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Age of Empires Heaven » Forums » News Discussions » An interview with... Ingo
Topic Subject:An interview with... Ingo
Mr. Beta
posted 05-02-18 09:20 AM ET (US)         
A master of the good scenario designing days of old, Ingo van Thiel made quite the name here on Age of Empires Heaven with his fantastic custom designed campaigns, most of them released in 1998-2000, and Age of Kings Heaven in the years after. They are each simply wonderful works of art that have stood the test of time, all with unique features, compelling stories and interesting objectives.

A screenshot from his campaign "Tai Gun", featuring swamps.

So how is Ingo doing today? With the release of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, he has visited our forums several times again - announcing remastered/updated versions of his campaigns which include the ingenious "Mago", a single scenario campaign, and Chou Kung, which I helped to playtest.

We asked him if there is more to come - along with some other questions which should give you an insight into his creative mind!

How nice of you to visit AoEH again! Welcome back. Do you plan to stay for a while?

Thank you, it's good to be back! I'll be sure to lurk around the forums for a while.

Obviously, you have bought and played Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. Nostalgic feelings? Do you like the remastered version of AoE? Does it mark your definitive return into the world of scenario designing?

I like the graphics of the new version: They capture the old vibe of the campaign, but the textures are deeper and more modern. It's great that they included features such as walkable farms, gathering points, and that villagers automatically get to work when they finished a granary or storage pit. These are good improvements over the last game. I also like in singleplayer that you don't need to find and burn down every enemy storage pit to win; however, I feel that computer players resign a little too fast now.

What are your thoughts on DE's scenario editor?

It needs some major updates and bug fixes, but then it could be as great as the old editor. It could be even greater.

At the moment, there's a lot of huge potential lost due to bugs and limited freedom for designers. It should not be hard to address this though. I get that the Forgotten Empires team and Microsoft first had to focus on the gameplay and fix the most urgent issues for the majority of casual players. But I feel these have vastly improved, and now it's time they looked at the editor too. Fixing the editor would be in the best interest of Microsoft and the Forgotten Empires Team, because another enthusiastic design community could greatly help the longevity of this game, and the long-term sales.

Here are some observations, bug reports and wishes for the editor.

On a very positive note, I appreciate the new terrain features. Gravel, road and dirt grass look beautiful, and they are great additions. And you can even still see the different terrains under buildings. For example, you can now decide if the training ground of an academy is pavement, sandy, or grass. This is a fantastic new feature for designers who like to pay attention to detail.

The new waterfalls look better too. A third type of waterfall, not as slim as the small one, but not as broad as the huge one, would also be great.

It's also good that they included more hero units. Here comes my first wish though: I wish they could give the heroes more individual looks. Even Hero Jason lost his special looks, and is another short swordsman now. This makes it difficult to tell him apart from other short swordsmen, and other hero units that look exactly the same.

There are some big bugs too. For example, the player's victory conditions sometimes become a computer player's victory condition, so that you lose instead of winning.

The text editor is especially buggy. It is hard to edit or correct your text messages later. The cursor blinks where you put it, but jumps back to the beginning of the text as soon as you start typing. I almost gave up on updating Chou Kung because of this. For now, there is a workaround though: Click your cursor where you want to correct the text, then delete one letter forward; if you do this, you can then start typing from there.

I have not figured out how to include bitmaps, or how to edit the AI and PER files. Not sure if it is possible at all with the current version... I hope these issues will also get addressed by the Forgotten Empires team.

One freedom I miss the most: It is no longer possible to place Gaia objects over each other, or over different terrains to create new looks and features. Swamps from the old scenarios (desert tiles over shallow water) still survive if you convert them, but you cannot newly create swamps now. At the time I am writing this, creating hedges by closely placed cacti does not work well anymore either.

My biggest wish for an update would go even further than the old editor - it would be revolutionary: It would be great if designers could manually place all editor objects everywhere, even on each other (but only while they are in editor mode). Imagine the possibilities. It could allow us to place buildings into shallow water for flooded cities. It would allow us to create swamps again, and forests growing into water. It could allow details such as fixing a bowman on an archery range ground, even if he can just shoot and not walk away. We would be able to place natural objects such as rocks, trees, desert patches etc everywhere, no matter if it is on cliffs, water, or buildings, to create all kinds of new, amazing terrain tricks. We would be able to manually move editor buildings into each other (e.g. a tower into a barracks) to create new optical effects by new building combinations.

Another big wish: The grid of Gaia trees should be reduced back to their original size, or even smaller. They have a larger grid now. This makes many old fixed-force scenarios unplayable because narrow paths are now blocked. Reducing the grid could also enable us to create more dense and interesting forests that players can walk through.

Besides Mago, and Chou Kung, are you working on other "remastered" versions of your campaigns? I would love to play updates of the Tai Gun series, and Budonian Tales.

I'm considering it and have done more experiments. However, these campaigns are more difficult to update. Some scenarios are completely unplayable now, because their gameplay relied on features and quirks of the old game (e.g. bird hunting). Some scenarios would have to be removed, some would have to be completely redesigned.

Anything new being cooked too?


How do you reflect back/what are your thoughts on your campaigns after almost 20 years? Do you have any things you regret doing or not doing, and if so do you intend to change some of them in your DE re-releases?

