Long ago, in the mists of 2009, an epic was begun. In quiet Oxfordshire, the first act of war in a battle that would rage for nearly four years began – the bombing of Pearl Harbor in the “Grey-verse.”
“Let’s Plays,” also known as After Action Reports (AARs) are a form of storytelling, unique to games, where players recount their adventures playing a game using text, pictures, and videos. In hardcore war gaming, where games can cost $80 and demos are as rare as hens’ teeth, AAR’s are crucial for giving gamers a preview of a game before they buy or allowing newcomers to the hobby to sample what war gaming is all about.
In 2009, Grey Hunter (Russell Joynson, as he is known in the real world), a frequent poster on the Something Awful forums, had a crazy idea – to make a LP of Gary Grigsby’s epic War In The Pacific. What would make it unique, though, was that Grey would play out the entire war, in one day turns, then post only one turn per day. The LP would go no faster than the historical war and, as he continued, the LP grew into a phenomenon with forum goers following his daily updates with the same anticipation as their grandparents once watched newsreels of the distant war.
War in the Pacific is in some ways the ultimate “grognard game” – its dated graphics and unintelligible hex-based interface represent every plane, every squad, every pilot, and every ship from cargo ships and tiny minesweepers up to the mighty Yamato on a battlefield spanning half the globe. With the possible exception of Gary Grigsby’s War in the East and War in the West, there is nothing else out there quite like it. But through the antiquated interface and pixels, it can be as thrilling and satisfying as any Call of Duty clone.
As the Lets Play continued, it grew its own bizarre fan culture. The thread spawned in jokes like barnacles on a ship, like the players who threatened to shiv Grey if he lost the Enterprise or how PacCom converted the entire Royal Navy into reefs. Fans created a wiki to keep track of the lore of the four year old campaign. Towards the end, Grey Hunter was even gifted with a custom avatar of himself as Croctopus, a character from Zoofights (another SomethingAwful creation), directing the Pacific Theater from his bathtub. If you look closely (see image right), you can see numerous visual gags about the game and the LP – the randomness of SigInt, the mysteriously wandering Tokyo Bay Fortress, and the spiked club reserved for whichever genius at BuOrd came up with the US’s faulty torpedoes.
It was an amazing feat of endurance – Grey posted for nearly four years, beat the Japanese before the historical victory date, and never (quite) missed a day of posting. And this past December 7th, he saddled up to do it all over again, this time as the Japanese. Grey Hunter was kind enough to take time out from sinking the Royal Navy to answer a few questions via email.
MR How long have you been playing War in the Pacific?
GH I've been playing WITP since it came out, it looked interested and I was looking for a game to soak up some time. Not that I released HOW MUCH time it would soak up. I've had a break between LP's, but that was mainly for my sanity.
MR What gave you the idea to try a four year long LP?
GH Basically, it’s something no one had been stupid enough to do – War in the Pacific is one of the most complex games out there, and it covers a theater that most people know little about, and the fact that it has day long turns just got me thinking. What would it be like to fight out the war in real time? How would people react to having to wait DAYS for an attack to take place, and weeks for a long planned operation to go from conception to more losses for the Royal Navy?
MR When did you start to feel like "OK, I can really do this?"
GH Pretty much right away, I'd already finished a couple of LP's - the Forge of Freedom one where I'd pitted two teams of forums users against each other had been a huge success, and I like to challenge myself. I knew as long as I could get into a routine, I'd be fine.