27 August 2015

FWS Top Ten: My Favorite Video Games

Wondering where the military field ration blogpost is? Me, too. The last three weeks have be devoted to getting my new classroom setup and go to mandatory district trainings. Ugh. This has pushed back the field ration blogpost back. So, here is a Top Ten on my favorite video games. I was born in the late 1970's, and was a kid in the 1980's, allowing to be fully involved in the Golden Age of Video Games. I had an ATARI 2600, saw TRON in the theater, NES, GameBoy, and I used to pump quarters into my local arcade while pumping my Reeboks! Yes, it was a good time to be alive. This made video games important to my life, and one of the primary sources of relaxation and escape from how crappy life really is. This journey from 1982 to 2015 involves a great deal of video games across all manner of systems and in various genres...except sports games...I hate sports games. In this Top Ten, we will be looking at my favorite video games. Please note, I did not include RAINBOW 6 simply because I've discussed that game in-depth, and I used that spot for another favorite.

My Personal Video Game History
Home console gaming would enter into my life on Christmas of 1982. My brother and I got an ATARI 2600 with about six games, and it was one of the best Xmas gifts I ever got. It was an magical plastic-and-wood box of joy, and since we were the only kids in our neighbor in Alabama that had an 2600, our house was very popular. Around 1987, another Xmas, another ATARI, this time it was an 7800. A year or two later, an secondhand NES would arrive, and in 1990, an original GameBoy was added to the inventory.
While I would still play the other systems, I was not thrilled by the console game selection in the 1990's, and became bored with video gaming by 1991. I hated jumping, side-scrollers, and the limited exploration of most console games. Arcades were still part of my social life, and it often you could find me and my friends at some Tulsa mall pumping quarters. But, I was hungry for something different. Then in summer of 1991, my father would buy an greybox Hewlett-Packard home PC running MS-DOS and Windows 3.1. This was a revolution for me and my relationship with home gaming. Given the power of the PC, I was able to run games like LucasArts Battle of Britain, Loom, War in Middle Earth. Instead of investing in another console during the Bit Wars, my (and parents) money was funneled into the greybox. Games like X-Wing, Terminator: 2029, Wolfenstein, DOOM, and Wing Commander filled my high school years. It was not until the original PlayStation came out that I switched teams back to a home console system.
Why did I not continue with PC gaming? Money and the bullshit factor. I was tried of pouring money into updating the greybox to run the next great game, and once I witness the power of the PSOne, I was sold. I just could not bring myself to invent into a computer gaming system with a terribly short lifespan. Consoles are good for five-to-seven years. I made my choice and I continue with that thinking. In Christmas of 1997, I got my own PlayStation with Wing Commander 3 and DOOM. For years, I would add to my collection, rent games from Blockbuster (remember that?), and adding Lid-Art to my PSOne. In 2002, my original PSOne died when the motor that spun the CDs burned out, and it was time to belly up to the bar, and buy an PS2. My wife and my mother bought me an PS2 after passing College Algebra, and immediately bought ROBOTECH: Battlecry. 
While I loved my PS2 and playing the utter fucking shit out of SOCOM on the thing, I was growing more interested in the big black box by Microsoft and that game called HALO. At this time, I was getting back into paintball, I wasn't sure that I could afford both masters. In winter of 2005, a meth addict broke into my duplex, and took my PS2 on a trip to the drughouse. While was shocked and heartbroken, this gave me the opportunity to switch religions.
With the insurance money and some Christmas cash, I bought an Xbox with HALO: CE...and I've never looked back. At present, I own an Elite Xbox 360, and my original Xbox, along with saving money for an Xbox One so I can play HALO 5. Yes, I know I have an addiction While retrogaming is big right now, and many of my friends are rebuying their childhood old systems, I do not look back with any type of fondness or golden nostalgia. To me, the 6th Generation of video games is really the furthest back I go when gaming, I personally think that video games, in general, keep getting better. However, I am concerned that the single player campaign is going to become an endangered species, and that online play will required no matter what. Gaming has been part of my life since 1982, and I believe it always will be.

1. HALO: Combat Evolved (2001/2011)
HALO is one of those gaming franchise that transcended beyond the console to be a multi-media empire. But, it all started on a new home video game console, and the success of the original 2001 HALO: Combat Evolved for the original Xbox gave birth to one of the greatest military sci-fi series of all time. When I bought my Xbox in 2005, I bought HALO: CE, and it was a damn nearly religious experience. I knew within a few hours, that HALO was going to be my game and that this game would be forever something special. Even to this very day, I play HALO: CE once a year, and I do not need to make nostalgia excuses for it, especially with the anniversary edition. It is a rock solid game that took the tropes and made them their prison bitch. This game carried a dynasty that expanded throughout all types of media and culture, and if it is ever made, the HALO movie could be the best video game film of all time...which is not a high bar. To me, HALO: Combat Evolved one of the best games I ever played, and we are still very much in love.

