Jaybird has been talking about characterization lately, and game context influencing your characterization decisions.  As I mentioned in the comments:

You’re talking to a guy who built characters for his mayors in SimCity. The “Well, why *wouldn’t* I?” question never comes up.

There’s always a why. Sometimes the whys are pretty crazy.

I thought a non-RPG, non-character based game experience wherein character became part of the game anyway would be an interesting story to somewhat illustrate what I was talking about.

One of the games I used to play was called Iron Storm, for the Sega Saturn.  It was the first video game I poured lots of time into that had a hex map, among other notable features..  It’s a turn-based strategy game set in WWII, where you can play the United States, Germany, or Japan.  When you play in “Campaign” mode, you begin with a particular historical battle, and you can build only certain units that would have been available to you at that time.

When you finish the scenario, depending upon whether or not you won or lost (or won within a particular number of turns) you moved on down a battle scenario tree, progressing farther into the war.  As you moved along, new units became available to you.  For example, if you play the Germans, you start with the invasion of France and one BF-109 A, one ME-110 A, and one HE-111.  Later in the game, you can build later editions of those planes outright, or you can upgrade the ones you have, provided they have enough experience (each upgrade costs between 50 and 250 XP, with 250 XP being the cap on experience you can accumulate for any one unit).

Once you’ve played it through, you realize that in order to get the ME-262 you need to have fully-experienced BF-109-Fs at the battle of Ardennes to perform the upgrade.  If you don’t have any BF-109s, or if you have to build them at that point, it’s really difficult to get them all experienced up so that you can upgrade them before the game ends (after Ardennes, you have the defense of Berlin and then the game is over). Plus, the Americans have the P-51s and the P-59s at Ardennes (contra actual history) so having your fighter aircraft survive the duration of the battle is hard unless you already have the 262s.

Also, you have to fail to beat the Battle of Britain to even get to Ardennes: if you beat the English soundly enough at the Battle of Britain, instead of playing out the war that was, you move into alternate history land and wind up invading the U.S…. but the game is a lot shorter and less interesting.

I and some of my old college roommates loved Iron Storm.  We used to play multiple campaigns at once, trying to suss out all the possible battle tree scenarios… if you won this battle as a Complete Victory, but only won this next one as a Victory or lost it… what happened next?  Did you unlock any new branches on the decision tree?  And so on.  Simultaneously, trying to possess every possible unit in the game became an obsession: if you want a Mobile Flak 88, you need a number of Flak 36s that you build early, so that some survive to be upgraded to Flak 41s, which in turn get upgraded to the Mobiles (also at Ardennes… in fact, lots of cool upgrades come at Ardennes).  There are relatively inconsequential units that are nearly impossible to crack the full upgrade tree (the scout cars die at the drop of a hat, so keeping one alive until the end is actually really hard).  And there was apparently one bug, because we never figured out how to build the Wrbl Wnd (Wirbelwind) or the Ost Wnd (Ostwind), which were supposedly upgrades to the Mobl Wgn (Möbelwagen), but we never managed to have a Mobl Wgn ever able to upgrade to the damn things.

This led at least myself and one other borderline OCD player (referred to hereafter on the blog as Eggman) to go all the way to the end of the earth with it: we tried to play where you never lost a unit, ever.  The “We Never Leave A Man Behind” campaign.  The “Ultimate Awesome General” campaign.  Units could be damaged, but if they ever disappeared from the board you had to re-load the battle you were on from the beginning, and the other guy would make fun of you.  Finally, it regressed all the way to the root: you had to keep all your units alive or you had to start the entire campaign over, from scratch, from battle number one.

This is almost impossible, as there are several German vs. Russian battles where you begin with all your units in range of Russian artillery.  It’s very difficult with the Americans as they start technologically inferior to their opponents.  It’s very hard as the Japanese because your tanks suck beyond all description.  I’ve done it with the Germans and the Americans, he did it with both as well, if I recall correctly.  I’m not sure if either of us ever won through with the Japanese, I’ll have to ask him if he remembers.

This is something that, now, I pull out of my hat and try on very early on when playing any game with units, especially if they have upgrades.  Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun?  Yeah, tried that (it’s a total bitch, you can’t ever build infantry as they just die too easily).  Civilization III: Conquests?  Yes, I’ve tried to keep all of my units alive for the entire length of the game (also hard with units that don’t upgrade).  I’ve also done the opposite: play as the truly mad evil overlord.  You must attack, always, to the death, with all units.  You can never heal anything, nor can you retreat.  That second one is sort of fun, but it usually doesn’t last long.  If you look hard enough, and play long enough, and exhaust all the content and decision trees and possible permutations, you can find inspiration for odd character decisions in any game, really.

After all, there’s always you, the player playing the game, and you can decide to play in an altered character yourself, just for laughs.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. “I’ve done it with the Germans and the Americans, he did it with both as well, if I recall correctly.”

    Holy cow.

      • Jesus man – how many levels were then in the end? I always assumed it just started randomly generating them after a while.

        • It advertised 500, but it made it up somewhere around 520. We didn’t play all of them, though; when you won, you jumped ahead between 2 and 6 worlds, depending upon how well you beat the previous one.

          It actually followed a pattern. Somewhere in the world is a yellow legal pad where Eggman worked out the pattern and filled most of it in.

          EOAQEED, if I’m spelling it and remembering it correctly, was the only world that stymied us. We had to back up to the previous world and beat it less severely to get around it. I think we tried it about 30 times.

          Every single time we got to the second city, double volcano followed by two knights. You could only raise land, not lower it, so you could never get rid of the volcano debris. It was brutal.

          As I recall, it was only like world 140 or something. Lots of the ones after it were supposed to be a lot harder.

          It was probably something stupid simple that enabled you to beat it, but we were probably too drunk and ornery to step back and figure it out.

  2. I liked how GalCiv did the moral compass. Random events would happen to your worlds and you had to decide how you would handle it. There was a good guy, bad guy, and netrual response and these decisions shaded your empire and caused other empires to like/dislike you. If you became god/bad enough, your HUD changed all its icons to fit. I remember the evil icons reminded me of Klingon stuff from Star Trek and I thought, “Gee, that is kinda mean to the Klingons….”

  3. Tried it in Close Combat 2.0: A Bridge Too Far, without getting a single man killed. Virtually impossible, I think – MG-42s are just hellish.

    Panzer General was a good game, not unlike Iron Storm as well. Stukas and Artillery. What it’s all about.

  4. I’ve been playing Plants vs. Zombies lately and giving myself odd challenges as it’s gotten pretty easy now – usually either to accumulate as much sun as possible or only use odd plants that aren’t right for the level.

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