Blood on the Sand: Apache vs Gladiator

April 7, 2009

Sweet! Welcome to my pre-show blog for Deadliest Warrior. I'm Max Geiger, the show's simulations expert. Every week that a new show airs, I'll be looking at both fighters in that show's matchup. I'll do a quick rundown of what makes each combatant such a threat to the other, and examine why this matchup is interesting beyond the sheer carnage we'll be witnessing. Our goal on the show is to use scientific testing and real world data to determine who is deadliest (and why). But we can't hand our warrior experts knives and tell them to have at it (quick and dirty, but a little too messy).

Instead, we're turning to modern computing for a solution, which means running a simulation to decide the winner of our matchup. I'm the guy who runs our simulation 1,000 times to determine which warrior is the most lethal, and I get to dig deep into the guts of how and why each fighter won-at what range, with which weapons, and just how brutal his final strike was. I'm pumped about the first week's matchup: Apache versus Gladiator. It's time to break down what makes each fighter tick, and see if we can't learn something cool about each of one.

First up, let's step into the gladiator's head. What we're about to do with science and computers, gladiators did on the sands of Rome 2,000 years ago. Our gladiator is entering this fight with a couple of big advantages-first, he's wearing armor, and second, his weaponry will be surprising to the Apache. Gladiators typically fought in a "character" with a specific set of armor and weaponry against a gladiator using a different loadout. These "characters" often reflected the warriors of a nation Rome had conquered, so our gladiator will be pretty much prepared for anything. For our purposes, we've chosen a blend of these types that will offer our gladiator the best balance of protection, mobility, and the ability to carry a full loadout of weapons into battle. Considering that the Apache fought unarmored opponents, this should give the gladiator a line of defense that's tough to crack, but will also present a psychological barrier. Secondly, the gladiator carries some pretty exotic weaponry-his trident, net, sica, and even cestus (say the "c" like a "k"- it's Latin for "fist" and yeah, the Romans were hardcore about their language) are all different from the weapons an Apache would have seen in the hands of other tribes or even the American and Mexican armies. Our gladiator's got some solid defense and a set of unique offensive weapons on his side, which makes for a pretty solid one-two punch.

On the other hand, the Apache has one very big advantage: range. There’s a reason the bow was the distance weapon to beat until the gun came along. Even then, due to the bow’s reliability, black powder weapons didn’t immediately replace it in history or on the battlefield. The ability to kill from a distance is a powerful one, and something we shouldn’t neglect. While the Apache’s other weapons are a bit utilitarian, it’s important to remember that we’re comparing the warriors behind the weaponry, and that individual skills and tactics cannot be discounted. In the United States’ final campaign against Geronimo, a force of 5,000 soldiers was deployed to pursue a band of 36 men, women, and children. That’s roughly 139 to 1, and that 1 might have easily been a child. While it is impossible to input bravery into a simulation, it is clear to me that with odds like that, only a fool would discount our Apache’s fighting spirit and guerrilla tactics. Taking those factors into account, it’s hard not to see how the tomahawk or even the humble knife could be transformed into a perfect killing tool in the Apache’s hands..

There are a lot of factors in play here, and it's too easy to say that this is a battle of armor vs. distance killing, or speed vs. power. Tactical nuance is a big factor here, and I'll leave you with this final thought to consider: perhaps this battle isn't about strength vs. speed, but instead, this fight is about what happens when you pit a hardened generalist and seasoned guerilla tactician with good tools against a consummate specialist trained to kill with a variety of exotic and exceptionally lethal weapons.

All that said, after the show, do me a favor and leave a comment here: Geoff, Armand, and I are always curious to get some feedback about the job we did, and we'd like to hear from you.

Morituri te salutant,

Max Geiger is a game designer and graduate of USC's Interactive Media Division. He's worked on a variety of projects, including a casual MMO, a game about congressional redistricting, and a simulator for the United States Army.