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Conquer Rome With Interactive Software

April 05, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

Roman history can be engaging when experienced through interactive software. Middle- and high-schoolers have two interesting options for playing in Roman history. In "Rome: Caesar's Will," teens become players in a historical drama that includes Brutus, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and other historical figures. In "Caesar III," an older but classic title, children become architects of Roman cities.

'Rome: Caesar's Will'

It is 44 BC, one year after the death of Caesar, and the Roman Republic is in chaos. A prominent citizen, Titinius, dies after taking a potion given to him by his wife, Aurelia. Aurelia pleads innocent, claiming the elixir was a love potion. But she is found guilty of murder and thrown into prison to await death.

That event triggers the player's entrance into this intriguing virtual drama. The player takes on the persona of Hercules Prasinus, a valiant and dashing past love of Aurelia, who comes to Rome to clear her name.

As Hercules, players have 40 days to prove Aurelia's innocence. It quickly becomes apparent that the death of Titinius is just the tip of a political iceberg on which float Brutus, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Cicero and Octavius. Players discover that this is not simply a murder investigation but rather an investigation into the fate of the Roman republic.

Not only do players need to find out who killed Titinius and why, they also need to find Caesar's will and help to decide the outcome of the struggle for power in the republic.

As Hercules, players investigate 16 locations in and around Rome. At each, there are objects to find and people to talk with. The program automatically records important facts as players talk to people and places them in the logbook. The program also offers documentaries about the history of ancient Rome that can be very helpful.

What is intriguing about this game is that players are in control of their attitudes as they talk with people. Before each conversation begins, a dialogue choice screen appears bearing three masks. The masks represent various attitudes players can adopt.

The majesty and grandeur of ancient Rome are aptly depicted in wonderfully drawn scenes. It is fascinating to walk around within the game because of the attention to historical detail.

Since the game is not linear, it can be played multiple times--each yielding a different result. An average game can take between 30 and 35 hours, so the software provides good value.

The shortcomings are few, but they're worth noting. The movement of the characters is somewhat blocky, and at times it can be hard to maneuver Hercules within the game.

The bottom line is that this is a captivating way to explore ancient Roman history. Instead of simply reading about Rome, each player gets to become one of its citizens.

'Caesar III'

In this classic historical simulation, players become one of Caesar's governors. Caesar offers the player the opportunity to create, rule and defend a Roman city. The player must design cities that achieve certain levels of prosperity, culture, peace and population. All this must be accomplished while keeping Caesar happy.

Players must place industrial structures, agricultural complexes, health-related facilities, places of worship, entertainment venues and military installations to enhance the desirability of the citizens' homes and produce enough goods to export. Sound complicated? It is.

The programming of "Caesar III" is admirably complex. More than 25 variables affect every square of land. All this would be overwhelming were it not for the easy interface. Also, the program provides a board of 12 advisors to help players understand the feelings of their citizens.

"Caesar III" offers two methods of play: the Career Game and the City Construction Kit. In the Career Game, Caesar proposes a series of scenarios that need to be accomplished. In the City Construction Kit, players set their own goals.

This title is similar in form to the "Sim City" series and is less war-oriented than other empire-building programs such as the "Civilization" or "Age of Empires" series. Although it is not completely accurate historically, it will give children a sense of what the Roman Empire was like.

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Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Childrens Software magazine.

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The Skinny

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"Rome: Caesar's Will"

Price: $50

Ages: 12 and older

Platform: PC

System requirements: A Pentium 200 with 32 MB of RAM and a graphics accelerator with 4 MB of video RAM

Publisher: Montparnasse Multimedia

The good: Innovative dialogue engine

The bad: Sometimes hard to maneuver lead character

Bottom line: A wonderful role-playing game in which Roman history comes alive

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"Caesar III"

Price: $10

Ages: 12 and older

Platform: PC

System requirements: A Pentium 90 with 16 MB of RAM and 500 MB of available hard disk space

Publisher: Sierra Studios

The good: Two ways to play--open-ended or directed

The bad: Requires perseverance

Bottom line: Great fun being a Roman architect

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