Brief Ramblings On Total War: Attila announcement!

Today Creative Assembly announced the release of their next installation in the Total War series; Total War: Attila, and you can watch the announcement trailer here!

Now, I’m quite excited by this. It isn’t really an area of history I know much about, so a lot of it will be new to me. Of course, I know the basics of Mongolian history, Genghis Khan and his wars against China, but still, it is a period of time I know about Western history, over Eastern. I’m looking forward to it, with only a few niggling little doubts (which won’t stop me buying them game when it comes out, of course).

1.) After the rumours abounded of SEGA buying the rights to Dawn of War and the Warhammer 40k Universe franchise, I was part of the crowd which immediately thought ‘Dawn of War is a great franchise, Creative Assembly make fantastic games – yes, yes, oh please God, yes’. I may have built my own little hype train, modes of useless transportation I tend to avoid, and I’m having to deal with the disappointment that it won’t be Total War: Warhammer or Dawn of Total War or some clever combination of the two franchises.

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‘Judging by the history books, Attila is really going to mess up the lovely Empire you spent all of Rome II building!’

2.) Total War: Attila is going to be a stand-alone game. Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, I mean, there are already three other DLC campaigns for Total War: Rome II, but I can’t help but think that Attila will not really need to be its own title. The mechanics aren’t going to change much, I can imagine, after the amount of time CA spent winning the audience around to the Army and Internal Politics systems, though I don’t think that they will transfer as well to a Mongolian Horde as they do to the heavily regimented authority of the Roman Legions; they even felt a little out of place on Gallic Tribes, so to constrain the vast majesty of Mongolian independence in such a way wouldn’t really do history any justice.

3.) Within seconds of the announcement reaching social media, I saw Attila compared to Total War: Rome’s Barbarian Invasion DLC, which managed to introduce the emigration/Horde mechanic amazingly well, to the point that fighting off thousands of Eastern Barbarians as a Roman Legion felt like an achievement, rather than a guaranteed victory. I’m not surprised this comparison has been drawn, and I would be even less surprised to see an updated version of this Horde mechanic within the game, but again, whilst under the constraints of the ‘Army’ system Rome II was so proud of, I can’t see how it would work out.

So, what am I expecting?

In short, the mechanics will remain largely the same, as they have over the course of Total War’s entire franchise history, but the Army system will vanish. They cannot place such a tightly-organised system on Attila’s Huns! It wouldn’t be fair to history and it wouldn’t be making the most out of such a rich area, to limit the ‘Barbarian Hordes’ in such a manner.

Ramblings On… Invisible Inc.

The door clicks open and the guard, resplendent in his white and black uniform, hits the floor before he even has chance to draw a breath. Banks steps over him, her trench coat opening a little about her knees, and glances at the camera. The light still flickers, it still pans the room in slow motions, the whir of a motor the only sound disturbing the room. Internationale knows what she is doing, a loop of old footage replayed for as long as they needed it.

Shalem follows her in, rifle held casually in long, pale hands. Deckard had vanished, no doubt into one of the many adjacent rooms from the corridor. Shalem nods at her, his thin lips twisting into a smile of approval at the shot. She ignored him, already moving towards the next door, crossing the tiles with quiet speed. Internationale steps in, kneeling beside the guard to rifle through his pockets. She knows better than to make her triumph audible, but she still waves a wallet and a pass card in the air, to attract Shalem’s attention.

He nods at her, and they follow Banks across the room. She is peeking through a doorway, the metal heavy in her hands as she peers into the darkness beyond. The red lights of sensors glitter evilly, and she fancies she can make out a pair of lights towards the back of the room, display cases for the Corporation’s treasures.

The sound of mechanical whirring reaches her and metal stabs at the floor a few inches from the doorway. The drone, shaped like a great insect with a blinking red light in place of a head, patrols past the doorway and comes to a stop directly behind it. She curses and settles back on her haunches; Deckard had the EMP and he was nowhere to be seen. Shalem and Internationale take their place on either side of the doorway into the corridor, and she lifts the guard’s arms to drag him over the smooth floor. She guesses they will just have to wait and hope Deckard didn’t get himself killed.

Klei have a proven track-record; unleashing such games as Shank, Mark of the Ninja and Don’t Starve. Early access is a thing I tend to approach with some consternation, that little blue box on the Steam Store so often acting as marker for games that are all but unplayable, games offering only the very basic of mechanics which are likely to be abandoned before a v.1.0 update is released. There are examples of the opposite being true, of course, and it is impossible to mention Early Access without the triumph that was Don’t Starve, the game getting bigger and bigger for the loyal fanbase over an acceptable period of time unlike, say, other Early Access titles (Dayz, cough, cough).

