9th Dec, 2005.
"We're in the pipe, five by five. Boy, am I getting sued."
The TLO logo revolves, spinning slowly before shrinking and slipping into the top left corner as the theme music fades. The studio is plastic-bright and agleam with the fake reality of TV shows everywhere. Behind Camera One, a slightly frayed-looking Pete stands. He has obviously had too late a night and too early a morning. Off to his right, cyke mans Camera Two. He looks like a young Max Clifford on crack, and is glaring down the camera at the presenters.
Two men are sat at a desk, dressed in sober suits, holding their notes. The man on the right is tall and heavily built, with a round pleasant face. His blue eyes are smiling even when his mouth is not. The man on the left is just as big, but his face is neither as round nor as pleasant, and his eyes are bitterly dark.
The man on the right speaks. “Hi, my name’s Ed and I’ll be your host for tonight.” Ed smiles at the camera over his script. “Along with my co-host FullAuto-”
“Host.” FullAuto mutters.
“-be reviewing…I’m sorry, what?” Ed flicks glances at the camera and FullAuto
FullAuto looks up from his notes. “You
Ed, clearly lost, looks at Pete. Pete shakes his head, one hand slipping to his brow. A migraine is coming. He can feel it.
“That’s not what th-”
“Do you know how long I’ve worked here?” FullAuto’s eyes beam malice at Ed. “I am not
going to be a motherfu-”
cyke makes rolling motions in the air with one hand. Ed nods. “Uh, we’ll be reviewing Battalion Wars, a third-person real-time strategy title for the Nintendo GameCu-.”
“Oh, know all about it do you?” FullAuto sneers.
He picks up his notes and hides behind them, slouching down until that white rectangle blanks out everything but his arms and shoulders.
Ed loses his place again, then rallies. “Uh, why don’t you fill us in, FA?”
“Why don’t you do it. Host
“Look, there’s no call for this, is there? I mean, really.” Ed attempts to appeal to FullAuto’s better nature, assuming it exists.
FullAuto refuses to come out from his little paper foxhole.
"This parking space is ours, cockboy!"
“Fine.” Ed turns back to the camera. “Battalion Wars is published by Nintendo, and although a continuation of the Advance Wars series, it’s made by Kuju Entertainment, not Intelligent Systems. It’s an unusual departure, the first time a Wars game has been made by someone other than IS and it’s quite a brave decision, to move from turn-based strategy to real-time, as well as the change of perspective, scope and numerous oth-”
“Oh, we have done our homework.” FullAuto’s voice drips sarcasm that could burn holes in steel.
Ed bites his lip and looks down at the script again. “My co-host
will take it from here.”
FullAuto’s narrowed eyes peep over the top of his script. Ed ignores him, smiling brightly into the camera.
Pete’s hand slips down from his forehead to cover his eyes. cyke wonders if he can make a successful insurance claim if he burns the studio down and makes it look like an electrical thing.
FullAuto sits up, squaring his shoulders. “Right. Each mission, you take control of a unit and run around the battlefield issuing orders to other units, as well as joining in the carnage. You can have infantry, helicopters, fighters, bombers, tanks, artillery, and so on, and you can swap units whenever you like. You're given primary and secondary obectives. Primary ones must be completed, secondary ones are optional but give you a better score. Which is calculated on three criteria: how long it took you, how many of your forces died and how many of the enemy you killed. The resulting percentage is then ranked, from S to C."
Ed opens his mouth to interrupt. FullAuto ignores him.
"Can I just say, I think the move to real-time is a terrible mistake. When I first heard about it, I called Nintendo, and started screaming down the phone ‘No Mr Miyagi-san, no!’ but then I realised a few things.” FullAuto clears his throat and tries to look ashamed. “Mr Miyagi is not, in fact, the CEO of Nintendo. That position is held by Satoru Iwata. Mr Miyagi is in fact a fictional character from the Karate Kid series of films, and the actor who played him, Pat Morita, is in fact dead. I do realise I may have been possibly at fault, and of course I acknowledge the fact that I am a huge racist and conveniently stereotyped all old Japanese men under ‘Mr Miyagi’ in my head.”
