Latest Ask Sandy

Article written by Sandy Petersen
Originally published on 09-18-2008 ; updated on 03-13-2017
Tags: General Info, Ask Sandyman, Interviews

Q) What new developing company will you ES guys make?

A) not all of us will be going to the new company. I think it only has about 30 guys out of almost 120. For example, I am not going to the new company. This is pretty much the end of Ensemble Studios – we are going to be spread far and wide around the country.

Q) Will you get a new publisher besides Microsoft?

A) I believe the new company does have a contract with Microsoft, but I am not really privy to their business plan.

Q) In retrospect, what part of working at ES did you enjoy the most?

A) my co-workers

Q) Of the people who worked at ES, who won most of the games during playtesting?

A) the playtest team. They are crack guys after all.

Q) What ES game do/did you enjoy playing the most?

A) actually I liked Age 3 the best.

Q) What are some of your favourite games?

A) traditional - contract bridge; board – Agricola; roleplaying – call of cthulhu; computer – world of warcraft

Q) What kind of music do you listen to?

A) an eclectic mix. People like Warren Zevon and Tom Waites.

Q) What inspired you to do what you do for a living?

A) I backed into it by accident. It was never part of the plan.

Q) Do you still play Age of Kings/The Conquerors? If so, how often?

A) not really. After all I finished working on it almost a decade ago. I’m thrilled that players still enjoy it though.

Q) Which civilization is your favourite? (As a player, not a game designer )

A) I can’t separate the “player” from the “designer” in me. I like the Aztecs and Mayans best because their units look cool.

Q) What's your favourite unit in AoK?

A) the king

Q) What part of AoK did you enjoy designing the most?

A) the most fun part for me was being lead designer on The Conquerors, and making up the new civs.

Q) Which building looked the best in-game?

A) I always got a kick out of the Hun wonder – that big ol’ ruin.

Q) Would you consider playing some games of AoK with members of AoKH?

A) You guys would spank me hard on my best day, I fear.

Q) What is your stance regarding the e patch?

A) I think Microsoft should gladly invest several million dollars into it. Money well spent.

Q) Has your perception of the PC gaming industry changed in these last 8 years? Do you have any predictions on what the gaming industry will be like in 10 more years?

A) I still hold to my beliefs that PC gaming will eventually be completely replaced by consoles. Once console games look as good as PC and are as easy to play online, the writing’s on the wall.

Q) Do you believe that RTS games will move over to consoles?

A) let me know if you agree with me once you’v eplayed Halo Wars.

Q) Regarding the fall of the MS Gaming Zone; prior to the recommendation of GameSpy Arcade, did ES consider creating an in-house multiplayer replacement for AoE/AoK?

A) wow that is a long time ago. I think we did consider it briefly.

Q) Will post-game multiplayer support continue for ESO and ESO2?

A) I’m sure Microsoft will set something up.

Q) Communities like Age of Kings Heaven, which is eight years old now, have continued to exist due to player modding and scenario design; we continue to get new players every day. What's your take on these kinds of communities?

A) I am honored and proud that ANY of my games would ever be featured in such a community. I think it’s terrific.

Q) Does it ever frustrate you, as a game designer, when players don't move on to your next title?

A) well obviously I want all my games to sell a billion copies, but in fact I am secretly flattered when players keep playing an old game instead of dropping it when the next shiny thing comes over the horizon.

Q) Looking back at the development of AoK, is there anything you wished you guys would've done differently (maybe things you weren't allowed to do by MS, or didn't have the time/funding for)?

A) I wish we had worked harder on making deathmatch fun and fair.

Q) What is the meaning of life?

A) Mankind is that we might have joy.

Q) Has ES ever considered bundling custom AoK content such as the stuff hosted here at the blacksmith in a AoK special edition?

A) I don’t think so. In common with most game studios we only looked to the future.

Q) What do you see for the future of the Age series?

A) I’m sure Microsoft will want to keep the series going.

Q) How'd you come up with the Rocket jump on Mt. Erebus?

A) actually, John Carmack suggested it to me.

Q) if it were up to you, would you rather have your fans support your old games with the vigor they've so far displayed, or move on to your newer titles?

A) players are welcome to keep playing the old games as long as they mail me the money they would have spent on the new ones.

Q) With Ensemble closing down, is there any possibility (however slim) of some or all of the source-code for your older games being released, so that the folks like us who still love and play them can continue to improve them?

A) the source-code is owned by Microsoft Corporation. Ask them.

Q) What period of history do your personally find most interesting?

A) I probably own more books about WW2 than any other period of time. Does that mean I like it best?

Q) Do you ever feel like you missed an opportunity with including/excluding certain civilisations (hence expansion packs) but couldn't include the civilisations you wanted to include/exclude?

A) I stand by the civilization choices I made in the expansion packs, and the choices I helped influence in the main games. But I wish we could have had more civs. Sadly, the pressures of art and playtest time mean that each new civ we add was a massive load on the studio, so at some point we have to stop.

