I mentioned in February’s Month in Review post that Potshot and a couple of his old college pals had pick up Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings HD on Steam.
I had been interested in getting some games together with the new-ish HD version that became available on Steam about a year back.
Potshot and I have brought up the idea now and again, but only in the last month or so has this become a thing. Four of us now try to get together and play a match or two once a week.
All of us played the game back in the its heyday… which I guess would be back in the 20th century if we want to get technical… and remember it fondly. however, in our first match it became clear that some of us (me) had been tinkering with it more recently than others.
Okay, and with a week’s warning of our first match, I put in some time to get warmed up by playing at least one game against the computer nightly.
So when it came to the first game, things played out badly for some. And the fact that I suggested that we all start on different teams ( including a computer opponent to mix things up) and lock teams, it might have been influenced by a fear of everybody turning on me if I got too far out in front. *cough*
Actually, I wanted to computer player in the mix as the CPU usually goes after the most advanced player. I thought that might moderate any advantage I might bring to the game. Only the computer started far from me and we left the setting on “easy,” which meant that, if left alone, it might make it to the Castle Age in a few hours.
So I managed to win the first outing by beating down everybody else and then building a wonder, because we’re the type of people who won’t resign even when we’re down to one villager.
I built a large cavalry to sweep the lands and purge and resurgent force seeking to take down my wonder, successfully holding of the remnants opposing me until the timer counted down to zero.
That outcome, pointing out the imbalance in skill/knowledge/memory/whatever put our head-to-head matches on hold for a bit as we tried to get everybody up to speed. The game now records matches by default, so while I was free in sharing my own build order and what not, everybody could watch and see what I really did.
But we were otherwise impressed with how the game held up after close to 15 years, with the integration into Steam’s match making and game hosting mechanism basically filling a major gap that has existed since official Microsoft support of such faded years ago.
Yes, we managed to close that gap with Game Ranger at one point. But while I appreciate Game Ranger and what they do, having the game and the match making all built into Steam is simply easier to deal with, especially since Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the HD revamp, build the hooks right into the game interface. (The downside is that there is no multiplayer without Steam. But we’re good with that for now.)
So we were good with the game and started playing matches against computer opponents in order to share ideas and to close the skill/memory level between us. We play random civilizations and random map types just to keep things changing. While some of the game was clearly as I remembered it, at times there were oddities. There was at least one map where I seemed to run into a LOT more sheep than I recall ever seeing.
We warmed up slowly, finding that computer opponents set to “hardest” were indeed a challenge to us. When you decide your only hope is to go for a wonder victory against the computer, things are not going your way.
And when the computer wins anyway… well…
But we kept on until we found that we could at least take down an equal, or even a greater number, of computer opponents set to “hard,” though “hardest” still bedeviled us. At one point two computer opponents set to “hardest” managed to beat the four of us on the Black Forest map by building a wonder of their own. We were pretty much defeated by the computer’s ability and willingness to sacrifice villages to rebuild wall breaches. We would build up forces, force a breach, only to have one villager slip through and start enough of a wall to stop us part way though again. We could never get enough of a concentration of force through the gap, and since Black Forest is a map all about fighting over tight roads through the forest, there wasn’t a way around. (The fact that fully upgraded onager siege weapons can tear down forests had been discussed right before the match, but by the time we could bring that idea to bear it was too late to get through.)
But we had started to hit a point where we were all feeling like we had come to grips with the game and that it was time to step it up a notch. So, when game time came around last Friday… we always form up via a Google+ video hangout, where I am the odd man out since I haven’t had a webcam since the days of the Connectix QuickCam… there was a question of how we should proceed. The idea was put out there that the three of us… Potshot was away for the weekend, happy birthday to him… should form up an open match, with us on one team taking on whatever three people happened to join our game as the opposing team.
Our first match against live opponents!
Which brings up one of the problems of the way I often play such games. I tend to like to play with/against friends. So, all told, in the last fifteen years, I might have played with as many as 20 different people, many of them repeatedly. That is a pretty small competitive ecosystem in which you tend to learn to play against specific people. If you get good, that level of good is only relative to a very small set of possible situations.
So, while my fifteen year old build order through the first 20 minutes of the game gave me a clear advantage against our little group in that first game, things went less well when exposed to people who had clearly faced a wider range of competitors.
Basically, we got slaughtered.
I am not sure if the random map helped us or hurt us. We ended up with team islands, where each team has its own large island and you have to invade. That protected us from early harassment, but it also kept at least me from doing any early harassing as well. Basically, they divided up efforts, with one concentrating on a navy that swept us from the seas and harassed anything in range of the shore, while the other two slipped over and built a barracks, some towers, and eventually a castle just out of line of sight of my town.
You can see the bump in my troop levels as I had my “oh crap” moment upon discovering MoronHunter was massing for an assault on my town. That did not go well and I had to relocate to the far end of our island to start again. And since I was, at least economically, out in front on our side, the cascade fail began.
We did what we could to hold them off for as long as possible, but with the enemy on our island, the issue was never in doubt.
On the bright side, our foes seemed happy enough to simply destroy us without telling us how badly we were doing, though I have to admit being so trounced by somebody with the name “MoronHunter” might be rebuke enough.
After our defeat, the question came as to what to do next. We usually play two games. This time around though, we decided to replay our first game. As I mentioned, matches are recorded by default, so we went back and ran through the match together, watching how our opponents started off the game and built up their economy.
My own ideas on that front are from about 2000, when a good plan was to build up 20 villagers before advancing to the feudal age. That idea seems to have changed. Our foes held off some, pushing for 30 to 35 villagers before starting the climb to feudal.
There was also a clear difference in gathering for that push. Back in the day, the default plan for food was to harvest sheep, boars, deer, and then start on farms and berries. Again, our foes debunked that idea, ignoring boars… and in the case of Lolus even sheep initially… going straight for farms after putting a lot of early villagers on wood.
As a team, we also suffered from the usual problem of limited scope. We tend to build just ONE of each troop producing building. There was an early fight for the sea lane between the islands which I ended up losing because I was producing ships out of a single dock while chip_xx was using three.
We can at least say we had an educational night, and I expect that our next round of play will include experimentation with the build orders we observed. Maybe we can master the “hardest” setting now. Potshot will probably come off the worse for wear, having missed the match.
And then there was the Forgotten Empires question.
A little over a year ago, a group of player finally finished up an unofficial expansion for Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings called Forgotten Empires. The team that put it together adapted it to the updated HD version of Age of Kings on Steam, and it is now available for purchase as DLC under the name The Forgotten. (Though there is a question about who is getting the money from it, along with the usual community bitching about having to pay for something that was free at one point.)
The question is, “Should we buy it?”
I tinkered with it a bit back when it came out. The new empires are not that big of a deal to my mind, nor are a couple of the enhancements, while the graphics were not so great. But the new AIs that come with it might make it worthwhile, and the conversion to the new HD format might help. Another item for the group to discuss.