Age of Empires, the second life of the series

Age of Empires, the second life of the series

Age of Empires

Twenty-five years have passed since a small Dallas developer recreated the ancient world through the lens of a real-time strategy video game. Age of Empires (AoE) has since made wololo [the infamous sound made by monks in the game during conversions, ed] echo in our homes: parents believed their children were learning history, while kids were convinced they were playing clandestine. And as longtime gamers know, they were both right.

Age of Empires, however, hasn't always been the subject of the love it receives today. With the advent of the Xbox, Microsoft has relegated PC gaming to the background, leaving communities such as AoE to themselves. In a way, it was the passion of these players that prompted Microsoft's renewed focus on the game and the release in 2021 of the latest title in the franchise, Age of Empires IV.

All games in the series continue to receive updates or additional content. Age of Empires titles are released on Xbox and mobile devices, and support cross-play, so that console players can try their hand at the real-time strategy classic while playing with their PC-loving friends. Furthermore, Age of Mythology will finally have a definitive edition. Age IV is also gaining in popularity, with an edition celebrating the title's first anniversary and updates designed to appeal to players who found the game overly lean at launch. AoE is once again a source of pride for lovers of RTS - real-time strategy games - and a flagship on Microsoft's roster.

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On October 25th, on the sidelines of the Age of Empires IV anniversary event - where a group of musicians played the iconic soundtrack of the series with the lute with surprising skill - I interviewed Phil Spencer , CEO of Microsoft Gaming, and the head of World's Edge developer Michael Mann, to discuss the past and future of the franchise.

The interview has been summarized and translated.

WIRED US: It's the 25th anniversary of Age of Emprires. Phil, you have been working for Microsoft for more than thirty years and have witnessed the evolution of the franchise. I think there was a time when both real-time strategy games in general and Age of Emprires were not looking good. Was there ever a time when Microsoft thought AoE and the genre were over? When and what reversed the trend? In short, when did you tell yourself that it was worth returning to pay attention to this genre?

Phil Spencer: That's a good question. Actually what I saw with Age of Empires didn't have so much to do with the genre but rather with how the community continued to play. The games remained available for purchase and we saw that there was still a vibrant community of people playing them, and with whom as Xbox we weren't actively engaged. When Xbox was born, sadly, we stopped focusing on PC games to focus more on the console, which meant that franchises like Flight Sim and Age of Empires and their communities were a bit abandoned. As our gaming strategy evolved and with gamers across all platforms in mind, we started looking at franchises in our portfolio that still had communities that were still active, quite large, and highly engaged at both the game and community levels. And Age of Empires was just one of those franchises.

So we had the opportunity to find a good partner. Getting back to work on Age of Empires with Relic [Entertainment, ed.], A company that knew the genre, was a great opportunity for us to intercept the community where it was. And I would say the same thing with regards to the announcement of the arrival of the game on consoles, a way to show the community that we recognize their love for Age of Empires, what it has meant to so many people; I am proud that we are now able to step up our efforts and do our part as owners of the IP and managers of the franchise.

Michael Mann: I also want to congratulate Ensemble Studios, who created the franchise. 25 years ago. I know World's Edge will also be able to enjoy this celebration. But I also want to say that Tony Goodman, Bruce Shelley, all of these people, did an amazing job 25 years ago to create the franchise we are ambassadors for the future.

The most exciting news, at least since my point of view - and that of the chat users who followed the anniversary stream, judging by their reaction - was the announcement of Age of Mythology Retold. Does the name indicate that it is essentially a definitive edition?

PS: I think Michael is better suited to tell the details. The great thing about the Age franchise, from Age to Age III to Age of Mythology, is that Ensemble has really proposed very different solutions regarding the meaning of the series and the game mechanics or even, in the case of Age of Mythology, regarding the ip and the stories it tells. So we have a nice collection of games that, while all belonging to the Age franchise, have very different playstyles and settings. It's nice to be able to go back. Over the years we have received many requests related to Age of Mythology, and I am glad that we were able to make what, as you will see, is a sort of [final edition], because it is something that the community has been asking for for a very long time. .

MM: I think it's the best way to look at the game. It is a definitive edition of Age of Mythology. As I said, we are the ambassadors of these franchises, cultures, peoples, stories. And we want to modernize some aspects of it. We want to work with experts to make sure we correctly represent cultures, people, stories in today's light. It is therefore a definitive edition of the game.

MicrosoftI believe that with regard to Age II there was a fear that the game would no longer be supported with the release of Age IV. But it wasn't like that. What road map do you have in mind for the game? Will you continue to make them as long as there is a community and the additional content is successful?

PS: There is a road map. Michael has more details. But I would say that as far as we are concerned we think of the games separately, unlike many franchises. With Age, the sequels have different approaches when it comes to RTS, and so we think supporting more of the franchise's products on the market makes sense to us. Maybe it's different, as I said, than traditional franchise management. But in this case, the Age II community remains strong and active. And we love to be able to continue to support it with new content and have a team behind us to make sure we manage the community, as well as to celebrate with them and keep building.

MM: I won't go into the specifics of the road maps Age II, Age III and Age IV, as we have more news to announce early next year. Since we launched AoE IV, we've been supporting the communities of all games with updates and expansions, as we announced at the anniversary event. So yes, the foundation of Age of Empires and the reason it has continued to be successful for 25 years is our community and support for it.

From a development perspective, then, Forgotten Empires, one of our key developers, had started by making mods. Later, they became our partners and we made them grow. We continue to cultivate these relationships with our community to make it grow and nurture it. And I also think of Red Bull, [which is sponsoring] our first tournament. I believe that our history and our present are continuing to support Age of Empires communities across the board.

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Durante the anniversary event, the possibility of using AoE 2's De graphics engine for the definitive edition was announced. One of the best content creators dealing with the franchise, Spirit of the Law, speculated that this integration could be similar to the Rome at War mod. What are your plans for this?

MM: Yes, for the 25th anniversary we have made some anticipation: we are trying to integrate Age I into the Age II engine, which has a lot of improvements, including pathfinding, formations. Our goal is therefore to have two games in one.

So Age of Empires I would end up in Age of Empires II? Would it be a separate game with the same engine, or would it be the integration of two games with different civilizations able, for example, to fight against each other?

MM: I can't go into details, but consider it as one of the unique experiences that are currently in the updated engine that we are supporting and that we can continue to support in the future.

Why they were chosen the Ottomans and Malians as new civilizations for Age IV?

MM: If you go to the Steam forums or discussions there are always polls on the next civilization to be introduced into the game. We also considered the diversity within the Age of Empires series and the stories we want to tell creatively. Our Creative Director, Adam Isgreen, has a lot of passion for the franchise and the global appeal of the game. When we thought about our civilizations, therefore, we reflected both from the global point of view and from that of the choices of the players.

I have seen that on the forums we often talk about the Byzantines.

MM: Yes. As I said, we are listening to the community. We have a timetable. We have some surprises coming in 2023 about Age IV civilizations, based on community feedback. I cannot go into details, but I can tell you that we are actively examining all the feedback we receive from our community, on the basis of which we are guiding our choices.

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