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Archive for September, 2009


Chess with Friends for iPhone update incoming from NewToy


NewToy have announced on Twitter that they have just sent in an update for thier first iPhone game “Chess with Friends” to be reviewed by Apple for publication on the AppStore. Some of application updates include:

  • Push notifications,
  • Deleting games,
  • Facebook & Twitter challenges,
  •  and many other fixes and improvements

We’ll keep an eye out for when this update gets accepted onto the AppStore!


Microsoft resolve Age of Empires Bad CD Key error by handing CD keys over to Robot Entertainment


Players who have recently purchased copies of Age of Empires 3 have found themselves unable to play Age of Empires 3 on ESO after Microsoft failed to inform Robot Entertainment, now managing the support for Age 3 the CD Keys leaving players unable to create or upgrade accounts. Needless to say the inability to play online bemused many players and some commenting on the official community website.

However today Robot Entertainment has received the keys and Duncan Stanley, Community Manager for Robot Entertainment has updated the community as follows:

We just uploaded 10s of thousands of keys that we received from Microsoft late in the day.

 If you were getting the 100 bad cd-key error while trying to create an account, or upgrade an account, please try again.

If you receive the same error as before, please email with the subject Bad CD-key Error 100 with your cd-key.


Paul Jaquays completes his Halo Wars skirmish map blogs with Terminal Moraine, Repository, and Crevice


Paul Jaquays now working at CCP North America as a Senior Level Designer has been blogging with Robot Entertainment Community Manager, Duncan Stanley to reveal some early developer screenshots and ideas which make up some of the Halo Wars portfolio of skirmish maps. Having already blogged about Pirth Outskirts attention has turned to his other map designs – Terminal Moraine, Repository and Crevice.

Terminal Moraine


I started map development by literally copying and pasting a large chunk the Alpha Base ruins into one corner of the map. This established a particularly unique landmark in that corner. These large landmarks in skirmish maps help players immediately know where they are and and let them navigate from point to point by in-game visual references. Ideally, each “corner” of any skirmish map is visually unique, and this was my design goal with Terminal Moraine

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Early 2007 saw the first completed version of Repository (then called “the Halo map”). Primarily developed by Ensemble artist Patrick Thomas, this was a land of subtle terrain blending, muted colors, narrow paths, rough terrain, and the unrestricted placement of bases and other buildings. Players captured Forerunner power stations to earn resources. Very little of what can be seen in this map survived into the final game. The effects guys put a lot of effort into river that runs through the map, including the appearance of moving water, waterfalls, and spray. But the game was about to undergo an extensive refit, resulting in play much closer to the final version and the need to totally rework this map from the ground up. The river, sadly, became an early victim to those changes.

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During development, Crevice shifted from the inside of the Shield World to the outside. To achieve this, I painted over a screen capture of the current version of the map, sketching out ideas for details on notebook paper. The design rework of the map had turned the central platform into a big hole. I suggested changing this into a playable area, a partially buried circular Forerunner platform. One feature I wanted to play up was the “bouncy-ness” of the warthogs, so where possible, I sculpted in small steps and shelves into the terrain.


Check out more map blogs from other Ensemble artists on the map page!

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More Ensemble Halo MMO concept art revealed


Dylan Cole an artist who worked with Ensemble Studios on the cancelled Halo MMO has made some concept art and paintings available from the project on his website. The incredibly detailed images show what the game environments may have been like if the project saw the light of day and Ensemble was still with us. Take a look at this outstanding image showing what a Forerunner City may have looked like in game:


Incredible art


And another showing a Halo City from a distance:


If in game graphics were 1/5 as good as these outstanding art pieces the MMO would of been a marvel to play. It is a great travesty that executives at Microsoft pulled the plug on such a promising game. I recommend that everyone check out Dylan Cole’s website for more Halo MMO art plus more incredible pieces from his other projects:


Microsoft publish Age of Empires 3 copies without informing Robot Entertainment of CD-Keys


Microsoft has, bewilderingly released new copies of Age of Empires 3 and its set of expansions including the newly released Age of Empires 3 Collectors edition. One would imagine that Microsoft would be contacting Robot Entertainment so that they can prepare the Ensemble Studios Online (ESO) server to accept the new CD-keys enabling purchasers to play the game online. However it seems that Microsoft have been less forthcoming with Robot Entertainment about these re-releases by not informing Robot Entertainment about these new CD keys leaving purchasers bemused that copies of the game are invalid.

Perhaps someone at Microsoft is emailing the wrong person and has forgotten that the email address has been shut down.

One must worry from this news about the quality of communication from Microsoft to Robot Entertainment following the closing of internal studio Ensemble. It is sad that poor performance from Microsoft is potentially adversely affecting the reputation of Robot Entertainment who end users believe is offering the support for ESO. Community Manager for Robot Entertainment, Duncan Stanley says:

Microsoft, the publisher of all of the Age of Empires III games and expansions, recently released new copies of the game, and the expansions.

When they did this, they did not give us, Robot Entertainment, the cd-keys first to upload to our server so that people who buy the game can authenticate and create accounts.  Because of this, users may get Error 100 [Bad CD-Key] when trying to create or upgrade an ESO account.

Microsoft and Robot Entertainment are aware of the problem, and we are working to resolve it as speedily as we can.

We will upload the cd-keys to the server as soon as we get them.

 We apologize for the frustration.

