Age Of Wonders Re-Release. Also, Interview.

By Kieron Gillen on September 24th, 2010 at 7:30 pm.

This won't end well.

Good news for fans of good news. All the Age of Wonders games have been re-released for the Direct Download market. At the time of writing, all three are available in a trilogy pack (plus soundtracks) on Impulse, the first is on Good Old Games and apparently they’ll be on Steam imminently. They’re some of my favourite turn-based strategy games of the last fifteen years, so I thought I’d grab the chance to talk to Triumph Studios’ original design director, Lennart Sas, about how the games came to be, his memories of them and the possibilities of a third one…

RPS: Could you talk about the inspiration of Age of Wonders? Why did you decide to make it? What games – and books or films, for that matter – influenced your thinking about it?

Lennart Sas: The origin of the Age of Wonders project goes all the way back to the first half of the nineties when I met Triumph co-founder Arno van Wingerden at college. We set out to bring the sweeping scope of fantasy conflicts, as seen in books like Lord of the Rings, into strategy and empire building games, with RPG and adventure elements added to the mix. Games like the first Warlords and Civilization as well as the Rogue-like RPGs were an inspiration.

We made a prototype called World of Wonders which caught the eye of Epic Games, who at that time were into shareware publishing. When we graduated in 1997 we started again from scratch and decided to make a commercial retail game out of the concept to start our own games company. In the meantime Heroes of Might and Magic and Master of Magic came out but we found our title added to the genre by having a strong multi-player focus built on a rock solid strategic core – complete with a hexagon grid! I also think the tone and style were different and much more in line with the high fantasy experience.

RPS: What were the big hurdles?

Lennart Sas: The difficulty in making these sweeping strategic titles lies in creating the AI and accounting for the huge variety of gameplay situations. The core these games are sort of like chess but with thousands of ‘pieces’, such as military units from a dozen races, leveling heroes that can carry an arsenal of magical items, a spells library, and a large set of landscape features including developing cities, surface and underground locations. Making the AI and game systems work together in a fair and balanced way with all of these combinations is a hell of a job, but this key in creating the experience.

RPS: Were there problems in finding a publisher – when talking to developers of turn based games, I’ve heard a fair few stories about them being reticent about it, even back then.

Lennart Sas: We didn’t have too much trouble finding the retail publisher at the time. As a “starve-up” company, we managed to create a large portion of the game before pitching so the publisher risk was low. Furthermore the great guys at Epic Games opened doors.

RPS: What’s the key of the game? Why do you think people were so into them?

Lennart Sas: Looking back I think the multiplayer, solid strategic core, and modding tools are what made the Age of Wonders games stand out. There is a community of players still active today. For people new to the series, check out the community site http://aow2.heavengames.com for tons of user created materials, extensive manuals, background info, and people to challenge online.

RPS: Looking back on the games, what are you most proud of? What grates and you would perhaps have done differently given hindsight?

Lennart Sas: I’m most proud of the series’ replay value. Seven years after release of the last title, people are playing the games and making additions. But at the same time I think we should have made the pacing of the game quicker especially for the larger maps.

Mordrak the all powerful realises the Estate Agent had totally tricked him.

RPS: What was your favourite of the three?

Lennart Sas: For players trying out a single game of the series I’d recommend Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic as the gameplay systems, multiplayer options, balance, and AI had all reached their peak.

My personal favorite of the series has to be the first one. It’s a matter of taste, but I think the music, graphics, branching campaign, and the epic,yet charming fantasy experience brought by the Raymond Bingham’s story all come together really well. Despite being called retro even at its release, I think Age of Wonders 1 with its pixel graphics and fantastic “mod” music (by Michiel van den Bos) aged remarkably well over 11 years.

RPS: After Shadow Magic, Triumph moved onto the (lovely) Overlord games. What prompted the change in direction?

Lennart Sas: We felt we’d added everything but the kitchen sink into Shadow Magic (although the fans disagreed and made a huge variety of mods and levels which can be accessed). After three successive AoW titles, we wanted to do something different and explore opportunities of the console arena, do something crazy.

