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European Union Interjection
ESOC Media Team
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ESO: Interjection
Location: United Kingdom

28 Sep 2017, 14:32

Proposal for Age of Empires III – Definitive Edition:

This document was drafted by Interjection ([email protected]) who will be creating a series of YouTube videos to accompany it. This is intended as a first draft, I would like to work together as a community to reach consensus before declaring that this document is finished. Anything here can be contested, edited, deleted or added should we deem it appropriate.

Introduction:
Microsoft have announced both ‘Age of Empires IV’ and a string of ‘Definitive Edition’ remakes for the older titles in the franchise. Through adding value to their previous games (e.g., graphical enhancements, multiplayer support, feature modernisation and officially adopting popular user created content) Microsoft can remonetize these products on the Windows Store and build rapport with fans. Ideally, in doing so the split player bases of each game will unite behind the new superior products and come together to play each game on the same patch/platform. This is key to the longevity of the franchise.

The recent news has been met with overwhelming enthusiasm from fans everywhere. Certainly, we here at ESOC are excited for Age of Empires IV and if asked have plenty to say about our hopes for it, however it is Age of Empires III that we are known for and it is Age of Empires III we can provide a detailed, ‘definitive’ proposal for to help shape the most successful version of the game it can be. Below, that is what you will find. This document aims to represent the opinion of the current userbase; the issues/ideas put forward were collaboratively sourced from this ESOC thread.


The document has been written as if the reader has very little knowledge of competitive AOE3. It may go into excruciating detail at times on points that may be fairly obvious to us ESOC users. This detail is important as it cannot be assumed the devs (which I will try my utmost to make contact with) will be clued into the details we take for granted.


Table of Contents:
-Introduction
-Table of Contents
-Overarching Goals for AOE3:DE
-Scrap the Homecity Mechanic
-Unify the Playerbase Into One ‘Definitive’ Game Browser
-Introduce Dedicated Servers / Net Code Overhaul
-Implement Anticheat Detection and Prevention
-Develop a Feature Complete Recorded Game and Live Spectator Mode:
-New Content
-Bug Fixing
-‘Alt D’ Exploit
-Sound Bug
-Volume Reset Upon Tabbing Out
-Backherding
-Better Settings Optimisation
-Improve hardware usage optimisation for better graphics/performance
-Official ELO/rated ladders
-Building rotator fix:
-Seeding Specific Maps:
-Attack Move
-Other Suggestions from the community
-Fixes for ESO

Overarching Goals for AOE3:DE
-AOE3:DE must compel both new and existing players to make the purchase/switch
-AOE3:DE must unify the player base

Scrap the Homecity Mechanic:
Just to be clear, nobody is suggesting for a moment that the ability to send shipments should be switched off. Choosing cards for your deck and sending them as shipments is decisively AOE3’s most salient mechanic. Shipments (and politicians) make the game feel significantly less linear due to their effect on the number of possible build orders available. They also enable players to feel a great deal of choice/flexibility in shaping the way each match unfolds. Overall, shipments are another resource type in AOE3, and like with any resource, cards must be spent wisely and at the correct time. They feel fun because they are quite powerful and result in fast moving dynamic gameplay – a bit like casting an ultimate.

So then, if this is the case, why does such disdain exist for a mechanic that, ultimately, is responsible for a great deal of depth and strategy. It boils down to a single flaw upon launch – back then in 2005 homecity shipments catered towards those who had played longer and leveled their homecities up more. Just having the right cards in your deck was enough to push you up the equivalent of several skill levels over an opponent without such cards. This was not competitive unless you were prepared to grind hundreds of hours just to get to the ‘level playing field’ at the top where everyone had every card. The homecity mechanic was an enormous barrier to entry even for those who were interested and wanted to play. In an MMORPG grinding is ‘the reason to keep playing the game’, with an RTS it is a reason to never start playing in the first place; ultimately ‘play to win’ is just as bad as ‘pay to win’. Competitiveness is crucial and both Age of Empires III and Age of Empires Online failed to recognise this upon launch and suffered negative PR because of it. Sadly, to this day a lot of people still misunderstand the homecity mechanic and think the level matters. Fans of the franchise often don’t want to even talk about AOE3 and dismiss it as "a silly game where you lose because your opponent grinded more for better cards".

Thankfully the developers did remove most of the required grinding to unlock cards. You now only need a modest level homecity to build a competitive deck (so there is functionally almost no difference between a level 60 and 131 homecity). Additionally, newly created homecities now also start at approximately the same level as your highest homecity – meaning you only need to level up once. Today though, with the advent of moding you do not need to level at all, you simply download ‘XP Mod’ (a nifty tool that after a match online tells the servers to add millions of XP to a homecity) so within just a few minutes you can gain hundreds of levels and unlock every card. This makes getting into competitive AOE3 significantly easier, and with the rise of ESOC, Steam, YouTube, Twitch and Discord awareness for this game and its remaining community has spread far and wide owing to consistently stable player numbers for many years now.

XP Mod has limitations though, like with every mod it requires you to find a partner and also requires a clunky manual install into the game directory - both of which are unwanted barriers to entry for those looking to play competitively. Age of Empires III may not be as popular as AOE2 but, for many, it too has great gameplay ‘that’s stood the test of time’ (12 years since launch). The many passionate fans stuck around (continuing to drive sales) not because they enjoyed leveling up their homecities or because the campaign was immersive, but because the gameplay was (and still is) very good. Therefore, the crux of this argument is that having to level up your homecities is a barrier to entry to that gameplay. An obstacle that must be overcome, that many never make it past, before you can enjoy what really gets people excited about the game.

Perhaps then the largest optimisation that can be made for the Definitive Edition is the removal of homecities (or at least the leveling of them). Again, choosing cards to go in your deck and sending them as shipments is one of AOE3’s most beloved gameplay features – this obviously should be preserved. What it shouldn’t be is locked behind hours and hours of grinding. Ideally, all new players should have immediate access to every card (and politician) with the ability to build top tier decks off the bat. Selecting a civilisation in AOE3:DE should be like selecting a civilisation in any other Age of Empires game – everyone starts equal. Of course, there will still be those who are unsure which cards they should put into their deck so perhaps it would be prudent to include some basic prebuilt ‘starter decks’ for each civ too – these could be themed to showcase the strategic diversity on offer whilst also providing novices a semi-competitive jumping off point that won’t hold them back for their lack of game knowledge (at least until they become good enough for it to matter by which point they will have acquired the relevant game knowledge to confidently construct their own decks anyway). From a competitive standpoint, this is crucial to the success of AOE3:DE. There is however, also the non-competitive side of homecities to consider.

