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Age of Empires III
November 17, 2006 | Michael Phillips

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Ahhh, to be a conqueror of men (women rule everything overall, but they let us kill each other when we want), what a life that would be. To live or die by the sword and rifle, bending others to do one's bidding... how glorious! Believe it or not, I've known such joy. No, I don't own my own small Eastern European village in which I act as warlord and spiritual leader. Who has time for that these days? I sure don't, what with all the booze and women that I enjoy on a daily basis. That said, I do have time for real-time strategy games, particularly one Hell of a game that's about to make its way to both Intel and PowerPC based Macs.

Developed by Ensemble Studios and on its way to Mac OS X courtesy of the crew at MacSoft, Age of Empires III (AoE3) will bring Mac gamers everything they expect from previous Age games and possibly so much more. Read on as I outline what to expect from this upcoming RTS powerhouse.

Wanna' Go For a Ride?
In many ways, Age of Empires III is much like its illustrious predecessors. Armies begin as simple men killing each other with bows and swords, only to advance to more efficient implements of war, such as cannons and rifles. Peasants gather resources, such as food and gold (I love both, personally). Yet, AoE3 will also offer a plethora of new features not offered by its past incarnations, including a 24-mission, 3-act single-player campaign, a unique Home City feature, 8 playable civilizations and stunning 3D visuals. Let us now begin our tour of AoE3 in reverse, because going backward is fun. Just look at U.S. foreign policy!

Previous Age of Empires games made use of very pretty, but very 2D graphics. Such will not be the case with AoE3, which uses an entirely 3D engine to mesmerize players. AoE3 will support plenty of 3D buzzwords, like bump and specular mapping, tone mapping, dynamic shadows, real-time lighting effects and advanced water effects. AoE3 also boasts an advanced physics engine that will bring a new level of realism to RTS gaming on the Mac OS. The Reader's Digest gist of the previous is that it'll take a fairly hardcore machine to experience this game in its full glory.

So, what exactly does that 3D jargon mean in terms of real-world visual splendor? For starters, players will be able to fully rotate AoE3's camera, thus lighting and shadows will change in real-time depending on camera angle. Tone mapping is an interesting technique that will ensure that color balance is always maintained in the world of AoE3, vibrant colors never overpowering realistic shadows and vice versa. AoE3's world should feel very warm and alive thanks to such techniques. Water will also look extraordinarily real thanks to Ensemble's oddly strong desire to make the drink look pretty. To quote the Age of Empires III web site:

Water We felt that portraying stunning, realistic water effects in the game was so important that we devoted a programmer to it full-time. You'll find the water rich with details like foam near the shore, accurately modeled water motion, flotsam in rivers and realistic water colors. Plus, reflections change with the viewing angle, the angle of sunlight and the motion of the water. The overall effect is breathtaking.

These people are dedicated to digital water, a fact that Mac gamers should enjoy. Naval battles should be particularly stirring, as water sprays as ships explode under cannon fire.


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