Much of the allure of Ancient India springs from its mighty elephants. Famously, at the thought of facing hundreds of them, Alexander the Great chose instead to turn his undefeated army around and leave. Indian War Elephants were highly sought in the west, and some historians speculate that the elephants the Carthaginians took over the Alps into Italy were Indian rather than from Africa.
So in designing the Indians, we knew the War Elephant was a key unit around which we would build the entire civilization. We also knew that their elephants would not be identical to those of the Egyptians. Just like how different civs feature different types of horses, so too should different civs feature different types of elephants.
Compared to the Egyptian War Elephant, the Indian War Elephant will be cheaper to train, slower and use one fewer population (3 pop - subject to change). Additionally, the Indian War Elephant is trained from the Mahout Camp, which is a military production building only, as opposed to the Egyptians which train their War Elephants from their fortress, meaning that the trained War Elephants will be directly heading into battle from the front lines. However this means that if the Egyptians lose their foothold at the front and lose their Fortress, they will also lose their ability to train War Elephants which may prove disastrous as they will struggle to defend their home base.
In these ways, we are designing the Indians to encourage you to work War Elephants into your strategy far more than we see with the Egyptians. Keep in mind, though, that Asian elephants are smaller than their African cousins. So our Indian War Elephant is a bit smaller and weaker than that of the Egyptians. But still mighty – it does splash damage (although less than the Egyptian counterpart) and has bonuses against Siege and Ranged. Presently its Champion tech is slotted to boost its speed and ignore armor.
But if you want an elephant with damage against Buildings, you will need to wait for the civ’s capstone Age 4 Elephant unit, which we are going to show you later.
AdvisorsSince the Indians were never in development until we chose to make them, we relied on our artists bring their vision to life. This is a huge step for us, as we inherited almost all of the Roman art, advisor portraits, and Quest Giver images. Presently, every other civ has 10 unique advisors (two in Age 2, two in Age 3, and six in Age 4 (three of which are Legendary advisors).
Advisors bring a wonderful, if overlooked, dimension to civ design. Not only do their bonuses help shape the strategy and gameplay of each civ, but their artwork and names also help shape their personality and tone. We want the Indians to feel both uniquely Indian while also feel like natural extensions of the playful AoEO universe. So their Advisors have to fit perfectly.
When we first started designing civs, there were only a few of us, and none of us were professional artists. We had been quite anxious knowing we would need professional quality artwork that felt studio quality. However, we’ve been blessed with several amazing artists to come our way — Hans, Cain, and Natsata. We cannot praise them enough.
Over the course of about three months back in 2021, our friend Hans created the entire set of advisor portraits (as well as related art you will see with Indian Quest Givers). The only real guidance we gave Hans was pointing him towards a random array of images we found online of various Indian people and characters in Bollywood films. He took our ideas and ran with it. We were blown away with his talent and quickly finalized the top 10. Later on we asked Natsata for some help with brushing up and fine-tuning the advisor art so they match with the existing ones as much as possible.
As far as their personalities, we had identified the three legendary advisors very early on – Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka the Great, and Chanakya.
We didn’t really have any strong opinions for the other seven Advisors, and we wanted to give our artists some freedom. Of course to match the game, we just needed a mix of Indian themed men and women in various outfits and poses. Having finalized the artwork long ago, we put this project on the backburner until the last couple of weeks, when we finally have named them and begun sketching out their general bonuses. (Naturally, we reserve the right to change the bonuses as we get closer to launch and playtest the civ.)
We are pleased to reveal our entire roster:
Special thanks as always to Varadha, who is our resident expert on Indian culture. He has been with us since the beginning and has been invaluable in guiding our art, naming conventions, and overall design to keep the Indians authentic. He’s provided us guidance from general ideas all the way down to minute details, such as whether it would be OK for a merchant to have a Bindi, the colored dot sometimes worn on the forehead (and it turns out a Bindi is very much OK for him.)
Other Varadha help:, we had originally penciled in Devi Maitreyi to be called “Maharani Devi” which translates roughly to Queen Devi (in keeping with Queen Boudicca and Queen Cartimandua line of advisors). However, he noticed that Devi did not really look very royal and suggested we sidestep and call her “Devi Mairtreyi,” and so we do.
