Rather than fully describe a few specific units or buildings, this time we want to zoom out and discuss our approach to a general aspect of the Indians civilization – religion
Part 1: Considerations specific to the IndiansReligion is a large consideration in Age of Empires Online civ design. Unlike civilizations in AoE1, AoE2, and AoE4, our civs are asymmetrically designed and replete with many types of priests, religious buildings, and other religious/cultural features specific to each civ. This is perhaps best demonstrated with the Egyptians (three Temples and three kinds of Priests), the Celts (offensively-minded Druids and Augurs who perform rites with Sacred Deer), and the Norse (Seers spawning Ravens). Similarly, the use of secular support units can also help define a civ’s culture in other ways (such as the bard-like Norse Rhapsode and the Roman Clinicus, who is more of an army field doctor and trains from the secular Forum).
In researching the Indians, we immediately knew that religion had to be a focal point of their design. Ancient India was home to many major religions (including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism) that continue today. Therefore, the stakes are quite high for us to make a civilization that feels authentic not just to a western audience but also to an Indian one. Meanwhile, for the Indians to be successful as a civ, we need to coherently tie those religious and cultural aspects to actual gameplay features. This is where things get tricky.
Out of the gate, we always knew that the Indians face a bit of an Egyptian problem. The Egyptians are arguably the most religiously-minded civ in the game (not only do they have the most priests and temples, but they also Age-up with those temples). But they also are the only civ with elephants. Meanwhile, both the Egyptians and Indians were historically agriculturally strong and more defensive than offensive. The comparisons are inevitable, and we may face a fanbase assuming our Indians will be derivative or bland.
So we need the Indians to overlap in several fundamental ways with an existing civ while somehow feeling completely unique and refreshing. It’s not enough to just research a historic civ and assemble a balanced roster of units. buildings, and techs. We need that roster to mesh with the rest of the game and bring something new and inspired.
This gave us fits and was our largest hesitation in deciding whether to even make the Indians at all. But as civ designers, we love finding solutions that fit these types of constraints, and it’s these kinds of nuances that make AoEO’s civs the best in the franchise. So we set to work.
Part 2: Our ApproachThough the Indians will not have three priests and three temples, religion will feature throughout their entire tech tree, and that starts immediately with the Scout.
ScoutLike every civ, the Indians start the game with a Scout. Conceptually, instead of falling back on a standard horseback rider, we started with the idea of having their Scout be a wandering ascetic monk. We also wanted to blend him with another famously Indian unit, the Spy. (The Arthrashastra talks in great detail about the military use of spies. The treatise mentions spies 338 times, almost 100 more times than it mentions elephants. The Indians loved spies.) So between wandering monks and spies, we decided to give the Indian Scout a powerful feature to make him their Age 1 hook. The powerful feature? He reincarnates. So where all other civs get just their one Scout who can never be trained again once he dies, the Indian Scout will come back to life. This will give Indians an edge in Scouting (particularly during the early and mid game) while also incorporating a religious aspect into the civ. We have not yet tuned this feature, and balance may dictate that he only reincarnates one or two times total in a match.
Religion really comes into focus by Age 2. In addition to the standard military buildings, the Indians have two separate Age 2 religious buildings. First, the Shrine will serve a few roles throughout the game. But most immediately, it unlocks three different units, all of which will be available in Age 2.
Shrine and Sacred CowFor context, it commonly known that cows are revered in much of India and seldom eaten. (Historians debate when this practice began, but it appears to have dated at least as far back as our Mauryan empire, though sources vary.) At any rate, instead of Villagers killing and gathering from herdable animals, the Indians will instead benefit from them in another way -- by leading them to the Shrine, where their presence will likely do two things (1) generate resources and (2) cause the Shrine to automatically spawn two additional units, which will be aggressive, but low HP raiding units -- the Club Monkey and the Fire Monkey. We have not yet worked out everything, but we intend for the monkeys to have low build limits that increase with later age Techs. The Club Monkey likely will have a bonus vs. Villagers (and wield a Heavy Club) and the Fire Monkey likely will have a bonus vs. Buildings (and be equiped with a Fire Pot). We also want the Monkeys to have the ability to heal other Monkeys (Phillus is working on grooming animations), and we are looking into whether we can have the Indians’ enemies harvest the monkeys’ bodies for food.
