Great moments in PC gaming: Making your base look nice in Age of Empires

A feudal town in Age of Empires IV
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Great moments in PC gaming (opens in new tab) are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

There's nothing more inconvenient than the enemy showing up with a big army when you haven't finished laying out your trade quarter yet. Yes, Age of Empires is technically a real-time strategy game. Technically, it's supposed to take about 30-60 minutes to finish a match and both sides should be trying to win. But from the first time I laid hands on the series right up until today, sometimes I'm not interested in that.

Sometimes I just want to build a pretty castle.

When I spawn in with a fresh town center and a handful of villagers at the start of each game, I feel a rush of excitement about how I'm going to transform the landscape. I look forward to every age up, as it will reflect the progress my people have made from humble wooden hovels up to cozy stone cottages, basking in the grandeur of industry expanding around them. I spend a lot of time thinking about what their tiny little lives are like down there, and small tweaks I could make to improve their day-to-day lives.

I can't put all of my houses too close together, of course. Maybe that might slow down enemy attackers who make it past the walls, but imagine having to live that tightly-packed with your neighbors. Everyone knows lumberjacks snore really loud, and we're a peaceful grain-harvesting family!

I want people to be able to get to work easily, not only because it increases my resource gain efficiency but also because I don't want anyone to have to walk too far or they might get sore feet. Arranging everything on as neat a grid as possible, with some wider boulevards and preserved green spaces, make it easier to get around and increases the aesthetic appeal of the various neighborhoods.

And it just makes sense to have the blacksmith close to the barracks. If someone breaks a sword during training, they can take a quick jaunt across the street to grab a replacement!

None of this has any effect on the game mechanics, of course. If you boil all of these townsfolk down to their sterile, code-driven essence, they're just automatons with no feelings who will do exactly as I say without complaint, even if that means being eaten by wolves or carrying bundles of wood several miles on foot. But where's the fun in that? All the effort that has gone into the art and sound to make an Age of Empires map feel like a developing civilization goes to waste if you don't treat it like a real place full of real people with real needs. 

These walls are here not only to hold off my opponent while I build a wonder, but to protect the Mason family, who have their lodgings near the edge of the city. This church in the grove serves the hardy, pious woodcutters and the small cadre of archers who take shifts in the guard tower protecting them. I guess at some point I should think about creating an army to go conquer the likely quite ugly and spartan burghs my opponent vomited out with no thought given to aesthetics. But first we need to pick a perfect spot for this pagoda to maximize the energy flow along the riverfront…