Posts Tagged ‘computer games’

Sometimes you stumble across things you had no idea about and end up rather blown away by it.  For me, history especially does that.  I love to find out new things about the past that I had never dreamed of before.  One recent example of this was when I discovered the existence of the Kingdom of Makuria.  And I had a computer game to thank for it.

That games is Crusader Kings 2, in which you guide a dynasty through the early and middle medieval period, in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India and the Steppes.  While poking around in it, I came across the Kingdom of Makuria and looked further into it.  I was fascinated by what I found.

Makuria was one of three Nubian nations which rose in the forth of fifth century, the other two being Alodia and Nobatia.  They were situated in what is today southern Egypt and northern Sudan.  By the end of the 6th century all were Christian nations, converted after a series of missions were sent by the Byzantium Empire, eventually becoming part of the Coptic Church.

At some unknown point, possibly before 642, Makuria absorbed Nobatia into its kingdom.

Then the Muslims struck.

In December 639, the Muslims invaded Egypt, then a part of the Byzantium Empire, and had conquered it by 641.  They gave the native Christian populace three choices – convert, be killed or become second class citizens with a heavy tax burden.

In 642, the Muslims turned south and attempted to invade Makuria.  The exact event are unclear, as all sources come from the Muslim invaders, but at what is called the First Battle of Dongala, the Muslim were repelled with heavy losses.  It appears that the Makurians fought a guerilla was against the Muslims, using their renown Nubian bowmen and superior light cavalry.  The Muslims withdrew, claiming that they had not lost, and that the land was poor with no treasure worth fighting for, despite Makuria possessing fertile farmlands along the Nile and a gold mine.

In 652 the Muslims tried again, and once more suffered defeat at the Second Battle of Dongala.  They besieged the capital of Makuria, Dongala, but were defeated by its walls which were defended by the Nubian archers.  After heavy losses again and the refusal of the Makurian king, Qalidurat, to surrender, the Muslims struck a treaty with the Makurians.

The treaty was called the baqt, and was unique in regards to Muslim relations with non-Muslims.  It was the duty of the Muslim world to conquer the rest of the world and force it to convert to Islam.  Unable to defeat the Makurian, instead more pragmatic heads prevailed.  According to the treaty, neither side would attack the other.  The Makurians would send slaves to the Muslims with the Muslims would send manufactured goods south to Makuria.  The baqt was to last for seven hundred years, making it the longest lasting treaty in history.

With its sovereignty safeguarded, Makuria grew in strength and wealth, reaching its zenith in the 8th to 9th century.  It was a land of art, architecture and literature, though what literature has been found to date is mostly of legal and religious nature.

When the Fatamids were replaced by the Ayyubids in Egypt in 1171, fortunes began to decline for the Makurians.  Internal difficulties began to afflict the Makurians and the Muslims began to interfere in the nation.  Eventually the Mameluke Egyptians invaded and in 1312 occupied the kingdom, ending Makuria as a nation.  Under the weight of the occupying Muslims, the natives began to convert.

Alodia clung on until 1504 when it too was conquered and converted to Islam, ending the long history of Christian Nubia.

It is a fascinating piece of history, and one still little understood.  Sadly, much of ancient Makuria is today beneath water after the damming of the Nile, which means there may be lots we may never find out.

There doesn’t seem a lot published on the region, but I intend to track down as much as I can and obtain copies of it.  Who knows, someday I may write on the subject, or use it as an inspiration for stories.


As I have mentioned in the past, I would love to have the chance to explore places that no one has ever seen before. Given the lack of options available in reality, I do so through writing, and through gaming, especially games which feature exploration.

A new game is coming out soon (well, hopefully soon), which will cater for that desire for exploration like no previous one has. No Man’s Sky is a space exploration game in an infinite universe, or at least as close enough to infinite that you can see it on a clear day. Featuring some 128 quintillion worlds, there are so many that a single person will only touch on a fraction of them and many, probably even most, may never be seen. The chances that you will come across a planet already discovered by another are low, so you will be the first to ever see many of these places. And that appeals to me.


