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News Archives - July 2005

HeavenGames Previews Age of Empires III...again.

As you know, I - and a number of my HeavenGames brethren - got a chance to visit Ensemble Studios' offices and have our hand at Age of Empires III. So with that knowledge garnered from the playing of their much anticipated game, I've written up a juicy, information-packed preview of the game ready for everyone's enjoyment. It only has new information learned from the event, none of the same old stuff that keeps showing up in previews, so if you're looking for that to get a general idea of the game, just check out HeavenGames' AoE3 E3 Preview and AoE3 Heaven's general content section. But for everyone else, enjoy!

"We've already known about home cities and shipments, but very little beyond "Home cities are way cool and you can send shipments from them." Here's the deal: managing everything concerning your home city is an interesting enough game in itself. You start off with a level 0 home city that has 15 "cards" which represent an ability to send units (in varying number depending on strength and level of card, which will be discussed), upgrades, and crates of resources (typically 300 of one type.) You gain the ability to add more cards to your home city by gaining experience and leveling up your HC in games. Adding cards typically unlocks access to other more powerful cards, which oftentimes also have a prerequisite of a certain home city level. However, you can't use more than 20 cards in a game...What do you do when you have the best city ever and have access to more than 20 cards? well, that's when you start making decks."

ESO2 Shots

As you may have gathered, HG took part in Ensemble Studios' community day that went on just this past week; we got a tour of the offices, talked with the devs, and got some hands-on experience with the game. We plan on covering the event quite well, but while you're waiting on us to get all that stuff done, you can check out our photos of ESO2, which is looking quite good. Check 'em out!

New Blog and Q&A

Ensemble Studios' Bruce Shelley has updated his blog yet again. This time Bruce Shelley talks about recent fixes to the game. Here's an excerpt

Auto-Tasking between Tree Species: Our artists have created many different types of trees and each is named or otherwise differentiated. They look great and give our maps a local feel, as the type of tree you find is associated reasonably with geography (jungles or Canadian wildernesses have different types of trees). Apparently Villagers did not auto-task to a new type of tree after harvesting all of a like kind within sight. That was news to me until the fix was announced in a new build available announcement.

If you think THAT is cool, there's more. 3DGamers has published a Q&A with Ensemble. The Q&A is really interesting, especially this tidbit for modders:

10. Will there be any support for the mod community by providing tools and editors to see what people can create using the new game engine?

We aren't in the business of making game engines that players can use to develop their own games. We are making a particular game. However, we recognize that the mod community increasingly prolongs the life of a game, so we do what we can to make it easier for them. We ship all of our tools (as rough as some of them may be) on the CD, and we don't do a lot of to prevent editing of the game data, as long as it can't be used for cheating online.

AoE III Article in September Issue of CGW

fhertlein reports that the September issue of Computer Gaming World has an eight-page article on Age of Empires III, revealing a decent amount of new information, including that which is related to shipments, the civs...and technologies:

-Native Lore: Native American improvements are inexpensive.
-Colonial Militia: Increases TC offense and call out minutemen.
-Forts: Allows forts to be built in the third age. Most powerful defensive structure.
-Advanced Mills: Mills cheaper, stronger and faster.
-Advanced Markets: Cheaper, stronger, improves exchange rates.
-Factories: Fourth age building that produces resources without settlers needed.

Should be worth picking up the issue whenever you see it in September!

Forums Back Up

Just a heads up to everyone that our forums are back up with a couple improvements, so get back to talkin'!

Poll Roundup

As the results from Which civilization is the most fascinating so far? indicate, the redcoat-donning British are the most fascinating civilization in AoE III, probably largely due to our large American and English audience...who are most closely linked to the British than any other civ.

(293) British
(168) Dutch
(125) French
(129) Germans
(244) Ottomans
(90) Portuguese
(146) Russians
(98) Spanish

Total: 1293 votes

Based on the community's speculated system requirements for AoE III, Do you plan on buying a new computer to play AoE III? Answer in our poll!

First Public Showing of AoE III in Germany

According to GameStar.de (and Chris who gave me the heads up for this), Ensemble Studios will have its first public showing of Age of Empires III in Germany, at the main gaming convention of the country. So any of you living in Germany should definitely try to check out their presentation of Age III, certainly should be something to see!

Few Armor Upgrades?

It's commonly known that most soldiers in the colonial era didn't wear very much armor, which is why AoE III won't have many armor upgrades for units, according to Sandyman. However, his use of "per se" in the following paragraph leads me to wonder if they'll have other non-armor upgrades that will still improve unit defense. Guess we'll have to see!

