Age of Empires II: HD Edition

I don’t just play games on the PS3 you know.  I dabble with iOS games and PC games.  In fact one of my long time favourite gaming franchises has to be the Age of Empires series.

I have many fond memories from round about the turn of the millennium playing online matches with friends and strangers alike over dial-up on the MSN Gaming Zone.  Those were the days!

Age of Empires II

In many respects, Age of Empires II was the perfect real-time strategy game.  The perfect historical setting, great single player campaigns, and the game play that was simple enough to pick up, but took ages to truly master.  In fact, there were so many units, different terrain, and strategies you could employ, there was more depth than you realised.

There was only one problem though.  The game was built on an old graphical subsystem (pre-DirectX) and soon ran into compatibility issues with modern operating systems a few years down the line.

Then there was Age of Empires III.  For me it was a bit of a let-down.  Everything from the time period, to the slow game play, and the high computer spec requirements.  More recently there was Age of Empires Online- classic Age of Kings gameplay but the game was more of a MMORPG than RTS.

What I really wanted was Age of Kings II.  What was my idea for Age of Kings II?  The same time period as Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, but improved graphics, more civilisations, and new campaigns but with the same great Age of Kings game play.

I’ll therefore admit that Age of Empires II: HD Edition came as a bit of a  shock, but I completely understand why the developers have gone for this option.  Sure, the graphics are a bit dated by today’s standards, but the game play is brilliant, and the game behaves and functions much as it always has.

For me, the main improvements are: population cap increased to 500, improved water graphics, higher resolution monitor support, and Steam integration.  Classic Age of Empires- a game we can now play for the next decade.  Raise your goblet to the king of real-time strategy games!

Hands-on with Age of Empires Online

I can finally talk about the game I’ve been playing for the past few weeks as the non-disclosure agreement has been lifted.  It turns out that Age of Empires Online was the secretive project that Robot Entertainment had been working on, originally called Project Spartan.

Any fan of the series will immediately be able to tell where Age of Empires Online gets its pedigree from.  Looking at gameplay and the historial period covered, Age of Empires Online seems to be a hybrid between the very first Age of Empires game released and Age of Mythology except with a few twists and many refinements.

You can also see heavy inspiration taken from Age of Empires III with the concept of a Capital city and plenty of gameplay additions from that release.  However, whereas Age of Empires III was criticised for slowing down the gameplay, this has been rectified in Age of Empires Online.  It almost feels as fast as the great classic, Age of Empires II.

Continue reading Hands-on with Age of Empires Online

Ex-Age Of Empires Devs Working On Microsoft Strategy Game

Remember Age of Empires?  Well, Kotaku has a scoop on what the ex-Age of Empires Devs might be working on.  News has leaked out about beta testers being recruited to test Robot Entertainment’s ‘Project S’ involving Spartans or something similar.  A return to form?  I sure hope so!  I’ll be keeping a close eye on this on-going news.

Ensemble Studios closure: my thoughts

All the headings you see below are scattered thoughts and opinions of mine.  They don’t necessarily follow on from each other.

In the beginning
Well, where to start?  I guess I’ll mention first that Ensemble Studios has to be one of my favourite developers due to their sterling work on the Age of Empires series.  I grew up playing Age of Empires, and I have fond memories of playing historical campaigns and battling friends over a LAN.  Yes, Ensemble Studios has a special place in my heart.

The good times
Things were never better than when Ensemble Studios were making Age of Empires.  The pinaccle of the series must be either Age of Empires II or Age of Empires III.  My personal preference has to be Age of Empires II.  That’s the game where I spent many hours over LAN- battling my friends, and the game runs on practically any PC!  I won’t go into great detail about the history of Age of Empires, or all its wonderful features but suffice to say, it remains great till this day.

An ever-closer union
Ensemble Studios got the Age of Empires II expansion pack out of the door as an independent developer- The Conquerors.  By the time of their next game, Age of Mythology; they were Microsoft-owned.  Now, I’m not saying that this has been a bad thing, but if you’re independant, you have more leeway to do what you want.  Some great examples of independant studios having a close relationship with publishers and major players are Media Molecule and Insomniac Games.  Undoubtedly, once you become the property of a larger corporation, their objective become your objectives.

Halo Wars speculation
Halo Wars has been in development for quite some time now, and as of writing this article, it’s still in development.  Apparently:

all non-essential staff have been laid off and remaining staff have been given incentives to remain until the completion of the project

My guess is that something has gone wrong.  It would be easy to guess that development has probably gone way over time and over budget, yet there could have been some other factor.  This is my thinking, because Microsoft isn’t exactly strapped for cash.  And even if that were remotely true, why kill Ensemble Studios?  They were able to grant Bungie its independance.  Maybe we’ll find out the truth at some point…

Age of Kings II
That’s right, you heard me.  Out of the ashes of Ensemble Studios, if it is possible I’d like Age of Kings II.  To me, the medievil period remains the best slice of history served up by Ensemble Studios.  Age of Kings was released almost 10 years ago, so how amazing would a new game be?  Of course, you’d get updated graphics and physics like Age of Empires III, but there’d also be the opportunity to breath new life into the game, by tweaking the gameplay to pefection.  This is assuming they’d have any rights to the franchise, which as a new studio, looks unlikely.

The End
Well those are my thoughts, opinions, and hopes.  I haven’t intended to provide any answers.  Anything I have mentioned is purely speculative and should be treated as such.  Signed, a confused and uspet fan.

Ensemble Studios to Close its Doors Once Halo Wars is Completed

Ensemble Studios to Close its Doors Once Halo Wars is Completed– This is shocking news, and very disappointing (to me, at least).  Even though a new studio will be formed, the name ‘Ensemble Studios‘ will be fondly remembered by PC gamers and continue to be much respected for years to come.