It's the middle of summer, the sun is hot, the Summer Event is late, the Romans are slow, the blog is overdue, COVID is in full bloom, and everyone's a little edgy. PF2K is taking a much deserved vacation of indeterminate length, so I have appointed myself this week’s messenger. Rather than pretend to fake PF2K's graphics, we are going to do an old fashioned mailbag episode. I asked players on discord, the forum, and in the game to submit questions. Then I answered a bunch and spread a few of them around the horn to get some other Devs out of their shells. (I took some editorial liberties to revise some of their quotes, so apologies in advance.)
Also, I am super jammed up in real life this week and flat-out in the Romans (I still don't have my Quest Giver lines finalized). To cut corners and time, I didn't send all questions to all Devs. So Devs, please add more answers below!
How much do you hope and expect the player count will rise after the Rome release?
Andy: Of course we would be honored to see more players joining, and we expect some kind of bounce. I am not aware that any of us have quantified this. One of the nice parts of a volunteer project is that we don't have to stare at server numbers sweating about whether we are going to make our quarterly goals. Meanwhile, none of us play or develop Age of Empires Online out of some misplaced sense of vanity. We are here because the game brings us joy, regardless of the fact that most Age players don't even know the game exists. But at some basic level, of course we all wish the best for the game and for players to discover it.
What's your biggest priority that are not Romans?
Andy: We have a number of projects aimed at rejiggering the in-game economy that I'd love to get off the ground such as Bahram's Lottery and coupons to hide in Moe's for new gear (both of which to increase the number of coins exiting circulation) and a large scale adjustment to Legendary Quest rewards.
Kevsoft: Besides recent bug-fixes I'd say arena customization. I recently found a way to customize map setting also for arena and I think it is a great addition. It will require some changes in RMS but I don't think it is too bad.
Chaos: more environments. The romans add a new set, but I feel we need more Eastern and Southern environments.
Happy Smurf: Having fun with the different team members, if that’s a fair answer.
(Andy’s note: in lieu of a response, Phillus just sent me a photoshopped image in which he continued to urge me to reconsider his massively complex and well researched draft of a Germanic civilization. Maybe one day we can do a very special episode on civs designs that we Devs secretly work on late at night in our basements. We each have our own pet civs we lobby for.)
What Roman mission are you most excited to show us and can we know a little bit why?
Andy: My friends, PF2K built some absolutely wonderful quests, and I cannot wait to read everything you all have to say about them. I find myself particularly enjoying the more difficult ones. PF2K is super good at the game, so I found myself smiling inwardly when he sorta accidentally made some that were super difficult and took me multiple tries to finish -- something really unexpected for low level quests.
The one that immediately comes to mind is called the Fools on the Hill. It is the 15th Quest in the Campaign -- right about in the middle. So you are like level 12 or something. When I was writing these quests, I was doing my best to merge actual historical events with gameplay. This particular quest acts out the story of the legendary Roman dictator Cincinnatus quelling a rebellion of Roman dissidents.
So this is like super dry stuff. Light years away from the Punic Wars.
Roman history has a huge undertone of civil uprisings between the wealthy (Patricians) and the working class (Plebeians). I knew from a narrative level that we needed to touch upon this, but it really doesn't mesh well from a gameplay perspective. We don't really have an angry mob mechanic in the game. Meanwhile, the quest itself really only makes sense to take place in the city of Rome itself, which is also a little weird. So we ended up making a nontraditional quest where you have no Villagers, no production Buildings, and no economy. You start with Cincinnatus and a handful of Centurions. Their job is to defend two high profile landmarks (the Temple of Jupiter and Temple of Vespa) against angry mobs of dissidents (played by enemy Legionaries). The dissidents spawn randomly from buildings all around the city and rush the Temples, which are on opposite sides of the map. The Player needs to simultaneously defend the two landmarks while also controlling Cincinnatus, who can stand on a blue arrow on a different side of the map to cause more Centurions to spawn for the player.
When I had written the Quest, I penciled in the objective as killing 50 Dissidents. I figured that would be plenty. When I booted up the Quest, though, PF2K had set the objective at killing 500 of them. And it is hard as nails. Those dissidents just keep pouring out onto the streets. The Quest is an absolute manic stomp full of carnage. And much to my dismay, I think I lost the Quest perhaps 20 times over the course of three nights before finally cracking its strategy. Between losses I'd regroup in my capital city trying to squeeze out every last uncommon gear upgrade I could find for my poor Level 12 Centurions. I can hear the complaints already, but god, I hope we don't nerf that Quest. It's so much darn fun.