Q) How have ES game testers evolved as the games have evolved? Are they more professional players now in light of cherry-picking select parts of the game playing community or do professional gamers (example Korean gamers) continue to dominate during early games?

A) I think our professional playing team can stand up to most of the pros out there.

Q) Why does the A.I. always delete partly built buildings if the builder is attacked (losing up to 649 stone for no reason) and why does the A.I. always send all its villagers to try to take down an enemy tower (which unneccesarily disrupts the economy)? In Rise of Rome the AI didn't make those mistakes!

A) sorry. The first was an attempt to keep the AI from just sending villagers one at a time to an unfinished foundation while you picked them off. The second was an attempt to keep a nearby tower from disrupting villager production, because the AI was not able to react to a tower by simply shifting its desired woodcutting area. Both were instituted by me to try to work around the AI’s limitations.

Q) Will Ensemble Studios ever tell us the secret of increasing the number of civs in the game, enabling us to add our own ones (like Bosnians, Macedons, Atlanteans, Vietnamese etc.) without having to discard (read: edit) existing ones?

A) it was not very easy to increase the number of civs – it’s all hard-coded. There isn’t just like a number you type in somewhere that boosts the civ total.

Q) Will there ever be any more updates, like patches, etc. to Age 1?

A) it seems highly unlikely that anyone will patch an 11 year old game.

Q) Future plans? A new company? Same genre?

A) I am open to any opportunities that present themselves, in common with everyone else at ES that I’ve spoken with on the subject.

Q) Did you - the team - ever consider expanding AoK even further, like a second expansion broadening into say Indian history, the Hanseatic league etc?

A) yes, we talked about it hard and heavy. I proposed doing a renaissance-era expansion, adding stuff like musket-and-pike and some African empires.

Q) Looking at the in game campaigns, AoE3 covers very little of European history while the earlier games covered bigger parts of the world. Still there were many big conflicts in Europe during the time period, like the 30 years war, Great Northern War, War of the Spanish Succesion etc. Were there ever any plans on portraying Europe in the game as well?

A) while lots of cool stuff happened in Europe, it seemed not to fit the basic theme of Age 3. It makes no sense for you to start with a few villagers and a town center in, say Germany. And then we’d have to leave out stuff like the natives and (probably) the trading posts and it’s not clear what we’d add to replace them.

Q) How come the editor, amongst other things, is built up entirely differently in AoE3 compared to AoK?

A) 3d =/= 2d

Q) Just wanted to let you know how much we appreciated being able to interact with the game developers in a meaningful(and of course often not-so-meaningful) way.

A) well thank you sir.

Q) And for a question - what in particular have you been working on for ES lately?

A) I, with everyone else still at ES, are on Halo Wars.

Q) Was this the "grand plan" for the age of empires serious?

A) yep. Not saying we might not have changed the plan years down the line, of course.

Q) Why do bird units in the age games explode upon death?

A) because it amused us.

Q) Have you ever designed a scenario?

A) With reference to the Age series: Yes, in the sense that I planned them out, laid out sketch maps, figured victory conditions etc. No, in the sense that I did not actually construct them first to last using the scenario editor.

Q) What's going to happen to Age of Mythology on DS?

A) dunno. That was a totally separate deal from ES and I assume that Microsoft Corporation has the same motivation as before to pursue it.

Q) will there be any ES-style RTS in the future?

A) I imagine the new company will still do ES type RTS work. Plus as the rest of ES’s employees get seeded around the game industry we may influence how other companies do things.

Q) Why does the AoE 1.0c patch make savegames crash when missles are onscreen?

A) this may come as a shock to you, but there is no “why” to bugs. They just are.

Q) Were there ever any plans for an AoM2? And if so, what ideas did you have for it

A) there were plans for it, based on how well it did. Sumerian was at least briefly talked about. I plugged Celtic and Aztec pretty hard. Probably it would have had to include the old standbys of Norse, Greek, and Egyptian no matter what.

Q) Is there ever any hope for adding new triggers to the game?

A) the Age of Empire series will still be getting support of some sort though the precise details are currently foggy.

Q) What does the future of AoE3 look like?

A) I am sure Microsoft will do all it can to ensure its continued prosperity.

Q) don't you think it would be a waste to see all that hard work on the game, textures, models, and all to go to waste?

A) yep. But the art and such are, I believe, the property of Microsoft Corporation. Requests for its release need to be directed to Redmond.

Q) Where do you stand on the whole mods versus vanilla gaming issue?

A) in a sense, the “vanilla” version of the various AoE games are MY mods. Or at least the mods developed by my co-workers and myself. So I obviously prefer them.

Q) Do you find answering these questions pleasing, or rather as your duty to do so?

A) I find answering these kind of bittersweet, actually. I do not regard it as my duty, except insofar as I consider the Age community (by and large) my friends.

