Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Ian Fischer’

7
Sep

Robot Entertainment at PAX (Part 2)

Following on from our first part of Robot’s PAX Panel review we now move on from looking at the studios history to present day to looking at some of the interesting prototypes they have been working on in-between OMD2 and OMDU. For the first time we get a glimpse at some of he games that could have been from the creative minds at Robot. Read moreRead more

Share
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. Read moreRead more

Share
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]. Read moreRead more

Share
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. Read moreRead more

Share
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! Read moreRead more

Share
27
Aug

Ian Fischer’s Gamesauce presentation + blog on AOE-O play testing

 

Readers may remember that a little while back Ian Fischer did a talk at Gamesauce which is a place for people in the games industry to take some time out and talk to other like minded people in the industry about game development, strategies and analysis of the gaming industry. Robot Entertainment’s Design Director, Ian Fischer attended the conference and gave a presentation titled: “The role of emergence in gaming and the part it plays in the future of the medium.” Certainly an interesting title! A video of the talk has been made available as below. Ian compares many aspects of the early video gaming days to the early days of film and suggests that in the future we should expect games and graphics to become far more advanced and realistic as we move away from linear games. Its an excellent and insightful talk and should be of interest to those in or looking to get into the video games industry.

Ian Fischer at Gamesauce

Over at the Robot Entertainment website Ian has been putting on his blogging hat under the slightly strange alias “Mother”. Ian “Mother” Fischer talks about the play testing involved with the recently announced Age of Empires Online. As we have always known the Ensemble Studios attitude about game development has always been play testing, play testing and more play testing so it is no surprise these values have been taken across to Robot Entertainment.

Age of Empires games have always been built by play testing.  At Ensemble before and at Robot now, our basic development philosophy remains unchanged – get a playable version of the game up and running as soon as possible, then play the living hell out of it.

This approach has massive advantages.  Everyone on the team knows and contributes to their game.    If something is broken, all of the most capable eyes are looking.  If an idea isn’t going to work the way you saw in your head, the reaction in play test makes that obvious.  And nothing is better for guiding fast, impactful changes – a few weeks back, there were people literally making realtime fixes to Age of Empires Online based on problems players in the alpha were chatting to us while they played.     

The blog continues into a very interesting discussion talking about what key values make an Age game and how they fit in with what people want. The blog also looks at where AOE-O fits into the series taking parts of the Age of Kings with parts of more recent titles like Age of Empires 3. Fans will be pleased to read that alot of iconic Age game features will be present in AOE-O including the classic villagers carrying resources and as rumored from the blog the classic “wololo” sound! Ian summarises the development as ““Age of Kings style game play in an Age of Empires setting”. 

Read more on the Robot Entertainment website courtesy of “Mother”.

http://www.robotentertainment.com/blog/detail/Hi-Honey-Were-Home

Share
16
Jul

Justin Korthof on new Robot website plus Ian Fischer’s role at Gamesauce

Robot Entertainment’s Community Manager Justin “SixOkay” Korthof has published his first blog on the new Robot website design reflecting on the launch and re-assuring fans there is much more in the pipeline for the website including new features and bug fixes.

Hello again. It’s been a while since we last talked. Now that we’ve got the new website up, that’s going to change. Since we put the new site up about a week and a half ago, you’ve all been kind enough to sign up and take it for a test drive. And we’re glad you did! Thanks to you guys, we’ve already started making updates to the site. We’ve been fixing bugs and improving various little features. And we’re not stopping any time soon.

We’re currently doing a little under-the-hood work, but soon we’re going to begin work on some great profile improvements, as well as adding and improving forum features. Is there anything you’d like to see? If so, be sure to let us know over in the Suggestions Forum.

Justin also discusses Robot’s Lead Designer – Ian Fischer’s role at the Gamesauce conference in July 19th. The conference is a place where developers can inspire other developers with unique and interesting ways about making engaging games. At this conference Ian will be speaking on “the role of emergence in gaming and the part it plays in the future of the medium.” Justin expands to clarify further:

It’s about the future of the gaming industry. In it he compares the first 60 years of games to the first 60 years of films to support the idea that despite the game industry’s immense accomplishments, we’re only just starting to get really serious about making games. If you’re interested in the presentation, I’ll see if we can snag a video of it, or perhaps make a blog post out of it.

