17 April 2014

Rome 455 (AoE II:HD)- Dev. Log 5

Hello again! Sorry it has been so long since my last update. Things have been very busy and every time I have wanted to do something Rome 455 related, I have been drawn to working on the scenario rather than writing an update.

Anyway, what have I been getting up to since my last post? Well, lots, really. I have basically finished the scenario and it seems to be all ready for the submission date of May 1st. I have worked on many aspects, but the majority of the time has been spent on working with play-testers and improving the map based on their feedback. Voice acting has also made its way into the scenario. It was all done in one evening with myself sitting alone on my bed doing silly voices. Ah, the game dev. life is for me! The voice acting should be in my submission no problem, the only issue is, I'm not sure how easy it will be to share all the files easily on Steam Workshop. I think there might be an issue of A) File size and B) Having an easy way for the players to download the files and them put them into the correct folder once done. If the voice acting doesn't make it on to the Workshop, I might record a play through of it so that people who do want to see it can.

Before I go, I would just like to thank everyone that has been on the contest thread. In particular AoF_HockeySam18. They have all been very helpful and supportive in any questions or problems I have had, (and trust me, there have been more than a few!). Either way, all of them are a really nice bunch and make the AoE community a really pleasant thing to be a part of. (The same cannot be said of DOTA2 *cough* *cough*).

Well, I'll release an update to tell you how it all goes. The map should be available to download sometime in May. Wish me luck! I'll need it...

19 February 2014


Trapped in the netting of heat,
Yearning for something, someone even.
Cricket soothing with annoying
Annoying sound.

It isn't working,
Writing this in the netting of heat.
I don't want to tell you what or who I miss,
It would simply be his annoying
Annoying sound.

16 February 2014

Rome 455 (AoE II:HD)- Dev. Log 4

Recently, my focus on Rome 455 has been on bulking out the city; trying to find a balance between a visually interesting place and a map that is also a challenge to play through.

The main way in which I have been doing this is by thinking about what you would find in the city of Rome  that could also be a threat. Here are some of the ideas I have:
  • A garrison of soldiers at the city barracks.
  • A stables, with trained horse riders.
  • A temple, with monks that can convert units.
  • Ships that have come from the docks on the river.
The stables, as mentioned previously.

I have also made one of the objectives that can be destroyed the city's university, to make up its lack of military might, I have given it a lot of protection, with many castles and watch towers.

One of the major issues which I have been thinking about is what the player should or should not be able to destroy. To give a sense that the city is somewhat realistic, there are a lot of civilian buildings that play only a background role at best. I was debating whether I should allow the player to destroy these or not. If I don't let them destroy the buildings, it will make the map more focused and less cluttered in terms of options, giving a smoother experience. Allowing the player to destroy them will, however, give them more tactical options, destroying buildings that are blocking their path for a greater tactical route. Additionally, it also gives the sense that you are attacking a whole city, rather than just a set few objectives. For now, I have left the buildings so that the player can attack them. This may change though as I get closer towards the end of development. 

What's next? Well, I will be thinking more about the writing and the story specifics of the scenario. I have some ideas floating around at the moment, so I will mull over them a little more before I start to implement them.

6 February 2014

Text Message

One day last week I received a text message. It was quite strange really, I wasn't expecting anyone to come along and talk to me; especially a complete stranger. That's the thing that caught my attention, I just didn't know who it was from. Now, in this day of constant information being streamed to our eye sockets, I was thrown to say the least. We exchanged a few meaningless pleasantries, our conversation even went into the current dull wave of weather we had recently been having. I don't know why I continued the conversation to be honest, I wasn't worried about being rude, I didn't even know who this person was. But I was curious, they could be anyone from anywhere; and that's what drove me forward into the shadows of their mystique. I was an explorer, traveling into the unknown.

There was suddenly a new development: a name. Natalie. At this my brain started to whir into action. I went through every folder and sub folder in my brain. Nothing. I simply couldn't recall her. I dashed to my computer and vigorously searched every social network at my disposal. Again, nothing. Who was she? Perhaps this was all a hoax, someone playing a part? Surely not. Maybe someone from a party last summer? Possible. Either way she was lost on me, her name drowned in the dews of time. I moved forward with the conversation, trying to read into what she was saying. Anything really, only  so that I had a chance to scrape the barrel of any encounters I had had.

