Latest Ask Sandy 2

Article written by Sandy Petersen
Published on 09-30-2008
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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

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

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

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

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

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,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

A) Revolution & cavalry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 –

A) the innovations in fan-constructed

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

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

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,

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

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

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

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

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

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