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
COD games are thought of in a bipolar manner by the gaming community. Some regard the COD franchise has the scourge of modern video games, and that COD encapsulates everything that is wrong with the industry. While others think of COD has a symbol of the power of video games and their rise to power and legitimacy in the wider world. With the erosion of COD franchise, it seems that the COD gravy train is ending with many saying that Call of Duty is dead. Proof can be seen in once proud COD gamers, who used to wasting hours in dark rooms with their Mountain Dew and Turtle Beaches, are now hid their addiction or have simply moved on, causing less players to be active in the lobbies; which only compounds the problems.
However, the game here is regarded as one of the best and most popular...and with good reason. COD:MW2 was the apex for the campaign, while Black Ops:II was the peak of the online combat experience. In MW2, we were treated to a good solid thrilling campaign that was filled with COD tropes that were not yet tropes. From rather cool Special Operations characters like Ghost, Price, and Soap, to easy-to-hate enemies, and various interesting maps to kill in (especially estate!). I still play the campaign of this game, and I still enjoy it, but it mixed with sadness. Simply put, COD have not been as good as it was during this game, and given the COD games being spit out today, it never will be again.  

3. Medal of Honor (2010)
The top-of-the-cake special forces units (Tier-One) have been the subject of video games since time immoral, and they will continue to be a story element in video games for the conceivable future. This by no means infers that these Tier-One groups are represented correctly. This applies to the Call of Duty games of the world. However, in 2010, the nearly dead EA military game series, Medal of Honor was rebooted with an eye to modern warfare in Afghanistan, specifically concerning Operation: Anaconda in 2002.
When I watched the first trailer for the game in 2010, seeing Tier-One in native clothing hunting Taliban/AQ and riding ATVs in the mountains of A-stan...I was hooked. To their credit, Danger Close Games interviewed and consulted with former and active duty Tier-One Operators to forge realistic gameplay and setting. The result was the most realistic game on Tier-One Operators and operators. The amount of respect paid to these elite warfighters was huge and touching, and the game itself while short was inspiriting. Truly, a game among games. I love this game for what is, and count it among the best of modern military shooter campaigns. It is a real fucking crime that the 2012 followup, Medal of Honor: Warfighter was so lackluster and disappointing. So bad in fact, that it EA put Medal of Honor in limbo and disbanded Danger Close Games. In October, FWS will be publishing a loving look back at MOH 2010.

4. Half-Life 2 (2004)
I played the original Half-Life on the PS2 conversion, and it was okay...but it wasn't until HL2 that the everyone, including me, woke up to this masterpiece of gaming. In some ways, HL2 pulled an Road Warrior on the audience, taking the world of Gordon Freeman, and altering it in a post-apocalyptic, post-alien invasion controlled Earth. The human races is one their collective knees, and they need a hero. I still play this game once-a-year, and enjoy it on the many levels that it exists. This game would also give us Portal and the machinima series Civil Protection starring Dave and Mike.

5. HALO: Reach (2010)
By the time of HALO 3, it appeared that the story of John-117 was ending and that the HALO franchise was going to have to find a new avenue to survive. While HALO Wars and ODST were okay, they were not the story that many fans wanted. Since the release of the incredible book The Fall of Reach, fans have wanted a game or film set on the doomed human heartworld of Reach. In 2010, we got that game, and next to HALO: CE, it was one of the best games in the entire line-up.
HALO: Reach does what many of us fans wanted, to put you in the boots of an elite SPARTAN SpecOps team kicking alien ass. Unlike the core HALO games,you are not the last SPARTAN, but a member of a team, and you are not facing the Flood or fighting on a Halo Ring, but on an core Terran colony. In much the same way as the Star Wars Prequels, HALO Reach attempts to show the SPARTANs at their military apex, like Lucas did with the Clone Wars, showing fully trained Jedi and not some kid, cyborg, or old man. To me, HALO Reach had one of the best stories. It was emotional compelling with unique characters, locations, and weapons. I love this game and I respect the balls it took for Bungie to make, and make it right.

6. Xenophobe (Arcade 1987)\
Ah, the 1980's! I spent many years in the arcade, and it was in 1987 that I met that one arcade game that made me fall in love: Xenophobe. Let's face the facts, there has not been a "good" ALIENS video game until ALIEN Isolation, but Xenophobe came close to giving us ALIENS fans something enjoyable to play that was similar to that dark world that we loved. Xenophobe was a unique fusion of humor, dark sci-fi, and classic arcade gaming that made an impression on gamers at the time. So successful was the arcade cabinet, that the game was ported to every major home console and computer gaming system from 1987 through 2004. That says something about the longevity of Xenophobe. I really wish there had been a sequel...maybe one day. If and when FWS ever gets an official office, Xenophobe will be in the office for stress relief.

7. Mass Effect (2007)
I've never been much for classic fantasy RPGs, either paper-and-pen or video games. Sure, I played D&D and Dark Tower back in the 1980's..but it wasn't until 2007 that concept of Mass Effect got me thinking that this game could a space-based RPG that I could get behind. When I finally played it as FemShep (of course), I was shocked how engrossing, beautiful, and complex the original Mass Effect game was. Even today, I love the first and third game...not a fan of Mass Effect 2. During a recent playthrough of all three games back-to-back, I continually impressed with the epic nature of the original Mass Effect, and I firmly believe that it is one of the finest science fiction games of all time. Oh, FemShep is the real Commander Shepard!

