Tag Archives: Ensemble Studios
Following on from our first part of Robot’s PAX Panel review we now move on from looking at the studios history to present day to looking at some of the interesting prototypes they have been working on in-between OMD2 and OMDU. For the first time we get a glimpse at some of he games that could have been from the creative minds at Robot.
The first concept that came up at the studio was a game called Mithril, a project that Lance Hoke worked on. It was an accessible hex based browser game that would have the feel of Age that would work well on web browsers and tablets like the iPad. Similar to Tribal Wars but with a much deeper level of strategy. We saw the following concept art from the PAX slides:
There wasn’t too much detail on this one, it sounds like it didnt get very far along before the next concept came to surface, not much to report on this one but be sure to check out the commentary on the Twitch VOD.
Lonestar was the next concept the studio worked on. Ian Fischer described it as emergent gameplay which refers to the gameplay adapting to the actions of the player. For example in games like The Sims where players can tell their own story and the gameplay is shaped by the actions they take. Another example might be games like Fable where players actions can shape the world around them.
In Robot’s case with Lonestar they set out to create a sci-fi sandbox world that woul have completely randomly generated planets. The players ship had crashed on one of these planets and the player was tasked with finding a way to survive and escape the planet. Everything about the planet would be a randomly generated simulation including the beings that were already living on it.
The only downside with Lonestar were the challenges of managing the in-game ecology and for a number of other reasons, the project would have been a very large under-taking. Robot went on to scale down the project for their next prototype called “Victory”.
The biggest thing that you’ll notice about Victory when watching the PAX panel video that it was a shooter. A big departure from the typical type of game for the studio to work on. Once again it involved planets that were generated emergently and colonies would be formed on each planet. The generated planets would all have their own unique environments and properties and everything in the game would be a simulation. One simple example would be how close and far the planet would be from the sun would affect the properties and environment of the planet. Players would take the form of a space troubleshooting team who would travel out to these planets. Players would have to figure out what was happening on each planet and what problems there were that needed fixing.
Ian game some example of problems such as overheating reactors and being taken over by space pirates as just two possible scenarios amongst many others. Players would be challenges to resolve planet problems as quickly as possible before things got too bad. For instance enemies might get bigger and stronger over time, like this monster:
Robot considered making a very early preview of Victory at PAX the year before, but in the end decided they would return back to Orcs Must Die! for their next game based on TONS of feedback they were getting from the community and press alike. As great and as interesting as these concepts are, there was just so much overwhelming demand to continue the OMD franchise and out of that Orcs Must Die! Unchained was born.
Orcs Must Die! Unchained
Following two very successful games of OMD the bots at Robot had long heard the calls to expand the multiplayer element of the game, first adding co-op in OMD2 and then having to cater for the desire to have PvP OMD gameplay. It was out of this that Unchained! was born, and Robot is set to deliver all the things a budding OMD fan could want including full 5v5 fortress siege multiplayer action.
For the first time in the series players would be able to experience the offensive side of playing OMD.
We are able to see some excellent early art of the game coming together from its early stages. It is interesting to see the steps Robot took before getting to what we see today in the closed beta. They even had long hair for the War Mage and Sorceress at one point to show that they have aged between OMD2 and Unchained. Here we can see one of the very early levels and early UI design:
We can can also see some early hero designs below, some of which may still make it into the game. These are actually just a selection of hero ideas that are currently sitting on the walls at Robot HQ. They have a ton of ideas and there certainly isnt a shortage of ideas on the OMDU hero front. Check out some of these cool designs:
Thoughts to take away
Things that we can learn from the PAX panel is that Robot is a very diverse studio with very creative minds and can work on a number of different projects over an array of different game genres. We can get an idea that the studio is still interested in strategy but also have a keen interest in emergent gameplay. As we move forward into the future looking at Unchained and beyond, its an exciting time to be a Robot Entertainment fan and I’m sure the studio to continue to keep us guessing even more so from this PAX panel on what kind of other concepts are being though up from the orange pod inside the studio!
Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment have been hanging out at PAX Prime this weekend, hosting their very own PAX panel titled “An afternoon of fun with Robot Entertainment”. In our first part of our two part series we cover the first part of the panel which looks at Robot history including their time at Ensemble Studios and the games that lead up to Orcs Must Die! Unchained. For anyone who was in attendance there were plenty of free things being given out including a bag, poster, buttons, t-shirt, band and “Founders PAX” access to the Closed Beta.
