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Video Game / DEFCON

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This page is about a work. If you're looking for the trope, that's Defcon 5.

"It's Global Thermonuclear War, and nobody wins. But maybe - just maybe - you can lose the least."

A unique 2006 Real-Time Strategy from Introversion Software. You play a general in control of your chosen side's nuclear arsenal, and your goal is to exterminate the enemy's civilian populace while preserving your own. In order to win, you must strike against your enemy's population centers while at the same time crippling their ability to retaliate. Easier said than done since launching a strike reveals the locations of that strategic asset to everyone in the game. The game is inspired by the 1983 cult classic WarGames and designed to simulate the paranoia and anxiety of the Cold War.

There are 3 scoring modes in DEFCON:

  • Default: Score two points for every civilian kill, lose one point for every civilian loss.
  • Genocide: Score one point for every civilian kill.
  • Survivor: Score points for every civilian you keep alive. The score counter starts at 100 and decreases for every percentage point your own population falls.

There are also multiple game modes:

  • Diplomacy: Everyone begins with a perfect score and starts in an alliance. One point is lost for every civilian death.
  • Office Mode: A bit of a joke by the developers. This will run the normal game without sound in a separate window in real time for six hours. Also has a handy escape function to minimize it "if the boss appears".
  • Speed DEFCON: Matches run at full speed and last no longer than 15 minutes
  • Big World: Every player has twice as many units and nukes but each unit has half the size, speed, and range. This is meant to be a long and drawn out campaign style.
  • Tournament: The regular game rules are enforced except that mutiple rounds are played with the territories randomly assigned to each.
  • Custom: Make whatever game type you want.

When playing the game, the DEFCON level increases as the game progresses. The level determines what actions can be taken in the game.

  • Defcon "FADE OUT" 5: Can place units.
  • Defcon "DOUBLE TAKE" 4: Radar coverage reveals the Fog of War.
  • Defcon "ROUND HOUSE" 3: Can no longer place units; conventional warfare commences.
  • Defcon "FAST PACE" 2: No change from Defcon 3 (game manual states that fighting intensifies).
  • Defcon "COCKED PISTOL" 1: Conflict goes nuclear. The end.

