During the early 2000s, real-time strategy games were booming. From Blizzard and Westwood’s fantastical machinations, to Creative Assembly and Ensemble Studios’ historical excursions, the genre had a game in almost every style and setting conceivable – and they were all consistently great.
Yet of all these games, few offered as wide a scope as Stainless Steel Studios’ inaugural title, Empire Earth. The brainchild of Rick Goodman, who had previously helped conceive Age of Empires during Ensemble’s infancy, Empire Earth allowed players to embark on a tour of human history the likes of which had never been seen before, one that started at the dawn of human civilization, ended in the far-flung future, and offered an unparalleled level of customizability the entire way through.
While it wouldn’t prove the most prolific game of this era, it would have no trouble finding an audience willing to evangelize it, as well as continue to support it once expansions and sequels would start arriving from a new developer, Mad Doc Software. But almost as soon as Mad Doc would show itself mostly capable of living up to the high bar set by Stainless Steel, it would irreparably corrupt the series’ formula – scaring off its fan base, and sending it into a slumber from which it has yet to wake.
This is a story about an improbable real-time strategy series, and all that was great about it. Yet this is also a story about the importance of balancing one’s desire to branch out and reach new audiences, and keeping true to what it is that people came to love about one’s work in the first place.