A lot of people are surprised to hear that 0 A.D. has been in development since 2001 (or 2003, depending on how you count). What follows is a short history of the project, explaining how it came about and developed into what it is today.
2000-2002: The Birth of 0 A.D.
The concept behind 0 A.D. has actually been in the works since the year 2000. It started out as a collaboration between several groups advocating several different ideas.
The first idea was a fan request put together by a gamers’ group called Tonto Clan. They compiled a game design for a remake of Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome, and intended to send it to Age of Empires developers Ensemble Studios and suggest that they implement it. This fell through because ES had a different concept in mind, which was to develop a game based on mythology rather than history. This game is now known as Age of Mythology.
Second, Wildfire Games’ predecessor, a modding team named Wildfire Studios, had completed a successful, large-scale mod for Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (AoK) named “Rome at War”. Seeking to expand their success, they had started developing another mod at a much larger scale, changing many more art assets — a “total conversion” mod. While developing the mod, the team constantly ran into the limitations of modding a closed-source, proprietary game, and found that they could not change some features of the AoK engine, leading them to look into developing a standalone game.
Last but not least, a fantasy modding project, later called The Last Alliance (TLA), began looking into creating their own mod, and was also interested in the prospect of creating a standalone game with its own engine.
While at first, these three groups interacted independently on the forums of Age of Kings Heaven, an AoK fansite, they unified their ideas into the concept of a freeware, independent game engine to support 0 A.D. and TLA in the winter of 2001/2002. Jason “Wijitmaker” Bishop, a 23-year-old from Edwall, Washington, took the lead and would continue to manage the project for the next 6 years or so.
2003-2009: Closed-Source Development
After months of collaborative research and game design, a unified game design document was finalized in the summer of 2003. The chief game designers for 0 A.D. were Bishop along with Ken “TheRealDeal” Wood, a retiree in his 60’s from Arizona, and Stuart “Acumen” Walpole, a programmer in his 20’s from the UK.
Development continued until 2009 as a closed-source, proprietary freeware initiative, meaning it was supposed to be offered at no charge, and it was always meant to be easily moddable, yet the source code was closed for team members only. To join the the team, all one had to do was file an application and pass an interview, though.
Throughout 2003 to 2009, the game developed at a varying pace, mostly in the art area, with a large number of units and textures designed from scratch, mostly for the Celtic and Hellenic factions. Progress on the programming side was achieved on issues like gameplay logic, random map generation, water rendering, and multiplayer networking. Two topics in the programming side served programmers as projects for undergraduate degrees in Computer Science: The water rendering by Matei Zaharia and the file ordering and caching system by Jan “janwas” Wassenberg. (Both would go on to graduate school in computer science.) Art development kept going strong under the sustained leadership of Michael D. Hafer (“Mythos_Ruler”), a contributor in his late 20’s from Indiana.
Wood sadly passed away in 2006 after a long fight with cancer. Bishop stepped down as project lead in 2008 due to family obligations, with Erik “feneur” Johansson succeeding him.
Although contributions to 0 A.D. continued more or less steadily over these years, interest in TLA waned over time. As of September 2012, development of The Last Alliance has been officially discontinued. All the existing contributions to that project have been archived as study and discussion of Tolkien’s works, and as inspiration for those interested in fantasy mods and games.
Over time, programmers for 0 A.D. were becoming hard to find as well, stalling development of the game. Over 2009, the team re-evaluated the development system, and looked seriously into an open source model. Finally they went for it.
July 2009: The Open Source Release
In July 2009, the project switched from a closed development process to open source, making the code available as GPL and the art content available as CC-BY-SA, and encouraging external contributions. The team wished to attract new talent to 0 A.D., share some ideas, tools and code with the game development community, and simplify a number of issues with distribution and debugging.
Shortly afterwards, Philip (“Ykkrosh”) Taylor, a PhD student from Cambridge, made large changes to the codebase sorely requiring redesign and reimplementation, making it easier for new contributors to join.
Ever since going OS, we haven’t looked back. The game has attracted many contributors in all fields of development and we have picked up the pace considerably. Shortly after the OS release, we began releasing pre-alpha and alpha versions of 0 A.D. every two to three months, each with new features, and drawing the project closer to finish step by step.
The Story Continues
In the ends of 2016, Johansson passed on the torch of project leader to Nicolas (“Itms”) Auvray, a Physics student from France in his early 20’s. Johansson continues to be the Adminitrative Head of Wildfire Games, thus continuing a sustained involvement of more than ten years in the project.
We are over 15 years in development and still not done, but we have come a long way and we are going ever stronger. Missing features are less and less numerous, and the community of players and contributors is thriving. The time and effort we have put in is comparable to what goes into developing a regular AAA title, and those can take up to 7 years to create, even with a greater and steadier input of work. So really, we’re glad that we’ve accomplished so much and that we’re still around after so many years.
We’ll keep this page posted as development progresses, but in the meantime, you’re invited to become a part of the story of 0 A.D. Join us and get involved!