Dallas-based Ensemble Studios is responsible for one of the most popular real-time strategy franchises in recent years. The company's Age of Empires games reinvigorated a genre stagnant with sci-fi and fantasy-themed clones. Its latest games, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings and its expansion pack, The Conquerors, have made it clear that Ensemble is one of the best strategy-game developers around. It's also become clear that these games have garnered numerous loyal fans, who are eagerly awaiting Ensemble's next game. As part of GameSpot Live's Behind the Scenes: Ensemble Studios feature, we sat down with Tony Goodman, the company's CEO, to talk in depth about his company's current project, a 3D strategy game currently code-named RTSIII.
GameSpot: Tony, how long has Ensemble's latest project been in development?
Tony Goodman: We began working on the 3D engine for RTSIII at the same time we started Age of Empires II.
GS: And this project is indeed a real-time strategy game that follows a similar gameplay formula to the previous games in your Age of Empires series?
TG: We have incorporated all the best aspects from our previous games with many new and exciting concepts including a fresh and exciting topic.
GS: Have you been in negotiations with companies other than Microsoft to publish this game?
TG: I can't talk about that stuff at this time.
GS: Hypothetically speaking, if Microsoft were to publish this game, would it fall under the Age of Empires franchise?
TG: I'm not in the position to determine that. But RTSIII is a very "Age-like" game.
GS: Conversely, if you chose a publisher other than Microsoft, would this RTS then be the first in a brand-new series?
TG: Of course, hypothetically.
GS: Let's assume that this game doesn't end up being Age of Empires III. Will Ensemble fans still recognize and be pleased with its design, interface, and general gameplay?
TG: RTSIII is a game that Ensemble fans and Age of Empires fans will very much recognize.
GS: RTSIII is completely 3D, yet one of the most appealing aspects of the Age of Empires series is its ability to draw massive armies onscreen at once without having the game's performance suffer. Obviously, that's much harder to do with 3D units. How have the programmers at Ensemble addressed this problem with your latest project?
TG: Ensemble Studios has been working on BANG!, our own proprietary engine technology, for over three years, to address just this problem. We actually began development on the BANG! engine at the same time we began development on Age of Empires II.
GS: Is the game based on historical events, or does it draw its influence from fantasy or sci-fi themes?
TG: I can't say what the theme is yet, but I can say that both history fanatics and fantasy fanatics will be very excited about RTSIII.
GS: Does RTSIII still focus on a specific period of time like the earlier Age of Empires games, or will it encompass a broader span of time?
TG: Ensemble Studios' philosophy is to choose one single epic topic (such as Ancients or Medieval) and do the best game that has ever been done about that topic.
GS: How many playable factions will the game feature?
TG: There will be multiple factions in RTSIII, but even more important is the fact that these factions will have a much more distinct look, play, and feel than in previous Age of Empires games.
GS: Your brother, Stainless Steel's Rick Goodman, is working on his own ambitious real-time strategy game. In what key aspects does Ensemble's game differ from Empire Earth?
TG: Based on what I have read, Empire Earth will cover all of history plus the future. I can't wait to play it. RTSIII on the other hand will focus on a single epic theme.
GS: When will development on this game be completed at Ensemble?
TG: RTSIII is an extraordinary game and already loads of fun to play. We are going to let it ripen like fruit on a tree until it's so plump and juicy...you get the picture.
GS: Do you plan on showing it at this year's E3?
TG: I'd like nothing better.
GS: Thanks a lot for your time, Tony.