Chinese Design Contest: Emperor Wendi, First of the Sui
It is the year of our lord 581. In Europe, the Dark Ages rage on, and China is facing a dark age of its own. The times when China was a single and powerful empire are no more. All that is left are feuding and bickering kingdoms that care little for others. However, while in Europe the Dark Ages shall keep raging on for centuries, in China a new age will be upon its people.
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In the northern realms of China lies the Zhou kingdom. Thorn by political and military issues, the Zhou are divided in two, the Northern and Eastern factions. Although most of the Zhou nobles have no quarrel against this situation, one of them has. His name is Yang Jian, but he is known mostly by his noble title, the Grand Duke of Sui.
The Grand Duke of Sui, acting as the Northern Zhou chancellor, has long gained the true political power of his kingdom, but he is not formally king. This cannot go on, and it is time to change this situation.
The ambition of this important man shall change all China, and pave the way for the rebirth of a nation. This campaign tells the tale of the rise to power of the first emperor of the Sui dinasty, Emperor Wendi. See how the ambition and cunning of this man paved his way to the long forgotten throne of the Chinese empire.
Emperor Wendi, First of the Sui
The Author, Zanzard Lothar, would like to thank these people who have helped me so much in the creation of this campaign:
Stanley Xiao (Stan_the_conquistador): Granted me just about all of the historical information present in this campaign.
AOKH angels OldGrex, Rasher, Spineman and Thunder: Must be thanked for their continuous incentive on all of the AOK scenario design community. Were it not for the work of these individuals, i would have stopped designing scenarios a long time ago.
Ingo Van Thiel and Martin Frost (Frostius): Creators of "The King's Best Men" and "1066 - the Year of Three Kings". These two works were a great source of inspiration for the storyline and for the campaign, and also some of the sounds of "The King's Best Men" were used in this campaign.
Sergey Prokofiev (in memoriam) and Basil Poledouris: Artits who have little to do with scenario design, their works with the soundtracks of the movies "Alexander Nevsky", "Ivan the Terrible" and "Conan the Barbarian" were sources of sound files for this campaign.
AntÃ´nio Carlos Gomes (in memoriam) and Ã?lvares de Azevedo (in Memoriam): Two Brazilian artists whose works were also source of inspiration for this campaign.
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Of the campaigns I have reviewed in this contest, I randomly set the order of the campaigns, leaving "Emporer Wendi, First of the Sui" for last. And I think this is probably the best decision I've made this month. "Emporer Wendi" is a sure bet for a finalist, and, I daresay, one of the first places.
It's story is unique, told from the viewpoint of others, in the real life, in a tavern. The story-teller's point of view, to be exact. Great comments in the middle of gameplay ("Waiter! Gimme some more yak milk RIGHT NOW!") and the magnificent bitmaps with the quotes would earn it a 5. On the other hand, the first time I played the first scenario I had a little bit of a hard time understanding what is going on. Then again, maybe that's because it was 10 Pm. Plus, the ending of the aftermath repeats itself, with credits to various people. Very nice, but I think once is quite enough :)
The history of "Wendi" is superb. Phrased eloquently and full of detail, it conforms to the story logically, and that's all that needs to be said.
Balance was great in all three scenarios. In the first scenario, additional units are given from time to time. In the second, you can't produce any more villagers than you got in the beginning, but an ally of your choice can assist militarily. <small>(Which he didn't, the first time around.)</small> In the third scenario, you need to be quick with your fingers or you can lose all chance of transporting your units to the mainland with the crash and the splash of a transport ship.
The maps of the first two scenarios are outstanding. Actually, I'll take that back: All of the maps of the campaign are above average, but the quality degrades from one scenario to the next. While I couldn't find flaws with the first map (maybe the trails were too straight), the second scenario featured rectangular-esque forests, and the third was void of resources, villagers, or anything interesting for that matter.
Playability genres varied from scenario to scenario. The first being part RPG/FF & B&D, the second being FF & B&D, and the third being a FF with a timer, just about everybody could like this campaign. I sure know I did. One of the better 3 hours I've spent in my life.
More praise goes to the playability field due to the skippable cut-scenes. Not interested in hearing the tale about the hare and the mouse? Skip it! Lectures by villagers bore you to tears? Walk right past them!
On the other hand, did you not catch everything the General retorted? Click on him, he won't mind repeating. Nor will any villager or soldier.