If the videogame industry has taught us anything over the past five or more years it is that players yearn for aesthetics which showcase their dedication and/or skill in a game to set themselves apart from the typical crowd. AOE3 sort of does this by displaying a player’s homecity level and as a result, having homecities at the maximum level of 131 now has a degree of prestige associated with it (especially before XP Mod came about). It would be nice to somehow preserve this one element homecities brought to the game. The simplest solution would be to track the total ingame XP generated when playing each civ and display it somewhere in the game lobby so that players could, quite literally, show off their experience with their favourite civs. However, AOE3 also has a system where with each homecity level earned, in addition to a card unlock, you also receive a customisation unlock which allows you to make changes to the way your homecity looks (purely aesthetic), for example you could spend an unlock on being able to choose whether it’s day/night time, or to hang a banner from a building, or to entirely change the style/brickwork/colour of a structure (all of which apply only to your homecity and not to any model in a real game). In AOE3, the cityscape background of the main menu is determined by the last homecity the player used and will reflect any customisation choices made to it. Such choices are also displayed to players during a real game whenever you go to select your next shipment or check your opponents’ deck. Preserving the ability to customise each civilisation more as you accumulate XP is the ‘RPG’ element of AOE3 done well. It would be nice to preserve this element and perhaps ‘show it off’ at least a little bit more than the existing game does – particularly when playing against others online.

The important point though is that players are not restricted on card choice when deckbuilding.

Suggested implementations of this:
-Homecities are functionally removed. Civilisations are selected from a dropdown menu and your decks/customisations are managed in a separate interface.
-No changes are made to how homecities function within the game (except for the level restrictions associated with some cards e.g., economic theory). An optional ‘unlock all cards’ button is added in the ‘choose new cards’ menu.

Unify the Playerbase Into One ‘Definitive’ Game Browser:
Like most Age of Empires games, AOE3’s player base is split across multiple platforms, expansions and patches. Most players use ESO - the more feature complete officially supported platform (as opposed to Game Ranger or Voobly). It is when launching the game that the playerbase splits however. One of three ‘expansions’ must be picked: Vanilla, The Warchiefs (TWC) or The Asian Dynasties (TAD) where there is roughly a 35/0/65 split between them respectively. Players on one expansion cannot interact with games on the others which effectively restricts the player pool and makes finding games take longer. The final layer of splits are due to user patches/mods - players running them can only join games and enter quicksearch with others on the same patch/mod, all other games in the browser appear as ‘CRC Mismatch’ and cannot be joined. This is usually only a problem when using ESOC Patch (EP), players looking for a more competitive experience on our custom balance patch split themselves off into a separate smaller player pool and as result que times for everyone increase. Therefore, for the sake of player retention and the longevity of the game – AOE3:DE must unify the playerbase into one seamless Game Browser so that the game/meta can become as active/diverse as possible.

To achieve maximum gameplay/meta diversity, ideally such a browser would bring everyone together onto the same version of the game. This should be the most up-to-date version which boasts the finest balance, most content/features, and ultimately – replayability/longevity. Continuing to allow users to pick different expansions/patches, even within a seamless browser, will still result in segregating the playerbase and lengthening quicksearch que times. This is especially true when onboarding new players who tend to stick with what they know more than experienced players and will not be prepared to learn the differing metagames, cards and unit balance between each version – such may even be quite confusing if they did not realise this was the case.

Conversely, disabling older versions of the game may alienate some of the 35% that continue to use Vanilla. Whilst this is true, it is unlikely they would have ever made the switch to AOE3:DE anyway for the same reason they never purchased/fully switched to TAD. Providing that the existing game remains on Steam, this should not be a problem as users can always return there for the retro experience (bear in mind Game Ranger/LAN functionality will be around long after the ESO servers). It is probably also the case that a significant portion of that 35% are brand new players picking up the game for the first time. On Steam, before launching the game it asks you to pick a version to run, the default option is Vanilla (when it ought to be TAD) and as a result, new players tend to end up on Vanilla. Evidence for this can be found on Twitch, almost every novice stream is of Vanilla gameplay. Overall, whilst expansion packs have always been greatly welcomed within every gaming community, because of how AOE3’s game browser is set up, their long-term impact has been splitting the playerbase and reducing longevity. Therefore, another important optimisation AOE3:DE can make is to consolidate all content (official or otherwise) into one definitive launcher/patch.

Future expansions are fully compatible with this model (if one ever were to come to be). Back when AOE3 first launched, games were distributed via CD-ROM; they could not be done so over the internet owing to the relatively low bandwidth of the time. Today, if an expansion were released the game files could be rolled out online to everyone pretty much instantly. Weather you purchase the expansion or not, you would still need to update to it and be on the same patch as everyone else before play can continue. This would make it possible for those who did not purchase the expansion to play with people who did. Those that bought the expansion would be able to host games with the new civilisations. Those that did not purchase the expansion would be able to join those games and play against the new civs but would not be able to select them themselves. Whilst this may seem slightly unfair at first (since players with a larger civ pool have a small matchup advantage), it is surely better than splitting the playerbase and damaging the longevity of the game for the majority that do purchase the update. Keeping everyone together is the important optimisation going forward for Age of Empires III.

Introduce Dedicated Servers / Net Code Overhaul:
Age of Empires III multiplayer is conducted via peer-to-peer connections which upon launch in 2005 was sensible. As the game aged however, today this causes a number of problems the most frequent of which being the ‘Failed To Join Game’ error which prevents users from joining a game lobby. The usual cause of this problem is a particularly restrictive firewall/router that blocks a number of ports including the ones relevant to AOE3. Forwarding the relevant ports will fix the issue though is difficult for the average user to perform and thus acts as a barrier to entry. Either updated netcode or dedicated servers would circumnavigate the issue and be an excellent addition to AOE3:DE.

