Archived News From February 1999

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

IRex talks about Age of Kings…
Posted by Omnivac on February 27, 1999 @ 4:13 a.m.

OHN "Imperious Rex" Hoskin of Gamestats News Network, our kind host on the net, was there at Gamestock ’99 (the lucky son of a B…Ballista) and had the chance to play a few games of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. Trebuchet yourself over there and go see what Irex has to say about the game. Here are some of his mouth watering comments:

The articial intelligence has also been improved. Computer allies now call for help when they are being attacked or outmatched. They also resign when beaten, and do not force the player to hunt down every building and destroy it. I played through a game where my computer ally was beaten. It resigned, but before doing so, it wished me luck and transferred its remaining resources to me.

During one of my games of AoK I decided to see how the game would react to me sending a huge formation through a narrow group of trees. The units formed into a wedge to combat some nearby assailants. Once the battle was over they formed into columns for quick movement and slimmed the columns to fit between the trees. Once past the narrow opening the units formed back into a fighting wedge. I was astonished. Mike Terrano, the lead designer just smiled and continued answering questions from other press representatives.

BETTER, ask IRex about it!

If you want more, then you will be happy to know that Gamestats News Network has set up a group of special forums that Irex will visit each day, and answer any questions the fans may want to ask about Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. Maybe a developer or two from Ensemble Studios may even show up and join in the discussion. Let the Inquisition begin.

Angel Omnivac

More coverage from PCGames
Posted by Omnivac on February 26, 1999 @ 8:09 p.m.

ITH all the various reports going online from the numerous gaming sites on the net, we are getting more and more little tidbits of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, such as having to build a specific building for stockpiling a specific ressource, as opposed to the Storage Pit of Age of Empires where you can gather the four ressources with it. You can read more in the PCGames coverage of Gamestock 99: Microsoft new games lineup.

In the area of control, the game now allows players to hit a button to see which villager units are inactive on the game map. The game will also "ghost" units that are behind structures or trees so that they can be easy seen. Age of Kings now implements a much more versatile economic model. Although players could trade resources for gold via merchant shipping in Age of Empires, Age of Kings will come with a more fully featured marketplace. Players will now be able to buy and sell resources in a more specific fashion on the open market–having a direct influence on world prices. The new marketplace now makes it possible to buy wood if wood is needed, or stone, not just gold. Also new are specific buildings for milling lumber and stockpiling resources–replacing the single storage pit in Age of Empires.

Angel Omnivac

Age of Empires II: The "Typo" of Kings
Posted by Omnivac on February 26, 1999 @ 4:51 p.m.

HOSE of you who wanted more news will be served. Dark Angel informed me that Age of Empires II: The Reign of Kings was really a typo. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings is still the official title.If you haven’t seen the Gamestock screenshots yet, I invite you to take a look at them in the Images section. If you have seen them already, I invite you to take another look again because they’re kinda quite… BIGGER!

More press coverage from Gamestock ’99

From Next Generation Online:

One of the greatest additions to the game is formations that really work. We watched as a lance of cavalry marched from a wedge formation, to a single file (in order to get through a gap between two other units), and then back to a wedge. Another excellent addition is a more robust ally AI. If you form an alliance with the computer, it will ask you for help, cede its properties to you when it’s beat, give you money or aid and look out for you.

From Fastest Game News Online.It is so short that this is not an excerpt, but the complete text they posted.

Ensemble Studios’ follow-up to the extraordinarily successful RTS classic, Age Of Empires, has been showcased at this week’s Gamestock. The Age Of Kings has been pushed back to a Fall release – the developer has stated it will use the time to add the sophistication fans of the game will require. Shots of Imperial and Feudal settings for the game are sure to set pulses racing. Expect unit formations to be tightened up considerably. The AI has taken a hefty bolstering too. Basically, all the signs are there for Ensemble and Microsoft to continue in selling huge amounts of copies with a game that will deserve to do so.

Angel Omnivac

Bruce Shelley Interwiew
Posted by Omnivac on February 26, 1999 @ 7:28 a.m.