I'm still happy with most of my work for AoE and RoR. Back in the day, I had a perfectionist approach to map design and gameplay. It was time-consuming, but I guess it saved me a lot of regrets later. :-) There is only one thing I might have done differently, and that was the last Ghengis Khan scenario: You had to hunt down two carrier pigeons before they reached the enemy town. Several players despaired over this and never got past the first 30 seconds. At the time, I think could have made it easier, and placed the two hunters so that they could more easily shoot down the birds. Bird-hunting is not possible with AoEE anyhow though.

Any new super-secret awesome design trick(s) or design innovations you want to share with us?

Haha! No, I haven't actively looked to create any new tricks I really like what is possible with the new terrain though. If future updates of the editor allow us more freedom to combine terrain features, buildings and units, the number of new tricks in the community could explode.

Who is your favorite designer(s), and which works would you recommend to other players?

I am not really in the loop anymore with the designs in the last ten years or so. With the original game, there were many great designers out there, such as Andrea Rosa, Rich Parker, imhotep, Gordon Farrell any many others who left behind an impressive legacy of campaigns. Frank Steidel and Kyle Leach only published very few scenarios, but their work was also groundbreaking for me.

Do you play mostly single player games, or do you enjoy multiplayer as well? Care to share your strategy with your favorite civ?

I'm a 100% singleplayer guy, so I cannot comment on multiplayer.

Onto a few personal questions, if that's alright.


Are there any other games of interest you (still) play/look forward to playing? AoE 4?

I still play Age of Empires 3 occasionally but it is not installed on my new computer. I will check out AoE 4 when it's out. I also like console games such as Splinter Cell, The Last of Us and Horizon Zero Dawn.

During your long hiatuses from HeavenGames, what do you do in between?

I still work as a medical journalist and enjoy what I do. In my spare time, I write and play my own songs and meet a lot of fellow musicians. Cologne has a lively and buzzing Open Mic scene.

You have a passion for music. Do you still write/compose songs? Can we listen to them?

Absolutely Writing songs on the guitar and piano, and singing them to people is still my number one passion. I recently finished a double-album with 24 songs of mine. This was my biggest musical project so far and took about four years to complete. It's called Song Machine Vol. 1 and 2. You can find it online on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and other online services by typing in my name, Ingo van Thiel.

Anything else you would like to share?

Yes. It is great that this community still going strong!

It is a pleasure to have you here once again. Oh, and before I forget: You can use ctrl+g for off-tile placement, and ctrl+s for overlapping unit placement in Definitive Edition's scenario editor, that should help you out

Thank you very much for the interview!

[This message has been edited by Fisk (edited 09-29-2018 @ 03:53 AM).]

posted 05-03-18 06:02 AM ET (US)     1 / 7       
Thanks for the interview to both of you.

My AoC Workshop
Make Build & Destroy great again!
Ingo van Thiel
posted 05-03-18 06:07 PM ET (US)     2 / 7       
Ctrl+s is a fantastic feature, I had no idea it existed before this interview. Thanks PhatFish! Its my new favorite editor toy, along with ctrl+g. Im updating Tai Gun 1 now, with a couple of new visual effects.

My new double album, "Song Machine Vol. 1 and 2" with 24 of my songs is online now on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and most other online services. Check it out, it's published under my name.
AoEH Seraph
posted 05-06-18 06:04 AM ET (US)     3 / 7       
Always cool to know what's in the mind of the people you admire!
Scenario Design Expert
posted 05-07-18 04:15 AM ET (US)     4 / 7       
Great interview!

StormComing (to me): "Seems like you're way under-ranked"

Check out my series of guides for the scenario editor in the link below! | Best Otto TR score

The definitive collection of my scenarios, along with my scenario editor walkthrough, recorded games, and much much more!
Ingo van Thiel
posted 05-28-18 03:19 AM ET (US)     5 / 7       
It's just been a month since this interview and my view of the editor has changed a lot... for the better. Actually, most items on my wishlist are possible thanks to the shortcuts (ctrl S, G and R). I had no idea

"newly create swamps" - CHECK.
"hedges by closely placed cacti" - Still cumbersome with the DE editor, but shrubs make even better hedges.
"manually place all editor objects everywhere, even on each other. - CHECK.
"place buildings into shallow water for flooded cities" - CHECK.
"a bowman on an archery range ground" - CHECK.
"place natural objects such as rocks, trees, desert patches etc everywhere, no matter if it is on cliffs, water, or buildings, to create all kinds of new, amazing terrain tricks." - CHECK for most of these items. Rocks and shrubs near/under buildings often disappear
"We would be able to manually move editor buildings into each other (e.g. a tower into a barracks) to create new optical effects by new building combinations." - CHECK.

Open items: Buggy text editor, same-looking heroes, some Gaia heroes disappear after you place them, grid of Gaia trees is very large, I still have not found out if we can place our own bitmaps.

Although the bugs are annoying and so is the lack of developer support, I honestly like the DE editor as much as the AoE/RoR one. It's really inspiring. I'm updating more of my old campaigns now. Tai Gun 1 is online, Budonian Tales is next.

[This message has been edited by Ingo van Thiel (edited 05-28-2018 @ 03:27 AM).]

(id: Al_Kharn the Great)
posted 05-28-18 07:08 PM ET (US)     6 / 7       
That's great, Ingo. I've been playing your updated version of Chou Kung and it is excellent. Glad to see you like what DE offers.

Ingo van Thiel
posted 06-01-18 02:10 PM ET (US)     7 / 7       
Thank you Al_Kharn! Glad you enjoyed Chou Kung.
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