It's a great idea really - when I lost scenarios and wanted to get to the point in which I lost again, I just skipped all the cutscenes I could and I was there within minutes.
Varied victory conditions, an innovative story-telling method, inventive bits and pieces of the scenarios, surprising twists in the plot and more wonderful things make Creativity probably one of the best things about "Emporer Wendi".
What else did I forget to mention? Oh yes. The Music was just so immersing, I adored it. Soundtrack bits and extracts from the AoE music made me love this campaign. But maybe that's only because I miss AoE so much. :)
Excellent work, Zanzard, top notch.
As I played the first scenario of "Emperor Wendi - First of the Sui", I had a sneaking suspicion that this campaign might qualify for the elusive 5.0 score... which is something that I very rarely, (if ever) give. Yes, the first scenario is that good. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is one of the best scenarios that I have ever played. Were the other scenarios on par with the first, this campaign would be very close to a 5.0.
Sadly, the first scenario is clearly the best in the campaign. Although the second two are still very high-quality, it appears the author was somewhat rushed to submit his campaign in time to reach the deadline, thus having to submit it before the final scenarios were fully ready. Don't get me wrong, though; all 3 scenarios in "Emperor Wendi - First of the Sui" are very good in their own right.
The first scenario, "Foundations of the Sui", is about as close to perfect as you can get... and trust me, I don't give out compliments like that easily. In this scenario, the author chose to have it told in a very unique way: you actually play out the story, as it is being told by a storyteller in a small tavern. As a result of this, you get a "running commentary" of the storyteller, which really draws you in. In fact, as I played it, I really felt like I was actually a *part* of the story, rather then just someone playing it from the outside.
Beautiful Map Design, some great puzzles and tasks, brilliant ballance, and a truely amazing storyline combine to make this one of my favorite scenarios of all-time. My only complaint is that the dialogue may get a bit confusing at times, even if you are playing close attention to it.
The second scenario, while definately not as good as the first, is nonetheless a good, solid scenario, with the story told in the same manner as the first. "Barbarians of the North" is more of a compact, build-up oriented scenario in the first, which provides for a very diverse experience. Even as a stand-alone scenario, this one would be at least a 4.0 mark, mostly due to the sense of excitement and suspense that it creates. Very few scenarios will draw you in and make you want to keep playing like this entire campaign will.
Unfortunately, the third scenario has a somewhat "rushed" feeling to it. You will be taking the traditional "storm the Wonder" approach, and although this is something that has been done many times before, there are some unique twists: you will be attacking from all directions, which creates some amazingly tense and exciting moments, as you must be managing units in several different locations. Also, you will have a tight time limit, creating the need to move quickly.
If you are looking for some old-school, edge-of-your-seat action, this may be a good scenario for you. Other then that, it is really nothing spectacular, although it is still a solid scenario.
Overall, "Emperor Wendi - First of the Sui" is an instant classic... and is nearly a masterpiece. Zanzard has really outdone himself on this one. If all scenarios were up to the quality of the first one, this scenario would be at least a 4.8-5.0 score. As it is now, I can only say one thing:
[b]You *must* play this campaign[/b]
This was really a fantastic campaign. I was extremely impressed by the obvious amount of work that was put into this campaign. Quality production values oozed out everywhere... I especially liked how you could skip cut-scenes if you had already seen them... great feature!
The campaign itself was a joy to play and the story was very well-written. There were lots of different gameplay elements woven into a great story line.
I especially loved the many creative effects throughout the campaign... trade carts were used in a number of different ways and there was even a frozen foreboding castle and an evil tree! Pretty kewl stuff...
The storytelling was also first-rate. The author used some very creative story-telling techniques and it's obvious the author took a lot of time with the story, as well as the history, hints and scouts sections since they are all very well done with tons of information. I did notice quite a few spelling errors throughout the text but I can't bring myself to lower the score since there was just so much great story telling and history.
My only gripe is that the campaign can get very difficult in places and hence the balance rating of 4. Nonetheless, this is an extremely high-quality campaign worthy of its high score. I'd love to write a more in depth review, but there are simply too many things to discuss...
I must say that when I opened up the very first scenario in the campaign, I was simply blown away. Zanzard used a VERY creative way of getting his story across to the player. He played it out as if you were listening to the tale told by an onlooker. Incredible! The whole campaign kept me wanting to play more and more. Even after playing it to death, I simply had to go back for "just a little bit more". Incredible playability, I must say. Superb overall design on the part of Zanzard.
