Latest Ask Sandy 2

Article written by Sandy Petersen
Originally published on 09-30-2008 ; updated on 03-13-2017
Tags: General Info, Ask Sandyman, Interviews

Q) What was the use of oak-forest and the forest terrain? Was it originally a different terrain?

A) no it just looks different.

Q) Saracens already have good monks, and with those camels, and it seems like this would just be Saracens with a better economy.

A) I mean tthere would be an actual monk bonus, not monks with lots of research items available. Probably in the end I would realize that Sararcens already got a market bonus and switch the Songhai bonus to something else. Jeeze. There are other civs with camels and they aren’t magically identical to the Saracens. Why do the Songhai need to be?

Q) Why did you take out the dynamic lighting in AoM?

A) probably for performance reasons. That’s why most kewl things get removed from a game before shipping.

Q) Was the character of Arkantos based on anybody in particular?

A) he is completely fictional, sprung, like Athena, from the head of Zeus. Or in this case, Ian Fischer.

Q) Out of all the units that you've added to the Age expansions, have you got a favorite?

A) not really. I had the most fun developing the Aztec units for Warchiefs though just because they are so goofy.

Q) In Age 3, is it immoral and\or bizarre to attack an opponent with an army composed of nothing but Native Scouts?

A) emphatically not

Q) You mentioned that the game industry is full of "surprises". Is there something you could tell us about it that we wouldn't expect?

A) um … how about a corporation closing down a wholly owned company who never sold less than 3 million copies of each game they produced?

Q) What advice would you give to someone wishing to enter the gaming industry?

A)have a back-up plan

Q) Are you aware that learning that there is no Secret Dutch OP Strat is like learning that there is no Santa Claus?

A) there WAS one. It just … doesn’t work anymore. I guess it’s more like learning that there was a Santa, but he died. Sorry …

Q) I believe you mentioned World of Warcraft as a game that you enjoy. If I'm remembering right, what do you find appealing about it?

A) the community and play depth. This might be a bad time to ask me about its virtues though, since I’m going to quit it probably this week. I got fed up, finally.

Q) I recall hearing that you had to crank out your Doom levels on a very tight timetable. Was it as high-pressure as it sounds?

A) SOP for the game industry. Nothing special.

Q) Do you have a favorite Doom \ Doom 2 \ Quake level?

A) my wife’s favorite is Doom 2, Level 16, because it has our house’s layout in it. We were building it at the time and I used the blueprints to model one of the haunted places after it. My own favorite are definitely the Secret Levels. I loved doing those.

Q) Pow is the tricycle baby

A) one of our artists had just had a kid.

Q) What non-RTS games do you like?

A) I like Zelda, katamari damacy, culdcept, weird stuff like that.

Q) Why can't AoE alligators swim?

A) so they won’t sink your boats

Q) During development, how would you go about editing/adding data to the game (such as adding a new unit)? Did you use some form of in-house developed database application?

A) yep

Q) Why did MS object to adding Crazy Horse in AoE3?

A) their official reason was because it might offend Sioux Native Americans who honor Crazy Horse today.

Q) Do you believe you will ever return to FPS games (in terms of designing)?

A) anything is possible. I don’t think I will ever be a level designer again though. The art of level design has far surpassed anything I can do.

Q) Did ES try to license the genie engine to other games (like what was achieved with Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds)?

A) we did not actively pursue it on our own.

Q) What do you think about Valve's Steam application (online game distribution application)? Do you believe that in the near future all PC games will be purchased and distributed online only?

A) I think this is entirely possible.

Q) By looking into the language.dll file for AoE there is an "Republic Age not in use" entry... What was the planned name for the cancelled 5th age in the Conquerors expansion?

A) I think you’ve answered your own question.

Q) Is there any chance we can get the source code of AOE1/2 ? It's been 10 years, and Microsoft has open sourced stuff before. (Don't give a vague reply like ask Microsoft , for our purposes you are Microsoft )

A) Friend I am SO not Microsoft. They’re FIRING me and all of my friends and our dogs and the horses we rode in on, remember?

