Sunday, February 10, 2013

Master of Orion, guns, Yes

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by.

I think I should confront reality and accept the fact that this is really a once or twice a month blog, not a weekly blog. In the future, I think I might look at trying to transition to an honest-to-goodness author website, and make my blogging one of the features there. But for the next couple of months I’ve got plenty on my plate, so that’s a “when I get to it” kind of project.
Not much new to announce in the “What have I been up to?” category. I’ve been doing a lot of work on the Emerald Spire super-dungeon for Goblinworks and Paizo, mainly concentrating on getting the framing story for the dungeon put together and writing up the town of Fort Inevitable. I’m still working on comic books, and I still can’t say anything more than that yet. But as soon as I can, I’ll make sure to let you all know!

Gaming: You know, it’s been 10 years, and I’m still sore about Master of Orion 3.
Master of Orion 1 and 2 were great games. The combination of choosing research, designing ships to incorporate new technologies, and controlling those ships in simple tactical battles was just awesome. When Infogrames announced that they’d be publishing a MoO 3, well, I was giddy with excitement. Then Master of Orion 3 came out, and it was terrible.

Perhaps in its own rights MoO3 was a decent game. My problem was that it broke the franchise’s promise. You didn’t get to *drive* your ship designs in combat the way you could in Master of Orion 1 or 2. Instead combat was a much more “realistic” subgame where you now watched tiny dots like radar blips motor around in vast, empty star systems and do things you couldn’t control. Instead of 4-color comic-book ship designs and alien races, we got an impenetrable interface that looked cramped, lifeless, and colorless. Somehow the developers had convinced themselves that Master of Orion was a game about resource management and industrial production, and they built MoO3 as a game for people who didn’t like fun.
I think it all came down to “grognard capture.”

Grognard capture is a game industry idea that goes like this: Your most devoted and involved fans—the grognards—are the ones who communicate with the game designers; they want down-the-rabbithole increases in detail, complexity, and realism or simulation value; the game designers cater to the grognards, and they make a game only the grognards like. (The term grognard, by the way, refers to Napoleon’s Imperial Guard—old soldiers who complained a lot but were his most reliable troops.) Most people played Master of Orion 1 and 2 to build fleets of battleships and blow things up. The best MoO players played a game of industrial management to *produce* enormous, unstoppable fleets, and crushed all opposition beneath a relentless tide of production. Space battles were boring to them, since the battles were foregone conclusions and the battle system was ridiculously simple. Guess who the MoO 3 developers built their game for?
There are plenty of examples of grognard capture around, if you look for them: Star Fleet Battles, the Third Reich-World at War game system, even some elements of Magic: The Gathering (although Magic was smart enough to retarget new player acquisition with Magic 2010 and the subsequent yearly core sets). I would even argue that D&D suffers from grognard capture in places like, say, Forgotten Realms story material or character optimization.  Keeping your grognards a little happy is good business—these guys are the core of your customer base. Letting them drive development is probably not a good idea. Sure, they’ll grumble when you don’t fix things to their specifications. But it’s the nature of the grognard to complain, and soldier on.

Anyway, back to Master of Orion: I’m still holding out hope for a Master of Orion 4 someday that reverts to something closer to the gameplay of MoO 1 and 2. I know there are a zillion MoO clones available, but I just don’t have the patience to master interfaces and rules sets that I used to have.  If you know of one that I should try, well, I’m all ears.

Politics/Current Events: Nothing new this time, but I’ll elaborate a bit more on my Second Amendment views since I don’t think I was clear about that before.
First, I believe that all human beings have a “natural right” of self-defense. You are allowed to protect yourself, your family, and your property from injury or theft. The framers of the Constitution clearly recognized the existence of natural rights; even today, no one would argue that if you are being pummeled to death you must wait for authority to intervene, and aren’t allowed to throw a punch to save your own life. Likewise you can act to stop someone from beating your wife or child or parent to death, or even victims you don’t know.

In our modern world, guns are often necessary to exercise the natural right of self-defense. First, you may be accosted by a bad guy with a gun. But even if you aren’t, bad guys can inflict lethal injury or grave harm to you and yours without guns. Maybe if you’re a 6-foot, 200-pound man you feel you can defend yourself with your bare fists against most assaults. But if you’re a 5-2, 110-pound woman attacked by that 200-pound man, well, your right of self-defense doesn’t mean much without a weapon that doesn’t care about relative physical size and strength. As the saying goes: God created all men, but Colonel Colt made ‘em equal.
That leads me to believe that responsible gun ownership is protected by a right and principle even older and more sacrosanct than the Constitution itself.

Now, as for the Second Amendment: I think the “right to bear arms” means “the right to arm yourself just as the nation-state does.” Back in the 1780s, “arms” generally referred to flintlocks, swords, or cannons. An individual citizen could equip himself with weapons as deadly as those available to the soldiers of the day without much trouble. Today, that same reading implies that everyday citizens should be allowed to own machine guns, tanks, rocket launchers, fighter jets, or Aegis cruisers, if they can afford ‘em. But this is where that troublesome clause in the Second Amendment comes into play: “A well-regulated militia.” We have an armed militia of citizen-soldiers in this country, and they do indeed keep machine guns, tanks, and fighter jets. It’s the National Guard.
In short, I think the Second Amendment is about the right to organize local and state militias and arm them as regular armed forces. But I think the natural right of self-defense is what gives people who aren’t in the National Guard all the right they need to own firearms for personal protection. A government that tried to deprive its people of the means of self-defense would be acting out of all bounds. However, reasonable measures to regulate firearms are okay. I think we would all agree that there should be a minimum age for a concealed-carry permit, for example. Some regulations are clearly warranted—everything else in this debate is about wrangling over details.

