25 years of Age Of Empires has made fans “heartbeat and trembling”
When Adam Isgreen, creative director at World’s Edge, first played the role Empire series, he still works at Westwood Studios on Command & Conquer. “The first thing that impressed me more than anything with this series was, wow! History! That’s really clever,” he told me. Like, no need to explain anything to people. You don’t have to be like, oh, there’s a laser gun or this is a magic missile. It’s like a wheelbarrow. I know what that does! ”
For Isgreen, it’s this level of accessibility that brings Age Of Empires to the end of its 25th anniversary today. Instantly readable historical warfare – “pikemen, ranged units and cavalry” – paired with random maps that promise, effectively, infinite replayability; “It just has a lot of features that I think players really love and define themselves by those features in a way that, yeah, it outlasts everything else.”
Customer Voiceover Director Emma Bridle said: “Truly, players are the beating heart of the franchise. “It’s really special that so many of us working on Age Of Empires are fans who played it as kids – you know, at college LAN parties – who are now continuing that franchise. It is driven by players all over the world who have never stopped playing the game for 25 years, even when new titles haven’t come out yet. They still play, they still organize their own tournaments. They are still making mods. ”
Bridle says it’s important that these games tell the stories they do. With so many representative cultures, there’s always an entry point, no matter where you grew up. And from there, you can learn about others. “I’ve heard stories, we had a player who said, ‘Well, I grew up in Europe. So I know Joan of Arc. I know William Wallace. I never knew about our Asian history, that it wasn’t taught in school. But I had to discover it through Age of Empires, this discovery of love. “” That player is now a history teacher. Bridle herself remembers playing her first AOE along with learning about the Egyptians in school. They have players on every continent and developers on every – except Antarctica, though Bridle jokes that you never know what might happen in the next 25 years.
It’s a gift to any game series to have such a dedicated community of players and modders carrying its torch, even during a release drought. But it presents a problem to be solved. How do you make things interesting again for a community so used to their own way of playing? How do you bring back years of player feedback on a remake, Final Edition, or even a brand new game?
“There’s a point where you reach where it’s a blurred line between who owns the game,” Isgreen said. “Is it the community that owns the game? If we’re not making a new game and they’re modifying and making things cool, they own the game. And then we come back and like, hey, here’s some new stuff. “From day one, the goal was to engage the community in whatever it was they were doing,” said Isgreen. At one point, AOE4 used a completely different resource model, along with other experimental features. Isgreen remembers bringing a community group to Relic’s studios to gauge their response. “What do you think of this? Will it work? It won’t? Is it too far from Age? We’ve always been really worried about making something that isn’t Age of Empires-ish. It’s always. with the community, especially the Final Editions. We don’t want to break the magic.”
Bridle adds: “We’re really looking at how people play games while new titles aren’t out yet. “Looking at the features they use a lot and how they want to play. I tried to ask for statistics on the number of changes we made. And just in the pre-release environment, on Final Versions, that’s thousands of changes. Bridle mentions a Kenyan journalist who spoke to her about AOE3’s African Royals DLC, saying that for the first time she could hear her language in a video game. “And that really makes sense. There are a lot of places where we can join AOE, but we do it in partnership with the community. They let us know if we’re doing it right, if we’re on the right track, if we’re ready to go. They have that seat at the same table as us.”
Community feedback is still important to the continued development of the series, but staying true to the series’ identity also means adhering to some core pillars. The first of these means keeping things human, says Isgreen. “We focus on telling the human story. Man is man, that is invention, it is technology. It’s everything that man has done or created or imagined, isn’t it? It’s the idea that we focus on people and so we want it to relate to people and be authentic in the way we portray them. ”
According to Isgreen, the next pillar is Global. “You have to recognize it and then blend in with all these different cultures and peoples and respect the way you portray them,” he explains. “It’s been a big push for us, to make sure you know all of our representatives respect those cultures, even if sometimes the definition of what’s and isn’t. there’s a culture of change, and that can be a challenge.”
