Mitra’s Method: History Never Repeats?

This week in Australia and New Zealand, on April 25, we celebrated ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day is a public holiday on the Australian and New Zealand calendars, a day set aside for all to remember the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day. I’ll avoid giving you a history lesson here – I will provide a link for curious minds (ANZAC Day), but the reason I bring this up is because this week in particular I thought back to my own History lessons at high school. One story, one incident that has never failed to inspire me even to this day, was the effort of the Light Horsemen at the battle at Beersheba, October 31 1917.

The Light Horsemen were mounted infantry that differed from your traditional cavalry units: they usually fought dismounted and used their horses as a means of transport and swift disengagement when retreating or retiring from battle. However the exception came at the battle of Beersheba on October 31 1917. Charging with sabres and bayonets, more than 500 Australian and New Zealand troops set forth upon Turkish forces whom were armed with machine-guns and grenades. The Light Horseman suffered casualties in their charge, but as they pressed forward on horseback, they troops began to notice that losses were beginning to dwindle and that the Turkish infantries were seemingly beginning to panic:

When the trenches before Beersheba were reached, the Brigade mostly bypassed the first and main trenches, but casualties occurred. Some Light Horsemen raced through to the town to capture objectives. Others dismounted at various trenches or had their horses shot from under them and dazed or not ‘got to work with the bayonet’. A terrible disorder soon reigned with some Light Horsemen reduced to using their rifles as clubs. Mostly the Turks seemed anxious to surrender, but scattered units exchanged fire with the Light Horsemen, some bitterly refusing to give up until large numbers had been shot or bayoneted.

Defending Victoria Website, Beersheba 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade

Re-enactment of the Light Horsemen charge, “Battle of Beersheba”, 1917.

As soon as the trenches were cleared an all the horsemen had dismounted, the Turks had thrown down their weapons and offered money for their lives to be spared.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled upon a history website, or thinking “Where the hell is he going with this?” and I’ll let you know that now. I got to thinking about this historical battle this week and it served as some sort of inspiration knowing that soon players in ‘Age of Conan’ will be thinking back to what memorable battles they may have seen in movies, on television, learned about at school, and so on, and hoping to replicate those famous battles, or employ similar tactics in the Border Kingdoms as guilds deftly defend their lands and battlekeeps, or take swords, bows, and arcane abilities to a dungeon “boss”.

It’s probably one of the features I’m looking forward to most in ‘Age of Conan’: formation combat. Funcom has worked long and hard with combat experts on their development team to bring to players a unique and realistic experience when it comes to large and small-scale battles. Where other games have seemingly forced players to employ tactics like “Zerging” (“Zerging”, Wikipedia entry) to achieve victory, I believe it is Funcom’s desire for players in ‘Age of Conan’ to take on the role of a battlefield commander, as you would in an RTS, and use the strengths and exploit weaknesses in a wide variety of combat formations.

“Formations are also the best offense and defense against other formations. In a paper-scissors-rock type approach, ‘Age of Conan’ will offer a unique PvP and PvE approach to tactical combat. A charging gang of knights will decimate a formation of archers. On the other hand, the knights will be hard pressed to survive their charge if it actually was a formation of pikemen they charged at. What better way to break the pikemen formation, then, than to fire volley after volley of arrows at them from your archer formation?”

The leader will make the formation. The leader can give leadership to another in the formation. If the leader leaves the leadership will be given automatically to another player.

Gaute Godager – Gamespy, 17th May 2005

Combat realism! This is what the game is going for, and we love it! Finally, players will actually have to use their brains and think tactically as they deploy their troops and get their guildmates to take position on the battlefield or in the dungeons strewn across Hyboria. Combined “real-time combat” with RTS gameplay; it’s the perfect marriage!

So where can we take this fantastic game feature, and more importantly, what’s going to give you the drive to be the best battlefield commander in ‘Age of Conan’? Are we going to see a regular Dwight D. Eisenhower amongst us, or perhaps even a Genghis Khan or Shaka Zulu? It’s at this point I would like to reveal to you my favourite five historical battles or battle scenes in cinema that I would like most to have a crack at (that’s how we say “make an attempt” here, Downunder) in ‘Age of Conan’, that I’m sure would make any military leader (in-game or out) squeal with glee:

5. The Light Horsemen and the “Battle at Beersheba”, October 31 1917, World War I: I don’t think I need to repeat myself here – just re-read the first couple of paragraphs or follow the link given above for more information.

