Gaming Alt-History …

So, I recently loaded up Hearts of Iron 2 to play around with for a bit. I have it running, I think, on a very slow time progressing and I started as Canada in 1936, and left it running for about three hours or so, so … I’m still in 1936. The reason I bought this from GOG is because I had originally bought Hearts of Iron a long time ago — I’m pretty sure I got that one from GOG as well, but am too lazy to check right now — and what it promised appealed to me: play as pretty much any country in the world during WWII and see how things turn out, whether it turns out differently or turns out the same. In short, it promised to be a user-shapeable alternate WWII. How could I resist?

The thing is, though, building an AI for more political/diplomatic situations is hard in and of itself, but building one for a alternate history game is even harder. The ideal alternate history game starting from a set point in time without a deviation, and where the deviations only come from player interactions, is one where if the player does everything the way it happened in history — or else doesn’t play as a country that would have a significant impact — then history will proceed pretty much exactly as it did, but the player interactions will be responded to in a sensible manner given the historical personalities of the time. And the options are supposed to be pretty wide ranging. So, for example, what would have happened if Poland hadn’t bucked at allowing the Soviets to cross their territory in response to an attack by Hitler? If that agreement had been made, it would seem awfully convenient if Hitler and Stalin had made their pact anyway, so that might not have happened. But then what would have happened? Would Hitler have been deterred from attacking Poland? Would he have done it anyway? If he did that, would Stalin have done what Poland feared and used that as an excuse to occupy all of Poland? How do you determine what makes sense in that case? And that’s only one relatively minor action you can take. What if the United States was more aggressive against Hitler? Or less aggressive and entered the war later, or not at all? What if France hadn’t allowed the move into the disputed territories? There are so many things here and so many combinations that it’s pretty much impossible to react to all of them.

Games that either deviate on their own early or are set in an entirely alternative universe can get away with creating leaders and nations with personality types and then letting them loose on the situations, but then they might act completely out of character when it comes to what happened in actual history. A game can also seek to short circuit the “historically accurate” expectation by adding randomness to things and events so that things don’t always work out the same way, but this impedes the alt-history feel of the game. And the alt-history part is what’s really appealing about, at least, politics and economics focused real history games. I, at least, don’t buy those games for history to be completely different or exactly the same, but instead for them to be reactive to what I do.

I don’t know if Hearts of Iron is really good at this, because I haven’t played either game long enough to really get a feel for that. I just know that it’s awfully hard, and any game that can do it well is worth playing. And I wish I knew more games like that to try, in various time periods.

One Response to “Gaming Alt-History …”

  1. What I Finished, What I Played in 2018 | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] I hit some games for a short time. Strategy games Hearts of Iron 2, Master of Orion 2 and Alpha Centauri, as well as the adventure game Spellcasting […]

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