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News Archives - March 2005

EE2 University Caption Winner

Out of all the entries that I got for the EE2 University caption contest, Carl Shivan's caption of

Got my pick as the best, a lot because I do love AoK like my firstborn child. Carl won my Medieval Times crown signed by VUG guys Greg Agius and Guy Welch, all he needs to do is send me (socvazius@heavengames.com) his mailing information and I'll get the goodie shipped right out to him, ready to wear on arrival. Congratulations Carl!

Fan Art Contest Results

The votes are in from my secret panel of judges (comprised of a goat, some dates, and a mirror) for the fan art contest, and Tarion has won first place. He's got a nice history with fan art, winning 2nd place in AoMH's TT fan art contest with Fenris Wolves and Beheamoth. He wins a Making of AoM DVD, AoM T-shirt, and an AoM Soundtrack CD for this succulent morsel:

Coming in second place was Bravinsky with his drawing of a cavalryman. He wins an AoM T-shirt and AoM Soundtrack CD.

Derek Thurn submitted a fairly detailed sketch, merging the middle ages with the colonial era. It's a very interesting bit of work, getting him 3rd place and an AoM T-Shirt.

And finally, DeaD_Good got runner up and an HG T-Shirt or HG baseball cap (his choice) with a native american wearing a headdress. Here it is:

All in all, things went pretty well with the fan art contest. Everyone that won a prize needs to send their contact information to spineman@heavengames.com. Expect to see another one some time after AoE III is released, and thanks to everyone that participated in this one!

AoE III Holland Contest

AoE III Holland has announced its first contest: Hidden Colonies. It's basically an easter egg hunt where everyone looks for 6 hidden flags throughout AoE3Holland. The prize is a copy of Game Maker 5.3a, which is pretty dang snazzy. Best of luck to everyone competing for the program!

"Welcome to The Hidden Colonies Contest! We have hidden 6 flags of the announced civilizations all over the website and forums, the one who finds them all wins a big price! You need to become a forum member in order to join our contest, but hey, it only takes 5 seconds to register, and the prize is worth it for sure!"

Poll Roundup

What should AoE III's acronym be? Well, it looks like the majority (technically, it would be Plurality since there were more than one candidate, so there) likes AoE III more than the others...so I'll try to use that acronym the most. Here's the results:

(612) AoE III
(154) Age3
(155) Ao3
(473) AoE3
(120) AoD

Total: 1514 votes

The issue of starting people off without a settlement, able to build their TCs wherever they want, has been a topic of discussion this week, especially considering the huge randomization factor put in that many people don't like. Should Nomad be the default starting situation for AoE III? (hey check out the use of the acronym!) Answer in our poll!

Heroes and Trade Routes

Seems like ES post topics come in double each time, this time DeathShrimp talks about trade routes and the sharpshooting explorer you get at the beginning of each game. Turns out he's something like a hero, leading your exploits in the New World. He requires a bit of micromanaging to be at top power, though, so he may not be used by some players.

"The sharpshooter dude is no mere scout, but your Explorer -- the leader of your expedition. Think of him like the heroes in AOM. The sharpshooting ability (and indeed the entire genesis of the unit) is for those players who like to obsess about the micromanagement of single units. If that doesn't fit your playstyle, then you'll tend to ignore your Explorer and play with other unit types. You don't get more than one Explorer, and he isn't any good at running in to kill villies."

Looks like ES picked their current trade route design to further encourage attacking and controlling trade on the map...looks like they're doing that with most everything. I'm curious as to how possible it will be to play defensively, considering these steps to ensure people fight for valuable aspects of the game. Here's what he had to say on that:

"We thought long and hard about the trade routes and came up with the current design because we like territorial control in our games, but thought the settlement model of AOM was too confining. If you could establish trade routes anywhere, then you would usually put them safely behind the front lines and create the bizarre routes that AOK had between allied Markets along the edge of the map. That doesn't give you anything interesting to fight over, because the routes are only vulnerable when your colonies have basically been overrun."

