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October 27, 2005

The Video Game War
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:47 PM *

Iran nuclear game too close for comfort

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters)—U.S. special forces dart through Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, gunning down any hapless Iranians standing between them and centrifuges that must be blown to bits.

Much to Tehran’s relief, this crack team exists only in a new U.S. computer game. But even these animated saboteurs are too close for comfort, downloadable into Iranian living rooms at the click of a mouse.

What could I do? I went over to Kuma Games to check it out. And, by golly, they do have a free downloadable war game—a First Person Shooter—based on the Iraq/Afghanistan War, with a side-trip to Iran.

The game’s trailer plays pounding music and starkly asks: “Diplomacy has failed … Is nothing to be done?”. U.S. troops then strafe a car, leap out of helicopters and prowl around menacingly before blowing things up.

Web site www.persianpetition.com, a forum for Persian speakers in Iran and abroad, posted a notice asking Kuma to withdraw the game on October 12. Since then it has got more than 5,000 signatures.

“We must make the Americans understand that Iran is different from Iraq and Afghanistan, where they just did what they wanted,” the petition read.

Well, maybe. I didn’t notice any pounding music, or anyone leaping from helicopters or strafing cars … which would be sort of counterproductive if you were trying to be stealthy anyway. Instead, the Raid on Iran scenario starts with you and three companions on the ground inside the Iranian compound, at night.

Overall the game system looks very much like the Doom/Quake 3D engine, with Middle East cityscapes in place of Phobos Station and realistic guys in kaffiyehs toting AK-47s, rather than cartoony demons tossing fireballs. The gameplay is identical (right down to the exact keyboard shortcuts) to other first person shooters like Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault. No worries about women, children, or bicycle repairmen on their way to work: Everything that moves is an enemy. You shoot them down at your maximum range. All cars are car bombs. Blow them up before they blow you up.

“Americans have a deep craving for an attack against Iran, but they are going to have to settle for this make-believe assault,” wrote the Kayhan daily, whose editor is appointed directly by Iran’s Supreme Leader.

In the Training Scenario, the first thing you do is sneak up and shoot a guy in the back while he’s guarding a vehicle. He has a beard and is wearing one of those Afghani felt hats. “Congratulations!” I thought when I saw that. “You’ve just blown away one member of the small but tenacious local Christian community. He was guarding that truck for his brother, the plumber. Now the brother’s ticked off—and he was previously pro-American. He has access to lots of threaded pipe. A friend of his cousin knows where to get explosives. His father-in-law is an electrician, and can rig a simple firing circuit. When your patrol gets greased by a pipe bomb two weeks from now, you’ll know the reason why.”

The particular game that’s giving Iran fits is last month’s scenario. Let’s take a look at it:

Kuma\War’s playable mission offers you the most plausible scenario to delaying or destroying Iran’s nuclear arms capabilities. As a Special Forces soldier, you infiltrate the facility at Natanz. But it won’t be easy. You’ve got a man on the inside, a scientist you need to rescue or he’ll surely be killed after the raid. Breech the perimeter and secure the evidence. Beat back the security forces and destroy the centrifuges. Never before has so much hung in the balance; never have we been so close to preventing world tragedy.

Two years ago, Iran’s 18-year secret affair with nuclear technology was exposed to the world. As details continue to emerge of black market nuclear equipment shipments from other rogue states, information technology transfers, and massive secret underground facilities, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are scrambling to keep up with Iran’s rapid progress. And the world waits anxiously.

Iran makes no secret of its nuclear ambitions, but claims their goal is peaceful civilian nuclear power—an endeavor that may seem superfluous in an oil-rich state, but well within their rights as a sovereign nation to pursue. Just this week, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy program announced its plan to enrich nearly 40 tons of raw uranium—a necessary step in developing nuclear power for the country. But many on the world stage call this a transparent sham: The state of Iraq’s reactors shouldn’t require uranium conversion for another decade.

If the goal is, as they suggest, becoming Islam’s first nuclear state, there’s no time like the present. With the U.S.’s gulf forces firmly entrenched elsewhere—137,000 troops in Iraq; another 10,000 in Afghanistan—Iran may consider this the perfect time to initiate its longstanding plan to launch a nuclear weapons program.

Given the alarmingly advanced state of Iran’s nuclear program, the US military might well consider an all-out assault against Iran’s nuclear installations. But preemptive strikes carry grave repercussions: Iran’s retaliation options includ a devastating disruption of oil shipments from the Persian Gulf, attacks on US Naval installations throughout the Middle East, and, perhaps most frightening of all, summon their terrorist allies in widespread factions like Hezbollah to initiate vicious terrorist attacks against Americans on every continent.

The stakes are high—still, Iran’s nuclear means and shadowy intentions cannot be ignored. The War on Terror is not about retribution for the attacks of 9/11 or taking out dictators who brutalize the innocent. It’s about keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of the rogue states and non-state organizations most likely to use them…and the risk here couldn’t be clearer.

While the European states doggedly pursue a diplomatic solution, President Bush has declared “all options are on the table” With the possibility of military action looming, Kuma\War has compiled what our experts believe to be an extremely plausible scenario for delaying or destroying Iran’s nuclear arms capabilities without kick-starting World War III.

As a Special Forces soldier in this playable mission, you will infiltrate Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz, high in the mountains. But breaching the security cordon around the hardened target won’t be easy. Your team’s mission: Infiltrate the base, secure evidence of illegal uranium enrichment, rescue your man on the inside, and destroy the centrifuges that promise to take Iran into the nuclear age. Never before has so much hung in the balance… millions of lives, and the very future of democracy could be at stake.

Well, aside from a couple of errors of fact: Iran won’t be Islam’s first nuclear power. That would be Pakistan. I can’t think of a single country that isn’t, or shouldn’t be, working on alternative energy sources. One could argue that Iran, more than anyone, has a pretty good handle on when their oil reserves will run out. The baseline assumption that any development of nuclear power must mean nuclear weapons is poorly supported (despite Bush’s wishful thinking), and the question of whether the US has the right to send troops to any country, any time, on any pretext, to shoot the place up, hasn’t been answered in the affirmative.

You want another, even more plausible, scenario? Your troopers make it into the secret underground base and discover that there isn’t a centrifuge, that there isn’t any weapons-grade uranium, that the Secret Defector Scientist was fibbing … and after that they’re all captured to stand trial in downtown Tehran.

Ah well! As a player of this game, you don’t have to worry your head about that. All you have to do is mow down scores of Iranian troops. Anyone who’s spent as much time as I have playing Tomb Raider won’t have any problem completing the mission.

First objective: Find the centrifuge. Okay, you do that (its exact location is helpfully marked on the map — Laura Croft never had it so easy). You’re rewarded by being told that you now have a sample of weapons-grade uranium. Next objective pops up: Find and kill all the Iranian scientists. Fortunately their barracks is nearby. So you do that, even though they’re unarmed civilians. There are some Iranian troopers scattered in the mix to keep it interesting. You’re rewarded by being given Iran’s Secret War Plans (even though that would be a silly place for ‘em to keep such plans).

Next task: Blow up the centrifuge. So back you go, and weirdly you can’t blow up the centrifuge by pumping 40mm grenades into it. You expend all the 40mm grenades on hand. Did anyone think to bring along any C4? No, I thought you packed it! You knew we were going to have to blow up a centrifuge and no one brought any C4? What kind of chickenshit outfit is this? No C4. Oh well. But! Happy thing, just a few rifle rounds makes the centrifuge blow up. Task complete!

New objective: Rescue the Defector Scientist. Oops — you just killed all the scientists. Wouldn’t rescuing the guy first have been a better idea? No worries, he’s in a different location. Maybe he knew the raid was coming. Weren’t any of those other scientists his friends? How about the new kid, the mathematician who made such good coffee and always had a kind word and a joke? Hey, Ali, why don’t you go downtown tonight for ice cream? You aren’t listening, Ali: You want to go downtown tonight for ice cream—and don’t hurry back. Just do it, okay? Anyway—Defector Scientist is rescued. Hurrah! Go us!

