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.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Irregular, Hybrid, Political Warfare

metal gear solid 3 the boss colonel volgin bridge

A deep dive into Russia’s motivations.

In Episode 48 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, we discuss the historical motivations and modern methods behind Russia’s use of hybrid warfare on the international stage. Our guests begin today’s conversation discussing how significant historical events and Russian cultural memory shape the Russian worldview, with particular emphasis on the role that the collapse of the Soviet Union had on the psyche of Vladimir Putin himself. They explore Russian motivations and methods since the end of the twentieth century and then pivot to potential Western responses to an increasingly aggressive Russia. Our guests conclude with implications for both the public and the practitioner.

THE MOTIVATIONS AND METHODS BEHIND RUSSIAN HYBRID WARFARE, Irregular Warfare Podcast

Ok, but what is hybrid warfare?

In Putin’s mind, America is the country that has been waging hybrid warfare, political warfare, irregular warfare, against Russia for decades.

Dr. Rob Person, ~21:55

It’s not political warfare and it’s not irregular warfare. It is its own thing, apparently.

We know what irregular warfare is (and what it is not), and we know that irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.

So where exactly does hybrid warfare fit in?

I’m going to take a look, but my gut tells me that it’s just another hodge-podge of sub-terms that gets lumped together to form a new, different, more confusing term.

In the episode, I particularly enjoyed this breakdown of Cold War tactics and the splitting of terms done here.

There is stuff we throw in the hybrid warfare bucket that I really don’t think belongs in that bucket. For example, a lot of Russian cyber activity is indeed routine espionage. Now, you don’t have to like it, but I’m afraid it is routine espionage that most major powers do against one another.

Shashank Joshi, ~31:00

“A Cold War, fought with information and espionage.”

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

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.

There were two things that jumped out and which 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 provacatuers, clickbait, and the way audiences react: “…say dumb shit thing, get smart people angry, get dumb people excited, questions 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 a the entry way, 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.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The urge to “do something” and the need to be patient

the end from metal gear solid 3 aiming his sniper rifle

I’m forever catching up with my podcast queue.

I recently finished two IWI podcasts – one on the role of Air Force Special Operations Command (ep 44) and the other on counter-insurgency (ep 43).

A couple of things stood out.

The Air Force episode featured a discussion on the importance of measures of effectiveness. The crux of the argument was that it’s important to ensure we are measuring things to be certain that we are making progress, especially in messy little wars.

Nothing wrong with that. It makes sense.

But.

The conversation eventually meandered towards just how difficult that is to do. Often, there are no clean measures to determine if the needle is moving in the right direction. And this is often the case in small wars.

As such, smart young men and women contort themselves to put numbers on things where numbers don’t belong.

The military has become obsessed with measures of effectiveness, often shortened to “M-O-E.” Much of this is borrowed from business practices with a shady past and questionable conclusions.

But it is pervasive. A senior leader putting up his hand mid-brief and stating “Ok but how are we going to measure this?” while all of the other officers in the room turn to the briefer with a scowl is one of the reasons we have such a hard time doing anything anymore.

Asking “how are we going to measure it” sounds like a smart thing to ask. And it’s a great way to kill a good initiative.

Quantifying all of the great things that were achieved is also a great way to get a good evaluation.

As a result, we tend to do the things that are easily measured as opposed to the things that are actually effective.

Sometimes, we just know what will be effective. It’s a gut feeling that comes from education and experience.

The schoolyard bully doesn’t need to measure what to say to make the other kid cry; he just knows it. He knows the other kid’s psychic weak point.

He doesn’t need to measure it.

This is a subject I feel strongly about because this hyper-focus on MOE isn’t helping.

The second podcast, on counter-insurgency, featured a pointed short discussion on the limits of military power. What I loved most was Jacqueline Hazelton planting the flag on the source of many of our problems – leaders’ insistence that we “do something” in response to every emergency.

The immediacy of modern communications and the perceived political and social pressure that swells whenever something happens – especially if that something includes dramatic images – compels political and military leaders to “do something” in response.

“How are countering this?”

No one wants to “appear weak,” thus, we escalate, often doing the proximate thing we shouldn’t.


There’s a great short-expression in Arabic – فَٱصْبِرْ صَبْرًا جَمِيلً – which translates to “be patient with beautiful patience.”

We need much more of that.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

An awkward anniversary

big boss blowing out birthday candles

I relaunched CTG one year ago today.

Just a random day in late October, I know.

If you’re curious about the history behind the steps I took to bring it back or why I pulled the plug in the first place, you can go down the rabbit hole on the tenth-anniversary post.

Having this space to write and reflect is important, personally. For me, writing is my best reflection. Sometimes it occurs in long-form and gets washed through an editor, other times it’s barely formed, simplified, and goes out in a tweet.

The stuff here at CTG is somewhere in-between. There isn’t really much of an editor. But at least I have the opportunity to expand on things here more than however-many-characters that other platform allows.

My favorite part of coming back has been connecting with old fans of the blog and welcoming new ones.

In terms of daily readership, the blog is nowhere near where it was at its peak (2015/2016) – but that’s okay. It’s definitely a little more niche and a little more tempered. Rebuilding is a slog, but it’s one that I enjoy.

Usually, this would be the spot where some announcement is made about an upcoming project or a big surprise.

Nope.

You can expect more of the same. Thanks for being here for it!

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Voyevoda

colonel volgin holding missile with boss in the background

I recently finished Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a game I began in 2004 and never finished.

It fills in much of the story I’ve been missing in the saga. I’m not done yet though. I still need to finish MGS 4 / Portable Ops / Peace Walker.

Then, I really owe myself another playthrough of MGSV – so much more will make sense (hopefully – I know that’s a stretch).

Whenever I’m engrossed in a game, I tend to write about it. MGS3 inspired a few posts on the blog.

The “Mother of Special Forces” – There’s a fascinating cut-scene early in MGS3 where we learn a little bit about Snake’s mentor – the Boss. She is referred to as a the ‘Mother of Special Forces.’ The codename the Russian’s give her is Voyevoda – warlord. This was an opportunity to write about the actual “Father of Special Forces” – Colonel Aaron Bank.

“Toxic Mentorship” through Boss and Snake – Mentorship is such an important aspect of military life, but it is rare that we talk about “toxic” mentorship. The Boss’ defection to the Soviet Union and the way she tries to leverage her relationship with Snake as a mentor is a form of this type of toxic mentorship.

Some thoughts on Colonel Volgin – Colonel Volgin terrified me. The combination of ambition, impulsiveness, and brute physical power is frightening.

The saga of Tom Olsen – This is not necessarily tied to MGS3, but it took place while I was playing it so I was very Metal Gear-primed. It was fascinating to watch the Metal Gear fandom go bonkers for a small-scale deception operation.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Smith-Mundt as Counter-Political Warfare

a jacked senator armstrong standing in front of an american flag

Glad to see Matt Armstrong on a recent Cognitive Crucible podcast – this one on his passion project, the much-misunderstood “Smith-Mundt Act.”

If you’ve been around the “information operations” space, the Smith-Mundt act is usually taught during a class on “authorities.” There will be a slide that usually includes some text lifted from the act and then a “bottom line” that the US government is prohibited from informing/influencing/targeting/propagandizing/etc domestic American audiences.

Next slide, please.

Once that nugget buries itself into someone’s head, it gets carted out usually as a bulwark to doing anything in the info-space.

“Yes, but don’t forget the Smith-Mundt act…”

The history of the actual legislation is much more nuanced. Instead of “prohibiting” domestic dissemination, it was actually intended to “allow” dissemination abroad (by the State Department) as a direct counter to burgeoning Soviet political warfare.

“…we have nevertheless been too preoccupied in the past with feeding the stomachs of people while the Soviets have concentrated on feeding their minds.”

1947 European CODEL (MountainRunner)

If we’re going to conduct political warfare effectively, we have to understand this history. This is wonky territory, but that’s ok, because as Matt states in the episode, this stuff starts with President of the United States. It should be wonky – it’s incredibly important.

Anyway, the episode is worth your time – especially if you are an information warfare practicioner, or more importantly, if you are (or will be) in a position to make command decisions in an operational environment. You, more than anyone else, can make a huge impact if you understand what you can do – which is a lot.

Some interesting tidbits in this episode:

  • Opening: Defining “public diplomacy” and why that even matters
  • ~18:00: Smith-Mundt as a way to counter Russian political warfare
  • ~19:00: “We feed stomachs, the Russians feed minds…”
  • ~19:30: The importance of strategic vision – “We used to have an idea of where we were going…”
  • ~23:00: Our system is obsessed with bueracractic responsibility as opposed to methods, means, and outcomes – and this is bad
  • ~28:00: On the “terminal limits” of PSYOP leadership – if PSYOP officers terminate at the O6 level, can we really make a difference?
  • ~28:30: It is an unfortunate truth that the person who is most likely to influence an operational commander’s decision making is not the PSYOP officer giving advice on the psychological impacts of activities and operations, but the PAO, or worse, the JAG
  • ~37:00: “Stop it policy” – we are too reactive. Instead of seizing or defining the narrative, we are constantly reacting to nonsense in an attempt to “make it stop”
  • ~41:00: We need to get way more comfortable making mistakes – let subordinates fail in the IE – it’s ok – our adversaries are doing it every day
  • ~45:00: What even is “propaganda?”

Also, towards the end Matt references the fascinating topic of a PSYOP officer who wrote a book shortly after WWII arguing that influence operations should be banned via treaty. I’m now officially on the hunt for it.

It’s a great episode. Check it out.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.