Age of Wonders III Q&A with Lennart Sas

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Age of Wonders III



As promised, here’s the Age of Wonders III Q&A with designer Lennart Sas of Triumph Studios!


By way of introduction, Age of Wonders is a high fantasy, turn-based strategy series that has been around since the late 1990s. In AoW, players build up their cities, recruit armies of soldiers and elves, cannons and dragons, and then pit them against rivals in a tactical combat minigame, a la Master of Magic. Fond memories of the earlier games, Triumph’s promise of further improvements, and gorgeous early screenshots all piqued my interest in Age of Wonders III; and it didn’t hurt that the most recent AoW game, Shadow Magic, held up well when I replayed it to prepare for this interview. Sadly I wasn’t able to include every question sent in (I received some separately from the comments to my original post), but I hope this Q&A will address some of what you guys (and I) had in mind. Read on…

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Musical Monday: “Spring Buds” and “Shattered Bamboo” (Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI), composed by Yoshihiro Ike

This week’s songs are from Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI, KOEI’s epic strategy game set in war-torn Ancient China (and the last of its series to be translated into English). The game’s music is situational, so I want to say the first theme, “Spring Buds”, plays when you’re at peace, and that the second, “Shattered Bamboo”, plays when (A) you have a large empire and (B) you’re at war (I don’t recall hearing it when I was an underdog at the start of the game), but I can’t quite be sure! I can say they are as lovely as they are atmospheric, and I hope you enjoy them.



Book review: Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones

Castle in the Air coverOnce upon a time, in the land of Zanzib, there lived a young carpet merchant named Abdullah. Abdullah’s life was safe but dull, and his only excitement came when he daydreamed himself to be a long-lost prince. Then one day, a man offered to sell him a magic carpet…


Castle in the Air is a 1990 children’s novel by the sadly deceased Diana Wynne Jones. It’s billed as a sequel to the better-known Howl’s Moving Castle, but it stands alone very well – I did fine despite having forgotten pretty much everything about Howl. In fact, Howl fans might be advised to approach this as a separate story – Amazon reader reviews suggest the two books are only tangentially connected.


Connection or no connection, this is a book that does well on its own merits as a light-hearted romp through a fairy-tale world. Castle in the Air is the kind of book where chapter after chapter, the hero escapes from the frying pan only to land in the fire. The surprise, and the fun, lie in discovering how he makes it out each time! It helps that the characters are so vividly drawn. We’ve seen Abdullah’s archetype – the dreamy lad whose wish for adventure comes true – a thousand times before, but Jones breathes life and charm into him all the same. Consider this description of Abdullah’s imaginary backstory: Continue reading “Book review: Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones”

“Real lessons from virtual worlds”

That is the title of a short, but really interesting, Financial Times piece on virtual economics (free registration required). For years I’ve wanted to see the mainstream media pick up on the “giant social sciences lab” nature of games such as EVE Online, and now my wish has come true! Well worth a look if you’re interested in the subject.

MOTOKOOOO: Ghost in the Shell: Arise trailer

There is now a trailer for the new Ghost in the Shell prequel, Ghost in the Shell: Arise! Here it is:



Notably, protagonist Motoko Kusanagi has a new design as well as a new voice actress — Maaya Sakamoto, in lieu of the iconic Atsuko Tanaka. Arise will comprise four fifty-minute instalments, the first of which is due out in Japan in June. Sadly, Arise does not seem to be part of the Stand Alone Complex continuity. (It’s been almost nine months, and I still need to write that SAC retrospective!)

Further details around the Web, including at Siliconera and Anime News Network.  Hat tip to sfsignal for alerting me to the trailer.

At the Gates Q&A with Jon Shafer!

At the Gates banner


Civilization V designer Jon Shafer has unveiled his latest project on Kickstarter: At the Gates, a 4X strategy game that casts the player as a barbarian chief out to pick the carcass of the crumbling Roman Empire. The game sets out to fix one of the biggest problems in strategy gaming, the boring middle/late game, and its promised features include:


1. An emphasis on supply: armies will have only a limited capacity to live off the land, making them reliant on supply trains and friendly cities;


2. A dynamic map: resources will deplete over time (placing players under greater and greater pressure as the game goes on); seasons will affect the map as rivers freeze and food stockpiles dwindle during winter;


3. Asymmetric non-player factions: the Romans are still on the map, play by different rules to the barbarians, and won’t give up without a fight.


