Saturday, February 28, 2009
The first paper of this session presented was a bit problematic, I did have a hard time following it, as I, as previously mentioned, really don’t play computer games (or games at all, except Trivial Pursuit, which I love), and this paper was more exclusively focused on the game itself, without the theoretical discussion and external questions of earlier presentations.
GPC told us the sad story of the game “The emperors seal”, which he was not only the project manager for, but also the resident classicist. This game was developed at the turn of the millennium, and there was a lot of money put into this game (1 billion lire was the sum mentioned, which could be impressive, or the price of a second hand Mazda.). It was a big project, and our lecturer was recruited after it had been launched, and thus did not have input in all the aspects of the game, some things, that he as a classicist really didn’t like, were already in place in the game.
This game has the premise, if I understood it correctly, that the emperors seal has been stolen and you have to find it by walking around Rome, it was set during antiquity, and finding clues and stuff. (That kind of game model must have a specific name?)
All I can say is that it was a very pretty game, and several historical statues, mosaics and other authentic artefacts had been added, my limited gamer experience prohibits me from saying much more. This game did however never reach the market, despite two years of work; there was no financial strength to distribute the game.
Even though this was a discouraging tale, I do hope more classicists are hired by the gaming industry!
The final presentation of the first day came highly recommended, several people had told me to make special note of this presentation, which the presenter himself was very glad that I told him after his paper. I’ve promised not to mention his hair.
AL spoke about Caesar IV and veracity of its concept and execution. (Can I just say that I’ve never been to a conference dealing with antiquity with quite so many PowerPoint presentations?) The object of Caesar IV is to build and govern a provincial city, and to follow the cursus honorum to ultimate glory. You have to reach certain levels of culture to be able to do certain things, and many other things are interrelated such as the structure and supply of labour and food (I’m well aware of the absurdity of me explaining a computer game, hence the guest bloggers).
The paper discussed the picture transmitted of antiquity in this game, and how it reflects our views of antiquity. The study of the reception of antiquity today seems at times slightly neglected by us classicists; it doesn’t carry the same cachet as studying reception and assimilation of antiquity during, say the 17th or 18th century.
There was also ample mention of Braudel, such as that his views on history are similar to that of Caesar IV (or could it perhaps be the other way around?), with history only being “ripples on the surface”, and history in this game only being represented by invasions.
The purely fictional details of the game were described, such as the city never being dependent on supplies from the countryside, no slaves exist, and that there isn’t any economic activity on the forum, banks etc are built as separate entities.
Other things were also said to be incorrect, as architecture; schools did not really exist as such, and the large chimneys are completely anachronistic. Furthermore, all governmental buildings are in marble, even in the humble beginnings (apparently better in Caesar III), and the game of course perpetuates the myth of the “white antiquity”.
He concluded with the warning that we (as the experts of this) are loosing control of what is represented of antiquity, fact and fiction are becoming increasingly blurred, which led to an interesting discussion. It was said that there is a kind of Catch 22 for game designers- you are scrutinized much harder if you strive for authenticity, and the harder you try, the more criticism you receive. (You hire more classicists and pay them enough to take the fall for any flaws, that’s my suggestion.)
We were treated to a magnificent dinner that night with more courses (one consisting of cod tongue and fennel salad) and glasses of wine than I recall (I couldn’t very well make notes during dinner), and the conversations were great, with the Yale-gossip as mentioned, and gossip in general. I honestly tried to retire early, as soon as dinner concluded, but was dragged by some nefarious Norwegians (some of whom hadn't enjoyed the foie gras) to a local brewery, and made to sample the produce, and while I thank them all for a lovely time, I do ask; was the whiskey really necessary?
Friday, February 27, 2009
One further gaming-latin connection I would like to say a word or two about(I’ll be more brief than before, don’t ya worry), is the use of the language rather than the classical setting. In games taking placing in our time and world it can sometimes be used for flavour, especially in those involving the occult. Here the hero might read ancient texts to find hidden secrets or even be part of a puzzle. This is most common in adventure games, the Gabriel Knight series to use an (old) example. Sometimes it is used solely for the cool(yes, apparently latin can be cool in the right circumstance) , high-falutin’ and mysterious tone, for example in a title. Usually this means using a well known phrase, which might have something to do with the theme or plot, but didn’t really have to be in latin; see Deus Ex, for instance.
Another usage is that of reference point or inspiration. An example(beyond and perhaps more grounded than "God of War”, mentioned by my hostess)is the upcoming game by an independent developer; Solium Infernum, “To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” In this case the reference is directly literary, in source as well as in style. The studio(well, it seems mostly to be one guy) first self-developed game was very good, I look forward to this one immensely. The developer has blog himself, mostly about his product but also with some thoughts on game design in general.
The "always already ruins" discussion(great title btw) above, was very interesting, but I would like to add an observation about the standard version of the fantasy world. Many of the fourth subgroup(those with ruins in a fantasy setting) seem taken from these In the “standard” fantasy setting there has usually been an earlier, higher culture that has left ruins behind, which people live or at least go treasure and monster hunting in. This is of course because the prototype for fantasy worlds is Tolkien which had this, and/or medieval europe which of course had the remains of the ancient world around it. These are of course only in-world explanations, but still not completely unreasonable. That sense of decayed grandeur and failed hubris(that may be redundant) the poem Ozymandias(Ozy-Man!) conveys does make for a nice background feeling. Many fantasy worlds also have an old language, sometimes remarkably similar to Latin in tone, style or apperance as well, in which ancient, dangerous but powerful texts may be found.
