Tag Archives: Age of Empires Online

Robot Entertainment at PAX 2014 (Part 2)

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!

Robot Entertainment at PAX 2014 (Part 1)

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.

Ensemble days

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.

Hero Academy

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.

Echo Prime

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!

Watch live video from OrcsMustDie on Twitch

Age of Empires Online no longer available from August 22nd after GFWL closure

Many gamers will have heard that for a while Microsoft has been aiming to replace their currency for Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live from Microsoft Points to real local currency. Ie. Dollars, Euros and Pounds Sterling, or what ever your local currency is. In doing this the Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live services will need to make the switch over. This is scheduled to be be kicking off on August 22nd.

However, the bad news is that Games for Windows Live will not be making the transition to local currency and as such, Microsoft is infact closing the GFWL service all together. Infact as of just August 22nd the Games for Windows Live Store will be closed to new purchases of any kind. This means that no additional copies of Age of Empires Online or any DLC will be available via this store from August 22nd. It would seem that any DLC purchased through Steam would also not be available based on a now removed article on the AOE-O support website as reported by Age of Empires Online Heaven. Although the Steam issue is still awaiting official confirmation.

The bad news continues I’m afraid. While existing players will be able to continue to play Age of Empires Online beyond the August 22nd cut of date, the game will be shuttered completely on July 1st 2014 when the entire GFWL system will be taken offline.

This is of course very sad news for the co-developed Robot Entertainment and Gas Powered Games title. Many AOE-O fans are incredibly disappointed by the closure news and discussions are aplenty on the official forums. According to a recent article on Gamasutra there was another “post-mortem” conducted on Age of Empires Online by its Executive Producer, Kevin Perry at GDC 2013 just recently. The presentation was titled “F2P the wrong way” indicated that there was not enough content at launch, and by the time they were rolling out new content the efforts unfortunately did not result in bigger enough population boosts. As a result development was halted in January earlier this year.

I would say that now would be the time to spend any Microsoft Points you were thinking of spending on AOE-O before August 22nd. However, as it seems the game will be closing entirely in July 2014 this will no doubt be a quandary for many players.

Stay tuned for REF for further updates on this sad situation.

Happy 4th Birthday Robot!

Today marks the 4th anniversary of Robot Entertainment. Formed back in 2009 following the closure of Ensemble Studios, Robot Entertainment is today a grand 4 years old!

In that time it is fitting that they have worked on / released four whole games, namely Age of Empires Online, Orcs Must Die!, Hero Academy and Orcs Must Die 2!

The Fabulous Four are certainly all fantastic – but which is your favourite? Let us know in our poll!


Whats your favourite Robot Entertainment game so far?

  • Hero Academy (49%, 104 Votes)
  • Orcs Must Die! 2 (38%, 81 Votes)
  • Age of Empires Online (7%, 15 Votes)
  • Orcs Must Die! (5%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 211

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To celebrate Robot Entertainment is having a 75% off offer on the official Robot Entertainment store. If you’re missing a game or some DLC you can pick it up at a mammoth 75% normal prices. Age of Empires Online is excluded as it is not a title published by Robot Entertainment. Don’t miss this great chance to complete your Robot Entertainment collection thus far!

Development of Age of Empires Online draws to a close

Since its release in August 2011 a vast amount of content has been released for Age of Empires Online. Firstly the Greek and Egyptians civilisations were (along with the core game) largely developed by Robot Entertainment until production shifted to Gas Powered Games as part of a planned transition in February 2011. Post-release Gas Powered Games have released various content packs including Skirmish Hall, Defence of Crete along with 4 additional civilisations – Norse, Persians, Celts and Babylonians. However today it was announced on the official website that content production and development of the game is now ceasing.

Cost reasons were cited as a factor in the decision to stop producing content. The scale of the post-release content we have seen from Gas Powered has been extraordinary and is not like traditional DLC packs with other games. Each civilisation and other booster packs required a vast amount investment and development resource. The production quality on these packs has always been very high. Content packs have also been reactive to community suggestions, most notably the Skirmish Hall.

