Sims Fortress 2: Total War

March 26, 2009 at 3:05 pm (Julia) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I was growing up, computer games weren’t allowed. My mother abhors anything she considers violent – quite famously, in the early years of her marriage to my father, she was shocked to discover he enjoyed watching The Bill, and felt that this meant he was a violent and angry man. I’m talking about 1984 The Bill, with Reg and Polly and “You’re nicked, my son!” “Fair cop, gov!” Not exactly Oz. But this hatred of violence (mostly because she can’t stand raised voices or conflict) meant that computer games didn’t happen for me.

Even as a teenager, when I had friends with consoles, I didn’t enjoy playing them because invariably, my friends were much more familiar with the game and controls, and always kicked my arse. A steep public learning curve is NOT the Julia way.

I didn’t really get into computer or console games until I moved in with Tom. A month before we moved in together, I bought him a PS2 as a moving-in gift. I figured he’d love it, and that it would work as a DVD player. This was in 2002, when DVD players were often over $300. $400 for a DVD player that als0 played games seemed like a bargain (and it was, we still use that thing 7 years later). I wasn’t really expecting to play games on it, it really was a present for him. One of the games that came with it was Project Eden. I really enjoyed watching Tom play, and he often let me have the controller to do certain things. I found that I was surprisingly good at the puzzle-solving aspect, as well as being able to spot important items. The game can be played as co-operative multiplayer, but we were doing this as co-operative single player, and it was a really enjoyable couple activity for us.

About six months after we’d moved in together, Tom bought me The Sims for Christmas. I’d seen ads for it on TV, and it seemed sort of interesting. I’d dabbled a bit with Civ 3, and I liked that, because of its history-basis, but this seemed like even more fun. So, he bought me The Sims, and I absolutely fell in love with it.

This was also during my recovery from bulimia, and Tom quickly worked out an excellent reward system – if I went a month without purging, he would buy me an expansion pack for The Sims. I LOVE extrinsic rewards, and because I wanted The Sims so badly, and because I couldn’t bear the thought of lying to Tom, it gave me the willpower to break patterns of behaviour I’d had in place since I was 14. I stopped seeing food as the ultimate reward for good behaviour, and started focusing on computer games instead. Say what you will, but I think that’s a lot healthier. Also, it got me totally hooked on computer games, which I think may have been Tom’s cunning plan all along.

I love The Sims because there’s no winning. I grew up as an only child, and so I’m far more focused on narrative-based play than Ludist (or Gamist)-based play (Hey Tom, I payed attention to your thesis). Competition isn’t exactly enjoyable for me, and so if people are playing MarioKart or another party game, I’ll generally just read a book. I like WiiBoxing, but only because I have competed against some EXTREMELY sore losers. But for me, the story is the most important thing. With The Sims (and these days, The Sims 2, and soon to be The Sims 3), I can create my own story. It’s got all the features I loved about Lego when I was small, which was my favourite toy. I can build whatever the damn hell I want, and be creative and have fun, but I also have little people to play dolls with. I can change their clothes, in The Sims, I can build a house to look like whatever I want. I can tell stories. The Sims franchise is a game which I believe encourages imaginative play, and I absolutely adore that. I also really love the potential for user-created content – websites like Mod The Sims 2 have anything you could want. I have downloaded Victorian clothes and furniture, medieval stuff, and an entire set of Harry Potter themed stuff, including uniforms for university-aged Sims (like, for all four house, and for boys and girls, and some with robes on, and some with robes off, and some with shirts untucked etc), and furniture for the different common rooms, and so on. If I want to make a themed neighbourhood of some kind, the stuff will certainly be available. I even have some downloaded furniture that’s better than the stuff in the game, which I think is rad.

As well as The Sims etc, I find I also dig city-building games, like Sim City, and recently, CivCity: Rome. But I like to play these with the cheats on: I want to build a beautiful, functional city, not having to worry about running out of cash or shit like this. I don’t like my gaming to be stressful, I like it to be creative and beautiful. When the little dude pops up to tell me my treasury’s running low, I tend to shout HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS and go off and have a liedown. This is probably why I’m not allowed to be Prime Minister. (“All children should travel to school on elephants!”)

I’m digging the Total War games pretty hard, and I think I actually like them better than Civ (don’t taze me, Tom), just because everything is themed properly. With Civ, I find I can’t deal with the concept of the Americans v. the Roman Empire, and things like that. So I’ll make a Classical Period game, with the Romans and Greeks and Persians and Celts and Carthaginians etc, or a Modern Europe game, with England and France and Germany and Russia and so on. But I am deeply uncomfortable with crossing the streams, or playing America as an ancient civilisation. It’s just not right, man! So, the Total War games appeal to my sense of order.  The map is correct, (none of this “London is right next to York and right near sources of ivory and dyes” malarky) and I understand where things are. If I want a medieval game, I can have one, and there’s no Americans.

Fucking Americans.

But, I also like how the game dynamics change depending on the era. Gameplay for Medieval II is very different to Empire, and a lot of that is based on the historical period. They’re also games that are more enjoyable if you’re a bit of a history buff, which appeals to my love of entertainment which doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator. I’m just getting used to Empire, right now, and it makes me want to play Rome: Total War, which I avoided when Tom played it due to my lack of knowledge (at the time) of Ancient History. But now I’ve done a bit of Ancient, and learnt more, and I think I would get a bigger kick out of the game. Awww yeah.

I find that I have varied and extremely specific tastes. I don’t tend to like everything in a genre, I will like one or two examples of that genre. The only real-time strategy games I like are the Age of Empires/Age of Mythology games. I mostly enjoy the campaign, rather than the multiplayer skirmishes, probably one again because of my love of narrative. AoE III and AoM were also very pretty games – I liked building the towns, and deciding where things went.

WoW doesn’t appeal to me, but that’s mostly because I don’t care about the world it’s set in.  If they made an MMORPG set in Regency London, with society intrigues and you could go to Almack’s and have a character and run around and be social and go to balls, I would be all up in that, ALL THE TIME. I would call it World of Ballcraft (hurr). I would also totally play an MMORPG if it were set in Rapture (from Bioshock) before all the shit went down. But I’m not interested in Second Life, because I can get that shit on The Sims, and The Sims is less full of furries and French fascists (I am not even kidding). I only want to run around in a virtual world with other people if the world has a cohesive narrative and aesthetic that I enjoy.

Another game I really enjoyed was Portal. I played Portal before I played TF2, and I adored it. I know people call it an FPS, but I find this to be a useless description. It’s a puzzle-solving game! You don’t shoot other people! It’s first person, and there’s a gun, but FPS, to my mind, conjures up stuff like TF2, or Counterstrike. Portal kind of is a genre all its own. I think I also dislike the idea that a computer game genre is based on some mechanic of gameplay, because for me, the primary appeal of a game is its narrative and setting. But yeah, back to Portal. I kicked arse at it, and I was actually better than Tom, which was sort of a new thing for me. Being good at things is always exciting, and because Portal didn’t really require me to have spent my teen years with my fingers permanantly glued to the WASD keys, I loved it. I’m good at that kind of puzzle-solving, too. But, at the same time, it gave me greater familiarity with FPS-style controls, and this eased my way into TF2.

Now I will talk about Team Fortess 2 for a while.

I freaking love this game. Before this, the only FPSs I’d actually enjoyed were things like Battlefield: 1942 and Battlefield: Vietnam, because I knew the period quite well, I enjoyed the different type of gameplay (I’m gunning down planes! I’m sniping the VC! I’m steering an enormous ship!), and it was fairly low-stress. Counterstrike never appealed to me, because, I guess, modern-era real-world killing is kind of depressing. I don’t like futuristic sci-fi games (I don’t really know why). So, these few historical FPSs were what I played at shootybang nights, until the arrival of TF2.

TF2 is, I think, the perfect game for people who didn’t spend their teen years playing FPSs. The wide range of classes means that you’ll find at least ONE class you’re good at (for me, it’s sniper and pyro), there are different maps, and the visual aesthetics of the game make things extremely obvious. There are huge arrows pointing the way to intel rooms or control points, the other team is very obviously the enemy, marked out by colour, and it’s obvious what each character can do. It’s fun, too – it has lots of injokes and doesn’t take itself seriously, which I think is good for a game where the whole point is to kill people. The flavour text is always hilarious, and you can play a really team-worky character, or a solo one. I think it’s got more flexibility than most other FPSs, and I enjoy being able to play one round, and then going off and doing my own thing. I also like being able to play with friends, without having to have them in my house.

