The Making of Ep. 1: Battle of Thermoplyae

Hey guys,

So as I mentioned in my last post I wanted to do a blog post about the process of making the video itself. Well here it is!

This post will serve 2 functions: 1) I want to go over how exactly I made the video and 2) I wanted to address some of the possible concerns/historical inaccuracies in the video as well.

So let’s start with #1.

Obviously, if you don’t know by now. I am using a video game to capture the footage for my video. The exact game is Total War: Rome 2. It’s an epic game by the way and you should all check it out, but I digress. So I picked Rome 2 for very simple reasons. Because, it’s the only video game that’s capable of generating real-time battles in that manner. Sure there are other ways of capturing epic battle scenes, but those are all non-options for someone in my position. I simply can’t afford nor do I have the skill and know-how to film a live-action battle scene with authentic equipment and actors (OBVIOUSLY!), and the other option, which is to use some sort of motion capture/animation software is also out of the question as well. One, I don’t know ANYTHING about programs like that, and two it’d be arguable whether or not you can make a better quality video using that method especially when you have to factor in constraints such as time, energy, resources, etc. Simply put, I can’t do it those ways. But fortunately for all of us, Rome 2 is more than enough for a Youtube video.

Now you may be wondering just how exactly do you go from playing a video game to making a video out of it. Well, simple, you don’t actually play the game. But before I go over that part of the process let me give you a brief summary of what the process looks like.

Starting in the beginning I’ll have to figure out which battle I want to recreate, then I do research on the battle itself. The research, in this case, comes completely from Wikipedia (I know it’s not the most reliable source, but seeing as how this is a Youtube video, and how my subject matter is history that’s already been well-documented, there’s really no need for me to go outside of Wikipedia). After that I write a script/plan of what I’d like to film. This part can get a little difficult as I have to sometimes take parts of the battle out of the video either due to time constraints, inability to portray accurately using the means I have, or some other reason. In fact, I had to do this for Thermoplyae and I’ll get more into it in section 2. Now once I’ve finished with the script that’s where I’ll actually set everything up in-game to go exactly as I want. In Rome 2 this means I have to select the ‘Custom Battles’ option from the main menu and then setup the armies as appropriate. Next, I play the battles in real-time attempting to recreate as accurately as possible what happened in real-life. While I’m doing this I have my recording software setup to record and film the scenes I want. Once I’m done capturing the scene or scenes I’ll upload them into my video editing software where I’ll finish the last part of the project which is to edit the scenes together into one seamless movie. This all sounds simple enough, but the actual project can get quite complicated and time consuming.

So let’s start over again in more detail.

Step 1 is easy enough. I pick a battle I want to do. That’s literally it, I just simply decide on it. For this first video I picked Thermoplyae because I thought it was a very simple, yet well-known battle that could be done easily enough, but will still be in keeping with the spirit of my channel which is to focus on the parts of military history which had a lasting impact on our world. Now onto the next part.

Step 2 is also pretty straightforward. I do research on Wikipedia by going onto the site and searching up the battle then reading about it. This is like any other kind of reading on Wikipedia, not really complicated. As I mentioned earlier I choose Wiki because I believe it is sufficient enough for a Youtube video, however, I will not discount the possibility of using more academic sources in the future. If there’s a good sale going on at Barnes and Noble and I happen to find a book about military history that covers a lot of what I wanted to do anyway, then I’ll probably pick it up and at least glance over it real quick.

OK now for step 3. This is the very beginning of the ‘formal’ video making process. Up until now, I haven’t really done anything that can’t be classified under the category of ‘screwing around on the internet’. But once I get to the script, it’s all business. So for this first video I basically boiled down the battle overview itself that I read from Wikipedia into short concise scenes and then wrote them down on paper. This time around I used CeltX which is an online script-writing software that offers a free-trial. It was pretty useful actually. But as I also mentioned earlier this is the part where I have to some personal judgment calls. One of these included leaving out a detail of the battle itself that was actually kind of significant. It was the part where the Thebans at the very end of the battle actually surrendered to the Persians instead of choosing to fight to the death. I had to leave it out for various reasons which I’ll get into later on.

So this brings us to step 4 which is actually setting up the battle in-game using Rome 2’s ‘Custom Battles’ option. The game is very flexible in it’s options. It allows you to select from a number of pre-determined factions that are of relatively historical accuracy. Then it also gives you choices in the form of what type of units your army will comprise of like archers, cavalry, infantry, etc. It also allows you to choose other factors such as location of the battlefield itself, time of day, weather, etc. It’s really a very versatile system, and I’d love to go over it in more detail, but the thing is…if you’ve played the game/series you’re probably already familiar with how it works, and if you haven’t then me attempting to explain it would only confuse you into boredom and drag this post on too long. So I’ll leave it at that.

And here’s my favorite step, step 5. This is the part where I actually get to play the battles myself. It’s as fun as it sounds. You take control of an entire army of men in the form of a commander and fight the battle as if you were actually there. It’s cool, trust me, just play the game. Now while this is all going on, I do have work as well. I have to record the battle scenes as I’m playing the game in real-time. It’s not all fun and games after all.

Finally, we have step 6 the video editing part. So once I’m done recording the scenes using my screen capture software I obviously have to edit them. After all, an unorganized collection of video scenes is no more of a movie than a bundle of groceries is a gourmet meal.

