Remembering The Fallen: Ensemble Studios/Age Of Empires(Pt. 1)

Game studios aren’t just about making games for the heck of it.  They are businesses, too.  And sometimes, business have to close for one reason or another.  In this series, we will look at some of the studios that aren’t with us any longer and the games that died with them.

Rest In Peace


That is the sound that gave hardened RTS fans nightmares for years.  Still does, in fact.  Such is the legacy that Ensemble Studios left on the video game industry.

The glory that was RTS games in the late 90's

The glory that was RTS gaming in the late 90's.

Ensemble Studios was founded in 1995 by two brothers, Rick and Tony Goodman along with Bruce Shelly and Brian Sullivan.   Their first game, Age of Empires , was released in 1997 and would become an instant hit with the RTS crowd.  It attracted many due to its historical tilt, while many other games were more fantasy related.  In addition, it included features that changed the genre  forever, with things like a mini-map and an improved UI.  This game was a big enough success to convince the brothers to continue the series, so they set to work on a sequel.  However, before the release of Ensemble’s next title one of its founders, Rick Goodman, decided to leave the company to form a new studio.

The graphical/UI improvements are visible, the improvements under the hood aren't.

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is the title that catapulted Ensemble Studios to the stratosphere.  Released in 1999, it was critically acclaimed by reviewers and loved by consumers, it sold over 2 MILLION copies in just 3 months.   This massive success was due to the fact that Ensemble spent most of its time ironing out bugs that plagued the first installment.  Things such as a harder AI were added.  This is impressive, because unlike other RTS games, the AI in Age of Empires only gives itself free resources on the harder difficulties, and even then sparingly.  In addition, the completely re-did path finding, resulting in better performance.   The graphics were also notably improved.  All of these changes resulted in rave reviews from game critics, and the game earned a Metacritic score of  92.   An expansion pack, The Conquerors, added new maps and civilizations, as well as minor gameplay improvements.  This expansion again was a massive success, and it led to yet another sequel.

Check back next week for part 2, where we go over the rest of Ensemble’s games and the reasons behind their closure.

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