Crispy Gamer

Rush, Boom, Turtle: "I'm the bad guy?"

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I'd been playing Age of Empires III with buddies on my LAN. The Asian Dynasties expansion had renewed our enthusiasm. Then I perfected an Aztec rush -- and when I say "perfected," I mean it worked well enough that none of my friends wanted to play Age III with me anymore. So it was time for me to go online, someplace I hadn't been since the game came out two years ago.

Unlike my buddies -- casual RTSers, the lot of them -- the people online don't have jobs. They do nothing but practice 24/7, perfecting their micromanagement and writing programs to analyze optimal build orders, and they've been doing it continually for the two years since the game's release. So is it any surprise that a seat-of-his-pants guy like me wasn't pairing with anyone using Ensemble Online's Quick Search function? I stared at the stalled matching system, thoroughly flummoxed by all this stuff about power rating, home city tiers, and having to enable the War Chiefs expansion so I could select my brand-new online Aztec city. It seemed as if Ensemble Online wouldn't have me anymore.

So I hosted a game and called it "new players only plz." Lieutenant colonels with level 148 cities joined. I didn't even realize city levels went that high. I politely declined to play. I eventually sorted the list of hosted games by the "rank" column header. A few "conscript" games rose to the top of the list. Conscript sounded about my speed. I jumped into the first one on the list and found myself in a 2v2 with three guys ready to go. "Rdy up," one of them typed. So I did, with my new Aztec city, eager to see how well my rush would work in the wild.

"Remember, no rushing for 30 minutes," one of them typed as I was getting ready to age up and get a military going.

"I didn't agree to that," I typed. "That's silly. Why would you do that?"

"So we can build up." Of course they want to build up. They're playing the Dutch, whose banks will guarantee a ridiculous economic advantage they can translate into an overwhelming force of artillery. Who ever heard of simply letting the Dutch build up for 30 minutes?

"You should have set the game up for that," I chided him. There are options in Age III to stop players from attacking each other for a set period of time. It's called treaty mode. It's there for people who want to enforce that kind of play. In other words, it's there for the Dutch.

"But then we can't build outside our base," one of them typed.

"Exactly. So why would you want to do that?" I thought I'd made a pretty good point, and he didn't seem to have a reply. I then informed my teammate that I was going to attack and dropped a beacon at a location where I'd discovered an enemy base. Then I attacked.

The profanity filter was on, so I couldn't make out a lot of what was being said, things like "Red player, what the _ are you doing, you _ing _?" -- but written in that online chat way that I can never bring myself to use, like so: "red, what the _ r u doing, u _ing _?"

"We sed no rush 30 min," the blue player fumed as I killed a few of his villagers.

"I never agreed to that," I typed. "Sorry." Just because you're rushing someone doesn't mean you can't be polite.

"I hope u _ing die in a gasoline fire," the blue player typed. That's the one I remember most because it was so specific. He was angry enough to specify an accelerant.

At that point, the other guy on my team weighed in. He said, "I didn't have anything to do with this."

"Orange, thank you for being honorable," one of them typed to my teammate.

My Aztec rush was working beautifully. I was translating my economy into a steady stream of Aztecs and spraying them onto his base as if from a high-pressure fire hose. I was having a grand old time knocking down his buildings and killing his villagers as they retreated into his town center. Since he didn't have an army to manage yet, he had plenty of time to type more filtered profanity at me.

"Learn to play the game, noob," I typed back at him. Oh, snap. That's right. I said "noob." While I was in his base, pwning his dudes. Then his teammate started in on me with more filtered profanity, but nothing quite as creative as the thing about the gasoline fire.

"Maybe when you ladies figure out the game, you won't cry so much," I typed shortly thereafter. I called them "ladies." Ooh, burn. Ha ha. "Ladies." Score one for me. I had impugned not only their skillz, but their manhood. How's that for word econ?

I was typing stuff like that because I'd been sucked into the jerkitude of the Internet. They had sucked me into it by setting arbitrary limitation on the gameplay without my consent, or without even telling me beforehand, and then cussing me out for not abiding by this limitation. I was there to test my Aztec rush, but before I'd even arrived, these guys had apparently made some agreement among themselves to hang back and boom for a half-hour.

They eventually wised up and interrupted their booms to build armies. I'd devastated the blue player, but his teammate began interrupting my flow of Aztec reinforcements. Then they started hitting me back. My forward deer-harvesting villagers were in danger. I pulled them back and had to build a farm, which slowed the food I needed for reinforcements.

