratroopers and calling in bombers. I was starting to learn how to marshal resources. Beating the holy hell out of dudes garrisoned in buildings with my little armored car. Holding victory points like a muthafucka. Turns out one really good dude paired with one dingus wins against two fairly good dudes who are fairly good.
The next week would be different.
The next week when the short straw was drawn Tom was paired with Pennsylvania, a guy who knows his way around a strategy game but had not been able not crack the code of Company of Heroes previously. Dingus was paired with Charles, a guy who had been good at CoH historically but would have to call up game files from memory as he had not played in a very long time. He would need to get up to speed.
We got smoked.
It happens. It does. Everywhere. For instance, I saw it at my kid’s birthday party the other day. Well, it wasn’t his party, but it was a party he attended for a friend of his. A laser tag birthday party.
The kids assembled, got counted into three teams, were fitted with vests and weapons, and were released into the black-lit arena. Blue Team. Red Team. Yellow Team. Each team had a base. A player could only take down the other team’s base one time, and one time only, but such a takedown would result in two thousand points for his team. Two. Thousand. Did they care? No. They’re in first grade. They just want to shoot each other. Who did care, you ask?
The parents. Who got to play too.
The first round I didn’t play, since I find shooting a gun at six-year-olds to be objectionable. My kid’s team lost but he did okay. The laser tag place posts team and individual scores on a big flat monitor out in the arcade area. The kids cheer wildly when they see this, but pizza and candy follow hard upon, so the impression does not linger. Except for the adults.
After cake the kids got one more round of laser tag. Again, any adult who wanted to participate was welcome. Again I figured I’d hang back. Except that a couple of the other parents started goading me. A lawyer dad. A jock mom. The latter actually did the thumbs-in-the-underarms chicken move. So stupid.
This was my first experience at laser tag. Um…great googaly moogaly is this thing cool! Damn! It’s kind of breathtaking. Anyway, I was on my kid’s team. My code name was Punisher (randomly assigned, but how cool is that…other dudes had to deal with names like Spaz. Ha!). I figured I’d just go after the other bases, and then hang back and defend my own. In past rounds I’d noticed no strategy whatsoever. The kids never assigned defenders, and never went after the other bases in a concerted effort. There was no strategy. This time it would be different. This time I’d make a concerted effort to help my kid’s team by taking down the other bases.
Except for the fact that I kept getting pwned by this soccer mom on the blue team. She was good. Really good. She’d hang back and poke her laser blaster around corners without exposing herself. She knew how to double back. When I’d check my six and try to do a Crazy Ivan she’d be there waiting to knock me out.
Our team lost and her team won. Decisively. After the scores were posted she came up to me and put her hand up for a high-five. “Good game,” she said.
“My nemesis,” I said, connecting with the high-five.
Charles and I were so close to winning in that second week of CoH. So close. I can’t tell you how close we were to winning. Okay…yes I can. Company of Heroes counts down victory points. Charles and I had held the main scoring points for the whole game. We got Tom and Pennsylvania down to twelve points. We had over two hundred. They were down to twelve. TWELVE! Suck it.
In all games until this point I’d chosen the Airborne command tree. I liked that. Paratroopers. Strafing. Bombers. This time, for the first time I’d chosen Armor. I wanted to try something new. It felt slower in progression, but once I got my tanks out onto the field I could repair them almost at will, and I could tell this was driving Tom and Pennsylvania crazy. How?
Once I got my Pershing out, I pretty much figured it was over. Especially since I heard Pennsylvania, in the other room with Tom–remember we’re on a LAN–get up and go off to the bathroom, taking his sweet time. This, my friends, is the sound of defeat. He’d clearly given up.
We had them down to twelve points. TWELVE I TELL YOU! We had this in the bag.
Do I really need to tell you how this played out?
What Charles and I didn’t know is that if you put defensive cap thingies–see, I still don’t know what they’re actually called–on your resources, you get double income from those resources. We just thought those were defensive structures. So we ignored them. Tom did know this, so he got that income. So even though his team was down to twelve points, when he turned all three victory points at a crucial moment, I suddenly realized that even though we had him by better than two-hundred points, he was going to win. I knew, as dumb as I am at real time strategy, that we’d never be able to turn those points back. The resource swing was too great.
I rolled a couple of tanks back at him, but his Germans rolled out two tanks for every one I could muster. He’d kept dropping them back and repairing them during the game, while I’d relied upon my replacement tanks, not realizing the resource drain was way too heavy to sustain such a strategy. Charles, for his part, was too busy amusing himself with attacking Tom’s base, which Tom was only too happy to allow him to do. By the time we realized our mistake(s), it was too late.
Real is a nice word for the ‘r’ n RTS. I don’t mean to be an irreverent noob here, but I think the word ‘resource’ would work better. Nevertheless, next time I play I’ll come with a little bit more knowledge because I got my ass handed to me this time. The more you know.