Shogun 2 : Total War — Battle of Sekigahara

23 Feb

Total War has always been “the game for me”. I get weak-kneed around military history, and the Total War franchise has always been what I jump into after finishing this or that book or movie. I’ve had my fill of the early and late Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and the Napoleonic era. And after a long stint of learning how to maneuver lines of infantry with muskets and light sabre cavalry, I’ve been salivating about getting back into consolidating lines of spearmen, saturating an area with flaming arrows, and driving heavy cavalry into infantry flanks. As well, I missed out on the first Shogun and was very curious in regards to any different tactics that would come into play in Japanese-oriented warfare.

It’s common for Total War demos to feature a historical battle; not something I’m into in the full games at all — but the scenarios chosen for their demos are always incredible. As seems fit for a game about the era of samurai, this scenario was the hardest yet.

In the Battle of Sekigahara you take control of Ishida Mitsunari, but with the unique advantage of hindsight. In reality, Ishida was betrayed at the moment of battle by his allies and was crushed. In the scenario you are tasked with trying to climb out of the historic death pit that Mitsunari was placed in.

On the map below, Shimazu Toyohisa commands three units of two hundred mounted samurai — represented by the topmost blue markers. Kobayakawa Hideaki controls a considerable force of mounted and foot-katana and -naginata samurai, separated by the narrow river crossings in the bottom left corner. Both these men will betray you in time.

Your primary foe, Tokugawa Ieyasu, controls an army of similar size to yours. He has ashigaru (militia) spearmen and archers like you, plus ashigaru horsemen (light horse) — but he has one chilling advantage: gunpowder samurai. These units are both devastating ranged units as well as normally trained high samurai; they are positioned at the center river away from the main force.

Your own units are separated in three places: your general and a retinue of mounted samurai form a backbone with archers and spearmen near a chokepoint formed by the two parallel rivers at the top. It’s a sufficient chokepoint to hold, but it’s not ideal as the mountain can be traversed and you can be flanked.

Below and under Toyohisa’s force is the fulcrum of your army: more mounted samurai, archers and spearmen but most importantly some units of foot-samurai that you desperately need for staying power.

And the most important piece, just barely visible on the map: two more units of foot-samurai dangerously close to Hideaki’s army.

So, I’m outnumbered by just over a thousand. Most of those soldiers are samurai. Most of my soldiers are not.

The first time I tackled this scenario I thought I would consolidate forces as quickly as possible. As Tokugawa sends his primary force to deal with your general, I fortified the position and waited — sending spearmen to the choke with the archers just behind them to pepper enemies on the approach. Leaving behind one unit of spearmen to easily deal with Tokugawa’s two units of light horse who charge for your main force at the tree line, the rest sprinted for the more defensible position.

A few things went awry fast. Even sprinting, the two units of four hundred samurai at the bottom of the map cannot make it through the river fast enough to avoid the advancing gunpowder samurai. I thought at most I would suffer a few volleys as I ran past — but they were able to close ground and charge. Being regular samurai as well, those two units were trapped.

Then, Shimazu Toyohisa is the first ally to throw a wrench into your plans. While he doesn’t outright defect, he refuses to order his cavalry forward. This would have been a disaster if I had committed to the battle in the left of the map. So I took what units I had and settled up around him.

Finally, Kobayakawa Hideaki betrays you. But when this daimyo betrays someone, he goes all in and turns his elite force against you. Outnumbered two to one, I fought a hopeless battle of static defense culminating in a brave charge at the line with my general, Ishida Mitsunari, and my surviving mounted samurai.

It was a disaster: we killed about 2,000 opponents but were utterly defeated. And the shame.

After sitting back for a while, I came upon what I thought would be a winning strategy. Two big parts of Total War are Morale and Stamina. With such a large numbers disadvantage and without hardier troops to put on display, the morale battle is something I can’t win — in fact it’s something I have to protect against with strong formations and keeping the general alive and close to his front line troops. But the stamina battle, that is something I can win as a defender. The map is huge, and fighting is also a huge wear on unit stamina.