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Them are some dapper-looking SoB’s right there!

I don’t have a problem trusting that Klei are going to continue with Invisible Inc; I would have been happy with the content it already contains. Let’s be honest, it isn’t like I am likely to ever finish the Story Mode; the game is so loin-tensingly hard that I haven’t been able to get past the second day out of three.

The only issue I have had with the game, that I hope to be fixed at some point, is the fact that full screen mode, on any resolution, cuts off large portions of the screen so that it is unplayable unless I use Windowed Mode, but that is not so great an issue as to detract from the enjoyment of the game, merely a minor annoyance.

Previously titled Incognita, Invisible Inc is a procedurally generated turn-based stealth strategy game (is there an acronym for that? One better than PGTBSSG anyway,) and it is both a Hell of a lot of fun and simultaneously makes you want to pull your hair out as you forget to put one of your operatives on overwatch and a invincible drone comes barging through the door.
Your team begins with two operatives, (two more can be unlocked when you gain enough experience from retiring your agency, which you should expect to do often,); Deckard, the most suspicious looking man in the world (think James Eldridge from Spaced, and you’ll know what I mean) and Internationale, a kind of cyber-punk who clearly took some fashion tips from David Bowie. The other two are Banks, a former bank robber who I like to imagine is only working with the Agency to keep herself out of prison, and Shalem 11, a gunman who looks like a sickly version George Orwell (so, just Orwell then, amiright?) I would expect other operatives to be added a later date, and I can’t really see a reason why some limited aesthetic customisation couldn’t be implemented, it isn’t like these characters have intricate backstories which are essential to the plot of the game. (it isn’t like there IS much of one.)

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There are a hell of a lot of places you can visit and, thanks to the procedurally generated aspect, you can garauntee that no two areas will be the same.

They each have their own unique starting equipment, but they don’t really translate to much more than an aesthetic, as any operative can be given any equipment, so long as they have the necessary level in that skill. There are four skills, one for each of your operatives to specialise in, if you so choose; Stealth enables your character to move further in a turn, increasing the Action Points they possess, Hacking and Anarchy dictate which items your operatives can use and Inventory increases the amount of items they can carry, fairly basic stuff then, but it is the items which are the key between a successful mission and an ignominious defeat.

Weapons; from neural disruptors (Tazers) to dart guns and rifles, paralysing serums to be injected into the unconscious to make certain they stay down for a few extra turns, Medi-gel for the inevitable moment one of your operatives finds a bullet hole in their chest, EMPs, items to help with hacking or traps to place before unwary guards, the variety isn’t huge but it is varied enough to add an even deeper level of strategy to the game. You can also buy augmentations to add permanent upgrades to your operatives, such as giving them additional AP whenever they use an item, kill a guard or knock them unconscious.

The missions are, equally, varied enough to keep the game interesting. You can rescue operatives from detention centres (and they will join your team if you manage to get them out alive), vaults filled with lockboxes and cultural artefacts, building plans to open up additional mission and security centres to steal the priceless trophies of the Corporation. It would be nice if the game managed to implement a kind of ‘Freedom Fighters’ mechanic, where your actions in another area affect those in another. If taking out servers in one building could weaken the electronic defences in the next, or you could steal enough wealth that the Corporation has to employ a few less guards in the next building.

There are various corporations in the game, each with their own favourite type of unit, so that if you come up against certain ones, they will deploy drones and armoured sentries in place of the average guard. SENEKA, for example, favour floating cameras and Droideka-looking things which, when they’re armoured, are an absolute nightmare to deal with.

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When you mess up, you mess up big. It’s good to get everyone a gun as early as you can. The unconscious wake up again; the dead don’t.

The game is simple, with no particular innovation over other examples of the genre, say, XCom, but it is addictive. It is hard, not Dark Souls hard, where one dies from the game’s terrible handling and awkward camera angling, but State of Decay hard, where the player’s operatives die because they leave it too late to leave the building and, eventually, trap themselves. Greed is the thing which will kill the most players in this game, God knows it’s already wiped me out enough, and therein lies the genius. I keep coming back to it, not because it’s new, not because it is particularly unique, but because I know every time I die it is my own fault and, as a tentatively self-titled Gamer, I can’t deal with the knowledge that this thing has beaten me.

I’m having fun with it but, honestly, I don’t know if it is the kind of game I will keep installed on my hard drive until judgement day, or if I’ll even play it again after I’ve managed to beat it. It is still in Early Access, so no doubt additional content will drag me back when it gets closer to completion, but it already feels like a mostly completed game and besides adding more variation to mechanics already implemented, I can’t see any major changes Klei are likely to make.