Ed makes small choking noises at this point, shoulders shaking.
FullAuto takes a sip of water. “The move to real-time is still a mistake, though. This is not the way forward. The fact that it works well in this instance is irrelev-”
“I’m sorry?” Ed looks up innocently.
“You fucking well will be if you interrupt me again.” FullAuto mumbles into his mic. “As I was saying
, just because it works here doesn’t mean that it will work across the board. Turn-based strategy games give you time to plan and think, as well as ensuring that there is a level playing field between human and computer concerning reaction time. This isn’t the case wi-”
“So you’re sa-”
“-shutup shutup, real-time games because often, you’re simply reacting to your opponent, always on the back foot, always on the defensive, and though this may appeal to many in a superficial sort of way, it’s not strategy per se.” Sweat breaks out on FullAuto’s forehead.
"Sandcastles? On my beach? Fuck that!"
Pete feels his migraine begin to fade, and opens an eye to look through Camera One. cyke wonders how much more he will get if anyone gets killed in the blaze.
“I was talking with Wellington-”
Ed breaks in, confused. “Wellington?”
“The first Duke
of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley? Won a little battle called Waterloo?” FullAuto quivers with indignation, drawing himself up.
“Ah, yes.” Ed looks away and pinches the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. “I seem to remember that happened two hundred years ago.”
“Life started billions of years ago.” FullAuto retorts, smug.
“So? So what?”
“So you’re alive, aren’t you?”
As Ed tries to fathom this, FullAuto ploughs on. “It’s all about initiative, you see, and keeping it, making your enemy react to you, which simply doesn’t happen in real-time games outside of multiplayer. Wellington and I agreed that gaining and keeping the initiative is very important and absolutely imperative for true strategy.”
Ed shakes his head free of confusion and tries to keep up. “And is that the case with this game?”
“Not as such, no.” FullAuto deflates a little. “But it is still an unacknowledged proble-”
“So you can in fact gain the initiative through, say, strategy, and you’re not constantly having to react on the fly? As long as you make allowances for enemy action and everything not always going as planned?”
“Mm.” FullAuto looks disgusted, lips pursing.
Ed frowns. “Was that an affirmative?”
“I think that’s the best we’re going to get, ladies and gentlemen.” Ed smiles winningly at the camera. “But how does the game look? Surely if they’ve moved the series into a genre where graphics are more of a concern, especially in such a visually demanding medium, they’ve improved the looks? FA, care to enlighten us?”
"Missed the base, but they won't be using that toilet again!"
Pete shuts his eyes and awaits the horror. cyke mulls over encouraging everyone to get life insurance and put him in their will.
FullAuto sighs. “Well, I’m not a fan of this current trend to move games into 3D and give the character models the latest in dynamic scrotal hair and acne-mapped skin textures. But I have to admit the graphics not only look good, they keep the stylised theme that the Wars games have. The GameCube has never really had it’s graphical balls fondled, really, except for a few games. Resident Evil 4 springs to mind. But the potential has never been fully explored by most titles. Battalion Wars is a good looking game, right enough, and the visual flair, that little bit of elan that is possible when you don’t rigidly adhere to photorealis-”
“Isn’t that a type of dessert?” Ed asked, turning over a page of his notes.
“You’re thinking of an éclair
.” FullAuto snarls from behind gritted teeth, fisted hands crumpling his notes. “In a way, it reminds me of this girl I used to go out with.”
Ed looks politely blank.
“She used to wear long skirts, right? And when we were alone she’d slowly pull it up, so you’d see the curve of her calves and then the sheen of her thighs and th-”
“Stop! Please!” Ed waves in the direction of the camera. “There could be children watching!”
“Oh. Well, I have a photo…” FullAuto takes his wallet out and starts flicking through it.
“No! Stop! Stop!
” Ed slaps his hand down on top of FullAuto’s. “What’s your point? I’m hoping you have one.”