There was a swift change of tone from Natalie. She said quite solemnly, (although you can never truly tell with text messages), 'I need to tell you something'. This is when I looked up from the glare of my phone. I stared at myself in the mirror, examining my perplexed face. The plot was about to thicken. I replied 'Go for it', trying to sound as blasé as possible. There was a long wait.

A sudden buzz escaped from the phone a solid five minutes later. She had replied. It was a long message. She described a time we had met, she thought that I was funny, handsome, and kind. I even had a great smile. But then she went on. She talked about how it had never worked out with guys for her before. I had had a serious effect on her life and she thought of me a lot. But this is what amazed me. There was one final sentence at the end of the text that made me feel like I had never done before: she was in love with me. Pure and simple. Love. I was well, shocked to say the least. A sudden spasm of guilt travelled down to the soles of my feet. This girl had told me that she was in love with me. She had been brave, taken the plunge. And me? I didn't even know her name.

I paced up and down my room, stepping over my politics essay that was lying, unfinished on the floor, due in for the next day. But that could wait, this was important. I stopped. Standing motionless in the middle of the room, I gave myself a smile, I glanced at myself in the mirror once more. I was proud, I was happy. I didn't even know who this girl was, but I, in that short period of time we must have met had changed her life. She had fallen in love with me. The journey I had set out on pursuing these string of text messages had paid off, I was important to someone. Somebody cared about me. I continued pacing not knowing what to reply, I had to know who she was now, I couldn't go on like this. Then, as I was about to start writing out my follow up, another buzz escaped from the phone.

This moment, this next message, illustrated to me how someone can make and destroy a person in just the space of ten minutes. No wars were fought, or long lasting relationships of love broken. But rather two text messages. This message was a death warrant in a way. I read it twice over to make sure I wasn't going crazy. But she was gone, Natalie was fading, as sand might fall between your fingers. Her love for me was leaving, stepping out of the back door and into the dark horizon. It turns out who I thought was Natalie was in fact a friend of mine, she was worried about me, thought I hadn't been looking too good recently. She had done this as an attempt to make me feel better. Her intent was sweet at heart, I know. But even still, she had taken a bite out of me. I was hurt, wounded. Now, you might be thinking that I'm over reacting, that I should never have taken this complete stranger's words to heart, that I was was weak and shouldn't have been so destroyed by those two little messages. Well, Rome wasn't built in a day, and it wasn't destroyed in one either. But I? I was built in a day.

3 February 2014

Our Choice

When they fell from the sky
And scrambled out of the earth,
They had to decide,
As they were surrounded,
Surrounded by the depths of eternity.

Their choice was for all of them,
For all the future selves who would fall or scramble.
They were surrounded on either side:
The weary still of death,
The loud frolic of life.

They chose.
And they went away,
With only the whispers of myth carrying them,
into the thick clouds
and the thicker dirt.

12 January 2014

Rome 455 (AoE II:HD)- Dev. Log 3

 Hello all, thanks for checking in again. I haven't given an update on Rome 455 in quite a while, I have been on holiday and beavering away at the map. Quite a lot of time has passed since my last update so I have a few different things to talk to you guys about.

Firstly, my main priority was to learn how triggers worked. Despite having made maps for AoE before, I have never made a scenario or any map for that matter which has required the use of triggers. It turns out, they are fairly basic, they are just simple 'if' and 'then' statements used practically all the time in programming. I did have a bit of an issue concerning the triggers, however. I wanted to have specific character names; such as Emperor Maximus, King Genseric and his son, Huneric. This meant that when having a specific character talk, if I wanted to just have the character's name appear and not the player name I had to give it as an 'instruction' rather than a 'player says'. So whilst it does look a little weird, I do find it is better than the alternative. Additionally, having it appear as an instruction allows me to change how long it appears for, which is helpful for particularly long/short speeches.

