On January 31st, FullyIllustrated and Darkwind Media released their long-awaited and highly anticipated side-scrolling action-adventure game: WulverBlade. Released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, and the Nintendo Switch, the game has quickly garnered critical and commercial acclaim. The game features challenging combat, a triumphant score, and sharp animation that’s reminiscent of Gennedy Tartovsky’s Samurai Jack. One of the strongest achievements the game has made is the inclusion of real-world Brittania history, dating back as far as the 1st century. This makes Wulverblade not only a solid entertainment experience but also an experience that merges real-world history and information into that experience.
Led by Creative Director Michael Heald, Wulverblade was in development for six years. He and his team, visited, surveyed, studied, and analyzed a variety of sites and environments around britannia. These historical sites have weathered the elements for thousands of years, and beneath their surfaces lies thousands of stories, spanning for hundreds of years. All of this information, about myth and battles was given to the developers. From there, they combined their expertise in game mechanics and art styles to create a sharp-looking game. The result is a fantastic action game, and among the very best that 2018 has to offer.
Wuverblade’s story brings to mind one of the lesser known aspects of game: Educational and historical research. Today, most video games have had real-world research poured into their development processes. From the ballistics of Sniper Elite to to the astro-dynamics of Kebral Space Program, there is a large amount of academic knowledge and research poured into video games.
In the early 1990’s, with the rise of computers in households around the world, there was also a rise of educational computer games. This in turn became widely referred to as “Edutainment.” Titles like Gizmo’s & Gadgets, Star Wars Droid Works, the JumpStart series, and hundreds of other games combined important general education principles to interactive games in an effort to making education interactive. This also included historical, mathematical, and scientific facts that would assist young players in learning educational principals. Wulverblade reminded me of a special occurrences in video games. When development studios go to great lengths to adapt historical realities into games in order to drive authenticity and accuracy. There have been a multitude of prime examples, from World War II shooters to sci-fi action adventures. In reminiscing about this overlooked aspect to games, I selected three to consider.
In 2015, Type: Rider was released. the team at ARTE Experience, took the simple and accessible interface of a platformer and mixed it with gripping and clever gameplay as well as with an extremely rich visual style that blended history and period design.
Type: Rider is a prime example of historical research in games. This is because each level is alive to the period that is set in. Players maneuvered around obstacles, collected secrets, and jumped on platforms made from words in the style of a specific font. The first level dealt with the Gothic Style and era. Here, players saw important pieces history throughout the level. It featured thick inked illustrations and religious-themed lighting. Another level, Clarendon, focused on the clarendon font and featured a Wild West look – with orange and yellow shadings and frontier-inspired illustrations.
Type: Rider blends the mechanics of game design and education extremely well. As someone who studied graphic design, this was an ingenious way of bringing that subject matter into a great teaching utility. I would encourage any professor or teacher of the arts to incorporate Type Rider into the classroom syllabus.
Another example is Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30, which was released by Gearbox and Ubisoft. During the WWII craze, there were different interpretations of the first-person gameplay experience in World War II. Gearbox introduced a more tactical, realistic experience for Brothers In Arms. Compared to Medal of Honor: Frontline, Brothers In Arms was darker and more authentic to the history. It included more detailed samplings of audio and adapting real-life combat tactics to the battlefields that players play on. In the game, players play as Sgt. Baker, embarking on one of the most dangerous airborne missions in military history. On June 5th, 1944, members of the 101st and 82nd Airborne division dropped over France in the dead of night. Their ultimate mission was to disrupt and eliminate German forces to pave the way for the amphibious assaults on June 6th.
The game placed an emphasis on tactical engagements. Players were encouraged to flank the enemy, instead of engaging them head-on. Weapon dynamics, from firearm behavior to round ballistics, were incorporated into the combat – one round could easily kill the player, and using weapons wisely was important. It was not encouraged to simply run and gun, but to strategize. Even using grenades was immensely deadly, as the accurate weight and blast radius were written into the game. The looks of soldiers, as well as the battlefields, were recreated through historical artifacts and on-location research.
The Behind-the-scenes revealed that the development team not only visited the French Countryside, but visited the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, uncovering a rich array of documents which included notes, plans, and maps. Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 was so authentic, The History Channel used the game in a television special that spliced gameplay footage with accounts from veterans of the U.S Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
It is worth noting that historical accuracies and edutainment aren’t just limited to games based on actual happenings, but also adapting legends and folklore into a new work of fiction. Santa Monica’s God of War series reinterpreted Greek mythology into an epic action-packed saga of vengeance. Viscreal Games’ Dante’s Inferno translated the 14th Century divine comedy into a haunting adventure experience. However, one game struck a chord with me for being able to adapt an obscure story from the deepest corners of Chinese mythology.
Enslaved: Odyssey To the West, released in 2010 by independent studio NinjaTheory, who are currently known for the extremely successful release of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, made its way to store shelves, bringing forth a breath-taking dystopic vision of a future where humanity is in the few hundreds, the land roams with war machines, but nature has taken back familiar cities, creating a pristine environment.
Enslaved was inspired by a 16th Century story, called Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en in the Ming Dynasty. The story follows a young man, chosen to travel into the west to recover sacred Buddhist texts. Recovering these text is quintessential to the cultural survival of China. Along the way, the young man encounters several allies, with their own goals and ambitions. The journey to the West is fierce, as they encounter ferocious enemies, including fierce monsters and an evil army. AN abridged translation, Monkey, was made available by author Arthur Waley.
In Enslaved, a lone-wolf, named Monkey (portrayed by Andy Serkis) finds himself in a slave ship, manned by humans under the influence of special helmets. He attempts to break free, but also winds up causing the slave ship to crash. In the ensuing chaos, he meets an incredibly smart woman, Trip. While Trip escapes, Monkey braces for impact. When he is awoken, Trip has place one of the special head units on Monkey, giving him a heads-up display but also activating a biometric dead-man’s trigger. If Trip dies, Monkey dies. The two are forced to work together in order to survive the armies of mechs still hunting humans after 150 years.
The game features many similarities to the legend. Including “Monkey” the name of the protagonist in both the game and the source material. The themes of nature, war, and love intersect throughout the experience, along with an atmosphere of Asian influences, brought on by the soundtrack. The mechs that have been roaming aimlessly for hundreds of years mirror the monsters depicted in the tale. The game’s conclusion, in particular, takes an interesting turn that remains in tune with the original book.
In the end, these and many other games highlight an almost unobserved aspect of video games: that games can be very much a scientific or historical undertaking. This aspect allowse players to participate and immerse themselves within the history. When gaming and history is combined, it can create an extraordinary powerful teaching utility that can offer insight to subject matter that lectures cannot replication. The next time you are hacking away at Romans or shooting Germans from yards away, take a moment to think that you may just be doing your homework.