I’d recommend giving it a go, it is addictive and fun and often rage-inducing, for all that said rage is directed at yourself, and it’s worth the money simply for the refreshing challenge.

SoD: Breakdown III – ‘I’ve found them’

She can see the figures through the window as she steps up the stairs. The door comes open in her hand and she winces at the sound of glass breaking. One of the creatures tumbles through, head-first and performs half a cartwheel in the air before landing on its back. The sound of meat on baked dirt is loud, and she winces to think of how far the noise of the window must have carried. The baton crushed the thing’s nose on the first swing, the grey flesh exploded under the impact. Its face is ragged, drooping skin slipping on the bone like a loose t-shirt around a starving man and she breaks the skin again with her second blow.

It twists on the ground for a moment, like a revolving worm, and she brings the weapon down double-handed on the back of its head, bone cracking beneath the impact. She steps back as another of the things follows the first, landing on its head this time and remaining still. She thinks it odd that bone turns tender so quickly, and wondered if that was some side-effect of the disease or curse or whatever madness drove these things into existence. She tries not to think that they look familiar, tries not to allow her memory to struggle, that it might dredge up stop-motion images of the past, when these people were distant neighbours.

The wheat field comes alive with moaning, and she glares over her shoulder at the shifting gold. The figures are moving with a purpose now, each head turning towards the farmhouse, every pair of eyes flickering with the strange yellow light and the hands, already starting to grasp at the air and the stalks around them, are raised ahead of them as though the action could add to their momentum. A few, she sees, ignore the weakness of their flesh and seem to be almost running, cutting through the field with an ugly, disjointed gait, like a crippled man escaping the scene of a crime.

She closes the door behind her and the chill of the kitchen strikes at her exposed skin. Her boots slip a little on the tiled flooring, an intersecting pattern of black and white, and she curses. The door of the fridge is hanging open, as are the cupboards, many reduced to one hinge, and the drawers have been torn from their holes and emptied quickly before being abandoned on the floor. She can imagine those desperate figures, perhaps shaking their silverware into plastic bags as the creatures they might have once called neighbours rattled the door in its frame. She had shared that panic, remembering her desire to save photographs as the things had made the apartment beneath hers scream.

‘Lily,’ she whispers into the mouthpiece, ‘you sure this is the right place? There are a lot of those things here, and I can’t see them palling up, to be honest.’ She steps into the doorway and instantly moves back again, her back against the wall and her finger slippery with sweat, moving up the length of the baton.

‘That’s definitely where the signal came from,’ she replies, keeping her voice as hushed as Gabriella’s, ‘they could have moved on by now but then why bother sending the message at all?’

‘Never mind,’ she says bleakly, closing her eyes tightly as though she could burn the sight from her memory, ‘I’ve found them.’

The radio answers with silence, and she can imagine Lily slumping back in her chair, her arms falling limply by her side as though she had been struck a physical blow. She doesn’t need to say anything more, Lily knows what the tone means.

The living room has a redwood floor, and had been designed with evident affection. One of the walls was interrupted at regular intervals by wide windows, facing towards the rising sun and it is all too easy to imagine the yellow light playing across the floorboards and heating them beneath bare feet. The windows are smashed, some from the inside and some from the outside, leaving glass sparkling throughout the room. There is a corpse on the couch, slumped on its side like it had spent had heavy night drinking and another is sitting against the wall beneath one of the windows. Kneeling beside it, two figures are tearing at its stomach with their bare hands, scooping long strands of intestine into their mouths like lovers eating spaghetti. They growl at each other, dogs arguing over a feast, and redouble their efforts to consume more of the corpse.

A few feet away from the figures, closer to Gabriella, a third thing is laying perfectly still with a long curvature of metal sticking straight up from its forehead. It looks like a short sword, but the blade is thick and the handle looks like it had been recently attached. She steps into the room as quietly as she can, an over-exaggerated caution which she could imagine a cartoon replicating; that old cat who always hunted Tweety-Bird.

The blade comes loose easily, slipping from the bone and brain after the first pull. It feels good in her hand, a pleasing weight which seems to fit her fingers better than the baton. The creak of floorboards from behind her makes her spin, and the blade comes with her, coming up into the thing’s jaw with all her spinning weight behind it. The chin falls away, sheared by the blade and the figure stumbles back a step. Before it can recover, she buries it deep in the thing’s forehead. It goes limp and almost pulls the blade from her hand as it falls, but she grabs the hilt with her free hand and it comes free with a sucking sound.

