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I’ve always liked Good Old Games, better known as just GOG. I’ve bought quite a few items from them over the years – certainly far more than I’ve played. Their mainstay is resurrecting old games that are no longer compatible with the latest in operating systems and getting them to work. In other cases, they simply repackage a game no longer being sold by the original publisher. Lately, they also seem to be trying to break into the business of publishing new releases, an out of which I have also taken a bite. Are they distracting themselves from their original and successful model? I try to mostly ignore the newly developed games which, based entirely on superficial impressions, are of a decidedly lower-quality than their re-releases.

Besides buying old games that I may or may not feel the urge to play anytime soon I am apt (as are others, based on comments) to repurchase games that I already own. I’ve done it to get a reliably up-to-date patch or a pre-configured DOSBox setup. I’ve even done it to avoid the hassle of run off of my old CD. The uniformly positive experiences I’ve had with their games mean I’m willing to toss money at them without scrutinizing what I’m getting and why.

Now let’s move from the general to the specific. If you’ve followed my Great Battles saga from the beginning, you’ll know I was shying away from reinstalling the game because I recalled suffering through stability problems. Having mentioned it online, I was told the the GOG version resolved the issues the game had. Since then, I repurchased the game through GOG. I’ve been able to install and play the GOG versions of Alexander and Hannibal but it wasn’t until today I tried installing The Great Battles of Caesar. You see where this is going – it didn’t work.

GOG’s business model, apparently, was a successful one. They could acquire the rights to old games (abandonware for nothing and others for a trivial amount, one imagines), and, with only a small, further investment in fixing compatibility issues, get the program running again. They could then sell the games for amounts that we gamers considered trivial and still make good money in the process. Yet a flaw in this model may be becoming apparent. Compatibility with current operating systems isn’t a static measure. Windows has now advanced a few versions since GOG hit the scene and games for which, perhaps, they have already milked the value out of the market now require additional support.

The GOG message boards are littered with complaints about compatibility problems relative to the Great Battles series. Most of them focus on Windows 10, and GOG’s solution has simply been to declare that the game works only up through Windows 8. It does appear to me that compatibility problems are not restricted by operating system. Some purchasers are only able to play Great Battles of Alexander while others do fine with two out of three. I do not run on Windows 10, but I do seem to be in that latter category. When I play the GOG version, some scenarios crash the program on load while run then go into an error-throwing cycle.

Among the subset of posters who say they’ve found a solution, there is quite a bit of variability. It took me some trial and error to find the method that worked for me. First of all, the best patch for Caesar looks to be what’s available at this fan-made support website (http://www.ianm1.plus.com/). His patches contain what he refers to as the “latest” patch for each game in the series. I’m assuming he means the patch released by the publisher before support for the game was dropped. Applying this patch over the GOG version forces it to ask for the original CD – a step backward. There is a second patch, which he calls a new version, apparently from an enthusiastic player with a hex editor. Among other things, this removes the CD requirement.

On the GOG forum, this patch has mixed results and it certainly did not work well for me. Presumably the 1.1 patch (again concentrating on Caesar) is only fully compatible with the install (production CD) that it was made for. One user who successfully applied all patches explained that it is necessary to contact GOG support and ask them to give you their unmodified installer. Rather than do that, I dug out my Great Battles Collector’s Edition CDs and installed from there. Applying the 1.1 patch and then the “new version” patch resulted in a) some immediate graphic improvements and b) an executable that could load and run the scenarios that crashed under GOG. Again, this was my magic combination; others reported different results.

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It is not polite to point.

Of course, it still crashed.

Now, one thing I had noticed after installing this “new version” is that the sounds and animations were all turned off by default. As I’ve said, I actually consider the animations a high point of this game. They’re both oddly aesthetic and help me take in enemy movements. After 2 or 3 crashes, all occurring after animating a large, enemy group move, I figured that maybe that animation was turned off for a reason. I set it all off and was able to complete the Battle of Bibracte without further incident.

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Julius Caesar urges his forces forward to meet the Gauls at Bibracte.

Reading, as I was, the GOG forums I noticed posts that have been made after the release of Field of Glory II (FoG2). Although these are the Great Battles fanatics talking, there were a surprising number of posts talking about how FoG2 did not measure up to Great Battles. To an extent, I can see their point. In FoG2, the miniatures roots seem to shine through more. It may be in part due to unit size difference. It may be the different implementation of command and control. It may even have to do be the way the Great Battles battlefields and how they are more restricted.

Great Battles of Caesar, featuring Roman forces, don’t feature the phalanx formation that I found so special in the early iterations. Other unique features, however, do impact game play. In particular, a Roman army needs to make good use of group movement and group attacks. Without it, the lower-level legion commanders (labeled as tribunes in this battle) are allowed command over only two units. Practically speaking, this means that a legion can advance or attack straight ahead on its own, but repositioning or recovering from a heavily-contested fight requires the intervention of a general on par with Caesar.