Chaos: I think is called Villagers on Petrol, I like the use of the Castellum and only Vills and I made the map haha
(Andy’s note: the quest is actually called Villagers on Patrol, but I like Chaos’s name, too. I haven’t tested the Quest myself, but here’s how I drew it up: Player 1 starts in Age 3 with 1000 Wood and no other resources, 40 Villagers, and no TC. There are no resources nearby, but there are resources scattered across the map separately. The Player should build a Castellum, research the Praesidium Tech and then build more Castellums near the resources to protect their Villagers against the enemy, which attacks in waves. You have to keep at least 20 Villagers alive for 15 minutes and mine at least 45 Gold. If it is played Co-op, then Player 2 starts in Age 3 with 600 Wood, 300 Stone and 15 Villagers and can only build Guard Towers and Storehouses.)
If Devs were to make one major change to the game, no restrictions and no need to consult others, what would it be?
RecoN: Would be the game mode where you have a leaderboard like Crete has, but it’s for speedrunning quests made specifically for it and it saves the times people get on them.
Wout: I would try to reduce the gap between the pvp and pve community, by increasing pvp rewards, implementing some of the pvp balance changes to pve, making pve less a 1 unit spam and more reliant on the game's counter system, and maybe reducing the pace of endgame pve a bit
Jeinx: I would individualize drop rates and tweak them item by item. Or I'd clean up loot tables by not having every gear piece achieved only by grinding level 40 quests. We'd have magic coupons hidden in level 10, 15, 20,25,30,35 chests that players may get lucky and find on their level up that they can turn in for very rare wonderful Legendary gear. This would give players a reason to buy from moes, and get some of the too hard to find filler gear the game needs, and would have a heavy supply of as a side effect from people buying so much moes. So many gear pieces are so useful until a player can afford, or find best in slot, but currently the supply of these are very limited, and costs are high. The increased traffic to Moes will also exit coin from the game, and really help out the inflation of the game, and make things better for everyone.
Chaos: Purge the gear tables. There’s so much in there now, I think it needs a spring clean to help improve rates of some others.
Happy Smurf: Alliance battles -- large 3v3 or 4v4 battles over different countries on the world map.
Phillus: Move away from the granny engine, as I've heard it's a beast to tame, and use another engine with which new features, new content and in general an easier installation can be implemented smoother for artists and programmers alike. Besides that: Rework gameplay into something more engaging and complex by adding stealth (-units and -environment like high grass/bushes), new landscape effects such as quicksand or swamps or even a weather system that can cause rain & storms, which affect gameplay too, on maps for example. I think that'd be a cool change of pace within missions.
Andy: I am a sucker for civs. If I had a magic wand, I'd keep everyone around forever and keep churning out new civs. I'd be lying if I said I didn't already have strong feelings (and Building and Unit rosters) for Number 8.
What's the most unexpectedly easy thing to pull off?
Phillus: The newest feature of resetting milestones was an unexpectedly quick and easy quality of life improvement.
Andy: Of all Developers, I am assuredly the one with the fewest technical skills related to game design. I sort of wander around and talk a lot and hope I am somehow not getting in anyone's way. So for me, other than PF2K asking me to help him with the Romans and promising to build them himself if that’s all we had, the most unexpectedly easy thing for us to pull off was Happy Smurf, Chaos, and Phillus falling into our laps. These three are supremely talented. It's like they just showed up one day, knocked on our door, and offered to build us a new house however big and nice we wanted. I will always look back in amazement those first few weeks watching the walls go up around us as they turned out Roman Building after Building day after day.
What's the most unexpectedly difficult thing to pull off?
Chaos: I’d say units, as there are just so many versions that need to be made for each one. But the easiest thing to pull off are new animations now that I have worked out import methods. The blending in-between now works so there is no jumping or odd looking animations. There was a point where I was worried that we’d never get them just right, and every new animation was just scary trying to get it to work. But no longer!
Happy Smurf: Inserting new anims to existing units (basically impossible). But the easiest thing is adding new models.
Phillus: Oh, I am most certain that the classic skirmish mode for up to 8 players from AoE2 or the like is an unexpectedly difficult feature to implement for most people that aren't involved in programming. I really dunno how much work has to be put in to make FFA and other modes possible. Besides that, I'd definitely put “making new civs” on that topic as well. Creating new civs for AoEO is fun, but oh so... complex and difficult to get right.
