|Ensemble Talks Age of Mythology|
November 10, 2003 | Tuncer Deniz
Ensemble Studios burst onto the scene a few years ago with the release of Age of Empires. This popular series has sold over 10 million copies worlwide. Now the company is back with a new ambitious RTS called Age of Mythology. Released on the PC last year, the game has been hailed as one of the best RTS's ever created.
With the release of the Mac version days away, IMG recently spoke with Ensemble Studios' Ian Fisher to chat about their latest game.
IMG: First, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Ensemble?
Ian Fisher I'm a lead game designer at Ensemble Studios. As part of our team, the central responsibilities of my role are to act as the vision holder for the game and to be the lightning rod for feedback. I'm the guy anyone can visit to ask about how something should work or to comment on how much they like or dislike some part of what we're doing.
IMG: You had tremendous success with the Age of Empires franchise. Was there a lot of pressure to come with something even greater and better than AOE?
Ian Fisher Ensemble is always going to aim for, at the very least, something better than what we did before. Internally, it's easy to judge how well we're doing with this by taking a look at what our guys are playing -- when the team starts giving up the last game we did in favor of playing the game we're working on, we know we're moving in the right direction.
IMG: For those who played Age of Empires, how is Age of Mythology different?
Ian Fisher There are a lot of pretty major changes between Age of Empires and Age of Mythology. Graphics are one of the easiest things to compare initially and I think it would be difficult for an Age of Empires fan to not immediately notice the aesthetic improvement -- Age of Mythology simply looks vastly better. After playing a little, some of the big changes are:
• There is a new resource -- favor. Favor regulates most of a player's mythological capabilities. Unlike other resources, it is capped, meaning that players cannot stockpile a large amount of it and then spend it all at once. Rather, players are incented to use it as it becomes available over the course of a game.
• Cultural differentiation is much greater. The Norse, Greek, and Egyptian groups of civs all have unique abilities and play very differently.
• Age advancement now involves selection of a minor god at each progression. Minor gods make available various special abilities, units, and god powers. These can change the character of the civs (so your opponent doesn't always know what to expect from the start of the game) and they allow players to select options that suit the situation that develops during the game.
• There are now god powers. Using these, players can rain meteors down upon their enemies, send tornadoes ripping through towns, or freeze entire armies in their tracks. Players gain one per age and these can drastically change the course of a game if used well.
• Using favor, players can summon myth units from their pantheon and add these to their armies. This means that ranks of spearmen can stalk the countryside with allies like Minotaurs, Centaurs, or Manticores. Each myth unit has a special ability and many of these abilities allow the player to use their myth units to support special strategies.
• Age of Mythology adds a new multiplayer system (ESO), which makes finding and starting multiplayer games a lot faster and easier.
IMG: What kind of design challenges did you encounter during the building of the game?
Ian Fisher Getting god powers to be interesting and fun took some time. We ended up trying out a vast array of implementations before we hit on one that felt right. The turning point came when we changed from having god powers that you "paid" for with resources (so you could use any of them 50 times if you had enough money) to single-use god powers. The single-use design made them feel very important in the game. Players went from invoking god powers in every battle to building entire strategies around their god powers and waiting for just the right time to use them. That's what we were targeting.