Best of 2015: St. Jude’s Management Club

First Published: May 13, 2015
Voted For By: Chris
Reason(s) For Vote:
“This one is pretty much me through and through. Scrambling around for time to dedicate to some 100+ hour real time strategy, grabbing little goes here and there, only to find that you’re ultimately worse than shit because you couldn’t dedicate the time to it. Then you blame the game for being the problem, when in truth, it’s all down to you. Add onto that the fact that the time ‘wasted’ has seen five more games added to your Pile of Shame and ones gaming shortcomings (especially as we grow older and busier) as Lorna points out is just another problem for the modern gamer. ” ~ Chris

It isn’t often that people will consider a genre that they are not especially good at ‘a favourite’ because repeated failure and fuck ups can lead to anger which, aside from being the path to the Dark Side, often ends in dismissal and a simmering, resentful loathing. However, I can say that I honestly enjoy management/strategy games. And although I would love to boast about my prowess (or at least mumble incoherently amid a cloud of self-deprecating jokes in a very British way), I’m not so sure that I can. I came to the conclusion some time ago, after raging at Pharaoh, and recalling various Patrician III, Sims, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and C&C ‘issues’ that I am pretty sucky at them. Or, if I am being kind to myself, not as good as I could be.

So why? Well, lack of practice is a big issue. I rarely get dedicated gaming time, at least not in vast chunks, and those are the only kind worth a damn when it comes to strat/man. (or whatever hybrid or variation/leaning) games. They require regular attendance, dedication, practice, and patience. Nuances of gameplay must be discovered and learned, tactics developed, discovered, or cribbed, and controls and shortcuts used enough to become second nature.

Instead I scrabble for what few fragments of time slip through the cracks between family, work, worry, exhaustion, and everything else. By the time Steam updates, the game updates (or I have hunted down an ancient, inexplicably missing CD-ROM) and I’ve replayed whatever tutorial there may be in order to refamiliarise myself with the controls, I’m usually too tired (or out of time) to continue. The alternative, in a time-bind, is to simply leap back in and pants the whole thing (by the seat thereof). Not ideal when Nod are vomiting forces at you faster than a vat of Buckfast from the maw of a Glasgow uni student, and you can’t remember critical controls, groupings, or where your damn engineer sloped off to (hint: he’s dead because you left him somewhere and he was picked off half an hour ago by the same forces now flamethrowing your Tiberium Harvester).

Patience, to me at least, is something that is usually only possessed by other people. Why wait until I have built up a significant force who can move tactically though a city, garrisoning as they go, when I can lose patience at the slow production of units and send a pifflingly small squad against a Nod base, only to see them obliterated. I mean, what did I expect to happen? That they’d storm the place like the fucking Expendables? In the event that I do win a rickety victory, by the time I have replaced my depleted troops the enemy have usually rebuilt. Bugger. And yet I always think “yeah, can’t hurt”. Well, after multiple replays of a level and several thrown mice/dented laptops later, it bloody well can.

Impatience can sometimes be a virtue, however. Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines is a great case in point. In Mission 4: Restore Pride, after being repeatedly frustrated at not being able to use the tank to take out a guard on the other side of the train bridge (despite the Prima guide assuring me otherwise), I lost my temper. I grenaded the train, bringing it screeching to a halt. I hadn’t expected that. Nor had the Germans. Amid a wailing alarm, the guards from the entire top half of the map, bar the HQ, ran to investigate. They conveniently filed one at a time around the cluster of trees sheltering my squad and into a hail of bullets. Score one for being an impatient bastard.

I think a big part of my problem, however, stems from a general slapdash approach, regardless of theme or specific genre. What does the Commando in C&C do again? Were Infantry or Grenadiers best against tanks? Can’t remember and can’t be bothered checking, so I’ll throw everything at them anyway… aaand now everyone’s dying. That’ll be a damn court-martial then. No one told me about tanks with fucking flamethrowers… or maybe they did and I was opening a KitKat at the time.

Pharaoh is much the same. Only once I throw down a ton of crappy housing and support structures, forever setting my city’s heart in place, do the whinging residents decide they require entertainment or, heaven forbid, healthcare. And there is no space. So unless I whack out the Pharonic bulldozer and clear some room, many homesteads won’t evolve and the always bastard-hard win conditions remain but a distant dream. Rollercoaster Tycoon should be easy enough, but no, especially since I tend to fling rides and scenery up, willy-nilly, and generally try to do too much at once. Nothing ever progresses fast enough, so I ramp up my loans to the max and throw up ludicrous rollercoasters, which are either terminally unrideable, or which run out of cash before completion and end up being left as sad, abandoned metal monsters in pathless corners of the park.

“Ah, that’ll be alright” seems to be my mantra. Stick that building there, make a few of these units, borrow this cash, yes, dig up those ancient burial grounds in case we find stacks of native gold, no, tell the Pharaoh to bugger off because I spent my last Debens on a three-day orgy in the name of Osiris. What’s a trade route, it sounds like a hassle? Can’t the computer auto-complete this annoying sea-battle? Slap that colony there, it’ll be fine… no don’t worry about those pissed-off natives, we never touched their burial grounds, tell them it was the French. What do you mean I lost the Tropican elections while I was busy taking artistic screenshots of water?

The one thing I was good at was Dungeon Keeper… mainly because I played it for bloody years. While I had a grudge against Dungeon Keeper 2 and the sins I believed it committed against my particular play-style, the original Dungeon Keeper was my go-to game for an age. I knew most of the levels well, and had my tactics down pat. I knew my creatures, my rooms and where to put them, and where the enemy would be likely to break through (or where best to engineer a breakthrough). Discoverables, pockets of friendlies, gem seams and the traps in their path, and well-hidden back ways into the enemy dungeon. I put in the time, invested a modicum of focus and discipline, and it paid off. I was good.

Of course… I was far younger, I had buckets of time and, while I was still stressed, it was a different kind of stress. I had energy and hours to expend, letting my hand go cold and numb and become welded to a mouse until stupid o’clock. It is different now, and perhaps that is why I haven’t really captured that level of depth and necessary dedication again with games these past few years, not like I used to have for UFO: Enemy Unknown, Colonization, Rollercoaster Tycoon, and Commandos to varying degrees (even though, as I mentioned, I could be incredibly slapdash in most of the aforementioned titles).

I think that, ultimately, when I roll it all into one, my play style mirrors my life. It could be said that we reveal ourselves in how we play, and that who we are in life can perhaps seep into games and how we tackle them. I try too many things at once, have too many ideas. My focus is spread so thin that you could push a ghost’s sigh through it. So I juggle… poorly, and end up running all over, winging things and getting more worked up, setting myself up to either fail or take an age to actually do very little. Self-doubt and second guessing are close companions. Because I am trying to do too much at once, rather than just finishing one thing at a time, my actions have less impact and everything takes longer. And so it is in games.

Of course I know that it is better to pick one or two things, in life as well as games, and do them well. Finish and move on rather than spread yourself thin and end up panicked, exhausted, second guessing, and stressing. But of all the seemingly simple things in life, focus, practice, patience, and study actually seem incredibly tough. Sometimes it is easier to just auto-complete, ransack a native burial ground for easy cash, or throw your miniature squad of St Jude’s chosen few at an enemy base to see what happens. And that’s fine. But you’ll know deep down you could have done better (and that you should have), and that that’s why you really suck.

Last five articles by Lorna


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