When the Wheel Breaks ~ Chapter 1: The Prophecy ~
|Ingo van Thiel
Posted on 03/30/07 @ 04:58 PM (updated 06/25/07
A nameless Shogun is haunted by the same dream every night: He sees his carriage race through a gorge, fleeing from an invisible enemy. It breaks down on a bridge, and he hears his own death scream inside the smashing wood and metal.
A wise woman gives him a cryptic prophecy: "When the wheel breaks, the shogun breaks." The Shogun fears a rebellion and starts such bloody counter measures that this actually plants the seeds of rebellion in people's hearts.
The story is told by Ronin Akira, who lost his daiymo to the Shogun's suspicions.
His revenge seems out of reach. Then something happens which looks like the prophecy is about to be fulfilled...
Download the campaign file into your Age of Empires II/Campaign folder and the soundfiles into your Age of Empires II/sound/scenario folder.
Recommended settings: Normal speed, sound turned off. You can speed up or slow down Age of Kings by pressing the "+" and "-" button though.
This is a fixed-force scenario, but the difficulty level varies greatly. "Standard" is quite easy, "Moderate" gives experienced players a fair challenge. "Hard" is for people who like to micromanage and use every tactic trick in the book. I hope you'll enjoy this one-scenario campaign!
Thanks to everyone who playtested the scenario! The names are in the history section. Special thanks to Anastasia for providing me with a some great soundfiles.
25th June 2007: Added a bonus zip file with a PDF which tells the rest of the story, and an epilogue scenario.
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This scenario is a worthy ending to Ingo's long carrear in AoKH. He has made masterpieces like Ulio and The Kings Best Men ever since AoKH was founded. His scenario The Quest was the first scenario to recieve a 5.0 rating in the Blacksmith and he has inspired lots of designers all over the world, including me, to start designing again.
This is his last project, an open-ended scenario. His other interests and real life has caught up and he's leaving scenario designing, he sais. Tragic news to us, but it's his life - he's the boss.
Here is my review of When the Wheel Breaks.
This scenario is absolutely amazing. It might not be as actionpacked and filled with twists as Ulio or other of Ingos scenarios, but this is a welcomed different scenario. Using the japanese people, Ingo has created another masterpiece.
Playing is highly enjoyable. The difficulty levels suits all kinds of players and the music and sound effects bring up the experiense to the masterpiece-level. In my opinion, this game suits everyone. Well of course, not those who hate Fixed Force, but everyone else. It includes Foxed Force (mostly) with several RPGish elements, such as the duell versus the Ronin Leader and the fighting with the three mounted samurais. Its highly creative and introduces many new tricks and uses many of the old tricks too. That makes it very funny to play.
The thing that gives this a minus next to the 5 is the dialogue. Some times it flies by, sometimes 2 messages comes at the same time, and once, after the duell with the ronin-leader, the storyteller text was white instead of grey. When I playtested I tried tom point out all these misses, but I must've missed some. Or Ingo missed to fix them.
Anyway, these few bugs/misses are the only things that give this a 5-. Fix them and it will be a pure 5.0
As said before, the balance is perfect. The three difficulty levels are very different. The standard goes for more mediocre players, as me, or newer players. The moderate goes for more experiensed players and hard for hardcore players. The fights are hard to win on all levels, although strategy solves all problems. Thats the best part. Think correct, win. Think wrong, or if you're just lazy, then lose. It forces the player to think strategically. To use Akira in battle to heal your wounded is an excellent idea, since it forces the player to use the weak hero in combat (weak in HP) and take riskes.
To cut is short, there is a level for everyone - newbies and hardcores alike. 5.
This scenario introduces many new tricks and uses many old ones too, and some newer. The new ones where the swifting signs, masks on poles, women in kimono, enterable enemy towers, spearmen throwing javelins, a man puking, a new mill, a new way of swimming and much more. Together with older tricks, like water splashing from Gydas Challenge and Ulio and more. Then there's the blacksmith hammering a sword, lying on the anvil when being hammered and that you can pick up the hot sword and use it in combat.
