Creative choices that baffle me

In this particular case we do have evidence. At least one of the pros said the devs were very aware of the boar feedback in the discord they use together.


Besides the original StarCraft and the very specific culture around “internet cafes” there at the time which made that game explode competitively, was there any intention of AoE 1 or AoE 2 (all 90’s children) to become competitive besides local LAN matches? I mean, was there any quote from the creators or Ensemble saying that was the intention? Where there tournaments in the late 90’s/early 00’s?

I genuinely ask because I don’t know. As a much younger person (teenager) I don’t recall any of that. With terrible latency and bandwidth the focus of most 90’s RTSs was the campaigns and skirmishes against the AI with multiplayer being relegated to the aforementioned LAN parties.

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Well Microsoft did sponsor a $100,000 AoE2 tournament in 2001.

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Interesting… here’s the details and results for anyone interested: International Tournament 2001 - Liquipedia Age of Empires Wiki

Lack of access to the relevant TV channels, no Twitch or YouTube or anything like that made knowing that impossible for me back then.

all aoe’s of old had their tourneys, but it is true that the games didn’t depend on them to survive like aoe4 seems to, also aoe’s of old all had stuff like AI scripting contests etc. thats the kind of thing that needs to start happening with aoe4

The popularity of custom matches suggests that Age IV doesn’t depend on ranked / competitive play.

I definitely think (and have repeatedly said) the game needs to focus on PvE / more casual players, as well as further enabling modders to do their thing, but I do think we need to stop with the division between pros and casual players (see @CRothlisberger’s post further up).

This franchise is an institution. Institutions develop institutional knowledge that needs to be preserved and passed on into future work. Where, as here, an institution has experienced a total replacement of its entire leadership (from the closing of Ensemble Studios to the various heads we’ve seen in the intervening years), institutional knowledge is lost, at least on the inside of the development team — we players have been the de facto stewards of institutional knowledge here for years.

To preserve and pass on institutional knowledge — from UI to varied Gaia, from complex civ design to popular maps and game modes — this franchise needs to redouble its efforts to study itself and know itself so future games feel natural extensions of the institution. This franchise needs an archivist.

The best thing the franchise has done in recent years (other than hire FE to steward its legacy titles) is to create a council of players to inform the devs of their blind spots. But I don’t believe they realized the scope of those blind spots until aoe4 was beyond the franchise’s grasp. I am optimistic those in charge now realize the deep importance of so many details of this institution.


You’re a refreshing voice of reason, as always.

Just thinking out loud here, but maybe losing that past knowledge was a blessing in disguise? Instead, what Relic was tasked to do was trying to redo all those past conventions as closely as possible (same 4 resources, gather points, town centers, villagers, same buildings, etc.) so we ended up with something that was lesser than what was already so mature around the AoE 3 era.

Since I like cars I like to make analogies to the car world. If you’re developing a new sports car you have two choices:

  • You either go the Porsche 911 way and iterate on the original design, making small improvements here and there to a proven formula. You can then easily trace back all those improvements to the original (the Civilization series is a good example in the gaming industry of this approach).
  • Or you start from scratch like Honda did with the NSX, you make it a hybrid, you remove all traces of the original design but you keep the name and hope people like it.

The latter is of course riskier but more rewarding if done right. That’s basically what Age of Mythology did with its groundbreaking 3D engine, straying away from historical accuracy, god powers, etc. More recently, Flight Simulator 2020 did it too, also coming from a long hiatus of no games released, also a Microsoft product and also with a pretty hard-to-please, diehard audience. I gave FS2020 a hard time at first, but Asobo has come through and the sim is now not only one of the most advanced, realistic and visually impressive games around, it’s also stable, moddable and getting consistent free content. The community was very afraid of the move to Xbox watering down the seriousness of the simulation part, but Asobo was able not only to make the move transparently, they also reduced resource usage to fit the Xbox specs and us PC users also benefited, how amazing is that?

