There are many ways in which this popular game or any of its expansions could have been different.
- Ages II and III switched the names "Feudal Age" and "Middle Age" constantly during development.
- The Imperial Age was originally named the Gunpowder Age, but was changed after being ruled too restrictive.
- The beta had one wonder per building set (Aachen Cathedral for Western Europe, Suleiman's Mosque for Middle East, beefed-up Temple of Heaven for East Asia) like in Age of Empires. Fortunately, the designers took the extra effort to give each civilization an unique wonder that gave them more personality. The Aachen Cathedral and Suleiman's Mosque are still available as eye candy in the scenario editor, and the beta Temple of Heaven can be downloaded from some fansites. The Central European building set was likely introduced later than the others.
- In a released confidential "Design Doc" (5.0 version), the designated Briton wonder is Westminster Abbey, Aachen remains the Frankish wonder, and the Saracen wonder is debated between the Great Mosque of Samarra and the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem.
- The Trade Workshop was going to allow villagers to produce "luxury goods" which would be sold for gold. It survived as an eye-candy building in the Scenario Editor but only had Western European and East Asian versions until The Forgotten made it in other building styles.
- The town centers of "raiding civilizations" (Mongols, Celts, and Vikings; see below) could be packed and rebuilt elsewhere, like trebuchets.
- Bizarrely, these three widely separated cultures would have shared a common building set.
- Houses would generate small ammounts of gold over time as a reference to taxation.
- The original concept of the Blacksmith was more like the Storage Pit in Age of Empires. In addition to armor and weapons upgrades, it would be available from the Dark Age and serve as a dropping point for Ore (see Nature) and Stone.
- Town Centers could be "fortified" with a technology.
- Docks would produce only civilian vessels and technologies while a different naval building, Ports, would produce war ships and their upgrades.
- The Editor's "City Wall" was the original design of the Central European fortified wall.
- Monasteries (the Western European version, at least), looked more like real monasteries, with more than one building and a cloister.
- It is likely that a Charlemagne campaign was planned at one point, due to the presence of Charlemagne and Roland heroes and the originally more Carolingian spin of the Frankish civilization. Coincidentally or not, Microsoft held a contest of Charlemagne-themed fanmade scenarios before the release of The Conquerors (and the winner, "The Saxon Revolt", was added as a hidden scenario to the expansion).
- Likewise, it is probable that a King Arthur campaign (presumably Britons) was planned at one point, due to the large number of Arthurian heroes and the original emphasis on rebuilding civilization from the ruins of Rome. Perhaps as the learning campaign instead of William Wallace.
- The aforementioned Design Doc proposes a Briton campaign in the mold of Age of Empires campaigns (following peoples over the centuries instead of one notable person). The first scenario would show Egbert of Wessex fighting the Vikings, the second Alfred the Great building a navy and retaking London, the third the Battle of Hastings... and the rest were to be determined.
- An unfinished special relic ("Piece of the True Cross") is present in the Editor. The scenario "The Horns of Hattin" references a "Piece of the True Cross", but it is portrayed as a normal relic.
- An early draft of the Mongol campaign had the conquest of Khwarazm offscreen and more importance placed on the wars against Kushluk and the Chinese. However, it's debatable if this would have meant more scenarios with them, or just more objectives within the same scenario.
- Kushluk was to be defeated once and made flee with the Kara-Khitai. Then, he would be defeated a second time by inciting a Kara-Khitai revolt against him.
- Since the Mongols were still supposed to be a raiding civilization at this point, and the document calls the Kara-Khitai "Tartars", it is possible that they would have been played by Turks (a sedentary civilization) instead of Mongols.
- A mission involved assassinating the Hsia (Xi-Xia) King in a mountain fortress and making peace with his successor. This was split between the assassination of the Shah, and the Xi-Xia fortified mountain base in the final campaign.
- The Mongols would ally with the Sung to besiege the Chin (Jin) capital in Pien Liang (Kaifeng). In the final campaign, the Mongols fight all Chinese dynasties at once.
- After the invasions of Poland and Hungary, there would be a final Alternate History scenario about Ogatai not dying and the Mongols invading Western Europe.
- Kushluk was to be defeated once and made flee with the Kara-Khitai. Then, he would be defeated a second time by inciting a Kara-Khitai revolt against him.
- Since Mongols were not using the East Asian set yet, the proposed East Asian campaign was about the Japanese defending their islands from the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281.
- Sandy Petersen said that he'd liked a Gothic campaign about either "Alaric or Theodoric", but without specifying which of the historical kings named such would be. A Theodoric unit was included in the editor, and later used in the Attila campaign (as Theodoric I), the Official Fan-Submitted Content Alaric campaign (as Alaric I), and the Tariq ibn Ziyad campaign (as Roderic).