One of the main focuses that I had was the design of the map itself. This is an ongoing process still. Although, what I want to achieve most with it is a good balance between a nice city and having a mechanically fun map to play. One way that I was intending on achieving this was by awarding the player for exploring. It would allow me to be a bit more creative with how the map looks as well as add another layer of depth to the map. I intend to award players for exploring with some basic RPG elements. When they find something, one of the characters will gain extra attack or they could receive extra units for example. In fact, whilst I was thinking about this, I just so happened to Tweet that making an Age of Empires RPG could be a lot of fun. This is what happened:

Does this mean anything? Could the Age of Empires team be at work on a spin-off to the series? Only time can tell. Although, it's more likely that it is nothing at all and I'm just getting all over excited.

Apart from that, I do not have that much to tell you guys at the moment. I'm trying to avoid giving away too many details of the map as it is being entered into a competition (my friend recommended not to talk specifics too much, so I will follow his advice for the mean time). Until then, don't fast castle too much, it isn't fun being on the receiving end of one of those.

20 December 2013

The Ham Sandwich- A Short Film

The Ham Sandwich from Fynn Levy on Vimeo.

Meet Matt, despite being young and having the rest of his life ahead of him, he is worried, concerned. Matt worries about what his legacy will be, what he will be remembered for. One day, as an attempt to create some sort of legacy for himself, he makes a ham sandwich. However, by the end of the day that small legacy he created is gone; as Matt eats the sandwich whilst visiting the park.

This short film was made by Fynn Levy, Matthew Stokes and Matthew Toohig.

11 December 2013

Rome 455 (AoE II:HD)- Dev. Log 2

Hi there. Back again with my second development log for Rome 455. Enjoy!

Having mulled over my initial map idea and reviewing what I had made so far, I decided that some major changes had to take place. Quite simply, I needed to restart making the map. The size that I had initially chosen was all wrong, it didn't allow the type of gameplay that I wanted to encourage in the map- larger exploration and pursuing objectives with multiple tactical options; rather than linear tower defence-like gameplay. Additionally, having contacted the judge for the competition further, I realised that I could have a lot more of a creative licence than what I was originally holding myself back with. However, there were still some key ideas that I wanted to keep: the destruction of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, for example.

Initial layout (smaller).

Current layout (larger).

I also did a bit more research into the events of the conflict itself. I found out that in fact, there was very little fighting within the sack and few people are recorded of actually dying. This was because there very little Roman troops in the areas at the time. However, I have decided that I will have some Roman soldiers in the city (for there to be some actual conflict), and perhaps have a larger Roman force return to attempt to reclaim the city midway through the scenario.  

I found out that I could, if I wanted to, add voice dialogue into the scenario for the characters. Whilst this is a nice idea, I'm not quite sure if I will implement any, as I'm not quite sure who I would get to do the voice recordings (it might just be myself putting on some stupid accents), as well as the amount of time it could take up. 

Until next time... 

7 December 2013

Rome 455 (AoE II:HD)- Dev. Log 1

I was looking through the discussions for Age of Empires II: HD Edition and I came across this. I read through it and I was immediately excited. "An opportunity to compete my map making skills against others! And an excuse to do some historical research!" I was thrilled. Anyway, I have since decided that I am going to give entering the competition a go. Along with it, I intend to have a series of development logs, not only so that I can track my process, but anyone else who is interested can join in the journey with me. So, enough of my jabbering, here it goes:
I started by doing some research into what time period I would set my scenario in. What immediately jumped out at me was that the timeline included the back end of the Roman Empire. Now, I have always been a bit of a history nerd, but in particular a Roman history nerd. This dates back to when I learnt about them when I was 8 in school but my interest has been supplemented with movies such as Gladiator and a particularly good series of podcasts called  The History of Rome. Anyway, I grasped at the opportunity to do a map based on a topic I found really intriguing. I was looking at events since 400 AD (the earliest date we can base our map on) and soon settled on something which I thought would be quite good for a scenario: The Sack of Rome in 455 AD. I chose it in the end for three main reasons:
  • The setting allowed me to use the new Roman units and building set included in the recent The Forgotten expansion.
  • The ambiguity of the actual events gave me more creative license.
  • The Vandals (the Kingdom who attacked Rome) were original Eastern Germanic, but had moved to Northern Africa. This meant that I could add a variety of units from different areas, without breaking the historical validity too extremely.
Having decided the scenario, I began building a basic outline of the map and plotted out key events, based on what little knowledge there is of the attack. From what I found there were some key moments which I could put in, but mostly I could come up with my own objectives for the player to complete. I then started plotting out some key land marks: where the River Tiber, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus docks and town centre would be. These were just rough, however; and I am likely to remove or add to at least one of these before the map is fully completed.  

