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Friday
Jan092015

Napoleonic Era Trivia of the Day: Friedrich Hegel and Napoleon

In the course of the French invastion of Prussia in 1806, philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel spotted Napoleon riding through the streets of Jena. At the time he was finishing up the last pages of The Phenomenology of Spirit.

As quoted in Andrew Roberts' Napoleon: A Life, Hegel told a friend that he had seen "the Emperor, this Welseele [world-soul] ride out of town...Truly it is a remarkable sensation to see suh an individual on horseback, raising his arm over the world and ruling it." 

Wikipedia has the quote a little different, but the same gist: 

"I saw the Emperor – this world-soul – riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it . . . this extraordinary man, whom it is impossible not to admire."

Roberts goes on to note that Napoleon rather well exemplified the Hegelian idea of a 'beautiful soul', a force that acts autonomously in disregard of convention and others' interests" 

Having not read Hegel, I'll take his word on the definition of beautiful soul, and note that it doesn't seem very beautiful to me. He's probably using it in some fancy philosopher way. It is a good description of Napoleon's character, which I wouldn't call beautiful either, but which is certainly compelling. Also, unlike Hegel, I think it's entirely possible to not admire Napoleon, although to be fair some (not all) of his bigger errors and crimes lie in Hegel's future when he wrote that.

 

Wednesday
Jan072015

Assassin's Creed Unity - The Ultimate Fan Fiction

Assassin’s Creed Unity is the biggest heaping glorious pile of gratuitous fanservice I’ve ever played. It disregards plot, sense, and even game play for the sake of giving fans every little cameo, knowing nod, and special shout-out it can cram in there, even if it doesn’t make sense when you cram it all together. It’s glorious if you’re a fan! I smiled ear to ear with delight throughout.

To love Unity like I do, you just have to be a super-fan of the French Revolution. I am definitely such a fan. I’ve read dozens of books about the era and plan to read scores more. Just today I was working on translating a first-person account of the Storming of the Bastille from French into English (thanks Google-Translate!). Assassin’s Creed Unity was made for fans like me.

Ubisoft’s problem is, there just don’t seem to be many fans like me. I liked most of the other Assassin’s Creed games, with AC3 being the big exception. I thought that one dealt with The American Revolution terribly, and had a dull protagonist as well. I didn’t finish it. Then Ubisoft bounced back with Black Flag, and I loved those pirates and that game. But I love Unity even more. The central story-line is a mess of nonsense, most of which left no impression on me. But I love it for all the many, many little moments of fan service and for the enormous, glorious visual scope and presentation.

Before I move on, I must emphasize the other reason this game was clearly made just for me. I did not have any real technical problems playing Unity on the Xbox One. There was the occasional person standing on a table and a few times where people walking up hill clipped through the ground. But I saw none of the terrible errors that’ve made games-press headlines about what a disaster Unity is. No missing skin on faces or anything like that. The frame rate was decent if not spectacular the whole time. I think I might have avoided some problems because I never touched any of the online or co-op functions. I dunno. The game worked fine for me, and all my problems are ones with its design, not its implementation.

And I probably have a lot of problems. If I were to make a list of things that I didn’t like, it would have a lot of entries. They’d all either be faults every Assassin’s Creed game has shared (the annoying way you cling to walls and climb things you don’t want to, the convoluted plot), or stuff I don’t like about a ton of games (crappy final boss fight, characters taking actions in cutscenes they’d never do if I was still controlling them). But those problems are minor in my book, and I really enjoyed Unity. I loved Unity. I’ll probably play Unity again at some point. Because Unity was made just for me.

Here are four of many things I loved about Unity that, I’m assuming, 95% or more of the players didn’t care about:

  • Murder mystery missions doled out by a young Vidocq. Vidocq! Did you know he was the father of modern criminal science? I did!

  • Double fan service of Scarlet Pimpernel-alike missions given out by Chevalier d'Éon, a famous diplomat and spy who was born a man but lived as a woman for over thirty years.

  • Watching David pain the murder of Marat while you investigate the crime using actual clues from his actual murder.

  • Stealing Jacques Necker’s money that he loaned to the French government in the early days of the revolution and which his daughter Madame de Stael spent decades trying to recover.

The developers definitely put in a ton of time into research, as you can read about here, but none of these are accurate to history of course. And some of them aren’t even very fun missions to play. But I get that special knowing feeling when I see them, and sometimes that’s all I need.

The Napoleon missions are a perfect example of how this game services fans and not history. I know a lot about Napoleon. Like, a lot. And so I appreciate that they mostly fit his appearances into times when he could’ve been in Paris and even give you moments explaining why he’s here doing this game thing instead of the somewhere else history books say he was.

There’s a series of missions involving Napoleon, his early love-interest Desiree Clary, and his future arch frenemy Bernadotte. The timing of all these is nonsense. Desiree wasn’t in Paris at the time as far as I know, but certainly she and Napoleon had broken things off by then. Nevertheless, you get to participate in a series of Eighth-Grade Romantic Shenanigans (spiced up with sword fights) that basically add up to helping Bernadotte woo Desiree even while Napoleon secretly wants to break up with her so he can get with Josephine.

