The History of Age of Empires


– [John] Ensemble’s beating
heart was passion for games and it fed into everything they did. – [Bert] Age of Empires
had this blend of action, and sort of an abstract beauty. – [Bruce] The sun was always shining in Age of Empires games. It was inviting. – [Joe] It was very good gameplay, and that just holds up. – [Jennifer] It’s so iconic that it’s really stood up the test of time. – I was just out of college, or just out of quitting college. I wanted to get into programming, so I first started as a freelancer, and then that led to starting Ensemble Corporation with John Boog-Scott. – It was the two of us initially, and we quickly had a few more people growing that company. And it was really focused
on business software, did a lot of stuff with banks, typical business stuff. But even in that venue, Tony, you know, he was always an
outside-the-box thinker, super creative at heart. – The company was largely successful. It grew slowly over time, and there were a number of
people involved in the company, maybe 30 or 40 by the time we talked about starting a game company. – From the time I was a
Dungeons and Dragons player in junior high school, I had always wanted to
start a game company. I thought it was a board game company, and then I thought it was
a computer game company. So that was always on my mind. – I think Tony really only
did the business stuff so we could get to the game. – We had absolutely no idea how to go about doing it. – When I was in junior high, I joined a gaming club called HSS, Historical Simulation Society. Bruce was there too. – I remember teaching them
how to play some games, and they told me later that they thought I was one of the guys in the club that they looked up to. – I kept track of him thinking one day I’ll start a game company. He had been the co-designer
of Sid Meier’s Civilization, and worked with Sid Meier. – 15 years later or so,
Tony called me up, actually, and said, he asked me about the process of making computer games. – Our theory is we were gonna get all gamers to the company, and see if we could
built the greatest game the world had ever seen. That was our idea. – There was no game idea on
the books when we started. The first idea that I recall was like the television show Lost, where people are stranded on an island and have to get their
materials together to get off. – The team at Ensemble
definitely was taking influence of seeing how RTS was growing, and how there were other
RTS games out there that maybe weren’t historically set. – I wanted randomly generated maps. I wanted the game to be
different every time you played. And we wanted to have a non-cheating AI that played like a real human being. – Warcraft I really focused our direction. – We looked at Command and Conquer, and Warcraft, and Civilization, and we made a list of what those games were doing really well. Why were they successful, what was important about those games. We have to be as good as them and what they’re doing really well, and what they’re not doing
is our opportunities. That’s where we’re gonna
make our game different. – You know, I think the topic is the most important
decision you have to make when you’re doing any game. – My real passion was history. I read a lot of historical fiction, and so when Age came around, for me, it was this perfect melding of the kinds of games that I liked to play, real-time strategy games, with this history that I loved. – It turns out there was
an awful lot of people who liked this historical aspects. I know I was asked once by Bill Gates, we had to make a
presentation to Bill Gates, and he says, “You know, we
should be marketing this “as an educational thing.” And I said, “No, no, no, I don’t think so. “I mean, there’s an
education that might happen, “but it’s not gonna happen
until people are having fun, “so we’ve gotta entertain them first, “and if they learn something,
then that’s great.” And then the idea came along, why don’t we take the gameplay from Warcraft and Command and Conquer, this real-time strategy gameplay, and merge it with the
historical and economic aspects of Civilization that I had helped build a few years earlier. – We got an early version of
Age and Empires up and running, and all you could do was
chop trees at the time. But it looked kinda like Age of Empires. – So, Tony calls up Microsoft and he gets a guy on the
phone named Ed Ventura, and he goes, “You gotta
come down and see our demo.” – So, I had a product manager, Ed Ventura, who was out looking at
different developers and different games that
we could potentially sign, and he told me about Age of Empires, and told me to come to
Dallas and visit the team. – It was actually pretty amazing, because what we saw in this
very, very limited demo was the heart of a lot of
what we loved about Age. It looked gorgeous, it looked
like a world you wanted to spend more time in. And the little mechanics
that they had implemented were fantastic. And so, that was almost an insta-sign. – PC Gamer Magazine ran a cover story called “The Year of the RTS,” and it had a cover story listing 50 RTS games coming in the next 12 months. Out of that, when we look back in history, only a very small number of games are ones that people even remember today. We can be proud that
we stood up to a lot of competition and exploration in a genre that was
exploding at that time. – I don’t think there’s many people that don’t know what Age of Empires is. Everyone knows it, everyone
probably played it. – You know, they gave us a plaque, I have it at home, for one million sales. And they were ecstatic. It had exceeded
expectations at one million. At two million, I put a
little sticker over it and wrote “two million” on it. At three million, I wrote “three,” and after that’s when I
just kinda took it off and said, “Eh, don’t need
to count it anymore.” It just kept going. – I remember coming off of
the end of Age of Empires I, which is when I joined. Coming into the development
of Age of Empires II, it was kinda this, like,
this moment that you get sometimes in the game
industry where you have a team that just finished a game, like the first game in the franchise, and it’s kinda this feeling of, like, there’s all these things we wished we could’ve gotten in that game, but we just ran out of time. And so, everybody was
