More companies at the Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow are targeting a PC gaming audience. Alienware had a booth on the E3 show floor to reveal new prebuilt rigs with AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper CPU. Razer was showing its new Razer Blade Stealth with a smaller bezel and Intel’s Kaby Lake Core i7. And Creative was demoing its first new PCIe Sound BlasterX sound card in four years.
Even Microsoft, which debuted a new iteration of its Xbox One hardware with the Xbox One X, took time to specifically appeal to the PC gaming audience at E3. It did so by bringing its big first-party games like Sea of Thieves and Forza Motorsport 7 to The PC Gaming Show, but the company also delivered the highlight announcement of that presentation when Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Isgreen took the stage to reveal Age of Empires: Definitive Edition.
The publisher is rebuilding that 1997 strategy classic with updated visuals, improved mechanics, and a streamlined interface. It will support 4K resolutions, and Microsoft is inviting players to sign up for a beta test right now. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is due out later this year, and the publisher is promising a big announcement related to the series when it shows up at the Gamescom fan even in Germany this August.
But instead of waiting a couple of months for more info, I caught up with Isgreen after The PC Gaming Show in L.A., and I asked him all about Age of Empires as well as Microsoft’s current feelings on Windows gaming.
Here the edited transcript of our interview:
GamesBeat: What was it like to finally get that game in front of people?
Adam Isgreen: Oh, my gosh. We’ve been trying to hold our tongues and not let this go. Age has such a wonderful history to it, this wonderful lineage. People love the series so much. We were racking our brains. What’s the best way to do this? This is really—Age has always been a PC series. It’s always been focused on PC gaming. We thought we should put it—should it be in the briefing? But really it all came down to, what’s the best place to show this? We’re here with a PC game for PC gamers. It’s here at the PC gaming show.
GamesBeat: Was Age of Empire: Definitive Edition going to happen no matter what — or is this something that came about due to Microsoft’s PC gaming focus?
Adam Isgreen: The response to Age of Empires we’ve seen, with the expansions we’ve done for Age II and everything like that — we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary. We thought, we’ve gotta do something great with Age. Like I said on stage, no one’s been able to play this thing outside of the CD-ROM for 20 years. A lot of people don’t know where the series started from. We thought, what a great time to put this together and bring it back. Age is this wonderful 20-year franchise. It’s still going. It’s great. It was a great opportunity, a merger—a perfect storm.
GamesBeat: Was it nice to reveal Definitive Edition at a PC gaming-focused E3 show?
Adam Isgreen: Personally, I think Age of Empires is strong enough to stand up wherever you put it. It’s an amazing franchise with a storied history. But again, this is a PC game. At Microsoft we really wanted PC games—we want to treat PC games like first-class citizens. That means not only are you going to see—let’s say we do a play anywhere game, right? We have a PC version and a console version. The PC version is going to have features the console version won’t have, because we want to make sure that PC gamers appreciate. We want to give them things they want.
Then you get games like Age of Empires. It’s a PC game. We’re going to put it on PC and treat it right. That’s really important to us. Age, moving forward — that’s a statement. We’re going to be on PC, and we’ll be here with games people want to play on PC.
GamesBeat: Have you seen the reaction on social media?
Adam Isgreen: I’ve been totally blacked out since I was onstage [Ed’s note: We talked right after The PC Gaming Show]. I haven’t been able to get reception. I’ve been trying to get to Twitter see what people were saying. But no, I haven’t seen anything. I’ve been super excited to see. The audience reaction was awesome. At first a couple of people went, “Oh!” They knew what it was. And I’m like, “Okay, let’s see.” Then the minute it lit up with Age of Empires, the room burst into applause. I was so happy. I was so blown away. There’s this love, like I said, for this franchise. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to bring it back.
GamesBeat: How does that make you feel about this plan for the 20th anniversary celebration going forward?
Adam Isgreen: I’m super-excited. We’ll be talking more at Gamescom about Age of Empires. Everyone that tunes in will be super excited the stuff we’ll be talking about.
GamesBeat: Is the 20th anniversary just this, and then the announcement at Gamescom, or do you have other things planned in between?
Adam Isgreen: E3 is a wonderful show, but it’s very Asia- and U.S.-centric. With Gamescom, Europe has a long and storied history with RTS games. We want to make sure we do just as much justice for Gamescom and all the European gamers as we did at E3 here today. It’s important to us that we take this here — it’ll be further along. People will be playing the beta. We’ll have more to show and talk about. But yeah, we have a whole event planned around Age of Empires for Gamescom.
GamesBeat: Between that, will you be streaming regularly on Mixer or something like that?
Adam Isgreen: Oh, yeah. We have a community team and everything like that. The beta will be starting up. Our community is still active on Age of Empires. We have a lot of people that play Age of Empires every month across all the different games we have. We have community already in place. We’ll make sure we continue to support Age of Empires.
GamesBeat: For the other games, Sea of Thieves and Forza Motorsport 7, bringing those on the PC stage after announcing them at the Xbox-specific event—you did a pretty good job of positioning them as, not only are the coming to PC, but here’s why they’re on the show floor right now. There are reasons we should be talking about these games to a PC audience. Is it difficult to find those reasons? Or have you been thinking about this for so long that you know what audience you’re speaking to now and you know why they’ll care?
Adam Isgreen: The thing is, there are a lot of us at Microsoft — my whole career, I’m going on 25 years making video games. Most of my career has been making PC games. I’m not alone at Microsoft. There are tons of people there that have been there a long time, and new people, who are real PC gamers. Yes, I have consoles. I have every console built since the 2600. But I’ve had a PC since the Apple II. We’re all PC gamers. We believe in PC gaming. It’s not a hard conversation at Microsoft to say, “Hey, this would be great. What are we going to do on PC? How can we make it great?” There’s a lot of discussion about what features we need to bring specifically to PC to make games great, to make people love them. We want people to believe in Microsoft as a place they can get great PC games.
GamesBeat: Anything else?
Adam Isgreen: I’m just really excited about the game. It’s easy sometimes to say, “Hey, it’s just a Definitive Edition.” But this is the definitive edition. We have gone back and touched everything that we can without breaking the heart of Age of Empires. We’re maintaining that to make this game amazing for players from yesterday and today.