It’s not even trying to make sense. It’s just funny. To me. Funny if you know and care about these people. Extra funny if you know what a pain in the ass Bernadotte’s going to be to Napoleon. Super extra funny when you know that, weirdly enough, Bernadotte and Desiree end up King and Queen of Sweden. I’m assuming most players don’t know that.

There’s also stuff I hated as a fan, or at least found annoying. There are so many of these Paris Story moments, plus the main plot, that they don’t really seem to work together. The French Revolution is all about factions taking very serious sides and then scheming against and sometimes guillotining the jerks on the other side. Even in the main plot, there’s no real sense of being on any side. Your motivations on any given quest seldom make political sense. Sometimes it’s those damned lefty Jacobins you need to fight. Now go fight some sneaky royalist Chouans. It feels like they designers looked long and hard at the complexities of Revolutionary politics and threw up their hands and said,  “No one’s going to know the difference!”

They’re probably right. Even knowing the difference, I didn’t mind. Some people did, including some left wing politicians who were mad that Robespierre is made out to be a big huge villain. Nothing new there, and there’s lots of good evidence in the “Robespierre was super villainous there at the end” school of history. In the end, none of that bothered me.

So yeah, from a certain point of view, this game is like that Chris Farley character from Saturday Night Live. It’s the excited fanboy interviewer saying, “Remember that time the Marquis de Sade was in the French Revolution? That was so cool.” I felt just that way four or five dozen times playing Assassin’s Creed Unity. If you don’t know the difference between a Chouan and a Cordelier, you probably won’t.

 

Monday
Jan052015

I Played: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

For Christmas I recieved a copy of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a board game of building nonsensical palaces that will be judged based upon inscrutable standards. I like it.

This competitive game has up to four players competing to build the best castle for the game-fictional version of real-life historical crazy-guy King Ludwig of Bavaria. While this game has a lot fewer Richard Wagner opera references than its real-world inspiration, it makes up for it with added crazy. 

Castles of Mad King Ludwig consists of a bunch of rooms tiles that come in various square footages from 100 to 600. Every turn, seven different tiles are up for sale for somewhere between 1000 and 15,000 Marks. Players take turns as the Master Builder, who both sets the prices for all the rooms that turn and collects money from all the other players. Thus enters Main Tough Game Decision System: Deciding what costs how much. Will they pay a lot or a little for that room? Do you price something higher than anyone can afford just to make sure no one buys it that round? But if no one buys anything expensive, then you won't earn much money. It's a neat system.

Players pick their rooms based on three factors. First, at the start of the game you randomly pick four things that King Ludwig looks for in a castle. Maybe it's square rooms or round rooms. Maybe he likes lots of open doors. Sometimes he wants a lot of square footage devoted to food preparation. Appease his whims more than your opponents do and you get bonus points at game's end. 

Second, players have their own secret bonus cards - presumably elements Ludwig wants from your particular castle. Maybe he really likes corridors. Or sleeping chambers. You can add new bonus cards as the game goes along, and adjust your strategy accordingly. 

Third, and maybe most important, certain rooms go better with other rooms. So if you place a room next to a complimentary room, you'll score bonus points. If you place a room next to a non-complimentary room, you'll lose points (sleeping chambers don't go well next to concert halls). These bonuses can really add up - I had a throne room that gave four bonus points for each sleeping chamber connected to it and it had like six doorways. It won me the game. 

There's more (upstairs/downstairs, outdoors, room completion bonuses), but it's not too complicated. One play-through and we all understood the game. With so much variablity from the random king's favors, hidden agendas, and order of room tile availability, the game has a ton of replay value. Plus the theme is a lot of fun.

I believe another game from the same company, Suburbia, shares some mechanics with Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Theme wise, I'm way more interested in this game than that one. If any of that sounds good to you, pick it up and tell 'em Rick sent you. That won't mean anything to whoever you're talking to, but hey, I'll take what I can get in the credit department. 

Tuesday
Dec302014

Napoleonic Era Trivia of the Week

I've been repeating this little fact for the past month, ever since I read it in the introduction to Napoleon: A Life (Napoleon the Great in the UK) by Andrew Roberts.

There have been more books published with Napoleon in their title than there have been days since he died (May 5, 1821).

I only have about 47 of them (depending on how you count multi-volume books, like Hazlitt's six-volume biography from 1830).

I'm about halfway through Roberts' biography and I really like it - well written, deeply researched, and some interesting insights. I've only read four other biographies of Napoleon, but this one is my favorite so far.

Thursday
Nov272014

Brand New Day

And.... I'm back.

Really I'm just ramping things back up here for 2015, which is going to be full of interesting projects that I can share with folks! Instead of the other recent projects that I've been having to keep secret.

One of those - the main one - isn't a secret. I've been doing writing and setting design for this crazy-fun new game called Brawlhall. Which you can sign up to play free right now (in beta form).

 

 

And before that I was working on rewriting all of the story and then writing new story and building new levels for a fun Flash-based MMO called Dungeon Blitz. That's also free, and you can play it right here:

 I've moved all of my old posts onto an archive page, both in the spirit of new days and to unclutter things around here. 

Multiple posts per week should begin soon, first of the year at the latest.

 

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