Friday, 22 November 2013

Simon is a coward

I've been playing a open source version of an somewhat ancient game, XCOM: UFO Defense.  For those that haven't played it, the original XCOM is a classic PC game.  You are given command of an elite force with the mission to protect the earth from aliens.  You set up a base of operations, and shoot down UFOs as you spot them, sending in a crack force to finish off any of those grey-skinned freaks that survived the crash.  All too soon though you discover that the aliens are tougher than you think, and it's a race against time to stop them before they put an end to you.

My base.  Don't mess with me.
The problem is, a game of this age doesn't run very well on today's PCs, so I'm playing OpenXcom, an open-source clone of the original (and you have to have bought a copy of the original for it to work).

Now, the thing you have to understand about XCOM is that it's hard.  You don't have much money, so you're often scraping around to try to keep your fighters armed and your troops equipped.  The aliens can see further than you, and in the dark.  They shrug off your bullets with ease, whilst loading plasma death onto your folks.

So I've always cheated on it.

The thing is, to me the important thing is the story.  There's a lot of really good fan fiction based on XCOM, I particularly liked the story written by Russ Brown back in 1994.  I don't want to go into too much detail in case I spoil the game for you - oh sod it I'm going to.

Basically, we're outmatched.  In the long run, humanity doesn't have a chance.  So we research by dissecting aliens, and studying their equipment, what their reasons are for attacking Earth, how to use their weapons and technology, and eventually finding a solution to stop them once and for all (which isn't once and for all because there are many sequels in the XCOM series!)

So playing fair isn't important to me - I like following the story.  So to cheat in the original, you'd use a hex editor on a saved game to give yourself more money and make your troops tougher.  In the open source version, you can use Notepad.

The only problem is, when you're editing your troops, it takes a while, and I'm really lazy, so I only hacked maybe ten of them, and left all of the rest of them as normal troopers.

So, because my hacked guys are faster than the rest, even though they are tougher, they tend to run further, leaving the rest behind, come up against the aliens first, and get shot.

They started dying, one by one.

There's two main troopers I'll mention.  The first is the overall commander of XCOM, and he's called Dustyweaver after my mates gaming handle.  There were also other troopers called Thog and Denkai (mine and my other half's gaming names) but they took too many plasma bolts to the face and died.

I play Dustyweaver the way my friend would play him - that is to say, he leads from the front.  As a result, he spends most of his time wounded and laid up in hospital while the rest of XCOM fight on without him. To be honest, I'm amazed he isn't dead yet.

As you can see from this screenshot, Dustyweaver is wounded.  Again.
One particular mission springs to mind.  We were investigating a crashed flying saucer, and Dusty, along with a few other troopers, were equipped with stun spikes (or whatever the hell they're called) - basically a sort of taser.  The problem with shooting aliens is, although its quite effective at stopping them from shooting back, you don't generally get to interrogate them afterwards.  So, if possible, you sneak up behind one of them, zap it in the back, and get to take it home for tea and biscuits.

Anyhow, Dusty spots this alien toting a plasma rifle. I'm having him, Dusty thinks,and charges the alien.

Face on.

The alien is blasting away at this sprinting blue beast of a man, hitting Dusty in the chest, in the face, and the shots are getting easier and easier as Dusty gets closer.  It's amazing that Dusty doesn't die, but he actually gets right up to the alien, the alien is frantically reloading his gun, and...

After all that running and being shot, Dusty is too tired to stun the alien.

So we have this grassy field, one side filled with XCOM troopers, the other side with a variety of aliens lurking, and right in the middle Dusty and this Sectoid Soldier are stood looking at each other, in my mind saying "Well I can't do anything. And neither can you.  Bugger!"

After all that, Dusty staggered away and his teammates shot the alien.

The second trooper I have to mention is Simon (his first name is Mathis but I call him by his surname, Simon. When I'm feeling kind.).  Simon is another one of my hacked troopers.

As the battles went on, and one by one the hacked troopers started dying, I became aware of something odd with Simon.

Despite the fact that he was faster than the others, he never seemed to be in front.  And he spent a lot of time in cover, behind walls, fences, in tall grass, basically anywhere that reduced the chance of him getting shot.

Now this isn't a bad thing, but Simon took it to the extreme.

I've had to come to the opinion that Simon is a coward.

Note that Simon's lowest statistic is Bravery.  Unsurprising.

Quite often he advances with a trooper on either side, and a medic behind him, just in case.  It's a bit of a joke now when I play that Simon never ventures by himself.

The guy in the powered suit of armour, crouching inside a ring of cannon fodder?  Yes, that would be Simon.

The great thing about XCOM though is the stories it conjures up.  One time I was playing, I was attacking a mini-flying saucer thing, basically it's a white disc that hovers in the air and spits plasma at you (these aliens like plasma).  My squad were running around, trying to get a shot.

Finally one guy dropped to one knee, and opened up with his laser rifle, set to automatic fire.  The great thing about auto fire is that you get to fire off three shots instead of the normal one.  True, your accuracy might be a bit lower, but the odds are that one of the shots at least will be on target.

The first shot flew off into the sky, to panic a bird somewhere.

The second shot hit the disc dead on, and blew it up.  Result!

But the gun was on automatic.

And fired a third shot.

The third shot took one of the troopers colleagues in the head, and promptly killed them.

I bet that was an uncomfortable ride home for him, packed into the back of a transport with twelve other troopers, and a fresh corpse of his own making.

Another in-game joke is the armour.  The first level of armour you research is "Personal Armour".  This is a blue work suit that is pretty useless - it is better than not having any armour, but it isn't that great.  I suspect that the Research department, under pressure to provide something useful to use against the alien threat, went out and bought a load of boilersuits.

You can put as many plastic abdominal muscles on the front of your boilersuit as you like, it doesn't mean that it'll deflect a plasma bolt.

Except for the time when the aliens used their psychic powers to mind control one of my guys, and then I couldn't kill them.  All of my shots bounced off that damn armour.  In the end it took about four of my best troopers blasting away at point blank range to punch through that suit.

In other news, I now have a Google+ page with my own customised web link, - feel free to check it out.  Also, have you tried the puzzle game on Google currently up, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who?  Hit the second "O" (the one that looks like an arrow) to give it a go.

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