Friday, March 31, 2006

Top 5 Console RPGs of all time

I was thinking the other day about how almost every game I play these days seems to be a mix of elements from Everquest and Diablo. Just stir. With that in mind, I thought I thought Id look at the best Console RPGs of all time as I see it.
  1. Final Fantasy X: The grandaddy of them all, FF X took the greatest fantasy series of the original Playstation and gave it even more graphical heft. In fact, having gone back and played the game again in preparing this list, the graphics still took my breath away. If you turned on your TV and saw some of the cut scenes there, you would think you were watching top-notch animation. Its that good. Its better than most Saturday morning cartoons by far.
  2. Dragon Quest VIII: The first of the DQ series to appear in America for the PS2, DQ VIII presents a fascinating world, four interesting characters and as wide an array of adventures and side quests as FFX. Just for the sheer value and production value of the game its worth an entry, taking about 100 hours to complete a full game (assuming you let yourself get sucked into those sidequests).
  3. Shining Force II: Going verrrry retro here. This is the game I keep my Sega Genesis around to play. Its that good. With numerous party members to choose from, each with their own advantages, this game combines the RPG elements with the strategy elements in a mix that is still, despite the lack of modern graphics, an enjoyable way to pass an evening or three.
  4. Final Fantasy VII: This is the game that revolutionized consol RPGs. The graphics are still first rate, especially the backgrounds to the various locations you visit, which are just gorgeous. This title marked a departure from previous Final Fantasy games with more elaborate cut scenes. These will continue to grow and evolve to the point that FFX will actually contain mini-movies, especially for the introduction and end sequences of games. Some don't like it but it gives a proper set-up to the stories of these games. About the only drawback imposed on FFVII and FFVIII by the technological limitations of the original Playstation are that these are multi-disc games. Still worth a spin.
  5. Champions of Norrath: This game took the gorgeous look and Diablo-esque gameplay of the too-short Dark Alliance and added a lot more to do while exploring the world of Norrath, where the Everquest MMORPG is set. Instead of the meagre 10-15 hours that a game of Dark Alliance could take, here you're looking at closer to 50, making this a much better, deeper play experience.
This list is, of course a function of my personal tastes.

The Square Enix Kingdom Hearts I and II RPGs are both worthy of inclusion in this list in terms of game play, length, graphics and story. But adventuring side by side with Donald and Goofy in worlds drawn from both the Final Fantasy series and various Disney movies isn't really my cup of tea. If its yours, then Id recommend those games as well, since the bleary eyes of my family attest to how good and addictive they can be.

Next time we'll look at Computer RPGs


Thursday, March 30, 2006

When dinosaurs die: my feelings on the State of the Industry

So Gareth, who owns Adamant entertainment has posted his thoughts on the state of the RPG industry here.

Well worth a read, if you're willing to listen, which most gamers unfortunately are not. One replied on the ENW boards "I'll believe it when I see it".

In other words, until a company HE patronizes goes under or HIS local game store closes, everything is fine.

Since he probably buys from WOTC and Green Ronin, everything will be fine. Forever. No matter what.

Now for my thoughts. First, I agree with most everything Gareth said, go read that.

But, and this is a big but... I don't see it as necessarily a bad thing. Right now RPG companies supporting the traditional distribution model are seeing that model die out from under them.

And in my best Kirk voice I say "Let them die".

Right now a small industry is supporting two larger ones. The inverted pyramid is toppling. As companies move to pull themselves free from the current model, companies like Hero and Green Ronin who are now focusing on selling direct to consumers via the web and Amazon, the die off is accelerating.

RPG companies are the rats, living in the jungle off insects in the shadow of giants.

I think, when the extinction event (as Gareth called it) is over, we might be able to become the humans.

Heck Id settle for being a giant ground sloth myself.


Blood and Time

Since some people have asked, let me give you a bare bones skinny on what the book is:
  • Its a timeline of the world from its formation through the year 1900
  • Its got weapons and armor lists for PL 0-4
  • Its got classes and a campaign model for would-be time travelers.
Should be fun and hopefully you think so too ;)


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

First Glimpse

Here's a first look at the cover for the book I've been working on for the past two months (longer than any book I've ever written actually).

Just remember, you saw it here first ;)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

DVD review: Zatoichi

I placed this in my netflix queue on a lark. A blind swordsman/masseuse traveling in medieval Japan and writing wrongs couldn't be THAT right?

Turns out it was pretty good.

In the grand tradition of Yojimbo, Zatoichi comes to a town where two gangs of gamblers are preparing for a war. He is accepted as a guest by one of these clans' leaders because of his reputation as a swordsman.

