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Robot Entertainment at PAX (Part 1)

Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment have been hanging out at PAX Prime this weekend, hosting their very own PAX panel titled “An afternoon of fun with Robot Entertainment”. In our first part of our two part series we cover the first part of the panel which looks at Robot history including their time at Ensemble Studios and the games that lead up to Orcs Must Die! Unchained.  For anyone who was in attendance there were plenty of free things being given out including a bag, poster, buttons, t-shirt, band and “Founders PAX” access to the Closed Beta. Read more

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Robot Entertainment panel at PAX Prime

Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment are on route to PAX Prime in Seattle later this month. While there is no Robot booth this time around, a number of the bots will be hosting their own PAX Prime panel. The line up includes Patrick Hudson [CEO], Justin Korthof [Community Manager], Lance Hoke [Producer], Ian Fischer [Design Director], Chris Moffitt [Art Director]. Read more

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Ex Ensembler’s thoughts on AOE 2 HD and AOM:EE

If you’re a Steam user you have have seen for a while prominent features of Age of Empires 2 HD and Age of Mythology Extended Edition available to play on Steam. Its great to see these classic Ensemble titles back in the game for purchase. Joining Age of Empires 3 which is also available for purchase on Steam there are now three major games in Ensemble’s legacy in the modern day Steam store and audiences both old and new can enjoy these great games. Read more

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31
Aug

Robot Entertainment at PAX (Part 1)

Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment have been hanging out at PAX Prime this weekend, hosting their very own PAX panel titled “An afternoon of fun with Robot Entertainment”. In our first part of our two part series we cover the first part of the panel which looks at Robot history including their time at Ensemble Studios and the games that lead up to Orcs Must Die! Unchained.  For anyone who was in attendance there were plenty of free things being given out including a bag, poster, buttons, t-shirt, band and “Founders PAX” access to the Closed Beta.

Fans who tuned in to the stream on Twitch were also in for an opportunity to win these sweet prizes. Also making an appearance again is the exclusive Cardboard Tube Samurai skin for the War Mage. This exclusive vanity skin is only being made available to PAX attendees and lucky Twitch stream winners.

Ensemble days

Digging into the panel things started off with an introduction to the studio including highlighting Robot’s internal biergarten that they have in the studio and the colour coded pods for each discipline of staff (artist, programmers, design, community etc). Following an introduction of the studio the panel began to talk about Robot’s roots including their time previously at Ensemble Studios taking the audience through the past legacies such as the Age games and Halo Wars, including the big Halo MMO project codenamed “Titan” that was unfortunately cancelled by Microsoft.

The panel go into some detail about the cancelled MMO project and is well worth watching the stream for any Ensemble fans. Ian Fischer confirms previous Ensemble staffer comments that the game was largely cancelled due to Microsoft’s desire to pursue more casual games.

Age of Empires Online

The panel went on to talk about Age of Empires Online and how it started out as Age 4. Ian Fischer described how they originally thought about going back to the old caveman Age 1 settings whilst still at Ensemble Studios. When the studio was shut down, Microsoft wanted to continue the Age 4 project but didnt want it looking like another Age game and wanted to pursue a more casual look. It is this reason why Age of Empires Online adopted the casual more cartoony look in the final product.

Robot also pushed to have all the Age games put on Steam instead of Games of Windows Live. Although they never did it in Robot’s time managing the Age Community, Microsoft has finally got round to it recently and the Age games have been top sellers on Steam for some time now.

Prototyping new games

Whilst most of the studio were working on Age of Empires Online there was a small group in the Orange Pod who spent time prototyping new games for the studios first original IP. Before things morphed into Orcs Must Die! the studio worked on a “tool kit” that would allow players to build their own games. This tool kit idea then turned into a game codenamed “Saber” which later became “Orcs Must Die!”. Here are some early art and designs for the game:

You will notice that Saber started off looking much darker more serious than the lighter more comic feel of OMD today. As the development progressed and things like physics traps were added the OMD we see today was born. Of course it was soon time for the studio to name the game beyond its prototype name “Saber” and there were alot of discussions in the studio.


“Orc Invasion”, “Overrun” and “Onslaught” were some of the names that were considered alongside Chris Rippy’s “Orcs Must Die!”. In the end it was whittled down to just two, “Onslaught” and “Orcs Must Die!” and the studio was split 50/50 on each name and in the end a decision was made to go with OMD. The OMD name also helped Robot’s art and design move the game into a more lighter setting. This can also be seen in the War Mage’s art development where he started out more serious before becoming the more goofy hero we see today:

Orcs Must Die! shipped in 2011 and went on to win AIAS Strategy Simulation game of the year.

