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...

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

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