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Age of Empires III Q&A

Age of Empires 3 Box art
Developer:Ensemble Studios
Official Site:http://www.ageofempires3.com/
Release Date:November 4th (UK)
Questions By:Ben Atkinson (Jammin)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

We recently got lucky enough to have chance to ask Ensemble Studios some questions regarding Age Of Empires III and the Age of Empires series in general. Many thanks to Greg Street - Age Of Empires III Designer for taking the time to answer our queries.

I can imagine that trying to create a follow up in such a popular series of games can be quite stressful, did you have any specific worries before the game shipped?

Greg: We worried a lot about how to innovate while staying true to the heart of the Age series. Many of the earlier features we tried were pretty different, but frankly a lot of them weren’t all that fun either. When we had iterated on an idea for too long and weren’t getting anywhere, we usually went back to what worked in our previous games. We knew our iterative design process makes great games, but we knew it could take a long time (and it did).

How did you decide on which units would be present in which army's and did you try to accurately recreate history, or was it more of a balance issue?

Greg: It was a little of both. We started by trying to come up with all the cool names of soldiers we could, such as dragoons and grenadiers. Then we worked to find roles for them all. For some units, like the skirmisher, the game had a need for same role that existed in history. For units like the dragoon and grenadier, we basically had to bend history in order to fill a role that the game needed. Real warfare tends to be less diverse than our games – musketeers outnumbered cavalry and light infantry by an order of magnitude. We know that the Germans and Dutch had musketeers in real life, but we thought it would be more interesting if some civs lacked some units and had to fill that gap with a different kind of unit. This sometimes gets blamed on the time period, but actually the 1600-1800s had some of the most diverse soldier types on the battlefield. Medieval (Europe) armies were simple; typically a bunch of peasants with sticks and pitchforks, some excellent heavy cavalry, and perhaps a few archers

When using defensive buildings such as outposts, do you have any plans to be able to put ranged units in the tower for increased defense, instead of only being able to use villagers?

Greg: It’s not on the radar right now. We felt it was just an extra complication that the game didn’t need. In our previous games, it was always hard to tell why that tower was suddenly more powerful than other towers that resemble it (and the math to determine the attack bonus hurt my head even though I was the one balancing the game). Now we could have done the work to convey that information better, but in the end, we just think humans fighting humans is more interesting than buildings fighting each other. If you read much history, you find that battles are cool but sieges are actually pretty boring.

Is there a possibility we might see a change to the formation system, perhaps even the option to create your own formations?

Greg: We might add some additional formations or stances. The data structure would accept new formations pretty easily, but the user-interface to create such a formation would be a challenge. Changing combat at that root level can have really deep effects on the game balance though. Should you lose the fight because you brought the wrong unit, didn’t bring enough units, didn’t have enough upgrades, or put your guys in the wrong formation? At some point, you can’t even tell which of those decisions caused you to lose the fight, and then the game just ends up feeling a little random. I’m not sure most of our fans want to see say Pikemen beat Crossbows just because the former were in the perfect formation.

Do you have any plans to remove some of the limits on cards, such as forts and units?

Greg: No. The limits are there for a reason. I’ll put it this way – the Deathstar in Star Wars was a singular entity. Even though they (arguably lamely) eventually built another one, the Empire wasn’t going around constructing Deathstars in every solar system. The Deathstar was expensive and powerful and more interesting because it was rare. The decision of when to send a Fort and where to build it is a really interesting decision. That goes away if you know you can have lots of Forts and put them wherever you want. Strategy games often come down to how you allocate limited resources. If your resources aren’t limited, you aren’t allocating anything and aren’t making decisions. As it is, we talk about our games later and say things like “Man, I could have turned things around if Fort Ticonderoga hadn’t fallen to your Mortars by the river.” That just makes a more memorable story than “Man, I made 20 Forts in that game.” God Powers in Age of Mythology were likewise limited for the same reason.

I have to admit, I have a bad habit of losing my explorer, could you implementing a button or keyboard shortcut which takes you to your explorer?

Greg: It’s already in there. Try the slash key.

(You could also try reading the manual Ben :- Ed)

Can you reveal any other details of what you plan to include in future patches?

Greg: We have a lot of plans for ESO. Basically almost everything that fans have suggested are things we want to add. We just couldn’t do it all for the initial release of the game. We want better chat support, better tournament support, more kudos you can earn by playing and winning. We want to make some balance changes. We’d like to release some additional random maps.

Are there any plans for an expansion pack?

Greg: Expansion? What expansion?

Assuming that Age of Empires IV gets made, what era or age would you personally find the most fun?

Greg: I’m not a huge fan of the modern war time period. I just don’t think it translates to Age style gameplay very well. “You’re France in 1939. You have 4 villagers. Send out 2 to hunt and 2 to chop wood. Now build a tank.” That just doesn’t make sense. Aircraft and long-ranged weapons like artillery and battleships would not work in the Age3 gameplay very well (though I think the Home City concept just might). I think we could do adapt to such different kinds of warfare, but it would be a very different game. I think there is a little bit of romance (for want of a better word) in 1800s combat, but when I think of WWII I think of mustard gas, concentration camps and concertina wire. That’s pretty far from the sunny world of AOE. Personally, I’d kind of like to do the ancient time period again with all that we’ve learned from our previous games, but we honestly haven’t started discussing it yet. Who knows? Someone might find a great way to do modern combat.

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