8. Wing Commander (1990)
At times, video games allow new types of stories to be told in a new medium, and that was the case with 1990's military sci-fi flight sim Wing Commander. This game takes concepts from The Man-Kzin Wars, Enemy Mine, Star Wars, and BSG to from a tale of Terran space jocks onboard a space carrier in the Vega Sector battling Killer Space Tigers. I played this a few years after its original release, but it was of the best games I played in the 1990's, and the second and third games were also good, but the first game will always have a special place in my heart.  

9. Star Wars: X-Wing (1993)
Flight simulators have always been one of the most popular computer games, due to the technologically ability and advantages of PCs over consoles to simulate flight conditions with a joystick...not some damned controller! Not all flight simulators were devoted to dogfights or simple simulation, there was an healthy market for space combat sims, and one of the best of all time was X-Wing by LucasArts. X-Wing would allow the player to take control of the iconic space fighters of the Rebel Alliance in historical simulations and live missions. This game was packed with insight to the world of Star Wars, and unlike the most Star Wars games, there was no fucking Jedi! X-Wing tells the story of the Rebel Alliance guerrilla campaign against the Empire via a military sci-fi setting, and not lightsaber duels. I loved this game back-in-the-day and its expansions, and it is still a game that I think holds up. This is the best Star Wars game there is.

10. Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 (2005)
World War II used to be one of the most common settings for military shooters around the turn of this century, and one of the best out of these Nazi-killing games was Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 created by Dallas-based Gearbox (who also finished Duke Nukem) in 2005. Road to Hill 30 was based on real world events, units, and even people during the pivotal 1944 Invasion of Normandy. This game was timed perfectly to take advantage of the popularity of the American WWII Paratrooper units ignited by Band of Brothers. While Road to Hill 30 is, at its core, an squad-command game, it is involving play with real history, real locations, and a compelling story. I love this game, and it is one of the reasons I still have my original Xbox. Road to Hill 30 was followed by Earned in Blood, which equally good, and you can use an STG44! However, the Xbox 360 Hell's Highway is merely okay, and is not anywhere as good as the original two. Pity. Today, Brothers in Arms is a shadow of it's former self. This game is today often overshadowed by the World War II COD and MOH games, but Brothers in Arms is superior.

16 August 2015

FWS Forgotten Classics: RAINBOW SIX (1998)

The genre of military shooter video games is one of the most popular and most profitable in the realm of modern video games, both on the home console and the computer. With titles like HALO, Battlefield, and of course, Call of Duty, we often forget the founding fathers of these oversexed titles today. While Wolfenstein and DOOM started the nosebleed high popularity of first-person-shooters, it was games like Medal of Honor (1999), SEAL Team (1993) and this title from 1998 that added the military/tactical element. Today on Forgotten Classics, we will remembering one of the founding fathers of modern military shooters: 1998's RAINBOW SIX. At the time the game was released, Red Storm set the game slightly ahead of the 1998 release date, making this game, at one time, 20 minutes in the future.

The Tactical Shooter Video Games
The genre that this 1998 game occupies is called the "tactical shooter", and while it is similar to an first-person shooter, there are important differences. Tactical shooters are often FPS POV games, but combat is not determined by massive grenade tossing, big fucking guns, hundreds of rounds fired, and regenerating health, like the COD and DOOM games. Instead, the tactical shooter is low and slow, where planning is more important than gunfire, and team work is critical. Often more realism in terms of bullet damage, weapon selection, and mission; the tactical shooter is the more mature brother to the COD games of the world. These games often verge on tactical simulations, and are not limited to Special Operations, but also include in SWAT and HRT units. The first "real" tactical shooter in video games is debated, however, it could be 1993 EA SEAL Team. The genre of tactical shooters also includes military sci-fi, like Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri. However, 1998's RAINBOW SIX was the most successful tactical shooter at that time, and laid down some of the foundations of the genre.

Why is FWS Talking about R6...It is Even Military Sci-Fi?
RAINBOW SIX was designed to take place in the very near future, like a few years ahead of us, and the situations, weaponry, and geopolitics are all projections of possible scenarios.  This places RAINBOW SIX into a unique sub-genre of military science fiction: "20 minutes into the future", and this more difficult than setting your fictional world in the deep future. Very near future tales have to live and breath in the world as we know it, but altered along realistic pathways. One of the reasons that FWS is even  talking about 1998's RAINBOW SIX is to highlight this unique tactical video game that changed some of our thinking about how military games should be designed. Plus, giving the deteriorating state of modern military shooters, like COD and Battlefield, I wanted to talk about a unique game within the genre that was an early pioneer.

What is RAINBOW SIX and Why the Hell is an CT Unit called Rainbow?!
RAINBOW is the name of a fictional international counter-terrorism team pulled from elite operators all around NATO and other friendly nations. Tom Clancy's novel of the same name and the video game were both developed around the same time, and it is rumored to have been based on a real counter-terrorism black unit that operated within NATO in the pre-9/11 days. While the RAINBOW CT unit was featured only in one novel, it did have some of Tom Clancy's iconic characters being involved with the unit, and there were a number of games developed around the concept. This fictionalized CT unit was constructed around 1990's understanding of terrorism, the tactics and weapons of the time, and 1990's threats. These ideas and concepts filtered through to the game. RAINBOW SIX the video game was developed by Tom Clancy's gaming company, Red Storm (named after one of his 1980's books). Originally, Red Storm was developing an SOF game that involved black operations or even FBI HRT, but when they learned of Clancy's in-development novel, they decided to parallel their game and the novel. While both the book and the game were successful, Tom Clancy would never return to the world of RAINBOW in any novel, while the video game series would live onto today with the upcoming release of RAINBOW 6: Siege. I actually met Tom Clancy when he came to Fort Worth in 2005 on a book tour and discussion. While he was willing to discuss the book, he shit all over the games, and told us assembled that: "I just collect the checks". Nice. When one fan asked about why there are no more follow-up books in the RAINBOW SIX concept, he told us that "liberal environmental tree-hugging virgin scarifying pagans" were unhappy about his book's ecoterrorism angle, and the backlash from these groups prevented his publisher from allowing Clancy to write more. Needless to say, I was unimpressed by the man in person, but I still love the games and some of his early books, especially Without Remorse.