Simply, there are lots of creative aspects in this game and they're everywhere. A undiscussable 5.
MAP DESIGN: 5
The map was utterly detailed, yet very realistic. The roads and paths wheren't cluttered with eye-candy but they still looked very good. The mountains sat tight, yet they where climable in a few places, like outside the ronin camp, where the cliffs and forests is very tight set so that you precisely can walk through. There's also a fake-trick that makes it look like you actually walk through a forest, not on a path in the the forest.
This is so much different to Ingo's older project and he shows that his skills are not limited to snowy landscapes (Ulio, Gyda's Challenge) and green hills (The Quest, The Kings Best Men) but that he also can make realistic, rocky Japanese terrain. Ingo is THE master, no doubts. There are many great designers, but Ingo plays in a class for himself. Its truly sad to see him leave designing, but this is a truly worthy ending to it. The design is superb in all means and realistic. A 5, of course.
STORY & INSTRUCTIONS: 5
The story featured is unique and its well developed. There are lots of scenarios that take place in Japan. One of the best is "The Way of the Warrior" by Great Emperor. My only fear when I signed up as a playtester was that these two scenarios would be much like each other. But what I feared wasn not true. This story is much different. Ingo gives his charactors a deep personality in the way only he can. You should start writing books and become rich, Ingo.
The whole scenario starts with a Haiku (a japanese poem to those who dont know what it is. The shortest poem-type in the world) and that alone gives a feeling that Ingo has done everything he canm to make it as Japanese as possible. I dont know if he does it with ease or if he uses all his intelligense to make these kind of scenarios, but one thing is sure - he succeeds.
The instructions are very useful. Without them its hard to win and they're never misleading. The scenario even has a bitmap included, the background is a little Ulio-like with AoK terrain with changed colours, to make it look more paperlike, or what to say.
To round off, I give it a 5, and that's not surprising is it?
OVERALL: Yet another masterpiece
IN CLOSING: A worthy ending to Ingo's carreer. A must download for everyone that doesn't hate everything with the words FF. A few minor misses stops this from being all perfect, bu it's very close.
A superb job Ingo. I'm glad I could be here to help you test it out and find most of the "runner-text". One thing I must mention is that my name is spelled with a space, not an underline :p
Overall superb. I hope you do as Luke Gavaerts did, say its your last project and that you're not going to finish it, and then return a year later or so and start working again :)
The best of wishes on your future life, from a helper, fellow designer and fan (:P).
Good luck with the music
'When the Wheel Breaks ~ Part I ~' provides a single playable scenario and cut-scene addition. The story is fiction, set in feudal Japan, and tells of a prophecy that entails the doomed fate of the ruling warlord. As restless sleep turns to nightmares, the warlord diverges on a mad attempt to change his fate by accusing the local lords of treason and executing them. The death of one ruler inevitably leads to a samurai called Akira and his tale of revenge. An exciting journey begins, a plot begins to unravel and questions are raised. In all it remains a highly promising yet unfinished tale, and serves as a good reminder of the kind of standard that a long-time designer of the Blacksmith has to offer.