The whole thing is procedurally generated, from planets to plants and animals and everything in between, and it looks stunning. It may very well be the last game I need to buy for a long time – I will be playing for years I can foresee, just puttering around the universe, visiting new planets, seeing the new creatures and landscaped there and generally just exploring.


Around 90% of the worlds you come across will be barren worlds, covered in deserts or ice, toxic or irradiated, and not bearing life. 10% will bare life, but only 10% of those, or 1% overall, will be flourishing. Finding those gems will be a big part of the game. Even so, all worlds will be interesting and unique and worth a visit – as long as you have upgraded your suit to survive them.

One thing I do plan on doing when I get the game is documenting my journeys through it.

I have mentioned before how much I’d enjoy to explore a new world, where none had set foot before, and how it was unlikely to happen in my lifetime.

There is of course Mars One and its plans to sent one way colonisers to Mars by 2023, but I doubt it will happen, and even if it did, the fiance would never agree to it. if not for those two facts, I’d probably jump at it, even if in effect it is a suicide mission. It’d give me plenty of time to write, for starters.

The closest I think I will come is a Mars colonisation simulator I found yesterday, called Mars Colony Challenger – I haven’t tried it out yet and it is still in alpha, so there are still probably bugs to iron out.

It is also a simulator, not a game.  As such, you are trying to establish your base and keep it running, to find water, grow food and the like.    It can be played multiplayer, and you can even take the rover out for a spin to explore the surface of mars – just watch out for storms and don’t forget to keep it charged.

When I have a moment I will have to grab a copy of the demo and give it a whirl – sounds like the kind of thing that might interest me.

One of my all time favourite movies is Blade Runner, perhaps the quintessential movie of the cyberpunk style and theme.  For those unfamiliar with cyberpunk – and who haven’t seen Blade Runner – it is a dystopian sci-fi genre, one of high-tech and low society.  Governments are generally weak and/or corrupt, while power lies in the hands of megacorporations, ones with their own private armies, who have been known to go to war with each other.  The street is a dirty, crowded place, where many cultures and ideas meet in a vast melting pot, and where people upgrade their bodies with cybernetic and genetic augmentations.  It also is always raining.

The cyberpunk genre had its height in the 80s and 90s, with various books, games and movies, and though its popularity has waned, it has not completely gone away.

One example of that is the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 computer game, by Polish company CD Projekt Red, not due out until 2015 at the earliest, alas.  It is based on the old classic pen and paper Cyberpunk 2020 RPG.  A few details have been revealed over on its website, as well as the first trailer.  I haven’t played any of their games, but they have a good reputation, and if they can pull off what they state they want to do, it should be a great game.

And for a teaser of what we can expect, here is the trailer.

Finally after a bit of an absence I’m making a return to posting – and writing. I’ve started studying again for the first time in many years, in a Library and Museum Technology course, and getting used to that again sort of interrupted other things, like maintaining the blog and doing writing. But I’m making a return.

What I want to comment on is about endings. Endings are important. Crucial even. A good one can make a story. A bad one, well, they can destroy it. There is an example floating around now of just that, but unless you are into computer games it may have escaped attention – though possibly not, as it has slipped out into the mainstream media in a few places.

I’m referring to Mass Effect 3, the last (possibly) instalment in the Mass Effect series, a space opera in the style of Star Wars or Star Trek. The first two games, and 95% of the last, are great games, with very good writing, characters and all that. Unfortunately then it has an ending so bad that it has sparked fan outrage like I have never seen before. The ending is jarring. Not only is it bad writing, but it falls victim to many other problems, including character derailment, plot holes you could drive a starship through, lack of closure, implications from previous events that are dire, and worse of all, the introduction of a character never even hinted at before to offer the hero three options, all of them unappealing, to solve the issue. Plus more. And it pretty much invalidates anything that had happened before.

Not surprising the fans that have been following the game since the beginning are more than a little upset, especially given they got precisely what they were promised they wouldn’t be getting.

Part of the problem is that it seems the head writer wanted to go with an ‘arty’ ending when it was completely against the general feel of the series to date, and worse, if rumours are to be believed, didn’t get peer review like the rest of the game did. It shows, if true. If not, then something else has gone horribly wrong.