Oh, and the quote I asked about, for those interested, is from Herbert Marcuse, the original has the line “In a single toss of a ball, the player acheives an infinitely greater........” and so on. Good stuff.
And on that note,
She is not only one of the organizers of the conference, but is also a translator of Ovid (I love the norweigan word for translator “omsetjar”), a published writer of fiction, has a doctorate in latin and is a genuinely nice person.
Most fabulously though, she has appeared been a commentator and object of charm for the Norwegian reality show Sjarmørskolen (translates to Charm school), which naturally is some young men trying to learn the art of charm and seduction. (See her here explaining the steps outlined by Ovid, (such as hygiene being an important factor; trimming your nose hairs, cleaning your teeth etc) , and impressing the youngsters of this charm school with her degree (that is the main reason women want graduate degrees, to impress guys).
Anyhoo, her paper tide in nicely with the previous one as they both dealt with the theater of Pompey, this one in a different fashion. Here it rather was how such virtual imaginings can be used in research other than the history of theater and such.
This theater, dedicated to Venus Victrix, was once the most monumental building in Rome, and several models have been attempted for all kinds of purposes in the academia. Such reconstructions do also have their uses in philology. The paper was an attempt to trace similarities between the portico, probably filled with new and ancient statues, surrounding the theater and the Heroides of Ovid, which might have borrowed imagery and characters form this collection of marble portraits.
Visualisation of this portico is of course difficult as both written and archaeological sources are sketchy. Apparently Pliny has some mention, but the best source is the cranky Tatian’s Oratio ad Graecos (33-2), in which he describes the general uselessness of the Greeks, and in describing the statues made of silly women he gives some clue to who might have been portrayed in this portico (a place recommended for a stroll by Ovid and as a pick-up place by Propertius).
Speculating about the statues, their order and identification, brings a contemporary tie-in to the Heroides, which has earlier been hard to give some kind of political slant. I won’t present the rest of the philological evidence, as, hey, brevity, but I will say it was compelling.
Once again coffee, and I think I fell asleep for a few minutes during the break (not that many hours of sleep the night before), but before that, I finally met my long time correspondent Magnus E, who, as you should know, led the student protests against the cut-backs of classical languages in Trondheim.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The first paper after lunch (a great slot to be given at a conference) was a dual presentation, “Observations on Staging the Ludi Virtuales”, which was begun by RB from the School of Theatre Studies at King’s College London, who showed his training at the Yale school of Drama in his excellent and effortless reading, with a casual leaning against the podium and a voice that carried beautifully.
This first part could be said to be the theoretical framework and historical reasoning for the second part, that was to present the virtual, reconstructed theatres and their uses, and we thus were treated to an overview of historical and philosophical back-story. Once again we ventured into questioning what is “real”, with the stage evoking multiple realities, simultaneously existing possible worlds and even reflecting something of reality itself, and linking the actual with the mythical.
Skipping some of my notes here in an effort to actually be brief, I however find I don’t want to skip over the mention of the so called memory castles, a mnemonic technique, a ancient device to remember and recall texts or facts, by envisioning them stored in different rooms and cupboards in a imaginary palace, one “stores” the memory on an appropriate shelf in a specific room, and for recalling this, you return to this place, and find this fact or text. This moving through an imaginary castle is similar to computer games, and like in such a world of illusion we hold ourselves in place by memory, and memory was held by illusion. Yep.
Moving on to the second part of the presentation by HD, from the wonderfully named The Centre for Computing in the Humanities, and we were shown these fascinating recreations of roman theatres. They have placed some of these in Second Life, you can watch them being built, but also interact with said buildings. (Let’s not get into the discussion what such educational endeavours mean for Second Life, some say it’s the end of it.)
There ahs also been efforts to stage plays on these virtual theatres. By filming actors in front of a blue screen, one has been able to place some action on these ancient and missing stages. (among other Japanese actors from the noh-tradition have been used for their experience in pantomime and masks).
The theater of Pompey was specifically discussed, which is relevant for the next paper, and the whole science in general of visualisations such as of this long gone but important building.
The important thing is, it was said, not to get the reconstruction absolutely right (since we’ll never really know), but , but having your methodology right and open, so people can follow reasoning, and publishing the sources, whatever they are that you rely on. The London charter principles regarding historical visualisation clearly outline this. (Highly interesting!)
This was a incredibly presented paper, thanks is both due to the dramatic reading of RB (who I had the great fortune of sitting next to at the fancy conference dinner and greatly entertained me with stories of past Yale-days, and run ins with future presidents and presidential candidates), and the passion and enthusiasm of HD, which was quite catching.
I’m kinda not succeeding in the brevity-department.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
As seen here by my quotation marks, the question is whether such populations are real (the economies, if moving real dollars, must perhaps be seen as such), and if the populations and people, (so called avatars for all of you who haven’t picked up a sensationalistic newspaper article about that kooky thing virtual reality), is the “history” created within such context and by such “people” real? And what is real history?