We made a big switch moving to Overlord, moving from PC to console, from Strategy to Action RPG, and from serious fantasy to fantasy parody and we’re very happy with how well received and successful it has been. Now in 2010 we’re moving onto even more exciting things, including this re-release of our first games and an as-yet unannounced but amazing new game.

RPS: Why did you decide now was the time to bring them to the Direct Download market?

Lennart Sas: With so many channels becoming available to online buyers and the still active community, we thought it would be great to let people try out the Age of Wonders games again. With mint copies of Shadow Magic having been known to sell for a couple of hundred dollars this seemed a way people could easily get hold of them for a more reasonable price.

RPS: And to ask the question which I suspect most of the Age of Wonders fans will be asking – depending on the success of the pack, would there be any chance of a fourth incarnation in the series?

Lennart Sas: We’d never say never, and making games that lots of people will play and enjoy is what Triumph is all about. So buy these games, actually why not buy them twice!

RPS: And even talking hypothetically, what areas would you like to have pushed Age of Wonders in next?

Lennart Sas: I think today’s connectivity and distribution methods would allow a great Age of Wonders game with online focus, with players being able to participate in sessions from work, your laptop, possibly your iPad. Age of Wonders has a tender spot in Triumph’s heart and the idea of returning to it beats insistently. See, that’s how much we still love Age of Wonders -making me sound all mushy.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Age of Wonders games are available to buy from Impulse, Good Old Games and (shortly) Steam. Oh – and consider getting some of the mod-content here.

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79 Comments »

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  1. Hippo says:

    I love Age of Wonders, I still remember finishing it (and one mission where I fought against some penguin things, and the end text was about our group cooking them on the fireplace or something… erm, anyway…). And the music… ooh, so good. Re-bought the first on GOG, will probably buy Shadow Magic there too when it appears.

    But if you Triumph-guys are reading this: The GOG-version of AOW 1 is missing the manual, I don’t know who’s fault it is, but I hope you can sort it out.

    • Hippo says:

      Also, I’d love another Age of Wonders game, but please, please, please do not forget the single player.

  2. Dominic White says:

    Not so much a mod, and more a developer-endorsed community project, if you get AoW: Shadow Magic, you MUST get the fan-patch.

    http://aow2.heavengames.com/downloads/showfile.php?fileid=661

    Just to put any fears to rest here – on the official site, the developers replaced their link to the official patch with a link to this one. It’s good.

    • MWoody says:

      There’s a few more super-mods that stack on top of 1.4, adding a tremendous amount of content. They’re much trickier to install, though, unfortunately; I’ve yet to master it to an extent I’m willing to recommend.

      Still, 1.4’s install works just like another patch, just one not from the dev. Don’t bother even running the app until it’s installed and ready to go.

  3. Vinraith says:

    I’m eagerly awaiting Shadow Magic’s release on GOG. I still have my disc copy, but I have friends that missed this gem the first time and it’d be great to get some MP going with them…

  4. Danny says:

    Bless my fellow Dutchies. Nothing filled the gaping hole that Warlords II left as AoW did.

  5. Cyrenic says:

    Excellent. These games piqued my interest when everyone was talking about them around the time Elemental released. If they hit Steam there’s likely to be a juicy sale on them, I wonder if I can hold out that long.

  6. Nick says:

    Yeah, I really love these games but in single player, never really liked MP.

  7. wrong says:

    Just remember if you get it from GoG, download it right away in case they decide to play another practical joke on their customers.

    • Vinraith says:

      As opposed to all the other services, of course, where if they go down for any reason you have to have already downloaded your files (usually in an uncompressed format, unlike GOG) AND been able to find a reliable crack.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Schaulustiger says:

    So, the obvious question from someone who hasn’t played AoW but is interested in doing so: which one to buy?