Fans who tuned in to the stream on Twitch were also in for an opportunity to win these sweet prizes. Also making an appearance again is the exclusive Cardboard Tube Samurai skin for the War Mage. This exclusive vanity skin is only being made available to PAX attendees and lucky Twitch stream winners.
Digging into the panel things started off with an introduction to the studio including highlighting Robot’s internal biergarten that they have in the studio and the colour coded pods for each discipline of staff (artist, programmers, design, community etc). Following an introduction of the studio the panel began to talk about Robot’s roots including their time previously at Ensemble Studios taking the audience through the past legacies such as the Age games and Halo Wars, including the big Halo MMO project codenamed “Titan” that was unfortunately cancelled by Microsoft.
The panel go into some detail about the cancelled MMO project and is well worth watching the stream for any Ensemble fans. Ian Fischer confirms previous Ensemble staffer comments that the game was largely cancelled due to Microsoft’s desire to pursue more casual games.
Age of Empires Online
The panel went on to talk about Age of Empires Online and how it started out as Age 4. Ian Fischer described how they originally thought about going back to the old caveman Age 1 settings whilst still at Ensemble Studios. When the studio was shut down, Microsoft wanted to continue the Age 4 project but didnt want it looking like another Age game and wanted to pursue a more casual look. It is this reason why Age of Empires Online adopted the casual more cartoony look in the final product.
Robot also pushed to have all the Age games put on Steam instead of Games of Windows Live. Although they never did it in Robot’s time managing the Age Community, Microsoft has finally got round to it recently and the Age games have been top sellers on Steam for some time now.
Prototyping new games
Whilst most of the studio were working on Age of Empires Online there was a small group in the Orange Pod who spent time prototyping new games for the studios first original IP. Before things morphed into Orcs Must Die! the studio worked on a “tool kit” that would allow players to build their own games. This tool kit idea then turned into a game codenamed “Saber” which later became “Orcs Must Die!”. Here are some early art and designs for the game:
You will notice that Saber started off looking much darker more serious than the lighter more comic feel of OMD today. As the development progressed and things like physics traps were added the OMD we see today was born. Of course it was soon time for the studio to name the game beyond its prototype name “Saber” and there were alot of discussions in the studio.
“Orc Invasion”, “Overrun” and “Onslaught” were some of the names that were considered alongside Chris Rippy’s “Orcs Must Die!”. In the end it was whittled down to just two, “Onslaught” and “Orcs Must Die!” and the studio was split 50/50 on each name and in the end a decision was made to go with OMD. The OMD name also helped Robot’s art and design move the game into a more lighter setting. This can also be seen in the War Mage’s art development where he started out more serious before becoming the more goofy hero we see today:
Orcs Must Die! shipped in 2011 and went on to win AIAS Strategy Simulation game of the year.
Robot’s next original IP was to be Hero Academy a mobile game on Android, iOS and Steam. Once again the project started out from the orange pod. Patrick Hudson talked about the Team Fortress 2 integration and the relationship with Valve and also that they got approached by a number of other IP’s about adding more teams in the game, but it was felt that those would not be as good a fit. Hero Academy also won an award at AIAS, Mobile Game of the Year.
The next mobile game spearheaded by Chris Rippy was a sci-fi RPG “Echo Prime” on iOS and Steam. Which by the way has recently had a price reduction if you haven’t already picked it up.
Orcs Must Die! 2
OMD2 was released 30 July 2012 and added a whole bunch of extra monsters, a second playable character (Sorceress) and added Co-Op. After OMD2 the studio decided that they were going to let OMD rest for a bit.
More prototyping - coming up in part 2
Whilst the OMD series was placed on hold the bots began prototyping more new original games across various genres from strategy to FPS. We’re going to cover these very interesting prototypes in part 2 of this blog series later this week. Be sure to check back where we discect some of the other original ideas what have been toyed around with in the studio.
In the meanwhile… be sure to check out the stream VOD of the PAX panel where you can see the hour long panel talk about all of the things mentioned above and some of the things we are covering in part 2 later this upcoming week which includes these awesome never before seen concept ideas, and of course Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Check back soon!
Tony Goodman is now speaking live on his Reddit “Ask me anything”. Come and join in and pose your questions to the man who started it all!
Remember Ensemble Studios has reported the formation of two new studios from ex Ensemble staff Tony Goodman and Dave Pottinger. Part 1 of the article delves into the “PeopleFun” studio announcement from Tony Goodman who is also a director on the board and original CEO of Robot Entertainment.
Read the latest blog on Remember ES to read more about the PeopleFun announcement and their first expected game “Word Chums”.