My plan? To drag these bastards all the way up the map and hope I have enough fresh troops left to either outfight the enemy at the line or to shock them into retreat with a few flanking charges.

Yes, it’s not much of a plan — it’s more of a desperate Hail Mary.

I start over. Not consolidating my troops into a well-protected block of soldiers is hard for me to do. I like to have fresh troops in the back to cycle out, and to thin out formations with lots of archers. But I know what I have to do. All of the troops who aren’t lucky enough to begin the battle near my general are ordered to hold the line at the woods on the left side of the map. As the most brutal combat is going to take place on the left, I send my general down to be with his more elite troops.

The first course of action is to ensure that my samurai make it across the river un-assailed. When the field is littered with corpses, it’s going to be those samurai that will still be fighting for me at a sixth of their unit strength. Always treasure the troops with the highest natural morale; they are the ones that matter when everyone is exhausted but still have to fight it out.

So I form up the spearmen and order them into the spear wall formation to take the cavalry charge, hiding the samurai I already have in the woods for later. I deal with the cavalry charge easily and nearly wipe them out before they have a chance to route. But the advancing gunpowder samurai are really making me sweat. I need to tie them up and make sure they don’t catch my samurai all bunched up as they cross the river.

My brave mounted samurai are given the insane order to charge the gunpowder samurai. As they do I realize I’ve been neglecting my troops at the river chokepoint up top. The idea was to take a combined arms charge with my dispensable spearmen (that’s what they’re there for, to die before my samurai and to tire out the enemy samurai) and to bring my other mounted samurai down the mountain to hit the enemy flanking maneuver when they circle around behind the spearmen to hit my archers.

Unfortunately the enemy samurai manage to cut down a unit of archers before they can make the space to run without being engaged, and without the quick assistance of my cavalry most of my spearmen are lost. But crossing over a mountain is not easy, and my mounted samurai cut down everything that doesn’t have a yellow flag tied behind its back before moving to support the main line. Behind them, the rag-tag militia survivors of my botched defense are walked down. At this rate they’re so worn out and wounded that it’s useless to run them anywhere anyhow; at first sight of an enemy flag they’d turn and run and my other troops wouldn’t find that especially comforting. So, they get to stroll down to the killing field.

Now, things get really ugly. While I was away up at the top of the map, I foolishly forgot to turn my lines of spearmen around. They were charged by three units of samurai from behind. They didn’t stand a chance.

While my militia units slowly dissolve and retreat, the battlefield turns into a clumpy mess of samurai from either side joining in combat. Even though I’ve made a few flanking maneuvers, the enemy outnumbers me so terribly that their troops aren’t too upset about fighting on three or four sides.

Fortunately, by pulling off cavalry units from one fight and charging them at the rear of an enemy formation, I’m able to slaughter a good chunk of enemy samurai. But it’s at this point, as Tokugawa falters, that Hideaki joins the fight and starts to move across the river crossings.

However, I have a plan. I round up three units of cavalry and one severely wounded unit of foot-samurai with my general — who has just finished bravely defending the left flank by helpfully inspiring a unit and joining in himself — and send them across the river to the right side of the map to attack and kill Tokugawa and his retinue. Hopefully, if I start killing their generals, their morale will falter.

My little assassination force makes it across the river, only to find out that this Tokugawa character is more of a fighter than I thought he’d be. He sends one unit of cavalry retreating immediately, but eventually he’s encircled and killed.

An unexpected side effect of this foolhardy attack is that Hideaki has sent two units of four hundred naginata-wielding samurai to deal with my general. Of course this is bad news for my general, but it’s excellent news for the tide of battle for two reasons: more immediately he’s taking four hundred troops out of the main battle to deal with about one hundred of my troops, and in the long term those troops he sent will be so exhausted that they’ll never be able to contribute anything when it really counts.