One of the feeding things looks up at the sound and its eyes alight as it sees her turning back to it. With a growl it propels itself towards her, coming up in a crouch with intestine still hanging from its lipless mouth. The heavy metal cuts into its neck and the head twists away, held on by a few scraps of muscle and flesh. The growl is cut short, replaced by a desperate wheezing which emerges from the open throat in red-black bubbles.

She hacks at the other creature, still feeding against the wall, and cuts deep into the thing’s head with a bone-breaking impact which send sickening tremors along the length of her arm. It falls over its meal, hiding the bloody stomach from her eyes, but the smell of meat and excrement still makes her want to gag.

There is a pistol caught in the dead man’s hand, and she drops to one knee to pry it from cold fingertips. They are tight about it, death and fear turning the severed muscle into an iron-like vice. She manages to free the weapon and recoils from the blood and the dried sweat around the weapon’s grip. She stands again, holding the weapon by the barrel to avoid the texture and wipes it against the cushions of the couch to remove the worst of the gummy texture.

She turns her back and the moans begin again, she turns to see the corpse, pinned to the ground by the greater weight of the thing which had been consuming it, clawing at the air above it. It had been a handsome, once; eyes a shade too large with thick irises and small pupils, now yellow where they had once been white, full lips which it had already begin to chew at and a strong jaw turning grey in death.

The gun was loaded, completely; he hadn’t even shot once before his hand had turned useless under the creatures’ onslaught. She feels like she owes him some peace, that he deserves a bullet in exchange for the weapon, but she still slips the gun into the waistband of her jeans. Even then, she considers ending the thing with one vicious swing, imagining the bite of the metal in its forehead, death returning in one jolted movement.

She leaves by the front door and breathes in the fresh air for a moment. The field is empty and stretches out alongside the dirt road; she is happy to be alive, for such simple pleasures. She descends the stairs slowly, the bullets rattling a little in her pocket and the pistol already rubbing at her skin.

The claw meets her ankle as she reaches the bottom step and she stumbles, tumbling into the dusty earth heavily, but she is already crawling as she hits the floor. She kicks her boot free and scrambles a few feet further before turning to her back. The thing is rising from its seat by the stairs, using the mismatched stone as a support.

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It lowers its head to charge, the long grass coiling about its feet like another enemy, and she squeezes the trigger.

The pistol leaves her jeans as she stands and the blade falls at her feet. She puts both hands around the weapon, feeling the stickiness of its texture between her fingertips and aims carefully. The thing moves its neck like it is studying her and she imagines the teeth are grinning at her like a death rictus. Her arm shakes a little, and she digs her feet into the earth whilst the dead thing crosses its arms and lets out an animalistic roar.

It lowers its head to charge, the long grass coiling about its feet like another enemy, and she squeezes the trigger.

SoD: Breakdown II – ‘Bring them back anyway’

She drops into an uncomfortable crouch as soon as she reaches the edge of the wheat field. The golden strands around her would go some way towards hiding her from the creatures, and she gladly sacrificed speed for the hope of stealth. The wheat moves around her like a living thing, and she enjoys the feel of it against her bare forearms, when she isn’t conscious of the moans and growls carried to her on the breeze. Her fingertips brush the stalks, and she rolls her wrist, attempting to relieve some of the baton’s weight.

The wheat peters out, and she is at the edge again, hiding behind the last few as she looks out into the cleared ground. The house is a few feet ahead of her, the nearest wall inviting her towards it with the promise of shelter and she considers breaking cover. The shed is closer, and she moves towards it with her shin-length boots scraping the earth.

She is facing the back of the house, advancing on the wall nearest to her, against which two hay bales, huge things even taller than her, are placed. The moans reach her at once, and she moves back into the wheat, desperate to control the throbbing of her heart in her breast.

From the front of the house, with its graceful looking veranda upon which she could easily imagine beautiful women sipping at iced lemonade combined with vodka, they come. A mass of dead flesh and worn clothes, which is all too easy for her to imagine, though their distance makes distinguishing individual features impossible. One is fat, she can see, and limps a little behind the rest as though it took extra effort to maintain the same shambling, apathetic pace. They group together as though desperate for companionship, none moving off in any different direction. Like they are possessed, they head towards the dirt track which lead up to the house and she waits until they have vanished from sight before moving again.

A horde, she thought they were called, thankful that she hadn’t seen one greater than a dozen. If that pack mentality was prevalent within these creatures, she wonders if they were capable of creating their own society, but she dismisses the idea. These were dead things, animated by some evil science, and there was no hope for a civilisation amongst their number.

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A horde, she thought they were called, thankful that she hadn’t seen one greater than a dozen.

