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February 26, 2012 / jwaxo

Command & Conquer (Weaknesses)

You can always tell the bad guy by who picks a scorpion for their symbol.

When we first got Red Alert, we got it through a massive trade with my brother’s best friend: namely, we traded Warcraft II and its expansion for everything that the Command & Conquer series had to offer. That included Red Alert, both of its mission pack expansions, and the game that it was a sequel/prequel to: the original Command & Conquer. As we all know, sequels are always better than the original, so we tossed C&C aside for its slicker Russia-versus-US gameplay, ignoring the pseudo-futuristic vibe that the original gave.

However, after being utterly pounded into the ground on both of Red Alert‘s campaigns, probably around the fifth mission or so, I installed C&C and gave it a whirl. After all, it was the previous game in the series, so it should have been simpler, easier, and still fun.

Before I get into specifics, let’s look over how RTS games work, something I haven’t done yet. Most classic “real-time strategy” games fall into a simple pattern: as a commander of an army, you gather resources from the surrounding area while building up your base and units. At any time the enemy can strike, so you take advantage of the terrain to create defenses, possibly sending out your own offenses, until you’ve built up a large enough army that attacks on enough fronts at once to storm the enemy’s base and hopefully win.

Basically, the utter dream of any would-be general.

Storm the beachheads! Man the cannons! Fly the various flying vehicles!

The problem was, I absolutely am horrible at this kind of thing.

I’ve gotten better over the years, marginally. I can hold my own against newbies in this genre, if I know a bit more about the game than them. I can memorize attack strategies and how to fastest get units pumping out, so I can, hopefully, Zerg rush on in there and end the battle before it can shape up into something I can’t control.

Keep in mind that this is not something that has dissuaded me from playing these games for my entire gaming life. Unlike, say, Mario Kart, which I have always been bad at and always will be, I actually enjoy RTS games. I’ve owned maybe a dozen different ones, played almost all of them against humans and computers alike, and I can never do better than average in any given fight.

And I willingly threw my small, fragile body against that rocky wall of RTS games over and over again, especially with that first attempt at a playthrough of C&C. The game had no cheat codes to help me get through the campaign, the internet yielded no definitive walkthroughs and easy routes. So I merely pounded away, again and again, at something that I was no good at and didn’t seem to be getting any better at.

And maybe if I keep jumping off of the roof, I’ll eventually grow wings!

The silly thing, and maybe the important thing to consider, is that I always did and still do have a heck of a lot of fun playing RTS games. Even though I rarely win, and have never beaten the campaign on any of the ones I’ve owned, there’s something that I really love in there. Maybe the careful mix of a well-balanced army pleases me, or the gradual unlocking of better technologies and buildings and units, or maybe just the sight of hundreds of units that I’ve built by hand crawling across the landscape to all get torn down by my doubtlessly-better-equipped enemy.

The lesson here is that sometimes, even though you’re bad at it, you still can get an awful lot of enjoyment out of something. You shouldn’t dislike something just because you’re bad at it, even if there’s clearly no chance of getting better at it. It also taught me that I should always try new things, even if I’m clearly going to be bad at it from the get-go. Winning doesn’t automatically make something fun, just like losing doesn’t automatically make it not-fun.

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from sometimes setting the computer’s difficult to super-easy and getting some enjoyment from beating the snot out of them.

And on those moments, you truly feel like a magnificent genius.

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