“The third one is Impactful,” Isgreen continued. “We want to create interesting content. We wanted to create something interesting that captures your attention, that’s why we took a very different approach to the story and hands on history and everything with Age. 4. We want to refresh the way we look at storytelling. ” Finally, there is the fourth pillar – ‘Enlightenment’. “We wanted to be like, honey, you’re going to learn something! Even if you don’t want to, you’ll probably learn something about history,” Isgreen said, comparing the team to a “super-exciting history teacher” who wants to be relatable and show how fascinating humanity can be.
But Age Of Empires is still an RTS at the end of the day – and one of the competitive scenes no small. Bridle says it’s added more things to the Definitive Editions and Age Of Empires 4 versions to make things easier for players coming to the genre for the first time. Today’s Anniversary update also adds ranked teamfights to AOE4, Isgreen says it’s a great way to start trying out ranked, but with friends instead of going it alone. The same 25 years of a burgeoning meta that can make some potential players nervous to join, can also be a boon. “There are a lot of great professional players creating content,” says Bridle.
Isgreen adds: “25 years have been recorded. “There is a lot of information about the meta, how to play, how to control these units. That said, I think we can do better.” No one has created the perfect RTS in terms of accessibility, something called ease of use, Isgreen says. “We think in different ways,” Bridle said, “What could make someone think, “Oh, RTS or strategy game is for me?” instructions on the official website, or advisors in Discord. “We’re 25 years old, but the franchise is growing. And that’s it: How do we not only open the door to those new players, but also make sure there’s a space for them and something for them as they join the community?”
The next 25 years may seem a bit too ambitious, but what will the next few years look like for Age Of Empires? Isgreen brings it back to those core pillars again. Telling a human story doesn’t just mean copying history into a letter. Wherever people go, or have gone, provides the group with fertile ground to explore.
“If humans can imagine or do or it’s part of us, it’s also part of Age Of Empires. So it gives us a lot of facilities to play with.”
“In the beginning it was: The era must be true history. But myths pop around and like, wait! It is a human by-product of religions and the past. Incredible. There might be something like that,” he said. What’s interesting is, then you can start to say, well, if humans can imagine it or do it or it’s part of us, it’s also part of the Age Of Empires. So it gives us a lot of basis to play about in the future. About what we can do, or where we can go”
As for the immediate future, there’s that 25th anniversary update, of course. “There are some exciting things coming up,” Bridle said. “Even some of the event rewards we’ve lined up are inspired by 25 years of likes, mees and in-kidding. And there’s some really, really cool stuff out there that I can’t wait to start using. We will be delighted to see what resonates with the players. ”
Along with other updates, it brings two new civilizations to the game – the Ottomans and the Malians. Isgreen says that when he designed these new additions, he drew inspiration from the old Westwood days. “I have this quote that everyone on my creative team knows: players should feel like they are cheating. That you’re walking away with something. That everyone else is angry because they can’t do it. “Despite the fact that it’s all balanced, players should have the feeling they’re pulling at a fast pace. As they worked with the Ottomans and especially the Malians, the team began to think about wealth in the trade. And I thought, what if they tax them? What if we felt like they cheated every time they put an outpost and whoever drove through that outpost with a merchant, they took some money? I think the most interesting thing is to have pushed the citizens further and further away, like the interesting ways they feel cheated, but that’s not the case. ”
This is where it links back to Westwood. “There is a line you have to walk. It’s like Red Alert, isn’t it? We can’t make every unit wacky because then nothing feels wacky, right? You have to find that good line. ” I refer to Tanya, Red Alert’s dual shooter, C4’s tree-planting heroine, and Isgreen’s own tribute, he says, to John Woo’s movies. Westwood’s philosophy into our games as we go into the future, just make sure we always get the crazy enjoyment you can get out of them. show that through Age – not that we’re going to change Age.”