Designer Biography – Phill Phree

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Bio – Phill Phree (Phillistine)

Name: Phill
Occupation: Self Employed
Time as designer: from Nov 99

I was at a customer’s office, fixing his PC. He was self employed, his place was pretty informal and afterwards my attention was drawn to his son playing AoE on the spare machine. I watched him play for a few minutes before realising my customer was talking to me and I hadn’t heard a single thing he’d said. To this day I don’t know exactly what grabbed me, but I bought AoE the week after.

I’m not a great fan of wargaming, a strange statement from a fan of Chess, Battle Isle and C&C but generally there are only a few games like that which appeal to me. Nevertheless, I was lost in AoE whenever I played, unaware of time or the world around me – I have still never played anything as immersive. I came out of my first RM exhilirated and feeling as if I had fought it personally.

A few months later I got into designing. As a regular visitor to AoEH, but not yet an active forumer, I read about peoples’ discoveries and downloaded and played lots of campaigns and scenarios. I had played with the editor but not put anything together. As a fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I had found the battles in those stories the most boring bits to read, but here was an opportunity to recreate them in a fun way and write the story around them – play the battle and read the rest.

Initially I was daunted – there were so many amazing scenarios on AoEH that I almost gave up there and then. However, the designers are very helpful and encouraging and AoEH has always been a great community. Fictional campaigns were not popular at the time and Ingo was waging a one man war in favour of them.

My first effort was The Vision of Amon Ra, based on a short story I had written 12 years before. It was very crude in places, I was pleased with the story and the way I fitted it round the game but I didn’t really know how to do things that well. And horror of horrors, one of the VCs didn’t work for some people – I still don’t know why, attempts to fix it have failed. Despite this, a guy called Vic mailed me and asked if I would do some more. By the time I did the follow up, The Glory of Amon Ra, I had RoR, made a point of never having a VC fail again and Vic had become both my main playtester and a good friend.

Glory was a big jump in standard. I had learned a lot by then, the maps were much better and I was experimenting with pers to create interesting fights and enemies. The original idea was to do a trilogy of campaigns with Amon Ra as the hero, but The Destiny of Amon Ra has yet to be made. I needed a break and wanted to experiment with different concepts and stories.

Enter Conan. The original stories had been re-released as two paperback anthologies, I was a childhood fan who had borrowed them from the library at the time, so I bought them, re-read them and while doing so thought how awesome some of the stories would be to play as battles in a RTS. So I worked them into a campaign covering the first 11 years of Conan’s life on the road. Units from the stories were in the game, Chariots, Archers, Cavalry and so on, and his life was as detailed as any historical account of any great leader, so RoR provided plenty of raw material and practical, fun ways to play out the stories, and not many had done it before, sticking to better known fantasy stories, when they did them at all, like LOTR, which I had read as a kid, played as a game years before the internet and was already bored with, preferring Howard’s punchy style to Tolkein’s drudgery.

About a year later CenturionZ_1 held an informal design contest just for fun, and myself and SBE entered. I wanted to do a campaign based on the classic Lone Wolf and Cub series (also known as the ‘baby cart’ series – bits from the first two films later being taken and filmed for the US as The Shogun Assassin) but they happened in the 16th century. So I put it back 900 years and set it in Yamato times. The result was Ronin. It is amusing to note here that by this time everyone wanted to do fictional campaigns and objected to ‘history’ contests.

Running the site, and work, take up most of my time these days but I am experimenting when I can with the scenario editors in some of the newer games when the mood takes me. Since my days of intense designing the AoE community has gone on to discover new ways of editing almost every file in the game – who would have thought new tools for the designer would be discovered 

No matter what, though, AoE and RoR will always have a special place for me. Even if I don’t design any more, they are classic games and I will probably play them until I die. I haven’t thrown out my chessboard either.

Best Scenarios

This is awfully self indulgent but it’s the kind of question people ask – what do you think your best work is, etc – so here is a list of things I was particularly proud of, mainly because I was able to implement the ideas I had as effectively as the editor would let me and gave the scenario the playability I wanted, which has always been the most important thing for me. Why play if it isn’t fun? So here goes – my lil’ bit of pride 🙂

– in game maps – Conan 2, Ronin 1
– scenario instruction maps – Conan 2, Ronin 1
– playability – Ronin 3, Conan 5
– per and ai – Conan (Ronin built on some of the simpler concepts because it was a more linear storyline but all he good AI stuff like in Lords of Death was as a result of experiments carried out during the making of Conan)

Some of my favourite campaigns / scenarios by others;
– The Martial Emperor by Rich Parker
– The Two Brothers by Ingo Van Thiel
– A Clash of Kingdoms by Joey S
– Kingdom of the Morning Calm by Eggman
– The Relay by Steve Ryan
– David Sagas 1 and 2 by Imhotep