While fishing, Zatoichi meets the "hired gun" brought in by the other clan of gamblers, a Samurai dying of consumption (insert your favorite Val Kilmer line here- me I'm going with "I'm as right as the mail").

The two men respect each other and both try to stay out of the fight, knowing each has been brought in to kill the other.

Of course it doesnt end that way and in the end Zatoichi kills the sick samurai, letting him die with his boots on.

A great film if you like Samurai films and dont mind subtitles. Little light on the action but a well made movie.


If I could turn back time...

I recently posted a question to the boards at ENW about what you'd do if you were a time traveler.
Since I've been thinking about it again, I'll post mine.

1. Battle of Kadesh: 1274 BCE. Largest chariot battle in history. 5,000 chariots and 9,000 foot soldiers. Of course, with 5,000 chariots in the desert, seeing what was going on would be the hard part, but it couldn't be any more confusing than watching hockey on TV.

Id take at least three trips involving the theater, my largest artistic passion. In Chronological order those would be:

2. Attend the Greater Dionysia, the dramatic festival of the ancient Greeks. If I timed it right I could see plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides performed in one sitting. I'd also get to see a Satyr play. We have one fragment of one of these plays surviving although they were performed every year (meaning there were hundreds of them written).

Maybe I'd write a paper when I got back. Or sacrifice a pig and carry a phalloi (baton shaped like a penis) to honor Dionysus. Its hard to pick just one of those celebratory options.

3. Attend a Mystery Play. These were the passion plays, the plays about biblical events that signal the first rebirth of drama since the fall of the Roman empire. While we have about 100 of these plays extant in written form, there's still a lot of doubt about how they were performed and it would be fascinating to see one in the round.

4. Elizabethan theater tour. Coulnd't just see one play here. It would have to be a long trip. Maybe a few years. Id have to see a bunch of Shakespeare, at least a few Marlowe, a Ben Jonson or two, some Fletcher and Beaumont (great comedic playwrights of the age) as well as at least two John Webster plays (Duchess of Malfi and the White Devil).

Oh and Fletcher's collaborations with Shakespeare too. Like I said, long trip.

5. Gettysburgh Address. Of course we've all read it, but hearing this great orator deliver his greatest speech would be something.

6. See/meet the "real Homer" if there was one. Barring that, hear a wandering poet sing the Iliad in his native Greek.

That's my list. Pretty lame huh. No atomic bomb droppings or military carnage (except for that first one I guess).

What can I say, Im a lover not a fighter.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Who will be Wonder Woman?

When I heard Joss Whedon won the "consolation" prize in the Batman Begins sweepstakes, I suddenly realized that "consolation" sometimes means you have to share the Powerball with 20 co-workers. Not as good as winning the whole enchilada, but you're still rich.

See, it came right down to the wire for Batman Begins. There were two finalists. One was Chris Nolan's big budget storyline but a second, equally intriguing prospect came from Joss Whedon, a director and writer that Warner Bros were familiar with thanks to the Buffy and Angel shows that had made them so much money on the WB.

Joss' idea (also an origin story since Warner Bros had by that time let it be known they wanted an origin story to reboot the Franchise) was a low budget, gritty, film noir-ish title.

Warner ultimately decided on the larger budget car-chase extravaganza but were so intrigued by Joss from his pitch (and again I find it hard to believe allllll that black ink from Buffy and Angel don't enter into the picture at this point) that they make him a counter offer.

Wonder Woman.

Well, according to Joss' recent statements, the script should now be about done.

Which means he's now looking for that special someone to be Wonder Woman. Not an easy task.

Not that Joss has offered me a consulting contract or anything, to my mind there are two solid choices.

Monica Bellucci, last seen in Matrix II and III and in the Passion of the Christ.

And Gina Torres, of Firefly and Serenity fame.

Both these women possess strength, acting chops, dignity, beauty and a certain mediterranean aura. All essential to WW.

Of course you know what else would rock...

A show about these guys, set either at a seedy hotel where they play mavericks fighting the forces of evil by their own rules, or within an incredibly posh law firm owned by demons trying to sway them over to the dark side.

Yes, someone should definitely make a show about that.

Oh wait... stupid network executives.

Shows Id watch

A show about these guys. Even just Spike and Dru, but with Angel and Darla on board for the brooding with Spike and Dru- how could that show not be good.

Movie review: Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-rabbit

I'm not a huge W&G fan. A lot of their shorts are impressive from a technical standpoint but they just aren't funny.

Still, when a friend rents something, you're gonna watch it right? I mean, what else do you have to do on a Saturday night.

