Boss Fight Games Series - Jagged Alliance 2 by Darius Kazemi author of the essay “Fuck Videogames” and creator of plenty of internet nonsense for you to enjoy.
Why aren’t there more games like Jagged Alliance 2? And we don’t mean “turn-based tactical role-playing games,” but games of immense scope with strong authorial voices, that allow us to telescope in and out from high-level simulation to low-level minutiae. Games that can withstand a thousand playthroughs and still retain an element of mystery.
Jagged Alliance 2 dropped in 1999, the year that I graduated High School. I went to college and got a T1 line and suddenly PC gaming was fast and accessible and I dove into games like Diablo, Counter Strike, and Jagged Alliance 2. There is a magic to this game, it is like an endless well of exploration, humor, and challenges. In fact, I know the number of hours that I played the game wouldbe over 100 yet I am not sure I ever actually beat the game. I just loved hiring Mercs and going on an adventure and not wanting it to end. And the Mercs were the best part of the game.
Jagged Alliance 2 features an unusually diverse roster of characters. There are 62 playable mercenaries: Ten of these (14%) are women and fourteen (23%) are nonwhite. The white men on the roster represent a wide range of nationalities. That may not seem very impressive, but for a video game released in 1999, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a bullpen of fully voiced characters with their own personalities hailing from a relatively wide variety of backgrounds.
This book doesn’t spend much time on the diverse characters and some of the unique occurrences and locations you can find, but delves into how Sir-tech had a fortuitous development model with limited accountability that allowed them to make a game that wouldn’t be feasibly possible before or after this little window in time.
Ian Currie, Co-Designer (JA2):We had the luxury of making the game we wanted. Well, I was Producer and a Co-Designer! I answered to myself. I still had a boss in the form of my brothers-in-law, and of course they were very concerned about costs, release dates, all that sort of stuff. So there’d be some ”come to Jesus” talks here and there, but for the most part I made the game I wanted to make! And if Alex and I talked and agreed that something would be really cool, I’d say, “Yeah, let’s do it!” We made what we wanted to make. Slightly naïve, maybe, but I don’t regret any of it.
The book also covers some of the sequels, mods, and the aborted remnants of Jagged Alliance 3 before Sir-tech closed up shop. I was actually unaware of the Jagged Alliance Flashback Kickstarter from 2 years ago, and now a fan made prequel of sorts exists that I will need to check out (Apparently it is near universally loathed). I have yet to find a game that scratches the same itch that Jagged Alliance did, there is a hole in my soul where that game used to be and I still boot up the game and play it on occasion. I played games with similar gameplay (X-Com, Silent Storm) but the strange combination present in Jagged Alliance hasn’t been duplicated.
I think the book serves best as a history lesson on the small studio game development model of the 90’s and the creative process used to make this game. Unlike many of the other books in this series it doesn’t have the author's personal stories and opinions threaded throughout the book. Some people may prefer this approach as a more traditional piece of non-fiction, but the appeal of this series to me is bonding with a “friend” over a mutually loved game. While this book didn’t work in that manner it was still an interesting look behind the scenes of a game that is near and dear to my heart. If you loved Jagged Alliance this is a nice quick read that will round out your understanding and appreciation of the game.