Time to Say Goodbye

Thank you to everyone who has followed this fan site over the last several months. Due to constraints on my time and inability to provide a constant stream of content, this site will be shut down later this year. Please follow @RadiatingBlade on Twitter for future giveaways.

Last Week in Age of Empires

It’s a snow day where I live today, so it’s time to get caught up on what happened in Age of Empires this past week.

Game Updates and Events

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition

Developer Interview

Bored with Nelly Interview with Bert Beeckman, Lead Developer of Forgotten Empires

New Xbox Gear Shop Release

Fan Creations

What was your most memorable event in Age of Empires last week? Leave a comment below!

This Week in Age of Empires

Here is what is new in Age of Empires for the week of January 31, 2021.

Game Updates and Events

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

Community News

  • The Age of Empires Liquipedia is out of alpha state. Source

Fan Art

  • Burgundian Coustillier fan art by @LordGood_ on Twitter. Source
  • Age of Empires memory card game by TechNils on Reddit. Source

What was your favorite thing which happened in the Age of Empires community this past week? Leave a comment below!

Lords and Ladies Giveaway Winners

Thank you to everyone who entered into the “Lords and Ladies” giveaway. I hope everyone has had an opportunity to check out the new “Lords of the West” DLC for Age of Empires II: DE. As announced on Twitter yesterday, the winners of the “Lords and Ladies” giveaway are MusicallyInspired and p0ni b0i. Congratulations and enjoy! For those who didn’t win, stay tuned for future giveaways.

What do you think about the decrees from the contestants? If you missed the giveaway, what would you decree? Leave a comment below!

Lords and Ladies Giveaway

To celebrate the release of the first expansion for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, Lords of the West, we’re giving away two copies of the DLC expansion on Steam. In order to be eligible for the giveaway, please leave a comment below with your decree for the future of Age of Empires II and add RadiatingBlade on Steam. Your decree could be a civilization, unit, technology, gameplay feature, multiplayer tournament, campaign or something else. The winners will be selected at random and the most interesting entries will be featured in a future blog post. The contest runs now until 11:59pm EST on January 25, 2021. It’s time to sit in your favorite chair and make your decree, lords and ladies!

Note: Due to Steam restrictions you must be friends with RadiatingBlade for a minimum of 3 days before RadiatingBlade is able to gift you a copy of the game, so enter early! In the event that we’re unable to gift you a copy of Lords of the West due to regional restrictions, you will receive a digital Steam gift card in the amount of the expansion in USD.

A Bright Future

This past week Shannon Loftis, Studio Head at World’s Edge, provided a brief but encouraging update about Age of Empires IV in her blog post entitled, “Age of Empires 2020 in Review: with Shannon Loftis”. It had been over a year since the last announcement for the game and there was some concern within the community that perhaps development had been put on hold due to the pandemic. Shannon reassures Age fans that, “We are making great progress on Age of Empires IV.” She also had the following to say about overcoming development challenges this past year.

“Our partners at Relic have been incredible stalwarts as we all migrated development from office to home, and modified (through trial and error) our processes to help facilitate productivity to keep the game on track. So much passion, such great developers, artists, designers, narrators, audio experts, and community—not to mention the backbone functions that keep the company going.”

These same challenges were overcome by the Forgotten Empires and Tantalus developers working on the Definitive Edition titles. Shannon had the following to say about that as well.

“Throughout lockdown, travel closures, and illness, these studios have continued to bring passion, professionalism, and partnership to work every day, and the results are awesome. We are SO lucky to work with these studios!”

Not only is World’s Edge pushing ahead with Age of Empires IV and the Definitive Edition titles, but also future projects which have yet to be announced. This is great news for Age fans going into the new year. I cannot think of a better time to be active and engaged in the community.

