Latest Ask Sandy
Published on 09-18-2008
Tags: Ask Sandyman, General Info, Interviews
Q) What new developing company will you ES
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
A) I believe the new company does have
a contract with Microsoft, but I am not really privy to their
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
A) actually I liked Age 3 the
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
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
Q) What’s your favourite unit in AoK?
A) the king
Q) What part of AoK did you enjoy designing
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
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
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
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
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
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
A) I am honored and proud that ANY of
my games would ever be featured in such a community. I think
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
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
Q) Has ES ever considered bundling custom AoK
content such as the stuff hosted here at the blacksmith in a AoK
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
A) I’m sure Microsoft will want
to keep the series going.
Q) How’d you come up with the Rocket jump on
A) actually, John Carmack suggested it
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
A) I, with everyone else still at ES,
are on Halo Wars.
Q) Was this the “grand plan” for the age of
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
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
Q) What’s going to happen to Age of Mythology
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
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
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
Q) What does the future of AoE3 look
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
The Genitour was a javelin-armed cavalry unit, used by the
Spanish to fight the Moorish cavalry archers. So it was an
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
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
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
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
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
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
A) … maybe …
Q) Will you promise to let us know where you
get your new job?
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
Q) What civilization took more time to
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Q) we would need the knowledge of modifying
the drop-down menu (to add new civs) but how are we supposed to
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
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
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
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!!)
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
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
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
A) unless the new company or MS sets
up a terrific support system, I think the Age community will
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
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
A) whichever one is currently hosting
my Ask Sandy thread.
Q) Why was there never a save game feature in
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
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
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
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
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
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
Q) How can I contact “Redmond”?
A) Microsoft Corporation has a billion
websites. I’m sure one or more of them will do the
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
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
A) we were designing a game, not a
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
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
Q) Were you designing each game at the same
A) Civilization was years and years
before Age of Empires was thought of.
Q) What is the average velocity of a
Q) What civilization would you like to add to
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
A) What? What do you think the whole
Saladin campaign is about?
Q) What campaign would you like to add to
A) one with Goths. Alaric or Theodoric
maybe. I always liked Goths.
Q) What is the story behind “Cheese Steak
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Q) Who had the idea to add snow to the
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
A) I was unaware that we had a cheat
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
A) no one at Ensemble was working on
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
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
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
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
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
Q) How close were we to seeing a 5th age in
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
Q) Were the Russian and Ottoman civilisations
in AoE3 mainly added for the purpose of the campaign
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
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