The Gaming Inquisitor: Extremism in Defense of Game Style

For some reason, I have never liked ferns. My grandmother had them all over her house and they seemed to add to the musty, faux Victorian feel of the place. Therefore, when I went into a Hawaiian rain forest, the abundance of giant ferns should have sent me back to the tour bus in a rage. Naturally, I did not go back to the bus. The ferns were beautiful in the surroundings they helped create. I had a feeling for the beauty of the whole and enjoy memories of it to this day. In fact, I can now tolerate indoor ferns! I would be an idiot to cut off appreciation of a collection of things just because I developed a dislike of one isolated feature.

Yet, I quite often see this narrow-mindedness in forums from posters who should know better. “I’ll never buy a turn-based game.” “RTS games are for adolescents.” “History games are a bore.” “Fantasy games are ruining the hobby.” “Games with no animation stink.” “3D graphics are useless.” Such declarations not only limit the individual’s horizons, but might also be bruising the hobby by creating ill feelings within the community, misleading developers and discouraging newcomers with their vehemence. These “gaming inquisitors” should step back and think a little before posting their rants. In any case, I will offer a guide to what is wrong-headed about the most common negative statements about specific game genres.

Turn-Based vs. Real-Time (RTS)

Furious discussion on this dichotomy continues after almost twenty years. Instead of praising either genre, I will point out what players will miss if they shut either out.

By shunning turn-based-games, players will lose scope and control. Topics concerning entire wars or eras can be done in real-time (Paradox games are good examples of this scale) but only through the abstraction of many elements. Games such as Birth of America and War in the Pacific are hard to imagine in real-time and no tactical level RTS game has met the level of detail as found in the turn-based Steel Panthers. Furthermore, turn-based games allow larger events to be broken down into their component parts. For example, one would not want to re-fight the entire American Revolution just to get to look at Yorktown!

Another idea to consider is that all games are truly simulations in the originally broad sense of the word. We want to see the effects of different actions on specific elements under certain parameters. In order to simulate things, we need control and time to respond to unexpected results. Turn-based games provide the necessary features and time to cogitate upon specific situations. While it is true that RTS games can be paused, turn-based games focus the totality of their existence to giving players the ability to think and respond, allowing “combat accountants” the necessary time to calculate all possible ramifications of a move.

However, if a gamer will not play RTS games, he will lose a sense of immediacy, spontaneity and some psychological aspects turn-based games simply cannot provide. Real world battles do not reflect the complete control that turn-based games provide to armchair generals. Likewise, the unexpected events of actual combat can often require a fast response while under tremendous decision-making pressure, something a good RTS game can mimic quite realistically (albeit, features such as the ability to give commands while paused help to alleviate any reflex problems while still providing a feeling of immediacy to the action). In sort, these games portray the “no plan survives first contact” phenomenon in a fashion that turn-based games cannot.

Finally, certain esoteric concepts are better portrayed in RTS games. Virtually all wargames factor in morale, experience and shock, but the effects of these are usually seen at the end of a turn or a phase; with RTS titles, the effects are instantaneous. Seeing units rout now is different from knowing they will turn and run in the subsequent turn. Close Combat is a perfect example of this immediacy of psychological effects.

Graphical Illusions

The debate over the role of graphics in games has also been going on for decades and remains hot to this day. Some gamers, many of them of the older sort, feel that 3D graphics and animation take programming time and space away from gameplay while upping system requirements. Proponents of fancy graphics feel that they add immersion to games and are a necessary component of any good game. Clearly, neither side has a monopoly on common sense.

Players who pooh-pooh graphically demanding games miss how some graphics facilitate gameplay. Line of sight is easier to judge when blocking terrain clearly stands out in 3D-esque glory. Similarly, changing colors and icons is an efficient method to show unit status. In tactical games, detailed close-up views facilitate targeting decisions while explosions show effectiveness of fire. Graphics code need not take away from good gameplay coding (however, experience has taught that a game sold strictly upon the merits of its graphics usually is not worth buying). In as far as hardware goes, I run such graphically-intense games as Il2-Sturmovik and Rise of Legends on a AMD 2.1 GHz motherboard with a 128 MB nVidia card and a Gig of RAM—something I believe demonstrates that graphics-heavy games are not necessarily forcing people to the “bleeding edge.”

Conversely, gamers who demand tons of “eye-candy” before they will play a game often are missing some fine gaming experiences. For many games, a 2D board-style counter, such as Russo-German War or The Operational Art of War, deliver all the necessary information with the requisite game action biofeedback accomplished through sound effects. Many games simply do not need to provide heavy graphical immersion, but rather just the sublime pleasure that comes with the cool and distant consideration of combat factors. Likewise, some games don’t warrant whiz-bang graphics and should be enjoyed for what they are. Simply, gaming wisdom comes with the realization that graphics alone should not be the alpha and omega for judging the quality of a game.