Matt "The Optimizer" Pritchard

Interviewed by Angel Washizu - ?/?/2001
Matt 'The Optimizer' Pritchard

Matt Pritchard is a long time Ensemble Studios programmer, and has worked on both Age of Empires and Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings. He was nice enough to answer a number of my questions concerning his start with ES, the AoK patch process, and why they call him the "Optimizer."

Washizu: Hey Matt! First off, thanks for doing this interview. I really appreciate it.

Matt Pritchard: My Pleasure, Washizu.

Washizu: How did you get hired by Ensemble Studios?

Matt Pritchard: I had been looking to get into game development for some time. In early 1996, I saw a newsgroup posting from [Communications Programmer] Mark Terrano, looking for developers. At that time Age was in the early-early prototype stage and no publisher had been secured. I came up to the Ensemble Consulting offices (a separate company) and met President Tony Goodman, and a few of the original team members. I showed them some stuff I had been working on, they smiled and said we'll call you. About 6 months later, I got a call back from Tony. In the interim, Ensemble Studios had been fully spun off as a separate company and landed a publishing deal with Microsoft. They had almost forgotten about me... *wipes brow*

Washizu: If I'm correct, you are known as the "optimizer". Can you give us a little description into what optimization of the code entails and any other duties you have at ES?

Matt Pritchard: Optimization basically means "making more efficient" which for games usually means making things faster. Actually I like to think of myself as general engine programmer, but the truth is that my skill at speeding code up has me re-working various portions of the game whenever needed. The nickname "optimizer" came to me early on when I re-wrote the Graphics engine for the original Age of Empires game, moving a good piece of it into assembly language. The results were so successful that I wound up maintaining and improving the graphics engine through all of the games to date. Beyond that I've worked on all sorts of things from the obstruction and short range pathing, to target searching and resource tracking sub-systems. I've also done a lot of the external tools for the games.

Washizu: If Ensemble's next game were to be designed by you and you alone, what would would it be like?

Matt Pritchard: Probably a 'conquer the galaxy and win-the-girl' space-opera of some sort.

Washizu: What games are you playing currently?

Matt Pritchard: Age of Kings:The Conquerors, Unreal Tournament, Master of Orion, Worms 2, Ultima 4 on the Sega Master System, Zelda 64, Midnight Magic, Warlords on the Atari 2600.

Washizu: What game(s) at E3 did you find the most appealing? Were there any that surprised you?

Matt Pritchard: Games that caught my eye included Halo, Metal Gear Sold 2, Gothic, Warcraft 3, and a bunch of others whose names escape me at the moment. I can't say I was terribly surprised by much. As an industry insider I try and stay up on developing games.

Washizu: In the AOK Postmortem (which was GREAT by the way) you wrote for Gamasutra, you said that one of the things needed to be established was a patching process. Now, we'll be seeing the Age of Empires 2 expansion pack in just two and a half months, and there still isn't a patch for AOK. In your opinion, what is the biggest contributor to patch delays?

Matt Pritchard: There are a number of factors involved. The biggest is that once Ensemble finishes a patch, it still takes a month or two for our publisher to fully test it, translate it and the documentation to all the various languages Age is sold in, create an installer, and release it. Because of that, we tend to pack a lot of stuff into each patch.

Washizu: What is your favorite civ to play with all the expansion pack enhancements?

Matt Pritchard: Probably the Mayans at this moment, but check back as it changes from week to week. I think we've done a great job of balancing the game.

Washizu: What picture do you keep on your computer's desktop at work?

Matt Pritchard: Just the blue background. A picture of my wife sits to the side of my monitor though.

Washizu: A lot of developers are including game matching software to make things easier for multiplay, and by doing so are increasing the percentage of people who play online, which is typically a small amount. Are there any plans for game matching software to be built into future Ensemble Studios games?

Matt Pritchard: I really can't comment on what we may or may not be doing with unannounced products that may or may not exist.

Washizu: Ok, here's the last question. What game most influenced your desire to get involved in game development?

Matt Pritchard: Gosh, I don't know. I started writing games all the way back in 1978 on a TRS-80 computer. At that time, there hardly were any games or consoles around. Still, I knew way back then that Computer Games were a calling for me.

Washizu: Thanks alot! I'll see you on the battlefield!

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