Thursday, August 02, 2007

MERCILESS ALGORITHMS OF MEGADEATH: Global Nuclear Domination beer-and-pretzels computer game

Down in the superbunker at midnight: Effete Euros assault CONUS, Northeast plastered, West Coast unscathed. France and the UK get worst of retaliatory strike.

In keeping with today's early theme of computer wargaming, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow moves on to DEFCON, a British entertainment imported to BestBuy consumer electronics stores a couple months ago.

DEFCON is not at all like Point of Attack 2. It is not meant as a serious simulation of war. It's meant purely for fun, fun being had with the idea of waging global thermonuclear war from the vantage point of a computerized war room.

Easy to learn, one rapidly gets down to brass-plutonium tacks choosing a side -- the computer will assign and play an opponent -- and building the nuclear arsenal. Your global nuclear assault force consists of warning radars, ballistic missile submarines, nuclear-capable aircraft carriers, airfields and ballistic missile/anti-ballistic missile sites.

The clock ticks down, the computer emitting an ominous hoot as DEFCON levels change and nuclear weapons release is granted.

The player is left to decide how to wage nuclear war.

Should you nibble away at the enemy's resources, hoping a nuclear detonation here or their won't trigger a full release of the arsenal? It's a strategy akin to putting a frog in pan of water and turning up the heat slowly. By the time the frog realizes he'd better do something, he's already been cooked. Depending on conditions, it can actually work.

More often, however, it doesn't, resulting in a grinding exchange of nuclear salvos.

The nuclear arsenal exists as a triad of bombers, land-based ballistic missiles and submarines.

Will you try for a phased launch of ICBMs precisely lagged by SLBMs so they all arrive at the same time in a saturation attack on the adversary's anti-ballistic missile system and early-warning radars? Or will you launch a quick surprise attack with SLBMs off the adversary's coast, hoping to knock out his defenses so subsequent salvos can be turned on the cities to slaughter civilians for points?

Oops, the adversary has detected and sunk one of your subrons off his coast! You've lost an important asset. Should you press on or wait and see if the computer chooses a poor retaliatory strategy?

Once the missiles and bombs really begin to fly, it gets confusing. The computer enemy can calculate, coordinate and fire faster than you, so a human player is compelled to always keep the machine intelligence back on its heels, whatever the cost.

Plastered cities and death counts flash across the screen. Irradiated areas glow brighter and brighter.

Doesn't Africa have enough problems?

One of DEFCON's most game-enhancing features are sound effects.

While there is a subliminal of backrop of ominous and woeful muzak, down in the bunker one hears little but the occasional klaxon of a launch alert or a low rumble as a distant nuclear barrage arrives. Nuclear office noises permeate the atmosphere -- the clack of heels walking across the silent war room, tubercular coughs from someone in a cublicle far away, and most effective -- the intermittent weeping of one of your adjutants.

While the computer will slaughter you the first time you take control, it is not a particularly unbeatable opponent as one gains experience.

The solitaire version is accompanied with the ability to engage in networked play against a myriad of opponents on the net. The game will hook up to DEFCON servers and put you in contact with its the on-line gaming community.

However, DD does not play well with children and has never enjoyed on-line games which degenerate into figuring out how to exploit foibles in the software so that you can cheat more effectively than your adversaries.

However, DEFCON is also amenable to private and insular networked gaming, across offices or between "friends." If you purchase DEFCON, perhaps you should drop DD a line and we'll destroy the world some afternoon.

I win! Fifty million dead of theirs to twenty-six million of mine, tops. Don't think you won't get your hair mussed, though.

Ultimatum! The original board game of nuclear confrontation.


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