Roman Prosperity & Caesar IV

nb. I found this post lurking in a dark nether region of my wordpress dashboard, and it appears I never published it. So here it is!

Having spent a great deal of time in my thesis pondering the mysteries of Roman economics, it is curious to see how a city-builder game like Caesar IV demands many of the same skills – working with cost ratios, determining how much of a particular resource certain kinds of activities consume, distance & profit calculations – see for instance the discussion here and the tables here. Then go and study something like The Baths of Caracalla by Janet DeLaine. It is all strangely similar. I would have done better to have spent a few months playing the game and then looking at my copy of Finley or Hopkins. I’m not saying that the assumptions that underlie the game mechanics are analogous to the actual workings of the Roman economy; I’m saying that the game foregrounds the interconnectedness of production, consumption, taxes and society. I am constantly running out of money & resources as I play the game, which brings a whole new appreciation to the problems of monetary flow in the Roman world.

Report on the Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age Conference, Trondeheim, Norway

From Andrew Reinhard, a report on the recent short conference detailing the nascent Classicists-discover-computer-games movement:

A revolution is happening now and the flashpoint is Scandinavia. Both Sweden and Norway have fought and won to keep Classics as a vital and viable subject of study at the secondary school and university level. Activist bloggers like Moa Ekbom in Sweden (see her Latinblogg), and activist students like Magnus Eriksson in Norway have been responsible for rescuing canceled Classics programs while at the same time finding ways to resuscitate Classics, promoting and publicizing both Latin and Greek as important for contemporary audiences, not just relating to scholarship, but also to popular culture, stripping the stigma of elitism from Classics and proving that Classical Studies is indeed essential for anyone.

The Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age conference was organized by Classics professors Thea Selliaas Thorsen and Staffan Wahlgren, both of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology just outside of Trondheim, Norway. The first of its kind, this conference sought to survey Classics in computer games and virtual worlds as presented by fifteen speakers from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Full report here. I note one of the games mentioned is Caesar IV, which I’ve written about a number of times on this blog. Another series of blog posts from the conference floor live here. I look forward to future iterations of this conference, and hope they come to this side of the pond so I stand a chance of attending.

Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age

If you’re going to be anywhere near Trondheim in the next while, you might want to take in ‘Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age‘. If you go, steal all the handouts & powerpoints you can, and send them to me…

I’ve had the pleasure of correspondence with some of the presenters, so I know it’ll be a stimulating programme; I note that Caesar IV is under discussion too – I play way too much of that game… I have mused elsewhere on its possibilities as a counterfactual approach to Roman economics. Ah to be in Trondheim in February…

Programme:

FRIDAY 20th – SATURDAY 21st of February at Campus Dragvoll, Trondheim, Norway

Friday:

Auditorium DL33 (’Låven’)

10-10.20 Welcome address and introduction by Dean Kathrine Skretting and Staffan Wahlgren

Session 1: Chair: Marek Kretschmer

10.20-11.00 Martin Dinter, (King’s College London, Classics): ‘Ludological Approaches to Virtual Gaming’

11.00-11.40 Frank Furtwängler, (Universität Konstanz, Media): ‘”God of War” and the Mythology of New Media’

11.40-12.00 Coffee break

12.00-12.40 Stephen Kidd, (New York University, Classics): ‘Herodotus and the New Historiography of Virtual Gaming’

12.40-13.20 Dunstan Lowe, (Reading University, Classics): ‘Always Already Ancient. Ruins in the Virtual World’

13.40-14.20 Lunch

Session 2: Chair: Jan Frode Hatlen

14.20-15.30 Richard Beacham, (King’s College London, School of Theatre Studies) and Hugh Denard, (King’s College London, Computing in the Humanities): ‘Observations on Staging the Ludi Virtuales’

15.30-16.10 Thea Selliaas Thorsen, (NTNU, Classics): ‘Virtually There? Women in Ovid, Tatian and the 3D Theatre of Pompey’

16.10-16.30 Coffee break

16.30-17.10 Gian Paolo Castelli, (Rome, Classics): ‘The Emperor’s Seal. On Producing a Roman Computer Game’

17.10-17.50 Adam Lindhagen, (University of Lund, Archaeology): ‘Constructing and Governing a Province – between Fact and Fiction in Caesar IV’

20.00 Dinner

Saturday:

Auditorium D3

Session 3: Chair: Thea Selliaas Thorsen

10.00-10.40 Andrew Gardner, (University College London, Archaeology): ‘Entertainment and Empire. A Critical Engagement with Roman Themed Strategy Games’

10.40-11.20 Leif Inge Petersen, (NTNU, History): ‘Siege Warfare in Computer Games. Problems and Possibilities’

11.20-11.40 Coffee break

11.40-12.20 Kristine Ask, (NTNU, Technological Studies): ‘Technology in Games and Games of Technology’

12.20-13.00 Jan Frode Hatlen, (NTNU, History): ‘Students of Rome: Total War. A Socio-Educational Approach’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Session 4: Chair: Staffan Wahlgren

14.00-15.00 Daniel Jung, (University of Bergen, Computing in the Humanities) and Barbara McManus, (The College of New Rochelle, NY, Classics): ‘Latina Ludens. Educational Gaming in VRoma’