Where will the Age franchise go next? I feel that Age of Mythology: Definitive Edition may be one of those future projects. In a 2019 poll on the official forums asking what fans would like in a potential Age of Mythology II, 86% favored what could conceivably be included as part of an Age of Mythology: Definitive Edition. As far as other potential future projects, I feel that perhaps Age of Empires could branch out into other genres including a multiplayer online battle arena or turn-based strategy game. Time will tell, of course, what direction World’s Edge has in mind to bring the franchise into the future.

The future of Age of Empires truly is bright. What do you think is the future of Age of Empires? Leave a comment below!

Age of Empires Events in 2020

This past year of 2020 has been full of challenges and celebrations in the Age of Empires community. The year was jam packed with tournaments for just about every Age game as listed below.

Tournaments

In response to community feedback and bug reports many updates were released this year in support of recent releases and an old favorite. The game updates also featured events, which were a welcome addition to add replay-ability to Age of Empires II: DE and Age of Empires III: DE. There have been 11 events for Age of Empires II: DE since the beginning of the year and 2 events for Age of Empires III: DE since the game released on October 15, 2020. There have been 4 updates for Age of Empires: DE, 10 updates and 6 hotfixes for Age of Empires II: DE, 6 updates and 3 hotfixes for Age of Empires III: DE and 1 update for Age of Mythology: Extended Edition. The full list of updates and hotfixes from the past year is shown below.

Releases

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

Game Updates

Age of Empires: DE

Age of Empires II: DE

Age of Empires III: DE

Age of Mythology: EE

June 29, 2020 – Update 2.8

Your Experience

About a week ago I asked on Twitter the following question, “What was one of the most memorable or significant things which happened for you in the Age of Empires community this year?” I received several responses.

Many other people were simply glad they had the opportunity to play the game and make new friends. What was your experience? Leave a comment below!

The Present

During this last week in December 2020, there has been some recent announcements which are well worth checking out as well.

The Future

What does the future hold for Age of Empires? Shannon Loftis gave us some clues. What we know for sure are the events listed below.

While I tried to compile a complete list of events during the past year, there are likely a few which have been missed. Please leave a comment below with your feedback! May everyone in the Age of Empires community have a happy, safe and prosperous new year!

Rekindle the Fire

When the announcement for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition was made in June 2017, I was very excited about the opportunity to play the game online without a 3rd party client or user patch. Continuous promotion surrounding the game and the 20th anniversary of the franchise was given in the months, weeks and days leading up to release. There were several interviews with the team, several giveaways of soundtrack disc copies, t-shirts and pre-order game codes including a giveaway of a custom Age of Empires: Definitive Edition desktop PC. There was also a release party for the game where guests received swag and participated in a local tournament. All of the promotion fueled my excitement for the title and made the release memorable.

During the following year, in the months leading up to the release of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition there was much less promotion of the title than with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. While it is true that the game was promoted at a few events and there were giveaways at those events, none of those giveaways were made available to fans at home. In fact the only giveaways for fans at home were for a few copies of the game around release. There were a couple interviews from the development team but nothing like there had been before for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. While I was still looking forward to the release, I was confused why so little effort was put into promoting the game. For a remastered version of the most popular game in the franchise, I had expected more.

Fast forward to this year and the promotion of Age of Empires III: DE was even less than Age of Empires II: DE. There was very little known about the game for months leading up to the gameplay reveal at Gamescom 2020. The only giveaways for the title were a few pre-order copies of the game distributed on the official Discord before release and there was no merchandise, tournament or release stream. The approximate 3 week delay between when the game was released and when the soundtrack was made widely available was also strange because all other definitive edition soundtracks were widely available by the release date of the game. It is unknown what impact the pandemic had upon the release of the game this year, but to me it is clear that more time was needed to prepare for release.

