The following interview was published on Games.co.il.
In these times of insecurity, distress and worry, there is nothing that relaxes gamers like going back to their roots. Returning to our teenage years, if possible, otherwise at least going back to revisit a cherished old game series. Since nostalgia is not enough, and those of the Smartphone Age need New Stuff, the developers of Age of Empires Online are shooting in all the popular directions of the day, such as persistence and being Free to Play. I've crawled down the `net's tunes to get you the following details directly from Gas Powered Games' supreme commander- Chris Taylor, the man behind Total Annihilation, among other things.
So, Chris, what is AoEO, in general terms?
Chris Taylor – Age of Empires Online is an online RTS game, and not just any, it’s of course the best selling RTS franchise beloved my millions… in fact, it’s sold 25 million copies to date world wide. For me, when people have asked me where RTS games are going, I can now tell them, this is it, this is the future.
What are the main things staying the same as the offline series? What should veteran fans look forward to?
CT – The overall experience will feel very comfortable to long time fans of the series. But instead of playing through a single player campaign, they instead create a build a city, and it persists online. It’s fun to see the civilization grow, and explore the many different facets of how all the units work… upgrading and equipping. The thing that I’ve discovered is that this game is SO HUGE, it takes months and month to truly understand how it all works.
Which game in the franchise is AoEO most similar to?
CT – Without a doubt that would be Age of Empires 2. It was a big favorite of almost everyone I talked to, and mine as well. But that’s not to say we aren’t including anything that was loved from the other games as well.
What are the main changes? What would newbies like?
CT – The biggest thing to understand is that you have to “Build your Civ”. And as you build it, you can play each quest in single player mode, or play cooperatively with friends. It’s really up to you how you want to approach it. And of course there’s PvP and playing in the ranked games as well. I think those who are new to the franchise are going to enjoy coming back to the game, building a civ and exploring all the content… what we call “gear”. You can acquire, trade it, and craft it. It’s wild how much is going on, just in this one part of the game.
What PVP types of games are planned? 1v1 skirmishes, larger numbers? free-for-alls? Objective-based?
CT – Right now we’ve got 1v1 and 2v2, but we’ve also got the Defense of Crete booster, which is a cooperative mode, and in the future, there might be ways we can mix a booster idea like Defense of Crete with Pvp… we’re totally signed up to create some very new and exciting modes of play.
What are quests and how do they work?
CT – Each quest will remind you of playing in single player mode. The big difference is, each time you complete one, you get to return to your capital and check on how things are going there. You might be crafting gear, or you might have earned some points that you want to spend unlocking new tech. It truly is a marriage between classical RTS and persistent online gaming… and it’s pretty smooth!
How does persistence work with regards to a player's empire?
CT – The empire is always growing, even when you are offline. You acquire goods through structure you build in the capital, whether that’s wood, stone or a long list of other resources. You craft these into gear. But you also earn points which unlocks technology, and have a large number of structures that you can build… and besides a bunch of very functional structures, you can also decorate with some stuff that’s a little more like a trophy, like say, the Trojan Horse.
Can your home town be invaded, or is it always a safe haven a-la AoE3?
CT – Think of the home city more like you would think of a “character” in an MMO, so it’s always safe.
How can other players interact with it?
CT – Other players can visit your city and buy gear from your store, and complete quests that are available in your city.
Why go free with the game, or: what is the economic model?
CT – The free to play model is very forward looking, and it’s a model that’s very exciting, for a bunch of reasons. First off, instead of putting out a demo of the game, and then asking customers if they want to pull the trigger and buy the game, they get to play for a very long time, and really understand what part of the game they want to expand. When a purchase is made, it’s very specific to a part of the game they want. It’s a hugely high value for the player… they never have to take the big risks like in the old days. I love where this is going.
How did GPG get involved with the game and why did you replace Robot Entertainment?
CT – Our relationship goes back over a decade with Microsoft, and we’ve always kept in touch. We were a natural choice when it came time to have additional content developed, and we’ve been thrilled to see our role grow this past year.
Can you elaborate on this process? It is quite unusual for one team to join or replace another. From your previous answer it seems like Robot Entertainment were just not big enough to develop all the content un the time frame required. Is that so? Are there any Ensemble veterans on the team?
CT – Not at all, I don’t think it was about the size, but rather about us helping out with content. Things evolve and change over time, and there’s synergy in having us work with MS just up the street from our office. There are definitely veterans, but those are on the MS team. Robot is located down in Dallas, and it didn’t make sense to relocate any of the team.
How much of the game is PvP or PvE?
CT – I think right now the game is heavily PvE, but now, with the introduction of Sparta, we’re seeing much more balance come to the game. Having said that, I personally like to see a lot more cooperative gameplay. Whatever it is we do though, we want to make it our job to listen carefully to what the community is saying, as we want to make sure we’re delivering the experience they are looking for.
How will working on such a persistent, evolving game impact the future projects for GPG?
CT – We think it’s a tremendous opportunity that will be a great experience for us all. Not only do we learn about this new business, we get to work on one of our favorites game franchises… it’s just all around good!
From browsing the game's site, it seems paying players will always have the upper hand over non-paying ones due to the bonuses given by Booster Packs. Is that so?
CT – We sure hope not, so we’re working on ways to keep the game balanced. In the PvP area, we do this through the match-making service. It’s a complicated algorithm, but our goal is to always keep the win/loss at 50/50.
So, if I understand correctly, paying players WILL have an advantage over non-payers of equal skill, but they will be matched against more skilled players to keep up the challenge (and vice versa)?
CT – If you are talking about PvP, then it’s all about how the players are matched. We believe that the match-making tech takes care of this, so regardless of your level, it will try and find a game for you that give you a 50/50 win/lose potential. And of course we’ll be watching this closely to make sure it hits that goal.
What are the social features of AoEO? How does inter-player trade work?
CT – The entire concept of an online game is wrapped in social features, or put differently, finding ways to get people playing together. This is accomplished by playing COOP together, or playing PvP, or just trading stuff with friends. In particular though, it’s an area we want to keep expanding, because we know it’s the future of PC gaming.
What can players trade with one another? Gear? Tech? Piles of wood?
CT – Player’s can trade anything that they have in their inventory, which does include gear, and resources like wood, stone and anything else they find in the game world.
Do all players play on the same map/world?
CT – Each player is in their own world, but those worlds are accessible by others… it’s the way we can tie everything together.
What is the game's launch date?
CT – Aug 16th is our day!
What is your favorite unit or building?
I’m a long time Archer fan, but from a game mechanics perspective, it’s all about the ranged weapons!! And man, the palintonon is killer!
So there you have it. a game that combines an old franchise with some new concepts, strategy with pack purchasing and even a Trojan horse! If that sounds interesting, I'll see you blowing your war horns come August. Now excuse me, I need to train my Palintonon.