On Ensemble Studios

On Ensemble Studios

I remember it well. It was the fall of 1997. I heard about this game demo from Microsoft for download. “Age of Empires.” I liked the title. I was curious, and download the demo I did.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t like the demo a whole lot. I’d never played a real-time strategy game before, so I didn’t understand that things were happening all the time. It was confusing to me. The graphics were great, though, and it was interesting. I bought the game a few months later, after it had been out for a while, and played it. Not extensively, but play it I did.

A few years later, the fall of 1999, the sequel came out — Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings.

I’d started working for EB Games by that time. We couldn’t keep the game in stock.

I loved playing AoE2. I never had a favorite civilization; I think I’ve played pretty much all of them. I liked the Vikings. I loved the Celts. The Byzantines were fun. And the Persians, with their War Elephants. Thinking back, I doubt I’ve played the Teutons or the Goths. I enjoyed The Conquerers expansion, too.

There was one game I played that lasted a good five hours. I decided I wasn’t content with a military victory — I wanted to go for the “Collect the Relics” victory. That meant capturing the five Relics, and holding them in a monastery. To get two of the relics, though, I had to lay siege to an opponent’s town, as he held two of the relics in his own monastery. He had built walls around his town, had guard towers stationed just inside his walls. I built walls of my own around his walls, and then used trebuchets to take down his guard towers and walls. As I destroyed part of his wall, I would sent villagers inside my walls, to build a new wall closer to the enemy’s Town Center. In this manner, I proceeded closer and closer to the enemy’s monastery — and the relics. It was a methodical attack. The strategy ultimately worked, but it took at least three hours of hard-fought siege warfare to achieve my goal.

And then — Age of Empires III.

Oh, there was another game in-between. Age of Mythology. I have that, the Collector’s Edition, even. Never even installed it.

But AoE3.

Have I ever enjoyed a game more? It doesn’t seem possible… 🙂

Some of my military memoirs should be required reading at war colleges.

I cannot tell you how much I love this game. It is simply stunning. The art design was fantastic. The gameplay was intuitive. It was just… fun.

There have been two expansions. The WarChiefs and The Asian Dynasties. I’ve bought the former, haven’t bought the latter.

I bring all this up, because these games were produced by Ensemble Studios.

And Microsoft has decided that, after the release of Halo Wars for the Xbox 360, Ensemble Studios will be no more.

This is a sad day for gaming.

I’ll have to raise a glass.

I’ll still have Age of Empires, in all of its guises, to play, but that is tempered by the knowledge that the Age of Empires series will be no more. I’ve long wished for a remake of the original, using the Age of Empires III engine, and I’ve wondered what Ensemble would have done with the World War II-era Age of Empires IV that the AOE3 Collector’s Edition promised.

Farewell, Ensemble Studios. I loved your games. They made me happy.

Signed,
AoE Junkie

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