Background on the Game

Most believe that RAINBOW SIX the game and the novel were developed under a conscious cohesive strategy by Red Storm Entertainment and Tom Clancy. However, that is not so, making it just that more amazing. In 1996, Red Storm Entertainment and the game that would be RAINBOW SIX both came about into existence. Centered around the real-world FBI's enigmatic Hostage Rescue Team. It was always envisioned has a realistic shooter with an environment modeled after real-world hostage rescue missions and units. The setting moved around from Cold War to modern day, to near future, and was original going to be called "Black Ops". Tom Clancy was involved in the early meetings about this new game, and he endorsed the concept. At this time in 1996, Clancy was not looking at his own HRT based book. That would change in April of 1997. The book and game were oddly similar, and it was decided to marry the book and game under the RAINBOW SIX banner. The original team devoted to one of the first major releases for Red Storm was Brian Upton, one other programmer with founders Tom Clancy and Doug Littlejohns. During the summer of 1997, the bulk of the groundwork was done along with advisers and consultants being brought in from Tom Clancy's contacts. Even firearms manufacturer Heckler &Koch were involved. Issues came when the game development team attempted to aline the game's mission and environments with Clancy's novel. With the failing deadlines and a project too massive for the small team, Red Storm hired more staff, and pushed to get the game out. Reception at E3 was very positive, and after 21 months of development, RAINBOW SIX was released in August of 1998, at around the same time as the novel. It would be considered one of the best games of 1998.

The Historical Context of RAINBOW SIX
The 1990's were a great time to be gaming, and it would see the rise of the Playstation and the fall of ATARI. During this time, the first-person-shooter arrived on the scene like a juggernaut, and quickly a number of games followed in the footsteps of DOOM and Quake. 1998 would see the emergence of Starcraft, Half-Life, and Metal Gear Solid. All of these games would have military and tactical elements, but none attempted to replicate a more realistic digital battlefield without health-packs, big-fucking-guns, or frequent ammo drops. This was also a time before Americans as a whole really paid attention to international terrorism or even the military, unlike today.
While there were events happening here and overseas, like the 1993 bombing of the Twin Towers, the specter of Al-Qaeda and UBL were simply not on the radar of mass media or most American's minds. Unlike the rise of Modern Warfare and Medal of Honor, 1998's RAINBOW SIX lacked any foundation in the real-world, save for the Waco Siege and SWAT operations. There were other pioneers in the realm of realistic "shooter" games that predeceased RAINBOW SIX, namely the Police Quest: SWAT games from the mid-1990's, EA's SEAL Team from 1993, and Police Quest: SWAT 2 also came out in 1998, and was also a realistic "tactical simulator" game instead of a DOOM style "kill'em and let god sort them out" shooters. Speaking of historical context, this was a game developed around the Counter-Terrorism tactics and weapons of time, which may look dated and hated today, but back in 1998, it was correct. Black ninja kit with urban camo, big goggles, Adidas combat boots, and a H&K MP5 SMG in your hand was all hallmarks of 1980's/1990's CT units and iconic operations like the SAS assault on the Iranian Embassy in April of 1980. This was the heyday of the iconic and legendary German MP5 submachine gun, and that the time of the game's release, 10mm and .40 chambering versions were being issued to various CT units. The 10mm variant, the MP5/10 was featured in Clancy's book, and was the primary weapon-of-choice for RAINBOW.    

The Many Faces of RAINBOW SIX (1998): Port-to-Port

Sony Playstation
In December of 1999, the port of the R6 PC game would arrive on the very popular Playstation system with the port being developed by Rebellion. This is the only version I've played until recently, and while it was different than the original PC release, it does feature one important difference: the guns. In the game, you can actually see your gun, instead of a red cross-hairs, like in RAINBOW SIX: Rouge Spear or the original PC release. I always amazed that none of the other ports of this game had the guns featured. What is the fun in just having an floating cross-hairs? Of course, much of the tactical pre-mission planning was completely neutered, and a majority of the game was "dumbed down" for the home console. It suffered from uglier graphics, glitches, and bad AI. Most reviewers called this the worst of the R6 ports Oddly, I read that this version of R6 is 2nd most played due to it being on the Playstation. This can still be downloaded from the Playstation store today, and it is still ugly.

While Apple computers were making a come back in the late 1990's, they were often delayed in getting ports of PC game. In very late 1999, the original PC game was ported by MacSoft to the Apple, and it was shipped with the Eagle Watch expansion pack as well, making this game a great deal when compared to the original PC release. This game was well received back in 2000 by Mac press reviews, and proved to be popular on the Macs.

