Souvik's Waterloo

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Waterloo, November 2010

Yesterday, I finally managed to beat Wellington and Bluecher’s combined armies near this little Belgian village called Waterloo. This happened on my third attempt when I finally decided to play on the easy skill level. Yes, I’ve bought Napoleon: Total War after reading all those rave reviews that dub it the best strategy game ever and although I haven’t gone very far with the campaigns, I’ve played all the historical battles that are available in the game. Waterloo, obviously is one of the most signficant. The historical battles begin with you playing as the British at Waterloo and end by putting you in the same battlefield as the French - talk about complex and nonlinear histories. Of that, however, another time. Here, I’m more concerned with strategy and with describing how I led Napoleon’s army to victory.

That's the man!

In the real battle of Waterloo, the British under the Duke of Wellington were facing Napoleon himself near Waterloo, an area that the Duke had visited and remembered from the previous year. The British army was actually a very mixed group of soldiers with many Dutch and Prussian units. They were stationed at a strategically advantageous position behind a ridge with only a fraction of their main strength exposed to Napoleon. Further, below the ridge lay three villages which they occupied: Papellotte on the left, Huguemont on the right and Le Hayes Sainte in the centre. The French forces were on lower ground within striking distance of the villages and with superior artillery. They had lost some vital time in beginning the attack on account of the ground being too muddy for the artillery to move. Wellington and Napoleon had never faced each other. The only way for the French to win was to defeat Wellington before his Prussian allies under Bluecher arrived to reinforce him. The Prussians did arrive in time and Napoleon suffered a devastating defeat after which he was exiled to St. Helena.

In Napoleon, the number of forces on each side are much less than in the actual battle. Nevertheless, the units that participate in the battle are all historical units and their placement on the battlefield is more or less accurate. The events, however, might be quite different because they depend on how you play the game. The battle is hard, very hard indeed. Quite uncannily you end up doing what Napoleon did in the actual battle and suffer the same consequences. I’ve watched Waterloo, the movie, countless times and read the battle plans as many times. Many a time had I thought that if I had a chance, I’d do it all differently. However, this didn’t quite work out in Napoleon and except on the easiest level, my troops were decimated to a man.

Waterloo: Battle Map in
Napoleon Total War

Even though I say so myself, I’m no mean armchair general. I’ve conquered the other Total War games with relative ease, even at the hardest levels. Napoleon, however, is way too hard. The AI is quite good and the game cheats a bit and starts you off with unfair handicaps. The three farmhouses are virtually indestructible and after a constant barrage of 12-pounder fire on them  for over an hour (game time), I was only able to cause 3% damage to Papellotte. Wellington’s troops have incredible high morale whereas even Napoleon’s Guard show their backs much more easily. Finally, Napoleon’s famed artillery is hardly present on the field. In Waterloo, Christopher Plummer (as Wellington) is heard saying that Napoleon moves his cannon as if they were pistols. In the game, Napoleon hardly has any cannon to move and those that he has are under sustained artillery attack seconds after the game starts. God, how I missed my 24-pounder howitzers from Empire: Total War.

The battle, however, was too big a challenge to resist - fighting in Waterloo against the heaviest odds which, as many forums testify, have beaten many good gamers was sheer glory. After the initial battle scene was revealed through a cutscene, the enemy cannon started blowing holes in the ranks of my fusiliers. Haste was required and I found myself frantically moving all my units save two corps of the Old Guard and Napoleon’s bodyguard. All this while, my stationed artillery fired at the British cannon, if only to draw fire away from my infantry units. Then, the siege of Papellotte began. Unlike Napoleon, I did not choose to tease the British at their strongest position and I did not tempt them out of the ridges that provided them with cover. I had attacked the British left, skirting around a hill towards Papellotte with the mass of my units and leaving two units of fusiliers to attack the farmhouse and one to wait as reserve.

The jaegers in Papellotte were overthrown after some initially effective resistance. The farmhouse in French hands,  my reserve fusiliers moved in to provide the extra support against any troops that might emerge from hiding (from previous gameplay, I knew that there was a detachment of Rifles concealed nearby).