There are also a few other issues that arise from AOE3’s peer-to-peer connections. Tech savvy users can sniff IP addresses which can be unsettling for some people and in extreme circumstances can lead to privacy leaks or DDOS attacks. Other issues more gameplay related (both genuine and malicious) include command lag and matches going ‘Out of Sync’ (there is no restore game option in AOE3 to the frustration of many). Whilst latency is the primary factor when it comes to these issues, AOE3 also boasts a number of high poly units/textures/sprites that are also (presumably) being synced and contributing to lag – usually this only occurs with water, naval and Aztec related assets. There is presumably some net code optimisation which can be performed to facilitate a smoother experience in AOE3:DE. Ideally, dedicated servers off the back of the AOE2:DE infrastructure would be preferable - especially if the game is going to become/remain competitive.

Implement Anticheat Detection and Prevention:
More recently in AOE3’s history, exploits have arisen that allow malicious users to hack/cheat in rated online games. This can take many forms e.g., spawning resources, units, modifying stats, making models invisible, etc. One of the primary purposes of ESOC Patch (EP) was to eliminate these exploits and restore integrity to competitive play. The patch performs this function well, though due to poor adoption, cheating still runs rife - particularly those streaming/broadcasting their matches are at risk of being targeted. At the very least, the work undertaken by ESOC would be a welcome addition to AOE3:DE though further action may still be needed. For example, support staff that can monitor misbehaviour, issue bans, detect point trading and dropticks/droptricks etc.

Develop a Feature Complete Recorded Game and Live Spectator Mode:
It is without a shadow of a doubt that the single most influential mod Age of Empires 3 has seen is the Spectator UI developed by Aizamk. Without it, competitive AOE3 as seen on Twitch/YouTube would not exist, there would be almost no audience for the game and interest would have died off considerably. If Age of Empires 3 Definitive Edition is to be adopted at all for competitive and tournament play then it is imperative for there to be an official native observer/spectator mode which is at least as good as Aizamk’s for both live and recorded games.

Aizamk’s mod has a rich history and went through many iterations before becoming what it is today. Before work began on this project, spectating a live game was done via a relatively simple RMS that spawned players into the game with the spectators as resigned to allow full LOS over the map and access to the postgame graphs. Aizamk began by improving on this e.g., by adding triggers that send periodic automated messages to observers telling them how many resources each player has. Eventually both a specialised RMS and dedicated UI were developed to work in tandem with each other which resembles much more what we have today. The RMS collects data from the players, often in very workaround/hacky ways (due to limitations within the game), and presents that information in a way the custom UI can display.

Whilst this work has been incredibly effective, Aizamk speculates that “what I've done can't be integrated into what they have, but… with the source code they can go a lot further than what I've done. I think there's probably still some limitations that they'll have, though, judging from the various workarounds I had to use, but we shall see”. Whilst it may be an expensive feature to develop, it is categorically necessary. Without it, users may not fully switch to AOE3:DE (at least where competitive/tournaments are concerned) and YouTube/Stream content will die out leading to the eventual death of the game.

New Content:
ESOC is a labour of love - a volunteer ran not-for-profit organisation whose members aren’t just responsible for producing tournaments, but also a user patch (EP) featuring cheat protection, bug fixes, balance changes and twenty-seven new maps. ESOC set out with the goal of taking Age of Empires III, the game we all know and love, and fixing it. EP sought to do this with as few changes as necessary; there was a great deal of focus on maintaining the existing gameplay – preserving the ‘feel’ of each civ so to speak. The patch had to be ‘authentic’ for the remaining players that stuck around because surely that was why they were still there… to play the same game they fell in love with that hasn’t changed in years?

Paradoxically then, the new maps and changes to the ‘standard maps’ pool were the most loved and useful optimisation we had for achieving this ‘authenticity’ goal. Even on the official patch, Robot Entertainment Patch (RE Patch), competitive games are regularly hosted on ‘ESOC Maps’ simply because they boast fairer, more consistent resource distributions. For a competitive game, AOE3 has many terrible, poorly balanced maps which to a large extent are responsible for the imbalance that exists between civilisations. The ‘standard maps’ which quick search (and many rated games) draw from mostly favour aggressive civilisations that can quickly take map control, and does not favour civs that require consistent, reliable nearby resources. This is possibly why AOE3 got a reputation for being a one-dimensional game where “the winner of the first battle is winner of the match”. This simply is not true. Merely adjusting the map pool resulted in a significant number of match ups changing from ‘one sided’ to ‘competitive’ without changing the ‘authenticity’ of how any of them played out.


The ESOC Maps were crafted by three very talented, dedicated and passionate individuals: Garja, Rikikipu and Durokan. Despite being ‘new maps’, they still achieve ‘authenticity’ and fit perfectly alongside the existing ones (ideally, they would replace the existing ones for competitive play unless the existing were reworked in a major way). Each continues the theme of depicting a real-world region in The New World or Asia (complete with accurate descriptions) and, as well as being considerably better balanced, they continue to foster variety each having a focal geographically inspired design trait e.g., the gameplay on ‘Tibet’ literally features on a mountain. These maps therefore would be a welcomed addition to AOE3:DE not only for balance reasons but for the sake of variety as well. Many hundreds of hours were spent making them though so credit to each individual where credit is due would be appreciated.


Whilst the maps would be an ideal inclusion, ESOC Patch might not be. Not on its own at least – certainly cheat protection, bug fixes and balance tweaks would be very welcome but this Definitive Edition is an opportunity to make something a fair bit more substantial. Due to the relatively small competitive player base, EP was developed around the ideology that those players were still here for the game they know and that deviating too much from it would result in a lack of interest. This is obvious though. Of course they’re here for the game they know – they’re not signed into ESO for anything else! Unless it’s to play 40+ new civs on WoL or something. No, everyone else left years ago because they grew tired of the stale unchanging metagame. They went off to play new games that do provide a fresh experience. There’s nothing left to explore now, AOE3 has been figured out. The game has lost its novelty and if DE launched with only the small tweaks made by EP then there wouldn’t be much reason for players to bother trying it out again (at least not for very long). Nor would there be anything worth covering for new (and existing) content creators to get on board with. Sure, there’d be an initial boost, but the game would lack longevity and quickly return to what it is today.