Back in June 2017 my expectations were that the definitive edition releases would be interesting and exciting, released in a way that would show how much dedication and effort was put into each title. Unfortunately, instead of seeing the promotion being built up over these definitive edition releases, it appears to have waned for unknown reasons. This direction has me concerned about Age of Empires IV. My hope is that Age of Empires IV will receive the same or higher level of promotion as another Xbox Game Studios title, Sea of Thieves, with regular developer updates, content, contests, giveaways, tournaments and more in order to grab the attention of fans and grow their excitement for the game. I think about the excitement the Age of Empires community felt during Gamescom 2017 with the announcement of Age of Empires IV and want to see that same fire again.

The Art of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is the latest entry in a series of remastered Age games and the first 3-D engine Age game to be remastered. In true definitive edition style all of the art assets were recreated for this release.  The team who took on this monumental task includes Han Randhawa, Art Director at World’s Edge, Brad May, Owner/Producer at Zero One, and David Giles, Senior Producer at Tantalus.  It was my pleasure to ask them a few questions about their work on the game. 

RadiatingBladeWhat did you use for inspiration when creating the definitive 3-D models of units and buildings? 

Han: Inspiration for us was the original models, looking at history and also the Craig Mullins paintings and the incredible atmosphere he created (BTW look for his interview a little while ago) Ensemble had done a seriously great job, so we had our work cut out for us. The water was beautiful, and the home cities had a really energetic bustling vibe. Internally at World Edge, we look to our internal studio pillars to guide us, crafted by our Creative Director Adam Isgreen, as with other Definitive Edition projects to be respectful to the legacy art and cultures being represented – and ultimately our goal is very happy Age fans. 

Craig Mullins Musketeers Artwork
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Musketeers Cinematic Shot

RadiatingBlade: For those interested, you can read the Craig Mullins interview here. When recreating all art assets, I imagine it becomes quite the task to ensure they are true to the original. How did you strike a balance between nostalgia and historical accuracy when recreating the unit models? 

Han: Man, this is so tough to do. The fans of Age of Empires are constantly on the forefront of our minds and preserving their memory of the game is very important. Nostalgia is incredibly powerful. It always makes me nervous when we start a project like this because there’s a danger of changing the art too much, but there are also fans who want art that’s drastically new. We were hyper aware and took learnings from Age of Empires: Definitive Edition and Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, which had the same challenges.  

We worked relentlessly to ‘preserve’ the legacy art, cherished for so many decades by fans, while bringing a new fidelity to the visuals. Changing too much in visuals is also detrimental for gameplay as longtime fans have built muscle memory, based on visual recognition, but at the same time folks asked for innovation. We worked very closely with the community to get a good picture.  There’re so many new graphical tricks we could have employed but anytime the visuals started to move ‘drastically’ away from the ‘look’ that folks remember then we had to reel it back in.  

Art needed to balance serving the game needs as well as respecting culture and history. Our Narrative Franchise Director, Noble Smith, worked with consultants from Indigenous Nations to review historical and cultural accuracy for the Native American and First Nations civs represented in the game. And then Tantalus and Forgotten Empires expertly implemented these suggested changes.  

Higher fidelity was key, but also clear readability. As an example, we’d find the bloom was very high in the original game and that exposure would blow out the lighter areas, so we had to strike a balance between how much of that bloom to leave vs preserving the nostalgic memory.  Just reading the comments folks make when they see the new art and share that the new Definitive Edition art looks exactly how they remember it is a good win.  

RadiatingBladeWhat were some tweaks you made to the classic 3-D models to make the definitive versions more appealing or more distinct from the perspective of the player? 

Han: Just a little clarity on the art production: folks might not know that every 3D model asset was completely re-created from scratch. Every unit, building, skydome, blade of grass, tree, barrel etc. was recreated. The increase in 4K details on a unit suddenly became much more visible once they were re-created – from actually seeing the unit’s face, to the lovingly crafted details on grain of wood. Materials were crafted using modern digital content creation tools allowing for vivid colour and an increase in sharpness which helped to show details like stitching or rope details not as apparent before. 