As for AoE4, I see good indications that Microsoft and Relic are moving in the right way, but not at a pace or consistency that I saw with FS2020. The magical biome is another bad indication of a scattered focus.

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This game suffers from oversimplification, and that word doesn’t fit pc gaming, may be consoles.

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Especially in an RTS…

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Just look at coh3, the game has a lot of issues but it’s multiplayer is healthy, there is no ranked, no observers no replays yet, but people are having fun, no focus on eSports as it should be, first start with the core audience then over time you can go with eSports not forcing it.


I see no blessing in disguise.

Had they played the other games in the franchise and discovered the bazillion ways the other games have moved beyond AoE2, perhaps AoE4 wouldn’t have felt so stale in the ways you mention.

However, I have studied the franchise and I absolutely would stand behind using the same four resources (which appeared in three of the original five games – AoE1, AoE2, and AoEO). Stone is replaced by Favor in AoM and sort of by XP in AoE3.

Meanwhile, though, their rote adherence to AoE2’s buildings, units, techs, and backwards civ design was one of the most heartbreaking decisions they made.

I agree that AoE4 plays like a peculiar rehashing of AoE2. Like if AoE2 was the only game in the franchise and someone who didn’t really play it much was asked to make a new version of it.


their creative squad did work on boulder bay 2 seasons back, made it really boring. I enjoyed the original a lot more. All they had to do was have boulder bay1 and boulderbay2 if they really wanted changes and people can simply choose which they prefer to play.

but no… better salvage a decent map and maintain a boring map pool.

I’m dubious of the amount of impact the Council really had on the direction AoEIV took. Well, besides an AoE outsider suggesting ranged units should just keep firing while a melee unit is all up in their grill for the sake of readability. I’ve never seen readability become such a talking point as I have with this game. I digress.

When I first heard about this council thing the mistrustful cynic in me saw a ploy to garner player trust after such a long absence and new studio taking the reigns than actually gathering feedback. It was a PR move first and foremost. If feedback was really important to Relic/World’s Edge then why didn’t the game release in early access?

You take a bunch esport players that have no real history with AoE and think they’re going to provide insightful suggestions for an AoE game? really? And yes I’m aware there were casual and AoE lifers as well but that isn’t the point I’m making here.

I don’t blame the Council at all so please don’t take this personally (you of all people) I’m a results kinda guy and while I wasn’t part of the all-mighty few I think back on the product upon release I am completely befuddled. I can’t fathom anyone asking about color picker, random civ select, flora and fauna, static animals, etc. Either the feedback wasn’t valued or the council was made up primarily of people that didn’t care about that stuff or Relic/WE had its own vision and wasn’t going to deviate from it…or time/budget constraints…whatever.

Idealistically, the council is something that may look good on paper but for whatever reason, in this case, it didn’t achieve what it was there to sell us on other than generating hype and hype is a powerful marketing strategy to sell games, even those that end up being subpar.

Again, I don’t blame the people that took part in this but I do look with great suspicion at those that make the decisions. Results, not emotionality.


This is why I asked earlier about CoH 3 (I think it was in this thread). The community Council there obviously had an impact on the game (as did explicit pre-release feedback from the wider community).

If we go solely on results, did that work?

There’s a weirdly big focus on the Council here in Age IV, for whatever reason. I’m not blaming you! It’s a very common and often-repeating line of discussion. But I keep coming back to the same conclusion (regardless of being on it or not).

It’s kinda irrelevant? The buck rests with Relic (and World’s Edge). Moreso when nobody on the Council can talk about it. People can be on the Council, and like the game. People can not be on it, and like the game. People can be on it, and be very critical of how the game came out. And vice versa. And so on, and so on. It’s all valid.

tl;dr: CoH 3 had more revisions to the game based on community feedback, and it came out (at launch) as worse (by public opinion). What lessons should Relic take away from that?

