Physically and Mentally Refreshed

Last week, lots of folks were celebrating the seven-year anniversary of Metal Gear Solid V.

When I first played MGSV, I hadn’t touched a game in the series since MGS2 when it originally came out, and I never finished it.

So when I jumped into MGSV, there were a lot of holes in the plot for me. Most of the time, I had very little idea as to what was going on.

But I quickly became obsessed and played until I reached 100%.

At the same time, the unit I was in was spending a lot of time in the field. In the field, you tend to get dirty. And sweaty. The whole thing is generally uncomfortable.

But it’s not just an issue of comfort. Hygiene and cleanliness are important aspects of a healthy military force.

Which is why the shower on Mother Base was so intriguing to me.

After each mission, I always went to the shower. I was out there, in either Afghanistan or Africa, crawling around, running, sweating, getting blood everywhere… it only makes sense to shower when you get back.

There’s something about the sound of the shower in the game, the dripping, and the echo, that made it seem very real.

The game inspired me to purchase a field shower – which I had seen on deployments before but never used myself. I bought one from Amazon, packed it in my ruck for a field problem, but never actually used it (I still have it).

As I’ve written before, the game has a way of hitting people in different ways. This was one small way for me, and I haven’t seen the sentiment shared anywhere else.


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Sing to me of a time long past

There was the leak, then the hint, and now the announcement.

There are some games that I play simply because I enjoy them, and there are others that teach lessons.

This is one of them. This is Game of Thrones.

I’ll be playing when it comes out and I’m looking forward to going through it for a third time, this time, teasing out whatever I can.

I’ve referenced Tactics Ogre in the past on topics ranging from military deception (2013), war advice (2014), the permanence of death (2014), and proxy wars (2021).

Off the top of my head, there’s room to explore irregular warfare, great power competition, propaganda, rumors, loyalty, military careerism, and more.

This one goes deep.

There’s so much more to pull – and I’m excited to get the chance. Look for more this November.


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Tactics Ogre Reborn, almost official

the knights of lodis

There was the hint.

And now it’s almost official.

Still no announcement, but it looks like I know how I’ll be spending the winter.

There is so much to pull out of this game.


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Gaming as #FICINT

a reaper shooting a laser

We are often accused of preparing for “the last war.” I think that’s a bit unfair. When you actually look at it, we’re mostly trying to figure out how to adequately train for the wars we’re fighting now while keeping an eye on what might be out there lurking.

We dominate in Gulf War I, and we turn towards the Revolution in Military Affairs. We get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we triple-down on training counter-insurgency, trying to eke out a win.

Now, in the era of ‘Great Power Competition,’ we’re thinking of Multi-Domain Operations and Large Scale Combat Operations. 

For the majority of the serving force, combat experience is limited to the counter-insurgency operations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thinking about what war might look like against a different foe in a different environment requires looking further back into the past, when the equipment, technology, and tactics employed were also very different.

Or, if we’re willing, we can look to the future.

And if we’re really brave, we can look to fiction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fictional intelligence, or ‘FICINT,’ lately. While it’s a new term to me, it’s one that I’ve learned I’m already very familiar with.

FICINT is the idea of looking at fiction for inspiration. And in a military context, as “intelligence” to prepare for future conflict. The term was coined by Peter Singer and August Cole – authors of Ghost Fleet. 

For the uninitiated, Ghost Fleet is a novel set in the near-future that depicts a future war between the United States and China. It includes anti-satellite warfare, total annihilation of troop formations, biologically enhanced super-soldiers, entrepreneurs at war, and more. 

It’s a terrifying look at what a true “peer-to-peer” war might look like. 

While terrifying, it is also inspiring. It’s a call to do the work now.

If we keep doing what we’ve done, we will eventually be out-innovated. It’s only a matter of time. Using FICINT to imagine some of these seemingly absurd challenges can prepare us for them. 

Which brings me to the rub. Military thought leaders and senior officials are getting comfortable with FICINT as a concept. Books like Ghost Fleet and 2034 are finding spots on military reading lists across the force. 

