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Responses to Your Questions: Ask a Dev!
5/4/2012

Thank you all for taking the time to post your questions and concerns in our very first “Ask a Dev” thread. We have gathered our forces, investigated your inquiries and put together a list of responses.

“In the name of Transparency” we bring you the information you seek:

First a few answers from our Executive Producer, AoEO Trajan:

“So far, the publishing of major new pieces of content has seemed somewhat uneven. Is there reason to believe we'll be getting more new content faster from now on? Roughly how much content is planned for the rest of the year, and how is it distributed among different types? (I.e. how many new civilizations can we hope or expect to see before it's 2013, how much more vain can our cities get?)”

I am not going to ask you to believe in any promises we make; we haven’t earned that faith from you yet. All I can tell you is what we plan to do, and you can then see whether we can keep to a schedule that you will consider even or uneven. We have approximately a six-month content calendar at this point. It includes two civilizations, plus a booster we will talk about after the Summer Update. There is also a great deal more vanity content coming with the Summer Update, with more scheduled afterwards.

It is my hope that we can make our schedule more regular. But we will continue to prioritize quality over speed. We will let you know what we know when we know it.

“Can we ever get to have avatars related to age of empires online on the aoeo forums? Or will it stick to the xbox live avatars?”

We are investigating making improvements to the forum software. I don’t have any hard dates or information to give you, as we are still investigating. I can say that some of the current forum limitations annoy me quite a bit, so I am committed to making some changes.

“Where do you see the development of new content tapering off? Is there a clearly defined 'endgame' that you have in mind - for example, a certain number of released civilizations - or are you just planning to produce as long as there is an interest and demand?”

There is so much more than we can still create. Even staying restricted to the world of antiquity, there are easily a dozen more civilizations (and world areas) that could be explored. We will pay very close attention to what you, the players, want, and will create what you want more of. (I should clarify that we base those decisions off what players actually do, not just what they say they want to do.)

“Why not use the ban hammer more?”

In regards to the gold farmers, they annoy us too, VERY much. We are working on a number of ways to help eliminate them in the future.

Now, some answers from the illustrious GPG Design team:

“What are your plans for a Global market/Auction House?”

We've implemented a non-biddable Empire Marketplace—a more accurate term than the previously used Global Marketplace—in our development environment (i.e. "our computers at our office") that allows you to list items on a realm, search through all of the available listings based on specific criteria (gear, materials, recipes, etc.), and immediately purchase listed items with coin. It has a placeholder user interface and looks kind of ugly, but it works.

However, due to the technical complexity of this feature, the amount of testing required, and the potential for it to stress the entire server architecture of the game well beyond any other feature that has been previous implemented, we've been extremely conservative with its release. On top of that, there are significant architectural changes we would like to make before we actually release this feature to the public. If and when those changes are made, we would consider changes to this feature to make it truly "global," as in all listings are available to all realms.

“Do you have plans for Replay/record/observer mode? Will post-game statistics ever be introduced?”

These features have always been on our radar—we really do understand their importance to players; really!—the only question has been when do we schedule the time to do the work, when do we intend to release them to the public, and how elaborate are the designs.

Despite most of these features appearing in previous games, there's no simple and quick way to re-enable them; they have to be recreated from scratch. Each requires a lot of engineering and design work, but it's a known and well understood amount because GPG has implemented all of these features in its Supreme Commander series.

On the plus side, paper designs exist for them, groundwork has been laid with some of the other feature work we've previously done, and they're bubbling up on everyone's schedules. So the question is less "if" and more "when" this kind of feature will be put into place.

“Will you open the game to more modding? For instance, adding the ability to play custom maps in the Arena, the ability for players to develop scenarios and custom content of their own for the game, or to customize the user interface more?”

There's no fundamental opposition to allowing custom content, assuming everyone agrees it can never give rewards or XP. None. Nada. Zero.

Developing an editor isn't a trivial amount of work and could easily take a year or more, because the tools we use internally to produce the content aren't intended for use by the public. They're ugly, and they have features that go well beyond what we would allow the public to access. As with replays and other features, we have to create this one new from scratch.

