How to Lose Friends over a 1990s RTS

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Nobody I know played this gem besides a handful of buddies from highschool. It’s a realtime strategy game you might at first be inclined to conclude is simply “underwater starcraft”, but the differences are more than superficial.

First of all, there is verticality to gameplay in a way not found in Starcraft. Units can ascend or descend through five layers of depth, and can hide underneath geological structures like caves, cliffs and overhangs to conceal themselves from the opponent.

The factions are very interesting as well. The Black Octopi and white sharks (the two human factions) are a bit samey except for some unique units each has that the other can’t build, but the Silicons (the alien faction) are really something else.

They have a totally different way of building bases for one thing, and their weapons are completely different. Whereas the two other factions have predictable undersea weaponry (and some oddball stuff, like suicide bomber dolphins and mind controlled sharks to counter them) the Silicons have laser satellites, vacuum bombs and other exotic shit.

Anyway I always played Black Octopi, and besides Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, Sub Titans was one of the favorite games to play over LAN in the highschool computer lab. Matches got pretty heated in Duke and Quake, but Sub Titans games were usually pretty subdued, until one match in particular.

I was playing against a guy who was an ace at Quake. I always preferentially played against him even though he trampled all over me every time, because it’s like running with weights on. My game improved much more rapidly if I practiced against him.

He was terrible at Sub Titans though and would become frustrated that his skill at an fps did not translate well to the rts genre. He was familiar with Starcraft only by reading about it in gaming magazines and on the shitty 1990s internet, so he thought the height of tactical brilliance was to mass manufacture small units the entire game, then send them all at me near the endgame.

As Starcraft players know, this is really a pretty elementary tactic which only works against new players unfamiliar with how to counter it. But my method of countering his small unit rush, after losing embarrassingly to it several times, was perhaps a bit ruthless.

I’d tried hiding my base in clever spots, with no luck. I tried distributing my base as much as possible to hide it better, under overhangs. Not practical on most maps. At last I arrived at a strategy which worked beautifully, but only once.

Rather than build a single large base, I built two medium sized ones. The easily located one had all the buildings that would only be temporarily useful, like science labs, and the turrets necessary to defend them until they finished researching nukes.

I had a single token sub factory and a smattering of other units for plausibility, but really it was just a decoy. My real base with the huge majority of the practical structures like sub factories, munitions factories, mines and so forth was elsewhere, tucked away in the corner of the map.

He scouted the decoy base early on, and apparently satisfied he’d found my real base, focused on mass producing single seat fighter subs. At last, he rushed the now defunct base, making no effort to conceal his glee as the swarm of fighters destroyed the labs one by one.

This is when I nuked my decoy base, destroying nearly all of his swarm, then sent my own fleet of corvettes and destroyers in the general direction I knew his base to be. I didn’t bother researching scouts, because with his fleet destroyed I had plenty of time to track him down before he could build a new one.

This was, according to him, “cheating”. Nuking your own bases/units never occurred to him as a viable strategy (which it isn’t, save for extremely specific circumstances) and he insisted it was against the rules. What rules, I asked. He appealed to good sportsmanship, though not in those words.

But an RTS is a war game, and all is fair in love and war. He would not leave without a rematch, but I wouldn’t give him one because I wanted to coast on the satisfaction of finally beating his only strategy, which had given me no small amount of trouble in the prior matches.

So he went off to steam, and I assumed he’d get over it. But he didn’t talk to or play games with me after that, FPS included. I thought I was temperamental at that age, but I wouldn’t have cut off a friend over a computer game. I’d have been more bothered by it except we only really spoke to or met with each other to play those games in the first place.

As for the ethics of bombing my own troops? Let history be my judge. Each and every one of them knew what they were signing up for, and they live on in glory as martyrs whose sacrifice made the final victory of the Black Octopi possible. ( ಥ‿ಥ)

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