The Nintendo N64
Nintendo normally avoids hard-edged military/shooter games, however, in November of 1999, RAINBOW SIX was ported to the powerhouse N64 system by Saffire Games. This port is considered by the N64 reviewers as one of the best games on the system and scored 10 out of 10. Most of the PC game is here in the N64 port, and it was a rare shooter. One of the criticisms was the planning phase was too complex for the N64 controller, and you had to use a number of buttons and awkward position to achieve the planning phase.

Saga Dreamcast
Some have called the Saga Dreamcast port the best PC-to-Console version of the game. All of it was there including the full planning phase, and it made the most of the powerful system. Sadly, while this version was the most accurate of the ports of the original PC game, it was on a failed home video game console system. The Dreamcast would be Sega's last gasp on the home console market. Much like the Macintosh release, the Dreamcast port included the Eagle Watch expansion missions. This port was developed by Majesco Games and was released in May of 2000

Gameboy Color
The single strangest ports of the RAINBOW SIX game was to the Gameboy Color. The entire format of the game, including perspective was altered to a top-down tactical shooter with 14 missions.This port was developed by Crawfish Interactive and released in April of 2000. The reviews were very "meh", often placing 5/10, and it was considered tough by some gaming magazines and players. This seemed an odd choice for a port and it was unloved and quickly disappeared. 

The RAINBOW SIX: Eagle Watch Expansion Pack
In late 1999, Red Storm would release an expansion to the original game called Eagle Watch. Five more missions were included with three new weapons (H&K G36K, Desert Eagle .50 AE, and the H&K G3KA4), and several new characters; all set in real-world locations. This includes an mission to liberate the Russian Space Shuttle launching facility from terrorists. Yes, the Russian Space Shuttle. More multiplayer options, and improvement to the overall R6 game. Eagle Watch was ported to several home consoles, but did not get the "Playstation treatment" as the original did. This expansion pace was well received and was faithful to the original game.

Why is RAINBOW SIX Important?
Prior to the release of RAINBOW SIX, there had never been a game quite like it, especially in the shooter market. This 1998 video game was designed around anti-terrorism and hostage rescue scenarios with accurate weapons used by real-world CT units for the time, and since realism was the goal, players could design the operation from enter-to-exit, allowing them more control and mission planning than any military shooter for the time. Considerations had to be made about strength of the enemy, what kind of weapons, equipment, camo, operator's skills and abilities. Planning, at first, could take longer than the gameplay. Also, unlike DOOM or Quake, RAINBOW SIX was not purely a shooter with a heavy metal soundtrack, instead, it was marketed in the same manner as the SWAT video games, a "tactical simulator".

What Happened to RAINBOW SIX?
Upon its release, the 1998 game was praised and sold over half a million copies, warranting the PC game to be ported to the home console market. It was followed up by an expansion pack and online play. After 1998, the core concept of the R6 games would continue all the way up to games like RAINBOW SIX 3 Raven Shield. However, slowly over the evolution of the R6 games, the more hard-edged tactical simulation angle was lessened in favor of a more military shooter angle, as the marketplace dictating. By the time of the release of R6: Vegas on every home console and computer, the intense hard-core realistic military tactical-simulator angle of the 1998 original RAINBOW SIX was completely abandoned.
While some of the original games were closer in spirit to the 1998 game, today's R6 games are more of a hybrid between the modern military shooter and the core concept of RAINBOW SIX that separate it from other shooter games, such as "you can really die fucking quick" and "you are not a big-dick pipe-layer tactical bearded operator". The last big release was RAINBOW SIX: Vega series of games (which 2 was better than 1) in 2006 and 2007. The next release for RAINBOW SIX was to be Patriots,but it was canceled, and Siege was developed instead. Siege is laser-focus on teamplay and realism, where one group fortifies a structure and the other team, the assaulters, attempts to clear the structure of hostiles. Some mission types require the rescue of hostages. It is scheduled for release in October 2015 and could be quite good if the gameplay trailers are accurate, giving us a quality CQC force-on-force game.

1998's RAINBOW SIX Today
It seems that the nostalgia applies to some games and some era of gaming, because for some reason, the original RAINBOW SIX is not endured in the same manner as even older games. While RAINBOW SIX was popular game back when it was released over 15 years ago, it has been largely forgotten by most current military shooter players. Older gamers, like myself, that were fans of the game around the time of its release, still recall the uniqueness of the game, and use it as a frame-of-reference for their own creations. The sad thing is that even UBISOFT has forgotten the R6 franchise original roots, and keeps turning COD knockoffs. That could be changing with the release of R6: Siege and the focus back on more realistic situations and damage. While the original 1998 game and its 1999 expansion pack are still available for download, there has been no real attempts at an remastered game or reissue. In 2006, UBISOFT would release R6: Critical Hour only on the original Xbox. This game was a sample of fan favorite maps from the original RAINBOW SIX maps and missions, but used the R6: Lockdown engine. It is believed that this game was an response to disappointment of R6: Lockdown, which was deeply flawed. While better than R6: Lockdown, R6: Critical Hour was still a disappointment, leading to aborted ports to the Playstation 2 and the European gaming market.This was the last gasp for the original games. While the original game has been largely forgotten, there are still videos made on the 1998 classic and some of the ports, various internet articles (like this one) that still celebrate the uniqueness of this founder of the tactical shooter genre.

