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Age of Kings Heaven » Forums » News Discussion » Through the Ages: Custom Campaign Classics
Topic Subject:Through the Ages: Custom Campaign Classics
(id: Mashek)
posted 12-31-18 07:09 AM CT (US)         
This article was written and submitted by our very own community member, Bassi.

Christmas - the perfect time to start this article series. When else can one indulge in such uninhibited nostalgia?

Over irregular intervals during the next few months, I'll be presenting old campaigns and scenarios that are considered classics in the AoE2 custom scenario design scene. I would like to share my thoughts on the respective works and, in each case, address the question as to whether the scenarios retain playing value today or if their value instead lies exclusively in nostalgia.

As I cannot claim to wield an objective opinion in most cases, I decided to produce articles rather than standardized reviews.

Enough of the preface - let's turn to the first classic!

I. Tamerlane, Prince of Destruction

What is it?

"Tamerlane, Prince of Destruction" is a 7-scenario-campaign by Mark Stoker. The AoK:TC version was released in October 2000, two months after the original AoK version graced the AoKH Blacksmith. The campaign has been downloaded almost 100,000 times over the past 18 years. This fact underscores the campaign's importance for the custom scenario design scene and proves that the fascinating story of the last great conqueror from the steppes continually draws new players under its spell.

"Tamerlane" can be justly described as Mark Stoker's magnum opus. After the release of this extensive campaign, Stoker released further scenarios, but after nearly two decades "Tamerlane" is still the campaign that is considered his masterpiece.

Strengths and weaknesses:

The greatest strength of this campaign is the freedom that it offers the player. Mark Stoker does not grapple with complicated trigger systems, and he does not limit the player in order to forge unique game play experiences. This certainly sets him apart from many other designers who took the stage in the following years. While there are certainly more impressive and sophisticated scenario concepts, only seldom have they stood the test of time so well.

Generally speaking, Stoker's scenarios conform to the proven game play concepts of the ES designers. However, Stoker has managed to increase the replay value of his Tamerlane scenarios through amazingly simple means. One such example are the decisions with which the player is sporadically presented: shall I camp in the half-ruined city to the west? Maybe I can rebuild the broken walls to fend off the enemy easily that way...or should I instead move east in order to occupy a less defensible but resource-rich village?

Another good example of this method is represented by main objectives that give the player freedom of choice. For example, in the fifth playable (non-cinematic) mission, we witness Tamerlane's conquest of Syria. In order to conquer this region, it is not necessary to conquer all Syrian cities, but it is enough to force two out of three towns to surrender. This scenario can therefore be won in various ways, which can motivate the player to master the mission again in a different way later. This is a very simple but nevertheless effective concept that is unfortunately still only considered by a few designers.

Another important point to mention is the AI. Stoker gave each player a custom AI that it appears that he scripted himself (although technically they are based on the script "Sample AoK AI File", by ES designer Greg "DeathShrimp" Street). The AIs may be somewhat inflexible by today's standards, but in 2000, it was not at all common to integrate one's own AI files into a custom scenario or campaign. In this respect, one can regard Stoker's efforts as that of a pioneer.

Naturally, the campaign also has some weaknesses. While the classic "Build and Destroy" scenarios offer entertaining game play, the "Fixed Force" scenarios are less exciting. In the first playable scenario, Stoker managed to strike a fine balance between hit-and-run-style Fixed Force and Build and Destroy; unfortunately, he did not manage to maintain this standard in "The Imperial City" (the mission covering the Timurid conquest of India). The design concept of leading a single unit from one end of the map to the other has only seldom resulted in an enjoyable game play experience. In the case of "The Imperial City", it is also an unmounted unit that you control, which renders the flow of game play even more tedious.

Somewhat less of a weakness, but nevertheless a point that one can quibble about, is the map design: the decision to depict age-old Persian cities such as Samarkand with an East Asian architectural style is questionable. In addition, one can certainly complain about the designer's choice to depict several regions in a verdant aesthetic in ignorance of the fact that that in reality they were arid plains and steppes. This relays the false impression that the majority of Tamerlane's campaigns took place in very fertile regions.

