They Came From The Lua Script

So, now that I’ve gotten a reveal of one of my least favorite scenario works out of the way, I can move on to happier stuff. One of my scenarios I feel the most admiration for is They Came From The Museum. Now I can reveal the making of it.

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The scenario itself takes place in the contemporary Ukraine war, and is a short ground attack scenario.

What inspired me to make it was a propaganda video filmed by the eastern separatists that involved the supposed restoration of exhibits in the Luhansk Aviation Museum. The two restored in the video were an old L-29 trainer (which at least taxied around), and an Su-25 (which just sat there while the camera crew interviewed the ‘pilot’). My immediate conclusion was that this was either a propaganda stunt (which seems to be accurate in light of later events) or a way to slip the cloak of “duelist deniability” over the Russian air force that so far kept it out of the fight.

The term ‘duelist deniabilty’ is one that I’ve first used in an old post about air power in civil wars. The term is used for the longstanding effect of deniability that’s nominally true compared to the letter of the ‘law’, but is in obvious violation of its ‘spirit’. The original example comes from illegal duels where the seconds would turn their backs to the duelists and then say under oath that they saw nothing. Unlike genuine deniability, duelist deniability is there more for legalistic reasons than actual obfuscation. The duelist deniable aspect of the Russian support in Ukraine is not unprecedented, and has parallels in both the Pakistani attack on the Kargil posts in 1999 (where a dubious excuse that they were local militants was used), and for the Soviet deployment of MiG-15s en masse in the Korean War (where North Korean markings were used and strict deployments limited).

Duelist deniability has been far easier for land forces then aerial ones, and is essentially impossible for naval vessels larger than small boats[1]. But it has been done. MiG Alley is the largest and most notable example, but the Americans have had their share of operations too. The CIA’s use of World War II surplus aircraft to support rebels in the Guatemalan, Indonesian, and Cuban operations was an example of it. Those operations also expose the risk of duelist deniability, since the latter two were embarrassing failures.

But the political context was only one reason why I made the museum men the way I did. The rest had to deal with a gameplay goal.

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The scenario “Iron Hand” is an official one included with the game since its release. Featuring Russia against Azerbaijan, it sets a good template for a post-Soviet “near abroad” conflict. Too good of a template, in fact. Storyline politics aside, I didn’t want it to feel like an Iron Hand imitator. So I needed a way to artificially restrict the Russian side. And the need for duelist deniability provided that.

The choice of a MiG-25, Su-25, and L-39 was part inspired by the video (L-39 being the successor to the L-29), and part a desire to use the super-fast Foxbat. They wouldn’t overmatch their adversary and the player would need to use tactics. And I could use Lua to change up the opposition. For Ukraine, I had an SA-11 and SA-5 battery. Early tests revealed the overmatch, so I reduced the amount of weapons they had. This was for both balance and to symbolize the wrecked state of the nation’s armed forces at that period. Then I used WRA to give the batteries personality. The SA-11 is careless and launches everything immediately without regards to efficiency, while the SA-5 is more cautious and launches one missile at a time in a smaller envelope.

After that it was time to add what TVTropes calls the Beef Gates. These were ways to semi-organically keep the player away from areas I didn’t want them to go. Like the deathclaws in Fallout New Vegas keeping the player on the path of the beginning quests, I added S-300 units with full ammo around the Ukrainian airbase and SA-5 battery to keep the player’s small force away from them.

Then came the Su-27s. In theory, they would overmatch their opponents. In practice, I might have dialed them down too much[2]. They were set to novice proficiency and given a small loadout of only weaker Alamo-MRs.

The ground targets were set, and it came time for determining scoring. I decided against it. Part of it was that scoring in game terms somehow felt disrespectful towards a scen set in a real and ongoing war. Another part of it was that I didn’t know what units would be the highest priority, and didn’t want to push the player into having to pick the “right” option. So I made the briefing deliberately vague.

Then came the trickiest but most fulfilling part. The Lua script that determined the Ukrainian Air Force’s response. I felt like it was both modest (three options, the latter two not apparently obvious) and took advantage of Lua’s potential. I liked the outcome so much that I used it as an example script in a post on how to use Lua to make variable outcomes.

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All in all, I have an unusually high amount of pride in the scenario. If I had the time and motivation, I can see improvements-changing the multiunit player airbases to single-unit ones, eliminating the extraneous radars, and maybe giving them additional ISR assets that can’t cross the border without penalty (I used a system for doing so in a previous scenario that doesn’t even need Lua). I could also beef up, or at least possibly beef up (with more Lua) the enemy air defenses. But even as is, the scenario I feel was one of the few that met my high standards.

[1]This led to an amusing reversal of doctrine for another potential scenario of mine, where during the 1998 Afghan crisis, Pakistan uses duelist-deniable naval commandos in small boats to harass the Iranian Navy. Yes, Iran uses conventional large vessels defending against swarms of enemy small boats.

[2]The MiG-25s win a lot of the time. I’ve attributed it to better numbers since my playtests involved them ganging up on the Flankers, but even matches also have them winning surprisingly often. It’s not that better a loadout since the Foxbats also have a restricted default loadout with just two Acrids, nor is it far better proficiency because they’re only one level (Cadet) above their opponent. Later guesses involve a combination of the brute-force range of the AA-6 being enough to put the enemy onto the defensive and the novice proficiency penalty being so great that it essentially nullifies superior performance altogether, regardless of context.