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The Age of Empires Heaven Interviews

Rick Goodman (Mr. Grinch)
Ensemble Studios

Conducted by Gamestats & Age of Empires Heaven

Archangel Michael (09:07:08, September 13) : Good Morning Rick, thank you for stopping by. Today we are joined by John from Gamestats. Lets jump right in.. Rick – can you give us a brief summary of your position and responsibilities at Ensemble Studios? Also sure most AoE Fans would like to know… how did you get into the gaming world and besides Age of Empires what is you most played RTS game? 🙂

Mr. Grinch (09:10:18, September 13) : I am part of the design team for AoE, along with Bruce Shelley and Brian Sullivan. In addition to this, as anyone who works in the games business knows, you needs to be pretty versatile. So, in my case this means doing project management and business related activities as well.

Getting into the gaming world was a dream come true for me that started around January of 1995. We just wanted to do it, so we did it.

Archangel Michael (09:11:14, September 13) : As we near the release date of Age of Empires, can you tell us if you are down to the double digits in correcting any “Bugs” that are left in AoE? and which one is giving you the most problems right now?

Mr. Grinch (09:16:31, September 13) : Bugs, what are those? We have been in the single digits for several days now. This means that we are facing down all of the ‘fun’ bugs that we left for the end of the project. In our case, these are mainly due to issues beyond our control, like dealing with APIs that return undocumented codes, or that don’t work as documented. Regardless, we are the ones to find the solution…and we do. There is nothing that we have not been able to solve and there have been some real contenders. For example, don’t mention the notorious “fishing boats” bug with this crew unless you want to get stomped in a Death Match.

John (Imperious Rex) (09:17:08, September 13) : Good morning Mr. Grinch. It’s always a pleasure talking to you. The 12 different civilization choices really set AoE apart from the pack. Do you have any strategy tips for the different Civilizations?

Mr. Grinch (09:23:56, September 13) : You bet. We are actually still defining and exploring different strategies for each of the 12 Civilizations. Each has differences that manifest themselves in military, economic and technological areas. As such, it has been amazingly rewarding to discover vast number of strategies that exist in the game. OK, maybe I helped design the game a little, here and there, but the fact is, we, ourselves, have yet to discover all of the possibilities that exist for each civilization.

Yesterday, Tim, one of the exalted AoE ‘Top 5’, came up to me and raved about a new strategy for the Hittites. I can’t tell you what it is, you’ll have to get on the Zone and find out for yourself, but it is truly rewarding to see experienced players have yet to master a game that we have been playing every day for nine months.

John (Imperious Rex) (09:24:46, September 13) : The units in the game do not speak English. 🙂 What do they speak? Where did this “language” come from? Are there any hidden meanings or words?

Mr. Grinch (09:32:19, September 13) : Ah… This sounds just like the discussions we had over a year ago. We needed to something here that was right for the game. Something that was believable and something that gave players the audible feedback they needed to process information in real time. English was considered at one time, however, we decided that English did not provide the right context for the sounds in the game. As a result, our sound guy, Chris Rippy invented a language of his own. After you play for a short while it tends to grow on you – even take over your life…I don’t know how many times I hear people in the halls saying “Efritati”.

This turned out to be a lot more fun to do as well. Rumor has it that the language is based exclusively upon the names of Chris’s friends and family members. But this is as yet unconfirmed…. Chris has done a wonderful job not just on the language, but also on the entire set of game sounds. While running AI opponents on 20 test computers simultaneously, early one morning last week, I decided to turn up the volume. It sounded like Armageddon.

Archangel Michael (09:32:55, September 13) : Do you see any “Show Stoppers” that might delay Age of Empires from its release date of 31 October ? Is there any truth that AoE goes to the (CD) factory next week? Does this mean a Demo (or Two) is not far off?

Mr. Grinch (09:44:26, September 13) : AoE is a labor of love. It is a game that we all love to play. This means that we are very active, internally, about improving it to make it the best game that we have ever played. As a result we have taken the time to make the game truly exciting, we have play balanced and fined tuned it for months, we added ‘features’ past the deadline and have created the best AI opponent that you will play in any game for, perhaps, years to come.

