As far as both the RTS and Star Wars game genres go, Galactic Battlegrounds is a strange beast in that its legacy doesn’t really match up to common-sensical expectations. Age of Empires 2 is great. Star Wars is great. And even though Galactic Battlegrounds was released during a peak period for both the AoE and Star Wars hype trains, to this day it remains in the mid-tier of licenced space-fighting stuff, above eternal pillars of mediocrity like Jedi Power Battles and Obi-Wan, but far below titles like KoToR or Battlefront 2. I mean, look, it’s a simple product: it’s just AoE 2 with a Star Wars skin. So therefore it baffles me that it isn’t regarded as one of the best Star Wars games – nay, one of the best games – ever made. It’s Age of Empires! With! A! Star Wars! Skin! People! Where are the hordes of rabid nerd fans? So far it’s just me, and frankly I’m getting tired of the smell of my unwashed and crusty ‘Han Shot First, also the prequel trilogy isn’t canon’ tee. To anyone who feels the same way: slide in those DMs and let’s compare the lengths of our big, veiny opinions.
And on that note, let’s move on.
It is a universal truth that all humans possess the desire to murder Jar Jar Binks. To annihilate him. To make him stop forever. To deliver unto him a Stone-Cold Stunner of such power that it cracks the Earth itself. To grind our naked and unwashed buttholes against his lifeless soul, as it were. But beyond that image of buttholes and grinding and fish/rabbit/nightmare monsters, to the ongoing masturbatory discussion of why Jar Jar Binks is the cinematic equivalent of a knee-deep puddle of decade-old garbage juice in which stands a very very racist man who once curb-stomped a kitten in exchange for a small handful of blood diamonds I will not add. I trust you’re already quite well-versed in this particular field of film studies.
What I really want to do here is either a) remind you of, or b) advertise to you the only game (that I know of) that allows the player to take a planet-destroying dump directly onto the skull of everyone’s least favourite elastic, duck-billed, stage-four-ear-cancer-delivery-system and water rat.
But first, I want to talk about the value of a good cheat. And although perhaps the age of the cheat code has passed, I think there’s at least some worth in talking about the significance of those old-fashioned codes, seeing as it’s one of these codes which allows us to murderify Jar Jar. (Plus, doing so this will pad out the length of this piece of writing whose actual contribution to the ageless cultural pantheon of ideas is morsel-like to say the least.)
The original Age of Empires games are the granddaddies of fully sick and/or baller cheat codes. In both implementation and effect, these game-flubbing wundercodes are a straight-up, all-round great time had by all. What’s important is that there’s something intentionally fun about them, which is unlike your average cheat – sure, their effects are (usually) fun, but their implementation isn’t particularly imaginative. Like the GTA weapon cheats, or the Tomb Raider level skips, or the “cheat mode on” (or equivalent thereof) of any number of PC shooters, there’s no real effort implicit in their implementation inside the game, being that they’re simply holdovers from the development cycle that, rightly so, the developers saw no real reason to remove. And while but of course the AoE cheats are very clearly similar in that last respect, it’s obvious that lot of thought went into their implementation so as to make them, to the end user, something more than just a bunch of test-cycle holdovers. And while this approach to The Cheat is certainly something we’ve all seen elsewhere, it’s certainly not something I’ve seen often – and it’s certainly not something I’ve seen done better than in Ensemble’s Age of Empires 2. To wit:
The year is 1000AD. Technology is evolving at a snail’s pace. The local people are forced to defend themselves with rudimentary, wooden clubs, and struggle to survive against even the local wildlife. Hope is all but lost. Literally a car with a machine gun on it rides to their aid.