The door to the storehouse opens at her touch, but stops dead as it hits something on the other side. She peers into the darkness but can see nothing, she can hear no moans and, for a moment, considers calling out in case any survivors were within. She puts her shoulder to the door and takes the baton in her left hand, raising it behind to allow and unobstructed swing as soon as the door opens.

The smell that hits her is foul and she gags, backing away from the darkness as though the foetid air was a physical blow. The sunlight streams in through the doorway, enough to see the weak barricade which had been erected there had tumbled beneath her weight. The air itself seems to carry minute amounts of rotting flesh and she forces herself to back away and to draw in a few gulps of the fresh summer breeze before stepping back up to the darkness.

The first creature appears with a desperate, throaty moan; the sound bubbles and she can see the ragged hole in its chest where something had pierced a lung. She didn’t know what had killed the creature, it didn’t matter; she just swings at its head. The tip of the baton catches its right eye, which burst on the impact, but the creature still shambles forwards. She draws her arm back to swing again and steps towards it, adding her slight momentum to the blow. The thing drops at her feet and she steps over its body and into the doorway.

The room is small, and half-light by the doorway, but she sees the slumped shapes against the far wall and freezes. It isn’t breathing but, rather, shifting its weight against the wall as though it was uncomfortable, and she lets the air out of her lungs in a slow expulsion. There is a box beside the resting thing, cardboard and thrown open and she can see the glint of metal within. A vicious swipe catches the thing in the side of the head and it slumps over the box like a marionette with its strings cut.

She tries not to look at the pallet bed she can see in the corner, but her eyes are drawn to it with the kind of fascinated horror the new world made necessary. There is still the vague shape of a body’s bloody imprint in the bed, the pallet is still compressed where the person had lain and the blanket has been kicked aside, but there was nobody there anymore. Instead, red lumps of glistening flesh occupy the space and she has to turn back to the wall to vomit helplessly. Her stomach complains at the lack of food to bring up, and her throat burns as bile is the only thing to emerge from her suddenly slack lips.

She wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand and turns back to the pallet, ignoring the meat on the bed that she might rummage through the boxes around it. There is a rucksack against the wall, larger than the one across her own back, but it is empty and when she lifts it the bottom is revealed to be one great hole, as though it had been torn by some desperately clawing creature as the owner fled. It was all too easy to imagine, in that bloody place.

Her fingers curl into the dead thing’s clothing and she heaves it away from the box. Her stomach recoils again at being so close to the thing and, for a few moments, she find herself staring into a pair of oddly human eyes, the yellow light which seemed to creep through the orbs vanishing with the final death.

The creature is heavy and, for a moment, she struggled to lift it, but it gives way suddenly and comes away from the wall at her straining. She kneels by the box and pulls the covering flaps aside. She sees tin cans glitter, and lifts one in her free hand. She drops the baton and switches on the walkie-talkie, still staring at the box.

‘Lily?’

‘Yeah? Are you alright?’ The panic in the voice almost makes Gabriella smile, but the stench hits her with renewed force as her lips part.

‘You like peaches? There’s quite a haul here.’

‘Not really,’ she sounds bleak, ‘bring them back anyway; I’m sure I’ll learn to love them.’ At that, Gabriella laughs, ignoring the bodies and the rotting meat for a few moments. She fills her back pack with the cans and starts as her hand brushes a second box within the first. It is too dark to read, and she opens it to find a half-empty box of bullets; squat, rounded things which resemble slugs more than the sleek image she attributes to ammunition.

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Red lumps of glistening flesh occupy the space, and she has to turn back to wall to vomit helplessly.

They go into her pockets, rattling loosely against each other until she pulls at the zip. Not a bad find, she reasons, turning to leave with the backpack heavy on her shoulders. She grabs the baton and heads towards the door, stepping over the red stain on the cement gingerly. It is black and, in the half-light, seems to beckon at her as though it were some entrance to the void.

The sunlight is blinding for a few seconds, and she takes a two handed grip on the baton as though preparing to swing at a baseball. The moaning from the wheat field is louder now, and she fancies she can hear the sound of denim against the long stalks. She crosses the open space between the buildings and turns as she does so, taking in the field and the hay bales and the black humanoid shapes which make their slow procession towards her.

SoD: Breakdown: I – ‘We’re not the only survivors’

Beneath the weak shelter of the trees, sparse at the edge of the hillside littered with their growth, the two figures move together as though tied by thread so thin that it is impossible to see. They move with an exaggerated slowness, a kind of shambling exhaustion which makes the third figure, hidden in the undergrowth behind them, wary. She smiles to herself at that thought, a bitter smile; over the past few days when had the sight of another figure not made her tense, like a snake facing a predator? One of the figures appears to bend forwards for a moment, as though reaching to hold its knees in order to draw in the great, gulping breaths of respite she has come to know too well.