David: We also made extensive modifications to the engine  – including support for PBR (Physically based rendering) materials, post effects, lookup tables, and a host of sophisticated lighting improvements which allowed the artists to build on the existing assets and push them closer to the concept art created for the original game.  

Brad: Part of the design brief was to make the units and buildings feel like they had been hand-crafted by a physical model-maker. So the units were to have slightly exaggerated silhouettes like the miniatures found in Tabletop RPGs. The increased poly count allowed us to create buildings with elements that extend out from the silhouette like eaves, and wooden barrels that were actually round! 

RadiatingBladeYes, I certainly remember how the game looked amazing for the original release but playing the game now it is plain to see how the units are blocky in appearance. I’m amazed all over again with how everything appears so lifelike. What was your favorite 3-D model to recreate for the definitive edition and why? 

Han: My favorite models to see come to light are the new Swedish and Incan Home Cities, so gorgeous. Also I’m a huge fan of ships and they are so beautifully crafted – need to be 3D printed! 

Brad: There are a couple, the first being Barry the Capybara! He represented one of our earliest forays into establishing the scope of additional detailing, and many of the lessons learnt re-vitalizing his chubby rodent features informed every asset that followed. We also knew we were on the right track when the villager was attacked during combat – you felt much more sorry for them as the additional detail made them appear more human, and Barry more like a Capybara. 

The new Home Cities for Inca and Sweden were great to make as we were able to push things a little further as they didn’t need to conform to the original game. Introducing new lighting elements and setting the time of day to dusk really made Sweden ‘light up’ and the highly-detailed ‘Vasa’ warship moored in the harbour really ‘shines’! 

Barry the Capybara’s Makeover for Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

RadiatingBladeBarry has certainly become a fan favorite!  What are some of the tools and techniques you used to take a classic unit or building model and recreate it for the definitive edition? 

Han: In order to be authentic to the original much of the techniques would utilize multiple types of texture maps: normal maps, specular maps, etc. However, the tools to create that digital content are now far more advanced. They didn’t have Zbrush or Substance tools back in the day and thus our normal map creation and texture work allowed for higher fidelity control and crafting. 

Brad: Substance Painter and Designer proved invaluable when realizing the game’s textures in high definition, and allowed the art team imbue the models with authentic materials that take full advantage of the latest in real time rendering capabilities.  

David: Custom tools were also created to remove repetitive tasks for the artists such as destroying the buildings and automating the export processes. This allowed the artists to focus on what they do best, rather than getting bogged down in technical processes. 

The Zero One Team

RadiatingBladeIt’s amazing how much technology has changed over the last 15 years.  How many months did it take the artists to recreate every 3-D model in the game? 

Brad: The team started out with just 6 artists at the beginning of the project and expanded to 25 for most of the project. That included a team to handle all the units another for the buildings and finally an environment team.  We also had a cinematics team that worked on updating the pre rendered cinematics while at the same time keeping them within the spirit of the original.  

David: It took approximately 24 months to completely remaster all of the game’s assets from the ground up – Remodeling, retexturing, and re-lighting close to 6000 unique assets in the process. 

RadiatingBladeThat is an incredible amount of work!  I have a much greater appreciation for the definitive edition now. Remastered cinematics have been a request from the fans for the past two definitive edition titles, so it’s great to see they were remade for this new release. Were there any challenging unit or building models which went through several iterations before finally being made part of the game? 

Brad & David: The Aztec Home City was the first large scale environment we tackled, and one pyramid within it provided the team with a proving ground that would challenge every assumption we’d made up to that point. From technical issues surrounding pipeline and process, through more artistic concerns regarding style and fidelity – ALL our hopes for tackling the broader game were pinned to that pyramid. After more iterations than any of us care to recall, an approach was agreed upon, and the team moved on to the remaining 5,999 assets – fatigued, but not broken!  