Now what would be truly disruptive? 

Gaming as FICINT.

Open the aperture a bit and look at what gaming has to offer in terms of FICINT. Gaming has exploded over the past thirty years – and the narrative, development, and seriousness of the genre has professionalized and matured. 

I’d argue (and I do) that games are better for FICINT than television, film, and literature. Why? Gaming allows for more, and with fewer restrictions. Films, at the most, last a few hours. Television shows can last multiple seasons, but there are studio limits to what gets packed in. Books, arguably, can go on forever and can pack it all in. But, while I know you read, as an art form, reading is in decline.

Games are also limited, but not to the same extent. AAA games regularly clock in at over 100 hours to fully explore the world. These games are dense. Cyberpunk 2077, for example, features a script that includes over 100,000 lines of dialogue.

While I have explored filmtelevision, and books for FICINT before, I’ve spent most of my efforts with games. 

Over the years I’ve written a number of pieces pulling directly from games as a way to think about mental healthstolen valorsuicide (and here), the military’s role in a zombie apocalypse, the RPG elements of military service, the importance of “staying alive,” military deception, the absurdity of war, soldiers vs. warriorsdecision makinggrand strategy, and toxic mentorship.

Still, I always get the sense that when I write about gaming or use it as an anchor for some other idea, I am met with a too-critical eye – that this is still the stuff of adolescence. Many individual leaders still don’t want to take it seriously – despite the fact that it is pervasive and dominating other markets, including the movie industry.

Institutionally, the services get it. The Army, Navy, and Air Force have stood up eSports teams as another way to aid in recruiting. Most people game, so it makes sense to go where the people are.

It should not be that challenging a jump to turn to the genre for inspiration.

Our future might depend on it.


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The things that didn’t make it

the doc from metal gear

A deep-dive on all of the cut content that didn’t make it in the Metal Gear series.

To include – some serious revisions to Metal Gear Solid 2 which released just after 9/11.


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I Want Konami for Christmas

konami logo from the nes era

When I was a kid, I thought “Konami” was some kind of video game system, like the original NES. I didn’t realize it was a video game company. I told my parents that “I want Konami for Christmas,” which probably made things very difficult for them when they went to Toys ‘R’ Us and started asking around.

One of my friends in the neighborhood had a Konami game called Rush’N Attack – which I always thought was “Russian Attack.”

I remember seeing the Konami logo – were there commercials for video games back then? – and knowing that I wanted whatever it is that Konami was.

Episode 63 of the Kojima Frequency Podcast (Hideosyncrasies) discusses the preservation of old games, streaming, dying consoles, the stealth similarities between Metal Gear and The Last of Us 2, and more.

Right after I bought a PS4, I went out to the local pawn shops in Killeen, Texas looking for one of the original PS3s that had backwards compatibility. I wanted to make sure I’d be able to play some of my old games (which I never do, by the way). I managed to find one and I still have it – and it still works.

After listening to this episode, I’m starting to get worried I might lose that capability.

I’m still not even sure what the changes to the Playstation Network mean. I am getting the sense that even if I physically own a copy of a game, I might not be able to play it.

Huh?

As I mentioned in the last post on the Kojima Frequency, the Lunar series is one of my favorites – and I have the discs (original PS1) and a PS3 to play it.

Whenever I decide to go back to it, will it work?

I relaunched CTG when I was wrapping up my playthrough of The Last of Us 2, and there is so much more I could have written about it if I was in the groove. I think I just have this one post on Isaac and the burden of leadership.

I know that game took a lot of flack for a lot of dumb reasons – but I loved it. And I think they got it right (in the episode). The stealth mechanics made the game. There is real terror when navigating the terrain and avoiding both zombies and human enemies. And I remember getting into set battles where I had to set traps and think hard about how to win and move forward – often just avoiding battles altogether.

What a great game. Would love to go back to it.

But I probably won’t.


