Monday, January 21, 2008

"Free" Online Gaming embraced by Electronic Arts

This article about Electronic Arts introducing "free" online gaming caught my attention. Apparently, they will offer free games with the ability for online players to buy "extras" to customize their game experience.

When Slitherine Software's producer emailed me (see next post) he asked me for suggestions to enhance the gaming experience. I told him that several years ago I wrote to Sierra, makers of one of my favorite games Caesar III, and asked them if they ever considered selling modules that would let a player view classical plays or a senate debate if they built a theater or senate house or bet on chariot races or gladiator combats if they built a hippodrome or amphitheater. Maybe now, somebody will!

"In a major departure from its traditional business model, E.A. plans to announce Monday that it is developing a new installment in its hit Battlefield series that will be distributed on the Internet as a free download. Rather than being sold at retail, the game is meant to generate revenue through advertising and small in-game transactions that allow players to spend a few dollars on new outfits, weapons and other virtual gear.

At a conference in Munich, the company intends to announce that the new game, Battlefield Heroes, will be released for PC this summer. More broadly, E.A. hopes the game can help point the way for Western game publishers looking to diversify beyond appealing to hard-core players with games that can cost $60 or more.

E.A.’s most recent experiment with free online games began two years ago in South Korea, the world’s most fervent gaming culture. In 2006, the company introduced a free version of its FIFA soccer game there, and Gerhard Florin, E.A.’s executive vice president for publishing in the Americas and Europe, said it has signed up more than five million Korean users and generates more than $1 million in monthly in-game sales.

Players can pay not only for decorative items like shoes and jerseys but also for boosts in their players’ speed, agility and accuracy. Mr. Florin said that while most users do not buy anything, a sizable minority ends up spending $15 to $20 a month."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Play History Website another great resource for historical gamers

I received an email from the director of Slitherine Software, the company that released such titles as "Legion", "Chariots of War", and "Spartan", and he told me his company premiered a new website, Play History, for historical game enthusiasts on November 9.

"As we remember history and look back to these momentous events, our fascination with the past will hopefully be encapsulated in our new portal, our own window in time leading to all things ‘history’ and assisting us to understand events that have shaped our lives. PLAYHISTORY will inform, amuse and focus on the many ways that we have found to enjoy our common passion through movies, books, videogames, wargames, boardgames and all of the other forms of entertainment that we use to recount History and make it relevant to the present.

opens its doors with a feature about the 3rd Servile War, using a few images from the videogame THE HISTORY CHANNEL Great Battles of Rome (2007) to illustrate the events depicted. The Slave Revolts are just another example of Napoleon's famous words 'Imagination rules the world'. Like many other momentous events from the past this dream of freedom is a story of courage and fortitude that would challenge the writers of fiction. It is events like this that we will seek to celebrate over the coming weeks and months."

I am always excited to see any effort to promote the study of history and "Play History" with its timeline of events, featured products, and game-illustrated articles is a fascinating resource for us all. I will add a link to the site to this blog's permanent list of reference links.

Slitherine Software and Osprey Publishing prepare to release Field of Glory manual

"Historical miniature wargaming as a popular hobby can be traced back to 1913 when the famous author H.G. Wells conceived and wrote the first commercial set of wargames rules “Little Wars.” In fact it goes back further still with Kriegsspiel in the early 19th century, and the ancient pharaohs were rumoured to have used model figures to plan their military campaigns.

We've come a long way since then. Today wargaming is an absorbing and fascinating pastime involving elements of tactical skill and chance, where armies of accurately researched and painted figurines march across realistically modelled battlefields to re-fight bygone wars. Have you got it in you to become an Alexander the Great?

Games can range from re-fights of actual historical battles to speculative “what ifs” matching armies against foes that never met. They can be stand-alone games in which a points system is used to ensure that both armies have a fair chance, scenario games with unequal forces such as an attack on a marching army or the defence of a river line, or even complex campaigns in which logistics and strategy are as important as tactical skill.

Ancient/Medieval wargaming covers the widest period of all, from the first organised armies circa 3,000 BC until the rising dominance of gunpowder weapons at the end of the 15th Century AD. The armies are colourful and varied and come equipped with all sorts of weaponry ranging from simple slings to the dreaded war elephants and scythed chariots."

Each member of the Field of Glory design team has a keen interest in ancient and medieval history, and between us we have amassed over 100 years of wargaming experience.

In this Field of Glory rulebook, you take the role of the army commander and his senior generals, giving the rules a top down style and feel. Historical accounts describe battles as a series of events and phases, rather than solely an account of constant action. With Field of Glory, we have also tried to reflect this ebb and flow of events on the battlefield.

Armies of this era had a common theme, whatever their organisation at the micro level. Each had a commander-in-chief and a few senior commanders who would take control of a wing, or the centre, or a sweeping charge. Subordinate to these was another layer of commanders who controlled the various tactical formations which generally consisted of a number of units grouped together. In Field of Glory we call these formations battle groups.

In Field of Glory you will take command of an army which consists of approximately 10-15 battle groups led by the C-in-C and his senior commanders. The game has been designed to ensure that, just as in reality, the commanders (you) are fully occupied with decision making from the outset. Your key objective is to outmanoeuvre the enemy army and concentrate your forces at critical points in the battle. This will then destroy the enemy's will to fight, deal a devastating blow to the morale of their commanders (your opponent) and allow you to win.

Iain McNeil, Director of Slitherine Software, also tells me they have been working with education entities to find ways to use their extensive knowledge of history and game engines to promote the teaching of history from ancient to modern times.