I was in awe at the balance in the game. It seemed like just when I thought I had enough, I was able to pull through and meet my objective or defeat "so and so". Even on the reverse, when I was feeling a little too cocky, an element would come into play that would make me retreat and re-evaluate my whole situation. It's never good to underestimate a scenario. :) No doubt the author went through painstaking play testing to get this right. I am not the best player on earth and I almost enjoy designing scenarios more than playing them, but THIS entry has made me look at things a little bit differently.
When looking at the creativity in this campaign, I am speachless. I know I've only reviewed 7 or 8 scenarios in my AoK life, but I HAVE played almost all of the "Best of" entries and this project was indeed a masterpiece. I loved the whole idea that the story was actually being told by a patron at the local Yak bar. Even that was a funny concept and scored many a points in my book. The way the author drew your attention to the onscreen instructions was good too. I have used the same trick in my scenarios, but Zanzard used a unique, ear grabbing mp3 that was the right touch.
I liked the map design, it added well to the feel of actually traveling through the game in the suggested regions. Zanzard used and mixed a variety of terrains to almost a perfect degree. I wasn't too impressed, though, with the cities and towns. I think a little more 'city" planning would have been good, even for a city/ town so far back in history. I guess I'm a stickler for this area. Overall the map was well done, above a 3, but not quite a 5.
Even though the story/ instructions were riddled with a few typos and grammatical errors, I was still compelled to give this category a 5. Reason being, Zanzard did a wonderful job conveying the story through use of Sounds, Words and imagination. A 4 just would not do here. If there were a higher number I could give him, believe me, I would. The entire collective of the 3 afore mentioned elements scored him a well deserved 5 and I stick by it solidly. If another author had the same mistakes in grammer, I may give that person a lower score, sure, if it detracts from the story, which Zanzard did not.
Last but not least, history. Well, I am no ancient Chinese history buff, but I would say that from what I played, I could see the campaign containing some history. I know for certain that it was done well with a mix of ficticious creativity. I think a four will have to do here as I am not a history major. :)
I must once again state how well done I thought this entry was and I look for more from Zanzard. I guess I'll go scour the BS now for more of his work!
This campaign portrays the rise of the Sui dynasty,and it's first Emperor who was the man to unite China after the collapse of the Jin dynasty that united the empire following the 3 Kingdoms Era.
The campaign is primarily a mix of fixed force and Build and Destroy. It was played on Moderate difficulty, using AoK HD edition.
Campaign was generally a lot of fun. I encountered only one bug in scenario 1, where an ally scouting militia attacked and killed some mission-critical NPCs, making it impossible to fire a trigger to proceed the game. This did not happen the second time I tried the scenario, so I'm willing to attribute this to HD pathfinding.
Beyond that, the game ran smoothly. The varied objectives kept me interested, and overall the campaign was very enjoyable.
With the exception of Scenario 3, which was a pure Fixed Force, and a timed task as well (requiring careful management of the plentiful, but separated units), the campaign seemed too easy. The enemy AI was incredibly passive, so that once I reached the B&D stage in both scenarios 1 and 2, it was quite easy to build up and overrun very limited enemy resistance. In addition, I was unable to get my ally in scenario 2 to start building a Wonder, so I had to resort to wiping out all of my opponents.
The designer adopted a very unique story-telling approach in both scenarios 1 and 2, which proved highly entertaining. The story was intertwined with multiple triggers in an interesting way. In addition, the designer used a few neat trigger tricks, creating "mobile camps" that would spawn multiple buildings, as well as introducing a "recruitment" mechanic allowing the player (Chinese) to recruit various unique units of other civilizations (for a particular cost)
Map Design: 4
Scenario 1 was fairly diverse, but map design in Scenarios 2 and 3 was quite minimalistic. It worked, but nothing about it was impressive or exceptional.
The introduction to each scenario was lengthy, and quite humorous. The first 2 scenarios employed a great story-telling mechanic that allowed the designer to break the 4th wall occasionally in amusing ways, and kept me interested as I wanted to know what happens next.
Scenario 3 was much more straight-forward, but instructions were still clear and easy to understand. It lacked the story-telling aspect, but it made up for it by being challenging.
Additional Comments: overall, a very solid campaign, covering an interesting topic (since most Chinese campaigns tend to focus on the T'ang overthrowing the Sui, it's interesting to see them as a protagonist for once). Recommended for anyone who enjoys good story-telling.