And I have to say, this movie delivered. Very funny, a lot of bad puns, a surprising number of laugh out loud moments for me.

Remembering that I am not a fan of this, my recommendation would be if you are a fan that you see it immediately if you haven't already. If you aren't normally a fan or aren't familiar with the W&G movies then I'd still recommend you check this one out, because its the most entertaining film I've seen from them.


Conversations with Hannibal Part 6: Spanish campaigns

Last time we looked at the battle of Cannae in which Hannibal decisively defeated a Roman force of far greater size than his own. Although Hannibal began to get some defections of city-states from the south of Italy (his plan was to break up the Roman hegemony in Italy) and Phillip V of Macedon signed a treaty with Carthage, the war was far from decided.

The city states that had defected were not vital. The core of the Roman power base over the various ethnic groups that composed the Italian peninsula was still intact.

In part this attests to the fighting spirit and indomitable will of the Roman people. Having killed over 125,000 Roman soldiers in two years, Hannibal probably expected peace offers to begin coming from politicians. Hannibal could not even receive ransom for Roman prisoners, even those of noble birth.

Though bloody, the Romans remained unbowed.

That said, the Romans did adopt a new strategy in their dealings with Hannibal. And by new, I mean old. In Part 3 we discussed how unpopular the policy of Dictator Fabius Maximus was with the Senate. In brief his plan was shadow the Carthaginians, harrass them while avoiding contact with the powerful army.

Following Cannae this policy, which had succeeded in preventing Hannibal from inflicting any serious damage was adopted once again. The Romans were finally willing to put their pride aside and recognize that patience was the greatest weapon in their arsenal when faced with an army in desperate need of supply so far from home.

Having beaten the Romans three times on their own soil, Hannibal would never again be challenged there.

However, any hopes that Hannibal's mercenary army would vanish out from under him, defecting into the night from a lack of food or the sheer lonliness of missing their loved ones, or rise up and mutiny in the face of a lack of promised payment, proved a severe test to the new Roman patience.

Hannibal, loved by his men, kept his forces together and supplied for a further 13 years in Italy.

But to the Fabian policy, a new tactic was added. While Hannibal was kept in check in Italy, Roman armies went out into Punic-controlled Spain, destroying Carthaginian holdings in an attempt to remove all possible support or reinforcement from reaching Hannibal.

Carthaginian island holdings in the Mediterranean, especially Sicily were also attacked. In other words, in the face of a (for the moment) unbeatable army led by Hannibal, the Romans adapted and began to employ what a modern tactician would recognize as a theater-wide assault on the entire Carthaginian infrastructure.

The slow, patient chipping away of Carthaginian holdings throughout Europe and the Mediterranean would have been recognizable to the authors of the European bombing campaigns in WWII.

The commander of the Carthaginian forces in Spain was Hannibal's brother, Hasdrubal Barca. Despite commanding his forces ably he was slowly pushed back. He lost Saguntum, then Capua and then Syracuse.

Let's take an aside here to point out that capturing Syracuse was the result of a two-year seige made famous by the defensive seige engines designed by the brilliant mathmatician Archimedes. Roman strategists considered capturing this genius one of their ket strategic goals when they took the city but he was tragically killed as the city was taken.

Although he won many victories, Hasdrubal was slowly losing ground to the Romans. During one of his victories, he killed both the Roman commanders on the ground, Publius and Gnaeus Scipio.

Although he was too young to technically be placed in command of a Roman army, Publius Scipio's son and namesake was given command of the Roman armies in Spain after vowing to avenge his father.

Scipio proved an excellent commander as well as one who was not afraid to engage the enemy. His first target in Spain was the Carthaginian capital, Carthago Nova, a well-defended seaport in the south of Spain that is today known as Cartagena. Upon losing his main port and most powerful city (indeed Carthago Nova was one of the richest cities in the entire world) Hasdrubal realized he was beaten in Spain. He attempted to cross the Alps as his brother had, hoping to link up with Hannibal.

He no doubt hoped that the two armies together could accomplish what neither had been able to do seperately. But the Romans were charged with preventing any reinforcement from reaching Hannibal and had units stationed to block the route through the Alps Hannibal had used.

When Hasdrubal's battered, exhausted army descended from the Alps, two fresh Roman legions were camped and waiting. They descended on the Carthaginian army and destroyed it, killing Hasdrubal in the process.

Cut off in Italy, the first word Hannibal had of all these events, the mounting losses in Spain, his brother's crossing of the Alps and his brother's death came when a Roman horseman flung Hasdrubal's head into his camp.

The last Carthaginian forces in Spain were defeated in 206 BCE and in 205 Scipio was elected Consul, once again despite being too young.