Hero Academy

Robot’s next original IP was to be Hero Academy a mobile game on Android, iOS and Steam. Once again the project started out from the orange pod. Patrick Hudson talked about the Team Fortress 2 integration and the relationship with Valve and also that they got approached by a number of other IP’s about adding more teams in the game, but it was felt that those would not be as good a fit. Hero Academy also won an award at AIAS, Mobile Game of the Year.

Echo Prime

The next mobile game spearheaded by Chris Rippy was a sci-fi RPG “Echo Prime” on iOS and Steam. Which by the way has recently had a price reduction if you haven’t already picked it up.

Orcs Must Die! 2

OMD2 was released 30 July 2012 and added a whole bunch of extra monsters, a second playable character (Sorceress) and added Co-Op. After OMD2 the studio decided that they were going to let OMD rest for a bit.

More prototyping  - coming up in part 2

Whilst the OMD series was placed on hold the bots began prototyping more new original games across various genres from strategy to FPS. We’re going to cover these very interesting prototypes in part 2 of this blog series later this week. Be sure to check back where we discect some of the other original ideas what have been toyed around with in the studio.

In the meanwhile… be sure to check out  the stream VOD of the PAX panel where you can see the hour long panel talk about all of the things mentioned above and some of the things we are covering in part 2 later this upcoming week which includes these awesome never before seen concept ideas, and of course Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Check back soon!


Watch live video from OrcsMustDie on Twitch

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14
Aug

Robot Entertainment panel at PAX Prime

Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment are on route to PAX Prime in Seattle later this month. While there is no Robot booth this time around, a number of the bots will be hosting their own PAX Prime panel. The line up includes Patrick Hudson [CEO], Justin Korthof [Community Manager], Lance Hoke [Producer], Ian Fischer [Design Director], Chris Moffitt [Art Director].

The panel will include talk about studios history including their time at Ensemble Studios, Age of Empires through to modern day Orcs Must Die! For those lucky enough to be in attendance there will also be prizes being given out at the panel. No word on what these are as of yet, but hey, who would say no to free prizes?!

If you’re at PAX Prime be sure to head to the HEDGEHOG THEATRE on SATURDAY 8/30 1:30PM – 2:30PM

via Robot Entertainment Fans

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30
Jun

Ex Ensembler’s thoughts on AOE 2 HD and AOM:EE

If you’re a Steam user you have have seen for a while prominent features of Age of Empires 2 HD and Age of Mythology Extended Edition available to play on Steam. Its great to see these classic Ensemble titles back in the game for purchase. Joining Age of Empires 3 which is also available for purchase on Steam there are now three major games in Ensemble’s legacy in the modern day Steam store and audiences both old and new can enjoy these great games.

But what do some Ex-Ensembler’s think about the HD and Extended Editions of their games? Julian Benson over at PC Games N has spoken to a few Ensemblites, Eric Best, Ian Fischer and Jerome Jones who are now working diligently at Robot Entertainment on Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Their article said:

I asked them whether they’d seen the new Extended Edition, HD remakes of their games.

“I was one of the designers on Age of Mythology,” Jerome explains. “That was a good game, of all the Age games. We went to the extended edition’s booth at PAX, talked to the guys who are putting it out there. Me and Ian went over there, Ian was a designer on Age of Empires, too. Him and I went over there and talked to some of those guys who never really worked on the game – they’re enhancing the game, right – and they were like ‘Hey, do you guys want to see the game?’ and we were like ‘Nah, we’ve seen it a lot.’

“I think it’s one of the best selling games on Steam,” Eric says.

“It was fine as it was, says Jerome. “It sold 4 or 5 million copies. They’re just making it look more… clearer maybe? That’s not fair, they’ve added some things that we didn’t put in. Global map stuff. It didn’t seem necessary for me.

It seems like they might not be too fussed about the re-release. From my own personal perspective I think its great to see these titles available on a platform like Steam and it gives these great games the chance to be played again on newer systems and reach new audiences. At the same time I dont think a huge amount of investment has been made and there could have been alot more done, I can understand where Jerome is coming from.

Be sure to check out the full article over at PC Games N.

