Interview about Age of Empires

I have managed to get an interview with Dave Pottinger, programmer of Age of Empires, and Mr. Grinch, designer of that game, from Ensemble Studios. Even though there may be questions left, I hope you will get some valuable info from the interview. Special thanks go to Archangel Michael for making this interview possible. He arranged it after all :)


Dave Pottinger
Mr. Grinch aka Rick Goodman

Telcontar: 12 tribes are very much. Perhaps more than what can be tested out in two months? Will players be willing to "learn" twelve tilesets and strategies?

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): 12 civs are quite a few. We've been testing them for 8 months now, though :)

I think players will be able to learn how the civs play. It offers a lot more gameplay, I think, if you can play a diff game with diff civs 6 months after you've purchased it...

Telcontar: will the game offer gates that only open for allies to complete wall-ins?

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): Gates didn't make it into Age1; definitely for Age2, though.

[This may be a bit confusing. Please note that an expansion is already being finished and that not all features will be part of Age of Empires I.]

Mr. Grinch: Essetially, gates can be simulated by taking down walls when required. This works pretty well actually.

Telcontar: Blizzard includes a league feature in Starcraft where every match will be logged and you will appear in a world wide ranking. Will AoE feature something similar?

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): We will upload game stats to the Gaming Zone to do the same thing for Age.

Mr. Grinch: The scoring system in AGE gives us many possibilities for leagues and contest. We will work with the Zone team on how how best to organize meets.

[One thing that I have asked Blizzard is an option to disable that feature. Some people may want their privacy and not have recorded every game they play. I hope this will be available for AoE as well.]

Telcontar: The limit of 50 units is quite low. If I build up a large army quickly (for an early attack) and cannot find my opponent soon, will I be forced to delete it? Will I get a benefit for it (resources back)?

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): The 50 unit limit usually comes up:)
The 50 unit limit actually helps gameplay, I think. It forces you to make interesting tradeoffs about how you're going to fill your allotment. If you choose a Wonder strategy, then you need a lot of villagers. So, maybe you'll need to ally with someone else so their army can protect you.
Finding opponents has not been a problem for us in the playtesting we've done and the results we've looked at.

Telcontar: how self-reliant will the units be? will archers run around an elephant to keep the distance between shooting? or will you have to command them to do so?

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): In that situation, you'd have to manage the archer to do that. We made a call about how the UnitAI vs. Player control would work in the design. The game turned out to be one where it was more fun to manage the units rather than to let the UnitAI be too smart...

In short, I don't think the game would be nearly as good as it is w/o the need to manage the units.
We'll do games in the future that have more intelligent units if that fits the overall game design better. For Age1, though, the designers thought it best to leave the UnitAI fairly minimal.

Mr. Grinch: Command vs. control is a dabate we have had at several points along the way. We have opted for control. This makes management of your units a full time and challenging task. For instance, in a Cooperative game, running a few Priests exxectively while my ally runs everything else, is still a challenge.

Telcontar: What will you do to protect the game against hackers?

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): I'll assume you're asking about this from a multiplayer perspective: We have some checksumming, etc. in place to protect the game from people sending bogus commands, etc.

Telcontar: a final question :) Will the computer develop different strategies than "gather units and attack"? Since Dune, this had remained the same :(

Dave Pottinger (Bigdog): Yes, it will. It all depends on what goals are set for the AI. If you give it a strategy that has it build a Wonder and don't give it a desire to attack, it won't attack :)
It's all setup by a load of variables that are defaulted to an intelligent, combat-oriented game. If you want to do something diff, though, you can do that very easily.

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