Thursday, November 9, 2017

Twilight 2000: Mission: Interminable

Only a tank could kill Rambo.
     
I'm into the thick of the game now, having solved about 18 missions. Once you know what you're doing, missions can take as few as 5 minutes. For instance, you drive from Krakow to the city, talk to an NPC, grab an item, drive back to Krakow, and take R&R for the rest of the week.

The missions have different objectives, but they all proceed about the same. First, you get the mission from your intelligence officer by calling him on the radio.

Then you select the right personnel, based on the skills the mission is likely to call for (you can always swap them out mid-mission if you have a hand-held radio). You may have to stop by the store room to re-supply with ammo, medicine, or other items the mission might need.

Loading up on antibiotics ahead of a medical mission.
    
You then choose a vehicle and drive to the mission's start point. You may have to ultimately drive back and forth between several towns, and you might get interrupted with a tank combat along the way; I still lose most of these and have to reload often.

Once the mission is complete, you return to your base and drive your vehicle into the garage. Then you can rest and heal or just do whatever you want for the rest of the week, when the next mission begins.
    
An animation takes over as you enter or leave the base.
    
I lost track of the specific sequence and number of missions, but it's clear from reloading that many of them are randomized. So far, they've come in seven types:

1. Hostage rescue. You go to the town where the hostage was taken from, talk to the town's leader, and find out where he was taken to. Then you go to that town, clear out half a dozen hostiles, and speak to the hostage. He never comes with you, but he gives you papers to bring back to the leader in the first town. You return the papers to him, then return to base.
      
The town leader congratulates us at the end of a hostage rescue mission.
    
2. Clear out hostiles. You get a report that Baron Czarny's forces have taken over a town. You go there and kill them all, which might consist of vehicle combat, ground combat, or both. You speak to the town's leader, get your reward, and return to base.
    
The party gets a mission to clear out "soldiers and assassins."
    
3. Find the spy. You learn that Baron Czarny has a spy operating in one of the towns that you control. You go there and start interrogating NPCs. Eventually, you find the right one, kill him, report to the town leader, and return to base.
     
"Interrogate" works successfully.
     
4. Doctors without borders. You learn that a group of people in some town are injured or sick. You load up your doctor with medical supplies and drive to the town. You may have to clear out some hostile forces. Then you run around using the doctor's medical kit or antibiotics on the afflicted NPCs until they're all cured. Visit the town's leader, get the reward, return to base.
      
      
5. Vehicle retrieval. You learn that one of Baron Czarny's vehicles was disabled somewhere. You drive there, have your mechanic repair it, and drive it back to your base and add it to your fleet.
       
Cooter repairs a deuce-and-a-half.
     
6. Supplies. One town needs supplies. Another town has them. Drive to the second town, pick them up, take them to the first town. Reward, return, etc.
     
This type of mission is almost insulting.
   
7. Restore the deposed.  A town leader has been ousted by Czarny's forces. Visit him in exile, then go to the town that he used to lead, kill all of Czarny's men, and return to the leader to let him know he can resume office.
     
Talking to an exiled leader.
     
Each successful mission comes with a reward. For the first eight, that reward was a new vehicle. One-by-one, I acquired a HMMWV, two 2.5-ton trucks, an M1A1 tank, an M1A2 tank, an M2 Bradley, a T-72 tank, a T-80 tank, and a T-90 tank. These are all American vehicles except the last three tanks, which are Russian.
    
One of my tank rewards.
     
I began to wonder if my fleet was just going to keep growing until it burst out of the garage, but then the rewards started to change to supplies--things like food, fuel, and ammunition, which improve the meters that I can see on my office terminal.
      
"Population" never seems to go anywhere.
     
Ground combat has gotten a little easier. Once I learned how to use the hand-held radio to call characters with different skills and languages from my base, I stopped dragging my doctor and mechanic on every mission. I replaced them with two fighters with much higher initiative scores. Until the comments on my last entry, I didn't realize "initiative" was a separate attribute that develops during character creation. My medic and mechanic had initiative so low that the slightest wound left them completely incapacitated.

As we've seen from the comments, there are a lot of ways to cheese combat. The vehicle trick takes advantage of the fact that vehicle combat and ground combat don't mix. They're completely separate programs. Thus, hopping into a vehicle makes you immune from ground-based attacks, and you can use vehicles to drive all over the battlefield or to (temporary) safety. Another trick is to have the high-initiative characters act first, then "flee" combat (which ends it) and immediately enter again, which starts a new round with your high-initiative characters going first again. The enemy never gets a chance to act. In any event, with the right party members and weapons, combat isn't difficult enough to bother with these exploits. Occasionally, some enemy manages to one-shot me with a rocket, otherwise I do pretty well.