The Other RAINBOW SIX Game: The Sum of All Fears
During the research phase of this blogpost, I learned that there was another Tom Clancy game developed around the tactical shooter CT scenario. This was the video game to the 2002 military thriller Sum of All Fears, and is often regarded as game similar in spirit and setting to the original RAINBOW SIX games. While it was more simplified than the RAINBOW SIX games of the time, it did feature primitive voice commands (like SOCOM).  Some have compared this to the Playstation R6 port, being that it was less complex, more devoted to shooting and CQC. This was released on PC. Gameboy Advanced, and the Gamecube in the US market, and the PS2 in Europe. The studio that did the port of R6 to the Gameboy Color, Crawfish Interactive, also did this port to the Nintendo systems. The game only scored average to poor with critics. The game is largely forgotten today.

Who is that Masked Man in the Cover-Art?
One of the most arresting images used for the game was the cover-art of an SWAT/Special Operator with a large pistol drawn, fully kitted out in ninja gear and face obscured by those goggles. So, what is the story behind the image? It turns out more than you might think. When I bought the Playstation game back in 2002 for my PS2 ( I was a little late to the R6 party), I searched for the origin of the photo and came across a story on www.hkpro.com on the true being the goggles. The man behind the goggles was John T. Meyer, the former VP of Sales and Training fro H&K USA, and the photo was taken in 1992, as the new USP pistol was being rolled out for the American market. The image was part of the overall H&K ITD "SWAT Team", that was part of the German companies overall marketing strategy. Employees of H&K, whom most were military vets, donned the latest in tactical fashion and weaponry, and placed into scenarios. Photos and art were based on the photoshoots that advised H&K products to all manner of companies and business. These were a fixture in gun stores during the 1990's, and these helped establish the connect between special units and H&K. Red Storm was given permission to use the image by H&K, given the working relationship between the two companies. By the way, the pistol in his hand is the USP .40.

Next Time on FWS...
Chow time in the military is one of the most important moments of a soldier's life. It is the time when they can take a moment to refuel and recollect. Sometimes, that chow can come in a dining hall behind the wire, and other times, they have to eat in the field with field rations. The types of rations available to troops are very different that what my grandfather ate in World War II and Korea. Along with the discussion of field rations, we will be discussing space food as well.

08 August 2015

FWS Topics: The Tactics and Maneuvering of Space Combat

Since the first recorded naval battle in 1210 BCE between the Hittites and people from Cyprus, ship-to-ship engagements have been the feeding ground for tales of adventure and heroism. It is no different in the genre of science fiction, when the fighting ships of the high seas were replaced with starships trading beams of deadly light across the black void of space. Unlike naval combat, there have been no battles in space (unless UFO conspiracy stories are right), and space is not the ocean. But, at times, sci-fi creators get confused and ignore the realities of hard science space combat. In this much needed blogpost, guest contributor Moran will be exploring and explaining space combat.
Be sure to check out Moran's work on his site: SF Worldbuilding 

The Hand Can't Hit What the Eye Can't See
As both "Wash" Hoban form Firefly and our favorite Nerf-Herder Han Solo from Star Wars have demonstrated on numerous occasions, firepower is not the only asset that can win a fight. Quite often in sci-fi movie, the heroes of the story will be aboard a smaller spacecraft than their opponents, their only hope of survival lying in their superior abilities. While this is largely due to dramatic reasons, it does draw attention to the importance of maneuverability in space combat. 
When dealing with scientifically hard fiction - no handwavium force-fields or technobabble energy shielding - one shot kills are very probable: nukes, mass drivers, particle beams, lasers, all posses more than enough potential to negate any form of armour we know about today. And while no real spaceship will ever fly with the grace of a X-Wing starfighter this does mean that the ability to avoid hits may be more important than surviving them(structurally, the crew is still a concern), much like the situation in aerial combat today. For science fiction writers this is a boon. A battle that requires maneuvers is intrinsically better suited to one in which humans might play a role. Randomness and intuition could be vital, and so far computers don't offer that. Even if the ship can fly and fight itself this leaves room for a human tactician, negating Burnside's Zeroth Law of Space Combat - SF fans relate more to humans than they do to silicon chips. However, it can also pose difficulties. 
Space is not a familiar environment, and movement in it is counter-intuitive at best. It is also radically different for a spacecraft in orbit around a single planet, in a planetary system, or in deep space. And for those of us who try to avoid the dreaded Space is a Ocean trope this can be very...frustrating. So, I'll look at four basic situations; deep space with low relative velocity, deep space with high relative velocity, single planet, and planetary system. For each I'll also take a look at the changes in the situation that different tech will have. This post is not so much about maneuvering itself, but about how different situations shape it. An in depth discussion of tactical maneuvering down to the level of orbital physics or specific technologies would make the article far to long. In the future I'll attempt to do follow up articles that look at maneuvering in the context of a specific spacecraft, but for now this should provide an indication of what a spaceship would be doing. For simplicity's sake I'm only going to consider one-on-one battles in detail, not constellation engagements. Fleet actions are a whole separate ball game, a will warrant a separate post.

