Looks like Christmas has come early from BonusXP who have today released the Android version of “Monster Crew”. There are many great games on iOS that never make it to Android, its great to see that BonusXP have taken the time to enable the millions of Android users to enjoy the spooky platforming game. If you havn’t been able to play the game yet here is a quick low down. Monster Crew is an “endless” platformer that sees you play the role as Frankie, a boy who had his precious card collection taken at a yard sale. Frankie travels to a frightening castle to try and get them back but is turned into Frankenstein. Its now up to you to help Frankie recover his cards from within the ghostly castle. Read more
Many Ensemble fans will remember the name Sandy Petersen from the famous Ask Sandy threads on the Age of Empires Heaven website. Sandy often took part in many forum Q&A discussions on the Age of Empires Heaven website and was certainly engaged with the community. Most notably the final Ask Sandy thread gave fans an insight onto the closure of Ensemble. Sandy is an Ensemble Studios veteran having been with the company since its early days and became the lead designer on the Rise of Rome expansion pack for Age of Empires. After the closure of Ensemble in 2009, Sandy went on to teach at the The Guildhall at SMU inspiring budding game designers. Read more
Fantastic news for all Ensemble fans. Our expert audio interviewer Kenny Newell has managed to bag an absolutely superb interview with Tony Goodman, founder of Ensemble Studios. Tony was kind enough to invite Kenny into his house to talk about Ensemble and his newest venture, PeopleFun over dinner. The hour long interview takes fans right through Tony’s video gaming career starting right at the beginning when Tony first formed Ensemble Studios with close friends and colleagues from Ensemble Corp. This interview is an absolute must listen for all Ensemble fans where for perhaps indeed the first time you can listen to Tony first hand explain how the Ensemble journey began and his motivations. There is great insight into life at Ensemble and how the Age games came together. The Ensemble Studios acquisition by Microsoft is also discussed at length. Read more
In the latest edition of Game Informer you will find an interview with Robot Entertainment’s CEO, Patrick Hudson. There is also a directors cut version of this interview available online at the Game Informer website. The interview discusses the Halo MMO that was cancelled mid-development at Ensemble Studios and then goes on to talk about the visions for Robot Entertainment including the desire to work on smaller scale products with shorter development times. This vision has been realised already with Orcs Must Die! and Hero Academy which have been markedly smaller projects than say, Halo Wars at Ensemble. Read more
Addac from the Age Sanctuary community has recently conducted an insightful interview with Robot Entertainment’s new community manager Justin “SixOkay” Korthof. Addac who had previously interviewed Aloysius in February of this year has now posted a similar interview with SixOkay.
Justin has been in the gaming industry for about 4 years and in that time has worked on a number of titles and community websites. Starting with working at EA-LA and then at Microsoft with the Gears and Halo franchises before ending up at Robot Entertainment.
When the Robot Entertainment opportunity came up, it felt like a really great time and a really great place for me to get back to doing the online community management work that I love to do.
When asked what Justin would bring to the table at Robot Entertainment the message was perfectly clear – creating a new fantastic community website for new games that echo the quality of previous Ensemble offerings.
What do you feel that you personally bring to Robot Entertainment that will help them make the best Aoe4 possible?
Well, I can’t speak to any specific games we’re developing, but I feel like I bring a ton of intense passion for online communities to the table. I’ve been working with community experiences online for about 18 years now, since I was in middle school. I live and breath this stuff, and I can’t wait to start building opportunities for a Robot community to come together. Obviously there were and are a lot of passionate Ensemble fans out there, and I think that we can build up that kind of excitement and community all over again around Robot Entertainment.