Battle Plan for Waterloo in my gameplay of
Napoleon: Total War

As soon as I reached the far side of the hill near Papellotte, the Prussian army began to pour in. Marshal Grouchy who was sent to pursue them had clearly been as unsuccessful in the game as he was in the historical battle. I could almost hear Napoleon sighing, ‘Grouchy, Grouchy! How he tries my patience!’. Anyway, you don’t need to be a Bonaparte to get upset with incompetent colleagues. Seeing the Prussian move closer, I had my cannon unlimber and spray his front ranks with canister fire while my lancer cavalry dug into his rearguard which was already being harried by my grenadiers and fusiliers. The Prussian cavalry had by now come within range of my fusiliers who quickly formed squares to repel cavalry charges. Encouraged , and at the same time, not knowing what else to do I threw in my cuirassiers and Marshal Ney’s cavalry into the melee. My cavalry was, alas, destroyed to a man but by God, they managed to break the Prussians. Bluecher, their general, was dead and their artillery was being cut to pieces by my Chasseurs Cheval horsemen whom I had moved into this sector. The game AI here was quite spectacular in its stupidity. The British troops stood still and watched while I destroyed their allies. The Prussians destroyed, I had over four infantry divisions and the mounted Chasseurs to attack Wellington’s left flank with. Even more importantly, I had my horse artillery up on the mountain with Wellington’s flank at my mercy. Soon the Earl of Uxbridge’s horseman were scattered by volleys from my cannon. The dragoons and the Duke’s cavalry who charged to save their dying comrades were sliced to pieces by my fusiliers in square formation. Soon the British commanders were dead and my troops were proceeding to roll up the British lines like a carpet.

That, however, was not to happen too easily: the Black Watch intervened. Masses of these Scottish soldiers attacked me in waves, their red uniforms soaking up their blood but still their morale held and constant fire from two sides, canister fire from my artillery and two abortive cavalry charges could not break them. I had to throw my fresh division of the Young  Guard against them as my other two divisions routed. The Black Watch was beaten at last but as the last tartan uniforms were edging away to retreat, they created time for waves of British infantry to move into position and harass my Young Guard. An advancing column of Rifles (anyone familiar with Sean Bean from Sharpe’s Rifles ?) was  held back by my fusiliers in the Papellotte farmhouse. Time to send in the Old Guard.

The British finally attacked my left flank. Jaeger and Riflemen (remember Sharpe’s Rifles) attached my only Fusilier Regiment that remained intact  - firing at will, they almost broke my ranks. The Old Guard had just started marching and one Corps was despatched to destroy the British light infantry. The Jaegers and Riflemen dissolved into the forest whence they had emerged. This time, however, they didn’t retreat in order: they routed.  

I don't like St. 'Elena: going home after victory

My reserve was now poised towards attacking the British flank and my artillery kept firing ceaselessly. The Young Guard had held and the Fusiliers from Papellotte had given them some support. It was now the turn of the Old to replace the Young. Two companies of my elite Old Guard broke the British flank. I could now send Napoleon’s bodyguard to mop up the rear of the routing British and Dutch. They offered to surrender and I accepted. My men were exhausted and I couldn’t pursue. Shifting the camera further above the battlefield I actually saw the British soldiers running away - little red squares scattered on the mini-map while the blue squares representing my remaining army in a close formation on Wellington’s chosen hillock.

That’s how the Battle of Waterloo was won by Napoleon … by me.

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GameCity in Retrospect: Polemics and Playgrounds

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It's been a week since GameCity and I'm finally able to collect my thoughts on the event after getting through an extremely busy week. This is not a report but a few reflections on what impressed me most and what didn't.

Newport and Narratives

Once again, on the top of the list will be my conversations with the academics and students from the Uni of Newport's game design department. For the last three years, busloads of students from Newport have come to GameCity and this time they showcased their games to hundreds of visitors. I didn't get to see the games themselves but managed to chat with some of the designers (now famous as  Angry Mango Games) over a curry lunch. They are designing games about concepts that are offbeat in game design terms: Mush is a platform puzzler for Windows Mobile 7 where the player controls an orange fluffy character by tilting the phone. Even more unique is that by drawing a smiley or a sad face on the screen with your fingers makes the creature move. As the Blitz1UP website describes it:

The beauty of this system is that you really feel like you're affecting the little guy's emotions as you play, you find yourself smiling when you make him smile and growling when you make him angry - it really is fantastic fun.
I think I'll love this game. Obviously, in terms of narrative the experience is rather ambiguous but as I've always said narrative is experiential and how we construct it around a series of potential events depends on us. I wish I could experience the game first-hand but meanwhile there's a video of the gameplay on Youtube:

From the pupils to their lecturers: the previous evening I met up with the Newport teaching team, namely Corrado, James and Richard. This was the first ever occasion when I had a very serious discussion on videogame narratives in a Wetherspoons . Facing tremendous opposition from each other in a debate between James and myself that was moderated by Corrado and Richard, we came to an agreement about the need to redefine / understand what narrative means and to move towards an experiential model of narrative. Perception, affection and action - does that sound familiar at all (check Deleuze in Cinema 1)? The experiential notion of narrativity (if such a word exists) is something that I have highlighted extensively in my research and of course, it is sooo hard to disagree with a polite person like me. Anyway, Corrado has played STALKER (or valiantly tried to) and we both remembered having discussed the gameplay in relation to ludic agency about a year ago at DiGRA. We were dangerously close to another polemical discussion of agency when both the food and the drink had run out and it was time to leave.


I've written about Keita Takahashi sometime ago. For those who don't know him, he's the designer for the ever popular Katamari Damarcy and Noby Noby Boy games. Very offbeat, very artistic and not at all like videogames as they are commonly understood.

Anyway, Keita's dream is to design playgrounds. And thanks to Iain Simons (GameCity Director) and the Nottingham City Council, he's re-designing Woodthorpe Park on the outskirts of Nottingham. As Keita demonstrated his transition from designing virtual worlds to physical spaces while retaining all the creativity, the talk on Keita's playground became for me the highlight of GameCity. Imagine having benches in parks that move on rails (which means you can't ask your gf to meet you at a certain bench at a certain time), a doughnut-shaped slide that lets you slide eternally (might sound like a punishment invented by the Greek gods but it seemed to be fun as it was described), a swing that is  operated in a partnership with people on other swings and finally,  a slide combined with a see-saw.  Some of Keita's concepts might not pass muster with health and safety but I must say these are some of the wackiest ideas that I have ever come across for parks and playgrounds. It was interesting to see some very gamey creativity translated into more tangible play experiences. I wish Keita and the Woodthorpe Park project the very best. Finally, if he ever designs an entire city, I will go and live in it.

One of the many fun things in Keita Takahashi's playground

Networking Not working

The 'Notworking' event where I met the Newport guys among others was supposed to be a networking space for game professionals. Hosted in a hard-to-find bar called Nihon the not working title was quite apt for it. Nevertheless, the nature of the event meant that that despite the lack of any 'event' as such people did get to meet and chat so it turned out okay, I suppose.

Romantic Encounters

After a full 8.30 to 5 Thursday, I was in no mood for any encounter however romantic but curiosity got the better of me and I went to check out the only GameCity event by an NTU student. Doing her PhD on interactive media, Rebecca from the College of Art & Design organised a virtual meeting place within its real counterpart in Lee Rosy's Cafe in Nottingham.  I was allowed to talk to some of the participants in the 'romantic encounter' to find out what they thought of the event. The environment looked very Second Life -ish ... it probably was an SL scenario. The event had participants adopt fictitious personae and interact with each other in the cafe in a sort of group chat. While initially interested, some of the participants I interviewed seemed to have been tired towards the end --- the need for virtual seats was strongly felt. Also people wanted to sit down in pairs and talk to their partners instead of talking to everyone in the cafe. Finally, there were some clamours for more freedom - people wanted to touch things, order coffee etc. Personally, although I've seen this done before in other places but such 'encounters' between the real and virtual worlds are always intriguing in the variety of responses that one can get.

What I missed ...

I missed a lot, sadly. My one big gripe against the festival is that it does not think of people who have to do a day job but are also interested in videogames. So what did I miss? I missed a great event on the soundtrack of Limbo, another one on the music for the forthcoming Harry Potter game, a very popular demo event for the Kinect and let's see ... yes, Jonathan Blow on game design. Quite a lot of misses  considering that this might well be my last GameCity.

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