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!

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