Next objective: Get to the extraction point. No problem, since the Iranians still haven’t noticed that there’s a raid going on and haven’t organized any sort of decent defense, and the Defector Scientist you’re bringing along is invisible. Weirdly, no matter how you try, you can’t shoot out the streetlights on poles. Get to the extraction point, game over, you win! You get a nice blurb on how Iran will never be a threat to peace and democracy now, no sir, you betcha.

This is someone’s propaganda arm; that seems clear. From the fact that Kuma gets retired US generals to do video commentary, we can make some guesses as to whose propaganda it is.

Here’s a Kuma Games press release, and here’s their video about their game version of John Kerry’s Silver Star, which they produced in time for the elections. Astute watchers of TV commercials will be able to tell which side they come down on.

Brief commentary on this month’s mission scenario: “The Crime of Dujay: Saddam’s Revenge.” Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Here’s the description:

In the restive village of Dujayl, Iraq, the villagers are encouraged by Shiite preachers to rise against Saddam Hussein, the country’s dictator and the man responsible for invading neighboring Shiite Iran. But these were simple villagers, not a militant force. What attack could they possibly wage against the most powerful, well defended man in Iraq? Something simple, yet effective: an ambush.

Al-Dujayl, Iraq—July 8, 1982: Under orders from President Saddam Hussein, Iraq is in the midst of invading Iran. The conflict leaves Iraqi Shia towns like Dujayl on edge, and soon, preachers call upon the restive villagers to carry out a homemade Islamic revolution. In a perfect storm of opportunity and rebellion, Saddam comes to town—and the townspeople attack.

From the palm groves that line the path of the presidential convoy, 19 villagers ambush Saddam’s motorcade. But the revolutionists target the wrong vehicle. The failed assassination attempt leaves 8 bodyguards dead and Saddam Hussein unscathed, but unimaginably vengeful.

Saddam faces trial October 19th for orchestrating the horrific events that follow. The Iraqi president sends his bodyguards back to Dujayl, where 15 people are killed immediately, and within days, 143 villagers are publicly executed in show trials. 1,500 residents are arrested and imprisoned for years, and the remainder of Dujayl’s populace simply vanishes.

For Saddam Hussein, the Dujayl massacres kick-start a series of ruthless strikes against his own people. In the following year alone, 8,000 Iraqi Kurds will be executed on Saddam’s command.

What would it be like to go back in time to 1982, to have the opportunity to change history forever? In Kuma\War’s playable mission, you experience Dujayl as a thriving town on the brink of revolution. As a young Iraqi villager, it’s up to you to execute a deadly ambush for Saddam Hussein.

If only for a moment, turn back the hands of time by stopping a ruthless killer in his tracks. The future of Dujayl—the very future of Iraq—hinges on how well your ambush is executed. Keep your eye on the target and stay well concealed. This is your opportunity, if only for a moment, to save the Middle East from the decades of sorrow that come to bear under the reign of Saddam Hussein.

So I played this one. First of all, in the game, it’s just me. My first question is, Where the Fuck are the other 18 guys I’m supposed to have on my team?

Second, I’m dropped in while the action is in progress, not the night before to do planning and go for position.

Third, there are bounds on the game so I can’t go for position while the action is in progress. (Second floor of that building across the street to the north looks pretty good; it would yield defilade fire on the entire caravan.)

If I’m a young Iraqi with a burning hatred of Saddam and an AK-47, and I suddenly find myself all alone in a palm grove with no clear shot while Saddam and his Republican Guard are already passing by … I say “Bugger all this for a lark,” go home, and wait for a better opportunity.

If I’m running an ambush, I want: Two guys with RPGs. A command-detonated claymore or two. A high observation point. Camouflaged and concealed firing positions in two locations at right angles to each other, at a place where I can get a crossfire going. Better if it’s somewhere folks will have to slow down (road curve or intersection).

Pop the lead and trail cars with the RPGs, pop the claymores when the security people come boiling out, then turn to with the riflemen to take down the rest of the folks in the killing zone.

Command and control from a mile away.

How to survive an ambush:

  1. Don’t get into an ambush

If you find you’re in an ambush anyway:

  1. Make yourself one with the ground
  2. Get the fuck out of the killing zone.

Here’s how to win that game scenario:

Run as fast as you can to the north edge of the map, then work your way east to the road using cover and concealment. That way all the fire is coming from one direction.

Work your way back south along the road to the center of the map, crawling from tree to tree, shooting down the guards as you go and collecting their ammunition.

Saddam will have helpfully parked his car in the center of the map to wait for you. When you get near he’ll leap from his car and run north up the road, toward you. Shoot him. You win.

Before I go, I think I’ll talk about one more Kuma game scenario: “Escape from Asadabad”

As the lone survivor of a group of Navy SEALs, you’ve been trained to survive in the wilderness, but it takes tremendous tenacity to evade the Taliban forces that have murdered your team mates. A long, unforgiving course will lead you to the safety of a friendly village, where you can be rescued by US forces.

This refers to the events in Afghanistan last June. I’m sure you recall it — a helicopter was shot down.

So there I am, playing this game, first person as this SEAL, and the very first objective in the game is I’m required to find and kill all the members of a Taliban mortar team.

And I’m instantly “Da fuck?!” because I’m in a survival/evasion/resistance/escape situation. If I’m evading, I’m going to avoid all contact with the enemy. There’s one of me. There’s hundreds of them. My goal is to get back to friendly lines.

If I start shooting up mortar teams, what have I done? First, I’ve informed the bad guys that I’m alive. Second, I’ve told them exactly where I am. Third, I’ve told them when I was there. Not only that, but I’ve pissed ‘em off enough that they’ll put some real effort into finding me. (There’s a difference between “Sweep the area to see if there’s anyone else,” and “There’s someone else—sweep the area.”) What kind of buffoonery is this?

The CNN story says:

Other Kuma games have been criticized in the United States for their realistic portrayal of current events, including recent battles.

Realistic, my ass.

A guy in an evasion situation attacking folks? That’s about as realistic as a fifteen-foot pink dinosaur shopping at Macy’s. The thing is, in the blurb for that scenario, they go on and on about how highly trained in survival SEALs are. Well, I took that same course, and y’know what? No one said a thing about how great a plan it would be to go sniping at mortar teams if you happen to see one on your way out of town.

Regardless of whether running around Iran blowing away Iranian troopers is a good thing to do, the evasion that they show will get people who try it killed. You make contact with the enemy and the first thing that’ll happen is some guy with a big map and a radio is going to start laying down concentric circles on that map—and you, chum, are going to be dead center of that target.

Nice points: You can run out of ammo, and you don’t get an infinite supply of universal fix-up medical kits. You get hit, you die, you stay dead, game over.

Comments on The Video Game War:
#1 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 02:10 PM:

First person shooters bore me.

I want a game that simulates nation building, energy resource exploration and development, and international diplomacy.

(And yes, I know that Civilization IV has just been released.)

#2 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 02:24 PM:

Civ IV has been released??

I think my evenings after work just got booked up for the foreseeable future. Note to self: set an alarm before you start playing to avoid the "whaddaya mean, it's 3am?" problem.

#3 ::: Alec Austin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 02:47 PM:

I knew that kuma/war was probably someone's propaganda tool, given the FPS frame they used to glorify recent military actions, but I never took the time to look at the game itself. From Jim's comments, its content is worse than I thought.

I'd be curious to hear what Jim thinks about the America's Army game-- specifically, its degree of realism and use as a recruitng/PR tool.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 03:07 PM:

My first thought on America's Army:

A five hour download on DSL? They're kidding!

#5 ::: Alec Austin ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 03:39 PM:

I know that they hand out CDs of the game at recruiting stations, but yeah, that's a ridiculous d/l time.

#6 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 03:43 PM:

Jim, you're usually a smart guy, but suggesting that Iran isn't trying to build nukes, and is really into 'alternate' energy is just plain wrong. They are trying to enrich uranium in order to start the process on building a nuclear bomb. They bought bomb making technology from AQ Khan

They could well have taken any of the European offers of pebble-bed reactors. They didn't.

What more proof do you need? How about another threat to destroy Israel? "A world without Zionism, and the obliteration of Israel from the face of the earth, is not only the objective of Iran, but of the whole Muslim world,"

But seriously? About the game? If it gives Iran fits, good. Any country that regularly executes homosexuals, dissenting journalists, mentally disabled women who were forced into prostitution, and protesting student is not somewhere I'd worry about making a good impression in because of some video game. If they're not spitting bile about that, it'll be some other shit. They're like the leadership in North Korea - bug-fuck crazy, belligerent, and dangerous.

I believe that, if they build nuclear bombs, they'll sell it to as many Islamic nations and terrorist groups as they can. I have yet to see anyone put forth a convincing argument why they would not.

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 04:04 PM:

I admit it: Iran is probably trying to build nukes, or has looked into the possibiltiy, or is keeping its options open. We've given every small country in the world reason to do the same: How else are you going to keep the US from invading?

As time goes on fewer and fewer countries aren't going to have nukes. It's 1940s technology.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Why are people so surprised that so many countries want nukes? It's a sign that your country is a Power, a Big Kid, a major status symbol. (Sort of like people driving Humvees: you have money, you have power, you're Important.)

#9 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 04:48 PM:

Lexica, I stopped playing Sim/RTS games cold turkey because of Alpha Centauri and the "whaddaya mean, it's 5 am?" problem about 6 years ago. They consume my life if I give in to them even a little. I play FPS games a lot, because I can jump in and jump out whenever I want to or need to.

#10 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 04:54 PM:

IIRC, kuma were the people who put out the swift boat simulator that let you play John Kerry & crew turning in and stormin' towards the VC ambush.

#11 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 05:07 PM:

Hell, if I were suddenly put in charge of a small second or third world country, political system irrelevant, the very first thing I'd do would be to buy, make, or steal myself a nuke -- just to discourage random neighboring and not-so-neighboring countries from attempting to further the cause of political reform by means of tank columns and air strikes. Call it national sovereignty in a can.

#12 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 05:46 PM:

I've played a few videogames. So far the only ones I've enjoyed have been the Myst series. This is largely because there's no shooting, and you just play with stuff. The style of those games fits my ADHD brain very well, because everything you learn everywhere is, or might be, useful somewhere else.

Also, the art is beautiful and interesting. Incredibly exotic steampunk worlds, so real that you feel you can almost touch things. In fact I found I had memories of being in some of the rooms...it's weird to have memories which you can identify as false even while they seem totally real.

#13 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 06:21 PM:

For a few years now, I've been signing my Slashdot.Org posts with a .signature file that says, "It used to be that we were playing chess while they were playing go. Now, we've switched to golf."

What fool actually signed the approval to spend money on this bullshit propaganda? Did anybody in a position of authority stop to ask the game designers whether the games they were designing might actually be bad simulation training?

Meanwhile, the greens fees are soaring...

#14 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 06:46 PM:

I believe that, if they build nuclear bombs, they'll sell it to as many Islamic nations and terrorist groups as they can. I have yet to see anyone put forth a convincing argument why they would not.

Because some of those groups would love to nuke the bunch of heretical apostate Shi'ite bastards who dare to call themselves the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Oh, and if Iran can meet some of its domestic energy needs through nuclear power, it can sell more oil on the world market.

#15 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 06:54 PM:

One wonders: Does the survival mission have a "Sit very still for several hours in an uncomfortable location and pray that they don't find you" scenario?

#16 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 07:19 PM:

First person shooter games don't do much for me, but I can spend hours and hours at variations of solitaire if I'm not careful.

#17 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 09:15 PM:

Civ IV has been released??

The first step is to admit that you have a problem with Civilization

Besides, this is 2005. It'll be a bugridden piece of crap like every other game rushed out the door. Don't install until there's at least three patchsets released.

Civ-junkies don't know what long term addiction can do to you. It takes a NetHack junkie to show you that. Have you ascended your tourist today?

#18 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2005, 11:53 PM:

David, you're drinking the kool-aid. Iran was offered nuke technology that was non-weaponizable. They turned it down. This has nothing to do with sellign mroe oil, and everything to do with threatening Israel, the US, and probably selling those weapons.

You're giving the Immans and Ayatolahs in Iran far more credit for sanity than you ought to. They're secound cousins to Kilm Ill Jong. Nutcases, the lot of them. I don't credit them with the foresight to not consider what third party might get a hold of any nuke they sell. They're simply that nuts.

AQ Khan sold nuke technology to Syria and Iraq. He'd proabbly have sold it to Lybia and Sudan as well. And Jihaddists in Saudi Arabia if he had the chance, and they had the technical base. What makes Iran any different from him? Did he worry about some anti-Pakistan group getting one of those nukes? Nope. It was about (a) money and (b) the possibility of a nuclear armed middle east.

Can you imagine the Chechen rebels getting a bomb and smuggling it in to St Petersberg?

#19 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:12 AM:

Of course Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Recall that George Bush identified three nations as the "Axis of Evil." The one nation of the three that he picked a fight with was the only one WITHOUT a nuclear-weapon program.

He's shown the bad guys a very thorough lesson in the importance of arming yourself. They took notes.

And now that our military is pinned down in the one country THAT DID NOT HAVE a nuclear program, the other two countries in the "Axis of Evil" are pretty much free to do what they want.

#20 ::: chris bond ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:14 AM:

"A guy in an evasion situation attacking folks? That’s about as realistic as a fifteen-foot pink dinosaur shopping at Macy’s. The thing is, in the blurb for that scenario, they go on and on about how highly trained in survival SEALs are. Well, I took that same course, and y’know what? No one said a thing about how great a plan it would be to go sniping at mortar teams if you happen to see one on your way out of town."

That sounds like it would be better fashioned after the Thief games - where the highest accomplishment was to get through missions without killing anybody - or even being seen.

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:03 AM:

That sounds like it would be better fashioned after the Thief games - where the highest accomplishment was to get through missions without killing anybody - or even being seen.

Exactly. If I'm evading I don't want to be seen. And if that means sitting motionless in a leech-and-mosquito-infested swamp for three days, by golly I'm going to do it.

#22 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:57 AM:

We will note in passing that there are a number of "stealth action" games, in several genres, out there. I'd say the best are Clancy's Splinter Cell games, of which there are currently three (with a fourth due in the spring). These have the best control system, which is really important when you have lots of potential moves, and if you have decent graphics hardware the visuals are amazing.* You can also get the first two cheap. They are very firm on the "too much noise and you get a hardball sandwich" rule, and your character's voice is done by Michael Ironside.

The Thief games, which are medievaloid, are also very good, and the early ones are in $10 remainder bins all over. Warren Spector's Deus Ex is excellent too (the sequel is less so), but while "stealthy" play is essential, there's no advantage to not killing people (you can play that way, but it makes things harder and there's no reward; indeed, you can leave bodies out in plain view and subsequent guards will walk right over them.)

The earliest computer game I know of with the "sneak or die" mechanic is Sid Meier's Covert Action, a DOS (and Amiga!) game from fifteen years ago that's now almost totally forgotten, like, uh, almost everything else from fifteen years ago, except maybe Tetris. You snuck around randomly generated offices, looking for evidence against the Evil Organization and trying to dodge the guards -- and you did have to hide anybody you knocked out. (It's interesting that while each "network" of villains -- a full campaign was 26 of these -- had a Mastermind who you had to go in and nab personally, for the most part you had to get enough evidence for warrants against the sub-bosses. Due process in a spy game?) It was structured like Sid's Pirates, in that there was a set of small games in support of the overall storyline. In addition to the sneaking, there was codebreaking (substitution ciphers, unfortunately not challenging even at top difficulty), vehicular pursuit, and a "wiretapping" module that was actually a logic puzzle involving chips on a board that switched or inverted current in various directions; move the wrong chip and the alarm goes off.

