Bruce Shelley

Play Age of Empires - Study History in College

Play Age of Empires - Study History in College: We got an inquiry recently from a college student majoring in history who is writing a paper on how and why history was used in RTS games over the last two decades. He tells us that he believes playing Age I and Age II is what got him interested in history as a field of study. I have said many times that we are in the entertainment business, not the history business, but we do believe that our history based games could be a good introduction to the eras we have portrayed. This fellow seems to be proof of that.

The Relative Success of the Age Series: One of the questions our history major asked was why did we think that our games sold so well in comparison to other RTS games in general and historical ones in particular. I don’t think there is a clear or obvious answer to that question but there probably several factors at work. Here are some we think are important.

  • We were the first to really do a historical RTS and we did a good job with that first game (at the time everyone else was doing fantasy or Sci-Fi RTS).
  • Our games look beautiful; the sun always shines in an Age game and that helps make the worlds inviting.

  • We provide a lot of different gaming experiences inside the same box (single player campaigns, skirmish games, multi-player, randomly generated maps, different map themes, levels of difficulty, different play modes). Players of different skills and tastes can all find a satisfying game to play.
  • Our games are polished; they are well-balanced and run with little technical difficulty.
  • We provide a huge amount of content and value for the price.
  • Microsoft has been our publisher (but that did not guarantee success for all games in their portfolio over the years).

Age III Board Game Coming Soon: We recently got a chance to review the box art for the game, which is a close replica of our software cover. We also got a look at the cool plastic pieces, the colorful map, and other components. Everything looks to be of very good quality. We believe most of the business-side hurdles have been overcome now and the game should be on store shelves in May.
A number of ES’ers were involved in testing and giving feedback on this game. We think it came out very well and look forward to trying the published version shortly.

Best New Studio: Congrats to Brian Sullivan and Jeff Goodsill, colleagues at ES for many years, on their start-up studio, Iron Lore Entertainment, being selected Best New Studio in the 7th Annual Developer’s Choice Awards. Brian was one of the earliest employees at ES and was credited with co-design on Age of Empires 1. He and longtime friend Paul Chieffo founded Iron Lore, investing their own money in their dream. Their first game, Titan Quest, got great reviews and is considered the best of the many games that attempted to follow in the footsteps of Diablo. Their expansion pack to Titan Quest just got a very positive review in Games for Windows magazine. It’s great to see good guys (and old friends) win and get recognized.

Mark Rosewater on Creativity: A link to an interesting paper on creativity by the designer behind Magic the Gathering was passed around this week by Rob Fermier. The paper discusses what creativity is and how one can become better at it. A creative person has the ability to generate and act upon new ideas with regularity. Creativity flows from seeing connections between things that others do not. Mark lists five attributes in people that lead to creativity and then also a list of 10 things to do that will improve your creativity. He has obviously given this a lot of thought and the paper is well worth reading.
When I consider the design staff at ES I see a lot of the attributes in my colleagues. Our brainstorming sessions are very lively and productive. We recently had a thread going for coming up with ideas for games on an entirely new kind of platform. We quickly generated a lot of ideas that I would consider creative. The 10 things that Mark lists for improving creativity (play games, do puzzles, read talk to others, etc.) I see going on every day in our teams.
I have written before that I see our industry gradually establishing a foundation of learning and science upon which we are building the art of our craft. I see this paper as more bricks in that foundation. Check it out here.

Resignation at Atari: Word has reached us that Bruno Bonnell has resigned as chairman and chief executive of Infogrames Entertainment and all of its subsidiaries. He was the founder of Infogrames almost 24 years ago and until his resignation was the chairman, director, acting chief financial officer, and chief creative officer at Atari.

My first introduction to Infogrames was back in the 1980s when I was just getting into the computer game industry. I tried several Infogrames games on the Atari-ST (as I recall). They were beautiful for the time (PC games had four colors), but they seemed to come up short in fun (especially compared to games from Microprose at the time, like Pirates! and Silent Service).

At the Australian GDC several years ago I took part in a panel discussion that included Bruno and I was a little taken back by the philosophy he espoused. Basically he said that he preferred to make a lot of inexpensive “B” quality games and hope that enough of them would turn out great and carry the rest. That was completely different from the philosophy at ES where we set out to make games of the highest quality. When I look at the really successful studios and publishers, I believe they too push for quality.

I don’t know the details of the problems that Infogrames/Atari are having but I believe that setting out to deliberately cut costs by publishing lesser quality games, at least for a period, had to cause some of them.

Bruce Shelley

Published Monday, April 09, 2007 6:42 PM
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