Q) Is the new office that ES is moving too the location for the new company, and infact never been intended for ES, or was the decision to close down ES sprung on you.

A) the new office is not being funded by MS. The new company that some of the old ES employees are starting up will not be located in that office – or at least if they are, it will be a big surprise to me. The MS decision to close ES was a big shock to most of us here.

Q) Will ES release a patch for the AOE3 TAD between now and the time ES closes after the launch of Halo Wars?

A) the office is being kept open for a few weeks after Halo Wars exclusively for ES employees to use as a base while seeking new employment. I seriously doubt we are going to work on a patch during that time frame.

Q) I also want to know the Secret OP Dutch Strategy!

A) okay I’ll tell the truth. The original OP Dutch strategy was based on some features of the game which were modified before release, so the strategy didn’t really work any more once the game was out. It persisted as a joke on my part, to tease players with. I guess I’m a black-hearted scoundrel. Sorry folks.

Q) I do want to say that, many years ago, I used to frequently visit the Ask Sandy thread and check them for new replies every time I could. I find I am doing exactly the same thing now, and that's testament to ES's excellent games and employees!

A) thanks. I am genuinely touched. I will say that I hope to be able to open up an Ask Sandy thread in whatever forums support whatever company I end up at.

Q) Favorite memory from working at ES –

A) I have 11 years of memories. Tony Goodman’s wedding, the E3 at which we won best graphics (for an RTS! Yay!); the old Ask Sandy threads (I loved those as much as you); nooner game sessions with Sluss, Pete, and Vacne; the debates with Johnny Depig; going to Germany with Vance Hampton; and tons more.

Q) Favorite employee

A) I count these people among my best friends. I cannot pick one to be a favorite.

Q) Most Stressful time?

A) learning that ES was to be no more.

Q) Do you feel very upset about ES closing or are looking forward to change?

A) I think MS is making a mistake.

Q) I thank you for the AoE series.

A) thanks for playing it.

Q) do you think Halo Wars was a directional mistake for ES? In other words, is there any connection with the decision to make a game like that with the disbanding of ES?

A) Halo Wars is probably what’s forcing MS to keep the company alive for these last few months, so …

Q) How many genuine "Ask Sandy"s are there, and where are they located?

A) as far as I know all the Ask Sandy’s were genuine. Did someone fake them?

Q) What were the "Infiltrator" or "Genitour" units going to be used for?

A) the Infiltrator was a unit that appeared to be in your opponent’s color, so he would not know it was secretly yours. He COULD task units to attack it though, if he figured it out (which he could do by trying to give it a command – it would not obey his commands, only yours).

The Genitour was a javelin-armed cavalry unit, used by the Spanish to fight the Moorish cavalry archers. So it was an anti-cav-archer unit.

Q) Was there any historical truth behind the Guy Josselyne character?

A) the Josselynes were a minor familiy of French aristocrats who incidentally happen to be among my ancestors. So I put one of them in the game.

Q) What was your favorite part of working on legendary games like Doom and Quake?

A) taking the pre-release version of Doom back to MicroProse Labs to show to my old co-workers and see them writhe in frustration.

Q) Wich Age of Empires game do you enjoy the most?

A) actually I liked Age 3.

Q) Were the ES members confident that Huns would be balanced even after giving a bonus "No need of Houses but start with -100 wood"?

A) we were not necessarily confident that Huns would be balanced out of the box (though we had hopes) but we were certain they could be balanced in the long run.

Q) Which according to you was the change that was the 'best balance change' when the Conquerors expansion was made after original AoK?

A) taking out the Teuton Death Stars

Q) Which scenario/campaign of ES was the most effort spent by the members?

A) the Age 3 campaign

Q) Do you think maybe you overkilled a bit with the nerf to the Chinese from prepatch AoK?

A) that’s the ES way. Make a civ too strong. Then overnerf it. Then keep bouncing back and forth, each time getting closer to the correct solution. It’s like bracketing a target with your shots as you zero in.

Q) Was the original plan to announce the Expansion pack at the time that it was announced, or were you hoping to announce it later and decided to do it earlier because of my slick sleuthing? Or was this post never discussed at ES ever?

A) I remember it being discussed … it could well be because the cat was out of the bag. I can’t say for sure. I’ve always been on the side of “announce things earlier”, which I admit annoys some marketing personnel, so I didn’t worry much about it .

Q) So, is there any way to convince you to tell us the way to add civs?

A) here is how I added civs to the game in “The Conquerors”. I went to Tim Deen and said, “We need 5 more civs in the game. Add them.” Then I went into the database and created all the units, civ bonuses, buildings, and research items the new civs would need. Does that help?

Q) I just want to say you and Ensemble Studios changed my life and my perspective on games and history.

A) well thank you.