Scipio presented a bold plan to the Senate for ending the long and bloody war: he would cross the Mediterranean and attack Carthage itself. When the Senate rejected this plan, Scipio went to the Roman assemblies, those bodies that directly represented the people of the Republic to again press his plan.

He was given command of two Legions and managed to raise a further 7,000 volunteers.

He departed for Carthage, landing only 20 miles from the city. His first act upon arriving in North Africa was to make an offer to an outcast Numidian clan. You will recall the Numidians were Hannibals fine light cavalry mercenaries from North Africa.

With this force, reinforced by its own Numidian light cavalry now, the leaders of Carthage recalled Hannibal from Italy to defend their capital.

But not all of Hannibal's army would accompany him. His Gallic and Spanish forces, far from home, with their families living under the Roman yoke refused to accompany him. They had been away for more than 15 years already and had been raised under condition that they would only serve in the mainland.

Scipio's attack on Carthage, pressing the issue, succeeded brilliantly before the battle was even joined. Hannibal's army finally scattered and left Italy in peace.

Two-thirds remaining in Europe where the Gauls and Spaniards dispersed in Roman held territories, returning home to the families and clans and villages that needed them.

The remaining third of Hannibal's army sailed home, where fate waited both generals, Hannibal the enemy of Rome and Scipio its new rising military star at the Battle of Zama.

to be continued...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Premise: Everything that happened in movies was history

Sounds cool as heck huh?

Now imagine someone organized it into a timeline.

Well, someone has already done the work for you.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did (hat tip


Historical Map of the Day

Nice map of Liverpool in the late 19th century for your gaming/historical interest needs.

Video game review: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

I'll say one thing for Square Enix, this is a company that knows how to make a great, compelling video game with excellent production values.

From the first game of theirs that I played, Final Fantasy VII on the playstation, I have been hooked. Their games are always gorgeous visually, always bring compelling characters to the mix and almost always topped off with a great story to boot.

When you add in the great gameplay mechanics and loads of side-quests, you have games that beg to be played again.

And when you do, you almost always find something you missed.

Now from what I've read, in Japan the Dragon Quest series is more popular than Final Fantasy (the ones we get here). The DQ series are the beer and pretzel games, light, a lot of humor, a lot of action. Big on old-fashioned RPG kick in the door and take their stuff goodness.

The Final Fantasy series are the "artistic" games with dark storylines, angsty characters and some seriously challenging elements aimed at the hardcore gamer.

For some reason this series, which was called Dragon Warrior on the original Playstation slipped under my radar, so this is the first of these games I've played.

But boy did it deliver. An intriguing alchemy system lets you make a wide variety of items, many of which you can't buy. Anywhere.

This alone will keep you hunting for components for quite awhile (a similar system is seen in Final Fantasy X as well).

The story is engaging and light. Its railroady in a heavy handed way the Final Fantasy series never seemed to be to me. Obviously all video games have limited options but the FF series always manage to suck me in to the story to the point that I don't mind moving dutifully from a to b.

But between the action and the alchemy system, along with a host of other interesting side quests (such as capturing monsters to compete in an arena for fun and prizes) the game is heavily addictive.

And remember when I mentioned production values? Well this isn't a game that you will beat in 10 hours like Dark Alliance. Its not even a game you'll beat in 30 like Civ IV. Try 100 hours (that was my time on my completed game).

Like I said, Square Enix not only delivers a great game but delivers a ton of gaming for your 50 bucks.

Rent or buy this game now if you like consol RPGs. It goes in the pantheon of the great consol games (of any genre) of all time.


Saturday, March 25, 2006

Words by the Dixie Chicks we all should remember

And no, its not the words that sparked the faux "controversy" either. Here's my favorite line by the DC:

We are changing the way we do business
I always loved that and lord knows all of us need to do just that on a regular basis. Don't be static. Shake things up. Change the way you do business.

In the words of the mighty George: "What are you going to do, read People magazine and play with your p***k till the end of time?"

And if you'd like, take a listen to their new single "not ready to make nice" here, its a very cool song (song plays automatically).

Movie review: A Better Tomorrow

An early Chow Yun-Fat movie, directed by John Woo, this movie shows why this combination of actor and director is pure movie-making gold.

The film's nominal star is Sung Tse-ho, played by Ti Lung, who delivers an excellent performance as a Hong Kong gangster trying to go straight. Problem is, no one will let him, least of all his younger brother, the police officer.

The movie is really a story of Sung's relationship with his two brothers, his biological brother, the police officer and his brother in the gangs, played by Chow Yun-Fat.

