Heavens Community Pages
The Age of Empires Heaven Interviews
Brad Crow & Scott Winsett
Brad "The Crow" Crow: (Lead
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: (Art)
Smog: (Smog's Age of Empires)
Archangel Michael: (Age of Empires Heaven)
Telcontar: Telcontar's Empires of the Ages
The Archangel: Good morning thanks for taking the time to join us
today. Can you both give us some background on yourselves and how
you came to be in the gaming business and at ES?
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Well I am 23 years
And I guess I got lucky...ha ha... I got picked up right out of
school to jump on AoE, and have been going strong ever since. I
too received all my 3D training at the Art institute of Dallas,
I was second artist picked up to help Brad. I was really impressed
with Brad and with ES, so I joined open heatedly and have been happy
ever since :)
Brad "The Crow" Crow: I am 22 years old and
my art training in 3d at the Art Institute of Dallas. I was fortunate
enough to be the third full time employee at Ensemble Studios and
the first artist to work on AOE. I was excited about the game as
soon as I got my hands on the first design document. It was a very
interesting start here at Ensemble... Our first office was a card
table with a PC slapped on top. We were amidst tie wearing
at the agency downstairs.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: In a consulting
When we first started we really couldn't act like artist at all...
It was like a library job... :)
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Since then all the
down stairs dress like us now :^)
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We broke out of
we moved up to the penthouse suite...
Telcontar: Since when did you know that you wanted to
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Since I sat drawing in the
of reading, not at all paying attention, in 3rd grade reading class
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I have always felt
I wanted to be an "artist" since I could hold a pencil...
Smog: When did Scott come join the team After You (Brad)?
you very far into the game?
Brad "The Crow" Crow: I was prototyping the look
feel of the game for around Six months before we Tried to get Scott
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: When I started, Brad
told me that the game was... "Going to be the best looking
RTS game ever..." I knew we had our work cut out for us...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Absolutely, Once Scott was
the pace picked up allot, and the game really began to take shape
Telcontar: Do you still use pencil and paper often or has
with 3d models taken over?
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Allot of planning goes into
piece of "game ready artwork" so allot of sketching is
done prior to implementation on the computer Sometimes however we
find it easier to sketch and work though our ideas on the computer
first. In the end it is whatever looks best and fits the game!
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Thats what really
in our minds.
The Archangel: What is the multi-step process to produce
Ready" art work? (from Initial sketch through final compression)
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We did find
a TON of sketching on Age to keep the consistency looking OK
Brad "The Crow" Crow: First of course we sit with
designers and do allot of research before we begin sketching, this
allows everybody to share a common vision.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: then we will do some
sketches to develop a look and fell for the game.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Once these sketches are
by the art team we begin creating them in 3d.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We really try and
to make sure we share a common vision, as well as assets.
Telcontar: How much have you been researching about each
Brad "The Crow" Crow: We went to book stores and
hundreds of dollars on research material, allot of the most useful
information came from our designers like Bruce Shelley.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Bruce really is a
Brad "The Crow" Crow: It is obvious we were
not paying attention in Spelling class :^)
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We had a library,
of books from everywhere. We was constantly looking for reference
Telcontar: The appendices are very well researched indeed.
- How did you merge the different tribes into 4 tilesets and 1 unit
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Once we had a look
for the game we moved on to scale issues and prototype art.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: We worked with the
(Bruce) to find out which cultures could share common artwork.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Microsoft helped
when they could, But Bruce was our main contact.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Of course we would have
loved to have custom buildings and units for each culture but memory
constraints would not allow that.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We really did some
testing and fine tuning to get to where the game felt right.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: As well as looked
Brad "The Crow" Crow: when creating art for this
game it was important to blend what was historically accurate and
what everybody expects a culture to look like.
Smog: What was the hardest unit to create in the game; Like
the one with most detail? I always figured either a horse unit,
catapult or ballista, or maybe the elephant.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: The elephant.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Definitely the
Brad "The Crow" Crow: We spent weeks just getting
it to look right and then the animation took just as long
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Everyone really
the cats... Those only took about 8 hours :)
Brad "The Crow" Crow: we watched numerous
Geographic specials to understand the elephants movement
Smog: wow, that's pretty good time. I thought it would take
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Some of the units
took as long as a week before Brad and myself would let it go in
Brad "The Crow" Crow: or weeks :^)
Smog: what was the easiest unit to create?
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Fish
Brad "The Crow" Crow: They had the least amount
Smog: Well, Unit you can control.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Probably the rolling
The Archangel: What is "Key Framing" and "Rendering
to a Palette" and how was that used in AoE?
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Key framing is
school" type of animation, its where you move a part of the
unit to a specific frame and seta key frame... Then you set another,
then another, and you try to make the unit as fluid as possible...
It's not very easy... Lots of units have many, many objects, IE
the Priest... So it was very time consuming... As for the palette
issue, we have a controlled palette. By this I mean every piece
of artwork you see in the game is displayed in this set of 256
We designed all the art work to this 256 color palette, that is
one reason why it looks good.
Telcontar: Which building set is your favorite one?
