Our interview with Smoking Gun Interactive's co-founder about the upcoming Age of Empires game made for touchscreens
Microsoft will offer Windows Phone owners not one but two new games based on their Age of Empires strategy franchise this fall. In addition to the previously announced Age of Empires: World Domination game from developer KLab, the company announced last week plans to release Age of Empires: Castle Siege for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 sometime in September.
As the title implies, this game concentrates on offering players a way to build a castle, complete with defenses that will be made to keep it from falling to enemies. Developed by Vancouver-based Smoking Gun Interactive, Age of Empires: Castle Siege will offer a way to link up with friends on Xbox Live for alliances as well as support for online leaderboards. We got a chance to chat with John Johnson, the co-founder and CEO of Smoking Gun Interactive, to find out more about Age of Empires: Castle Siege, including how the free-to-play game will handle in-game purchases and more.
First, how did Smoking Gun Interactive get the gig from Microsoft to develop Age of Empires: Castle Siege?
"We had a great relationship with Microsoft having worked on many projects and many teams with them over the last few years. We were very excited to pitch for AoE: Castle Siege As our founders and many employees have extensive RTS experience and that gave us a bit of an edge."
Many people might be wondering how Castle Siege ties into the Age of Empires franchise besides just the name. What elements in the game make it a true Age of Empires title?
"AoE: Castle Siege brings AoE gameplay to touch devices. We've kept a lot of what made the original AoE so popular: We're grounded in history, you can play one of 6 civilizations and each have 3 unique heroes and 1 unique troop type. You can directly control all the units during combat just like other RTS titles. We have a tech tree to advance through as well as many ages to advance through that all gain better weapons, units, defenses and other structures. And as with AoE, the game is primarily about advancement and combat."
What sort of castles and defenses can players make in the game?
"Players can arrange their castles in any way they choose with lots of different tactical layouts that can work. There are a variety of defensive towers such as Archer towers, Crossbow towers, and ballista towers and, at higher levels there are more powerful towers like the flame tower that shoots Greek fire. In addition, there are emplacements which are more fragile than towers, but have a longer range. Walls protect your buildings and defenses and you can place troops on walls to defend them. In addition, Patrol points let you assign 1-2 squads of troops (of your choice) to defend your castle and Guard Houses will constantly spawn defensive troops until the guard house is destroyed so these are best placed in protected areas. There are a variety of traps players can hide such as caltrops, fire traps and engineer traps."
What kinds of units can the player access to lay siege to the castles?
"Players can access Infantry, Spear Infantry, Raiders, Ladder Invaders, Archers, Crossbow Men, Cavalry, Battering Rams, Siege Towers, Catapults and Ballistas. Some come in later ages and all troop types can be upgraded over time. Each civilization also has its own unique unit: Briton – Longbowman, Franc – Knight Templar, Tuetons – Tuetonic Knight, Byzantine – Cheirosiphon, Keivan Rus – Raiders of Muscovy, Saracen – Mamluk. Units have specific roles there are better at in combat and directing units in battle will maximize its role effectively. That is a key skill players will pick up as they advance through the ages."
What gameplay modes will be available in Castle Siege?
"AoE: Castle Siege is really all about building and combat. You build up your castle to defend yourself and protect you loot and your keep. You then build armies and attack other player's castles to try to destroy as much of their castles as you can. There are 10 historical missions you play as well."
What other features will make Age of Empires: Castle Siege stand out from the many mobile strategy games currently available?
"In the mobile arena we feel our touch based direct control sets us apart and really gives an RTS sensibility to the title. Each troop type has a specific combat role and players will have to master ordering their troops to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Hero special abilities can really turn the tide of the battle and are a lot of fun to use. Players can also do research on both an economic and military tech tree. We feel we've given the player lots of flexibility to lay out their castle with many tactical options available. The combat is truly a skill based game, which will take time to master but still accessible enough for the casual user."
How easy or hard was it to make the game work in Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 and will it be a universal app with cross platform support?
"There are challenges with any platform, especially with the range of devices available. We also had challenges making the game support both touch and keyboard/mouse input for desk top users. In the end we landed with something that really worked well for touch and PC. Yes the game is compatible on all platforms so you can attack players on PC from your mobile device and vice versa. You can log into the same account from multiple devices as well. So do some attacks from home, continue on your mobile device and when you get to work log in and continue from there."
The game will have some in-game app purchases. Can you talk about what these elements will be like and if they will be needed to successfully play the game?
"It takes time to build everything in the game. Players can skip the wait buy purchasing and spending gold (you can also acquire gold by attacking other players or setting up trade routes). There are no power ups or other consumables for purchase so even if you accelerate your castle's progression, you will still have to develop your combat skills to be successful. Everything is available in game without having to purchase, so you don't have to spend a dime, if you don't want to."
What can you tell us about the art design and the graphics for Castle Siege?
"We wanted to make sure the game read well on smaller phone displays. We also had to support a wide range of devices with different resolutions and abilities while still allowing the player to be able to discern gameplay elements. It is a departure from the original AoE, but we were going for a balance between the original more realistic style and yet still appeal to a mobile audience and have art that was instantly recognizable on smaller devices. It's a fine line, but we fell we struck a balance that works well for both PC and mobile. There are lots of little touches in the game from collapsing wall animations to smoke and fire effects that give a real visual punch."
If the game is successful, could we see it on iOS or Android devices at some point?
"For now the game is being released for Windows 8 PC and Windows Phone 8."
Any plans for additional content to be added to the game after it is released?
"Yes. We do have plans for additional content."
Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about Age of Empires: Castle Siege?
"We're very excited to see the game get released. We worked very hard to make a game that, hopefully, appeals to both casual players and fans of the franchise. We are hoping to bring in a whole new audience to the Age franchise. We're especially pleased at the level of player control and tactical gameplay depth we've been able to add to a mobile strategy title and we hope people like it."
We would like to thank John for taking the time to answer our questions!