Author Archives: Fishbreath

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Dec. 4, 2019)

Given that last week was Thanksgiving, you might have expected last week to be the short edition. That’s where you’d be wrong! We were both on the road, and neither of us did much of the linkable sort of reading.

Books

  • When Tigers Ruled the Sky mini-review: starts slow, especially coming from an uber-detailed Massie book. Mr. Yenne tried to do the same biographies-of-everyone-involved thing, but didn’t have the page count to do it justice. It picked up dramatically after two or three chapters, when he got into the actual Flying Tigers action, and that part did not disappoint. It gets the Fishbreath Recommends stamp of approval.
  • Empires of the Sea mini-review: this is a reread, so no revelations here. It’s an extremely readable account of the sieges of Rhodes (briefly), Malta (extensively), and Nicosia and Famagusta (briefly), plus the Battle of Lepanto (extensively). The author has a good sense for characters, but spends a suspicious amount of time on drawing equivalences between Christendom and the Turks in re the brutality and slavetaking common at the time. I’d have to dig up some better sources before I say I trust that take1, but the book still gets my thumbs up. (I am, after all, reading it a second time.)

Guns

Defense

Hong Kong

The Solitary Grab Bag Item


  1. In the latest edition of his Hardcore History podcast, Dan Carlin remarked that, in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, everyone was bad but the Japanese were worse (my paraphrase). The Christians and Turks of the 16th century strike me as broadly similar. Nobody comes out smelling like roses, but it’s not wrong to identify degrees of badness. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 27, 2019)

Happy Thanksgiving! If you aren’t an American, you can overeat and nap tomorrow anyway. We’re very egalitarian that way.

Books

  • I’m going to be spending my time on When Tigers Ruled the Sky and Empires of the Sea this Thanksgiving.

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Sport

Guns

Grab Bag

Some brief thoughts on game design: make the player earn it

Among the many things parvusimperator and I chat about on our coffee breaks at work are video games, and in particular those we’re playing at any given moment. For me, for now, that’s BattleTech, the recent turn-based entry by BattleTech (the miniatures wargame) creator Jordan Weisman. For parvusimperator, it’s been Resident Evil 2 2, PS4 boogaloo. That is, the recent Resident Evil 2 remake1. The two are very different games, but in the end, they do make the player earn it.

BattleTech: mercenary life, paycheck-to-paycheck edition

In BattleTech-the-setting, mercenary companies are undisputably the coolest way to play. The meta-story around the battles writes itself—dragging damaged mechs back to the dropship, patching them up as best you can, sending them out again to pay the bills.

A lot of BattleTech-the-setting PC games have only partially delivered on this promise in the past. The majority of them have been mech-piloting games rather than mech-management games, which makes it more difficult to come up with an AI that properly challenges the players. Too, it takes a more serious masochist to pilot a degraded mech in first-person than it does to manage some other poor shmuck doing the driving.

BattleTech, on the other hand, leads hard into the mercenary-life-is-painful trope. Not quite as much as Battle Brothers, but not too far behind it, either. In particular, early in the game, you’ll find yourself barely getting by, scrabbling for easy money wherever you can come across it, and cursing the moments when your intel misses some key piece of information about the strength of the opposition.

Eventually, things get better. You hire a few more mech pilots, so that losing one to injury doesn’t put you so far behind the curve. You salvage a few more mechs2, so you can field more weapons or sub in a B lance if your A lance is in for repairs. I’m in the early midgame now, and have a few months of salary cushion and close to a second lance. Things are still tight, though, and unlikely to get very much less tight until I can bulldoze missions with maximum firepower. One or two bad drops, and I’ll be right back where I was, only getting along by the skin of my teeth.

What you get over time is resilience—the game itself doesn’t get any easier, but setbacks get smaller proportional to what you’ve attained.

Resident Evil 2: the cool toys are for closers

My thoughts on this one are less my own and more parvusimperator’s transcribed, but he’s working on defense commentary articles, and we all want him to keep working on those, so here we are.

I’d wager that many of the people playing the Resident Evil 2 remake have fond memories of Resident Evil 2 the original. The other side of the coin is that those same people remember how Resident Evil 2 went. So, in addition to the variations present in the original (that you can play from the perspective of both main characters), it adds a few more wrinkles, which I’ll leave parvusimperator to expand upon in a comment, if he wants3.

Eventually, after you’ve beaten the game with a given character in a given manner, you can go back and play with all the toys from the get-go, infinite ammo, and suchlike things. You know, how you would approach a zombie thing if you knew one was coming, rather than (like the characters) you’re surprised by it.

What you get over time is ease—the game gives you tools to beat it more readily.

Conclusion: winning easily is more fun if it was hard at first

In both games, the end result is positive feedback loops. Play well? The game makes it easier for you to win later. Put another way, the difficulty curve is a hill: it starts on an upslope and ends on a downslope.

“I should make my game easier just as people are getting better at it” sounds like a questionable design choice, but it makes a lot of sense in both cases. In BattleTech, the change in difficulty curve is subtler, but important nevertheless. If the game was so finely tuned that no matter how impressive a mercenary company you put together, you’re always just barely getting by, it wouldn’t feel at all rewarding.

