zaterdag 14 september 2013

Games and Books

I recall that, a long time ago (around 2005, to be exact), we had a house computer that we all shared on the ground floor. It was the computer that everyone used and which was often a test machine for my father’s new acquisitions.
As such, both my brother and I spent most of the time on that computer, playing new games as they came along and enjoying them or telling my father to get rid of them. It was a good time, which brought me in contact with several video game franchises and learned me to enjoy them.
In 2005, I suddenly found a new Star Wars game on the computer. Star Wars: Republic Commando, to be exact. It was a game that was praised for its excellent AI, interesting storyline and fast gameplay, three things that I couldn’t agree more with. It basically followed a single commando squad, comprised of four different individuals, that was fighting its way through the well-known Clone Wars that made up the second and third movies of the prequel trilogy.
I recall highly enjoying the first of three large levels, which brought the player through several environments on Geonosis, where the player and his squad were constantly being harassed by the flying, insect-like Geonosian hunters and the droids that made up the meat of the separatist army. It had its ups, it had its downs, its busy moments and its calm moments, and it formed an excellent introduction to the game.
Then… came the second chapter, which took me a very long time to complete. Not because it was very hard, because it wasn’t. It was your typical ghost ship mission with a lot of dark corners, shadows and speedy enemies that tended to jump out of dark corners and approach you rapidly.
And, I was a wimp. That same chapter brought you the shotgun-like slug thrower, which was basically an instant kill button in that chapter (its use diminished in the third and last chapter, though…), and suddenly made all those scary enemies a laughing stock that was taken care of with the push of a button.

In the end, I replayed that chapter for fun, countless times, because it was an excellent chapter, but the story was a bit lacklustre. It was the third chapter, which ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger, that really piqued my interest in the game.
(obviously, spoilers coming up for the ending of an eight-year-old game that you should’ve played already)
The final challenge is an enemy battleship hanging above the location that your squad is currently residing in. You’re told that the best way to deal with this battleship is to take the four anti-air cannons that are set up in a circle directly underneath said battleship, so you go out and find said cannons. You leave the sniper at the first cannon, the demolitions expert at the second, fight your way through hordes of droids with your tech expert and leave him at the third cannon (really the hardest fight of that part, if I recall correctly…) and finally take a seat yourself in the fourth one. Your team takes care of the battleship, it explodes, and you get picked up in your gunship to deal with the next assignment.
However, as you go to pick up your sniper, you hear that he’s being overrun by enemies and his communication stops. You’re told to leave him behind by Yoda, the door of the gunship closes, and the game ends.

There are a lot of people who wanted to find out what had happened with Sev (the sniper), but unfortunately, the sequel, called ‘Imperial Commando’, never left the planning stage and the fans were left hanging.
That included me.
I figured that I would probably never find out and was actually quite happy with that, but I kept returning to my drifting Republic Cruiser and the monstrosities that inhabited it. It was a happy little memory that was sitting in the back of my mind and something I could return to if I wanted to have some fun.
Then, one day, as I was browsing the internet, I stumbled across a series of novels written by a women called Karen Traviss. They were based on the same universe as the fantastic game I had played, though it followed a different squad on obviously different adventures. How else could it be.
I bought the first book online, to see how it was, and I was impressed. The story was well written, detailed, and gave me insights in the actual culture of the commandos outside of combat. What they were like without their armour and while dealing with other commandos, soldiers and civilians.

After a little more research, I found out that Traviss had been involved in the production of Republic Commando and had had a say in writing the banter between the squad of the game and had actually built a complete language to write a song with. It was pretty impressive, so I decided to keep reading on.
I enjoyed the book series as relationships were built and characters were introduced. The characters of the game were actually introduced in the books, the books detailing the things that happened between the different missions in the game and, of course, by the time the mission on Kashyyyk had rolled around and Sev had been lost, the way they coped with the loss.

Unfortunately, the series ended abruptly after the series had received a name change. Originally, it had always been called ‘Republic Commando [subtitle]’, but as time went on and Order 66 had passed (Star Wars fans will know what that means), it started to be called ‘Imperial Commando’, of which only the book called ‘Order 66’ had been written.
After that, Lucasarts decided to make some… radical changes to the Mandalorean culture to make it more suitable for the Clone Wars animated series that was running at the time. The change could basically be explained as the nomadic warrior culture that had been the undertone of all of the books being turned into a treehugging hippy culture that would make it virtually impossible to write the next books without rebooting the whole story. Because of the contract with Lucasarts, considering the use of their IP, Traviss couldn’t keep writing on in her own continuity, and she logically decided to abandon the Republic Commando series, leaving the last book with cliff-hangers, characters lost and scattered all across the Star Wars universe.
Though she posted spoilers about the book that would have closed it all off, which she had planned in a rush as she got the idea her books wouldn’t fall in good grace anymore before being forced to cancel it all together, I never really felt like it was good enough. A list of spoilers and planned notes never has and never will beat reading the actual book, but I had managed to push the feelings of loss and lack of closure to the back of my mind for a while.
I found other books written by Traviss that I enjoyed. She wrote a couple of books in the Gears of War universe, bridging the gaps between the games, but unfortunately, they started to get tedious and I started seeing the critique that other readers had about her. Idolizing tribal cultures to the point of extremism, making sure they were told of as legendary warriors and that they came out like that in the books. Extremely detailed combat scenario’s that, quite frankly, coloured my own way of writing combat and went on for many pages at a time. Witty banter that probably wasn’t as funny to me as it was to her. The list doesn’t go on and on, but there’s multiple points that I couldn’t ignore as I read on.
I ultimately opted to stop reading her books, because they turned out to be long and tedious, with the excitement of the story gone. I didn’t like it, because I had a lot of fun moments with her stories, and I could almost compare it to ending a long and intimate relationship, but I couldn’t keep up with the irritations anymore.

Some days ago, I returned to Traviss’ website and took a look at the Republic Commando section. Maybe I was hoping things had changed and that the Imperial Commando story would keep going, or maybe I just wanted to remind myself what had happened and what belonged to the past. I don’t know, but I do know it inspired me to write this piece and that it reminded me of an excellent time. I actually downloaded the game again, though I’ll have to see if I get it running again. I really hope so…

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