The solution to their problems, not surprising if you're familiar with John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat films, especially those made for the Hong Kong cinema is to get some Uzis and kill more men than smallpox.

Its got a lot of action, a lot of melodrama that is sometimes played for genuine angst and sometimes for comedy and of the best death scenes you'll see in a movie.

I highly recommend you rent this.


Magic: The Gathering Syndrome (or what was bad about AD&D Second Edition)

A recent post asked the question: does no one love Second Edition?

To which you're asking, the Second Edition of what? Isn't this a history blog or something?

Just roll with it man.

We're eclectic.

Anyway, here's the problem as I see it: 2E gets no love because its the worst of the three rules sets.

First Edition had all this charm and energy and pure... Gygaxian Mania.

Sure, none of the classes were balanced.

Sure the DMG was organized by an Old One determined to drive the unwary student of its many, insurance-adjuster-inspired tables mad.

But the classes were fun. They had pizzazz (that's a technical term only a real game designer can dish out). In short, you wanted to play the game.

Third Edition has those clean mechanics. Its like a sheet you can bounce quarter off of. Its tight.

Sure, some of that verve is gone. But the classes still have enough spunk (another technical term) to make them all enjoyable play options.

Second Edition manages to achieve a goodly amount of balance. But it does so at the expense of all the fun. In fact I'd say that 2E is as balanced as 3E, just without any of the fun options (skills and feats, Im looking at you) that 3E brings to the table.

But the way 2E achieves its balance is by whitewashing everything. You're left with something that, while still good, is just not as good as either the edition that preceded it or the edition that came after.

So why didn't I call this post the "Jan Brady Syndrome" you ask? Ok so you weren't asking.

Something the Magic card game does on a regular basis is whitewash the entire system. If a card is too good, its gone. What you're left with, to my mind is something bland.


Conversations with Hannibal Part 5: Battle of Cannae

The vast Roman horde made camp about 5 miles away from Hannibal's army. They were supremely confident. The largest army Rome had ever put in the field, they outnumbered Hannibal by a wide margin.

Against his 50,000 men they fielded over 80,000 men. Despite the fact that Hannibal's army was extremely experienced, having served under him for years in Spain and having beaten Roman armies twice sent to stop him, the Roman army, largely composed of raw recruits felt confident because of their overwhelming size.

They expected to win.

On a hot, dry day in 216 BCE the armies drew up on a flat plain and faced one another.

The Legions deployed in a very unusual formation for them. Rather than arrayed rather loosely, which typically gave the Legion a great deal of maneuverability and flexibility, they were arrayed in a tight column formation. Their goal was to punch through the center of Hannibal's line and slaughter his men as they lost unit cohesion, broke and ran.

For his part Hannibal's formation seemed almost pedestrian. He had his skirmshers, the slingers out front, heavy infantry in the middle (though not his best infantry) on the wings he had his best men, his Libyan heavy infantry and on the flanks his cavalry.

Hannibal then took personal command of the infantry in the center and led them toward the Romans, while his other forces lagged behind. This made his line bow outward and appeared to the Romans as a sign of weakness and a lack of cohesion.

It should here be noted that modern historians' claims that this formation of Hannibal's was accidental is not born out by the contemporary accounts. All the Roman historians writing within the time of the battle were quite clear that this was an intentional formation.

Since the point of engagement was so narrow, the Roman Legions packed in even closer to engage the infantry led by Hannibal. They wanted to take part in the victory.

Under intense pressure, the Spanish and Gallic infantry led personally by Hannibal was forced to yield. But it did not break and lose cohesion. Instead it was slowly diven back and the bow of Hannibal's initial assault slowly became inverted from convex to concave. Hannibal's center was now behind his flanking forces.

The Libyans, Hannibal's best infantry waited patiently on the wings. The Roman cavalry fought Hannibal's cavalry more or less equally.

Finally the infantry in the center broke, drawing the Romans in even further as they pursued the enemy for the anticipated slaughter. It is at this exact moment that the Libyan heavy infantry turned and charged both Roman flanks.

At this point Hannibal's cavalry broke through, putting the Roman and Italian cavalry to flight. Just as the beleaguered Romans realized they were being assaulted on both flanks, Hannibal's heaviest cavalry attacked them from the rear.

In one of the greatest maneuvers in military history Hannibal had in effect ambushed his opponent on an open plain. In fact, when the cavalry attacked the Roman rear he had achieved a complete encirclement of a force that outnumbered his own.

The battlefield became a slaughterhouse of Roman dead.

Of the massive force fielded by the Romans 3,000 infantry and 370 cavalry were all that survived. For his part Hannibal lost only 6,000 men, almost all of them from the hard-pressed center he had personally commanded.

to be continued...