So, endings matter. They are probably the hardest part of a story to write, at least for me. But they are rather important to get right.

Bioware have put out a very short teaser for Mass Effect 3, the final part of the Mass Effect game trilogy.

Can’t wait.

After a bit of a break, the next musical interlude is winging its way to you.

Both these pieces – The End Run and Suicide Mission – come from the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack.

Suicide Mission

The End Run

Both pieces are suitable epic for the ME2 game. The odd thing is that I’m still trying to judge the game itself. It made some marked improvements over the first game, especially with the removal of the elevators, and has one of the best computer game characters you’ll meet, the awesome Mordin Solus, but I am still uncertain as to which of the two I prefer. I’m not sure of the exact problem I may or may not have with ME2, but a big part is probably due to working with Cerberus, whose actions in the first instalment of the game had them marked for death with extreme prejudice.

Been a short while since I have had a chance to play ME2 but thought I should get around to posting some thoughts about.

I’m still a bit unsure of whether I prefer Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2. In some areas they made some big improvements, but in others they didn’t quite hit the mark. Plenty of others have talked about it before though so I’m not going to labour it.

I did enjoy the game. It was a different look at the ME world, had some great music and characters and left us waiting for the third, and final, chapter of the trilogy.

It is certainly best played with a save from ME1 – all the little bits and pieces that make it into ME2 that refer back to events in ME1 give it flavour.

On to other matters – six degrees of Mass Effect 2. Firstly one has to watch the following scene.

Apart from the amusement of the conversation, pay attention to the names given to the two recruits – Burnside and Chung. Short of a massive coincidence I know (and have worked with) the two people they are named for – Ken Burnside and Winchell Chung. The project was Attack Vector on which I helped design the background setting – a hard Newtonian science space sim. Apparently during the design of ME1 both of them gave some assistance to the designers via a mailing list I’m also on – sfconsim – and this easter egg was a way of thanks.

And one more clip, involving Mordin, one of the character in game. Probably my favourite and also has a huge fan base. He is simply awesome and quite complex all in one. The following clip is just a small display of his awesomeness.

Even though I knew Mass Effect 2 was being released just around the corner (as in just over a week now), I hadn’t been paying it all that much attention.  I enjoyed Mass Effect 1 and am planning on getting the sequel, but as matters stand at the moment, I’m going to have to wait until it comes down in price to be able to afford it.   So there wasn’t much point in looking at it too much or I’d just torture myself.

But something I did stumble across (and alas had me looking into the game more than was good for me) was the following video showing who is doing voice acting in the sequel.

Martin Sheen.
Tricia “Number Six” Helfer
Michael “Colonel Tigh” Hogan
Carrie-Anne “Trinity” Moss
Michael “Worf” Dorn

And Adam “Jayne Cobb” Baldwin. No one knows yet what part his character plays, or if you can have them as a team member, but if they are you know I’m going to have them permanently on roster. Teaming up with Jayne Cobb? You betcha.

And here is the trailer for the game.

One of the interesting things about ME2 is that you can import saves from ME1 and events that transpired in it affect the ME2 game. A character dies in ME1? They aren’t around in ME2. The choices you make at the end of ME1? They carry over – so the council may be dead or alive.

Only two of the six original team members are available to team up with again – Tali and Garrus. Its a shame that Wrex can’t be a team member, but given what can happen in ME1 with him, you can see why.

In preparation for when the game does come out, I am working on a couple of saves, getting them set up perfectly to export over.

Playing the game again makes me want to work on some SF stories again one of these days. Many years back I came up with a SF setting that I have planned to write in for some time, but it has always been far down the list of things to do. Maybe one of these years I’ll get back to it.

Well, Empire Total War came out today, and I am going to have to be very careful that it doesn’t end up as too much of a distraction. I don’t want to wake up in five months and find I have done hardly any writing.

So this is going to be a major test, to see whether I can pace myself properly and not let it distract me. I think I may need to set some rules – only play X amount of time a day and only after writing X amount of words.

We’ll see how it goes.