PLAYABILITY: 'When the Wheel Breaks' provides entertainment as good as you will receive for a story that will never be completed. I enjoyed every second of the hour or so worth of game play, and the challenge provided on each difficulty level. The scenario felt dark, haunting and mysterious, and with some welcome twists along the way. The warlord's prophecy, his nightmares, and Akira's tale - his hard fall from samurai to ronin - was intriguing and complex. The creativity was eye-opening. I relished the trigger tricks employed throughout, and the look and feel of the map design. For a single scenario (and additional cut-scene) there was never really an end to the excitement and scenes providing maximum amounts of fun. I was left wanting more when the scenario unexpectedly ended. A wonderful piece of work. 5
BALANCE: For me the scenario is perfect on all three-difficulty levels with standard being an easy yet fulfilling ride, moderate a harder more tactical approach and hard being something that even devoted gamers will be tested with. I first played on standard to get a feel for the scenario and the clues with which I would need for the more difficult levels to come. Game play was a little tough in some areas, but nothing that resulted in numerous reloads from an old save point. On moderate I was well met by strong enemy forces. Assaulting the bandit camp meant I had to be fast and tactical, micromanaging my already battered men to overcome the enemy. The ronin duel was noticeably harder, and the confrontation with the mounted samurai at the blacksmith more thrilling. On hard the scenario really tested me, with reloads more frequent and battles just as tense, needing to be faster with my assaults and just as deadly. 5
CREATIVITY: Exemplary. The scenario is not only creative with regards to the way the map design has been laid out, like the villages and mountain valley, but also for its many innovative tricks. I spotted an anvil at a blacksmith, signs hanging from trees, women dressed in Kimonos, a masked Ronin leader, umbrellas and new types of torches. I also witnessed a man swimming, drowning, and a rescue take place. To pick one thing out in particular, the way the attack on the bandit hideout was carried out, with sounds, two ways to invade, enemy towers that can be garrisoned with your hero and burn when taken, are eye-opening and inspirational. There is much more but things which I will leave to the downloader to discover. 5+
MAP DESIGN: The sure sign of a master designer can be found through the extensive detail layered into the map design, but that's just the way Ingo goes about it. The design of feudal Japan with manors, farms and outlying villages has an authentic oriental touch, complimented by the use of sounds and music. I was particularly impressed with the subtle use of map copying to convey some stunningly creative town designs, or the bandit hideout in the mountains. Terrain mixing, use of Gaia and other objects done to perfection. 5
STORY/ INSTRUCTIONS: The music and atmosphere bring you well into the story with a warlord's nightmare, a prophecy and news of the shogun's mad purge across the land. The story was rich with complex themes and characterisation, and the dialogue was perfect. Additionally the scenario features a great bitmap and extensive hints. 5
CONCLUDING: 'When the Wheel Breaks' is a fantastic scenario, with no efforts spared in detail or creativity. The atmosphere is very well conveyed, complimented by an authentic Japanese touch. A must download for anybody looking for great entertainment.
In a word - Compelling.
In closing - A must download!
[Edited on 03/19/18 @ 09:26 PM]
Ingo van Thiel has had, to put it lightly, a rather storied scenario design career. From The Quest, which set the standard against which all scenarios would be measured, through the epic Ulio, his body of work has been unsurpassed in ingenuity, design, and polish. Each new campaign marked another raising of the bar. On a chance visit back to this site, I happened to notice that he had released a new scenario - "When the Wheel Breaks." This came as something of a surprise. Ulio was the epic capstone to his career, the product of years of work and the last in a string of masterpieces, each one improving on the last. So what was this "Wheel" scenario? Another epic?
Playability: "When the Wheel Breaks" is a relatively minor work. Of course, that isn't to say that this was churned out in a couple weeks - it certainly maintains the quality we've come to expect from Ingo. He describes it as "fixed force," which it is for the most part, but really it defies categorization. Much of it is essentially a puzzle: the key to success is determining the right approach to the situation more than completing the challenge itself. Frustration builds as strategy after perfectly-executed strategy results in failure, until at last the player realizes the key to success (especially if one does not make use of the hints :) ). You're left just shaking your head, thinking "how the hell did he even do that??" The duel is the best example of this: if you stick with standard Age of Kings strategic thinking, you'll get nowhere.
