Archived News From June 1999

Due to the old age of most of these news items, all hyperlinks have been disabled. It is also not possible to comment on any of news. They are presented in their current form purely for your reading pleasure - it's the closest thing to a time machine we can offer you!

The Teutons Showcase
Posted by Omnivac on June 29, 1999 @ 6:05 p.m.

HE sixth Civilization Showcase of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings is now online. It covers the Teutons, their Unique Unit (the Teutonic Knight), their Wonder, and details on the Trade Ship, the Blacksmith, and the campaign of Frederick Barbarossa. As usual you will read several comments from the Ensemble Studios team, with several new screenshots. Don't miss it!

The Teutons in Age II are among the sturdiest civilizations in the game. They have good early game bonuses to keep them healthy and productive at an early age, and excellent defensive bonuses to make them nearly invincible to early rushes and quick attacks. An opponent really has to mount a sustained offensive to crack a Teuton player's defenses. However, the Teutons aren't purely a defensive power. They also have some nice attacks in their repertoire.

Fortified Town Center (Town Center +2 attack damage and +5 range)

Cheap Farms (Farms cost 66% only)

Stronger Towers (Feudal Age +3 arrows; Castle Age +2 arrows; Imperial Age +1 arrows)

Long-range Healers (Monks can heal from a range of eight tiles away)
What do you think of the showcase? Share your thoughts in the Teutons Showcase Comments thread.

Fall of Rome

Fall of Rome: A Tournament of the Ages is now live, and you can signup to battle it out with fellow agers.

Signups begin now and will end Friday, July 16th.
The tourney starts on the Monday, July 19th.
It will feature RM and DM, single player and team competition.
Prizes shall be awarded to the greatest players in all of the categories
listed above.
Head-on over to Age of Empires Heaven to the Fall of Rome section for more details. See you on the battlefield!

Angel Omnivac
Unit lines comparison
Posted by Omnivac on June 27, 1999 @ 11:37 a.m.

HE difference between the units of Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome and Age of Empires II: Age of Kings is going to be more than just aesthetic. No dead end units like the Axemen or Bowmen will be in AOK, and different types of unit will have diversified and specific roles enforcing the use of combined arms. Here's Sandy Petersen giving a little comparison between the two games.

RoR: three lines of foot melee units. One (the axeman) is a dead end. All are relatively worthless.
AoK: two lines of foot melee units. No dead ends. Both lines are useful throughout the game.

RoR: five lines of mounted melee units. One (the scout) is a dead end.
AoK: three lines of mounted melee units. No dead ends.

RoR: three lines of foot ranged units. Two (bowman, slinger) are dead ends.
AoK: three lines of foot ranged units. No dead ends.

RoR: three lines of mounted ranged units.
AoK: I admit it, only one line of mounted ranged units (the cavalry archer).

RoR: two lines of siege
AoK: five distinct lines of siege

RoR: one tower line
AoK: two tower lines. Three if you count the outpost.

RoR: three lines of warships
AoK: four lines of warships

RoR: no uniques
AoK: each civ gets a line of uniques.

RoR: total non-dead-end unit lines -- 16
AoK: total unit lines -- 19
- ES Designer, Sandy "Sandyman" Petersen

The Golden Age Contest

Gamestats News Network launched the Golden Age Contest where you can win a special GOLD EDITION of Age of Empires and Age of Empires: Rise of Rome. Not only five lucky winners will receive these prizes, but they will also get a Age of Empires II: Age of Kings t-shirt. Also thrown in the mix is a rare music CD titled "Music from the Ages" which features the musical score of all three games. What are you waiting for? Go to the Golden Age!

Smart Vs Dumb

You can find an article on AI (Artificial Intelligence) at the Electronic Telegraph.

Game designers began using AI in the early Nineties. At first, it was the preserve of the world's brainiest developers, such as Peter Molyneux in Populous and Sid Meier in Civilisation.

Gradually, the rest of the games community realised that it, too, could use AI to create computer players that acted as if they were at least vaguely human. The best example yet of this will soon be found in Microsoft's Age of Empires II. The game's creator, Bruce Shelley, explains: "There are three parts to the AI, controlling how units move around the map, how they respond to what's going on around them, and how the AI player plays the game overall."
Angel Omnivac
Special Feature on AOK
Posted by Omnivac on June 22, 1999 @ 6:45 a.m.

MPERIOUS REX from Gamestats News Network comes roaring back with a new Special Feature on Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. Filled with inside information and comments from Ian Fischer, Greg Street, Harter Ryan, and Bruce Shelley from Ensemble Studios as well as some new exclusive screenshots, this one is not to be missed.

