Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne Q&A

We sit down with project lead Lennart Sans to talk about the sequel to Age of Wonders.

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Released in late 1999, Triumph Studios' Age of Wonders was met with critical success for the game's ability to blend many elements of traditional gameplay into a cohesive and well-executed turn-based strategy game. Triumph, along with some creative input from Pop Top Software, is now working on the sequel to this fantasy-themed strategy game, which will include aspects of role-playing and empire management, as well as a robust multiplayer component that will let players face off against each other in a number of different modes. We recently had the chance to sit down with Triumph's Lennart Sans, project lead on Age of Wonders II: The Wizard's Throne, to discuss details about this upcoming game.

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GameSpot: What's the biggest difference between Age of Wonders II and its predecessor? What will fans of the original enjoy most about the sequel?

Lennart Sas: Age of Wonders II will not be a simple evolutionary sequel with just a beefed-up graphics engine and some new content. We are building a brand new world on top of the Age of Wonders foundation, which basically is a fantasy war game. Enhanced empire building and role-playing features will offer more turn-to-turn excitement, with players getting to experience being an overlord in a fantasy world much more intensely and getting to shape their empire as they like.

GS: Are all the factions from the original game back in Age of Wonders II? How have they changed since the previous game?

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LS: Most of the races will return, but their production lists are set up differently because the new sites have multiple build paths. This time, all of a race's units will really be part of the race--the more magical creatures will be summoned by your wizard.

GS: Are there any new factions in Age of Wonders II? Can you describe them?

LS: There will be new races, but the "factions" will work differently. Players are no longer tied to a single race at the start, but they can choose whatever population suits them best, of course keeping in mind racial relations (mixing Halflings and Undead will have volatile results!).

One of the new races is the Draconians, a race of magically created humanoids. The various Draconian units have different dragonlike skills; some have well-developed wings and can fly, while others breathe fire or are skilled in magic.

GS: The original Age of Wonders lets you build your characters and choose from a wide variety of different skills. Are there any new skills in the sequel? Can you give us some examples?

LS: There is a whole new class of skills. With more focus on the main player character, the Wizard, new skills and traits are introduced, and they determine what kind of an overlord the player really is. The skills of the Age of Wonders II wizards are more geared toward magic and leadership, while heroes remain the champions of the battlefield. Skills define a Wizards' personality, allowing them to become a decadent merchant, a dictatorial conqueror, a bureaucratic peacekeeper, etc. Furthermore, magical skills are more diverse, making some wizards better at summoning, while others research faster, and so forth.

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GS: Will tactical combat still play out on a hex grid? What are the biggest changes to the game's combat system?

LS: Tactical combat (as well as the world map) will take place on an elevated isometric landscape, with height playing a strong tactical role. City sieges will be improved, with more protective city walls and other defenses. We are also updating the core movement and combat rules to have faster-paced, more entertaining battles.

GS: The game's subtitle is The Wizard's Throne. What's the significance of this, and how does it tie into the story?

LS: Taking the role of young Merlin, a promising magician, the player will be competing for the Wizards' Throne, the position that Inioch had in Age of Wonders before the humans came. We can't disclose too many of the story's details yet, but The Wizards Throne is the high throne of ancient Earth, endorsed by a secret circle of ancient wizards from the mythical island of Evermore. Unfortunately, for the player, the Circle of Evermore has fallen apart and is fighting over this position, using magic so powerful that it could tear the world apart. To prove himself worthy of the Wizards' throne, Merlin must uncover what is behind the Circle's fracture, join with allies and defeat enemies among the Wizards, and, finally, (you guessed it) save the world.

GS: On a related subject, how will the single-player campaign work?

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LS: As a new initiate to the Circle of Evermore, Merlin will go on a quest that is split into multiple episodes, in which he will master the spheres of magic, one at a time. The player can transfer resources and researched spells from episode to episode, as the journey takes Merlin to the far corners of the world, leading to a final confrontation in Evermore.

GS: Have you enhanced the computer opponent's artificial intelligence?

LS: Oh, yes, the AI will definitely be improved. It is one of our top priorities.

GS: The original Age of Wonders often reached an epic scale, and despite the fact that you could set production queues in your towns, it was sometimes difficult to manage all your holdings. Will the sequel introduce any features to help make managing large-scale scenarios easier?

LS: The number of cities in an average scenario has been greatly reduced. This is because individual towns have become so much more interesting than the "unit factories" that they used to be. They can grow in population and have many more upgradable options.

One of the upgrades is the Wizard's Tower. The Tower gives many benefits to a Wizard residing in it, including an optional teleportation gate, which allows the player to build an army transportation network in his empire, greatly reducing micromanagement in the endgame.

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GS: Will there be a random-scenario generator for single battles in Age of Wonders II, in addition to the skirmish option? How about a full campaign editor?

LS: A random-scenario generator is planned. We have not decided whether or not to create a public-campaign editor yet.

GS: Are you focusing on the game's multiplayer mode? What sorts of improvements are you planning to introduce to the multiplayer mode? In addition to the simultaneous turn-based mode from the original game, will there be any other options to help enhance multiplayer sessions?

LS: The simultaneous turn-based system will be streamlined with better network code, but the most important improvement for direct multiplayer games will be a streamlined interface. The new interface will require many fewer clicks to operate and will no longer have windows popping up in front of the player, allowing them to focus more on the events taking place on the world map.

GS: What are some of the main technical enhancements since the original game? Does it use the same engine? Does it have all-new graphics?

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LS: As you will (hopefully) be able tell from the screenshots, we've beefed up the engine quite a bit. It is now Direct3D enhanced, and it uses polygonal elevated terrain. It features smooth zooming, an enhanced particle system, and shadow effects. Also, everything is much bigger, and the larger-sized units give them a great deal more detail and character; we actually had to give the nymph a few bits of strategically placed clothing this time!

GS: Fantasy-themed turn-based strategy games aren't as common as they used to be. Why do you think this is?

LS: Yes, there has been somewhat of a lull over the last year or so in the entire genre, but there are some major new turn-based games on the horizon. Still, there are less places for niche games on the shelves, so turn-based games need AAA-presentation levels and mainstream appeal in addition to depth of gameplay. Also, the classic turn-based model, to which Age of Wonders offers a good alternative, isn't well suited for direct internet play, which has become more and more important. These things have greatly added to the development time and production cost of turn-based games, which would explain why they are less common.

GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Age of Wonders II?

LS: Yeah, I'd like to add that the talented folks over at PopTop Software (best known for Rail Road Tycoon II and the upcoming Tropico) will be contributing to Age of Wonders II. This game is going to surprise you!

GS: We're sure it will. Thanks, Lennart.

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