This game emerged at the beginning of the new millennium and was the first strategy game that operated (to my knowledge) over the TCP/IP protocol. Its predecessor, StarCraft, worked on the faster and older IPX/SPX protocol used in local area networks.
Microsoft introduced Age of Empires to create a world of medieval eras, embodying a vibrant model of civilizations from that period. It provided a historical overview of each ethnic group that built those civilizations, with each civilization’s features reflected in its architectural styles, military units, technologies, and the language spoken by its inhabitants, heard through their words, phrases, and expressions during gameplay.
This realistic historical mix came alive in the game’s details and successive stages, making it a unique, rich, and exciting experience.
Although the game, by the standards of that era, did not boast the stunning resolution and quality seen in today’s video games on platforms like Playstation, it fell between the old cartoon world we experienced in the 90s and the interactive digital art world that began to take shape in the early 2000s. The game inadvertently combined the nostalgia for childhood days with the intense excitement of the interactive gaming world introduced by personal computers after 2000.
In the pre-responsibilities era (when I was a carefree young graduate), I had the ability to spend continuous hours immersed in building a state, economy, and army. This came after wasting an hour or more trying to network two or three computers so that my friend Waleed Fahmy and I could embark on this unique experience, facing each other with the civilizations we chose to build our empires and engaging in thrilling battles.
By 2004, I had developed my own vision and tactics in this game. My strategy always revolved around choosing one of the most technologically advanced civilizations, either the Arabs (referred to as Saracens in the game, meaning “Easterners,” the name given by Crusaders during that era) or the Ottoman Turks, and then building a strong economy.
I excelled in two skills: early scouting, map exploration, and control of vital passages, as well as engaging in long-term wars of attrition to deplete and drain my opponents’ resources. I was one of the few who could fight wars on two different fronts simultaneously, thanks to my massive economy and military strategy based on producing large quantities of low-cost units. Additionally, I employed quality tactics in strategic positions.
This same strategy had a significant impact on naval warfare. I had an enormous ability to produce naval fleets simultaneously in multiple active ports. This would mislead anyone who thought they had won a naval battle or destroyed a port, only to be met with fierce naval warfare against the massive fleet I had managed to rebuild in record time.
Each civilization’s units (peasants, soldiers, archers, etc.) spoke their own language, and the units of the Arab civilization (Saracens) spoke Arabic phrases when selected or moved. It was amusing to observe clear performance, translation, and audio engineering mistakes in those recordings. One of the opening phrases uttered by the peasant when selected was, “Ahlan… Alo?” I often asked myself, while playing the game, how such an error could have occurred during the game’s production and release. Did the voice actor receive a phone call during recording and answer with “Alo?” Or did they assume that “Alo” was an Arabic word?
Although video game localization has made significant strides in the past two decades, understanding the cultural backgrounds of local communities in target markets and accommodating the cultural, intellectual, and linguistic characteristics of different ethnic groups highlighted in some game scenarios remains a real challenge for developers and the industry as a whole.
Today, THE ARABIC VOICE™ provides that magical recipe, which can prevent a company the size of Microsoft from falling into silly childish mistakes, like the example of “Ahlan-alo?”