*Except when you have your starlight-scope or thermal-vision goggles on, which you do most of the time, since your character hides much better in the dark (and uses his silenced pistol more often for shooting lightbulbs to make more dark than shooting people). When this is the case, the beautiful rendering is replaced by either grainy monochrome or colorful enemy-shaped blobs.

#23 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 05:19 AM:

Pretty obvious propaganda rather than a training aid, I would say...

I think the best example of realism in a game was Terry Pratchett's idea for 'Voyage to Alpha Centauri', a faithful simulation of STL interstellar flight. You start the game, and the screen shows an unchanging starfield. If you leave it running for forty thousand years, a small white circle appears in the middle of the screen, and a sign comes up saying "Welcome to Alpha Centauri. Now go home."

#24 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 06:09 AM:

Erik Olson writes:

The first step is to admit that you have a problem with Civilization

The problem is not that Civilization takes time away from other things in my life. The problem is that other things in my life take away time when I could be playing Civilization.

Besides, this is 2005. It'll be a bugridden piece of crap like every other game rushed out the door. Don't install until there's at least three patchsets released.

There's truth in that, but part of the fun (for me) is experiencing the improvements and new possibilities that come with ech patch.

Civ-junkies don't know what long term addiction can do to you.

With more than a dozen years of Civ playing under my belt, I think I have a pretty good idea.

#25 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 06:41 AM:

The Hitman games are also based on sneaking about.

The first time I finished a level, I got a rating of Mass Murderer, which is a hint that I caused too much collateral damage. The goal is to be a Silent Assassin, killing your target and no-one else.

#26 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 07:48 AM:

I once watched some teenagers at a wargaming convention, playing on a networked multi-player setup for some WW2 FPS -- looked to be on the Russian Front.

Two of them, they looked to be brothers, seemed to be doing the fire and movement routine. Lasted about five minutes before one of them got hit by the shoot-everything-that-moves crowd, and the restart point seemed too far off for them to get together again.

#27 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 09:08 AM:

This whole group of games sounds like a wet dream for the Yellow Elephant set; shoot everything that moves. "It's exactly how I imagine it to be!"

This is what you get on a generation raised on Rambo and Arnold movies-- war is a game that can be won by one reckless fellow with a big gun and enough ammo.

#28 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 09:27 AM:

Civ-junkies don't know what long term addiction can do to you. It takes a NetHack junkie to show you that. Have you ascended your tourist today?

I've never ascended a tourist, but I do blame my genocide-free extinctionist Wizard for the start of my RSI.

I don't dare try games like Civ because I know how easy it is for me to get addicted. (That reminds me, I never did get all the way through that abandonware version of Lemmings I downloaded a while ago . . . )

#29 ::: KristianB ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 10:24 AM:

No fans of Metal Gear here then?

#30 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 10:46 AM:

Man, threads like this remind me why I love this site. When the games sites I'm familiar with comment on realism, they're largely commenting on either graphics or the AI (you know, I almost spelled that out, with explanation, before I realized, heck, it's you guys) of the enemies. Never the realism of an evasion scenario. I love "hide 3 days in an uncomfortable position". Wouldn't make a good game, no, but so true.

"fifteen years ago that's now almost totally forgotten, like, uh, almost everything else from fifteen years ago, except maybe Tetris"

Fifteen years ago was when I was prime for videogames, at twelve. Fifteen years ago I was playing the Infocom classics (Moonmist remains, and always will, one of my favorite games. I don't care if the release a virtual reality version of XBox with goggles, full-body tactile input, and erotic games; those old text-based ones will always have a place in my heart), and Zak McCracken (sp?) and Amazon. Fifteen years ago I was still putting floppy discs into my Commodore64 and enjoying King's Quest and Space Quest. And BC Grog's Quest for Tires (my sister, to this day, does the greatest impression of the sounds for that game). Oh, and Impossible Mission! That was such a great game.

God, I miss those games, sort of. And "sort of" only because I know that, if they were out and playable now, I'd play them for hours all over again. Sony and Microsoft can bugger off, and Tetris can take a long walk off a short pier; give me "Infidel" and "Zork" any day.

#31 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 11:11 AM:

Josh --

Little followup to what Bob said, in that there are credible reports that Rumsfeld has had the Air Force draw up comprehensive pre-emptive nuking plans for Iran, an Iranian expectation of needing a deterrent isn't crazy. Coupled with the large nuclear release policy changes being put forward by the Rumsfeld defence department and of course Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

They'd have to be deeply and comprehensively stupid not to be.

You might want to consider the success of a 'make American safer!' policy that provides such profound incentives to pretty much everyone on earth to get their own substantial nuclear deterrent.

#32 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 11:20 AM:

Oh, and Impossible Mission! That was such a great game.

Another visitor!

Welcome! Stay a while.

Stay... forever!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

#33 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 11:58 AM:

John M Ford:

The earliest computer game I know of with the "sneak or die" mechanic is Sid Meier's Covert Action, a DOS (and Amiga!) game from fifteen years ago that's now almost totally forgotten, like, uh, almost everything else from fifteen years ago, except maybe Tetris.

I'd actually suggest Silent Service, a WW2 submarine simulator, also by Sid Meier IIRC, as being one of the first. I certainly remember it being highly unusual in that respect when I was playing it on my Sinclair Spectrum! Given that it was released for 8 bit machines, I'd guess it predates Covert Action by a few years at least. F19 Stealth Fighter, also a Microprose game although I don't know if Sid was on the design team for it, also had a degree of 'don't let them notice you or else'. I'm not sure if that was before or after SS.

And not every game from 15 years ago has been forgotten. I think Lemmings is 15 this year (?). Civilization is next year. Wolfenstein 3D is also 15 next year, which means we're only a few years away from Doom's 15th anniversary.

Doesn't the time go fast?

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:05 PM:

Many years ago, when I first got out of Uncle Sam's Canoe Club, whenever I got homesick for the fleet I'd take a copy of Silent Service (an early game by Sid Meier, same fellow as wrote Civilization), put it in real-time mode, take the sub to the surface, lay in a course and speed, and stand on the bridge looking at the water for four hours while occassionally sweeping the horizon with binoculars. At the end of four hours, I'd turn it off and go do something else.

#35 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:06 PM:

Dave Bell: Which is why it is such sweet sweet revenge when a team of rambos meets a team that functions as a highly oiled machine and gets their collective posteriors handed to them. Unfortunately this means finding the right bunch of people to play with.

#36 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:09 PM:

Graydon, you're not pointing out to me anything I didn't know already. Sure Bush and company have made tensions in the middle east grow. We all know this. But on the other hand, I doubt that 8 years of Gore and no Iraq invasion would have changed thier minds any more than Clinton changed North Koreas minds.

I keep trying to drive home the point that they're nuts, violent, and likley to use the nukes if they build them.

Is 'taking them out' the only option? God, I hope not. Bush would certainly screw it up horribly. But if they build a bomb, there's a real good chance sell it and/or use it.

I don't think diplomacy has failed yet, because I don't think Europe is actualy trying. I also don't think that the US government is capable of building a diplomatic coalition to cross the street, much less really pressure Iran.

I'm out of options on what to do to solve the problem, and there's a clock ticking. No one seems to be taking this seriously at all.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:19 PM:

Josh, you might want to pull in your elbows a little there.

Have you noticed that the Muslim nations of the Middle East are not a unified bloc, and that some of them have been at odds with each other for centuries?

For that matter, have you noticed that their chief concern is not attacking us, but defending themselves from us? Look how often Syria's had to insist that they're not a threat. What they and Iran are both saying is, We will not allow ourselves to be cast in the role of your next target.

#38 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:20 PM:

I think henceforth the god of realistic games shall be known as 'Sid'.

I wonder if Kuma have been bad enough for Sid to smite them? Perhaps just a little bit?

#39 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:30 PM:

Possible reasons why Iran wouldn't give nukes to every other crazy out there:

1. They want to keep every single one they can build or steal. At a minimum they probably want one for Iraq, one for Israel, and one for luck.
2. Subtleties of religious doctrine, over which they will fight to the knife.
3. Iranians are Persian (almost 100%, if I recall), while the rest of the area is Arab.

Plenty of things to fight over right there.

In the unrealism category- I just picked up a game that most people will probably find incomprehensible, boring, and really ugly. So far I love it. Dominions II. It's a God game made by a bunch of Swedes that learned how to make games from Ars Magica and Master of Magic...

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:30 PM:

the point that they're nuts, violent, and likley to use the nukes

I feel like that about some of the people in DC. That doesn't mean everyone in the US supports them, any more than it means everyone in Iran supports the ayatollahs who run that country (and I also don't see much difference between the ayatollahs and the neocons/religious right who think they're entitled to run this country without our consent).

Video games: I need to find my copy of Tetris and install in on my currently-in-use machine, and get some speakers or something and re-install Marble Drop (that one's no fun without the sound). Otherwise I mostly play gravity-drop mah jong and solitaire.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:42 PM:

And now we've cross-posted.

Josh, I don't accept your argument that the Iranians are "... nuts, violent, and likley to use the nukes if they build them." Sorry, but that's BS. They aren't cardboard villains.

I'm going to give you a preview, part of a post I'm writing about another subject. The topic at hand is the use of terrorists in contrived, third-rate thriller plots:

I must have seen it a thousand times. Everything turns on a random Evil Scheme hatched by generic terrorists. ...

Terrorists are useful for setting arbitrary plots in motion. As we all know, terrorists are randomly and indiscriminately malevolent, given to doing evil for its own sake. That means their actions don't have to make sense. Why should [these generic terrorists] [undertake the action described in the plot]? No reason. They're terrorists--they'll do anything.

We know these characters. When they aren't terrorists, they're Nazis, Soviet agents, alien invaders, wily Oriental masterminds, deranged inventors, serial killers, international drug dealers, lab-spawned monsters, sentient computers, runaway robots. Their capriciously evil schemes are the windup keys that have sent unnumbered little mechanical plots juddering awkwardly across the kitchen floors of literature.

When you find yourself arguing that some category of persons are so arbitrarily villainous that they'll do evil just because it's evil, you're in the realm of play-acting, not real-world foreign policy.

#42 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Josh --

I keep trying to drive home the point that they're nuts, violent, and likley to use the nukes if they build them.

That accurately describes Rumsfeld, by the best available information, and he's got nukes. Lots and lots of nukes.

Appealing to the better nature and common interests of the present US government isn't an option; they haven't got the former (or, rather, this is their better nature) and they're mostly people who still want bloody revenge for the hostage crisis, October Surprise or no October Surprise.

Selling bombs, well, the Russian unaccounted-for pile is just that, and this administration doesn't care. Pakistan has been making the tech available for ages, and any decent engineering team can do the work, these days.

And yes, this does statistically guarantee that the cities will die.

The only way around that was social, which is the sort of thing that these bozos have the utmost contempt for.

And, you know, Clinton's policy team had a fairly good grip on the North Korean problem; that situation was a whole lot better before the neocons got ahold of it.

Iran was a whole lot better before ratcheting up regional tensions -- in part through direct threats and in part by invading Iraq -- gave the hardliners the option of taking a tighter grip, too.

Fear is a terrible basis for policy.

Always.

Fear makes you stupid.

#43 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:02 PM:

I keep trying to drive home the point that they're nuts, violent, and likley to use the nukes if they build them.

That accurately describes Rumsfeld, by the best available information, and he's got nukes. Lots and lots of nukes.

Much as it pains me to be forced to defend Rumsfeld, I must point out that the US has not used its nukes yet.

#44 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:13 PM:

"Pretty obvious propaganda rather than a training aid, I would say..."

My point is that it teaches material that will require extra work and study to unlearn later.

#45 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:19 PM:

Jimcat --

You're quite right, the US hasn't used nukes. (Neither has anybody else, for that matter.)

But when someone you know has the good sense of diseased shellfish is trying to get the policy changed to include preemptive nuking of non-nuclear powers, after having the Air Force draw up detailed operational plans to nuke Iran, what's your conclusion about probable intent?

What's the only possible conclusion about probable intent?

This administration -- the US in general for the next fifty years -- can't use the "option available if we're compelled to use it" diplomatic dance, because that was the dance they did for Iraq, and now everyone knows for sure it was a deliberate, orchestrated lie. Even diseased shellfish can figure that out.

Will the preznit let him?

Hopefully not; Incurious George seems to retain some fragmentary sense of consequence and lacks burning ideological drive.

On the other hand, he's in the process of losing his grip, and I'd hate to think what might get authorized if he's angry drunk.

#46 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:26 PM:

" I must point out that the US has not used its nukes yet."

Be sure to smile when you say that around a Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor.

The Russians haven't used their nukes. The Chinese haven't used their nukes. The Indians haven't used their nukes. The Pakistanis haven't used their nukes. Neither have the French, the British or the Israelis. Not even the North Koreans.

"...the US has not used its nukes yet..." Yet, he says.

Bartender!

#47 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:47 PM:

"' I must point out that the US has not used its nukes yet.'

Be sure to smile when you say that around a Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor."

I almost posted exactly that comment, but then stopped because of the clause just before it, about defending Rumsfeld. I believe the "The US hasn't used its nukes" comments are being made in relation to Gulf War II, but won't put words in anyone's mouth.

"The Indians haven't used their nukes."
I didn't grok this for a moment, because my first thought was how it might have changed the course of American history had Columbus arrived to find a civilization with nuclear capabilities. Or perhaps even simply one sufficiently advanced as to prevent its own obliteration.
Of course, then I realized the real meaning.

On the other note, my father used to play Silent Service all the time. All the graphics advancements lately mean little to him, because he'd still rather blow up seven pixels the computer tells him are a destroyer.

And on an entirely unrelated note, Scooter Libby has resigned.

#48 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 01:55 PM:

While it's correct that the USA is the only country to have attacked another with nuclear weapons, I would suggest that the situation in 1945 was different enough to make that bit of history practically irrelevant.

Ask the residents of Hamburg, Dresden, or Tokyo how much worse nuclear weapons might have made their experience of being bombed.

I don't think the USAF today can do what RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF did in WW2, but nuclear weapons let them do it with one plane, or one missile. That's how it's changed.

#49 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:02 PM:

The idea that Iran needs nukes to defend itself against US invasion ignores that Iran was working on getting nukes long before the US invaded anyone in the Middle East. In fact, Iran wanted nukes back when they (or rather, their Shah) was our good buddy. They want them because nukes make them more powerful. Not everything in the world happens because of the United States.

Will Entrekin, the Infocom games are mostly available on the net, if you wish to play them. The Zorks are freely downloadable from Activision, and all the others are available *ahem* informally. There are several different players (reverse engineered by fans) that will play any of them. There are also a lot of newer games written by fans; Google "interactive fiction contest" to find some of the better ones.

#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:12 PM:

Dave --

Iran has certainly been pursuing "more powerful".

The point is more that you can't complain when, if you threaten to destroy people, and implicitly threaten them with being destroyed by nuking, they then attempt to develop a nuclear weapon capability for themselves.

#51 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:19 PM:

I believe the "The US hasn't used its nukes" comments are being made in relation to Gulf War II, but won't put words in anyone's mouth.

That was, indeed, my implication.

