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Archive for September, 2010

9
Sep

Age of Empires Online Beta wave 2 out today!

If you’ve signed up for the Age of Empires Online Beta and haven’t got in yet, well now is the time to start checking your emails as CosyGOODkNIGHT of the new Age of Empires Online forum announces:

I’m pleased to announce that we’re sending out another wave of Beta invites today!  Please keep in mind that it can take several hours for our system to push out all the emails.  You can check your inbox incrementally throughout the day or sit in front of your computer obsessively mashing the F5 button, I’ll leave that decision to you.  Best of luck!

http://forums.ageofempiresonline.com/forums/thread/5932.aspx

I also wish everyone the best of luck getting into the beta – its an awesome game!

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8
Sep

Creative director Marcus Lehto of Bungie Studios thoughts on Halo Wars

Picked up on a Computerandvideogames.com interview with Bungie’s creative director Marcus Lehto today which looks back at Bungie during the Halo years and the future of the studio going forward. The interview does touch on Halo Wars and the studios thoughts about Ensemble working on the title. -

Looking back, were you happy with Microsoft’s decision to make Halo Wars? What did you think of the game, and its reception? What’s your stance on Halo spin-offs in general?

For Halo Wars I can say that we weren’t involved with it at all, but at the time we figured – and it’s still true – that if anyone would want to take a stab at a Halo RTS, Ensemble had the pedigree and talent to do it.

Ultimately, all of us were happy with how it turned out; they would have been hard pressed to do a better job at an RTS on console. Certainly elements like the cinematics – how they enriched different parts of the universe – as fans it was really cool to see that.

Would you have liked Microsoft to come to you? We’re surprised you weren’t involved with Halo Wars at all…

Well, we didn’t have any room in our schedule anyway. We had a pretty rigorous schedule to get Halo 3 out of the door, so I think Bungie has a pedigree for making those types of games, but not to the extent Ensemble did. It made a lot more sense. We were focused on getting bullets on pixels, giving people a tight, fun, action packed world, It was the right fit.

It is clear that Bungie were very pleased to have Ensemble work on Halo Wars and felt safe the studio would do a good job with the Halo IP. Halo Wars turned out to be a great game and as Marcus says they would have indeed been hard pressed to do a better job for an RTS based console.

The full interview can be found below which also contains some interesting questions and answers about Bungie’s past, present and future plans.

http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=261874

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8
Sep

Correction: Halo Reach has multiple forums

 

For those who have read my ranty post regarding the new AOEO forums I have received an email advising of an incorrect fact regarding the following text:

“It would be like Halo Reach detaching from Bungie.net and setting up shop somewhere else”

As it turns out Halo Reach has multiple community sites as follows:

That’s right, there are three official community hubs for that one game and its franchise. Personally, I feel having three official community sites for a franchise is a negative as it splits the community three ways unless people have three accounts for checking three separate forums. It is my opinion that one centralised community for a game series developed by the same (or similar) developer helps keeps the community together and increases the audience size.

Nonetheless readers should consider the above information when reading my previous blog post.

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4
Sep

Age of Empires community fragmentation begins as new forums launch

 

As announced previously Microsoft is continuing with its new community venture for Age of Empires Online and has announced the launch of a new community website at www.ageofempiresonline.com. As a result of this launch this will see the immediate fragmentation of the Age of Empires online fan base where by there will be two official forums for the Age of Empires series, one for legacy games such as Age 3 and Age of Mythology and another for Age of Empires Online. Why Microsoft has chosen this path is bizarre as having two forums for one franchise can only offer fragmentation. It would be like Halo Reach detaching from Bungie.net and setting up shop somewhere else (Edit: Halo Reach actually does have multiple community websites). Or Lionhead breaking away its Fable 3 forum from its website. It doesn’t happen with other IP but its ok to do so with Age of Empires.

In the past Microsoft has typically treated Ensemble developed games poorly in terms of community investment. Since the closure of Ensemble Studios, Age Community has suffered a number of bugs with modern browsers resulting in the website looking terrible in , including  in Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer 7 and 8. Images are cut off and out of alignment and despite launching a new game in the Age series Microsoft has still not invested money into making the website look suitable, and even usable in the cases of cut off web buttons. The website looks rough and patched together and does no justice to the Age franchise. Then we also have Halo Wars which was promised “exciting things to come” when Microsoft’s 343 Industries took over. The result was community madness with almost no moderation and no ”exciting things” has ever been forthcoming.

It is a no brainer that by splitting up the community for the same franchise is bad for the community. Age Community has been incredibly successful, particularly at Ensemble Studios and boasts almost 90,000 users at the time of writing. Now all these 90,000 users will be forced to setup another account on a totally different website should they want to discuss and hear news about Age of Empires Online in an official environment. Moreover, those who check forums often will now have to flick between the two as some may not realise Age Community is not the official site for Age of Empires Online. Especially seeing as Age Community purports to be the official community website for Age of Empires as a whole based on its domain name and branding.

The whole process seems messy, unthought out and has negative impact on Age Community. Despite having a dedicated community team at Microsoft they have completely missed the massive oversight of the community fragmentation having two forums will bring and have been unsympathetic to the Age Community by not investing in that website going forward and over the past year knowing that another Age game was around the corner.

