Ask Sandy II

Article written by Sandy Petersen
Originally published on 10-06-1999 ; updated on 03-13-2017
Tags: General Info, Ask Sandyman, Interviews

Q) Do you think about introducing a 5 age in the expansion pack?

A) It has been talked about. I think it's unlikely, because 5th age stuff would only appear rarely.

Q) more civs will not be very realistic

A) There are literally hundreds of civs that we didn't put in the main game that are all still available to us for an expansion pack, ranging from Khmer to Spanish to Magyar.

Q) but why was wheeling removed?

A) not that useful, and looked dumb.

Q) what do you think about people that legally purchased the game can't make backup copies of our own.

A) You have the right to try to make backup copies, but we have the right to try to prevent you. Why would you need "backup copies" of a CD-ROM anyway? How likely is it to get hit by a magnet and destroyed. Do you complain about being unable to make backup copies of your Nintendo 64 cartridges? Get real.

Q) who among the ES staff is the best AoK player?

A) Maybe Dave Pottinger. He has rivals, though.

Q) Would it be possible for the designers to play a game or two and upload them here?

A) Probably.

Q) What upgrades do you most recommend during the Feud. age?

A) Man-at-arms

Q) What process does the CP go through to determine if it wants you as an ally?

A) Each CP has a 25% chance of deciding to try to ally with you. Once one of them chooses to try, the rest will remain unrelentingly hostile thereafter. If it decides to try, it will choose from either a "nice" or a "nasty" personality. The "nice" personality tells you how much tribute to give him to get him to join you. The "nasty" personality makes demands. If you meet the demands he will, someday, join you (It takes a lot longer). At Moderate difficulty, the CP is "nice" 75% of the time. At Hard/Hardest, he is "nasty" 75% of the time.

Q) Is it recommended to start building a wall as soon as you hit Feud.

A) Depends on the map & the opponents.

Q) does the computer rebuild in AOK?

A) If he has enough resources.

Q) What happened to the button to make a group like in AOE?

A) We found that when you used un-numbered groups, quite often players would forget someone was in a group, then later on click on a grouped unit to do something. Then, ten minutes later, he'd check back and find out that he'd sent his entire fleet into the enemy harbor instead of just one demolition ship. Oops. With numbered groups, you have a constant reminder that the guy's in a group.

Q) Will ES ever consider working morale of troops into its RTS games?

A) ES will never say that we would "never" consider something. The disadvantage of morale in an RTS game is that it removes control from the player and gives it to the computer. We want the player to have the fun, not his machine. So ere now, we have not dealt with morale.

Q) Does the AI ever build a wonder?

A) Yes. In fact, he invariably starts saving up for a wonder if he meets the pre-requisites (which include having lots of spare wood, gold, and stone). Once he's saved up enough, he builds it, then surrounds it with towers & walls. However, if you have built a wonder first, he won't bother with one. Also, only one CP on a team will build a wonder.

Q) I'm curious: Was the idea of rams in feudal age considered?

A) Briefly.

Q) I have a hard time believing that nobody including the beta testers caught the AI bug that makes the computer troops fail to respond to an attack while their slowly marching to the target.

A) Technically, this is not a bug. YOUR units also won't respond to an attack while marching to the target, you know.

Q) What civilization do u like most and why?

A) I don't have a favorite civ. I spend my time trying to make all the civs equally fun and in depth. If I had a "best" civ, this would undercut this effort.

Q) I'd like to ask why the Beta of AOK had more artwork then the final?

A) I have no idea what you are talking about.

Q) why do archers not have a fire on ground feature ?

A) What purpose would it serve?

Q) Why do units have to be garrisoned to heal ?

A) So healing your units is a decision you have to maken, and it's hard to do when you're far from home.

Q) (from Shane88) Did you really try hard enough to make a challenging computer opponent? I am returning my copy of AoK to Microsoft.

A) Terrific. I recommend you go home and play nothing but KKND2 from now on. You can then move on with your life instead of wasting your time brooding about and posting on a game you dislike.

*** GENERAL SANDY ANNOUNCEMENTS ON THE AI ***

1 = Sandy is not responsible for the back of the box saying AoK has "human-like" AI. The AI, while I think it is good, does NOT think like a human, but quite differently.

2 = The AI has known bugs in it. Some crept in during the last few weeks of play. I intend to fix these as soon as humanly possible. Examples of known bugs are the fact that the CP in Deathmatch doesn't build as many villagers as I intended due to a simple script error (my fault), and the "resigns on Easy with high pop cap" bug.

3 = Even WITH the bugs (which, as I said, will be fixed) I think I can safely say that the AI in AoK is light-years ahead of AoE/RoR's AI. Ask anyone who's played it, except maybe folks who are currently too embittered to give rational answers.

4 = Even without the bugs, AoK's AI will still not do certain things, such as colonize uninhabited islands. This is hardly a big setback from AoE, however, since they didn't either. I do wish they would. Ah well. At least they'll build on YOUR island! Escorting transports is, despite snide remarks, not important, in my opinon. I never escort my own transports when invading an enemy island, and would not respect someone who did. Warboats are much better used destroying docks and shore installations, not following trannies around.

*** END GENERAL ANNOUNCEMENT ***

Q) sandy you're a genius.

A) Thanks. You sound like my wife.

Q) What can a Celts player do against British Trebuchets Cavalry and longbowmen?

A) Celt trebuchets are better than British trebuchets. Celt cavalry are better than British cavalry. Admittedly, Celt archers suck, but Celt skirmishers are at least a challenge for Longbowmen. I see no problem here.

Q) As far as ES_Sandyman retiring - I hope not, he makes a quality product

A) Thanks. I'll let you clean my clock in AoK anytime.

Q) The cost to benefit ratio for the Outposts seems a little out of skew.

A) If you research Town Watch and Town Patrol you will be stunned by the colossal LOS that outposts end up with. We rarely build more than 3-4 in a game, so cost does not seem out of line to us.

Q) I suggest that the bottom limit for resource sell prices(currently set at 14 apparently) be raised.

A) The current bottom limit was reached at by dint of long playtesting, and in fact is 17 if you research Guilds.

Q) siege units should generally be fragile

A) They ARE!! Thanks for the comment, though Troylus. And I have nothing at all against console games. I play them all the time.

*** A SIMPLE COMPARISON ***

People don't seem to realize it, but siege onagers are not that fearsome. Lets look at the numbers. Let's compare an AoK Siege Onager (so mighty, only 4 civs get it) to a RoR Heavy Catapult (available to 8 of 16 civs)

COST: Siege Onager costs 160 wood, 135 gold; Hvy Cat costs 180 wood, 80 gold.

HIT POINTS: Siege Onager has 70 hit points; Hvy Cat has 150 hit points (300, for Hittites)

DAMAGE DONE: Siege Onager does 75 damage; Hvy Cat does 60, but with a wider radius.

RANGE: Siege Onager has a range of 9; Hvy Cat has a range of 15

I think that given another week or so with the game, and folks will figure out how to destroy such expensive, but puny and short-ranged, onagers. Note that they get no ballistics, either.

*** END SIMPLE COMPARISON ***

Q) where is the "horde" button that the manual talks about?

A) We found that "staggered" did exactly the same thing and looked better so horde was dropped, except that when you group villagers or sheep together, they automatically go into the "horde" formation.

Q) How long did it take to make AoK?

A) We started work on it almost exactly when AoE came out.

Q) Ensemble was quite emphatic in pointing out that the game was playtested and balanced at 50 unit. They allowed people to up the unit count, but warned that this would change the game. Is this still the case in AoK?

A) It will NOT unbalance singleplayer games - the AI knows how to deal with higher pop caps. It DOES however certainly change some of the relationships between the various civs in the game. For instance, if your pop cap is 200, the Goth "+10 to pop cap" bonus is kind of pointless. It also changes the relationships between certain units. 150 light cav function pretty different from 30. So yes, higher pop caps change the game, but this is not necessarily a bad thing, except in terms of game lag for slower computers :P

Q) Since there has been some talk of possible 3D graphics in the future how would this improve the already wonderful detail and would it affect you much one way or the other?

A) We already build our units & buildings in 3-D. I would say that we are likely to go to full 3-D for future games. But ES will only use 3-D if we can make it look as good as 2-D. We do not wish to take a step backwards in appearance. Hence, our 3-D warriors will have to look as good or better on the battlefield as the current 2-D warriors.

Q) I hate AoK's copy protection! You suck!

A) Here is what to do.

1 = don't buy the game.

2 = send a letter to MS detailing why ES sucks.

3 = explain to MS how they could make a lot more money if they let people pirate their games more easily.

Q) I cant understand how so EASY things like the transport escorts or the proper reaction of the troops when they are under attack aren't part of the AI.

A) Transport Escorts - this would have been easy. I explicitly chose not to have it in the AI because it is almost always counter-productive.

Troops reacting when under attack - the programmers who did the unit AI (different from the script AI) tell me that it is, in fact, incredibly difficult to get units in AoK to react to being under attack when they have a different target picked out. The game simply doesn't allow for it. That's why when YOUR units are marching across the map, they don't react to an attack -- you have to go there and start controlling them. When you're done fighting off the enemy, you'll notice that your units don't start marching again, headed to their former destination. In fact, they've completely forgotten it and you have to re-set the destination. There were major trade-offs with regards to getting the CP to react to such attacks, and we made the choice we made.

Q) You have left unanswered many important questions that I posed to you. I'll never give you another dollar.

A) Gee, perhaps I'm a game designer who has absolutely nothing to do with copy protection in any way? I have absolutely no obligations to answer any questions at all, bub, let alone questions to which I don't know the answers. Take your dollars anywhere you please. You'll never get any of _my_ money either, so there. (Unless you're a government employee, I guess, salaried via my taxes :P )

Q) ES, is there any way of incorporating attack-move into the game? The way I understand the game mechanics, it wouldn't be too difficult programmatically.

A) Actually, as I've said above, apparently the architecture of AoE/AoK's unit AI (not the script AI, but the unit AI) makes it quite difficult to do. This is what the programmers (who ought to know) have told me. And don't call me ES. * scowl *

Q) Sandy needs to go off and decompress for a bit.

