I wrote a nostalgia essay on Alleg

Allegiance discussion not belonging in another forum.
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I wrote a nostalgia essay on Alleg

Post by Bacon_00 »

I don't quite remember why I wrote this, but I found this in my Google Drive and figured I'd share asince nobody else will ever read it!

The year is 1999. I am 13 years old, sitting in front of a 16” CRT computer monitor. A split-key Microsoft keyboard, mouse, and flight stick are positioned just so on a folding craft table that doesn’t quite clear my knees. The bluish glow of the monitor illuminates an otherwise dimly lit family room. No phone calls will be reaching this house tonight, as I’m deeply immersed in an online PC game called Allegiance. The phone line is all mine!

Through the monitor, I’m looking down onto a 3D battlefield set in outer space, represented as a “pizza box” -- 2D with a little bit of Z axis as I zoom in. I see a large Starbase -- my current location -- a “ripcord” teleportation tower, and a mining platform all suspended against a vast field of stars and colorful nebulae. Fighter pilots and scouts dart around the sector, disappearing into the wormholes, or “Alephs,” that connect the various sectors of the battlefield. As the Commander of my team, I’m responsible for overseeing the team’s finances, tech research decisions, and guiding general strategy. I communicate with my teammates via a branching tree of audio quick chats, mapped to keyboard combos I’ve long since memorized, as well as furious text messaging that runs by at a breakneck pace in a small window at the top of the screen. There is no voice chat -- my 26.4k internet connection couldn’t possibly handle VoIP.

Somewhere, in a distant sector far from my quiet home base, the unseen enemy commander and his team are plotting to destroy me.

In a sector named Night, a mere one-Aleph jump from the enemy’s home, my forward outpost has finished building inside of a dead asteroid. A ripcord construction ship is headed there next, currently flying through uncontrolled space with a meager fighter escort. It too will build into an asteroid in Night, if the enemy doesn’t spot it and destroy it.
I’m begging my teammates to scout the rest of the nearby sectors, as the fog of war has left us blind to several critical sectors near home. Our fleet of 3 miners -- slow moving ships that mine valuable Helium-3 from special asteroids found in each sector -- have depleted our home sector. Needing a constant cash flow, I have little choice but to send them out to one of the uncharted sectors adjacent to our home, this one named Kief.

In a shower of blue sparkles reminiscent of the Star Trek transporter effect, the miners pass through the Aleph and portal their way into Kief. I’m watching all of this from the top-down Command view, switching which pizza-box sector I’m viewing by clicking the minimap pinned to the lower left corner of the screen. As the miners enter Kief, they clear the fog of war and I get my first clear view of the sector. Immediately, the Kief sector flashes red on the minimap. Enemy units are already here, and my defenseless miners are in big trouble. The destruction of my economy in the early game would result in a quick, embarrassing loss. I type out a call for help in the chat, switch to the Hanger view, and hop into a spacecraft heavily inspired by Star Wars X-Wing fighters. Selecting a loadout with extra fuel and ammo, I click “Launch” and grab my flight stick.

Now in a fully realized, 6-degrees-of-freedom space simulation, I hit the boosters and tear toward Kief, passing the ripcord tower and mining facility I’d been viewing from above moments before. I burst through the Aleph and orient myself toward the two enemy interceptors boosting toward my fleeing miners. I target the closest enemy and hover my reticle just ahead of the enemy’s trajectory. My twin gatling guns blazing, I manage to “pod” one of the enemy scouts -- forcing the pilot to eject in their escape pod -- but overshoot the fighter. As I whip around and fight the inertia of my excessive boosting (rookie move!), the enemy destroys one of the miners. Frustrated, I watch helplessly as he turns his guns on the other. Rockets and bullets pepper the miner’s shields and hull. I keep myself vectored toward the doomed miner, finger blanched as I press the booster, but I run out of fuel. I hit the reload button. A computerized, feminine voice confirms the action: “Reloading…”