We did this because we felt that these were some of the keys to delivering a really fun – next generation RTS game. The Trial version is nearly complete. We will put this into your hands in a few short weeks, or even days. It will offer a single campaign based around one of the 12 civilizations containing five scenarios. The first two scenarios are easy, the middle won is hard and the last two are for those of you who breezed through the entire campaigns of C&C and WC2….You will be able to play multiplayer games that support up to 8 players on the Zone, as well. Look for this Trial version on Heaven and GameStats.

How does this affect our ship date? I have always been fond of Halloween, myself and this Halloween will be the best one yet.

Archangel Michael (09:45:25, September 13) : Great NEWS! – The Fans will love to hear that… Ensemble and Microsoft just completed a huge beta play off – do you have a winner yet? – And has the playoff bought up any problems with the multiplay & Chat functions of Age of Empires with such a large group in the Zone at one time?

Mr. Grinch (09:56:01, September 13) : I understand that the beta tournament has been completed. We actually had two tournaments, each won by a different player. The winner of the most recent contest will fly to Texas and show off his savvy in front of Bruce Shelley, John Ramero and Chris Roberts and a hundred members of the press in a Match to the Death.

The beta test group for AoE is one of the finest group of play testers on the Web. Feedback has been overwhelming…I’ll send you some quotes…everyday I read feedback about the game that assures me that we have a winner. I’ll have to send you some of the comments.

Back to the tourney. We have received valuable suggestion and advice from some pretty prominent authorities concerning the Internet and Internet play. We have meticulously reviewed every suggestion and I am proud to say that we have implemented nearly all of them. Especially important to me, in order to respond to the serious tournament players are an Observer Mode without chat, and the fact that we display for all players the name of the participant who changes the game settings during the game.

John (Imperious Rex) (09:57:06, September 13) : Your announcement of a Trial Version is going to make a lot of gamers happy! Please tell our readers about the different victory conditions in Age of Empires. What prompted you to add these to the standard “kill ’em all” condition?

Mr. Grinch (10:09:44, September 13) : Lets face it. There is more to life than just conquest. In addition to the familiar conquest victory conditions, AoE includes a large varety of other victory conditions that make for some incredible single player and multi-user scenarios. I can’t mention them all right now, but let me summarize them by category:

Single User VCs – Everything you ever wanted is here, both in the campaigns that ship in the box and in the Scenario Builder for you to use to create your own masterpieces. For example, victory can be triggered by achieving a certain number of population, by achieving a certain technology or Age, by mining a specific amount of resource, exploring a portion, or all of the known world, by converting a certain number of enemy units to your Tribe, etc. The list is long.

Multi-user VCs – You can play for Conquest, Time limit, Artifacts, Wonders, Ruins, or Score. Score is fantastic. You can actually win the game by accumulating the most points by doing ALL of the above….

Oh, did I mention that any multiplayer and single player scenario can have multiple victory conditions? And that they can be different for every player? And that there are alternative ways to win, so that you can play a scenario several times and win a different way each time?

John (Imperious Rex) (10:10:25, September 13) : This will be my last question for today Rick. Thanks for spending so much time with us. I know the gaming fans appreciate it. I was surprised that even though there are 4 tilesets in the game the buildings are easily recognizable not only across the 4 cultures but over time as technology changes. How was this accomplished?

Mr. Grinch (10:22:23, September 13) : With 12 civilizations spanning 10,000 miles of geography and the same amount of time, we needed to be able to bring a rich visual diversity to the game. This was a tremendous challenge given the advancement of time as well as the number of structures and units in the game. The Art team tackled this nearly impossible task by creating four culture types into which each one of the 12 civilizations fall. As a result we have a European culture that is based upon the Greeks. AoE also has a Middle Eastern and North African cultural set each of which is based on meticulous research of Ancient Babylon and Ancient Egypt. The Asian culture, however, might be my favorite, you just have to see it.

The biggest challenge was creating so much artistic diversity, without destroying the cohesion and simplicity of game playing. Although all cultures and buildings look different they share many of the same characteristics. This helps players recognize, say, the temple building, where Priests are trained, no matter which civilization is being played

Archangel Michael (10:23:29, September 13) : John, thanks for stopping by again! Mr Grinch – One of the best Interviews Yet! Thanks for spending some much of your limited time with us today, your on our “A” list for another interview after the released of the game :)..

Mr. Grinch (10:24:10, September 13) : Mike and John, it is an honor working with you.

Happy hunting!

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