Developed by: Ensemble
Published by: Microsoft
Age of Empires 2 official page: http://www.microsoft.com/games/age2/
We're hard at work on the review for Ensemble's and Microsoft's latest, Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings. Compared to the recent crop of RTS games (read: post-Starcraft), AOE2 stands out for many reasons but perhaps most notably because it's not a 3D game. As it turns out, that's not a bad thing - the graphics in this game are truly magnificent, far outshining the 3D visuals in Command and Conquer 2 and in TA: Kingdoms. Units are finely detailed, and if you want to compare buildings between the three games, it's no contest. AOE2 beats the rest, hands down. If you've got the machine to play the game at 1280x1024, do so, because at that resolution, the graphics and detail are truly exquisite.
An English Cathedral
While you're waiting for the full review, we thought we'd whet your appetite with a Firingsquad exclusive - the Designer Diary from Ensemble's Mark Terrano. This set of diary entries deals with the trials and tribulations of making an intuitive user interface for a complex game like AOE2. RTS veterans will probably get a good laugh at the simple (to us) aspects which seem to confuse RTS newbies so much. Check them out, as they are a fascinating read!
Designer diaries: William Wallace becomes a Teacher
By Mark Terrano - Game Designer - Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
One of our goals when designing Age of Kings was to make it more approachable to all gamers. The final effort turned out to be a lot larger than we had originally anticipated, but the end result was worth the extra work.
9/24/98 - We had prototyped the multimedia story style with Joan of Arc, and identified the other campaign heroes as well. William Wallace was a perfect fit for the Learning campaign, because the act of gathering the Clans of Scotland and building up an economy were the things we wanted new users to learn.
A well fortified entrance
11/21/98 - First usability test. I wasn't sure what to expect from my trip to the usability and playtesting labs at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond. The set-up was interesting, people who had never played an RTS game would be playing Age of Kings, with very minimal instructions, and would just try to figure things out on their own. A professional usability tester would lead the session and help identify problem areas in the interface and the game.
Let me say that as a game designer, nothing is quite so humbling as watching an RTS novice play on the other side of a 2-way mirror…my psychic commands to "Right Click" didn't seem to help either. It was obvious after the first usability session that the interface had to be easier, and we were going to have to do a better job explaining the units and technologies that are so key to playing Age of Kings.