Games of My Childhood: The Troops

post by Kaj_Sotala · 2024-07-08T11:20:03.033Z · LW · GW · 0 comments

The Troops (Finnish “joukot”, could also be translated as “the armies” or “the forces”) was a game of pretend that I played the most with my friend Eero; I believe Aleksi also joined in.

The central premise was that each time that you played a video game and killed, recruited, rescued, built, or otherwise destroyed/obtained an enemy, character, or unit in that game, it went into an alternate dimension where it became loyal to you. In other words, it joined your troops in that dimension. The same was true for buildings that you built or destroyed, equipment that you found or bought, cities that you conquered, etc..

This meant that whenever we were playing a game, we were not just playing a game: we were also accumulating resources that persisted between games. We could also combine resources from different games. For example, I might kill a number of soldiers in a game such as Snake’s Revenge on the NES, and then produce a number of laser rifles in a game such as X-Com for the PC. I could then decide that the soldiers I’d gotten from Snake’s Revenge were now armed with the laser rifles from X-Com, making them significantly tougher.

At first, my and Eero’s troops were separate, and we would occasionally trade units. For example, he had beaten the game Star Wars on the NES and destroyed a Death Star; I had beaten the game Snake’s Revenge and destroyed a Metal Gear, a walking robot armed with nuclear missiles. We agreed to trade one of his Death Stars for one of my Metal Gears. He later commented with amusement that this was probably not a great deal for him, given how much more powerful a Death Star is.

I took these trades seriously. Once, I traded a number of tanks from the NES game Top Gun: The Second Mission for something that I’ve forgotten. After we had already agreed on this trade, I became worried – exactly how many tanks had I destroyed while playing Top Gun? I wasn’t sure if I actually _had_ as many tanks as I had agreed to give to Eero. So then I had to load up the game and start destroying tanks in it, until I was sure that I had at least as many as I had agreed to trade. This clashed against my bedtime, but when I explained the situation to my mom, she somehow agreed to let me play until I had satisfied my objective (though I’m not sure if she really understood what it was all about).

Different games had different scales, which was an obvious problem. Unlike me, Eero wasn’t very much into strategy games. He complained that it wasn’t particularly fair that in a strategy game, you might acquire lots of units such as tanks at the click of a button, while in an action game you might need to spend a lot of time fighting them one by one.

I agreed that this wasn’t fair. But I still wanted to keep the units that I got from the strategy games. I thought that as compensation, units acquired from strategy games would be weaker than corresponding units acquired from action games. How much weaker? Compared to action game units, strategy game units would be able to take one less hit from the weakest weapon in _any_ video game.

Of course this was a ridiculous “weakness” that wasn’t actually any compensation at all. So I’m not sure if I actually ever told Eero of this compensation, since he would obviously have objected. It can be that I just thought of it in my head and figured the matter settled that way, even while feeling slightly guilty about it.

We both knew a bit about programming and used QBASIC to make simple text adventures. By mutual agreement, it was forbidden to just make your own game where you could kill 99999999999999999999 planets at the click of a button, or whatever. However, any units or resources gained from “real” games while using cheat codes or the Game Genie cheating device still counted, because we did cheat a lot and liked to keep those resources. Though I suggested a special case where, if you used a cheat code to instantly create resources from thin air, those didn’t count. I think this was mostly for the Heroes of Might and Magic II cheat code that instantly gave you 5 black dragons, which felt a bit too cheap even for me.

There were some other special case rules too. I think that unique named characters (such as Grand Admiral Thrawn from the PC game Star Wars: Rebellion) could only join your troops once, even if you played the game multiple times. But more generic “unique” units, like the end boss of a particular level, could be acquired many times if they didn’t have very much of a unique personality specified. I think the intent here was just something like, would it feel weird if there were several instances of a particular unit running around? Having several Grand Admiral Thrawns running around would feel weird. But having several different Killer Moth assassins (a level boss from the Batman game for the NES) would not feel weird, we could just think of them as generic Killer Moth assassins. However, troops belonging to different people could each have their own copies of Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Any units acquired directly from a game would always be completely loyal to us, even if that game had some kind of loyalty mechanic where units could become traitors. However, once they were a part of our troops, some of them might have children together. Any children born this way would _not_ be automatically loyal, but would just have their views and loyalties determined by normal psychological factors.

I think it was also so that any units or technology acquired from a game would not need active maintenance or food, but anything that was separately built or otherwise created by our troops would require it.

Eventually me and Eero agreed to join our troops together, so we no longer needed to trade and any games we played would benefit both. (I don’t think we ever thought about what happened to overlapping unique characters when we merged our troops. Possibly they got merged, too.) This led to a common joke when playing a game together – “what use will our troops have for X”, where X was some silly thing that really only made sense within the context of that particular game, or was obviously very underpowered. Later we also merged our troops with those of Aleksi; we also explained this thing to a few other kids in our neighborhood and asked if they wanted to join their troops to ours, and they agreed. This was often an easy gain, since they weren’t actually invested in our game so they might just say “oh okay whatever”, and then we’d have everything from the video games they played.

One kid who we did _not_ join our troops together with was a particular boy who was a bit of a bully. Neither of us liked him very much. Instead, we thought of different ways in which we would attack his troops and completely destroy them. (We never told him about this game nor about the fact that we were destroying his troops within that game, but rather just kept our revenge to ourselves.) I forget most of the different ways in which we destroyed him – nuclear missiles might have been involved in one – but at one point we decided that he had rebuilt his surviving forces in an underwater base. I remember the mental image of us sending submarines to that underwater base and shooting torpedoes right through its windows, destroying it as well.

The scale issue from strategy games caused some other conceptual issues as well. The original idea was that everything we acquired from games, we collected into a single enormous base on a massive planet where the units from everyone’s games went. But what about strategy games like Master of Orion II or Star Wars Rebellion, where you could get entire planets from? Or for that matter games like Civilization II, that would give you cities? I don’t think I ever reached a fully satisfying answer to this question, and instead just concluded that those planets and cities were located “somewhere else” in the Troop Dimension, outside the Main Planet.

I also remember thinking about the fact that different games clearly had different laws of physics (or different laws of magic). How would e.g. technology from two different sci-fi games with different underlying physics work, if they were both brought to the same dimension? The answer I settled on was that each unit would basically create its own pocket universe that moved with it. So that the laws of that universe applied to that unit while laws of other universes applied to other units. I also had some thoughts about how damage by weapons from different universes would be converted to a common scale, but I don’t remember what I concluded about this.

Finally, we ourselves could also travel to the dimension where our troops were located. I don’t think we made much use of this, but I did have a text document where I had compiled a list of various equipment that I personally carried with me while in the Troop Dimension. Some items included various magic items from Might & Magic VI, a portable shield generator from X-Com Apocalypse, a lightsaber from a QBasic “lightsaber creator” program I’d written (slightly bending the prohibition on text adventure gains here), as well as a plasma pistol from either Fallout 2 or the original X-Com. Had to be ready to defend myself, after all.

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