Exciting stuff. It is always good to see Ex Ensemble employees giving talks as they are veterans in the industry. You can also catch Bruce Shelley and Paul Bettner giving talks soon too at the GDC. We also look forward to seeing some more developments on the Robot Entertainment website so keep your eyes peeled on RobotEntertainment.com and if you haven’t already sign up on the forums

Read the full blog from Justin at Robot Entertainment

Share
17
May

Ex Ensembler’s Ian Fischer, Rob Fermier and David Rippy look back

Some ex-Ensemble staff have been reminisces about the old days to some gaming websites / magazines. As always interviews and articles from Ex Ensemblites provides interesting insight into the workings of the studio and what made it a unique and special place to work – the studio lifestyle and culture.

First up we have Ian Fischer who takes us back to the original Age of Empires and Age of Kings timezone over at gamesource.org. Ian discusses the origins of the studio and how it started off with the bright idea by Tony Goodman and some of his close friends:-

“Ensemble Studios had its roots in a consulting firm: Ensemble Corporation. One night in 1993, Tony Goodman was talking to Angelo Laundon, one of the programmers at Ensemble Corp. While discussing the buisness, one of them (neither remembers which) asked, “Wouldn’t it be more fun to make games?

and boom that was it..”

The article as written by Ian Fischer is a well worthy read of any Ensemble fan and spans four pages of in depth detail about Ensemble Studios in the early days prior to the Microsoft acquisition. You can read the excellent piece in e-magazine form over at gamesource.

—————–

In another story long timer ES’rs Rob Fermier and David Rippy talk to GameZone discussing how the recession impacted on studios like Ensemble.

Of all the studios that shut down over the last few years, the closure of Ensemble Studios was amongst the least expected. The critically acclaimed Age of Empires and Halo Wars developer had a great track record of quality games that sold well, reviewed strongly and won awards. None of that was enough to prevent its closure – former Ensemble luminary Bruce Shelley admits the company was perhaps too specialized, too expensive and had too many costly, unproduced projects. Fortunately, out of the demise of Ensemble were born several new studios, including Robot Entertainment, Bonfire Studios, Windstorm Studios and NewToy. – GameZone

David Rippy who now serves as president over at Bonfire Studios commented:

“It was really an amazing experience, I had the pleasure of working at Ensemble from day one and watched it grow from a few guys experimenting with a WinG tank demo into a really well-respected game company. Hardly anyone ever left Ensemble, so it truly felt like family. Tony Goodman (our studio head) created an environment and culture where people actually enjoyed going to work every day and even hung out on the weekends.

We had a movie theater, arcade games, pool table, gourmet food … you name it! We certainly worked hard and crunched around major milestones, but we did it because we loved the games we were making. I think most former ES-rs will remember it as a really cool place to work, a great group of people who were completely committed to the company and their craft, and hopefully some of the most rewarding years of their life.”

Rob Fermier, Robot’s Lead Programmer also waded in for comment and continues:

 “Ensemble was rare in that most of the people working there had been working together for many years, with a great deal of continuity. Being able to establish such deep working relationships with people was incredibly valuable, and we had strong bonds to each other and to the studio. I’ll most miss that sense of team that we had – a well established development process, a deep understanding in our area of expertise, and strong sense of studio identity. Such things take years to build, and once gone are lost forever.”

Read the full article and additional comment from ES people over at GameZone

Despite many Ensemble staff staying in the Dallas area some will have moved away and it is sad to remember a great studio being split up. Looking towards the future we are blessed to have the excellent talent from Ensemble Studios in four main studios – Robot, Bonfire, Windstorm and NewToy. I am sure the quality of games produced from these studios will echo the values and quality of those games developed as a team at Ensemble.

As the larger studios continue to work on thier first production projects announcements and news are just around the corner. Keep a sharp eye on these studios – great things are coming!

Share
21
Mar

Paul Bettner responds to Ian Fischers open letter via Joystiq

The debate continues between Paul Bettner and Ian Fischer as Joystiq have managed to press a response from Paul in regards to Ian’s recent open letter where he shed light on some flaws in Paul’s speech including falsifying his position as a manager who had some oversight into the way the studio was run and his title a “Creative Director” of which there was no position at Ensemble.

One important point to highlight in the response is that Paul does believe Ensemble was a high quality studio that it was focused on delivering excellent games, and the studio did with each game selling millions of copies:

In my opinion, Ensemble was one of the greatest game developers in the world. I loved Ensemble. I owe so much to the friends I was privileged to work with there for so many years. I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together and I said so in my talk. Our shipped titles and their legacy in millions of sales and numerous awards are an undeniable testament to Ensemble’s industry-leading focus on quality and fun.

