Monday, April 27, 2015
The Better Business Bureau awarded Steam an "F" grade due to a consistent pattern of complaints with regards to customer service issues. While this is a bit of speculation on my part, the shear amount of deceptively advertised and poorly made games on Steam is going to lead to a lot of people feeling burned when it comes to Valve's refund policy. Heck, I've picked up more than a few PC games over the years that had un-resolvable hardware incompatibility issues.
Friday, April 24, 2015
This was what I intended to write about, but over the course of researching this little project of mine, I discovered that the setting is far richer than I initially assumed. In video game terms think the best of Assassin's Creed 2 except without the need for elaborate conceits like Templar schemes, parkour assassins or a sci-fi animus. Spain during its golden age had the Inquisition, numerous wars and every manner of courtly intrigue imaginable. That, with just a little artistic indulgence, makes for an exciting time and place to be in itself. Aside from naval combat during the age of sail, a topic I've already addressed extensively earlier this month, European land warfare had its own unique characteristics during the latter part of the 16th and early 17th centuries.
Often referred to as the age of "pike and shot," infantry were organized into closely knit blocks composed of a mixture of three soldier types. First, there were the pikemen, who were the at the core, but could change formation quickly on command to a hollow square in which other troop types could take refuge. When deployed as such, the long two-handed pikes would bristle outward creating a hedge of spikes to repulse enemy cavalry attacks. Second were the musketeers, or harquebusiers, that stood in the wings and carried smooth-bore matchlock guns. These soldiers gave the unit striking power at a distance and could be arrayed to unleash a single massive volley or alternatively a steady stream of gunfire depending on the desired configuration. Lastly was a small, elite cadre of swordsmen tasked with guarding the banners. In a pinch the could also be used for short range assaults, a tactic which proved to be effective at breaking pike-against-pike deadlocks. It's important to note that this final group varied by nation. In Spain they were "rodeleros" (or sword-and-buckler men), while in Germany they were "Doppelsöldners," strong men who got double pay and wielded two-handed swords called "Zweihänders." Meanwhile the Swiss didn't use swordsmen at all, preferring instead to have halberdiers fill the role.
Getting back to video games, I think it would be cool to take the role of an alférez and command a tercio in battle. At your side would be the alabardero and arcabucero (officers in charge of cold and hot steel respectively). Tercios were made up of professional volunteers (sometimes pardoned criminals) and often nurtured by low ranking nobility called "hildagos." In that sense the player could handle recruitment, equipping, training and management of his tercio. A strong emphasis on retaining veterans meant experience and determination were extremely important, not to mention skill in combat.
I should end this by noting that Spain's golden age represents a country at the height of its power and decadence, not to mention wealth. The "golden" part isn't a called so because of some sort of cultural enlightenment (although many great works of art were made then). It's called such because huge amounts of wealth flowed from the new world into Spain, feeding corruption, decadence and petty violence at all levels of the social strata save the ever hardworking peasants at the bottom of what was a very top heavy empire.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Given the technology on display in the world of Darkest Dungeon it feels like it's set sometime in the sixteenth century, which was the "golden era" for the Spanish Empire. Granted, what I'm getting at here is a pipe dream barring a major content update, full-on sequel or serious modding effort. Still, I think it would be interesting to have a similarly accursed estate on the isle of Minorca which is part of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Classes in particular could have a distinct look and feel, setting them apart from more generic fantasy IPs. At the same time they wouldn't be entirely unfamiliar either. Let's explore some possibilities, shall we?
- Caballero, or "Knight" wears a buff coat, high boots, short cape and wide brimmed hat with a feather plume. He sports a huge mustache and duel wields a Milanese side-sword plus "Vizcaina" (or parrying dagger). Abilities include a lunging attack, bleed inducing cut, and twin slash similar to the brigand cut-throat. Personality-wise these individuals tended to be short-tempered and overly proud.
- Matador, or "Bullfighter" has a flamboyant costume with gold trim and a red cape which he uses to draw agro. He can also mark targets with barbed javelins called "réjons" and deliver a powerful deathblow with his estoc. Stats-wise he should have high dodge and crit, but low HP. He's also a real show-off, who shouts "olé!" to his teammates.
- Rodolero, or "Sword-and-Buckler-man" is outfitted with an open-faced helm and "coselete" (brestplate). He holds a basket-hilt sword and small metal shield, which he uses for both attack and defense. In other respects I imagine he's similar to the man-at arms class.
- Conquistador, or "Conqueror" is akin to the crusader in many respects. He wears heavy armor and a full-faced Argonese helm. Under stress he becomes outright masochistic.