So my brave assassination unit fights a tough battle at the river crossing, unfortunately unable to make it to the river in time to charge through the clumped samurai. But my general and his men do manage to kill at least their own number in enemy samurai before they are defeated. Strangely, after killing Ishida, the naginata-samurai turn immediately for the main battle. Dazed and confused, my remaining unit of fifty samurai stand in the river crossing and rest. They deserve it.

But Hideaki himself is having none of it. He’s charged straight into my line personally, and although his troops are tired they have been rallied and are fighting well. Without enough troops to screen my archers, they are being charged and cut down.

I really hadn’t thought this far ahead, or perhaps I hadn’t realized how devastated and disparate my army would be after fighting so many separate engagements. My only option now, with three units left on the field and on the edge of retreat, is to run for Shimazu and his cavalry.

If I make it close enough, and have units alive when I get there, just maybe his fresh mounted samurai will be able to kill or intimidate the 1,000 pissed off samurai chasing me.

As my two units who survived the primary engagement crest Shimazu’s hill, I almost cheer out loud. His three units of mounted samurai charge headlong into the massive swarm and cut a hole through the center. Seeing this, I order my remaining unit of archers to open fire on the rear units fighting to get close to Shimazu’s cavalry. I’m also surprised to find that the other unit I still have taking orders is a unit of samurai. I stop them running and turn them around to charge the right flank and prevent Shimazu from being encircled.

And then, after about a minute, Hideaki dies. The center of his line collapses and runs, and the flanks shortly follow. My unit of samurai gloriously cut down the routed samurai that just a second ago threatened to overwhelm them. Shimazu charges the two units of naginata-samurai, which flee immediately.

Strangely, Shimazu cleans up most everything but the samurai who killed my general. How thoughtful. I quickly send my two samurai units after them; crossing a river and up a mountain, the last enemy samurai is cut down near the summit. My troops, on the brink of death-by-exhaustion, raise their katanas and cheer.

We won.

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Compass Engine release location based game Bounty Island

22 Feb

Compass Engine (www.CompassEngine.com), a mobile game studio headquartered in Vancouver Canada, is announcing the release of their next location based game, Bounty Island (www.BountyIslandGame.com.) Bounty Island is available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch and uses the player’s location in the real world to generate tropical islands for them to discover and explore.

As the location space continues to heat up, Bounty Island stands apart from other offerings by putting the GAME in location based games. The check in mechanic has always been a great starting point for location services but has never been incorporated into a truly fun game. With Bounty Island players check in to a venue and are given a tropical map unique to that location where they can explore, dig for exotic treasures and try to discover the secret of mysterious Bounty Island.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to get this game out to market and show the world that location doesn’t just have to be about coupons and deals but can simply be fun. Bounty Island is going to prove that location can be used to personalize a game, and we all know that the more personal the game the more engaging it is,” said Compass Engine CEO Mack Flavelle.

Bounty Island is available in the Apple App Store worldwide. (http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/bounty-island/id416453791?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4)

About Bounty Island
Bounty Island is an adventure game about exploring tropical islands, digging for hidden treasures, looking for rare items and hunting the location of the mysterious Bounty Island. Unlock new maps by checking in at real venues and explore the world around you. Collect dozens of different treasure sets without running out of energy or restore your stamina by finding and eating delicious fruit.  Can you discover the secret of Bounty Island?

Web: http://www.bountyislandgame.com
Twitter:
http://www.twitter.com/bountyisland
App Store:
http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/bounty-island/id416453791?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4



About Compass Engine

Compass Engine, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada is a mobile games studio building location based games.  Their first title Catch the Canary was released to a small test market in their home city. Compass Engine’s team draws their creative and technical expertise from decades of experience at EA, Sony, Ubisoft, Radical and Rockstar. Compass Engine’s mission is to put the game into location based games.

http://www.compassengine.com
http://www.twitter.com/compassengine

Contact
press@compassengine.com

www.CompassEngine.com
www.BountyIslandGame.com

 

 

On the Spike Videogame Awards

14 Dec

The Spike VGAs have me pretty depressed.  Not so much for the obvious reasons, but because a few things have become apparent.

