Age of Empires III Cinematics and Scenario Editor Preview

By Kumar Shah

So there I was, in a hall filled with posters of past memories of great games, in a hall filled with past joys for this team of great designers. I was inside Ensemble Studios, and I was about to venture into yet another exciting chapter of memories, one that will soon have its own poster. These great memories brought about by enormously fun single player campaigns designed by the very best at Ensemble. This time around I was very curious as to what Ensemble had in store in terms of the Single Player Campaign, so during the visit I went around and asked ES employees about the campaign.

Campaign Preview

The campaign is divided into three Epic Acts – Act I, Act II and Act III. Each act has a total of 8 scenarios for 24 total playable scenarios. There are other scenarios which only act as cinematics and the total number of scenarios in the campaign stands at around 32. As a result one can expect a total cinematic experience from the campaign.

The first scenario begins with a female voice starting the narration of the story of Morgan Black. The opening cinematic shows Morgan arguing/talking with a person from Ottoman origin. Morgan is then entrusted the objective of defending their fort against an onslaught of Janissaries, cavalry and artillery. I was playing on easy, more interested in seeing how the campaign looked, how the cinematics were than judging the difficulty level and went through the scenario quickly. It was here for the first time I saw a “Great Bombard Cannon” (which is also a card available to Ottoman civilization) and boy I had to take it down quickly before it inflicted any serious damage.

So the Ottomans were defeated and onto the next one, which involved the player destroying a number of enemy’s weapons cache. It was interesting to see the explosions on destroying each cache, and I am pretty sure there is a “dynamite” SPC (Single Player Campaign) object in the Editor which can be used for this effect. I went through this scenario too, and then it came, one of the best cinematics I have seen till now.

In the intro to the third cinematic, we are told only the brave attempted to cross the Atlantic, and since our hero Morgan Black is a brave man, we see him on a ship along with some other units. The camera then moves to show some ships coming in exploding and destroying a part of Morgan’s fleet. Once again I believe this is done through some editor only units – bombard ships. Who doesn’t like a bit of AoK eh? So, Pirates, yes, pirates are attacking Morgan and the pirate leader is called Lizzie – yes, Lizzie the Pirate. Here we have an awesome shot of Lizzie and some other units on a boat exchanging words with Morgan. We than see an overhead shot of ships fighting each other and proceed to the playable parts. It may not sound that great in the description, but if you had seen it, the cinematic is really good. And what else is so great about the cinematic? The effect of having units on ships is created through a camera track, in reality the ship stands still. While watching it, you would totally believe that the ship was actually moving in water and all due to some great camera work. Thankfully, ES_Scout showed me how they put the units on the ship so well that’s one editor trick I know now.

I had to stop playing the scenarios here, not to spoil the story apparently, but later we got to see some other cinematics from the campaign which I will describe below.

Act III opening cinematic

The Act III opening cinematic introduces to us a female character, most probably Morgan Black’s granddaughter. The opening shot follows a train (hey, I believe I saw a trigger effect called “Camera follow unit”, once again I am not sure on that one) and cuts to a conversation between an old man and the woman (unfortunately I forget her name). We see the conversation happening through some different angles and then we have the woman talking to an officer of the established government. Apparently she has undertaken the job of building a railway line and the government doesn’t think she can finish it with her current resources. Don’t know the exact objectives of the scenario as we just saw the cinematic.

Important thing in cinematic:

It was made using three identical sets of the scene. One set was the complete scene, another one had a part of it and another one had another part. This was done because there are camera angles shooting across the map. Even when the scenes changed, one could not feel that in the cinematic, it looked like it happened at the same place.

Bison Herds on the Run

The other cinematic we saw was a short one, but involved what seemed like the character from Act II and a native unit observing a Bison herd running. The great thing about this cinematic is the shot of the bison herd across the map with the sky and everything showing. It had near perfect lighting, and with Age3’s graphics cinematics really look brilliant now.

That was pretty much the parts of the campaigns I saw. It seems they are working hard on it and it seems to be shaping up nicely. I can safely predict one thing, making and seeing cinematics is going to be a fan favorite. With the graphics of Age of Empires III, the HDR lighting the cinematic experience is unlike anything seen before in an RTS game. I can see myself trying out my hands on making a cinematic as soon as the game ships.

Next: Thoughts on the Scenario Editor