Age of Empires
Released n/a
Details
Age of Empires (often abbreviated to AoE or AofE), is a history-based real-time strategy computer game developed by Ensemble Studiosand released by Microsoft in 1997. The game allows the player to act as the leader of an ancient civilization by advancing them through four ages: the Stone, Tool, Bronze, and Iron Age. Actions are performed by units that represent formations of people, and the player gains access to new and improved units with each advance. An expansion, Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome, was released the next year. The design team at Ensemble Studios focused on resolving significant issues in the original Age of Empires, but noted on release that some problems remained, such as difficulties with the artificial intelligence.
Age of Empires spans a 10,000 year period, and players can select from twelve ancient civilizations, each with unique characteristics. Players aim to gather resources in the game, which they use to build towns, create armies, and ultimately defeat their enemies. There are five historically-based campaigns, which constrict the player to specialized and story-backed conditions, with three additional single player game modes available. The game features support for multiplayer gameplay as well.
Reception was mostly positive, and the game scored highly on review aggregators. The game's graphics were praised, as was its gameplay and the variety of units available. Some reviewers were critical of the poor artificial intelligence of the game, and the level of micromanagement needed to play; subsequent patches were released to address these problems. The game has won numerous awards, including Game of the Year and Computer Strategy Game of the Year.



Gameplay
Playing Age of Empires requires the development of a civilization from a handful of hunter-gatherers to an expansive Iron Age empire. To assure victory, the player must command their units to gather resources in order to pay for new units, buildings and advanced technology. Resources must be maintained, as no new resources become available as the game progresses. Twelve civilizations are available, each with individual sets of attributes, including a varying number of available technologies and units. Each civilization has technologies unique to them, and none possesses all the technologies possible within the game. The appearance of the buildings for each civilization show four distinct architectural styles that were based on East Asian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek architecture.
The single-player mode for the game consists of four "campaigns" where the player is required to complete specific objectives. Each campaign is a collection of scenarios which need to be completed in a linear fashion. The campaigns follow the history of the Egyptian,Greek, Babylonian and Yamato civilizations. Age of Empires also includes a game mode called "random map", where a different set of terrain is generated each game. Variations of random map, such as the high-resources "death match", are featured in the game.
Age of Empires features online and network play with up to eight people simultaneously, but because the network play is less sophisticated than that of modern games, lag and disconnections often occur. Multiplayer gameplay was supported by the Microsoft Gaming Zoneuntil 19 June 2006; at that point, the Zone abandoned most CD-ROM games, including Age of Empires and the sequel Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.
A major component of the game is the advancement through four specific ages: the Stone Age (Mesolithic/Paleolithic), the Tool Age (Neolithic/Chalcolithic), the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Advancing to a new age requires research at the game's "Town Center," and each advancement allows the player access to new technologies, weapons, and units.
Age of Empires allows for the creation of user-made scenarios or campaigns using the Scenario Builder available in the game. Ensemble Studios used the Scenario Builder to make the single-player campaigns which shipped with the retail game. Various websites exist where custom scenarios can be submitted and downloaded.
In late 2005, it was discovered that by modifying various data files, units present in the beta versions of the game could be made available in the editor. Some obscure units include a spaceship and a hero that changes ownership when units move near it. Through data editing, the rules of placing units can be modified. This allows units to be placed on any terrain and on top of other units, which creates new possibilities for designing. Other significant discoveries include new terrain templates, a 'triple hitpoint' mode, where units and buildings possess three times the amount of hitpoints than what is given in a standard game, as well as map size editing.
In the game, "technology" is researched at specific buildings. The possible technologies are generally related to the building from which they are conducted (for example, religious research is done in temples and armor research is completed at the storage pit). Technological advances come in many categories, such as military upgrades (better armed and armored units), economic upgrades (such as increasing the rate of gathering resources), religious upgrades (including faster "conversion" rates for priest units) and infrastructure upgrades (like stronger fortifications). As basic technology research is completed, more advanced technologies may become available, although some technologies are not available to certain civilizations.
Technology plays a very important role in the strategy of the game. As a civilization progresses through the ages, technology becomes more and more expensive, and collecting the necessary resources to research them becomes difficult.

Units
Players control a variety of civilian and military units, most of which can be upgraded through research to gain benefits like faster gathering speed, stronger armor, and longer range. Villagers are the most basic units in Age of Empires. Their primary function is to collect resources. Food is acquired by hunting, foraging, farming and fishing. Villagers are able construct buildings and repair both buildings and naval vessels, and they are capable of engaging in hand-to-hand combat when necessary. Villagers can be used to cut down trees for wood, and mine stone or gold. Land-based units are the most prevalent in gameplay. There are five main types of land-based units: infantry, mounted units, priests, siege units, and archers. Each type of unit has unique strengths and weaknesses.
Age of Empires allows for the creation of nautical units. Fishing boats are similar to villagers in that they can gather food from fishing. Merchant ships trade resources from the stockpile and exchanges it for gold at another player's dock; the amount of gold is relative to the distance between both docks. Transport ships carry land units from one area of land to another. As well as attacking enemy ships, warships can be very effective in attacking land-based units close to the shoreline, because melee units cannot fight back. Early warships start off as galleys, which can then be upgraded, depending on the technology available to the civilisation, to triremes.