Friday, March 24, 2006

Conversations with Hannibal Part 4

With new consuls elected, Rome raised an enormous Consular Army, the largest ever assembeled. Eight Legions and an equal number of allied units were assembeled to fight Hannibal.

A reasonable estimate of the size of this force has been placed by historians at 83,000 men. Given a typical Roman force, the breakdown would be this: 6,000 cavalry, 17,000 skirmishers and the rest the famous Roman heavy infantry.

Against this Roman force, uniformly equipped and drawn up in formation, we have Hannibal's force composed of individualistic mercenary units who fought in their own national styles and bearing their own equipment. Each unit also had its own national officers. Only the upper echelons of command were actually inhabited by Carthaginian citizens.

Numidian light cavalry, bearing large shields, armed with javelin and spear, riding short ponies gave Hannibal a quick, very maneuverable light cavalry force.

Libyan and Phoenician forces provided heavy cavalry, with helmet, chain corselet, lance, shield and spear.

Spaniards provided slingers, one of the most deadly weapons of the ancient world among those skilled in its use (as these men certainly were).

Spanish and Gallic forces, recently recruited from the north of Italy provided Hannibal with a heavy infantry contigent.

Celtic mercenaries provided Hannibal with heavy cavalry. The cream of Celtic society, these knights would have used chain mail, longsword, shield and lance.

Libyan heavy infantry rounded out this force. These mercenaries were perhaps Hannibal's best men. Not only were they extremely experienced and battle-hardened, they were newly equipped with arms and armor stripped from the best-equipped heavy infantry in the world: the Romans, killed in Hannibal's earlier campaigns.

To a modern general, indeed even to the Romans of the day, Hannibal's army was a chaotic hodgepodge force. What might have seemed a weakness however, Hannibal turned into a strength. Each of these individual units had a tactical capability which Hannibal was able to mix and match to meet the needs of a battle as it unfolded. As a brilliant general, Hannibal was a master at doing just that.

In contrast to what might have been expected moreover, Hannibal's army was well-motivated and completely devoted to their general whom they had served under in numerous campaigns in Spain. This explains his ability to resist the abortive Fabian strategy of harrasment. Hannibal's army was not the type to dissolve beneath him. It is not too strong to say they loved their leader.

The stage was set, the orchestra engaged, the hall was rented.

It was time for these two armies to meet in one of the greatest clashes the world has ever seen: The Battle of Cannae.

To be continued...

Blogs that are better than mine: Jane Espenson

Jane Espenson.

A writer for Buffy, Angel, DS9, Firefly, Tru Calling, Gilmore Girls and the OC has a blog about writing.

Even though its specifically aimed at TV every post causes me to find something that makes me a better writer.

Plus she's funny as heck.


Conversations with Hannibal Part 3

Unsuccessful in fomenting any rebellion among the conquered Italians, either through his military success or his mercy, Hannibal headed south to try his strategy again among the Greek and Samnite peoples conquered by the Romans in their early campaigns to unite the Italian peninsual under their rule.

The Dicatator elected by the Senate, Fabius Maximus was now ready to make his move. Remember that the word "dictator" did not really have its present connotation in early Rome. A dictator was a special magistrate who had broad, sweeping powers to combat a specific emergency.
It is from Julius Caesar, who had himself elected "Dictator for Life" that we draw our more negative modern use of the word.

Fabius Maximus was cool-headed and patient, a trait that seperated him from previous Consuls who had clashed with Hannibal. Hannibal led a mercenary army (only his officers were actually Carthaginian) on foreign soil.

Time was on the side of Rome.

The Romans had already seen mercenary armies rise up against Carthage when conditions got bad or payment could not be delivered as promised. In the aftermath of the First Punic War, for example the Carthaginians had been forced to fight a full scale war against their own unpaid mercenaries, since they had planned to pay them from the spoils of a Roman defeat.

Fabius Maximus therefore decided not to rush to engage Hannibal but rather to shadow his movements. Hannibal's foragers, sent to resupply his forces with food and water, were instantly set upon by Fabius' men and killed. He would starve Hannibal's army out from under him.

Despite the fact that his tactics were successful in limiting Hannibal's movement and preventing him from attacking any other Roman settlements, Fabius' tactics were very unpopular with the Senate and with the Roman people.

An invading army was on Roman soil and all that was being done was to harry them. The popular sentiment was that they should be repulsed and quickly.

The result was new leadership including a young aggressive Consul named Gaius Julius Varo. With this young firebrand, perhaps as a precautionary move they also elected an older more experienced politician, Licius Amelius Paulus.

