History We’d Like to See: Rockstar Games’ Court of Henry VIII

Before you go and get all excited, this is not a thing. I’m just saying it should be. This week Henry VIII was voted ‘the worst monarch in history’ by the Historical Writers Association (HWA), in a vote that was controversial at best. Sure, he did fuck things up for a lot of people, but was he the Worst Ever? A lot of people with a lot of qualifications disagree.

But I’m not here to get involved in that. I’m here to tell you why the world needs Rockstar Games to do a Tudor era video game.

When it comes to historical computer games, few big-league studios are really investing in them to make them major hits. Off the top of my head, you’ve got Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption in the first-person category, and then a bunch of others like Total War and Civilization in the strategy corner.

And Assassin’s Creed feels like it’s earning diminishing returns.The free running ‘n’ murderin mechanic has been run into the ground, and now it’s time for something a bit different. With the main franchise ostensibly brought to an end, it remains to see whether Ubisoft will revitalize the series with a new offering. But it’ll be an uphill struggle for sure.

And that’s why Rockstar Games are a logical fit for the studio best placed to produce a Henry VIII game. The court of the Tudor megalomaniac would be a brilliant place to stage an environment-based game. A game like Grand Theft Auto, or Bully, or Red Dead Redemption. The games that Rockstar produce so well are the ones where you have repeated interactions with the same people. And each time, the tension grows.

The attention to detail is an absolute must for any studio that is looking to produce a historical game. But equally, it is important to strike a good balance. For example, Rockstar has shown that its games can be fun, in many cases they allow the gamer to dive head-first into a sandbox world and enjoy themselves in their own twisted way. And I like to think that’s something Henry VIII would’ve appreciated.

But equally, Rockstar games understand the narrative of rags-to-riches, often on the backs of others. This is another thing that fit well with the behaviour of the period. Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn came from relatively minor families and built themselves up. They were symptomatic of the times. Imagine a game where you slowly accrue power by bullying monks or seduce the king himself.

The mini-games are another important aspect, and drunken debauchery and mounted jousts make for excellent mini-games. The scions of nobility clearly had a lot of fun in this era if court gossip is to be believed, and it’s exactly this kind of behaviour that makes for fun gameplay.

It wouldn’t have to be black and white morality. As long as you accept the corrupt nature of the court, then Rockstar is great at satirizing a situation. With a wink to the gamers behind the controls, player characters could find themselves in outrageous situations.  Let’s be honest  here; sex, combat and comedy are three of the biggest drivers in the games industry. Here is a situation rife with all three.

So can you make it already?

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