Empires: Dawn of the Modern World

Developer Stainless Steel Studios
Publisher Activision
Release Date Fourth Quarter 2003

Cindy Yans

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This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150

Real-time strategy game Empire Earth and its expansion were quite a coup for Stainless Steel Studios, but its next game takes a slightly different approach. Instead of beginning with sticks and stones and advancing to lasers and hovertanks, Empires: Dawn of the Modern World will feature a more compressed time frame—from the Medieval age through Dubya Dubya Two—with correspondingly more detail. So while you don’t get the Spear and Loincloth Age, you do get the bits most gamers probably want anyhow, the eras from crossbows to chlorine gas, and from horse cavalry to heavy tanks. Stainless Steel President Rick Goodman is adamant that Empires is not a sequel to Empire Earth, however. “It’s historical, and it’s 3D, but that’s really the extent of the similarity.”
Lead designer Jon Alenson hopes the developers’ attention to detail, unit balancing, and especially “the fun factor” will make the difference. “Although it’s true to history, it’s not necessarily for the hard-core historian,” says Alenson. “We’re picking stuff that’s accurate, but also fun and interesting.” Most units have a special ability or power specific to them. Civilization-specific abilities, like Bondsmen (citizens you kill reappear in your town centers), Deception (causes battlefield confusion), and Confucian Ideas (makes other civilization’s units easier to convert) add the texture that makes each one unique. German mortar units, for instance, can lob poison gas, while the English get Battlefield Surgeons that can literally raise the dead—yours or your enemy’s.
The game’s 3D art is getting a lot of attention, especially since you’ll be able to zoom in extremely close to see all the gory details of the havoc that exploding Fire Oxen and Boiling Oil Men can wreak. You can see footprints and tank tracks on the terrain as your armies pass over, and flotsam and jetsam as your naval units explode. Some civilizations can even clear entire clumps of forest or replant them to form a new barrier. The maps cover a full spectrum of European and Asian terrains, with plenty of water. “We found that players really like large island maps,” says Alenson, “so we are making sure there’ll be a lot of those.” They also can’t go wrong with diseased-cow-tossing, and traps of exploding impaling spikes for an experience that’s as much about spectacle as about strategy.

This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150