    • Vinraith says:

      The first one has it’s merits, the second one is completely skipable, but if you’re only going to get one of them you want the third: Shadow Magic. It’s the most refined of the bunch, has a fantastic random map generator, and the most “stuff” (factions, spells, units etc). The first one was interesting in that you could create a hero that wasn’t a wizard, and it was less overtly Master-of-Magic-like in its implementation, but I’m not sure how well it’s aged.

    • Premium User Badge

      Schaulustiger says:

      Thanks Vinraith, that was also the impression I got from reading the interview. I’ll go for the third one on Impulse, then. I’m quite excited since I heard nothing but good things about the trilogy, but somehow those games flew completely under my radar at the time they were released. Well, it’s never too late to experience a gaming classic.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I missed these two. Thinking of picking them up from GOG. Though even having read that interview I’m still not sure exactly what the game is like or about.

    • DrGonzo says:

      … I meant too not two sorry.

    • Vinraith says:

      @DrGonzo

      It’s a turn based grand strategy game with turn based tactical battles set in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the game you create a hero (has to be a wizard in the latter two games) which will be your avatar on the map and will level up and gain new abilities. You research, cast spell, recruit and dispatch armies, capture and build cities, all the standards. If you’ve played Master of Magic, it’s a close cousin. If you haven’t, think Civ with spells and hero units and you’re in the neighborhood.

  9. Jorum says:

    If you are at all interested in strategy games you should get this. IMO still the best fantasy strategy available (I was hoping Elemental may take that crown but yeah…).
    It has alot of content, and some cool stuff like global spells which convert the terrain under your control.
    Being a Necromancer and watching the map turn into a barren undead wasteland is always fun.

  10. Terry says:

    I still love the first game the most. It’s obvious to me that Shadow Magic is probably the most refined title but I just love the graphics music and overall presentation in the first one while those seemed simultaneously overdone in the sequels that followed.

    • Terry says:

      Er, that was meant to be “simultaneously overdone and sterile”

    • Jesus says:

      Wow, someone who shares my opionion.
      I was trying so hard to find a word to describe why I prefer 1st installment’s everything , compared to the sequels, but you got it – sterile, that’s why I didn’t like sequels as much, they didn’t have that pixely magic …

    • Vinraith says:

      The first one definitely has the most charm. The music and art are fantastic, the branching campaign is that incredibly rare story-driven strategy campaign that’s actually worth playing, and I love that you aren’t restricted to having a wizard as your main character. The lack of a map generator and the comparatively weak AI are, I think, the only reason it’s not my favorite of the three as well.

    • lePooch says:

      Th first one was imaginative, beautiful, and (dare i say it) cute. You could tell that the designerrs had a hard on for magic, because the magic visual effects in the game were astounding for their time. EVen the basic simple ‘magic arrow’ was prettier than half the creatures.

      The creatures were drawn in a way that made them seem like they came right out of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon specials( I mean that in a good way!). I mean, come on, its the only game where I have actually thought goblins looked adorable rather than skinny, bony monsters.

      Unfortunately, the first game was also the only one that had a horrible hero imbalance. If you started by pumping all your points into damage and hp, you pretty much outclassed everyone else, and would be able to take on minor armies of creatures singlehandedly. Even the end game ones. In fact, playing hot seat with my cousins, we rarely saw a spellcaster being used simply because it was a joke to cause 12 damage with a spell when your hero could hit for twice that easily! My theory is that they realized this flaw in the original and decided to exclude beefcakes from the game properly.

  11. ScubaMonster says:

    Definitely would get this on GOG due to the no DRM whatsoever. Even if they did pull a lame stunt lol.

  12. Pantsman says:

    “mod” music by Michiel van den Bos? I might buy it just for the soundtrack then. His work on Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and Deus Ex was bloody brilliant.

  13. gutenbergn says:

    For some reason I had no idea that Overlord was made by the same guys that made AoW. Here’s hoping that they stop making these mediocre action games and go back to what they’re good at.

