A Favorite Moment From a Favorite Game

by Darius Kazemi on January 19, 2007

in Jagged Alliance 2

So I’ve posted before about Jagged Alliance 2. And now I’m going to post some more. It’s one of my top 5 games of all time, so you’ve gotta give me at least once a month to talk about it.

One of the more emotionally powerful moments I’ve ever experienced in a video game was in JA2. The basic setup is that you get to pick and choose from a roster of about 50 mercenaries to send on missions. Each merc has a distinct personality, and you typically have to pay more money to hire experienced mercs with better stats.

One day I noticed that a merc named Barry had an excellent explosives skill (92/100) and was dirt cheap at $6700/wk. Comparable explosives experts cost double to triple that amount. His profile said that he learned his skills in the classroom. But I figured, hey, great deal, and I hired him.

I drop him into a combat sector with the rest of my team, and everything is going great… until he sees his first dead body. He actually makes sounds like he’s becoming ill, and his morale drops to 0! The guy is now completely useless as a merc–his action points are greatly reduced. (A great added touch in the game is that when a character has low morale and you click on her to give orders, instead of saying “Ready!” or something, she says, “What do you want?”) But here I was, cursing this merc, and thinking, “Damn. This kid is fresh out of school. No wonder he can’t stomach the sight of a dead body.”

The important things about this situation are that

  • this bit of story didn’t occur during a cutscene–it was merged seamlessly into the gameplay
  • it had a direct impact on gameplay so it forced you to stop and think about the situation
  • what it made you think about was how most of the experienced mercs on your team are actually hardened psychopaths, and that Barry is probably the sane one

There were other interesting things like this in the game. The crazier mercs would shoot anybody. Some mercs would shoot civilians when ordered, but not their teammates. Some mercs wouldn’t shoot civilians. The primary verbs in the game are MOVE and SHOOT, but the game actually made you think about what the verbs meant to the individual mercs.

Of course, this also led to some pretty hilarious ways you could tweak the game. There’s a well-known exploit in the game where you can spend as long as you like in the very first sector training your skills (usually you’re interrupted by enemies, but the first sector is a “safe” zone). So you can take the worst mercs in the game, like the schoolteacher Flo, and turn them into killing machines by having them practice marksmanship for 1000 days. Then you get this amazing mercenary that racks up hundreds of kills, who still says, incredulously, “I… killed somebody?!” while efficiently disposing of the last of a crew of elite soldiers guarding a military base that she stormed solo.


Aleks January 19, 2007 at 11:05 pm

You have now made me want to get that game. Unfortunately, since it is an old game it is not very easy to find a place that has it. I guess ebay/amazon is the place to go.

A January 22, 2007 at 2:12 am

This is the kind of thinking that I’ve been trying to sell to my ARG team, to little success. They’re stuck on the typical paradigm of game-story-game (though in ARGs “game” is usually replaced with “puzzle”).

That’s why I pretty much designed the (sekrit project) ARG with the puzzles based upon social interaction instead of solving the same visual-spatial problem over and over.

Hm. I wrote a little more, but it looks like something fit for my own blog. Needless to say, that’s a really great example of excellent game design.

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