Archive for December, 2013

“Did you ever go clear?”

The Game I Wanted Instead of Ryse: Son of Rome

Ryse: Son of Rome wasn’t a terrible game. The gameplay was engaging and frictive. The co-op arena mode was pretty cool, even if too easy and poorly scaled. The graphics and set pieces were beautiful. But I can’t help but couch those compliments as damning with faint praise when I consider what it got wrong and the amazing game it could have been.

To start with, let me give an incomplete list of things Ryse: Son of Rome got wrong that particularly annoyed me:

  • If they meant Marius to be the actual, historical Gaius Marius, they fucked up literally every part of his life story. Literally.
  • If they meant otherwise, then Marius was a pretty significant dude in Roman history, and stealing his name for an unrelated character is a bit weird.
  • Damocles wasn’t Roman, but Greek.
  • Ditto Nemesis
  • Neither Barbarians nor British Celts sacked Rome during Nero’s reign, and Boudica’s rebellion never got out of the British Isles.1
  • Where the hell did Brythonic tribesmen get elephants?
  • Why have a ‘y’ in the name, when Rise: Son of Rome is a perfectly compelling title?
  • Come to think of it, why the colon? Why not make “rise” an imperative and have the infinitely better title Rise, Son of Rome? Seriously, who uses a horrid subtitle when they could use the noble comma of direct address?
  • You’re only calling it the testudo because you think “form the tortoise” sounds dumb.
  • S.P.Q.R referred to the Republic, not the Empire that followed it and over which Nero presided.
  • Nero was only thirty when he died, not the doddering old man the game portrayed him as.
  • They got everything about Boudica wrong except for her name. Boudica is one of the most fascinating figures in the history of the world. She’s also one of the most effective female military leaders the world has ever seen. To completely ignore her story and instead make her the servile daughter of a fictional king is a disgraceful decision on the part of the developers.2

Now some of you in the audience might object to me carping about the history portrayed in the game on the grounds that it’s “just a game” and that they need to take liberties for the sake of drama. I say fuck that noise. Given that the amount of research required to get the history right (or at least square it with their desired plot) could have been done in a long weekend, I think it would have been a reasonable request that they squeeze said research in during the years-long development process.

Besides, the Roman Republic and Empire were so drenched in drama and packed full of interesting characters, that it would take a hack or a charlatan not to find in them a half dozen stories better than the plot of Ryse: Unnecessary Subtitle. I mean seriously, you want Marius as a main character? Great! Tell the compelling story of the actual Gaius Marius’ rise to greatness, consulship, complacency, revival, and betrayal. And better yet, tell it through the eyes of his protege turned arch-rival Sulla. Or maybe show how both men eventually sacrificed everything to achieve their goals, both dying sick, burned out husks not long after they got it. Show how the war between these former allies shattered Rome and set the stage for the fall of the Republic.

Or, you know, just lazily slap together an anachronistic, anatopistic plot about a legionary out for revenge. I guess that works, too.

So the creators could have found a better plot for the game, but it’s that last bullet point up there that really drove home to me just what an incredible opportunity the developers missed. The betrayal of the Iceni by the Romans and Boudica’s subsequent exacting of bloody vengeance is an incredible story and would have made for one hell of a video game, certainly a game far better than the one they delivered. It’s one of the most compelling stories in history. A brief recap might be in order.

Boudica was the queen of a Brythonic tribe living in East Anglia called the Iceni. At the time of Nero’s rule, the Iceni had been subjects of the Roman Empire for over a century, having surrendered to Julius Caesar in 54 BCE. When Boudica’s husband Prasutagus died, he left his kingdom jointly to the emperor and to his wife and daughters. It wasn’t unheard of at that time for client kings to leave their kingdoms to Rome if they had no heirs, or wanted to win favor for their people, or wanted to screw over political rivals, or any number of other reasons. But the accounts we have suggest Prasutagus intended the Kingdom to be run and ruled by Boudica and her daughters.

Prasutagus’ will was ignored. The Roman govervor, a man named Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, ordered the land occupied. The Iceni were enslaved. The local magistrate, a procurator by the name of Catus Decianus seized Boudica’s estate and all the holdings of the Iceni. Boudica was publically flogged while her daughters were raped in front of her.

And keep in mind the Iceni had been Roman allies for over a century at this point, so this wasn’t just a brutal invasion, but a betrayal as well.

None of this broke Boudica. When the Roman forces were pulled away from Icenian lands to wage war in Wales, Boudica gathered what remained of her army, rallied allied tribes in the region, and began one of the most successful anti-Roman uprisings the Empire ever saw. Before it was over, she’d sacked a number of major Roman towns, including London and Colchester. At Colchester, Boudica’s advanced forced the Roman survivors into the great temple of Jupiter. Boudica ordered the door barred from the outside and the temple put to the torch.