Our tall lecturer SK moved on to describing a virtual event, motivated by an external “real” event, of a World of Warcraft guild gathering to eulogize a member of said guild who had died in this that we call real life, thus an online, virtual memorial service consisting of “fictional” people, for a avatar whose host/owner (I really don’t know the terminology here) had passed.
This guild was attacked during the service by another guild, and this has apparently become an historic occasion, with the film of the deed gathering more then 3 million viewers on youtube since 2006. This is history, as it is a point of reference, something apparently worth chronicling and retelling, even though the incident is completely virtual, except perhaps for the external fact that brought it on, and here I could digress into something external versus internal, and who actually is the agent of this story, avatar or person, but am anxious to get to Herodotus, and thus moving on. (This apparently all ties in to Herodotean reported speech)
The example of Scyllias, in 9.8, following below, with its tall tale set beside what Herodotus seems to think is the truth, put forward the question of why Herodotus reports this fable, and sets these two account, one plausible and one implausible side by side:
8.8 Now the Persians had with them a man named Scyllias, a native of Scione, who was the most expert diver of his day. At the time of the shipwreck off Mount Pelion he had recovered for the Persians a great part of what they lost; and at the same time he had taken care to obtain for himself a good share of the treasure. He had for some time been wishing to go over to the Greeks; but no good opportunity had offered till now, when the Persians were making the muster of their ships. In what way he contrived to reach the Greeks I am not able to say for certain: I marvel much if the tale that is commonly told be true. 'Tis said he dived into the sea at Aphetae, and did not once come to the surface till he reached Artemisium, a distance of nearly eighty furlongs. Now many things are related of this man which are plainly false; but some of the stories seem to be true. My own opinion is that on this occasion he made the passage to Artemisium in a boat.
Similar discussion followed for other passage of Herodotus, once again showing how the implausible is related, and then pointing to the credulous, how the re-enactment of the event is not the actual point, but rather emphasizes the tradition (once again reception!), which leads us to the similarity with the virtual histories of online events, following this pushing away of historic past in favour of the tradition, the retelling, as the images pollute each other, and towards a subjective experience, and posing the question if accuracy is actually the goal, if we could have the actual event, would we want to? (Sorry, I’m not giving a very good explanation, it made perfect sense in Norway)
With the above mentioned “attack”, the event looses its priority, and draws focus to informative mistakes of tradition, with statements becoming ambiguous. There exist several versions of this mentioned attack, many reworked with commentary (sometimes in musical form), an ongoing interpretation and contextualisation.
Virtual historians have a lot to learn from Herodotus regarding focus and narrative, and it is wrong to imagine only “real” history or what actually transpired is worth writing.
(Or something like that, am probably going to come back and purge, rewrite the narrative, give new shape and tradition…)
For the next paper my notes are better, and thankfully, it was quite visual, as this was the ultimate presentation before lunch, and we all know how energy levels at times drop at thet hour, but DL held our interest (once the PowerPoint started to work).
Armed with the lovely title “Always Already Ancient-Ruins in the virtual world” and a captivating set of screen grabs form games past, present and future, the paper neatly outlined what could be said to be the four different types of representations of the buildings of antiquity.
The first category was called Reconstruction, with the subtitle The past is a foreign country or It was new then, is represented by pristine, new buildings, appropriately enough, as you the player usually builds them, in games such as Rome:Total War, Caesar IV and empire simulation games (almost always Roman), making the player a contemporary to the buildings.
The second, with the subtitle It is ruined now, was designated as Heritage, and usually has some paring of the present and the past, as being set in a museum or archaeological dig, and thus alludes to the long gone antiquity. The buildings are ruins, sometimes not only to highlight the legendary aspect (Tomb Raider, Legendary, Barrow Hill et al), but also to give a framework of the past, especially if the game is actually set in the past, and the ruins are an easily accessible signal that, hey, this is antiquity!
The third category carries the self explanatory title of Destruction, with instant ruins, and turning buildings into ruins. (“It is one thing to aestheticizie the gradual decay of monumental buildings, another to aestheticizie the effects of disaster”). Examples shown were from Spartan: Total warrior (the back-story, an attack on Rome by the Spartans in the age of Tiberius, drew quite the merriment from the audience, as did the Aztecs attacking the Greeks in Black and White 2.), Asterix, 300 and many more.
The final and largest group was categorized as Fantasy, with the subtitle Was ruined then, and rather presenting the idea that the Romans (or whatever, lots of fantasy in this group) lived among ruins. The ruins are naturally portrayed as ruins even in their contemporary setting because they have always been ruins, we all know that ruins are classical, and one cannot imagine them new. That’s how it was, and that’s how it is. And if there are no ruins, how can one tell one is in “antique” times?