Authenticity through minimalism worked for ESOC Patch. Given that we could not ‘magic’ everyone onto our patch, for the sake of adoption - and tournaments that resemble what viewers remember; it was important EP remained compatible with the existing metagame. Otherwise, nobody who still plays would play it – since for most of those people, learning an entirely new meta/game without everyone else onboard is just too much of an investment. Microsoft though does have the magic wand which can get everyone on board. They can also do what we never could: bring back millions of eyes - thousands of new/returning players. ESOC did what made sense in the context our remaining community… hundreds of thousands of hours of making maps, fixing bugs, balance changes, playtesting, spectator UIs, tournaments, shoutcasting, YouTube, kicking back in Twitch chat and watching it all come together. We made something brilliant and to be proud of. We came together and formed our own little corner of the internet. However, the development of the ‘Definitive Edition’ sits within the realms of an entirely different design space with very different goals and circumstances. This is the time to fix so many things, from useless politicians to never used cards.


For the Definitive Edition to be successful, it must appeal to a much broader audience than EP. Microsoft are obviously looking to sell as many units as possible, the primary audience presumably being old fans of the game (and the franchise more broadly). Simply reselling the same product without anything new isn’t too likely to harbour results, surely something a bit more substantial with regards to content is needed. From a competitive standpoint, Age of Empires III has an astounding amount of dead content seeing no play. For example, it seems a shame that 50% of some civs Colonial Age politicians e.g., The Naturalist (4 cows) & The Bishop (2 settlers) are always objectively terrible choices, the same goes for an assortment of Age III & IV politicians as well as countless cards, natives and more. It feels like a missed opportunity that the devs never bothered to patch them. That opportunity though can be exploited now, doing so for AOE3:DE would effectively create thousands of hours of new content to explore without changing any mechanics or adding any new assets. Done well, such changes could even feel ‘authentic’; each change would have to fit the style and flavour of each civ – they would have to make sense. Ultimately, bringing more existing content into the realms of competitive viability would shake up the stagnant meta and pave the way for new exploration, strategies, build orders and ultimately, longevity. Done well this could be very exciting and interesting for fans who if are to return for any length of time, the game needs to feel like not so much a remake/refresh, but like a brand-new game again.


The discussion surrounding what those changes should be is likely another document as long as this one, though certainly still something that ought to be put together. I (Interjection) would quite like to create a series of videos concerning this topic as it is something I find incredibly stimulating and enjoyable to think about; I would like to share that enthusiasm and put across my vision of what AOE3:DE could be (I’m also accepting job offers).


Bug Fixing:
Whilst EP has successfully fixed a very long list of bugs, there are still some remaining which fixes for have eluded us. Particularly, the ‘Alt D’ exploit, ‘sound bug’, ‘backherding’ and the tabbing out volume reset bugs.


Alt D Exploit:
In AOE3, when an explorer’s HP is reduced to 0, he does not die but instead collapses onto the floor wounded awaiting rescue. Usually, he cannot get back up until either ransomed / other civ specific mechanics OR he has recovered a minimum of 100hp and friendly units are in the area. There is however an exploit that can totally bypass these conditions and make the explorer/hero immediately stand up wherever he is regardless. The exploit is commonly known though frowned upon in competitive play; its use in a tournament will result in immediate disqualification. The exploit is performed through manipulating the hero’s “tactics” specifically with hotkeys. There are five tactics: ‘volley mode’, ‘stagger mode’, ‘melee mode’, ‘defend mode’ and ‘stand ground’, in a competitive game these modes can often be useful in specific circumstances e.g., switching to melee mode to snare enemy unit(s). Often, players will hotkey these mode switches. However, an unintended side effect of using these hotkeys when a wounded explorer is selected is that he will simply just get up and function as normal (though with significantly reduced LOS – he will keep the same LOS as in his wounded state until wounded again and rescued without exploits). The default hotkey for switching to defend mode (a functionally useless mode for competitive play) is ‘Alt D’ which for whatever reason has become the most commonly known way to perform the exploit.


This bug is problematic for a number of reasons, largely because dead explorers should not be able to stand up and steal treasures right from under your nose, they should not be able to build trading posts during transition to the colonial age (often when one will be built), they should not be able to construct town centres, etc etc. There are several ramifications that effect the game in a negative way for players who want to play honestly. This exploit should be removed for AOE3:DE.


Sound Bug:
Although uncommon, sometimes during a match for seemingly no reason, some or all of a player’s game sounds will stop working. The player will not be able to hear useful game sounds such as the siren for when they are being attacked, the sound for a batch of units being created, a shipment arriving, etc. Strangely though, if the player is streaming, all the sounds will still be audible to the viewers. Regardless, it is frustrating to have to play the remainder of any match (rated or otherwise) without sound and to then have to restart the client afterwards to continue as normal. Again, fixing this issue for AOE3:DE would be ideal.


Volume Reset Upon Tabbing Out:
Players can adjust the game sounds / music volume via the in-game audio sliders found in the options menu. This is obviously useful if the game is too loud or quiet. However, irrespective of where the user has set the slider, when they tab out and then back into the client, the game will reset the sound volume to the maximum level. Whilst the sound does reset, the slider will remain where the user left it. Simply clicking on the slider (or moving it) will reduce the volume back to the appropriate level for where the slider is positioned. The sound reset will only occur if the client is tabbed out once a match has started, tabbing out of the ESO lobby for example will not cause this bug to trigger (needs verification).


Backherding:
In AOE3, when huntable animals are shot by a settler, the entire herd will run away in the direction that the shot came from. For competitive play, this can be exploited by shooting the animals in the direction of your town centre. This has been termed ‘herding’ and has become a near universally utilised feature of the game. Once shot, a herd will not move again for 12 seconds (even if shot again) – so herding multiple groups from the very beginning of a match to ensure they are in your base by the colonial age has become a commonplace strategy for creating safe nearby sources of food for the early portion of the game. Herding is an accepted part of AOE3 directly comparable to luring boars and elephants in AOE2 & AOE1 respectively.

Occasionally however, ‘backherding’ can happen which is where for no apparent reason, a herd of animals will not run in the direction they were shot, but instead the opposite direction. In competitive games this can cause immense frustration, especially on the ‘official maps’ where resources are often poorly distributed and herds have to be brought in from particularly far. For some civilisations, many matchups are hinged on the availability of nearby resources - as mentioned earlier, maps are largely responsible for the imbalances that exist between many civilisations. Backherding only adds to these imbalances. Even when ‘hunts’ are fully brought in under the town centre, they can still prove difficult to control and end up running back out again.

