GP: Firstly Bruce, when did you start playing games, and when did you decide that you were going to make them?

    BCS: I’ve been enjoying games as long as I can remember. I started thinking about making them for a living in the 1970’s. I tried to get a job at a game company but was rejected. Later some friends asked me to join them starting the first game company I worked for.

    GP: Which game made you fall in love with the strategy genre?

    BCS: I got into strategy games through board war games. I had played Risk and Stratego in college, and then discovered games about real world historical events. There was a lot of interest in strategy board games in the 1970’s. I like the thinking and problems involved, and the connection to real events. Games were like making the maps at the end of history books come alive.

    GP: What was the first game you managed to get published?

    BCS: The first game I designed that was published was a game about the entire American Civil War that was published in Strategy & Tactics Magazine sometime in the early 1980’s.

    GP: When did you form Ensemble Studios? How did it begin?

    BCS: Ensemble Studios was spun out of Ensemble Corporation, a business consulting company in Dallas. Tony Goodman was the founder and CEO of both. We were old friends. When he began Studios in 1995, he asked me to join him and other employees from his consulting company.

    GP: Were you surprised at how well the original AOE done? Did Microsoft chuck wads of cash at you after that?

    BCS: We knew the original AoE was good, but the scale of its success was a surprise. We got a better royalty on AoE II and our share of the profits from both games was significant. We had a lot of cash in the bank when we reached the agreement to be acquired by Microsoft.

    GP: Do you know Bill Gates? Does he pay for dinner? Seriously though, does he play games?

    BCS: I’ve met him once when Tony Goodman and I demonstrated Age of Empires II and a prototype of what would become Age of Mythology. I don’t know if he does more than just try MS games to see what they are about.

    GP: Age of Mythology. Explain how you came up with the idea for the game, and was it very hard to convince Microsoft to back it?

    BCS: We had long company (ES) meetings gathering input on what we should do next. Other ideas we considered were fantasy and science fiction and WW II, as I recall. We were independent and not under contract when we decided that. By the time we closed our acquisition with Microsoft they were very pleased with the game and its prospects.

    GP: Tell us about the game’s setting/backdrop.

    BCS: Takes place a long time ago when legend and myth were real. We don’t put any time scale on it. IN my view humans have taken the Earth from other creatures and are now deciding which human culture will dominate. The gods are involved and hoping their worshippers will triumph.

    GP: What were the reasons for you to go with this type of setting this time around?

    BCS: No one had done mythology in successful RTS yet, it was different but close to what we had done already, there was a lot of interesting stuff from which to make a game, and it would show off our new 3D technology.

    GP: Give us a brief run down of the key features in AOM.

    BCS: God powers (dramatic strategic events), myth units (joining your soldier armies at the tactical level), 3D technology making a more realistic world, a large new single player campaign following the career of one hero, and ingame cinematics that help drive the story along.

    GP: Is there any type of storyline in the game?

    BCS: There is no story in the game except in the single player campaign. In the standard game it is just which civilization or team will dominate the Earth.

    GP: Fans are expecting big things from AOM; in what ways game-play wise does it improve on AOE2?

    BCS: Small details that reduce micro-management (farms last forever now), completely new interface (liberal use of drop down banners that are out of the way when not needed), a new population model based on a fixed number of settlement site where Town Centers can be built, and use of god powers.

    GP: Were you ever tempted to just call it Age of Empires 3?

    BCS: We see AoM as a fork in the Age franchise. Age III would have been (might be) a more historical game.

    GP: When did actual development begin on the game?

    BCS: The game was started after we completed Age II. The 3D technology was started after we completed Age I.

    GP: The game was originally due for release last Xmas. What were the reasons for it slipping a whole year?

    BCS: Building a new game on top of a completely new engine proved too much for only two years of work.

    GP: How has the (very) limited BETA test gone? Any problems? What has fans feedback been like?

    BCS: We’re happy with the BETA test and made a number of changes. Most deal with speeding up a typical game. This included increasing villager gathering rates and speeding construction times for buildings.

    GP: Have any of your original ideas/plans for the game missed out in the final product? If so, what were they and why did they get the cut?

    BCS: Many ideas fall by the wayside. We had an original plan that called for population to be dependent on farms and limited the number of sites on the map where farms could be built. Wasn’t fun. Originally heroes called down god powers within their line of sight. They got killed too easily. Originally god powers required favor and could be called over and over. Too many god powers happening in the game.

    GP: Of all the other RTS games that have been released over the years by other companies, what’s your favourite and why? Is there any particular developer you admire?

    BCS: I like ours the best by far. Anything by Blizzard is good. Most of Westwood’s games were good.

    GP: Ok, nearly finished. Tell us why AOM is going to be the biggest PC game this Xmas.

    BCS: Best looking and most fun RTS for this holiday season. Can be played many different ways so players of all skill levels can find a challenge and style of play that suits them.

    GP: What’s next for Ensemble Studios and Bruce Shelley after AOM hits retail?

    BCS: We’ll begin company wide talks in November to decide what we are doing next.

    GP: Great stuff. Thanks for your time Bruce. We’ll be eagerly awaiting the final product this November!

    BCS: So are we. Three weeks to go (till the game is done).