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A Peek into AoEO Development: The Celts
3/26/2012

The Celtic civilization began development shortly after Gas Powered Games was given the reins to Age of Empires Online. Many players, us included, enjoy the variety and challenge that a well-crafted campaign provides. A strong campaign is fun and memorable, and that is exactly what we strove for when we began work on the Celt campaign. Developing a campaign for Age of Empires, particularly for Age of Empires Online, poses an interesting set of challenges.

While we were getting started on the project we had ample time to learn the tools that were provided, dig into the mechanics and flow of the other campaigns, and research Celtic history.

Our initial challenge was to create a campaign that drew upon the history of the civilization in the time period that the game exists in. The Celts were previously in Age of Empires II as the tribes who were living in Britain. Age of Empires Online exists in an earlier time period, one where Britain did not have much contact with the rest of the world. As such, we chose to follow the Gauls, the Celts living in and around France. We also focused our timeline around the fourth and third centuries BC.

At this time the Celts were in contact with the Greeks and Romans, and various tribes were still warring with each other. This contact and conflict is very important. Not only does it help give ideas about the campaign, it also allows us to create quests where the Celtic player can fight against various enemies. No one likes to spend seventy quests fighting one civilization.

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This time period also provided some ideal places and figures. The port town of Massalia was founded by the Greeks, and it became a place where these two distinct cultures met and clashed. This time period includes a number of Celtic military campaigns, most notably the invasions of Rome and Delphi. Finally, there was the migration of Celts into Asia Minor, where they would form the nation of Galatia.

The campaign takes place later than the Greek and Egyptian campaigns, but there is not much temporal room to work with. If we went earlier, we would lose the contact that Celts had with Greece. If we went later, the campaign would be focused on the Gallic Wars, and it is difficult to design a campaign where you lose in the end.

Another problem was that most of the information we have on the Celts came from other civilizations. This made it difficult to get an objective view on history and culture. To many civilizations, the Celts were barbarians who were good with metal, drank undiluted wine, and fought amongst each other. This view does not depict the Celts as a civilization worthy of respect. We chose to focus our campaign on that goal. The player is the one person guiding the Celts to stand proudly on the stage of the world by uniting the people and showing that they are a powerful force through diplomacy, trade, and combat.

With our time, place, and themes decided, we could create a series of quests that told the story through play. We were initially intimidated by the sheer number of quests we needed to do in order to make the campaign comparable to Greece and Egypt. Our own Supreme Commander 2 has 18 campaign missions. Starcraft 2 has 30, with a couple of missions overriding others. The Greek campaign has over 90 quests, and that is not counting Argos or Cyprus.

Thanks to the project’s impressive tools the process was significantly sped up. We had a first pass on all the quests in a handful of weeks, and we felt confident about them. Shortly after we shelved the campaign to work on the Greek and Egyptian campaigns. That time we spent away from the campaign was critical for the Celts.

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Much of Greece and Egypt were done using random maps, which are scripts that can generate basic geography and populate it with resources in a roughly balanced manner. Skirmish Hall and PvP both use random maps exclusively. These are quick to make and can be set up in such a way that they are very versatile. When using a random map, a basic quest can be done in a blink of an eye.

More complicated quests were done using scenarios. The Age of Empires series has a robust scenario editor, which allows the creation of custom maps, custom bases, and triggers. Scenario triggers are very powerful, and they are key in creating an experience beyond a basic skirmish. Some editor features changed or became unusable as a result of moving to AOEO, and the way that scenarios are saved are such that it is difficult to tell what has changed between two versions of the same scenario. Our initial impression was to only use scenarios when they were critically important.

As we worked on Greece and Egypt we became more familiar with scenarios, and we started to add bits here and there. We became more comfortable with the notion that not everything needed to follow the rules of skirmish, not every quest needed to be the same for every skill level and play style. We also became more aware of how multiple quests of the same type tended to blend into each other, so the player felt like they were simply playing the same quest over and over again.

When we got back to Celt, our first pass looked primitive. While the story was still solid, the quests themselves needed help. The first thing we did was change completely to scenarios. We now had memorable, challenging terrain. This opened the door to using triggers if we found that we needed them. There was a significant amount of initial work, but once it was done, we had far more variables to tweak to create a different experience from quest to quest.

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We had some new additions to the campaign team, and that was incredibly important. New people meant new ideas, different skillsets, and a complete lack of fear. We quickly tried these ideas, and the Celt campaign got another boost in variety and originality.

The Greek and Egyptian campaigns each had a hero unit that joined you for a handful of quests. Those heroes were Achilles for Greece and Prince Sesotris for Egypt. We loved this concept. Campaigns, which have the most opportunities for story and variety, benefit from heroes more than any other mode of play. Heroes enhance stories by adding a personal touch, and they help bring story into quests themselves. When you have a distinct, named unit, certain types of quests are easier to design for.

Four heroes appear during the Celt campaign, and they appear more frequently in quests. Some heroes have stories of their own, but all of them want to help the player and all Celts succeed. While these heroes may be powerful leaders in their own right, it is still the player that is the ultimate hero of the civilization and campaign.

The Celts are the first civilization we developed, and the earliest piece of content that Gas Powered Games developed for Age of Empires Online. We winced every time the date for releasing this civilization was pushed back, but each time it did we went back and improved it. We are excited to see this civilization released, and we sincerely hope that the campaign is an entertaining and memorable experience.

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