"We have technologies that upgrade units. However we do not have very many upgrades for "armor" per se -- after all, during this time period armor was disappearing rapidly. By 1850 there were very few soldiers world-wide who wore armor anymore, and it didn't really reappear until 1915, when helmets started getting issued to soldiers. But body armor didn't return on a general scale until the last few decades (sure they had flak jackets in Vietnam, but they were only worn by a few specialized soldiers)."

Assorted Blog Fun

Bruce Shelley's latest blog on the ES website covers a wide range of topics, from balance changes to online matchmaking to the AI. But the most interesting thing he talked about was the random maps in AoE III, which included a list of four of the maps in the game. Considering we haven't heard any official names for AoE III's maps, that's pretty neat. Here's they are:

"Saguenay (never a crowd favorite) lost the “one team with ships” thing. Now each player gets a random econ building: Mill, Plantation, Market or Pen (everyone in the game gets the same thing, but it varies game to game). Should be much, much cooler.
Texas starts with Outposts for a fortified and defensive feel.
Carolina starts with bonus crates, for that AOK Yucatan uber-econ feel.
Pampas no longer reveals the river (which ended up revealing half the map)."

Got something to say about any of those topics? Talk about it in our forums!

IGN Covers The French

Ah, it's the height of the summer and civilization showcases are coming out...only this time, it's not from GameSpot, but from IGN. And IGN's first showcase is of The French, those fun-loving kids from modern Gaul. They showcase a heck of a lot more information than anything we've gotten so far, and it starts out with some information on the french history and their unique Coureurs...but I'm sure most of you are more interested in their military than anything.

"While French can train Hussars (more of a light cavalry) in the Colonial Age, they are feared for their mighty Cuirassier, a heavy cavalry with fully 50% more hitpoints than a Hussar, and as expensive as 3 Musketeers. Cuirassiers do trample damage in combat, so even though they can be beaten by masses of Pikes and Halberdiers, they often deal as much damage as they take. A better response to Cuirassiers is Dragoons, since Cuirassiers are slower than other types of cavalry. A Royal Guard Cuirassier is called a Gendarme...the Cuirassiers were the elite of the elite cavalry, and they bore armor (the cuirass of their namesake) and continued to attack with straight-bladed swords for hundreds of years after the end of the "knights and castles" era."

If you were a big fan of the bloody massed Frankish Paladin armies in AoK, the preceding paragraph indicates that you'll definitely love AoE III's french. But on top of their being cavalry powerhouses, French Voltigeurs are supposed to be very powerful skirmishers, as they were during the Napoleonic era.

"The other French Royal Guard unit is the Skirmisher. A Royal Guard Skirmisher is called a Voltigeur. Skirmishers occupy the role that archers did in Age of Kings (and history). They are light infantry who sacrifice hitpoints for better movement, range and attack. Skirmishers are great at harassing an advancing enemy, or hiding behind a wall and exchanging fire, but they should flee before cavalry...Skirmishers were used as snipers, ambushers, and to harass slower armies. In New World armies, this role was naturally filled by Native American warriors, who were well-accustomed to such guerilla combat."

While the French do seem to have a very solid military overall, the fact that skirmishers and cavalry are the most powerful components means that the French army will probably require a bit more micromanagement to keep alive and at maximum power. The fact that they have more expensive resource gatherers also offsets this military imbalance, as it takes longer for the French to really start rolling. The French also have less options in hiring mercenaries, which we have recently learned will be rather powerful units.

That's just the general gist of what was covered in the article, definitely check it out for the rest of the information. When you're done, talk about it in our forums!

Forums Down This Weekend

This is just a notification to the community that the forums will be unavailable for most of the July 23rd-July 24th weekend for database maintenance and updates. Here's hoping no one goes through too horrible of forum withdrawls!

Poll Roundup

Do you prefer the AoM-style mercenaries, or the AoE III-style mercs? Looks like people prefer AoE III's mercenaries by far, probably because very powerful units are somewhat more interesting to work with than units that will die in just a minute or two. Here's the results:

(862) AoE III
(79) AoM
(99) Both about the same

Total: 1040 votes

The latest poll is inspired by king of ages: Which civilization is the most fascinating so far? Answer in our poll!