This all sounded very interesting to me, and Jon was kind enough to sit down for an email interview. Read on:


Continue reading “At the Gates Q&A with Jon Shafer!”

Be part of my Age of Wonders III Q&A!

Age of Wonders is a long-running and much beloved fantasy strategy game series, and last week, many of you guys would have seen Triumph Studios’ announcement that it should release Age of Wonders III later this year. I reached out to Triumph to secure an interview, and designer Lennart Sas said we can submit up to five questions! I’m coming up with a few of my own, but it’s been a long time since I played an AoW game (notwithstanding I recently reinstalled the most recent, Shadow Magic), so this is your chance. If you have any good questions in mind, please leave them in the comments below, and I’ll pick the best to send across!

Xenoblade Chronicles impressions: The Force is strong in this game

Xenoblade visual-gameplay-10_large
A glorious sunset in Xenoblade


Of all the magic woven by storytellers, immersion has to be one of the most precious threads. How wonderful it is that we can pick up a book, or play a game, or sit in a cinema, and be transported into another world! The people who write bullet points for video game boxes know this, which is why “immersive” is one of their favourite buzzwords. So is “visceral”, which I find telling. To be immersive, it seems, a work should have us on the edge of our seats: tense, excited, ready to feel its characters’ pain as if it were our own. But there’s also another kind of immersion – think of the proverbial warm soak. An immersive world can be utterly relaxing, an invitation for us to kick back and lose ourselves for an hour or two.  Nearly 20 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles, I can say it exemplifies the latter.


Xenoblade is an RPG for the Nintendo Wii – a platform exclusive, as a matter of fact. It’s a party-based JRPG that bears a striking similarity to 2006’s Final Fantasy XII, in that there are no random encounters and no distinction between an overworld, area maps, and combat screens. Rather, like a Western RPG, monsters are clearly visible – and combat takes place – in the field. Combat is real-time, and the player only controls one party member at a time, chosen before battle starts; the rest of the party is controlled by a generally competent AI. Since the chosen character will auto-attack enemies, the player’s job is to manage aggro, special abilities, and cooldowns. (Not items; there are no potions, stimpacks, antidotes, or the like in this game.) I’ve heard this compared to MMO gameplay, and it’s certainly different from what I’m used to.

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Interested in guest writing for the site?

I started Matchsticks for my Eyes in 2010, with a vision of building a hub for good, thoughtful writing about “worlds of wonder” – games, books, anime, and more. Since then, the site’s come a long way: it may not be IGN, but it does have a pretty solid 6,000+ page views per month, rising to over 8,000 for the last couple of months. And that vision hasn’t changed – we’ve earned our success on the back of some very good content.


Note the “we”; several wonderful guests have graced the site with their writing (on topics as varied as how to lose Crusader Kings II and worldbuilding in Final Fantasy XII). Would you like to join their ranks? If so, leave a comment, or drop me a query via email or the contact form, with your idea plus a link to where I can find samples of your writing. :D Unfortunately, I can’t pay for guest posts – those Amazon ads don’t even cover the cost of hosting, let alone paying for all those books and games – but I would be delighted to provide a link back to your website (if any).


Beneath the cut, I’ve listed a few possible topics – but these are merely suggestions! If you think it’s relevant, I’d like to hear about it. :)

Continue reading “Interested in guest writing for the site?”

Kickstarter campaign opens for a Starbase Orion Android/Mac/PC port

Following up on a news item I posted last year, Chimera Software has launched its Kickstarter campaign for an Android/Mac/PC port of Starbase Orion. SO is a 4X space strategy title that – if the trailer is any indication – owes a clear debt to Master of Orion, and based on what I’ve heard about its current, iOS incarnation, I’m quite excited by the prospect of an Android version.

Chimera is seeking $40,000 for the campaign (it’s presently at $2,695), which closes on 6 March.

Musical Monday: Satorl, the Shimmering Marsh – Night (Xenoblade Chronicles), composed by Manami Kiyota

This week’s theme is a piece of ambient music from the Wii’s flagship RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. Like the area in which it plays (depicted in the concept art below), it has an otherworldly loveliness that actually made me halt what I was doing in the game, sit back, and drink in the experience for a couple of minutes. Enjoy!