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Rule the Waves 2: To May, 1906

We return with another two-year stretch. (Or, at least, hopefully two years. I have company coming over on Saturday, which is my usual play-the-game day. We’ll see how far I get.)

Goals for this entry include designing a battlecruiser (circa early 1905), keeping the naval budget more or less balanced, rebuilding our older battleships to use better fire control, and pushing for moderate tensions with Italy and/or Austria-Hungary to permit us to build more ships.

June 1904

To start with, I place a few ships into reserve fleet status, which cuts their upkeep in half but reduces their maximum crew quality to ‘Fair’. (Ordinarily, the maximum is ‘Good’. I don’t recall offhand if specialized training increases the maximum to ‘Elite’.) Given that I don’t expect any wars in the immediate future, we can afford to.

Another Francisque-class destroyer comes off the ways, completing our initial buy of seven. I could scrap some of the Fauconneaus, but destroyer upkeep is so cheap that it’s hardly worth the effort.

Finally, I start the rebuild process for the La Républiques, updating them from central rangefinding to central firing. The history of battleship fire control is the history of centralizing more parts of the process. Central rangefinding moves the rangefinding away from the individual guns and to a central position, which can be elevated above the guns’ smoke and also made more delicate and (therefore) more precise.

006-smoke
Believe it or not, this photograph is of a ship firing using smokeless powder. Clearly ‘smoke less’, not ‘smokeless’.

Central firing moves the triggering of the guns to a central location, which helps eliminate errors in timing.

Finally, director firing lays the guns automatically—the turret crew no longer controls azimuth and elevation.

August 1904

001-gbr-intel

July passes quietly. The British are still building pre-dreadnoughts—and pre-dreadnoughts which will be a much greater liability in the future naval era than our Tridents.

Italy, too, is refitting its battleships with central firing.

October 1904

The first La République completes her refit.

At the same time, the first design studies on the Duquesne-class battlecruiser begin.

002-duquesne

Tallying the votes across all the places where this AAR is running, German-style battlecruisers won the day. This 24-knot ship mounts six 11″ guns, a secondary battery of 6″ guns (+1 quality), and a tertiary battery of 2″ guns (+1 quality). (A gun of +1 quality is approximately equivalent in range and penetration to a 0-quality gun with a caliber one inch larger.) She has a 10″ armored belt, and tips the scales at a hair over 18,000 tons.

In other news…

003-austrian-battleship

I was flipping through the almanac to see where we’re going to land in the dreadnought race (second to get one under construction, it looks like!), and found that the Austrians call this a battleship. We have to have a war with them.

January 1905

We elect to refit the Tridents with central firing before they even come down the ways, which saves us a rebuild cycle on them.

February 1905

The first Duquesne‘s keel is laid. She should be ready in early 1908.

The lack of any budget-increasing events has been a bit of a bummer. I’m considering mothballing some of the light cruiser force to free up some more money. As it is, we’re building one Trident, one Chauteaurenault, one of the new Isly light cruisers, and one Duquesne, and still losing money. Ideally, I’d be able to rebuild a La République with better fire control while still keeping up on the dreadnought program.

Advanced gunnery training is a stretch goal, but the budget is too tight to permit it right now.

March 1905

Given that our light cruiser fleet is still enormous compared to everyone except for Great Britain, I decide that putting a few in mothballs (it’ll take about a year to bring them back to combat strength) is acceptable to keep the battleships rolling. Especially now that we’re building replacement fleet light cruisers, keeping all the Tages at 100% operational capacity isn’t as important.

April 1905

A new government wants to cut arms expenditure. I protest loudly and receive a small bump in the naval budget. There are now three La Républiques rebuilding at the same time. (Also, it’s a little cheaper than it appears at first—you don’t pay regular maintenance on ships under rebuild.)

June 1905

004-balkans

Nothing bad can possibly come of this. We stand behind our ally and reap the budgetary rewards.

Upside: we can afford the refit on the rest of the La Républiques. Downside: tensions are up with Germany, who we really can’t fight on even terms.

September 1905

Thinking they’re being helpful, the government votes to increase naval spending given tensions with Germany, which… raises tensions with Germany.

October 1905

The French public raises 50 million francs for a battleship. We lay down one Duquesne because our last pre-dreadnought Trident completes, and one Duquesne with the funds the public so helpfully collected for us.

Six-gun ships are nice, but I’d like to push to eight soon.

November 1905

Thanks to our dreadnought-building program, Britain is forced to raise spending to keep its navy preeminent.

December 1905

005

The Americans sell us the rights to steam turbine technology, which we’ll take, thank you very much.

Propulsion is one place where Rule the Waves elides a little bit of detail. Steam turbines, in the game, represent a simple decrease in the weight of a ship’s machinery. This is a bit of a simplification.

Shipboard steam propulsion starts with evaporators. Salt, as you’re probably aware, is corrosive, and salt and steam are worse than either in isolation. Marine boilers and condensers demand fresh water, so steamships have to produce fresh water from the materials at hand—heat and seawater. Evaporators distill seawater to fresh water, which is then fed into the boilers.

Boilers do what they say on the tin, turning fuel (in this era, coal or oil) and fresh water into high-pressure steam. The volume of steam a ship’s boilers produce determines how fast it can turn its engines.

In our early-20th-century timeframe of interest, there were two types of engine of note. The first is the multiple-expansion engine, most frequently the triple-expansion type. Steam flows into three cylinders of increasing size, driving a piston in each cylinder. Increasing the size of the cylinder at each step means that each cylinder generates substantially similar force—as the steam flows through the engine, its pressure goes down, so giving it a larger area to act on counters that effect.

The second type is the steam turbine, demonstrated in dramatic fashion by the Turbinia, which showed up at the Navy Review during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and proceeded to outrun the fastest vessels the Royal Navy could send to chase it down. From this beginning, turbines eventually made it into most of the world’s warships by about 1910. (At the end of this tangent, I actually back up my assertion that the elision of detail is important.) Like all turbines, steam turbines are essentially pinwheels writ large—blow through it, or force high-pressure steam through it, and it rotates.

Finally, after steam passes through the engine, it arrives at the condensers, which turn it back into fresh water for recycling through the system again. Reusing water means that the evaporators don’t have to work as hard (although ‘not as hard’ still translates to ‘tons per hour’, in this context). When condensers break, steam-powered ships are unable to generate as much steam (since they have to wait for the evaporators, rather than using water they already have), which slows them down.

