Avast, countryfolk! Come here and hear the tale of how Freehold Games and I outsmarted the Trojans with a marvelous wooden horse. Come play Trojan Horse Simulator: The Art of Subterfuge! (link to game page)
Who Are You?!
I’m Epeius, son of Panopeus, born 1281 BCE, and I built the Trojan Horse. So when Freehold Games summoned me from the distant past to help them recreate the daring stratagem for Ludum Dare, naturally I agreed.
Who is Freehold Games, you ask? I’ll introduce you to them, as I’m trained in the arts of rhetoric as well as horse building. There’s Jason Grinblat, who did the design and writing. Brian Bucklew was the programmer. Nick DeCapua did the art, and Brandon Tanner wrote the music that scores this dramatic recreation. You can check out their other games at freeholdgames.com.
The Horse: Majestic, Unconventional, Weaponous
So how did Freehold Games decide on the Trojan Horse? Well, they brainstormed other ideas first. Talk of exploding sheep was bandied about, Brian suggested a sentient machine gun that self-identified as ‘unconventional’, Jason liked the idea of a staff the glitched the level when you hit things. All fine ideas, surely. But let’s be real. The Trojan Horse is THE unconventional weapon, birthing the art of subterfuge and changing the landscape of war forever.
Nick suggested a game where you control a bunch of Greek soldiers inside the Trojan Horse. That’s when the team reached out to me. With a bit more discussion, the team decided that it would be hilarious (and quite historically accurate) if you controlled the soldiers as they rushed toward the front and back of the horse, trying to push it toward Troy. Now, it’s a common misconception that the Trojans actually found the abandoned horse and pulled it into Troy themselves. Nonsense. My brave, cunning countrymen, those Greeks who hid within the horse, did the pushing. The Trojans looked on in awe as the autonomous wooden beast rolled toward the gates of the city. Only when it was too late did they realize they’d been had. History.
Drawing the Horse: A Serendipitous Affair
Brian and Jason loaded up their game development tool of choice, Unity. The idea was to draw a horse, add some wheel joints, put some soldiers inside, and use Unity’s 2D physics engine to let the player push the horse around via the soldiers. I should clarify, here. You control ALL the soldiers. At once. They’re sort of like a sentient liquid mass. In fact, for a while, the game was called An Unconventional Horse Filled with Liquid Greek. But we ended up going with something more dignified.
First, Brian quickly drafted up the horse.
Not as beautiful as my original, but hey, programmer art. Serendipitously, this horse shape turned out to be perfect for two reasons. One, the raised head and tail give the player the option to concentrate the soldiers in a small space and exert pressure on the roof of the horse, effectively jumping it.
Two, the raised head and tail also act as guard rails for soldiers that get flung on top of the horse.
In the real maneuver, soldiers were indeed flung out of the hole I inexplicably left at the top of the horse. But they soldiered on, as true Greeks do.
Procedural Terrain and Exploding Horses
At this point the physics were working, but the flat terrain did a poor job at simulating the rocky approach to the gates of Troy. We couldn’t have the player just roll on through, with no challenge whatsoever. So we introduced procedural terrain, and made the horse explode into pieces if it hit the ground too hard, unless it landed on its wheels.
We fiddled for a while with the parameters: horse durability, terrain peaks and troughs, frequency of the deadly “Trojan” pits, etc. Finally, we settled on something we liked.
The Trojan Horse – Opus no. 13 Part 1 – The Dawn of the Horse (The Coming Storm)
Around this time, brilliant composer-man Brandon Tanner was preparing a score of epic proportions. Some say the juxtaposition of the uber-dramatic score with the silly graphics and gameplay produce a humorous effect. To those people I say: HEY, THIS IS NO LAUGHING MATTER. THIS IS WAR, AND SUBTERFUGE, AND HORSES. In addition to the main theme, Brandon also wrote an appropriately epic overture to accompany the text prologue, which is also very serious.
The Trojans Are a Suspicious Lot
Everything up to this point was well and good, but we were missing the key element that made the whole endeavor so brilliant. The Trojans were quite suspicious of this horse, after all, and it was only their wonder at this magical contraption that kept their minds distracted from what was really happening. And what was really happening? That’s right: subterfuge. Occasionally, due to the imperfect design of the horse (hey, I was on a tight schedule, too), Greek soldiers were flung on to the top of the horse or to the ground. Naturally, this made the Trojans suspicious. It was up to the other soldiers inside to jiggle the horse so that the clumsy dum-dums on top fell back in. Now for the soldiers who fell to the ground… Well, most of them fell into the gaping pits. Some survived in the hill valleys, and it was up to the other soldiers to crush them under the wheels of the horse, lest they arouse more suspicion. A grim task, indeed, but necessary, and necessary to simulate in Trojan Horse Simulator: The Art of Subterfuge.
To simulate this danger, the team introduced a suspicion meter that incremented by 10 for every second a Greek soldier is exposed outside of the horse. Get to 1000 suspicion, and the Trojans discover your ruse. Now you must balance forceful thrusting of the horse to navigate tough terrain with gentle management of the soldiers to keep suspicion low. And when one inevitably gets free, you must crush. Crush.
We adjusted the length of the trek to the gates of Troy until we were happy with the game’s difficulty. We wanted to keep it difficult to reward the victors. And difficult it is! But with practice, you can really manipulate the horse to an astonishing degree, making most terrain possible to beat (even terrain that initially looks impossible).
One bonus note about the art. Our original artist couldn’t join us, so Nick DeCapua bravely took up the mantle. And a fine job he did in only one evening, imparting a sense of sun-baked mountainous terrain and giving us the hewn wooden we see today. I’ll say, it looks mighty like the one I built with my own hands all those years ago (mine was better, though).
And that, my friends, is how the art of subterfuge was born, and how our team recreated the experience of that fateful morning. It was our first weekend-long game jam, and all things considered, we think it came together nicely. Of course, as my father Panopeus was fond of saying in ancient Greece, “if only there was more time to think of ways to deceive your enemies, and to spend on your game jam.” He was wise. Unfortunately, he was crushed to death during the horse stampede of 1260 B.C.E.
So saddle up, jump inside, and teach those Trojans a lesson about ogling a magic horse.