He also helped us come up with our favorite Advisor, Pradhana Patwari Boom Shyam Avtar Singh, and made sure the joke landed correctly with a name that was appropriately gigantic to match his gigantic turban, which also ties to back to reality. His name translates to Major Village Accountant Boom Shyam Avtar Singh. Here’s our inspiration:
For fun, here are some rough sketches to give you all a sense of the process and some other ideas we played with. As you can see, we rather enjoy the rich tapestry of Indian moustaches.
(PF2K's side-note: I hope this name fits in the game tooltips! Otherwise we will have to make some adjustments)
As you may have noticed, our development of the Indians has been slower than we had hoped in 2022. This is in large part to a bottleneck we face in unit animations. As you may recall, during development of the Romans, we were blessed with a number of tremendous professionally trained animators (Phillus and his friend Anubis). We are incredibly grateful to them and proud to say that their amazing work on the Romans helped them begin their careers in the industry. We wish them the very best and will always be in their debt. But, of course, they left us with tremendous shoes to fill. (Thus is the life of a volunteer group of ragtag fans – we are always going to be recruiting.)
In their absence, over the last 12 months, Max, who seemingly can do everything, has taught himself the fine art of 3D animation. He’s made incredible progress and is now cruising. Today, we asked him to show you all a little behind the curtain. Here’s Max:
“With the war elephant shown we have shown you almost all of the units that make up this civilization. The ones left are the iconic characters that build up this civ. With that said we have to dive into an underlaying aspect of the 3D development of a civilization. As we earlier explained we start a civ by making different concepts of some key Buildings. Once we have them tackled it doesn’t take Eamon and Max more than a few months to work their way through all the Buildings. But once those buildings are constructed, we come into the field of units and animations. Especially that last element is something we want to give you insight in. Be prepared because we will use some "animation related" words which likely are not in your standard vocabulary. You can find his quotes in blue text below:
"Animations can be split into 3 parts.”
Part 1: Buildings“Buildings are the easiest but most boring animation job. For each building we have to make a duplicate and split it into different sections. Each segment then has to be "Capped" (1: Filling in an empty spot when you cut a model in half, once you cut a model in two, it has no geometry along the cutting edge). Once done for all the Buildings we make use of the Blender software itself to run a physics simulation to make the Buildings fall apart.
We have to help the simulation by defining which element has to collide with which element and by inserting planes to help pieces to slide into the direction we want. You will never see these planes in the game but we need them for example to make sure the gate will tumble forwards during the simulation. Once we are happy with the simulation we "bake" the simulation (2: You turn a physics simulation into a animation. Basically like a cake. As long as its dough (simulation) you can change it. But once baked, the shape (animation) is defined and can’t be changed). Its not a hard task, but it’s very boring. But give Eamon and Max a few weeks and they can pull it off for the entire civ.”
(So for those of you keeping track, it takes Max and Eamon maybe only a couple months so far to make every Building in the civ (including all 26 or so capital city Buildings and decorations) and animate the Buildings to collapse when they are destroyed in the game.)
“But now we come to the last two Parts, and that's where the dilemma begins.
“Once we come to units we have to make a choice between one of two options, both of which have pros and cons that affect both the quality of the design and the time it takes to develop the civ.”
Part 2: Existing Units“The easiest and most time efficient way to animate a Unit is to simply not animate it at all. Rather, we take an existing unit from the game and then change its texture to look like whatever Indian unit we want. (Basically we are repainting an existing unit.) And if we do this, once we import the newly recycled and repainted unit back into the game, we can immediately reuse all its old animations. However, we cannot give that unit any new animations since we cannot reliably import the old animations and rigs back and forward between the software. (We discuss exactly what rigs are later on, so hold tight.)
“This recycling of old Units is fine for a simple unit like a Bowman or a Spearman (and, indeed, was something the original Developers did all the time to cut corners)."
"But you cannot copy an existing Unit to make a civ-specific Unit (like the Gada Warrior, who has a really large club and other details). If we recycled old Units too much, the quality of the Indians would suffer and players would notice (or at least notice that there is something off about the Indians). That would be unacceptable to all of us to get this far only to release a civ the felt watered down or derivative. It’s weird and we will not accept, for instance, to turn a Woad Raider into a Guru. The animations would simply not match the unit and the gear. Therefore, for the vast majority of the units in the Indians, we have no choice but to do it the hard way.”