Q) I disagree on the concept of consoles superseding the PC, I don't see it happening because a PC can be tampered with, and the market is seeing a shit towards lower development costs in PC development with new online vendors available

A) you may be right. However, consoles are also getting easier to develop, and soon they will be as “online” as PCs. Please uinderstand I’m not saying that consoles will replace PCs in a matter of months – I think it will take years.

Q) Are jaguars coded to attack Jaguar Warriors first if a group of different soldiers attack it at the same time?

A) … maybe …

Q) Will you promise to let us know where you get your new job?

A) sure

Q) Can you give us any light at all as to why MS is closing ES?

A) It makes no sense to me. I assume that someone has a spreadsheet somewhere that purports to demonstrate that the money invested in ES would be better spent elsewhere.

Q) What civilization took more time to design?

A) the Age 3 civilizations took longer to design than any other civilizations we had done.

Q) I think I heard that the chat "Roggan" unlocks a secret tech. Is this true?

A) I never give away cheats or easter eggs.

Q) Could we at least get images of all the beta objects(Behind that white background)?

A) all assets of the Age of Empire series are owned by Microsoft Corporation. Requests for release need to be directed to Redmond.

Q) which former ES members are starting the new company? where are milo and wacko going?

A)I’m sure there will be an announcement and probably a website for the new company at some point. You should probably ask Milo and Wacko directly about their plans.

Q) Did you ever get in trouble (whether from AoKH/ES/MS staff or fans) for your "sardonic" posting style in the old Ask Sandy threads?

A) some fans didn’t like it I guess. But I long ago decided that if the thread was titled “Ask Sandy” then by gum I should be the one determining the tone.

Q) What eventually caused you to drift away from the Ask Sandy threads back in the day?

A) I always drifted away when I was assigned to new projects. The new project consumed my attention and most of the questions on the old projects had, frankly, been answered. Rather than rehash those questions again, I moved on. Then when my new project would get published, it was back to Ask Sandy again. It was a vicious cycle of sorts.

Q) Was there ever an RTS company that Ensemble or MS considered a main competitor to the Age series?

A) Ensemble felt that other quality RTS companies were peers, not competitors. We respected Westwood and Blizzard and others, and played their games.

Q) Whenever you design a game, such as Doom or even Age of Empires, is in-studio competition ever a factor that keeps you motivated?

A) Not at Ensemble Studios. We worked very closely as a team, and our style was such that we tried to improve each others levels, not outdo them. Maybe a little bit at id Software, though.

Q) Have you ever played the latest games in the Grand Theft Auto series?

A) nope

Q) Have there been any games released recently that you found especially innovative or progressive?

A) the last games that deeply impressed me with their innovation were Shadow of the Colossus, Katamari Damacy, and Chibi-Robo. And those are getting kind of old.

Q) What did you think of the Doom soundtrack when you first heard it?

A) I liked it from the start.

Q) Do you think Trent Reznor's music (if you've listened to it lately) has evolved since his work on Quake?

A) I have never been a big fan of Trent Reznor. Juvenile angst always strikes me as puerile.

Q) What did you think about the Doom movie?

A) I was too bitter to see it in the theater. My son saw it and reported that it was not that great so I have not rented it either.

Q) With all this Halo Wars development, have you or your teammates given Halo 3 a try? If so, could I (privately) get some ES members' gamer tags?

A) Extensively. No.

Q) Do you know of any game studios in the Chicago-land area that an up and comming developer could get an internship with?

A) go to gamedevmap.com. Use it.

Q) What's your favorite baseball team? If not the Cubs or Sox, which of those two would you prefer?

A) either the Dodgers or the Orioles. I do have a soft spot in my head for the Cubs, though.

Q) What do you think about AoKH's new homepage look?

A) it seems functional, which is all I really ask out of a homepage.

Q) Going back to Halo, since you have Bungie connections now, do you think you could put in a good word for me in getting some Recon Armor?

A)consider it done.

Q) Why weren't the Sea Walls/Gates utilized in the regular gameplay or editor of AoK?

A) because playtest showed that they totally ruined the naval game. No one used them to guard their own fishing boats – everyone walled in the enemy player’s docks so they couldn’t fish. What a pain.

Q) Was there a reason why the "Erase Buildings: Paliside end wall to leave no end wall" bug was fixed for the 1.0c patch?

A) don’t you think this is kind of an obscure question?

Q) What was the moment in your life that got you genuinely interested in history, and how old were you when it occurred?

A) It was when I found an old copy of the board game Gettysburg (without rules, only counters and board) at the age of 8. I pored over those counters trying to figure them out, asking my dad who the people on the counters were, like “Meade”, “Hooker”, or “Longstreet”. That was probably the triggering event. But if I had never encountered the Gettysburg game, I expect I would have eventually blundered into history anyway.

Q) How do you feel as being one of the creators of possibly the best selling RTS series ever?

A) well first to clarify, I had nothing to do with the original Age of Empires. So in that sense I stood on the shoulders of others. I WAS lead designer on Rise of Rome, The Conquerors, and The Warchiefs, though – I guess I was the “expansion guy”. I also worked on Age of Kings & Age III as part of the design team, though not the lead.