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27
May

Video game music interviews Stephen Rippy – new music!

An excellent interview has been posted over at vgmonline.net featuring Stephen Rippy – “Music through the ages.” The interview covers all aspects of Stephen’s career from his time at Ensemble Studios working on Age and Halo Wars to post Ensemble work with Zynga working on Castleville. We also learn about Stephen’s new recently released album “Mainland Static”.

Chris: This month, you released your latest original album Mainland Static through Sumthing Else Music Works. What should we expect from the songs of this work? How would you compare this album and your sound in general to that featured in earlier releases?

Stephen Rippy: I think these songs are maybe a little more character-driven.  The sound of the record is a little more produced than the last one, and there’s probably more piano and electric guitar than I’ve used in a while.

The new album sounds great. You can check it out over on Spotify, iTunesSumthing Else or Amazon as below.

Dont forget to check out the full interview at http://www.vgmonline.net/stephenrippyinterview/ to read more about the new album.

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10
Apr

Orcs Must Die! Unchained announced via IGN

Great news for Orcs Must Die! fans – its your lucky day as Robot have just announced the next OMD game – Orcs Must Die! Unchained, or OMDU for short! IGN has the scoop. OMDU is the biggest game to date in pretty much every way – bigger levels, more playable characters, deeper deck / inventory system, more enemies and of course even more traps, whats more this is all free-to-play!

Not only is it bigger and better than ever before, OMDU is a radical change to the gameplay. Now for the first time players will be going head to head against themselves to defend and attack strongholds. Thats right OMDU takes a leap into an expansive multiplayer experience! Solo modes are also available as well.

Lets take a look at how Robot sums it up:

Orcs Must Die! Unchained is a fast-paced Fortress Siege action game in which teams of heroes battle head-to-head to attack and defend ancient strongholds. For the first time in Orcs Must Die!, teams of players are responsible for both sides of the battle — building traps to stop the enemy assault AND summoning their own armies to lead against the enemy defense.

OMDU is big, we’re talking up to 5v5 play against friends or global multi player search. To help with this there are a host of new charecters along side the trusty War Mage and Sorceress. OMDU introduces Blackpaw, Midnight, Stinkeye, and Bloodspike into the fray plus many more. This time the hero’s aren’t all human either!

The decks and inventory system has been completely overhauled, decks are deeper than before and are much better organised. There is also a full upgrade system in place to power up your inventory. Heroes, weapons and traps can all be upgraded not to mention upgrades to minions who will prove to be essential in helping turn the tide of battle.

Seeing is believing – check out the teaser trailer


Don’t take our word for it – take a look at the brand new teaser trailer to see some of the greatness thats in-store for fans coming up in OMDU. Looking mighty fine folks!

Get immediate or early access!

Looking for early access to OMDU? No problem! This time around Robot has introduced a scheme that lets super fans get ahold of the game early, or even much earlier such as right now! Thats right, by purchasing membership to the “Founders” club fans can get ahold of the alpha of OMDU right now! The immediate alpha access costs $149.99 an for that you get a ton of extra stuff on top worth up to $500, this includes 1 alpha and 5 beta codes to share with friends and $200 worth of in-game currency to spend how you like on upgrades. You also get access to the 5 founders heroes, skins and most of all exclusive access to the developer forums. A great deal for mega OMD fans!

If you don’t mind holding tight for a little bit you can get priority alpha and beta access from $59.99 and $19.99 respectively. You can find out all about the Founders access by heading here: https://orcsmustdie.com/founders

Much more to come

We’re just scratching the surface of whats coming up in OMDU. Expect much more to be revealed over PAX and over the coming months. Keep a sharp eye out and dont forget to to sign up on the brand new Orcs Must Die! website. There are brand new forums for people to hop on and discuss this exciting announcement! We’ll see you there :)

More information

To read more about OMDU check out the article at IGN where both Patrick Hudson and Ian Fischer discuss parts of the game and the free-to-play model.

via Robot Fans

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26
Feb

Robot working on a new PC game. Gameforge to publish in Europe

Gameforge and Robot Entertainment have yesterday announced a publishing partnership in respect of a new upcoming game in European territories. This is good news as the partnership will allow Robot to expand its presence in European markets. The deal is a full publishing agreement and extends to marketing and support of the upcoming title.

