AOE4 director Quinn Duffy offering some insight and also talking a bit about AOE

Relic’s Quinn Duffy (Director for Age of Empires 4) and Carolina (also in Quinn’s team for AOE4) made a stream in October for the 18th anniversary of Homeworld.
While playing Homeworld Remastered they answered community questions and some of them are related directly or indirectly to AOE4. I listened to this on a plane and the quality wasn’t so good, but I put some of them down as best I could also with the timestamps if you want to better listen for yourself.

Video link: https://go.twitch.tv/videos/180165857

00:40:30

  • Will RTS games see a revival like in the 90s when we used to have tons of good RTS games?

Quinn: Yes, I think if you look at strategy right now, and you look at the super popular games, you see MOBA games. There’s millions of people enjoying that simplified strategy games right now.
But i could see a return of the classics, else do you think we would develop Age of Empires 4? So I think there’s a good possibility real strategy games come back.
I think things are cyclical, they improvised enormously in the 90s, and I think Relic is one of the few companies that do these kind of games.

Carolina: Whats interesting is that if you look on forums like Dawn of War’s or Blizzard’s you can see people saying we should go back to the roots of RTS when it was thriving in the 90s. Instead of establishing the genre for what is known, right now it is a genre that struggles to innovate within its own yard.
You have to make sure you only do the right amount of innovation without changing the formula, like you see in these remasters.

Quinn: Yes, and I think we have a very sophisticated audience who expects certain features to be in the games and you want to make sure those expectations are met, but also that you are trying to make them as accessible as possible.
Let’s get people to be exposed to systems, to understand how they work, and have fun using these systems.

00:53:30

  • Do you think the old rock-paper-scissors is better then the current APM based system in strategy games?

Quinn: I think that is the challenge on executing a strategy has become, it is such a focus on micro control. Im definitely from the school of more delibirate strategy where you have time to take a bit of approach to the surrounding land. I like that […] I’m not an APM guy because I’m not an APM player who can find success in that, I go for understanding the tactics and the game.
When you watch people playing some of the APM strategy games, if they make 1 or 2 minor failures, within a few seconds… thats it, they lose.

01:11:30

  • What lessons from Homeworld are you using in making Age of Empires 4?

Quinn: Story telling, having a passionate team as opposed to only game design, having the experience of working with Microsoft from back then (Impossible Creatures)

Carolina: Narrative value in the campaign, how you are structuring the missions, how you are telling the story with the use of cinematics. How important it is to create an ambience around what is happening, there is a lot that falls into the the ways how you manage audio and visuals to make it a memorable experience.

01:24:15
Wololo joke haha

01:27:00

  • About complexity and competitivity

Quinn: We want players to get to that strategy in a way that isn’t limited by physical skill (reflexes/APM)

Carolina: With so many games coming out we need to make sure we make players stick to our game for as long as possible, so we want to build games that are complex, interesting and deep for the competitive players and the old community members. But at the same time we have to innovate on how we’re teaching players to play the game, not as in making them so accessible as dumbing them down, but while keeping the game interesting for its established community we need to make them accessible for players who haven’t played RTS games before and make it easier for them too.

Quinn: Yes, communities have a lot different players: competitive players, social players, modders, streamers/casters. You have all of these groups that didn’t really exist when Homeworld was being made. These are new changes in the RTS game world. We kinda have to work with support, there’s a lot there to design for a lot of audiences, to satisfy everybody.

01:37:15

  • How much are you playing Age of Empires 2?

Quinn: A lot! And all of them! We need to figure out as a player how the game works, what you’re interested in, what you can use for inspiration, how they did hings, how we might change things.
What do you change, what do you keep, what do you need to modernise etc.

01:40:45

  • Have you worked on Dawn of War?

Quinn: No, I worked on Homeworld, Impossible Creatures, Company of Heroes 1, Space Marines and Company of Heroes 2.

1 Like

Quinn is a really nice guy, and he cares a lot about the CoH franchise. I’m not sure what he has in store for AoE IV but I’m glad he had nothing to do with DoW…

Thanks not just for finding this, but for typing this all up.

Nice one @IamDalv I feel some relief now. Hopefully they actually do what they are saying.

@IamDalv said:
Relic’s Quinn Duffy (Director for Age of Empires 4) and Carolina (also in Quinn’s team for AOE4) made a stream in October for the 18th anniversary of Homeworld.
While playing Homeworld Remastered they answered community questions and some of them are related directly or indirectly to AOE4. I listened to this on a plane and the quality wasn’t so good, but I put some of them down as best I could also with the timestamps if you want to better listen for yourself.