Anyway, to answer the question there are really two ways I can go with that. Either I can bask in the glow of my brilliance, or I can be humbled by how much the fans liked my work. I think it is healthier for me to be humbled, so I strive for that feeling as much as possible. Sometimes I still gloat a little, though.

Q) we would need the knowledge of modifying the drop-down menu (to add new civs) but how are we supposed to do that?

A) you would probably have to ask somebody who knows how to program. I.e., not me.

Q) were you ever friends with the guys from Blizzard and Westwood?

A) I know guys who came from Blizzard and Westwood. I still regard Greg Street as a friend, who went to Blizzard from ES. Those studios were hundreds of miles from ES, so it would be hard to maintain any kind of friendship other than “Hey nice seeing ya” at conventions and stuff.

Q) What's your favorite type of fan creations (i.e. toons, scenarios, articles, etc)?

A) “how-to” articles and humor

Q) Is there any single aspect of Age of Empires II that you're particularly proud of?

A) I thought the addition of unique units was a brilliant step in the right direction.

Q) Was Age of Mythology going to be a part of the Age of Empires franchise?

A) from the start, it was intended to be a completely new franchise. Informed by, but independent of, Age of Empires.

Q) Do you believe your future is in the development of new Real Time Strategy games?

A) I really don’t know. I must say though that judging from the companies I’ve talked to so far, RTS doesn’t seem to be in the cards in the immediate future.

Q) During your long career as a game designer, was there ever a gameplay idea that you hated or thought was stupid, but was added to a game anyway?

A) Many many times. I’ll give one stellar example.

In The Conquerors, just a couple of months before its release, MS called us and said they wanted us to add a Korean civ to the game. My argument was this: “The expansion is titled “The Conquerors. The Spanish, Huns, and Aztecs were actual conquerors. The Mayans weren’t so much, but the Aztecs need someone to fight, and we have the art set already available for their buildings. Koreans don’t seem to fit the theme. If you want me to add another civ, how about at least a conquest-oriented one like the Magyars or Khmer?”

Microsoft’s response was “Starcraft sold a million billion copies in Korea. We need to have the Korean civ so we can compete.”

My response: “There’s a Korean civ in Starcraft? Is that why they sold so well?”

But it didn’t matter. The Koreans had to go in. So was I right or wrong? I will say that I think the Koreans are kind of a cool civ – I think we did a good job with them. On the other hand, having Koreans in the game didn’t really boost our Korean sales that much (as I’d predicted). And we could have had some other, possibly more interesting civ. (KHMERS!!) instead.

Q) When beating a co-worker after a tough game, would you say it's more likely for you to a) do a victory dance, b) gloat, or c) give them a handshake and say good game?

A) I cackle with glee, make snide comments about their mom, and bring it up the next day at lunch. On-line, however, I am always totally polite.

Q) What was the most boring hour you ever spent in the Ensemble Studios offices?

A) it was like 3 hours long, but it was the Geo-Poly meeting MS held to make sure that we didn’t offend any native Americans on the Warchiefs expansion pack.

Q) I think he's saying that he doesn't know how to code new civs into the game.

A) of course I know how to code new civs into the game. I walk over to Angelo’s office, and say, “Hey, Angelo. We need to add Khmers and Magyars to the campaign menu.” Then Angelo does it. If I’m on the project with him.

Q) Could you tell us more about how ES created cheat codes?

A) someone thinks up something funny – a designer, programmer, or artist. Usually artists add a cheat unit, programmers make a weird global alteration (like everyone is a goat), and designers are wild cards – anything goes. Then we get a friendly programmer to add them into the game. Then someone e-mails the company listing the cheats, and asking for other cool ideas. Then a producer points out that 1-2 of the ideas will get us sued (not because they’re naughty, usually, but because they violate someone else’s IP) and we take those out.

We like ideas that hearken back to old products (wo-lo-loooo) or in-jokes. There are a lot of in-jokes. But hey, if we can’t be amused by our OWN cheat codes, why do them?

Q) Favorite book/author?

A) Book of Mormon. By a guy called Mormon, oddly enough.

Q) Many people on this website dream about having your job. Were there any days in which employees would come in and say, "I gotta play this game AGAIN!?!?!" ? Or was is always a fun experience?

A) We pretty much always liked playing the game. However I will say that it is a misconception that we spend all our time playing games. We do not. In fact most of us play the current game only once a week or so. I hardly ever got to play – I had to run the playtests and take notes.

Q) It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there is a very good chance that SC2 could change the current RTS world. How do you think it will effect the cuurent Age community?

A) if it’s a better game than Age, I expect the community to move over there. I have no jealousy of SC2.

Q) In the short long run ( i.e 4-5 years), how do you think the Age community will fare since ES will be gone?