Microsoft are hiding behind legal and technical issues which had apparently required them to develop a new community. However both these explanations are questionable seeing as the new website runs on the same software as Age Community. Having looked at the website closely it offers no benefit whatsoever other than to fragment and duplicate community content. The gamertag integration could easily have been implemented into Age Community as evidenced by Ensemble’s work with HaloWars.com which shares the same community software again. The supposed “legal issues” are also dubious and Microsoft have not been forthcoming about what these issues were. Robot Entertainment has worked on Age Community and Halo Wars after Ensemble’s closure so there has been no problem before using a third party developer to look after community websites. I have not been able to determine what the legal issues could possibly be and can only assume it comes down to poor decision making and lack of attention to the fan base of Age Community that has resulted in this ill advised decision.

Age of Empires looks like a great game but the community management is way off course for Age of Empires best interests in my opinion as you may have gathered from the tone of this blog post. I am very disappointed.

Robot Entertainment has stated that they will continue support of Age Community for as long as Microsoft allows and will continue to look after the community going forward. Microsoft has not given clear indication of plans for Age Community and no-one from either company has updated the Age Community homepage beyond just an announcement so far. For reference I include comments from both Robot Entertainment and Microsoft below:

“Microsoft does have a community team in place to support Age of Empires Online, but that doesn’t change the fact that Robot Entertainment is very interested in and dedicated to all players who are a part of our community and who play the games we develop. Dunkman/Aloysius and I will continue to support and maintain AgeCommunity.com and the players there until such time that Microsoft decides to change direction with the site.”

- Justin Korthof.  Community Manager at Robot Entertainment


The decision to make new forums for AOEO wasn’t simply, “we want to fragment the community”. This was never the intent but there are legal issues that arose (which I am not at liberty to talk about) that made it necessary for MGS to create new message boards for AOEO. I have every intention on keeping AgeCom updated with AOEO content. AgeCom wont be recognized as an official outlet – as AOEO.com will be – but will be up-to-date with content. I can’t tell you exactly right now how AgeCom is going to be utilized in the future, but AgeCom will not be forgotten about and abandoned to the wasteland.

 Robot Entertainment’s community team isn’t being utilized for AOEO – but they do still run AgeCom. While they’re not “officially” the community team we (Cosy and myself) ARE in constant and close contact (if it assuages your fears any – I’ve been friends with the Robot team since before I took this position) and have no intention on changing that. Our (the MGS team) main concern as a community team is the community.

- BatsyBatsy.  Community Manager at Microsoft Game Studios

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3
Sep

Microsoft Game Studios details the AOEO Beta invite process

 

NWGameDad of Microsoft Game Studios has commented on Age Community detailing exactly how the beta process is going to work for Age of Empires Online. Good news for those who have not been invited to the beta yet – Microsoft looks at the possibility of adding new players to the beta weekly so there is a good chance you may be invited soon. The full post can be found below:

Hello Age Community!

I wanted pop in and answer some questions about the Beta.  Age of Empires is a large successful franchise with millions of fans, and the response to our announcement of the new game at GamesCom a couple weeks ago has been phenomenal.  The number of sign-ups we had for the Beta were quite large, so try to understand the scale of things when you don’t get the invite you’ve been dying to receive in Wave 1.  There are just a large number of people that want into the Beta and we can’t accommodate everyone right now (see 1. below) To answer some specific questions on the Beta selection and invite process:

1. Every week we evaluate if we’re ready to add more people to the Beta from the sign-up pool.  We are building an online game and the Beta is helping us not only get feedback on gameplay, but also to test our server environments.  When we add new people each week, we need to test and analyze the results of new people joining to ensure the server environment is stable and able to handle another wave of people.   If we find bugs with the servers then that may mean we have to skip adding new folks that week  in order to fix problems.  This is a big reason why Batsy Batsy has been so non-committal on when Beta invite waves will happen.  We don’t want to definitively state a week we’re adding people, then that not have that happen because of bugs.  In an ideal situation we will have weekly Beta invite waves, however, Betas are not ideal by their nature of not being done, so expect that we will be at least evaluating whether we can add more Beta Testers each week.

2. As some have noted in various posts, we don’t invite exclusively from one segment of our fan base so that we get a good cross-section of feedback from players.  I know it may feel like we haven’t invited enough hardcore RTS gamers, but honestly I can say the hardcore RTS gamers are well represented in every Beta wave invited.  In fact, we did a special fast track of several RTS gamers recommended by Robot about a week ago to insure we were getting that voice in the Beta.  The reason it may feel like it isn’t enough is quite simply because the pool of fans is just so large.  As we expand the Beta more and more of you will get invites.  We certainly are not ignoring all the great players from past Age games.  There’s just that scale of numbers thing to pay attention to right now.

3.  This is a Closed Beta still.  That means that those of you that are invited are under NDA and are not allowed to speak about the Beta outside of our private Beta forums.  We do this because we are still working on the game and it just isn’t ready for everyone to know every last detail.  A lot is still changing and although we want Beta feedback we still need to keep stuff under wraps to allow us the freedom to develop a great game.

