The fantasy of a Planetary Invasion
In those movies and games that present the player with aliens invading the earth there is always the one question I ask myself “How exactly do they plan on taking over the world, if at all?” Don’t get me wrong, the concept of an alien attack was always an attractive one, but rarely was it anything more original than “Let’s land on the planet, and shoot things.”. Why does this bother me? Look at the sheer size of the earth, how many different governments and armies operate, how many individuals have access to their own weapons. How do you organise an invasion of Earth?
There are a few problems, so let us address them one by one.
Earth, it is big.
If you were a commander of an invasion fleet, where exactly would you strike? A lot of movies and games make it look like the entire world is engulfed into the conflict. In reality, how big a force would you need in order to strike at numerous points at the same time? Even if you had robots, ships, all manner of fire support and thousands of men, all of this seems minimalistic when compared to the total size of the Earth’s military prowess. You could strike at the larger more powerful nations, but making an accurate evaluation of that sort would not be simple. Furthermore, where would you strike? You could take out the heads of every single nation, but that leaves all the officers and ministers who would be capable of leading just fine. You could strike at those weapon installations which pose the biggest threat to you, but how many of those would there be?
The sheer size of the earth, the number of people here and how flexible governments and military bodies can be does not leave a doubt that a quick invasion is impossible. There is a counter-argument, the invasion fleet is big enough to successfully perform the invasion. Perhaps the aliens would have superior technology, but if it goes too far we land in the “God-Aliens” Sci-Fi area, which turns out to be dull, for the most part. Let us assume that the aliens had a force big enough to strike and win in a conflict against every single nation, how many resources would be invested into such a task? As such, in “realistic” terms, performing a quick victory on earth seems highly unlikely.
Modern Warfare, just like in the old days.
A lot of Sci-Fi aliens follow the exact same principles as humanity does now. Sending troops down onto the ground, offering close-air support… these are not exactly tactics I would imagine in the future. Of course, the problem is that it is hard to imagine how could combat look in the next 200 years, considering how it has changed in the past 100. If we cannot create new methods of warfare, let us be more reasonable with the ones we have on hand. Considering the aliens are facing a gigantic planet, how would it be best to use possible modern techniques to neutralise the opposition?
We could approach this in two ways, for the sake of a good story. The aliens could use a method they thought would work, such as planetary bombing, focusing on major cities, while feeling safe out of Earth’s range. When you eventually do deploy below you realise that there are still many groups unaffected by your bombing. Although in the future you might not use ammunition in the traditional sense, there will always be something that costs you a resource to use. Traditional bombing would be costly, and even if it produced a high radius, perhaps not entirely effective.
The other, more “practical” side of an invasion plan, would be to use infiltration, perhaps a virus or chemical of some sort, to weaken earth’s defenses. Sending in a small group to set up a portal, for more troops to quickly enter, or killing off most biological life with the use of a bio-chemical virus is easier and cheaper than creating thousands of ships to have just enough “men” for an invasion.
Holding Earth, how?
As mentioned before, Earth is gigantic. Imagine that you even succeeded in somehow defeating earth’s military forces, how do you keep control of an entire hostile planet? The simplest answer is, you cannot. Keeping an eye and a force in every town and city would call for most of the invasion force to remain on earth. What comes together with that is possible lack of supplies, repair equipment and reinforcements. Depending on how the aliens reached Earth in the first place it might be impossible to get back home.
The way I imagine an alien invasion of Earth happening is more or less how Barbarossa progressed. Even if the aliens got the initial surprise Earth is simply too big and too spacious, and since the aliens are hostile from the start, refusing to collaborate. Invading a planet from above means you have to focus on a specific area, since spreading out would mean the weakest invasion pockets would get overrun.
Even if you managed to effectively control a portion of the planet, how do you stop the indigenous people from sabotaging your war effort? On one hand, killing them off might be a solution, but if things do go south there will be no mercy for you in turn. Even if you extended a hand to “humanity” you are the aggressor.
How things look in video games today.
Although I enjoy Sci-Fi games, sometimes I cannot keep a closed eye on what I believe to be a poor story. In the case of aliens taking over the world I am especially sensitive. There have been games that approached the topic in interesting ways. For example, the Resistance series had a virus which turned all those infected into “human-alien” hybrids, which then proceeded to take over the earth. The difficult political situation at the time, combined with unknown to humanity preparations lead to a stunning alien success, at first.
The UFO series (UFO: Enemy Unknown, X-COM: Terror from the Deep, and more) set you as the commander of Earth’s defense force. With your limited budget and equipment (at first) you have to repel alien attempts at scouting out earth, attacks on major cities, research new technologies and use them against the aliens. The way you lost the game occurred when the Earth’s governments decided to collaborate with the aliens, due to your inability to protect them. You are like the League of Nations against the aliens, which can be disbanded as quickly as it was formed. The aliens will have different techniques of destroying you and earth. They will have sizeable ships, Etherals (with dangerous psychic abilities) and countless footmen with guns. On one hand you need a powerful “fleet” to repel enemy ships, but on the other you need an “army” to dispatch. All the while, you will need a Radar to detect these ships, and bases to more rapidly respond to threats. Starting from a small, humble base, you grow into a powerful force which the aliens will be helpless against.
Although I enjoyed the Half-Life series the 7 Hour-War, which caused humanity’s downfall before the events of Half-Life 2, is an interesting idea, but I cannot imagine such a rapid onslaught. In Half-Life 1 the alien “invasion” was not at all organised. The damage that was dealt resulted from a lack of preparedness for such an event. The forces which were sent in later (the Military and Black-Ops) did not fare much better against the highly unpredictable enemy. The important thing to note is that it was all condensed on Black Mesa. If these portals opened up planet wide the result would be similar, but the numbers needed for a successful take over would still have to be impressive. Considering what sort of technology we are faced with in Half-Life 2, I doubt that the Combine had that much higher technological or numerical superiority.
What to watch out for while designing an invasion?
Logic is the most powerful (yet scary) force in story writing. It is clear we do not use it most of the time, since emotions play a key role in our decisions making. Consider the fact that planning an invasion of any sort demands much more logical thought that normal. You have to plan your logistics, organise the force, train it, equip it, learn as much as you about what you are invading. In some games and movies the decision to invade appears to be spontaneous, and poorly planned. Most often humanity is under-armed and unprepared, but in a false-stinking way. There are ways to make an invasion work, you just have to give it some thought, rather than just “invade”. Perhaps the “invasion” is intended to be a bluff? Who knows?
Alex “WriterX” Bielski