Series Info...Playing with History #12:

When the Nile meets the Balance

by Michael Karlin
July 9, 2003

“It [Egypt] has more wonders in it than any other country in the world and provides more works that defy description than any other place.” — Herodotus, historian.

This is somewhat of a "lessons learned" that reflects on the Balance I discussed in the first article.

Glory of the Nile has been in development since March, although it was conceptualised a bit earlier. Right now, game development has picked up to a robust pace, and we are facing several decisions with regard to the very same Balance I wrote about in the first article. I realise now that the "line" that must not be crossed is really fuzzy and troublesome to identify, and that it really is a subjective decision. I open up these decisions to our staff, and use the beginning vision that gave birth to the game as a tiebreaker. Visions evolve, and so does the Balance. I'll toss out a few examples of this:

  • Example I: The Obvious — There are some aspects of the history you really can't ignore, primarily because it will make you and your development team look sloppy. For instance, and I'm a bit embarrassed about admitting it, but originally I put Thebes on the wrong side of the Nile. Luckily we hadn't constructed our outdoor rooms (roads, gardens, etc) when it dawned upon me (last week), so the amount of work required to resolve this blatant historical error was small. All I needed to do was change our map concept, and endure the occasional snickering from my staff and co-developer. These are obvious errors that you should painstakingly avoid and put a significant amount of error into resolving.
  • Example II: The Details — It was sad and disheartening when one of the StoryPlotters informed me that the Egyptian khopesh, the long, curved sword, was used by particularly talented Egyptian soldiers during the Late Period. Unfortunately, the Late Period occurs well after the timing of GN, and their introduction into the game would mean introducing an anachronism hundreds of years to come. That said, the subject of this consideration is a sword, and we are going to include it despite the anachronism. I figured: a) it was authentically ancient Egyptian, and b) it adds an interesting, unique weapon to those characters who follow the military path and earn one. The lesson learned here was that certain small details were able to be fudged, whether for purposes of developing ease or, in this case, outright "coolness" factor. I must add the caveat that these anachronistic details can build up and discredit the historical approach of your game.
  • Example III: The Ugly — Certain decisions are going to take a long time to decide, and are going to take a lot of effort judging pros and cons. The Egyptians' necrocentric belief system limited us in the design of the death mechanics. We could not satisfy the mythological requirements with a system that would be gameplay-friendly, and so opted for the gameplay side. I call this "ugly" because death is a very important theme in ancient Egypt, and yet we just could not align the mechanics with the beliefs.

I'm going to switch tracks and talk about Balance in another context.

Themes of GN

Glory of the Nile is being built upon the theme of interdependency, or almost inviolable linkages forced upon three groups that despise one another. Each are trying to wrest more control in their favour, but are acutely aware that upsetting the balance might cause all their work to be for naught. The primary enforcer of this interdependency is Pharaoh, but the Houses themselves will be those engaged. What we are trying to create is an infinite domino effect, a chain-reaction of events that will lead to consistently building conflict tempered every so often by a totalitarian dictator and the occasional outside incursion. In a sense, if we structure the balance of power just right, it will be the body of player-characters that should fuel it, prodded on some by a series of non-player characters with agendas of their own.

Hand-in-hand with this balance of power will be the PC's decisions regarding balancing their allegiances. Power in its purest form is decentralised in GN, being held by the leaders of Houses, Pharaoh, and of course the gods themselves. PCs will never be able to climb to the utmost peak, and as such they will always have to choose certain allegiances over others — a precarious situation for some. Achieving favour with one power source may earn you the ire of others, and therefore balancing your character's priorities will be crucial to your choice of allegiances. As well, in order to make things more interesting, we tossed in a neutral allegiance: money. Through shrewdness and a bit of luck, we give players the old-fashioned opportunity of gathering power by providing other peoples' needs for a price.

So what do these themes have anything to do with the first part of this article? Simple — I utilised the Balance concept every step of the way when formulating my initial game vision that was sent to Skotos. While not especially present during the 18th dynasty, the same dynasty during which the game takes place, these split allegiances occurred quite often in ancient Egypt. Everyone had interests, be it the temples, the regional lords (Nomarchs), the army, the scribes, or the Pharaoh. We have recreated this milieu while allowing for social mobility. The former takes from history, while the latter takes from playability. This is our Balance.

Recent Discussions on Playing with History:

jump new