Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where are they now? - Bruce Campbell Shelley

Bruce Shelley - Designer of Age of Empires

For today's "Where are they now?" I will fill you in on a guy that actually worked with that famous Sid Meier character I talked about last week. While he seems to have disappeared off the radar a bit in recent years it doesn't mean he's out of the game (of making games) just yet. This week we're going to talk about Bruce Campbell Shelley, a man who is most famous for developing one of the most beloved Real-Time Strategy game series of all time, Age of Empires.

Judging by when Shelley went to university (late 1960s and graduating in 1970 with a forest biology degree) I'm guessing he was born in the late 1940s. He was always interested in making games from a young age and a couple of his favourite board games while growing up was Stratego and Risk. He got to realise this dream in 1980 when he and some of his friends formed a role-playing game company called Iron Crown Enterprises which acquired the license to make games based off J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In 1981 Strategy & Tactics Magazine published Shelley's first game that he collaborated on, a game that was based on the American Civil War.

In 1982 Shelley joined the famous board game company Avalon Hill and worked there for a few years designing wargames and board games. Designing board games helped teach him the value of "prototyping" and "designing-by-playing". When Shelley played Sid Meier's Pirates! however, he decided that he wanted to get into computer game development and joined local company Microprose.

Shelley is credited with doing some development work on 1987's F-19 Stealth Fighter and 1989's F-15 Strike Eagle II but the games that followed would be the ones he's probably most remembered by (at least while he was at Microprose). I'm talking about 1990's Railroad Tycoon, 1990's Covert Action and 1991's Sid Meier's Civilization. Shelley was a designer and project leader for Railroad Tycoon, and did the research and documentation for Covert Action. Probably his biggest achievement at Microprose though is working alongside Sid Meier in the development of Meier's most famous game, Sid Meier's Civilization. Meier would be responsible for coding any changes while Shelley would playtest the changes every morning and then provide feedback to Meier later each day. Using this iterative development process they were able to create one of the true classics of PC gaming.

In 1995, Shelley left Microprose to work with a friend of his called Tony Goodman in Dallas, Texas. They formed a new company called Ensemble Studios and this is where Shelley did what I believe is his best work, designing the classic historical RTS Age of Empires which was released in 1997. He would also help design its sequels, 1999's Age of Empires II (which was an even bigger success) and 2005's Age of Empires III.

Ensemble Studios was acquired by Microsoft in 2001 and was eventually closed down in 2009 after the release of Halo Wars. Shelley then did a variety of consulting jobs over the next few years with companies like Ubisoft, Blue Byte, Zynga, the Shenandoah Studio and InnoGames. Since 2013, Shelley has been working as Chief Designer at a Texan mobile games developer called Bonusxp and while they sadly don't make games for the PC it's good to see that the next game they're planning to release is an RTS called Servo. That should keep Shelley happy. Although I wouldn't mind another RTS for the PC though...

[ Wikipedia: Bruce Shelley ]
[ Wikipedia: Ensemble Studios ]
[ MobyGames: Bruce Campbell Shelley ]
[ BonusXP Official Website ]

Monday, March 23, 2015

Choicest VGM - VGM #174 - Frontier: Elite II - Introduction

Composed by: Dave Lowe

We take a break from our usual programming (i.e. the Wing Commander: Privateer soundtrack) to examine the soundtrack from another space trading game: Frontier: Elite II. This is no coincidence as some of you are aware as there is currently a Kickstarter project running by the composer of the Frontier: Elite II soundtrack, Dave Lowe. One of the main goals of the project is to turn the main theme to Frontier: Elite II, which I assume is the one presented here, into one performed by a live orchestra! While admittedly the track might sound a bit lo-fi by today's standards you have to realise this track was composed well over 20 years ago (using 1990s technology) - not only that but the music on Frontier: Elite II and the game itself fit on one floppy disk - now that's efficiency! Also, it goes so much better while watching the intro to the game too while you watch an Imperial Courier take out a couple of Eagles.... yeah.

Oh and where did I get the music? I recorded it directly from the game audio (using the Adlib/Sound Blaster option) while running the game through DOSBox. I did find MIDI files of the DOS version's music online but they just weren't the same as how I remembered. So there you have it :)

Thanks to Dave Lowe for composing such a memorable soundtrack!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spotlight Sunday - Week 13 - 2015

Spotlight Sunday is a way for Choicest Games to feature PC games that are scheduled for release on the following week - games that we consider worthwhile checking out.

The regular readers to this blog may have noticed that I missed the last Spotlight Sunday meaning I didn't go through all the PC games that Week 12 of this year had to offer. Sorry about that! Anyway, at least I remembered to do it this time and for this week (23rd Mar to the 29th Mar 2015) there's a couple of games I think are worth checking out (despite no concrete release dates yet, save for the fact they should be released next week):

Space Colony: Steam Edition

  • Release Date: Next week
  • Availability: Steam (pre-order not available)
I remember playing the original game Space Colony as if it were yesterday... except yesterday happens to be 12 years ago (2003). Yikes! Anyway back then I fondly remember the game as a decent blend of The Sims with real-time strategy: which was great, since one problem with The Sims was that those of us that felt like playing a campaign with a set of goals and objectives weren't going to get it in a sandbox dollhouse simulator. Games like The Sims Medieval would realise this but before that we had games like Space Colony to play with. As the name suggests, you get to run a space colony where you mine resources, build structures and defend your base against aliens. However, you'll have to contend with your crew getting along with each other in order to complete your objectives. Each character has different likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses - the challenge is consequently two-fold in that you have manage your crew's feelings as well as actually manage the base proper.

Anyway, the Steam Edition I think is a repackaged version of a HD edition of the game that was released a couple of years back (and is available on GOG); it apparently upped the graphics to high resolution and also added several more bonus campaigns. The Steam Edition seems to offer similar except you get the whole Steam shebang with respect to Trading Cards, Achievements along with Steam Cloud and Steam Workshop support. Anyway it was a fun game from what I remember so definitely one to look forward to.


  • Release Date: Next week
  • Availability: Steam (pre-order not available)
Here's another of those games I never realised started off like as a Kickstarter project. Ironcast apparently managed to exceed the modest goal of £10,000 in October last year, and only a few months later we're seeing the game coming to Steam. The game has a lot of promise since it seems to be adopting the Puzzle Quest formula of incorporating match-3 puzzle gameplay to another genre, in this case strategy and role-playing. The game is set in a steampunk version of Victorian England where you pilot mechs called "Ironcasts" against enemy Ironcasts in the defence of the British Empire. It actually looks like a really good concept and I'm a big fan of games with steampunk settings so provided the price is right, this could be one to look out for.

So are you interested or excited about any of these PC games being released next week? Which games are you looking forward to?