ORE news from Gamestock ’99 coming your way. While at the event, Bill Meyer from CNET Gamecenter made an exclusive interview with Bruce Shelley, lead designer at Ensemble Studios. The first thing that caught my eyes was that in the introduction, the interviewer refers to the anticipating sequel of Age of Empires and Rise of Rome as Age of Empires II: The Reign of Kings. Too many beers? AoK is so excellent you cannot think straight anymore? Bad memory? I’ve sent the Dark Angel on a spying mission to find out what’s the scoop on this. In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the Interview:  

Formations went into the game within the last few weeks and are still rough. They were dependent on our new pathing codes and other work that has just come together recently. Right now we have a generic set of formations, such as column, line, and wedge. However, units in formation are smart enough to put missile troops at the rear and hand-to-hand fighters at the front. Because they just went in, we have some testing and adjusting to do before we know exactly how they will work. It may be possible to design your own formation. Another issue is whether there is enough open space in a typical game world to effectively maneuver and fight in formation.

All of our AoE II campaigns are story-based and follow the career of one historic figure. Our first campaign features Joan of Arc, who inspired the French in the 100 Years’ War. Other campaigns we are working on include William the Conqueror, William Wallace, Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Frederick Barbarossa.- Bruce "Bruck" Shelley, ES Game Designer

Preliminary pathfinding AI, but already better than AoE

Gamespot mentions briefly Age of Empires II: Age of Kings in their report Microsoft’s Lineup unveiled. It’s a small paragraph and nothing really new is revealed for those who follow the AoK development news, but it contains a few words about a promising pathfinding AI. 

The formations aid greatly in the troop movements, which are a huge step-up thanks to a completely new pathfinding AI. Even though the pathfinding AI was preliminary, it’s already better than Age of Empires’ AI. Gathering points for villagers and troops, and a host of interface improvements will make this game easier to play; and smarter AI, more technology, and troop options will bring added depth to multiplayer games.

Patience is a virtue

No one likes it when the game you’ve been waiting for is pushed back to a further release date, but most of the time it is for the better. It is not a new phenomena in the computer gaming industry as almost any games you follow during the development phase will get plagued with new release date several times, and top-selling products usually take two years of development before they hit the market. The folks at Ensemble Studios know what they’re doing and you have to trust them on that. Probably we would have been happy with a Spring release date, but you can be sure we will be happier when the game hit the shelves this Fall. An extra 7 months or so CAN make quite a difference. Several other factors can influence this also, like Greg Street explained in the AoKHeaven forum:

Believe me, we are all anxious for the game to be completed as well. In the remaining weeks we will be working on balancing civs and units and finishing up the art and AI work. We probably won’t add a bunch of new features this late in the cycle that could lead to potential problems.

Keep in mind that there is more to getting a game on the shelf a game than just putting the code together. CDs have to be copied, manuals must be printed, and the product has to be delivered around the world.

We appreciate your patience. It will be worth the wait. – Greg "DeathShrimp" Street, ES Game Designer

Angel Omnivac

Gamestock ’99 aftermath
Posted by Omnivac on February 25, 1999 @ 4:38 p.m.

VERYONE is wondering if Gamestock ’99 is really over. Some have even been dissapointed at the lack of information revealed during the event but you need to remember that most of the press members present there are probably sitting right now in a plane and heading back home. In the upcoming days/weeks, you will see "pop out" on the Internet various previews, interviews, reports, and whatnot. You won’t even have to search the net as here at Age of Kings Heaven, we will provide you with direct links to these articles. And as for why this is revealed and that is not, hear the wise words of the DeathShrimp:

I can respond with three very honest reasons:
1) A lot more features are put into a design than can usually make it in the game. It would be unfortunate if someone got excited about a feature that was later pulled, particularly if they thought we were promising something we weren’t going to deliver.

2) We want people to remain excited about the game. Releasing info in drips and splashes helps us and you guys (we hope) bide the time until the game ships.

3) It would be hard for us to have a strong presence at big events, like Gamestock and E3, if all the secrets about the game were out. Also, magazine and internet sites might be less likely to feature AOK stories if they felt the stories had all been told. There is nothing worse than an exciting new game becoming old news. – Greg "DeathShrimp" Street, ES Game Designer

Angel Omnivac

Gamestock ’99 Superchat
Posted by Omnivac on February 25, 1999 @ 2:39 a.m.