We will keep you posted on updates with this unfortunate situation


Paul Bettner: Newtoy to become a “Nintendo of the iPhone”


NewToy’s Paul Bettner an ex programmer at Ensemble Studios was one of the first to start up a new games company out of Ensemble’s ashes. Paul is now talking to Gamasutra about the new start up company and how he in-visages the companies future. Paul hopes that NewToy can appeal to the unique iPhone market taking into account the platforms easy connectivity and user interaction. The Gamasutra article explains how well the “Chess with Friends” application has been doing since launch, although missing out on the Top 100 the game has had some excellent download numbers:

Chess With Friends came from that philosophy. The game got good support from Apple, which featured the game prominently on the App Store as Pick of the Week in March. The vote of confidence led to a nice jump in sales.

But it still didn’t break the top 100 Apps on the sales ranking list on the App Store, meaning visibility for the game would be low. For iPhone developers, making the top 100 is a crucial requisite for having a successful game.

Bettner said he didn’t pack up and go home. There is a life outside of the Top 100, and it involves sustained growth of a game’s sales and good consumer retention, two things possessed by Chess With Friends and its Scrabble-style counterpart, Words With Friends, he said.

Combined, Chess and Words, which both have ad-supported free and paid versions, have been downloaded 500 million times so far. They draw 50,000 active users daily, and are tracking 200,000 for September, Bettner said. The ratio of free to paid versions is 5:1.

Check out the full article on Gamasutura.

As NewToy continue development on new and exciting applications such as the much awaited “World War Robot” with acclaimed artist Ashley Wood. 

Good luck NewToy!


Mysterious “Age of Empires” press folder revealed to be announced as a Age 3 Collectors edition


The mysterious press folder found on a website which handles Microsoft press releases for the games division has finally been filled with Age of Empires content. Unfortunately it is not a new Age of Empires game as first hoped. Instead Microsoft will finally release all three Age of Empires 3 games (the original plus the two expansions). Until now only Age 3 and the Warchiefs expansion have been bundled together and players have had to purchase the Asian Dynasties separately. Now all the Age 3 content can be picked up in one handy box set.

Interestingly and sadly, this may be the last box art which we see bearing the Ensemble Studios logo having first thought Halo Wars may be the last.

So where does this leave the Age of Empires series going forward? It has been reported before in a interview with Phil Spencer of Microsoft Game Studios that:

And we do have a plan for Age of Empires, and it is something we’ll continue to push, it just didn’t require that we had Ensemble Studios as an entity inside of MGS in Dallas, as full time internal employees, as a studio that would be the sole source of Age content going forward.

So hmm.. lets hope there is a plan for more new Age content going forward hopefully to be developed by ex Ensemble teams.


Paul Jaquays blogs about Halo Wars map “Pirth Outskirts”


Paul Jaquays former artist at Ensemble Studios has blogged on the Halo Wars website with some additional concept art from the map design of Pirth Outskirts, a 1v1 Halo Wars skirmish map.

I developed the area as a remote vacation destination with mysterious ancient ruins, modern hotels, and dramatically steep, mist-shrouded cliffs into which breathtaking waterfalls poured majestically. On top of this, I layered the planet’s recent, tragic history. Covenant bombs had cut the area off from the cities and turned the man-made structures into smoking rubble.

It is not unusual for map designs to go through various designs before the final choice. Here you can see one of the earlier concepts for the map. You can click the image below to find text commentary on the image.


The end result of Pirth Outskirts appears below, quite a difference in terms of colour, waterfalls and buildings!


Paul Jaquays since Ensemble has moved onto CCP North America as a Senior Level Designer. Clearly CCP recognised the talent of this excellent artist and CCP can now enjoy quality levels and maps just like the one above!

Check out the full blog on where Duncan Stanley, Community Manager offers some top tips for the map!


Windstorm Studios shows off two concept art pieces


Since the closure of Ensemble Studios there have been many teams working on exciting games. We have seen iPhone games from developers FuzzyCube and NewToy and now its time to get a first glimpse at a larger scale game as Windstorm Studios headed up by past Ensemble Programmer Dusty Monk today releases two concept art images for the mysterious MMO game.



Dusty Monk has been eager to launch an MMO title for sometime and worked on the Halo MMO at Ensemble Studios considerably. We hope now that with the right investment and publishing partners Dusty will be able to fulfill his dream of getting his own MMO out there. Hopefully with the GDC soon coming up Dusty will be able to prove the project is exciting and maybe we’ll get some more information about the futuristic (flying cars and all that) game!

For more details and wallpaper friendly versions of these excellent images head over to the Windstorm website!


Rumor: New “Age of Empires” coming?


Cinema Blend is reporting that they have stumpled accross a new “Age of Empires” folder on Microsoft’s press server. The new folder was created on the 22nd of September and with the PAX games conference starting tomorrow they reckon it might be possible that a new Age of Empires could be announced.

No word who would be developing the title as Robot Entertainment and Bonfire Studios claim to be focussing on new IP. It is currently unknown if despite this any Ex Ensemble Studios group would be taking the series forward.

Watch this space closely! Follow for updates!

PAX begins tomorrow and it’s possible we could see a big reveal from Microsoft. Specifically, there might be a new Age of Empires unveiled.

At some point last night, a folder entitled “Age of Empires” was created in the press directory of Microsoft’s outside PR firm (via GMR FM). There’s nothing in said folder yet, though. PAX runs from September 4-6 so perhaps it’ll be filled with screenshots and movies of some glorious new AoE game during that period of time.