Friday, September 22, 2017

Bring on the Bronze

I'm afraid that this weapon and the person
who wields it are both ahistorical.
The mediterranean bronze age (3200 B.C. to 600 B.C.) is one of those oddly neglected eras in history when it comes to representation in entertainment media.  Sure, there has been a few movies ("Troy" and "Clash of the Titans"), a little bit of fantasy literature ("The Iliad" and "The Odyssey"), and a few games (Apotheon and Rise of the Argonauts), but not anywhere near the amount of attention medieval Europe gets.  What's more, the little we do see set in the region tends to be iron-age Rome or the Crusades.  It's a shame because there's no real reason why we couldn't have a Game of Thrones style epic set during that era.

I think one of the most common turn-offs is the titular metal - bronze.  It's weak compared to iron, but has some beneficial qualities that are often overlooked.  For one, it's possible to make bronze weapons really sharp you can shave with them.  In fact, bronze razors are a common artifact found in ancient tombs.  It's easy to mold thanks to a relatively low melting point.  The optimal ratio for weapons is a simple ten parts copper to one part tin.  Castings that feature a thick ridgeline along the spine of a blade can greatly strengthen the weapon, as can tempering the edges.  Iron will completely rust away over time, but bronze only takes on a red or green hue with age and neglect.  It's perfectly possible to clean up and still use a bronze sword that has been buried for thousands of years.  Bronze also tend to bend rather than shatter like iron.  One of the net positives of this is if the weapon gets tweaked it can be straightened without any special tools.  So, for reasons such as these it's easy to see how bronze became so popular.  It's not as good as more recently discovered alloys, but it is a big improvement over flint or plain old copper.

Hey!  You got Dynasty Warriors in
my Greco-Hungarian epic!
Considering how ancient they were, the societies of bronze age were surprisingly advance in places.  There were written languages, trade networks, centralized governments and settlements that had sewers, as well as aqueducts to supply fresh water.  There were carts and chariots although fighting from horseback had yet to catch on mostly because horses were smaller back then...not to mention the saddle, stirrups, and horseshoes had not been invented yet.  There's also the simple fact that horses can pull weight a lot further and faster than carrying an equivalent load on their backs.  Ships traveled by sails or oars though the galley was a single deck affair.  So, what does all this mean for video games?  Well...simply put, it means would-be developers can have a lot of the things they like to include in games; world exploration, highspeed action, ship battles, secret messages and interesting urban centers (such as acropolises and ziggurats).

There were bronze age axes, spears, arrows and bludgeoning weapons.  Slings and stones were also quite popular, as were swords curved like sickles or shaped like leaves.  There were even bronze age rapiers though they, like most bronze-age weaponry, were shorter than the middle-ages equivalent.  Size might actually be one of the big reasons why developers pass over the era.  It seems like the preference in gaming is to exaggerate the dimensions of most weapons to the point that it looks silly.  Some of the blades found in skyrim are so wide they look more like paddles for rafts than swords for fighting.

The phalanx hadn't been invented yet, but the concept of closed ranks of armored soldiers had been pioneered by the Sumerians and quickly adopted by the other major powers of the day.  Individual glory was a big part of warfare as was polytheism and henotheism (see the campfire conversion between Subotai and Conan about their spiritual beliefs for a great illustration of the mindset that dominated that time period).  The term "king" was also used liberally at that time (in large part because there were no other ranks of nobility) and really just meant the boss of a particular region.  Theoretically, you could carve out your own kingdom if you could scrape together a band of 50 or so able-bodied and well-equipped soldiers.  In that sense there was a surprisingly degree of social mobility although just because you're a king doesn't mean you're not a vassal of someone even more powerful.

Anyway, I think I've established that the time period is full of gameplay and storytelling possibilities.  So instead of yet another For Honor or Life is Feudal copycat, how about more games with gods, monsters and a generous helping of bronze?

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