Balance: In all his scenarios, Ingo goes to great lengths to achieve a variable difficulty scale. Standard, moderate and hard all have significant differences - a much-appreciated feature for, erm, weaker players such as myself. Combined with the variability of conversations in the villages at the beginning, this also creates an incentive to replay the scenario multiple times - simply having beaten it on Standard isn't enough to claim to have fully experienced it. Balance tends to mostly be a throwaway category - "yeah, ok, I beat it but it took me a few tries, 5" or "dammit that was too hard...but I don't wanna look like I'm bad at the game...3" and such. This scenario is a great example of why the category exists, though: Ingo's balance work truly means that a rookie and an expert can derive the same enjoyment from playing, without either excessive frustration or boredom.
Creativity: Included in the introduction is a lengthy list of innovations invented by Ingo for this scenario, but I was caught off guard nonetheless. I have been out of the scenario design community for a while, and I grant that I'm not entirely up to date on recent innovations, but I think it's safe to say that whoever you are, there will be plenty of surprises in this scenario. Ingenuity abounds, from combat methods all the way to incidental background stuff. The end of the scenario is an especially strong example. How Ingo manages to continue to come up with so many new developments in each release I do not know, but rest assured that the tradition is brilliantly carried on here.
Map Design: The map is not especially large, and the bulk of it is simply countryside and small villages. While map copy tricks and of course plenty of terrain blending is used, there is nothing revolutionary about the map. Still, it serves its purpose more than adequately: it provides an authentic-looking stage for the action to take place on. Clever map work opens up new strategic possibilities in a couple of instances. The map looks good, certainly, no complaints there. I can't imagine any changes to the map which would have improved the scenario - it serves its purpose fine.
Story/Instructions: The story is quite good. Essentially, it's just a "revenge" story, but the integration of other elements keeps it compelling. Unfortunately, the scenario ends pretty abruptly, immediately following the introduction of a new dynamic into the plot. If there is to be no "When the Wheel Breaks, Part 2," I hope Ingo will at least post a plot summary on the forums or something. :) This is not a fault though; while it's nice when campaigns are finished, a partial story is a heck of a lot better than nothing being released at all. The scenario always strikes a good balance between story and game play, never feeling like there's an excess of exposition, but always keeping the goal of the action clear in the player's mind. The hints are helpful while not diminishing the challenge too much - they lead the player in the direction of the solution, which is important in a scenario where the solutions are often so unlike what the player has seen in scenarios before.
Additional Comments: Certainly, "When the Wheel Breaks" is not another Ulio. It can be completed in an hour or two, even accounting for the inevitable large amount of trial and error. If the campaign is someday finished, great, I'll be the first in line for part two. If this is indeed to be the end of Ingo van Thiel's career, though, it is not a bad one. It serves as a final tip of the cap to his fans, a low-key wrap-up to what has been the greatest string of achievements in Age of Kings scenario design by anyone.
May all your wheels remain intact :)
[Edited on 04/15/09 @ 08:18 AM]
As I first heard the news of a new campaign released by Ingo Van Thiel, I rushed to the Blacksmith in order to get it. After all, a design by a master such as Ingo is always a please to have a look. And I was not disappointed. Now into a deeper review:
- Playability: 4
The excellent writing of Ingo combined with the short cutscenes can only leave the player craving to gain control of the misfortuned Akira and his men as soon as possible. Everytime the game was stopped by a cutscene, I couldn't wait to get back on track.
The only downside was the fight at the Blacksmith's village, as I have ran into a buggish struggle against the Mounted Samurai, who sometimes were able to team up to attack me, even if the text displayed said "are you affraid to face me one on one?"... too bad, as I found that part equally difficult and well conceived.
- Balance: 5
It is meant not to be excessively easy, I believe. Most of the times the player will find himself outnumbered, and without an intelligent strategy death is certain. No rushing brainlessly against the enemy.
The healing system makes everything a lot interesting, and harder. You must keep Akira fighting, but on the other hand, he will die if left uncontrolled. I also enjoyed the fighting against the Ronin Leader a lot.