Next she marched on London and sacked it, too. She butchered the Roman civilian population, going so far as to stake their mutilated corpses up for public display. She then apparently turned west, perhaps to meet the main force of the Romans as they came back from Wales. Boudica’s troops, while numerous and effective gorilla fighters, lacked the cohesion and strategic discipline of the Roman legions. We don’t know exactly what caused her to ultimately lose, but sources suggest that it was some combination of Suetonius’ clever strategic placement of his legions at their final battle as well as spectators and the rebels’ own baggage train blocking their retreat. Suetonius, though easily cast as a villain, was a brilliant military leader and intentionally stationed his troops in close ranks in a narrow valley. The tight Roman formations easily held their own against the loosely grouped, long-sword-wielding Celts, who were better equipped to fighting in open spaces or in single combat.

The result was a complete route for the British forces. Boudica’s army was scattered, and the rebellion over. And while we don’t know for certain Boudica’s fate, most sources have her and her daughters killing themselves, rather than falling into Roman hands again.

Now doesn’t that sound like it could make a hell of a game? I mean, sure, maybe take minor liberties and let the player ultimately win in the end, but personally I like games that have the courage to tell tragic stories.

Let me play Boudica, cutting a bloody swath through Imperial Roman Britain. Let me play as a widow to a dead husband, mother to abused children, the vengeful leader of a bloodied people, herself beaten but not broken by the grasping and arrogant hand of Rome. The story comes to us already complete with villains and set pieces. Catus Decianus, the greedy, grubbing procurator who defied a Brythanic king’s will and stole his land from its rightful heirs. The brilliant, but entitled and arrogant governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who returns to ultimately crush the Icenic rebellion.

Let me play some of the great battles of the uprising. Let me lead early commando raids against small Roman contingents in the broads of East Anglia. Let me gather the local tribes and throw off the shackles of the legionaries that were left to hold the region so that the governor could subjugate other peoples on the opposite coast. Let me play through the great siege of Colchester, and have the decision of what to do when the Roman civilians, the complicit supporters of the regime that butchered my people and stole our lands, flee to the temple of their Gods. I mean, hell, that one choice if played well, would itself have infinitely more excitement, gravitas, moral tension, and dramatic satisfaction than the entirety of Ryse.

That’s the game I really wanted to play: Rise, Daughter of Britain. I didn’t want to be some growling, poorly-written centurian. I wanted to play the vengeful hand of a wronged people. I wanted to play Boudica. I didn’t want to fight for the Empire, I wanted to fight for the Icenic Rebel Alliance. And I wanted to fight as their queen.

1 Given that Boudica and Nero existing at the same time would be literally the only thing the game got right historically, I’m assuming all characters portrayed are meant to represent their actual historical personages. I consider this an act of charity, as it appears to maximize the historical accuracy of the game.

2 And no, Boudica didn’t wear a single leather strap over her breasts and flip around wielding a couple of fucked up falchions. We have descriptions of Boudica. She was a fucking a titan. She was a badass. She was infinitely cooler than some psychotic pixie with a belt over her tits. She was a brilliant leader, both civil and militarily, and lead from the front with sensible attire and suitable armor, and with a fucking spear in her hand. Read what Roman historian Cassius Dio had to say about Boudica:

…the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica[sic] a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours[sic] over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke as follows:

“You have learned by actual experience how different freedom is from slavery. Hence, although some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, yet now that you have tried both, you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery…”

“If you promise me you’ll be my man”

I mentioned in my last post that the loss of Melodie Knight was a blow to one of my favorite local bands. Here’s a taste of why she was such a loss:

“Don’t ever wanna give this feeling up”

I saw one of my favorite local bands, Campfire OK, play the Showbox at the Market this evening. It was an incredible show, despite the sad absence of Melodie Knight. They’re an incredible band, and give an awesome live show, so I strongly suggest you check them out at your earliest opportunity. Here they are doing a gorilla performance of one of my favorite tunes, “Primp and Prune”:

The Glory of Noise Rock

I hope this is what the apocalypse sounds like. This is an apocalypse to which I could most definitely groove:

“When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life”

Restless Nights from Paul Richardson on Vimeo.

Fullscreen and cranked headphones highly recommended.

XBox, Occupy Free Time

So between visiting my folks over a few glorious, fun, relaxing days over the holiday, then working part of the weekend, and now getting both an XBox One and a Playstation 4 on the same day, the amount of time I’ve been allocating for blogging has dropped precipitously. As I’m sure my audience has noticed.

But fear not, while I’m talking to my console1 and butchering barbarians in Ryse: Son of Rome, you lot can be playing with this fun little quiz I found for you all. Basically, it gives you a Google Streetview scene to explore and you have to guess which of three neighborhoods in London you’re in. My best score was 6/10 which is not to shabby for someone who’s never actually lived in London. It’s a pretty slick piece of work and worth checking out, even if you know nothing about the City and surrounding environs.

1 The voice controls work way better than I thought. I was sure they’d be gimmicky and stupid, but it turns out they’re awesome. Accurate, intuitive, handy, and oh so futuristic. Microsoft has set a high bar for voice controlled electronics.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.