Backherding sometimes happens for no reason as described, but can also happen simply by mistake. For example, when an animal runs out of food, the settlers gathering from it will stand up and move to next closest animal to continue gathering. If that animal happens to be alive, they will shoot at it causing the whole herd to run in essentially a random direction usually away from the player’s town centre. Top level players can prevent this from happening by shift-clicking to queue up commands. This though does not eliminate the possibility of a ‘rogue’ settler ‘backherding’ a player’s efforts. Especially since new settlers are being created all the time and players are always retasking or building structures with them (which cancels queued commands). Ultimately, staying on top of your herds is frustrating, focus intensive, fiddly work that occurs before any real gameplay can take place. Real gameplay – Age of Empires 3 is an exciting, fast paced, dynamic game. Herding does not reflect this. The best games of AOE3 usually last >20 minutes (in 1v1). Matches rarely go this long though owing to a combination of poor maps and backherding - both accidental and the bug. Most people report that they enjoy longer games more than shorter ones; AOE3:DE is an opportunity to fix/remove backherding so that in each match, players can actually enjoy more ‘Age of Empires 3’ as opposed to more Discovery Age / Early Colonial herding.


No one likes resigning at eight minutes thirty because they have terrible hunts which just backhurdered towards Russia’s blockhouse. It’s just a waste of everyone’s time. Yes, there is skill involved in managing settlers so that they don’t backherd. But it’s not an ‘interesting’ skill. No one tunes into a stream to witness high quality herding. I mean, from a spectators POV all the intense shift clicking and settler micromanagement isn’t really even visible. Herding is not the reason people watch Age of Empires III – so it certainly isn’t why people play it. It’s just a necessary part of the game before you can get into the more interesting ‘Age of Empires 3’ part of the match – exactly like how luring boars/elephants is a necessary part of AOE2/1. Except in AOE3, you can accidently ‘unlure’ – there’s even a random ‘unlure’ bug! What a great game – requiring incredible precision and competence for something as mundane and trivial as your early game food source as opposed to actually interesting stuff like strategy, tactics and battles. What I am about to suggest, although a lowering of the skill ceiling, I would argue makes the game more fun and interesting. I would argue that the need to constantly manage your settlers to stop them from backherding isn’t fun or interesting. It’s fiddly work that acts as a barrier to entry with regards to actually playing the more interesting post colonial part of the game.


The problem backherding poses can be eliminated without changing any mechanics. Currently, dead hunts lose 1 food/s - this rate is constant regardless of how many villagers are gathering from the animal. Because hunts represent the fastest gathering food source, for players to remain competitive, it is important to preserve them for as long as possible. This means killing as few hunts as necessary. However, if the decay rate were to be reduced enough, it would become viable to immediately kill animals once they move into an acceptable range of the town centre. This would not only allow players to create safe static food source that can’t run away but would also reduce the potential for backherding to occur in the first place. This is because, when a food source expires, the settlers gathering from it will move to the next closest one. If that next one happens to be alive, they will shoot at it. With more dead animals, the next food source is less likely to be alive and course backherding – especially if players were to actively herd the remaining alive animals away from the dead ones being gathered at so that each settler’s next animal is always dead


The rate of decay needs to strike a balance between making it viable to ‘immediately kill animals’ and ‘preserving their food for as long as possible’. A decay rate of 0 food/s (removing decay entirely) would perhaps be too much – this would make it sensible to quickly kill every animal in a herd as soon they make their way directly under the town centre leading to aggressive strategies becoming harder to exploit at lower levels (though this may be a welcome change – at the top level I don’t think this change would have very much impact on the strategies effectiveness). A decay rate of 0.5 food/s may make it acceptable to kill some animals when they reach the TC, but not all of them (untested, pure speculation). This might strike the right balance.

Personally I am an advocate for removing decay entirely so that hunts function like in Age of Empires Online (no decay). If this were the case then perhaps herds on the map should have 1 animal removed for resource balance reasons.

-Fixing the backherding bug would be nice too if possible, though the above change might mitigate the need to.
-Another idea to play around with, make settlers autogather from DEAD animals ONLY (if there are any within a certain radius of them). Might need to change maximum settlers per animal so they don’t end up all crowding around the last animal if this were the case. If there are no available animals nearby then they would kill a new one.

Better Settings Optimisation:
Currently, the game is unable to detect what benchmark the user’s hardware is at and as a result it never seems to select good graphics settings when launching the game for the first time. Also, there’s a number of features in the menu that almost all players use that are not switched on by default which should be.

-Unit training que is not on by default which shows all units and techs in que directly on the UI. Currently if too many units/techs/shipments are being done it does not display them all, the ones qued last will be hidden until the ones qued first are complete. With modern screen sizes/resolutions though there’s not really any reason why it shouldn’t show everything being trained/created all at once. Also, although not essential, it would be nice to add more features too it e.g., buildings that are being built appear as well as cooldowns/ultimates for various units e.g., explorer crackshot, explorer sharpshooter, Portuguese explorer spy glass abilities, the swashbuckler attack ultimate (after sending advanced explorer), Morgan Black’s spec, Lizzie’s, Alain’s (from campaign all have ultimates).

-Almost all players use the maximum zoom, some even use mods to zoom out further (banned in tournaments). Obviously the more you can see the better for competitive play. Adding more zoom for DE might be nice especially if 4k support were to be added. Regardless, new players rarely ever turn the zoom up to max at first.

-Show Game Time is not on by default, this is useful in competitive play as it provides time sensitive info e.g., what time your opponent ages up at (In AOE3 there is an in game message announcing that somebody advanced to the next age, a bit like how there is an ingame message when you research a tech). The timing of things happening is important info in AOE3.

-There is a toggle in the menu for ‘gathers per resource’ which is essential for macroing efficiently as it allows you to see how many villagers are gathering from each resource. This is not on by default.

-Player score is not on by default, in AOE3, score is calculated as 1 point for every 100 resources either in the players bank OR as a unit/building/tech that is on the battlefield or has finished being researched. Units and techs in que do NOT contribute towards score until they are finished (with the exception of ageup/politican techs). Line of sight does not factor into the score, nor does anything else which may in earlier titles. Score in AOE3 is mathematically calculated from things which are collected/created during a game. This makes it a reliable way to compare who has done the most in a game (though is by no means an accurate predictor of who will win… 10 units costing 300 each in que will knock 30 points of the score until they are fully trained, players might be floating resources, players might have poorly comped army that represents a lot of score but dies easily, etc). The point is, score is useful and ought to be on by default, though perhaps in a less obtrusive way as currently it could probably take up less space on screen.