A) You're right. Bye all.

Q) Do you ever think of how utterly cruel and pointless life is when you come here and read what "fans" have said about you and the game you put so much effort in to?

A) No.

Q) It´s stupid to have a copy protection on a game like aok the reasons?

A) MS puts the copy protection on. They are the publisher. Not ES.

Q) Does ES have anything against the use of mod-packs in fan created scenarios/campaigns?

A) I doubt it. Doesn't matter, though - MS is the publisher, and in fact owns the "Age of Empire" title. So the question is whether MS opposes modpacks (I have no idea).

Q) i have to ask you to continue your work...mmm lets say until AOE-5

A) Only AoE 5? Jeeze, I was hoping to keep working for at least 40 more years before retirement.

Q) plz tell me something about the demo lotsa ppl living in asia and europe are deprived of AoK

A) Latest demo reports are that it will be out around the end of this month, which implies to me that the actual game will be available sooner than the demo in most places.

Q) is there gonna be a Aok expantion and if there is please like give each civ two UU's thats it

A) There is almost certainly going to be an AoK expansion and why would we give each civ two UUs?

Q) ES is a relatively small company... what kind of game could u make with the full support of microsofts 31.000 programmers? Could u make a game 10 times better than AOK, or is your crew of 20 ppl optimal for a strategy game like this?

A) Think of the best games over the last ten years. How many are made by gigantic companies? Doom? Diablo? SimCity? Almost all highly successful games have been made by middling sized companies with less than 100 employees, often much less.

Q) Warcraft II made in 1995 didn't have this problem. So why should AoK?

A) Because they're different games with different problems? AoK does a lot of things with its unit AI that Warcraft II does not. Warcraft II is an older game - I'm not knocking Blizzard.

Q) What made you guys decide to scrap the boarding ship idea? Is it a possibility that it could make it into an AOK expansion?

A) For a boarding ship to work, it had to "paralyze" the target ship (since obviously if the target ship is running away, how can you board it?). This was really monstrously unfun. Nothing has been officially dismissed from the AoK expansion.

Q) didnt u say some weeks ago the population bonus for goths will be adjusted to the pop limit ? guess u were wrong then ?

A) Yep. We (the designers) had agreed to change it, but then a moderately cogent reason was presented for it to not be changed (basically, because the text was already printed saying a +10 pop cap). If there is an expansion, watch for alterations in the Goth bonus then.

Q) Um, what happens if you ally in a single player random map game asks u for tribute but you don't give it to him. Will he make you enemy or will nothing happen?

A) Nothing will happen. He's your ally. However, he will only ask you for tribute if he really really needs it.

Q) Im just currious, but about how many copies of AOE and ROR did you sell worldwide and how many copies of AOK do you expect to sell?

A) All I'll say is that we held our "million seller" party about a year ago (for AoK only, not RoR), and that MS expects to sell a LOT more of AoK than AoE.

Q) I've played many death match games and find out that AIs (CPs) do not use any siege weapons. Is this another identified bug

A) Yes.

Q) IS THIS TRUE: pierce armor subtracts that amount from the attackers attack but always a minimum of 1 damage gets through. This applies to each attack seperately. So my question is, So why give a ram a pierce armor of 180 ( that's what my manual says). The most damaging units (including upgrades) are ARCHER- castle with 15 att. GUNPOWDER- elite janisarry with 18 att.

SIEGE- trebuchet 200att. if siege is considered to be effected by missle fire then I understand but even then the treb 200att minus ram 180 pierce armor should eual 20 damage but I was getting like 38 damage after like every three hits.

Could you clarify this for me please?

A) Yes, but I won't. It's too long and tedious a technical question for me to answer. Sorry.

Q) when will the promissed Ror patch come out

A) Really incredibly soon.

Q) But in Multi-players game, we always get a sync out error and we all use @home cable modem. Will there be a fix for this prblem soon??

A) I certainly hope so.

Q) Do you take responsibility for the #$%^* fifth Joan of Arc scenario (Siege of Paris), and if so have you ever beaten it on Moderate difficulty?

A) No (Greg Street did it). Yes.

Q) And my spurious patch suggestion is this: Pressing "4" selects all the units in group 4, which is good, but pressing it again (i.e. pressing it when exactly group 4 is already selected) ought to center you on group 4!

A) I totally disagree. When I press 4, I have my screen centered on the place I intend to send them, and I want to click on the screen there, not halfway across the map!

Q) where are u ES_Sandyman?

A) A wise fan suggested I take some time away from the forum and decompress. And I did.

Q) Besides Microsoft's name, what does the partnership bring to ES?

A) Translation of the game into multiple languages, a worldwide distribution network, and the services of MS's playtest team.

Q) I've been wondering something about team bonuses... Are they bonuses for only you when you play in a team? Or are they bonuses that your whole teams gets?

A) The team bonus is a bonus of your civ that you always get. It is special in that if you have allies, they also get your team bonus. Example: Britons always get faster archery ranges. If the Celts are allied to the Britons, they get faster archery ranges, too.