Empire Earth Designer Diary # 1

One of the designers of Sierra's upcoming Empire Earth introduces himself and describes his role on the project.

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Entry #1 - 04/03/01

By Keith Downes
Stainless Steel Studios

Hello, my name is Keith Downes. People in the online world may know me better as "_Iketh_," the primary name I use on the MSN Gaming Zone. Over the next few months, I will share with you my experiences as I play prerelease versions of the forthcoming epic RTS title, Empire Earth. I'm sure to have a lot to talk about since the game has so many cool features. First, let me tell you about myself: I am 21 years of age, a native of Florida currently residing in Tennessee, a member of the US Army, and I love to think. In fact, anything that makes me think, I love--which is why I was so excited to join Empire Earth's Strike Team.

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The Empire Earth Multiplayer Strike Team is a group of highly experienced RTS gamers who are committed to helping Stainless Steel Studios Inc. identify game flaws and play imbalances, and improve the overall playability of Empire Earth before it is released to the public. The Strike Team is not located at SSSI headquarters in Cambridge, MA. Instead, we do all our testing and communicating over the Net. (Though I would much prefer to deliver my contributions in person.) We are supplemental to the dedicated multiplayer testers based in Cambridge.

I've been a serious gamer most of my life: from Atari and Nintendo to the earliest personal desktop computers in the '80s to the online gaming world of today. My first encounter with an online RTS game was in 1997 when I played Age of Empires, by Ensemble Studios. I was immediately hooked by its freedom of play and endless possibilities.I purchased the Rise of Rome expansion to Age of Empires a year later. At this same time, I discovered the enthralling world of Ultima Online and spent the next year and a half engulfed in a "secondary life." RTS games make me think, but RPGs are my passion.

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I am also a fan of Quake III, but I do not play it online. I quickly discovered you could not be one of the best Quake III players without the aid of a DSL or cable modem. First-person shooters have never been my favorite genre anyway, because they tend not to make me think the way RTS games do.

I continued my fascination with RTS games by purchasing the Age of Kings in 1999 and its expansion, The Conquerors, in 2000. I found that Age of Kings: The Conquerors offered a better balance between civilizations than Age of Empires, but in my opinion it still had several imbalances, and I differed with some of the choices made regarding the game's user interface. Any serious RTS player needs to execute immediately all the actions they decide upon during a match. I had no problem with the graphical interface of the first Age of Empires. But I feel the sequel's improved graphics came at the price of slightly reducing the "responsiveness" of the UI.

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My personal number one goal for Empire Earth is to ensure that its interface is as responsive as possible to eliminate any frustration players may have had controlling other games. I don't need to worry about sacrificing graphics quality to meet this goal because Empire Earth's graphics are simply incredible already. The units, buildings, terrain, effects--everything is stunning. My number two goal will be to work on developing game-winning strategies, analyzing and fixing the ones that always dominate all other strategies. This means I'll have to play a lot of games of Empire Earth...it's a dirty job, as they say.

Empire Earth will be the next standard for RTS games. It's already a blast to play even in its current pre-beta form. Empire Earth easily surpasses the depth of other RTS games I have played, and its vastness will keep any and all RTS fans riveted for a long time after its release. I will leave it at this for now. There is much more I'll talk about later.

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