Also, with regards to score, some issues that would be nice to fix: currently mercenaries are not calculated into the score in the same way other units are. They are significantly undervalued. It would be nice to make them function as normal in score calculations. E.g., a mamuluke valued at 400 gold does not add 4 to the score.

-Advanced formations and advanced unit type information are not on by default. Given how the counter system works with multiplyers etc, it’s probably useful to present this info clearly to new/players. So they know what units count as what, meaning they know what units will counter what.

-‘ALT key shows hitpoints bars’ is not on by default. This is essential for herding as it allows you to see the HP of animals without having to click on them individually. Whilst herding it is important not to kill the animals until they get to your base (as described earlier). Also this setting is very useful for microing at a competent level, seeing the HP of enemy units allows you to better allocate an appropriate number of units to target with.


Improve hardware usage optimisation for better graphics/performance
No explanation required

Official ELO/rated ladders
No explanation required

Building rotator fix:
Currently there is building rotation functionality in the game files. It was just never switched on for release. It can be switched on without causing CRC mismatch by editing the game files. This gives some players a competitive advantage, particularly as civs like Dutch which build above average number of buildings that can be exploited when rotated (banks) to make barriers/interrupt pathing into their base. It would be nice to enable this rotator for everyone or fully disable this for everyone for the DE release (so everyone is on the same playfield and everything is fair). Personally, I am an advocate for fully enabling it. It adds another line of depth to the game with regards to base defence and simcitying. It would also be nice to show off the other sides of the buildings more which currently can only be rotated officially in the scenario editor, if not enabled then why even bother with a 3d engine?

Seeding Specific Maps:
Seeding specific maps from the RMS scrips (would be nice to ensure balanced maps for high profile matches and tournament games). Though may not be good to include as players might start seeding the same map every single game and people already play on Great Plains way too much. Results in a lack of variety and players never get to experience the other maps and get better at the game. This could be entirely avoided if matchmaking (quicksearch) became the only way to rank up (which I am an advocate for).

Attack Move Bug:
Attack move bug, usually functions fine but can sometimes do nothing resulting in losing a volley of shots of a slight pause before attacking. This can be catastrophic in competitive play.

Other Suggestions from the community
-Make Quciksearch/matchmaking the only way to rank up
-Adopt some of the best known ESOC taunts?
-Make games recorded by default, or add a StarCraft style system that lets you decide weather to save a rec after the match
-Better AI for new/players to vs against
-Overhaul power rating system or make it less exploitable (e.g. all rated games done via matchmaking)
-Reset the ladders more often to encourage play and discourage sitting on points
-Remove the screenshot function that people can abuse to create lag (this won’t be an issue on dedicated servers)
-Fix the wall bug where adjacent walls being seiged (even by 1 unit) mirror the damage taken of the other walls
-Fix/remove many of the triggers in the scenario editor ported over from AOM (which AOE3 is built on)
-Add many of the custom trigger packs built over the years by players such as EAGLEMUT
-Enable a toggle in the scenario editor that allows custom decks as opposed to just prebuilt ones to be used on the map being made
-Enable triggers that set the age and all the appropriate techs for that age as 'active'. Currently this can be done when hosting a match but not as a trigger for custom scenarios (to do this, every tech in that age must be selected manually)
-In an AOE2HD style launcher or displayed somewhere on ESO, show the most popular custom scenarios / custom RMS being played that day/month/etc. Helps users playing casual matches to find something interesting
-Perhaps create an RMS editor/tool and expand the available commands/documentation for RMS so that new community made maps can become ‘more of a thing’
-Enable the ability to 'ready' into a game as a random civ or random mirror civs
-Enable hotkeys on the agrafort (don't currently work)
-Have larger menus when selecting a recorded game or saved game you want to resume (so more games can be seen without scrolling if the player has many saved)
-Enable the ability to reselect your deck if you have not sent a shipment yet


Fixes for ESO:
-Being able to click/copy and paste text/links.
-Expanding number of friends that can be stored on the friends list.
-Adding a green 'online' icon/symbol in the clan list
-Enable the ability to pick any image of any unit in the game, not just the preselected portraits
-Fix the bug that displays a player as 'online' rather than 'in-game' when they are playing a custom scenario
-Message board fix (sometimes posts don't show up in chronological order)
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No Flag ovi12
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28 Sep 2017, 14:41

Backherding is not a bug, and it's not random. It was intentionally put in place so you cannot get all the herds on your side of the map to your TC.
last time i cryed was because i stood on Lego
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Sweden Gendarme
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28 Sep 2017, 15:03

I don't agree that it is annoying that herding needs attention and practice. It is part of macro that is at the core of every (?) RTS. I have never encountered a herd running in the wrong direction "for no apparent reason". It would be good if you could show a clip of that happening, because I don't think I am the only one confused here.
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duck wrote:man it really sucks when you have to agree with gendarme on things
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Canada _NiceKING_
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28 Sep 2017, 15:11

Interjection wrote:
Fixes for ESO:
-Being able to click/copy and paste text/links.
-Expanding number of friends that can be stored on the friends list.
-Adding a green 'online' icon/symbol in the clan list
-Enable the ability to pick any image of any unit in the game, not just the preselected portraits
-Fix the bug that displays a player as 'online' rather than 'in-game' when they are playing a custom scenario
-Message board fix (sometimes posts don't show up in chronological order)


I am pretty sure they will use Xbox Live instead of ESO.
India Ashvin
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28 Sep 2017, 15:36

I hope they will include multicore support so the game runs smoothly on newer computers
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European Union Interjection
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28 Sep 2017, 15:39

_NiceKING_ wrote:I am pretty sure they will use Xbox Live instead of ESO.


I imagine that that would be case too, but I still thought it would be prudent to mention current issues regardless.
_________________________________

With regards to backherding, this is a first draft. The plan is to reach consensus before declaring that this document is finished.
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Netherlands dietschlander
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28 Sep 2017, 15:42

That's an insane writeup inter, kuddos +1
Theres going to be a dam, the great dam and we'll let the beavers pay for it - Edeholland 2016
Anyway, nuancing isn't your forte, so I'll agree with you like I would with a 8 year old: violence is bad, don't do hard drugs and stay in school Benj98
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European Union Interjection
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28 Sep 2017, 15:49

Thank you, it took a long bloody time
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European Union Asateo
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Location: Belgium

28 Sep 2017, 15:58

Amazing write-up indeed.