And when that part is finished I upload the video onto Youtube and you have the end result. An epic battle scene, digitally recreated for a modern audience.

Now I know that the video itself has some faults to it. After all, nothing is perfect. But this is the perfect chance for me to address some of these issues and explain why they happened.

So here it goes!

The first ‘mistake’ that many of you may have noticed is that the video does not depict the real-life Hoplite Phalanxes that the Spartans and their allies were known for. I only included them in a few scenes, but the vast majority of the video shows Greeks as armed with a ‘normal’ spear, if you will. Well there’s a good reason for that. It’s because I thought that the pike infantry units, a.k.a. the Phalanx Hoplites looked cornier and less visually appealing than the units I settled on. For comparison I will upload a screenshot of each unit and then explain further.

The first picture is of the units that I decided to use in the video. I thought that the fact that they’re helmets obscured their faces made them look that much for intimidating. Combined with their armor and cloaks it made the pike infantry in the second picture just look sort of lame. I realize that this is a matter of opinion on artistic direction on my part, but in the end I decided to sacrifice a bit of authenticity for aesthetic appeal and entertainment value. Let’s be clear, this is Youtube after all if you really wanted 100% factual credibility you probably shouldn’t be using this medium. Plus, I did end up showing proper Phalanxes in the video and I felt that any half-competent viewer would’ve been able to understand the important points that the Greeks and their spears and armor is what gave them a significant edge over the Persians in those 3 days of combat way back then.

So the first inaccuracy was one that I made by choice, but the second definitely wasn’t.

I am referring to the terrain of Thermoplyae itself. A lot of you history buffs know that the actual ‘Hot Gates’ themselves were a really narrow pass. On one side were tall, steep mountain cliffs, and on the other was a sharp drop off of another cliff into the ocean. There were also a series of short walls from which the Spartans and their allies were able to stand behind and take cover in. Which suited their purposes almost perfectly seeing as how the Greeks’ lower bodies weren’t as well armored as their upper bodies. This little detail of the battle was something that I literally had no control over.

See when you select a ‘map’ in the game it loads a pre-made rendered and textured area that the game developers made (which is an impressive feat of digital engineering by the way). But I got the problem of the game developers simply not making anything int he game that remotely resembled what Thermoplyae would’ve actually looked like back in those times. In fact, I even set the map to be the in-game location for Thermoplyae itself, but all I got was what you saw in the video. So I did the next best thing, which is to film as many scenes as possible with either a mountain or the ocean in the background. Thereby letting you, the viewer, know that I didn’t just randomly pick a map out at will. Finally, I added that little clip at the end where I go along the length of the beach itself from a bird’s eye perspective in the hopes that that last part made it obvious enough that the Persians were bottle-necked in real life and HAD to push through the Spartans. Hopefully someone will make a mod sometime in the future or maybe even the game devs themselves, but for now this is as close as it’s going to get.

And now onto, the last MAJOR error that I thought I made.

So when I was doing my homework for this battle, I found out something interesting that I didn’t know. That the Thebans who stood with the Spartans at the end, actually surrendered to the Persians at the very last second rather than face their deaths with courage. Well when I found this out, I thought to myself, “I have got to put that part in the video”, but then I realized that…once again there was no way this was possible. Because in Rome 2 there’s no way you can get your men to surrender in the game. In fact, there’s no way for ANYTHING in the game to surrender, PERIOD. It just wasn’t programmed into the game. As far as I know, the game devs did this on purpose, and for good reason too. Historically speaking, surrendering really wasn’t a valid option to a commander or his men. I mean in all honesty, if you attempted to surrender back in those days you were likely to have been killed anyway. War was very different. If that doesn’t make sense to you, then think about it this way. If you were a common grunt in some army back in the ancient world and the battle was going badly for you, A.K.A. you were losing, you would’ve ran instead. It makes much more sense because the enemy was likely to have seized the opportunity to massacre each and every last soldier they could. This was done because leaving you and your comrades alive was a huge liability to them in the sense that you obviously would’ve lived to fight another day and probably will. Besides, even if your surrender was accepted, you would still face the very likely possibility that you’d either be executed anyway or live out the rest of your life as a slave to be worked to death sometime in the near future. This was arguably a worse fate than dying with honor. So all that being said, wouldn’t you rather take the chance, no matter how slim, to run and hopefully get away scot free?

OK I just realized that I’ve gotten way off into a random tangent now and would like to get back to my original point. Why I couldn’t put this in the video.

Like I said earlier, there’s no option for surrendering in game. Which means that I can’t put a REALISTIC scene of men putting down their weapons and slowly walking with their hands in the arm and their heads down. I thought about maybe just improvising and filming a scene where some Greeks march towards the Persians, but that would’ve looked completely stupid even with narration. So in light of all that I decided to cut it out of my video.

Wow that was another long post!

Before I end this there’s a few last things I forgot to mention earlier. I use Bandicam as the screen capture software and Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12 as the video editing software. And I will also be referring it as Sony Vegas from now on for the sake of simplicity.

And finally, please remember that if you liked what you saw or read here, then please like, comment, subscribe, follow, and share with all your friends and family as well as check out the video if you haven’t. There’s a link to it in my blog roll where you’ll also find a link to the Digital History Steam group as well.

Until next time!



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