- Creativity: 5
Certain aspects of this map just cannot be left unnoticed. The healing of Akira's soldiers is one of them, as it makes skirmishes more interesting (and harder!). Fighting the Ronin Leader was also a handful, as getting used to a new fighting system isn't easy.
The masked enemies, the kimonos and the cart dropping rubble also deserve special attention, for even though the game would still be great without them, they are a proof of Ingo's geniality.
- Map Design: 5
The map itself is a jewel. It faithfully portraits a feudal japan (or at least the feudal japan we are taught to imagine, as none of us is old enough to have witnessed its existance...). The music just gives the final touch to the game's atmosphere, which is plain amazing.
An extra kudos to the anvil at the Blacksmith.
- Story/Instructions: 4
The history is presented very well from the very beginning, as the player grows anxious to discover what keeps the Shogun from sleeping, so he/she can unleash that fire against the evil Ronin who terrorize the villages. Objectives, Hints and the like are well ellaborated... instead of instructing the player to simply "deFEat the 3v1L r0niN l0lzoRz", it is demanded from the player that the region is kept safe from all evildoers.
The only downside is the sudden interruption, as the player is left with no promisse of continuation. Also, the victory message at the end of the bonus scenario (that reveals Jun's inevitable fate, and the fulfilling of the prophecy) seems to have been made in a hurry, and had me thinking the map was historically based by the way it was written ("court records show..."), but I couldn't reach any conclusions as it had little information.
- Final thoughts:
"When the Wheel Breaks" is an excellent scenario. It isn't "Ulio", but still worthy of every second you spend playing it. Nevertheless, it's a work by Ingo, and even those who doesn't find it the greatest thing must recognize the talent this designer has shown during his years in the AOKH community.
I feel sad I can only review with "full" numbers, as I would have given higher notes to Playability and Story/Instructions, closer to 5.0...
I consider this one a must have, and even though it's not flawless, it's fun guaranteed.
[Edited on 10/25/07 @ 12:20 PM]
"When The Wheel Breaks" is a tour de force, with different styles of gameplay blended together with the author's usual flair. You can expect to find tactical small-scale fixed force, creative and well realised new concepts and well balanced skirmishes. The scenario is not flawless, but it is well deserving of a maximum rating in this category. As previous reviews have stated the scenario's abrupt end limits it in this area but what the author has completed is as enjoyable as any scenario in the Blacksmith. There are no dull times and no damaging exploits. The music is atmospheric and replayability reasonable.
For me, the scenario was excellent in this regard. Challenging without frustrating, and therefore worthy of full marks. I do wonder, however, if inexperienced players might struggle here as even on the lowest difficulty this is no cakewalk. But this is not enough to warrant a deduction.
You might be sceptical about how original a new scenario can possibly be, yet this scenario succeeds in having fresh and creative gameplay, as well as some ingenious finishing touches in the map design. Without stealing the author's thunder, expect to see swimming, a decent rendering of a duel, some clever combat ideas and some excellent details.
Map Design: 5
The author's style may not be my favourite but on the Blacksmith scale it would be unduly harsh not to award full marks. The appearance of the map is pleasant, functions well and the author makes good use of almost every object the editor has to offer.
As other reviewers have said before me, the story is weakened by the fact that it is curtailed when it is only really picking up pace. The author has thoughtfully provided an explanatory document and an epilogue so as not to leave you hanging, but it is a poor substitute for the finished article. But enough of that and onto the story itself. The story is no great novel, but I can say without exaggeration that the plotline is one of the best in the Blacksmith. Twists are well carried off if not all that surprising, and the dialogue and narration carry it along at a good pace. In my mind it is only just that a story of this calibre should receive the maximum, regardless that it is not quite done justice. Instructions are good, and there is no reason to deduct there either.
It is my opinion that a score of anything less than an overall 5 does not fairly represent "When The Wheel Breaks". Criticise as you wish that it is incomplete, but I could not justify a lower mark through that alone. Incidentally, I believe that were this campaign complete it would be the author's best to date.