You really can’t recognize the past without ruins, as someone pointed out, who would find a Venus de Milo with arms familiar? We can usually recognize ruins, but not the “real” thing. Also, ruins are prettier. (Yes, an actual aesthetic choice perhaps, ruins have pathos and tie in to that 19-century romantic thing, Ozymandias etc, see below, with the idealized fantasy that is already ruined)
In this category some quite ancient (he!) games were used as examples, such as Clash of the titans and Gladiator (1985), but also newer as Battle for Troy and Hercules: Slayer of the dammed, as well as two forthcoming; Ikarian and Numen.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Monday, February 23, 2009
As said this is my account, and my perception of the event, and I do feel a need to state this, as I’m trying to recount lectures that might have been experienced differently by others, and describe theories and ideas put forth clearly and succinctly by others, so any incomprehensibility is the fault of this blogger, not the person who actually presented this idea.
It is an utterly brilliant idea to invite someone to blog a conference which in some way deals with reception (here of antiquity), as you then get the reception of the conference blogged, and thus present an interesting sort of meta-reception on the reception. So, with all these caveats in place, let’s proceed to the actual happening, or rather my notes from this conference, fleshed out with some verbs and links.
I will, for now, spare you the details of how I actually got to Trondheim, but let me just say that I arrived that same morning, and to the university three minutes prior to the conference’s start, instead of arriving to Trondheim the night before, as planned, but the weather gods do not take heed to such plans. I was greeted by the kind organizers, who promised to pay for the cab, and was then seated in time for the kick-off.
The dean, who was no player of computer games held a short introduction, and then our host, SW took the podium, declaring himself happy to seeing us all here “including journalists and bloggers”, and informed us about the financing of this conference, and as a classical philologist acknowledged that we are, with this conference and its subject matter, walking on a field shared by others, something that calls for interdisciplinary work, and that we will see people of a different type than we are used to walking fields that we consider our own, and hinted at a wonderful future for us all.
Before the first presentation, the chairperson of this first session pointed out that this perhaps was the first conference of its kind, at least as organized by classists, and then unleashed the fabulous Dr D on us all. (I’ve previously met MD at the Virgil-conference in Tromsö, and it was a great joy to see him again, as he is really and truly fabulous.)
His paper was a sort of introduction for those of us not well versed in media- and gaming-studies, so called ludology, and briefly discussed such approaches to virtual gaming. He had also done an analysis of British media in the last few months, citing reports that games will eventually eclipse other media, that the gaming industry claims that all other media industries such as television, movies, etc, are stagnant or contracting, with the gaming industry being the only and fastest expanding.
He also discussed the shifts in attitude that are underway when it comes to computer games, from being youth-oriented and “a lonely activity in your bedroom” (a line that brought a round of snickers from the auditorium) to something intergenerational, with parents and children playing together. He also pointed out such things as that “gaming becomes storytelling, and is no longer pre-set trips through linear mazes, a medium that rivals feature films”.
Moving on to a discussion of this new study of gaming, there was some mention of University of Abertay, Dundee, Scotland, which having received substantial grants is a “offers world-leading courses in computer arts and computer games”, and the theories of Huizinga, conceived long before the advent of computer games (he died in 1945) and published in Homo Ludens were outlined. (There are three characteristics that play must have, namely: 1. Play is free, freedom, 2. Is not ordinary or real life, and 3. Play is distinct from ordinary life regarding location and duration, all of which more or less can be applied to computer games.)
We also looked at Social science approaches to games, what effects they have on people, and how do people create and negotiate a game. In such a discussion the constant question of computer games being good or evil reared its head, and such aspects as having to fulfil something to get to the next level were put forward as something good (no one pointed out that one can cheat) and likewise that involvement in multiplayer games apparently makes people reflect more in identity. Of course, educational values were mentioned, but I would have liked to see the theories of Everything bad is good for you at least touched upon.
Moving on to the Humanities approach to gaming, one there looks at the meaning and context of games, what meaning is made through the use of games, the studying games as artefacts, and games as medium. This is done using the critical analysis, rhetoric and vocabulary already established in the humanities, something that is questioned by ludologists, who say we have to introduce a new vocabulary.
Finally, there is the industry and engineering approach, involving the understanding the designs and development of games, that is how to make better games, and also games as drivers of technological innovation (such as graphics or whatever), and the self-historic aspect of the industry, with branch-magazines looking back, discussing and at times idolizing its past.
The paper rounded of with mentions of intermediality (apparently le dernier cri in media studies) and the discussion following this framework and introduction yielded an awesome Buddenbrooks-reference regarding accessibility, citing the situation where the wife and music teacher share something through Wagnerian and the husband can’t access that. I do enjoy a good Mann shout-out.
The next paper was by someone who was actually an expert in game studies in the field of media studies, himself pointing out the horror that no one can actually define game or media precisely, with a paper on the game God of war. We were treated to several clips, and as it was pointed out that GoW (such a professional abbreviation) is one of the most violent in history, the clips did make sense. It was said that the violence was always in contexts.
The games relations to Greek mythology were outside the scope of the paper, but seemed quite freed from any such constraints. This is also an aspect of the games with themes from mythology and history that is subject to discussion, and not so much their fidelity to primary and actual sources, but rather their reworking and reception of them, and the overall “messing” with sources.
A rather telling and hilarious moment was the asking for a show of hands of how many in the learned audience had actually played it, and the lecturers outdrawn OOOOkaaaayyyy following it, which led to an explanation of the basic story of the game. (Which you can find here) There is that messing with sources, some made up symbolic imagery, and plenty of blood. (I’m not really ideal for writing about games.)