RadiatingBladeAs fans I think we all take the home city environment for granted.  It’s a very detailed historical setting which one could easily stare at for a long time and still find something new. What did you learn from the process of recreating unit and building models for the game that you will take into your next projects? 

Han: Making these games is a shared effort, we’ll continue to learn from fans and community. We really looked hard at readability and recognizability in units, which will be valuable going forward. You have to remember we played some these games on CRT monitors with scanlines and now monitors use back lit panels, etc. which changes the look. We also had some great learnings with internal focus on making sure Age is for everyone. One of our team members is colour blind and he helped us in that effort with our Senior Artist, Melinda Rose, and the team to develop a colour blind overlay mode.  We also looked the models and how they sit within the environment and terrain – adding subtle colour hints in the terrain to improve some of the more monochromatic areas of the game without drastically changing what folks remember. It’s visual upgrades like these that are hard to instantly spot, but the game looks better for it. 

Brad: The game’s original assets provided an excellent reference from which each artist to base their updated assets on and recreating them using modern software and processes showed us just how far things have progressed since then.  

David: Also, the sheer amount of assets that needed to be built reinforced the benefits of creating custom tools per-project that automate repetitive tasks and increase output significantly. We would be making these assets for the foreseeable future if it wasn’t for the time savings brought by our Pipeline Team and Tools Programmers. 

RadiatingBladeIs there anything else you would like to add? 

Han: We have letters from fans who have played with their loved ones and have life experiences embedded into this game, thus we are more than just revisiting the art – I feel we are entrusted custodians of emotional soul of the game and take that very seriously. The art in a franchise like Age of Empires is in some ways hallowed ground. Looking back at the wealth of assets and art, I reflect that games can be such a hard-fought battle and we get so close. I look at Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition and I can’t help but feel proud of the game. We have been single mindedly driven to make visuals in Age III: DE something that fans remember – to be as colourful and bold as the original.  We want fans to re-live their excellent experiences while also making it accessible fans new to Age

Thank you all for your time and giving us all a sneak peak into the process of remastering the 3-D units and models in Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition.  If you would like to see all of the work from the art team yourself, be sure to play Age of Empires III: DE and zoom in all the way to see all of the fine detail in the recreated unit and building 3-D models.

The Definitive Developer Experience

The release of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition today marks a milestone in the Age of Empires franchise.  It fulfills the promise made by the community team back at Gamescom 2017 to release definitive editions of Age of Empires, Age of Empires II and Age of Empires III.  The leaders of two of these development teams making remastered Age of Empires game a reality include Bert Beeckman, Forgotten Empires Co-Founder, and Joss Ellis, Director of Development at Tantalus.  It was my pleasure to ask them a few questions about their experience developing Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition and what that means for the future. 

RadiatingBlade: What did you learn from the Age of Empires III community at the beginning of the project about their expectations for the definitive release of the game and how did that impact development?

Joss: Much like the previous “Definitive Editions,” we’ve been actively working with this community to ensure we maintain that special “Age of Empires III” flavor, while adding new Quality of Life features, UI tweaks and a plethora of new and revised content. Some of the biggest pieces of feedback we saw going into development included fixing exploits & cheats, reducing OOS & LAG, updating the map pool, work on aspect rations, fixing infamous bugs and adding new civs. We love our community and Age Insiders. As some of our most passionate fans, they’re able to provide us with another perspective that empowers us to make the best game possible.

RadiatingBlade: How did the process of remastering Age of Empires III: DE compare with remastering the previous Age of Empires games?

Bert: Although each game is very distinct, and has its own unique gameplay flavour, we were able to apply learnings from our previous remastered titles to “Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition,” as well. Be it in how to integrate some of the new tech (such as the server-based multiplayer system, which has now been tried and tested in “Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition”) or how we work together with the community through betas. Each game has its own challenges when it comes to remastering, but we were able to find a lot of common ground, which allowed us to bring out the best in “Age of Empires III: DE.” It was also a pleasure to see how the original developers evolved their games over time. Not only in their designs, but also in how their approach to creating a game engine evolved. 10-year-old code is more pleasant to work with than 20-year-old code!