Q) Songhai: actual monk bonus ... Aztecs have HP, Spanish have the missionary UU with speed, Teutons have more healing range, Byz heals faster.... So, more range? Faster "recharge" rate?

A) The Songhai empire never went any further than a couple of lines in my proposed Age of Africa expansion which never went anywhere. The other African empires I proposed were Ethiopia, Ghana, and the kingdom of Kongo.

Ethiopia would be an infrastructure/defensive civ, with a unique infantryman who did radius damage. They would have some kind of odd monk ability because after all they have the Ark of the Covenant in their nation.

Ghana would be a military-oriented civ. Their unique unit would be their famous female warriors.

Kongo would not have any camels, but would have cavalry. For a unique unit … I dunno. Maybe someone using those bizarre throwing knives?

Q) As for Republic Age, hmm ... what exactly were you guys proposing?

A) the idea of the Republic Age was talked about so briefly that I didn’t even remember its existence till you brought it up here.

Q) Do you watch or did you ever watch Avatar: The Last Airbender or Spongebob Squarepants?

A) those are TV shows right? I know Spongebob is. I don’t watch any TV, unless we count old TV programs on DVD.

Q) Did Ensemble encounter any balance problems after Conquerors patch 1.0c was finished, or problems that ES was aware of that weren't included in patch 1.0c?

A) generally speaking, we try to fix all the problems of which we are aware of. Exceptions exist, such as when we find out about a particular imbalance too late to fix, or if a fix is judged too risky.

Q) What kind of skills did you learn at Ensemble Studios that you think will carry on to whatever gaming studio you work with in the future?

A) I’m kind of an old dog to learn new tricks. I would say that I didn’t learn new skills at ES, but I honed and perfected the skills I already possessed.

Q) When Age of Kings was being developed, did Ensemble start from scratch (engine-wise), or did you guys build on what already existed in Age of Empires?

A) we used the Genie engine, with significant improvements.

Q) When did Ensemble's close relationship with fansites and the fans start (to your knowledge)?

A) it started from the moment AoE went out the door. Heavengames was a big influence, and so was MFO and other fansites. Mike McCart played a huge role in the early fansites and we liked him so much we eventually hired him.

Q) Do you believe that, in the long run, the benefits of working with Microsoft outweigh the negatives? Do you believe Ensemble could've achieved the level of innovation they brought to the table with the whole Age series without Microsoft?

A) the ES relationship with MS on the whole has been a good one. On the other hand, they’re now putting a bullet through our skull, probably BECAUSE of too much innovation … So I have mixed emotions. It’s like a really good marriage that ends with a murder.

Q) When you were a teenager, how did you feel about going to school?

A) I played hooky my share of times, but overall I enjoyed learning. Some classes more than others …

Q) who came up with boar luring? players after the game was out or was it planned by ES?

A) we wanted the hunting to be like a little mini-game, just as it was in Age 1. We didn’t necessarily plan for it to become as big a core part of gameplay as it did, but certainly that was cool.

Q) what was thought of the outcome of Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds? How did you regard a game that was done with your engine but was not yours?

A) we were excited to see it done, and helped them evaluate their gameplay and wished them the best of luck. We felt honored and flattered.

Q) Could you tell us something about "Music from the Ages" and "More music from the Ages"? Where I can buy it?

A) they’re just collections of songs from the Age games, put together by our sound crew. Your chance of figuring out where they are sold is as good as mine. E-bay?

Q) Why did you put lots of unused graphics in AoK's drs files and so many hidden units?

A) it’s more a case of us NOT taking OUT old graphics, rather than us putting them in. They are leftovers, placeholder art, old versions, and so forth.

Q) Why did you left the idea, that villagers in AoK attacks with hammers, axes, spears, etc

A) I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but are you saying that we should have had a greater variety of weapons for villagers? In the end we decided that villagers fighting was unimportant enough that time spent on those extra animations would not be worth it.

Q) What were the Trade workshops, Tall walls and Ports going to be used for?

A) Trade Workshops were places where you could garrison your villagers and they would produce gold, or stone, or wood. That way you’d never run out of resources. They would produce more slowly than normal gathering though. We decided that they were dumb, because a player who didn’t use trade workshops would almost always defeat one who did. Instead we decided players could use their market & trade carts to survive a resource-poor game. I don’t remember exactly what the Tall Walls were for – they might have been a scenario-specific thing. Ports were for us to use to build military ships, while docks were for civilian ships.

Q) Why the Halabardier was hidden in AoK?

A) he was hidden? We added him in the Conquerors.

Q) What were the "raider civilizations"?

A) an early idea for the Conquerors was to add new barbarian civs that wouldn’t have a normal TC or villagers. They would gather resources by conquest.

Q) If AoE4 had hypothetically been set in the World War 2 age (a relatively compressed period of time compared to the typical AoE game), would it have been possible to preserve that traditional AoE "feel" of building something out of practically nothing?

A) here was my idea, obviously having a TC and a few settlers is a non-starter in the WW2 period. But building up is fun. So my suggestion was to take the Age 3 Home City concept and greatly enhance it. In other words, ALL your economy would be in the Home City. On the main map screen, you would start with only a few scout units. As they achieved successes, or captured strategic areas (like hill tops or towns), your homeland would be able to ship you more and more stuff. I also felt that we needed to be able to attack the enemy homeland at least indirectly. Like with bombers or submarines.

Q) Did the idea of having AoE5 in the future (as shown in the "illustrated timeline") appeal to you?

A) I’ve always liked science fiction. And it WOULD let us re-visit the concept of a town center with a few resource gatherers – i.e., colonizing an alien planet.

Q) When you were looking at balance, did the team ever have discussions about collating some "deeper" statistics from the ESO game data to use in shaping game balance?

A) we did that all the time. We were constantly reviewing such stats. Plus watching the forums, and seeing what people talked about.

Q) Was there anyone outside of the balance team that could even remotely "hang with them" in terms of playing skill level?

A) two people (both, I am proud to say, designers) were able to play against them on a semi-fair basis. Jeff Brown and Vance Hampton. Eventually Jeff Brown’s skillz were surpassed and he was dropped off the team, so to speak. Vance retained an ability to play with them till the end, though I do admit he lost more games than he won. At least he won SOME games, which I would never be able to do. Also Justin Rouse, who started as a balance guy and then became a designer lost his skillz and could no longer put up a fight.

Q) Did you ever secretly play a QuickSearch game on ESO? If so, how did it go? You're that guy that rushed me with his Sioux Warchief and a couple polar bears to knock down my house in Discovery Age, aren't you?

A) I never manage to get beyond the discovery age, so yeah it might have been me.

Q) Has there been any talk of other, smaller startup game studios spinning off of ES

A) if there had been such talk, it would be premature to talk about it in a public forum. I will say, though, that there is enough talent in the corpse of ES to create 3-4 smaller game studios.

Q) Are there any features in AoE 3 that you wish could have been made stronger \ more prominent in the game?

A) Revolution & cavalry pathing.

Q) Why hide the "hidden" units? Why not just make them buildable in the editor like the Tradeworkshop

A) it all depends on whether the art department felt the art was polished enough to be revealed to the players.

Q) You mentioned the tradeworkshop would be an unlimited resource-source which you could assign a villager to. Wouldn't this be the same as the plantation and bank in AOE3?

A) the plantation, maybe. Not the bank or the factory. It wasn’t a resource trickle – you actually had to assign villies to work at it.

Q) For me, the best thing about AoE3 was the campaign

A) well thank you.

Q) If this level of storyline detail was added to a remake of AoE or AoK (i.e using same engine as AoE3 but revisit AoE/AoK timeline) then the AoE series would reach a completely new level

A) yeah I guess it would.

Q) In the conquerors in the battle of Lepanto campaign you can listen to very cool middle eastern music. Any chance of getting that song anywhere?

A) it might be on the Music of the Ages CD.

Q) What were Relic Carts going to be used for?

A) very briefly we were going to have relics move on their own like in Age 1.

Q) During AoK's development, did you guys consider involving Hero units in basic combat? (i.e. letting you purchase a single hero, similar to AoM)

A) nope

Q) What kinds of ideas left over from Age of King's development made it into future Age games?

A) well the Trade Workshop, for one.