Sometimes games become classics. Age of Empires is one such game. It was the mark by which other real time strategy titles were measured. AoE, as it has become to be known is still being played by thousands of people across the world even though it has been released for quite some time. Its staying power is a testament to the care that went into its development.

The team behind that development, Ensemble Studios is getting close to releasing the sequel. Age of Kings promises to give gamers as much entertainment as the original.
Angel Omnivac
Melee vs. missile weapons
Posted by Omnivac on June 21, 1999 @ 2:59 p.m.

ECAUSE of the nature of melee vs missile weapons, the latter's effectiveness rises disproportionately with greater numbers. A group of Archers would reach a "critical mass" where they would kill every incoming units trying to reach them. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings promises something different with missile weapons, as explained by Game Designer Sandy Petersen:

Personally, I have not seen a mass of archers in AoK yet reach the point where they can stop an infinite number of cav by shooting them as they come in. I suspect there may not _be_ such a critical mass. Here's why:

1) units in AoK move and attack in formation. This means that your archers can't kill the enemy one at a time as they arrive -- an attacking group of 10-20 horsemen all arrive at once! Of course, your archers will be lined up in formation, too, but this is less of a benefit to missile units, because of their range.

2) units in AoK, while attacking, form into a line. This means that any archers whose arrows miss their main target (because they lack ballistics or because the target moved unpredictably) are less likely to hit someone standing behind the main target, because attacking groups have much less depth than in AoE.

3) archers are shorter-ranged than in AoE. This gives them less time to blast incoming baddies.

4) individual unit AI in AoK is vastly improved over AoE. When your units are attacking a cluster of enemy archers, they are MUCH more effective at choosing targets than before. As we all know, melee units are improved when each attacks separately, rather than bunching up. AoK supports this without the micromanagement required in AoE.

So, though AoK archers become more effective with greater numbers, they do not reach a "magic threshold" at which they can kill an infinite number of foes. Note that the changes causing this are mostly alterations to melee units, NOT the archers.

Archers still have powerful reasons for being manufactured. They are inexpensive. They can slaughter slower melee enemies who don't have protective units with them. They can garrison towers & castles and massively increase the death-dealing factor of these fortifications.
- ES Designer, Sandy "Sandyman" Petersen

Rejoice DMers

From this post of Paul Bettner, Deathmatches in AOK sure sound more fun than ever. Deathmatches will be more or less like in AOE/ROR with players starting with huge amounts of ressource, but the nature of AOK will change what's following in subtle manners.

In Age and ROR, deathmatches were fun for alot of people, and the game type generated its own unique following, but personally I never got very much into the tactical mayhem that is a deathmatch game preferring instead the traditional random map games.

This has changed completely for me in Age2. While random maps are STILL my favorite (Black Forest being my particular favorite variety), I now enjoy a pure guts and glory deathmatch game just as much!

Perhaps its the glorious formations, or the massive castle fortifications, or maybe the great mixed-unit strategies that the gameplay employs. Whatever combination of gameplay features it is, I find the AOK deathmatch games to be SO engaging! I think you hardcore deathmatch cultists (heh) will have quite a blast with the Age of Kings version of Deathmatch games.

Can't wait to play you guys/girls on the Zone. =)

Speaking of the Zone: Wait till you see what new tricks we've got up our sleeve =)
- ES Communications Programmer, Paul "Winter" Bettner
Angel Omnivac
More ES comments about the Franks
Posted by Omnivac on June 16, 1999 @ 1:30 p.m.

VER at Ensemble Studios website, you can read more comments about the Franks Civilization made by AI Specialist Mario Grimani, Designer Ian Fischer, and IT Manager Roy Rabey. Game Designer Sandy Petersen also wrote in the Franks Comments thread some remarks about their supossedly "inferiority" in Age of Empires II: Age of Kings.

Some remarks on the poor Frankish "inferiority" re; siege & ships.
They get all the Castle-age ships, ship upgrades, and siege equipment. This means that their attacks, up until late Imperial are no weaker than anyone else's -- in fact, they're stronger because of two factors:

More hit points is of huge value in siege work. Their cavalry are not to be sneezed at.

Axe Thrower
Throwing Axemen. It's hard to realize just how mighty these dudes are at siege till you use them. Basically, a single throwing axeman does as much damage to a building as a half-dozen or more archers.

In late imperial, when other civs have siege-rams & the like, the Franks do have fewer options. However, they DO have the all-powerful bombard cannon, which makes up for a heck of a lot. Plus "only" getting the first two upgrades of rams & onagers is not the end of the world. How often did you refuse to play a civ in AoE because it "only" got the first two levels of catapults?