- Several names for some factions were considered, including British instead of Britons, French instead of Franks, Germans and Teutonic Knights instead of Teutons, and Song instead of Chinese.
- In general, the Frankish civilization was more closely based on the Early Medieval Franks and the Carolingian Empire than the later Kingdom of France. The Design Doc even implies that the Franks would speak German or Latin, not French.
- There were going to be two different "superclasses" of civilizations: Sedentary (similar to the ones in the final game) and raiding. Raiding civilizations would be inmune to conversion, not advance ages, pick no relics, build no military buildings, wonders, nor houses; and trade no luxury goods. Instead, their villagers would be turned into soldiers at the Town Center. The cavalry would have the ability to steal resources from other players's buildings and to kidnap villagers and bring them to their Town Center, where they would be converted to their side. If killed before making it to the Town Center, the stolen resources would appear as piles of resources that could be picked by any villager, like the crates in Age of Empires III.
- Bizarrely, the Design Doc calls Teutons to have weak buildings because the Teutonic Knights were supposedly more concerned with destroying Pagans than building structures. In the final game, the Teutons are a Stone Wall/Turtle civilization with the strongest defences because... the Teutonic Knights built many powerful castles to keep the Pagans down.
Formations and Tactics
- The developers considered giving units multiple attack modes, but decided it would add more frustration than it was worth. For instance, the Samurai could choose between using a bow and a katana.
- Infantry could perform a shield wall that would make them immobile but more resistant to arrows.
- Spearmen would run faster when they were a few tiles from cavalry units (called "pikemen plunge"). They could also be "set against charge", in which case they would stand still, but be 3 times deadlier to cavalry attacking from the front.
- Cavalry could be set to charge, dealing double damage on their first hit.
- The galley, fireship, and demolition ship were just three attack modes of a single warship: shooting, Greek fire, and ramming. Ramming ships would deal 50 damage and receive 10. Greek fire would damage units and goods aboard transport ships.
- Warships could also grapple and board enemy ships, converting them to your side.
- Camels would kidnap villagers, like the cavalry in the raiding cultures concept (no Camels were planned in that version).
- Walls would blockade arrows from the outside while enabling archers on the inside to shoot.
- "Forced treaty" would temporarily turn an enemy into ally by paying it resources. The Britons would have the cheapest treaties and the Byzantines the most expensive.
- "Fealty" would allow players to become "clients" of other player. The other player would automatically receive 50% percent of the resources and gain (joint) control of the client player's units. Naturally, they could not attack each other until the agreement was rejected by one of the parts.
- There would be different relics that would boost attack, defense, or conversion rates of nearby units when carried to battle, in addition to generating gold in monasteries. Some civilizations would respond better to one relic in particular: Franks to the True Cross, and Persians to the "Carpet of Chosis I" (Khosraw?).
- Monasteries and monks would be available from the Dark Age, but they could not convert units until the Castle Age.
- Players could declare one "Jihad" against another player once in a game (this was not exclusive to the Saracens or anything, so it would probably be renamed if implemented). A Jihad would make impossible to change diplomacy between the target player and the proclaiming player, would boost the attack of the latter against the target by 20%, and would also boost the attack of all other players (minus the target) against everyone by 10%.
- Heroes would have the ability to convert units.
Nature and Resources
- In addition to Food, Wood, Gold, and Stone, there were going to be two other gatherable resources:
- Ore. Also mined, and spent on military units and upgrades, while Gold was used for civilian units and technologies.
- Luxury Goods. They were unique to each civilization (except Raiders, who didn't get them). Britons would make Wool, Byzantines would make Icons, Chinese would make Silk and Jade, Franks would make Beer and Glass, Persians would make Spices, Saracens would make Soap and Amber, and Teuton...ic Knights would make Furs.
- Gold was to be acquirable through trade, taxes, and pillaging, but not mined (at least in most maps). A version of the minimap would show gold sources only including established trade routes.
- The beta had different, less detailed graphics for most things, even rocks. The cliffs, on the other hand, survived unchanged until the HD version despite being just scaled-up versions of the ones used in Age of Empires.
- Trees and wild animals would slowly respawn (as long as there was one left of their species, in the latter case).
- Wolves would regain their health after killing a unit. They would move in packs, avoiding towns, and when encountered by villagers, there would be a random chance between attacking the villager or ignoring it. However, wolves would also get "hungry" periodically; the packs would then seek and attack deer, boars, bears, and villagers. Players were expected to figure how numerous wolves were by hearing their howling.