The paper did focus some on myths, not the myths as such, but rather how myths try to reflect and explain human experience, especially the inexplicable such as death, and the experience of dying in games, with the perky following statement and question; “you are dead. Continue?” gives us means, as do myths to cope with this inescapable end, and how, if continuing, the context of the situation doesn’t change, neither avatar, but the players experience has increased. Also, failure and death are closely related in games, however things can be changed that have lead to death, you can do this in games, you are even asked to!
My notes say that there then was a “Brilliant reflection of game mythology, info flows”, but tell no more, and my memory is spotty, so let's conclude the first session, that was followed by the coffee brake, which naturally was on time, I do love Scandinavian conferences, everyone is so conscientious of being punctual.
Let me just thank the wonderful hosts and organizers, the stimulating lecturers and participants, and a special shout-out to the lovely students of NTNU and a certain bookstore!
Saturday, February 21, 2009
What makes an accurate model?(game) In one sense this asks; what components makes a model deliver correct predictions/result? In another, perhaps more interesting one; what results are the correct ones? Furthermore; how do we know? Begging the first and last question for now, let us consider the model as a black box(no, not that kind). Stuff is put into the box, stuff comes out. We cannot see what goes on in there(I promise, though; no cat and no radioactive substances). Now, do we want the same stuff to come out no matter what we put in?
No, that seems strange, surely, not to mention boring. As a player we want our actions to matter, as a predictor we want to be able to find out what would happen under several different starting conditions. On the other hand we don’t want it to vary to much; no matter how much trade and research focus my Civilization has in that game, discovering nuclear fission in 1000 AD with my seems.......not quite right. Restricting the scope in place or time, or involving predecided events outside the workings of the basic game engine that help restrict the outcomes to the accepable ones. A more elegant method is involving selfcorrecting, and plausible, functions in the model; one of the most common problems is in strategy games is one empire becoming so large and militarily strong it becomes irresitable; common methods to balance this are corruption costs for increased size, troops costing more above a certain level and making the artifical intelligence playing the other nations increasingly hostile as you rampage across the map.
I would write more about it, but someone else already has(Unfortunatly in swedish, but if you can read it, I highly reccomend it). At the time this historian was not yet a member of the Swedish academy, where he is now the “constant secretery”. Since joining the academy he written the following, including the line(my translation) “Only the person who plays computer games is a serious user of computers”, which even I think is a bit harsh. Anyways; it is there revealed comments that not only has he plays and enjoys games since many years back but also(in the comments section) that he designed strategy games once upon a time and what I choose to interpret as a promise to do so again.
The game he writes about in that first article is Europa Universalis. An award winning 4X game(series) by a swedish developer, Paradox. It deals with the rise of the modern world, with the focus on Europe(duh), beginning in 1492(or 1453 or 1415, depending on the version(spot the events at the different dates!)) .The level of detail in the game is unparralleld, involving hundreds of provinces, dozens of countries, the effects of the reformation and counterreformation; politics, religion and economics all simulated up until 1789(or 1815)*. The first and second games used scripted events to replicate major historical happenings(the Habsburg inheritence for instance), certain predetermined possible start dates and a set line of kings and queens with the historical dates of rule(with a few possible exceptions). Far more cleanly, the latest version makes all events, regents, inheritence and so on a part of the game engine. This makes for in some less historical gameplay(Charles V may never become king of Spain or Emperor) but in some ways more realistic(No Habsburg inheritence possible unless there has been a royal marriage between Spain and Austria). It also lets you start at any date during the time period with a historical starting position.
All this would still not motivate mentioning the game here. Thankfully Paradox recently put out a new game called EU:Rome and its expansion Vae Victis. This deals with the the time from 280 to 27 BC and the rise of rome, although you can play . No tactical battles here, just the complex basic modell from the EU III game combined with character driven intrigue and politics inspired by another, earlier paradox game. There are troops, trade, war, colonization and more, mostly, to my eyes, quite adequatly depicted(with a few reservations).
Lets linger awhile on the internal politics, something that strategy games has had trouble presenting in a realistic, immersive and entertaining way.Exactly how it works depends on your form of goverment. Here, if you have a republic, you elect a consul, apoint censors, praetor, army and navy questors as well as pontifex maximus. The election isn’t complete controlled by the player, although you can influence it by setting the right conditions; building up different factions(the military, civic, mercantile etc.), grooming candidates by appointing them to the right offices, letting them lead your armies to victory or setting them up too loose. As a last resort there is imprisonment or the ubiquitous assasination option.
Hwta you don’t want is a populist victory which gives numerous penalties to your country, an immediate loss of stability, dangerous changes in the basic ideas governing your nation and more. Very much a boni outlook, which one quickly internalizes, swearing loudly over the damn populists and their shortsighted policies, that simply do not grasp the fundamental interests at stake. Characters are attracted to the popular faction if they don’t get too serve in office or if they feel slighted in some other way. Sometimes this even leads to land reform! Their loyalty to the republic, which can lead to a rebellion if it becomes too low, is also affected by being slighted, being removed from office, if their personal enemy happens to be consul or if they have legions who are loyal to them(temptation....). Try to remove them from their position, or prosecute them and they might just rebel if their loyalty is low enough. Isn’t there a famous example of this happening?
What are the reservations mentioned then? Well some minor changes have been made, presumably for playability purposes; there is only one consul, he is elected for 2 years etc. The major problem is one that has plauged this game developer for a long time, but that seems to be getting worse. Paradox is a small company and thus cannot afford the extensiv prelaunch testing other companies practice, instead they release their game and patch it with upgrade files repeatedly afterwards(To be fair; they do this for free, quickly and usually add completely new features as well) based on the input from the community. This does however meen their games are released with minor defects and a certain lack of balance.
When I say “the community”, I don’t mean the one with “them”, who live in “the neighbourhood” and find Kill Bill excessivly violent. No, I mean the loyal fans, active in the online forums for the games, who endlessly play, discuss and help improve the games. The games I’ve discussed earlier has them as well, but none have any quite as dedicated, innovative or, well lets call it what it is, fanatic as the ones for the Paradox games. They post after action reports detailing their exploit(, each one a history of a parallel world, some well written, some....differently written.
I will post my final entry here on my Monday, tomorrow I rest,
*Don’t worry, if you want to explore the time before EU there is the aforementioned Crusader Kings, if instead you want later eras there is Victoria, followed by Victoria Revolutions and then Hearts of Iron 1 and 2(Nr 3 is on its way), bringing you all the way to the 1950s.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Total war. A modern concept perhaps, an effect of nationalistic ideology and industrialism, first seen in the First World War. A state where everything is subordinated to the cause of war, all production, civil society and the state dedicated to that same purpose. It has been argued that similar mobilizations have occured earlier, perhaps in the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars of France, pehaps in the final years of Charles XII in Sweden(before someone finally put him, and the swedish people, out of there misery) under von Görtz. Reading ancient history it can seem as if it is far older than any of these examples; Sparta or Rome at times, both seem like societies pretty dedicated to warfare.
To a “gamer”, as those of us equally devoted to gaming are sometimes called, total war means a lot of fun, since a certain series of games. It started in medieval Japan with Shogun:TW, went to europe in the same era with Medieval:TW and then finally arrived in the ancient world with Rome:Total War. The basic concept is a combination of manouvering on a large scale strategic map, where you move armies, build units, buildings and manage taxes and trade, with tactical(like strategy, but not Kumbaya, from the greek; Taktikē, the art of organizing an army) battles in real time.
There are, you see, two main versions of the strategy game; those where things happen as time passes with both sides acting at once and those where they players take turns, usually with the actions of each being resolved one after another. Chess is an example of turnbased games, even if most strategy games limit moves per piece and turn rather than moves per side and turn. Most real time strategy games(RTS in industry terms), put the focus on lots of action, managing different units under stressful conditions, limited time and high speed events leading to “clickfests” where one is constantly giving commands and moving around. Personally, I really suck at this and, perhaps for that reason, don’t enjoy it at all. The wonderful thing about the Total war series is that the RTS element is pausable; whenever you feel the nedd you can halt the action and give commands.
The difference between the tactical and the strategic level is, to simplify it to an absurd degree, that tactics is when you can see and directly hurt each other, while strategy is all the prepration for hurting the other party taking place while you can’t see each them(I said absurdly. Furthermore it ignores the third, intermediate level). In the Civilization game when you want to attack an enemy unit you simply move it onto the other and the whole thing is resolved abstractly. In TW this instead transports you to a tactical battlefield where you manouver your cohorts of hastati, principe and triarii against the opponents war elephants and phalanxes to, well, kill them and make them run, and then hunt them down(just as in the real world, it is during the retreat the most losses are taken). Oh, and Testudo!
The model in RTW serves its purpose; it’s really mostly about creating cool tactical battles with cool units. Well that, and conquering the world. Thus the time scope is far more limited than Civ, you don’t reasearch technology. Instead you get more advanced units by growing your cities and building training camps, archery ranges and stables. Not wanting to preempt the talk scheduled Saturday at the conference about this game I won’t say much more, except that I look forward to hearing from our reporter in the field about that particular paper. I will however note that the game does contain two versions of the roman army, the pre- and post-marian reform variants(länk). The reform is triggered by a secret criteria (scroll down to the heading "Concerning thy realm if thou does don the Toga) in the game and before you have the traditional version with three different infantry types mentioned above(and of course velites as skirmishers) and after word you have the professional legionary-the rock hard troop that built the empire.
An interesting twist is that if you play as a roman you in fact paly as one of the great families of roman; the Julii, the Brutii or the Scipii. Your family members, born and adopted, can get elected as praefect, quaestor or consul depending or your standing with the senate. To keep the esteemed elders happy you complete missions for them, such as capturing cities or other violent things(the game includes assasins, not advised for sensitive viewers). To win you have to build your popularity with the people so they one they can back you when you turn against the senate, defeat the other great families, take Rome and the expand the empire to include a certain number of provinces. The way your family wields power though doesn’t seem quite historically accurate; you have your own cities and armies, not from year to year as apointed by SPQR but permanently. You can also play as other factions, Gauls, Carthaginians(War elephants!), Greeks, Egyptians etc. You can trade with other factions, even make alliances, but sooner or later you usually end up fighting them and hopefull taking over there cities(when you do one of the options presented is exterminate-personally, I think those those Etruscans had it coming).
All this invites a certain amount of idintification with your electronic puppets and some roleplaying . Your family members gain traits and abilities based on what happens; if elected consul you become more respected and better at commanding, run away from battles and you become known as a coward and your men will run away more easily, win battles to become a better commander, spend time in a city with an academy to become educated or govern a large and rich city to turn decadent, wine-soaked and lazy. You also attract followers, everything from mentors to misstresses to miners. Gradually you start identifying and (dis)/liking these characters, wanting them to develop in certain direction, become better. It also translate to greater immersion and a stronger emotional engagement with what happens to your faction; it is very satisfying to become emporer, and even more so to sack rome as Carthago in revenge for what will never happen(länk sack of kartago) in your version of history.
This feeling of being there or being somone else(someone cool-and what is cooler than war elephants?) is another reason people play games. Mere escapism? Was that what I meant with the quote yesterday? Sweet escape, an opiate or circus for our times? Well, to certain degree, but that’s certainly not all I read in that quote, and that is certainly not all achieved by being someone else for awhile. We go to great lengths to acheive this in other ways, in all the arts. It is good practice for being ourselves, after all.
There are two expansions(Barbarian Invasions about the fall of the Empire and Alexander about, well, guess.....), countless mods for Rome:Total War (including a Lord of the Rings version, which I found out about in writing this post and will now have to play!) and one, soon two, sequels, none of which take place in ancient times though. Find out more at in heaven.
Oh, in addition, agreeing with the previous speaker, I think the Home of the underdogs should be resurrected.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Having given my best years and braincells to computer games I feel eminently qualified to answer the blogstresses call and write a little about them. My particular poison is strategy games. To begin with I will write a little about what a strategy game is, illustrating with examples from perhaps the greatest game(series) of all times. Don’t worry, there will be classical references.
Strategy (the word itself of course from the greek, Strategos; a leader of an army), games are about exactly that, i.e. marshaling your limited resources to acheive certain goals, usually in competion with opponents. Before computer versions there were board games, such as chess, Monopoly and far more complex ones (link to the civilization board game wiki). Often the theme is military, conquest or more generally guiding a nation, or even a civilization through war, peace and what lies inbetween. And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the game; Civilization.
I still remember the first time I played it; I was 11 and at a friends house. I think that experience forever decided the course of my life. That was the first in the series, which now includes 3 direct sequels, one Nietzschean(titelwise) kinda sequel, variants, mods, scenarios, expansions and countless rippoffs. The original designer now has name included in every game he makes, and probably som he doesn’t.
What is so great about it? What isn’t? It set the standard for the 4x genre; games where you explore, expand, exploit and exterminate(but in a....nice way). It starts out in 4000 BC with the founding of your civilization’s first city. You then gather resources and build military units, discover technologies, build new cities, defend against barbarians, make contact with other civilizations and deal with them in a peaceful or warlike manner. You can trade, make treaties, spy or just hit them with a big club-or later, tank. The game takes you through all history, endning in 2000 ad-ish unless of course, you’ve already won by then.
And yes, all you caeser-crazed classicists, out there, you can play as the Romans. You get to be Julius Caeser(The picture is from the latest game in the series)! That is, if Julius was immortal, had (more or less) complete power over his realm and no, you don’t get to explore his personal life. In the original game the Egyptians are not even led by Cleopatra(They are in some later versions, though....in the latest there is even a Celtic civilization you can conquor). This is however basically cosmetic, it makes no difference in game terms. Normally you play on a randomly generated, but earthlike, world, but you can play on the old familiar map as well. Kinda takes the joys out of exploring, though.
At a certain point in the game you might find yourself with a civilization looking like the classical roman soceity; aqueducts, soldiers armed with iron swords, roads linking your cities, temples keeping your population content and calm, corruption affecting your border provinces where barbarians raid, your republic slowly becoming too expensive to maintain, forcing a change to a monarchy.
The interesting thing is of course the model; the fact that the game tries to simulate how a soceity works, how increased trade leads to technological advances, population growth occurs because of food surpluses, the effect of roads(allows faster troop movements but also increases trade-as the romans knew, roads make an empire), form of goverment(democracy gives the most trade but makes the military cost more and means you cannot go to war when ever you want to). As I stated ealier the whole point is using your limited resources to get what you want. If you want to conquer your neighbour, you need an army with preferably better armament than the enemy, to get this you need to dicover the iron working technology and also create cities with high production so you can build the units. Since one wants to do well, one is forced to learn this model. For the game to work this has to agree with our preconceived ideas of how things hang together but can also educate/indoctrinate us about it. In learning to play the game, we internalize its underlying ideas of how the world works.
Behind this lurks, of course, a criticizable view of the world. For example, it postulate a pretty linear view of progress that varies little from one civilization to another(it also postulates progress). Furthermore, you win the game by 1. destroying all other civilizations(might does make right) 2.expanding into space(always expand) or 3. getting the most points when the game ends(Points given for happy or content citizens, wonders of the world and more). You don’t have to be a post-modernist to spot some....potentially problematic values there. Nevertheless, I believe that playing this game(and other) has given me a better understanding of history and the processes governing it; better a flawed model, than no model at all.I could argue further that this gives a different, in some ways more immediate understanding than merely reading history or economic or under sciences; in being forced to apply an internalized understanding, manipulate a model, you get a feel for the connections that only doing(in what ever subject, compare it to solving mathematical problems, handling a computer or commanding an army) can give you; no amount of theory can do the same. To answer your question; yes, I believe our political leaders should be required to log at least 100 hours on appropriate games before being allowed to play with reality.