EE2U Caption Contest

While I was at the EE2 University two weekends ago, I went to Medieval Times in LA and got Greg Agius and Guy Welch, the two main Vivendi guys dealing with the event, to sign my royal Medieval Times crown shown in this picture:

Look at that strapping young lad! If you want that crown, just send me what you'd fill into that text bubble (just the text to socvazius@heavengames.com), as indicated by my wench Elpea here. In a couple days I'll pick the person with the funniest caption and he'll get the cooool crown. Good luck!

Conquest of America Special on History Channel

I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that at least a couple of you crazy kids are interested in colonial history. Well, if you're such a chap, you're in luck; the History Channel is showing a special about the exploration (and, well, conquest) of America. It's a four-parter, showing this Monday and Tuesday starting at 9pm EST. Don't miss it!

Empire Earth 2 University Writeup

Two weekends ago, I got the chance to fly down to the Vivendi Universal Games offices in Los Angeles for an event called Empire Earth 2 University. A number of the biggest names in the RTS/Empire Earth community found their way down there, and we got a chance to check out a nearly final build of the game. TheGoodEvil already has the preview of the game up and running, but I've got the writeup of the event itself for anyone interested in finding out what kind of craziness ensued. And when you're done with that, check out the gallery of photos of the event; we're having some difficulties with our gallery, so you may see a couple odd things going on 'round there (like double watermarks), don't worry, it'll be taken care of promptly. Enjoy!

"Dinner rolled around and we all hit the street, heading for the Islands restaurant at this Howard Hughes promenade right next to the offices. Unfortunately, we didn't see the exhumed remains of the aeronatical enthusiast, but we did have some succulent burgers and I learned a whole lot about E3 happenings from Guy and Allen Rausch, a chap from Gamespy I met at an Armies of Exigo event; I hope I'm adequately prepared for the incredible chaos this year. After dinner, we went back to the offices (where I found that Greg's a fellow history nerd, cool coons) and were shown all of the previous box and ad art for EE2; a notable box sketch had a huge face of man that looked exactly like the coach on Beavis and Butthead, nice..."

Explored Water in AoE III

The Computer Games Magazine preview of AoE III has unvieled a number of new things about the game, one of which is the fact that all bodies of water are initially explored. Historically speaking, that makes sense, because they were pretty heavily explored before people started colonizing the new world. Dave Pottinger gives ES' reasons:

"Having explored water was done mostly for 2 reasons: * It's new and different. Plain and simple. It's cool and gameplay-changing to see where all the water is. The game has been built with that in mind, so it's fine from that standpoint. We want the start of Rocket to feel familiar, but clearly different than our previous games. * It's actually historically accurate, or at least moreso than *not* having the water explored before landfall is made..."

No mad for you - come back, one year!

Nomad is looking to be the default method of starting your civilization in Age of Empires III. It's been a popular playing style since AoK, but it being the default style will be interesting. The randomnes of nomad can mess up who wins a game; luck can give a less skilled player the ability to defeat a superior one...RTS'ers don't seem to like it that much. Here's what DeathShrimp thinks of putting nomad in Age 3:

"One of the things working against nomad is the random nature of exploration. If we start on water, and you sail to the north and I sail to the south, you might just happen to hit land earlier. Now you can scout the land, find out where you want to build, and in general get a headstart on me. All because I happened to sail in the wrong direction. That might seem fun under some definitions, but RTS games are very sensitive to imbalances that happen in the first few minutes. By starting with the oceans explored, we thought we might reduce some of this random element and prevent players from losing before they'd even begun to play."

Lots of new information!