Deep Space - Low Relative Velocity
Just what is "deep space"? For the purposes of a story, it is that area of space which only the bigger spacecraft can reach, so interplanetary or interstellar, depending on tech levels. From a navigational perspective it could be defined as 'flat' space. That is, space in which the gravitational acceleration is insignificant. Insignificant is defined by the power of the drives your spacecraft is using, so this adjusts itself to match the setting. Maneuvering here are closest they will get to those found in Space Opera. The lack of a gravitational source means that movement in any direction is equally easy, and the fight becomes truly three dimensional.

For High-Tech
Multi-gee acceleration and big delta-V - the fights will be "dogfights" to some degree. This will be more marked if the craft use spinal mounted weapons, or if they have large blind spots in offensive or defensive weaponry. If kinetics are the main weapon then the fight could become quite interesting, with KE rounds restricting the possible choices for maneuvering, a possible tactic for the adept captain to employ. Missiles will be very effective, with s straight line of flight to the target, as will beam weapons. Particle beams will benefit, as they are degraded in accuracy and range in the presence of a planet's gravity or magnetic field. If lasers are the primary weapon then the fight will be less of a dogfight, and more of random 'drunk-walking' to throw off targeting and decreasing the beam's dwelling time, spreading the energy across the hull.

For Low-Tech 
Milli-Gee acceleration and limited delta-V - visually this would be quite boring. The ships cannot perform elaborate maneuvers to get in each other's blind spots, nor can they expect to dodge beams and kinetic weapons at short ranges(ranges dependent on velocity of the weapon). Instead orientation and sensor data is the most vital. The spaceship must bring the most weapons to bear, while at the same time keeping a small target profile, and reducing signals that might give its opponent an effective targeting solution.
 The ships orient themselves, enter weapons range, fire a few salvos, and the battle is decided, like Old West Gunfighters. In this case missiles are very effective, as they can come in at an angle to the primary attack vector, distracting sensors and avoiding point-defense capabilities. Kinetic rounds are also more effective, and could be able to dish out massive structure damage to an hostile warship with just a single hit.  KEW systems also do not require dwelling time and generate less heat than directed energy weapons. Kinetic weaponry could scoring a hit from longer range, but they can be more easily used to "box in" an opponent than if accelerations were high. As before, "drunk-walk" will be used to throw off targeting.

Deep Space - High Relative Velocity
The chances are that spaceships will rarely intercept each other in deep space. It is simply too large, and too easy to see someone coming in the black. When they do, it is likely to be a head-on pass at high relative velocity for two spacecraft following the same or similar orbit in opposite directions. Note that once unrealistically powerful torch-drives become common, interception is possible, if still unlikely unless both parties wish it, or one slips up. It turns out that for both high and low tech the maneuvers are much the same in this situation. Any reasonably fast orbit will result in the two ships passing with Rv of tens if not hundreds of km/s. At this speed there is not time to dogfight. Even a torch ship, which will have a much higher intercept velocity, will take so long to cancel its Rv and return to the battle it would be considered as a separate engagement, rather than a second pass. For a ship with foreseeable tech it would be nearly impossible. If anything it will resemble a joust between two medieval knights on horseback. Unlike a joust, however, they might not be a winner.
The longest commonly accepted range for a laser weapon to target effectively is about one light second, or 3*10^8 meters. At a very low end relative velocity - I randomly chose 40 km/s, which means that each ship has ~half solar escape velocity, which is not unrealistic, nor is it that high for a advanced ship. At this range and closing speed the time for targeting the incoming ships and its projectiles is ~2 hours. Plenty of time to shoot down incoming projectiles, you say. But at this speed one kilogram of inert matter has an energy of 8*10^8 J. And how many of those is the opposing ship going to throw out in your path?You can make considerable sideways movement relative to direction of travel in an effort to avoid the projectiles, but the opposing ship can easily see any move you make, and at charter ranges dodging will become impossible. 
Pretty much any kinetic hit at this speed will be fatal, so it will be the ship with the best point defense, sensors, and emergency maneuvering that will survive. During the approach both ships fill space with inert projectiles, possible with last ditch terminal guidance. They will be hard to spot at long range, tiny, inert, and possibly cooled down so that they have no discernible thermal signature. So, it will be only in the last stage of the pass that the combatants can begin to dodge the projectiles. High lateral acceleration and powerful attitude control will help to weave through the incoming fire like a skier on a slalom course. Good sensors will be needed to sport the incoming, and good point-defense to shoot those that can't be avoided. However, it is my personal opinion that this sort of situation would be "two men go in, half a man comes out". If energy wagons are primarily used, them this is even more so the case, as dodging becomes effectively impossible.