RadiatingBlade: What were some of the challenges and opportunities that the development team encountered when creating Age of Empires III: DE?

Bert: Fifteen years since its original release in 2005, the daring take on the Age of Empires formula still has a lively, bustling community. We saw this release as an opportunity to add new Quality of Life features, UI tweaks and a plethora of new and revised content. These include improved and extended zoom levels, range and progress indicators over buildings, naval formations, auto-scout option or just the ability to check the tech tree! New and returning players will also find a lot of joy in the overhauled “Home City” system featured in “Age of Empires III.” The grinding to unlock all cities and cards has been removed, so all content is readily available for players including a set of pre-made card decks so players can jump right into the action. “Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition” is the return of the most audacious entry into the series. It’s ready to rock for another 20 years and beyond.

RadiatingBlade: Are there plans to continue adding content to the game after release such as new civilizations and campaigns or simply more Art of War and Historical Battles?

Bert: We will continue to support “Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition” after release, with an emphasis on providing continuous value and a great experience for our community. We’re focused on the launch right now, but will have more specifics to share soon.

RadiatingBlade: For fans who have created content for Age of Empires III over the last 15 years will there be an easy way for them to import their creations into Age of Empires III: DE? 

Joss: Scenarios previously created for Age of Empires III carry over to the Definitive Edition without problems. Maps can work, but benefit greatly from a buff to take advantage of the new terrain, rivers and lighting systems. We’ll work on a case by case basis for other mods to make it as easy as possible for players to convert some existing mod categories into the formats compatible with “Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition.” It’s possible not every single one will work, but we’ll do our best to cover as many as possible.

RadiatingBlade: Did you add any new features or capabilities to the scenario editor that game mod creators should know about?

Joss: The editor has seen a few smaller quality of life improvements. There is now a search field when placing objects, a bunch of new trigger effects and fixes to old triggers. It also has a new river tool – highlight “new lighting sets” – as that’s key to making a level look awesome. Otherwise, the editor is largely the same. It is a bit daunting, but very powerful tool.

RadiatingBlade: For Age of Empires III fans who will be playing the Inca and Sweden civilizations for the first time starting on October 15th, do you have any gameplay tips or strategies of your own to share?

Bert: The Swedes are a brand-new addition to the franchise and cover one of history’s most unlikely great powers. A small European nation which eclipsed all military convention and became a powerhouse on the European battlefields thanks to their innovative military tactics. They’re a quintessential Age of Empires III civilization, with a strong early aggression and high reliability on gunpowder units and mercenaries. While the Incas are a more traditional Age of Empires civilization, covering one of the largest empires in South America, where they constructed mighty stone cities, citadels and palaces. The Inca are more of a defensive city builder civ, which are less dependent on aggressive expansion or map control. Whether you’re more of a city builder or aiming for military domination, we think all players will have a lot of fun exploring each one’s unique play styles.

RadiatingBlade: How will your experiences from remastering Age of Empires III: DE be helpful going forward for Age of Empires IV and the potential for an Age of Mythology: DE?

Bert: What’s nice about working on all these games again is that it gives us a chance to really rediscover what works in each game and take these learnings to other installments of the series. The best example of that is the Art of War series, which was very well-received in “Age of Empires II: DE,” has now been added to “Age of Empires III: DE” and will very likely find its way into future installments.

RadiatingBlade: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Bert: On behalf of our family of developers from around the globe that have worked hard to make Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition a worthy entry in the “definitive” line, thanks for your patience and we can’t wait to engage with you now and into the future!

Thank you, Bert and Joss, for your time, especially leading up to the release of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition.  I’m impressed by all that the development teams have been able to accomplish with the game and excited about what the future holds for the game.  Be sure to check out Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition on the Microsoft Store or Steam which released today!