There are also narrative weaknesses. Stoker decided to cast the campaign in a relatively abbreviated historical context, which is by all means a legitimate approach. However, the campaign would have benefited from a little more accuracy for the sake of immersion. To call the forces of Tamerlane "Mongolian" without taking into account the Turkic background of the majority of his followers is one such examples of a false impression regarding historical context. The peculiar construct characteristic of the Timurid Empire, which followed a Genghisid model in its legal form while being in actuality a Turkish realm, is nevertheless portrayed in Stoker's campaign as a typical Mongolian Khanate. This deviates too much from the historical reality at the expense of immersion.

Additionally, not all players will find the juvenile, cartoon-like language used in the dialogues to their liking. Nevertheless, aside from a rather clumsy modern pop culture allusion in one of the scenarios, I find this approach quite entertaining and thus successful. It is notable that, while Stoker took his work as a designer very seriously, he was capable of not doing so to the same degree with the subject matter. The resulting light-hearted mood of the campaign is quite refreshing.

Nostalgia Factor:

The majority of us have certainly played this campaign at some point. Considered once more, it is guaranteed to evoke a first-class nostalgic mood. This actually represents a major strength of this campaign; by no means are the majority of works produced in this era capable of triggering such feelings for the player. That is one reason why "Tamerlane" still works so well - many aspects of scenario design that were outstanding in 2000 still hold up today. Compared to many other scenarios that were released in the years 2000-2004, "Tamerlane" is in a noticeably different league...

Test of time:

...and thus stands the test of time. Certain aspects of this great work are certainly outdated, though. The weakest of Stoker's scenarios are those where classic "AoK-Heaven" mistakes were made: unnecessarily long cut scenes that detract from playability and boring wandering in regions with a paucity of detailed and utilitarian map design, are the campaign's greatest weaknesses. On the other hand, however, there are masterfully implemented Build and Destroy missions and solid Fixed Force portions. AIs capable of constructing and enlarging their camps contribute to the impression of a living world. Stoker tends neither to wish to control the course that the player sets, nor does he narrow the scope of the AI. The result is a fantastic game world that is fun to explore. Tamerlane remains a great campaign by a designer who clearly intended to produce a game, rather than a history lesson or a cinematic piece of art.

Screenshot 1 | Screenshot 2 | Screenshot 3 | Screenshot 4 | Screenshot 5 |

Download Tamerlane, Prince of Destruction (Original) here!
Download Tamerland, Prince of Destruction (TC Version) here!
(id: Mashek)
posted 12-31-18 07:19 AM CT (US)     1 / 5       
This is an excellent article, Bassi. Thanks for writing and more so for sharing! I really must download and play it.
posted 12-31-18 07:39 AM CT (US)     2 / 5       
Well written, Bassi! One of my longtime favorites, for sure.

~ Forgotten Empires ~

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Deyr fé, deyja frændr, deyr sjálfr it sama; ek veit einn at aldri deyr, dómr um dauðan hvern." - Hávamál 77.
posted 12-31-18 01:17 PM CT (US)     3 / 5       
Great article and great campaign!

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My Blacksmith
posted 12-31-18 08:56 PM CT (US)     4 / 5       
While I agree that The Imperial City scenario has not aged well, when I encountered it among the first files I downloaded it was one that caught my imagination. I liked very much the idea of covertly infiltrating an enemy city, and also the optional smuggling missions and the optional possibility of saving a merchant from bandits. I also liked the sense of doom in the city itself, with civilians talking about escape, etc.

[ All_That_Glitters | Pretty_Town_Contest | Other_AoK_Designs | AoE_Designs ]
Member of Stormwind Studios
posted 01-03-19 05:09 AM CT (US)     5 / 5       
Hi again.

I played "Tamerlane, Prince of destruction" for the first time a couple of months ago and being that old it entertained me.

However, I find it kind of repetitive and too easy for my licking , also the music is nice if it sounds once, but not on boocle, most of us nowadays have other music playing while playing the game.

In general the campaign feels like a clasic campaign but quite better in all aspects. I don't remember most of the scenarios but I can't recall any bug or moment were I got stuck.

Good review Bassi, for further ones, you might want to include a spoiler section talking about each scenario one by one or at least talk a little bit more about them. Many users (like me) can't remember what we played 11.

gl hf
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