But still, the mandate from the Senate was clear: Hannibal was to be engaged not merely shadowed.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

Via Eschaton:
If you can't understand why a movie with Samuel L. Jackson killing snakes on plane will in fact be the greatest movie ever made no matter how bad it is then there's no hope for you.
Not only am I starting to agree with this idea, I also see Franchise written all over this baby.

Snakes on a bus (driven by Sandra Bullock).

Snakes on a yacht (driven by Sandra Bullock).

Snakes in prison.

This movies write themselves.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled deep thoughts about the Second Punic War.


Conversations with Hannibal Part 2

Last time we looked at the audacity of Hannibal's invasion, today we look at his campaigns in Rome.

After wintering in the north of Italy, Hannibal headed south and threatened Rome itself. This led to new Consuls elected to lead Rome, including Gaius Flaminius, as a response to what the Senate felt was a poor prosecution of the war so far.

Flaminius raised a Consular Army to stop Hannibal and marched north to meet him. On June of 217 BCE Hannibal ambushed that army on the shores of Lake Trasimene. He caught the Roman army between his forces and the lake and slaughtered them, killing 15,000 men including Gaius Flaminius.

The Roman Republic was now in turmoil and elected a Dictator, Fabius Maximus to deal with this increasing threat.

But Hannibal did not lat seige to Rome.

Perhaps this was never his plan or perhaps, with the relatively small force at his command he believed he was incapable of doing so.

Instead what Hannibal sought was to break up the Roman confederacy. Having expanded from Rome herself, the Romans had conquered Greek, Latin, Italian and Gallic settlements in their drive to control all of the Italian peninsula.

Hannibal sought to humiliate the Roman army and make these client states, some of them recently conquered (like the Gallic tribes in northern Italy) feel they could rise up against their Roman masters.

We can see evidence of this in the way Hannibal treated his prisoners. He treated Roman citizens harshly. Either simply executing them or leaving them exposed to the elements to die a slow death from hunger and cold.

Italian captives, on the other hand were well fed, housed comfortably and then released after hearing a speech by Hannibal. Hannibal declared himself their liberator from Roman oppression.
If Hannibal could succeed in making the Roman government look weak and sparking a full-scale civil war among the Roman cities he could end Roman power for good.

To be continued...

Conversations with Hannibal

Hannibal Barca is rightly considered one of the greatest generals in history.

When war broke out with Rome in 218 BCE most generals in Rome assumed the war would take the same course as its predecessor. That is, it would be a strictly naval affair.

Hannibal had other ideas.

He took his army of 59,000 men and 60 elephants and crossed the Pyrenees and the Alps and invaded Rome. By the time he reached Northern Italy in November of 218 BCE he had 26,000 men and 20 elephants remaining.

One observer remarked that Hannibal's troops looked like beggars.

At the River Trebia, when 40,000 Romans were crushed by Hannibal's hungry, injured and exhausted 26,000 men, the Romans learned that they were anything but beggars.

At the end of the day, 30,000 Romans were dead or captured.

Hannibal then moved south into the heart of Rome.

To be continued...

Monday, March 20, 2006

Warning: Egghead Alert

Been having some Deep Thoughts lately, sparked by some military historical lectures Ive been listening to as research for Secret Project X-13.

One thing that jumped out at me that really got me thinking was the concept that the "Decisive Battle" was more or less invented by the Greeks, where it came to be inexorably ingrained in the culture of Western Europe and thus America.

See, contrary to how we usually think of the Greeks, as a culture of art, architecture one of the three great flowerings of Drama in the history of the world, athletics and so forth, they were a warlike people. They loved war.

Their most admired city-states, Athens, Sparta and Thebes were also the most warlike. We only think of Sparta this way, but Athens attacked and controlled areas outside of mainland Greeece, founding colonies in Italy (displacing natives along the way) and attempted to conquer Sicily.

The athletics the Greeks are known was admired by them partly for beauty (the reason we most discuss today) but primarily because physical fitness was seen as a great way to become an accomplished warrior.

A man's worth was measured by his military prowess. And if you don't believe me, ask Aeschylus. Here's his epitaph, composed by him well before his death:
This tomb the dust of Aeschylus doth hide, Euphorion's son and fruitful Gela's pride; How tried his valor Marathon may tell, And long-haired Medes, who knew it all too well.
In other words, one of the ten greatest dramatists the world has ever known, celebrated for those talents during his lifetime and the thousands of years since wanted you to three things: he was the proud son of Euphorian, he served a great lord (Gela was the rich noble who was his primary artistic patron) and that he fought with valor at Marathon.