+ Good quality story
+ Attractive design
- Possibly a little lacking for lower abilities
- Ronin duel a little sensitive
- Map design occasionaly a little cramped during combat
I tend not to give high ratings lightly, but I admit I was perplexed by the scores awarded earlier. If you find this review a little too generous in its praise, that is my defence. Regardless of the score though, I thoroughly recommend, if you haven't already, downloading "When The Wheel Breaks".
Just like every campaign from Ingo van Thiel, this one is without bugs, as far as I know.
I had very much fun playing it. Conclusion: This campaign is very, very playable!
Unexperienced as i am, i played this campaign, quite predictable, on Standard. However this is the most easy difficulty level, sometimes it was not so easy and i had to load. But that happened only once. Imo, a nicely balanced campaign. Another 5 for this section.
Certainly, very certainly, no lack of creativity at all! I found this campaign to be filled with every possible trigger trick, even some i haven't seen before! New things like umbrellas, black pools and women in kimono, not to forget the "Sign at Tree" trick and a never ending flow of map-copied buildings and much more!
Map Design: 5
The design in this campaign was actually the best i have seen. Ingo van Thiel managed to use grass 1 in a beautiful way! I have seen it before, but never so beautiful as here. Also a very good use of shoreless water and mountains, not to forget the cliffs and waterfalls. Every detail was fine-tuned and almost perfect. I have seen a marsh like never before. The only dissapointing point in the map design is the oak forest at the marsh entrance. But that really, really is the only bad thing.
Ingo van Thiel provided a good storyline, like always, which is expressed very good in the game. The story starts in the pre-game instructions, and you have to finish it. The given instructions were always very clear. Sometimes he uses a long objective, but even those ones were clear and easy to understand. Another well-deserved five for this one.
Like everyone, i recommend this campaign. If someone hasn't downloaded this one yet, start it immediately!
BTW, this is my first review following the official guideline.
[Edited on 04/07/08 @ 05:37 PM]
When the Wheel breaks is a brilliant scenario. It may not have the twists of Ulio or be as action packed as The Quest but this is a welcomed different scenario. Using the Japanese people (a first for him), Ingo has created another masterpiece. Playing is highly enjoyable. The difficulty levels suits all kinds of players and the music and sound effects bring up the experience to the masterpiece-level. In my opinion, this game suits everyone. It mainly includes Fixed Force with some RPG.
The Balance is Perfect. The three difficulty levels are different and get more challenging as you go up the difficulty ladder. You have to think to play this scenario. Think like a samurai to be like a samurai.
When the Wheel breaks has many new features that I haven't seen before like swaying signs, masks on poles, women in kimono, enterable enemy towers, spearmen throwing javelins and a different way of swimming. Mix these with some old tricks like water splashing, used Gyda’s Challenge and Ulio, and a sword on an anvil you get a great and Very Creative Campaign
Map Design: 5
The Map design is greatly detailed. It looks very realistic. It wasn't cluttered with eye-candy but still look awesome. The Mountains sat tight but some were climbable. This is a lot different to Ingo's old scenarios which were either snow (Ulio, Gyda's Challenge) or grass covered hills (the Quest, The King's Best Men)
The Story was very clever and enjoyable. There are many Japanese based scenarios like Way of the Warrior by Great Emperor and Tsubassa's Tale by Night Conqueror. As for the Instructions, they were very clear and I knew what to do at all times. If the Instructions didn't help the Hints did!
A Must Download. One of Ingo's best!
Edited for typos
[Edited on 02/03/11 @ 02:27 PM]
easy yet hard. I do NOT think there is a campaign designer better than Ingo Van Thiel.
verrrrry playable, and not a bug in it.
words could not describe it
Map Design: 5
wonderful design. very beautiful
great, but a little scary, story
very easy to understand instructions.