Top Video Games for “Researching” Your Alternate History Novel

How to use video games as ‘research’ for your alternate history or historical fiction novel (or just for fun!). Check it out!

By Daniel Ottalini

Every great writer takes influence and ideas from their surroundings. Nature, society, repression, upheaval, relationships, food – they all play a role in building or creating art and literature. Need Proof? (See War and Peace). For writers of Alternate History, Steampunk, or alternative worlds, where is our guidance, our focus, our tree of knowledge?Certainly, the great author Jules Verne, the enthusiastic enlightenment (and darker side) of the English Victorian era, the rugged styling of the American Wild West, all play a part. But within those come predictable, static ideas in some ways, a lack of new frontiers. I have heard complaints before, even written about them, about Steampunk being so West centric that it excludes such an incredible variety of other cultures. How can you, as an author, delve deeper into the ‘what ifs?’ and create a storyline of you own?

Simple. Lead that culture (technologically and metaphorically speaking, of course), through one of these thought provoking and challenging video games. Some of which you’ve heard, and others you may not have.

In Personal Favorite Order

Total War: Rome 2– Great game, one of many in the Total war series – Take a nation/culture from beginnings to world power. Lots of Mods as well, to enhance or modify your experience. Total War is unique in that it offers both civilization building/city construction component and a Real Time Strategy combat component. Excellent, waste-all-your-weekend without your knowledge game. Lends itself well to battle scene writing, as well as overall story planning.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V– The game that started my love of country and computer nation building simulation. (Well, to be honest, it was Civilization II, not V, but that’s just dating my young self). Cultures have different abilities, less RTS, as Civ is turn based, but incorporating religion, trade, technology, even tourism and unique civilization units and buildings in the most recent DLCs. Great game to practice ‘what-ifs’ – as in, What if the Brazilians embraced Orthodox Christianity and proceeded to crusade against all their Catholic neighbors?

Europa Universalis IV– Was slightly apprehensive to play this after already playing Crusader Kings 2. Paradox makes a great game with a complicated and wondrous system, but I was thinking it would be more of the same. Similar, yes, but the same? No. This is an amazing Alternate History game. No winners, unless you count taking your  nation to prosperity starting in the late 1400s. Just left playing a game where the Ottomans conquered the Byzantines, were then counter invaded by a crusade of Spanish and Bosnians, who forced the Ottomans to release the Byzantines as a freed country, to survive and exist and eventually conquer all of Greece and the Balkans. Seriously, you can’t make that stuff up, but it happened. Without human input. Simply goes to show you how useful such a great game can be. (Who did I play? The Scottish, who annexed Ireland, Wales, and is in the process of forcing the English back into the ocean… Oh, and I’ve colonized most of NE Canada and the USA.) Good for post middle ages, but pre-WWI, Napoleonic Era.

Crusader Kings II– Another Paradox game, similar to the gameplay found in Europa Universalis. Political intrigue, fabricating claims, building alliances, royal marriages, plus character traits that really impact your ‘persona’ in game. Once played as a dwarf king (as in small person, not fantasy) who was both lecherous and chaste at the same time. Not sure how that happens. Good for some interesting character combinations, and learning more about the complexity of the political system in Europe during the middle ages. (Game starts with the Norman invasion of England)


So what to learn from all of these? Sometimes, the best stories or ideas come by accident. Video Games, with their advanced computer programming, provide a companion to your own imagination and creativity. Even in my own novella, Roma Aeronautica, I used some ideas or concepts from video games such as Assassins Creed and even board games! So keep your eyes open, and your author’s senses tingling.



Top Ten Gifts for the Book Lover, Continued.

My top five holiday gifts of the season, including some you may not be thinking of!

Hi all, so here’s the last bit of my top ten gifts for the book lover, #1-5

#5 – An audiobook of his/her favorite novel. Trust me, there’s nothing better than being able to listen to your favorite story while being stuck in traffic. It really can make the time fly. My personal favorite audiobook, Ender’s Game, is an excellent book for those of you with middle age children in the car. Zap the phones and let them listen and watch for a change.

#4 – An eReader – Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or iPad. – Please note, I’m not telling you to actually go out and buy one right now. It’s better if you ask the gift recipient two things. 1. Do they already have one? (If so, don’t get them another) and 2.) What would they do if they got one? Are they going to use it primarily to read? Play games? Do work at home? Etc. Different versions tend to be better for different things. Nook and Kobo are a bit cheaper and focus more on just reading with fewer apps, but better ‘book-reading’ software. Kindle and iPad tend to be better all around machines, even able to run some competitors programs on their hardware, but you also pay a premium for it, especially if you want things like 3G and such. So think about short and long term cost.

#3 – Brass Legionnaire of course! I had to rep my own book, but in all seriousness, buying my novel or another self-published novel would really be a boon to someone else’s pocketbook this season, like my friend Hazel West and her novel On a Foreign FieldAnd the best part is there is something out there for everyone! So take a look this holiday season!

#2 – A super special edition of their favorite book – Many authors have some sort of special edition version of their novel. If you book lover is really interested, look it up. A good alternative – find a book poster or blown up version of the cover and get it framed.

#1 – My number one gift isn’t really something you can wrap or tie with a bow. In a way, it’s something that I personally always enjoy during this very hectic holiday season.

The number one gift is the gift of alone time. Many book readers enjoy being able to sit back, relax, and crack open their favorite novel (Old or new). It’s hard to do this during a very crazy holiday season with family, friends, etc all over the place. So if there is a free moment, or your book lover wants to hide in the bedroom for a while just unwinding, let him/her. Or go even further, set aside a whole day where you have no prior engagements, jobs, cleaning/cooking duties and just enjoy the spirit of the season.

Or when in doubt, make brownies. Everyone loves brownies.

Happy Holidays everyone! Be on the lookout for a surprise holiday sale coming this weekend!

My top ten gifts for the book lover in your life, #10-6

This is Part One of my list of top ten things to buy for your book lover this holiday season. Enjoy!

Hi all,

Are you one of these crazy, yet also very patient, people?

The holidays are right around the corner, as are the huge sales of Black Friday. With that in mind, here are my top ten gifts for the person(s) in your life who love to read.

#10 World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War– This novel by Max Brooks is one of my favorites. It reads like a non-fiction documentary that you know (or hope) is simply fiction. Plus, you’ll want to read the book before the upcoming movie turns the actual piece of literature on its head.
#9 Dies the Fire– If you like the show Revolution, you’ll love the book Dies the Fire. Only exception – people who want the lights to come back on. It won’t be happening. Neither, it appears, will guns. Who thinks it’s still a good idea to make fun of the kid learning to fence now?

#8 Small Gods– Wit, sarcasm, and a slightly slow true believer holding the fate of an entire religion in his hands, what’s not to love? This book answers the question – if no one believes, do the gods still exist? Pratchett is a master, so go buy it!

#7 Some good mood music – Nothing gets me into a novel faster than some nice, calm, relaxing music. That, or a huge bottle of soda. But for real, classical music has been shown to do lots of great things, such as rising your intellect and making you understand words like Concerto. This one even claims it is The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe, and you can’t argue with that!

$6 – A good journal – Why a journal? Because I firmly believe that people who are great readers have the ability to become great writers. I have one. It’s not called a journal, it’s called an idea book. Personally, Barnes and Noble has way better ones, especially in store. Check out this page if you don’t believe me.
Well that is it for right now. I’ll be posting the next chunk on Tuesday! Happy short week!

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