This was just an initial start. I will go away, give the map a bit more a think, bounce some ideas around and research more into the events. Hopefully the next update will not be too far away. Thanks for reading!

4 December 2013

Tolkien and World War I: EPQ Pitch


This is a video that outlines why I am studying Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings along with The Great War for my EPQ.

Tolkien and World War I: EPQ Pitch from Fynn Levy on Vimeo.

30 November 2013

To what extent was the 1964 Presidential Election was the most important reason behind US escalation in Vietnam?

Just an essay I wrote about something I have been studying in history classes. It may even help other students:

The 1964 presidential election changed many aspects of how the US were to continue fighting in Vietnam. It brought Johnson into power, but this time, with a mandate to rule. It meant that the whole way that the war was to play out would change. Having said this, there were many other factors that contributed to this overall effect. This included the legacy of Kennedy, The Gulf of Tonkin incident of 1964 and even the overall state of South Vietnam. All of these other factors can also be seen to be important reasoning behind US escalation in Vietnam.

When LBJ won the 1964 election in November. It was by a landslide. After spending around a year as Kennedy’s replacement, Johnson had managed to build up a large amount of support. He had managed to reassure most of the country, whether it was liberals or democrats, that he would do the right thing in Vietnam. Saying that he did not intend to do anything rash, whilst also saying that ‘America keeps her word’, implying that he would be harsh enough to win the war. LBJ had worked his way up the political ladder throughout his career, unlike Kennedy. This meant that when Johnson finally won the presidency completely legitimately, he was determined to be the ‘best there ever was’. He was determined to do the right thing. LBJ always saw the war as difficult and something he didn’t understand; something he admitted some years after his presidency. This meant that when he wanted to do the right thing for Vietnam, he left it in the hands of people that were more experienced and involved for the most part. This included secretaries such as Rusk and McNamara. The two of these men were determined to carry on fighting in Vietnam. This is why, whilst LBJ was president, fighting still continued. Johnson’s election manifesto had very little concerning Vietnam. He wished to focus on domestic policies. This could be another reason as to why LBJ left a lot of his policies concerning Vietnam to his advisors. Another factor that LBJ brought was his personality. He had seen bad previous experiences of appeasing to the enemy, with Hitler and World War II, as well as the ‘loss’ of China in 1959. LBJ decided to learn from these lessons and applied the policy of no appeasement to Vietnam. However, what he failed to realise was, that Vietnam was a completely different situation to that of WWII or China, so this policy and personality trait ended up leading to large escalation in Vietnam. Additionally, LBJ came from Texas and could therefore be seen as more conservative than normal, living up to the stereotype. He had shown that he had little time for foreigners, (by being furious about being advised against shaking hands with the Thais in a Vice-Presidential visit), thus he was not willing to make many compromises for the North Vietnamese. This again fed into why there was such an increase in US presence in Vietnam. Therefore, since the 1964 presidential election brought in the nature of LBJ combined with the nature of the advisors he relied on, it can be seen as a significant reason as to why there was US escalation in Vietnam.