DeathShrimp on Dropsites

DeathShrimp talks in our forums about the lack of dropsites in AoE3H and how gathering is still more similar to traditional Age gathering than it is to RoN gathering. He explains it a whole lot better than I could, so read read read:

"RON limited gathering by slots. You could only have so many guys on a forest or mine. Strategy-wise, you rarely retasked those gatherers. Your decision was about how many guys to put on each resource and when to make more gatherers. You largely forgot about them once created. This isn't a criticism of RON -- it's just a different game.

AOE3 is still very much about assigning gatherers. You might hunt for awhile, and then run out of animals or have them move too far away. You then task those gatherers on trees until you have enough Wood for a Mill. As the trees run out, you are faced with expanding or switching over to a different resource. Maybe you go with a Trade Route for Wood, or you just do without Wood and focus on Food and Coin for a time. Later you might grab them all those gatherers to quickly place a bunch of buildings, or even go hunting again if you find more critters."

Estimated System Specs for an AoE III-running PC

This is already pretty well-known in the forums, but I figured the folks that visit just the main site would appreciate this. Ohmu has taken a look at AoM's system requirements and what he expects AoE III's to be and has given list of the various hardware components that would likely be required to run the game at different levels of quality. It's definitely worth a read if you're not too tech savvy, here's a snip:

"What do we know about AOE3's specs?

It will be higher than AOM. Definitely. And it will probably be higher than most games out there at the moment, considering that it is the best-looking RTS to date, as well as utilising physics effects.

I'm going to talk about the major areas that will affect performance below. But before that, you need to know what kind of computer you have. Go to Start > Run > type "dxdiag" in the dialogue box, minus the quotes. On the first tab it shows the information of your CPU, RAM, and DirectX version. On the third tab is your graphics card information, including make, memory amount, and driver versions."

Number of Buildings in AoE III

We've gotten pretty much all of the information on the buildings in AoE III that we have from screenshots and such, though DeathShrimp says that there are more functional (non drop-site) buildings in AoE III than in AoM or AoK, which is good. Nothing huge, just nice to know the diversity in buildings is increasing along with everything else.

"The last time I counted, we had just over the number of buildings the Egyptians had in AOM. It's something around 16, but since we don't have dropsites, it feels like there are more buildings. I do not believe I have ever seen a player make every type of building in a single game. In AOK, I did that every game (you needed every building) except for the Wonder."

Healing Units in AoE III

Far different from how things went in AoM, according to SuperTr00pers D4KU, Age of Empires III will have two healing units: priests and surgeons. The gameplay difference between the two units is unknown so far, but I would assume that surgeons are exceptionally good at healing but can do nothing else, whereas priests may have other abilities (excluding converting).

Poll Roundup

How important is it for a game to have a good soundtrack? Looks like a very large majority feel the same way I do about soundtracks, they're a very important part of a game and a game with a bad soundtrack just doesn't have the immersiveness that I could. AoE III's soundtrack has been discussed pretty heavily in our forums, put in your own two cents here.

Very important (1045)
Not especially important (373)
...Unportant (78)

Total: 1496 votes

Some talk has been had about the mercenaries in AoE III; specifically, how they are very powerful (and expensive) units that usually stick around for quite a while due to their power, whereas the AoM mercs weren't that strong and died after a timer ran out. Do you prefer the AoM-style mercenaries, or the AoE III-style mercs? Answer in our poll!

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants

The latest developer blog doesn't really reveal and exciting new information, but is interesting nonetheless. The main topic is about the reasons behind Ensemble choosing to name the Ottoman capital Constantinople rather than Istanbul, though Bruce also talks about the development of both the general multiplayer and singleplayer gameplay in AoE III...plus a couple other topics. Here's a snip, and when you're done with that talk about it in the forums:

"In the particular case of Constantinople, our design team points out that the origin of the name is Roman, not Greek. The Emperor Constantine made the city his capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and named it after himself. When the Turks captured it in 1453, they began calling it Istanbul after the Greek phrase “eis ten polin,” meaning “in the city.” The name was not officially changed until 1930 (long after the period of our game) and Europeans continued to call it Constantinople even after that. Lead Designer Greg Street points out that since players will be able to rename their Home Cities as they wish, this particular issue is really a minor one."

The Rise and Fall of Heaven

Stainless Steel Studios, headed by Rick Goodman, the brother of the head of Ensemble Studios, is working on a new RTS game: Rise and Fall. It's only fitting that HeavenGames makes a fansite dedicated to the strategy game, so that's exactly what we've done! Rise and Fall Heaven will be seraphed by Adder; since he's already got plenty of experience administrating RTWH, I'm sure he'll do a superb job. Best of luck to the R&FH crew!