4. The recreation of the “Battle of Carthage”, Gladiator, 2000: Proximo has been granted the chance to return to Rome from North Africa with his newest batch of prize-fighters, his gladiators, among them, Maximus. In their first fight, marking the beginning of the Roman gladiatorial festivals, Maximus and his men are forced to play the role of the “losing side” (the barbarian horde) in a recreation of the Battle of Carthage. With history looming to repeat itself, Maximus against odds leads his captive brethren, armed with shields and spears, to victory against a force of archers on horse-driven chariots (the Legionnaires of Scipio Africanus).

“Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together. Do you understand? If we stay together we survive.” – Maximus

Using huddled shield-wall tactics, Maximus and his men are able to overthrow the riders and archers, and topple even the chariots themselves and claim a disciplined and patient victory. Guardians for the win!

3. Battle at the “Hot Gates”, Thermopylae, 300, 2006: 300 Spartans against thousands and thousands of Persians! King Leonidas leads his battle-born soldiers to the “Hot Gates”, the narrow gates of Thermopylae, to fend off a Persian invasion. Using the Phalanx formation, the Spartans make effective use of their surroundings and teach the Persians a lesson or two in close quarter combat and are well and truly humbled.

“This is where we hold them. This is where we fight. This is where they die.” – King Leonidas

The Spartans make up for what they lack in numbers in superior melee ability, combat coordination, and sheer determination and discipline.

No spear and shield in ‘Age of Conan’? Who cares?! A fight like this is inspiring no matter what weapon you carry!

2. The “Battle of Stirling”, Braveheart, 1995: Okay, so it’s not historically accurate – it plays out more like a “What if?”, but similar to 300, we again have a comparatively large army against a smaller one, only this time the larger is humbled by a throw-together army of warriors (you might consider them part-timers). After a rousing speech from William Wallace himself, the English, in their arrogance, sent a full cavalry attack on the Scotsmen, only to be met with tree-long pikes upheaved at the precise moment negating the English horseback attack!

“I know you can fight. But it’s our wits that make us men.” – Malcolm Wallace to young William

Cavalry, beware of long and pointy sharp sticks!

So now it’s time for the man at the sound-desk to cue the drum-roll sound effects, because we’re at number one: my absolute favourite historical battle or battle scene in cinema!

1. The “Battle of Helm’s Deep”, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002: Of all the films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this battle is the most epic! The nation of Rohan huddled behind the protective walls of Helm’s Deep, awaiting an impending onslaught of the savage and brutal Uruk-hai, blood lusted Orcs, hording wolf riders, and the dark evil of Lord Sauron himself.

With the aide of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Elf archers under the command of Haldir of Lórien, King Théoden is able to hold the fort for what seems like days, until a weak-spot in the gigantic wall is breached (blown to bits, really) by two runner Uruk-hai (lightly armoured for mobility) carrying with them what resembles a sea mine. Théoden’s men and aides are forced back within the keep to what now seems like a hopeless situation.

“Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.” – Gandalf the White

And it is indeed at first light on the fifth day, Aragorn inspires a disheartened King Théoden to ride out once more and meet their enemy. With renewed strength an energy, Théoden, Aragorn and their infantry break from the indoors of the keep in an explosion of valour and ferocity. The odds are still stacked extremely heavily against them, but Aragorn remembers to at dawn look to the east, and there he sees Gandalf the White on Shadowfax atop a steep hill, and with him a gathered force of Rohan cavalry under the command of Éomer. With the rising sun behind them, Gandalf, Éomer and his cavalry charge down the decline forcing pike-wielding Uruk-hai to look into the sun blinding themselves; victory belonging to the race of men.

Again, perseverance, strength of will, and effective use of surrounding and physical environment hold the key to victory.

So how will you conquer the battle fields in ‘Age of Conan’? Will you look to history and or cinema for inspiration, or will you create history yourself with a bold new approach to field warfare and revolutionise the [digital] art formation combat? What ever your motivations and inspiration, ‘Age of Conan’ is set to deliver a diverse and flexible system for formation combat, so if you find that your tactics are proving ineffective, you have the freedom to change your approach and do what ever it is necessary to win the day. May our battles be glorious, by Crom!

Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,


Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, March 2007

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