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Age of Kings Heaven » Forums » News Discussion » The Master Builders: An interview with Ingo van Thiel
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Topic Subject:The Master Builders: An interview with Ingo van Thiel
Mr Wednesday
Cavalier
(id: matty12345)
posted 08-20-17 02:28 AM CT (US)         


Welcome to a new feature for AoKH, The Master Builders. In this series I will be interviewing some of the scenario designing greats from Age of Kings past. These are the fellows who made AoKH's SD forum what it is today. They built worlds that we all grew up in, created maps we still can remember almost two decades later, told us grand stories, and all the while challenged us to follow them. Some of them are still with us, but most have moved on to new pursuits. And yet, having left so great a mark, each of us is likely to once in a while feel a tinge of nostalgia for our favourite designer. "I wonder what Ingo is up to these days?", you might have thought on more than one occasion. Well, you are in luck. As it turns out, he is the first interview in our new series. And really, who else could have gone first?

For the uninformed few who may not know that name, Ingo van Thiel is the savant designer behind such cherished campaigns as The Quest and The Kings Best Men, as well as Ulio, largely regarded as the finest campaign ever made in the Age of Kings editor. His campaigns have often been held up as examples of creativity, ingenuity, and excellent storytelling. His work has served as a constant and sometimes daunting reminder of just how much is possible in so simple an editor.

I chatted with Ingo over the course of a week through email. Upon finding out his excellent memory included recollections of a very newbish matty12345 (yours truly), we exchanged pleasantries and got down to the business of answering interview questions! Questions follow in bold, Ingo's answers in plain text. I have added some notes after the fact in italics. While I have copied Ingo van Thiel's answers word for word, the order of the questions has been made more linear and logical than the back and forth email affords.

Enjoy.

It has been a fair few years since you released When the Wheel Breaks, your last campaign to the blacksmith. Do you ever get nostalgic for the editor? Or do you feel like you explored everything you wanted to within that medium?
A mix of both. I feel nostalgia and wouldn't want to miss my time at AoKH, but without the urge to go back to designing again. It was different for me back in the day, when I just couldn't keep my hands off the editor. For me, making scenarios was like creating interactive worlds for others to explore, and I was quite good at finding new things. That was quite a rush for me, and the positive feedback from people kept me coming back. Add the amazing community to the mix: I haven't followed AoK much in the past years or so, but at the time, many designers kept inspiring each other. One came with an idea and others then built on it. It got even better when GeniEd and Trigger Studio - these programs opened a whole new world of designing, and opportunities for new tricks and visuals exploded. I loved these new tools and they inspired me a lot when I was working on When the Wheel Breaks. For a while, with GeniEd and Trigger Studio I felt like I was on a constant creative high: "whoopee, I found a new idea, and another, cool, I never had so many new ideas in such a short time, ooooh, and here is another"... Looking back, maybe I overdid it: It was a like when you really love chocolate but then you eat too much of it. At some point, the urge to design wasn't there anymore. My energy shifted back to my old favorite hobby, making music. Now I get that creative rush out of writing new songs and playing them to small crowds at Open Mic sessions.

So, how is AoK Heaven going now? Are designers still inspiring and bouncing ideas off each other?

I can only give my opinion, but these days we are a smaller design community, and more relaxed and friendly probably than ever. Innovations still happen regularly, but I think there is a lot less focus on 'discovering tricks' and more focus on fun gameplay. A lot of amazing scenarios have been made since then, yet the old classics still hold up after more than a decade.

Speaking of community, you achieved something of minor celebrity within the AoE2 community. What did that feel like?

It was a ride. Most of the time, it was a fun ride, and made me feel proud and good about my work. On the other hand, when you get a lot of attention, not all of that attention will be positive. And then you need a thick skin. Also, success and praise can quickly go to your head, and I was wary of that. Thankfully, as soon as I switched off my computer, I was back to my normal life and that also kept me grounded.

Have you ever run into anyone in person who knew you for your scenarios?
Haha, no. No one ever recognized me at the supermarket, and that was a good thing. I honestly don't know how real-life celebreties handle it, when they can't set a foot outside without being recognized.

I actually once came across someone in real life who already knew me as the creator of the Tales of Middle Earth mod. Kind of a surreal feeling.
Wow, then it looks like your celebrity status made it into real life! :-D
You heard it here, folks. Ingo may be the musician, but I'm the rock star.

I imagine you made quite a few internet friends in your time. Do you still keep in touch with anyone from back in the day?
It was a great time, I recall countless of emails going back and forth with players and fellow designers, debating, testing, helping each other out. Sadly, all my online contacts from that time fell asleep. I guess that is how it goes when people just know each other online, and only share one hobby. It's different with my real-life friends, some of them I have known for decades. But who knows, your interview series might revive some of the old AoE community, too. I'm curious what became of them!
Yeah, if you are reading this and haven't posted in years, we would love to hear from you in the comments below!

As the first ever interviewee in my little nostalgia series, do you have a suggestion of who I should hunt down next?
Quite a few people come to mind: Mark Stoker, Gordon Farrell, the Rasher, AnastasiaKafka, Berserker Jerker, Mashek, dave_earl, LordBasse...
Hear that Mash and Basse? That's some impressive company you've been named in. I don't have to track them down, the losers never left!