Anyway, all that to say that the US Navy, in the early days of steam turbines, waffled between turbines and the older triple-expansion engines. Why? Because turbines are only very efficient near full power, and triple-expansion engines, though larger and bulkier, can run at cruise power much more effectively. As late as USS Oklahoma (laid down 1910, commissioned 1916), the Navy built ships with triple-expansion engines, because for they had better range for a given weight of fuel, and we Americans didn’t build fast battleships until the North Carolina-class in the late 30s. Other American ships (and other shipbuilding nations) experimented with a smaller cruise turbine, which would push the ship at cruise speed when running at full power.

In Rule the Waves 2, you don’t get the choice. You just pick a fuel type and an engine focus (from Speed, Reliability, or neither).

February 1906

An uprising in China presents us with the chance to reduce tensions with Germany, which we gratefully take.

May 1906

Germany takes advantage of our softness and sends a force to occupy Angola, which produces very little of note.

Two-Year Report: Diplomacy

007-diplomacy

Aside from the aforementioned tensions with Germany, things are quiet enough. Italy is making noise again, and building a few more battleships to boot.

Two-Year Report: The Fleet

008-status

009-navies

Speaking of which, the fleet report! We’re currently operating at a deficit of 1,553 kilofrancs, but the first batch of ships will finish before we run dry (a new light cruiser and the first Duquesne).

Right now, we look pretty good in the Mediterranean Throwdown Power Rankings. We have a small edge over Italy right now in battleships, and given that our battlecruisers are armored well enough to stand in the line of battle, we’ll maintain that edge even given the predreadnoughts they’re still building.

We’re behind in armored cruisers, as ever, but the battlecruisers are, in part, intended to fix that.

Our huge superiority in light cruisers gives us advantages in the commerce raiding game—we can detach a bunch of them to go sink merchants without much fear of losing them or falling behind our chosen opponents in attached-to-the-fleet strength. Ditto destroyers; they’re a great way to fill the trade protection quota while corvettes build. On the downside, we’re a little behind now on submarines. Should we think about building more?

That said, I think there might be room in the schedule and the budget for an updated Chateaurenault class. The Gueydons, which are filling the larger part of our foreign obligations, are expensive to maintain, especially away from home waters. A class of foreign station light cruisers, with medium or long range and equipped for colonial service (the latter makes a ship count for 150% its tonnage when determining how much you have vs. how much you need on a foreign station), would fill the gap nicely. We could mothball or even scrap a Gueydon or two, and put the savings into more shipbuilding.

Another option might be to put some money toward a class of coastal monitors—ships with, say, a pair of large-caliber turreted guns, low speed and short range, and a ton of armor. With some of those, we could limit the ability of foes to blockade our North Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts without diverting units from the main fleet.

Of course, there’s also room for a class of proper battleship-style dreadnoughts—something with 22-knot speed, a bit more armor, and 8 or 10 guns. (The only reason the Duquesnes are six-gun ships is because we don’t have the technology yet to put more than three turrets on a ship such that all of them can fire at a broadside enemy. There are two technologies that allow that: 4+ centerline turrets, and cross-deck firing for wing turrets.) These three Duquesnes will likely be the only three, as well, given that we have steam turbine technology now, and that leads to large weight savings at higher speeds.

Of course, if we wanted to stick with a six-gun ship, we also just developed 14″, quality -1 naval guns, which would go nicely on a dreadnought.

Meta

I won’t be able to do my usual weekend play-through, so next week’s update might slip a bit, or perhaps cover less time.

Rule the Waves 2: To May, 1904

Let’s get right to it.

June 1902

Lalande, a Tage, joins the navy, scientists invent the six-foot rangefinder, and naval engineers work out that double bottoms are a good plan (stolen from the Americans).

Strikes delay the construction of Suffren by one month.

001-trident

Jeers from the naval engineering community lead the Ministère de la Marine to hastily release a slightly more traditional design, with 12″ main guns and six 10″ secondaries. It loses 200 tons and gains a bit of extra armor in the bargain.

Designers play around with some armored cruiser designs, but the naval community eventually rejects the idea.

July 1902

002-austria

An opportunity arises to hack off our other Mediterranean neighbors. With the budget increase, I lay down another pair of Chateaurenaults, for a total of four under construction.

Italy commissions one of the armored cruisers our spies stole the details of, and invents the early coastal submarine.

August 1902

In response to our hacking off, Austria-Hungary increases its naval spending.

Italy is building more coastal batteries in the Mediterranean, a 6″ and an 11″. The latter might someday cause us trouble.

Coastal batteries might be worth investing in at some point—not for the guns themselves, but because, I believe, the amount of coastal fortification you have increases the extent and density of your defensive minefields.

September 1902

We lay down Trident, first of her class. Linois (a light cruiser) and Epieu (a destroyer) enter service.

October 1902

Tensions with Italy are at the breaking point. War is likely, if any events go in such a fashion as to push us any further.

Italy’s naval budget goes up, and they lay down another armored cruiser.

Our budget, annoyingly, goes slightly down.

November 1902

003-busy-italy
The Italians are busy this month.

January 1903

We completed research into improved face-hardening, which will improve our future ships’ armor.

March 1903

The new naval minister wants 15 destroyers under construction, and is willing to bump the budget a bit to achieve that, so I take the deal.

April 1904

004-war

April 1904: Battle of Crete

005-battle

The first sea action of la Marine nationale opens on a calm April morning in overcast weather, as the Italians happen upon a French cruiser squadron steaming west-southwest Crete. Visibility should be excellent.

On our side are the two Gueydons based in the Mediterranean, Bruix and Montcalm, six Tages, and seven Fauconneaus. Italy has more cruisers than that in this region, but it remains to be seen how many will come out to play. The sun is rising behind us, which gives our ships a bit of an edge if a battle happens early.

In the event that it looks bad, our squadron, with a speed of 23 knots, should be able to outrun the Italians, the only difficulty being the relative lack of sea room here in the Middle Sea.

5:00

The light cruisers assigned to scouting fan out for a better view.

5:21

006-spotted

The light cruiser Lalande spots a ship ahead. I order a turn to the north-northwest to avoid closing too quickly.

5:24

The light cruisers spot a half dozen ships. I increase the squadron’s speed to 20 knots and pull the scouting force in to screen the armored cruisers.

Two minutes later, Lalande identifies one of the light cruisers as a Salerno class. It bristles with small-caliber guns.

007-salerno

5:27

The light cruisers begin to identify the Italian battle line, which looks to comprise at least four armored cruisers. The squadron stays at 20 knots, pending identification, but we’re probably running.

