Nostalgia sometimes surprises me. It doesn't surprise me that it occurs, mind you—I am prone to it myself on occasion. What surprises me are the things people are nostalgic for. Cars that were dangerous at speeds over 35 mph. The McDonald's McRib. Eras where we had more freedom from governmental overreach, but not much by way of a social safety net or tolerance for alternative lifestyles. I’m looking at you, 1950s. Well, except for the McRib—that dubious honor belongs to the 1980s.
This reflection on the power of nostalgia was brought about by playing an early release of Wild Factor’s new real-time strategy (their description, not mine, but we will get to that) game called Freaking Meatbags. I have to confess right here and now that I was immediately intrigued by the name of the game, primarily because that is how I view some of the less talented drivers I encounter during my lengthy, daily commute. Although if I’m honest, "Freaking" is a euphemism of the word I actually use.
Where is the tie-in with nostalgia? Well, that comes from a couple of places. First, the graphics used in the game are extremely 1980’s-ish. Large, blocky pixels, although not quite Minecraft size, are very reminiscent of the first graphics-based games I played back in the days of the early IBM PC and some of the later "gaming" PCs like the Commodore 64. When I see things like this, I wonder two things. First, why, in a world where we commonly have easy access to nearly photo-realistic games, would anyone want to deliberately seek out, or develop, something decades crappier? This leads to my second response, which is, "Was this deliberate, or is it simply an indication of low budget?"
The other aspect of Meatbags (I am assuming that we are on a last name basis here) that reminds me of an earlier era is the nature of the characters' dialog. This is twofold. First, it is text drawn in a square-ish font and displayed in word balloons—there is no spoken text. The second is the caustic/sarcastic nature of the text. Back in the day, many error messages and a lot of gaming text was very snarky. This would be a time when developers showed their superiority over their users by assuming every user error was driven by idiocy and/or malice—the insulting error messages were (perhaps subliminally) intended to reaffirm the relative superiority of the developer over the user. This is evidenced in Meatbags in the way the "superior" robot talks to and about the mere humans under its control.
Note that I am not being judgmental here; as a developer myself, I too have posted somewhat less-than-helpful error messages in applications. Still do, in fact, for what I believe to be singularly stupid user mistakes. All of that having been said, the overabundance of this in Meatbags began to wear on me after awhile, and it got me to wondering if modern sensitivities will truly enjoy it. Let’s put it this way: Don Rickles and his schtick of overt meanness probably would not garner the same admiration and toleration today as it did in the way-back.
The game itself is not just real-time strategy. It is a hybrid of RTS, tower defense, and kinda-sorta shoot 'em up blessed with a great deal of misanthropic, shallow humor. But hey, they can't make you read it…
The premise of the game is pretty simple: some evil has befallen the solar system and is causing planets to explode. Your job as the robot is to harvest precious metals from planets prior to their pending explosion. This is accomplished by enlisting the aid of humans, but as a superior robotic intellect, you find humans to be lazy and stupid. Nothing that merging DNA to create a stronger, better, smarter species cannot fix, though. As you improve and manage these humans, you incur the responsibility for defending them as the inhabitants of whatever planet you are on attack. It is this defensive posture that defines the gameplay.
It is in the area of defense that most of the tower defense and shooter aspects come into play, so to speak. On some planets, the goal is to marshal the efforts of your human helpers to the mining of various metals. These metals can then be used to create defensive weapons to (hopefully) repel the nightly attacks from the hostile indigents inhabiting the planet. Because your humans are lazy and stupid, it takes constant attention to keep them focused on their work. On other planets, it becomes your job to find and destroy the enemies. This is where the aspects of a 2D shooter come into play.
It is also possible to modify your humans through combinatorial DNA cloning. Humans with disparate strengths can be paired together to create more humans with the combined strengths of the parents. Mind you, this isn’t done in the traditional sense of mating and spawning; you have access to a nifty machine that can accomplish the task in very little time, and with none of that fussy human emotion to deal with.
But wait, there’s more! There is no reason not to expand your DNA combining with the same-old, same-old human-to-human pairings. Why not throw an alien or two into the mix? This will add a great deal more variety in to the possible mutations. What’s not to like about laser eyes? Who wouldn’t want that? That said, being created with the ability to explode on impact with enemies seems somewhat, well, undesirable from a quality of life point of view. Still, as the overlord of these creatures, it’s pretty much all about the utility that can be derived from them as far as you’re concerned.
With the caveat that I was playing with a pre-release version and it is possible that things will change, it looks like Wild Factor has found a way to combine some of the best aspects of RTS and tower defense into a hybrid that makes good use of the best traits of both. Throw in small doses of direct control of the weapons, and the picture looks even better. While the retro look is likely to work either for or against its popularity depending on the player, the gameplay definitely has potential. It will also help that the cost of the game is likely to be quite reasonable.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.