Andy: For me, the most difficult thing weighing on me these days is the release schedule and hype control. How foolish I was when in January, 2019 I expected to release the Romans that August. How foolish I was in May, 2019 to announce their arrival in 2019. How foolish I was this fall to expect their arrival by the Ides of March. And now how foolish am I to tell myself you will have the Romans in your hands before Halloween? Of course I have no idea. And as a 41-year-old dude, all I can do is tell these kids how goddamn proud I am of them and what great things they are going to do in life. We gotta get these Romans launched before they grow too large for our humble project. They will finally be able to say that they were behind the largest expansion of new content in the entire Age of Empires franchise for the last 10 years. And they did it as volunteers out of their love for the game and friendship with each other.
Will we see other Zahhak's gear that are not weapons, and will they sport regen?
Diplomatic Answer: Internally, we Devs have an ongoing discussion about whether new events each year should include new items, and if so, should they also include the old items? We want to balance providing players with new and cool things while also making available older stuff so as to provide opportunities for newer players to catch-up. And then we must ground this philosophical discussion onto the framework of what specific gear types are even available at this point for new and different legendary gear.
Actual answer from an actual Dev: “Who tf knows? As of now, we do not have one planned.”
Can we get the current state regarding gaps in gearing and bogus itemization and if there's anything in the works to look at it. Specifically, there’s no stepping stone from mid-level Rare to Legendary Scout gear and Priest weapons that buff Damage. I feel there's a lot of items in the game that are instant vendor (the inverse of MAG items), that are in need of an overhaul. Should there not be a greater priority on items currently in game that are broken/useless or missing?
Andy: Jeinx is an expert on gear and has been working on stocking the stores in the Roman regions, so he’s the only one I asked to answer this question.
Jeinx: First, GPG reversed its original leveling requirements and made it a lot faster to level up a civ. Civs should spend less time below 40 than originally intended. Second, many of these midway gears are already in the game, we just have to get them back into players’ hands. Because we have implemented gear in the past that removed the incentives for players to find them, farming off level quests, buying from Moe’s, etc., the supply is nonexistent, but we have a demand for it. These gear pieces are a common byproduct from these things. They would be perfect to sell to other players and fill gaps. Things like Imhotep Gauntlets, Epic Divine Hammer of Construction, Level 27 Looking Glasses, etc. By creating Legendary upgraded versions of those items, we jam packed the loot tables and stripped Moe’s chests of much of their relevance. This caused many issues. First, it reduced the supply on the market of these great mid-level that players could use until they acquired best in slot versions. Second, because nobody is spending coins at Moe’s the coins are not exiting circulation, which exacerbates inflation. If you look throughout the new regions, we have added some new gears that filled in some gaps, and I'm sure there is more to come.
How's it going on the music front?
Andy: For some context, every civ in the game has at least a dozen unique musical tracks summing somewhere between 17 to 50 minutes worth of music. So basically every civ has a full album's worth of professional music. This is extremely intimidating, as you can imagine. Over the course of development, we have struggled to finalize our approach. At times we discussed (1) finding things in the public domain and/or (2) approaching one of several artists about using their music in exchange for providing credits to them/links/encouraging people to buy their music. But even these solutions could open up a number of complex legal issues that we aren't comfortable dealing with. I've looked into this issue personally and discussed it with other attorneys. We are here as guests of Microsoft, and it's wise to be careful so we can keep it that way.
At other times we discussed (3) using and/or rerecording existing tracks from earlier AoE games, such as the Rise of Rome Expansion. We've also discussed (4) having some of PF2K's musically inclined family work with him on the music. Candidly, PF2K has been so busy with everything, I am afraid the last thing he would need is another project to solo. Then we've had (5) some players approach us offering to help, but for various reasons, those offers never panned out and/or evaporated.
At any rate, I have it on very good information that we have brand new music in the pipeline. However, we don't have any details to share other than that we are back in business. In related news, is anyone here even aware that the 2019 Halloween and Winter Events had their own unique soundtracks? We didn't publicize this, but we've got a mystery artist in our midst. This community has everything we need, I swear to god.
Can we receive some voice samples from the units?
Now for some more good news: we had a player approach us with some background and interest in voice acting. When he sent in some samples, we realized he wasn't messing around and hired him on the spot. Though he won't voice everything (I still have designs on being the male Villager and we may decide to further vary up the cast), we are happy to say we are starting to lay down some tape and get files in order. Chaos is chipping in with some audio editing, too. If I can figure out a way to embed a few tracks, I will. But without further ado, we are pleased to introduce Kevin Kusman, who goes by KaizaKai in the game and Kai77 on discord.
Have any other questions? Please post them below and we will keep this AMA going.
Meanwhile, we may post some more Romans info and graphics tomorrow, but it’s Friday and I don’t want to wake up at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning, so I am publishing this now.
By Andy P XIII on Jun 26, 2020 at 10:36 PM
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