July 11, 2005 - HeavenGames LLC announced today that it has launched Rise & Fall Heaven ( http://raf.heavengames.com ), the latest in its series of special-interest sites for Real Time Strategy & Citybuilding games.

Set to be released during Q4 of 2005, Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War (TM) is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game developed by Stainless Steel Studios and published by Midway. Stainless Steel Studios' third game, Rise & Fall encompasses a time period from about 1000 BCE to 0 CE, following four of the most well known and historically prominent civilizations of that time, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Persians, and the Romans. Rise & Fall features innovative new gameplay that includes Hero Command; the ability to assume a virtual FPS perspective with your faction leader and lead your armies to victory, a naval battle system that sets a new standard in the RTS genre, and graphics that are unrivaled by a game of its type.

Rise & Fall Heaven will be dedicated to featuring extensive coverage of Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War as the game is being developed. It will bring you quality coverage on the latest news for the game, chats with developers on the forums, exclusive game information and an unparalleled database of information about the game.

Rise & Fall Heaven will be operated by two veteran HeavenGames staff members and four newcomers to the HeavenGames team who have proven themselves to be tremendous assets. They are Adder, Elpea, Chonaman, Intrepid, Lysimachus and RTEHistDesignll.

ABOUT HEAVENGAMES, LLC HeavenGames LLC, based in Lombard, Illinois, is a privately-owned web-content publisher geared toward the creation of special-interest sites for Real-Time Strategy and City-Builder games. Its sites, contents, vast amounts of resources, as well as a dedicated staff & management team make HeavenGames' sites the premier destination for gamers worldwide.

Ah, AgeToons...

AgeToons have been popular at HeavenGames since the original Age of Empires, and Age of Empires III is no different. AoE3H has a gallery packed with 35 of those ponies. Check 'em out, fellas!

DeathShrimp on Mercenaries

Mercenaries in AoM were interesting units. They were instantly-trained but died after a short period of time and didn't really pack much of a punch unless they were used in larger numbers. In AoE III, however, they will be some of the most powerful units you can get, but cost a similar amount of resources to procure. Here's the scoop from the shrimp man:

"The Mercenaries don't die like they did in AOM. In fact, they tend to stick around a long time because they are generally the most powerful units in the game. It's terrifying to see an army of enemy Mercs.

Different civs have access to different ones, though there is some overlap. Sending Mercenaries costs Coin. All other shipments from the HC are free. That allows them to be pretty potent."

Ensemble Creating Massively Multiplayer Online Game

I really really wish I could say I'm a diligent news poster and found this succulent morsel first, but credits go to my friend Xiphoid at PlanetAgeofEmpires, who stumbled across this news in the ES job listings page. Turns out the second project ES has been working on is something that I suspect is expected to be a World of Warcraft/Everquest 2 killer for Microsoft, as Asheron's Call 2 didn't fare especially well. And this was all gleaned from this sentence:

"Experience with shipping an existing massively multiplayer game is a must."

Massively Multiplayer Game doesn't mean it'll be an RPG like its Blizzard counterpart, ES may go for a more quasi-RTS route to set the game apart from its competition while still staying within something that they know they can do well. However, since they want someone who can do "3D graphics programming," (scroll down the page) I'm not thinking it'll be any kind of game we're too familiar with in the Age of genre.

PAoE noticed one rather interesting thing, the fact that they mention consoles several time in the job listings page. If they do manage to properly make a game that works for both PC and consoles (well, the Xbox360, at least), that could be the thing that gives them a chance against the giants that are WoW and EQ2. Check it out, fellas:

The senior programmer is a hardcore programmer with the ability to work in any area of the code base on any project that Ensemble Studios is working on. The senior programmer is a core member of the technical staff who understands the direction of Ensemble Studios and its projects and actively works to support those goals.

