Not to diminish StarCraft, which is an incredibly polished and well balanced game, but to me there was always a greater sense of depth and immersion when playing Age of Kings. And the variety of different empires represented lent themselves to different strategies.
So after a bit of searching on Friday evening, I came up with the CDs for both Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings and the expansion, Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. They installed smoothly. Getting them patched to the latest version was not hard either. Looking a the Microsoft sites for Age of Kings and The Conquerors, you can tell that they have not done much with the games over the last seven years of so. You especially have to love the banner ads on the Age of Kings site.
Both the game and the expansion installed and ran fine, neither taking up too much space or resources. System requirements have come a long way since the game shipped.
- Multimedia PC with Pentium 166MHz or higher processor.
- Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 5 operating system.
- 32 MB of RAM
- 200 MB of hard disk space; additional 100 MB of hard disk space for swap file.
- Super VGA monitor supporting 800×600 resolution.
- Local bus video card that supports 800×600, 256 color resolution and 2 MB of VRAM
- Quad-speed CD-ROM drive.
- Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device.
- 28.8Kbps modem (or higher recommended) for internet or head-to-head play.
- Audio board with speakers or headphones.
- To access the MSN Gaming Zone you need Internet Explorer 3.02 or later software or Netscape Communicator 4.0 or later.
I like that they felt the need to specify a mouse in the system requirements. It reminds me of a Windows 95 class taught at one of the local Community Colleges back in the day. The class was to be taught on machines with no mouse attached. The instructor was a bit old school and was not convinced of the long term viability of the mouse as a computer input device, so he wanted to make sure his class was prepared for the day when we got over this mouse thing and got back to the only input device that really mattered; the keyboard. But I digress.
A test run against the AI showed that the game itself ran very well on my current machine. And, unlike StarCraft or Diablo II, Age of Kings actually supports a game resolution of 1280×1024. I actually have an LCD monitor in a closet with a native resolution of 1280×1024. So the graphics are less pixellated that the other two games.
Later in the evening, Potshot caught me online and we started trying to coordinate a game, and then the fun began.
Blizzard has run Battle.net for the last 12 years to facilitate the connectivity of their games over the internet despite the fact that they haven’t shipped a game that has required that service for the last six years. So when the retro urge hits, you can get out Diablo, Diablo II, StarCraft, etc. and get connect with your friends in an environment that simulates all the lag and issues you remember from the good old days. But at least the option exists.
By comparison, Microsoft has been less resolute. The so-called MSN Gaming Zone referred to in the requirements, and which has had a variety of names, ceased supporting connectivity for games like Age of Kings about three years ago. So unless you are on the same LAN as the person you are playing, getting connected for a match can be a challenge.
Still, there are a couple of services that have attempted to pick up the ball dropped by Microsoft. The first one we tried was International Gaming Zones.
That did not go so well. Their client didn’t seem to like that I installed the game somewhere other than the default directory. There was a good deal of tinkering with routers required. And when that was done, there was some sort of problem with the Age of Kings client application. To their credit IGZones had a write up and a patch regarding that last problem, but even with the patch applied and verified we could not get a game going. After an hour of that we moved on.
We then spent some time trying to establish a direct connection between our machines. That involved a lot more fruitless tinkering with routers and putting machines into the DMZ and generally not getting anywhere. After enough of that I grabbed the next site that promised to support multiplayer Age of Kings game play, GameRanger.
GameRanger seems to have focused on simplicity of function because we were able to download it, create accounts, and get it to work in about five minutes. We were actually playing.
Then, after about 10 minutes of play, when we were poised to get stuck into each other, we got disconnected.
Overall, an uncanny recreation of the original Age of Kings “over the internet” play experience.
At that point it was after midnight. We declared limited success and vowed that our empires would clash again at some future date.
So now I have had out, on successive weekends, two of my three favorite RTS games of all time. The only one that remains is Total Annihilation.
But even getting Total Annihilation installed is a challenge in and of itself, assuming you can get your hands on the various patches and updates. A task for another weekend I think.