Video link: https://go.twitch.tv/videos/180165857

00:40:30

  • Will RTS games see a revival like in the 90s when we used to have tons of good RTS games?

Quinn: Yes, I think if you look at strategy right now, and you look at the super popular games, you see MOBA games. There’s millions of people enjoying that simplified strategy games right now.
But i could see a return of the classics, else do you think we would develop Age of Empires 4? So I think there’s a good possibility real strategy games come back.
I think things are cyclical, they improvised enormously in the 90s, and I think Relic is one of the few companies that do these kind of games.

Carolina: Whats interesting is that if you look on forums like Dawn of War’s or Blizzard’s you can see people saying we should go back to the roots of RTS when it was thriving in the 90s. Instead of establishing the genre for what is known, right now it is a genre that struggles to innovate within its own yard.
You have to make sure you only do the right amount of innovation without changing the formula, like you see in these remasters.

Quinn: Yes, and I think we have a very sophisticated audience who expects certain features to be in the games and you want to make sure those expectations are met, but also that you are trying to make them as accessible as possible.
Let’s get people to be exposed to systems, to understand how they work, and have fun using these systems.

00:53:30

  • Do you think the old rock-paper-scissors is better then the current APM based system in strategy games?

Quinn: I think that is the challenge on executing a strategy has become, it is such a focus on micro control. Im definitely from the school of more delibirate strategy where you have time to take a bit of approach to the surrounding land. I like that […] I’m not an APM guy because I’m not an APM player who can find success in that, I go for understanding the tactics and the game.
When you watch people playing some of the APM strategy games, if they make 1 or 2 minor failures, within a few seconds… thats it, they lose.

01:11:30

  • What lessons from Homeworld are you using in making Age of Empires 4?

Quinn: Story telling, having a passionate team as opposed to only game design, having the experience of working with Microsoft from back then (Impossible Creatures)

Carolina: Narrative value in the campaign, how you are structuring the missions, how you are telling the story with the use of cinematics. How important it is to create an ambience around what is happening, there is a lot that falls into the the ways how you manage audio and visuals to make it a memorable experience.

01:24:15
Wololo joke haha

01:27:00

  • About complexity and competitivity

Quinn: We want players to get to that strategy in a way that isn’t limited by physical skill (reflexes/APM)

Carolina: With so many games coming out we need to make sure we make players stick to our game for as long as possible, so we want to build games that are complex, interesting and deep for the competitive players and the old community members. But at the same time we have to innovate on how we’re teaching players to play the game, not as in making them so accessible as dumbing them down, but while keeping the game interesting for its established community we need to make them accessible for players who haven’t played RTS games before and make it easier for them too.

Quinn: Yes, communities have a lot different players: competitive players, social players, modders, streamers/casters. You have all of these groups that didn’t really exist when Homeworld was being made. These are new changes in the RTS game world. We kinda have to work with support, there’s a lot there to design for a lot of audiences, to satisfy everybody.

01:37:15

  • How much are you playing Age of Empires 2?

Quinn: A lot! And all of them! We need to figure out as a player how the game works, what you’re interested in, what you can use for inspiration, how they did hings, how we might change things.
What do you change, what do you keep, what do you need to modernise etc.

01:40:45

  • Have you worked on Dawn of War?

Quinn: No, I worked on Homeworld, Impossible Creatures, Company of Heroes 1, Space Marines and Company of Heroes 2.

Hey man tanks a lot for the info. Thinking about story line campaign, missions and cinematic I’m pretty sure that aoe4 will come back in the ancient times.

I am very pleased to see our new Insightful button getting some early use.

Twitchy gameplay and the significance of mechanical skill are two very separate design topics to address - the fact that this distinction is not made has me rather worried.

It’s more than obvious that the point of APM-heavy reference is SC2 - a game where it’s possible to lose an entire army that you spent 10 minutes building, while you look away to do some macro. This is the case due to the massive amount of sudden, barely telegraphed splash damage accessible to all 3 races combined with the otherwise also super-fast paced combat.

Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology (before The Titans!) are both APM-heavy games. They reward mechanical skills by making the core game mechanics heavily rely on them, including, but not limited to:

  • Optimizing villager gathering distances and distribution
  • Building new and more optimal drop-offs as a macro-mechanic
  • Manually queued unit training
  • Units auto-attack whatever is closest rather than smart-targeting (e.g. letting archers attack a siege tower is a waste of DPS)
  • Fast units can dodge projectiles through a track-rating mechanic
  • Multitasking in various locations with raiding units
  • etc

These are some of the purest forms of RTS skill there are. ES made a critical error by replacing these with:

  • Repeat-queue in AoM: The Titans
  • Atlantean Citizens in AoM: The Titans, which was carried over to AoE III - resources went straight to the bank without needing a drop-off
  • Additive unit training in AoE III - an obviously exploitable system (nearly finish production of 1 unit, and queue 4 on top of it, drastically reducing macro cycles required)

I seriously hope that the design teams understand the distinction between the feel-bad “my army blew up in 2 seconds”, and traditional, fundamental RTS skills.

Having the usual AoE volatility (read: very low) while allowing RTS fundamentals to be exercised is a great move. Making an RTS slow and trivialising fundamentals on the other hand is the downfall of the genre, as the failed products of the last decade have proven. On the opposite of the spectrum, we have SC 2 however, sporting apparently ~2 million users per month.

+1 to naka, keep the fundamentals of age of mythology and some of aoe2. of course quality of life changes are fine. but dropoff points should be in the game. and armies shoulndt be as big and cluttered as in aoeo. (mass archer or camel balls basically)

and please no squad mechenics

@Nakamura0114 said:
Twitchy gameplay and the significance of mechanical skill are two very separate design topics to address - the fact that this distinction is not made has me rather worried.

It’s more than obvious that the point of APM-heavy reference is SC2 - a game where it’s possible to lose an entire army that you spent 10 minutes building, while you look away to do some macro. This is the case due to the massive amount of sudden, barely telegraphed splash damage accessible to all 3 races combined with the otherwise also super-fast paced combat.

Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology (before The Titans!) are both APM-heavy games. They reward mechanical skills by making the core game mechanics heavily rely on them, including, but not limited to:

  • Optimizing villager gathering distances and distribution
  • Building new and more optimal drop-offs as a macro-mechanic
  • Manually queued unit training
  • Units auto-attack whatever is closest rather than smart-targeting (e.g. letting archers attack a siege tower is a waste of DPS)
  • Fast units can dodge projectiles through a track-rating mechanic
  • Multitasking in various locations with raiding units
  • etc

These are some of the purest forms of RTS skill there are. ES made a critical error by replacing these with:

  • Repeat-queue in AoM: The Titans
  • Atlantean Citizens in AoM: The Titans, which was carried over to AoE III - resources went straight to the bank without needing a drop-off
  • Additive unit training in AoE III - an obviously exploitable system (nearly finish production of 1 unit, and queue 4 on top of it, drastically reducing macro cycles required)

I seriously hope that the design teams understand the distinction between the feel-bad “my army blew up in 2 seconds”, and traditional, fundamental RTS skills.

Having the usual AoE volatility (read: very low) while allowing RTS fundamentals to be exercised is a great move. Making an RTS slow and trivialising fundamentals on the other hand is the downfall of the genre, as the failed products of the last decade have proven. On the opposite of the spectrum, we have SC 2 however, sporting apparently ~2 million users per month.

Im afraid I dont realy see the clear distintion between twitch gameplay and APM myself, since it basically means to have fast reactions -> ability to have high APM, so isnt that the same thing?

And I agree with your analysis, but I would say AOE still favors strategy over reaction. Even AOE2 which I agree is APM heavy, you cant say it’s as dependent as SC on high APM alone.

@IamDalv said:

@Nakamura0114 said:
Twitchy gameplay and the significance of mechanical skill are two very separate design topics to address - the fact that this distinction is not made has me rather worried.

It’s more than obvious that the point of APM-heavy reference is SC2 - a game where it’s possible to lose an entire army that you spent 10 minutes building, while you look away to do some macro. This is the case due to the massive amount of sudden, barely telegraphed splash damage accessible to all 3 races combined with the otherwise also super-fast paced combat.

Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology (before The Titans!) are both APM-heavy games. They reward mechanical skills by making the core game mechanics heavily rely on them, including, but not limited to:

  • Optimizing villager gathering distances and distribution
  • Building new and more optimal drop-offs as a macro-mechanic
  • Manually queued unit training
  • Units auto-attack whatever is closest rather than smart-targeting (e.g. letting archers attack a siege tower is a waste of DPS)
  • Fast units can dodge projectiles through a track-rating mechanic
  • Multitasking in various locations with raiding units
  • etc

These are some of the purest forms of RTS skill there are. ES made a critical error by replacing these with:

  • Repeat-queue in AoM: The Titans
  • Atlantean Citizens in AoM: The Titans, which was carried over to AoE III - resources went straight to the bank without needing a drop-off
  • Additive unit training in AoE III - an obviously exploitable system (nearly finish production of 1 unit, and queue 4 on top of it, drastically reducing macro cycles required)

I seriously hope that the design teams understand the distinction between the feel-bad “my army blew up in 2 seconds”, and traditional, fundamental RTS skills.

Having the usual AoE volatility (read: very low) while allowing RTS fundamentals to be exercised is a great move. Making an RTS slow and trivialising fundamentals on the other hand is the downfall of the genre, as the failed products of the last decade have proven. On the opposite of the spectrum, we have SC 2 however, sporting apparently ~2 million users per month.

Im afraid I dont realy see the clear distintion between twitch gameplay and APM myself, since it basically means to have fast reactions -> ability to have high APM, so isnt that the same thing?

And I agree with your analysis, but I would say AOE still favors strategy over reaction. Even AOE2 which I agree is APM heavy, you cant say it’s as dependent as SC on high APM alone.

You need a decent APM to play AoE3 at a high level, since unit control is predominant over strategy. AoE2 is arguably isn’t that APM heavy, however at a medium level a relatively low APM of around 60-70 is perfectly fine in AoE3.

@IamDalv said:

@Nakamura0114 said:
Twitchy gameplay and the significance of mechanical skill are two very separate design topics to address - the fact that this distinction is not made has me rather worried.

It’s more than obvious that the point of APM-heavy reference is SC2 - a game where it’s possible to lose an entire army that you spent 10 minutes building, while you look away to do some macro. This is the case due to the massive amount of sudden, barely telegraphed splash damage accessible to all 3 races combined with the otherwise also super-fast paced combat.

Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology (before The Titans!) are both APM-heavy games. They reward mechanical skills by making the core game mechanics heavily rely on them, including, but not limited to:

  • Optimizing villager gathering distances and distribution
  • Building new and more optimal drop-offs as a macro-mechanic
  • Manually queued unit training
  • Units auto-attack whatever is closest rather than smart-targeting (e.g. letting archers attack a siege tower is a waste of DPS)
  • Fast units can dodge projectiles through a track-rating mechanic
  • Multitasking in various locations with raiding units
  • etc

These are some of the purest forms of RTS skill there are. ES made a critical error by replacing these with:

  • Repeat-queue in AoM: The Titans
  • Atlantean Citizens in AoM: The Titans, which was carried over to AoE III - resources went straight to the bank without needing a drop-off
  • Additive unit training in AoE III - an obviously exploitable system (nearly finish production of 1 unit, and queue 4 on top of it, drastically reducing macro cycles required)

I seriously hope that the design teams understand the distinction between the feel-bad “my army blew up in 2 seconds”, and traditional, fundamental RTS skills.

Having the usual AoE volatility (read: very low) while allowing RTS fundamentals to be exercised is a great move. Making an RTS slow and trivialising fundamentals on the other hand is the downfall of the genre, as the failed products of the last decade have proven. On the opposite of the spectrum, we have SC 2 however, sporting apparently ~2 million users per month.

Im afraid I dont realy see the clear distintion between twitch gameplay and APM myself, since it basically means to have fast reactions -> ability to have high APM, so isnt that the same thing?

And I agree with your analysis, but I would say AOE still favors strategy over reaction. Even AOE2 which I agree is APM heavy, you cant say it’s as dependent as SC on high APM alone.

Twitchy gameplay in this instance would relate to cases where a single occurence can result in the loss of a game - imagine a nuke landing on your army without relevant warning.

Non-twitchy, but APM-rich gameplay would be a game where you have a lot to do to manage your base, economy, army, scouting and map vision (aka RTS fundemantals). Someone with a higher APM would be capable of rapidly jumping back and forth between these tasks, over time establishing a significant incremental lead over someone with lesser mechanical ability.

Make sense?

— sorry double post, feel free to remove

Skilled execution of your strategy is important for almost every other genre of video game; I don’t understand why it seems to get so much shade in RTS. Real Time Strategy. Automated strategy is a different sort of game.