5:31

Another Italian light cruiser is identified as part of the Nino Bixio class, which is a Salerno without dual-purpose guns.

One minute later, wireless signals from a light cruiser identify one of the enemy ships as a Carlo Alberto-class armored cruiser.

008-carlo-alberto

Because the Italians accepted a lower speed, their cruisers get more guns. Because we decided on a higher speed, we don’t need to face them, and Bruix leads Montcalm in a turn east, in pursuit of the better part of valor.

5:36

009

It’s the right move. Look at that swarm of slow, poorly-armored cruisers!

5:44

010

This, however, is quite a light cruiser. 6600 tons, 10 6″ guns? Wild. At least it’s slow.

6:06

The Italian battle line cruises past our stern and turns away. The heavy cruisers come about to see if we can’t maybe dispose of a shadowing light cruiser before they come back.

7:36

011
The red circles represent the range of our cruisers’ main batteries. The larger gray circles represent the edge of their visual range.

I was wary of some manner of trap, but the only ships we can see are the two light cruisers ahead of us, which will shortly be in range. I’m still prepared to run if the rest of the Italian squadron makes an appearance, but it’s looking like we might draw first blood.

7:39

Lalande is the first to open fire.

8:36

The two Italian light cruisers are joined by a third.

Also, it takes us nearly an hour to score a hit: Lalande lands a blow from about 5500 yards.

9:30

The Italian cruiser turns away from its allies, and our fleet sets off in pursuit.

10:29

Regrettably, the Salerno-class target is still alive three hours after the first shot, though burning and badly damaged.

11:17

With the Italian cruiser dead in the water, our ships take one more run past it to ensure it goes under, and depart to the west.

16:35

012-results

The scenario ends, as our ships and the enemy’s are far apart. La Marine nationale acquitted itself relatively well in the face of a superior force, escaping serious damage and sinking an enemy ship.

Bruix won the gunnery medal for the day, with a 2.25% hit rate.

April 1903 (cont’d)

013-new destroyer

The war cancels the naval minister’s ambition for more destroyers, but a new class is in order anyway. These new Francisques don’t sacrifice anything from the preceding Fauconneaus, and have a two-knot speed advantage on them.

Time for wartime dispositions. The Gueydons in the Mediterranean are made commerce raiders. Because of their speed, they’re practically invincible unless caught entirely off guard.

A pair of Chateaurenaults are coming next month. They’ll go on trade protection for a few months, relieving two Tages currently filling that role, until some corvettes currently under construction can take over.

May 1903

A bevy of technologies arrive this month, but none of them are dramatic improvements—lots of slow-and-gradual stuff.

The Italians raid the Northern European coast with three armored cruisers. Three destroyers sally to meet them, but the two forces don’t meet.

Because we don’t have any armored cruisers, the Italians win a bunch of dominance-of-the-sea victories around the Mediterranean. (If the game thinks a battle should happen and one side can’t field appropriate forces, the other side wins by default, as though the under-equipped side had declined battle.) Our commerce raiders and evasion of their coastal raid earn us about the same number of victory points, and in this second month of the war, the tally is 751-623 for the home team.

On the upside, the Chauteaurenault class exceeds its design speed in trials, and hits the same 24-knot mark our existing light cruisers do.

June 1903

014

Well now. I can live with those odds.

June 1903: The Battle of Bordighera

A leisurely five-hour cruise from Toulon, we encounter the enemy fleet at 8:18 p.m., on a southwesterly course.

015

The enemy battleships almost immediately turn away.

20:48

After a half an hour of ineffective firing, darkness falls over the Mediterranean.

I’m of a mind to push onward toward the Italian fleet. We have a huge speed advantage, are evenly matched in guns, and have more destroyers (since we’re operating close to our bases). Night fights are bloody, but I think we can make something out of this one.

21:41

016

Running side-by-side with a trio of perhaps-cruisers-perhaps-battleships at 4,000 yard, Solferino, La République, and Magenta score hit after hit on one of them.

22:51

The Italians bug out toward La Spezia, having dealt some damage to our battleships, and taken some in return. All told, not a bad little battle. La République had a bit of a scare losing electric power and then catching fire, but got both problems under control by 11:30 p.m.

The damage tally calls it a marginal Italian victory. I believe it’s on the strength of Italian gunnery—we scored a lot of hits, but most of them were with the secondary and tertiary batteries on the battleships. The Italians did better with their heavy guns.

July 1903

The government is asking whether to seek peace. I figure we’ll let it go a while longer—they aren’t that far ahead, and we’ll have some submarines joining the fight soon.

July’s battle is a convoy fight. We have a three-ship battle division, three light cruisers, and a bevy of destroyers. Conditions are good, with a moderate breeze, and the sun is high overhead.

Italy brings a similar force: three battleships, a pair of armored cruisers, and some destroyers.

017
As before, the red circle is the selected squadron’s gun range, and the gray circle is what it can see. Battle Division 5, the lead squadron in the battle line, is selected. Because Light Cruiser Division 10 is out in front of the fleet a little ways, I can still see the transports making their way east by south.

As you probably can’t make out, it’s a tense situation. Let’s break it down a bit.

First, as I mentioned, it’s a daylight battle, so I can’t rely on sunset to mask my convoy from the depredations of the Italian squadron. Second, and of equal importance, the Italians have two squadrons which could seriously threaten the convoy: the battleship squadron, center-left in the picture above, and a cruiser squadron, to their battleships’ southeast.

At the moment of this screenshot, the two battleship squadrons are having an ineffectual gunnery duel—at that range, around 6,000 yards, nobody really expects to hit much. That fight is happening about 30,000 yards west of the transports; I let the Italians pull me off of the convoy, since their cruisers were shadowing their battleships. Eventually, the cruisers peeled off and headed back for the convoy, at which point the speed of the French battle line paid off—we could make it back to the convoy quickly enough to prevent the Italians from doing very much damage to it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures of what was by far the most exciting battle to date. The Italians did heavy damage to one of our destroyers, but we did more damage to their ships generally than they did to ours, and they’ll likely be in the dockyards for a month or two.

Rumors of war-weariness and protests reach our spies in Rome.

August 1903

Another fleet battle off the south of France. This time, the Italians bring six battleships to our four (two are in for maintenance). OUt fleet exchanges desultory fire with the Italian van, then falls back on the minefields at Toulon.

September 1903

The French fleet launches a raid on Italian coastal shipping. Unfortunately, before the sixty-mile seach line comes upon any merchants, it comes upon an Italian cruiser squadron, quickly reverses course, and makes it back to the French coast with no losses, briefly stopping to bombard a shore battery.