Our nice forummer Pascal9872 got his hands on a copy of this months Computer Games Magazine, and this months copy contains a juicy Age of Empires III preview he wasted no time sharing. Unfortunally, Pascal could not provide us with scans (due to copyrights) but he dug up the article and got all the hot new info, here's an excerpt:

6 of the 8 civs were discussed and we were informed that US and Swiss are not in the game.
British - start with more vils + a free vil for each house builtDutch - start with less vils but can build a bank to generate coinFrench - easier to ally with natives, courier who is tough and expensive villagerGermans - tech not needed to get mercs, occasionally TC produces unique cav and a super vil with a wagonPortuguese - get 2 covered wagons (which turn into TCs), get vision GP in some formSpanish - baseline civ but shipments from HC are cheaper

If the announcement if 3 official nations isn't enough for you, head over to Pascal's thread for even more exciting news!

DeathShrimp on Home City Level and Africans in AoE III

How Home Cities work is always asked about, considering it's probably the largest single change to the Age gameplay in AoE III. DeathShrimp talks about its maximum level and says that ES isn't sure whether they should have a max home city level or not:

"We don't know if there will be a max Home City level. On the one hand, it feels like there's a point at which you'll feel like you've squeezed 99% of the fun out of your city and you're ready to try something else, but on the other hand, if someone wants to get to L250, why not let them?"

Another oft-conversed subject is that of Africans in Age of Empires III. While they were a big part of colonial history, ES is quite wary of including them due to the issue of slavery and other such things. Definitely can understand that side, as slavery was a pretty dark part of history in the Americas.

"Hoo boy. Incorporating Africans into the game is understandably a touchy subject, and I hope I don't offend anyone just by wading into it a bit. We won't have slavery in the game. Period. That's not to imply that slavery wasn't a very significant and yet horrible thing that happened in this time period. But we like to make fun games, and it's hard for me to imagine any game with realistic depictions of slavery to be fun. (For some reason, realistic depictions of blowing up musketeers IS fun.) For much the same reason, we didn't build the game around driving away the Native Americans and torching their villages, although that certainly happened."

What do you think about Home City level limits and Africans in AoEIII? Drop by the thread and give your two cents!

CGM Interviews DeathShrimp

Computer Games Magazine asked Greg Street a couple questions about Age of Empires III in a recent interview; it's some pretty run-of-the-mill questions, but Greg did make an interesting answer here:

Computer Games - What is the current status of the game's progress and when will it be released?

Greg Street - The phase we are in now is called code complete. That doesn’t mean all the programmers head out for vacation, but it does mean that they aren’t checking in any new, unproven or untested code. From here, we have a mad dash to get all the art and sound assets in the game, and then playtest the heck out of it to polish any rough edges or fix any bugs. This is my sixth game at Ensemble, and we’ve never had a game be in this good shape at this stage, so barring anything unforeseen, we should hit the shelves this fall.

Everyone cross their fingers and hope DS is right, because any on-time release for a PC game is like...mad cool. Check out the rest of the interview for any more of an AoE 3 fix you may be needing today!

What do modders want to see in a game?

One_Dead_Angel prompted a discussion about what modders would like to see in a game to make their work easier or more fun. Exporters, new model capability, and changing/adding civs are just a few of the answers the community has given, check out the thread for the rest of them...and maybe add a couple yourself. Here's what long-time Age designer CheeZy had to say:

"But if anything, what modders would most like is an easy way to edit and integrate their work into AoE3 - AoM was huge step up in that with its file structure/heirarchy and XML (madd props, Xemu), but not enough IMO. For one the many formats and locked up .bars were hard to get to. If a simple file-reader and exporter (maybe importer) was included it would be a massive help so that the community doesn't have to rack its resources to make our own tools (because we'll end up getting to your files one way or another, ES - save us the time and make an unofficial exporter or something ;) )"

Poll Roundup

I'm thinking that everyone that voted affirmatively on Do you plan on participating in the AoE3H fan art contest? wasn't exactly truthful, because I haven't received that many entries for it. As a result, I'm going to be accepting entries past this deadline, but judging will progress nonetheless...you all should probably get your stuff submitted quickly, because with the small amount of entires your chance of winning something is pretty high. Send it to socvazius@heavengames.com asap.