I mean, come on. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed myself more in a game than when I’ve been piloting that settler-slaughtering Shelby Cobra – precisely because it’s a Shelby Cobra (replete with its own sound effects), and not something else. Because it could be anything, couldn’t it? “How do you turn this on” could spawn a single archer with jacked-up stats, but no: we get a car. With a machine gun on it. Which moves at the speed of sound. And I for one appreciate that kind of creative effort. Even the basic ‘give me free resources’ cheats such as “cheese steak jimmy’s” (which I can type out ten times in three seconds and you’re wrong if you don’t believe me) are, simply by virtue of the hilariousness of the code itself, fun.
In this area, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (which, I’ll remind you, is Age of Empires 2 with a Star Wars paint job, which you can play, right now) offers a very similar flavour of jam.
Take Simon the Killer Ewok, for example. He’s the SW:GB equivalent of AoE 2’s cobra car in that he is a single, destructible unit imbued with the power of a thousand gods. He runs fast, he hits stuff, and that stuff dies. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you the neurological ins-and-outs of why it’s goddamn hilarious to watch a giant (or tiny, depending on how you look at things) hamster-bear ripping Imperial walkers to shreds with nothing but a couple of spear-prods. The cheat was so memorable in fact that Simon himself ended up getting his own lore entry in the Essential Atlas (a Star Wars universe/lore compendium), in which we find that he is a legendary, three-thousand-year-old bounty hunter and one of the first of his kind to leave the moon of Endor and take part in a number of important military battles.
(And you can stick that right up your Legends imprint, Disney.)
A similar cheat, initiated by typing “thatsnomoon” (LOL!!11!@!) into the chat console, spawns a Death Star. As far as the sheer cleverness of the cheat goes, this one is admittedly a little blunter than Simon, but whatever, it’s the fricken’ Death Star. It does all the neato sound effects, it floats around at a slow, intimidatingly-deliberate pace, and it delivers payloads that make its wielder feel like they have all the power of a vengeful god. In short: it’s fun and “realistic” as heck, and similarly representative of all this very very nice effort re cheat codes that I’ve been talking about. For Ensemble could have built anything they wanted – heck, they could have built nothing at all. But no, they constructed a fully armed and operational battle station. For the sole purpose of cheating with. And isn’t that just the nicest thing?
Now here’s the cool bit, for any of you who haven’t played Galactic Battlegrounds which, in case I haven’t made it abundantly clear by this point, is Age of Empires 2 with a Star Wars skin. Which is to say that it features all the ins-and-outs of AoE 2 in terms of gameplay and mechanics, but features the aesthetics of the Star Wars universe. In short, Age of Empires 2 + Star Wars = Galactic Battlegrounds. And just to put an absolute point on things, and I promise I won’t be returning to this again: this game (AoE 2 but Star Wars) is non-imaginary, currently available, and can be played, right now, by you, with your hands, on your personal computer.
The campaigns of Galactic Battlegrounds are straightforward affairs, offering both prequel-and-original-trilogy-based side-stories and alternate re-tellings of well-known battles. However, they’re replete with Easter eggs. It isn’t rare, for example, for major characters to poke their heads into some of the scenarios. Case in point: in the second mission of the Trade Federation campaign, the trio of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Jar Jar Binks can be located right in the corner of the map, cut off from the rest of the action by a forest far too dense to efficiently cut through with any of the available units. A Death Star, on the other hand, can simply float right over.
And let me tell you: it feels good. I like to take my time, having the D-Star drift over to the trio, and circle them like a predator circles prey, getting closer and closer with each orbit. I think about all the forced slapstick, the lazy and frustrating accent, the entire shoe-horning of his presence into a film series which is essentially just about people doing space fighting. And finally watching that payload of sheer pent-up frustration and/or rage plummet towards Jar Jar’s forehead fills me with a kind of satisfaction and joy that I’ve otherwise only experienced during that period between waking up and remembering who I am and what I do with my life. So let’s all take a moment to appreciate the folks at Ensemble who let this happen: thank you for making this reality one which lets anyone with a personal computer imaginary-kill an imaginary space duck-rabbit with an imaginary floating sphere with a gun on it.
I’m Scott. Twitter.