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August 12, 2009

Matt Pritchard in classic Gamasutra Age of Empires interview archive


Gamasutra has lifted the lid on a classic interview with Ex Ensemble graphics engine programmer Matt Pritchard. Matt joined Ensemble in the early days of Age of Empires development, so early that the game was called “Dawn of Man” before being renamed “Age of Empires” later on. The archived interview is an excellent read for Ensemble and Age of Empires fans. Reading the article you should recognise many names including Tim “timotron” Deen who has worked at Ensemble since Age 1 right up until Halo Wars and the studio disbandment. Tim Deen is now working at Robot Entertainment. Matt Pritchard went on after Age of Mythology to work on BlackSite: Area 51.

The interview talks about some of the choices made at Ensemble about the games design, multiplayer and testing along with details about how the game was programmed. Matt’s primary role was developing the “Genie” graphics engine which powered Age of Empires 1 and 2. Matt’s efforts with the engine managed to increase the initial framerate of 7-14FPS right up to 55FPS. The remainder of the interview discusses things that went well such as the games database driven design, staying in close contact with the publisher (Microsoft) and how Ensemble’s management truly respected its employees. Many of the good points that Matt talked about in the article remained true right up until the end of the studio including the database driven design and employee morale, maybe not so much the publisher relations aspect, though.

Of course a large scale game development like Age of Empires comes with its bugs and these are also talked about in the article. A late beta test, lack of multi player testing on residential modems and not planning for a patch rank highly. In the original release of the game some players found online play unsustainable due to lag time and drop outs over slow 56k modem speeds. Due to the whizzy and fast equipment at Ensemble Studios the testing which took place internally did not necessarily reflect the speeds players would get on the outside. Luckily the good communication with management at Ensemble and Microsoft allowed for the creation of the 1.0a patch which duly rectified most of the multiplayer issues.

Alongside a retro article comes a retro picture of Ensemble Studios staff in 1997. See if you can spot some familiar faces in the picture below:

ensemble team 1997

Looks like Christmas!

I encourage all fans to have a read of the Gamasutra article below, delving into some history of the studios early days. Ensemble Studios is sorely missed. 🙁


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