You can read all about it over at the Age Sanctuary forums. From work to personal life and some random questions Addac’s got it covered:
Dusty’s final interview part is now online at IncGamers. Having previously touched on MMO’s and the past at Ensemble Studios attention now turns to the future with Windstorm Studios. First up, how and why did Dusty choose to start up Windstorm? We know that Dusty was very passionate about the Halo MMO at Ensemble and must of been very saddened by the projects closure. It turns out that Dusty mooted the idea about setting up his own studio back in 2007 after Ensemble’s MMO project (codenamed “Titan”) was cancelled:
Titan, for me, was really the dream job. When they killed Titan, I started looking at what Ensemble was probably going to be working on next. I’d already been saving up some money on my own, thinking about starting up a studio, and I decided then that now was the time. It’s never easy to jump ship and go off and do things on your own – you never know how it’s going to do. It’s especially hard if you’re married and you have children and you’re looking at the difference between a secure job, with benefits and with a paycheck, versus a completely and totally unsecure job creating a company that’s building the most expensive kind of game you can build, in an industry hit by the hardest recession that it’s ever experienced! So, yeah, it wasn’t a great time from an economic standpoint, but from a personal standpoint it was the right time for me. I’d just decided that with the severance money from Microsoft combined with my own savings, I had enough money to be able to float myself for a couple of years. I knew the games that I wanted to build, so I decided now was the time to go forward with that.
Once the studio was set up Dusty and his studio immediately began work on some MMO prototypes before creating some excellent concept art and presentations to show for prospective game publishers. Unfortunately as discussed before there was some difficulty getting publisher commitment despite getting unanimous positive feedback about the game and the ideas. The problem is with the MMO genre is that the game development is very costly both at the beginning and in the games maintenance – servers, payments etc. Even though Dusty has come from working at a prestigious studio, Ensemble, publishers had difficulty in gauging what kind of company Windstorm was:
For the first eight months of the company’s lifetime, we were working on our prototype. We finished that around September and the prototype has been largely received with great enthusiasm. From about September through January I shopped the prototype to a number of different publishers, both international and within the States, and all of them have without exception, said “We love the idea, love the project, but we’re just not ready to go forward yet – and part of the problem is that we’re just not sure there’s enough of a real company here.” And I get that; I can sort of relate to that.
Its a tricky situation – approaching publishers with a brand new idea with a brand new unheard of company is always going to be a tough sell coupled with the high development costs and risk associated with the MMO genre things weren’t looking so good. However, not to worry as the MMO idea isn’t blown out of the water yet – Dusty is not one to give up so easily and has a plan for the studio going forward.
So the plan of attack right now is to go forward with a smaller single-player game, and get that out there for people to start playing. This will serve as a sort of introduction to the world that we want to build. So from that standpoint, we’re still doing really well. We haven’t got our project funded by an MMO developer yet, we’re not going forward with the MMO, but we are going forward with the smaller project. I have every anticipation of having enough funds to finish the small project. We’ll get it out there, and then we’ll see how it goes from there. If the project is really well received, and people like the world and they like the game, then that will hopefully provide enough credence for the company that a publisher will come and go “Hey, this company has some legs, we feel like it’s a real legitimate endeavour. We love this idea and people are really responding well to this idea, so let’s go forward with that.” And if it doesn’t? Well, then we gave it a hell of a go.
The single player game will be an RPG based on the same environment of the MMO project – a very exciting and unique world, futuristic, colourful with lots of flying cars. Its also great to hear Dusty is maintaining some of Ensemble’s fantastic development values as first introduced by Bruce Shelley:
There are two design tenets that came out of my time at Ensemble, and these are actually originally Bruce Shelley’s design tenets, back when he was working on Railroad Tycoon. The first is: build a world in which people want to play. This means bright colours and bright palettes, and a very appealing place. This will be absolutely true for any game that Windstorm Studios produces. If you look at the very first copies of Age of Empires 1, you’ll see that it uses a lot of bright colours and a lot of bright palettes.
The other is: make the first 15 minutes fun. If there are any design principles that are guiding the direction of Windstorm Studios games, it’s those two. Hopefully the first 15 minutes will be a good time, and it’ll be a place that you’ll want to play in.