October 1903

We decline a cruiser action in the northwestern Mediterranean, and accept a battleship brawl in the early morning of the 17th.

This one looks more favorable than most: the ships involved are four French battleships against, by all appearances, two Italian battleships and three armored cruisers.

018

On closer inspection, it appears the ratio is flipped: two armored cruisers and three battleships. Still not bad odds, and the Italians have turned to run for it.

Not all of the Italians make it. The most reliable weapons on our Les Républiques (the 5″ tertiary guns) slow down one light cruiser enough for our ships to fall on it. A second Italian light cruiser appears to the south of our force as we’re leaving the battlefield. Quick thinking by your admiral, who detaches a light cruiser squadron to run down this second target, wins the day.

After seven months of war, the tally stands at 2,774-2,732, just barely in favor of the home team.

With some of our cash cushion, French shipyards work on kitting out a pair of armed merchant cruisers to raid Italian shipping.

November 1903

019

The Italian fleet sorties on the 5th, and at 10:46 a.m., the French fleet is there to meet it. It’s the whole French fleet this time, too, all six battleships.

Although the Italians have five battleships and two armored cruisers to our six battleships, they nevertheless turn tail after a brief exchange of fire, during which their gunnery proves more accurate than ours (as has been the case for this entire war).

Sinking a destroyer unlucky enough to take a hit from a 13″ shell, the French fleet turns northward to bombard a shore battery on the coast near Imperia—the battleship guns should make short work of that, at least—and then perhaps eastward to see if any Italian shipping is at sea.

It isn’t, so we go home.

December 1903

A raid on the Italian west coast produces no results and a few hundred victory points for the Italians. Owing to the relatively successful battles over the last few months, and the Italians declining battle a few times, the war score stands at 3,794-3,198.

January 1904

A new year sees an Italian armored cruiser fail to prosecute a night attack on a convoy, driven off by a pair of Tages and a plucky destroyer flotilla. There are reports of widespread civil disturbance in Italy. If we stay the course a bit longer, I think we’ll be in good shape.

February 1904

A large Italian convoy escapes an attack by French light cruisers. Italy regains a small lead in the victory point rankings.

Our submarines make their first major contribution, torpedoing an Italian armored cruiser (but, alas, not sinking it).

March 1904

One year into the war, the Italians put out peace feelers, and the civilian government agrees. The Navy acquitted itself relatively well, sinking three enemy light cruisers and three destroyers in exchange for the loss of one destroyer of its own.

020-isly

It’s only entering construction as the war ends, but to combat the new Italian 24-knot light cruisers, the Ministry of the Navy solicits designs for a 25-knot light cruiser, the Isly class. They’ll begin to replace the Tages over time.

Lessons from the War

In no particular order…

  1. I probably shouldn’t have ignored armed merchant cruisers and small corvettes in my previous RTW2 games. Since they’re converted civilian ships (liners and trawlers, respectively), they only take four months to build, and they’re a good way to quickly bulk up a navy so you can use your warships for war, rather than trade protection.
  2. Our lack of powerful armored cruisers is a bit of a problem at the moment.
  3. French gunnery was atrocious—the main batteries on our La Républiques were only good for about one hit every 150 rounds in good conditions. The Italian battleships shot better with their heavy guns.
  4. The Italian 12″ guns outrange our 13″ -2-quality guns, which makes the redesign of the Tridents to use 12″ guns look even better.
  5. French commerce raiders served admirably, sinking merchants at about a 2-1 rate over their Italian counterparts.
  6. The Gueydons, with their high speed but small guns, are extremely useful for hunting light cruisers, but not much good at fighting armored cruisers themselves.
  7. The Italians fought this war with extreme cowardice. One-to-one, I think their 1900-era battleships are superior to ours, and they often ran away when they had numerical superiority.

May 1904

Something marvelous happens. French naval thinkers take a drag on their cigarettes, sip their red wine, and ponder: what if we built ships with three centerline turrets?

The way to a dreadnought battleship is open. The money isn’t there just yet, but a Trident finishes in eight months, and I think that’s the time to get one going in the yards.

Two-Year Report: Diplomacy

021-diplomacy

The war with Italy has drawn to a close, and tensions are low. Intelligence remains focused on the Italians and, to a lesser degree, the Austrians.

Two-Year Report: The Fleet

022-fleet

023-status

At present, we have a world-class fleet of light cruisers and destroyers, to the point that we can consider putting some into the reserve fleet, or mothballing or retiring them altogether. We’re a bit over-budget at the moment, but I haven’t canceled any wartime shipbuilds yet, either.

Our battleship fleet is solidly middle of the road. We can’t challenge the three largest powers, but we can meet any of the other three on equal terms.

As for shipbuilding priorities, I have two thoughts. One: join the British in the dreadnought era (or perhaps the jupiter era, as they’ve begun work on the world’s first new-style battleship, HMS Jupiter) with a dreadnought battleship of our own. Two: instead, start by building a dreadnought cruiser (a battle-cruiser, if you will), to help counter everyone else’s massive advantage in armored cruiser count.

If we start with a battlecruiser, the question is, what do we sacrifice? Battleships try to balance speed, protection, and firepower. Battlecruisers sacrifice one of those three to gain an edge in the other two. Historically, the Royal Navy went with firepower and speed over protection, while the Germans went with speed and protection. (You could presumably sacrifice speed for firepower and protection, but I think you’d just end up with a slightly slower battleship in that case.)

Two-Year Report: Meta

I realize that this entry is a bit hard to follow, jumping around from battle to battle in several different styles. I was so pumped about getting to a war that I kind of forgot to walk through a battle from a gameplay perspective. I’ll try to rectify that next time a war comes up, making heavier use of the after-action report map mode, and perhaps taking a bit more time to explain how the game handles battles.

Rule the Waves 2: To May, 1902

Before diving into the month-by-month update structure to which Rule the Waves 2 lends itself, I realized based on some comments last week that I haven’t explained what Rule the Waves 2 is.

Rule the Waves 2 is a strategy wargame which covers, in roughly equal parts, the design and development of warships between 1900 and 1955, and battles using those ships. The two most important parts of the game are the ship design screen (which you’ve seen a few times already in the first entry in this series, and which you will see twice more today) and the battle interface (which has not yet come up). The strategic layer which glues the two together is primarily there to create reasons to design ships and to start wars in which the ships get used.

That’s pretty much the long and short of it. The game advances in one-month turns; battles play out in one-minute real-time simulation steps.

June 1900

Back to the game. Two fresh destroyers come down the ways, and our spies uncover details on a new class of Italian armored cruiser. Not much to worry about.

001: cruiser Francesco Ferruccio
Much slower and much lighter than ours.

August 1900

Unlike historical France, this is not a democracy, but the weight of public opinion nevertheless leans toward bullying the Mediterranean. Another fellow is doing a Rule the Waves France playthrough right now, and is also bullying the Mediterranean. It seems to be working, but I also hate to be a copycat. I think we’ll keep our eye mainly on the Mediterranean, but we won’t disdain the chance to expand in Southeast Asia if it falls before us. (At the behest of a blog commenter—I’m running this in three places with three relatively active audiences, if I hadn’t mentioned that already.)

With an eye toward Mediterranean domination, the bulk of the navy moves to Marseilles. A squadron of destroyers stays on the northern coast.

October 1900

October sees a handy event. The Prime Minister makes a gaffe, so we exploit it for more money. This has the side effect of bringing war with Italy nearer, but with the increased budget, I order another Tage-class and push our research spending to the maximum permissible 12%. Worth it.

December 1900

A new government decides to raise expenditures on armaments. That’s good news for us. We lay down a new La République, to be named Suffren.

January 1901

The Gueydon-class cruiser Bruix enters service. Replacing her on the build list is one light cruiser and three destroyers.

Light cruisers are particularly important elements of the fleet. They serve as our eyes in fleet battles, typically deployed in an umbrella ahead of the battle line. Given the speed of our battleships and the size of their guns, holding our preferred range is important, and a robust scouting force of fast light cruisers will let us do that.

February 1901

Parliament votes to cut naval spending, upending our carefully-planned budget. We have enough of a cushion to run a deficit until some ships finish building, however, so that’s what we’ll do.

March 1901

003: heavy secondary guns

A breakthrough in ship design! We can now build semi-dreadnoughts, ships with secondary batteries not dramatically smaller than their primary batteries.

That brings us into approximately the semi-dreadnought era. Pre-dreadnought battleships, with a small battery of heavy guns and a larger battery of quick-firing medium ones ones, were predicated on the idea that naval gunnery at long ranges was not possible. You had your big guns to punch through heavy armor, and a good number of smaller guns to wreck your target’s upper works and superstructure as the range closed, keeping up a high rate of fire.

Early on in the 20th century, advancements in rangefinding and fire control proved that this was not the case. Since your big guns could hit targets at long range, it made less and less sense to carry a lot of middleweight guns when you could instead spend that weight on your heavy ones, and deliver knockout blows from further away from your enemies. This update to the received wisdom on shipbuilding ultimately produced the dreadnought battleship.

The technological capability to build ships with, say, three centerline turrets with 12″ guns existed in 1900, but doctrine had not yet caught up. While most of the technologies we’ll develop in Rule the Waves are actually technological advancements, some (in particular, in the Ship Design tree) represent the development of new ways of thinking. We, as players with some historical knowledge, know that the dreadnought battleship is the way of the future, but our 1901-era French have not yet hit upon that idea, so the game sticks some limits on us to force us to stay in character.

April 1901

Spies report that the Italians have also figured out the heavy secondary battery. We’re keeping an eye on their shipbuilding, but they haven’t laid down any new battleships just yet. It appears they’re focusing on their wimpy armored cruisers.

May 1901

More intelligence reports from Italy: they’ll be commissioning a new light cruiser just after the New Year, and their current light cruiser class has a speed of 21 knots and belt armor of two inches. Their armor is heavier than our light cruisers’, but they can barely outrun our battleships, and our armored cruisers could easily run them down and have a massive firepower advantage.

Our Gueydons slot into the hierarchy of naval warfare right around where battlecruisers do a decade later. Battlecruisers made armored cruisers obsolete, by dint of their higher speed and heavy main armament—a battlecruiser could easily catch and outshoot an armored cruiser, and could easily outrun a battleship (whose armor tilts the fight in favor of itself).

The Gueydons to light cruisers are like battlecruisers will be to armored cruisers, in that they’re excellent light cruiser hunters—faster than other armored cruisers with heavier guns, faster than most light cruisers, and much more heavily armed. Too, as someone pointed out, they’ll make great experimental aircraft carriers someday.

004: almanac
One year in, the Italians have nearly caught up to us in naval budget. We’re closing the battleship gap, but won’t have our sixth ship until 1903. They’re building more armored cruisers, but ours are heavier.

June 1901

We may not get the chance to catch up, though. Italy looks to be making waves in Greece.

005: italy ultimatum

The Italians back down, but tensions rise.

July 1901

With tensions between France and Italy running high, we skip hosting an international regatta in favor of keeping the budget focused on shipbuilding.

The Italians raise their naval budget again.

August 1901

We catch a German spy. I briefly debate using the occasion to push for a higher budget, but decide instead to sweep it under the rug. Tangling with Germany would be unpleasant.

September 1901

A disarmament conference in the Hague ends with no concrete results, to my satisfaction.

October 1901

One light cruiser and three destroyers enter service.

We send a force to quell an uprising in China, which increases tension, but also raises the prestige of the French Navy.

One concrete suggestion from a reader was a cheaper (that is, expendable) class of light cruiser for commerce raiding. Enter the Chateaurenault class:

006: chateaurenault design

At 2800 tons, it’s a little more than half the displacement of our Tages. It doesn’t sacrifice much speed—at 23 knots, it’s still one of the faster light cruisers in current production, at least that I’m aware of—but has lighter armament and armor. It’s much cheaper than the Tages, too, so we can bulk out our fleet of light cruisers more quickly.

December 1901

007: the joys of a free press

Thanks to the newspapers, we get a little budget bump. Design studies on the Chateaurenault class are finished, so we order two with some of our current excess.

January 1902

008: san diego class

Spies recently dispatched to America to see what one of the big-spender naval powers is up to bore their first fruit this month, giving us a blueprint for an American armored cruiser of the San Diego class. It isn’t much to write home about. The Gueydons remain clearly superior in weaponry, speed, and armor, as you might expect from ships with an extra 5,000 tons displacement or so.

It’s a good month for the French intelligence services generally. We hear that the Americans are building a Raleigh-class light cruiser with 3″ main guns, outmatched by even our cheap light cruisers. Austria-Hungary has commissioned two armored cruisers this month, and Italy has improved its armor-piercing shells.

February 1902

009: spies get caught

Spies recently dispatched to America now bear negative fruit. One of them gets caught.

As a consolation prize, we invent a number of new technologies this month, reducing the weight of our ship’s hulls and machinery and allowing us to build ships with secondary batteries in double turrets. Ocean, a La République, is coming off the ways in three months. I smell a new battleship design to take her place.

March 1902

The Japanese wish to buy a technology from us. I decide to sell it, given that we’ll shortly be paying the design expenses on a new battleship design.

Well, since we are paying the design expenses on a new battleship design.

010: trident design

The Trident-class battleship features the same four-gun 13″ main battery as the older Les Républiques, backed by a pair of two-gun 12″ wing turrets in the secondary battery. 12 4″ guns in turrets provide defense against small craft. Their armor protects them against their own guns between at least 5,000 and 9,000 yards, and possibly further out or in depending on gun data at those ranges.

Finally, they have a 22-knot speed, practically unheard-of in this era. Even the real-world HMS Dreadnought, still four years off, only managed 21, and that was with turbines rather than the triple-expansion engines we’re rocking.

Anyway, the upshot is that sufficiently fast heavy ships render armored cruisers obsolete, so there’s no real reason to build more Gueydons.

That brings us to a decision point. The Tridents are the largest ships we can build in our current docks. Should we focus on building a shipyard expansion or two over the next two years, building one Trident at a time, or build out the fleet more quickly by building two Tridents at once? A shipyard expansion costs 2,000 per month, I believe, so at this point in our game history, it’s just about equivalent to one battleship.

April 1902

Just as we prepare to render the armored cruiser obsolete, the monthly intelligence report indicates that Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, Japan, and Italy have either laid down or commissioned armored cruisers this month. Our spies in America steal the blueprints for another San Diego-class, which is of limited use to us given that we saw the same blueprint in January.

May 1902

The La République-class battleship Ocean is commissioned. One year from today, the last La République, Suffren, will join the fleet. Next month, the design studies on the Trident type will finish, and we can start producing one of those.

French researchers have developed reliable bursting charges, which will enhance the damage of penetrating hits. A trade mission to Great Britain yields important results: we developed the technology to build coastal submarines. Finally, we learned how to make 600-ton destroyers. A new design there will be in the offing early in the next entry. Speaking of, should we spend our small-ships budget on new destroyers or on some submarines? The coastal submarine design will work well for us, given our focus on the Mediterranean; each submarine costs a little more than half as much per month as the Fauconneau destroyers do (although the Fauconneaus are cheaper in absolute terms, taking fewer months to build).

The intelligence report is very busy this month: Germany commissions a pair of destroyers and a pair of battleships, Great Britain is concerned about its naval superiority and has increased its spending. (That’s their national special ability. Ours? Our government frequently changes its mind on fleet priorities. C’est la vie…) Italy has laid down a pair of light cruisers, but between what we have in service and what we have under construction, we still have a better light cruiser fleet.

Japan has at least two classes of armored cruiser in progress right now, one with 10″ main guns and another with a 20-knot speed and a 5″ armor belt, both of which are entirely outclassed by even our existing battleships, to say nothing of our future designs.

Two-Year Report: Diplomacy

011: diplomacy

Tensions continue to run high with Italy, our most likely foe in the next few years. Despite our efforts, the Austro-Hungarians continue to view us as friends.

Britain and Germany, the two do-not-touch powers, aren’t our biggest fans, but also don’t seem to have much motivation to come after us.

Two-Year Report: The Fleet

012: fleet comparison

Here are the Mediterranean Current Naval Tonnage and Planned Naval Tonnage Rankings. Italy has about a battleship’s lead over us presently in the latter category, with the situation flipped in the former.

  1. FR 190,700
  2. IT 179,600
  3. AH 128,600

  4. IT 238,300

  5. FR 222,100
  6. AH 164,100

Italy still holds a lead in battleship tonnage, and will continue to do so until at least one Trident enters service (which is two years and five months out from when we lay the first one down).

Their lead in the Planned Naval Tonnage category stems from a heavy investment in armored cruisers, to match the Austro-Hungarian plan. Should we could consider a class of inexpensive armored cruisers to match them? Compared to a Trident (which takes 29 months to build and costs about 2100 funds per month), a hypothetical 22-knot cruiser with 9″ main guns, a 5.5″ belt, and a turreted 5″ secondary battery would take 22 months to build and cost about 1,500 funds per month. That’s a little more than our current class of large light cruisers per month, and five months longer. These cruisers would be armed slightly below the standard of their peers, but armored similarly, and would have a speed advantage of a knot or two. I lean against the idea, myself, given that we have a fast class of battleship and a light cruiser class suitable for commerce raiding, but I figured I’d put it on the table.

Under construction right now, we have one La République, which will be finished in 11 months, a pair of Tages, which will finish between one and four months from now, and a pair of Chateaurenaults, which are about a year away, in addition to a single Fauconneau.

Our current budget surplus is 2,120 funds per month, which will be put into a Trident as soon as the design study finishes next month. Out of our total budget of 15,100 per month, maintenance on the fleet costs us 4,652 and construction costs us 6,315.

Don’t forget, when answering, that shipyard expansions are also on the table as options for spending our money.

Winter Wargaming 2019: Rule the Waves 2

The nights are long, it’s cold outside, and I’m almost done with my Christmas choir obligations, so it’s time for some winter wargaming.

This year’s selection is Rule the Waves 2. We’ll be playing France, for its interesting position astride the border between Europe (where Germany and Britain vie for naval supremacy) and the Mediterranean (where there are a bunch of second-rate powers to beat up on), and the chip on its shoulder in re: Britain and naval matters.

I like to do some audience participation in these, so I’ll bold occasional decision points throughout posts.

My plan is to post one update a week, each covering about two years of game time, which means a full game (from 1900 to 1955) will take us into summer. I’ll aim to have the updates posted on Thursday, so I can play a little over the weekend and write in the evenings thereafter.

intro
Vive la France!

In Rule the Waves 2, France has neither serious perks nor serious drawbacks. We do get two bonus techs (Hardened AP penetrator, which just finished researching, and Quadruple Turrets, which is a decade or two down the road—bonus tech just means we have a good chance of getting it early). Our budget ranks third or fourth, after Britain, Germany, and sometimes the US. We have a moderate budgetary edge over the Italians (but more overseas colonies where we’ll have to station creaking, dilapidated armored cruisers years past their best-by date), and a serious edge over the creaking, dilapidated Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Looking north, we come to the Germans, among our historical foes, and the English, also among our historical foes. In the real-world timeline, England began making overtures to France not long after the present game date, as a way to counterbalance Germany. An alliance north of France, one way or another, might keep us safe from the other party, but might also drag us into wars we don’t really want.

