Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I so do not do this....

I don't do computer games. I wargame to be with other people, to discuss our mutual interests as well as to explore my interests in military history. Computers have never really done it for me, - where's the fun in simply beating a machine? It doesn't care.

I don't think I've changed my mind, but this last weekend I did play in a computer moderated game that was one of the most enjoyable wargaming things I've done in the last few years.

I was down at the Defence Academy near Swindon this weekend. A wargaming friend of mine works there and every so often organises what he calls a "Heavy Metal Weekend" where we can get to crawl over the vehicles in the tank shed and also play wargmaes using the establishment's facilities. This means purpose built PC/server set ups amongst other things.

In the past we have played "America's Army" and other first person shooters or tank simulators that try to convince you that hitting the left mouse button whilst simultaneously holding down the Z key or similar is a reasonable approximation of combat. I play these but I'm afraid I'm not very good. My reactions aren't quick enough and I can never remember the key strokes. Ultimately I can't be bothered to practice to get any good either.

This time we were promised the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator, a multiplayer game that looks like the starship Enterprise.We warmed up with some first person shooter team game using VBS2, the British Army's combat simulator. We had two teams running the same mission, a hostage rescue in a small village. We crawled and shot and re-spawned our way to eventual victory, the body count of about 18 rescuers more than being made up by killing 50 insurgents and freeing two captured pilots.

Then on to Artemis. The twist for one of the teams was that we got to play the game in a Piranha APC. Yes. One of these:

It may not know it, but this is the starship Artemis

Artemis interior
Yes, - it had proved possible to set up 6 laptops in a network in the back of an armoured vehicle such that it could function as a command centre. The Piranha seats 6 people in the back facing out, and has a driver and commander seat at the front. The Captain of the ship sat in the front with his monitor installed on the commander's seat, looking back down the vehicle towards the rear doors. The right hand side of the rear compartment held the Helmsman, Communications Officer & Engineer. The other side had Weapons and Science officers. With the doors closed it became a very atmospheric setting, as I think the following pictures show.
Looking inside through the portal - the "spacewalk" view

Helmsman, Comms & Engineering stations

The Helmsman prepares for action

The crew of the Artemis discuss what order to get on board

The crew "in situ" at the end of another succesful mission.
So what of the flights of the Artemis that have now passed into legend? We played three games of increasing complexity. The first flght was done on the simplest settings and we were a crew man short so I ran both Comms and Engineering. We happily flew around and destroyed loads of invading ships with very little personal danger.The experienced players suggested that Engineering was a full time job, so for the second flight we added an extra crew man and swapped roles.

I can't give a blow by blow account of the second mission. I can say it got a lot more frantic as we went up to a middle setting of difficulty with what was still largely a rookie crew. What we had learned from the first mission was to get all the Deep Space station supply points to build nukes and then fire as many of them as you could at the enemy as often as possible. It may not have a lot of finesse but generally speaking it's very effective.

The game climaxed with a concerted assault on DS2 by massed hordes of alien ships. We were across the quadrant at the time when the message came in and had to warp back to save the day. Accounts of what happened next are unclear, although the Captain was videoing the entire mission using his laptop wecam. I think the key exchange goes like this:

Comms: "DS2 reports it is under attack2
Captain: "Helm - set heading to DS2, maximum warp but don't overshoot. Weapons load nukes"
Weapons "Nukes loaded"
Comms: "DS2 reports shields down to 20%"
Captain: "L:ock on to enemy ships and fire nukes"
Comms "DS2 shields down to 20%"
Captain "Fire Nukes"
Comms: "DS2 asks why we're firing at them"
Science " All enemy ships destroyed"
(General cheering by the crew)
Comms: "DS2 destroyed"
Captain "If anyone asks, it wasn't us and we tell the court martial we were somewhere else"

After that we mopped up the remnants of the alien scum and headed back to the surviving DS for RnR.

Biggest learning point of the mission, - don't fire nukes near space stations, especially those with weakened shields. Alledgedly.

For the next mission we upgraded to the Excaliber (which has four nuke tubes instead of two) and ratcheted up the level of difficulty again.

The flight of the Excaliber was equally nail biting. We stuck to our previously appointed positions and off we flew. The main feature of this flight was the engineer's increased finessing of the power and system configurations to make us more effective. Or as the captain put it "Who's turned off power to the long range scans AGAIN!!!"

We started to learn a few tricks as we went along, - the comms scan is better at picking up how many ships are out there than the science scans, although less useful for example. Knowing when to quit and resupply is crucial. Getting the space stations to make the right supplies helps a lot, as does keeping track of what is where. Having torpedoes is handy as you can convert them to engine fuel. If you don't have any you can end up drifting in space after a hurried fight and flight.

At the end of the final succesful flight we repaired to the main lab to fly in a fleet game with the other crew. That was fun, but really a big anti-climax after life in the Piranha.

So, yes, I really enjoyed a computer game. Would I do it again? Difficult to say, and the opportunity is unlikely to present itself again anyway.

But mostly I think I'd like to leave the memory as it is.


  1. That sounds like an absolute blast! When can we have a go!

    1. It was great, but a one time deal.

      On the other hand you could buy your own ex-WarPac APC on e-bay.....

  2. "other first person shooters or tank simulators that try to convince you that hitting the left mouse button whilst simultaneously holding down the Z key or similar is a reasonable approximation of combat"

    Yes, we all know that the only reasonable approximation is to be had by rolling a D6, applying an A4 page's worth of tactical factors and consulting a chart ;-)

    That APC set-up is great though - it could almost convince me to play games on a computer.

    1. At least using the toy soldiers and die doesn't pretend to be providing you with a realistic combat experience.

      The APC was just so good, - as I said it is something I just don't do normally because i don't enjoy it. Shame there isn't a battleship simulator, then you could set it up on HMS Belfast......

  3. That did sound like a good time! I like you am no computer gamer, in fact I used to watch my son play just to figure out how it would translate to the miniatures table...)

    1. It was more like playing a command post exercise but with the computer being the umpire.That's probably why i enjoyed it.

      Apart from being in an APC.

  4. I think I must be a gaming heretic, as I enjoy all wargaming outlets; PC strategy/simulations, console shooters/RPGs, board games AND collecting,painting, scratch-building and gaming with minatures.
    It's all a matter of choice/ time constraints and so on. Some of my best gaming experiences ever, have been during online sessions, when you can (sensibly) converse with your opposite number in real time as you play.

  5. If you enjoy it, do it. I suppose one of the issues for me is I spend all day in front of a computer screen, so doing the same for my hobby might not be so much of a break.

  6. Did something like this VERY MANY years ago
    in our unit conference room and several offices, we played a game called Dunn Kempf
    (basically a micro armor cold war Russians crossing the inter-German boarder scenario.)
    Can see it here:

    We had field commanders in the room moving the troops and overall commanders in the separate offices sending commands by radio...your basic FTX.

    1. I've played in a few games like that. They work pretty well if you can get the comms and the umpiring worked out.

      I've wargamed with the publisher of D-K a few times, but never played it.

  7. Great review.

    I would have like to seen the game stats at the end to see if fiddling with the engines did assist our performance.

    I have ranked this as one of my top ten wargame experiences.


    1. Nick,

      I'm sure all your fiddling helped. it would be a shame if you endured the Captain's wrath for nothing.

      Top Ten experience? Quite possibly so, - never really thought about them like that.