jdodson: I have been tracking the progress of 0 A.D. for years! I think Age of Empires II, beyond some balancing is practically a perfect game. It sucks because it is really broken on modern Windows now. Getting an entirely free software version of this kind of game that can be modified by anyone and updated for modern systems interests me. I view Free Software as preserving culture.... Read All Was able to talk to the 0 A.D. project, something I have wanted to do for some time. 0 A.D. touts itself as "A free, open-source game of ancient warfare" and has been in development since 2001. Its totally free and available for download at the site right now:
jdodson: I have been tracking the progress of 0 A.D. for years! I think Age of Empires II, beyond some balancing is practically a perfect game. It sucks because it is really broken on modern Windows now. Getting an entirely free software version of this kind of game that can be modified by anyone and updated for modern systems interests me. I view Free Software as preserving culture. Its easy to see in cases like Doom where the source is available and it has a life well beyond its early years. This isn't so much a question as a thank you for doing what you do, its really important work.
Aviv: Thanks, we really appreciate it. We think of 0 A.D. as something that anyone can tinker with and add to, and your insightful comment shows that future-proofing may be one consequence. Indeed, there's something to be said about FOSS's ability to endure over time.
jdodson: I understand you get this often, that said when you do guys expect to release 1.0? :D
Aviv: It is very hard to predict. We are currently revising the game design and setting aside money to support paid development to make sure we can complete it soon. We will keep everyone posted on developments as soon as matters are finalized.
jdodson: When you look at 0 A.D. now I wonder what you are most proud of?
Aviv: We are proud of attracting a global fan base of thousands of people, often from different online communities, from classic RTS game aficionados to FOSS and GNU/Linux enthusiasts. We love the comments we get, like, "It's like Empire Earth, Age of Empires, and Rise of Nations had a baby and it came out free!" and "This can't be open source. It rocks too much!" We hope to live up to these expectations and ship a complete game ASAP.
jdodson: How many people work on 0 A.D. right now? What do they all do for the project?
Aviv: It varies over time. Usually there are about twenty official members of the team, doing everything from drawing portraits of ancient Persian kings to programmers teaching the AI how to rush human opponents. Contributors from outside the team also range from musicians playing the flute and drums to artists making 3D models of Mauryan buildings. Over time, the cumulative number of people who have contributed to 0 A.D. easily grew into the hundreds.
jdodson: What's the funnest game of 0 A.D. you played? What did you learn from that match?
Aviv: Once we played a match and one player was seeing a state of the map that was totally out of sync with the other players. He thought he was doing quite well, but on everyone else's screens he was being totally destroyed. On other occasions, we learned we needed to improve the in-game chat interface, we made many balancing changes etc.
jdodson: As development of 0 A.D. has progressed, I wonder if playing a game along the way evolved 0 A.D. development in some way?
Aviv: The big influence, of course, was Ensemble Studio's Age of Empires series, specifically Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings. We want to imitate some of the gameplay of the medieval-themed AoE2 in an ancient setting, like the original AoE was set in, and with improved graphics. Many of our members and fans remember those games fondly, and the classic RTS gameplay and historical focus of the series is something we'd like to capture with 0 A.D. A tall order, we admit. Other influences come from Creative Assembly's hardcore Total War series, Stainless Steel's classic Rise of Nations (like the territory system), and Activision's dynamic The Battle for Middle Earth franchise. Other concepts in 0 A.D., like ranks, heroes and our technology tree, derive from games like Generals, Warcraft III and Civilization, respectively.
jdodson: What feature of Age of Empires or the like did you want to keep out of 0 A.D.? Something you felt could be better?
Aviv: The original Age of Empires games were excellent, so there weren't so much features we wanted to leave out as much as features we wanted to add, like the citizen-soldier concept, batch training and the technology trade-offs. We have also paid meticulous attention to historical authenticity and given each faction unique building designs and many unique units. Other planned features that build upon the AoE series, some of which were implemented in other RTSs, are: capturing buildings, formations with combat bonuses, running/charging, real ship movements, and concealment/ambushing.
jdodson: I wonder if you could highlight some of the tech behind 0 A.D.?
jdodson: Wildfire Games released Rome at War mod for Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. Is this actively maintained now? How many people from that project are still with Wildfire Games?
Aviv: Rome at War is not maintained anymore, but it was recently packaged as part of the Age of Empires II: Forgotten Empires mod. The only contributor left from those days is Jason Bishop (Wijitmaker), who handles finances and pops in on the forums every now and then, as an adviser and a go-to person for those questions only an old-timer could answer.
jdodson: Wildfire Games was also working on The Last Alliance a game set in Tolkien's Universe. Did any of the work make it to 0 A.D.? Do you anticipate this work might make it to a 0 A.D. mod?
Aviv: TLA was an idea that was born at about the same time as 0 A.D., but was abandoned over time. After the mid-00's we put it informally "on hold" and forgot about it. This September we got around to formally announcing that the development of TLA would be discontinued until further notice. (We also announced that original content created during the design of TLA would be preserved as a cultural asset for Tolkien devotees, and as inspiration for those interested in fantasy mods and games.)
We do hope people make fantasy and other mods for 0 A.D. in the future, though. We also advise modders to make sure they draw on original settings, civilizations, stories etc. This is the best approach to avoid infringing on other people's intellectual property. (Thankfully for 0 A.D., nobody can claim copyright for ancient history!)
jdodson: As you are making progress on the project to the eventual 1.0 I wonder what you guys need? Developers, donations, testers?
Aviv: We're glad you asked that, because we're always looking for new contributors to join 0 A.D. and help promote the game to a more complete state. We are always seeking new programmers in all fields of programming, from low-level code to AI and random map scripts and higher-level programming. We are always looking for graphic artists, both 2D, and textures, and user interface, and also 3D models and animation. We're looking for people to help us organize the development, document it, manage contributions in sound, and many more openings.
jdodson: 0 A.D. launches and is well received. What's next for Wildfire Games?
Aviv: Probably some patches, and also starting to design an expansion pack with new civilizations spanning 1 A.D. - 500 A.D., new gameplay features that didn't make the cut for version 1.0, and more.
jdodson: When the game is launched have you considered Greenlighting it on Steam?
Aviv: It's definitely an option. As soon as we feel comfortable marketing 0 A.D. as a finished game, we'll look into all sorts of new distribution methods. That is still a little far off.
jdodson: What are some other Free Software projects you guys really respect?
Aviv: Blender has been a huge help for 0 A.D. art development in recent years. We also use GIMP and Tortoise SVN, and I am typing this on Notepad++. Also, OpenAL Soft have been very responsive to our bug reports.
jdodson: What games are you guys playing right now?
Aviv: First, of course, we are playing 0 A.D. Alpha 12, due in just a few days, to test for any bugs. Some of us are also playing games from the Total War series, etc.
jdodson: Do you want to believe in the Loch Ness Monster?
Aviv: It would be interesting if what people saw was actually a relic of an ancient civilization in Loch Ness.