Tag Archives: E3

Where Does The Age of Empires II Definitive Edition Fit?

The golden age of the Real Time Strategy genre is nearly 20 years gone at this point.  Like most ideas in video games, it first made a splash in a raw form, in this case via Dune II ,and then saw change in great leaps, some of which made companies, as the original Warcraft did with Blizzard.  There was lots of variety as new titles rolled out.

Then somebody “won” the genre, created a title that seemed to perfect some aspect of it… that was probably StarCraft… after which the genre tapered off.  It didn’t die, but like MMORPGs or Facebook games, it stopped getting so much attention.  It was no longer the hot new flavor to chase.

In around the peak of the genre came Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, one of my favorite RTS titles.  I’ve written about it before, but in summary it was kind of a big deal for myself, friends, and co-workers.  Back in the days when IT wasn’t policing every PC in development for unauthorized software, we would play a couple of games at the office every Friday night.

So you might think I was pretty excite to hear about Microsoft announcing Age of Kings II – Definitive Edition last week during E3.  Except, of course, I am not.

The Age of Empires trio at the Microsoft site

I mean, I should be happy that Microsoft has finally dusted off the web site for the franchise, which was locked in 2001 for about 15 years, and decided to pay attention to the franchise.  As late as four years ago there was a banner ad for the original XBox on the franchise page.

But there are a few issues for me.

The previous remaster, the Age of Empires Definitive Edition didn’t exactly make a splash.  After a big announcement two years back, it was quietly released on the Microsoft store eight months later where little seemed to be said about it.  It remains an exclusive there last I checked, though there seems to be some plan to bring it to Steam at some point.

I was also more than a bit convinced that the AoE remaster was little more than a marketing scheme to draw attention to the planned Age of Empires IV, so this might just be more of the same.   Also, given that I wasn’t big on Age of Empires III and that all we got was a vague trailer about the game, I wasn’t too excited on that front regardless.

But the primary reason I haven’t been all that thrilled about the Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition announcement is that we already got an Age of Empires II remaster just over six years ago.

Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the wonderful Defense Grid and Defense Grid 2 tower defense games, did a remaster of the game back in 2013 that included:

  • Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
  • Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
  • New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
  • Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.

Not only that, they also updated the unofficial expansions for the game and even added another one just last year.  When steam does stats, Age of Empires II – HD Edition is always doing surprisingly well given its origin in the last century.

Basically, there is already a happy and thriving Age of Empires II community on Steam that is good with the game, so a new version from Microsoft just raises uncomfortable questions… like what happens with all of the Steam Workshop stuff people have created and what about those three expansions?

What does Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition really bring to the table, besides 4K graphics, and what will people lose if they go there?

I personally think that the graphics upgrade and a remastered sound track is insufficient to get people to buy another copy of a game they have probably already purchased twice at this point.  Or that seems to be a common thread in the reactions to the press release on Steam.

The press release mentions three new single player campaigns to be released with the Definitive Edition, and four new civilizations as well, which makes this seem even more like a branch that will be incompatible with the HD Edition.

Microsoft also seems to have learned from the Age of Empires Definitive Edition and will be launching the new game straight onto Steam, where the fan base has resided for years now.

However, even that move gives me pause.  Are they planning on supplanting the HD Edition on Steam?  Hidden Path may have done the HD Edition, but Microsoft owns the title and all the rights.  If they want to yank the HD Edition in hopes that the fan base will be compelled to buy the Definitive Edition, they can do that.

I don’t think they will keep you from playing the HD Edition if you already own it.  It will likely still be there in your library.  But they can certainly disappear it from the store, take down the Steam Workshop, and remove all evidence of the expansions that have appeared since they last cared about the game.

Furthermore, it Microsoft being tone deaf and heavy handed isn’t exactly out of character for them as a company.