Robot’s CEO Patrick Hudson said: “Robot is eager to expand its global reach. Gameforge is the strongest publisher in Europe, and we are excited they will help deliver our next game to even more players. We cannot wait to unveil this game to fans soon”

Alexander Rösner, CEO at Gameforge, went on to say: “Gameforge and Robot Entertainment are a superb match – we both share one goal: to make games that are fun. In this sense, our new shared title will raise the bar to a new level”.

Eagle eyed readers will note that the press release on the Gameforge website refers to the next title as being “an unannounced new PC project slated for release in 2014?.

via Robot Entertainment Fans

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2
Feb

Echo Prime – Steam Review

Echo Prime

Its been a few days now since Robot released Echo Prime on Steam. Following its release back in October last year it is great to see Echo Prime arrive on PC as this allows more people to play the game who previously would not have been able to if they did not have an iOS device. On PC Robot brings us an expanded version of the game with even more levels and enemies. So lets take a look at what the bots bring to the table with Echo Prime.

Gameplay

Echo Prime is quite simply a blast to play. It reminds me alot of classic arcade game action.  Players take control of an Enforcer, a character who protects the universe from the various nasties such as dangerous alien creatures, space pirates, and killer mercenaries. Being an action RPG there are alot of traditional RPG elements here. Players can attack with either their melee weapon such as a sword but also with a ranged weapon. On the defensive side players have the option of blocking enemy attacks and a well timed block can reflect enemies shots right back at them. It can be great fun and rewarding to practice the shield blocking technique. Aside from blocking players can avoid damage by dodging out of the way.

Players can make use of either keyboard and mouse controls or use a gamepad such as the Xbox Controller. Personally, I preferred to play the game with the controller and felt it gave a better overall experience particularly with precision around the dodging mechanic. Playing with the mouse can be a little tricky as sometimes you may encounter un-expected dodging. With the gamepad everything in game works like a dream. The only small niggle with gamepads is that some of the in-game menus do not lend themself to ease of use with the gamepad. Considering this is a port from the iOS game the port has been well executed in the most part with just some minor issues with the menu screens.

Progressing through Echo Prime is all about collecting echoes and upgrading your weapons and armour. So what are these Echoes I hear you ask?  Echoes are the friendly aliens from other parts of the universe. Once collected players can equip them to make use of their awesome bonuses. Both active and passive types of bonuses are available. Passive echoes have their bonuses permanently activated such as say “30% defence increase”. Active echoes allow their bonuses to be called on manually by pressing on the echo icon during game. Examples of active echoes are things like the “Searing Strike” which when activated a blast of fire inflicts damage on multiple enemies.

There are also some epic boss battles that spice things up as well. Echo Prime entertains with a varied set of levels and things to accomplish.

Graphics & Design

The level design on Echo Prime is nice and varied as players play through the game. At first players spend their time on-board various ships clearing out enemies but soon players find themselves in various locations across the universe such as ice caverns and mining planets. With random level generation each time players play a level the experience is always different. Although the the level is graphically the same the amount and position of enemies varies, as does the position and availability of dropped items. Not only that players can choose different echoes at the beginning of levels allowing players to experiment with various combinations to tackle some of the more tricky levels.

On the graphics front, having originated from iOS Echo Prime on Steam does seem to have improved graphics and it certainly looks great on the PC. The graphics are not hugely detailed and are largely kept quite simple. On the plus side this means the game runs very well on a wide array of computers with its low system requirements. Echo Prime is visually pleasant with a good, friendly mix of colour palette which adds to the overall enjoyment. Enemies are well designed and with good variation. Including some funky acid dropping floating jelly fish like aliens! Kudos to Robot’s art department for coming up with some really cool enemy and level designs.

Sound

Although you might not have thought so being an iOS port, Echo Prime, even in the iOS version has some very good sound and music. The music is a typical flashback to arcade game music and it works very well and helps dictate the pace. Sound effects are plentiful and of good quality and are generally not annoying. Purchasing the game on Steam also nets players the 14 track soundtrack available in the Steam directory.

Social & Multiplayer

Unfortunately there is no co-op play available with Echo Prime. It would certainly be very awesome if there was but that would of course take a lot of work on Robot’s part. The game does have leader boards where players can compare number of echoes collected with their friends. There are also some achievements to unlock as well. In-game players can view their friends echoes, players can also use their friends echoes in game to assist in trickier levels, particually helpful if your friend has some awesome veteran echoes in their collection. Otherwise random players echoes are also sometimes selectable. Players can “follow” peoples echo collections so that those echoes appear more often. Quite an interesting and unique feature.