And alas, I have had little luck tracking Ana down for this series.


Back to scenario design if I may. I remember once having a conversation with Luke Gevaerts where he grudgingly conceded you were a 'master of balance'. To me that was always the true success of your scenarios. No matter how many new tricks there were to steal the show, the true show stealer was the gameplay, always finely tuned and a joy to experience. Looking back, what do you think was your real strength as a designer?
Thanks, I appreciate it! In my view, the AoE rating system is a great guidance how to make a good scenario. I don't think one category should be weighed against the others. It's not creativity vs balance, or playability vs a nice map or story. They all count, and it's all of them combined that make a good scenario. If a designer neglects one or two of these aspects, the scenario will not be as good as it could be. What helped me: I was willing to playtest my own scenarios over and over again, until they worked fine and "felt right" for me. At that point, asking other people to playtest helped me a lot too. Other people will play your scenario differently, and find new bugs and balance issues that you didn't dream of.

What was Ingo's favourite Ingo campaign?
In the original AoE, it was Tai Gun 2. In AoK, it's a tie between The King's Best Men and Ulio.

Out of curiousity...do you own the HD edition of the game on steam?
No. Considering it though. Does the steam version also have an editor, where you can fix Steam bugs? I recently saw someone on Youtube play a Steam version of Ulio. I loved it, but there were a couple of sound and playbility bugs that weren't there in the original campaign. Some bugs were hilarious, like cows running through a dramatic scene when the Ulio baby gets found...
I didn't have the heart to tell Ingo that, while the HD edition indeed has an editor, he won't be fixing the many 'steam' bugs anytime soon. Sometimes you just don't want to tell the maestro they broke his violin while he was away.

Do you do any gaming at all these days, or is that chapter of your life closed?
I still play games. If I want to relax, I'll play AoE3 random maps and listen to some music while I do. If I want to be fully immersed in the game, I also have an Xbox360 and PS4. I like The Last of Us, Uncharted and the Splinter Cell series.

Some non AoK questions. If one was ever to run into you at a bar and wanted to buy you a drink, what is your go to drink?
A beer or a wine. Depends on what the other person is drinking. I don't like the hard stuff though.

You've made no secret of your love for music over the years. Can you tell us what you've been up to musically these past years? Any links you'd like to plug?
Music is my big hobby again now, as it was before Age of Empires. Cologne, my home town, has a very lively musicians' scene and I spend a lot of time at Open Mic sessions, or just jamming with our guitars out in the park during the summer. It's a different kind of magic, some of it reminds me of the old AoE community at its best. I have one album online on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and a few other online services, which is called “Into the Haze” and was out around 2013. In the past four years, I have worked on a new double album called “Song Machine Vol. 1+2”. That one is a bigger project with 24 songs of mine. The first part of it should be online sometime in October. You'll find these albums typing my name.

Thanks so much again for doing this, Ingo. If you still remember your password, say hi in the comments below!
My pleasure. Glad to see that the community is still going so strong!
The pleasure was all mine.

[This message has been edited by Mr Wednesday (edited 08-20-2017 @ 02:28 AM).]

AuthorReplies:
Possidon
Slayer
posted 08-20-17 03:58 AM CT (US)     1 / 15       
This is a brilliant concept. Something I was thinking of incorporating into the community spotlight when I was running it. Very glad to see it happen! And a brilliant first article.
HockeySam18
Dúnadan
posted 08-20-17 09:53 AM CT (US)     2 / 15       
Great write-up. As someone who just played through the older Ingo campaigns for the first time in a while, I can confirm that they hold up quite well. Nearly two decades later, one can still note concepts in newer scenarios that are more-or-less direct derivations of features in Ingo's work.

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies of one who has done well." - Hávamál

"Hockey is the only sport left for true men." - ax_man1
Cataphract887
Squire
posted 08-20-17 10:26 AM CT (US)     3 / 15       
Very well written article

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
Lord Basse
MI6 Scenario-Making Machine
posted 08-20-17 11:54 AM CT (US)     4 / 15       
An excellent idea for a series and a great write-up! It's great to hear from Ingo again and I really look forward to the next installment!

While Ulio is probably the better campaign, The King's Best Men is my favourite out of Ingo's works and one of the 4-5 campaigns that have inspired my designing the most. The comedy and the interactions between the characters really sets it apart from most other campaigns and it is something I've tried to emulate in many of my own scenarios.

__[]_________
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The ||||||||||||||||| Hus
OF | [/ \] |¯| [/ \] | ME
______________________________________________________________________________ |__ _ |¯|____|_______________________________________________________________________________
The Relics of Athalën (5.0) | AoK Opus - 90,000+ downloads | StormWind Studios | "I consider the conversion of Basse to be one of the great triumphs of my modding crusade" - Matt LiVecchi
Mithril Knight
Squire
posted 08-20-17 02:41 PM CT (US)     5 / 15       
Great idea and interview! I still remember when I played Ulio quite some time ago. When I ended it, I had this weird feeling of not knowing what to do with my life now. I couldn't touch the editor for a week or so after that.

