Andy's Games Blogs: 6 Ways Games Immerse the Player In History

Andy's Games Blogs: 6 Ways Games Immerse the Player In History

Andy, one of our Games Design & Production consultants, isn’t only talented at matchmaking candidates with roles, in his spare time he’s a dab hand at blog writing too! So we agreed that the best way to celebrate his wonderful games blogs is to publish them here on our website...

The first piece we’re delving into is 6 Ways Games Immerse The Player in History, but if you're hungry for more games content, check out all of Andy’s games reviews, past and present at Andy’s Cabin Games 

In this blog, Andy goes into the ways in which various games keep players engaged and coming back for more through taking them back in time to historical events and locations. From the Pyramids of Giza, to the Wild West and Medieval eras, to the American Civil Rights movement and a whole lot more – games have always been the perfect way of escaping into a different reality, but there’s something extra special about being transported back in time...Rainbow Line

Creating a believable world in video games will keep players engaged, dedicated and ultimately coming back for more. One way to do this is by adding lore – the game’s backstory that adds details and depth to the universe outside of the main story. Most games will feature this to some extent and even PUBG, the popular online Battle Royale, has introduced lore that attempts to explain why strangers fight to the death for a “chicken-dinner”. While lore is usually made-up and written specifically for the game’s universe, developers can also draw upon historical sources, locations, and events for inspiration. 

I love it when a game taps into your historical interests and knowledge, so I’ve put together a list of 6 interesting ways that games immerse the player in history. 

  1. Historical locations

Games go beyond books and films by allowing us to experience time periods and settings of the past. Since the first release in 2007, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has covered key historical settings including Renaissance Italy, the Golden Age of Piracy, Ancient Egypt, and the Viking age, to name but a few. Although AC always exercises a degree of creative license with their titles (Minotaur boss fight anyone?), buildings and landmarks are heavily based on what evidence we still have today -text descriptions and material remains- resulting in authentic and detailed locations for the player to explore.

Pyramids

Yes, you can slide down the Pyramids of Giza (Image credit: Ubisoft)

The latest AC entries feature a Discovery Tour Mode where the player can explore Ancient Greece, Egypt, and Viking-era England without being interrupted by combat or quests. This mode is great for educational use and the player can take part in guided audio tours of historical sites. The Discovery Tour Mode for Valhalla is out later this year and adds a new feature where you take on the role of residents as they go about their daily lives in ninth-century England and Norway – kind of life a virtual museum.

Discovery ToursThe Discovery Tours from AC Origins and AC Odyssey are now standalone releases (Image credit: Ubisoft)

  1. Staying completely true to historical accuracy

As well as famous locations, games with historical settings are full of material details -buildings, weapons, clothes etc.- that illustrate when the game is set. Red Dead Redemption 2 does a fantastic job with its realistic portray of the Wild West era, and the open-world RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance pulls out all the stops in its quest for historical accuracy. In KCD, medieval life in the Kingdom of Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) was recreated with the assistance of architects and historians to be realistic as possible. At times this can make KCD feel more like a medieval simulator than a video game -I was imprisoned for 7 days for illegally carrying an open flame through the marketplace one evening- but you have to admire the dedication to accuracy from Warhorse Studios.

KCD

No light? Straight to jail. (Image credit: Warhorse Studios)

  1. Archive photos

Ubisoft Montpellier teamed up with creators of the documentary series Apocalypse, World War I to create Valiant Hearts: The Great War – a 2D puzzle side-scroller set during the First World War. 

This collaboration allowed the developers to include restored and colourized images from the Apocalypse database into the game’s menu. Each mission (set in different locations across the Western Front) is accompanied by pictures and descriptions which all adds context to what you are experiencing in the game.

war

Poison gas was used for the first at The Battle of Ypres in 1915 (Image credit: Ubisoft)

  1. Significant moments in history

Games can really make the most of their setting by focusing on defining moments in history. Mafia 3 is set in 1968 America during the height of the Civil Rights movement, and you play as Lincoln Clay, an African-American Vietnam veteran. 

The team at Hangar 13 have done a great job of weaving the sentiment from the time into the game’s narrative to reinforce where the game is set and who the characters are. “You’ll hear things in the game that Lincoln would hear as a black man in 1968″ said Game Director Haden Blackman and in the fictionalized version of New Orleans, Lincoln will encounter racial slurs, white supremacist groups, “whites only” establishments and an overly-suspicious police force. Another way of grounding the game is through radio broadcasts that, along with music of the era, play news breaks which cover real-world events such as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the arrests of the Freedom Riders.

policePolice response times are much quicker in affluential neighbourhoods compared to poorer districts – another nuanced detail (Image credit: 2K Games)

  1. Artifact collector

Collecting items is a common mechanic in video games whether the item is to be sold, used for upgrading or just for the sake of completing a set. Historical games can add an extra layer to this by introducing artifacts and their descriptions that are typically only found in a museum. 

Ghost of Tsushima is set during the occupation of Tsushima Island by the Mongols in the 13th Century and does exactly this. You play as Jin Sakai, a Japanese Samurai defending his homeland, and the Mongol artifacts you find provide an interesting insight into the Mongol way of life and their approach to war.

Mongol HelmetArtifacts are found in Mongol camps and forts across the island (Image credit: Sony Interactive)

  1. Art from the past

Historical art can influence different aspects of a game. Total War: Rome II uses Ancient Greek and Roman art as inspiration for its menu and unit cards, and Red Dead Redemption 2 draws influence for its environments from the Hudson River School oil paintings.

total war

(Image credits: Creative Assembly, 2K Games & Albert Bierstadt)

But how about using a particular art style as inspiration for the entire art direction of a game? Okami, an action-adventure based on Japanese mythology & folklore, has a visual style that is inspired by the ukiyo-e genre (Japanese water colour and wood carving art) and the sumi-e technique (traditional ink wash painting).

blossomPainting onscreen is also a game mechanic used in combat and puzzles (Image credit: Capcom)

In a similar way Apotheon, a 2D side-scrolling action game set in Ancient Greek mythology, has the distinctive art style of Greek pottery. 

The result is two visually unique games where the art reflects the historical & mythological settings.

ancientA Mixture of Ancient Greek pottery and Disney’s Hercules (Image credit: Alientrap)

Rainbow line

If you know any other games that use history for player immersion, join the conversation on LinkedIn! Or get in touch with Andy directly and he’d be delighted to chat about it with you

Keep an eye out on our news page as well as our LinkedIn and Twitter to catch more of Andy’s blog content coming soon!

Also, be sure to check out all of Andy’s blogs on his website: Andy’s Cabin Games

Finally, if you’re looking for a job in Games Design or Production, Andy is your guy! Check out all of his live roles here, or get in touch with him on ad@skillsearch.com

Game Design & Production Consultant Andy Demetriou

Andy is a Game Design and Production Consultant on our games team and his favourite games are narrative-based, survivor horror and strategy so Andy is a great person to have on your side during a zombie apocalypse! Aside from gaming, his spare time is dedicated to trying lasagne from as many different Italian restaurants as humanly possible. We all support his pursuit of this mission during office lunchtimes - especially if there are leftovers! Get in touch with Andy for all your lasagne, apocalypse and Game Design/Production needs!

View all Andy Demetriou's jobs

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