Quote:Age of Empires II: HD - Developer's Diary
Hey, I'm Mark Terrano - Chief Creative Officer at Hidden Path Entertainment, and this is the first in a series of Developer Diaries for Age of Empires II: HD Edition.which feels a little weird for me because the last time I wrote one of these for Age of Kings it was 1999 (as Lead Designer at Ensemble Studios in Dallas).
Age of Empires II: HD happened because a lot of people wanted to keep that dream alive. The technology has moved forward - operating systems change, old software libraries die, even 'The Zone' faded away in 2006 taking matchmaking with it. For the last 14 years I've heard the dramatic re-enactment of people's favorite stories from the game "No kidding, there I was - just me and the wonder against 4 other guys." often sadly followed by "I miss that game, I wish I could still play it". Not game stories after all, but human stories- about friends and family, victory and defeat - and learning about ancient cultures as a nice side benefit.
It deserved a second chance.
Because a few people were still keeping the dream alive, we ended up talking to the right person at Microsoft who also really wanted to make that happen. We first considered a minimum possible port.just get it running on modern hardware and operating systems - easy right? If it was a 3 or even a 5 year old game - recompile with new libraries boom, ship it. But 15 years in the Internet era is a *really long time*. In 1999 people had just upgraded from their 56K dial-up modem and traded in their 486 PC for a Pentium class machine with a 14" CRT monitor. Google was still in Beta, YouTube and Netflix hadn't been invented yet.
The fundamental libraries that the game was built on no longer existed, we weren't even sure if all of the game assets were around anymore. So we got all the digital assets that could be found collected together and made our plans. Engineering was going to have to re-build the rendering engine substantially just to get the game to compile. Multi-player would have to be completely re-built, and some of the tricks we did in the code had strange side-effects with modern compiler settings. It would take significant work just to get us to the 1999 version of the game playing on today's computers.
It was Summer 2012 - Microsoft said 'let's go bigger - what would you do?' - we felt that we really needed to fully support larger resolutions and wide screen - both full screen and in-window play (which meant re-authoring all of the game interfaces; we also sweetened the colors and retouched them for modern monitors and graphics cards). We wanted to definitely keep things compatible with the fan levels and content that had been created over the years, and have easy multi-player matchmaking. We wanted to improve the graphics as much as possible while still preserving the crisp unit contrast and 'feel' of the game.
There was a much longer wish list but it was pared down by the realities of the schedule and the game assets that could still be found (we had to extract language files from shipping disks and rebuild it to get all of the localized text, and sadly the original 3D units that we made sprites from had also been lost to time).
I'm so proud of what we've created together with Microsoft - it *is* in every way Age of Kings and The Conquerors. It wasn't re-interpreted, it wasn't re-imagined differently - it is the gameplay that you remember and love, but with new features (like achievements, Steam Workshop and multi-monitor support) added to the experience.
We had a great team here at HPE working on the game - a really incredible effort, and fantastic support and encouragement from the group at Microsoft and our testing partners - but I most want to thank the die-hard fans, that bedrock of the Age of Empires community - my most heart-felt thanks to all of you for keeping the dream alive. Because of you we will all have the opportunities to make new stories and friends with AOE II: HD.
...came for the cardboard, stayed for the camaraderie...