Gendarme wrote:I don't agree that it is annoying that herding needs attention and practice. It is part of macro that is at the core of every (?) RTS. I have never encountered a herd running in the wrong direction "for no apparent reason". It would be good if you could show a clip of that happening, because I don't think I am the only one confused here.


Hum, it happens from time to time with me. You shoot in the correct direction and the herd runs toward you instead of away.
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Hold infinity in the palm of you hand, And eternity in an hour
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Italy Garja
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28 Sep 2017, 16:00

My main concern with all of this is that it simply too much (at points trivial) stuff compared to both what they're hired for and to what it is necessary to substantially improve the game.
Also lot of things are questionable and there isn't agreeement even inside ESOC community, let alone within the general player base.

In detail:

- homecity mechanic is just foundamental to the game concept, cannot be removed. What they could do is to add a toggleable "cheat switch" to unlock everything by default.

- unifying the playerbase in one single game, if possible that would be great but otherwise not something essential.

- dedicated/regional servers would be great, atleast for playability but quite expensive and needs a business plan in itself. I don't expect that to ever happen with any remake. Also AOE3 playerbase is small and splitting it kinda sucks.

-anticheat detection/prevention is probably just as easy as disabling the dev console (facepalm). I guess we players can point out the map hack problem and provide the solution (if we have it at ESOC).

- new record game and observer mode would be great. They should totally work on those features as they are important for many reasons.

- new content: whether it is official or just provided by ESOC I don't think it's important nor a good idea. ESOC content is just too different from official game that is makes sense to keep the two things separated. I would rather see a new official balance patch and maybe a map contest to add few more maps to the official pool.

- bug fixing falls within the scope of a remake as long as those bugs are evident and they cause glitches and other weird stuff. Some major and blatant bugs that cause balance problems can also be fixed since it takes nothing (like the 1600xp of the industrial shogunate which is basically just a typo). Some trivial not balance related bugs also are good candidates for fixing, again because they pertain to game dev work. Probably most of bugs fall in those categories but many others don't, so they shouldn't and I'm pretty sure they will not bother with.

- alt D is a major and quite stupid bug so I'm sure it will be fixed (as long as they are aware of it obviously).

- sound bug is also a QOL related element so it will certainly be considered.

- volume reset: same thing as above.

- backherding is not a bug but an intended feature, and a reasonable one. There is actually nothing wrong with that.

- better setting optimisations. They could consider this as it relates to QOL improvements that align the game with new standards so something that in the end add values to the game or can be marketed as such. I don't mind current settings, they 're not even that limited.

- improve hardware/usage is key and I'm sure they will look into that. It is just a no brainer with a remake.

- official ladder/Elo score, that's actually a legit request since they are maybe not willing to do that but they might do that since it's a rather standard feature that can be easily improved. It basically has lot of potential added value for very little effort.

- building rotator fix is simply a bad suggestion. Not only the feature is strictly inferior for competitive play, but there is also no evidence that it was supposed to be included in actual play (it is likely only implemented for the scenario editor). Also it falls in those trivial stuff category that I suspect they don't want to dive in.

- seeding specific maps is controversial and again totally trivial/not worth the time to dig into that. We can totally live with 1) slightly unbalanced maps, 2) accepting that perfect balance is a subjective concept, 3) restarting maps when there is something important at stake.

- attack move is sort of a technical problem I think, so they should try to fix that. If anything because having buggy commands just makes the game worse than the competition so it is quite bad showing.

- other suggestion from the community: interesting stuff maybe, but not something they're payed for, so they won't do it. I wouldn't do it if I had limited time.

- fixes for ESO, important as it pertains the general user experience, but as someone said they won't probably use ESO (another reason why we should start thinking of a different name).

Basically I don't expect them to tailor the game for our needs and I think they shouldn't in fact spend too much time on that. All they have to do is improve general things that were not optimized back then. By aligning the game to the new standards and fixing some blatant in game bugs the game will already receive a huge boost.
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Poland pecelot
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28 Sep 2017, 16:02

Some thoughts after the first part: home-city levelling is cool in itself once you get all the necessary cards, which you can do easily with a 60-lvl HC. The part of the game where you gather XP for your total HC count is pretty satisfying, one of the few features that display your dedication to the game. There are a couple of solutions I've thought of, and ultimately I've come to such a conclusion: you could either set each home-city to be unlocked at the 60th lvl to provide aforementioned starting cards to the players or just have 60 cards to unlock at the 1st lvl. Alternatively, you could also grant people 3 HCs to unlock at the 100th lvl and the rest at the 60th lvl — to eventually save the climbing factor. I certainly enjoyed getting new and new shipments, my French home city was founded in March 2015 on the 10th lvl, now it's on 130th!
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Netherlands momuuu
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28 Sep 2017, 16:04

Didn't read everything but backherding is not actually a bug. It seems like a bug on shitty RE maps but that's because their spawns are shit/bugged not because the way herds function is bugged.

Backherding happens when you herd a hunt thats too far from your TC towards your TC anyways. At some distance it will backherd. If you think you're getting backherds on EP maps then either you're not actually herding the close hunts but for some reason the hunts very far away or you're actually just fucking up and then blaming a bug even though you are the one fucking up. I can't remember the last time I actually had a backherd without fucking it up myself on any EP map. I'm not even sure that actually happened, maybe on cascade range it can spawn outside of herdable range if you're unlucky.

I honestly just entirely disagree on the herding stuff. Herding is easy, and on EP maps fucking up herding is like forgetting to make villagers. And I want to emphasize that backherding does not actually happen randomly at all.

The rest is mostly great btw. Just one other comment: I think bugged attack move happens when you have a dead explorer grouped up with your army.

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Czech Republic EAGLEMUT
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28 Sep 2017, 16:11

Nice, looks like you've been putting a lot of work into this. :flowers:

Here are some nitpicks and my thoughts:
Weather you purchase the expansion or not

Whether*

Whilst it may be an expensive feature to develop, it is categorically necessary. Without it, users may not fully switch to AOE3:DE (at least where competitive/tournaments are concerned) and YouTube/Stream content will die out leading to the eventual death of the game.

I wouldn't necessary expect the existing Observer UI to stop working on AoE3:DE. Would still be nice if they could implement a more "native" one that performs better and is built-in, yes.