I guess Russia is also up there, but in a game about naval warfare, European Russia might as well be on the moon. (In the real-world timeline, France and Russia are allied, so they aren’t among the six opponents the game chooses to simulate for us.)

Looking west, we have the United States. We don’t have any reason to mess with them, and the only place where we have the bases to plausibly do so is Southeast Asia.

Speaking of which, looking east, we have Southeast Asia, where we’re a major player. Japan is an obvious threat out that way, given that Southeast Asia is their backyard. The Americans, who hold the Philippines, also have interests out there.

Time for the first decision. Where do we focus our strategic interests? In the Mediterranean is my preference, but I could also see convincing arguments for expanding our presence in Africa or the Far East. Relatedly, how hawkish should we be? In Rule the Waves as in real life, it’s much easier to get money appropriated for the Navy when using it is in the cards, but actually having to use it means we might lose parts of it, and if the part of the

Before I get too far ahead of myself, though, let’s take a look at our starting fleet, custom-built according to the theory that France has historically produced some unusual warships.

ships-in-service

under-construction

If you don’t want to zoom in on that, it’s four battleships of the La République class, four armored cruisers of the Gueydon class, five light cruisers of the Tage class, and 16(ish?) destroyers of the Fauconneau class in active service. Under construction, we have another La République, another Gueydon, three Tages, and two Fauconneaus.

Because our ships are built nearly to the limits of our dockyards’ capabilities, we have fewer of them than other nations. We have four battleships, while Italy has seven, Britain has nine, and the Germans have 10 with another four under construction. Our four armored cruisers put us ahead of the Italians, but we lag them in light cruisers and destroyers, although the Tages under construction will change that.

The Austro-Hungarians have less than half the battleship tonnage we do.

la-republique

The La Républiques (Les Républiques?) are fast by the standard of pre-dreadnoughts, at a design speed of 20 knots, and well-armed with 13-inch guns. That’s enough to outrun and outshoot their historical British counterparts in the Duncan class, although they give up a bit in terms of armor.

gueydon

The Gueydons are oddball ships. They’re relatively fast at 23 knots, and their range and internal accommodations support colonial operations. They have about the armor you would expect for the class and era. The strange part is the gun layout. Rather than the usual four 9″ or 10″ guns and broadside casemate 5″ or 6″ guns, they have an all-medium-gun layout: twelve 7″ guns in six double turrets, with a broadside of 8 guns and a fore or aft throw of 6. They also feature three torpedo tubes underwater.

Time will tell if the unusual armament layout is a success or a failure.

tage

The Tages are also strange, with turreted 5″ guns fore and aft, and broadside 4″ guns in casemates, along with torpedo tubes. They’re lightly armored, and only slightly faster than the Gueydons at 24 knots. (That’s still faster than contemporary light cruisers, though.) Their armament is a bit lighter than their peers’, but their armor is heavier.

fauconneau

The first and only one of our starting ship classes which is notably slower than its contemporaries, the Fauconneaus make up for it with a few extra torpedo launchers.

Decision point #2: where do we focus our shipbuilding efforts? Is France to build a mighty battleship fleet to crush the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians? Should we focus on cruisers to scour the trade lanes in the event of war? Are submarines, destroyers, and torpedoes worth our time? Is there anything in particular we ought to build right now, or should be build a nest egg for when research begins to pay off? Bear in mind, building a battleship is about a two-year endeavor.

That decision also influences our research priorities. Should we change any of them for now?

research

Finally, finances and diplomacy. Tensions are low right now, and our budget is in near-perfect balance. At 6%, our research spending is a little low. It might be wise to increase that, as ships come off the ways and money becomes available.

finances

That’s all for this first update. This being Christmas week, I’ll plan to do the next update the first Thursday in 2020.

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? 

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

Parvusimperator Reviews: Resident Evil 2 (Remake)

Remaking movies is a terrible, terrible idea. Remaking video games can be a great idea, and Resident Evil 2 is a good example of a remake done right. The original was made in 1998 on the original playstation, featuring PSX graphics, fixed perspective cameras, and the sort of “tank controls”1 that only die hard purists and masochists enjoy.

Modernizing the game was done with the help of the engine from Resident Evil 7, giving modern controls and excellent modern graphics. Interestingly, and unlike Resident Evil 7, the remake of Resident Evil 2 has a third-person perspective. It’s a well done third person, and I’m ok with that.

Some of the structure of Resident Evil 2 remains intact. You can choose between one of two characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield for your playthrough of the story, and then you can opt to play as the other character for a complimentary story. Leon and Claire have some different boss fights, different weapons, different collectibles, go through different areas, and even work with different NPC helpers. There’s plenty of replay value to be had here.

There’s more fun to be had in the extra modes. There’s The 4th Survivor, which changes the formula by giving you an inventory full of weapons and healing items, but has nothing for you to pick up to restock with. Then there are some DLC scenarios which add some new zombie types, lootable backpacks, explosive backpacks, and vending machines. The vending machines are a neat twist, with each one featuring three items, but you can only pick one of them.

If you’re a fan of survival horror, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.


  1. Amusingly, while I love tanks almost as much as the Stavka, I do not enjoy classic Resident Evil “tank controls” at all. 

Parvusimperator Reviews: Ace Combat 7

My first flight gaming love was, like that of many youngsters, something very arcade-y. Namely: Rogue Squadron. Recently, I decided to return to my arcadey roots and pick up Ace Combat 7, the latest entry in a series that I had last played on the Playstation 2.

To repeat, this is an Arcade Flight Game (TM). Your plane carries over one hundred missiles, and you’ll have targets for all of them. If you’re expecting realism, go look up some DCS reviews.

Ace Combat 7 is set in the fun Namco-created world called “Strangereal” which was probably made by someone cutting an existing world map into pieces and then playing around with them. All the country names are fake and any resemblance to actual countries is purely coincidental by design. So we don’t have to argue about how many planes some country really has. Oh, and everybody gets to mix types, because engaging a flight of Tu-160s escorted by Mirage 2000-5s is awesome. You also have a big tree of unlockable aircraft and parts to buy with points earned from missions. Those missions are graded, of course.

The missions themselves are a pretty solid grab bag of types, though the escort ones are a hot mess. Par for the course, really: escort missions are always made of suck. Missions where you have lots of targets to destroy are a good time, as expected. There are also a few missions where you have to work on your target identification. You won’t know whether a target is hostile or not until you get close enough for positive identification. Shades of Vietnam there. And of course, there are ‘boss fights’ with either giant enemies with lots of sub-components or fancy plot armor. Again, nothing too fancy or out of the ordinary.

