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The Forgotten Explanation
Posted: Tilanus Commodor @ Fri Jan 26, 2018 12:11 pm
Hey guys and gals,

I think I owe you an explanation. An explanation that I actually didn't really forget (as the title might imply), but that I have been pushing away for a while now. Those of you who have been messaging me for 1-2 years on Discord, Facebook and elsewhere about new versions and the progress on NE may be familiar with one of these replies:

  • I haven't really been able to work on NE due to my job.
  • Progress on NE has been rather slow lately.
  • I have another job now which leaves me only little time for modding.
  • Sadly I'm very busy with my job right now, but I'm still working on NE.
  • I don't have any time right now because RL is keeping me busy, but NE is still in development.


While all of these replies are telling the truth, I never really went into detail what I am busy with. And the answer to that is that I have been and still am working for Forgotten Empires, the developers of the Age of Empires 2: HD DLCs and the upcoming Age of Empires 1: Definitive Edition. That technically makes me an official Age of Empires developer, which is something I'm rather proud of, but that I also considered an intimate information which I was reluctant to share or spread as some sort of sensational news.



Now some of you might have questions about this and I'll try to answer a few beforehand:

Why didn't you tell us earlier?
There are several reasons for that: 1) I thought that for modding it shouldn't matter what I do for work. I could have been a plumber, an office worker, a forester, and it wouldn't have mattered either. 2) I still wanted to be an integral part of the AoE3 community and not being considered a biased, official developer who defends FE/MS no matter what. 3) The idea of being spammed with questions about ongoing productions, internal plans for future AoE titles which people think I might have and be able to tell about scared me off a bit. 4) There was also another, job-related reason for that as I wanted to avoid any possible (though rather unlikely) hassles with my former employer.

So why did you tell us now?
Again, several reasons! Mr. Green One major reason is that I finally changed jobs and no longer have two jobs. This allows me to invest all of my energy into official Age of Empires productions, which unfortunately also means that I don't really win time for modding. The work at Forgotten Empires is a fulfilling job to me and I take strength out of it, but it is also demanding and time-consuming. Getting back to the question: A handful of close friends and modders already know about my involvement, and I can say with certainty that rumours were already going around amongst other modders, too. So while I never brought it up myself and preferred to keep it for myself, I always knew that I could never keep it secret forever. Few people check the credits of movies and games, but still, some people do. Finally, I felt the urge that telling you about my work will make all the loyal, patiently waiting NE fans understand better why the development of NE has been so slow. I never lied about my involvement at FE (when asked) and would have no obligations either to tell people what I do, yet I kind of had a bad conscience about not telling you the whole story and leaving you a bit in the dark about the reason for the lack of NE updates.

Does that mean you will no longer work on NE?
No! That doesn't mean that. I still want to release NE 2.2 and ship the promised additions and features. Technically NE is not so far away from that, but since time for modding is pretty rare it still is very difficult for me to push the mod to that point.

For 12 years NE has been a constant thing in my life and it pains me not having enough time to finish it as quick as I would like to. After all NE (and my other projects as well) brought me to the place where I am today, so you can be sure that I don't give up easily. On the other hand though, it clearly is a different time for Age, or as it said in the AoE4 trailer "a new age is upon us". I've always considered myself a fan of the whole Age of Empires series without an over-fixation on a single title. Ironically I got into AoE3 modding not just because I liked the idea of NE, but also because I always felt that AoE3 could have been a better Age of Empires title and not just the good RTS that it is. With Microsoft's new commitment for the Age of Empires franchise arise new chances and risks.
As a passionate and long-term fan of the franchise since childhood this was the moment for me to wake up and read the signs of time. I interpreted them as a chance for myself to use the skills that I have to avoid further failures to be made in new titles and figure out with fellow designers how the Age of Empires franchise can continue its road to success. So I feel honored and very happy to be involved in the development of Age of Empires products as it is a dream job to me that was so highly unlikely to exist that I never even dared to dream about it.

In conclusion that means that my priorities have shifted for the mentioned reasons, but also that my goal to release NE remains unchanged. Smile

Why can you not just recruit more team members that help to finish NE?
I get that question quite often. The short answer to this is: Time.

In most cases you need a lot of time to find, introduce, teach and push new members to a point of experience and skill where they are speeding up the development of a mod. Until then the opposite is mostly the case, because someone has to sacrifice their own modding time to aid the newcomers. And that someone was mostly me. Furthermore that teaching process is not without risk. Some people decide they rather want to do their own mod with their newly learnt skills, but most people just don't have the necessary level of self-discipline and stamina to catch up and then eventually run out of motivation. Just a small percentage of people really stays and contributes to NE for a while. In a decade of modding I've been spending a lot of time on teaching volunteers individually on how to mod and I've come to the conclusion that in most cases the time is not worth it, but would be better invested into actual modding.

The greatest misunderstanding of 'recruiting modders' probably is that something like that doesn't really exist. As a mod project leader you either ask people to join you or - the better case - they want to join you. People you'd ask to join are usually known AoE3 modders who mostly have their own mod already (so they won't be interested). The latter case are volunteers who are motivated, but seldomly can mod already and therefore pose a potential risk in terms of time investement.

Now you can imagine that finding suitable members is not that easy. AoE3 has been released 12 years ago and the modding knowledge and community is as old. Despite still having a notable player base the amount of creative content producers has been shrinking significantly over the years. So even though AoE3 modding is not that difficult as a whole compared to modding of other games it is nigh-impossible to find someone who still wants to mod that game and who can quickly adapt to the workflows and design rules of a 12-years old project.

What can you tell us about your work at Forgotten Empires?
It should be obvious that I won't risk my job and speak about NDA stuff, so I can only speak about the things that are or can be publicly known. Mr. Green As most will know Forgotten Empires was founded by AoE2 modders. Without mentioning names I can tell that modders from other Age titles are also involved, and even 2 former Ensemble Studios employees (iirc). So despite different preferences in regards to AoE titles I'd say what connects and motivates everyone at FE is our passion for the franchise, which I think makes us better developers, if not the perfect fit for Age of Empires games. At least I wouldn't know any other studio that knows the Age games still so well after all these years. As for my own work at FE: I've mainly contributed conceptually to the DLCs of Age2:HD and am responsible for the UI design of Age1:DE.

Will NE also come out for the announced Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition?
This is a rather new question, but has also been discussed among other mods. My take on this is: It mainly depends on how Age3DE will be made on a technical level. If there are significant differences in code base and visual engine which would require large parts of the mod to be redone, then probably not. If porting mods from AoE3 to the Definitive Edition is easy, I'll surely consider it. Yet again, I've sadly arrived in a part of my life where time has become a very valuable, because rare resource.

What do you know about Age of Empires 4?
I'm serious: Not more than everybody else! Developers are not involved in the decision-making or plans of publishers and they only get to know things when they have to. As we all know AoE4 is being developed by Relic, not Forgotten Empires. Wink

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