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Interview with Greg T. Street, Lead Designer: Microsoft Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion

ActiveWin: What are some of the features that Microsoft Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion Pack improves over the original version? How do you think this will add to the overall experience of playing AOE II?

Greg T. Street: We have three categories of new features: those that reduce micromanagement (such as the smart villagers), those that address play balance (such as improved siege weapons), and those that bring something entirely new to the game (such as the new civilizations and campaigns). I don't think it is an understatement to say that the Age of Kings expansion probably has double the content of the Rise of Rome expansion. It is almost impossible to play a game of the Conquerors and not notice something that wasn't present in Age of Kings, whether it is the new terrain, new icons on the user interface, or the updated graphics on the in-game tech tree.

ActiveWin: What are some of the more interesting technologies that have been added? Are they available to everyone or are they unique to a civilization?

Greg T. Street: Caravan is an upgrade that increases the production of gold by all trade units. Because strong trade routes can really make the difference in larger games, we gave this technology to all 18 civilizations. Heresy is designed to help players survive huge Monk attacks--it makes your units die rather than be converted. You still lose the unit, but at least your enemy doesn't get it from you. In addition, each civilization has a Unique Technology that only their civilization can research. For example, Persian Mahouts make their War Elephants move faster. Japanese Kataparuto makes their Trebuchets pack, unpack and fire faster.

ActiveWin: How long was the Expansion pack in development? Did you overcome at setbacks or set any milestones?

Greg T. Street: We started the Conquerors Expansion as soon as Age of Kings was released to market, so it took us about 8 months to complete. The project went very smoothly, though we did need to redo the palette in order to have enough white colors available for the snow terrains.

ActiveWin: Age of Empires II is currently one of the best selling games on the market, do you think the expansion pack will add to that success?

Greg T. Street: Absolutely. As with any Real Time Strategy game, there were some unit and civilization balance issues that developed after months of online play. An expansion gave us a great time to address some of the issues by adding new units and technologies, rather than just overhaul the system. For example, Cavalry Archers turned out to be a little weak in AOK. In the expansion, we added three new technologies, Bloodlines, Thumb Ring and Parthian Shot, that benefit Cav Archers. We believe that any fan of Age of Kings won't feel at peace until they have updated their game with the enhancements that the Conquerors Expansion brings.

ActiveWin: How do the villagers work smarter?

Greg T. Street:  If you instruct the villagers to build a gathering site, like a Mining Camp, they will then start working at the appropriate resource without your having to go back to the completed site and re-task them. Villagers assigned to the same farm will spread out and work on any available farm. Villagers instructed to build a wall will move to opposite ends of the wall and work their way towards the middle.

ActiveWin: Have any cheats been changed, removed or added to the Expansion Pack? If so, can you give us some details?

Greg T. Street: We added a few new cheats based on the families of the ES staff. Furious the Monkey Boy is lead artist Duncan McKissick's son. Stormy the Wonder Dog is programmer Matt Prichard's pooch. All of the original AOK cheats are still available.

ActiveWin: How do the units garrison into the different war Rams? What are the limits as to what the different rams can store?

Greg T. Street: Archers and infantry can garrison in rams similar to the way they load Transport Ships. Only infantry affect the ram's combat ability, by making the ram move faster and do more damage. Battering and Capped Rams can hold 4 units. Siege Rams can hold 6. The type of infantry does not matter--you can get the same effect by loading Spearmen or Teutonic Knights in a ram. Because some infantry move slowly, rams also act as armored personnel carriers, getting your soldiers into battle. They can hop out to defend rams as well.

ActiveWin: Do you have anything to add?

Greg T. Street: There are so many features in the Conquerors Expansion that it has been difficult to discuss them all. For example, there is now an ability to produce screenshots of the entire map and the ability to set chapters in recorded games. Obviously, these two features work great together. We also added some minor tweaks to the interface that are so addictive that it is hard to go back to AOK without them. These include chats displayed in the color of the player who sent them, and a progress bar to tell you when you are advancing to a new age. I think the proof that the game just works is the fact that even after play testing Age of Kings and the Conquerors expansion for well over a year, we have no trouble getting volunteers for pick-up games around the office!


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