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Greek is by far my
it is to me the most elegant.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I tend to favor the
Telcontar: What is your favorite building and unit?
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I think it's because
I like Benehanas.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: My favorite building is
the Greek Iron Age Temple and My favorite looking unit is either
the priest or the legion.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: My favor Buildings
would be the wonders, and unit would have to be well thats top
Brad "The Crow" Crow: And of course I like to
hunt elephants, that is one of my favorite animations.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: By far my favorite
animations in the game are the death animations.
Smog: Did you have to make each unit for different
or just 640x480, or what?
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Everything was made
to fit 640x480. Only the interfaces are custom.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: You just get more realistic
in other screen sizes.
Smog: What size screen do you normally play on when you
play AoE? I like 800x600 because I have a 17" monitor. Sometime,
After long periods 1024x768 is hard to see.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I have a 21"
so I let the "BIGDOG eat" and go 1024 all the time...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: I like to always play in
1024x768, it makes the graphics look sharper.
The Archangel: How were the cinematics done, the credit
screens are pretty cool! (The Movie Set Screens).
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Thank you
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Well first of all
thanks... And the cinematics well thats a hard one...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: The credit screens and the
cinematics were mostly done by Thonny N. a very talented artist
here. Thonny N. spearheaded the whole project and worked on the
cinematics for at least six months.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: Lots of time when
in to the planning of the opening animation. The movie set screens
are going to be an Ensemble Studios trade mark.
Telcontar: What are the trends for graphics in computer
games? They have become increasingly important during the past years,
sometimes at the expense of the gameplay.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: We believe in having a
game design before artwork.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: It has become very
competitive in the game industry, who has the best looking game
usually gets a ton of up front attention.
Brad "The Crow" Crow: But yes graphics are
ever more important to users, and that is why we work so hard along
with everyone else in the industry to keep pushing up the level
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We tried to separate
good game play from good art from the start. We did have our work
cut out for us, trying to combine WCII with Civ...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: Even if someone has the
best looking game, people will only play it long enough to look
at the art if there is not good gameplay to keep them coming back
Telcontar: What were your expectations of the success of
AoE at the early stages (i. e. before the E3)?
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I would say our
were high.. Very high
Brad "The Crow" Crow: We were focused on making
the best game of 97. However we truly were not able to imagine what
has really happened with the game.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I am still kinda
Brad "The Crow" Crow: We are happy that many are
having as much fun now playing AOE as we have had play testing the
game for several months past.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: E3 was a big
tool for me, seeing all those people wanting to play our game...
It was really cool. As you can see by our spelling... we don't get
out much... I should say, they don't let us out much...:)
Brad "The Crow" Crow: :^)
The Archangel: Last question for me gentlemen, Can you give
us some insight on the depth of character animation techniques?
- The death scenes in Age are some of the best graphics I have ever
seen in any game.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: well there is a
behind the death animations.... Well Brad and myself were at work
around 4:00 am in the morning, and we were trying to think of
to set out game apart from others... We were throwing out ideas
and letting everything get out in the open... We were playing as
we were talking, and we were just killing things left and right.
We had stills for the deaths, just plain old stills one a guy got
killed he would just pop in to the still... That sucked...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: The techniques are all very
basic... It is the attention to detail that gives an animation
Many a late night were we up here swinging broad swords (broom
at make believe enemies in order to get a feel for how the movement
really would be.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: so we thought it
would be cool if when you killed a unit that he really looked like
you did something... So we did some test and spent the rest of the
morning doing some of the first death animations, for the peasants,
and we were really proud of them...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: When we were down stairs,
you could walk into the consultants offices and see a couple of
men in three piece suits physically showing us how they would swing
their battle axes against Greek Legions. That was pretty cool.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: then we came to work
around 2:00pm the next day and our designer was in rage... He said
"...heck no we can't afford the memory". So we thought
we had pulled an all nighter for nothing, and that all was going
to be lost... Well everyone in the office was like... THEY ROCK...
Heck no!!!!! we are going find memory, and we did... Then Brad and
myself got to add like another month to our schedules for custom
death animations for all the units in the game... Job security.
Smog: How do you think the graphics on Starcraft will be
compared to AoE? Do you think Starcraft will be a big competitor
in play wise, as well as graphics wise?
Brad "The Crow" Crow: As always Blizzard can put
out a game that has awesome gameplay and graphics. I am fully
that they will again produce a title that follows this trend...
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: I think those guys
at Blizzard are something to behold. They are a great bunch of guys,
very talented. To compare the two, I think we scared them a bit,
they had to go home after E3 and do some homework, I played Starcraft
at E3 and it seems solid, It looks just as solid then, but rumor
had it they were doing some more work...:)
Brad "The Crow" Crow: So yes... I do believe
will be a contender, as for which looks better, I will let the users
decide that one. :)
Telcontar: Thank you for making such a great and addictive
game, and for spending your time with us.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: anytime fellas, we
know that if we can make you "Hardcore gamers" happy then
we have done something special...
Brad "The Crow" Crow: thank you for all of your
support, the users are why we try to make great games.
Scott "Strokin Ace" Winsett: We couldn't have
done it with out the feedback from all of you and Microsoft... Thanks