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Another World

September 11th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 4 Comments · History

At moment, I’m sitting through the very long install of World in Conflict, the Cold War Gone Hot RTS from Massive Entertainment and Sierra. The box cover shows a GI dragging two little girls to safety as a helicopter fires rockets at the Statue of Liberty.

As far as settings go, this setting is pretty popular. As a late Cold War baby, I remember both amazing TV moments like The Day After and laughable drek like Amerika. And, of course, wargamers tired of refighting WW2 loved to model the Fulda Gap, through which the Red Army was expected to invade West Germany.

In fact, the first computer game that really consumed my hours was a late 80s superpower showdown, Harpoon. Naval and air warfare in the GIUK Gap, that wide space of sea between Greenland and Norway.

Of course, when most of these were made, there was still a possibility of the Soviet Union invading Europe, either because of an escalating crisis somewhere around the world (as shown in Balance of Power) or as World in Conflict posits, as a last ditch attempt to revive a flagging empire. (I remember reading an article in grad school that attacked political scientists for not predicting the sudden, peaceful collapse of the USSR. Given how improbably and historically unprecedented that was, I didn’t blame them.)

World in Conflict is different, coming a decade and a half after the erasure of Lenin’s new Russia. So it has to pass the tests of Alternate History. It begins with a far-fetched trans-Pacific Soviet invasion of Seattle, but based on the exaggerated sense we had then of Soviet power projection, why not?

February’s War Front: Turning Point was the last big imagined history RTS. It had a World War II in which Britain falls to Germany. A German-American technology race leads to the US freeing Europe and toppling Nazism only to face Stalin’s invading army shortly after. It had all kinds of wacky weapons, and I’m kind of sorry I haven’t spent more time with it. Maybe once my schedule lightens a little…

Last year saw Cuban Missile Crisis, another alternate timeline in which Kennedy blows it and the world ends up contaminated by nuclear fallout and an unstable multipolar world. The setting and some nice war-planning stuff was all it had going for it, since so many of the missions were identical.

But that’s about it as far as recent alternate timelines go. The upcoming Asian Dynasties expansion to Age of Empires III will have the Chinese discover America, per Gavin Menzies, but that’s just another campaign in a game that hasn’t had a lot of good campaigns.

So here are five alternate timelines that could make interesting and original strategy games. Note: these are just cool settings. Turning any one of them into an intriguing game would require serious thought about how to distinguish it from every other strategy game out there. World in Conflict, for example, is going with an original approach to multiplayer battles. Any one of these could use something like that. But you should start with an idea.

1) The Years of Rice and Salt: The Black Death obliterates Christian European culture, leaving the Islamic and Asian Empires as the rivals for world dominance.

2) The Eternal City: The Roman Superstate survives into the Middle Ages. I’d keep it a technologically conservative but militarily impressive empire, now confronting invasions from the East and Middle East. You can either have Rome survive because and energetic crusading Christianity keeps it together or because new Paganism does something. Gibbon seems to think that might have helped…

3) The Eagle Is Everywhere: Napoleon had vassalized continental Europe and isolated Great Britain. Imperial France is now pushing revolutionary ideas around the globe, but comes face to face with a burgeoning American Empire in the West. Will France be able to displace the remnants of the British Empire? Can it keep the tottering Spanish vassal empire together? And where will it stand as the United States falls into Civil War?

4) Atahualpa in Madrid: Jared Diamond points out that there are many reasons why the Incas did not invade Spain. But the idea of an invasion force of soldiers in alpaca armor riding llamas over the hills of Granada appeals to me.

5) Enigma: Rising Tide: OK, we already have a naval sim with this theme, but why not have a strategy game where the German Empire, the Japanese CoProsperity Sphere and American Not-An-Empire struggle for world domination on the high seas?


4 Comments so far ↓

  • roberton

    Some nice ideas here (you’ve even suggested some great titles here, I hope you get a fee if anyone picks these up).

    Going back to the first point of cold war themed games (as opposed to other interesting alternative histories), I think this is very suitable gaming material. Yes there have been a few, but if you think just how many near-future SF themed games there are (just strategy even, never mind other genres), there’s plenty of room for more here. (Especially since they really are in a *near* future SF, few indeed are games that are set in a radically different society or where biological advances are thought through. They’re usually just like now, but a bit more distopian and with bigger guns).

    I was born in 1971 and so am right at the tail end of cold war culture; I probably only make it at all because I was a bit more serious than average and was reading the international section of a daily paper as a fairly young teenager. But games such as Balance of Power made a big impression on me, and something lives on from that cold war mindset, even if for me it is more of a near-fantasy than a memory of a real threat.

    To add to Balance of Power and Harpoon (which is probably the first game I played about which I feel guilty I didn’t play more) I would add Attack Sub 688 and the original Red Alert as early-ish games I loved that were in that cold-war-gone-hot area. But I’m surprised I can’t think of others I’ve played, especially strategy games. They are easy settings in that they can use real, current units and settings, but they can avoid the crushing pressure that real-historical strategy games have in providing plausible outcomes and yet allowing the player’s choices to make a difference.

    And the glory of world socialism is much more appealing when you’re not in danger of experiencing it.

  • Scott R. Krol

    I’ve always been surprised that we haven’t really seen #2 and #3. Both seem to be natural gaming choices. #1 also has plenty of possibilities, yet again no one has really examined it from a gaming perspective.

    A few other timelines that are perfect strategy gaming fodder, and yet rarely ever done…

    The South is successful in the War of Northern Aggression. Except for an old magazine game, CSA, and the line of Harry Turtledove books, no one ever considers the ramifications of victory.

    No World War One. What would be the next major conflict without the rise of all the -isms that post WWI gave us?

    No Russian Revolution. Would there still be a post-WW2 Cold War? Would Germany have turned east without communists in power?

  • Bruce

    Amerika was a lot better than The Day After, which was a lot of things, but certainly not amazing.

  • Troy

    Amerika was guilty pleasure shlock. Kris Kristofferson was the least convincing political prisoner ever cast to film. The Day After avoided the political stuff but did a great job of communicating what a post nuclear exchange world would look like.

    Of course, I haven’t seen either in their entireties since I was in high school.