The player will not be able to hear useful game sounds such as the siren for when they are being attacked, the sound for a batch of units being created, a shipment arriving, etc. Strangely though, if the player is streaming, all the sounds will still be audible to the viewers.

Pretty sure this is incorrect, the sounds are bugged on stream just as much. I've witnessed it on kami's stream a couple weeks ago.
Also, it may be of interest that it appears this can currently be fixed by permanently disabling music sound in the game.

The sound reset will only occur if the client is tabbed out once a match has started, tabbing out of the ESO lobby for example will not cause this bug to trigger (needs verification).

It does trigger in the lobby as well. As far as I know, it just triggers always, unless you have the sound already on max.

Fixing the backherding bug would be nice

As others have mentioned, "backherding" is an intended game mechanic, preventing a player from herding any hunt too far from its initial location. Upon reaching a certain distance from the starting point, a hunt will "reset" and attempt to run back in the starting point direction. I guess one could say it's kind of like a treasure guardian not following you across the whole map, but resetting after a certain distance instead.

Better Settings Optimisation

Great point that I don't see brought up often enough. The default settings are like 90% wrong, it's really a shame most of them are the opposite of what they should be.

Attack move bug, usually functions fine but can sometimes do nothing

Yep, it's sometimes buggy. Afaik when a hero dies a-move usually gets very messed up in particular.

Enable the ability to reselect your deck if you have not sent a shipment yet

Don't think I agree with this. When I check my opponent's deck, I don't want to be surprised by him switching to a different one. This could lead to endless deck-switching battles in age1, where both players try to counter each other' decks.
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India guyshir
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28 Sep 2017, 16:23

Amazing write up.
Please add, German Settler Wagon train hotkey from mills too. It is missing on current version of TAD. :flowers:
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Greece BrookG
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28 Sep 2017, 16:42

I loved it! I read every detail. Totally jealous of your writing skills!! There are also two things that might need to be considered. The attack move with alt+click and the select all hotkey. When you have the explorer for example grouped in the same unit group it selects only him, who was placed first. As far as backherding is concerned, since it's unsure whether it was intentional or not, you can keep only the part where you reconsider that feature.
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28 Sep 2017, 17:04

ovi12 wrote:Backherding is not a bug, and it's not random. It was intentionally put in place so you cannot get all the herds on your side of the map to your TC.

Mind fucking blown.
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Hungary Dsy
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28 Sep 2017, 17:05

Instalike for longest post in ESOC forum... 8-)
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Canada _NiceKING_
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28 Sep 2017, 18:26

Dsy wrote:Instalike for longest post in ESOC forum... 8-)

This one is longer: viewtopic.php?t=944
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Brazil lemmings121
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28 Sep 2017, 18:48

EAGLEMUT wrote:
Attack move bug, usually functions fine but can sometimes do nothing

Yep, it's sometimes buggy. Afaik when a hero dies a-move usually gets very messed up in particular.


Yes, if you have a dead explorer in a group and atack move it, it wont work properly. Currently you can just not group your explorer with your army to prevent that ptoblem.
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Italy gamevideo113
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28 Sep 2017, 19:08

I think that probably there should be priority tiers in this write up. While i don't agree with Garja who is saying that we are asking for too much stuff to be implemented, i think that, knowing Microsoft, they probably won't even consider many of the things we are asking. A priority list would probably help in this regard, so that what we want the most will be less likely to be left out of the definitive edition.
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Sweden deadrising78
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28 Sep 2017, 19:18

Ep balance changes needs to be on the list as well
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Canada Mitoe
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28 Sep 2017, 20:54

Love the writeup. As someone above me mentioned, a priority list would help a lot in ensuring the most important points are included in the DE.

I only disagree on two things:

1) Backherding is not actually a bug: herds are designed to remain within a certain radius from their starting location, and will return that way when moved too far from that location. This is important because it emphasizes the important of map control, and you can't simply herd every single hunt you have on your side of the map to a safe location, you have to create a safe location around it to gather from. Backherding was a big problem on the official RE maps because the hunt spawns were far too random/bad, but on ESOC maps backherding is almost non-existent as is. Perhaps a very slight increase in the radius hunts can move from their starting position would be a decent QoL change to prevent backherds when there are minor map-screws, but removing the mechanic altogether is unnecessary and potentially even harmful, in my opinion.

2) I disagree about building rotation being included. I know that this is a controversial point within the community, but I actually strongly disagree with the sentiment that "It adds another line of depth to the game with regards to base defence and simcitying": If anything, I think it actually removes a degree of depth from base-building, as you no longer have to think as much about where or how you place your buildings, you simply rotate them into the most advantageous position regardless of the situation.

Building rotation is great for scenario building and singleplayer, but I personally believe it has no place in competitive play.
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Italy Garja
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28 Sep 2017, 20:59

gamevideo113 wrote:I think that probably there should be priority tiers in this write up. While i don't agree with Garja who is saying that we are asking for too much stuff to be implemented, i think that, knowing Microsoft, they probably won't even consider many of the things we are asking. A priority list would probably help in this regard, so that what we want the most will be less likely to be left out of the definitive edition.

Ye there should definitely be a priority list and everything must be accurately structured. Interjection post goes in very detail and certainly is clear in its intent but I doubt they will concede us that much attention.
Bear in mind that a lot of the proposed things are going to be implemented anyway. They are for sure implementing the same things they did for AOE1:DE, which is a lot already.
We, as players, should focus on major gameplay features and bugs that they might overlook.
Also we should consider a minimal balance patch with 1-2 max changes per civs plus a couple of general changes.
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Canada Mitoe
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28 Sep 2017, 21:05

Garja wrote:Also we should consider a minimal balance patch with 1-2 max changes per civs plus a couple of general changes.

I agree, although for the general changes I do actually like Interjection's comment about the politicians:

Spoiler


Including some minor changes like 4 cows > 4 cows + a livestock pen or 2 settlers > 3-4 settlers would make them decent options in very niche situations while not detracting much from the current gameplay. I'd like to hear some thoughts on these sorts of changes as well: I feel they could add a lot to the game while not changing anything drastically.
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Italy Garja
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28 Sep 2017, 21:09

Ye if they were willing to spend time into adding new features then there is a shitload of possible community suggestions.
I just think that is not included in the scope of the remake but who knows. Maybe it is marketable so they will consider it.

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