A) unless the new company or MS sets up a terrific support system, I think the Age community will wither away.

Q) Are there any plans whatsoever that you know of to continues the 'Age' franchise in one form or another by any company?

A) Microsoft Corporation still owns the Age franchise. I am sure they will continue to milk that cash cow in some form. I have hopes that the new company, which is AFAIK composed entirely of ex-ES employees, will have something to do with it, in which case it ought to be a terrific game.

Q) What is your favorite gaming/review website?

A) I guess I go to gamespot most often, but that’s probably because it’s the first website that pops up when I google a game. I’m not loyal to them or anything.

Q) What is your favorite Age of Empires website?

A) whichever one is currently hosting my Ask Sandy thread.

Q) Why was there never a save game feature in AOE3 multiplayer?

A) the lead programmers said it was hard to do, and I would have had to give up features I lusted after in exchange for it.

Q) In the beginning, did you find ES, or did they find you? Was it an easy job to get, or a difficult one? Were there any other studios that you were looking at?

A) I was planning to leave id Software, and at GDC spoke with Bruce Shelly, an old pal of mine from MicroProse. He said that ES was looking for designers, and were actually in Dallas, so I applied, liked what I saw, and somehow managed to convince Tony Goodman I’d be a fit. I looked at other places, but ES was my first choice.

Q) Thank you for creating a tremendous UI/ Menu system in the age series.

A) it’s the kind of thing that often goes unnoticed by players. I mean, they notice a bad UI, but a good UI is just taken for granted. So thanks for paying attention.

Q) I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your work and I'm sure you'll do well with whatever projects you end up in.

A) well thank you. I appreciate it.

Q) What do you think has made the "Age of" series so successful?

A) three things:

First, the inviting, attractive environment. So many RTS games are set in dystopian hell-holes. The Age universe looks like it would be a pleasant place to live in. At least until a bunch of hussars come and wipe out your village.

Second, the expanded economy. Blizzard, Westwood, and many other RTS games have very simple economies. While nothing is wrong with that, clearly some people like to mess with the economy, not just the tactics. The Age series lets you do that.

Third, the historical ties. To me at least, there is something just “cool” about fighting hussars or Mongols that is not there when fighting imaginary stuff like Night Elves or Tesla Coils.

Q) Were you involved with ES' Halo MMO?

A) If ES had worked on an MMO, which I’m not admitting, I would have been on it.

Q) What is the story behind furious the monkey boy?

A) one of the artists named his kid Furious. “monkey boy” is a common moniker here at ES. Particularly used by Dave Lewis.

Q) And the cobra?

A) one of the artists really likes cool cars.

Q) How can I contact "Redmond"?

A) Microsoft Corporation has a billion websites. I’m sure one or more of them will do the trick.

Q) Why don't the Arabian and Far Eastern monks differ from the European monks?

A) we didn’t think that art time spent on their monks was as effective as other things. It’s all a judgment call.

Q) How did you get such monstrously good background music?

A) our composers were really good, and they actually hired a real live orchestra to play the music for us. We had a large and effective music team.

Q) How do you get time to answer that much questions, and actually visit one particular fansite of only one of your games?

A) well it’s easier if I just visit one fansite. This is the fansite which invited me for a final Ask Sandy thread so here I came. I don’t take that long to answer questions – I type fast.

Q) Why did you add cheats to the game?

A) for amusement purposes only.

Q) Why did you not include more terrains and map-design options

A) we were designing a game, not a game-making tool.

Q) How much (please calculate it to euros [or New Israeli Shekels ;p], im no dollar expert at all, dont know the currency) did Age of Kings and The Conquerors cost at the week of their release?

A) they were $55 and $30 and you can do the conversion yourself, big guy.

Q) Do you realize you are one of the founders of a totally no-life gaming development chain reactions?

A) it’s not the first time I’ve been there. I helped a bit on the original Civilization, and I was on the Doom team too you know.

Q) If you had made a patch after 1.0c wich part of the gameplay had you adjusted/slighty modified?

A) I would have changed the game such that the forum member named DuckOfNormandy would have been totally happy and pleased in every detail.

Q) Do you ever use the "I chief designed the expansion packs to some of the best selling computer games ever" trick to pick up people in a bar?

A) um … I guess the best way to answer that is just to say that I don’t drink.

Q) Did your family support your projects and do/did they play any of the games you helped create?

A) You mean my wife and kids? Yeah they wanted me to keep earning enough salary to pay for their cheetos and dr pepper. And some of the kids did play the games – one quite extensively.

Q) Would you rather create an AOM2 or AOE4 if you could?

A) depends on the topic of Age 4. There is a lot of difference between revisiting the stone age and going on to WW2.

Q) you also helped design Civilization? How was it working on that?

A) I was not a designer on Civilization. My participation there was mostly testing and balance ideas. If you look at the credits I think I’m listed first on the playtesting group or something like that (It’s been a while since I perused them). It was really really fun to play Civ in the day. It was the first game MPS had ever done which the test team wanted to keep playing after the game had finished.