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The Return of Tactics Ogre?

square enix tactics ogre catiua and denam

I felt genuine joy when I saw this late last week.

Square Enix has applied for a trademark, in Japan, for Tactics Ogre: Reborn, ramping up speculation that the 20-year-old Ogre Battle strategy RPG series is due for some kind of re-release.

The trademark application was filed March 31 and published on Thursday. Square Enix has made no official announcement of a new game in the Ogre Battle series, whose last original release was Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis for Game Boy Advance in June 2001. 1995’s Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was re-released on PlayStation Portable in 2010.

New Tactics Ogre trademark signals a revival of Square Enix’s great tactical RPG, Polygon

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is one of my favorite games of all time. I played the original on Playstation when I was a teenager and was completely sucked into its complicated political intrigue.

For those who have no idea, think Game of Thrones. A huge cast of characters, complex narrative, and brutal permadeath.

One of the things I loved about the game is that your characters – even main characters – could die. And those deaths have repercussions.

The other thing that made this game great is choice. You make lots of choices that affect the direction of the story. These choices are real and consequential – and incredibly difficult to make.

Tactics Ogre has appeared on the blog a bunch over the years. Way back in 2013, I used Tactics Ogre as a way to discuss deception operations. There is a pivotal, early event in the game that dramatically affects its direction. You – the player – get to make that choice.

There were two posts in 2014 as I was grinding through a 3rd playthrough of the game. The first is a reflection on another critical game event, the importance of choice, and the pain in dealing with the repercussions.

The second was on mentorship and some of the best wartime advice I’ve ever heard:

“Above all else, stay alive.”

Tell me that’s not true.

I even made a reference in a more recent write-up of an Irregular Warfare Podcast episode on foreign fighters. One of the things you learn in Tactics Ogre is that much of the conflict is spurred on by foreign powers with their own designs for how the conflict should play out.

So, I hope this news is pointing at something real. A remake? A new chapter?

I’m there for it.


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Solid Snake Oil

stan talking to guybrush threepwood

I’ve tested out a few different podcasts to satisfy my gaming interest, and I’ve finally settled on the Kojima Frequency.

You may remember last year’s Tom Olsen saga – that was my introduction to Nitroid and the internet bubble that is the Metal Gear online universe.

I’ve listened to a bunch of episodes now and it’s become a very comfortable, easy listen for someone who has a deep appreciation for Metal Gear, all things Kojima, and then gaming in general.

Episode 61 sealed the deal.

Two things jumped out and ultimately led me to write this post (and declare the Kojima Frequency as the unofficial gaming companion podcast to Carrying the Gun).

  1. On internet provocateurs, clickbait, and the way audiences react: “…say dumb shit thing, get smart people angry, get dumb people excited, question marks(), profit.” The first 10 minutes or so features a great discussion on the way internet “clout” works, the gravitational pull towards using clickbait-y techniques to drive viewership, and the value (and challenge) in resisting that.
  2. Working Designs / Lunar: There’s a conversation deep in the podcast on localization (the process, mostly in translation, of preparing a game for a foreign market). Nitroid brought up the (now defunct) studio Working Designs and their work in localizing the Lunar series. The Lunar series is one of my favorites, and the fact that it got brought up is what got me more excited about the podcast. It’s not *just* Metal Gear/Kojima stuff all the time. The Metal Gear/Kojima stuff is the entryway, but there’s a whole lot there. This is a gaming podcast and the knowledge is deep, but accessible.

As an aside, I’d point out that the wacky, 4th wall-breaking localization done by Working Designs was widely considered part of the charm for most of the audience, myself included. Working Designs also did some incredible story-retelling when they remade Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Playstation. It’s a move that Square-Enix seems to be taking with the FFVII Remake, and I’m glad for it. Fan service is fun, but it’s better to tell a compelling story, even if it stings.

I like to believe there is a tiny segment of the CTG audience that enjoys my odd gaming references. If you’re a part of that audience, it’s worth checking out the podcast.


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