Graydon was describing Rumsfeld as "likely to use the nukes" and I was pointing out that he hasn't done so. My intent was to try to salvage at least a shred of credit for decency and right action by my country. Which, I know, is an uphill battle these days.

#52 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:26 PM:

If the best we can say is, "Well, at least they haven't yet used nukes," we're in deep trouble.

#53 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:28 PM:

I hate to try and put the Bush gov't in perspective here, but the Iran-Iraq war killed estimated 1-2 million people on both sides. I don't think Iran's government has changed "significantly" since 1988- I'm past my expertise, though.

I don't know Gulf War II numbers- 30,000 confirmed civilian deaths, but I don't know military and I don't have any idea what the unconfirmed death toll is likely to be. [I'd believe 20% more, I'd believe 300% more.]

And of course, GW II doesn't have anywhere near a final count yet.

#54 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Yes, the sub simulators can be challenging, and Run Silent, Run Deep is a good guide to the tactics. 688 Attack Sub didn't quite catch it. You had to move fast and be aggressive to keep up with the timing constraints. Was Silent Service the one which covered US subs in the Pacific War?

F19 Stealth Fighter was a bit too much "fighter" to be realistic, but it rewarded being sneaky. There was a British game called Tornado which was pretty good, and emphasised careful planning. Low level, high speed, and terrain masking -- it was a flight simulator which didn't depend on flying skill in the way that others did. And you could fly a whole mission with nothing visible outside the cockpit. Except tracers and gun-flashes.

There was another combat flight sim which would let you edit a few files and give a plane any armament you wished. A Spitfire with 8 57mm cannon was pushing the realism a bit.

I can't recall the name, but there was a program which tried to simulate naval gunnery engagements -- very limited graphics.

#55 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 02:58 PM:

If the best we can say is, "Well, at least they haven't yet used nukes," we're in deep trouble.

You're preachin' to the choir.

Having just checked out the link "We're The United States of America, and We're Helpless", I find that it speaks quite well for me. I'll leave all further comment to that.

#56 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 03:18 PM:

I hate to try and put the Bush gov't in perspective here, but the Iran-Iraq war killed estimated 1-2 million people on both sides. I don't think Iran's government has changed "significantly" since 1988- I'm past my expertise, though.

Sandy - you do know who was egging on and supplying both sides in that war, don't you?

Or was that meant to be Subtle Irony?

#57 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 04:10 PM:

The point is more that you can't complain when, if you threaten to destroy people, and implicitly threaten them with being destroyed by nuking, they then attempt to develop a nuclear weapon capability for themselves.

Graydon, my point is that Iran, both under the Shah and under the mullahs, was seeking to develop nuclear weapons long before the US made any threat (implicit or otherwise) to destroy or nuke anyone or anything in Iran.

There is no country in the world that isn't under implicit threat from someone (or believes it is), and if that's sufficient justification for developing nukes, we are going to be in for a tough century.

Perhaps we will luck out and James Blish's prediction about war (in Black Easter) will turn out to be right, and "someday they will all be nuclear powers, and the art will become as formal and minor as flower arranging." I am not sanguine on this score.

#58 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 05:43 PM:

Ah, Tornado. Which had a Gulf War I add-on, if I remember correctly. Which, as Dave Bell mentioned, rewarded planning. Rushing in guns blazing and hair on fire was a really good way to get shot down before you even ever saw an enemy. I don't know what happened to Digital Integration, the game studio that made Tornado, but if they were to release a version with up-to-date graphics, I'd buy it in a shot. Come to think of it, I have the original kicking around on CD somewhere, but I'm not sure it'd run on modern hardware.

#59 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 06:53 PM:

DaveL --

So?

The complaining is happening now and now is when they're been threatened with being destroyed as a further distraction.

The history of seeking nukes isn't really germane to the urgency or obstinacy which presently pertain.

#60 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2005, 07:00 PM:

I do blame my genocide-free extinctionist Wizard for the start of my RSI.

See, folks, that's hardcore.

#61 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2005, 04:48 AM:

I have ascended a Tourist. In fact, I've ascended every character class at least once...including the now-obsolete Elf. I haven't done genocideless extinctionist or weird stuff like that, though (although there are people who have done stuff that I'd have thought was impossible, such as foodless atheist polyselfless....) The most Nethack-munchkin I've been was the Samurai who spent a lot of time poly'd into a marilith so he could get six hits at a time with the Tsurugi of Muramasa. (Not a lot of things that won't take down!) Didn't ascend that one; got brain-sucked by a mind flayer after hitting the wrong key, and quit in disgust.

Impossible as it may sound, I've actually gotten kind of bored with Nethack.

For the people who pine for Infocom: there are a lot of people right now writing freeware text adventure games. Sturgeon's Law applies, of course, but the best of them are extremely good. If that sounds interesting, go to Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive and start looking around. (I recommend Andrew Plotkin's games; or, look at the list of award winners in the competitions.)

#62 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2005, 03:18 PM:

Just to add, the Naval game I recalled, the one dealing with Big-ship gunnery battles, was called Action Stations!

Yes, Tornado did have a Gulf War add-on, with a lot of open, flat, desert, and flak. But in some ways it was a little too easy. As soon as yoiu can, go for high-level bombing with laser-guided bombs, and plot your missions to overfly as many extra targets as possible. You could hit more targets on every mission with that approach. The scenarios and campaigns in the original were much more demanding, and the enemy air force couldn't be easily shut down.

Digital Integration did a couple of helicopter sims that got Windows 95 versions, one for the Russian Hind, and another F-16 sim, and then seemed to fade away.

I'm not sure that MS Flight Simulator was ever particularly realistic, but it did let you fly something like a real plane in something like the real world. But it did rather show up the big problem with computer simulation games. They don't tell you all that much about the proper way to do the job. You might know the ILS frequency for an airfield, but you're not told much, if anything, about the default flightpath that will put you in the right place to pick up the beam.

#63 ::: Lydy@demesne.com ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2005, 07:31 PM:

Proliferation of nuclear weapons is nothing to sneeze at. However, I think that it is the social control that has made the biggest difference in terms of safety. The use of nuclear weapons is a bright line -- ownership of same is not. Every country in the world, and a significant portion of your own citizens, regardless of what country you are, will respond with vast disapproval to any use whatsoever.

You think we alienated the UN with the attack on Iraq? Boy, howdy. Imagine dropping the bomb, even a little one.

Leherer's "Who's Next?" has the line "Russia's got the bomb but that's ok 'cause the balance of power's maintained that way." Personally, I think this is a damn precarious and terrifying way to keep nuclear war from becoming common, but it appears to be the best we've come up with, so far. The most frightening thing about contemplating Rumsfeld being stupid enough to drop the bomb is the violation of that unwritten social rule. It puts everything up for grabs.

Yes, it'd be nice if we could keep lunatics like Al Queda, or countries with less than rational leadership, like North Korea, from acquiring nuclear bombs. In a lot of cases, I expect it's too late. But we do have a strong social mechanism, which we need to preserve until we find something better. No, I'm not saying abandon all attempts to prevent proliferation, et al. What I am saying is that the social mechanism is also an important tool, and that any lowering of the bar for the use of nukes makes us all less safe. And the more powerful the aggressor, the more damage it does to that unwritten social contract.

#64 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2005, 02:57 AM:

My own take on Iran is that they are behaving rationally, once you get past their axioms. Things like religion, and the whole Shia/Sunni split, are axioms, and they don't have to make sense. Even the recent line about the State of Israel isn't outright crazy, but it looks worse because of the interaction between our axioms and theirs.

(I don't think it is entirely crazy to believe that the State of Israel, rather than the Jewish people, has turned out to be a bad answer.)

Anyhow, what we have is a country which fought a really bloody war, and the idea of fighting another probably isn't popular. There's a similarity to France, post-WW1, there. And they've had strained relations with the USA, especially since Bush came to power. And the Bush government doesn't seem willing to negotiate.

So, two things. You don't want a US invasion, and the US Army is next door, very busy fighting insurgents. It makes sense keeping the US Army busy. Second, if the US does come storming over the border, you want your own big stick. How on earth you'd use a nuke against the US, either on the battlefield, against the logistics base, or against the US itself; that's a huge problem.

If the USA is throwing Hulk-rhetoric in your direction, and if the USA has already lied about other countries to start a war, it doesn't make any difference about whether you have a nuclear program. The world knows that you don't actually have to buy yellowcake to be a target.

An Iranian nuclear program might have a lot of bluff in it, but what choice do they have against the current US government?

#65 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2005, 11:16 AM:

"I'm going to give you a preview, part of a post I'm writing about another subject. The topic at hand is the use of terrorists in contrived, third-rate thriller plots:

I must have seen it a thousand times. Everything turns on a random Evil Scheme hatched by generic terrorists. ...

Terrorists are useful for setting arbitrary plots in motion. As we all know, terrorists are randomly and indiscriminately malevolent, given to doing evil for its own sake. That means their actions don't have to make sense. Why should [these generic terrorists] [undertake the action described in the plot]? No reason. They're terrorists--they'll do anything.

We know these characters. When they aren't terrorists, they're Nazis, Soviet agents, alien invaders, wily Oriental masterminds, deranged inventors, serial killers, international drug dealers, lab-spawned monsters, sentient computers, runaway robots. Their capriciously evil schemes are the windup keys that have sent unnumbered little mechanical plots juddering awkwardly across the kitchen floors of literature.

When you find yourself arguing that some category of persons are so arbitrarily villainous that they'll do evil just because it's evil, you're in the realm of play-acting, not real-world foreign policy."

I know you just and Patrick just returned from lots of traveling, Teresa, but I just have to encourage you to post this soon, because I'm absolutely dying to read it.
And welcome back, of course.

#66 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2005, 10:27 PM:

The oldest "rewards stealth" game I can think of is Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. (The second game, predating Wolf 3D; I played it on my Apple II.)

You had a gun and a dagger; the dagger could be used to stab the guards in the back, silently killing them. You then had to drag the corpse out of sight, or the other guards would run for the alarm. If they set off the alarm, you were about to have a Very Bad Day.

This would have been 20 years ago or so.

#67 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 02:18 AM:

Hmm, military wargames on computer. I remember spending way too much time around the late 80s with the computer version of Harpoon, in which you could conduct naval warfare (including anti-submarine operations and air support) with, one was told, incredibly realistic gear. Before finding this computer version I noodled a bit with the tabletop miniatures version of the game--which presented problems in that you needed enormous play areas if you wanted to include at least most of the ships in the battle. Missile ranges were such that many attacks were carried out against targets not actually visible (to the eye, at least) to notional people on the attacking ships.

I got interested in this stuff after reading Tom Clancy's first two books (when he was still producing pretty good naval thrillers), and learning that he and Larry Bond wargamed out the proceedings in the second book, Red Storm Rising, using tabletop Harpoon.

Speaking of Red Storm Rising, one of Clancy's first forays into computer games was a game called Red Storm Rising, in which you got to command an attack submarine trying, veeeeeeery carefully, to deal with enemy submarines and surface vessels. Evading enemy homing torpedoes was hair-raising stuff and wonderfully entertaining--and this was running on a Commodore 128 (ie, twice the RAM of a C64).

#68 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 07:38 AM:

For tactical level Naval simulations, I liked Task Force 1942.

For multiship action it was okay; what I liked best was going to the gunnery station and being able to use a 5"/54 like a 5"/54. I haven't seen any games since that allowed me to do bracket-and-halving, walking ladders, and rocking ladders.

#69 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 03:56 PM:

[a Pedant asks: 1942 would have been 5"/38, yes?]

#70 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 05:09 PM:

Quite right: 5"/38.

I knew that.

#71 ::: Steve B ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 05:47 PM:

One comparatively recent game I know of that rewards, indeeds requires, stealth is the computer game _Manhunt_, from Rockstar Games. Try brazenly wading through the combat sequences without sneaking around for a favorable position and you will not get far.

#72 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 06:32 PM:

Still, bracket-and-halving, walking ladders, and rocking ladders does sound like lots of fun.


#73 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 07:33 PM:

MONTANA would have had 5"/54 secondaries. I was wracking my brains trying to remember what else might have had them.

#74 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 08:07 PM:

I love this place.

#75 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 08:28 PM:

I had to cheat and looked it up, but the answer to Graydon's stumper is the Midway class CVBs.

#76 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2005, 11:40 PM:

Jim--when you say

bracket-and-halving, walking ladders, and rocking ladders

what exactly do you mean? It sounds intriguing.

#77 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:08 AM:

Bracket-and-halving, walking ladders, and rocking ladders are all terms from surface gunnery.

I might describe exactly how to do 'em in detail later.

#78 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 01:27 AM:

Dammit, I really was going to go to sleep, but now I'm going to have to go play some Splinter Cell.

Making Light: Inspiring the passionately distractible away from sensibly resting since 2002.

#79 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 03:23 AM:

Once again I at least wonder which way the usage moved - from the general to the specific or from the specific to the general? cf - envelope and corner - reminds me of picking sorting algorithms.

"1. LOGIC DIAGRAMS: Logic diagrams include troubleshooting logic charts (TLCs), fault logic diagrams (FLDs), fault isolation pyramid charts, and fault reference tables. The TLCs and the FLDs provide a simple yes-or-no, question-and-answer approach to fault isolation. They are generally based on either a ladder method or a bracket-and-halving fault isolation technique."

Google might save Mr. Macdonald some typing here or he may want to tell more and better sea stories:
NAVAL ORDNANCE AND GUNNERY
VOLUME 2, FIRE CONTROL
"18C4. Bracket-and-halving method
The bracket-and-halving method is used at long ranges by the main battery when no air or radar spot is available. At great distances it will be impossible to tell if a splash is short of or over a target, unless the two are in line. If the splash and target are not in line, or if the splash does not line up with a ship in the formation whose range is approximately that of the target, the first spot is made in deflection only. When target and splashes are in line in deflection, a range spot is made in such a direction and amount as to “cross” the target definitely. The direction of the next spot is reversed, and the size of the spot is cut in half. This “halving” is continued until a straddle is obtained, at which time it may be appropriate to shift to rapid salvo or to continuous fire. The spot should not be reduced below pattern size. Once a straddle is obtained, centering deflection spots only should be made, as long as the spotter is sure he has both short and over splashes. If, however, over splashes are obscured by the target or by shorts, every third or fourth salvo should be fired with an add spot of one pattern size, so as to lift the entire salvo over the target. Only thus can the spotter know his straddles were not all shorts in reality.

18C5. Ladders
When ranging is difficult and visibility poor because of fog, smoke, or darkness, the use of ladders is of considerable assistance to a spotter. Ladders are not particularly adaptable to fast-moving targets. There are many variations of this technique. However, it is only necessary to understand its fundamental principles. Fire is deliberately opened short, and succeeding salvos are fired so as to approach the target in steps not less than pattern size. As soon as the target is crossed, the steps are reversed and halved until the target has again been crossed. After a straddle has been attained, a rocking ladder may be used in conjunction with slow timed fire or with rapid salvo or continuous fire.

This consists of moving the pattern back and forth across the target by small arbitrary successive spots such as + 100, 0, -100, . . . introduced at the computer or rangekeeper. It has the effect of increasing the pattern size, which may be valuable when firing against a target capable of rapid maneuvering. When this method is used, care must be taken to make correcting spots only when the zero salvos of the ladder series fall. The rocking ladder can be used in conjunction with air on radar spotting, so long as the spotter is kept informed that this technique is being used."

5"/54 later became fairly common in a different gun and different mount - I heard tales jumpering around safety interlocks to make it work was a necessary skill in 5" guns eventually though I don't think the mount was actually manned? Dual feed very high rate of fire?