- Gaia-controlled Outlaws (in the guise of Feudal Age archers) would generate randomly, move in small groups, and attack players, like wolves. They would be attracted to trade carts and have multiplied attack against them. On the other hand, they were expected to be smart enough to retire and/or not attack when the carts were defended by enough troops.
- Mercenaries would appear as a neutral faction on maps and call a bidding process for all players before switching to one player's control.
- Dolphins were fish sources in the beta but were replaced by Marlins to avoid controversy. Dolphins and fish may have moved around the map.
- Wild Boars could feed on farms and berry bushes, reducing the food they could provide for players.
- Bears almost replaced Boars. In addition to farms and bushes, they would feed on shore fish.
- Like in Age of Empires, there would be a Hawk (as successor to the Eagle) and a Seagull. This time, the Seagull would be confined to water areas and show attraction to fishing boats.
- Spies, also known as Infiltrators, would appear as Villagers wearing the enemy's colors. They could not be tasked by the player with "their" color so they were easy to recognize, and they could be attacked and killed by other units.
- On the other hand, the Design Doc describes the "Infiltrator" as a "Ninja-like" infantry unit with high attack that can be used for isolated assassinations behind enemy lines (presumably of Kings and other Heroes). It is possible that the Infiltrator had a different "built" image before adopting the Villager disguise, like the Spy in Tzar: The Burden Of The Crown.
- Siege towers that garrisoned men like rams and shot multiple arrows like longboats. Reintroduced in The Forgotten, though only in the scenario editor, and finally as common units capable of unloading units on the other side of walls in The African Kingdoms (what siege towers were actually used for).
- Saboteurs were also relegated to the Editor before being reintroduced as the much nerfed petards in The Conquerors. Unlike the petard, which deals large damage to buildings but little to units, the saboteur deals large damage to everyone and is viable to use in crowds as a suicide bomber.
- The Janissary was originally a heavy foot archer◊ (like the Vietnamese Rattan Archer), before being changed to a heavy hand cannoneer◊, in deference to the Turks' status as sole gunpowder heavy civilization in the original game. Then, just before release, Microsoft insisted that Ensemble took out the Janissary's tall white hat out of fear that users would mistake it for a Klansman. Ever since, the first skin with hat has been available in fan sites, or included in fan expansions either replacing the hatless skin or as a "Royal Janissary" unit in the editor.
- At one point, Janissaries were intended to shoot bows in the Castle Age and upgrade to firearms in the Imperial Age only.
- Knights went through several different designs as the developers debated between arming them with lances (as this was their primary weapon historically) or more iconic swords. One of the early sword versions used the same sprites as the Joan of Arc unit but with a full helmet and a plum similar to the Arbalest's.
- Early on, Lancers were a separate anti-cavalry unit. They were revived as an alternative to Camels for civilizations that didn't have them (Camels were not in the first draft), but were dropped completely in the end.
- Before the Throwing Axeman, the Frankish UU was the "Frankish Paladin", a superheavy Paladin armed with a lance. It was based on Charlemagne's legendary Twelve Peers.
- The Saracen UU was first going to be a ranged infantry called "Dervish", then a "mounted berserker" (still called Dervish) before settling on the Mameluke.
- As in Age of Empires, trade cogs would bring different resources instead of just gold.
- "Trade boats", a sort of super-trade cogs, would travel to the edge of the map and disappear for a while before returning with a larger number of resources. However, they were difficult to code and very buggy, so they were taken out.
- "Builder ships" would allow players to build on the sea (walls, doors, towers, and docks) and also repair ships without having to bring them to shore. They were eliminated because playtesters used them in an offensive manner only, walling enemy docks instead of using them to protect their own as the developers intended. The sea walls, doors, and towers are now only available in the editor.
- Archers and Crossbowmen were going to be separate lines before crossbowmen were turned into archer upgrades.
- Mangonels and Onagers originally had to be packed to move and unpacked to use, like trebuchets.
- Kings used to have the ability to attack (technically they still do, but it is negligible and they are coded to run away from attackers). They would also boost the attack of allied units within 5 tiles. Queens (later introduced in the expansions) were considered and intended to have the same ability.
- The beta models of catapults and scorpions had soldiers pushing them like the Bombard Cannon and Organ Gun, although it is unknown if these would only appear when they moved or also when they shot.
- The Woad Raider was called the "Woad Berserker", and the Throwing Axeman, the "Axe Thrower".
- The Berserker was the Gothic UU; the Vikings would only get the Longboat as theirs.