There are alternatives. For example, a short-term option would be to expose more of the built-in randomization technology to the Arena, allowing players to create more customized experiences, and to easily share those settings and random map seed values. This has existed on our radar as the "Arena 2.0" since the launch of Skirmish—which is a bit of a template we would start with—and we will at some point sit down and better define what exactly that means. We do not have a date as to when that might happen however.

“When will PvE receive more attention from the devs? Are there any plans of releasing new end-game content or an alternative for Argos? New legendary quests in a whole new area would be really nice, and it is something the end-game needs.”

We realize the need to ramp up the quantity of new PvE content.

There are new high-end quests included with the Alliance Wars feature, and we have plans for new regions and quests at various level ranges for players of the existing civs and future ones.

In particular, we want to address the "Argos Problem;" that is, the lack of alternative options to Argos in the level 20-30 range, particularly for pro civ players or for players who are leveling up a second civ. We feel that's the most pressing need in the short-term.

We would also like to develop more booster content, whether it's new uniquely themed mini-campaigns or game modes like Skirmish and Defense of Crete. We also intend a major re-thinking of the structure for the existing and future campaigns to improve the "build an empire" feel of Age of Empires. Work has started on these changes—but we aren't quite ready to divulge the details. Yet.

“What geographical regions do you look to, or do you plan to look to, for new civilizations? How much is historical accuracy a factor in your choices - for example, would a culture like the Aztecs or the Zulu ever be a true candidate, even though they were relevant in a very different time and place?”

We play it a wee-bit loose with history and timelines, but so far we've mostly focused on civilizations active in the 1500-0BC date range. Since the first two civs started in the Mediterranean, we've focused most of our planning on other civilizations in this region, slowly expanding outward a bit. Even within this region, there are no shortage of options, as anyone who's read the excellent summaries by DynasticPlanet5 in the forums can attest to.

But yes, geography does matter to some extent, and the Aztecs in particular don't fit very well in the current game because of that whole "on the other side of the planet" issue. Which isn't to say they haven't been considered or wouldn't be considered; these are the kinds of large-scale changes expansions were created for. Ideally, such an expansion would be coupled with multiple civs from that region, with their own unique shared content so we don't have to figure out what they're doing in Argos other than confusing a bunch of Greek people with their fancy hats.

Or we can say, "whatever, the Aztec had boats and could've made their way to the Mediterranean" and just roll with it. In the end, it all depends on what we think will provide the best civ experience for players.

“When doing historical research on a civilization chosen to be in-game, what sources do the design team rely the most on? I've read that the original AOE team did most of their research through children's books, but in AOEO many of the advisors get their names from pretty obscure historical characters. How much is there of an influence (be it aesthetic, gameplay-wise, etc.) from fictional sources, i.e. Disney's Hercules? The Celtic building set has a very Tolkien/The Hobbit vibe to me too.”

We spend a lot of time on Wikipedia, and then track down as much of the source material cited in its articles as needed. Books from Osprey Publishing, in particular, are enormously helpful.

It's our understanding that the initial high-level art direction established by Robot Entertainment was heavily influenced by fictional sources, but the overall designs of a civilization lean heavily on historical source material.

At the same time, we can't just make them historically accurate and call it done; the visual design of every single piece of art in the game, particularly if used on a quest, has significant gameplay implications. A Barracks always needs to look like a Barracks at a glance, more than it needs to look uniquely or historically Celtic. A giant Wicker Boar, not so much.

On this front, the Celts from our time period were a bit of a challenge compared to the Greeks, Egyptians, and Persians because they don't have nearly the quantity of available historical source material. This gave our artists quite a bit of leeway to create designs that just looked good and were consistent within the civilization, which they succeeded at, in our opinion.

“How do the developers plan on revitalizing crafting, making it easier for casual players in particular to find recipes, obtain materials and let other players know which crafting schools each player has active and subsequently the recipes each player has learned? Will there be any improvements or changes to crafting?”