-BS (or equivalent) degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering
-Team programming experience on teams of 10 to 15 programmers
-Management and leadership experience
-3D graphics programming (indoor world rendering, portals, BSPs, outdoor world rendering, bone animation, inverse kinematics, dynamic level of detail, special effects, scalability, low level/card specific optimizations)
-Simulation programming (physics, movement, collision detection/response, entity actions, entity and group AI)
-AI programming (strategic planning, expert systems, finite state machines, neural nets, genetic algorithms, adaptive response, learning)
-Communications programming (peer to peer, client/server, deterministic synchronization checking, data propagation)
-Online/Web programming (HTML, Java, SQL database, backend transaction servers, distributed server processing, dynamic server loading)
-Game application programming (random map generation, game logic, in-game cinematics)
-Tools programming (scenario/level editors, 3D modeling/rendering package plugins, Photoshop plugins, database programming)
-PC assembly language experience
-Console programming experience (Playstation, Playstation2, Gamecube, XBox)
-Game design experience and/or know-how. Desirable genres include realtime strategy, action-adventures, and role-playing games.
-Experienced working with 3DSMax and/or Maya

This is not a definite thing, as I believe that ES was working on an RPG back when AoM was being developed but cancelled that project, so they could very well do the same for this one. If they don't, it'll be quite the interesting venture and I'll definitely be interested to see how it turns out.

D-Blog

Bruce Shelley is pretty crazy with the blogging these days, this time he's got one about how ES redid the Dutch accent in the game with the real deal, which is way cool attention to detail and accuracy. Bruce also talks about the confusion over the "best looking PC game ever" quote which apparently wasn't spoken by any ES or MS guy as far as he knows. And finally, he details the "version process" is the development of a game at ES. All in all, pretty interesting stuff, here's an excerpt:

"When you give units in Age of Empires orders, they usually say something. Starting with Age of Empires II we had them say things in the proper language (Greeks spoke Greek, for example). We are carrying forward that feature in our newest game, as well. One of the journalists who visited our offices in April was from Holland and he thought the Dutch speakers in our game were a little off. He graciously came into our offices the next day and re-recorded the voice parts for the Grenadier under the direction of sound and music director Stephen Rippy."

Trash Forum Party

If you are afraid you'll get rusty to the RTS genre before the release of AoEIII, there are certainly many RTSs that you can practice on. One of them is the currently open beta Trash. HeavenGames previewed Trash a few days ago, sparking interest in the forummers who organized a forum party for this weekend to get an immense 24 players battle. Trash developers were nice enough to make the party an official event, and made us a special room on their multiplayer lobby to play on. You can find the specifics here.

Ships cost no pop space!

Fancy that. DeathShrimp says that since ships in AoE III cost so much and pack such a punch, they won't take up any population slots. Wonder if they'll be so expensive that someone wouldn't be able to amass an actual fleet of those guys...or perhaps ES will have a limit on the number than can be built. Hrm.

"The ships don't cost population slots. They are so expensive and powerful that they would need to take up 10+ slots, which means that you'd be making a huge gamble every time you decided to build a single ship."

I present you all a Dutch Village

Our friends at AoE Holland have redesigned themselves to be better, faster, stronger...and have a new name: AoE Village. They sport a shiny new design, so you better check it out before their bandwidth is maxed out for the month!

Poll Roundup

Do you prefer a more intensive economy or military in AoE 3? Looks like we've got a lot of moderates on many issues in the community, as we got both economy and military being equal much like the preference of gameplay depth and balance. Whoo, here's the results:

(449) Military, baby
(299) Economy
(669) Both are about equal

Total: 1417 votes

With bits of the music from AoE III coming on the ES site this past week and the fact that it's all orchestrated, the consideration on the real importance of a video game's soundtrack comes to mind. How important is it for a game to have a good soundtrack? Answer in our poll!

Three New Songs at ES Site

Talon Karrde reports that the Ensemble Studios official site has three new songs from AoE III, two exploration themed and one battle song. The Rippy broskies always seem to get some awesome songs for ES' games, so it's no surprise that these don't sound to shabby themselves. Check 'em out!

Inaccurate Firearms in AoE III

In the previous age games, most ranged units had nearly perfect accuracy, provided their targets stayed in one spot. Even then, when ballistics was researched in AoK, they had a pretty good shot at...making a good shot. Now that bows have been replaced by primitive firearms in AoE III, ranged units are going to experience some inaccuracies based on the fact that firearms weren't exactly the most accurate pieces of weaponry. I'd assume that different firearms will have different degrees of accuracy - rifles having considerably higher accuracy than muskets because the rifling in the barrel puts a spin on the projectile, much like a football!...here's what DeathShrimp said on all that:

"DS: No, they can miss. Muskets historically were very inaccurate. The way we model the ballistics is fairly complicated because it's frustrating when just a single guy in a one on one fight misses, but it looks bad if 50 units fire at once and never miss."

Trash HeavenGames Preview

TheGoodEvil has written a great preview of the RTS game Trash. Trash is currently open beta (So.. free) and offers a very high quality experience. Go check out the preview and then join us online for some 24 players multiplayer matches :).