The civilization series has of course changed over time, added such features as culture, religon, different leader traits which give different bonuses(Caesar is in the latest game for example imperialistic and organized, Augustus industrious and organized), special buildings and units for different civilizations(praetorians and forums for Rome) great people, natural resources(can’t build Iron equipped troops without iron) etc. Also scenarios where different systems or limited areas/times are used(one in Civ 4 called Rise of Rome where you battle as Rome, Carthage, Greece, Gaul, or Egypt for control of the Mediterranean beginning in 300 bc) or one where Civilizations actually come and go, collapse and are replaced something like what happened in the real world but(for playability purposes mainly I imagine; its more fun to just keep going than see your hard won empire degenerate and fall) isn’t modeled in the normal game. And yes, they have added new victory conditions, including one where you can win a “Diplomatic” victory by building the United Nations and then getting everybody to sit in a circle and sing “Kumbaya”(not from the greek).
But forget about all that; models, greater undersatanding, yadda, yadda. The real reason surely to play a game is to have fun; the civilization series for me always had that “Just one more Turn”-quality, where you never want to stop playing, telling yourself as day turns into night, night back to day, “just one more turn....just ‘til I discover Mathematics, ‘til I defeat the Persians, ‘til I finish building the Colossus, ”. Be warned; the game invites alien abduction, you sit down to play, and suddenly five hours have just disapeared. Lost time, right out of the X-files.
There are other arguments and resons for playing games, I will return to the subject later. For now though a quote which makes the most fundamental arguemnt better than I ever could.
“In play the “objectivity” of objects and their effects, and the actuality of the objective world with which one is usually forced constantly to deal, thus learning to respect it , are temporarily suspended. For once, one does entirely as one pleases with objects; one places oneself beyond them and becomes “free” from them. This is what is decisive; in this self-positing transendence of objectivity one comes precisely to oneself, in a dimension of freedom denied in labor. In a single move of a unit, the player acheives an infinitely greater triumph of human freedom over objectification than in the most powerful accomplishment of technical labor”*
Tomorrow; Total War!
* Modified slightly from the orginal. If anyone can spot the alteration and identify the writer of the original I will give you a computer game. Maybe Civilization 4, maybe something else if you already have that. Send your answers(one per person) to email@example.com.
For those wanting more about the Civ series I recomend Civfanatics.
Upptakten börjar nu i regi av mina två gäster, och under konferensen kommer inte bara min rapportering att ske utan de tittar eventuellt också in under denna.
Sålunda låt mig presentera de två gästbloggarna, som har två något olika syn på det virtuella och game-iga som är inspirationen.
I proudly introduce Dunderklumpen (or DK), who is known to some of you as a intelligent and reuccuring commentor on this blog. He not only plays computer games, but has had som hand in creating them.
Philology and the world of bibliomancy is forever in his debt, as he is the famed creator of the Virgil-generator, which in a modern manner fullfills all Sortes Vergilianae-needs in today's society.
I also present to you a newcomer to the whole blog-thing (he does not really read them), but as he is the most avid player of strategy games that I know, he was a must for writing of antiquity and computer games. I give you Tegularius, a ludophile, aspiring ludosoph who dreams of one day being Magister Ludi.
Do be nice to them.
And I, I am the perpetual grad student, lurking, frustrated, trying to figure out how things work.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Saken är nämligen den, att jag senare i veckan kommer bevista den tidigare nämnda Greek and Roman Games in the computer age-konferensen i Trondheim i egenskap av bloggare.
Nej, det tillhör i sanning inte det vanliga att bjuda in en bloggare såsom sådan till en konferens, men NTNU tar är ett spännande innovativt grepp med en sådan direktrapportering (kanske nordens första bloggade klassikerkonferens?), vilket även i högsta grad tangerar det som är föremål för konferensen.
Jag är naturligtvis djupt smickrad över denna inbjudan (apparently I'm big in Norway, och om inte annat skulle elaka tungor kunna kalla mig den svenska latinvärldens svar på Julia Allison), och ser med spänning fram emot evenemanget.
Jag hoppas kunna fylla någon slags relevant funktion, och inte bara göra mig lustig över det notoriska norska kaffet, utan även kanske ha någon fundering över bloggandets roll i akademin (om det nu har någon), och förhoppningsvis fånga stämning och ögonblick.
Dock, ett litet problem i denna rapportering är det där med dataspelen.
Jag är ingen stor spelare av sådant (senast var väl första versionen av The Sims, vilket var ett tag sedan), och kommer sålunda släppa lös två gästbloggare som upptakt till konferensen de närmaste dagarna. Presenteras imorgon!
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
"We want no part of this dangerous and misguided exercise," reads the joint editorial. "(This is) an expression of our collective dissent and our refusal to allow our field to be managed and appraised in this fashion," it continues."