Friday, October 05, 2007

Bark/Byte: Spaced out

I've been a little spaced out this week, in more than one sense, because not only have I had to take a couple of days off this week due to some mysterious lurgy, this week also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch. The current state of the Space Programme is pretty depressing when you think about it. In the first twelve years, we'd put men on the Moon, but for the last thirty-five years, not only have we not made it back to the Moon, it's been a struggle to get people into orbit and back again in one piece. I have serious doubts whether we'll make it back to the Moon, let alone to Mars (and I'd be first on the list of volunteers for that one-way-trip) in my lifetime. It doesn't have to be this way, either - if only politicians could see that learning about space and travelling to other planets is ultimately a little more important than international terrorism. Mankind should be reaching out to the stars, because one day we're going to have to leave Earth because we've done such a good job of screwing it up, but it seems like we'd much rather just sit in the mess we've created and go extinct. Somehow, I don't think we'll be missed...

Mankind's a petty little species more content with picking meaningless fights over equally meaningless belief systems and resources that are destined to run out and leave us living back in the Stone Age than pulling together and working for a common benefit. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I hate all the vested interests of governments and corporations who want their little piece of power and money pie - and who are willing to walk over whoever it takes to keep hold of it. They'll be the end of us all - but as long as they hang onto their power and money, short-termism will rule - and it's a situation I can't see changing until there's a catastrophe of such huge proportions that it'll be too late to do anything about it.

Perhaps this is why I take refuge in videogames (and alcohol), because unreality trumps what's laughably called "real life" every time. In games at least you have some measure of control and the choices you make are your choices - you still have to conform to the world's rules, but at least you have the consequence-free illusion of control and choice. Semi-inspired by the Sputnik anniversary, but mainly because I really fancied playing it again, I reinstalled Haegemonia this week, and I've played most of my way through the first three campaigns. It's one of the few RTS games I've ever really been able to get to grips with, much more so than something like Homeworld, for example. At the time of its original release, I compared it favourably with my favourite RTS of all time: Star Wars: Supremacy (or Rebellion, if you're not a Brit) and had a legendary review-and-counter-review battle with MPK in State Magazine about it (the infamous Hedge-mona issue - if anyone still has a copy of it, please mail it to me, I seem to have temporarily misplaced my copy - I'm sure I still have it on a CD-R somewhere, I just can't be arsed looking for it).

Considering that it's clocking on for five years old now, I still think Haegemonia stands up nicely today, and would say that it's one of the most underrated RTS games of recent times. I think it's quite prescient in that the story begins with humanity knocking seven bells of Hell out of each other before actually realising "hmm, wouldn't it be easier if we could all... get along?" - and then, of course, it finds new, interesting alien species to beat the crap out of instead. Though viscerally still quite stunning ("OMG, the 'splodes!"), the combat isn't really why I like the game so much - it was more that sense of being in a persistent universe. Other than on a couple of occasions, all the work you put into colonising and building up planets transferred from one mission to the next, so rather than being wholly scripted, you could strategically plan from one level to the next ("hmmm, it would be interesting to put a Quantum Defence Platform over this wormhole...") to set up choke points, or provide your worlds with Military Academies, Planetary Shields or the like for the next level so you didn't have to micromanage so much. So like Supremacy, while there's the whole galactic conflict and genocide of worlds thing going on, you're still creating a legacy and going boldly where no-one has gone before (whoops, wrong franchise).

So if you're pissed off that we're not yet living on Mars in a techno-meritocracy too, you might do well to pick it up for all of five of your Earth Pounds, and live those spaced out dreams...
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