Here is the full response:

 ”Ian and I did work together for over a decade. I value our relationship and I appreciate his letter. At Ensemble there were times where our individual philosophies on game development led us to different perspectives on how things should be run, as is evident in his response. When I read Ian’s open letter, it seemed to me that he was actually supporting many of the points I made in my talk (the usage of crunch, for example), even though we obviously disagree on how and why these factors contributed to Ensemble’s demise.

That said, there is a message that I tried to convey in my rant that has still not gotten enough coverage:

In my opinion, Ensemble was one of the greatest game developers in the world. I loved Ensemble. I owe so much to the friends I was privileged to work with there for so many years. I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together and I said so in my talk. Our shipped titles and their legacy in millions of sales and numerous awards are an undeniable testament to Ensemble’s industry-leading focus on quality and fun.

Ian points out:

‘The truth of the matter is, Ensemble Studios, while certainly fond of numerous inefficient development practices, was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our caliber during this period of operation… yes, sometimes after we had steered hard left into the weeds, we needed to work long hours to get the car back on the road.’

This is the fact that is striking to me: Even at one of the highest caliber game development studios in the world, we still utilized these ‘numerous inefficient development practices,’ including the use of regular, recurring unpaid overtime. Yes we were way better about this than some. We scheduled it in advance. We catered meals and had family nights when spouses and children would come to visit their busy loved ones. We viewed crunch as a management failure.

But we still did it. On a regular basis.

I hope that my rant shines a light on the quality of life issues that were present even at one of this industry’s greatest studios. I don’t think we should accept these practices as a necessary evil of game development. I think we can do better. I can do better. This is a call to action: our industry-wide reliance on mandatory unpaid overtime needs to stop.”

I hope that now as independent studios groups like Robot, Bonfire, Windstorm, NewToy and Fuzzycube can operate with much less crunching – or in NewToy’s case, where lead by Paul Better, no crunching at all.

Source: http://www.joystiq.com/2010/03/18/ex-ensemble-studios-lead-designer-responds-to-bettner-rant/

Share
17
Mar

Ian Fischer responds to Paul Bettner in open letter

 

Ian Fischer ex Lead Designer at Ensemble Studios and now working in the same role at Robot Entertainment has responded to Paul Bettners rant at the GDC where Paul claimed the studio was expensive, in efficient with low staff morale. As I discussed before these are only one mans views and do not reflect the whole studio. Many ES employees were very happy with the management of ES and followed ex ES leaders such as Tony Goodman into Robot Entertainment and David Rippy into Bonfire Studios. If staff wernt happy they simply would not have formed these new studios.

However, Ian Fischer has taken the time to respond to each of Paul Bettners points at the GDC in an open letter on his personal blog. You can read the whole letter below however I recommend checking out the full posting on Ian’s website for comments.

An open letter to Paul Bettner

Paul,

You and I worked together at Ensemble Studios for more than a decade.   I respect your right to your own opinion and your right to state it.  However,  I take issue with the manner you have decided to speak about your displeasure with “crunch culture” at the 2010 GDC. 

In several email exchanges, you seem to indicate that your comments are being taken out of context but you need only visit any of the summaries regarding your talk to see the message you have given people: 

Escapist – Ensemble Studio Member Blames Crunch For Failure

Eurogamer – Crunch Culture Killed Ensemble Studios

Edge – Crunch Brought Down Ensemble

Industry Gamers - Halo Wars Developer Talks About How ‘Crunch’ Destroyed Ensemble

Devlop Online – Crunch Culture Killed Ensemble

Joystiq - Recently laid-off devs rant about being recently laid off

You have given people the impression that Ensemble was inefficient and expensive.  

It is true that each of our games cost more to make than the last.  This was not unique to Ensemble and had nothing to do with a “crunch culture”.  Between Age of Empires in 1997 and Halo Wars in 2009, game development budgets, team sizes, and schedules increased across the board.  This was primarily fueled by the maturation of 3D and publishers adopting portfolio strategies focused on big-ticket “blockbuster” games.  

Ensemble danced to this tune and shipped five major titles (each of which gained membership into the million+ club) and four expansion packs (five if you count the one developed by Big Huge Games) during this period.  I invite you to compare that to our peers — take a look at the number of games put out by Valve or Blizzard or Epic during the same time and speak with the people we know at these studios about their budgets and teams.  The truth of the matter is, Ensemble Studios, while certainly fond of numerous inefficient development practices, was no costlier or less efficient than any other developer of our caliber during this period of operation.