Ahead of the two silhouettes, the wheat fields stretch into the distance, dotted at irregular intervals with large houses and small sheds or workshops. She can see a disused farming vehicle, a thresher, she thought it was called, sitting amongst the wheat like a faithful dog waiting for its master to return. She wouldn’t have bet anything she had owned on that joyous homecoming.

The woollen cap she wears is itching at her hair, a few strands curling up beneath it adding to the discomfort, and she pulls it away to scratch at her head. Her hair is greasy, unwashed for days now, and she grimaces at the oily texture beneath her fingertips. She remembers the last time she’d had a shower, imagining again the scent of man-made eucalyptus from the white froth of shampoo, the feel of the old sponge, fractions of it torn away with use, gliding over her exhausted flesh, reddening beneath water heated to such a degree that it came close to burning her.

Too late; she hears the radio, a wireless responder like the walkie-talkie her nephew had owned, crackle into life at her breast and she swears, already rising from the thick patch of long grass with her hand tightening about the police baton she had rested the tip of on the dirt.

‘Gab? Any luck finding them?’

The two figures turn towards the sound, arms hanging limply by their sides, even as she crosses the distance. She moves quickly, walking at the same pace she had seen lazy charity-runners do in city streets, and rolls her arms to loosen their stiffness.

She tries not to look at them closely as she moves, tries to think of them as mannequins, but survival dictated her observation and she was helpless against herself. The nearest of the two is a woman, a little shorter and slighter than she, and only has one arm, the other ending in a jagged stump of meat from which the white of bone, stained yellow with spilt marrow, could be glimpsed. She wear a loose summer dress, yellow with a red floral design curling around it, and it billows out around her knees. Without the missing arm, and the bloodstains it had left along her left-hand side, she would have been a beauty with grey skin. Her hair is long, falling to a little below her breasts, and bare shoulders can be seen through those golden-strands.

Gabriella curls her left hand into a fist and swings the baton in her right, emptying her lungs at the motion. The stick, long and black and already scratched with a dozen such impacts, cracks against the woman’s cheekbone and she staggers to the left, blocking the second figure from view. Gabriella swings again, an overhand strike which cracks the woman; no, not the woman, she corrects herself, the thing, on the temple and she hits the floor lightly, the curling leaves beneath her crackling under her weight.

She turns her attention to the second figure and grimaces. That thing had once been a man, a handsome young man with a strong jaw and a high, intelligent forehead. Now, its eyes are bloodshot and its lips gone, no doubt eaten by itself as it shambled, gone to fill the hungry void which drove these creatures. It, too, is dressed smartly, with a loose white shirt, buttoned to the chest over blue jeans. The shirt is half black now, the days’ old blood from the great wound in the things throat having crawled down his body with some insidious intelligence. She steps back a little, letting the thing stumble on the still form of its companion and swings the baton again.

The thing jerks from the impact, but begins to snarl, a feral sound which reminded her of the wild dogs which used to eke out a living in the alleyways of the city. She swings again, and again, and again until the thing finally slumps to the ground, lying atop the other body. There was blood on her baton, and she attempts to clean it on the white part of the man’s shirt, only succeeding in removing some of the foul substance, leaving a gummy streak on its clothing.

‘Gab? Gab, are you okay?’ The voice which creeps through the radio is rising in volume, bordering on the hysterical, and she snatches at the radio angrily, dislodging it from the arm of her backpack and raising it to her lips.

‘For fuck’s sake Lily, you’re going to get me killed!’ She snarls in a hushed voice, already turning to survey the undergrowth behind her. There is silence for a moment, and she sighs heavily. ‘No. There’s no one here, just a few more of them.’ Her hands start to shake with reaction, and she looks down at the couple. She can’t help but think of them as such, and it was all too easy to imagine them walking across these hills together, hand in hand. Perhaps they had lived in the farmhouses she could she, or were taking a needed break from the city and the hectic lives of young professionals?

She tried not to think that she had killed them, that she had murdered two innocents when she could have avoided them, but she still felt the same sense of guilt that threatened to overwhelm her. They had been younger than her, and better looking than her, and now they were dead.

‘Look, I’m sorry, alright?’ Lily’s voice was weak, distant, and she regretted snapping at her, however much she deserved it. ‘I hadn’t heard from you in a while.’

‘I know, I know,’ she replied quickly, feeling her own anger fade as she imagined Lily sat in their small room, drumming her fingertips on the table and waiting for the radio to sound, ‘I’m close to the building now, but I haven’t seen anyone yet. You sure you got the co-ordinates right?’