Firstly, both gamers and developers pay attention to the show.  When Jeff Green claimed the VGAs espoused the “dudebro” culture of tits, guns and Mountain Dew, I’m not sure it can be entirely refuted.  Because along with the vision of the unwashed, anti-social, book-smart lock-key kid the stereotype exists for a reason.

While it’s true that, as Green notes, gaming has become multicultural and multigenerational he forgets one key thing — most of us are nerds of some breed or degree.  Just because your mother started playing Bejeweled and Halo is popular with the football team doesn’t change that fact.

I’m all for attacking the popped-collar roots of SpikeTV, but I think it’s only pragmatic to mention that there are those among us who would prefer to be percieved as sociable lunkheads rather than nerdy conossieurs.  As comics writer Matt Fraction said in an issue of Comic Foundry, “You reach this age where you discover your genitalia, and how fun it is to have other people touch it – and at that crucible point you decide, am I a lifer, or am I done with comics?”  It’s hard to blame people for trying to conform.

The second revelation was more menacing.  As Leigh Alexander puts forth (to the sort of people that would read videogame blogs): “We spend a lot of time saying ‘video games aren’t like this’ and yet the stereotypes persist. Maybe video games are like this, and we’re a vocal minority. Isn’t that a terrifying thought?”

A Twitter follower, who probably falls into or just below Spike’s target demographic, made it clear to me that he enjoyed the show: “Okay, so it’s hardly perfect but it’s good TV. And a good excuse to show off game trailers.”

Surely a good portion of the world’s gamers are not part of the gaming hive mind (or at least operate under the “they’re just games” mindset).  They don’t know or care what PAX is, they don’t visit forums or listen to podcasts or read reviews, and they don’t know or care what goes into game development.  I know that when I watched the first VGA show, I was watching it thinking that this proved gaming was real — that it had a foothold in reality.  I mean, it was on t.v. — was it not legitimized by that very fact?

That realization scares me.  As awkward and strange I am as a person when compared to the status quo (or status bro if you will), I still await the day when talking about games is equated with esoteric discussion about film or literature rather than being conversational suicide.  Sure, it would still be nerdy — but it would carry with it an air of knowledge rather than one that suggests you’re an immature, un-cultured manchild.

But film has something we can never have.  We can become mainstream, but we can never present society with role models.  No matter if the Emmy’s are flawed, it’s prestigious because the stars are there.  And whether the awards are relevant or not, you must admit that most of the actors carry with them an air of professional class.  You can go ahead and mock both award shows, but you can only be embarrassed by one.  When Spike invites Dane Cook and My Chemical Romance to the show it certainly says something — “These are your role models, right?  This is what gamers want.”  It chills me to the fucking bone to think that they could be right.

My Design Challenge: Starcraft 2 Map – Paper Design

20 Jul

Unfortunately I don’t have a scanner, so I just copied the rough layout without the estimated grid scale into Photoshop — it should give a good idea of positions, if not scale (for instance, the natural expansions on the side will not be so squished).

I’ve decided to use the Protoss jungle tileset and to call the map Excavation, following the simple theme of a Protoss dig site interrupted by…interstellar war!

The idea here is to off-set teammates so they have slightly different responsibilities.  The players in the back are more protected (in theory, at the very least they will take longer to be scouted), and are in a position to help out their buddy who is closer.

Off-setting player starts also helps do away with the feeling that you’re playing on a square — as the geometry is laid out, the walls of the map will probably be jutting in more and displacing a lot of the features on this rough map.

Each player sort of gets their “own” natural expansion, with a third between teammates.  Late game fights should be over the rich expansions blocked off by the rocks.  There is a third rock entrance to the center of the map — if a player has fortified the entrance; try breaking in from the side.

Tall grass will probably be spread around a lot more, but I’d like it to exist for hiding scouts close to enemy bases, hiding small forces to ambush workers moving to expansions, etc.  The watchtowers are not vital, but they’re there to provide line of sight on the rich expansions and the side and middle approaches of the map if players want to use them.

The central structure should be a simple two layered stack of elevated ground, the idea being that players have the option to place a force on the top level to lay an ambush if it turns out that area becomes high traffic.  Protoss can warp units in there, Terrans can set up siege tanks, and the Zerg can hide some Roaches up there.

The rich expansions are in depressed ground for a couple reasons: workers cannot get down there without an air drop, or if the rocks are destroyed.  So they can just be big “excavation” holes with rocks blocking the three pathways down.  The other reason is it adds to the flavour of the map and should help sell it.

Next time, a shot of the first white boxing.

Belated GDC Tracks — Are Stories Integral To Games?

20 Jul

These are my notes from a writing track at VIGS, what became GDC Canada.  I’ve been meaning to transcribe them forever, but never got around to it, and it wasn’t long before I forgot which notebook they were in.  But, I’m going to start posting them now.

Unfortunately I didn’t record one of the names.  John Meadows, one of my writing teachers at VFS, was on the panel with Marianne Krawczyk — I marked all their names with one letter, and unfortunately the writer for Sony’s The Agency and for Everquest remains just a “T” in my notes.

This was more of a conversation in front of the audience, so bear with me.

M: The better stories we can integrate into a game, the better it can become.  Stories are best told in moments —  How do you make the player feel like he’s playing the moment?

J: You can’t always rely on cutscenes.

T: It’s got to be concise…they just don’t care, they just want to get the quest.  In an MMO, the story is about the player.

M: Make storyboards that drive players into the next area.

T: Players will hit certain parts of the story [in The Agency] where characters will becomes part of cutscenes.

M: Gamers are thinking in gameplay terms.  Simple action = more room for dialogue.  I always feel like I’m clubbing them over the head, retelling story bits.

M: What Sony Santa Monica does is they start with a story [fill out game design from high concept of story — top down], writing backwards for design — things will get cut and crammed.

J: Problem solving can become your best asset for coming up with ideas you otherwise wouldn’t have.

What would you do differently if you were studio head?

T: Writers need more gameplay experience [everyone agrees].

Inspiration for characters and story.

M: When I started with Kratos, he was white and nobody knew why.  What’s the worst day for him, he’s already a killer.  The things that bubble up organically work the best.

Example: Saren from Mass Effect.  He made so many good arguments for his cause…I agree with you, I’m still going to kill you, but I agree with you.

T: Those human stories.  I try to find one thing about an NPC, no matter how insignificant, a little quirk they have.

M: Write from their point of view, not just listen — you’re speaking to iconic human emotion.

Future of narrative storytelling, dialogue

T: The player can pick something up [a quest], run with it, and not have to spend five hours online.

J: Battlestar Galactica does it, do you want them to be totally exhausted?  Do you have to play for three to four hours to get a [story] beat?

T: I have to lighten it up, but not too much, not “too fluffy in a serious world”.

How did you come to game writing?

T: Coming from a “serious” background, games allowed for a creative outlet [television]; I could write “silly” things.

M: Went to film school, had some luck.

J: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

T: You have to keep playing games and you have to love them.  I was turned down on Star Wars Galaxies for not having played enough games.

M: You never stop learning how to write, or how to write better.

Building an interesting protagonist

M: A Half-Life 2 kind of a trick, the player probably wouldn’t do that, but the character would.

M: The God of War story, although it wasn’t completely thought out from the beginning, it was thought out as a “seed”.

J: A miniaturized version of a bigger story.

T: I write six word biographies, if I can describe them in six words, it reveals that kernel of truth about that character.

M: First person exercises; write as them, not about them.

T: You have to know that emotion, it has to be true to you — write what you know.  “This character would do that”.

J: The player brings so much of their own character – blank, subtle, like Gordon Freeman.  RPG characters, NPCs, unveil things about your character.

M: It’s not straight storytelling; they’e doing, not watching.

Emotional experiences, using story to affect players directly, not empathetically through characters

J: A hockey game, events, momentum, injuries, a close game — that tells a story.

M: Choices — making players make hard choices.

T: In Everquest I wrote a quest where people had to rais a dog, then kill it.  Some people were upset with the time investment lost, but some people actually felt terrible.

M: Never underestimate the power of animals, empathy.  People tend to love them, so we have to kill them.

T: Dependency – it was dependent on you and so it increases the emotional tie.

A Story Where Space Marines Hit Things Very Hard Pt. 02

19 Jul

In low orbit above the tainted shrine world the blind and austere astropaths of strike cruiser Exidius Ordae alert the crew to a ripple in space and time.

Hundreds of thousands of light years away, deep within a fortress spanning a continent, the Emperor of Mankind sits bound to a throne of gold. Bundles of tubes filter psychic nourishment into his ancient form, supported now by a grand and golden suit of armour, and by the daily sacrifice of thousands of the Imperium’s psykers. A white film covers his eyes, which seem to be the only part of him now that moves. They switch from staring to frantic modulation.

Within visual range of the Exidius, an enormous black smudge appears along with a delayed flash of brilliant white light. More black objects break off from the smudge and stream towards the red planet below.

The ancient battle barge drifts for a time after launching its drop pods, then kicks to life as eerily red plasma thrusters flicker on all along the aft. All-black and bristling with guns, the hull is crusted with warp-things and is marked with the untended blast streaks of a thousand wars.

Inside this dark vessel hundreds of thousands of broken, lost men work in toil, tending to the great engines, the navigation systems and the gun batteries. A number of hatches along the fore of the ship slide open and launch torpedoes in straight trajectories which quickly turn and snake towards the Space Marine strike cruiser.

The Exidius kicks its starboard engines and turns its armoured prow into the barrage. The two front dorsal gun batteries creak into place and begin firing at calculated trajectories with the incoming torpedoes.

Like a predatory thing the battle barge makes its way to within firing range of the strike cruiser, under cover of its torpedo volley.

***
Vox transmitters crackle planetside with the news. Marine sergeants rally their squads and prepare to fall back to their armour. A thunderhawk gunship assists overhead, pouring battlecannon rounds and bolter fire into the ranged contingent of renegades.

The now-battered chaplain and a handful of marines stay behind to pry the mad berserkers from their brothers. As his men fall around him the chaplain orders the thunderhawk on overwatch to fire on his position. It craters the area and breaks off to cover the other thunderhawks as they pick up the ground force for extraction.

***

Torpedoes slam into the prow of the strike cruiser and the whole vessel shudders as tendrils of blue plasma stream across the ship from the points of impact. Point defense lasers cut through the vacuum and reach at the torpedoes, causing a few premature detonations. Still, some of these missiles twist towards the bridge. Turrets track too slowly and the warheads impact with the lower half of the tower. The base of the massive bridge structure is splintered open and thousands of the Emperor’s loyal are ejected into the void.

The Exidius attempts to maneuver its bow, which contains a mighty bombardment cannon, towards the black barge, which approaches from portside with alarming speed.

***

A marine stands halfway through the hatch of his predator tank and sights his pintle-mounted twin-linked bolters at the last known Chaos position. Behind him marines drag wounded brothers through the dust and into rhinos and prepare to load into the landing thunderhawks. With the valorous fall of their chaplain, a veteran sergeant called Tetanus Riker has taken command of all forces planetside. He removes his helmet and a leathery face squints skyward in an attempt to make out the ships responsible for the flashes he can see popping in the sky.

***

The black barge pulls alongside the slow-turning strike cruiser and lights up as it fires a broadside. Forgoing salvo fire, all guns begin firing simultaneously in the silence of the vacuum and the ship leans starboard with the recoil. Here and there the thick fiery beam of a lance energy weapon pulses and licks at the cruiser.

The shield matrix operating aboard the Exidius Ordae strains to absorb the shock. The cannons can be held off for a time, but the lances threaten hull integrity where they graze. Thousands of crewmen rush to the lower section of the bridge to assist in damage control as cabins are sealed and fires are extinguished.

As the black barge rocks to the side and idles to recover for another barrage, the Exidius’ prow-mounted bombardment cannon aligns with the barge’s engine stack.

A three hundred foot warhead groans into the loading tube as shipboard logic engines process targeting data. The warhead picks up speed as it slingshots down the firing tube and screams out the mouth of the towering bombardment cannon slung underneath the scarred bow.

The barge has begun to turn, but the cruiser’s logic engine has calculated for the shift and keeps the Exidius in lockstep. The warhead travels unabated, shirking off laser fire as its plasma drive whirs at an unimaginable speed, heating itself up until it strikes the drive tubes of the black barge. A large blast is followed by another as engine compartments shudder and break off.

For a moment the crew stands still, and the dark beast sits. Then, firing off its portside batteries it propels itself in baleful desperation at the cruiser. As it splinters apart it shudders into the adamantium hull of the cruiser, decompressing chambers and threatening to topple the already damaged bridge.
Without concern the barge fires its starboard guns, lodged inside the Exidius Ordae. The cruiser’s port side is torn asunder, spilling a hundred thousand men into the black sea of the void. Immolated crewmen are extinguished as they tumble into space or are trapped in the ruined starboard of the black barge, which trolls, broken, in orbit.

Without the means to maintain speed and with the force imparted by the black barge’s ramming, the Exidius drops toward the planet below.

A Story Where Space Marines Hit Things Very Hard Pt. 01

19 Jul

And screams of “For the Emperor!” and “In His will!” rang along the battle line. The blood-caked boots of Space Marines crush the blood-slick skulls of the freshly dead underfoot. They push through a torrent of heretics in the siege of a world host to a great shrine of Khorne, the Dark God of blood and murder. Brother marines are torn asunder by bands of berserkers who move through the Chaos lines at a whim, cutting down their own cultist screen to launch surprise attacks.

In the skies above red clouds swirl and lightning cracks, and the worshippers of Khorne swallow the blood of the dead in mad glee. They have waited for such a fight. And a fight they have received. Overhead the chapter’s thunderhawks screech, strafing the palpitating mass of Chaos. The marines oblige the heretics; bolter rounds crack into His enemies, exploding their mortal coils in fits of blood and bone. But their souls, note the librarians in attendance, redden the sky evermore.

The Blood God is present, on this shrine-world. He is watching. He is feeding. The psykers engage the avatar in an attempt to dim its presence, but are encroached upon too quickly by the presence of evil to remain attuned to the warp.

At the front a chaplain matches the ferocity of the berserkers, fending off their attack singlehandedly. He screams a litany of strength and steadfastness, a reading that belies his fury as his mace dents the vile bodies of the traitors; as he grinds them into the earth with a terrible zeal.

Seeing this the Marines nearby brandish chainsword and combat knife and step into the fray with the berserkers, who now fight like cornered dogs. The cultists drop to their knees in this melee and submit themselves as blood offerings to their Dark God, and the Marines tread over them as they push back the warriors of Khorne.

While this section of the line bends forward a dark rift swirls in the sky, and warp creatures drop into the throng. Bloodletters madly stab and squeal with wicked enthusiasm as they land on the heads of the Emperor’s Marines.