F you have missed the Gamestock ’99 Superchat earlier tonight, you can read it all in the The Game section. Accompanying Bruce Shelley, Mark Terrano from Ensemble Studios and Matt Scadding aka maimin_matty (winner of the Rumble for Rome Tournament) took part in the discussion with the fans. You will also read the un-official superchat that took place after that with various ES employees including Paul "Winter" Bettner, Herb "Killme" Marselas, Mario "plasticbrain" Grimani, Brian "Badmoon" Moon, Angelo "Desperado" Laudon and Rob "Royster" Rabey.

Thanks to all of them for participating in this fun event, as well as the Zone Sysops, particularly +SCGekko for moderating it, and all the fans in making this an enjoyable experience. Thanks also to Angel Algernon, Angel Grenadier and The_Cardinal for helping me recovering the missing parts of the chat.

Here’s a short list of what you will find:

  • One cool technology is the "bell tower". When you get it, you can ring a bell when you are attacked and all your villagers run into buildings for safety. Ring it again and they will go back to work.

  • Two new colours for civs are purple and a very dark green. Brown is out.

  • New random map: Black Forest, everyone is separated by forests.

  • Another technology, you can get "faith". This will make it harder for monks to convert you.

  • They found a way to tone down archers effectiveness. "An original never seen before way" Cool

Have a good read.

Age of Kings delayed

No specific date was Announced about the release of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, but it looks like we will not see the game before fall ’99. You can find more details about this in the superchat.

Angel Omnivac

Gamestock ’99 live coverage
Posted by Omnivac on February 24, 1999 @ 5:41 a.m.

AMESTOCK 99 is THE place for top computer game designers to talk about Microsoft’s upcoming computer games. Held on the Microsoft campus, Gamestock is a place for top game designers to get together, talk about technology, new titles and the future of computer gaming. It’s invitation only, but we’ve got an engraved virtual pass for you at the front door, with our LIVE and extended coverage of the event.

These are the places you will want to check during the day…

  • On February 24 at 5 P.M. Pacific Time, join the special Superchat where FOUR different top game designers will be on hand to talk with you about their new game titles and the future of computer gaming. Talk with Toby Ragaini from the lava-hot role-playing game Asheron’s Call, Clint Keith from the hard driving Midtown Madness, Erin Roberts for Conquest and Starlancer, and the inimitable Bruce Shelley, designer of Age of Empires.

  • And ALL DAY on the 24th, keep checking the Zone’s Gamestock ’99 Web site where they will be posting LIVE updates from the festivities. Their on-site reporter will be busy working the crowd, so drop on by for exclusive coverage. You just might find out how to spend your hard-earned gaming bucks.

  • At the official Microsoft Gamestock site, you’ll find out about the event, its goals, the people behind the scenes and lots more gaming information as well as a link to the NEW Microsoft’s Age of Empires II: Age of Kings site..

  • And of course, check back here too.

New screenshots under the looking glass

It did not took long for agers to rip apart the new screenshots and find out new subject of discussions. Among others, there is a very stong visual evidence of Domestication (a new way to obtain food (?)). Ore seems to have dissapeared as a ressource as you can only see in the screenshots icons for wood, food, gold, stone. Middle Age appears also instead of Castle Age, probably indicating that the AoK Ages would be Dark, Feudal, Middle, and Imperial. Elevations look far more smoother now and not like staircases. You can farm on elevations too. The population counter (or what it is assumed to be) shows some very odd numbers like 94/50.

Remember that nothing is set in stone presently and that anything is subject to change. Do not count anything yet to be in its final form.

The mysterious tents

One of the first questions popping out in the forum was what were those tents you can see in the new screenshots. Comments from the fans ranged from serious thoughts like war camps needed for manoeuvering deeper into enemy territories to hilarious comments like when the circus comes to town. That is until Killme gave the scoop on them.

Right now, tents are one of the buildings you can plunk down to spruce up your scenarios.