Conclusions

Echo Prime is another great game from the bots at Robot. The games migration to PC has been execute well, so well that I prefer to play it on PC than on the iPad. It can be easy to get worn out with the constant screen tapping! On PC, especially with a gamepad Echo Prime is more approachable than before. At its price point of $9.99 (20% right now) the game provides excellent value for money and a ton of gameplay.

If you havnt been able to get ahold of Echo Prime on iOS or if you wanted to give it a go with more traditional PC / gamepad controls now is a great time to purchase Echo Prime and get 20% off (and Orcs Must Die! 2). Echo Prime gets the our stamp of approval. Go forth and protect the universe!

Purchase and download on Steam

via Robot Entertainment Fans

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22
Jan

Echo Prime on route to PC via Steam next week!

Echo Prime

Great news for PC gamers who many not have had the chance to check out Robot’s awesome futuristic action / RPG “Echo Prime”, it is now on route to PC via Steam. Not only that but the Echo Prime edition coming to Steam will be an expanded edition of the game with more locations than before and a whole new enemy race and alien “Tide”. Whats more to make the game work better on the PC platform the bots have re-worked the controls to make them more suitable for traditional, less finger based input!

Hardcore mode has also been added. In similar vain to endless on Orcs Must Die 2, players fight against wave after wave of enemies to compete and see just how many waves they can survive.

Players also get the full 14 track soundtrack with purchase of Echo Prime on Steam. How about that.

Here is the full run down on the things to come as seen in Robot’s most recent newsletter:

Echo Prime on Steam

  • Optimized for PC – Echo Prime’s real-time action gameplay has been redesigned for PCs, including improvements to visual effects, a retuned economy, and new PC controls with mappable hotkeys.
  • Even More Enemies and Environments – Echo Prime for Steam includes new locations in which to do battle and a new enemy race the “Tide”.
  • New Hardcore Mode - Tests your mastery. How far can you get without dying?
  • Upgrade Your Arsenal – Over 100 pieces of gear with a diverse mix of deadly effects, from fire to toxic, all unlockable at no additional cost.
  • Echoes of the Multiverse – As you play you will discover and unlock dozens of “Echoes,” alien life forms from alternate universes. Build connections with them,  and Echoes will offer you powers and abilities to help you on your missions. Experiment and find the best combinations to customize your ability loadout.
  • Share Echoes – Use your friends’ Echoes in combat to help them level-up, and level up your Echoes when your friends use them!
  • Random Campaign Generation – Echo Prime features an action-driven story campaign with randomly generated missions. Every experience is different!
  • Includes the Full Soundtrack – All 14 tracks of the Echo Prime soundtrack are included when you buy the game!

Its sure to be a blast and its all coming next week January 28th, 2014. That’s real soon!

via Robot Entertainment Fans

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26
Nov

Age Community 8 years awards – nominate now, win prizes!

Next month Age Community will be closing after 8 years. It’s been a great 8 years and Age Community has progressed a lot since its inception. Unfortunately Microsoft has decided that change is a-foot and we’ll no longer be able to use the Age Community forum by mid next month.

Now is the time to celebrate all of the great years we’ve had on Age Community. Thus here we present the Age Community 8 years awards! Having teamed up with Robot Entertainment we’ve got some great prizes to award to members of the community to give Age Community the send off it deserves.

Prizes

We have autographed copies of the Age 3 and AOM, autographed art books, making of DVDs and even an  original 43″ x 27″ Age of Empires poster by Craig Mullins.

Categories

Here are the categories for which you can nominate people for a prize. What better Christmas present than some autographed Age of Empires goodies?

  • Grand Prize – Best Overall Member
  • Most Helpful Member
  • Funniest Member
  • Member with the best strategies
  • Best Age 3 video / recorded game
  • Best Age of Empires 3 meme (winning meme will be chosen by Aloysius!)

There are lots of ways to win with each category above having a first and second prize tier. Find out more about the tiers and all the prizes. The Grand Prize goes to the person who wins “Best overall member”. You can’t nominate yourself, but you can nominate someone for more than one category.

PLUS! Those who take the time just to nominate someone are also in for a chance to win some exclusive autographed copies of Age of Empires 3 by the developers! We have 10 autographed Age 3 copies to give away to 10 lucky people who just take the time to nominate using the link below!