dying to make the sequel. – [Bruce] And I think the Middle Ages was the best topic of all for a strategy game like that. I mean, men were still basically just banging on each other and shooting arrows at relatively short range. And the units were still recognizable. We had these great images
of knights, and castles, and when you heard the trebuchet go off, it was really bad news. – The online component
of being able to play against other human players was finally coming into its
own there in the mid 90s. – We had just hit the sweet spot in the balance and the
design of that game, so that it’s just endlessly replayable, especially multiplayer. The kind of scenarios that you encounter when you’re playing online, they’re just so varied, and
there’s so much strategy there that you can just kind of keep going, and there’s still, I think, new strategies being discovered today. – I think some of what happens, and you see this in a lot of franchises, the first one happens
somewhat underground, and it grows, and as a
player you feel like, “Oh, I kinda missed the
boat on the first one,” but it sticks in your head as one of these games
that you have t go play. So when the second one comes around, there’s a lot more interest in it, ’cause the name Age of
Empires is out there. You feel like, “Okay, I’m
not gonna miss it this time. “I’m not gonna miss this launch event.” – It was a perfect storm of a game. We’d learned so much making Age I. – Age II was the ultimate pinnacle for a whole variety of reasons. My favorite review in
Computer Gaming World said, “This is the ideal sequel. “This is what you want. “It’s got all the heart and the feeling of “that first game that you loved, “with just the right amount
of novelty and new features “to give it new life and actually improve “on that base experience.” (roaring) – [Bruce] Between Age II and Age III was Age of Mythology,
which was a real departure. – We really loved fantasy, but we also really loved history, and it hit us, you know, that’s mythology, that’s the perfect topic. – The nice thing about Age of Mythology is it was a quasi-sequel. You know, it was obviously rooted in a lot of the mechanics and the ideas of the earlier games, but it gave them a lot
more creative license, and I think it really gave them a little bit of a charge. Like, oh, hey, let’s go off and learn about Norse mythology, and how to work that in the game in an interesting way, and let’s create some new mechanics, and some things you could never have in a historically-based world. – It was this branch of
the franchise, right. It wasn’t a mainline Age of Empires title, but so many people
responded so strongly to it. It kind of had the most
active and vocal community of any of the games we had worked on. (gunfire) – By the time we got to Age III, the team down at Ensemble was really kinda world class as a
game production team. I think a lot of times,
you see games’ teams, in that third or fourth
iteration for them, really hit their stride
because so much of the what it means to just be a team working on a video game
together goes away, and it becomes about
focusing on the game itself. – I have to say, some of
the campaigns in Age III were one of my favorites
in the whole series. – We had physics,
cannonballs hit buildings, and broke off little pieces of buildings, and we just tried to amp up the realism. – It was Age coming to North America, which was a new challenge. We added the home city, which kinda added an RPG element to the Age franchise. There was more change,
I thought, in Age III than the previous Ages when
they were trying to add so much more to the franchise, but I was proud of what we
were able to accomplish. – Bruce has a fantastic saying: “The sun always shines in Age of Empires.” Age was always a place
where it was idyllic. It was just a place that
people could recognize and they could connect with. – What makes Age special is it’s easy to pick up and play,
but it’s really deep. So anybody can jump in and enjoy it, but it takes real mastery
to get great at them. – We did a lot of different
experiences in those boxes. – Nothing feels out of place. There’s amazing, holistic environment that players can kinda get into, there’s deep levels of strategy and always new things
to explore and to learn. And when you have a nice big community, there’s always people influencing how the game is played, how
it changes over time, how the meta-experience
of the game evolves, and that kinda keeps them fresh year after year after year. – Age of Empires II was really built around user-made content. Even after 20 years, people are still churning out content,
and playing new stuff, and there is no limit
to that, pretty much. – I was mostly just
playing on scenario editor. Loved elephants, loved
just screwing around and kinda building these giant battles. – You would get parents
that would talk about the Age of Empires as
something that they felt that was good for the kids, ’cause it actually kicked off at least a question about history. And I think that’s maybe
as important as really injecting the history
lesson right into the game. – What Ensemble Studios did 20 years ago has affected millions
and millions of people and gave them some good memories. To me, that’s the most
important thing, I think. – I love working in the game industry, ’cause every once in a while, I get to meet my heroes, and for me, the Ensemble
guys, the Age guys, they were my heroes. – We were all so passionate
about Age of Empires, and about what we were
excited to bring to the world. – They worked long hours, they poured everything they had into this game. And then I think the other thing that was a little surprising was how good everyone was at their jobs, even though most of them
had no background in games. – The number of talented people that Ensemble Studios
attracted was amazing. I think part of the formula was that we didn’t know anything about games. We didn’t have any ideas
about what was hard, so we just thought
everything would be easy, and we moved forward with stuff. – There’s still people who
play Age of Empires I today. If these guys didn’t go anywhere in the last 20 years, I don’t seem them going anywhere in the next 20.

Comments 9

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *