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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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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On Foreign Fighters

holy knight and dark knight

Good episode from the Irregular Warfare Initiative.

In this fascinating discussion, our guests discuss what political, social, and economic circumstances create the conditions that enable the mass recruitment and radicalization of foreign fighters. Their research on this topic represents a startling departure from conventional wisdom and, as such, offers opportunities to preempt this destructive process before it begins. There doesn’t have to be another wave of diaspora-fueled jihad, they argue, but prevention will require Western governments to take comprehensive and determined action now.

ON THE ROAD TO JIHAD: THE ROLE OF FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN IRREGULAR WARFARE

A few things struck me as I listened to this one.

Foreign Fighters and Information Warfare. Early in the episode, the guests brought up the concept of foreign fighters supporting a cause remotely through information warfare. While the focus of the episode was primarily on foreign fighters who actually pick up and travel to a foreign land, there is so much more to know about what actively supporting the same movements looks like when done digitally. Propaganda support (creating/sharing memes), harassment, actual hacking – there’s a lot to be explored there. We saw a lot of this in the mid-2010s during the rise of ISIS. I’d love to learn more.

It’s our fault. Jasmine El-Gamal plants the flag on the things we’re not allowed to talk about – chiefly, that there are policy decisions that the US has made which may be the proximate causes for motivating foreign fighters in the first place. As she rightly indicates, having those conversations were (and are) rare – and it leads to us coming up with new strategies and magic to try to solve the problem. It’s what led to the GWOT effect.

Stanford Prison Experiment. There was a brief mention of the infamous Stanford Prison experiment, which despite all of its flaws and the continuing information that comes out on it which calls into question the validity of the results, it is still popularly understood to hold water. It is true, of course, for an experiment to be flawed but the results still valid.

Human Rights as Counter-Terror. I like this concept. We don’t really talk about human rights anymore. It used to be a driving force of policy. It has the benefit of allowing you to stand on the moral high ground, as well. It seems we’ve moved very deeply into the realm of states’ interests above all else.

Measures of effectiveness. There’s a conversation at the end discussing possible solutions to the problem of foreign fighters – dissuasion and de-radicalization. This led to the fact that many of these solutions appear to be ineffective because of how difficult they are to measure. If you’ve been reading my newsletters lately, you’ll know that I have an against the grain take on “MoEs” – that is, we don’t always need them. Just because something is difficult to measure doesn’t mean it isn’t working.

We have an obsession with “showing” results – that’s how you get more money, get promoted, get more resources. Thus, we tend to enact policies and programs that are easy to measure instead of actually effective. If we truly want to win, we have to extend some trust. I don’t need to know how you did the magic trick – I just want to be amazed.

The episode ends with a short story of a stunning encounter between one of the guests and a soldier deployed to Iraq. It’s sad, and it captures the absurdity of war and violence neatly. You can do all the planning and training you want, but when war requires men and women to enact violence on behalf of some cause, it will always be nasty and brutish. There will always be trauma. There will always be psychological scarring.

There is no clinical war.

Lastly, as an exercise in self-awareness it’s helpful to ask yourself (or others) in a given country, where do the majority of foreign fighters come from?

The answer will indicate how close they are paying attention.


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Watching it happen

chinook in kabul

I’ve written about this before.

And it’s happening again.

We’re living in a very strange time, where events are beamed to our televisions, computers, and phones as they happen.

Real people are out there – in the arena – doing incredible things and experiencing real trauma.

And we watch – in real-time – and critique, scowl, and gossip.

The flash-to-bang is getting shorter and shorter. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were the opening acts.

January 6th and the fall of Kabul are the most recent manifestations of this phenomenon.

Things used to happen and then you’d read about it, dispassionately, in a newspaper the morning after. If you were lucky, there was a picture that accompanied the article.

Today it’s all reaction and little reflection.

Emotion and absence of mind.


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Saving Catiua

screenshot ps vita tactics ogre catiua suicide
Catiua Suicide
Catiua’s suicide.

I’m still slogging through Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I’ve finally reached a point in the game that I remember reaching the first time I played it and abandoned it. I know I am nearing the end. Or, at least, I think I am nearing the end. When I played originally, I followed the Law route (which means you know what I did at Balmamusa). I eventually got to the part where Catiua kills herself in front of you. It was pretty heavy stuff for the fifteen-year-old me. Shortly thereafter, I stopped playing.

The other day, I finally rescued Catiua only to see her kill herself again. The game let me save just before the dialogue and I was presented with a couple of choices on what to say, which hinted at alternate outcomes. I took a deep breath, and before I continued with the game, I decided to reset it and see what would happen if I chose a different dialogue option.

Given the two options of dialogue, I chose the “other” one, which kept the conversation going a little longer opening up a second pair of dialogue options. I chose the option that I thought was most natural, and she killed herself a second time.

I reloaded again, a lá All You Need Is Kill / Edge of Tomorrow and went through the dialogue again, choosing the “other” option again, which resulted in Catiua collapsing and apologizing, and most importantly, not committing suicide.

A new cut-scene appeared and Catiua joined the party. I saved the game and went to lunch.

There, I started to regret resetting the game (twice!) in order to make sure Catiua joined. One of the things I love about Tactics Ogre (and Mass Effect) is how your in-game decisions have lasting effects. The in-game dialogue options hinted to me that there may have been a way to save Catiua – whom I assumed always killed herself on the Law route from my first playthrough over ten years ago. As I finished my lunch, I felt guilty for having made the wrong decision that led Catiua to kill herself and not accepting that fate and replaying it for a more favorable outcome.

The game, now, feels a bit skewed. I’ll finish it out, and once complete, there is an option to go back and make different decisions to “see what happens” and fully explore the game. That’ll be the first thing I do. But I feel a bit like an impostor.

The whole episode is similar to the death/saving of Shadow in Final Fantasy VI, which gets a great write-up over at the A.V. Club. In the era of GameFAQs, it is getting harder and harder to be surprised in video games anymore. Perma-death and game-changing decisions are still too easy to avoid or double-back over. Despite resetting the game to get the result I wanted, I know I would have enjoyed this part more if I would have accepted the consequences of my initial decision, which is why I did what I did at Balamusa, by the way. It’s also why I will forever “Tell them I held the line…

It’s all a bit complicated. I thought it interesting and I wanted to get it down here before I forgot about it. There’s so much to say about Tactics Ogre – a very adult game, way before it’s time.

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“Above all else, stay alive.”

the best way to aid your people is to stay alive tactics orgre lanselot
Lans Staying Alive

In my limited free time, I’ve been replaying Tactics Ogre for the PSP. This is one of my favorite games of all time, if not the number one. I originally played it when I was a teenager for Playstation and then years later when I was in college and working as an intern in Washington D.C., playing it on the Bolt Bus between DC and New York.

I’ve been playing this game on and off for over fifteen years, and I’ve never finished it. The game is non-linear, which I love, and from what I understand, it has multiple endings – none of which I’ve seen. It’s an adult game, with ethical dilemmas that rival modern games like Mass Effect.

One of the things I’ve found intriguing is the character Lanselot’s mentorship to the main character, Denam. On two separate occasions he lectures Denam on the importance of staying alive above all other things. In one of his first meetings with the main character, he says:

“So you’re off to aid one of the Duke’s men. I regret we cannot join you. Above all else, stay alive. Win or lose, while there’s life, there’s hope.”

And then later on, in a quiet moment before one of the game’s pivotal scenes he again advises Denam to stay alive:

“Risking your life is one thing. Losing it is another. The best way to aid your people is to stay alive. See the battle through to the end. And there’s your sister to think of.”

It’s a curious piece of advice in a video game, from a famous warrior. You would expect advice of honor on the battlefield, bravery, or skill. There’s a part of me that thinks the advice might have served as kind of early tutorial in the game. The original Tactics Ogre for Playstation was much more unforgiving when it came to death – if a character was slain in battle he/she was perma-deathed. Lanselot’s advice might have been there to warn the player to protect life, as training a new character was a long and arduous process. The updated version for PSP/Vita still has perma-death, but there’s a timer on the character as in Final Fantasy Tactics.

Still, whether it served as a tutorial for the player or actual advice, it is refreshing to see it.

Is it not true?


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The Baramus Massacre and the Syrian CW Attack

we need martyrs leonard

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is one of my favorite games. It’s mature and allows the player to make tough choices that seriously affect how the game plays out and how the game actually ends – unlike another one of my favorite games.

In the above video, the main character (you) is part of a fledgling rebel group that is fighting a very uphill battle against stronger, more organized forces. You’ve just come to rescue a bunch of your fellow people who have been held captive with the intent of enlisting them in the rebel army. While they’re thankful for being rescued, they are not interested in fighting and would rather just be left alone.

At this point, the respected senior knight who has been accompanying you pulls you aside and informs you that if the people would not join, then his orders are to massacre them, dressed as the enemy. The intent would be to drum up support for the rebel cause elsewhere. A very nasty move.

Interestingly, in the game, choosing this path puts you on the “Lawful” and “Loyal” path – traits that are generally considered to be good. Disobey and you are put on the “Chaotic” path.

A very heavy decision to make – I was fourteen or fifteen when I first played this.

When I started seeing news reports suggesting that perhaps it was the Syrian rebels that used chemical weapons in the attack last month, it made me think of the Baramus Massacre.


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Tactics Ogre Baramus Massacre Law Route - YouTube