Interview with Greg Street and David Pottinger
To kick off Age of Empires III Heaven's launch, Socvazius interviews AoE III Lead Designer Greg Street and Lead Programmer Dave Pottinger and lifts a bit of the fog of war surrounding the game.
Socvazius: What were some of the other notable time period suggestions made for the game?
Ensemble Studios: We probably considered just about every possible time period at one point or another, from ancients to science fiction. But in the end, we kept coming back to the colonial time period for five reasons:
Starting with nothing and building up from there maps well to the time period.
It hasn't been overdone.
It has some cool visuals (tall ships, buffalo, forests, cannons).
It's what our fans largely expected.
And if you consider Age to be an ongoing franchise, it makes sense to move forward in time rather than just jumping around to different points in history.
Socvazius: How do you think the game's graphics and performance would be right now if the original AoM-version BANG! engine was used, without its near total overhaul?
Ensemble Studios: It's hard to say. We've built Age3 with the new graphics engine in mind from the start... We set out with the goal of creating the best looking game ever. Obviously the fans will decide if we succeeded there or not, but, either way, that decision has dramatically colored the development of Age3. As a result, it's hard to separate out Age3 and the engine/graphics work; they're tied together. For example, a lot of the new combat concepts and physics features were added because we felt we had to raise the bar across the entire game once we saw how nicely the graphics were turning out. As Age3 started with BANG 1.0, we could have easily just left well-enough alone and not touched systems that already worked. But, since we had to change a lot of the engine to add the new renderer, the physics system, etc., we were able to do better versions of older systems like pathing and unit AI. If we hadn't pushed Age3 so hard, those systems wouldn't have changed much. As most programmers know, you can write better versions of systems the second time around. That's very much the case in all of the things that changed in Age3. In the end, we couldn't be happier with the results of the work.
Socvazius: How taxing on computers will this game be? I mean, it looks spectacular, but I don't think my 1.7MHz, 512mb old warhorse will be able to run it on particularly high settings, if at all.
Ensemble Studios: We aren't ready to talk about minimum system requirements. We are obviously spending a ton of resources to make the game look fantastic on high-end systems, but we aren't delusional about what kinds of PC fans have in the real world. It is common for FPS games these days to give players lots of control over which special effects are turned off in order to improve performance. We'll do the same thing.
Socvazius: I've gotta ask this or the fans will lynch me, is a beta test being planned?
Ensemble Studios: Sorry, we just don't know yet. We will probably implement some way for some fans to get a preview of the game and give us feedback, but we haven't decided how or when we will do that.
Socvazius: Will there be any kind of (secular) variance of minor gods, god powers, or other such innovations in gameplay made by Age of Mythology?
Ensemble Studios: If you mean is there a feature that lets you steer your colony in different directions when you Age up, the answer is yes (though the entire Home City feature lets you steer your whole civilization in different directions). We actually tried something like God Powers, but felt that they still seemed too magical for a game with an otherwise uber-realistic look. We have adopted or modified many of the other features from AOM, but not all of them. You don't build Town Centers on Settlements for example.
Socvazius: Has naval combat improved or gained depth with Age of Empires III?
Ensemble Studios: Early screens for Age of Kings and Age of Mythology showed large ships that were in scale with the units, but by the time the games shipped, we had abandon those models and had teeny little ships. Not this time! This is a time period where players expect to see tall ships. So individual ships are large, expensive and powerful, and big naval battles will involve a handful of ships instead of dozens. Most of the action still takes place on land, but as the forums have pointed out, we did spend a lot of time making water look good.
Socvazius: How will you incorporate the home city system in the game?
Ensemble Studios: That's a big question. The Home City provides you units during the game. Some of the most fun and greatest depth in AOE3 comes from making the simple decision about what you want your city to send you next.
But even more exciting is the persistence aspect, which is best explained in an example. Say I have a brand new Home City at Level 1. Crossbows were not widely used in the new world (though the Spanish had some), so most civilizations don't start with the ability to train Crossbowmen or send them from their Home City. I choose to spend one of my upgrades to unlock Crossbows. Now I have a nice first Age unit to rush with. I can start making Crossbows right away. However, after that game is over, I can make Crossbows in all future games using that Home City. But there is a good chance you chose to get something besides Crossbows. Maybe you chose to make an existing unit line better in combat instead, or you unlocked a different way to gather resources.
As our cities go up in level, they are going to be even more different than each other. Maybe my city is good at Crossbows, ships and allying with the Natives, while yours is good at Musketeers, gathering Wood and defenses. High level Home Cities have a staggering array of options compared to low level cities. After awhile you start to get that MMO feel, where there are dozens of skills and you can dabble in all of them or focus on a few. Both single player and multiplayer games use Home Cities. It's a big, big change to the way RTS games work.
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