  14. Dolphan says:

    Will be getting Shadow Magic, used to have it (or possibly the second one) back in my teens and loved it, but the disk is long since lost. This sort of thing doesn’t help my ‘too many games to play’ problem!

  15. Ken McKenzie says:

    It looks like I’m not exactly going against majority opinion here, but these really are three belting games. Still got them, still play them. The random map generator for Shadow Magic is especially good.

    In fact, going to play again now. Thanks for reminding me.

  16. pakoito says:

    I wasn’t specially hooked by the combat system, I liked HOMM or King’s Bounty better when I tried them this year.

  17. Patrick says:

    I really liked this interview until the very end. Did he really just pitch a AoW facebook game? FIRE AND PITCHFORKS!

  18. Digit says:

    I would like to get these for the soundtracks alone I think. I loved AoWII. Are the soundtrack offers coming to GoG/Steam too?

    • Vinraith says:

      I’m sure GOG will get the soundtracks (they have them for literally every other game I own on the service), though AoW1 is strangely without extras at present. I suspect there are still some glitches in the new site, though, so I can’t believe that won’t be corrected soon.

  19. CryingTheAnnualKingo says:

    Mr. Sas, AoW 3 please. With 2D art. And Lizardmen. Please.

  20. seruko says:

    It is the very hight of insanity to suggest AoW, or any other fantasy strategy game, is in any way better than Master of Magic. Master of Magic may be the most 4x Game with the most depth, playability, replay-ability, flavor crystals, in-game custom-ability and pure awesome sauce.

    Where else can you design your own items, based on books of magic, research, spell power, etc…
    AoW is alright, but it has half of the features of MoM.

    A new fantasy strategy game would be an instant massive success if they just re-skinned MoM and pasted on a tech tree. No strategy game has come close to presenting the features inherent in un-Moded, out of the box MoM. May it forever rest in peace.
    Amen.

    • pipman3000 says:

      where can i get those rose tinted glasses you got there.

    • Nick says:

      On the flip side AoWs AI isn’t utter shit like MoMs.

      Also it has most of the same features.

    • Vinraith says:

      The hilarious thing is that if you reskinned MoM and put it out under another name, I guarantee all the MoM fanboys would disparage it as half the game MoM was. Nostalgia’s a bitch.

    • pipman3000 says:

      yeah its like how x-com fans keep asking for a remake of the original game but with updated graphics and when they finally got it they hated it and asked for another remake of the original game but with updated graphics.

    • pipman3000 says:

      they can’t make an updated rerelease of your childhood memories.

    • malkav11 says:

      Uh…what remake of the original game but with updated graphics? As far as I know X-Com has never been accurately remade.

    • Nick says:

      yeah pipman, you are takling out your arse there.

    • HYPERPOWERi says:

      @malkav There are a number of fan-made remakes. UFO: The Two Sides is my favourite — it’s X-COM: UFO Defense with tech balancing, multiplayer and the ability to play as aliens (you get a mothership instead of a base).

      The visuals are exactly the same though.

      There was another prettified remake that’s still active. Can’t remember the name.

      I’m not really adding weight to pipman’s argument at all, but if you were interested in a UFO remake — I’d readily recommend trying The Two Sides.

      Also, captcha is currently MUTN. Must be shorthand “Muton”.

    • pipman3000 says:

      @malkav

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO:_Extraterrestrials this one

      @nick

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO:_Extraterrestrials

      right here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO:_Extraterrestrials

      again for exta emphasis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO:_Extraterrestrials

      and with the url broken by lines in case the comment system hates links

      http:// en . wikipedia . org / wiki / UFO :_ Extraterrestrials

      who’s talking out of their ass now, punk

    • pipman3000 says:

      yeah that burn is a bit too harsh here have an icepack

    • pipman3000 says:

      and before anyone says: yes it it a remake but with a different name. they pretty much ripped off 99% of the original x-com with the other %1 being a few new (awful) things like new (stupid) aliens and a different (dumb) planet.