Looking hurt, FullAuto puts his wallet away. “I was trying to say that the game is consistently good looking, and the further it goes the better it gets. I wasn’t insinuating that the graphics had strong vagin-”
” Ed pleads, wincing.
Sullen silence reigns for a moment. Pete begins to panic. cyke adds up how much money he’ll save once everyone aside from him is dead.
“At least I didn’t say cunt.” FullAuto sighs.
Ed puts his head in his hands. “You can’t say that on television!”
“Can’t you bleep it out?” FullAuto leans over, looking round Camera One at Pete.
"That's certainly a very artful comestain, soldier."
Pete shakes his head, pointing up at the large neon sign hanging from the ceiling.
“Live?” FullAuto frowns. “What? Really?”
Pete nods once, before dry swallowing four aspirin.
“Wow.” FullAuto looks into the camera as if seeing it for the first time, eyes bright.
He glances at Ed, then cyke, then Pete, an expression of supervillain-level slyness taking over his face. He stands up and begins to unfasten his trousers. Ed launches himself from his chair and tackles FullAuto around the hips, slamming them both to the floor behind the desk. A hand claws at the top of the desk furiously, seeking a hold.
“Get off me you bummer!
” FullAuto shrieks before everything goes quiet.
There is a whispered exchange. There is some rebellious muttering. There is silence. FullAuto appears first, climbing back into his chair and straightening his jacket, tie slightly askew. Ed gets up, dropping into his chair and glaring at FullAuto before carrying on. “Of course, the controls by necessity must be simplif-”
“Streamlined.” Growls FullAuto.
“-streamlined from the usual morass of complicated commands, for the ‘Cube controller. One button press is all that’s required to command a unit to follow, halt, attack an enemy or take a position. There’s also an order all option, if you need everyone to move. A single button press transfers control to the unit of your choice. One thing that irked me was the loss of the usual dual stick control. Because the C-stick is dedicated to selecting units to command, movement is confined to the analogue stick. This is a little restrictive, but thanks to the auto-aim you can still move and shoot simultaneously. Control of the vehicles is surprisingly responsive. Recon vehicles are light and fun to drive, roaring past enemy positions and bouncing all over the place. Tanks are slow, stately and are good at rolling over infantry. Aircraft can take a little getting used to, but they can really move when you get the hang of it. FullAuto, do you want to talk about the aiming problems?”
“Shan’t.” FullAuto sticks out his lower lip in the manner of pouting children everywhere.
“Fine. FullAuto finds the aiming a little clumsy. Both manual and auto aim are activated by the shoulder buttons. However, manual aim is only really necessary for aiming at a point, area or unit and ordering your men to attack it. For the confused mass of combat, you need to use the auto-aim to keep an enemy in your sights. This leads to some confusion, and either auto-aiming at the wrong enemy, or sending a unit to entirely the wrong place. After the same machine gun nest has wiped out your bazooka unit three times in a row, this can niggle. Especially seeing as you can’t save during a mission. There’s also an unfortunate propensity for targeting your own troops. FullAuto says all this could have been avoided if the C-stick was for aiming and the shoulder buttons were used for commanding units. Right, FA?”
Western Frontier F.C. took football a bit too seriously.
“Another problem, although a minor one, is the third-person viewpoint. Things can often get a little confusing when a battle is raging, and the view is less than panoramic. You can change to a higher perspective with a single tap of the D-pad, but this isn’t really the traditional birds-eye view, it’s just third-person-elevated. Keeping track of infantry can be difficult, though the sparkly damage effects help a little they also contribute to the confusion.” Ed stops, takes a deep breath and resumes. “This also reduces strategy to fairly immediate actions in your locale. You can’t plant a few units on the other side of the battlefield and initiate a pincer attack, nor can you organise several attacks on several different objectives at once, because of the limits of the viewpoint and the command system. You can’t group units permanently, either, which keeps the interface and commands simple, but reduces the possibilities available.”
“I’ve had dogs that could outwit the AI, too.” FullAuto chips in brightly.
