Bruce Shelley talks about the evolution of social gaming. Plus more AOE-O animations and Robot swag!
Recently the legendary Bruce Shelley has been in talks with Gamasutra along with Brian Reynolds another industry veteran about their roles at Zynga in the social gaming space. Brian Reynolds before joining Zynga worked at Big Huge Games which collaborated with Ensemble Studios on the Age of Empires 3 Asian Dynasties expansion. Bruce and Brian had also worked closely with each other in the past on Sid Meier’s civilisation games. Now they are both re-united again at Zynga where is has become clear that the company is hiring industry veterans to push their gaming business forward.
When talking to Gamasutra Bruce detailed how he was recommended to join after the company was looking for designers from the “Sid Meier School of Design” era. Read more
Just a quick note for all Age of Empires 3 players. Ryz0n the community manager at Microsoft who are now running the support for Ensemble Studios Online have announced the times for ESO maintenance is changing slightly. Previously On the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month, ESO underwent scheduled maintenance with Robot Entertainment. Going forward this maintenance will occur on Tuesdays between approximately 10AM PST (GMT -8) and 12PM PST.
There are some discussions about ways users can be better informed about this downtime. You can read about the downtime and the announcement plans over at Age Community:
January 3rd 2011 marks the day when Robot Entertainment officially retires from Age Community both the forum support and the support for ESO. Robot took over the support for Age Community and ESO shortly after Ensemble closed its doors In February 2009, the support in place at Robot was similar to the support offered at Ensemble. Microsoft has decided to take operations of Age 3 in house and will be lead by some of the same Community team behind Age of Empires Online plus a dedicated community administrator for Age Community. Read more
Unfortunately, the time as come for Robot Entertainment so sign off on Age Community and hand over day to day support for community operations to Microsoft Games Studios. The transition starts today, with Ryz0n taking the reins as community support moderator. Ryzon commented:
The folks here at MGS are transitioning into supporting the AOE community. Along those lines, I’ll be working on forum administration, account support, and generally keeping everything running as well as possible. Our goal, as we move through the transition period, is to make the user experience change very little and have the service chug along without any issues into the foreseeable future. I’ll be coming up to speed and working with Robot on the community, server issues, and support for the titles. Read more
Hot on the heels of Ian Fischer’s blog about AOE-O design and Dave Kubalak’s blog about the vision behind the new Age of Empires game, long time Age of programmer come lead programmer at Robot Entertainment, Rob Fermier talks us through the history of the Bang engine which has powered each Age game since 3D graphics started with Age of Mythology. Before the bang engine came along Ensemble Studios were using another in house 2D engine called “Genie”. By around 1999 and before Ensemble acquisition by Microsoft, Ensemble were playing around with a new 3D engine which later became known as Bang. This engine was first used with Age of Mythology taking the Age series into 3D for the first time:
The first iteration of the Bang engine produced these graphics in Age of Mythology
The same Bang engine was used again for the expansion pack Age of Mythology - The Titans. When Age of Empires 3 came along the engine underwent significant improvements:
For Age of Empires 3 (2005) it received some major upgrades – a modern shader-based rendering system, physics integration, new particle effects, and numerous unit sim improvements. Several expansion packs also were built to enhance those games, leveraging the extensibility and flexibility of the Bang engine.
After the extensive work put into the engine Age of Empires 3 turned out graphics looking more like this:
But its not all about graphics, a game engine comprises of many different parts which make up the whole thing. For example you have graphics, sound, music, UI, AI, scenarios, triggers, databases and more. There is alot going on behind the scenes of an Age game. In fact the engine is over 1.2 million lines of code. Although not all these lines are serious pieces of code, as Rob points out there is Ensemble humour buried in the code. -
(Click to enlarge)
I am certain this Ensemble style humour will continue into Robot Entertainment’s edits of the engine!
The blog finishes up with a few words about the future of the engine with Age of Empires Online and the new features it brings:
As you play Age of Empires Online (sign up for the Beta here), the technology powering your game experience is a mix of brand new online tech, new gameplay systems, and battle-tested core RTS mechanics that we have been constantly improving for over a decade. It is always amusing to come across a comment from yourself in 1999. Game technologies are often abandoned after a few years, so it has been very rewarding to work with this particularly robust game engine for so long.
As always, this is just a summary of the full blog post and I recommend everyone check out the full posting on the Robot Entertainment for more information and “fun facts”!
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!
I also wish everyone the best of luck getting into the beta – its an awesome game!
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.
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
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.
Microsoft Game Studios
Join in the discussion at:
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.