The Boss often raises an eyebrow or two about my obsession with visuals, so when I got the green light for this article, I jumped before he could change his mind. Bottom line is that the Field of Glory II (or FOG2) Ancients computer game not only has a substantial new update, but also a massive new Tabletop Mod (TTM) revision from Paul Adaway. How massive? Well, when released back on 14 December last year it was big enough to warrant front page inclusion on the Matrix Website, so pretty damn big.
TTM is the primary focus of this article because visuals are important. If correctly done and historically accurate they can add an ambience that pushes the player closer to a reality that actually puts him or her at the battle vice looking at a screen. It’s the difference between numbers and feel in gaming, and let’s face it, were this not important then all Ancients video gaming could easily be done using map graphics and symbology from the old SPI PRESTAGS board gaming system.
Vanilla FOG2 is heavy on the concept anyway as it is a direct port of miniature wargaming rules into computer wargaming, with the author of the former and the designer of the latter the same person – Richard Bodley Scott. Paul A has taken yet another massive step beyond that, so let’s take a look at not only the results, but what he does to get there.
However, as noted, 14 December was not only about TTM, but also saw the release of the 1.5.3 update as well. I know a lot of folks tend to ignore these with an attitude of ‘the changes can’t be that important.” Well, yes they can.
I count 34 different mods and fixes across several functional areas, to include campaigns, modding, AI, and most importantly: gameplay. Here there are seven changes and like elsewhere, some are minor. This means things like improved naming conventions for generals from third tier countries, improved visibility for wording depending on light or dark background and slightly increased effectiveness of Asian crossbows against foot.
But there are three big changes, two concerning probably the most under-rated and under-appreciated class of troops in the entire system, Light Troops. First, Light Troops will now always evade non-lights unless defending in Rough/Difficult terrain or behind an obstacle. Second, they now can only charge non-lights if the latter physically occupy Rough/Difficult terrain. Why important? In many respects these are two new capabilities for troops that constitute a royal ancient pain in the ass, one that can over time tip a battle. In a previous AAR I reported on a battle where I led an Early Byzantine army against all the Frankish heavy warband infantry on the planet. My light horse got behind them and shot them silly, small casualty counts certainly, but adding up over time. More importantly, however, was the fact that they drove the Franks nuts because every time the ax swingers charged them, they simply evaded. This caused Frankish warband a plenty to peel off and chase them to the ends of the board – if not the earth – and this relieved pressure on the Byzantine center and further allowed my Kataphraktoi to outflank and hit the barbarian hordes in the rear. Now the Light Troops have changed how they do business a bit, so take note.
The final change concerns Push Backs, or what us laymen call retreating. Units are now going to seem a lot tougher and exhibit a lot more staying power. To make the overall distance a typical unit retreats closer to history, when enemy formations face the side of the tile they occupy, they will retreat on the second Lost Badly combat result. If they face a tile corner, they fall back on the third such result. Thus when that uber-heavy Phalanx slams into a Roman Hastati formation and you fully expect it to retreat, it won’t, and you need to be prepared. Now an enemy army may well take one or a couple more turns to crack.
TTM the First – Visuals
One half of Paul A’s TTM is pure visual and an attempt to more exactly capture the pageantry of a miniatures game as well as moving the overall look closer to history. For this the actual miniature rules army lists were consulted, and likely some of WRG’s (Wargames Research Group of Phil Barker fame) “Armies of…” series of detailed reference books. None of the actual 3D images have been changed nor new one’s created (Paul admits to not having expertise in this area), but the look of current sprites have been modified to allow for more variety and a more accurate color palette. This was done three ways:
- First, repainting an image texture, for example such as a helmet, to look like natural hair,
- Second, modifying the Alpha Channel (combining an image with its background to mimic transparency) to effectively erase equipment from a 3D figure, such as shields and bow quivers, allowing, say, Roxolani Cavalry to become Lydian Heavy Horse, and
- Third, modifying the animation file to force some units to adopt the typical movement of another.