DEFCON contains examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: In every game mode aside from Survivor, it's not a stretch to say that the player character and all their enemies are mavericks with murder on the mind.
  • All Nations Are Superpowers: North America, Russia, even a single Europe make sense. A united nuclear-armed Africa, less so. (Also odd is the all-the-rest Asian/Arabic bloc, which unites China, India and Pakistan, both Koreas, the Middle East including Israel and the Arabian Peninsula.)
  • All There in the Manual: There is a manual available for download off the Introversion website which teaches you the basics of the game. However there are some parts where you might not be sure if it was written by a paranoid or a Cloud Cuckoolander.
    • It's a reference to the Protect and Survive pamphlets that were planned to be handed out in the UK (along with the TV and radio broadcasts) around the height of the Cold War.
  • Anachronism Stew: The former Soviet Republics are separate from Russia (and the European ones are a part of a United Europe), but St. Petersburg is named Leningrad in game and East and West Germany are separated by borders (although both are part of said United Europe).
  • Anti-Air: The silos work as both air-defense and as ICBM launchers, but not at the same time. The air defense mode is the only reliable method of taking down incoming nuclear missiles.
  • The Big Board: The entire game takes place on a strategic layout screen.
  • Bombers on the Screen: Again, the game takes place entirely within a strategic layout screen.
  • Boss Button: Pressing ESC twice will minimize the game window to the notification icon area.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: There is no I in team, as in I win. It's entirely possible to "win" by harming your allies, both directly and indirectly.
  • Cosmetically Different Sides: Everyone starts with the same assets and the same population count. That said, the difference is not entirely cosmetic - the population centers are spread out differently between the continents, and as a result, some continents are easier to defend than others. Europe, for example, has all of its' population centers placed in a relatively tight group, so it's easy to cover them strongly with antimissile defenses. South America, on the other hand, is much more spread out, though sacrificing the smaller cities is a viable tactic.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Stances offer a bit of utility, but overall, the units breakdown into either direct combat or support roles.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Subverted with silos and air bases. Getting hit by a nuke reduces their arsenal.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Grouping up for a 5v1 with alliances ensures the solo player left behind is in for a very bad time…
  • Cut and Paste Environments: On a larger scale in terms of setting and development, anyway. The map the game takes place on is exactly the same one from the connection menu of Uplink.
  • Defcon 5: Correctly ordered, and used as a countdown clock. The game starts at Defcon Five and peace, then ups the Defcon level and opens up placement of defences and navies as time passes, ending with Defcon One and launching of ICBMs.
  • Dual Mode Unit: Units can be toggled between different modes to fit certain roles. For example, a silo can switch between anti-air mode (where it provides your only defense) and ICBM launch mode. There is a timed delay before a switch takes effect, and the time needed to switch back to anti air as warheads bear down on you can seem very long indeed.
  • Easy Logistics: Your nuclear stock pile is limited, and your planes have fuel. But that's about it.
  • End-Game Results Screen: When the victory timer expires, a small window appears showing a summary of kills, deaths, and score for each player.
  • Enemy Mine: You can form alliances, just make sure to keep an eye on your "friends".
  • Fog of War:
    • Radar units and planes reveal the fog of war. Forming an alliance also reveals everything your allies sees — including their assets (and vice versa).
    • Location of enemy launches are always shown, regardless of the fog of war.
  • Geo Effects: Certain territorial 1v1 contests can be geographically imbalanced, such as Russia vs. Asia. Russian territory includes a small section of sea off the coast of Japan, allowing players to post entire fleets of nuke carrying subs right next to several major population centres. By comparison, naval vessels from Asia must sail around Africa and through the Atlantic to get within SRBM range of Russian cities.
  • Homage: DEFCON takes inspiration from WarGames. A number of shout outs are included in the main menu.
  • Kill All Humans: The goal of the game is to kill as many humans on the opposing side as possible.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The game encourages this: the more missiles you fire, the more that can be expected to get through an enemy's defences and hit their target.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: A missile hit on a city is labelled (say) "Manchester hit, 1.2m dead", but the civilian population is just a means of keeping score.
  • Non-Entity General: You, the player.
  • One World Order: The diplomacy game mode begins like this. And slowly breaks down as nations begin chipping away at each others' population centers to reduce their scores.
  • Painfully Slow Projectile: This seems to be the case, however, this is actually justified in that missiles are slow in relation to the size of the earth, and the parabolic arc they follow is how they'd actually fly to their target. However, it's still obnoxious watching your missiles get shot down as they slowly inch toward their targets.
  • Power Glows: Radiation from nuclear strikes is depicted by a Sickly Green Glow by default (the colour can be changed).
  • Pyrrhic Victory: "Winning" a game amounts to this, no matter how well you manage to ride out the nuclear holocaust. Unless you're playing as Europe and manage to take out the enemy subs before they can launch their payloads, then it becomes a rather one-sided affair.
  • "Risk"-Style Map: The world is divided into North America (Canada, Eh?, Eagle Land), South America (South of the Border, Latin Land), United Europe, Russia, Darkest Africa, Asia ("Arabian Nights" Days, Far East). Australia is non-playable and no one seems to ever launch at Australia in almost all nuclear war media; in fact, many people during the Cold War believed that Australia and New Zealand would be a "safe zone" during a nuclear war, too far out of the way for anybody to care about. (The novel and later film On the Beach disabused this idea, with the Australians living their last days before the fallout clouds roll in.)
  • Scoring Points: Scoring kills against enemy population centers earns points, while getting one's own population centers killed loses points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.
  • Sensor Suspense: You only ever see icons moving on a map; you never get to witness the effects of your orders firsthand. The only hint of what might be really happening is the occasional sound of a woman crying.
  • Shout-Out: The menu has a terminal readout that displays random information, from a staff roll, the effects of radiation exposure and symptoms, to listing "Civilian Targets in Megadeaths", and asking if you'd rather play a nice game of chess instead.
    • Aditionally, many of the stranger-seeming excerpts from the game manual come directly from the 'Protect and Survive' information handed out in the UK during the Cold War.
  • Simple Score of Sadness: There are soft, slow piano chords and One-Woman Wail, with occasional sighs or sobbing to accompany the end of humanity.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To any of Paradox Interactive's Grand Strategy games, particularly Hearts of Iron, the closest to this game in terms of setting, technology, and scope. Both are Real-Time Strategy games that span the entire world, but while those titles take place over anywhere from decades to centuries depending on the game, are famous for their incredibly complex gameplay, and are designed to simulate the experience of conquering the world, DEFCON has extremely simple gameplay, takes place over the course of a few hours, and is designed to simulate the experience of destroying the world. In short, while winning in a Paradox game makes you feel like a glorious conqueror, "winning" a game of DEFCON makes you feel like a monster.
  • Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors: Fighters beats bombers, bombers beat battleship, battleship beats fighters. Parallel to that, battleship beats carrier, carrier beats sub, sub beats battleship.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: And you're the one orchestrating it all!
  • There Is No Kill Like Over Kill: SAN FRANCISCO: 10 IN FLIGHT.
    • The Steam version of the game has the achievement "Had enough yet?", which involves nuking a city whose population has been already reduced to 0.
  • Unfriendly Fire: You can manually target your allies' assets and population and avoid any retaliation from anti-aircraft fire. Just make sure to leave the alliance before the nukes fall or you'll lose points instead.
    • Steam has an achievement for this.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Civilians are little more than points to be scored in a game of war.
  • Villain Protagonist: The whole point of the game is based around being a General Ripper and ensuring them commies/capitalists/whatevers die in nuclear fire.
  • War Is Glorious: Utterly and completely averted. Between the somber music, the unnerving sound effects, and the grim news reports, this game is not trying to make global thermonuclear war seem awesome in any way.
  • War Is Hell: As the game's tagline implies: Nobody can win nuclear war, you can only lose the least.
  • We Have Reserves: Since fighters respawn (at airfields, at least) and everything else doesn't, sending in waves of fighters to draw AA fire from bombers or missiles is one way to try and ensure they make it through, albeit limited by the fighters' short range.
  • Weapon Running Time: Nuclear missiles launched can take several minutes to reach their targets, which means they could be shot down en route by enemy anti-air missile sites.
  • You Bastard!: It is you who are giving the orders to end the lives of billions of people.
  • You Nuke 'Em: You are given the entire nuclear arsenal of a continent, and your goal is to nuke everyone else off the face of the earth.