Gamebook store

Friday, 28 February 2014

With a wild surmise

Here is another excerpt from Game Architecture and Design. This one isn't really a might-have-been game, it was just intended as an example of a one-page pitch. Years later, I extended it into a full outline for a book-plus-game project I was trying to get off the ground at Dorling Kindersley. But that's a whole other story...

A old man in a tunic is being guided by a boy. The old man’s eyes are closed. We’re in extreme close-up: we see the boy’s fingers holding the man’s gnarled hand, a close-up on scuffed sandals, the old man’s cane tapping the packed earth floor as he goes. The background is in darkness but we get the sense of a huge interior space, perhaps a hall.

They reach the centre of the hall. The old man steadies himself, leans on his stick. The boy scurries off. The man stands there, head bowed, gathering his energy. His back straightens. He lifts his head.

We’re close on his face. Think of Richard Harris. The old man takes a breath and starts to speak. He has a voice of surprising power:


He opens his eyes. They are milky white, clouded over. Blind. But he sees with his mind’s eye.

“Goddess, fill my lungs with breath. Give me the words to tell of Achilles’ fury. Murderous and doomed, it was a fury that cost the Achaeans so many men, and sent brave souls into the underworld leaving bloody limbs for dogs and birds to pick apart. Thus was the will of Zeus…”

As the old man speaks, our view switches behind him in a wider shot and as the camera rises up we see a hundreds of men seated at long wooden tables, lamplight picking out details in the gloom of this huge hall. They listen in utter silence as we cut to –

A beach in dazzling sunlight. In close-up as crystal-clear water gently laps the shore and then the prow of a longboat drives into the sand. Shouts and a clamor of jangling war-gear. A sandaled foot jumps down from the boat, leaving a strong imprint as the warrior strides ashore and we pan up to see –

Achilles, greatest of the Greek heroes, standing tall against the brilliant blue sky. There is a proud smile on his face as he surveys the hinterland. He has no need of armor; the gods have made him invulnerable to harm. He has just arrived and already he is eager for battle.

* * * 

The game is Troy. It’s a wargame - but not like any wargame that has gone before. Players will take the role of various legendary heroes like Achilles, Odysseus and Ajax. Each hero is accompanied by a war-band of non-player characters whose morale and fighting ability will reflect how well the player is doing.

This is an epic story. It’s also elegiac. The world is never again going to see heroes of this caliber. They are favored by the gods, are almost gods themselves. Men like the blind poet, Homer, will sing of their exploits for thousands of years. But the war is destined to end in the deaths of most of the heroes and the destruction and pillaging of the beautiful city of Troy. It is a tragic time. The end of an era.

We intend that the game will reflect this. Just as the original Iliad poem interweaves themes of rage and melancholy, glory and waste, this is the first videogame that will convey both the excitement and the tragedy of war.

How to achieve this? We said before that the actions of the player heroes affect the rank-&-file non-player soldiers. (Think of Dynasty Warriors, for example, but with more varied AI among the soldiers.) A war-band that has lost its hero will start to degenerate into a rabble. They will lose their tight formations and rigid discipline. They will start to skulk away from the hard fighting. When an enemy is struck down, instead of moving onto the next foe, they’ll wait around to loot the body. After the death of honor, these men will become the carrion dogs that Homer spoke of in the intro.

Hence, as the game progresses and heroes fall on both sides, the war moves from being a glorious adventure to a dirty, desperate, vicious struggle for survival. The gods, who are initially willing to provide aid, advice and magical weapons, withdraw from involvement as more heroes die. Even the graphics depict the dying of the light. To begin with, bright colors evoke a time of glory. As the heroes are whittled down, the images become more gritty, the colors flatter and desaturated. It is as if a Technicolor epic like Spartacus were gradually turning into Saving Private Ryan.


  1. Sounds like this could turn into a great PC game! :D

  2. There have been games that do the colour thing in reverse, like Saboteur and a bit of Fallout New Vegas. This does sound awesome. And makes Odysseus's sneaky trick the best way out!