In Resident Evil 2, the change is more obvious. “Here’s infinite ammo!” is not sneaky. At the same time, though, it makes sense. Why are you replaying the game? Because you enjoyed it the first time through, and want to see it again. Do you want to do things the survival horror way? Maybe you don’t. After you’ve seen it how you were supposed to, the game ceases to care if you want to play outside the boundaries.

So there you have it4. Make your game get harder at first, then sneakily (or not, depending on your goals) easier later on, so that your players can properly experience gaining mastery.


  1. I’m going to bury this tidbit to see how closely he reads my articles: Resident Evil 3 is reportedly getting the same treatment
  2. And that’s your only option. Nobody sells fully-functioning mechs—why would they? They’re difficult or impossible to make. If you have a working one, you keep it. If it breaks down and you can’t fix it, you sell the bits on and use the money to buy bits to repair your other mechs. 
  3. There’s a lot of creativity in how many New Game+ options you have. 
  4. It’s something I’ve been thinking about with respect to tabletop RPG design, too, and why perfect balance is not necessarily desirable. If you get more powerful, but your foes also do at exactly the same rate, what have you accomplished but for reskinning the fight against six rats at the very start of the campaign? 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 20, 2019)

So, Winter Wargaming is Rule the Waves 2. For those outside of the know, it covers naval architecture and battles at sea between 1900 and 1955. I’m thinking France for this game, given that it has a clear route to dominating the Mediterranean, and that’s always a fun place to play.

Defense

Guns

Science and Technology

Grab Bag

Protests, Rebellions, Etc.

  • Bolivia protests inspire Chilean protests? – I didn’t actually read this one. It just indicates that there are protests going on in Chile.
  • Hong Kong protesters not driven by hope – “They talked about Xinjiang, and what China had done to the Uighur minority. I’ve heard about the fate of the Uighurs from so many protesters over the months. China may have wanted to make an example out of the region, but the lesson Hong Kongers took was in the other direction—resist with all your might, because if you lose once, there will be a catastrophe for your people, and the world will ignore it.”
  • Scenes from Hong Kong, again

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 13, 2019)

No votes were forthcoming on the Winter Wargaming topic, so I’ve unilaterally decided it’ll be Rule the Waves 2. I think I’ll probably post it over at Many Words Main, so as to avoid leaving it so barren.

Defense

Science and Technology

World Politics

Sport

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Nov. 6, 2019)

With the Armored Brigade review now posted, I can ask a question I’ve been waiting to ask: for Winter Wargaming this year, what’s the commentariat’s feeling on Armored Brigade vs. Rule the Waves 2?

Defense

History

Science and Technology

Hong Kong

Grab Bag


  1. I’ve always enjoyed this bit of wordplay, which only makes sense if you expand ‘CDR’ when reading. 

Fishbreath Plays: Armored Brigade Review

As the annual treachery of daylight saving’s close casts its pall over Many Words HQ here in Western Pennsylvania, we turn our attention to another hilly part of the world of somewhat greater interest to wargamers and the broader defense affairs community: the Fulda Gap.

Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm is my current recommendation for the definitive Cold War armored combat command experience. Can Armored Brigade unseat it? Read on to find out!

Continue reading

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 30, 2019)

Busy morning at the office. Commentary status: limited.

Defense

Games

History

Grab Bag

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 23, 2019)

This week, the ‘approximately Fishbreath’s birthday’ edition.

Books

  • Given that it’s me, my birthday presents were primarily books.
  • Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, courtesy Parvusimperator: widely regarded as the best of the bunch when it comes to golf books, or at the very least, the one everyone who plays that game should read.
  • Castles of Steel, courtesy my in-laws: I’ve read this before via the War College Library, but I’m delighted to have my own copy and to read it again, just as soon as I finish Dreadnought.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, also courtesy my in-laws: I enjoyed the TV series and like the worldbuilding that seems to have gone into it. The book should be a delight.
  • The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, courtesy my wife: making bread is a hobby of mine, but I’m not very good at it right now. This will help with that.

Defense

Science and Technology

Guns

  • The curious case of Joseph Roh – Who got off with a super-light sentence for running an 80%-lower-finishing operation because his lawyers convincingly argued that an AR-15 lower isn’t a firearm by the ATF’s own definition.

Grab Bag


  1. Something along the lines of, it was closer than the dark-matter-free paper authors thought, so it wasn’t strange at all. 

Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 16, 2019)

After the raging kegger we threw to celebrate the 50th WWRW, we needed a week off.

Actually, it was a busy week at work and I just forgot. Enjoy this special double edition.

Long Reads

Quiz of the Week

Defense

Sport

Science and Technology

Grab Bag

Spoiler for Guesses

My guess: A, on the grounds that on a (successful) offensive, you’d expect to see disrupted subordinate commands swept up by advancing superiors.
Parvusimperator: A, and is this the Civil War?
Spoiler for Answers

Here you go. Parvusimperator and I were both correct, but I was right for the wrong reason and Parvusimperator was right but wrong about the war.