Ships: Franks don't have any special naval bonuses, and miss a couple of the high-end upgrades, but they do get every kind of ship, so they're versatile. They're really only at a disadvantage ship-wise in the late Imperial. And even then they're not as bad off as one of the handicapped naval races in AoE.

Speed: the Franks do not have any disadvantages rising through the ages. The specialty "fast" civs can make it to Castle (and sometimes Feudal) a little faster, but two minutes delay getting to the third age is not the nightmare it was in AoE. We all remember that a Tool army had basically no chance against Bronze units. This is not the case in AoK. Certainly Castle-age units are better than Feudal units, but they are incrementally better, not hugely. If the Frank can hold off the Chinese or British or Persian rushers for a couple minutes, they can strike back with force.

I know. I've done it. I've won more games as Franks than any other civ in AoK. And it doesn't take very many French knights to make a Chinese or British all-archer rushing force very sad indeed. Typically, I can wipe out the rushers who, after all, can't kill my villagers (who are hiding in the town center, shooting back) and then take my largely intact knights and raid _his_ town. The only times I couldn't do this as Franks was when I got rushed by either (a) a player who was a lot better than me, but whaddaya do in that case? or (b) when I got rushed by two guys at once or (c) when I got rushed by Goths. And note that I typically build no (zero) towers and walls.

BUT, Goths are not a "fast" civ. It's just that if you _do_ let a Goth beat you in age advancement, he has the power to make you sad.
- ES Designer, Sandy "Sandyman" Petersen

New screenshot

A new screenshot was posted on the ES website showing an on-going battle. You can see some Militia and Men-at-Arms as well as a new Lumber Camp.

War!!!!
Angel Omnivac
The Franks Showcase
Posted by Omnivac on June 15, 1999 @ 6:05 p.m.

HE fifth Civilization Showcase of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings is now online. It covers the Franks, their Unique Unit (the Axe Thrower), their Wonder, and details on the Cannon Galley and the Mill. As usual you will read several comments from the Ensemble Studios team, and will drool over several new screenshots. Don't miss it!

Cheap Castles (25% cheaper than normal castles)

Strong Knights (Frankish Knight, Cavalier, Paladin get 20% more hit points)

Free Farming upgrades (Farming bonuses upgraded automatically and for free)
Taken as a whole, the Franks are a powerful open-field civilization, able to decimate the enemy on the open fields of battle. However, they are average at best in sea combat and less than effective at cracking town defenses. In fact, a Frank army would be cut to pieces trying to attack an enemy castle that was guarded by siege weapons and archers behind fortifications.
What do you think of the showcase? Share your thoughts in the Franks Showcase Comments thread.

Angel Omnivac

Did I read BETA?

Posted by Omnivac on June 11, 1999 @ 6:56 p.m.

UT on your shining armour and unsheath your sword for the upcoming battles, run half-naked around a bonfire and pray to some unknown gods, burn some candles, wear your lucky charms, or use any other methods deemed necessary. The long awaited news is finally here and it is time to rejoice, because there is a sign-up just around the corner. Here's what you can read in the latest Microsoft Monthly Mailer:

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings Marches Forward

As the weeks pass, Age of Empires II continues its relentless march towards the glorious day when it will be available on store shelves. While many faithful Age fans have marked the release date on their calendars, patiently awaiting the day with controlled hysteria, many more are clamoring about for every little bit of Age II news. To this end, we have a tidbit or two of great Age II news to pass your way.

Sometime around late June, Age of Empires II will officially hit Beta 2 status. What this entails for the average Age II fan is that the game itself is one step closer to release. But, that's not all. Beta 2 also marks the first beta that will be distributed to notable gaming press. This means that a new crop of highly in-depth Age II previews will be hitting the Web and the magazine rack very soon.

While this is great news in and of itself, it's not the best news we have for you this day. Around July, the event that most Age II fans have been waiting for will finally kick off - a beta sign up contest! That's right folks, sometime this July around 20 gaming sites worldwide will participate in one of the most anticipated events of the year. At the moment, we don't have anything more specific to tell you, but rest assured that news of this event will pick up around the end of June.

And for those looking for "here and now" news, be sure to check out the latest GameSpot Age II Showcase. The fourth installment, this showcase delves into the Middle Kingdom of the Chinese.

GameSpot has also put together a handy Age II "hub" page where they've assembled all of their past Showcase pieces as well as other Age II related articles.

Of course, don't neglect to bookmark the Ensemble Studios Web site, which is the most comprehensive source of Age related news on the Web.