(84) Sure thing!
(174) Maybe...
(965) Nope

Total: 1223 votes

ES_Scout started up the interesting discussion last week of how we should refer to Age of Empires III in acronym form. What should AoE III's acronym be? Age3? AoE III? Answer in our poll!

AgeIII Preview at FileFront

Thanks forummer BlumenKohl for reporting this one. FileFront has posted a nice preview of Age of Empires III. The preview actually answers some pending questions as well as release some new information on things such as Home Cities. FileFront also got their hands on 2 new screenshots, one in which features the hottest, coolest, most awesome looking cow ever! Here's an interesting quote which I'm sure will make a lot of you happy:

We’re also fixing some of the mistakes we made on Age of Mythology. We thought taking out the ability to choose your player color would let multiplayer games start faster, but fans really missed that feature, so we’re adding it back for Age of Empires III.

Yup folks, you'll be able to pick a color on multiplayer again, I just hope pink is available, because only real men wear pink! So if you haven't read the preview yet, or the cow is not your wallpaper, head over and read it!

Post-AoE III Speculation

If you think it's too early for anyone to start speculating about ES' projects past Age of Empires III, you don't know the Age community well. GloryofSparta - HeavenGames' newest Angel at RTWH and AoMH - sparked a discussion in our Future ES Games forum about the remake of Age of Empires with all the new gameplay and graphics bells and whistles that have been developed in the past several years. A remake of the papa of all the age games has been discussed since Age of Kings, so it certainly has a loyal following (including ole Soccy). However, for financial and chronological reasons, I don't believe ES will go back to the ancient era for some time.

On the subject of ancient civilizations making a comeback in the Age series, Mythos_Ruler posted a rather large idea for a game based on post-Mycenean Greece (after the Sea People had their fun in the eastern Medd). Being all kinds of crazy about Greek history, I'd love to see this game as well, looks quite interesting.

"Age of the Aegean is an RTS that covers the glory days of Ancient Greece. Start the game as a Greek colony struggling to survive in the "Dark Age" of Greece (1200 BCE - 800 BCE), through the advancements of the "Archaic Age" (900 BCE - 500 BCE), the philosphical flowering of the "Classical Age" (500 BCE - 330 BCE), and finally through the turmoil of the "Hellenistic Age" (330 BCE - 150 BCE)."

Endgame Stats for AoE III

One thing I always love about multiplayer RTS games is the sheer amount of information that's displayed at the end of each multiplayer game about what went on in the gameplay. Sandyman tells the community that AoE III won't be any different, and it's inferred that it could be more detailed than the info of the past Age games. Here's the scoop:

"we're not supposed to talk about unannounced parts of the game, but I think it's safe to admit that Rocket has a useful and extremely extensive set of postgame stats. After every playtest we sit and pore over the postgame, refighting the entire thing, gloating over our successes, making recriminations to our allies, looking to see where Deathshrimp went wrong, or at what point Sheriff's rush had been stopped, etc."

Round vs. Square Maps and Physics' Effect on Gameplay

The idea of a circular map instead of a conventional square map in Age of Empires III has been a interesting one to the community. While I don't see any problems with a circular map, Sandyman has pointed out some noticeable advantages to using a circular one:

"If you have a square map, then you have corners. You're worse off if your city is built along one of the map's "sides" instead of a corner. With a round map, you can position yourself based on nearby terrain, not an artificial convention."

In that same post, he commented on someone's inquiry about whether physics would affect gameplay. It seems it does, at least as far as showing people what's going on, not as much with actually affecting the numbers and such. Here's what he had to say on it:

"Someone asked if physics would affect gameplay. For me, it does to a degree because of the visual feedback I get. When I see a group of musketeers blown into the air by a cannonball, I get immediately direct feedback that the cannon is effective. If they're my musketeers, I get galvanized into action. If they're my cannons, I give myself a mental slap on the back. When I see chunks blowing off enemy buildings, I know for a fact my bombardment is effective. Sure I could get the same feedback in a more roundabout way by clicking on the enemy building and seeing its hit points drop. But it's quicker and more satisfying to look at the enemy town and see its buildings in ruins as they cave in to my bombardment."

