Feature: How History And Fiction Affected Age Of Empires II

In Gamasutra's latest feature, the portrayal of Joan of Arc in Age of Empires II is examined, with an ex-Ensemble developer describing the player as a "semi
In Age of Empires II players could interface with historical heroes such as Joan of Arc, and in Gamasutra's latest feature, journalist Ryan Rigney speaks to ex-Ensemble developers and reads the history and literature to uncover the techniques the team used to integrate the polarizing figure into the game's play and narrative. It turns out that the conventions of the RTS genre could be used to further the game's story as well, says lead designer Mark Terrano. "This was an intentional design decision," Terrano says about the positioning of the player in an omniscient position. "In the Age of Empires games we always treated the player as a 'guiding force' for the civilization." Fellow designer Sandy Peterson had more to say about the matter, calling the choice of perspective a narrative technique. "We intentionally positioned the player as a sort of semi-omniscient guiding spirit," says Peterson. "Think of it like a novel written in third person. After all, if we have you be a specific person, then questions can arise. 'How can Joan see beyond that forest? Why does the game continue when my hero is dead?' etc." Not all ideas Terrano had about the design could be successfully implemented given technical constraints, however. "In the original design I actually wanted a 'hero aura' to surround these legends that would inspire the troops nearby to fight much harder," says Terrano. "Having a legendary leader that was thought of as favored by God (or that was a living god) was a significant battlefield advantage." Ultimately, Terrano says, it became difficult to manage which units were "powered up" by their saintly heroine's aura of effect ability, resulting in a higher failure rate. This resulted in the decision to simply make hero units like Joan more powerful than regular soldiers. The full feature also delves into historians' and authors' takes on Joan of Arc and how these sources were integrated into the game's portrayal of the character -- and the full analysis is live now on Gamasutra.

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