Q) Did you like it more than Age of Empires?

A) no

Q) Were you designing each game at the same time?

A) Civilization was years and years before Age of Empires was thought of.

Q) What is the average velocity of a coconut-laden swallow?

A) Zero

Q) What civilization would you like to add to AoK?

A) The Songhai Empire. It would be neat to have a camel-based civ.

Q) Why didn't you guys add a campaign of the crusades?

A) What? What do you think the whole Saladin campaign is about?

Q) What campaign would you like to add to AoK?

A) one with Goths. Alaric or Theodoric maybe. I always liked Goths.

Q) What is the story behind "Cheese Steak Jimmy's"

A) it’s our nickname for a local joint that we often went to for lunch.

Q) Is there a way to make an aok-tc game continue to run (in single player) if i alt+tab out?

A) beats me. Yes? It’s not something I ever worried about before.

Q) Why does the ai have such a problem with walls?

A) We had the Ai attacking walls once, but it would uselessly attack bits of walls and look like a retard. To fix this we changed the AI so that it would never attack a wall that it could path through. So you can destroy the AI by building maze-like walls instead. Ah well. Live and learn.

Q) What is the reasoning process that the ai uses to decide which units to attack an enemy with? For example, If I attack with pikemen why does it attack my pikemen with a knight rather than with nearby archers?

A) there is actually code in there to make them attack the archers. However, there are lots of other things that apply to modify this – such as distance to target, and whether it’s time for an update yet. Basically the AI only checks what it’s doing every few seconds – in a game with lots of units, it takes longer to check on its progress, and can take like 20-30 seconds to update. 30 seconds is a long time if you’re in combat.

You know how sometimes YOUR knights have stupidly fought pikemen because you were busy refreshing farms or queuing up more units or something? Basically your attention was distracted? Well, this happens to the AI too.

Q) path finding seems to be an issue

A) AoE has the best pathfinding of any game on the market. Consider the difficulties faced in this game – the maps are random, there are lots of units, all at different speeds, and the maps can change once a unit starts moving (example: a wall gets built between you and the target). Given the challenges I’m going to say that I am very proud of our pathfinding.

Q) What do you think of copy protections such as SecuROM and starforce which make it very hard on the end user? There are people that will not buy a game if it uses certain copyprotection technologies

A) I will only say that there are people who will not buy any game that DOESN’T use copy protection – they will simply steal it instead.

Q) Do you play age of empires 3?

A) not much nowadays.

Q) How do you feel about the programmers here that have made programs which allow things such as editing technologies/unit stats, adding new technologies, etc.?

A) I think it’s fine

Q) Have you heard about 0 A.D. If so what do you think about it? Those guys may end up working with you someday

A) not at Ensemble Studios, sadly.

Q) Considering that the Huns do you think they are overpowered?

A) I had not heard that they win a majority of all the battles among expert players. Is that how it is? If not, I’m going to deny that they’re overpowered. The Huns are easy to play, I agree. That probably makes them especially strong among people new to AoK. But how many such people are there anymore?

Q) What will happen to the Halo RPG you were makign since 2006?

A) I was never working on a Halo RPG

Q) Why were boarding galleys not included in the final release?

A) because we could not make them work sensibly. A boarding galley (obviously) has to be adjacent to you to work. But then you just sail away before you can be captured. One solution was that when the boarding galley started its attack, the defending ship would be immobilized. We tried that and people complained so much we dropped it. So no “monks of the sea”. Too bad.

Q) Would you agree that the naval aspects of AoK are the most under-whelming?

A) we never did seem to be able to pull off as good a naval game as we did economy & army. Maybe some day.

Q) who laughed the 11 taunt?

A) Herb Ellwood

Q) What is a roggan?

A) it’s a verb, not a noun

Q) Why can the King unit move almost as fast as a knight? He's not very.. lean.

A) us chubby people have hidden talents.

Q) Who had the idea to add snow to the game?

A) ? adding snow is not like an amazing idea .. I mean, we knew the game was going to be set in colder climes than Age 1, with Mongols, Vikings, etc.

Q) What is the story behind the cheat of AoE "Pow!"?

A) I was unaware that we had a cheat named “Pow!”

Q) Do you like prince of Persia?

A) it is probably the biggest IP that I’ve never played.

Q) I just wanted to thank you, Mr. Petersen, and everyone else at Ensemble. our games were really a big part of my life for several years.

A) thank you. We might continue to be a part of your life, though in more subtle ways – after all most of us are staying in the game industry. We will be pollinating other companies all over the nation.

Q) My question is what were Ensemble's plans for the future of the franchise?

A) the subject is kind of depressing, now, so I’d rather avoid answering any questions about ES’s (now non-existent) future.

Q) But there were some guys working on it.

A) no one at Ensemble was working on an RPG.