AoEH...olland

If you were a regular of Age of Mythology Holland in AoM's prime, you'll be glad to know that GiantTalos has resurrected the site in the form of Age of Empires Holland. Although Feoljk isn't around anymore, I'm sure it will do fine with Talos at the wheel. Welcome to the community, fellas!

Cannon in Age III

Cannon began to make an appearance in the Imperial Age in Age of Kings, and they'll likely be all over the battlefields in Age of Empires III. DeathShrimp describes them as "big archers", able to take out huge masses of infantry but vulnerable to cavalry. I'm interested in whether or not Age III cannon will function like those in Cossacks. What I mean is that you could take control of enemy cannon, creating a huge problem to your enemey if those cannon are close to his troops. Should be interesting to see how it all works.

"In AOK terms, think of cannons as one big archer. They beat infantry, but lose to cavalry. Sure a single cannon can take out lots of infantry, but a single cannon is expensive and you're sad when a few cavalry rush in and kill it.

Some of the happiest moments in AOE3 are when you see a battery of artillery with their defenders engaged elsewhere. If you could see players' eyes, you'd witness them turning into dollar signs because of the huge resource hit the enemy is about to take in terms of dead cannons."

AoE3H Units Section

After working out some kinks with our content management system, we've gotten a page of all of the known units in Age of Empires III up. Keep in mind that most of the stuff on our site right now is speculation and just derived from the already released screenshots of the game and our knowledge of history, so don't be surprised if some of this stuff changes. Anyway, check out the page!

Eenie, meenie, minie, mo...

Age of Empires III has several different acronyms, so Scout from ES has asked the community which one they prefer. AoE3, Age3, AoEIII, and Ao3 are all primne candidates; what do you think? Post in the thread! I caught a tiger by the toe and this news post was the very best one.

"I don't see a time when AgeIII will be anything but Rocket (our internal codename for the game) to me, but it's always been interesting to me how the games all get their different acronyms. This time I've decided to stick my big fat developer hand into this one and suggest:

Ao3

It's 3 characters and a 133t double entendre! What more could you ask?"

System reqs...not out yet

If you hear anything about AoE III system specs talked about during the GDC, don't take them to heart. Dave Pottinger assures everyone that those aren't the min specs and the game isn't fully optimized, so it'll be some time before we hear anything solid. What he did tell us, though, is that it should be able to run well on most people's computers on differing settings, so good deal.

"We're not talking about min specs right now. We have a fairly good idea what they'll be, but it's too early to announce them as there is still a possibility for some changes.

There will be a min req and a recommended req, because that's what the market demands. I'd rather not do the recommended req BS, but eliminating that isn't an option. The min reqs will be constructed to ensure that our standard game (2v2 like always) runs well on that system.

We've spent a huge amount of time doing perf work on this project. Properly setup (i.e. not asking/hacking your machine to run more graphical effects than it should), Age3 should run really, really well on everyone's system."

Fan Art Contest Deadline - Next Monday

This is just a reminder to everyone that our Fan Art Contest's deadline is this next Monday, the 21st. Send your entry to me at socvazius@heavengames.com asap and you'll have a chance at winning some of the shiny AoM goodies that we're giving away. Best of luck to everyone!