Vehicle combat is a different story. I can't figure it out for the life of me. On a basic level, I guess you're supposed to watch the radar and fire in the direction of enemies, but I never hit anything and I can never seem to close in on the vehicles shown on the radar. The only way I've won vehicle combats is by letting the computer do the fighting. It loses about 75% of the time, but when vehicle combat has been unavoidable, I've just reloaded a few times until the computer wins.
      
The computer strikes a hit against an enemy tank in auto-combat.
    
There have been a few memorable moments among the missions. Solving both the spy and vehicle missions depends upon having a character with a high enough skill ("interrogate" and "mechanic," respectively). The vehicle missions also require having the right set of tools. When you try to interrogate a suspect or fix a vehicle, the computer makes a roll against the character's skill and reports the outcome.

Apparently, the 4s that my characters have in those skills isn't particularly high. A couple of times when Cooter tried to fix a vehicle, he suggested we radio for Fiona, who has a "mechanic" skill of 5, instead. Upon interrogating suspects, Lacey sometimes lamented that she isn't very good at it, which is too bad, as she's the "best we've got." In both cases, I just had to try repeatedly until I got more favorable rolls and the skills worked. But this is a reminder that if you don't develop certain key skills, or acquire certain items, during the character creation process, you're screwed for the rest of the game.
     
Maybe you could avoid expressing self-doubt in front of the suspect?
     
I had difficulty with one early combat. My party was able to kill 5 out of 6 enemies, but 3 of my 4 characters were disabled in the process, leaving only Lacey, the party leader, to kill the last enemy. She was able to disable him with a grenade, but he was only inert, not dead, and she was out of grenades. Her only remaining weapon was a 9mm pistol. I had her close the distance to the enemy until she was mere feet away, but her skill with the pistol isn't very high. The enemy was incapable of acting, even moving, but round after round, Lacey couldn't kill him. She pumped bullet after bullet into his arms, legs, chest, abdomen, and head, doing progressively more damage, but not finishing him off. She finally killed him with a shot to the head when she had about 3 bullets left. By then, I felt like a war criminal.
     
Lacey is going to need therapy for years.
      
Finally, upon arrival to one of the vehicle-retrieval missions, this is what I saw from the window of my tank:


I guess that vehicle truly is disabled. I just don't know how my intel officer predicted it.

Some miscellaneous notes:
     
  • I'm not sure if fuel plays a role in the game or not. Frequently, after succeeding in missions, the town's leader tells me that he's re-fueled my vehicle, but the gauge never actually seems to go anywhere. The manual warns about running out of fuel if you're not careful, but I wonder if that's just one of many things that the developers wanted to implement and didn't.
      
Town leaders are always "taking the liberty" of topping off my fuel.
     
  • Similarly, I've not once had to forage or fish to eat, drink, or rest, even though the manual promises that these all play a role.
  • If the designated party leader dies, the game ends.
  • Both the manual and the in-game intelligence officer suggest that between missions, I could just drive around looking for supply caches in random towns. I've explored a few towns in between journeys to other places, but not once have I found a cache of supplies just sitting around. Again, I'm not sure if this was implemented or not.
   
As the mission types started to repeat, I began to wonder if the game ever actually ends. I'd been assuming all along that they'd ultimately culminate in some offensive against Baron Czarny, but so much is unfinished in the game, maybe the plot is unfinished, too. Maybe the characters just fight randomly-generated missions forever. But towards the end of this session, my intelligence officer had some comments that suggested another "phase" is coming in the game.
    
My intel officer suggests a new direction to our campaign.
    
All of the missions so far have involved cities in the south of Poland, but now I'm starting to get some in the middle of the map. Presumably, we'll progress from there to the north, where Czarny hides.
  
As I keep saying, there's a germ of a good game here: a mission-based RPG that calls a variety of skills and tools into play. But too much of it feels unfinished, too many skills unused. Gameplay is repetitive and boring, and there's still no sign of character development. It's as if I'm playing a light action game with an RPG character-creation process. I can force myself to finish, but I won't lament if there aren't many more missions.
     
Time so far: 17 hours

41 comments:

  1. Must....resist urge...fighting...AGGGGH THE BRADLEY IS NOT A TANK ITS AN APC! phew I feel better now. Sorry for that.

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    1. If you're going to be anal about it, the M2 Bradley isn't a tank nor an APC, but an IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) :P

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    2. Ugh don't remind me...thats basically a cold war treaty term that means APC with a gun.