Seems to me I heard tales of a British/German engagement during WWI someplace around Africa where the German pattern was tight but never connected with the British ship while the British pattern scattered enough to peck the German to death with successive single hits?

#80 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 05:18 AM:

My recollection is that in WW1 the Germans had a rather faster way of getting in their ranging shots than the British. I could be wrong here, but I think it amounted to firing a salvo pattern stretched in range, compared to firing deliberate single ranging shots. Because of the lower gunnery precision in those days -- bigger pattern sizes -- and generally shorter engagement ranges, some things might have worked then that would have been less effective in WW2.


#81 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 06:46 AM:

Bracket-and-halving, walking ladders, and rocking ladders are all terms from surface gunnery.

Maureen McHugh's Half the Day is Night mentions something called an elephant walk, done with mortars IIRC. Is that the same as any of the above?

#82 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 07:38 AM:

Wow. Fascinating stuff. Many thanks for the info, Clark.

#83 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 01, 2005, 05:34 PM:

Darn, Clark -- that's what it is, but it's pretty obscure how to do it from those quotes.

First: Elephant walk. You take your mortar, and fire a round. You see where it lands. You add elevation, and fire another. It lands closer to the target. Add elevation, fire another. Sooner or later you walk it onto your target. (For the guys inside the target, the successively closer and closer hits can be nerve wracking: see descriptions of the siege of Liege and the 42cm German mortars.)

Remember: Bearing is easy. Range is hard.

Bracket and halving (these are all techniques for when radar ranges aren't available):

First fire a salvo deliberately short. Then fire a salvo deliberately long. Halve the distance between them, and fire another salvo. Is it short or long? If short, halve the distance between your last salvo and your long salvo, and fire again. If long, halve the distance between your last salvo and your short salvo.

Continue thus halving the ranges until you achieve a straddle (half of the rounds falling short, the other half falling long). Now continuous or rapid salvoes.

Example: The target is actually at 6,435 yards.

Fire your first salvo at 10,000 yards, your second at 5,000 yards. One is short, the other is long? Excellent! Halve the distance and

Fire your next salvo at 7,500 yards. It's long. Excellent! You'll halve the distance between 7,500 and 5,000, and fire your next salvo at 6,250. Short!

Halve the distance between your shortfall (6,250 yds) and your last longfall (7,500 yds), and you get 6,875 yards. Fire!

Long!

Halve the distance between your last short and your last long, to get 6562.5 yards.

Long!

Halve the distance between that and your last short: 6406.25 yards.

Straddle! Rapid salvo, fire for effect! Mixed bag, AP, HE, and VT-Frag!

Great, everyone got that?

Now walking ladders go like this:

Start at some point on the ocean, while looking at your target. Say you start short. Give the following commands:

Add 100.
Drop 50.
Add 100.
Drop 50.
Add 100.
Drop 50.

Until you've walked your shots onto the target, and have him straddled.

(This is particularly useful if you have a high speed target, either heading toward you or heading away from you.)


Note: Torpedo bombers, low-level kamikazees, and cruise missiles are all particularly vulnerable to walking ladders. Aim for the ocean just ahead of them, and walk it on in (Drop 100. Add 50. Drop 100. Add 50...). Make 'em fly through the columns of water your shells are kicking up. That rips wings right off aircraft. (In the recent movie Stealth we saw a jet aircraft put out a fire on board by flying through a shell splash. That gave me the classic "facepalm" reaction.)

The rocking ladder is what you want to use once you have your target straddled.

It's simply this:

Add 100.
Drop 50.
Drop 50.
Add 100.
Drop 50.
Drop 50.
Add 100.

And so on. If the target maneuvers out of the straddle, adjust as necessary.

For all this you'll want to have a comrade standing by with a clipboard and a stopwatch. You may have several salvoes in the air at any given time, and you want to keep track of which one is which and where it's falling.

Further note: Shells have dye markers in various colors in 'em so you can tell which splash was caused by your ship. This is useful when several ships are firing on the same target.

Later on I might tell y'all how to build a rake. (It's a device used for tracking the fall of shot on a target that's moving diagonally in relation to you.)

#84 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 12:52 PM:

I was reading about the fire control systems on HMS Hood, and there's a few extra little points in Naval Gunnery.

1: Salvo and Broadside are different. Salvo fire was (usually) firing half the guns.

2: All these spotting corrections were applied to the Range Clock output. There was a lot of effort put into tracking the Range Rate, the rate of change of the range, which depended the course and speed and relative bearing ot target and firing ship. This gave a sort of virtual target.

Anyway, there's a pretty full account at the Fire Control page of the H.M.S. Hood Association website. Though the RN terms don't always match what the USN used.


#85 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 01:33 PM:

Is an Elephant Walk the one you use when you're firing artillery ahead of your infantry? I knew this once, for about a day and a half. . .

#86 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:03 PM:

Hadn't ocurred to me how a pillar of water would rip the wings off an airplane, but of couse it makes sense... A similar thing happened to a hang glider pilot friend of mine. He'd entered a thermal and begun to circle. Just above him in the thermal was a paraglider pilot. In the sky, the higher guy has to get out of the way, because the lower guy can't see upwards through his wing... Odds are the hang glider rose up behind the paraglider, though, and the paraglider pilot didn't see the hang glider until too late.

The hang glider wing ran into the strings that hold the paraglider seat to his wing above. The impact would have been only about 25-35 mph, into a wad of tensioned strings that when untensioned you could easily encircle in two hands. Apparently it was like running into a concrete pylon.

The hang glider's wing broke (a hollow aluminum tube about 2.5" in diameter, perhaps a quarter-inch thick), and the glider flipped over backwards several times (breaking the other wing, probably from the pilot colliding with it)...

Upshot, both pilots threw their parachutes and survived totally fine, despite only about 1000 feet of airspace above the ground. It impressed me to hear how easy it was to break aluminum in midair, though.

#87 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 02:54 PM:

First: Elephant walk

Thanks. McHugh's use of it was a good match for this thread: her protagonist introduced it into a virtual reality combat game.

Bracket and halving

Fascinating: naval gunners invented the binary search, and presumably long before computer programmers got round to it.

#88 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 04:22 PM:

Sandy, that's a creeping barrage, a technique developed, like a lot of Land Artiller stuff, in WW1. A lot of work planning it, so that you had the guns firing shells into a strip of land, and that target strip could be slowly moved, but nothing to do with finding the range.

And "creeping" suggests a slow steady advance, which it wasn't. The barrage would jerk forward, and the infantry would be rushing to reach the enemy trench before the enemy got out of their bunkers to the firing positions. But the lifts, at least by the end of that war, were small, and the attacking infantry were close to the barrage, in the danger-space. It was a choice between a shell-splinter and a burst from a machine-gun.

#89 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 04:35 PM:

Here's some pretty definite info about how the British Army used artillery in WW2, with a good section on the creeping barrage.

Artillery Fireplans

And this is The Coming of the Creeping Barrage.

The latter account maybe dents a few of the standard WW1 Myths.


#90 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2005, 06:28 PM:

Well. I'm gloating.

British readers will appreciate the very last paragraph of this document.

The Royal Artillery. for immediate delivery.

#91 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: November 04, 2005, 01:36 AM:

Where I grew up, an elephant walk was what you called it when a guy took a leak while walking. It was traditionally done while staggering drunk in a parking lot somewhere.

I like your version better.

#92 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2007, 02:53 PM:

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[Posted from 66.29.115.42]

#93 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2007, 02:53 PM:

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[Posted from 66.29.115.42]

#94 ::: . ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2007, 02:54 PM:

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[Posted from 66.29.115.42]

#97 ::: Dawno sees triple Spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2007, 02:57 PM:

You must be very lonely to post three times...

#98 ::: Jon Meltzer sees yet another spammer ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2008, 07:22 AM:

Ba-dum.

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