I find this particularly exciting since I have been trying to promote history through technology for years. Now if we could just blend in a little machinima and talking, customizable avatars...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Empire Earth III Not Worth the Time or the Money

"The old real-time strategy game passed through 15 epochs (including the future) and 14 civilizations, spanning 13,000 years of human history and requiring the player's constant input. It even inspired a National Empire Earth II Championship on-line and at game centers in the US. But the new version, produced by the same Mad Doc studio and costing the same as the old one, is a great disappointment and goes many steps backward.

Instead of 14 civilizations - Aztec, Incan, Babylonian, Mayan, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, German, British, American, Korean, Turkish and Japanese - based on history and excellent graphics, the new version offers only generic Eastern, Western and Middle East locations. Sadly, history fans can no longer play the game to live in the past or recall epic battles. Thus, contrary to the claims of publicity material for the game, it doesn't cover "the entire span of human history."

The game play for all three is essentially the same, except for the different architectural style of the buildings. The other distinguishing characteristics are that the Western group has more advanced technology, making the price of its units more prohibitive; the Middle East group focuses on surprise attacks; and the Far Eastern troops offer large armies at lower cost.

Apparently, despite all the praise version No. 2 received, the developers thought it was too demanding and complicated and sought to "popularize" it. Thus the new one is dumbed down, with a great deal of oversimplification and superficiality. Did I say "simplified"? I meant stripped to the bone, with no meat left. In their efforts to streamline the game, the developers threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Except for the opening clip in which an ancient woman morphs into a citizen of other epochs and then into a robot, the animations are a disappointment, as is the graphics quality of the game itself. Game play crashes very frequently. There are only five epochs, from ancient to medieval, colonial, modern and future. Although the background music is OK, the dialogue among faceless combatants is idiotic and repetitive: "'Fess up that you like the way I move," says a male robot from the future era to its female counterpart in a typical forgettable statement." - Jerusalem Post

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Another "Mummy" sequel

"2008 looks to be a busy year across the board for all movie studios and while Universal Pictures hopes to strike cinematic gold with such films as The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and Wanted, the studio is also serving up the next installment in The Mummy franchise, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. As the year winds to a close, we've got the latest Mummy images below to come down the pike.

Hitting theaters on August 1, 2008, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor will see director Rob Cohen take a seat behind the camera to direct Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Anthony Wong, Luke Ford, and Isabella Leong.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor synopsis:

"The blockbuster global Mummy franchise takes a spellbinding turn as the action shifts to Asia for the next chapter in the adventure series, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Brendan Fraser returns as explorer Rick O’Connell to combat the resurrected Han Emperor (Jet Li) in an epic that races from the catacombs of ancient China high into the frigid Himalayas. Rick is joined in this all-new adventure by son Alex (newcomer Luke Ford), wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) and her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah). And this time, the O’Connells must stop a mummy awoken from a 2,000-year-old curse who threatens to plunge the world into his merciless, unending service.

"Doomed by a double-crossing sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) to spend eternity in suspended animation, China’s ruthless Dragon Emperor and his 10,000 warriors have laid forgotten for eons, entombed in clay as a vast, silent terra cotta army. But when dashing adventurer Alex O’Connell is tricked into awakening the ruler from eternal slumber, the reckless young archaeologist must seek the help of the only people who know more than he does about taking down the undead: his parents.

"As the monarch roars back to life, our heroes find his quest for world domination has only intensified over the millennia. Striding the Far East with unimaginable supernatural powers, the Emperor Mummy will rouse his legion as an unstoppable, otherworldly force...unless the O’Connells can stop him first. Now, in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the trademark thrills and visually spectacular action of the Mummy series will be redefined for a new generation. - The Deadbolt News

Roundup of Year's Entertainment Shows War Only Acceptable As Fantasy Fare

San Francisco Bay Guardian: "While Grindhouse's bio-experiment rogue troops were banished to fiscal limbo, Hollywood blockbusters like 300, Transformers, and even Beowulf — stemming from comics, toys, and cartoons and steeped in the stuff of a distended childhood — turned out to be the only way Americans would swallow warfare. Fusing digital animation and live actors to produce spectacles that would have made Cecil B. DeMille reach for his next merchandising tie-in, those hit movies tacitly acknowledged the war we're in and offered candy-colored, action-packed escapism for the inner fanboy and fangirl. Six years into the war on terror, we can't feel good about imminent outright victory; hell, even the most fervent right-winger realizes, in his or her reptilian back brain and in the dark of the multiplex, that the real-life shoot-'em-ups are depressingly, futilely, infuriatingly misguided. But we still want our war to be a great ride — despite the fact that ambiguous reality finds a way of inserting itself into the metal-crushing, knuckle-skating mise-en-scène.

Picking up the air of suicide-mission doom suffusing 2006 Oscar contender Letters from Iwo Jima, 300 started the year with blood-spattered, heroic fatalism. Like Beowulf and even the tongue-in-cheek Transformers, the Zack Snyder–directed epic, based on a graphic novel by draconian edge maven Frank Miller (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), self-consciously frames its narrative — and its uses as propaganda — from the start by revealing the bard or narrator telling the tale. Here the story is recounted for the distinct purpose of leading the Spartans into battle against the Persians.

Miller may have penned the original comic in the late '90s, yet it's hard to read 300 as anything more than emotionally skilled, cinematically compelling, and blatantly racist support for a US invasion of the country most associated with ancient Persia, Iran ..."