The Finer Things: The second album I ever received when I started listening to music as a young teenager was the Yes Album. My uncle Jeff gave it to me because he was a fan and he thought it would be up my alley, and I’ve been a Yes fan for something like thirty years now. When I need to really put my head into a “fantasy world” space, I’m likely to put Close to the Edge or Relayer into my CD player and loop it for hours. In fact, I wrote the Last Mythal in pretty much this exact method. Anyway, Yes is touring this year, and their set list is simple: the Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One, each song on each album played in order. I’m trying to talk my wife into going when they play in Seattle, but she isn’t having any of it.



  1. ... I liked MoO3, except for the parts where it was horrifyingly buggy (like stealth in space combat). The tech tree was a bit too long for my tastes too, so I tweaked the game's files to cut it down by a factor of 5 or so in depth. Made things a lot more fun.

    On the other hand, I never played MoO1 or 2, so... inverse grognard capture. Your thoughts on 'winning battles via tactics' vs 'winning battles via strategy and superior preparation' are an interesting mirror of the combat as war vs combat as sport debate in D&D.

  2. Thanks for the link, John. That first post in the war/sport debate was a really interesting read. I'm going to chew through a few more pages of that thread when I get a chance. I've often defined a similar difference in style as "simulation vs. game" but this was a great new way to look at it.

  3. Ah, bother, I meant to single-post link just the first post but it's stupid-o-clock at night here on the east coast.

  4. If necessary I would, of course, defend myself and my family without hesitation. But this "natural defense" argument also seems to assume there's a good chance one will have recourse to defend oneself using lethal force. This seems like a war mentality that bears little resemblance to the world I see around me (except perhaps as more people seem to feel the need to carry machine guns and pistols into public areas to "make a statement").

    I'm sure there are specific circumstances in which one has a reason to feel threatened and that only a gun would provide defense (the woman with an unstable physically abusive ex-spouse of course comes to mind; I have personal reasons to be sympathetic to that kind of situation, and yet I have gave doubts guns would help to defuse it...). In most cases, I think the perception that living in the USA involves regular existential threat has little scientific/statistical basis, but comes from the magnification of shock-value news reports and politically-motivated fear mongering.

    Bad things can always happen, and we should try to mitigate them. But the idea that everyone needs guns to be safe leads everyone to be less safe--less safe when the unstable teen gets his mother's machine guns; when the harried dad leaves the gun unattended under the seat in the car for a minute and his 5 year old son shoots his sister; when the depressed teen guesses the combination of the gun safe and kills himself; when two guys get into a shoving match after too many beers and one heads off to his car to get the gun in the glove compartment "just to make the other guy back down."

    No one owns a gun thinking they are irresponsible and unsafe. They find out they were (if only for an instant) after the tragedy has occurred. There will always be violent people and human errors. The more guns are around, the more often those circumstances lead to deaths instead of injury...

  5. Sure, Unknown -- A great number of people reasonably make that calculation every day, and decide that the odds that they'll need a firearm to defend themselves are so vanishingly small they don't feel the need to arm themselves. For example, I don't carry a gun with me when I leave my house because I don't think I need to. But in the example you cite of the abusive ex-spouse, wow, if that woman felt that her life could be in danger, I think she's got the right to take whatever steps are necessary to protect herself.

  6. During this entire gun control debate... the one thing I find really scary is that it's obvious that the Democrats want to disrm our populace. But why? Surely not for our own safety, only a fool would belive that. This from the same party that supports drug abuse and abortion? Oh, and was selling confiscated guns to drug cartels... let's not forget that bit.
    It's pretty obvious Obama & Co. need to disarm us. But why? The average American is too complacent to fight any revolutions. It's would take something overwelmingly horrible to make us rise up and use those fire arms...
    And the penny drops. So ask yourselves, what could they be planning to do that makes them fear our guns? Well, let's pray to all the gods and goddesses in human history that I'm just crazy here and we don't have to find out.

  7. "Surely not for our own safety, only a fool would belive that."

    I'm not really into this debate, but still, "only a fool would belive that" doesn't seem like valid reasoning.

    Politics aside: Richard, MOO1 is one of my favourite video games, too! I don't think you can do anything amazing like that in 21st century, though. Graphics of the original were so extraordinarily simple that it somehow felt like software which a real lord of a space empire would use. I mean, flashy graphics look a bit like they've been made for Hollywood, aren't they?

  8. That's okay Unknown, I wasn't debating, merely sharing my thoughts. Also, there was a typo, "Only a fool would believe that." was what I meant to type.

    I still enjoy playing Lords of the Realm 2, an 'ancient' turn-based medievil era game where you must conquer shires, manage resources and of course conquer your opponents. Armies were raised from your civilian populace, that degraded happiness which if it got low enough for too long the shire would revolt and become independant again. It was a simple but fun game, something to let the mind relax while playing it. But if you find a copy and sit down to play... never use auto-calc to fight your battles! Especially seiges, and especially against the Royal Castles... lol