And lastly, for the latest screenshots, and press reviews, be sure to swing by the Microsoft Age II Web site.

Tresh's Firingsquad mini interview

Thresh's Firingsquad conducted a mini interview with Ensemble Studios, developers of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. In it, they caught up with them on changes since E3, and what the deal is with former Ritual employee Murphy Michaels joining their company. You will also find a pair of high res, exclusive screenshots as well as an update to their Age of Kings preview.

AOK Battlefield lost and found

The AOK Battlefield website is back online. Time to change your bookmark because AOKB can be found at a new location now and other than that, you should not get lost. Ol' BravenIrish is still at the helm there and will continue his daily updates.

Heaven's Marketplace

Got no idea what the Marketplace is all about? It's a brand new section of Heaven's Gaming Sites where you can purchase HGS t-shirts. A few weeks back we decided to have some cool t-shirts to wear at E3, and while doing so we said what the heck! Why don't we make a bunch of them. So check it out, before we run out.

Some of these t-shirts are signed by the Ensemble Studios team, and will be given away as prizes in upcoming contests too.

Angel Omnivac
Age of Kings Beta
Posted by Omnivac on June 09, 1999 @ 9:33 a.m.

F and When the time comes for Beta testing, Microsoft will make an announcement and have sign up areas. This information will also be posted in the "News Area (Headlines)" of the Ensemble Studios website, where the sign up location will be. As soon as this will happen, be sure there will be an announcement on the main page here, as well as the forums. You can also bet that you will see this on any site covering Age of Empires II: Age of Kings.

There is NO other information concerning Beta testing presently, and any inquires about the Beta Program WILL NOT be answered at this time. Be patient

GameStats News Network E3 Awards

Gamestats E3 Awards

Several GameStats News Network staff members were in Los Angeles this year to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo. They spent three long days checking out hundreds of upcoming games and after having reflected on the many games that they saw, thye have put their heads together and cast their votes for the best games at E3. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings got the award for the best real-time strategy game. Check it out!

Gamecenter talks about retail games

Gamecenter went behind the scenes and talked with experts in both the publishing and retailing sides of the computer gaming industry. You'll learn what it takes to get a game on retailers' shelves, and what happens after that. Very good article, aned some very surprising facts.

Interview at Mist's Town

Chuck of Mist's Town did an interview with Walker, Texar Ranger... err The Walker Twins, Texas Conceptual Artists working at Ensemble Studios. Go read what they have to say, and see some of their art.

We playtest several times a week. So far our favorite things in the game are the new scale of all the units and buildings in the game, formations are spectacular, and the.. well just about everything else. ES has really out done themselves. This is going to be a game you don't want to miss.

The Mongolian Campaign Contest

Mongolian Campaign Contest

You will find more information about Age of Empires Heaven's Mongolian Campaign Contest at the official page, with lots of links to help out the designers. You can also post questions in the Age of Empires Heaven Scenario Design Forum where other designers will gladly help you if you encounter some problems. Some cool prizes to win, and none other than Greg "DeathShrimp" Street from Ensemble Studios as one of the judges for your campaign.

Angel Omnivac
The Grand Emperor needs you
Posted by Omnivac on June 07, 1999 @ 6:54 p.m.

ERE is the deal. Microsoft wants the Grand Emperor of Age, maimin_matty, to help them test Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, but due to foreign labor laws, there must either be a shortage of labor in the US or he must be the best qualified person for the job in the world. Obviously, there is no shortage of people wanting to test AOK for the summer, but matty is pretty much the undisputed best ROR player in the world. What he needs from you is to put your name and address on a petition for the border patrol of US-Canada, saying you agree that matty is the most qualified for the job. Matty promises not to use your real name and address for anything else other than making the petition. If you want to help him out, send your name and address to mattie@golden.net or mscaddin@uoguelph.ca.

If you want to know more about maimin_matty, then head on over at Age of Empires Heaven where Washizu interviewed the Grand Emperor of Age.

Angel Omnivac
ES Team comments
Posted by Omnivac on June 05, 1999 @ 6:54 p.m.

VER at Ensemble Studios website, you can find more comments about the Chinese Civilization Showcase from Programmer Trey "Yert" Taylor and AI Specialist Mario "PlasticBrain" Grimani. I spotted a new fact in these comments which may indicates that the CHinese attributes may have already changed: "They start out with more villagers than any other civ and are expert farmers. It is easy to have a villager explosion, which really can fuel the economy". As it was mentionned often, civilization attributes are not set in stone yet, and not even the civ showcases should be considered so.

Mongol Campaign Design Contest

The official page is not up yet, but if you want a head start in creating your campaign and to win some prizes, here are the official rules.