Speculation on Native Americans

HeavenGames oldie (and I do mean oldie, he was staff way back before I got hired) OldGrex has popped into our forums for a bit of speculation on the Native Americans in Age of Empires III. Not a whole lot of information has been released on the AI-controlled civs, so imaginations are free to think up some interesting ideas for them. Here's one of the things Grex would like to see:

"There is a good mix of Native American units (mounted and dismounted warriors, villies, heroes - of different tribal/dress styles) in the Editor, and it will be possible to have them be human-controlled in Single Player mode. There are some terrific stories to tell from the Native American perspective - I would personally like to try to design a "Last of the Mohicans" scenario and to portray the stories of Tecumseh, Pontiac's War and the Seminole Wars, for example."

Screenshots Dissected

Forummer Shusky has done a great job dissecting the screenshots found at our Screenshots Gallery. Other forummers also contributed by providing comments and other insights, here's a quote from ShadoAngel:

You can clearly see the bell. Historically, the bell was only used to call people to a location either for church services, or to a strong place in the town in case of attack.

If you wish to read this insigh and share ideas and thoughts of your own, I'd suggest visiting Shusky's forum thread.

GDC2005 Notes and Images

Forummer and part time Awesome, BlumenKohl, went to the Game Developers Conference this year and took some awesome pictures to share with us. Not only he took pictures, he took notes too and Blumen was kind enough to share this information on his thread, the information is plain awesome, including pictures of the UI and in-game. Here's an excerpt:

- There will be an OpenEXR HDR implementation. This is basically the movie style HDR, developed by ILM. Far Cry and other HDR games right now don't use OpenEXR. No OpenEXR HDR for ATI.
- Ambient Occlusion. (Fake Radiosity/Global Illumination) This basically and very roughly simulates light bouncing off surfaces. This is used for that soft shadow/lighting look. (Not to be confused with bloom) It is precalculated.
- Hemisphere Lighting. (Fake Radiosity/Global Illumination) Basically you've got ambient lights and a "dome" sky light.

One of the shots of the Unit Interface even includes a "Tactics" button, followed by something that looks like a formation button, perhaps that could be the new changes in combat ES has been talking about? To check out Bluman's article and speculate on the new screenshots, visit his forum thread.

Age of Empires III GDC Presentation Overview

Gamespy has posted an overview of Ensemble's presentation at the Game Developers Conference. The overview includes some nice information and pictures, definetly worth a read. Here's an excerpt:

Let's start with a humble musketeer, who's role on the battlefield is to stand around long enough to get a few shots off before he's inevitably blown away by cannonfire. If a musketeer is hit by an enemy musketball, and your 3D card is powerful enough to do it, his torso will deform as he's running so you can actually see the bullet impact. His hat and backpack and musket are also separate models attached to him that can move around on their own. So, when he's blown off a cliff -- and he will be, often, if I have anything to say about it -- his hat flies off and his musket goes whirling away. All of this is powered by real-time physics, which I'll talk more about in a second.

Sounds awesome indeed! I simply cannot wait any longer to play this, or at least a video of this sweetness ;).

Where does ES get all of its historical info?

Ensemble Studios' library of historical literature is pretty well known; I don't even know how many books they have, but to cover the span of nearly all of human history, there's got to be at least a couple. DeathShrimp lists off a couple of books he uses most often, I wouldn't doubt them to be a good start for anyone's history book library:

"The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History by Dupuy and Dupuy. The Age series probably owes more to this single book than any other.

The Osprey Military series (Campaign, Man-at-arms, etc.). This is a collection of scores of slim white books with very detailed plates. We use these extensively for art research.

Cassel's History of Warfare. There are probably a few dozen volumes in this series.

Delbruck's History of the Art of War. I think there are four volumes."

New Age of Empires III Screenies and Q&A!

Gamespot has released 5 new screenshots of Age of Empires III together with a brand new, sweet, Questions and Answers article. I warn you though, looking at the new extremely good looking screenshots, you might feel a bit light-headed ;). Go check'em out, and stay tuned for more Age of Empires III news from the Game Developers Conference.