‘Please,’ Lily responds with mock offence, ‘don’t insult me!’ She chuckles and Gabriella stands, the young couple not forgotten but pushed to a deep, dark recess of her mind. There would be a reckoning, she knows, a time when all these things she kills come for her on a still night and the last of her humanity would snap beneath their onslaught. Not now though, she tells herself, when Lily’s safe, when I am safe, I will break.

‘Trumbull really was a beautiful place’, she thinks, sad that it had taken the end of the world for her to notice it. The sun was beginning to gently lower now, the heat of midday weakening a little as the shadows lengthened. The wheat field looks like it is on fire, the orange light of the sun turning the vision into a waving ocean of gold, and the dirt was red with the same light. On her right, two buildings stand, a storage shed and a quaint little farmhouse of white-washed slats and irregularly fitted stone, with a long grey chimney emerging from the roof.

Were it not for the figures she could see amongst the wheat, and the three silhouettes directly ahead of her, she could have sat there for hours, watching the sun crawl across the sky and enjoying the peace. The bodies behind her stank, and she considered burying them, but dismissed the idea. They were gone, all that remained was meat and bone and there would be no sense in wasting what strength she had left, even had she the tools to do so.

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‘Trumbull really was a beautiful place’, she thinks, sad that it had taken the end of the world for her to notice it.

‘We’re not the only survivors around, you know.’ Lily’s voice holds a certainty that Gabriella tried to find hopeful, but she can only hear the plaintiff desperation. ‘There’s a few other groups scattered around the valley.’

She pulls the hat from her head again, and runs fingers speckled with the creatures’ blood through the strands. She enjoys the sun on her face for a few moments more, and could have cried for all they had lost. Then the cap is pulled back with severity, letting the trailing ends of her hair peek out from beneath its elasticised rim, and she walks towards the farmhouse like a soldier, her baton held loosely in one hand to trail by her ankles and her feet loud against the dirt, baked into solidity by the summer sun.

 

State of Decay: Breakdown – A Narrative Experiment!

One of the first video game related things I wrote, a review for a local magazine, was about State of Decay (which you can still read here). I love this game, I’ve loved the DLC (for all that it dragged on a little) and I still play it on a regular basis. It isn’t the story I love, in fact the story is not very good, it won’t win any prizes for either narrative innovation or pacing, but that doesn’t matter. State of Decay is a sandbox, if ever the word was appropriate, and tying to shoehorn in a narrative when the entire game is so dependent on the player’s way of experiencing it can only fail.

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But the game is fun, tense, hard and genuinely enjoyable! I treat it like I do an Elder Scrolls title, where the world is there to be explored and the narrative is only in place to let the player know when they might have finished the thing.

So, I’m using it as the base to try something new, something I’ve wanted to attempt for a long time but have never really been able to either find the time for or find the willpower to finish.

I’m playing the State of Decay: Breakdown DLC, on Steam (which was a recent purchase of mine, I always played on the 360 before), and I’m going to write a story out of it. I already have the first few pieces written, the work of several hours and a lot of screenshots, and I hope the blend of gameplay and narrative will work. Think of it, perhaps, as a machinima without the skill of machinimation (is that a word? It should be!) and more of an excuse of me to play to my strengths (or what I believe are my strengths).

So, the first part will be up later today and I hope you’ll find it enjoyable!

Ramblings On: Total War Rome II – Imperator Augustus

The guys over at Creative Assembly decided to upgrade everyone’s copy of Total War: Rome II (which you can read my review of here!) to the newly released Emperor edition (no doubt as an apology for the horrible state the game devolved into after it was released, with so many bugs that for many day one purchasers it was unplayable, as much as because they seem to care about their community) and in this upgrade came the brand new campaign Imperator Augustus.

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They may have stuck to the way all the currency made him look, but Octavian (Augustus) is one weird-lookin’ dude. Think blonde Marilyn Manson, without the makeup.

As the name suggests, this campaign starts after the death of Julius Caesar at the hands of Brutus, Suetonius and other m     embers of the Senate and during the time of the Second Triumvirate breaking apart, when the Roman Empire was all but split between Octavian (Caesar’s heir until his son Ptolemy Caesarion reached adulthood, which he never did, incidentally) who would later take the title of Augustus, Mark Antony (a General of Caesar’s who took the second post as consul when he crossed the Rubicon) and Lepidus (another of Caesar’s supporters who takes something of a backseat to both Antony and Augustus in the history books).

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Another of Caesar’s lackeys; this one didn’t have the sense of liberty to stab him up on the Ides of March. What? I’m not the only one on team Brutus, am I?
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Yeah, I wouldn’t worry… I’d never heard of him before either.

Obviously, these are the three main factions, but they aren’t the only ones and, in fact, they are the ones which I believe hold the least amount of pleasure in playing as. For all that they are portrayed as the main players on the world stage (and for all that they are, according to history) there is little enjoyment to be found in subjugating weaker enemies and facing those who match your faction’s strength.

There are barbarian tribes, such as the Gallic, now firmly under Roman authority after the failed rebellion of Vercingetorix years before (a man I happen to believe was a great deal more interesting than Caesar but that’s another argument), the Iceni (the British) who are not owned by the Romans but, unless the island can be united they will not have the strength to repel a Roman invasion if, and when, it comes, amongst others.

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Notice how Pompey doesn’t get a cool-looking poster? I guess that treatment is reserved for despicable power-crazy madmen.

I, however, decided not to play as the British for a change and, instead, chose the fourth Roman option. On the island of Sicily, Sextus Pompey, son of Caesar’s old enemy (and head in a jar) Gnaeus Pompey, holds the last hope for a Republican Rome over the Empire any of the other three would desire to create (Augustus in particular).

Once again, the writers of the game have positioned us on the side of Rome, but it is clear they EXPECT Augustus’ faction to be the one everybody clamours to play as, simply because it is the one which eventually took Rome and the semi-civilised world under its control. The cinematic focuses heavily on Augustus and Antony, not even mentioning either Lepidus or Pompey, and it is clearly attempting to paint Augustus as some kind of hero when, in fact, he was a power-hungry disciple of Caesar’s and little else. Antony, in comparison, is shown as some dark warlord illuminated by the fires of a burning city or lounging in an Egyptian palace with no interest in the good of Rome, so caught up is he in his affair with Cleopatra

.There is the usual bias towards Rome, with both the history books and the title of the game making it obvious why, but it is refreshing to see that the bias matters less when there are other Roman factions checking any one’s glorious conquest across the world. It will not be as easy for the player to take over the world now, but it is still a great deal simpler than if one was playing as the Gallic or the Parthians.

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The world is as big as it ever was, but with more cities crammed in and less factions. At least it doesn’t take minutes for the AI’s turns anymore.

In the opening cinematic an advisor tells Octavian (Augustus) that ‘We don’t need more politicians, we need soldiers’ and this is odd in that politics seem to have become a great deal more important than they were in the Grand Campaign. Now it is important to keep other factions on your good side because, when you’re waging war with one of the greater Roman factions, even a small army in the rear can conquer cities whilst you’re forces are busy elsewhere. The added degree of difficulty has added a whole new challenge to a game which I had begun to find a little stale, when I could know that this faction would betray our non-aggression pact when I did this or that.

The politics don’t just end there either, the internal politics of your faction seem to take on a more pronounced threat, with situation arriving with greater expedience than otherwise; every other turn unveils some new political crises the player needs to deal with in order to maintain their political faction’s authority over their own faction. Now general can pick up traits simply from waiting around, laziness and abstinence, swearing and over-drinking all making them less popular the longer they remain in a city and less effective in battle; leaving an army to rot in defence of a city can no mean, not only a wasted force, but eventually a useless general.

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Politics is a bloody, bloody business; be prepared to play dirty against your own faction!

The starting technologies, and buildings in the cities you own, offer a much quicker start than the Grand Campaign. Whereas the player would have to wait several turns before being able to recruit any units which allow legitimate strategy, they can now be recruited almost from the get-go, cavalry, siege weapons and animals all appearing quicker than they did in the Grand Campaign.

In a way, the Free-LC feels like an answer to Rome Total War’s Barbarian Invasion expansion pack, which dealt with the end of the Roman Empire as this does with the end of a Roman Republic and the birth of the Empire.

The gameplay hasn’t changed from the Grand Campaign, but the whole thing feels a little tighter, a little more exciting; like the player has to think on their feet a little more than the slow build up the Grand Campaign offered. Whilst the idiom ‘breathing life into an old game’ could apply here, it isn’t like the game is particularly old, but I certainly felt it required ‘breathing life into’. The other DLC campaigns inspired me not at all, but for some reason Imperator Augustus has me playing again.

I’d definitely recommend revisiting the game, and if you haven’t bought it yet, you should! I still love the game, and Imperator is just another, more exciting, way of experiencing Total War. Fighting off a legion of Romans with a much smaller force is amazing, but managing to win when playing as a barbarian army genuinely feels like an achievement, and I am close to making that little ‘bleep-bloop’ noise every time I repulse those Latin b*stards from my otherwise peaceful little shores.