CAMPAIGN DESIGN CONTEST RULES June 5th, 1999
Design Requirements: Campaigns must contain 3 scenarios, no more or less, and be designed under Rise of Rome. They must be reasonably accurately based on some of the historical events the author thinks important to the period of The Mongol Ascendancy - from roughly 1180 AD (the teen age years of Temujin/Genghis Khan) through 1294 AD (the death of Kublai Khan). The History section of each scenario must show clear evidence of historical research. The instructions and general setup of the gameplay must be reasonably consistent with the history. Some creativity and logical fictionalization in map design and player missions to enrich the gameplay are encouraged. Each campaign must contain at least one introductory graphic (.bmp, .gif or .jpg) which helps the player understand the history and/or play the scenario. Each campaign must also contain accurate and helpful instructions and hints for the player, appropriate victory and loss messages, and at least one custom .ai file or one custom .per file.

Evaluation: There will be six judges (OldGrex, ES_DeathShrimp, Rich Parker, Steve Ryan, Steideli, and Ronin). Entries will be evaluated using the Granary criteria of Playability, Creativity, Balance, Map Design, and Story/Instructions, plus Historical Content. Each entry will be played and evaluated by two judges. Those entries receiving an average rating of at least 4.0 from those two judges will be played and evaluated by the other four judges. The new score for the campaign will be the average of all judges' scores. In the event of ties for prizes, each judge will numerically rank the tied entries, with the highest overall ranking prevailing. If ties still remain, a coin toss will be used.
Results will be announced on September 26th, 1999. All campaigns submitted will be posted in The Granary after the contest is over.

Eligibility: The contest is open to all except the six named judges and Angel Spineman. However, Angels, Cherubs, Ensemble Studios, Microsoft and other HGS-affiliated entrants are not eligible to win the Grand Prize.

Submission Procedures: Campaigns may be submitted at any time until Noon, US Eastern Daylight Time (1600 GMT), August 25th, 1999. No person may submit more than one entry. Two or more authors may collaborate on a single entry, but this entry will count as the single entry allowed for each author, and the authors are responsible for determining an equitable sharing of any prize won by such an entry. All submissions must be a WinZIP file, sent as an e-mail attachment to Angel Spineman, with a backup copy to Angel OldGrex. Angel Spineman will acknowledge receipt by return e-mail. The Title of the e-mail must be "Campaign Contest Entry by (your name or nickname)." The WinZIP file must include two other WinZIP files - one containing only the campaign itself, and the other containing a copy of each custom .ai and .per file, each introductory bitmap, and a completed Granary Submission Template.

Prizes: Prizes will be awarded to the three top-ranked entries - Grand Prize/Best Campaign, First Runnerup and Second Runnerup. There may also be Honorable Mention prizes for Terrain Map Design and Creative Victory Condition if, in the opinion of the judges, there is a singularly outstanding submission in either of these categories which is not otherwise a prize winner. The exact allocation of prizes will be determined at the close of the contest, but the Best Campaign and First Runnerup will each win at least an Ensemble Studios AoK Design Team Signed Golden Box (containing copies of Age of Empires and Age of Kings). Other prizes available include AoE/RoR/AoK music CD's, AoK T-Shirts and posters, and HGS T-shirts.

Questions and Other: Angel OldGrex is in charge of the contest. Refer any questions to him. Good luck to all the participants.

Angel Omnivac
Chinese Showcase
Posted by Omnivac on June 01, 1999 @ 6:54 p.m.

HE latest Civilization Showcase of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings is online at Gamespot. You will find the usual historical background about the civilization, as well as their attributes. The new building revealed this week is the Siege Workshop with a list of units you can build there during the different Ages. Here's a look at the Chinese attributes and a closing comment from Elliott Chin. You can share your views on the Chinese civilization in the AoKHeaven forum.

High starting population (6 Villagers instead of 3, but 50 food instead of 200)

Large Town Centers
(hold 10 pop instead of 5)

Cheaper Technologies
(dark Age = normal cost, Feudal Age = 90%, Castle Age = 85%, Imperial Age = 80%)

Strong Demolition Ships
(50% more Hit Points)
Yet, all things considered, the Chinese are a strong civilization. While they don't have as powerful a villager bonus as the Age I Chinese, they aren't as weak in the final stages of the game. The Chinese retain a technological superiority that mirrors their historical strengths. They strike me as an exceptionally well-designed civilization that has obvious strengths to appeal to newcomers but also subtle bonuses that advanced players can use to turn the Chinese into a Age II powerhouse, if they are mindful of the Chinese weaknesses.
Angel Omnivac