I hope that they will find a way to embrace the current and thriving Age of Empires II community that exists on Steam.  Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition is due out this fall according to the press releases, so I imagine that we will see how they plan to play this soon enough.

Minecraft Grand Unification Theory

I do not pay much attention to E3, primarily because it tends not to focus very much on my genre of choice and what it does generally focus on is consoles and console titles from a few large companies.  Not really my thing.

So I let the news from E3 flow by.  I watch is stream past on Twitter and glance through the headlines in Feedly, but do not it much mind except when somebody does something silly. I think I posted about Sony’s PlayStation 4 demo and how they tore into Microsoft’s Xbox One demo the day before on topics like price and used games.  But used games were a burning issue back then, until the industry admitted aloud that being able to trade in used games at GameStop was likely inflating new games sales and so benefiting from the arrangement despite all their bluster about used games being morally equivalent to theft.

This year a tidbit of info actually caught my attention.  Microsoft actually had something to say about Minecraft.

Microsoft has owned Minecraft for a while now, having paid creator Notch $2.5 billion back in late 2014.  This got them the two branches of Minecraft, the Java version, the original, which runs on PCs and which allows you to host your own server and has mods from here to the moon and back, and the console, pocket, Win10 version, which only got shared server hosting relatively recently and which makes money via a cash shop for special skins and such.

Basically, there is the “would have been amazing and lucrative if they had just stopped there” Java version and the “OMG! The cash shop train has no brakes!” money machine console branch.

Microsoft seems to have pledged to unify these two branches into a single product line.

New World Order

This has me a bit concerned.

I would have been more concerned a year or two ago, when the console version was nowhere close to feature parity with the Java version. Microsoft seemed to be heading towards “we’ll just cripple all the hosting and flexibility and mods you love” path a while back with its Windows 10 version of Minecraft.

The two branches have grown a bit closer since then, but it is still an open ecosystem of mods and server types versus a controlled cash shop ecosystem, so Microsoft’s.   So when Microsoft says that the basis for this unification plan is the XBox Live service it is tough not to cringe.

I wouldn’t mind some improvements to the PC version of Minecraft.   Being written in Java gives it flexibility, but also hinders it on the performance front.  And optimized version written in C++ with better file handling would be a good thing.  But if the price is giving up all mods and the ability to host your own server and create things like Wynncraft and such, I would probably stick with the Java version and its stone age file structures.

Fortunately, despite that splash screen from their presentation, the single unified Minecraft platform seems to be well off in future, if it is actually planned at all.  The early reporting I saw from sites at the presentation said Microsoft would be pulling “all versions of the game” together.  I don’t know if that was bad reporting, a bad presentation from Microsoft, or sloppy terminology somewhere along the line, but the statement on the official Minecraft site seems less dramatic.

Over there the line is that they are unifying all of the versions sharing the C++ code base, shedding all of their various names (e.g. Pocket Edition, Win10 Editions, Xbox) and renaming them all as just Minecraft, while the original, open version on PCs will now be called Minecraft: Java Edition.

The official site also indicates that the coming graphics upgrade will also skip the Minecraft: Java Edition, leaving us to our classic look, though there are enough graphical mods out there that you’re pretty much covered if you want fancier views. (The PlayStation versions seem to be in limbo on where they will end up though.)

Of course, that tilts worry the other direction.  Is Microsoft putting the Java platform version of the game out to pasture?  Is it better to be on the neglected track or to have Microsoft unifying the Java platform?

Either way, nothing is likely to happen any time soon.  We just got the 1.12 update for the Java version, so we’re still in that waiting period where all the mods and special servers have to work to catch up. (Even though our server doesn’t have any mods, I am waiting for Minecraft Overviewer to catch up so I can render updated maps.)  I am more likely to get my Mineserver delivered before anything drastic happens, and once I that happens I need never upgrade versions again.

Still, for a little while I was intrigued with the idea of being able to use the iOS Minecraft Pocket Edition on the iPad to log into our server.