- The Mongol UU was going to be an unspecified mobile siege unit, pulled by a horse or donkey.
- The Persian UU was provisionally named "Multipurpose Cavalry" and could switch between fighting with bow and lance.
- A second mounted villager ("supervillager") that could gather more and faster was considered. The closest equivalent would be the Settler Wagon in Age of Empires III.
- Surprisingly, the first plans called Monks to have different skins depending of their religion (and to be Monk-like rather than Priest-like): Christians in tied brown robes, Muslims in white robes and circular caps, Buddhists in white robes and bald head, and Pagans in brown robes and goat-head masks.
- Proposed cheats included a reference to Kung Fu B-movies (apparently hindering on a proposal to make Buddhist monks fight, and scrapped when monks were not made religion-specific), windmills that spinned very fast and threw units away, fire-breathing dragons that set buildings alight, sea monsters that destroyed boats and ate units on the shore, Tim the Sorcerer and the Rabbit of Caerbannog.
- There was an Artifact Cart, like in Age of Empires.
- Donkeys would appear as a second land trade unit besides trade carts (they were later added in The Forgotten, but as a scenario-only unit; they move slower than carts but carry more gold).
- Adding a fifth age was discussed, featuring Renaissance warfare and Pike and Shot tactics among other things.
- In the preceding "Russian Mod" (see below), the Russian wonder was a model of St. Basil's cathedral borrowed from Cossacks. This is likely why the Slavic wonder ended being Kizhi Pogost despite being anachronistic: similar and monumental enough, but different enough to not accusse Microsoft of basing their wonder on another company's graphics.
- Likewise, the Indians started as a mod that gave them the Middle Eastern building set and the Taj Mahal as a wonder (also taken from another game). The Forgotten changed the wonder to the Gol Gumbaz. However, another popular mod gave the Indians their own architecture, with the 3rd century BC(!) Sanchi Stupa as their wonder. This building style was later refined and made official with a third, Medieval wonder at last: the Brihadishvara Temple.
- Originally, the Ethiopians had Bet Giyorgis as their wonder instead of Bet Amanuel, the Malians had the Sankore Madrasah instead of the Great Mosque of Djenne, and the Portuguese Belem Tower had a wooden roof and less detailed ornaments. Amusingly, the only reason these early versions made it into The African Kingdoms (as skins of the "Palace" building in the editor) was because the developers wanted to have a non-convertable and non-victory giving wonder in a campaign scenario, and plain forgot to replace the old designs with the definitive before release.
- Given that the Italians began as the Romans, it shouldn't be a surprise that their wonder was originally the Colosseum, as in Rise of Rome.
- The "Scythian Prince" in the Attila campaign was going to be played by the "Scythian Scout" hero in the Editor, but it was changed to a non-heroic Scout Cavalry with 1000 health points.
- "Kyoto" was going to start as a mission to rescue Nobunaga from imprisonment and become a revenge mission after the rescue failed. This was changed when the creators got a mail from Microsoft Japan telling them that samurai never took prisoners.
- A Korean campaign about the unification of Goryeo in the 10th century was planned for The Forgotten but was not finished due to time constrains. A single level ("Kaesong") was later uploaded to Steam.
- The Conquerors expansion was conceived as adding a new civilization per building set, plus a new Mesoamerican set. Any other starting criteria (such as creating civilizations of a new style only, like Rise of Rome) and the selection would have been completely different. The Incas, eastern Europeans (with Russians and Polish as the most likely options), Khmer, Tibetans, Italians, Swiss, Austrians (or "Habsburgs"), Magyars, and Moors, were all considered as candidates.
- The Incas were discarded because the developers felt that their architecture was unique enough as to need its own building set instead of sharing it with Aztecs and Mayans, and because they were having enough trouble trying to make two distinctive civilizations with no cavalry to think of also making a third. Ironically, The Forgotten ended introducing an Inca civilization that shared the Mesoamerican building set and didn't have cavalry anyway.
- The eastern Europeans were also discarded because it was felt they'd require their own new building set, and the expansion was being rushed. The game ended including a technical eastern European civilization, the Huns, but they were given the Central European building set. Eventually, a Slavic civilization mostly based on Medieval Russia and with a new Eastern European set shared with the Magyars was included in The Forgotten. The last expansion The Last Khans will add Lithuanians and Bulgarians, also with the Eastern European set, and Cumans, with a new Central Asian set. It is unknown if the Hunnic architecture will be changed. Polish are no longer considered.
