Sunday, 21 October 2012

Omega Company Pt.4: The Trip

I don't think it's arrogant to say that, with respect to video games, I'm often the knowledgeable person in my circles of friends. That's not to say that I'm particularly good, just that I'm always careful to hang out with people that are worse than me. As such, there have been many circumstances where I'm called on to explain various things to one person or another. Sometimes, there will be a particular game that another friend is also passionate about. At this point, I can sit down with them and have a chat on a more equal level, discussing how one thing or another works, often with other beginner players in the room, listening in.

In either of these cases, whether it's an explanation or a discussion, there will always come a moment when I or another 'expert' says the following line:

"Oh, and of course whatever you do, don't do X."

I don't know why we feel the need to say it. Not doing X (whatever X might be for this particular game) is a pretty obviously good thing to be not doing. We've spent minutes discussing subtler points of strategy, obscure once-in-a-game situations, cunning tricks that we've discovered...and then we top it off with some banal. obvious point that you could probably avoid by just hammering on the keyboard at random.

Why do we do this? Do I not trust my intelligent friends to catch on to this obvious point? Do I just like the feeling of being all superior and patronising? Is it for the cruel fun of that split second, where the beginner player looks blank, perhaps because they don't get it, or perhaps because it's such a blindingly obvious point that there must be a deeper reason for you saying it. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. What matters is that I do it when I'm explaining things, and I know other people do too.

It's pointless, and unhelpful to anyone intelligent.


...I really wish I'd had someone to explain XCOM to me.

It's a few days after the last mission.

I have a ton of scientists beavering away on research ultra-quickly, my vault is full of all kinds of alien tech to both investigate and then use as raw materials in constructing my own devices. I've got the cash to spare to excavate in order to expand my lovely, secret, underground base. I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

There's a buzz from the Situation Room; the Council wants to talk.

There's some Australian politician that's made themselves a bit of a target for the aliens. He's a VIP killtarget for them to try and demoralize the population, so they're asking us to swoop in and pull him out to a secure location. Fair enough, I handled a mission like this before, I should be good for it.

Thing is...hmm... Emily Wallace, my support, is my only non-Rookie outside of the infirmary. Both my Assault and my Heavy are due to come out tomorrow. Also, that research that's ticking along? The current project is laser weaponry. Lasers! That's also due to finish in 2 days.

It's at this moment that I need to admit that I'm not playing 100% blind. I will say I have no idea what the alien species are that are going to appear. I have no idea what the tech tree looks like, so I don't know what I should be researching. I did read some advice saying to upgrade weapons first and armour later (since you can compensate for poor armour by clever positioning and mercilessly hurling rookies into the firing line, while if you still have low-tech weaponry when tougher aliens show up, you're pretty much screwed). I also read the advice that 'story' missions don't go away, or timeout. You should make sure that you're prepared for them, and feel comfortable taking them on.

Great, I think. Let me ignore this Council mission for now, I'll re-evaluate once I've got my squad back and my tech up, and maybe I'll go for it.

Turns out that story missions are the missions that have an enormous objective on your screen whenever you're anywhere in the base. Currently my objective is 'Build the Arc Thrower', and has been for a while so far. It is not 'Do the Council Mission'.

I am stupidly surprised when the Council mission vanishes, presumably because the politician is dead. I am then doubly surprised when I head to Engineering to build my shiny new laser weapons, and discover that I need more engineers before I can build that.

Panic in Australia is up to 4, I need to build another satellite. But to do that, I need to build a new Satellite Uplink in my base. No worries, I've been excavating for exactly that purpose.

...I need more engineers to build the Uplink. In fact, I need more engineers to do just about anything. I've really not realised just how important engineers are, and so I've been focussed on just about everything else. My research is zipping along at a fantastic pace, but I can't build anything that the scientists design.

"Whatever you do, don't do X."?

In XCOM, X1 is 'Skip missions', especially early on. Missions are your lifeblood, the main source of many of your resources, and the heartbeat of keeping panic down. While you can certainly fail missions eventually, especially on Classic and Impossible, this early on you should be able to handle anything that comes at you with Rookies, Medkits and Grenades. Anything else you can throw at the aliens is just a bonus.

X2 is 'Skimp on Engineers'. Having more Scientists lets you research faster, and that's great. But you need more Engineers to build more advanced projects, it's no good having the knowledge to do stuff if you can't then put it into practice. Fun fact: Since the playthrough that this diary is written about, I've tried 3 more games. In all of them I've had less scientists than I did in this one, but I got tech deployed into the field faster, because I had the engineers and resources to do it.

So there I am, with a nice full squad of 4 ranked up soldiers, for the first time ever, and in come some Abduction distress calls. One of them is in Egypt, one of them is in Russia, and the last...the last, thank god, is in Australia. I can go there, save the day, and bring the panic level right down. There's one...teeny fly in the ointment. The Russian mission is 'Easy'. The Egypt mission is 'Moderate'. The Australian mission? 'Very Difficult'. But do I have a choice?

(Fun fact! Again! On reflection, the correct answer to this is question is yes. If I were to go back here, I might well select one of the other missions. I don't remember what the rewards were and my notes don't mention them, but it might have been better to try and repair the long-term health of my base, even if it meant losing Australia from the Council.)

I try to ironically equip my soldiers with the blueprints for lasers, thinking I can try swatting some aliens on the nose with them, but sadly that's not an option. Conventional weapons it is. I wish I could hype up this mission some more, but that's it.

I nail it. Sure, Gonzalez the Heavy takes a nasty wound and will be back in the infirmary again immediately after he just made it out after his injury on my first mission. But the operation is a resounding success. It was a beautiful showcase of synergy, as my Assault charged forward shotgunning X-rays in the face, my Support and Heavy carefully pinned down and flanked any attackers coming at me, and my Sniper just picked off one after another that dared show their sorry excuse for a face.

My squad strides back into base with their heads held high. Australia's panic level is back down to 1, and they have successfully reversed their commander's idiotic mistake.

Except things are never that easy in XCOM.

Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa are all up to 3 panic.

Russia is on 4.

Have you ever had that sensation where you trip, but to stop yourself falling you sort of run forward a few steps before you regain your balance? Now imagine that you tripped right at the top of a staircase, and had to desperately get your balance back before you just tumbled and crashed your way down.

This is kind of what it feels like.

My Labs finish researching Laser Sniper Rifles and Shotguns.

Not enough Engineers.

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