Overall, Ace Combat 7 is an excellent entry in a field that doesn’t have a lot of recent games. If you like lobbing lots of missiles at things, give this one a try. It’s loads of fun.

Uncharted Questions

A classic question for fans of the PS3 was “What’s your favorite Uncharted game?” Back then there were 3. Of course, we also have a PS Vita entry and the fantastic finale on the PS4. Today, I’ll look at the original questions. I love Uncharted 4 to death, but it has a huge leg up on the rest, being on a newer console with notably better graphics and an improved engine.

Of course, we have engine improvements in Uncharted 1, 2, and 3 as well, but they’re all on the same hardware, so it’s something we can adjust a little better for. Uncharted 3 has the nicest unarmed combat system, featuring attacks, blocks/counterattacks, and grabs. It also lets you throw grenades back. Of course, this ended up leading to a ton of grenade spam fights, and that’s honestly entirely too obnoxious. There are also a number of really frustrating encounters, moreso than in either Uncharted 1 or Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3 also loads up on the gimmicky characters that take away the efficacy of some of your toys. It has the highest number of fights that I found annoying.

From a story standpoint, Uncharted 3 also has story issues stemming from a rewrite necessitated by Graham McTavish, the voice actor for Charlie Cutter, getting a significant role in The Hobbit. This ended up pulling him out of the production of Uncharted 3, forcing a number of story changes. Part of the reason I play the Uncharted games is for the story, and this doesn’t help things.

I really want to love Uncharted 2, because it has some of my favorite set pieces. But it also has a super obnoxious boss fight, and that is some bullshit. And then there’s this guy.

Jeff. Elena’s cameraman. His role in the story is to prove that Nate loves Elena, and then to get out of the way. By dying. After being shot but not before you have to endure an excruciatingly aggravating sequence where you have to carry Jeff through a running gun battle. Have fun trying to play a cover shooter when you can’t use cover. In the finest tradition of Galaxy Quest, we can see that Jeff’s only role is to die to prove that the situation Nate’s love for Elena is serious because he doesn’t have a last name.1 We know everyone else’s last name.

It’s also one of the less well done parts of the game, frankly. I get that Elena is Nate’s true love. And I get that they’re right for each other. Sure. But the way that gets presented in Uncharted 2 isn’t all that great. Honestly, Chloe seems like the better choice for most of that game. It would have been better to explore Elena’s character more. More time building that, less time carrying some idiot who’s going to die in the next scene.

Uncharted 1 has the least graphical polish, and the least nice fight mechanics, but the best story by far. Really the only annoyance is the sixaxis system, which is forced into it as an early PS3 title. While these are annoying, they’re not a huge deal, and it’s the one problem that gets completely rectified in the Uncharted HD Collection. Fixed grenade controls make Uncharted 1 a joy.

And of course, the other reason to leave out Uncharted 4 is that it’s really the best of the lot. Better controls, nice combat, stunning vistas, and a fun story.


  1. Apparently you can find one in the asset files if you dig around in the HD collection on PS4, but those are hardly called out in the narrative/dialog/anywhere you might actually notice. 

Parvusimperator Reviews: Marvel’s Spider-Man

I am sick to the back teeth of giant ensemble cast superhero movies, and I’ve played a ton of bad superhero games in my youth. For a game to stand out, it needs to be amazing. Spectacular, even. Insomniac Games has stepped up with their take on everyone’s favorite web-slinging hero in Marvel’s Spider-Man.

Things the game does right: damn near everything. First, pitfalls avoided. It’s not a rehash of the origin story, thank God and Stan Lee. We’ve got a somewhat-experienced Peter Parker here who doesn’t have to “learn how to be Spider-Man” for the millionth time. It’s not a redo of any other story either. They’ve gone and made their own story for you to enjoy.

Let’s talk about that story some more. It is brand new, but it checks all of the boxes that you would expect from a Spider-Man story. We’ve got complications. We’ve got good characters who are going to TURN BAD. We’ve got touching moments with MJ. We’ve got financial woes. We’ve got perpetual tardiness. We’ve got Spidey Quips. We’ve got famous villains that you know and love to hate. We’ve got J. Jonah Jameson (now with a radio show) calling you a MENACE and accusing you of being in cahoots with various evildoers. We even have a cameo appearance from the late Stan Lee himself. And there’s a brassy, awesome soundtrack that feels very ‘comic book movie’.

Being a Spider-Man game, this is set in New York City, and the devs at Insomniac did a great job of giving you a lovingly recreated Manhattan to play in. Thanks to modern processing power, you can web swing from Harlem to Wall Street without any loading screens. There are tons of recognizable New York City landmarks for you to see, plus a whole bunch of appropriate Marvel landmarks, like Avengers Tower. And you get around via web-swinging, which is the right mix of simple controls, dynamism, and just a bit of imprecision to be tremendous fun. It’s very easy to get the hang of, and it looks right out of a good Spider-Man movie.

On to combat! Combat feels like a somewhat more refined version of what we see in the Arkham games. More refined in the sense that Spidey’s gadgets are a lot better integrated into the fighting. It’s a lot easier to select gadgets, and they fit into your other attack and evasion work really nicely. Another nice feature is the combo bar. Fill it, and you get a finishing move, but you can also use it to replenish your health.

I would also like to praise the randomized minor crime mechanic. In each section of Manhattan, there are various factions who might do some crimes like try to hijack an armored truck. And, of course, you can go stop them. The timers are such that I never felt that I was overwhelmed by crime, or had somehow gone back to pre-Giuliani New York. Plus, after you stop a set number of crimes (five per faction, usually) those stop. Which is nice, because I get really sick when those become never-ending like the dragon encounters in Skyrim.

And now, things I don’t like. Happily, it’s a short list. First, there are sidequests that seem to require more precision in the web-swinging than the system is capable of delivering, which makes them a giant pain. Those quests were both frustrating and verisimilitude-breaking, as I felt like some sort of useless tetherball, not an amazing superhero. Happily, those quests are both few and number and entirely optional. The other annoying bits are the parts where you’re playing as Peter Parker (i.e. not costumed) and you have to walk around between cutscenes. With the exception of the bits in the lab, where there are plenty of things to mess around with, these felt entirely superfluous. Just work it into one cutscene, guys. It’s ok.

Overall though, it’s a great game. Highly recommended.