You Are Not Who You Think You Are
I fall in love at the drop of a hat. I havenÃ¢â‚¬™t lived long enough yet to recognize this as a failing, as some do. I like to think itÃ¢â‚¬™s a charming quirk at worst.
I donÃ¢â‚¬™t remember how I first stumbled across the Supreme Ruler 2010 website, but when I did, I fell immediately head-over-heels for the game. It was last year some time, and SR2010 was in the independent game makerÃ¢â‚¬™s development hell. Add a feature, push back the release date. Squash a bug, eliminate the release date entirely. Still, there were screenshots on the website; busy, multi-colored affairs festooned with tiny nuclear power plants and humvees. I remember reading an article in the New York Times about people who saw colors when they heard music; the average SR2010 screenshot looked like what I imagined those people saw when an orchestra was tuning up.
The website features list bubbled over with caps-lock enthusiasm. Supreme Ruler 2010 was to be a grand strategy game with an Ã¢â‚¬Å“EXTENSIVE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL MODEL,Ã¢â‚¬? and would incorporate Ã¢â‚¬Å“SATELLITE IMAGERYÃ¢â‚¬? for Ã¢â‚¬Å“over 200 Regions World-Wide!Ã¢â‚¬? What could not be loved about such a game?
I have played strategy games for as long as I have played any games at all. As a child I learned chess from my uncle, who (according to my grandmother, at least) could have been a grand-master had he not chosen to be an accountant instead. At that age I thought nothing of the trade-off implicit in that statement, and focused instead on my excitement at beating someone of skill whenever he let me win.
My first video strategy game was probably Centurion: Defender of Rome for the Genesis. Coupled with its theme (which capitalized on my childhood obsession with Roman history) the poor AI immediately made it my favorite game ever. In a mere afternoon, my legions could subjugate the Mediterranean world, and I would be proclaimed Caesar. What more gratifying experience was there to be had than daily global conquest? Strategy games became my preferred genre from then on.
As I grew older, I hungered for more complexity and more challenge. I learned that other strategy gamers not only played games of greater width and breadth, but even had a name for themselves: grognards. I wanted to be a grognard too, and soon began saving money for PC strategy games (for the PC was the gaming device of choice for the true strategy gamer). I set out to find a PC game in the vein of Centurion.
My father (who had become an avid gamer in spite of himself) and I found Civilization II to be almost perfect. Here was a game where I could re-create my successes from Centurion, but on an even larger scale. Why start in Republican Rome when you can start at the dawn of time? Why conquer the known world when you can conquer the whole damned thing? Still, I wanted more depth, from the diplomacy in particular. Non-aggression pacts and what not were all well and good, but I wanted to sell arms for hostages! I wanted to demand retribution for JenkinsÃ¢â‚¬™ ear!
Our next find was X-Com, a squad-based tactical strategy game. Now this was a game that was rife with opportunities to complicate it. I could take my homogenized group of soldiers and assign them to squads and give them individual responsibilities within each squad. I could come up with an organized method for base nomenclature. I could devise overly-intricate tactical maneuvers for my troops to execute. It was almost perfect. It only lacked the scope of Civilization in order to achieve divinity.
In the ensuing years, IÃ¢â‚¬™ve played my share of strategy games, but none have really captivated my attention like those games from my youth. Games like Harpoon never really floated my boat. ItÃ¢â‚¬™s not that IÃ¢â‚¬™m not a true grognard, mind you; I just need a game with better graphics than the ATM at 7-11. The trend in popular strategy gaming had become accessibility, which necessarily dictated a move towards less complicated, more streamlined games. Any games that had come out with any predilections towards being global dictator simulators (Evil Genius, Superpower and its sequel) had fallen short in quality.
So there I was, replaying X-Com for the umpteenth time when I found Supreme Ruler 2010. The previews were like siren songs. Screenshots of treaties over free trade zones and mobilization of military reserve units tantalized me. I desperately wanted SR2010 to fulfill its potential and be a ruthlessly complex wonder of strategy game creation. I waited patiently until the game was released, with no fanfare. During my morning news browse, my eyes would dart to the review sidebar on Gametab, constantly rebuked by the (n/a) which always appeared next to SR2010Ã¢â‚¬™s entry, signifying that no reviews had yet been published. In my fantasy, the reviewers were so stultified by the gameÃ¢â‚¬™s intricacies that they were too absorbed in the gameplay to emerge with a review. But I couldnÃ¢â‚¬™t justify buying the game sight unseen, not without a review.
A week after the gameÃ¢â‚¬™s launch, the demo appeared on the website. The two hours that remained on my shift at work stretched on into eternity. As soon as I got home, I tossed the mail unopened onto the couch and worked my feet in tandem to get my shoes off while I downloaded and installed the demo. I started the first tutorial the way a child strips a wrapped birthday gift. The tutorial lectured me on the ins and outs of the interface. I impatiently demonstrated my grasp of the basics and moved on. I was eager to start banging my shoe on a podium. Next, macroeconomics were explained to me in excruciating detail, followed by a demonstration of how military units were commissioned and mobilized. This was all the depth and complexity I ever wanted, and I was exhausted. I hadnÃ¢â‚¬™t even launched a missile yet.
After a nap, I dove back into the game. I was absolutely resolved to understand its workings, and I was going to HAVE FUN damn it. I shotgunned through the rest of the tutorials and started a new campaign. Examining the map, I noticed that one of my neighboring countries was about half the size of mine. There was a wealth of other information to be had about that neighbor, but I seized upon this perceived weakness and rolled with it. I opened up the military advisor tab and noticed that I had a fair amount of infantry but no armor. Time to make tanks. The requisitioning menu offered me a dozen different flavors of tank, each with two dozen different varying attributes. I remembered the (n/a) on the Gametab entry, and for the first time understood it. I reached for a pad of paper and a pen, and started scrawling notes about the various tanks at my disposal. After a minute, a realization dawned on me. This was the game I thought I always wanted, but now that I had it, I didnÃ¢â‚¬™t want it at all. I was an imitation grognard, and I had been all along.
I fired up Civilization II, cranked the difficulty setting all the way down, and founded Rome again.