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Three Moves Ahead Episode 132 – Age of Level-Grinding Empires

September 1st, 2011 by Rob Zacny · 7 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Soren Johnson and Tom Chick join Rob for a discussion of Age of Empires Online. Tom opens by short-listing the game for “worst RTS ever made” and it’s rough-sailing from there. Soren marvels at the disastrous interface, while Rob wants to napalm those cutesy Smurf villages. Then the panel talks about how AoEO could be redeemed, and finds there are some simple changes that could make AoEO a very good game.

Tom’s GameSpy review

Rob’s GamePro impressions and additional notes

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • HomiSite

    As a Facebook game it’s probably not in the same league as AoEO, but Empire & Allies got some fame for the most “hardcore” Zynga game yet. And it was made by Command & Conquer developers.

  • kenny b

    I played AoEO for an evening after listening to the podcast, I wouldn’t rate it quite so lowly unless you are a huge AoE or RTS fan, and thus are disappointed with having to grind towards getting a very run-of-the-mill set of AoE units. It feels mildly enjoyable in that I get to make dudes and move them around and make them kill other dudes while having a bar grow in size and virtual baubles fill up my inventory (which you point out I could be doing elsewhere), but then I realize I am not really encountering any kind of challenge hours into the game.

    However, if I think of it as a Facebook game, a mass-market entry into the RTS genre, things make a lot more sense. If I have no clue how an RTS works, much less how games in general work, the snails pace seems a lot more fitting. Having very few unit choices in the beginning makes more sense if you don’t really know how to use any of them and are just coming to grips with things like moving dudes around to attack things, or making sure you have made enough dudes. Worrying about what dudes to make to counter those other dudes over there is beyond your ken at this point. On a similar note, you probably won’t have the skills needed to get a tight economy to support an army needed to take on a challenging enemy. In that respect I actually think the AoE economy is a bad fit, in that it is a bit micro-intensive, but perhaps not quite so bad because it’s so literal. The grind doesn’t feel as bad as you mention — but don’t listen to me, I work on MMORPGs so I have a very thick skin for grinding.

    So I can understand what the game is trying to do, it’s trying to be an intro to RTSes, if you were wanting Age of Empires IV: the MMORTS then you’re going to be disappointed.

  • limper

    Great episode! Well, i want to like AoEO but this grind is not for me (and i do play a really grindy asia mmo). It just would take too much time until i could really enjoy it but lets hope for future changes for the better or End of Nations maybe. I pesonally really really liked Company of Heroes Online but that sadly got cancelled.

  • Tom Chick

    Kenny, it seems to me like Soren had a similar perspective on the podcast in terms of Age Online being a good game for how it slowly introduces new or casual players to the concepts of an RTS.

    But the counterpoint I’d offer — I’m pretty sure I tried to make this point on the podcast, but I may not have been successful — is that RTSs already do this. You can pick up almost any RTS and you’ll find a campaign mode that gradually trundles out new units and concepts over the course of the first several missions. How many RTSs do you play that start by explaining the concept of drag selecting? And not just RTSs. That’s how videogames work these days.

    The difference is how Age Online draws this process out over literally dozens of hours, repeatedly putting players through the same limited scenarios with the same limited collection of units doing the same limited actions. To my mind, that’s going to be as dull and uninteresting to casual players as it’s going to be frustrating to experienced players.

  • Josh (preciousgollum)

    I predict that trends and game-related phenomenon will reduce such games to mostly a ‘fad’ status rather than something actually more meaningful.

    I just so happened to be browsing the GFWL marketplace when I noticed that a booster pack for the Greeks costs £19.99 (about the price of a full PC game) and that it is displayed in a way that would make the average person believe that they were buying a full game called “Age of Empires Online” instead of just purchasing a game that was ALREADY FREE!.

    The ‘average person’, supposedly the target audience, would have to go through a process of linking their game content to a free-account etc and finding out how to actually play the game, given that they have only purchased extra content and not the actual installer,such a process does not strike me as being an easy way to introduce casual gamers, rather, it seems a bit vague and convoluted. Complicated distribution methods and pricing methods require ‘savy’ on behalf of the customer if they are to reap the full advantage.

    I do think that a significant chunk of the potential success of such FTP titles, unless there is an exception, will rely on the ignorance of the customer who, if many recent designers are to be believed, may not even get a game to work but instead declare either the product or their machine to be ‘broken’ and leave it at that.

    As is the case with many hobbies, casual gamers probably do need a bit of help with getting into gaming (after all, couldn’t hurt) and designers can use this concept in order to positively aid in the development of their game or, more alarmingly, developers and publishers could use their knowledge of their own industry as a tool or exploitation from a traditional ‘business-like’ perspective, as per the earlier scenario of purchasing a game and not reaping the benefits.

    As a closing note, Company of Heroes Online was most likely pulled when the publishers realised that a customer could get the full Company of Heroes experience, comprising of campaigns, expansions and full-multiplayer, for about £6 / $8 by buying the original game online. Basically, the only thing that will shift a new COH is a fully-fledged sequel, although, I am still enjoying the first COH and have yet to fullyexplore its multiplayer.

  • Josh (preciousgollum)

    To conclude my earlier point, I don’t think these games will last and I am beginning to wonder if they are even designed to last in the first-place; staying-power requires a sense of lasting appeal.

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