15.00-15.40 Andrew Reinhard, (Bolchazy-Carducci, eLearning, USA): ‘eLearning Latin’

15.40 ConcLVSIOns (Thea Sellias Thorsen)

17.00 Guided Tour of the City Centre

Forum Novum: a market in the Sabine Hills – scenario for Caesar IV

This is my first attempt at a scenario for Caesar IV. It is based, loosely, on the site of Forum Novum in the Sabine Hills north of Rome. What I have always found fascinating about this site is the way it didn’t develop into what we would recognise as a ‘town’, per se.forum-novum-08-02-25-21-26-33.jpg

A student playing this scenario as part of a class on Roman urbanism would try to reach the ‘winning conditions’, but would be encouraged to look at the underlying assumptions the game makes about social, civil, economic, and religious life. Specifically, by using the game as a kind of Roman socio-economics simulation engine, the student is forced through game play to confront the Roman economy…

It’s late right now, so I’ll write more about how the game would be used in a class, and what playing it might teach. In the meanwhile, you can download the scenario here into your ‘data’ -> ‘scenarios’ folder for Caesar IV. No doubt there are bugs and other problems that need to be worked out, so let me know how you get on…

(by the way – the game puts an ‘apron’ around the scenario for aesthetics… but the one I chose doesn’t really fit, as you can see when you follow the Aia river by the town towards the edges… the painting tool in the scenario editor is absolutely abysmal!)

  • postscript: I discovered that my scenario had a bug in it that caused catastrophic crashing of the game. So I’m rejigging it, and I’ve posted over at Titled Mill Forums asking for help… which I duly received. The ‘production version’ is available here, as will be any future updates.

FYI – Caesar IV tutorial

A tutorial covering just about everything related to scenario building in Caesar IV may be found here.

My ambition is to create a Forum Novum scenario, with as close as an approximation to real Roman economic realities built in as possible…

postscript: A small program for checking your scenario for errors is available from this thread (scroll down). It checks for the following:

“When you load a scenario, it will check for these things:

- factories that are missing raw materials
– missing natural resources such as clay pits and iron mines
– resources that are available but can never be used
– resources that can be exported but are not available
– requests for unavailable goods
– scenario goals that cannot be achieved, including building and resource goals, and prosperity and culture rating goals

It will attempt to load the XML file and check some more things:
– missing keys for empire level cities, requests and goals
– wrong values for rating goals

In addition to this, it will show you:
– Maximum level that housing can attain (housing tab)
– The number of available foods and basic/luxury/exotic goods (housing tab)
– A list of all used resources, including their total import/export amounts and trade prices (resources tab)
– A list of trade cities with what they buy and sell, including the route type (water/land), cost to open, and their ID in the scenario (handy for writing the XML file) (trade routes tab)”

Handy, that!

On Caesar IV and the Ancient Economy

Having spent a great deal of time in my thesis pondering (amongst other things) the mysteries of Roman economics, it is curious to see how a city-builder game like Caesar IV demands many of the same skills – working with cost ratios, determining how much of a particular resource certain kinds of activities consume, distance & profit calculations – see for instance the discussion here and the tables here. Then go and study something like The Baths of Caracalla by Janet DeLaine. It is all strangely similar. I would have done better to have spent a few months playing the game and then looking at my copy of Finley or Hopkins. I’m not saying that the assumptions that underlie the game mechanics are analogous to the actual workings of the Roman economy; I’m saying that the game foregrounds the interconnectedness of production, consumption, taxes and society, which in my opinion is extremely important when working with the archaeology.

Imagine a seminar on the ancient economy where the aim is to mod Caesar IV (or similar) to reflect the latest thinking on the ancient economy, and then playing it out… I am constantly running out of money & resources as I play the game, which brings a whole new appreciation to the problems of monetary supply…

Caesar IV and the Empire Online

I’ve enjoyed playing Caesar IV, a Roman city-building game. I’ve always gotten a kick out of city builders, ever since playing the first Sim-City on my brother’s 286 in college. Having read Bogost’s ‘Persuasive Games’, I’ve been wondering about the procedural rhetoric of the game, its anachronisms v. its historicity , etc. I’ll probably post something to that effect, eventually.

I haven’t played the online version of the game yet, and today I came across the website for the online game. It’s quite interesting in that, for once, there is no MMO, no MMORPG… it seems in fact to be a series of challenges and downloadable scenarios. Play the scenario, upload your results, voila, bragging rights. There’s an ‘empire’ mode too, where you end up creating your own little province… and again, you get bragging rights depending on how large your population is, what kinds of structures you’ve built, how your economy is going, etc… Stats from the website: 4,109 cities by 1,742 governors. 17,021,836 population. 87,761,505 denarii. 32076 years, 7 months played (Clearly, time flows differently within the game). The site keeps track of who had updated which province, and what exactly they’ve done there.

What is neat is that new scenarios get added all the time, extending the game for you (the in-game editor looks like it needs an enormous manual to explain… which it doesn’t have, of course). What is particularly good is that all of this gets tied into some basic social networking type stuff, forums, and so on… so a game, that has quiet a lot of historical drapery on it, could become the locus for *real* historical discussion. A learning-through-doing situation. I wish I was better at the game though. I can only get through the first two scenarios.