    • Matzerath says:

      Pipman, those games you cited were just kinda-sorta like Xcom, not official sequels, with graphics only ‘updated’ in the sense that they have a higher resolution than the original game, and missing a lot of the things that made the original great (mostly for legal reasons). Copycats, but not remakes. The most high-tech of the fan-made remakes is using the Quake 2 engine, I believe, which is an upgrade, but still ridiculously outdated.
      When people say XCOM remake, their dreams are of a game with the same story and mechanics, with a modern GUI, and utilizing something along the lines of a Dawn of War or even Men of War engine. All signs point to this never happening.

    • pipman3000 says:

      the one i pointed out was infact a direct x-com ripoff though. i’m not talking about that dumb psaudo-rts crap the one i’m talking about is a tbs that is pretty much x-com on a different planet.

    • pipman3000 says:

      there will never be a game up to the expectations of the x-com/master of magic fans because no game can ever compare to childhood memories and nostalgia and those two things will ensure every offering will fall short.

    • Matzerath says:

      But see, just setting it on another planet makes it different. Some genius decided “Nobody really wants to fight for the fate of earth, taking the battle to farms, deserts, and our very city streets. Let’s put it on Mars instead!”
      Nostalgia is powerful, I agree, but it’s hard to measure its influence when most remakes/updates just plain suck. The only series that I can think of that pulled it off was the Unreal Tournament series – all the way up to Unreal 2004. And then, of course, Unreal Tournament 3 was crap.

    • Nick says:

      You are still talking out your ill informed arse.

    • malkav11 says:

      UFO: Extraterrestrials makes major changes to the formula, for example in base building, also setting. It is decidedly not just the original X-Com remade with a modern UI and better graphics. The fan remake Alien Invasion uses an engine that prevents destructible terrain, which was a key feature. UFO: The Two Sides looks promising and has from what I’ve seen drawn some favorable interest from X-Com fans but is incomplete, does not appear to significantly update the graphics, and ultimately is not the same game but prettier and more user friendly – they too are making changes to gameplay, balance, and features. Maybe good, maybe bad, but definitely not just X-Com updated for modern tech.

    • pipman3000 says:

      yeah i’ve given up trying to reason with you since you keep moving the goal posts.

      can’t wait until the x-com fanboys end up hating xenonauts too!

      ps: you suck nick

    • malkav11 says:

      No goal posts have been moved. I said no accurate remake has ever been made to my knowledge, and you brought up a bunch of games that are not accurate remakes for various reasons. Can’t very well muse over the irony of people getting what they asked for and hating it when they’ve never gotten what they asked for.

    • malkav11 says:

      FWIW, I am not an X-Com fanboy. I would really like to enjoy X-Com but I find the interface fairly opaque and the learning curve too steep. A straight remake with graphical and interface improvements is therefore something I would really like and it’s too bad nobody’s provided. Just like I’d really love an accurate remake of Colonization, something which Civ IV: Colonization is not and FreeCol might eventually be when it’s actually feature complete and finished, i.e. probably never. (The Civ IV version of Colonization is closer to a Colonization II than a remake of the original, and while it has its distinct good points, it’s not Colonization 1 any more than Civ II was Civ 1.)

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      As someone who actually played UFO:E before X-Com, I can say to pipman: you are quite wrong. UFO wasn’t a fun game, the gameplay was awkward and didn’t have the tension or felling of personal investment and input that the early xcom games had. Personally, i see no need for an updated x-com (Its still awesome!) but the UI in MoM is frustrating and a spruce up would make it that much more awesome. Troll away if you must, dear pipman.

    • Taillefer says:

      Be sure to Mod UFO:Extraterrestrials with BMan’s mod. It brings it much closer to X-Com. It still has a kind of awkward feel about it though.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I really wanted to like Age of Wonders, but I couldn’t play it worth a damn. The fundamental problem was that I couldn’t grow my economy quick enough to keep up with the upkeep for anything resembling a worthwhile military strike force. A -single- military strike force, you understand, when I would need more than one to deal with the incredibly irritating tendency of the AI to sidestep one’s main force and successfully guard or retake the resource sites and cities I would need to fund any sort of reasonable economy.

