Interview with Ian Fischer

Ensemble Studios Interview
2 Nov 1997


Ian "Fish" FischerEnsemble Studios (Scenarios & Playtesting)
Imperious RexGameStats News Network
Archangel MichaelAge of Empires Heaven
TelcontarTelcontar's Empire of the Ages

Archangel Michael: Good morning Ian, thanks for taking the time to join us today. Can you give us some background on yourself and how you came to be in the gaming business?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Sure... I'm 25, I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1994 with BAs in Political Science and English Writing (Fiction). (I also had around 3/4 of the credits needed for a middle eastern dialects - Arabic minor). I joined the US Navy upon graduation (long story) and became a Sonar Tech... When I learned that this job sucked (around 15 min. later), I looked for something new, got accepted as a SAR (search and rescue) swimmer and spent the rest of my time doing that... About two years ago, I was offered an opportunity to become an intelligence officer, I took the physical required for this and they found that I had a form of narcolepsy Thus, ending my naval career.... I had previously been involved with a few attempted start-up software companies and had designed a few paper games with guys in college (none of note). So I figured I might try to break into the business, spent some time putting together a nice doc with samples of my designs, searched the Web for every company involved with games, pestered all of these people endlessly... Met Tony G. and got the job -- here I am...
Telcontar: Hi, Ian. Thank you for coming. What would you be doing now if you were not in the gaming industry?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Funny you should ask... Well firstly, I think I'd be in this industry regardless, If I hadn't had any luck getting a job with an established company I think I would probably have gotten together with some of my old cohorts and attempted to start one.
Telcontar: Which type of scenario do you like most of all - scenarios where you build up from the Stone Age or scenarios where you start at the Iron Age and have a bunch of guys to start with?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: I like the ones where you start small and build up because the ones that provide you with pre-existing buildings and units don't feel like they're mine. If I set down the storage pit, I'll know where it is, if someone else does it I'm searching the map.
Telcontar: Which scenario is your favorite one?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Single - Nineveh, Multi - Passes.
Imperious Rex: Good Morning Ian. Thanks for taking some time with us. There is a rumor that an upcoming AoE patch will raise the system requirements of the game. Is there any truth to this?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: I can neither comment on, confirm, or deny anything related to the patch.
Archangel Michael: I for one don't have a clue how the design process goes for a game like Age of Empires, can you go through the steps it takes to design a killer game like Age of Empires?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Sure... Once a project has been established and a team assigned, the design component holes up in the office for two or three weeks with a stack of books. At the first stage, we put together a prototype doc which outlines the game on a very high level, this is mostly to show our publisher what kind of game we will be working on. >From this we advance to the actual design doc which is simply the proto doc in more detail. The design doc contains information about everything. It is also used to build sections on technical requirements which then go to the programmers. The designers also work with the publisher and team leader to get a milestone list in the doc and this provides us with our broad level work orders. The final doc goes through a few rapid changes before it settles down (usually) then gets another round of revisions toward the end based on playtesting.
Telcontar: Have you also been involved in writing the random map algorithms?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Not that I'm aware of. Tim Deen (to my knowledge) handled that. However, I did pelt him with suggestions...
Telcontar: Can you explain us how the random map generator works? (Just the basics.)
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Gggehh... Let's see here... A lot of this is based on my (probably quite poor) understanding; roughly the generator operates from a seed number which provides it with its ability to be "random". This number is used to plan the layout and composition of a map based on your preferences (i.e. if you select "highland" the algorithm favors land tile placement and retards water tile placement). The algorithm is set-up in such a way that items are placed intelligently, that is: every starting position has a berry bush within x tiles, trees are placed in forests, etc.
Telcontar: Thank you. What is your favorite map type and size?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Huge highland... plenty of room and I don't have to worry about a navy...
Archangel Michael: What kind of single player strategies seem to work the best for you? I love to use the tower placement with catapults to surround the bad guys in the longer games
Ian "Fish" Fischer: I love walls and towers. My favorite game is one where I manage to gain an ally, talk him into protecting me and I spend the entire game building the perfect wonder spot. I love setting up elaborate defenses. One of my favorite techniques is to build a series of walls around the wonder site and put a town center and siege workshop in each cell ...
Ian "Fish" Fischer: That way, when another player attacks, I can pop out a villager to build up defenses where he is attacking and a cat to hold him off; no wasted stone building walls and towers he'll never get near.
Telcontar: What is the key in making exciting scenarios?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: That depends on the type. Good single player scenarios tend to be very scripted -- you set up the way you want it to be played using terrain and other obstacles, then tweak the AI until you get exactly what you want. IF 99 out of 100 people play it the same way, you've done your job. Multiplayer scenarios are the exact opposite...
Telcontar: Is there a particular strategy that was too strong in playtesting so that unit properties had to be changed?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: Yes, my favorite one, defensive. If defenses are made too strong players can set themselves up so that they can never be in danger. Defenses had to be scaled back to make the game fun, otherwise everyone went behind a wall and avoided going out because attacks on fortifications were too costly.
Archangel Michael: With Age of Empires, Ensemble Studios got itself on the gaming map, but in the future - where do you see yourself and Ensemble Studios in the gaming market? (RTS Games, role playing, spreadsheets :)..
Ian "Fish" Fischer: ES is going to be in games for a long time. We have a very diverse group here and every possible type game genre has some type of representation. In the future, I'd say that you'll likely see everything from RTSs to RPGs to 1st person shooters (not to mention genres we introduce) with the Ensemble Studios logo on it.
Telcontar: What is your favorite unit?
Ian "Fish" Fischer: As to favorite unit, mine is the tower :)
Archangel Michael: Love that logo :).. thanks for spending some of your weekend with us - its been a real joy!
Ian "Fish" Fischer: I'd like to thank all of you guys -- one of the nice things about making games is making people happy, I'm glad that you are all obviously enjoying the game this much.
Archangel Michael: The game and the fine team at ES!
Telcontar: Seeya on the battlefield ;)

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