(Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Tried to Write Words Again)
So I haven’t written anything since last year, games-wise. My output for Citizen Game has been non-existent and I’ve stopped writing pitches for other outlets. I got a new job, I got stressed and I got lazy. A little while ago, I realised I was hopelessly out of practice when it came to stringing sentences together in entertaining copy, so I’ve decided to try and get back into things a little bit. I’ve always wanted to do something along the lines of a Let’s Play, possibly involving some cohorts from the Java Server online community that I play with. Now seemed like a good time to have a go at that, as a nice, low-pressure way of getting back to games writing. It should also be fun.
The return of the X-Com franchise is making news across the web with a new FPS game in the works from 2K. This is exciting and it got me thinking about the earlier X-Com titles, specifically the original trilogy of UFO, Terror From The Deep and Apocalypse. Apocalypse was my first X-Com game (I’ve since got hold of all of them) and I remember it fondly from my childhood. It’s still my favourite, flaws and all. I’ve never given Apocalypse a solid replay as an adult, which is why I’ve picked it to play above the arguably superior UFO. (TFTD is just too damn hard, k?).
One of the lovely incidental features of X-Com is that you can rename your Agents in whatever manner you chose (and if I’m not mistaken there’s now even mods that let you change the mugshots with your own photography). After a quick post in the J-Server private forum I quickly had chums volunteering the use of their monikers for my playthrough. With the Steam version of Apocalypse freshly reinstalled and fiddled with slightly to get it working on my machine, I was set.
I expect this will end up being part retrospective, part play diary, all cock up. What follows is what happens when the J-Server tries to save the world from the Alien menace. Given our history, I don’t think it’ll end well.
(Click any image to embiggen)
Welcome to Mega-Primus, the last city on a blasted, poisoned Earth. This self-contained, curiously styled pseudo-Utopia is being steadily invaded by Aliens from another dimension. Red, pyramid-shaped dimensional gates have popped up around the city and have started occasionally spitting out UFO’s on missions to plant otherworldly operatives about the city or to simply cause some mayhem. As the game opens, I’ve been placed in charge of the newly revived X-Com and tasked with stopping them. The image above is my new base, or rather the warehouse that disguises it. If we go underground…
… we can see the real operation. My first order of business was to do some remodeling, changing the starting layout of the base with the hope of making it ultimately easier to defend. The access lift on the left (grey block with a purple block at its centre) and the vehicle bay in the middle are two wide open entry points. I plan to swap things around a bit to stick the bay next to the access lift on the left, with a chokepoint leading to the rest of the base on the right. Aliens and hostile organisations within the city can and usually do raid your operations in the course of the game, so I’m trying to plan ahead. If J-HQ ever does get hit we’ll only have to cover one front of attack, which will make things a lot easier.
I also set my idle scientists to doing some available research, studying the new dimension gates and coming up with a vehicle module that will let me transport alien lifeforms should I find any.
Next comes a review of the cannon fod- I mean, my Agents. Rookies to a man, I rejig their equipment load outs and set them to combat training. You’ll notice that there’s a fairly even split between males and females. If you’re a hardy J-Server bloke that’s embarrassed at having a lady with your namesake, I apologise, but women make just as good meatshiel- um, Agents as do men. To save costs, I’ve only given full equipment and ammo to the six of my Agents that’ll compose my first response team. The rest will be in reserve to replace inevitable casualties. My roster is entirely pure human too, so I’m already sorely lacking androids (psionic immunity) and hybrids (potentially powerful psionics). I’ll have to make them a recruitment priority.
Next I pop by the motor pool, selling off the ground vehicles for extra cash and putting it towards some cheap, expendable hoverbikes. I’ll need all the air power I can get to take down UFO’s. The sweet rocket ship above is a Valkyrie Interceptor, my primary means of ferrying Agents and their equipment to and from combat and for recovering any UFO’s I manage to shoot down. You can customise a vehicle’s modules, weapons and engine but I haven’t got the cash to be splurging on upgrades right now.
With everything set up just so and nothing left to do I settle back at the main screen and hit the “Ultra Fast” time setting, skipping forward until…
It’s an ALERT. Some poor sod at a warehouse across town has spotted something weird and called us. On the right you can see my first response team, the six poor bastar- uh, brave souls that now have to go and check it out. To the J-Mobile!
That’s the J-Mobile arriving at the scene. I like to imagine it has the siren from Ecto-1 in Ghostbusters. Judging by my message bar the police are out killing civilians today too. Strange.
The Valkyrie lands and I send the team inside. Apocalypse gives you the option of playing it’s tactical combat sections in real time or in a turn-based mode (like it’s predecessors). The first time I ever played one of these sections as a kid I picked the real time option and have been totally unable to handle the turn-based mode ever since. I don’t do Time Units. The real time mode has a perfectly good pause function anyway, which is great for planning combat moves.
I split my team into two squads of three, with a mix of sniper rifles, machine guns and pistols for weaponry. I realise that I’ve also armed some of the Agents with stun grapples, even though I’ve no means to recover live aliens right now. Guess we’ll just have to keep shooting any we knock unconscious. The image above shows the standard isometric view with one of my squads.
And this is the overhead view where you can see I’ve got a squad on either side of the warehouse. See the column of numbers one to eight in the middle of my interface? Each one represents a different height tier within the level. Assuming each floor is only one tier high, this level could potentially have eight floors to search. With only six blokes. Hmm…
As it turns out, I get lucky. I’ve just set my squads’ default combat behaviour (crouch when not moving, favour an aimed shot, etc.) when we catch sight of our first alien.
Hostile unit? Are you sure? It looks like a cross between a puppy and a tumor.
Undaunted, my second squad opens up on the… thing.
Our first target is joined by a second, this time a large, two legged blue alien holding some kind of weapon. Both are cut down quickly as I order the squad to fire wildly at their enemies. They also manage to kill some boxes.
And then, as quickly as it had begun, the mission is over. The first ground mission for my J-Server Agents is an unexpected success. We might have to replace the boxes we blew up, but we mostly shot the enemy and managed to avoid shooting each other. That’s a win in any book.
Agent Dezzick is promoted to Squaddie, probably because he was the only one to kill anything. A simple enough promotion requirement if ever there was one.
Check back for Part 2 soon. Part 2 can be found here.