An apothecary extracts gene seed from the neck a fallen brother and proceeds to deliver the Emperor’s Peace. Predator tanks send alien dust flying as their cannons fire red hot. The brave chaplain is assailed by bloodletters; is covered in them. Still he screams as he struggles “The Emperor’s Light…burns your weak minds! Seethes with righteous hatred! Traitors! Must! Die!”

The daemons attack with an unearthly speed and agility, but the chaplain swings his mace violently at himself, crushing those who would cling to him. Marines who fight by his side are veiled in a crackling blue glow; the air is electric here, and they fight with an unrelenting fervor. They stand with the Emperor.

With this the Marines push the heretics up to the base of their mountain-shrine. The fighting is fierce here; the ground wet with lakes of blood. The Marines trudge through the mire with difficulty, here they are reliant on their air support and close artillery overwatch. The vollies of Whirlwinds whistle and crash close in front of the advancing line. Orbital cannons strike here and there in the distance, higher up the mountainside, razing the very ground on which the heretics would seek sanctuary.

On his Throne of Skulls the Blood God sits unmoving, his eyes the dark black consistency of pooled blood, simmering as long spouts of flame twist and thrust into the sky around him. He reflects a madness and a hunger so complete it is terrifying; so terrifying it demands submission; in submission, so it is comforting in its completeness. The followers of Khorne in this moment are granted a second wind, a compulsion for slaughter so innate as to cause men to tear at their own flesh and bone.

Through the fire and ash the traitors appear, running scalded and skinless through the ruinous covering fire of the Battle Barge in orbit above. The Space Marines show no surprise, if any had been had at all. The heretics are raked with bolter fire as they toss themselves, tumbling, down the incline. Still, the battle line sags with the weight of a thousand corpses, and Brother Marines are subdued under the weight.

Khorne sits unmoving still on his throne. Madness does not exert madness, and so he sits. His throne grows ever larger as skulls are thrown underfoot, placed one after the other, endlessly lifted by his disciples. He looks forward unblinkingly, as if taking in the whole of time and the universe as it has been, and as it will be.

The disciplined servants, the traitor Marines, recognize this second chance at glory. They hold it at bay; savour and prepare it. They move slowly, knowingly, around the edges of the bombardment. The air sparks and gravity seeps away skyward towards the blue-hot columns, but the traitors walk on, paying no heed.

The bombardment ceases then, and out of the last rising plumes of smoke walk the World Eaters in full, clad in red and brass. As they draw closer, in their state of delirium, they shout ever louder “Skulls for the Skull Throne… Skulls for the Skull Throne…” in a tone so engulfing as to suggest ten thousand men. It sounds as much from the sky above as from them. Some number break the staggering line and scream “Blood for the Blood God!” as they traipse wildly down the cratered mountain. They handle axes, spinning them in anticipation. They cannot wait.

The Space Marines sound a rally cry and retreat their flanks, while the most steadfast hold ground at their center. They would have the traitors throw themselves against the head of a spear, and to be washed away as the blood they so adore. The servants of Khorne pay no heed, as they pay no heed in this moment to sight or sound or thought, and proceed in their tumultuous charge. They drink of their wounds and advance headstrong to their deaths.

At the head of the spear the chaplain stands, mace in hand and bolt pistol firing — he marks targets at an impressive distance. The Marines by his side, his impromptu honour guard gained in the combat, is melted away as the World Eaters unleash volley after volley of suppressive fire. Power armour dents and crinkles under the explosive force. But the chaplain stands his ground, shrugging off his due and returning a barrage of hatred. He calls upon the Emperor at this moment, supplicates to His will.

It is the Marines now, seeing this humble bravery, who break formation and charge, uphill. Treads dig into the now-tractionless dust that remains of the mount, combat knives are drawn and prayers are recited aloud. The two lines crash into a melee, a senseless fray of blood and steel. The Marines seek to bestow an order to the chaos instilled by the traitors, but such strong wills can do nothing here but clash until exhaustion.