Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Day's Post: Patrick Steward has become unconscious

I've been playing a lot of X-COM: UFO Defense recently. It's an old game, from around '93, and it shows. The graphics are archaic, and the UI is pretty clunky, and you can't quit or load in battle. You can save just fine, you can surrender, but you can't quit or load. I suppose the notion is that it would make the game too easy. For me, a weak-hearted soul who can't bear to let his soldiers die, it means a lot of alt-tabbing and force-quitting. This is somewhat relevant.

So, I send my poor soldiers out on another mission, against a "VERY LARGE" UFO my long-range spotted somewhere in Southeast India. Grounded, it doesn't lift before the troop transport arrive. The brave men and women of X-COM scramble out of the jet, hunting for nearby foes - exiting the confines of the scramble-jet two by two, it's all too easy for the disembarkation to become a slaughter against prepared aliens armed with plasma-cannon. It's happened.

But not this time. Three squads form, each moving toward one of the three passes between the small, rocky rises that dominate the surroundings. Most of the X-COM operatives carry plasma rifles, reverse-engineered from those found on the bodies of slain aliens. A few carry human-designed laser rifles or heavier weapons, plasma cannon also taken from the aliens. (One woman due to poor planning on the part of logistics personnel, carries only a small laser pistol. This was an oversight.) Carrying the squad's rocket launcher is Patrick Stewart, currently a sergeant. Some would say that his name is a coincidence; a randomly generated first/last name combination, not too different from the two other "Stewart"s X-COM has boasted in his ranks. (Mary and... something, the name escapes me. They didn't last too long. Casualties are high in X-COM.)

I don't believe in coincidences - especially not in a '93 sci-fi game, somehow giving me a character with the name of a famous sci-fi actor of that time. So I've been carefully preserving Patrick Stewart - always letting others go first off the jet, though he has an odd tendency to end up in front, and loading whenever he dies. It's my hope that he'll be a captain one day.

I may have digressed.

So, the X-COM team advances in three squads. Stewart is in the centre, bringing up the rear - his rocket launcher is too heavy to be used except on special occasions. Soon the first enemy is seen, looming out of the night darkness: Snakemen. Filthy things - larger than a man with a propensity for wanton killing. They're fragile - I saw an armoured one once that took five plasma burst before going down, but it was the exception - and this one's no different. A snap shot turns it into a fine haze of bright-glowing ash, and the three squads advance.

I save, as I do at the beginning of each turn.

The squads advance slowly. The UFO comes into sight, its four supporting pillars and the central hover-elevator that provides access to the interior. Two more snakemen appear, and are burned down. The middle squad, finding itself crowded with excessive manpower, dispatches two men to the south squad, Patrick Stewart among them.

The enemy's turn comes. I wait, watching as they make their hidden movements. Doors hiss open and shut in the invisible confines of the UFO.

Then a tiny purple projectile flashes out of the hover-elevator and does this.

Five squad-members, out of my total fourteen, die instantly. Patrick Stewart, being a cut above the ordinary lot, merely "becomes unconscious." The walls of the UFO - which a point-blank rocket strike will not scratch - are rent asunder. I watch as the bulk of the remaining squad members, overwhelmed by the disaster, panick or go berserk, firing wildly at the air or each-other. Kenji Koyama, a man of stout heart if there ever was, is one of the few who does not - thus the image above. (The weapon in the bottom-right is a plasma rifle, for reference.)

I quit and reload the game.

My first attempt is to close with the UFO faster. The projectile - from a weapon referred to as a "Blaster Launcher", if it is indeed the captured weapon my scientists at base are attempting to analyze - flashes out at my middle and north squads. Fire bursts out, they die.

I quit and reload the game.

This time I try to keep my squads in cover. Noting the blast pattern in the previous attempts, I move the soldiers to keep the supporting pillars of the UFO between them and the source of the projectile, which I believe to be the hover-elevator. The projectile flashes out again, at a different spot. They die.

I try again. I position all my soldiers with time to spare, readying them to fire at any enemy who appears before them on the aliens' turn. Two aliens appear and fall; so does one of my own men, fried by friendly fire. I feel a little bad. Then the launcher-wielding alien appears in the elevator - a plasma-rifle wielding woman fires, misses - and once again an explosion the size of a city block erupts and wipes out the south squad.

To my amusement, I note that the launcher-wielder has been splattered by the vast damage radius of his own weapon.

I've not yet solved this tactical puzzle - I suspect that a modification of the last approach tried will succeed, though I haven't yet gotten it to work. This, though, I know:

Patrick Stewart must survive.


Desmond said...

Wow, I haven't read the blag in like months, is it still alive?

Cavalcadeofcats said...

Not really.