One of the most dominant factors that influenced LBJ’s actions was Kennedy and the legacy that he left behind with him.  Johnson later said that ‘I swore to myself I would carry on.’ He felt like he was in-debt to Kennedy, without him, he may have never been president at all. The reasoning as to why Johnson kept the same policies from Kennedy’s time in power to his are twofold. Firstly, when LBJ was filling in the last year of JFK’s term, he felt that he had to continue in the same way that the president had planned to. This included increasing the pressure in Vietnam. This meant that when Johnson was finally fully elected in 1964, the policy that was enforced was that of JFK’s. This means that what Kennedy left behind contributed to the escalation. Additionally, since the LBJ had been following the policy of JFK for a year already, it is more than possible that he might have thought it was best to continue in the same way when he was voted in proper. This means that throughout his whole term, Johnson kept the same foreign policy to Vietnam to what JFK had been doing. To add to this, not only did Johnson keep the same policy as Kennedy of increased involvement, but he also kept the same people to enforce these policies. This lack of change meant that no new ideas were being generated, as such the determination to escalate in Vietnam stayed. The two most notable figures that LBJ kept were that of Rusk and McNamara; who were secretaries of state and defence respectively. Rusk was determined to keep the USA in South-East Asia and especially Vietnam. McNamara took a front seat in affairs with Vietnam, basing his suggestions of greater and greater involvement on the statistics that he received on the killing rate and ratio of North Vietnamese soldiers. These two men, along with the rest of the Kennedy legacy left behind, was a major factor in the reasoning behind the escalation.

An event that proved to be a trigger in causing serious increase in troop from the US was that of the Gulf of Tonkin incident on the 2nd and 4th of August 1964. Earlier in that year, in June, LBJ had drawn up a resolution that would allow him wage full scale war in Vietnam if passed. The Tonkin incident gave the US a fairly reasonable excuse to pass the bill. Despite being based on sketchy grounds (it was later proven that the North Vietnamese had in fact, not attacked); it allowed LBJ to increase troop sizes significantly. Without this event taking place, the USA may never have found an internationally “acceptable” excuse for declaring war on the North.

Another significant factor to consider is the state of affairs in South Vietnam in 1964. The country was in a state of chaos, with widespread disruption and little support for the US cause. There were increasing numbers of PAVN in the South since December 1963, causing more havoc. This was possibly spurred on by the deaths of Kennedy and Diem one month earlier. There was political weakness in the south too. Saigon was incompetent, weak and corrupt. From the initial replacement Khanh, the situation only got worse with six different leaders coming into power between 1964-75. There was little to no support for these leaders. All were corrupt and were not true supporters of the US cause (Khanh had an escape boat ready so that he could leave quickly if there was ever a chance he would be put in danger). At the time there was an estimated 50% control of the south by the NLF. Most of the population of the South were against the regime in Saigon, meaning that the US could do nothing but send in more troops. The previous attempts to keep citizens loyal were being eroded away, as the Strategic Hamlets programme failed, due to infiltration by NLF cadres (commissar-esque figures who would convert citizens into communism). In short, the South Vietnamese were very apathetic to the north. There was a lack of fighting will among the ARVN, meaning that more and more was expected of US troops. Even when the USA would fight, the North Vietnamese would fight back well. The Viet Cong were able to counter US air power significantly, thanks to advanced Soviet/Chinese technology. Air strikes, were a vital strategy to the US in Vietnam, so the hampering of this meant compensation by increasing the amount of ground troops. A report from Taylor in 1964 proved to be very pessimistic. He described the state in Vietnam to be “very disturbing”. The US dealt with this by simply increasing the amount of soldiers and escalating the war in the north.

In conclusion, I would say that the election itself could be seen as the most important. It brought in a president who was dead cert on how he was going to deal with Vietnam- aggressively. It also envelopes the factor of the Kennedy legacy and his advisors, as with the result being what it was, it brought in those advisors and with that the JFK legacy. It could be argued that the Tonkin incident is the most important, as without it the US may never have declared war and escalated, despite its wish to do so. It is more than likely that the USA would have found another turning point or event as reasoning behind their increased involvement. The factor, whilst being important, is not particularly unique in of itself. Another factor that could contest strongly for the greatest importance is the state the south was in. Whilst it was chaotic and problematic, even if it wasn’t it is still likely the US would have felt the need to increase involvement, as the north had much more effective troops in general. The state the south was in most likely hastened plans for escalation rather than being the original cause. So, in all, the US 1964 election seems to have the most weight behind it for being the most important reason behind US escalation in Vietnam.