[Ray:] Greetings fair friends and fellow travelers in the World of Athla, home of the Blessed Continent! It is I, Ray Bingham, the humble writer for all things related to Age of Wonders, happily reporting for blog duty! I have an exciting twist for this blog entry. I invited a guest from the game to join us. He’s going to conduct my interview and I will answer his questions to the best of my abilities.
My guest is everyone’s favorite, a Halfling hero of legend. He traded the island of Aldor for a kiss from then a young Elf princess named Julia. He’s a writer of tall tales, a reluctant explorer, an expert pony-rider especially when fleeing a battle and extremely lucky to still be alive. His name is Ham Binger.
Ham. Welcome to the blog!
[Ham:] Hi Ray. Nice to see you again. Might I say, you’re one handsome fellow.
[Ray:] As are you, my fine Halfling friend…
[Ham:] Gained a little weight? Among my people, that’s a sign of good fortune! There’s a Halfling saying, “If no jiggle when you wiggle, then get a little biggle.”
[Ray:] Biggle? Really? By your jiggle, I assume you’re still eating seven meals a day?
[Ham:] It’s a dangerous world. You never know when it will be your last meal, and I’d hate to die on an empty stomach.
A little bit of history
[Ray:] So what topic should we start with?
[Ham:] Before we get into the actual story, tell me a little about how things have changed since you wrote the first game.
[Ray:] Well, when I started writing for Triumph, it was around the time my first daughter was born. Now that daughter’s driving a car. I have four daughters and a son. Life just gets busier. I’ve moved a number of times, and…
[Ham:] Yeah, that’s nice Ray, but I was talking about the game. How has game writing changed?
[Ray:] Oh. Right. That. Well games in general have changed quite a bit since the first game. Back when we first started, few games had blazing fast photorealistic 3D, but today reading a story makes most game fans flee in terror. I think Age of Wonders fans, besides being terrifically good-looking and intelligent people, want a story to go along with a game that challenges their enormous intellects.
The original Age of Wonders received high marks for its story. We created a branching campaign that had different endings depending on your choices, and two starting points: good or evil. I actually wrote that story like I was writing a full novel with six different endings.
The Wizard’s Throne was a huge adjustment for me. The whole mechanic changed, so Lennart and I worked out a story that would account for the arrival of Wizards into the world. Unfortunately the campaign was pretty linear and some say that story was our weakest.
[Ham:] Can you say ‘Julioch’?
[Ray:] Ugh. Yeah, Inioch made such a great villain in the first series, we couldn’t resist that…
[Ham:] Poor Julia. She just never gets a break, does she?
[Ray:] By the time Shadow magic came around, I originally opted out of writing that, because I wanted to do novels. A few months before the alpha for AoW:SM, I get call from Lennart saying their writer had backed out, leaving them in dire straits. I agreed to come back, mostly because I have a deep respect for my friend from the land of wooden shoes, windmills, dikes, and tulips, and because it really is fun, even if it sucks up every last ounce of my free time.
Shadow Magic was interesting, though I always felt we were forced to rush it. Overall, I like the whole feel of Shadow magic, I go back and read a lot of my old description work and they still make me laugh.
[Ham:] So you still play the old games?
[Ray:] Oh yes! They’re classic. When I started writing for AoWIII, I went through and played all three games over again, from start to finish—all the campaigns. With sites like http://gog.com the games are cheap. I may have cheated on a couple of the maps (That final AoW:SM campaign map is a killer pain!), because I knew how to edit the campaign maps, and I gave my leaders Dominate, High Defense, and Lightning Strike, but it was all for the sake of research… at least that’s what I told my wife when I wasn’t helping her with the dishes.
All three games are still very playable and addicting.
[Ham:] Right. Research. So you played all these games, and then you came to the point of your reminiscing, right?
[Ray:] My point is that we’re continually evolving, creating fun ways to bring an engaging story, but never forgetting where we came from. This game is so rich in source material, and like most good stories, we don’t tell all of them, we layer them one on another. We have hundreds of stories we could’ve told. We’ve got nearly 2000 years of game history to draw from, carefully recorded in the world’s timeline.
I’m really excited about how we bring the story to the players this time around. The Campaign, specifically, is a mix of all the best aspects of prior versions. We’ve had the time to do it right.
The AoW team innovations
[Ham:] You keep saying “we”. Is this story process collaborative?
[Ray:] Absolutely. I try to inject as many of the game elements into the storyline—because the rules of the game are the rules of the world. But I don’t play the game regularly like some of the developers, so I rely heavily on the developers to clue me in. Lennart and Godwin have been great.
[Ray:] Godewijn Perizonius. I anglicized his name, cuz I don’t “sprecken zee Dutch” and he has way too many letters in his name. Godwin’s the architect behind the scenario maps and campaign. I work very closely with him. He and Lennart are very thorough and keep me from writing novels into every chapter of the campaign. They focus the story to the core elements, as I have a tendency to want to elaborate on tangential sidestories. The AoW world is so ripe with fascinating ideas, alas, they make me choose. Again, keep focused.
[Ham:] Speaking of focus.
[Ray:] Right. So as I was saying, the campaign story is epic. It’s told from the point of view of two rivals. The player choosing which rival they will play: the Elven Court, or the Commonwealth. The story in both branches will have one major decision point, which means the campaign will different endings depending on your choices. Because the campaign’s slightly shorter than AoW1, I think players will feel greater motivation to play all the branches to their respective conclusions.
Another nice feature of the campaigns is that nearly every map is a different leader—characters you collect as you progress through the campaign. They start out as heroes, but then you give them a chance to lead, and each leader has a different set of skills, which is a major new feature of AoWIII.
All in all, I’m thrilled by the features in this campaign. As you can tell we have taken the most popular aspects of each campaign and applied them here within the confines of our budget and schedule, and I think it’ll be a real hit.
What has happened with Merlin and Julia since Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic? Read about it and more in the next development journal.
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