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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Games: Orcs Must Die!

Ensemble studios was a video game developer established as an independent but owned by Microsoft by the time it disbanded. They made real time strategy games, most notably Age of Empires, Age of Mythology, and Halo Wars. Ensemble also made the genie engine, a popular game engine used in many strategy based games of the time. Ensemble closed its doors after the release of Halo Wars, announcing that two studios were being formed by former ES employees after the doors were shut.

Tony Goodman, the head of Ensemble studios started Robot entertainment, and offered any former member of the company a position at the start up. David Rippy, a former Ensemble studios producer, started Bonfire Studios, which was staffed entirely of former Ensemble team members. A few months later a new studio called Windstorm was created by ex Ensemble staffer Dusty Monk. A few months past the creation of Windstorm, a fourth studio called Newtoy, Inc. was created by several former Ensemble developers.  

Bonfire Studios was later acquired by Zynga and renamed Zynga Dallas. Newtoy was also acquired by Zynga and renamed, Zynga with friends, a nod to Newtoy's popular "with friends" series of games they released while still an independent company.

Upon creation Robot Entertainment announced they were working on two new games, one would be an RTS published by Microsoft Game Studios, and the other would be Age of Empires Online. The next year it was announced that Gas Powered Games would be taking over development of AOEO so Robot Entertainment could focus on a new IP. That new IP turned out to be Orcs Must Die!

Orcs Must Die demo'd at PAX in 2011, then released to X-box live arcade and PC in October 2011. The game is strategy/tower defense, the player being tasked with protecting fortresses containing magical rifts from an army of orcs, ogres, and gnolls that want to destroy the rifts for some reason or another. The game had a minimal marketing push and generated revenue numbers defined in technical rankings as double wood in the hood. 

Orcs Must Die is one of the rare tower defense titles that doesn't get insulted when it is called a tower defense game. The Newgrounds and Candystands of the world have saturated the RTS market, as the game type is pretty easy for one or a few people to poop out. They are the new free ski, they are the free, free ski's. They can be as deep or as simple as they like, as the gameplay is in the driver seat.

But the magic in Orcs Must Die is that it harkens back to the days when developers didn't like players that much, and would show that disdain by throwing enemies at you from all sides until you die, or they get tired of throwing them, and players liked getting so beat up by a single level they would throw the controller and swear to never play the game again because it is a bullshit game that they do not like, then restart the level over and over out of wounded pride.  

It's also one of those games that people will automatically compare to something else when someone attempts to explain why the game is fun. The avvy acts like ash, the gameplay is horde mode, the traps are basic. All possible truths, but here is the thing, it's fun to play even if all of that is true, a very rare jewel in this gaming age. I loved Age of Mythology and Empires, and am stoked that the guys that made those games survived wave after wave of industry traps, emerging with a perfect simple soup that could only come from experienced hands that know how to measure by eye. To put it simply, the game is fun.      

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