Everyone is in full agreement that crafting needs a lot of work. The current implementation is overly convoluted, and we've made a few minor changes for the next update that will help somewhat. Stores can now have more than 10 items, so all store-purchasable recipes can be found in one place.

Other major changes had to be temporarily put on hold, as the work wasn't completed and tested in time for the last update. We would like build a crafting and trade region that would contain all of the crafting-relevant stores and quests. Not included in that work but still needed are usability improvements to all of the crafting UIs.

After that, we would look at the more significant task of giving crafting a better role in the overall game, of making it feed into PvE and PvP in more meaningful ways. Once the Empire Marketplace goes live, the welcome pressure (and desire) to bring it up a few notches will push it to the forefront.

“Are more options for playing PvP on the relatively near time horizon or on the planning table? By this, I'm thinking of allowing for more players, adding more maps, more setting options (à la Skirmish), and possibly new modes (such as Death Match or Treaty from previous Age games). If so, could you clarify what we can expect and give a rough, conservative approximation as to when it might be out?”

Players currently experience difficulty at various times of the day finding PvP matches, and adding additional modes will only make it that much harder. So in the short term, don't expect more modes.

The best solution for this is to use true global matchmaking, across realms. This is a long-term fix, and requires changes to how the entire game is architected. We think it's critical, so once the technical questions have been worked out, work on expanding PvP can begin in earnest.

Which is a roundabout way of saying there's no timetable for this, but it's something everyone wants to do.

“Will Persia receive decorative buildings as quest/drop items like the Premium Civs? Will Persia receive more unique advisors like the Premium Civs?”

The Pro Civs were always intended to be a PvP civilization, though marketing was, at the time, hesitant to say it outright. As such, it wasn't planned to have unique advisors or quests.

However, there are some other plans in the works for the near future that should greatly improve the Persian player's experience.

“The Bugchilada was really not successful. After the spring update there were more bugs in the game then before. Will we get a lot of bugfixes in the next time?”

Well, we think it was pretty successful. Of course we're biased.

While it's certainly true there are still bugs in the game, it isn't true that there are more now than before. Fixing bugs is always a priority of every patch. During each cycle of development, we spend some amount of time on new features, and some amount of time on fixing bugs. The bug fixing time is spent fixing the bugs generated by the new features, and fixing bugs we know about in the live game. We also fix a lot of bugs you guys don't even know about.

“How do I play Egypt in ranked pvp properly and why was Egypt left out of this balance patch? Are you planning on balancing the Egyptians for PvP sometime [in the near future ;)]?”

We had a few ideas for things to improve, but ultimately we felt like any minor adjustments would not satisfy our concerns. Additionally, there are some pretty major changes to civilization balance coming in the summer update that we felt any radical changes at this point would too short-lived.

It’s worth mentioning that we’re constantly looking at the state of balance. As with any balance, as we add more civilizations certain matchups may initially perform better than others. Generally we think we do a pretty good job of catching these problems beforehand, but occasionally something slips out that didn’t quite behave the way we wanted it to.

“In the balance patch, why does it focus on mostly trivial issues like the LOS on storehouses? The change to peltasts is more or less the only important there. So why is this being done, and not more important stuff like the celt vs greek matchup or egypt matchups in general?”

The purpose of the balance patch was to release a few updates that didn’t quite make it into the previous release. The timeframe for this patch wouldn’t have allowed us to pursue any large-scale changes. Since the Summer Update contains a much larger Tech-Tree overhaul, we felt our time was better spent elsewhere. That update has some major improvements to a few areas that we’ve been unable to address for quite some time.

“Can any one from the core team can confirm if the following items still drops :

They do.

“Does MGS and GPG ever have face-to-face meetings?”

Two words: Fight Club.

GPG and Microsoft are within spitting distance of each other, and the spit, it does fly. In fact, the Microsoft people keep showing up at the GPG offices to drink our supply of Mexican Coke, and they won't leave. Please send help.

*Editor’s note: They are exaggerating… we don’t drink ALL the Mexican Coke.. nothing to see here.. move along.

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