Lastly, some console games. I enjoy some things on the Wii – I really like WiiBoxing and WiiPlay, but mostly to do on my own. I enjoyed Zelda, and I liked the Harry Potter 5 game for the Wii, because the spellcasting was fun, and running around and getting a sense of how the school was laid out was really interestiong for me. But ultimately, I am a Playstation girl. I’m looking forward to earning money and buying Tom a PS3, because I love cooperative RPGs. We’ve played a few really good ones together: the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games, as well as the X-Men: Legends had really fun cooperative play, and I kind of loved sitting down on the couch next to Tom for a whole day and killing bad guys together. But I also love Rockstar games, like Bully, which Heather already talked about, and I’m looking forward to LA Noire when it comes out.

So, yes. From being someone who never played video games, they’ve become kind of a staple of my entertainment. I enjoy playing them, and talking about gameplay and mechanics with Tom, and all that kind of stuff. I think that it’s also a good time to be a lady who games, because game designers are making games with women in mind (which means that World of Ballcraft is only a few years away, I hope), and so I can find games where “winning” isn’t necessary. Video gaming is, for me, an activity which can be done solely on my own, with Tom, or with groups of my friends, and I kind of love that. I can be running the British Empire in 1700, or I can be Harry Potter at Hogwarts, or I can be a guy who sets people wearing a different coloured shirt on fire. I can play games requiring thinking and strategy and puzzle-solving, or ones that need me to be creative, or ones that require improving my reflexes. Ultimately, I guess, I think that video gaming has broadened my mind and taught me new skills, and any hobby that does that has to be pretty awesome.

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16 Comments

  1. capnsilver said,

    For a game with brilliant aesthetic value, I’m looking forward to Madworld

    • juliadactyl said,

      Gosh! It seems a little horrific. My mother would probably die if she knew it existed.

    • Danoot said,

      Hey, guys… Sin City did pretty good, lets hijack an aesthetic!

      Sure thing, boss!

      (an excellent planning decision)

  2. hereandnowhere said,

    Do you know, I didn’t realise that you NEVER played games in high school. I guess I didn’t really either (until the Baldur’s Gate addiction in Year 12), so it mustn’t have registered with me.

    Hey, have I linked this to you yet? I was (tangentially) involved with it and think the articles I’ve read are pretty awesome. I’m saving the rest as a delicious treat! Tom might also like it, because there are bits that relate to his thesis/areas of interest.

    <a href=http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/issue/currentTransformative Works and Cultures, special gaming issue

    • juliadactyl said,

      Yeah, my dad’s computer didn’t have a soundcard, and they weren’t interested in getting one just so I could be distracted from schoolwork.

    • chromefist said,

      Yeah, I think I saw it on your LJ some time ago. I read a couple of the articles then, and completely forgot about it. To my personal shame.

      It is now bookmarked, thanks!

  3. hereandnowhere said,

  4. misterfinn said,

    man, I sort of had the opposite intro to video games. When I was living in japan, my friend Sanshrio lived down the road and I’d go over and learn to play mario kart. He would kick my ass again and again and again and again. I persevered. Now I’m a quite decent video gamer, thanks to those many sessions.

    But yes, story is very important. I like games where i can make a story in my head, like Civ or the Total War series. My massive enjoyment of Fallout 3 has come from taking on the persona of my nutcase sherrif wasteland survivor and considering how he would approach situations.

    Also, strong agreement with sci-fi games. I find it so goddamn tedious, but to explain why i would require more room.

    • juliadactyl said,

      Well, see, I LOVED Civ 3, but hated Alpha Centauri, although apparantly AC has better mechanics. Partly it was because the colour scheme MADE MY EYES BLEED (also why I couldn’t get into Fallout 3, everything was grey and brown and depressing), but also because I kind of didn’t care that we were in space.

      Tom, on the other hand, is all SHIT YES SPACE I’MA COLONISE EVERYTHING.

      • chromefist said,

        Colonise the blinding red shit out of it.

    • Danoot said,

      all sci-fi games, ever?
      (even fallout 3?)

      Some sci-fi games are awesome. Like Portal. And Half-Life (I have heard stories! I got bored of the intro before there were headcrabs. Shoulda stuck it out).

      I have not played very many scifi games of this generation, though, and can’t really think of any other than the above.

