Microsoft’s closure of Ensemble Studios – home to the Age of Empires franchise – was one of the more surprising developments in the last couple of months. Time doesn’t stand still for anyone – other than the ones who stayed behind at Microsoft to support Halo Wars, studio veterans have formed a new studio.
Ensemble Studios co-founder Tony Goodman has formed Robot Entertainment. This comes from Gamasutra and LinkedIn profiles. It hasn’t been revealed what type of projects the studio will tackle, but many former Ensemble employees have joined the studio, so I’d expect nothing but quality RTS games from them.
FiringSquad points out that in addition to the recently revealed Demigod action/strategy game, Rick Goodman, founder of Stainless Steel Studios and cofounder of Ensemble, is working on a new game with a new startup developer. However, they do not offer details on the project itself.
New patches for various language editions of Age of Empires III are now available, updating the game to v1.12. The update offers balance changes, bug fixes and custom online scenario support for multiplayer games. Grab the patch from Ensemble Studios, who also offers a v1.04 update for The Warchiefs expansion pack.
This year’s X06 saw a couple of big announcements from Microsoft. Very big announcements. Let’s check them out:
- Peter Jackson, who is currently associated with the upcoming Halo movie, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Fran Walsh and Microsoft Game Studios have teamed up to create two new games exclusively for Xbox 360 and Xbox Live. The first series will be a collaborative with Bungie to co-create the next game in the Halo universe, while the second series will be a completely new IP. Additionally, they have also partnered up to form Wingnut Interactive, the studio which will dedicate itself to bringing these series’ to the next-gen console.
- Besides the Wingnut Halo game, Ensemble Studios is working on Halo Wars, a new real-time strategy game based on the legendary universe. Before you cry foul, keep in mind that these guys are behind the Age of Empires franchise, which has been a solid series so far. The game is entirely exclusive to Xbox 360.
- Hoping to make a dent in Sony’s future, Microsoft revealed that the Xbox 360 version of Grand Theft Auto IV will receive two exclusive downloadable, “epic” episodes via Xbox Live, each with many hours of entirely new gameplay. These episodes will be available just months after the game’s release next year.
Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game will ship at the same time in October 2007.
- In a move that is very uncharacteristic of Ubisoft, the publisher confirmed that the next Splinter Cell title after Double Agent will be a console-exclusive on Xbox 360. It will also be released on PC for those without the console.
- Yes, BioShock is also exclusive to the console. It’s on PC as well.
- Banjo-Kazooie is back, courtesy of Rare! Another exclusive to Xbox 360, the title will feature the much beloved characters, who, according to the press release, will thankfully retain their “sharp wit and hilarious sense of humor.”
- Another exclusive: Marvel Universe Online. In development at Cryptic Studios, the game will also be released for Windows Vista.
- Everyone saw this coming, but not this soon: Project Gotham Racing 4. The game was unveiled at the show, though it is not expected until late next year, or 2008.
- id Software’s DOOM and Codemasters’ Sensible World of Soccer are now available on Xbox Live Arcade.
- And finally, the Xbox 360 HD-DVD player will be released in North America, UK, France and Germany this November. It will retail for $200 in North America and €200/£130 in U.K., France and Germany. The player will also come with a copy of King Kong on HD-DVD and the Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote.
Details of the upcoming Age of Empires III expansion.
Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs
Title: “Age of Empires® III: The WarChiefs”
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Ensemble Studios
Format: CD-ROM for Microsoft® Windows®
ESRB Rating: Pending
Availability: Fall 2006
“Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs” is the new expansion pack for the best-selling real-time strategy (RTS) title of 2005*: “Age of Empires III” from Ensemble Studios and Microsoft Game Studios. “Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs” will engage gamers of all ages and types in epic warfare in the Americas, where they will lead proud, playable native civilizations to expand their empire and fight for control of the Americas.
“Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs” is the latest installment in the award-winning “Age of Empires” franchise and continues Ensemble’s stellar track record of delivering innovative RTS games experiences.
- Playable Native American civilizations. Lead one of three proud Native American civilizations, including the Iroquois Confederacy and the Sioux Nation, to expand their empires and fight for control of the Americas. Each Native American civilization will have its own unique units, led by the powerful WarChief unit, buildings reflecting each culture’s architectural style, and a distinct approach to its Home City feature.
- Gripping new single-player campaign. “Age of Empires: The WarChiefs” will introduce a new single-player campaign that continues the saga from “Age of Empires III.” Play through 15 new missions with a rich story and a cast of characters that interact with real historic figures and events.
- Enhancements to European civilizations. The expansion pack will also provide exciting additions to existing European civilizations, with new Home City content, new units including new mercenaries, and new ways to look at your card deck.
- Extended gameplay. Experience more of everything, including new random maps of unique locations in the Americas not featured in the original “Age of Empires III,” additional native allies and units, more statistics tracking, and new ways to play.
On Next Generation is an tour of Ensemble Studios, talking with its employees and executive producer Patrick Hudson, who tells us what the company will do next… and, surprisingly, they’re looking into MMOs.
The idea was proposed to Ensemble right after Ultima Online came out. ‘Why don’t we do an MMO?’ At the time, Ensemble was in no position to be thinking about it. But Fischer persisted ever since.
“After we shipped Age III,” Hudson says, “We started diving up the studio to do more games than we’ve ever done, and get beyond Age of Empires.” A small team was put around Fischer to start working on a prototype.
“And that’s where those guys still are.” Hudson says. “A pretty small group, just noodling away on ideas, a long way away from anything substantive and shipping anything, that’s for sure. But it’s fun to explore.”
The MMO market has become very crowded since World of Warcraft came out. Ensemble is a highly respected studio, and if they can come up with something fresh and nonfantasy, I guess they’ll have a winner on their hands.
A product section for the recently announced Age of Empires expansion has gone live, revealing the title: The Warchiefs. Focusing on the Native Americans this time, the expansion will feature new civilizations, units, and much more new content.
The page offers some details on the expansion, talking about how they got the Native Americans into the game; some fresh screenshots are on hand.