Please take the time to follow the link above and nominate members or upload links to your meme / Videos. Lets celebrate the great 8 years of Age Community. Lots of chances to win prizes in this great competition with prizes provided by Robot Entertainment. A huge thank-you to Robot!

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17
Nov

Microsoft closing Age Community

Age Community was the excellent online community started 8 years ago by Ensemble Studios back in 2005. The site was set up as the official community website for Age of Empires so that fans could enjoy all Age content in one single place. News, forums, statistics, ladders, account tools and patches were all available on one single website aptly named Age Community. So how did it all go wrong?

In the words of Ensemble studio head Tony Goodman:

This will give the fans a direct path to communicate game ideas to our designers, programmers and artists. You will also find Age III statistics, downloads, news, developer blogs and more. This is just the beginning of our new commitment to creating one of the world’s best online communities… and your input will be the key! I look forward to seeing you online.

This is how Age Community looked all those years ago when Age 3 launched.

Indeed for many years Ensemble worked hard to build a fantastic online community which was regularly updated. Over the years the forum has attracted 120,959 users and hundreds of thousands of threads and posts. The website was updated throughout each Age 3 expansion pack. When Ensemble Studios closed, it wasnt the end for Age Community. Robot Entertainment picked up the mantle and kept things moving all the way up until Age of Empires Online’s announcement. By this point the website was re-designed with Age of Empires Online in mind:

Age Community when Age of Empires Online Launched

The downward spiral

It was around this time post Age of Empires Online announcement that things started to go wrong for the Age of Empires Community.  Microsoft announced that it would be taking on support for the Age of Empires community directly and that it would no longer by managed by Robot Entertainment. One of the first things Microsoft decided to do really set in stone what would be numerous examples of how not to run an online community. Their first decision was to set up a whole new community website and forums completely seperate from what was the “Official Age of Empires Community”. Yes indeed, rather than use the existing community which had built up after years and years fans had to set up whole new accounts and start all over again at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com.

The whole decision was a slap in the face of what Ensemble tried to do by creating the single hub for all Age of Empires content. Of course at this point everything became disjointed, not all fans were keen on Age of Empires Online so some stayed on the what was the official Age Community rather than discussing the game on the new AOE-O forums. Low and behold the community was split onto two websites. Infact it was so crazy that Age Community had an AOE-O discussion forum and then there was another one at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com. Both of which were official websites, both of which discussing the same thing!

Where would you like to discuss AOE-O today? AgeCommunity.com perhaps? Or AgeofEmpiresOnline.com? Both are official websites - so choose wisely!

Why Microsoft decided to create whole new forums and not align the community on one single website will never be known. Both websites were even running the same software (Community Server).

Madness continues

Following on from Age of Empires Online, Microsoft announced Age of Empires 2 HD Edition. Of course they would need to set up a new website and forums for that. So where best to put them – AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com is purely dedicated to AOE-O so that wouldnt be a smart place. Ah, AgeCommunity.com, now there is a website that is serving all three existing Age games – it would surely make sense to put the new forums and information there. After all it is the Age of Empires Community (it even says so in the URL AgeCommunity.com).

Astonishingly the team decided to instead set up the new community presence for Age 2 HD on the AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com website! A very strange decision. A website that was solely designed for AOE-O is now the place for Age 2 HD discussions. Never mind the neutral website at AgeCommunity.com. Microsoft seemed to be doing all it can to ensure confusion and ambiguity.

Looking for the Age of Empires 2 HD community? Sorry the official AgeCommunity.com isnt the place for that, no you can find it at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com.

This is how it should be done. Demonstrating how Ensemble Studios and Robot Entertainment used a single community website:

And then it gets even worse…

Microsoft managed to keep both communities going side by side for a further two years. Until of course they announced that Age of Empires Online would be closing. But uh-oh we have half the community at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com and another half at AgeCommunity.com. Never mind all the Age 2 HD stuff wrongly placed on AOE-O’s website. They must of thought “Hmm. We cant’t keep AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com going because we’re closing that game”. An astute community team would have deduced that the most logical way forward would be to use the existing hub of fans and start to use AgeCommunity.com as the single official community again as had been the original Ensemble intention. Bringing all Age content for all four games under one roof on one single logical domain name. One that also had all the statistics and ladders for Age 3.