“That’s enough about your girlfriends. Though he does have a point.” Ed grins at FullAuto’s scowl. “Your men seem to have an unnatural desire to be close to each other. Perhaps they were indoctrinated a little too harshly in boot camp, but they refuse to spread out and get into cover, which is a bit of a mistake when you have missiles, rockets and tank shells incoming. I’m sure it’s very comforting to hold someone’s hand when you’re being bombarded, but perhaps next time they could find some troops who aren’t quite as easily frightened. Or gay.”
FullAuto steals the initiative. “The game’s audio is very good, with appropriately martial music, nice explosions and weapon noises, and some good chatter from the grunts, in unusually high-pitched voices, which makes them doubly funny.”
"No totally inappropriate comparisons to make, FA?” Ed asks cheerily.
“My arse and your face, pal.” FullAuto goes back to what he was saying. “This game would have been better if it was turn-based.”
“You always say that, though. About every game.”
FullAuto looks hurt. “Doesn’t make it any less true.”
"To get back to what you were saying earlier…" Ed trails off, waiting patiently.
"What?" FullAuto's eyes fairly light up. "I like big butts and I can-"
"Love to go with you, lads, but the tank needs me."
"No, no, that's copyright violation." Ed smiles winningly over the faux pas, as if another made any difference. "I was thinking more along the lines of what you said about real-time versus turn-ba-"
"Well, I'm not saying real-time strategy games are a total waste of time, but they are. I'd also like to take the opportunity to blame real-time strategy gaming for terrorism, ethnic cleansing and indeed, war itself. Not to mention numerous cases of venereal disease, as well as child and spousal abuse."
"Would you care t-"
"Certainly. Real-time strategy games basically force people to be terrorists, ethnic cleaners and so on. It trains you to kill as well as come up with retarded strategies on the spur of the moment. Not to mention, you get so fucking frustrated, the least you can do is beat your nearest and dearest as if they were ginger stepchildren."
"And the venereal dise-"
"I was getting to that. Women know a real-time gamer, someone who rushes and blows his load too early. Your average turn-based bloke knows to take his time, probe the flanks, delve deeply into gaps, explore the various pockets of enemy territory to their fullest, and generally build things up to a firm conclusion for both parties. So to conclude, real-time gamers end up going to prostitutes. Who charge them more anyway."
"I find your reasoning a little spurious." Ed smiles reassuringly at the camera.
"So? What are you going to do about it?"
"Well. Touché." Ed rolls his eyes.
"This is why they hired you, isn't it? To make a dickhead out of me." FullAuto's tone would be best described as belligerent.
"You don't need me for that." Ed assures him before turning back to the camera. “To sum up, it’s a fun game. Four short campaigns, with a secret mission in each one, a wide variety of units to use and abuse, a simple command system, excellent graphics and sound. It doesn’t have the depth of the other Wars games. It won’t keep you occupied for weeks. I like it because it’s instantly accessible, and adds a little strategy to what could have so easily been a run-of-the-mill shooter. FullAuto likes it, despite the fact that he sees it as pandering to, uh, subversive real-time elements in the gaming community.”
The secret Iraq mission.
“Every games franchise makes a misstep, at some point. This is one, though it’s not a misstep so much as a sidestep. It’s a good game, but it’s not my cup of tea. There's too much emphasis on speed, and not enough strategy. It’s too short and there's no multiplayer, though getting the best ranking on every mission and unlocking the secret ones will take you a while.” FullAuto makes a very rude gesture at Ed.
cyke cuts Camera Two and makes the ‘you are fucking fired’ hand signal. Pete zooms in hurriedly on Ed, cutting FullAuto out of shot.
“Well, hopefully that’s it from him, and that’s definitely it from me.” Ed shuffles his notes into order. “Next week we’ll be drowning George Lucas in the shit sucked from his own scripts, debating the pros and cons of homosexuality in gaming, and quizzing Resident Evil fans on Leon Kennedy; one man army, or one woman man?”
“Fucking one man band.” FullAuto adds, leaning over to get into shot.
The theme music plays. The lights darken. The TLO logo swells and fills the screen. The credits roll.