Unfortunately the scale of content being produced could not be sustained as the game becomes older. Whilst we will no longer see new content for the game in terms of booster packs of new civilisations the game will continue to be supported. This is not the end of online play. Much like the ESO service that runs Age of Empires 3, Microsoft Studios’ Community Team will continue to offer support for the game as well as community features such as competitions. The official blog post reads:

However, nothing else changes for players, nothing that currently exists will be removed. You can still play everything you own, earn EP, and purchase any content you do not currently own. We will still fully maintain and support the game and its players; no one is losing anything that you have earned or bought. Our Community team will continue to support the game by way of Community Challenges, streams, contests, PvP tournaments and more.

Before Gas Powered Games finish on Age Online there is one further content update to be released which will contain as of yet unannounced final content.

Whilst its sad to see content be stopped for Age Online, the game has certainly had a very good run with sustained, high quality content. I’m certain Age Online is not the last we will see of Age of Empires. The full blog post about todays news can be found on the link below. Fans may want to engage in discussion about this news on the games official forums.

Via Remember Ensemble Studios

Age of Empires Online – 1 Year Later

One year ago, on August 16, 2011, Age of Empires Online launched as the newest expansion to the Age of Empires Franchise. Fans from across the world came to test the latest edition to their favorite series of gaming; whether they were casual gamers, or hardcore fanatics, the anticipation for this game was absolutely huge! On launch day however the game had some things left to be desired. Some were turned off by the new graphic approach. Others were concerned by the lack of end game content.

The Persians As the game progressed, however, the fans began to return. Additional content was released to compensate some of the fans concerns, and the game began to grow. Months after the launch, Champion Mode, a mode for only premium players was released to balance the player versus player gameplay. Along with Champion Mode, the new Persian Pro Civilization was released and took a seat next to the other two civilizations: The Greeks and Egyptians. At this point in time, there were three civilizations, a booster pack, and champion mode promised to fans.

The Skirmish Hall!  After a bit of a wait for a new patch, patches were once again released regularly. Following the previous patch, the Celts,  another civilization, and the Skirmish Hall were all the sudden playable. But that still wasn’t it. Complaints still flooded the decks about lack of end game content and the fact that the game still wasn’t free.

But then the next patch game. Complaints seemed to stop coming after this patch. Reviews were redone and adjusted because the game really turned for the better. The game became truly free to play. Instead of having to pay money for the full version of a civilization, or a booster pack, you were now able to pay for everything in the game, with a different type of in-game currency. Empire Points. Empire points are able to be earned in quests, and in another feature that was released Alliance Wars. Join one of three alliances to fight for total domination. Compete in daily, weekly, and monthly competitions to earn Empire Points. To earn as much as possible, you compete in several end game quests giving you alliance points. The more alliance points you get, the more empire points you receive. Simple! Empires Points can be used to buy the premium version of civilizations, a pro civilization, a booster pack, or maybe you tend to like to customize your units. Also with this patch Vanity Island was released. Choose between dozens of pieces of cool, fancy looking gear to equip on your units. But don’t worry! You can still equip gear to improve your units stats, but the vanity will be shown! Vanity does nothing, nada, to your unit’s stats. Nothing!

However, that’s not all. After a full turn this game continues to release content. In the newest patch, the anniversary update, 3 new features were released. Observer Mode, the Babylonian Civilization, and a Quest Booster Pack. Observer Mode allows up to 3 players can observe a game in action, a 1v1 game that is. In a 2v2 game, only 1 person can observe it, but fear not, the action never stops. While observing you are able to view the players build queue, resource amount, population, line of sight, and you can watch both sides at once! Also, the Babylonian Pro Civilization was released. For just 900 Empire Points, take command of one of the fiercest armies in the Fertile Crescent. Create a booming economy with the new Ox Cart, or jump in Ages with the unique building: the Ziggurat. Adding to the fun, the Quest Booster Pack was released. Maybe you’re just any fan looking for fun. Well this is for you! Get a series of quests located in the Fertile Crescent to take part in, as any civ. That’s right, any civ.!

There has been so much that has been released in the past year. If you put down the game back at launch, or haven’t ever played yet, I give my full recommendation to try out this game. With a new civilization in the making, and to be released soon, this game is heading down a road of success! The game is growing, fast! Be one of the thousands to play this game, because remember, you rule! There is no turning back! Come give the game another shot, I guarantee you that you will be pleased!