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Where’s my Gettysburg?

February 20th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

There was a time not so long ago when games based on the American Civil War were everywhere you looked. A lot of the Battleground games were set in the Civil War (the rest were Napoleonic) and probably half of the early wargames were set in the great confict that has defined American history.

Lately, though, the Civil War has fallen off the radar of game designers. You can point to Sid Meier’s civil war games as the last great games based on the war. Gods and Generals, a terrible game based on the boring movie of the same name, was probably the last high profile game connected to it.

Why the decline in civil war games? It can’t be because there is no interest in it. Civil war books and TV documentaries are still very popular and I doubt any war is as consistently re-enacted. You can’t argue that there is no more room to mine this particular war for ideas, since that hasn’t stopped anyone from making games based on World War II, an equally familiar and eternally popular war.

Who knows what sparks trends. The explosion of games based on ancient history can be tied to the success of the movie Gladiator and the commercial triumph of Age of Empires, one of the biggest hits of all time. Similarly, WWII became a more popular subject for gaming after the visceral Saving Private Ryan. The civil war hasn’t been in the pop culture radar for a while, even though people still find it fascinating.

In an industry where the success of Grand Theft Auto is interpreted to mean that people want more driving games and the sales of World of Warcraft will be used to justify yet another high fantasy MMOG, the lack of a single recent civil war hit game only retards the desire of game designers to make Sim Chancellorsville or Battlefield: Vicksburg.

Fortunately, MadMinute Games is trying to rectify this with Bull Run: Take Command 1861. This game will probably fly under a lot of people’s radar because it has the History Channel logo on it. So, gamers will just see it as your typical edutainment game with no staying power. The fact that it is being priced as a budget title will do more to limit its appeal to hardcore gamers, most of whom see price and quality as being perfectly correlated. (I’m not denying that most budget titles are average or below average games, but you will find your share of gems.)

I haven’t had a chance to try Bull Run yet. I saw an early build at last year’s GDC and it looked almost finished, though I had serious reservations about the interface. Hopefully this will be the first of many more wargames based on the period.


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