  22. Sam Dodsworth says:

    In my experience (in single-player)… Play aggressively, especially in the early game; rebuild ruined cities; concentrate on your heros; and don’t be afraid to play on easy difficulty – I’ve always found Shadow Magic stupidly hard. Mostly, remember it’s not Civ and Civ-style play usually doesn’t work.

  23. Blargh. says:

    The question on everybody’s mind: What was the big hurdles?

  24. HYPERPOWERi says:

    Unfortunately, my brain’s taken to classifying fantasy TBSes into two categories: “Dominions 3″ and “Other”.

    AoW is wonderful though. Played all three back in the day and installed SM recently.

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      To be fair, mine is only marginally larger: Dominions 3, MoM and other

  25. rocketman71 says:

    Fantastic!. How I wish we could get an AoW4.

  26. cavan says:

    Just have to chime in here and say that AOW’s play by e-mail feature was fantastic. I’ve always puzzled over why more turn based games don’t use that feature.

  27. Heliocentric says:

    When i was little, i though age of wonders was the next age of empires game. Totally passed it by.

  28. Saiko Kila says:

    Age of Wonders, especially the first one, is game with most cheating and stupid AI of all MOM clones, and most TBS games at all. It has its merits, but I’m still waiting for proper MOM successor. Said that, the third installment is really one you try (to guys who missed it).

  29. Gothnak says:

    Great games, and i still have AOW:SM installed on my desktop, it has never left!

  30. ChaK_ says:

    Is that the game elemental tryied to copy? Honest question there.

  31. Robsoie says:

    Actually if i remember well, playing aggressively is very dependant on the mission, being too aggressive and you can move units into a zone that will trigger an event that could lead into enemy parties coming out of nowhere or out of their slumber.

    Triggering those events before your troops are ready is making the difficulty increasing a lot.

  32. Paul says:

    Aow 1 with Warlock’s Ruleset is teh pwn.

  33. Chris says:

    I actually place AOW Shadow Magic above Master of Magic.
    For many many years i thought MoM was the best thing in the world. And in Sept 2010 i tried out Shadow Magic.
    Basically its like MoM but with better AI and beautiful graphics and music.

  34. Hunter says:

    He says to ‘buy them twice’. Well, that’s exactly what I am forced to do, since I bought AOW when it came out on Impulse a few weeks ago, and now there is a trilogy which means I have to buy it again. Oh well. That makes it 3 copies I have bought of the first one (the original purchase being well over 10 years ago).

  35. Greg says:

    Shadow Magic was a great game. I hope Elemental: War of Magic irons out the issues and can get there one day.

  36. Alex says:

    I absolutly love Age of Wonders. I’ve never liked the changes that Age of Wonders II had so i never played it. And i’ve never had Shadow magic before. But the one thing i loved the most of out the first game was the Unit descriptions and the artwork for the unit cards, ahh so magical. Age of Wonders ranks up as one of my favourite games ever. I hope to god they do a Age of Wonders III and go back to what made the first one so great to start with.

    For all you fantasy lovers out there that play Age of Wondersm you should check out Record of Lodoss War, if you love fantasy then you will love the TV Series and OVA for it.

  37. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    For me, Shadow Magic has knocked Civ V into a cocked hat.

  38. jikh says:

    I agree with Edgar! I played Civ5 at my friends house and he was talking about how great it is, and all I could think about was how the AOW games are better in almost every way imaginable.

    At the moment I’m playing Elemental: War of Magic which is incredibly promising.

  39. Robert Lech says:

    Man, I remember testing the original for Epic Games way back in the day! Good times!

  40. Donald Pominville` says:

    AoW on iPad, iPhone, and iPod would rock hard, I would never stop playing, or even a Facebook version :) Something to think about!!!