Q) How would it (the Songhai Empire) be different from Saracens?

A) That’s kind of an odd question. Why would they be similar to Saracens? Any more than, say, Celts are similar to Vikings. Basically my ideas behind the Songhai was that they would be a strong economy-based civilization, perhaps based on some kind of trade bonus (because of their control of the West Saharan trade network¬). They would have good monks (because their founder was reputed to be a mighty magician). They would be a cavalry-camel civilization, and their unique unit would be some kind of tough camel. Maybe a camel archer or an armored camel, Something like that. I think that could be a fun civ.

Q) What are the educational requirements to be a game designer?

A) back in my day there were none – well maybe a bachelor’s degree. Nowadays I’d recommend getting a degree such as the Master’s offered by the Guildhall@SMU.

Q) What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into the computer game business?

A) the computer game industry is nothing like you’ve imagined, if you haven’t worked in it. Expect surprises.

Q) While working on age of kings what was the typical day like at ES?

A) a mix between pounding away at my computer, testing, and arguing with other designers, programmers, artists, or playtesters about how some feature ought to be implemented.

Q) Must experts do use Huns. Its probably about 98% of the time or so.

A) but that wasn’t my comment - do Huns win 98% of their battles against other civs? Experts will use Huns almost exclusively even if Huns only add an additional 1% chance of victory. But if Huns only add a few percentiles to your chance of victory (which I believe is the case), I’m going to call them reasonably well-balanced.

Q) What were your first 3 paying jobs?

A) in high school I worked at a pet store and pumped gas at a gas station. Then in college I worked in the paleontology department cleaning flesh off old dead animal bones.

Q) Do you like where you live and if not where do you want to move?

A) I like where I live and have mixed emotions at the thought of moving.

Q) Are you purposely avoiding my Avatar/Spongebob question?\

A) probably. Am I supposed to comb back through the pages of questions trying to seek it out?

Q) Do you know if MS now own the copyright to the Genie and bang! game engines?

A) Bang! For sure. Probably Genie too, since they bought us along with all rights.

Q) Do you believe that AoE or AoK will be remade in the near future

A) my crystal ball says, “Reply Hazy, Try Again Later”

Q) Have you ever tried/seen the AoE series spin offs, such as the board games or collectable card game?

A) I have played the board games. The Age of Empires 3 board game is a terrific little game, though it really has nothing to do with Age 3, except theme. I like it a lot. The Age of Mythollogy game is a flawed masterpiece, still worth buying if only for all the cool toys it includes (where else can you get a plastic hydra?)

Q) Do you belive that the XP/Card system implemented in AoE3 is a good feature?

A) yes I love this feature and have supported it since the start.

Q) Do you (still) own any early alpha/beta versions of AoE or AoK?

A) eww. No. Why would I do that?

Q) What is the intention of the /Learn directory for AoE?

A) my crystal ball says, “Outlook not so good”

Q) How long did it take to create each 3D unit and building model

A) a few days I believe, not counting animating and texturing.

Q) Was there ever a point when ES and MS strongly argued for a certain feature/unit/civilisation etc which the other strongly opposed?

A) MS did not usually come down on us and ask for stuff. And when they did, it was usually for us to NOT include something. For instance, they wanted us to NOT have Crazy Horse in the Warchiefs expansion pack. Which I felt was loony, frankly. So we compromised – Crazy Horse appears in the single player campaign, but the name of the Sioux AI is Gall.

Q) How close were we to seeing a 5th age in AoE/AoK?

A) The closest we got to a 5th age that I can remember was as part of the Conquerors– the idea was that the big improvement for the expansion would be a cool new 5th age.

Q) How close were we to seeing a 5th resource (ore?) in AoE/AoK?

A) I don’t recall us ever having 5 resources. We always wanted to keep the number of resources down.

Q) Were the Russian and Ottoman civilisations in AoE3 mainly added for the purpose of the campaign storyline?

A) no, they were put into the game before the storyline was written. We wanted to have more varied, interesting civs. Plus the Russians actually colonized the New World – they had bases in California and pretty much owned Alaska. The Ottomans never made it, but their ships were certainly good enough to have done it if they’d wanted.

Q) has there ever been any consideration of creating an age in the future based on the aoe II design?

A) if you mean the actual design, then no. We feel we have moved beyond it. We always wanted to keep the parts that were fun, of course. If you mean the setting and time period then yes, we considered setting Age 3 in the same time frame.

Q) I am an active Age of Mythology The Titans player on ESO. Should I be concerned about ESO shutting down or something in the near future?

A) some source of community support will continue. I myself do not know what it will be.

Q) What is your thoughts about an age of empires that takes place from 1940-45?

A) I always wanted to do a WW2 AoE. I’d want it to start earlier than 1940 though.

Q) Do you think that making scenarios and modpacks here (at the blacksmith) increases your chances to get a job at a gamestudio?

A) it gives you a portfolio to show an interviewer. That is useful