      On the other hand: oldschool, 2d, duke nukem, cosmo’s cosmic adventures, captain keen, etc. Sci-fi as fuck. Also f-zero.

      • misterfinn said,

        I refuse to believe post-apocalyptic is part of the sci-fi genre. I will take it over here, to the cool kids table with blackjack and hookers and couches.

        Also, when i say “sci-fi” I really mean “space opera”, the sub-genre most identifiable with sci-fi. This will teach me to use genres that are not specific enough for my ranting needs!

  5. KingAl said,

    A Regency London MMO /might/ be the best thing ever. I’m not a big fan of MMOs, though; the whole grinding/levelling up/starting all over again thing strikes me as creepy and Pavlovian. And Second Life is deeply weird. I don’t play multiplayer and open-ended games in general that much because I approach games like books, I guess; I like them to end so I can move on to other things I have waiting, otherwise they just seem like a huge time sink. I also have an allergic reaction to aggressive competition with other people, I find it really uncomfortable and boring.
    But yeah, TF2. Well, I played it the other night with you guys. I kinda sucked! It was the… 3rd time I’d played it? The colour and the classes may be useful in helping you to work out what to do, but having not played FPSes in a while I found L4D much easier to get into. Things don’t happen so quickly, for one 😛 You also don’t need to get a hang of the balance, and it’s similarly pretty easy to tell friends from enemies.

    • juliadactyl said,

      You’ll get better at TF2! It’s so much fun, also, people are nicer most of the time.

  6. chromefist said,

    Heh, yeah, Project Eden is pretty rad. I’m of the opinion that console controls just aren’t conducive to FPSing; and they should stick to proper adventure games – fighting, sure, but not as the focus of the game, just as a sideline to the puzzle-solving. Project Eden is definitely that; also Bully or GTA; which is why I think they work so well on consoles.

    The Sims, I still don’t get. I played Sims 1 through a couple of times, basically like I’d play any other game, and it was OK, but it’s kinda neat that you’re still enjoying it years later. You’ve told me about why plenty of times; but it remains intriguing to me. And yes, as you rightly note, it’s an excellent example of Paida (open-ended play), as opposed to Ludist play (competitive games, objective-based); which isn’t generally my thing. If I’m exposed to such a thing, I’ll tend to create my own goals, and quit playing shortly after they’re achieved. Europa Universalis is a pretty good example for me.

    Total War is a rad series. I think that if you could get past the somewhat extreme learning curve, you’d quite possibly also enjoy the Europa Universalis series; but that’s very economics and diplomacy focused, whereas TW is, well, military. And, yeah, extreme learning curve; I can forsee a lot of frustration.

    Team Fortress is cool; but what’s wrong with a bit of sci-fi futurism? There’s plenty of Quake-style dross out there, but there’s also some fantastic sci-fi shooters, like Metroid Prime or Dystopia, or Fallout. I know you don’t like the colour scheme in Fallout 3, but you have to admit, the conceit is pretty awesome, if depressing.

    I’m also interested by how much you enjoyed Bioshock, where I really didn’t. I like the setting, and I’m somewhat interested by the story; but the actual gameplay is a real turnoff for me. The controls are sluggish and frustrating, the weapons and powers basically just come down to blasting away in the general direction of your enemy with whatever you have armed – there seems to be less skill than luck involved in whether you hit or not, and every time you’re in combat, you lose the ability to see properly – probably the part that bugs me the most. Essentially, for a game with so much combat, it’s handled very poorly, I think. I’ll admit, I haven’t even got half-way; so maybe I’m missing something, but there aren’t many games that will make me quit in frustration in less than an hour most play sessions.

    Also, shit yeah Team Fortress. Another great game that started life as a mod. What’s interesting to me is that there are a few classes that are dominated by long-standing FPS players – scout and soldier, mainly; and some that are dominated by relatively new players, pyro and medic, mainly. I think that’s got something to do with Scout and soldier rewarding old-school FPS skills – rocket jumping, rocket prediction, circle strafing and barrel-avoidance – while pyro and medic require different approaches. If you go to the official TF2 forums on the steam site, you’ll notice a lot of animosity against Pyros in particular.

  7. percy said,

    Julia, you should totally play Fallout. You will love it.

    The colours are amazing after a while. Fo’realz.

    Let’s play more TF2 together!

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