- Mochilero, or "Backpacker" is a stand-in for the merchant class. Basically this youth increases the amount of gear which can be carried by the adventures, as well as having a useful set of camping abilities. In a pinch though he does have poniard to use in combat.
- Harquebuiser, or "Musketeer" carries a matchlock gun and stand, as well as a baldric with "The 12 Apostles" (rounds of ammunition) hanging off it. He also has extra fuse cord tided bellow his knees.
- Hidalgo, or "Noble" without a landed title, is a delusional old man who wears a Toledo steel blade at his hip, a burgonet helm on his head and demi-lancer armor from the neck down. His faithful "escudero" (squire) accompanies him wherever this Don Quixote goes. Abilities are probably similar to the Houndmaster with all that entails...
- Inquisitor has a his classic red robes and sash. In combat his abilities including zealous accusation, buffs, debuffs, and a powerful "auto-dé-fé" attack that does massive damage to any marked target (including allies!).
- Apothecary has spectacles and a jerkin with ruffled white collar. His only weapon is a stiletto, but he has a variety of support abilities that can cure status ailments, restore lost HP and debuff enemies or blight them.
- Pistoleer, or "Reiter" if you prefer the German term, carries twin wheel-lock pistols that he can only use from the back two rows. Moving back while firing is one option, shooting two adjacent targets at reduced accuracy is another. A trick shot ability allows him to hit one random enemy with a small boost to damage.
- Janissary is an elite soldier from the ottoman empire. Armed with an iconic yatagan or kilij saber, these professionals also make use of two handed weapons such as flintlocks and halberds.
- Corsair, but of the Barbary coast rather than the Caribbean, attacks using scimitars or hand axes, in addition to firearms. Other abilities tend to be similar to the grave robber, including a good chance of successful scouting and trap disarmament.
Having finished my brainstorming session, it occurs to me that none of the classes mentioned are female. Perhaps I'm being a bit too historically accurate in that regard. On the flip-side the Occultist and Leper work extremely well as is. If you happen to be a Darkest Dungeon modder (or developer) feel free to steal, borrow, modify or the list of ideas above.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Naval gunnery was still in its infancy during this era and as such ship engagements tended to happen at extremely close ranges. Technically most cannon were capable of sending a ball of iron out a thousand feet (300m) if not more. However, due to "windage," gaps between the projectile and barrel, it was all but impossible to hit a target accurately or with enough punch left to be of any value unless the range were a fraction of that distance. Rates of fire averaged out to about 2-3 volleys every five minutes, an eternity for FPS fans, but from gameplay standpoint I think it's fine since the long interludes between broadsides allow the player time to plan their next move.
Despite all the deadly weaponry brought against sailing ships and the men that inhabited them, sinking as the result of enemy fire was a fairly rare occurrence. Wood, after all, is naturally buoyant and patching a hole in the hull quickly enough to prevent catastrophic flooding was well within the ability of a skilled ship's carpenter. Because of this inherent resilience, and relatively safe placement of powder magazines, a much more common outcome was crippling caused by the destruction of masts or rudder control. A warship that can't maneuver is like a soldier who has his hands and feet lashed together. In such cases the only sensible course was "striking the colors" or more simply put - surrender.
So, overall there are a lot of layers to this onion, from the strategic decisions made by the admirals to the tactical ones made by individual sailors, game designers have a wealth of material available to them. Some might look and cry that the time period is a huge knotted mess, but to me it's a wealth of opportunities as deep as the sea. You just got to grab a piece of thread and go from there.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Very few have tried to adapt this era in naval history to a video game, and of these few even less have had much success. Part of the problem is the shear amount of nautical terminology, such that it's almost a language unto itself. This barrier to entry is in partially the result of people spending large amounts of time in isolated floating communities wherein a distinctly separate subculture emerged complete with unique songs ("Yo ho, yo ho..."), superstitions ("Right foot first!"), and expressions ("Yar!"). In all seriousness though the only way to tackle this sea monster of design with any hope of success is by a two pronged approach, the macro and the micro.
Further exacerbating the confusion is the fact that the ship cannons were also lacking when it comes standardization. Rating a gun by the weight of its cannonball was one method used (typically 6 to 42 pounds), but the system was somewhat deceptive because the length of the barrel varied depending on the bronze casting. Topping this all off, ships of this era didn't necessarily carry the number of guns they were made for. A brig, for example, might be rated for 18 cannons, but it could carry more by placing them on the weather deck or quarter deck. Then again it might carry less for better stability or simply because of insufficient crew to ready a full broadside. Generally, it was up to individual captains to decide how to outfit their ship. This all might sound discouraging from a design standpoint, but in my mind this situation allows for an incredible amount of player driven customization.