Balancing in AoE III

Even more steps are being taken to balance Age of Empires III than any of the previous Age games, as DeathShrimp has indicated in our forum. ES has looked at some mistakes (such as Onager friendly fire) in game balancing, and it's working to change all that in AoE III. Powerful units will have cost more than one pop slot, players will be discouraged from leaving a player alone for a long period of time, etc. While much of these balancing moves have already been seen in previous Age games, I suspect they'll be somewhat more pronounced in AoE III. Here's some of what Shrimpy said:

"The player with the best economy or the best military does not win every game of AOE3. A good economy helps, and a large army helps, but the game is much more strategic in the sense that where and when you attack and what kinds of units you use is a lot more important."

Poll Roundup

Are you interested in the AoE III board game? It looks like the majority of you Agers out there don't plan on getting the board game, though a decent amount do show some enthusiasm. Here's the results:

(277) You betcha!
(164) Yeah
(304) Mehhh
(548) Nah

Total: 1293 votes

AoE3H announced our fan art contest last week; Do you plan on participating in it? Answer in our poll!

Battlefield Briefing

This week, AoE III Heaven started receiving entries for its fan art contest. Fan art contests were quite popular in AoMH, and considering that I've already gotten a couple entries, I suspect so for AoE3H. The rules are pretty simple: submit any work of art (in any form) related to the setting of Age of Empires III to socvazius@heavengames.com. If yours is deemed one of the best, you'll win some snazzy prizes such as a making of AoM DVD, an AoM t-shirt, and an AoM soundtrack CD. Best of luck to everyone that enters!

The effectiveness of late-game hunting has been a major topic of discussion in our forums. Sandyman and DeathShrimp explained what's what with hunting in AoE III, and ended up describing something of a contradiction: hunting is more efficient than farming is late in the game, but the vulnerability and difficulty in managing farming offsets its pros over farming. So people may be split between hunting and farming as the game goes on, or maybe only experts will be able to effectively managing a hunting economy that late into the game. AoE III's audio has also been talked about quite a lot, with Stephen Rippy giving the first ES-released bit of information on the game's sound. Things are looking as good as AoM's sound, or better, as the soundtrack will be mostly orchestral. They should have an entirely kazoo-played song. Those things are sharp.

What's coming next week? I don't know of anything in particular, though I'll keep my eyes peeled.

That's it for this week, see you on the battlefield!

HeavenGames Reviews LoTR: The Battle for Middle Earth

For everyone that's been thinking about buying Electronic Arts' LoTR RTS, The Battle for Middle Earth, I've got a review of the game written up; I gave it a 9.1 out of 10 and nearly a perfect score on its graphics. It's definitely worth checking out if you haven't bought the game yet.

"Overall, Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth is a solid game. There are some things that could be improved about its gameplay, but other aspects compensate. The graphics blew me away, and the sound is a treat. I would definitely recommend it to someone who’s up for some RTS’n, especially anyone that has Middle Earth mania. I mean, heck, if it kept my attention during some spectacularly fun times of college applications, it sure as hell should keep most people’s attention for a month."

Home Cities in Scenario Design

Sandyman commented on the effect of home cities in scenario designing, something that people have been wondering about for some time. It seems as though home cities won't get in the way of the non-traditional scenarios, which is probably relieving for the design community. Here's the scoop for the Sandster:

"You'll have no problem designing scenarios due to the HC. If anything it enhances scenario possibilities."

Late-Game Hunting Viability Redux

While it was established yesterday that hunting in Age of Empires III is more effective than farming in late-game economies, Sandyman pointed out that its actual viability still fades as the game goes on. Enemy soldiers encroaching on hunting grounds is the main reason, though micromanaging such an economy is quite troublesome as well. Methinks it will take a special kind of player to deal with late-game hunting, but that player will have a considerable advantage over their opponent.

"So regardless of whether hunting respawns or not, players will tend to pull in their horns and start hunting more and more frequently as time progresses in a game. Of course since hunting is better economically, that's one difference between a boomer and other players - the boomer is trying to get every last economic edge he can, and one part of this is leaving his hunters at risk slightly longer.