Orbital Space - Single Planet
Most space battles in SF take place in orbit around a planet. This makes sense in both hard and soft SF 'Verse's for several reasons. Primarily it is the place where hostile spacecraft are most likely to meet. It also adds a new layer of complexity to the fight, introducing 'terrain' to the tactical considerations. The planet can hide opponents, restricts maneuvers, sucks up delta-V, and provides something to crash into.
Aside from hiding spacecraft who are on the other side a planet can provide some cover for combatants.
Picking up a spacecraft against the disk of a planet is significantly harder than spotting one against the backdrop of space after all. A low orbit that brushed the atmosphere prevents opponents from attacking from most of one hemisphere, a great advantage. For a craft equipped to reenter the atmosphere it also offers the possibility of maneuvers not possible with the amount of delta-V they posses. From reading Atomic Rockets kinetic weapons seem to hold the advantage shooting from a higher orbit at a lower. An DEW is not effected so much, and so the orbit used is less of an advantage or disadvantage aside from the detection aspects. Lasers also posses the potential to be "bounced" around the horizon by remote drones, meaning that the attacker can shoot without exposing themselves.
So the aim of any maneuver is pretty simple. Orientation to bring weapons to bear, and the standard "drunk-walk" are a given. The opposing captains will try to gain the better position in an orbit underneath the enemy ship, or perhaps between the enemy ship and the sun, which might help to blind sensors. This will be complicated by the fact that change orbital inclination is very hard compared to other maneuver restricting the spacecraft to a 3D layer of space, although not 2D plane shown in so many soft SF works. Forcing the ship into a lower orbit will decrease its orbital period, and vice versa. Combined with changing the orbit from circular to the elliptic and back this gives spacecraft commanders the ability to surprise their opponents by appearing around the planet at a different place or time than expected. There will also be a large amount of 'mine-laying' of a kind, seeding or its will kinetic projectiles in order to herd the enemy into a bad position. But while the aim of the maneuvering is simple, execution is not. Trying to explain it is beyond me, so I suggest that anyone serious about grasping orbital mechanics begins by playing the Kerbal Space Program game, or browsing YouTube for anything helpful. It makes a lot more sense visually than it ever will in writing.

For advanced ships a planet is a much smaller piece of terrain, a hill rather than a mountain. They can more easily afford to change orbits, to drop below minimum orbital velocity or go over the maximum, and can perform delta-V heavy maneuvers such as change the orbital inclination. The ultimate of course is a ship that has drives powerful enough to reverse its orbit completely, surprising its opponent when it emerges around the opposite side of the planet to what was expected. With higher acceleration and delta-V the seeding of orbits becomes less effective, much easier to dodge than with a low powered spacecraft.

With low levels of acceleration, even if the spacecraft has a high delta-V, changing orbits can take days if not weeks. The position of the enemy will be highly predictable, and so kinetic weapons become very important. The advantage converted by different orbits will be much more apparent, as it is harder for anyone to turn the tables on their opponent. Most tactics would be a combination of maneuvering into a good position, and using kinetics to force the enemy into a bad one. Low tech ships would also gain a large advantage by being able to dip into the atmosphere, as this provides essentially free deceleration, saving reaction mass.

Planetary Systems
Orbital spaghetti
Adding more heavenly bodies to the mix vastly increases the tactical possibilities. While 'planets' per se do not do much, moons do. A gas giant with seven or eight moons is a extremely complicated system, and has travel times of only hours or days as opposed to years between planets, and that is with Hohmann orbits. High acceleration, low delta-V spacecraft could follow complicated routes, sling-shot themselves around the moons to gain an unexpected position. For much of the time they could be out of sight of the enemy, making it a scenario reminiscent of The Hunt for Red October.
The fact that moons often have lower gravity than planets also means that the maneuver in proximity to them can be more extreme given the same tech level. It even brings up the possibility of landing on a moon, camouflaging the spacecraft, waiting for the enemy to pass by, and then launching and taking them by surprise. The changes imposed by tech levels are the same as those for a single planet, so I won't both to go into detail. This kind of setting will be the most complicated for a SF aficionado to get right, and I would suggest finding a solar system simulator to model the setting before attempting to figure out a complicated battle. It does lend itself to far more interesting scenarios, however, and will be far more rewarding. 

Note from Author William Moran
This is far from a complete discussion of the topic. I hope to write more on the subject, and I might even do a short story describing a battle, and then write a post describing the tactics used by the combatants. Anyway, keep your eyes peeled.

Science Fiction and the Tactics and Maneuvering of Space Combat
Somehow, the creators of science fiction ship-to-ship combat confused or mixed traditional sail-era naval combat with their space battle scenes. Of course, one of the worse offenders is anime creators, namely Leiji Matsumoto. His Space Cruiser Yamato and Captain Harlock both liberally use the "boardside" to unleash all manner of sci-fi weaponry pornography on the enemy. And yes, it does look cool. but it is a lie I emailed the author and asked him about mass media and hard science space battles: "The 'Hornblower in Space' trope does seem to be prevalent, and although it has been done well, i.e. the Honor Harrington books, is always a bit of a letdown.  Seems to be most common in visual media, perhaps simply because it is the most dramatic of ways to depict a 'big gun' battle in a soft scifi 'Verse. As far as I know there are no real had scifi space combat scenes in any movie ever made, and only very few in written work, most of which tend to focus on that strategic rather than tactical aspects.  It is something that needs to be fixed, but Hollywood does not seem interested"

Next Time on FWS...
The world of tactical military shooter video games changed in 1998 with the release of the hard-edged shooter game: RAINBOW SIX. This game was one of the first major releases for Tom Clancy's Red Storm Entertainment, and it was unlike any game on the market, before or since. Join us next time, when FWS will be exploring and explaining the forgotten classic that is 1998's RAINBOW SIX