Instead the community team decides to close both websites and set up a whole new website to up root both communities all over again! Having announced they now have launched a whole new website at www.ageofempires.com and they are wanting all users to migrate to this new website. Throwing away all the years of content and integration that was AgeCommunity.com. So if the team are going through all this effort the new website would surely be something compelling, right?

Well you’ll have to see for yourself. Creating what must be the a fairly ghastly website for a game the size of Age of Empires. Things are so bad and under invested that they don’t even have a theme for the forum. No, they just used the out-of-the-box default theme that came with the forum and simply stuck a header graphic on top. (One that is far too large in file-size one might add). There are bugs all over the place with many features not working at all.

And here it is, the most basic shambolic website for a game the size of Age of Empires

Not only is the new website visually deficient but no thought has gone into key forum features, it truly is the most basic website they could posibly have come up with, basically a throw back to the 90′s. The community not only has to uproot itself again (losing countless number of members in the process for those who cant be bothered to join), but they have to join this ghastly new website.

Micorosft really had a great opportunity to make use of the website that Ensemble had created that was already fully kitted out with deep integration with Age 3 and use it as a means to bring everything together. But no, they just continue to want to set up new websites and are persistent at creating a fresh community without so much thought of the members and content that would be lost the process. Reception of the website has mostly been negative as expected.

Some quotes from less than happy members:

“Bring back the old style with an active posts, add real AOE3 avatars and make a prettier interface. Although, I will admit I’m extremely grateful for the off-topic and I’m excited to troll *ahem* post here. Oh, and losing 5k posts ***s as well.”

“Dang I hate this forum. It looks so trashy compared to the old AoEO or any age forums. A 10 year old could script a better site. ”

“I have to agree, this “new” forum looks really ugly and unappealing. Agecommunity (being almost 10 years old) looks far more innovative, clean, and pleasant. This should have been an opportunity to design a much more advanced and modern forum with a cooler interface – not something taken straight out of 2003. No offense, but seriously, even a generic forum made by some 12 year old through zetaboards or miarroba looks nicer than this.
I refuse to post here unless there are some changes coming. Mad

“Old ageofempires.com was great web site. They could add a good forum (Like Age Comm. forum) and they could combine all AOE sites and forums. Why they made a new and not great web site and forum ? I don’t know, I don’t understand.”

What does Microsoft have to say about all this? Moderator “USN_Saint” had this to say:

Without going into a lot of detail it’s kind of hard to explain, but it sort of comes down to where the site is hosted and the process to make changes to it. While this website looks nice and might appear to work well on the outside, the behind the scenes mechanics of it are not so efficient and very difficult for us to do anything with it. For example, making a simple change to the layout requires us to submit a change request to a different part of the organization and there is a time delay associated with it all. By moving to the new website, forums, blogs etc. we can essentially change whatever we want internally. Yes, we acknowledge it needs work and we’re doing that, but the process to make those changes is much easier now, so we can make those changes quicker.

So basically the summary of that is that owing to internal issues the community has to suffer with a far worse community website because Microsoft can’t muster the resources to have a web developer on hand to manage the changes needed for AgeCommunity.com. Instead the new website appears to being run by the community team directly who do not seem to have expertise in this area. Microsoft also blames “bugs” with the AgeCommunity.com website. Since Ensemble’s departure the website had issues displaying in newer browsers like Chrome. But these “bugs” are merely a few lines of CSS tweaks. Of course, Microsoft despite all its size could not famouth such simple changes. Instead of course, they felt it was better to time travel back the 90′s and keep the new website as simple as possible to make it easier for them, never mind the fans.

Age Community on the left and the new website on the right - light years behind in design and functionality

Hand crafted theme for Age Community vs under invested "out of the box" on the new website

What makes this whole saga so frustrating is that we are dealing with a major franchise – Age of Empires. It is shocking that such a key franchise is being subjected to this level of all-time low investment and engagement. One can only hope that Microsoft Studios will twig on to these glaring deficiencies and provide the series which much needed investment. This is a sad day for Age of Empires. Many fans are hopeful of an Age of Empires 4, but it difficult to see how that can be happening if they are taking the community back to such basics. The investment in Age of Empires is just no longer there. I’m sure the community team working on Age of Empires have best intentions at heart but are unable to execute them properly owing to fundamental under-investment.

One hopes that investment will increase that if we are moving to a new website that it will be as compelling as possible.

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