Many Faces of the Truth

Many Faces of the Truth

Historically accurate games.....or not?

I have had the privilege of reviewing many historically-based games. Some of them were very good; some should have been consigned to history before they hit the shelves. What is common to them all is that they profess to be historically accurate.

I know that when I first started reviewing games, I would take delight in trying to establish how historically accurate they in fact were. Many a happy night was spent poring over a game in the hope of finding a detail that either failed to appear or was in my eyes fundamentally wrong. However, age has now taught me that, just like the truth, there are many versions of history… and the only real truth is that each is correct in the eyes of the writer.

The challenge in designing an historical game is that generally there is nobody left alive who remembers the event and, over time, books and studies become more and more removed from the battle themselves. Even if there are survivors of the war portrayed in a game, their recollection relates to their place in the conflict, the side they were on, and where they were when they viewed the events of the day.

Here are some examples:

The Tiger tank; most feared and powerful of the German tanks. Or was this the case? Was the German tank feared more because the Western Allies had nothing that could immediately match it? Certainly, if you were sitting in a Sherman tank, knowing that your main gun was largely ineffective at all but close ranges, fear would be your constant companion.

How much of this was deserved, though?

"..how many of you would appreciate mounting up in your all powerful Tiger and finding that it won't start.."

The Russians definitely had a lesser view, with their own tests showing that while the Tiger had thick armour, it lacked essential minerals - making it more brittle than normal armour of lesser thickness. Arguably the Russian tanks of the time were a match for the Tigers.

So as a war game developer, how do you portray this? To be correct, do you apply armour values, slope characteristics, and mechanical breakdowns? As a player, how many of you would appreciate mounting up in your all powerful Tiger and finding that it won't start - just to be historically accurate.

Another example is the much-gamed-over battle of Normandy. Publish any game that covers this period and you will have a queue of players lining up to heap scorn on the slightest error in detail. It is fertile ground for amateur history buffs, who will be able to quote you chapter and verse their set of facts to support their version of history.

"There is a generation today that would probably be forgiven for thinking that D-Day was a wholly American affair."

Having read extensive accounts of the battle from the Allies point of view, I was stunned to read German accounts which seemed to portray a different battle altogether. Popular views of the battle of Omaha Beach see this as a victory through the guts and determination of the invading infantry. Recent versions suggest close-in bombardment by the offshore destroyers helped silence the opposition. The view from the German side was that they could have held out longer if they had not started to run out of ammunition. Which is true? Probably somewhere in the middle.

There is a generation today that would probably be forgiven for thinking that D-Day was a wholly American affair, despite the Allied landing force being two thirds British and Canadian. Game developers, however, are driven by the need to sell to their biggest market. Accordingly, as time goes by are we going to see a different historical truth that sees the amazing efforts of the British and Canadians become a mere sideshow to the Americans? In fact, I would hazard a guess that there are people out there today who already have this historical belief.

So, portraying historical events in a game will always be a challenge because of the many versions of the truth. Often the best recourse for developers is to take the popular view on the basis that “it is the proper thing to wear at a given time”. So are they in fact historical games? Yes, as long as you understand that they are based on the developers’ version of history.

So I pose the question: how attractive would a game be if your tank would not start, your front line troops were Russian conscripts who want to surrender at the first opportunity, and an 18 inch naval shell has the ability to wipe out most of your forces in one hit? History in gaming is driven by popularly held truths of the time, and this is rooted in the need to sell the game.




 

Relevant Articles

 

Comments Comments (4)

 
kalmonipa
Posted by kalmonipa
On Monday 2 Jan 2012 10:48 PM
1
To answer the last paragraph, the game would sell, but not be one of the highest selling games, purely because of curiosity. Then would come the raging, because the tanks fail to start to often, or the 18 inch shells would be to over-powered, etc etc.
CoD fans would compare it to CoD, and Battlefield fans to Battlefield, even though it is a completely different game style.
Some people would enjoy it, but then most would not try it because of word of mouth about the over-powered shells or the sh*tty tanks.

Good points though.
 
 
 
Jimmy_D
Posted by Jimmy_D
On Thursday 12 Jan 2012 1:33 PM
-
Have you ever tried the close combat series? Close Combat 3 The Russian Front has an excellent level of realism. While your Tiger won't have mechanical failures it will refuse to start in the depth of the Russian winter and will get bogged down in the mud of spring. You also experience the panic as you realize none of your current panzers can touch some of the heavy Soviet models pre the Panther and Tiger

And a 120mm mortar round in the middle of a Russian conscript rifle squad will kill half and leave the rest fleeing for their lives. Great game.
 
 
 
mattyj1974
Posted by mattyj1974
On Friday 13 Jan 2012 11:51 AM
1
Historically portraying war and wrapping the package up to be aq game are geometrically opposed as war is not fun and video games are. Imagine the film jarhead being adapted to a video game. The invading force invades, sweats in the desert for a year and goes home. Would it be fun? No.

Conversely having your buddies’ brains blown out over your dpms in a Taleban fire fight and being shot and wounded in the same fire fight and consequently losing your legs. Fun?

In conclusion games cannot be historically accurate and be fun at the same time.
 
 
 
MichaelDorosh
Posted by MichaelDorosh
On Sunday 1 Apr 2012 6:29 AM
-
"Another example is the much-gamed-over battle of Normandy. Publish any game that covers this period and you will have a queue of players lining up to heap scorn on the slightest error in detail. It is fertile ground for amateur history buffs, who will be able to quote you chapter and verse their set of facts to support their version of history."
*************************
This is a mostly silly article, and this paragraph is about the worst of it, making anyone with a detailed knowledge of history sound like a deluded conspiracy theorist - in North America the word "buff" is most often applied to the kind of people who still think John F. Kennedy was killed by a trio of assassins firing flechettes from dart-firing umbrellas.

On the contrary, there are enthusiasts who understand the need for abstraction in a good game design and will recognize when the compromise is done well. Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord was extremely popular despite the multiple abstractions in game scale, and compromises made for the sake of playability.

A dozen years later, audiences are more sophisticated. The same thing happened with motion pictures; in 1968 you could paint whatever type of post-war equipment you had on hand grey, slap a balkankreuz on the side, and call it a panzer, and movie audiences would be satisfied. Today's film-goer is more discerning, and with the ability to create convincing digital effects, one can integrate rare equipment types into films much easier. So audiences demand the real thing, and film-makers are happy to provide it.

Video game producers are now in the same cycle of having to provide realistic detail to an audience that by and large knows the difference between generic "tanks" and actual equipment types. And even if they don't, they listen to the reviews of those that do.

This isn't historical revisionism, as the author seems to imply; it's a natural trend in the world of visual entertainment, and those producing it should probably get used to doing their homework.