      Thinking about it...I wonder how many categories for weapons got invented to try and muck with treaties.....

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    3. While "IFV" is defined in a limitation treaty, that treaty went into effect in 1990, decades after both the vehicle type and designation were around. The distinction between an IFV and an APC is that an APC is supposed to drop off troops and get out if it can, while an IFV is intended to fight directly.

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    4. Nope...not listening to silly facts on this one...its an APC with a gun.

      Anyway..they started negotiations in 1973 on that treaty....granted the first IFVs rolled out in the late 50's....

      Honestly though.....the Bradley and pretty much all of the lighter armed "IFVs" ...APCs with a gun.

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    5. Are you going to get upset that I referred to an M16A1 as a "gun"? IT'S NOT A 'GUN' IT'S A 'RIFLE' OR 'WEAPON'!!!

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    6. Nah...I already lost one argument in this thread...I won't pick another.

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    7. I love people who try to be technically correct and yet aren't nearly as correct as they imagine themselves to be. I call it being 'reddit correct'.

      The M113 is an APC, M2 is an IFV.

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    8. The U.S. Army's choice of terminology does not govern this blog. Is it an armored vehicle with a gun and continuous tracks? Then it's a tank. Check Webster's.

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    9. Well, since gun as (following dictionary.com):

      a weapon consisting of a metal tube, with mechanical attachments, from which projectiles are shot by the force of an explosive; a piece of ordnance.

      I guess M16A1 is, actually, a gun. :)

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    10. I fully agree. That was the point I was trying to make above.

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  2. Haha - it sems like the things-spawning-in-the-sky bug has been around for as long as 3d engines have.

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    1. I remember the open beta for the original EverQuest had that issue. Mobs would descend from the heavens, attacking you immediately upon making landfall. Good times.

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    2. And then we have modern times....where Dragon Age 2 tried to make it a "feature"

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    3. And Dungeon Keeper, where it's actually a feature. You can pick up your creatures and drop them anywhere in your dungeon, even on top of invading heroes.

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  3. "She pumped bullet after bullet into his arms, legs, chest, abdomen, and head, doing progressively more damage, but not finishing him off. She finally killed him with a shot to the head when she had about 3 bullets left."

    So it seems that "This war of mine" is clearly a ripoff of this game, huh?

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    1. This happens in the tabletop game, too. I remember one combat that got down to just one person on each side shooting at one another from a prone position at far ends of a building. Each one was unable to move or stand due to leg damage, both had body armor and pistol-caliber weapons (I think one actual pistol and one SMG.) They plinked away at each other for a good four or five rounds before one of them got in a lucky hit location and shot the other one in the face, but it could easily have gone on even longer.

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  4. The game does end, eventually the game shifts from a "collect supplies" to a new paradigm, a new mission type or two is introduced, but the gameplay is more or less the same.

    As long as you aren't in a forest, you can bail out of your vehicle when you encounter a tank and use a LAW or other man-portable ATGM, having a few folks trained and at base helps with this.

    Fuel does matter on longer missions, but not much. Technically, I think you might theoretically run out of fuel on the way home for the longest missions if they didn't fill up you tanks at the end.

    Caches and other encounters exist in theory, though in practice I ran into only one non-tank encounter ever, and I've completed the game 2 or 3 times.

    IIRC, foraging can be used, it just advances the clock and you forager comes back with a magazine or some other trivial item.

    Gunsmithing does work, if you have a gunsmith, they can attach scopes to rifles if you have them.

    It's good you never saw the original box, this game was much different even at the point they took the screenshots for the packaging. I still remember it fondly, it's been over 15 years since I've paid through and I still get the itch from time to time.

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    1. Thanks for clearing up some of the issues.

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    2. I wonder if some fan patching might clean up this game a bit. Rename unused skills to warn players off, tweak stats & probabilities, etc.

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  5. This doesn't really sound like any more of an RPG than, say, X-COM or Fallout Tactics is. Characters and stats aside, it sounds like it's clearly a strategy title.

    On the other hand if this means you're playing X-COM and Fallout Tactics, then I'm cool with that.

