Totally Accurate Battle Simulator is, more or less, what it sounds like: a sandbox in which you can set up simulated battles between two armies, using a mixture of units, from unarmed peasants to rock-flinging catapults, all rendered in charmingly blocky 3-D animation. Once you have your simulation set up, you hit “play,” and move your camera around the battlefield, as you watch the battle unfold.
If you are the kind of person who only visits the Met for the Arms and Armor wing, this is … amazing. Totally Accurate Battle Simulator isn’t available to purchase yet, but previews have been released to some video-game streamers, and YouTube videos of the game, in which Gumby-ish soldiers murder and die in a pretty-dang-good approximation of real-world physics, have been popping up everywhere. So I was pretty amped when the the preview code for Totally Accurate Battle Simulator showed up in my inbox, and set about making battles immediately. For example, in this battle I set up a mixture of ballista, catapults, chariots, and spearmen and footmen:
I enjoyed the “Battle Simulator” part of Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, but it was the “Totally Accurate” part that had me more intrigued. The meat of the game is setting up sandbox battles between different military units, and then seeing what happens. The game … could it actually be totally accurate?
In an email with one of the game developers, Petter Henriksson, he wrote that the game “was made during a game jam that took place at a castle in a really small town in Sweden. We went there mostly to have fun, drink some, and make games, and ended up blowing up YouTube.”
As the Prussian military genius Carl von Clausewitz once said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” To slightly twist and expand von Clausewitz’s aphorism: What if simulated war could be the simulation of reality by other means? Everything from the microwave to Super Glue was invented on accident; had Henriksson and company stumbled across a way to answer some of life’s most pressing questions?
First, I asked the game to settle the upcoming presidential election, by arranging the blue army so it spelled out “HILLARY” in sword-wielding supporters, who marched on a column of Trump supporters also arranged in letter formation and armed with shields. (I gave “Trump” an added “!” to even up the numbers, and also just because I think he’d appreciate it in general.)
The results are decisive. You can clearly see how Trump’s main base (the red army) stays together — they waver very little headed into battle with Hillary — a clear parallel with Trump’s own historic march to victory in the primaries. Meanwhile, Hillary’s main forces splinter out into several groups during the initial charge — obviously a symbol for Bernie Bros — but ultimately coalesce. While Trump’s ground game disintegrates, Hillary supporters slowly form up into kill teams to dispatch the last of the Trump supporters, cutting them down from behind. The latest poll numbers seem to support this outcome.
Curious, I turned my attention to the other great debate of this summer: Harambe. Should the Zoo Man have shot Harambe? I lined up Zoo Man’s supporters (in red) with muskets and gave Harambe’s blue-tinted supporters boxing gloves, and then let slip the gorillas of war.
Many of the Zoo Man’s supporters end up shooting their compatriots in the head, allowing Harambe’s army to break through until it’s all over but for the weeping. One lonely zookeeper holds out to the south, trying to get off a final shot, but is quickly swarmed. RIP, Harambe — your life may have been cut short too soon, but at least in Totally Accurate Battle Simulator your cause was proven just and you were avenged. This proves that not only can Totally Accurate Battle Simulator accurately forecast real-world events; it can also make moral judgments about them.
I decided to look at media for my next experiment. I ran most of these simulations before Select All editor Max Read admitted to killing Gawker here in the pages of New York Magazine. Before that confession, the main culprit in the demise of the 14-year-old site seemed to be billionaire VC Peter Thiel. Could a column of Gawker shield-bearers (the blue army) somehow stand up to the onslaught of Peter Thiel’s vast sums of money and lawsuits (in this case, represented by red guys on chariots)?
In short: no. Not even close. In fact, the violence of Thiel’s forces destroying Gawker actually sends some of his own men flying hundreds of feet into the air; perhaps a symbol of some of the time and effort Thiel spent destroying Gawker. In the end, one Gawker editor is left cringing as Thiel’s chariots circle him. The editor’s death is quick and sad and unremarkable.
But so far I had been focusing on larger issues, issues frankly far away from my quotidian existence. What if the real battles that needed to be fought were within me?
Like anyone of a certain age, I’ve begun to worry more and more about how to both have a nest egg for retirement while also achieving my financial goals. There seems, in my mind, to be really only two options: invest the maximum amount allowed into a 401(k) plan, with the leftover income going into Vanguard mutual funds, or take all my liquid wealth and turn it into Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that can fluctuate by hundreds of dollars within a month. Both have their appeal: One promises stability, the other promises a community of people who could teach me how to vape. But how to choose? There was only one choice: Totally Accurate Battle Simulator.
The Bitcoin army in red makes short work of the sensible investment plan, so my path was clear. Cryptocurrency, here I come. I just hope my local bodega accepts BTC.
But the financial worries were not the only part of my inner struggle. This is difficult for me to write about, and not something I often talk about in public, but I often feel like there are two parts of my brain. There is a part that is genuinely happy most of the time — the part that suddenly smiles at the flash of sunset across the city as I ride my bike through the streets, that delights in the company of my friends and family, that takes great comfort in coming home to my wife every night. But I also carry, as the poet Mary Oliver put it, “the thorn / that is heavier than lead” — not a feeling of pain, exactly, but the feeling that simply existing is sometimes untenable, that there’s a certain faithless emptiness at the core of everything we say and do, that we are all irredeemable people in an irredeemable world. So I figured the only way to resolve these two sides of myself was a game in pre-alpha created by some Swedes over a weekend. The red army would represent happiness, the blue army, would, fittingly, represent sadness.
The contest wasn’t even close. Despite the sadness army repeatedly stabbing their friends in the back, and many of them simply leaving their pitchforks behind before rushing into battle, the happiness army was simply overwhelmed, their final member desperately climbing a pile of corpses before being pulled down by depression. I cracked a bottle of gin, ordered up some Seamless, queued up Rabbit Proof Fence, and prepared to really sink into myself for a while.
But wait, I thought. Sure, Totally Accurate Battle Simulator had been able to forecast the presidential election, assign blame in the case of Harambe, and convince me to buy tens of thousands of dollars of Bitcoins. But I had failed to ask the most important question yet: Was using Totally Accurate Battle Simulator as a proxy for questions both big and small a good idea? Yes (red)? Or no (blue)?
At the end of the battle, you see the two final surviving warriors representing yes and no clambering over a pile of corpses, swords desperately swinging at each other. They both swing, and both fall dead. But apparently one of the soldiers died slightly faster than the other, and the game awards the final victory to the blue army.
I had confirmation: I had not found a suitable way to answer all of life’s questions through simulated battle. As I stared at the corpses littering the field in Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, I thought of the Bertrand Russell quote: “War does not determine who is right — only who is left.”
That said, the game is very much in pre-alpha, so there’s still plenty of time for the devs to work on it some more, add in a few new units, maybe some new battlefields, and turn it into an oracle able to take the measure both of your future and your own internal Weltschmerz.
If you want to sign up for the alpha, which hasn’t been released to the public yet, the sign-up is over here at Landfall Games. They also have a game called Clustertruck, available now, which looks pretty good as well, though no word if it’ll help you figure out how to put kids through college.