We based the design of our Shrine on a number of existing Shrines in India. Varadha helped us with all sorts of details for his position, horns, and outfit. (For the record he is a bull, not a cow, and his name is Nandhi.)
The third Age 2 unit from the Shrine is the Sacred Cow. Like the Celtic Sacred Deer, Sacred Cows have build limits. Their purpose is to remain at the Shrine with Nandhi, which creates a trickle of resources (we are not yet sure which resource) and spawns the Club and Fire Monkeys.
Much similar to the Babylonian Garden and Ziggurat, the Roman Millarium and all Town Centers, the Indian Shrine will visually progress as players age up to the Golden Age.
Of course, all of this is subject to change. But these three animal units, all of which will have significant build limits, give the Indians by far the largest Age 2 unit roster in the game. As you can see, animals are going to feature prominently with the Indians. We expect a renewed focus on fighting over herdables and lots of early game raiding.
We are aiming to give the Indians an Age 3 power spike, and certainly their Age 2 will be fairly strong, though quite different than the other early game civs.
Monastery and GuruThis brings us to the Monastery, which is also available in Age 2 and is the keystone building in the entire civilization. Most notably, the Monastery houses the Choose-One Techs. These techs give you a choice between multiple upgrades that allow you to adapt based on your playstyle, your opponent, and the map. You can only choose one upgrade from each set every game. They will allow the Indians to be perhaps the most adaptable civ in the entire game, at least when in the right hands. We will go into far more depth about these in future blogs.
Natsata designed the Lotus-themed icon for the Monastery. We think it fits perfectly.
Starting in Age 3, the Monastery will train the Indians' priest unit. With so many different Indian religions, we naturally considered making multiple priests. However, that felt way too close to the Egyptians. So we opted to create just one. But rather than assign him a specific religion (such as a Buddhist Monk or Hindu Pujari), the Indians will have a Guru. Historically, a guru is a traditional Indian mentor, teacher, expert, and spiritual guide. Gurus also appear in many Indian religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. In this way, our Guru perhaps transcends any specific religion and is a nod at another aspect of religion in India: their tendency to be pretty tolerant and open.
Also, we are hyper-aware of unit and building naming conventions, and choosing a Sanskrit word for the Indian priest was no accident. AoEO civs each have about 10-12 civ-specific names for buildings, units, and technologies. When used correctly, names are more than just identifiers, they immerse players in each civ and flesh out their identities. Every detail matters, and much of what sets AoEO apart from the other games is its attention to these.
Though we have not yet begun balancing, we expect the Guru to train in Age 3 as a fairly generic priest (single target healing and converting) with an Age 4 upgrade (called Dharma) that makes him the best single-target healer in the game. This will be particularly helpful to the Indians, because their late game will generally feature a small number of massive, high HP, high population units (most of whom have trunks and large ears and will be discussed in future blogs). We expect the Guru to be competent at converting and do so faster than several of the existing Priests after its upgrade in Age 4, but it won't be the area where he shines the most. Along similar lines, Priest units will be an excellent counter to Indian lategame unit compositions, but we will cover this once we progress more in the Indian Military Tech Tree.
As for his art design, jack-of-all trades Eamon put together some 2D concept art in the style of the original unit concepts we found from the original devs. Varadha approved of the design and suggested that he hold a staff and a very specific pot for holy water, which we gladly added.
Finally, in Age 4, the Indians have yet a third building directly related to their religious emphasis -- their Wonder. The Great Stupa of Sanchi is a Buddhist monument constructed by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who famously converted to Buddhism during his reign. The Stupa is one of the oldest standing buildings in India and is the perfect match for our civ. Though it acts identically to all other Wonders and has no direct religious gameplay, it still serves as yet another religious touchstone for the civilization.
Wonder - Great Stupa at Sanchi
As a reminder, let's have a look at the Wonders from every other civilization:
Putting everything together, the Indians have three "religious" buildings (the Shrine, Monastery, and Wonder) five religious units (the Guru, Sacred Cow, Club Monkey, Fire Monkey, and the reincarnating Scout), plus a number of religious Techs. We are aiming to integrate religion into the civilization naturally, which should feel quite different from how other civs are designed, especially the Egyptians' more regimented use of three dedicated Priests with three dedicated Temples. We intend to return to these buildings and units in the future once we are closer to release and have a firmer grasp on their details. But we hope this overview helps you all see the larger picture.
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By PF2K on Nov 21, 2021 at 4:24 PM
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