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    1. Those games have more progression than this.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. It comes from an era where the RPG mechanics weren't stapled down for all genres. Sure in the sword and sorcery genre, the trope of the simple farm boy progressing from picking up a sword to besting dark knights in single combat within the course of a few months is given, but RPGs set in more modern or military settings often tried a more realistic approach. How much can you really expect a veteran with 20 years of military experience and years of combat experience to improve over the course of a few months? Eventually that branch of games died out, yeah face tanking RPG rounds, but in the early nineties, folks were still experimenting.

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  6. I think X-Com and Fallout Tactics would both make excellent tabletop RPG’s. This game should have and probably was supposed to have character progression, but that’s something else that got left on the cutting room floor.

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    1. I believe Fallout Tactics is based on GURPS, so it is possible that you can play as presented on the PC. I don't know about X-Com though, I believe that it is supposed to be much more lethal than Fallout Tactics. I remember playing it with a friend and we were regularly returning from missions with more than half of our soldiers lost in action.

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    2. The original Fallout game began development using the GURPS system, but Steve Jackson Games pulled the liscence (the reasons for doing so are now unclear, with the most common reason cited being the extreme violence of the game in an era where Moral Guardians were freaking out about such things), so the games were instead built around the in-house S.P.E.C.I.A.L system.

      Fallout Tactics continued to use this system, but the very combat-focused nature of the game made non-combat skills less useful.

      Both X-com and Fallout: Tactics qualify as RPGs under the Addict's ruleset - more than quite a few of the games he's played do, even.

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    3. Chet may need to revise his RPG criteria at some point, as it seems like a lot of strategy/tactics games would meet them. Even real-time strategy/tactics games like the Mech Commander series arguably pass muster but probably shouldn't.

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    4. On the other end of the spectrum, one could easily envision an RPG with no combat at all. Though I'm not sure a game of that kind exists. Hero's Quest comes close with its stat-based puzzles and different solutions for them. But I can't think of a game of that kind that leaves out combat entirely.

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    5. I'm not sure an RPG with NO combat exists, but there are lots of precursors, including copious non-combat sidequests in existing games, plus some types of stealth games. We've seen at least one game that has ALMOST no combat--Hillsfar--plus a few where combat was mostly optional.

      In the modern era, I think it's easier because better graphics and sound instill a sense of ambiance that makes ancillary tasks fun in a way that they wouldn't have been in the wireframe era.

      In the RPG I outlined last year, Downfall, I envisioned quite a few non-combat paths.

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    6. An RPG without combat is just an adventure game with character stats as window dressing. You may as well call Zork an RPG at that point.

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    7. The stats could still affect your non-combat encounters and options. It probably makes the game pretty linear and doesn't leave a lot of room for replayability, although if you had multiple classes with different stats, I guess you could still design a game with different paths to success. I mean, I suppose a game could let you grind noncombats and choice adventures. Sorry, now this sounds like a design challenge, and I can't stop thinking about how it might work.

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    8. Probably it would work like those anime romance sims lol.

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    9. Isn't Planescape: Torment playable in such a way that it avoids nearly all combat? I guess the difference is between an option to have no combat, and no combat option at all.

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    10. Possibly. I can think of another one, Alter Ego from 1986. It has a questionaire based character creation, items in a wider sense (money, house, wife, kids ;) ). You go through "events" in your life which play out differently according to your stats (if you have low confidence and thy to be assertive in a situation, you might fail). The events can again alter your stats. There used to be a free online version of the game, but it's now only free for one playthrough.

      These games are missing the (stat-based) puzzles and exploration that a regular RPG offers, though.

      But the tabletop sessions I participated in when I was a young lad were rather light on combat. I think a good RPG without combat would be possible.

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    11. Funny thing, I remember Planescape Torment as being one of most combat packed game ever. BUT! I refused to take any other characters to my party and played with minmaxed Fighter and before final battle grinded like crazy on one map where Glabrezu (?) were constantly spawning. I remember fighting final boss toe to toe without much effort, my regeneration due to 25 CON or so was higher than his damage output. Good times, good times. One of the best games I ever played.

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    12. Buck: I remember quite a few pen and paper rpg sessions without combat, but there was always a hint that we can always wreck havoc if you won't hand us what we want and oh, here it is, thank you very much. Paradoxically stealth and theft missions were always most boring, since usually only one or two characters were able to do them without fumbling and instantly changing trailing someone into bloodbath.

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    13. At that point it falls more into the simulation or visual novel genres. Alter Ego is pretty much a large scale choose your own adventure.

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    14. Are of Decadence is supposed to be possibile to play through without combat as merchant type character.

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  7. Nice unintended pun: it is a "Germ" of a game :D:D:D I was laughing quite loudly about that.

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