Certainly it’s not that simple.
People complained about COH3’s textures and colors in the testing phase. They say they improved it according to the feedbacks, but it still does not seem to satisfy some.
COH has a group of smaller but more dedicated fans. Not as big as AOE. Not to mention a lot more people only heard of AOE or played it without learning much about it.
The lackluster functions and obvious unfinished parts (eg some units have poorer animations) is more of a project management thing than a community feedback.
I’d even assume WW2 diehards may have a higher standard of realism for WW2 games because it’s a period where we are more familiar with and most of the games try to conform to that (not many people would complain about the overuse of ornate golden plate armour, or oversized two-handed warhammer in medieval games). When people talk about WW2 games they picture FPS where realism is very important for most of the games, or extremely hardcore strategy simulators. I haven’t seen a successful, cartoony or heavily fantasized WW2 game (BF5 and COD vanguard was bashed hard).
These are all factors contributing to its “poorer” reviews (for now).

AOE4 has been out for more than a year. Those who dislike the graphics or style had left long ago besides a few who still want some improvement.
There were fierce arguments about the graphics between the last few trailers and the release.
I’d also say AOE4 does one thing right: it succeeds in attracting the aforementioned group of players who only heard about this “reputable” series (mostly AOE2 though) but never played it with any depth. So when they see a “more polished and diverse AOE2” “with great campaign documentaries”, it meets their expectations.
A lot of other series tried to appeal to the “wider audience” and failed hard.


Me too. And I agree that the people being asked questions will always affect the answers. Someone who has never played anything but AoE2 and plays AoE2 exclusively at a competitive level or plays the game as a paid content creator will absolutely care about very different things than someone who has played every Age game for 20 years but strictly noncompetitively and from a place of love for the confluence of history and video games.

I was not exactly surrounded by lots of similar people, though ofc we all had the same franchise in common.

Similarly, it can be very difficult to deliver hard truths to super kind, caring people who have chosen you out of the crowd to deign a worthy representative of millions of players. It is tough to tell a game off without telling the developers off, too. It takes a lot of very carefully phrased sentences and is still very unlikely you can do so without pissing them off.

But yet it is still groundbreaking and praiseworthy for a video game franchise to have enough self-awareness that it, itself, does not understand itself as much as its playerbase to even have a council. I can only imagine creating such a thing took a lot of heavy lifting behind closed doors. And for that, this franchise will always have my respect and deserved optimism for the future. Anyone who already knows they need help would be receptive to even more help than they may have first realized.


this right here is something all AAA games (especially likes of Halo) should take a note on, smt aoe4 absolutely did right is, they made the game for the audience that they were aware of (proven by success of DEs), and in terms of reviews and initial reaction, it worked, yes post launch is currently in wrong direction, but i wouldn’t call it unsolvable by any means

Not many series have AOE’s nostalgia and reputation though. That’s a huge advantage (unfortunately there are some series who do not even know how to make use of it). Whether people have played it a lot is not important, as long as many have heard good things about it (mostly only AOE2).
For one who has played AOM or AOE3 extensively, AOE4 offers few new experience. However that is not the majority. Many people did not even know these game existed, or only heard of them “being very different from AOE2”.
I don’t think the influx players would be as tolerant to AOE5, because they have re-established the “standard” or baseline of what the game should be like.

I am actually beginning to personally believe that in a business perspective, there isn’t so much reason for them to spend resources on aoe4. Probably have a small low expenses team that does non-breaking stuff like cosmetics / balance changes. Once you bag the $50, there isn’t so much left to do. You’d then have the core coders work on other stuff. CoH3 is $60 I believe?

You don’t need to analyze too much to notice what’s actually passionate work. Nowadays I prefer the free model and also people seem to spend more on aesthetics. You surely need a reliable platform and a larger squad to handle masses though. From a business perspective again, what they have done to this game makes sense, and it’s less maintenance if you only have to manage fewer servers.

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