Part 3: Do It All from Scratch“Under this method, we need to create the 3D model of the unit ourselves and then provide the unit with its own, brand new, unique animations. We have to make everything with our own hands without cutting any corners. This is extremely time consuming, but it gives us the freedom to make the Unit however we want and to have its animations perfectly match the Unit’s personality."
“For comparison, on the Romans we were able to recycle existing units for all but 7 units in the civ: the Legionary, the Scorpio, the Primus Pilus, the Caravan, the Clinicus, the Ram, and the Aquilifer. (If you picture these units you will notice they all are very uniquely shaped and much more than a human with a weapon or riding a horse, etc.)"
“But on the Indians, we have to create no fewer than 12 units: the Ram, the Gada Warrior, the Fire Monkey, the Mace Monkey, the Scout, the Spearman, the Guru, the Caravan and 4(!) Elephants. (We could not recyle the existing Elephant units because they had too few options and both the model and the animation were too outdated to keep up with the quality we strive for.)"
“Animating 12 units would have taken professional animators like Phillus and Anubis an extremely long time. And we understandably didn’t have them. You can already guess that this option takes a lot more time than the other option."
“Now let’s tell you why:
A unit has at least 5 basic animations:
But to prevent too much repetition from the player’s viewpoint, we normally break the repetition by inserting a second and sometimes third animation of the attack, idle, walk and death. So we end up needing about 12 animations per unit.
“So what exactly is an animation? An animation is a looping movement of a unit. It basically turns a static model into an object you can play with. To do that each unit has a rig (a skeleton or bones). In the model you define which section of the unit is linked to which bone. You can see that for the shoulder of the Guru. The section that reacts to the shoulder bone is red and the rest is blue. Parts in the blending between the two are shade in between and can also react to another bone."
“With that set its time to make the animation:"
“We have to make multiple main poses of the unit and paste them after each other, then you have to make poses in between the main poses to make sure the bone moves into the right direction.
You will end up with something like this:"
“Every dot on the left side represents a pose of a bone in the animation. The spots in between the dots will be defined by the software.
“The last step is to smooth the animation. You can set all your poses well but still can have a glitching animation. For example, here is a visualization of only the hip bone of the Guru.
“So this looks right:"
“And this looks wrong:"
“And for some who may think this doesn’t look that bad, here a picture of how that diagram looks on a more complex unit:"
“And I can’t even fit all bones into the screenshot."
“So I hope this gives you some insight in what the choices within units and the uniqueness bring forward and how they influence the timespan of the 3D development of a civ."
“For the Romans we took it easy since we had a lot of other stuff to learn. But for the Indians... we didn’t want to hold ourselves back on making an iconic civ with unique units.”
Thanks to Max for his time, his expertise, and his patience with all of us!
We hope you can all see that though we have been quiet, we are also moving closer and closer along the road to the gates of Pataliputra. You all are going to love this civ, and now that we have the Romans under our belt and are seeing the Indians come together, we can confidently assure you that we are making the best civilization you have ever played in this franchise. The Indians are beautiful, well researched, unique, and full of the soul of Age of Empires. See you all soon.
Help Wanted! We Need a 3D Animator!As we mentioned earlier in the blog, we are currently in need of additional help with the Indian civilization. Our previous 3D animators are no longer able to spend as much time on the game due to real-life responsibilities and as such, our progress on the animation side of things (and as a result, the progress for the entire civilization) has slowed down significantly.
If you or someone you know can spare a few hours a week (or something around that) who has previous experience with animating (preferably in Blender), please send me (PF2K) or Max v.R. or Eamon (Chaos) a message on Discord with a few examples of your previous work so we can bring you in on the team. Thanks in advance for your help!
(PF2K's Personal Note: This is how Eamon got in the team as well!)
Thanks for reading, and we look forward to revealing more of the Indians. Please let us know your thoughts and questions below!
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By PF2K on Jan 7, 2023 at 4:53 PM
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