Since there’s always a lot of "let’s see how this works" and "let’s see how that looks" they’re not used for anything specific right now. – Herb "Killme" Marselas, ES 3D Specialist

Some dedicated fans already jumped on the occasion and started throwing some ideas because, like Animalmother said so eloquently: I WANT TO CAMP MY ARMY!

HGS announces arrival of Pharaoh Heaven

Heaven’s Gaming Sites (HGS) are proud to announce the formal opening of their latest site, Pharaoh Heaven. As of Monday 22nd February, Pharaoh Heaven will be online and functioning alongside the other 5 sites which reside under the HGS umbrella.

Pharaoh is the sequel to the smash hit Caesar III, which has sold well over 450,000 copies since it was released in September 1998. It takes the concept of the Caesar series of games and transposes it onto Ancient Egypt. Players will be able to develop grand cities, and command great armies, both on land and on water, whilst still keeping an eye on mother nature, represented here by the seasonal flooding of the Nile. Pharaoh is currently pencilled in for a Fall 1999 release date.

Just like Pharaoh is the sequel to Caesar III, Pharaoh Heaven is the sequel to Caesar III Heaven, which has received over 150,000 hits on the news page alone since it’s inception on 12th October 1998, and over a million page hits in total, making it the biggest and most successful Caesar III fan site on the Internet. With Pharaoh Heaven, we expect to be able to provide our visitors with the same kind of information, exclusives and developer co-operation that has characterised the other HGS sites, and made them as successful as they are. We have been assured full co-operation by the developers of Pharaoh, Impressions, and their parent company, Sierra.

Have fun at the site and your comments are welcome!

Angel Omnivac

Dark ages are gone …
Posted by Omnivac on February 24, 1999 @ 1:30 a.m.

ELCOME to the new and totally redesigned Age of Kings Heaven. Gone are the dark ages with the black background – and a new, ligther face will meet you on your daily visit here. During the following days, you will witness other changes throughout the site as we keep finalizing everything… and putting all the new extra goodies from Gamestock 99. If you have any comments, feel free to use the AoKHeaven Forum or drop me an e-mail. Please, also report any missing or faulty links you may find on the site.

Thanks to Angels Hamlet and Mack for their help and hard work, and the little "Rock & RORing" breaks during the wee hours to stay awake. Now, on with the show…

Civilization Attributes

We’ll start with a comment from Ensemble Studios Designer Sandy Petersen about the civilization attributes in Age of Empires II: Age of Kings.

Generally speaking, the civ differences are more significant, more logical, and more balanced than in AoE. I realize that "more significant & more balanced" sounds like an oxymoron, so let me explain.

More Significant — the civ bonuses are generally bigger. Instead of cheaper monks, for instance, at the moment one civ now gets monks that can heal at a distance. Instead of higher-hit-point villagers, one civ gets 3 extra starting villagers (but only 50 starting food instead of 200). You get the idea. NOTE: these particular bonuses, as with any bonus, may be dropped (because they’re not fun, or lead to some kind of problem). If they’re dropped, they’ll be replaced by new, superior, ones, so please don’t get your heart set on something I’ve mentioned and then be disgruntled if it’s not in the final game.

More Logical — civ bonuses work together, instead of against each other. If your civ has crappy anti-cavalry units, you’ll also have superior cavalry. If your civ gets bonuses for gunpowder units, you won’t be penalized on gold-mining.

More Balanced — we feel we’ve learned a lot from AoE, and there is an incredible amount of effort going into making the various civs equal overall. There will still be favorite civs (currently mine is the French), and there will be endless debates about which civ is better on what map or under what starting conditions (obviously a civ whose bonus is 100 extra wood & food at the start is going to see his bonus amplified at Low Resources and minimized at High). And, of course, if you learn how to play a particular civ very well, you’ll do better at that civ than when using an unfamiliar one. BUT … we plan for no civ to be seen as automatically weaker on a conventional starting map under default conditions. – Sandy "Sandyman" Petersen, ES Designer

More to follow. Updating as you read presently. Just got out from a chat with folks at Gamestock 99, so stay tuned!

Angel Omnivac