As hope stretches toward oblivion, a friendly ship erupts out of the nearby Aleph and locks onto the remaining enemy. My fuel is done reloading and I’m headed back into the fight. Thankfully, my teammate doesn’t make the same piloting error I did and slows appropriately, podding the enemy fighter. I glance at the miner’s stats on my HUD and see the tiniest sliver of hull left -- that was way too close! One miner loss is largely ignored by the team, but two in quick succession and I’d be looking at a mutiny - an actual game mechanic where another Commander is elected - for not managing the miners better. “Why are you scouting with the miners???” they’d ask.

Sighing in relief, I turn back to home. But as I approach the Aleph, blue sparkles enveloping my ship, an alert pops up: An enemy bomber has been sighted in Night. I glance at the minimap and see that the ripcord tower has thankfully completed construction, and friendly fighters are pouring in to defend the outpost. With a right click on the minimap, I initiate a teleport to Night. A 12-second countdown begins - an eternity. Without that forward outpost, I’ll have little chance of containing the enemy or mounting an effective offense. It’s destruction will also leave the defenders stranded in pods several sectors from home. That’d give the enemy bomber an unobstructed path to our Starbase and an easy victory; another embarrassingly quick loss. It is imperative that this outpost survives. I issue a global command to the team to defend Night, and wait as my ship slowly spins off-axis in Kief, 5 sectors away...

3, 2, 1…

In an instant, I’m now in Night. My radar lights up with dozens of contacts, my HUD a dizzying mess of icons and indicators. The enemy bomber fleet is enormous, with at least 15 support craft trailing the mighty bomber as it barrels toward the nascant outpost. These support ships -- small scout craft -- have the ability to repair the bomber mid-flight with the underrated Nanite gun. This can be an unstoppable force against a disorganized team. Typing in all caps, I “gently” remind the team to attack the Nanite craft first, and ignore the bomber until the Nanites are largely gone. But bombers are slow and obvious targets, and pilots hungry for the kill may try to negate the Nanites with overwhelming damage instead. It’s possible, but a gamble, and a miscalculation could cost us the match. I hit the boosters and tear toward the bomber fleet, targetting the leading Nanite scout.

The bomber nears the forward outpost, now less than 4k from anti-base missile range. Turret fire lashes out from the bomber, obliterating my teammates. I kill a scout, but there are at least ten more. Friendly escape pods dart across my bow and missiles explode nearby, barely missing me. My shields are gone, and my ammo -- partially spent from the battle in Kief -- is nearly out. My hull is starting to buckle, and my team is being decimated. The enemy is closing on the outpost, now only 1.8k away. If the bomber pilot is any good, they’ll know that they can fire missiles at 1.2k, well before they get a target lock, using their momentum to lob the missiles further than their rated range of 1k. It’ll take two anti-base missiles to destroy this small base. There is no time left.

Near panic, I make a snap decision. I target the bomber, spam the chat with the quickchat “Attack my target!”, then unload my remaining dumbfire missiles and ammo at the bomber. Only a few friendly ships remain. My armor is totally gone, ammo too. One more bullet hits me and I’m toast. I see an anti-base missile accelerating toward the outpost...

An explosion. Three escape pods erupt from the debris, and a message flashes on my screen: “You have ejected Kevdude, spidecw, and Viscur.” Three of the best players on the enemy team, all manning the now-destroyed bomber.

The dopamine rush is real. I flip my ship around and confirm that the forward outpost made it, though it too has only a sliver of hull left. My heart is racing, and I realize my hand is stiff and aching from gripping the flight stick. Through sheer luck, it seems that the Nanite craft had run out of energy reserves right at the moment I’d ordered the direct attack on the bomber. Enough of the surviving pilots had done the same and we’d overwhelmed the Nanites. I got credit for the kills because I’d done the most damage -- a pretty cool feeling when you’re just a gangly 13 year old kid back in the real world.