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My battle is nearly won when Gallic reinforcements threaten from my right. Who will break first?

Unfortunately, neither FoG2 nor Great Battles of Caesar enforce the Roman manipular deployment (although in both you can try to enforce it on your own). Great Battles falls short of FoG2 when it comes to scenario and campaign development. Between the modern scenario editing tools, “quick” battles, and the access to scenario scripting (both for play and for automated scenario construction), FoG2 makes a far better game for true sandbox play. In FoG2, it also seems easier to set up a challenging game without feeling entirely like it is “cheating.” Lastly, there are those crashes. Even though I feel like I’ve a handle on these recent crashes, I still want to tiptoe around my Great Battles fights with frequent saves. The current state-of-the-art in game engine technology brings with it an expectation of bug free, crash free game play.

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Caesar takes on the Gauls in the linked campaign.

So why am I dwelling on Caesar’s Gallic Wars at all right now? The answer is in Field of Glory II. Whereas the linked campaign in Great Battles of Caesar is the war between Pompey and Caesar, for the campaign in FoG2 you must fight your way through Gaul. As I mentioned above, FoG2 has a superior system for creating a semi-random campaign based upon, potentially, all manner of criteria. So rather than the Great Battles method of playing the historical battles but selecting the order, FoG2 results from one battle can truly feed back into the campaign. Furthermore, the individual battles (different terrain, different forces) can be randomized, adding substantially to replayability.

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As the lines clash, the Roman situation starts to look tenuous.

Like the well-designed single-player battles, a well-design campaign can be pretty challenging. To start the campaign, Caesar must meet a larger Gallic force in open battle; there is no initial branching. However, as the Romans, I do get to customize the makeup of my army. I have given Caesar a mixed bag when it comes to the legions he commands. While he has a core of seasoned legions in his center, the remaining forces are either newly-raised or otherwise just mediocre. The lack of quality shows when I start to take a beating on left side of my line. While some parts of my line are clearly superior, others are notably inferior.

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When the tide turned, the shift was rapid.

Of course, one unit routing won’t lose you the battle. A whole bunch of units routing certainly will. Despite some weak points in my line, the generally-superior center held up well and I had enough of a lead to make up for weakness on my flanks. When the Gallic reinforcements showed up on my right, it was too little too late. Speaking of compare and contrast, compare the screenshot above with the Great Battles grab of the Roman center. Which one gives the better impression of four Roman legions arrayed against an enemy?

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This looks more like Roman legions, all though it is more in appearance than in detail.

I can also divide my experience of the Battle of Bibracte across three different plays. In addition to the Caesar campaign, Field of Glory II has a one-off version of the fight. As you can see in the above screenshot, the way this scenario sets up the Roman attack gives a much better impression of a properly-organized Roman army. The skirmishers lead off and then are able to retreat through the advancing heavy infantry. The tough Roman legions (decent ones this time) are set up hit the enemy line in waves.

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The battle is driven by a few key skirmishes. Here I break the primary infantry unit, securing my victory.

In this battle, the FoG2 importance of commanders comes into play, providing a contrast to Great Battles of Caesar with its activation and command limits. The key to the entire battle is a handful of key skirmishes around the map. If I am able to break an enemy strong point – his best troops – I will snowball towards victory. Those critical locations are defined by the troop quality, obviously, but also the location of the enemy generals.

FoG2‘s implementation of leadership bonuses makes for a faster, smoother game. There’s no more fiddling around with a general’s horse to try to get some extra forces into the command radius. Sensibly, the generals simply move with the units they command. It is also less engaging. Generals are simply a buff for a couple of your units with the added feature that they can be a target (a General’s death really hurts morale). I think FoG2 tells less of a “story.” Compare with a Caesar riding off mid-battle to shore up a flank and unexpectedly getting three initiatives, turning the tide of the battle. Is either implementation more historical or “realistic” than the other? I don’t know.

It may also be worth, once again, contrasting the screen grabs between the two engines. Once again, it is clear that Great Battles of Caesar implements the units at a finer grain and with more of a one-to-one relation to the historic order-of-battle. The simplicity is part of what makes FoG2 play smoother and probably also helps with the AI, but have we lost something as well?

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Here they come again!

The result from all three battles was roughly the same. Rather than take advantage of my good defensive position, I moved out sharply and engaged. The move paid off when was able to pull irreversibly ahead before reinforcements arrive. Of the three, it was the campaign version that proved the most challenging, even though the end-result matched the other two. Of course, the challenge level has as much to do with difficulty settings and luck of the dice as anything. What I wonder most, going forward, is if Great Battles of Caesar is going to hold up, stability-wise, for the remainder of the scenarios. I also wonder if the user-made battles of the past ages are still out there for download and if they can be played without the dreaded crash.