Radical changes are not possible, but what modifications can be done are many, and go far beyond simply changing the uniform or clothing color of military formations. Instead, some units can now be country specific. For example, instead of a generic Greek minor city state Hoplite, the Hoplites deployed can appear as if they belong to a specific army, such as the city state of Thebes. Likewise, units not already included in the vanilla FOG2 army lists can now be created by changing the texture and Alpha aspects of 3D images that already exist. Otherwise irregular armies can now truly look their status with more variety in their armament, dress and shield patterns. And speaking of shields, TTM somehow got permission from Stephen Hales over at Little Big Man Studios to use the images of their miniature wargaming shield (and banner) transfers for this project. Here the results can be particularly striking. I know because I use them on my toy soldiers not only because of their historical accuracy, but also because there is no way I am gonna try to paint that type of detail on a 15 mm Scutum. So gone are the vanilla Roman “winged thunderbolt on red” Hollywood shields, replaced by more accurate white, yellow or blue shields with all variety of animals such as bulls and dolphins. Plane single color banners (to the tune of 92 of them) are now replaced with historical symbology to include Cyrus’ Persian eagle or Roman legionary emblems such as a bull and the words Legio III Gallica. For some good Caesarian Roman samples (specifically for Warlord Games), simply click here. See what I mean? This is what you’re getting in TTM.
When TTM was first released back to support version 1.1.7 of the game, some 140 new or modified unit textures were added to the overall formation pool, and with this release additions have been made to support the new FOG2 Rise of Persia DLC. In fact all the units within the game, original or TTM have now undergone texture overhaul.
TTM the Second – Army Lists
The second big part of the TTM project comes in the form of new and improved Army Lists, this time drawing directly from the companion books to the Field of Glory miniature rules as well as other sources such as WRG 6th Edition from what I can see. Here you get a twofer, because in doing so Paul A has added a whole lot of additional Army Lists to the already crowded list included in FOG2. In some cases this means Army Lists that simply do not exist in the current FOG2 portfolio, and in other cases existing solitary Army Lists have now been split into several individual time frames, each with their own unique army, soldiery and weapons. As an example, the vanilla Army Lists include six entries for the Achaemenid Persians, whereas in the TTM another two show up, one for the battle of Gaugamela and another for Bessus (the Satrap who murdered Darius after Gaugamela). Similarly, the Spanish list was split into its three primary tribal groups, while there are now three new Achaean League Army Lists, where none existed before.
Finally, TTM has changed many existing base Army Lists by adding in units that exist in the miniatures version of the game but were left out of the computer version. This means don’t be surprised if you fight one of your old foes and see them show up with a unit or two you’ve not faced before. Great fun.
Making a long story short, this means 80 new and/or modified Army Lists added to the current offering, and this does not include any changes made in this TTM version to account for the new Rise of Persia DLC. Given one reason for this TTM update was the DLC’s making the original version incompatible, sorta makes you want to see another game update real soon, don’t it?
Installing this new TTM is pretty simple. You just need to click here to go to the forum page where this TTM version was announced. There are three zipped (.RAR) files to download, one for custom battles, custom campaigns and multiplayer. Download the files, unzip them and you should have three folders to copy and paste. Drop the battles and campaigns folders into My Documents/My Games/FieldOfGlory2/CAMPAIGNS and the multiplayer folder into My Documents/My Games/FieldOfGlory2/MULTIPLAYER. When, for example, you wish to fight a custom battle, you can simply pick TT Mod Custom Battles 1.5.3 from the module list, launch and enjoy selecting a new, spiffy army for your custom engagement.
And oddly, the word Custom hints at the only problem I have with TTM. It only allows custom play and evidently will not work if you want to fight one of the Epic historical battles, which, of course, I do. However, there are user created historical battle scenarios also produced by Paul A and these do use the TTM modifications, so all is not lost. And did I mention this unbelievable labor of love is free? What more could one want?
Well, how about the TTM treatment for the Hobbit hovel terrain? Monsieur Adaway, consider the gauntlet dropped