Tag Archives: Age of Empires

How Many Ages Should an Empire Have?

There was an announcement yesterday that we might see an Age of Empires IV some day, complete with a deliberately vague hype trailer.

Age of Something IV

Still, on a slow Monday in August just before Gamescom simply whispering “Age of Empires” under your breath will get somebody hyped up.

It is a series with some genre-defining entries.  The original Age of Empires felt fresh and new back when it launched while the follow on, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (which we tended to call AoK)took the formula and refined it to near perfection.  It is an 18 year old title I still get out and play now and again.  It is an amazing mix of civilizations, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that somehow ended up as balanced as one could hope for.

It was a title deserving of an HD remastering, which we got via Hidden Path Entertainment back in 2013.

I am even a bit jazzed about revisiting the original game via the Age of Empires Definitive Edition that was announced earlier this year at E3.  I was never as big of a fan of it as I was the sequel, but I would still go back to give it a try again, especially with the promise of “improved game play,” which hope means rolling back some of the features from AoK.

So I have some sincere fondness for the series… or at least parts of the series.  After AoK the games fell flat for me.

Age of Mythology never thrilled me while Age of Empires III just fell flat in my opinion.  These are not titles I would go back to play again.

But by then key members of Ensemble Studios responsible for the initial magic of the series had moved on and the studio itself was shut down by Microsoft in 2009.  And while Microsoft attempted to leverage the fame of the series with Age of Empires Online, which really did flop, heralding the end of things.

Except now Microsoft is back and banking on the fame of the series yet again, with the remaster of the original and a new title in the form of Age of Empires IV, and my response to the latter is fairly cool.

I am not completely dismissive of the idea.  The did get Relic Entertainment to take on the task of creating Age of Empires IV and, as a studio, they have some RTS chops.  The are responsible for Homeworld and Homeworld 2, the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series, and the Company of Heroes series, all of which are notable titles in the genre.  And being owned by Sega hasn’t completely killed them off.

But can they make an Age of Empires title that feels like an Age of Empires title?  Do they really need to ride on the back of the old series?  Will that fence them in or set them free?  And what age will this be set in?  The industrial age?  The modern age?  The space age?  And haven’t they already been to that last one with Homeworld and Warhammer 40k?

Anyway the complete absence of any details regarding the title means any conclusion you care to come to barely meets the minimum requirement for speculation.  So we will have to wait and see if this is really hype worthy or not.

Return of the Shang Rush

There is a correlation between some of my past jobs and certain video games.  For a long stretch of time there was usually a video game, or a series of video games over time, that whatever team I was on would play at the office after hours.

Games like NetTrek or Marathon or Diablo or Warcraft II or StarCraft took their turns at various companies as the game to play after hours.

That all ended late in the last decade when HR reached a point of ascendancy in Silicon Valley in companies above a certain size and decreed that people enjoying themselves on company property was bad unless they were doing so in company organized and controlled events.

Before that we were able to find support against IT for our after hours fun.  After that IT was cleared to keep our machines free from anything not specifically mandated by them.  And so ended after hours bonding.  Now we just talk about video games that we play ourselves.  Nobody sticks around late to hang out any more, we all just go home.  Life in enterprise software, where everything is super serious.

There is probably a correlation between the wind down of games after hours or work and finding time at home to blog about games.

The funny thing is how certain games were popular at one company but not another.  In 1998 I moved to a new company.  The previous one had been very much Warcraft II and early Total Annihilation.  The new company was just getting into StarCraft.  The timing was just about perfect, as I was in for the early learning curve of StarCraft, which had just been released.

StarCraft supplanted the previous dev team champion, Age of Empires.  There were still some people who played it, but the new game supplanted the old pretty firmly.

(Side note: As somebody who has played the same MMOs for years at a stretch, it now seems odd that such games had such a short shelf life and how keen we could be to move on to new ones.)

Some people on the team missed the game while others found the balance of the game to be off and much preferred the fine edge balance of the StarCraft races.  The Rise of Rome expansion for Age of Empires came along, but it wasn’t enough to get the game back in play.

Then of course Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings came along and eclipsed the game completely with its improved controls and balance of civilizations that gave each one their special niche.  There was no looking back at that point.

Somewhere along the line I grabbed a copy of Age of Empires just to try it out, but it never really stuck with me.  Ensemble Studios even rolled back some of the UI and control changes that came with Age of Kings to try and improve the game, but it remained in the shadow of its successor.  People have kept playing and modding and expanding Age of Kings while Age of Empires has languished.

I’ve been playing Age of Kings off and on ever since it came out.  The game still (mostly) ran through the last decade until it got an HD upgrade/revamp a few years back that brought it into the age of higher resolution monitors.

Soon though, almost 20 years since it launched, we will all have a chance to take another look at Age of Empires.  One of the tidbits to come out of E3 was news of an Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, featuring 4K graphics, remastered sound track, and improved game play.

Age of Empires

Microsoft has spruced up the long neglected Age of Empires site so you can sort of get a handle on what they are doing.  Information is sparse and the site seems pretty slow, but you can see they have something planned.   I don’t know who is actually doing the work.  The site proudly talks about somebody on the “About Us” page, but Ensemble Studios that did the original game has been gone for eight years, while Hidden Path Entertainment did the Age of Kings HD update and they aren’t mentioned anywhere.

Also, I am pretty sure this statement from the “About Us” page is laughably wrong:

Considered by many as the top selling PC game of all time

If you’re one of the alleged “many,” maybe you had better check that chart again.

Anyway, I’ll hold out for more information before I make an actual purchase decision, but I am leaning towards picking this up when it goes live.  We’ll see if the Shang rush is still a thing.