With values and traditions like these being carried forward I am certain people will be very interested to hear about this very unique game. As Dusty’s studio is hard at work on bringing us this exciting game be sure to keep an eye out on the studios website and follow the studio on Twitter. As development continues I am sure that later this year we will begin to see more concept art and then screenshots and maybe a video trailer.
The estimate right now is to try and have something out there around November. That’s the plan of attack right now. Before that point we’ll make an initial announcement about the game itself, and then we’ll start trying to build some press, and some excitement, and some word of mouth, and talk about what the actual game is and the world that’s in the game and the characters, and stuff like that. I can tell you it’s not going to be a casual game – it’s very much going to be a character-oriented world-type game.
Exciting stuff. Good luck Dusty and the team at Windstorm Studios!
You can read the full part 2 of Dusty’s interview here at IncGamers:
Windstorm Studios who are headed up by ex Ensemble programmer Dusty Monk has long believed to have been at work on a futuristic MMO game. There were even some concept art pieces released which can be seen below:
However in an interview with Inc Gamers, Dusty has revealed that the above project has been placed on hold, at least, in its MMO form that is. Instead Dusty’s Windstorm Studios will be pursuing the project in a Single Player RPG form.
“The plan of attack right now is to go forward with a smaller single-player game, and get that out there for people to start playing,”
Why the change of plan? It seems there were problems getting publisher commitment to the MMO project. We know from the past that MMO games have been a touchy subject with publishers including Microsoft who decided to cancel Ensemble Studios’ Halo MMO. Because MMO games are very expensive and take massive development time it can be difficult to get publishers to commit to new games based on new, untested intellectual property. Instead Windstorm are taking a leaf out of Runic Games’ book – the developers behind Torchlight. They started of introducing a game as a single player game and thanks to its success are now using the revenues brought from the single player game to help fund the larger MMO project.
“They put that game out there, and they put it on Steam for $20 USD a copy, and they did really well. And they’re using that game to fund an MMO!”
The single player game has even been tentatively scheduled for the end of this year. Perhaps Windstorm will be the next studio formed out of Ensemble to make the next great game along side iPhone developers NewToy and Fuzzycube.
The full interview between Inc Gamers and Dusty Monk will soon be made available and when it is I shall post a link here in a new blog post. For the moment check out the interview preview article on Inc Gamers here:
Bruce Shelley has been interviewed by a German online magazine GamersGlobal.de. Most of the interview talks about Settlers 7 and Bruce’s role in the games development. It looks like he’ll be bringing accross Ensemble game design philosophies such as playtesting and making the game easier to play for gamers. However if you listen to the first few minutes of the interview Bruce talks about the closure of Ensemble Studios where he believes it was a mistake and says that the studio was closed due to Microsoft thinking it wasnt a strategic studio anymore. He goes onto say that Ensemble were making different games outside of the genre but those games kept being cancelled by Microsoft. Clearly Microsoft did not give the studio a chance to explore titles outside of the RTS genre, a big shame on Microsoft.
Check out the video below:
An excellent article put together by Gamespy today as they talk to Ex-Senior Ensemble Studios programmer Dusty Monk. Dusty who worked at Ensemble Studios for 15 whole years discusses how valuable his Ensemble friends Graeme Devine and Tony Goodman have been helping him set up the new studio. Dusty has some freelance and ex- Ensemble people working part time on his presumed futuristic MMO.
He also talks about his thoughts on the closure of Ensemble and what its been like to set up a new studio in these economic times.
I wish him all the best and we will be following him closely here at Remember-EnsembleStudios.com
Full article: http://uk.pc.gamespy.com/articles/969/969790p1.html
Dont forget to check out the Windstorm website! www.windstormstudios.com
In an informative interview you can find out information on how Halo Wars was recorded and more thoughts from Stephen about the soundtrack: