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Time Commanders

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Time Commanders was a series of programmes made by Lion TV and PlayGen for BBC Two that ran for two seasons from 2003 to 2005. The programmes, originally hosted by Eddie Mair and more recently by Richard Hammond, featured an edited version of the game engine behind the real-time strategy game Rome: Total War to recreate famous battles of the ancient world. The battles were replayed by 4-player teams from diverse backgrounds. The teams were unfamiliar with computer games, to make sure their gaming skills do not influence their success. After a brief introduction of the battle, including an overview of military units, terrain and available forces, the players had to develop a strategy and then deploy their forces. Two of the players were selected as generals, who will direct the battle and have access to a strategic map. The other two players were designated lieutenants in the first series, and captains in the second. The units were indirectly controlled by the lieutenants, who issued commands to programme assistants, who in turn used the game interface to control the units. Troop deployment and battle followed, although in the second series there was a small skirmish conducted as a separate event, to acquaint the players with the game mechanics and their units. In the second series the team also got strategic pauses where they could refine their strategies.

During each game, a pair of military specialists analysed the performance of the players and explained how the real historical battle unfolded. Dr. Aryeh Nusbacher of Sandhurst, who appeared in every episode, was joined on a rotating basis by Mike Loades, Saul David, Mark Urban or Dr. Adrian Goldsworthy, the series' historical advisor.

Notably, the series as televised contained no reference to the origin of the software powering the 3D visuals of ancient battlefields. This was due to the BBC's rules against product placement (Rome: Total War makers The Creative Assembly were named in the credits of the show with a specific mention of them providing the Game Engine). But Rome: Total War designer and writer Mike Brunton said, "Time Commanders did use Rome code pretty much 'as is', with tweaks for different troop types and camera controls."

A tie-in book was written by Peter Harrison and published by Virgin Books in 2004, called Time Commanders: Great Battles of the Ancient World. It covered the 16 battles of the first series, along with details of all the contestants in each of the teams, which battle and which army they each played and whether they won or lost the battle they had been given.

Series one

# Episode Airdate Faction Played Episode Result
1 Battle of the Trebia 4 September 2003 Carthage (vs Rome) Carthaginian victory
2 Battle of Watling Street 11 September 2003 Rome (vs Icenii and Other Britons) Roman defeat**
3 Battle of Bibracte 18 September 2003 Rome (vs Helvetii and Other Gauls) Roman victory
4 Battle of Mons Graupius 25 September 2003 Caledonians (vs Rome) Caledonian defeat
5 Battle of Tigranocerta 2 October 2003 Armenia (vs Rome) Armenian victory**
6 Battle of Pharsalus 9 October 2003 Pompeius (vs Julius Caesar) Pompeiian defeat
7 Battle of Cannae 16 October 2003 Carthage (vs Rome) Carthaginian defeat**
8 Battle of Raphia 23 October 2003 Egypt (vs Seleucids) Egyptian victory
9 Battle of Qadesh 30 October 2003 Hittites (vs Egypt) Hittite defeat
10 Battle of Leuctra 6 November 2003 Thebes (vs Sparta) Theban victory
11 Battle of Adrianople 13 November 2003 Rome (vs Goths) Roman defeat
12 Battle of Telamon 20 November 2003 Gauls (vs Rome) Gaulish defeat
13 Battle of Gaugamela 8 December 2003 Macedon (vs Persia) Macedonian victory
14 Battle of Chalons 15 December 2003 Huns (vs Rome and Goths) Hunnic defeat
15 Battle of Marathon 22 December 2003 Athens (vs Persia) Athenian defeat**
16 Battle of the Silarus 29 December 2003 Slaves (vs Rome) Slave victory**

Series two

# Episode Airdate Faction Played Episode Result
1 Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 16 January 2005 Rome (vs Germans) Roman victory**
2 Battle of Stamford Bridge 23 January 2005 England (vs Vikings) English victory
3 Battle of the Hydaspes River 30 January 2005 Macedonians (vs Indians) Macedonian defeat**
4 Battle of Cynoscephalae 6 February 2005 Rome (vs Macedonians) Roman victory
5 Battle of Dara 13 February 2005 Persia (vs Byzantines) Persian defeat
6 Battle of Troy 20 February 2005 Greek (vs Troy) Greek victory
7 Battle of Hastings 27 February 2005 Normans (vs England) Norman defeat**
8 Battle of Sarmisegetusa 13 March 2005 Rome (vs Dacia) Roman victory

** Non-historic result

See also

  • Decisive Battles: Another television program that used the Rome: Total War engine
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