One good part of this tendency from a purely graphics is that players seem to become more "settled" and civilized over time. Instead of relying on gazelles, they are now more domestic, tending their little gardens. So the game LOOKS like players are advancing the cause of civilization as they go."

The Grim Rippy on AoE III's Sounds

Gameplay is the foundation of a game, graphics make it attractive...but what does sound do? It provides proper atmosphere for a game, which the Age series has a very good record of. Stephen Rippy, Ensemble's very own music man, has commented on AoE III's soundtrack, battle sounds, and unit languages; as with the past games, the sound folks are working on sticking to as genuine a unit voice possible for its respective nation:

"The units will speak their own languages, hopefully with proper accents :-) Side note: British units will generally speak Middle English rather than Modern English."

I've always been a huge fan of Ensemble's soundtracks in their games (in fact, I've got every one of them released and still listen to them), and AoE III's music should be even better. With all of the music being non-synthesized and mostly orchestral, I'm definitely looking forward to that treat.

"The orchestra and all additional playing will be live. Most of the soundtrack was recorded last August. I think the music is more complex this time around - there's a lot more intermingling of themes throughout the score, more counterpoint, and less rigidity with time and groove. The music will react to what's happening on screen - similar to but not exactly like how it was treated in AoM. As for exotic instruments...well, I guess it depends on what you'd consider "exotic." I would say that non-orchestral instruments are mainly used to give a sense of time and location. Given the setting of the game, I wouldn't rule out hearing a banjo :-) I use Sonar for music and Sound Forge for sound editing."

AoE III's battle sounds are also supposed to be just as good as those in the past games, as most of the sounds are actual live recordings. Here's what he had to say on it:

"I think you'll find the new battle sounds to be more to your liking. A lot of them are based on recordings I made at a Gettysburg reenactment a couple of years ago, then juiced up in the studio. (Turns out real cannons are quite loud, by the way.) The music will change with the situation, and sort of runs the whole range of peaceful-monumental."

AoE III Heaven Presents a Fan Art Contest

Age of Empires III Heaven is holding its first fan art contest for the community. All artwork has to pertain to the setting of Age of Empires III, the colonial era, but the artwork can range from buildings to units to the landscape. The contest is a chance for the community's (apparently large number of) artists to show what they're capable of and win some shiny prizes: a Making of AoM DVD, AoM T-shirt, and AoM Soundtrack CD for first place. So if you've got some artistic skill, definitely check the rules out and see if you're up for the challenge!

Ever been caught in a bear trap?

I sure haven't (I have chewed off my foot, though), but I guess those bad boys will be used a lot in AoE III's late game...okay, maybe not bear traps, but hunting will apparently replace farms as the best late game food source in the game. While that sounds crazay, DeathShrimp points out that such a game change is because ES wants to encourage people moving out into dangerous territory for good hunting grounds, encouraging fighting as the game drags on.

Farms are the worst resource in the late game. Hunting is much better. But hunting is risky. It's not so much that hunting runs out (though that can happen) but that you have to go farther from your town, establish a new base, or otherwise compete with the enemy over territory.

Having the option to stay in your town is an interesting strategy. Requiring every game to end up that way leads to sloggy, boring games.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream...

Sandy "Sandyman" Peterson, another one of the long time HG-posting Ensemblers, has made his first post in AoE3H's forums. What he posted was certainly interesting, detailing just how apparent the Havoc physics engine is in Age of Empires III. Needless to say, I'd love to see a video clip of the game...I'm he'll make it the cutest I've ever seen.

"We see havok physics constantly in every single game we play. It's not an obscure hard-to-spot part of the game - it's right up there in your face. Trees wave in the wind. Bodies go flying when a shell explodes in the middle of your line of soldiers.

The screen shots don't usually show how ubiquitous the effects are, because they're non-moving images. When you actually watch the game run, you see the physics everywhere."