Hopefully this helps you all understand a bit more of our process around the Beta.  I am really excited that for this iteration of Age of Empires we can have such a long and large scale Beta compared to past products.  It allows us to really build a game that I think you’ll love and you will have had the chance to check it out and give feedback on before we launch.  The feedback we received from our Alpha Testers and now our Beta Testers has been really helpful.  I look forward to seeing more of you in the Beta.

NWGameDad

Executive Producer

Microsoft Game Studios

Join in the discussion at:

http://forum.agecommunity.com/forums/thread/897394.aspx

Side note: It is pleasing to see Microsoft is using the Age Community website after the concerns that were previously raised regarding Age Community utilisation.

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3
Sep

Dave Kubalak talks about AOEO art style. Plus news about PAX

  

Robot Entertainment’s art director Dave Kubalak has been blogging about the art style in Age of Empires Online. There is no denying that the art style is very different in AOEO compared to Age 3 and even Age 1 which was set in the same time zone. If you would like a trip down memory lane the below screenshots compares the Age 1 days with the new look AOEO. 

 

(Click to enlarge

The excellent blog describes in detail Robot’s vision plan for the game and how the changes make the experience much better for the user.  The vision plan is as follows: 

  1. Create a timeless, bright, and visually appealing game that can technically run on a wide range of PCs, and still look good for years to come.
     
  2. Create a bold and more graphic look with a lot of character. That means a lot of different things.
  3. Less obstructive user interface and a more ‘graphic look’ to our iconography
  • Make the terrain vivid, but less ‘noisy’ so the buildings and units ‘pop’, and are easily identifiable.
  • Explore exaggerated and unique silhouettes to create a large variety of units and buildings. This helps give even inanimate objects more character and appeal.
  • Use animations, in addition to the units’ unique proportions, to better differentiate and emphasize roles and classes
  • Give the world and its inhabitants character and ‘life’, creating a digital terrarium for the player to control

Looking at the various in game screenshots it is clear how these points have been addressed. Units are now much bigger and are intentionally not in proportion to the size of buildings.  Buildings are much more unique with a very distinguishable look making them much easier to identify at a glance. Animations of units are also very unique and the amount of screen view has vastly increased with the removal and transparency of the UI. 

You may be wondering how these changes impact the user, for that you should head over to the full blog on the Robot Entertainment website where Dave goes into alot of detail about the changes  – a must read for any Age fan! 

Read the full blog


 

In other news.. PAX 

Two of the Justin’s from Robot Entertainment, Justin Korthof and Justin Moe are on the way to PAX this weekend. Community Manager extraordinaire Justin Korthof will be hosting his own community manager panel titled “So I have this website”. The panel includes Justin Korthof from Robot Entertainment and a number of other Community Managers including Jon Goff from 343 Industries who looks after HaloWars.com. The blurb of the panel is as follows below as found on Justin’s blog at www.sixokay.com 

You’ve spent the time and money building your community site, and now you’re looking to take it to the next level. Maybe you want to get a job as a professional Community Manager, or maybe you’re just looking for tips on how to get publishers to pay more attention to your site. Whether you’re just starting out, or have been running a site for years, this panel is the best place to get your questions answered. Together, these community managers have represented some of the biggest franchises, developers, and publishers in the game industry, and most of them started out just like you – running a fan site. 

Panelists include: Justin Korthof [Community Manager, Robot Entertainment], Matthew Pruitt [FPS Community Manager, Electronic Arts], Jon Goff [Community Manager, 343 Industries], James Stevenson [Senior Community Manager, Insomniac Games] 

Place/Time/Date: Sunday, September 5th, 12:30pm in the Wolfman Theater 

I wish Justin the best of luck with his panel and look forward to reading more about it. There is no doubt about Justin’s passion with online communities and this is evidenced by the outstanding job he has been doing at Robot Entertainment so far in team work with Duncan Stanley and others. 

Age of Empires Online will be playable at PAX so anyone lucky enough to be going should check out booth number 670 for a chance to play with six stations in total.


 A note about AOEO beta invites

There have been concerns on Age Community and other sites about the way the process works. Currently the first wave has gone out and if you were in the first wave you should of had an email by now advising you of your download key. The waves are a random lottery irrespective of the answers you put in the questionnaire, providing that you are 18+ years of age everyone has an equal chance of getting in. The second wave is expected soon. MGS is stated that they plan to do waves over the coming months so I would expect there to be a wave every month so keep your eyes peeled.  If you did not get a key this time keep an eye out for another wave soon. I’ll keep this blog up to date with all the beta invitation information and wish you all the best of luck getting in!

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2
Sep

Age of Empires Online beta invitations are going out today!

 

Just a quick heads up for Age of Empires fans who have signed up for the beta. Microsoft Game Studios have confirmed on Age Community that the first wave of beta invitations are going out today. Keep checking your email for a nice surprise!

Good luck to everyone for a chance to get into the beta. If you haven’t already now would be a great time to sign up to the beta at www.ageofempiresonline.com

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