InfiltrationA visit to Ensemble Studios
It was almost as though they were expecting me. To avoid
detection, I caught my flight early on a Sunday morning and
arrived in Dallas that evening. There were traces of snow on the
ground, and a bitter un-Texan cold hit me as I dove into the back
seat of my cab. But there he was, sitting in his Trans Am waiting
outside my Hotel the next morning, Mike "Archangel McCart. He had
already spotted me, so I quickly ditched my plan of hiding behind
the skirt of an attractive tourist. I casually approached his car
surprise, surprise, the engine was running smiling
in recognition and tucking my complimentary copy of the "USA
Today" under my arm. "Why Mike McCart, what brings you to this
neck of the weeds?"
"Get in!" Mike reached a hand inside his leather Ensemble Studios jacket as he gave a push of the accelerator, bringing the car's engine to life with a roar. The jig was up, and I didn't argue.
A short insanity filled drive later, I was roughly escorted into the bowels of the beast. It takes sixteen separate elevators to get into Ensemble Studios, along with three iris scans and a DNA sample. Escape would be next to impossible. After the last examination, I was tossed into some sort of lab, with wall to wall computers. The look of horror upon my face as they loaded up Age of Mythology seemed to amuse those nearby. It was as though they sensed I was a newbie. What follows is a summary of my findings on their diabolical project, which is set to be unleashed on the world come September:
State of the Game ...Seriously now...
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting in on and participating in several in-house playtesting sessions at Ensemble Studios. They are, of course, testing their next real-time strategy game, Age of Mythology. During these sessions, members of the design and quality assurance teams note bugs, imbalances, and take suggestions on how to improve and fix things.
The game was nearly 100% stable for these testing sessions. I never once witnessed an out-of-sync error, or crashes. There are however, a lot of balance issues and bugs that they catch during these sessions, some of which are blatantly obvious, others not so easy to find.
The designers are still very much playing around with the game too, and not just tweaking. Sure, they may adjust a units stats and the like, but they are also doing major things like adding buildings and units for specific cultures, or taking existing ones right out. Their September release target is still quite a ways off, and they are taking full advantage of the time to make the game fun and balanced.
One thing I must mention, is that when I was playing the game, I didn't miss the resource stone one bit. With farms that last forever, and no stone to mine, the economic elements of the game are still certainly there for you to manage, but they really don't take up as much of your game time. You are free to spend a little more time building armies and raiding the enemy.
Another area of the game that has caused Agers some anxiety, including myself, are God Powers. Rest easy folks. They are a hell of a lot of fun! Sure, your raiding army may be turned into pigs, and your valuable catapult may be destroyed by a lightning bolt, but you've got some nasty tricks up your sleeve too. They are visually impressive, and add a great twist to the game.
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