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Multimedia: Scrolling through Olympus Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Nicholas Nicastro

Rome wasn't built in a day, but a new computer game lets you re-create ancient Greece in a matter of hours.

Gamers playing with the Sierra Studios/Impressions "City Building" series have had opportunities to play at being both caesar and pharaoh in recent years (see "Simulated Caesars," January/February 1999 and "Play it Again, Seti," March/April 2000). It was perhaps inevitable, then, that the same developers would add the Greek world to complete their "triumvirate" of simulated ancient realms. Their latest release, Zeus: Master of Olympus, has a far more whimsical, cartoony feel than the other games. Yet the experience of being a Pentium Pericles is even more fun than being a Cyber Caesar. Players are challenged to found and develop a settlement (here, in Greece starting ca. 1000 B.C.), while balancing economic, diplomatic, and military priorities. The task is to do it all, from providing infrastructure to basic services of health, trade, and amusement, without busting the treasury or growing faster than city services can accommodate.

Zeus: Master of Olympus
Sierra Studios/Impressions
minimum 166 Mhz processor

Shogun: Total War
Dreamtime Interactive/Electronic Arts
233 Mhz Pentium II processor,
or 200 Mhz with 3D accelerator card

There's nothing quite so droll about Dreamtime Interactive/Electronic Arts' real-time strategy game Shogun: Total War. Set in sixteenth-century feudal Japan, this package is part chess match, part tactical simulator. Players lead one of seven warring clans and set about developing territories, building samurai armies, and working the levers of diplomacy. The game is tough to win at the strategic level: the user must outmaneuver an artificial intelligence that balances resources against multiple threats very deftly. Clans can attempt to gain technological advantages by importing muskets from Portuguese or Dutch traders, but the guns come with Christianity, which can itself trigger internal rebellions. Players can shape events themselves based on broad historical themes from medieval Japan, or re-create a series of set-piece historical battles.

Nicholas Nicastro produced the 1996 documentary Science and Sacrilege: Native Americans, Archaeology, and the Law, distributed by the University of California Center for Media and Independent Learning. His second historical novel is Between Two Fires, published in the spring of 2002.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America