"You start the game with bloody harpoons guns! The only way to close the vast technologic gap between races is to slaughter in mass number, steal the weapons from their corpses, and have your boffins at home make you human-friendly versions."
If anyone with more than a passing knowledge of iconic turn-based strategy X-Com heard me discuss it amongst friends (which I do. Regularly. In public. Despite their pleas for me to stop) they'd probably think I was talking about a different game all together. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but all this proves is that they are idiots: in my case, familiarity has raised a new vocabulary.
It's more common than you think: put Counterstrike's invention of pwned in mind before it swept across the internet like only a meme can. Take my own (cheaply hyperlinked) experiences with Quake III which gave birth to the Bitterman Rule. Give it a little bit of thought and I wager there's a million little pet names and labels you've unknowingly adhered to numerous media -- not just video-games -- that you frequently visit.
You could say that, in doing so, it makes it feel more like it's yours. Which is pretentious as hell, hence why it may be your excuse, but it's not mine.
Brainchild is perhaps the most obvious of my homebrew slang: it's the name given to a seven-foot entanglement of exposed brain cortex’s and whipping tentacles. I could try and pass this off as a by-product of my creative mind, but the truth is by the time I'd decided on a comfortable way to pronounce Tentaculat, their true names, the nickname had stuck.
Perhaps, subconsciously, I wanted to try and dial down the intimidation factor given off by these beasts; most of Terror from the Deep's cast of intergalactic marauders follow the same basic principle of being armed with big ray guns and differ only in stats like accuracy, armour strength and appearance. Not so with the Brainchildren: while these nightmares are content to shrug off blasts of heavy artillery, they drift through battlefields like banshees, and, rather than shoot at their targets, they infect them instead. In seconds, they can spread a virus that turns once loyal soldiers into lumbering zombies that turn and attack their former allies without pause. Anything they strike down -- and these powerful brutes can take down even the most heavily-armoured marines in a second -- is another carrier of the plague. You can lose entire platoons in an instant.
It’s almost as bad to kill them as to let them live. Fell these turncoats, and a fresh tentaculat bursts from their already-rotting chests to reap havoc anew.
They’re so much more worrying than my aptly-named chickenmen - amorphous blobs of green slime that take over the abandoned suits of dead military divers, turn them sentient, then have them swarm luxury cruisers, killing off bikini-clad harlots and legions of sailors.
Their real names are Calcinite, but if something wants to strut around in a yoke-yellow suit like cock-of-the-run, it gets a derogatory label attached. We can all have a good laugh in how it looks like a shoddy Halloween costume, but the giggles make a gurgled resignation once it bludgeons you to death without any real effort.
Other aliens, like the newt-inspired tasoth or the lobstermen who are, um, lobster-like get to keep thier names, but with the greatest of respect. These brutes are just as deadly; just as able to tear through ranks, be it with chainsaw-like vibro-blades or hulking sonic cannons that melt steel.
You start the game with bloody harpoons guns! The only way to close the vast technologic gap between races is to slaughter in mass number, steal the weapons from their corpses, and have your boffins at home make you human-friendly versions.
It’s not always easy to pry the alien’s toys away from them. The mainstay of the invading army are the super-intelligent aquatoids, little grey men with little almond eyes and an annoying habit of hacking into human minds then having them blow the back of their friend’s heads clean off. To secure this ability for yourself, you’ll need a complex combination of specific hardware and alien corpses to dissect to turn the tables.
It’s both infinitely easier and infinitely harder to get your hands on my most poignant custom-made name. The hill-leveller requires no complex research branches or piles of alien cadavers; all you need to research is the weapon itself. All you need do is kill an enemy armed with one. Before he kills you.
The odds are not in your favour.
They have a real name, a scientific one: partial disrupter launcher. But, after my first meeting with the weapon, the name forever changed.
Perhaps you can blame my overconfidence somewhat. I had carefully cultivated a crack team of hardened soldiers, decked them out in stiff alien-made armours and dropped all manner of otherworldly armourments into trained hands and loaded them into a sub-traversable jet fighter, a destructive hybrid of distinct technology. Feeling invincible, I piloted my new craft towards an underwater hive of invaders that the Australian government had alerted me towards.
At first, things went swimmingly. Extraterrestrial, eldritch architecture sprang out of the darkness that lifted into a murky seabed the more I scouted and explored. Giant mutated sea creatures served as nothing more than target practise; lobstermen snipers were gunned down before they knew I’d landed, and even the tentaculat which broke from the shadows fell to an onslaught of reaction fire. I was cautious with my team, but confident. Their turns took them deeper into the heart of the alien base, their time units saved for naught but the weakest of attacks should a threat present itself during their vulnerable wait while the aliens took their turn. I held no fear: anything that couldn't be killed out of turn could be taken out during.
My humbling destruction came to a backdrop of electric technobabble.
A jutting out section of what I had correctly assumed was the main building of the base in question had loomed out of the blacked out stage, complete with what was clearly a sniper’s platform. Confident that any movement from the outreach would be met with a hail of ally gunfire, I positioned my initial platoon on a moderate hill nearby, the modest swell providing what I thought would result in a superior angle for my troops. They knelt down, minimising their target and maximising the accuracy; they were ready.
A few seconds later, they were dead.
From the window came not a target, but a sizzling missile, one that was seemingly bound for the opposite wall but changed direction in mid-air, cutting a perfect 90° turn. Electronic clashes emitted from the rocket as it once again changed direction, this time dipping its nose and heading right into the middle of my ranks. A hellish explosion followed, burping up a parade of bubbles towards the ocean’s surface. When the chaos was cleared, all that was left was… nothing.
No survivors. No bodies. No discarded weapons. No hill.
A smart player can and will claim his own hill-leveller, but not without significant risk. The risk of losing everything you’ve worked so hard on building in a split second, or the risk of seeing triumph snatched out of your hands in a single blast of landscape-altering insanity.
But there’s also the risk of facing complete addiction to what is arguably the landmark turn-based strategy. Of loosing yourself so completely in a title that, over a decade later, the genre is still scrambling -- and failing -- to replicate. It can happen; it will happen.
You could so easily turn into the person discussing X-Com in the pub gardens with a crowd of people who have no idea what you’re talking about, but you continue anyway. You’re just a few hours gameplay away from giving tasoths their very own pet-name.
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