- The Slavic civilization developed from an originally fan-made mod called the "Russian Mod", which replaced the Mayans and Aztecs with Ukrainians and Russians, and had a more markedly (though crude) Russian architecture than The Forgotten gave them. Because of this, they had no cavalry (except for two unique ones replacing Eagle Warriors and Plummed Archers) and the Russian UU was a type of infantry.
- The Khmer were probably also pushed back because of architecture but were included in the southeast Asian-themed expansion, Rise of the Rajas.
- The Tibetans are one of the most demanded civilizations by fans, but will never be implemented due to the expected opposition of the Chinese government.
- The Italians were considered for the Western European set (and they had already been referenced extensively in the Barbarossa campaign) but lost to the Spanish after the creators learned of El Cid. And the Spanish had the additional value that they could be pitched in a campaign against the Aztecs.
- The Italians from The Forgotten also started as a fan mod, but one that would turn the Aztecs into Ancient Romans, with their own new set (incidentally, the makers would eventually go on to make 0 A.D. after Microsoft turned down their offer to remake the original Age of Empires). When they were reworked into a Medieval civilization, they were first called "Lombards" and based on northern Italy only.
- The Magyars (or Hungarians) were the candidates that almost made it, as a Central European civilization, but Ensemble decided that the Huns would be more recognizable and that a campaign based on Attila would sell better. Again, they were revived by a Hungarian modder.
- The Moors were discarded because Ensemble felt that a fifth civilization with the Middle Eastern set would be excessive. They eventually were included as the Berbers in The African Kingdoms.
- The Scythians were considered for Forgotten Empires but were discarded for being anachronistic despite appearing in the Attila campaign, and were replaced by the Slavs.
- Sandy Petersen proposed an African-themed expansion after The Conquerors, first for Age of Empires II, then for Age of Empires III. In the earlier draft ("Age of Africa"), all four civilizations were Subsaharan: Ghana, Mali/Songhai, Ethiopia, and Kongo. Mali would be a "camel-based civilization" with a Camel Archer or "tough camel" UU, Ghana would have a female UU based on the Dahomey Amazons (apparently from confusing Medieval Ghana with modern Ghana, and using it as a blanket for Guinea Gulf peoples), Ethiopia would have a melee infantry UU with a small range or area effect, and Kongo would have cavalry but no camels and a knife thrower UU. By a second interview (but still years before African Kingdoms), Petersen had already combined his plans for Mali, Ghana, and Kongo in a single Malian civilization.
- Not only are the Thais suspiciously absent from Rise of the Rajas, but the cutscenes in the Khmer campaign actually showed characters in Thai clothing before it was corrected in an update.
- The unfinished "Genitour" unit in the Scenario Editor of The Conquerors was going to be the Spanish UU, a mounted skirmisher that the Spanish would use to counter horse archers in lieu of their missing foot archer upgrades. The unit was likely dropped because it was too situational and so weak against most other units that they would have to be accompanied by knights to be effective (ironically, not unlike how they were used in Real Life). They were replaced with gun-toting Conquistadors that counter infantry instead: the knights now protect the Conquistadors from archers and the Conquistadors protect the knights from pikemen.
- The Genitour was later finished and introduced in The African Kingdoms as a Berber UU that is also available to other civilizations allied with them. It isn't a popular unit, except among Native American players (who don't get cavalry otherwise) and Turks (who have no skirmisher upgrades).
- Had Magyars been included in The Conquerors, it's likely that the Hussar would have been the Magyar UU and not a generic light cavalry unit, as it was absent from the original game and non-Hungarian, non-Serb hussars all postdate the Medieval period.
- Likewise, it's all but confirmed that the Hwacha was the first option for a Korean UU, with one dev blog going as far as to claim that the War Wagon is "based on" the Hwacha despite looking nothing like it. The Hwacha probably needed more time to be designed and playtested than Ensemble could give it.
- The Malay were originally going to have the Champion upgrade in exchange for not having the last Imperial Age armor for their infantry units, but the developers realized the power-spike of the Champion is so huge in conjunction with Forced Levy (a unique tech that makes the Militia line cost no gold) that developers decided to remove the Champion upgrade since the Two-Handed Swordsman upgrade is enough to be an effective late game (aka "trash") unit. This explains why the Malay campaigns has starting Champions in some scenarios despite not having access to them.
- The Vietnamese were not going to have the Champion upgrade or Bloodlines to put more emphasis on their Archer units and their Battle Elephants, but testing revealed that the Vietnamese wouldn't have cost effective answers to the Goths's lategame. The developers decided to give the Vietnamese Champions and Bloodlines, as the former allows the Vietnamese a fighting chance against the Goths while the later allows strong synergy with their Cavalry Archers.