Interview: Age of Empires III explored, part one

Ensemble Studios' latest in its established strategy series comes under scrutiny as we chat with lead designer Greg Street

So, you've got an established series that's garnered critical acclaim, secured a huge fan-base and become one of the most prominent franchises in its genre, but how do you go about trumping your own hand and improving on what's gone before? The answer to that question for Ensemble Studios, creator of the popular 'Age' strategy series, is Age of Empires III, a title that's "a classic RTS with some new twists" and that "has enough new features, including some amazing graphics, to hook in even the most jaded RTS player," as the developer succinctly puts it.

We recently caught up with Age of Empires III lead designer Greg Street to find out what else we should expect from the hotly anticipated sequel. Read part one of our interview below...

Well, we suppose a good place to start would be if you could give us a brief overview of Age of Empires III and tell us where it all began?

Greg Street: Our previous game, Age of Mythology, was a good diversion for us. It let us try some more over-the-top special effects and some outlandish monstrous type units rather than the historical soldiers we had done up until now. We are pleased with how the fans received AOM, but there was this sense throughout the office that it was time to get back to our roots and do the next Age of Empires game.

AOE3 picks up shortly after the events in Age of Kings. The European countries in particular have started sailing across the ocean in an attempt to establish colonies in (or at least drain the resources out of) the New World. Your job is to lead one of these countries to prominence, competing against your rivals for control of these new continents.

This is a classic RTS with some new twists. That is, you'll still gather resources, train soldiers, and fight the enemy. But the game has enough new features, including some amazing graphics, to hook in even the most jaded RTS player.

In a previous interview, you said that one of the reasons for choosing AoE III's time period was that, despite military technical advancement, combat fundamentals of the period weren't too dissimilar to those portrayed in Age of Kings. Is this then all about keeping things familiar for fans on the series, rather than say leaping forward to an era like World War II?

Greg Street: That's a good way to put it. There are some big changes to military strategy in this time period (the 1500s-1800s), most notably the huge role that artillery came to play on the battlefield and the importance of marching and fighting in formation. But players still get to control familiar units like cavalry and even crossbows. If and when we ever do a game set in a more modern time period, we feel that we'd have to change the way combat works dramatically. It seems silly to have even 50 infantry take on a tank, battleship or bomber and be able to win. That crosses the line for a lot of people.

In what ways are you developing on and extending core AoE gameplay in AoE III, and how is your experience with previous Age games affecting Age of Empires III?

Greg Street: In some ways, we have gotten too experienced at doing RTS games. What I mean is that it's easy for us to shoot down new ideas because we know how RTS games play and what it takes to be both fun and fair. Age of Kings was (and still is) an enormously popular game, so we constantly evaluate whether we've moved a feature too far out there and potentially lost some of what made AOK so much fun. But here are a few things we've learned that we're emphasizing in AOE3:

  1 2 3