Now the Greeks had a specific idea about war: the two sides lined up on a flat open field, shouted boasts at one another, invoked their gods and then marched toward one another until one side or the other held the field.

Once the superior force had been determined, the other side acknowledged their superiority and then negotiations were held, in which the victor of the Decisive Battle was given due deference.

Rome believed in this philosophy, and once Europe was overrun by the barbarians, who in turn became assimilated into the growing melting pot of Greco-Roman-Germanic Europe, it appealed to their Nordic sensibilities as well.

In essence you have a very influential warlike culture (Greece) passing this macho ethic down to succeeding generations of warlike cultures.

The lecturer then went on to say that you can see this ethos of the Deciding Battle when the nations of Europe make war and in how those wars go.

We do very well when fighting cultures that have a similar warrior ethos, as seen in WW I and WW II. Germany and Japan fought until beaten, then recognized the superiority of their victors and actually attempted to emulate them (since they were proven superior in the Decisive Battle).

On the other hand, when you look at our conflicts with other nations who do NOT share this warrior ethos, we do very poorly.

Viet Nam provides a classic example of this. On January 30, 1968 the North Vietnamese launched a surprise attack timed with the beginning of the lunar new year, an operation known to history as the Tet Offensive.

Initially the attack went very well for the communist-supported forces of the north, in fact spectacularly so. But then the south fell back and called on their American allies for support. The American response was decisive and devastating. The losses suffered by the North Vietnamese forces were staggering, all their initial gains were wiped out.

By all forms of military discussion, the Tet Offensive was a Decisive Battle won by the South Vietnamese and their American allies.

But what was the result of this victory?

The government of South Vietnam was seen as weak and incompetent. They were being overrun prior to the involvement of American forces. They were dependent on foreign armies.

If possible, the response for the American forces was worse. Public opinion dipped sharply after the Tet Offensive. The upbeat predictions of near-victory being made by Lyndon Johnson and General Westmoreland were dealt a severe (and as it turned out fatal in the longterm) blow by the fact that the enemy who was supposedly on the run and preparing to surrender was even able to mount such a serious offensive.

Worse of course was the growing belief among Americans that the government was exaggerating the success of the military campaign. If they had lied about the North Vietnamese preparing to surrender, perhaps the battle hadn't been a victory after all.

And the response of the American military made things worse. General Westmoreland had just won, by all military standards, a Decisive Victory. He was ready to tighten the noose further. He requested an additional 206,000 men, including a full mobilization of the American reserves for what he felt would be a final, devastating counter-offensive.

This move was seen not as the confident preparations for a final battle but rather as a sign of desperation. The increase in troop strength (an increase of 40%) served to feed into the opinion that the Americans had in fact lost the Tet Offensive.

And the response of American political and military leaders to the backlash caused by the Tet Offensive is one of the great signs of public, cognitive dissonance you will ever witness. You can almost see the confusion in the eyes of Generals as they attempt to explain to reporters that the battle was a victory. A Decisive Victory.

The American cause in Vietnam had suffered a blow from which it would never recover. From a battle we won.

Of course everyone can think of other conflicts that this story sheds some light on. Where we win victory after victory on the strategic and tactical level.

Yet every aggressive move seems to cause us to slip a little deeper into that quicksand because our enemy wont play fair. Won't do what they should do: acknowledge our superiority on the battlefield and allow that to translate into political gain.

And so we find ourselves in another mess, partially because we haven't learned from the past but perhaps more importantly because we just can't understand the way our enemies think.

We assume they are just like us. But in many ways the cultures of Asia (and the Middle East) are so alien they don't even have enough of a frame of reference to negotiate.

Friday, March 03, 2006

And while we're talking google

AKA Have you ever noticed I forget about this damn thing then post in bunches?

Oh well. If you'd written a 30 page timeline of the FUCKING WORLD you'd be forgetful too (did you notice how I slip in the veiled product reference to make you wonder what Im working on?).

Anyway- this is hilarious. If you ever wondered what Chinese guys do in their dorm when they're bored, well, apparently some of them lip synch to the Backstreet Boys and put it on the web.

Too damn funny.


Why Macs Suck

I honestly have no opinion either way, since the last Mac I used was in the 80's and it wasn't mine so I didn't use it much. I played Bard's Tale on it if that's any clue exactly how long ago this was.

For the record, Bard's Tale ran great!

This guy though, he has an opinion and its fucking hilarious.

Check it out.

Oh and google video is brilliant.


Night Ride Part 1

Night Ride Part 1 “Look, Pa, it’s my turn. Also, Nana is having one of her spells again and she has no idea who I am when she gets this w...