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Historical Games - An Essay of Medium Proportions

This blog contains my second assignment for a class at GMU. It discusses two important games in history.

Adam Kloc, Blogger

September 8, 2012

8 Min Read

The topic of historical games is a rather vast field, saturated with opinions regarding the importance of one over another. In order to maximize my ability to produce points, I have chosen my two favorites. I emphasize that the issue of how important I see them relates to my over all opinion of the game, as well as to evidence of the game’s importance to the inspiration of newer games. The two I have chosen to discuss here are Risk and Doom 3D.     

Risk is a well known board game that originated in France in 1957, originally dubbed La Conquete du Monde (The Conquest of the World). The object of the game is to develop an army powerful enough to conquer all of the 42 territories and declare global domination. The game is played by up to six players, each represented by a particular color. Standard play revolves around how many players are involved. If the full six are involved, each places 20 infantry units across the board on territories of his or her choosing. The fewer the involved players, the more units each receives to start. In a game of only two players each gets 40 units, and must create a neutral army using 40 infantry of a different color, which are used only for defense against an attack. The non-offensive player controls the neutral army during an attack. Other pieces exist aside from infantry, but only to reduce the number of pieces in play. Each turn a player places a set number of units as reinforcements to any territory he or she possesses. If a player controls an entire continent, that player gains bonus units each turn. The number of extra units is determined by which continent is possessed.

A battle is determined through a dice roll. Depending upon the number of armies an attacking player possesses in an offensive determines whether the player is allowed to use 1, 2 or 3 dice. Similarly, the defending player uses 1 or 2 dice in the same fashion to defend a territory. The minimum amount of units on any given territory is 1, as no territory can be unoccupied. A skilled player will watch his or her borders frequently, to prepare for potential attack. Attacks can only come from direct borders, or pre-mapped sea charts. One who, for instance, possesses Britain cannot attack New Zealand. 

When a player loses all of his or her territories, that player is removed from play. The rules do not condone, or forbid, alliances. Much like in real war, players may team up to gain an advantage, or to simply even the playing field against a player who has become too powerful. Various additional rules have been officially recognized to alter gameplay conditions. Most of the additions, such as a time limit, seek to shorten the duration of gameplay. If six players are involved, games can last many hours.

Along with pieces and dice, the game utilizes a card system for extra strategy. The cards are based on sets for infantry. A player turns in a set of three cards. The cards can be for three different types, or all for the same. If the set is three of a kind, an indicator on the board is placed to determine how many extra units are allotted. Aside from cards and continents, turn piece allotment is determined by how many territories the player possesses. The minimum number of additional units per turn is 3.

I can personally attest to the duration of a single game being particularly long. During my 8th grade year my school had an overnight fund raiser. A friend of mine brought in Risk and six of us began playing. The game started at 9pm, and the event ended at 6am. The game did not end, and we never finished it. We stopped for two breaks, and had to oust one player for cheating. He was caught moving his pieces before the rest of us got back from the break. I personally find the game more engrossing than chess, and a better indication of how a person truly thinks.

  The game borrows elements from many older games, such as dice and cards from games like Monopoly. Risk also has left an indelible mark on all games that came later. A famous example is that Dungeons and Dragons adopted the dice roll for battle decisions as well. Subsequently, a dice-like algorithm is used in RPG software development to determine each attack in battle. The act of raising units, and all units being able to combat each other, is still present in games such as Warcraft and Command and Conquer.

For the past few years, First Person Shooters have been a staple of the Gaming Industry. Many use recycled mechanics, and bring no new perspective to the media. Despite the general lack of real innovation, the genre has a very strong following. Avid FPS gamers argue about which of the major franchises is superior to the next. One thing that all can agree on, however, is the cited origin. Doom 3D is not the first piece of software to utilize a first person perspective. The game’s claim to fame is that it began the phenomenon of first person gaming, despite Id software having released a FPS title Wolfenstein the year before. The game is also one of the first truly controversial games.

By today’s standards, the graphics for Doom 3D are laughably unrealistic. For the world in 1993, however the story was quite different. Most gaming experiences were in 8 or 16 bit color, using sprites in a distant perspective, that battle cartoony monsters. In Doom, you were a soldier fighting demons. There was blood and gore, heavy violence, and very strong religious content.

In the game the player is an unnamed Space Marine sent to the Mars moon Phobos after a science experiment goes horribly wrong. The team the player is sent with is killed while you are told to guard the ship. The story is told around the typically, no longer used, medium of booklet backstory and minimal in-game story telling (one of the few studios that uses this method still is Blizzard Entertainment). In game story is told between levels via text and through a few level based cues. The game takes place in 3 episodes, each divided into 8 levels. The first episode takes place entirely on Phobos, ending with the player entering the very portal that cause the science experiment to fail horribly. The second episode takes place on Deimos, Mars’s second moon. Deimos had disappeared as a result of the colossal mishap. At the end of the second episode it is revealed that Deimos teleported to Hell, and all of the monsters were actually demons. The third episode takes place in Hell, pitting the player against the demon that turns out masterminded the failure of the experiment and sent an invasion to wipe out humanity. Id software turned the ending into a sequel set up, showing that the demons have begun an invasion of Earth. No Rest for the weary marine, it seems.

As a young child I was thoroughly enthralled in the idea of Doom. I have always had a bit of an interest in the occult, as well as in science fiction. Unfortunately my experience was limited to playing the game at my friends’ houses, or at my Uncle’s. My mother was rather protective of my entertainment exposure, and banned me from playing the game after seeing it for herself. Of course, that made the game all the more desirable to me. I wouldn’t in the least be surprised to learn that the game, and it’s older sibling Wolfenstein, was instrumental in my parents waiting so long to finally purchase a computer. Any time my father got a game system, I would inevitably take it over.

The game has had a far reach in the industry. The ideas of fighting demons in Hell and science gone horribly wrong weren’t theirs only, but big titles based story elements on much of that concept later. Half Life revolved around the conglomerate Black Mesa doing a similar experiment and bringing in a life form from another dimension. The character actually has a name, Gordon Freeman, and the storytelling takes a more prominent role. Valve actually used an engine Id designed for its series Quake to develop the game. The popular Diablo series by Blizzard has many nods to Doom in its first entry as well. Offering very minimal in-game storytelling, Blizzard relied on the included book to flesh out their world of Tristram. The world is divided into multiple sections, the final being Hell. Most FPS titles available today either revolve around modern war, or World War 2, but without Doom their popularity could be suspect.
There are many other games that have an important place in history. The most important games in history are a source of debate. I cast my two cents into the jar with Doom and Risk. While others may or may not choose these two titles, they are indeed important points of history in interactive entertainment. The mere fact that the two games are referenced in typical game related conversations, much like classic literature, is proof of their importance.

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