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Editorial

1979 Revolution, Railway Empire, and the Importance of Historical Games

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Historical media has long been an important art form, with the earliest period drama films debuting over 100 years ago, and video games are no different. Games such as Age of Empires and Assassin’s Creed grant players the opportunity to enter worlds of the past and educate themselves on the events that have shaped the world. In recent years, smaller developers such as iNK Stories and Gaming Minds Studios have realised the importance of historical games, and crafted experiences that allow insight into significant events of yesteryear.

Between 1978 and 1979, a revolution took place in the nation of Iran, resulting in the overthrow of the 2,500 years of continuous monarchy and the replacement with an Islamic republic. The revolution has gone largely untold within western media—an omission that developer iNK Stories aimed to solve with its debut title 1979 Revolution: Black Friday in 2016.

The game follows aspiring photojournalist Reza Shirazi after he returns to Iran during the revolution, and the player is forced to decide whether they wish to act pacifistic or hostile towards soldiers and police. By taking the events of the Iranian Revolution and placing them in an interactive setting, the game puts the player in the shoes of a participant of the events, making them feel the raw emotion and pressure of the revolution in a manner that no other medium can achieve. While passive media—books, television, and film—allow audiences an insight into the mind of others during historical events, games transfer the player into the events themselves. The player is Reza Shirazi—an active participant, not a bystander—and thus the revolution becomes much more impactful and palpable.

1979 Revolution Black Friday gameplay

The 19th century period known as the Wild West—seemingly a common setting for video games—was a chapter in history led by pioneers of technological and governmental advancement. A significant part of this development was the introduction of the transcontinental railroad, a 1,900-mile (3,000 km) continuous railroad connecting several western American states, from Omaha, Nebraska to the Oakland Long Wharf on San Francisco Bay. The creation of the railroad would have been impossible without several factors, least of all the finance from the state and federal governments and the hard workers who set the track for six years. However, few realise the importance of those who had envisioned and developed the railroad on paper—an omission that Gaming Mind Studios’s Railway Empire pays due credit toward.

Railway Empire is a tycoon simulation game similar to many others: the player builds stations within cities, lays down track to connect the stations, selects and upgrades trains to fit the scenario, and chooses freight suitable for the destination. By using these common gameplay tropes within a historical setting, however, the developer grants an insight into the importance of such seemingly menial tasks.

In the game’s second chapter, for example, the player is tasked with reaching a population of 100,000 in the city of Baltimore. To do so, the demands of the city must be met, meaning the player should select suitable freight to transport to Baltimore to improve population growth; building appealing structures such as museums also increases growth, as does improving the industries of neighbouring cities, thereby increasing the population and positively impacting the growth of Baltimore. Such a task demonstrates the importance and complexity of a city building role, as it would in other tycoon games; however, adding this role to a historical context grants it more of an impact, as the player feels the stress of achieving their goals and realising that the same stress was once felt—on a far more substantial and far less virtual level—by those who designed and implemented the railroads in the 19th century.

Railway Empire gameplay

In addition to these lessons of morale and emotion, Railway Empire is also teeming with educational information sure to satisfy any history or rail enthusiast. The game’s dates and locations are largely accurate—for example, the First Transcontinental Railroad began in Omaha in 1864, as it does in the game’s first chapter—while the locomotives are based on real machines of the time, such as the “Grasshopper” and the John Bull.

Another significant title set during the American frontier—in this case, during the death of the Old West in the early 1910s—is Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption. The game’s settings—from small town Armadillo, to government-run Blackwater, to rebellious Mexican city Nuevo Paraíso—are entirely fictional, only based on representations of iconic American frontier locations, and the game’s characters are all original creations with no historical figures present. Where Red Dead Redemption falters in its historical accuracy, however, it compensates with historical atmosphere.

The game opens in the aforementioned city of Blackwater—not a Wild West town full of outlaws, cowboys, and gunfighting, but a civilised city advanced with cars, newspapers, and smoke. Protagonist John Marston, however, is not a civilised man but a former outlaw. Stuck in the past, in a world of crime and cowboys, Marston is lost in the modernising world—a feeling imitated by many stuck in a similar position in the early 1900s. As discussed earlier this week, Red Dead Redemption is a masterclass in game design, and the game’s opening demonstrates why it is also a masterclass in historical atmosphere—a notion that historian Holly Nielsen discussed in far more detail for The Telegraph.

Video games may be the most suitable and significant medium through which historical information is conveyed. Through games such as 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, the impact and emotion of events of the past become far more prominent and palpable. Tycoon and simulation games allow for deeper character studies into the lives of those present during historical periods, as in the case of Railway Empire. Games that forego historical accuracy can still achieve an effective atmosphere, though, transporting the player to a world representing one of history without the same locations and characters, such as with Red Dead Redemption. Historical games are important and, with the impending release of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 tomorrow, are clearly not going anywhere any time soon.

Red Dead Redemption Mexico

For more on historical video games, stay tuned to OnlySP’s Red Dead Redemption Week, and be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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