You Are Not Who You Think You Are

I fall in love at the drop of a hat. I haven’t lived long enough yet to recognize this as a failing, as some do. I like to think it’s a charming quirk at worst.

I don’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 maker’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 “EXTENSIVE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL MODEL,� and would incorporate “SATELLITE IMAGERY� for “over 200 Regions World-Wide!� 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 Jenkins’ 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, I’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. It’s not that I’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 SR2010’s entry, signifying that no reviews had yet been published. In my fantasy, the reviewers were so stultified by the game’s intricacies that they were too absorbed in the gameplay to emerge with a review. But I couldn’t justify buying the game sight unseen, not without a review.

A week after the game’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 hadn’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 didn’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.


Yeah, it's fairly easy. It was just far too much management and if you had the resources the game would pretty much play itself to completion.

Or it would go right into the ground if you tried to pull out too early. No middle ground. The AI was about as sharp as a box of monkeynuts.

So, uh...which of you guys is going to take the plunge into SR2010?

I feel for ya Sanjuro... I teeter between the feeling of being totally obsessed with games, and then being absolutely disenchanted with them once I actually experience them. I always feel upset because I didn't really want what I thought I wanted, but I actually just bought the hype that was the game and all of the overwhelming hysteria surrounding it, whether it was commercially created, or inside my own head.

It kind of goes back to what Lobo was talking about in a post a week or so ago. When faced with a game with a serious moral choice and with all the trappings of fully engrossing gameplay, we might be faced with the fact that we want nothing to do with it.

Even now, while I am typing this, I wonder if I am living up to my own expectations as a 'serious gamer.' I like to think I am literate, articulate and capable of putting a cogent sentence together. But I know at times I am not that. I am never who I think I am, all the time.

Very existencial, and very self-centered. I apologize for that. But all gamers I think can feel what Sanjuro is saying. Walking the fine line between game and life is very hard. Games that are similiar to life are great. Games that recreate life, are not. If I have to put pen to paper, I had better be in my office.

I've never been who I thought I was and I always knew I never would be.

Great article, Sanj. I could never get into strategy titles (You mean I have to build an army before I can start killing? This sucks). The same was true of pen and paper RPGs (what, I have to do math? Explain to me again how this is fun...). I'm certain I would have never played an RPG game if they hadn't made it into videogames.

I tried out the demo for Supreme Ruler: 2010 when it was out (a month ago maybe?)

I admit, after trying to figure out what was going on, I can sympathize with you It seems like quite an enjoyable game, but I'm not sure if I have the weeks required to learn to play it, honestly. I think this is the sort of thing you have to dedicate an entire weekend to, of non-stop tutorialing and squinting at the screen. Sometimes we want things simple, and sometimes we want them hard

Great aticle, you imitator you!

Great article Sanjuro. I never played Centurion, but I did cut my strategy teeth on ActRaiser and Sim City for the SNES. My first and favorite turn-based strategy game for PC was Lords of the Realm II, then Masters of Magic, which led to my nearly 2-year long obsession with Age of Wonders (first one).

Have you checked out the newly released Knights of Honor? The reviews I've read indicate it's got a farily deep political system (check Avault's review).

This thread has me thinking about picking up Steel Panthers or some such again.

Fletcher1138 wrote:

This thread has me thinking about picking up Steel Panthers or some such again.

You need to try Combat Mission if you haven't.

SlyFrog wrote:
Fletcher1138 wrote:

This thread has me thinking about picking up Steel Panthers or some such again.

You need to try Combat Mission if you haven't.

I haven't. Thanks for the reco.

I thought of games as something that allowed you to be what you want to be your fantasy world which allows you to do things that you cant in real life...why make games so real that they sound like the life you already lead everyday!!!