Cheers to you Ingo, your scenarios were the one of the biggest inspirations for me when I first started designing.

►►►►Mithril Knight◄◄◄◄
My Works
¡Viva México!
My Coat of Arms
HockeySam18
Dúnadan
posted 08-20-17 03:33 PM CT (US)     6 / 15       
While Ulio is probably the better campaign, The King's Best Men is my favourite out of Ingo's works and one of the 4-5 campaigns that have inspired my designing the most. The comedy and the interactions between the characters really sets it apart from most other campaigns and it is something I've tried to emulate in many of my own scenarios.
You and Ingo are two of the few who have ever managed to create truly believable characters who have organic interactions despite the relatively limiting medium in which we work. The combination of skill in worldbuilding and characterization that you both have is quite rare, and something that I often wish I had.

Most of my characters end up being stony, battle-hardened warlords who serve as little more than setpieces to drive the gameplay forward and provide what context I can for it

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies of one who has done well." - Hávamál

"Hockey is the only sport left for true men." - ax_man1
Al_Kharn the Great
Squire
posted 08-21-17 06:03 PM CT (US)     7 / 15       
Great to hear from Ingo again. I wonder if Age of Empires Definitive Edition and all the other news today (from Germany no less) will draw him out of retirement.

Filthydelphia Creations
Tristan & Iseult ~ 1st Place (tied), 2014 Historical Scenario Design Contest
City of Peace ~ 2nd Place, 2014 Minigame Competition
Dragon's Head, Serpent's Tail ~ 2nd Place, 2016 Defend the Spot Competition
Ragnar's Raids ~ 2nd Place, 2016 Historical Scenario Design Contest
Complete Campaign Collection
Andanu Trisatya
Squire
posted 08-21-17 09:18 PM CT (US)     8 / 15       
Brilliant piece, Matty.

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/\NDANU TRISATY/\
The Least Skilled Member of StormWind Studios

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Mash
Huskarl
(id: Mashek)
posted 08-22-17 04:39 PM CT (US)     9 / 15       
This is an excellent write-up Matty and great to see Ingo offer a few thoughts as well. What really strikes me about Ingo's works are their timeless game play and balance. They're always fun to play and a good experience every time.
Quite a few people come to mind: Mark Stoker, Gordon Farrell, the Rasher, AnastasiaKafka, Berserker Jerker, Mashek, dave_earl, LordBasse...
Lord Basse and I be like.
Lord Basse
MI6 Scenario-Making Machine
posted 08-22-17 06:14 PM CT (US)     10 / 15       
Lord Basse and I be like.
Pretty much yeah, haha!

An interview with BJ would be fantastic though, haven't heard from him since, what is it, 2010?

__[]_________
|||||||||||||||||
The ||||||||||||||||| Hus
OF | [/ \] |¯| [/ \] | ME
______________________________________________________________________________ |__ _ |¯|____|_______________________________________________________________________________
The Relics of Athalën (5.0) | AoK Opus - 90,000+ downloads | StormWind Studios | "I consider the conversion of Basse to be one of the great triumphs of my modding crusade" - Matt LiVecchi

[This message has been edited by Lord Basse (edited 08-22-2017 @ 06:15 PM).]

HockeySam18
Dúnadan
posted 08-22-17 06:40 PM CT (US)     11 / 15       
aMa would also be a great one. I don't think he's too active these days, but he and I used to correspond via email fairly often a few years ago while I was translating Outlawed: Remake and The Last Bastion.

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies of one who has done well." - Hávamál

"Hockey is the only sport left for true men." - ax_man1
Mr Wednesday
Cavalier
(id: matty12345)
posted 08-22-17 10:22 PM CT (US)     12 / 15       
I thoroughly enjoyed writing this one up with Ingo. Moving forward the series is going to largely depend on who I can track down, but I would love to interview aMa. If you have an active email for him I'll give it a shot. Alternatively, you could interview him.

"And Matt is a prolific lurker, watching over the forum from afar in silence, like Batman. He's the president TC needs, and possibly also the one it deserves." - trebuchet king
HockeySam18
Dúnadan
posted 08-22-17 10:56 PM CT (US)     13 / 15       
The email I used to contact him at was the AgeArena admin email, since he is the founder and administrator of that site. I can shoot him an email, although perhaps to start Bassi or Jernside would be able to tell us how active he's been lately.

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies of one who has done well." - Hávamál

"Hockey is the only sport left for true men." - ax_man1
Bassi
Squire
posted 08-23-17 03:35 PM CT (US)     14 / 15       
aMa sadly is no longer active as an admin for AgeArena. But I think I could manage to get in contact with him and provide you with the needed email adress.

[This message has been edited by Bassi (edited 08-23-2017 @ 06:21 PM).]

HockeySam18
Dúnadan
posted 08-23-17 08:17 PM CT (US)     15 / 15       
That would be awesome if you could

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies of one who has done well." - Hávamál

"Hockey is the only sport left for true men." - ax_man1
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