Last Fathers Day my son got me what is billed as a "steampunk blade," a short sword or long knife, as your preference decides. The graceful blade is set off by rosewood grips and decor, there are two catch-slots in the blade to snag an enemy's knife and twist it out of his hand or snap the blade, and the hand guard makes a credible knuckle-duster if you're crowded. If you look closely, you can see where he had "Blimprider," my sobriquet in the world of steampunk, engraved at the base of the blade. The non-functional pistol, which is a Very-type launcher, is one of four I have received over a couple of years, and the only one without a stand, so I've been casting about for some sort of display. The two items came together with a nice plank salvaged from an old TV stand we were showing the door, and this is the result.
Looking at this has inspired a possible story about a meek bookish type with a secret life as some sort of goblin hunter. Nice set of tools, I must say.
* * *
My other great acquisition this weekend was XCom: UFO Defense, the greatest game ever made. For those unfortunates who haven't had the pleasure, XCom is an old DOS game first released in 1994 for the PC. It's available on emulator sites such as steampowered.com, and sells for a song. The premise is that UFO abductions are real, and becoming more aggressive as a coalition of aliens prepares to invade. You are the commander of a world-wide organization formed and funded to oppose their activities. You decide where to put your bases for optimal coverage. You decide what goes in them. You hire staff, conduct research, and build new equipment, the fruit of that research.
Once your base is up and running, and you can have up to eight, assuming you can produce the cash flow to support them, you manage every aspect from this screen while watching the radar for uninvited guests. Here you can monitor your research, manufacturing, buy and sell equipment, and manage your all-important assault squads who will meet the invaders wherever they can be engaged. Each soldier is rated in a number of categories, from the typical strength and stamina to accuracy with guns and grenades, morale, personal bravery, and reaction time. You then have to compare all these factors to decide who carries the heavy gear, who scouts, who snipes, who kicks doors, and who handles the demolitions.
With all these decisions made and your base construction underway, you will sooner rather than later sight an invader on the radar screen, and dispatch an interceptor to bring it down. This usually succeeds (wouldn't be much of a game if it didn't), leaving you with a crashed UFO to deal with. So you saddle up the troops, and send them off to war. Arriving at the crash site, you'll have to find the UFO, and beat the bushes for an unknown number of little ragamuffins who are eagerly waiting to ambush you as you come off the transport.
Sometimes you haven't shot down the UFO. Sometimes it has landed to pursue some nefarious project, your satellite spots it on the ground, and the squad has to go break up the party with all of them healthy and fully equipped. You'll find them on farms, in the suburbs, in cities, and out in forests, jungles, and deserts. Oh, and on the frozen tundra at both poles. They'll hide anywhere, in caves, storage sheds, stables, and on rooftops, and you have to ferret them all out, because the battle doesn't end until you get them all.
One thing you can generally rely on is that at some point, you'll have to have to enter the alien craft to get the last few guys, and that never fails to be an exercise in tension. Notice the black areas on these battle screens. When you first arrive, the whole screen is black, except a narrow cone that you can see from the door of the transport. Everything is hidden until you scout it. Want to know what's behind that hedge? Send somebody to have a look! Their ships can range from simple scouts like this to four-level battleships that look like wedding cakes. The aliens know every inch, and will use that knowledge to great advantage. You can expect to have your fun meter pegged frequently, as is the case with that fellow with the yellow arrow over his head, who's just rounded a corner to come up nose to nose with a hostile Gray. Later in the game they'll build bases that have to be found and eradicated. Sometimes they'll send an assault team to try to eradicate your bases. Eventually, if you're successful, you'll learn to interrogate captives and learn the location of their off-world base in the Solar System, which you have to destroy in order to win.
But that comes much later. As your squads battle the invaders and bring back more and more alien equipment, it needs to be researched, and the useful discoveries implemented in new and more effective gear. Bases need to be expanded, newly developed facilities added, and all the while, the cockroaches just keep showing up to wreak more and more havoc. Small wonder that one of the PC game magazines back in the day said, "If you don't play XCom, you aren't really a gamer, you're just some guy with a computer!" I couldn't agree more.
* * *
And that's what went on this weekend. Two days. And virtually every day has been a version of this for the last year and a half. Retirement suits me. I may be going to hell, but at least I'll have had this time in heaven! So, how was your weekend?
Semper audax esse,