It was time to turn to my teammate. "A little help?," I typed in team chat. "I can hold out against one of them, but I can't take them both out."

My teammate typed, "Good luck with that."

"Good luck with that?" What kind of way is that to treat your partner? Et tu, Orange?

"You're not going to help?"

"We put NR30 in the game title," he typed. "That's how I'm going to play."

In the movie "Falling Down," Michael Douglas goes on what he believes to be a righteous rampage through Los Angeles. He takes a baseball bat to gang bangers, and brandishes firearms at incompetent fast food workers. He fires a rocket launcher at an idle road construction crew. He terrorizes golfers. At the end of the movie, when Robert Duvall's policeman character corners him on the Santa Monica pier, Douglas asks, "I'm the bad guy? How did that happen?"

I know how he felt. But in my case, I then knew exactly how that happened. I had sorted the game list by rank and hadn't paid any attention to the game's names. I hadn't seen the "NR30" that must have been in the title. I had just assumed they agreed to it before I got there and they didn't bother to tell me. Instead, here I was in a game advertised as "no rush 30 minutes," practicing my six-minute Aztec rush. I was the bad guy.

So what did I do? Pull back? Apologize? Gracefully quit? No. I had come too far, and been sucked too deep. I held out for a little longer, doing as much damage as I could before their armies had driven me back to my town center. Before they could knock me out of the game, I typed something dismissive -- probably "u ladies have fun" -- and quit out.

At which point I saw all those games with NR30, or NR20, or even NR40 in their names.

Shortly after Michael Douglas asks how it is that he's the bad guy, Robert Duvall shoots him. Michael Douglas goes over the rail and plunges into the gross water underneath the Santa Monica pier. Seriously, you don't want to swim in that stuff, much less fall into it with an open gunshot wound. That's pretty much how I felt at that point. Suddenly, I knew that I was the a-hole.

These guys wanted to sit back and build up giant forts, with walls and swarms of artillery and advanced units and Imperial Age powers. They wanted to play Age III like it was SimCity and then have a giant Gotterdammerung and knock it all down. They didn't care about the careful balance of rushing to turtling to booming, a vital ingredient of almost any RTS, and particularly RTSes as economically meticulous as Age of Empires III. They were happy to reduce the game balance to rock/paper, each standing there throwing rocks, breaking the game in the process but not caring one whit.

I don't know who you guys were, and I still think you're playing wrong, but man do I feel like a jerk for jumping in without lurking a bit longer to figure out what was going on. At that point, I didn't really have the stomach to play my Aztec rush, so I moved on to another RTS.

UNIT OF THE WEEK

Speaking of Aztec rushes, the Unit of the Week is the cornerstone of an Aztec rush: Puma Spearmen, seen here taking a break to feed some ducks. Like the other Native American races, the Aztecs are a weird lot. They get no cavalry, and no artillery, so you have to sort through their unit's stats to get some hint as to how to best play them.

The Aztecs can build their War Huts in the first age, so by the time they hit the second age, they're ready to quickly bring out military units. This is where the Puma Spearman are notable for being really good at knocking down buildings. Their siege attack value is 48. By way of comparison, the Aztec's Arrow Knights who use flaming arrows against buildings only have a siege attack value of 36, and they don't come into play until the third age. The Europeans get grenadiers which are great for knocking down buildings with their siege attack of 54, but they also don't come into play until the third age.

So by using these Puma Spearmen, the Aztecs have the unique ability to bring powerful siege damage to bear very quickly. Furthermore, the Spearmen shrug off 20 percent of hand-to-hand damage. They do 5x damage to cavalry, and triple damage to light infantry, which are a common infantry counter early in the game. They don't cost any wood, leaving that resource free for important structures; they even go for a nice round sum, at 50 food and 50 gold. Since I suck at math, this makes it easier to calculate how many Puma Spearmen can build, as opposed to units that cost something like 105 food and 35 wood, so I just keep clicking until the clicks don't take anymore because I've run out of a necessary resource.

So congratulations to the Aztec's Puma Spearman from the War Chiefs expansion for Age of Empires III. You are the winners of this week's Unit of the Week award. Unfortunately, you were wiped out by Spaniards and small pox 500 years ago, so the award will have to be presented posthumously.

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