Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sofa Story: Burton's Miracle

Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour may not have been the most balanced real-time strategy game ever released but the theme of near future technology mixed with the trademark C&C hammy style ensured that every match was fun. One of the most unfortunate issues with Zero Hour was its horrendous net code which could lead to incredibly buggy gameplay even when playing over LAN. Today, I elaborate one multiplayer match where a bug lead to the most comically improbable dismantling of an enemy base by Colonel Burton.

Desert Fury is a pretty solid map. The north-west and south-east corners form player starting points which are separated by a middle oasis dotted by precious oil wells. Early control and successful defense of these wells is a virtual guarantee for victory and they form the inevitable point of contention for most matches. The north-east and south-west corners provide a flanking route but are dangerously narrow and they can become a shooting gallery if your opponent suspects you are up to something sneaky. In this particular match-up, I had randomly been slotted with the vanilla USA leader; slow to start and highly dependent on establishing a reliable flow of income, they feature the strongest late game toys (especially from the air) and should be eliminated early before an infrastructure is established. My opponent, on the other hand, rolled the Chinese infantry general Shin Fai who specializes in producing a ton of cheap basic foot soldiers and essentially overwhelming the competition. As Fai, you want to keep a constant flow of units pouring into the battle field with little regard for the front line casualties.

As with most great matches, things started off innocently enough. I began by rushing a few humvees from my south-east encampment in anticipation of a horde of mini-gunners clogging up the middle of the map. My intention was to use the superior speed of the humvees to force the mini-gunners to split ranks and open themselves to be picked off one at a time. On the back burner, I was also preparing myself to pump out the long range infantry sniping pathfinders as soon as I had progressed sufficiently up the technology tree. This certainly wasn't the most original of tactics but I had experienced some success with it in previous match-ups and wasn't feeling up to trying something new. As expected, my humvees encountered strong infantry resistance at the middle oil wells. The initial skirmish was about even and neither of us gained a foothold on the wells. I had, however, started to produce a few pathfinders and expected the next round of the oasis showdown to go in my favor. It was about this point that Colonel Burton also started to do a few push-ups in the barracks to prepare to support his troops in battle.

The second skirmish didn't quite go as planned. While my pathfinders performed admirably, they simply lost out on the bullets to heads ratio and were eventually overrun. Sensing that I was about to lose control of the precious middle ground, I took the only course of action open to me. I diverted Burton from his course to the center of map and instead ordered him to the south-west flank towards the back of the enemy base, his mission parameter was changed from frontal assault to covert ops. Simultaneously, I ordered my freshly acquired carpet-bombers to scorch the central wells. If I could not secure them, neither would my opponent. After a successful bombing run, both of our forces were depleted and the regrouping phase was to begin. I knew that my days were numbered in that I simply didn't have the strength of economy to produce enough of a force to counter the never-ending horde of peasants-with-guns my opponent could churn out. My lone hope was for Burton to sneak past enemy lines and deal a precision strike on some vital facility.

As Burton approached the enemy encampment, he was able to observe an already sizable army of mini-gunners entering into formation. Quickly surveying the scene, Burton could see a small spot in the enemy lines to slip through undetected and plant a crucial detonator on the enemy command center. It was the highest value target and would hopefully provide enough of a distraction to allow me a chance to micro-manage my way into more advantageous positioning. Unfortunately for Burton, it was a one way mission but he dutifully obeyed the order to strike with predictable sarcasm; a true hero willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, I vowed that his efforts would not be in vain. I don't know if it was nerves, but as Burton closed in on his target, he made an uncharacteristically sloppy step and exposed himself to the fire of the enemy defensive chain guns. My heart sank as I braced to watch for the imminent tragic death of the legendary Burton.

An eternity of a second passed but something strange happened. The chain guns were squarely pointed at Burton but would not fire... they didn't have a line of sight! Even without a line of sight, Burton was still detected and my crafty opponent began to maneuver his forces to flush him out. It was still game over but at least Burton would have the opportunity to die a soldier's death. Thrusting his knife into the first mini-gunner he could see, I could sense the blood lust; Burton was going to take as many through the gates of hell with him as he could muster. Promptly gutting another enemy and then another, Burton's deeds were sure to earn medals and successively seemed to increase his fervor. I can only imagine that Burton's dominant coolness in the face of certain death froze the blood of every enemy who gazed upon as they simply refused to attack him. After his fourth kill, Burton, as if challenging God himself, broke any semblance of stealth and began to use his custom rapid fire assault rifle to unload a stream of bullets into the seemingly endless field of targets in front of him. One by one, the enemy fell to the brutal fury of Colonel Burton. After single-handedly vanquishing an entire platoon, Burton casually walked up to the command center and planted the C4, the day was won in nothing short of a miracle.

Why the game suddenly refused to acknowledge Burton as a viable target is something that I will never be able to explain. At his surrender, I spoke to the opposing general and he stated he had never seen anything like that before. In any case, any time I played USA in the future, I would always be sure to quickly put Burton on the battlefield. He may not have achieved such lofty heights again, but I will never forget his exploits that day when all seemed lost and he managed to seize victory on his lonesome.