You have given people the impression that Ensemble burned out our best people.

Your comments include statements regarding chasing people out of the industry, destroying “precious artists”, wrecking families, and causing people to “sacrifice their youth”.  

Ensemble enjoyed a reputation as a place you didn’t leave.  Our retention rates, including people who did not exit the company voluntarily, were in the vicinity of 90%.  You will find few developers who can claim this at all and you will find none amongst the ones who actually “wreck families” or ask people to “sacrifice their youth”.  

Of the people who were once in the studio, the vast majority are still in the games business.  Of the people who worked at other developers prior to Ensemble, the most common complaint was that the studio was too lax, that we allowed our people too much freedom and did not hammer individuals for playing games or not being at their desks by the official start of the workday.  There were certainly people at Ensemble who did not like working long hours for extended periods (all of them, in fact) but your implication that it was a place that used people up is wholly untrue and contrary to all evidence.  

You have given people the impression that Ensemble accepted crunch. 

The leadership of Ensemble Studios saw crunch as a failure.  While it was certainly used, it was never “institutionalized” or accepted.  Tony Goodman, Harter Ryan, Chris Rippy, and David Pottinger, in particular, worked to eliminate or at least reduce it constantly and we improved this with each game. 

Prior to Halo Wars, which required what it did for the circumstances surrounding the closure of the studio, we had crunches that were scheduled in advance, typically for two weeks in duration, with extra hours (usually 10 until 10) four days a week, normal Fridays and weekends off, with chefs who came in to cook meals for the team twice a day, usually a family night during one of the weeks, with a month or so of extra paid vacation after a game shipped.  That was a far cry from the do-or-die conditions during Age of Empires and the leadership was still upset about having to ask people to do it. 

You have given people the impression that the closure of Ensemble was somehow a “fiscally responsible decision” and that Ensemble is to blame for the closure. 

Every single game Ensemble Studios made, across more than a decade, paid for it’s development and made a profit.  Microsoft had it’s reasons for closing the studio but to imply that it was because we cost too much is fiction.  ES enjoyed a long relationship with Microsoft (as many ex-Studios people now at Robot or Bonfire still do), first as a partner and then as part of the corporation after 2001 – if, at any point, the leadership in Redmond wanted to reduce the cost of making games in Dallas, they could have done so with a phone call.        

You have given people the impression that you speak with authority.

By apologising for your inactions “as a manager”, you suggest that you were a manager and therefore imply that you have some insight into the operation of the studio or into the justifications for our closing.  You were never a member of the management team at Ensemble Studios.  For that matter, neither you, nor anyone else, was “Creative Director” at our studio.  You were in no way involved in any of the conversations between Ensemble’s and Microsoft’s leadership regarding the closure of the studio.

As I said, I respect your right to have and state your opinion.  I would request that you not suggest or allow people to assume that you speak from a position that you did not hold.    

Since we’re on the topic of looking back on mistakes we made, I will leave you with this:

All of us knew what Ensemble was and we signed on for it willingly (including Microsoft, who purchased us in the middle of developing our third game with them and who knew what we were like).  Of the “old timers”, none of us wanted to work at a factory, beholden to a rigid schedule, cranking out mediocre games to keep the lights on and we did our best to attract like-minded individuals.  We wanted the freedom to try things, to experiment, and to set our sights on unreasonable goals (an attitude very similar to the “65% of the impossible is better than 100% of the ordinary” espoused by Google). 

We exercised that freedom and certainly valued it far more than efficiency.  With that independence came the responsibility to actually get things done on occasion so, yes, sometimes after we had steered hard left into the weeds, we needed to work long hours to get the car back on the road. 

If you want to find mistakes with what we did, I’d suggest that those trips into the weeds, looking for new territory, with a partner who wasn’t fond of being there, was more our error.  Had we decided to crank out RTS after RTS instead of chasing after the MMOs and FPSs and RPGs and RTS-differents we constantly had in prototype, I’m sure we would have been a more efficient studio that could have operated with zero crunch. 

The vast majority of us didn’t want to do this.  I’m glad for that.

Regards,

Ian M. Fischer

Certainly a very insightful response into the runnings of Ensemble Studios. Sadly its a shame that comments in this letter is unlikely to make it into gaming news websites and the reputation of Ensemble may well have been damaged with the recent press. I hope that fans of the studio can draw there own conclusions from the facts above.

See the full post on Ian’s blog

Share