Now, a long trail of enemy escape pods are limping back toward their home Aleph, where they will soon recoup and rearm. If I’m quick, this is the perfect time to mount a counterattack. I head into the outpost, pull up the Command view, and organize a bombing run against the enemy Starbase...

This is all pretty typical (some would even say unnoteworthy!) gameplay from Allegiance, released in 1999 and developed by Microsoft Research. Allegiance is an online-only, RTS/Space Sim hybrid, somewhat analogous to modern day MOBAs. Two (or more!) team Commanders battle it out with the help of 40+ pilots, pilots who may or may not do as the Commander instructs. This is because, aside from the miners and construction ships, every other ship in the 1-2 hour-long match is controlled by a human player. The goal is simple -- destroy all of the key enemy Starbases before they destroy yours. How you accomplish that goal, though, is anything but simple.

The map is an intricately connected set of 3D sectors of space, and teams work to place strategic bases in these sectors. There are elaborate research trees that the Commanders must invest in, unlocking better guns, ships, and other boons as the miners bring home Helium-3; money in Allegiance.

As a lowly pilot in any given match, you can take on a dizzying number of roles, from scout, fighter pilot, interceptor pilot, stealth bomber, miner hunter, capital ship pilot, turret gunner, and various sub-roles within each. One of my personal favorites was flying a cloaked Troop Transport into the hanger of an enemy base, capturing it for your team.

There are a number of races a team can choose to play as, each with their own variation of the three main technology paths -- Supremacy (fighters and bombers), Tactical (stealth), and Expansion (economy and defense). Combined, it results in plenty of permutations of Rock-Paper-Scissors to keep even the crustiest space jockey up well into the night arguing strategy with his/her fellow pilots on the now-defunct community forums.
Interestingly, Allegiance was a flop almost from the get go. As a young teenager, I discovered it in a “Demo CD” included with the print copy of PC Gamer magazine. I was hooked almost immediately, and played it regularly well into my 20s. I seemed to have been one of the few, though, as the community shrank dramatically following the underwhelming 1999 launch. Originally part of Microsoft’s “Zone” gaming service (now MSN Games), Allegiance had free and paid-tier servers, with the paid-tier having access to larger matches, persistent player statistics (kill/death ratios, base kills, etc.), and a more competitive player base. Unfortunately, the steep learning curve, paired with a subtle-but-malignant toxicity plaguing the community, lead to a slow, steady decline in the active player counts.

Though Microsoft dropped support for the game in the early 2000s, the passionate, skilled community took on the game, replaced all of the matchmaking Zone infrastructure, and kept it alive well past its pull date. Microsoft Research even opened up the codebase to the community, allowing for significant modification to the game from a handful of developers in the community. A couple of years ago, another well-connected community member managed to get a Windows 10-friendly version of the game legally listed on Steam (for free, even), though it unfortunately never resulted in the anticipated influx of fresh blood and the “second coming” the community had been envisioning for over two decades.

Despite all of that, you can still log in on a lazy Sunday morning and find the occasional 5v5 match. A handgun of the most die-hard players are keeping the lights on and continue to maintain a Discord server and host public game servers. Admittedly a far cry from the sweet spot of 25v25 matches that were common 15 years ago, some Allegiance magic can still be found if you’re patient enough to look for it.

Allegiance was, in my opinion, about fifteen years ahead of its time. I can only imagine what Allegiance could have become had it launched in the age of Twitch, YouTube and lucrative eSports tournaments. The excitement, storytelling, and legitimate heroics that could be found in any given match is arguably unrivaled. I doubt I’ll ever again experience anything again like Allegiance in its heyday. Though, if I’m being honest, that might be because I’m no longer a 13 year old kid fancying myself a space fighter jockey, blasting across the stars in my off-brand X-wing in my parent’s living room.
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Re: I wrote a nostalgia essay on Alleg

Post by Dome »

Nice essay Bacon, good read.
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