Q) How long after the development of AoK did the concept of Age of Mythology (RTS III) start being considered?

A) we started on it shortly after AoK was finished. While I was doing The Conquerors, AoM was underway.

Q) What kinds of questions did Ensemble ask itself when thinking of ideas for a new game?

A) Does this game violate the Age of Empires spirit? Given that every new stage in a game adds complexities, where can we simplify things to ease the player’s lot? What engine should we use? Should the campaign be historical or invented?

Q) What were some of the projects ES had worked on in the past, but were never completed?

A) a fantasy RTS, based on the Genie engine. At least two RPGS, an action-adventure game. And so on. Two of the games were very Diablo-like.

Q) Why weren't those projects completed?

A) “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy. In other words, every canceled project was canceled for its own, separate reasons.

Q) Did you, or anybody that you know on the Ensemble team, get in trouble from Microsoft for revealing too much information to the public?

A) sometimes I did, yes. Not usually from Microsoft, but from other Ensemble employees, usually those responsible for marketing or consumer relations.

Q) What in the game surprised you the most - post-release?

A) the innovations in fan-constructed scenarios.

Q) What do you think of Empire Earth - and why didnt it go as far (in sales/popularity/etc) as AOK?

A) I think it tried to cover too much ground, both in historical scope and design. Create your own civs AND combat from stone age to the future. That’s a really big sandwich. Sometimes it’s better to narrow your focus.

Q) What did you find most unpleasant about game design?

A) getting a game canceled I’’ve spent months of my life developing.

Q) What qualifications did ES look for the most when it recruited people?

A) skill, affability, and enthusiasm

Q) Do you think that anyone could become an expert in AoK, if they put enough time in playing the game? Or do you think that some people just naturally have more "talent" for RTS than others?

A) our best game testers all have reflexes like bats. So there is a physical element.

Q) Do you think that games like Age of Empires II could eventually become just as timeless as, say, chess?

A) it seems unlikely for the foreseeable future, since new games keep replacing old ones.

Q) Do you think that later games are much improved over earlier ones?

A) sometimes, yes. Though IMO Earthbound has never been surpassed as an RPG.

Q) What do you think of the programming language used in AoK?

A) I don’t program.

Q) What do you think of the Command and Conquer series?

A) it was a fine series. We played it here at ES and wished them success. ES was almost completely devoid of jealousy towards other companies.

Q) Regarding AoK, were you happy with the final product when it shipped, or did you still want more time?

A) can’t both be true?

Q) Why was the idea of units having more than one mode of attack abandoned?

A) because it added a lot of complexity for only a little extra fun.

Q) Why was there no RPG scenario in the ES campaigns? Only joan of arc was there. but that wasn't much of a true RPG Style where you speak to every ally in-game

A) You think an RPG is where you “speak to every ally in-game”? That’s the aspect of RPGs that I hate the most! Anyway, it has been reported that AoK was in fact not an RPG.

Q) Obama or McCain?

A) I think a lot of ES-ers are going for Obama but I am probably going to vote for McCain, myself.

Q) Did you get rich by your career at ES?

A) I wish

Q) What is the story behind "The naked man"

A) there is a guy at ES. Sometimes, when he gets drunk, he does things that the rest of us here at ES regret. Let’s just say that that particular easter egg commemorates one of his exploits.

Q) What were the intentions for the unit which looks like a trebuchet packed, Has the icon of a town center and upon death leaves rubble?

A) if its initials are PT-something then it was probably built to test some aspect of the game and then just left in when we finished testing.

Q) What made you decide to add triggers to the editor for AOK?

A) it let us have way more powerful scenarios.

Q) Were the editors we see exactly what was used to make campaigns, or did staff have ones with special features?

A) we didn’t have a special editor. However, we WERE able to go directly to the programmers and artists and ask for special hard-coded stuff.

Q) What kind of design documentation did you produce (as a designer)?

A) my tendency is to produce a document that emphasizes parts of the game that are not yet designed, so that we can use it as a reference if I’m hit by a truck or something.

Q) Did you consider adding slaves to AoE3?

A) only as research items. I believe there is an indentured servant upgrade.