Buildings
The "Town Center" is one of the most important buildings in the game, as the location where villagers are created and age advancement is researched. Most scenarios have each player begin with a single Town Center. Building the "Government Center" during the Bronze Age allows a player to build multiple Town Centers. The Town Center provides population support for four units, so in order to build more units, houses must be constructed. Each house supports four units, for a maximum of 50 units, although any number of houses can be built (a concept which was not maintained in later games like Age of Mythology). Farms are used to produce food. Granaries, storage pits, and the Town Center are used to store resources collected by the villagers. Walls and towers are used as defensive fortifications. Military units are created at specific buildings relevant to the unit type, while all sea units, including fishing boats and armoured vessels are created at the docks.
Wonders are enormous monuments representing the architectural achievements of the time. They require large amounts of resources to build and are constructed very slowly. Wonders do not produce units or allow research. In scenarios with Standard Victory conditions, a player can win by constructing a wonder and keeping it from being destroyed for 2,000 years (15 minutes under standard game timing). Building a wonder greatly increases a player's score, which is beneficial in "score" games. Other players typically make it their top priority to destroy enemy wonders, especially under Standard Victory conditions. For this reason and because a wonder is relatively easy to destroy, a wonder must be sufficiently guarded at all times. Wonders cannot be converted by priests (even when equipped with the technology to convert buildings).

Development
Developed under the working title Dawn of Man, Age of Empires was the first game developed by Ensemble Studios. The game was not intended to be a clone of Warcraft II; instead, the final design of the game was evolved and refined over time. Game programmer Tim Deen had brought Warcraft II to the attention of the rest of the Ensemble staff, and at that time, many of Age of Empires game elements such as resource management, empire building, and technology research had already taken shape. The developers were unsure about the combat, but Warcraft II showed them ideas to develop the combat of Age of Empires. Several times a week, the Ensemble staff would play Warcraft multiplayer, until Age of Empires had reached a significant stage in development.
Halfway through development, the designers of the game realized that, although the game would be sold in Asia, Age of Empires did not include a culture from that region. A company meeting was held, thereafter, and Ensemble Studios decided to implement early Asian civilizations alongside the early European, African and Middle-Eastern tribes. The balance of gameplay was a prominent task, so the developers took time in giving Age of Empires better gameplay, than what most strategy games had to offer at that time. Multiplayer gameplay was an integral part of the early design, and Age of Empires was structured in a way that most of the game could not differentiate between human and computer players. Upon the release of DirectX, it appeared that DirectPlay would be the best choice for providing communications over a wide variety of connection types. The game then went through a modified synchronous model, to enable it to run simultaneously on all machines. Only moves, changes and communications were sent to the other machines, allowing the amount of data sent through to be minimized.
Age of Empires contained 20MB of in-game sprite graphics. During development, Ensemble Studios had decided that all of the graphics in-game would be taken from 3D models,and the designers used 3D Studio and 3D Studio Max for art production. Each artist was given two machines to work on, both 200MHZ Pentium Pros, equipped with 128MB of RAM.The objects in the game were created as 3D models, each containing around 10 polygons. The models were then textured, animated and rendered out to an Autodesk Animator (.flc) file with a 256-colour palette. The files were then handed to a 2D specialist, who took the animation apart frame-by-frame and cleaned up each image with Photoshop. The process involved sharpening detail and smoothing the edges of irregular shapes. However, since most of the sprites in Age of Empires has screen dimensions of around 20 to 100 pixels per unit or building, the visual quality improvement was considered significant. The game was very well received at E3 1997, with the artists receiving numerous compliments on their work.
At the time, other real-time strategy games were science fiction and fantasy, so the historical setting, chosen to be more plausible and accessible to casual gamers, enabled Age of Empires to stand out from similar games. The game's designers received much of their inspiration from the game Civilization as it was a proven history-based game; this was noted among reviewers as something positive. The game was designed by Bruce Shelley, Tony Goodman (in charge of the game's artwork), and Dave Pottinger (in charge of the game's AI). Stephen Rippy has been the series' music director since the first game, although he has had occasional help from his brother, David Rippy, as well as Kevin McMullan. He created the original music in Age of Empires with sounds of instruments from the periods in the game. These sounds came from actual instruments, and their digital samples.The tunes were the result of extensive research on the cultures, styles, and instruments used.

Reception
Age of Empires was generally well received by critics, and scored highly on review aggregator websites, including an 8.3 out of 10 on Metacritic, an 87% on Game Rankings, an 85 out of 100 on MobyGames, and an 8.4 out of 10 on GameStats.
Game Revolution categorized the game as "a cross between Civilization II and Warcraft II", while Gamespot lamented that "AOE is a simple combat game rather than a glorious empire-builder", and found the game as being "Warcraft with a hint of Civilization." GameVortex also wanted less of a combat-oriented gameplay, but praised the modes of play, especially finding that "the random map generation [...] really keeps the game spiced up."
The level of micromanagement necessary to control the game, due to no possibility of production queues and low AI of the player's units, GameSpot perceived "a poor idea," which " seriously diminishes AOE's enjoyability." GameVortex echoed this criticism, while PC Gameworld pointed out the subsequently released patches improving some of the faulty AI programming.
While noting the game's similarities with Warcraft II, PC Gameworld praised the uniqueness of each playable civilization, and noted that the "graphics are extremely detailed and have a hand-painted feel to them. It's rare to see a game this beautiful with such detailed unit movements." Game Revolution was impressed by the amount of different units of the game, and noted that the developers "obviously did [their] research here, and the result is a well rounded, historically accurate product (at least for a game)". The soundscape of the game was criticized as well, with GameVortex stating that "the aureal clues just aren't enough to let you differentiate just what's going on."
With a view to the future of the game, Game-Revolution accented the scenario editor, which "allows you total control in the design of scenarios and campaigns," a "tool at your disposal to create a scenario exactly to your liking." The game has won numerous awards, including Gamecenter's 1997 Game of the Year and the *1998 AIAS Computer Strategy Game of the Year award.