The Malay are based on various kingdoms on the Malay Archipelago before European conquest, mainly Srivijaya and Majapahit during the reign of Hayam Wuruk.
Kingdoms on Malay Archipelago were able to field large number of troops because of the archipelago's large population. To reflect this, the Malay have a cheap and rapidly deployed unique unit that allows higher population than usual and a unique technology that enables the Malay to train and thus also easily field Militia-line units without spending gold. Because the Malay Archipelago is strategically located between India and China, it was often visited by people from both regions who introduced new cultures and technologies to the locals. Therefore, the Malay advance to the next Ages much faster than other civilizations.
Coastal defense is essential for kingdoms located in the region. Thus, Malay Docks and their allies have much longer Line of Sight. Furthermore, the Malay have access to Thalassocracy that gives their Docks the ability to defend themselves. The vast sea provided huge amount of fish which the people skillfully fished. Therefore, the Malay Fish Traps are cheaper and provide unlimited food. The Sumatran forest had large number of wild elephants and they were often tamed by local people to do various tasks. This is reflected by the Malay's ability to train cheaper Battle Elephants.
When playing a random map game against the computer, the player may encounter any of the following Malay AI characters:
Balaputra: A maharaja of Srivijaya in the 9th century CE as well as the former head of the Sailendra dynasty. Before rising as maharaja of Srivijaya though, he was the heir to the Ancient Mataram Kingdom, a Hindu-Buddha kingdom in Java back then, but was eventually forced to leave Java by the forces of Rakai Pikatan, a member of the rival Sanjaya Dynasty, who later founded the Medang Kingdom.
Dharmasetu: An 8th century maharaja of Srivijaya. Under his reign, he successfully incorporated Pan Pan, a kingdom located in the north of the Malay Peninsula into Srivijayan sphere of influence before 775 AD.
Gajah Mada: Commander of Majapahit elite guard, the Bhayangkara. Then the Prime Minister of Majapahit, replacing Arya Tadah. He was well known for his Palapa Oath and expanding Majapahit territories across the Malay Archipelago. He was dismissed after the Bubat Tragedy.
Hayam Wuruk: A Javanese King from the Rajasa Dynasty and the fourth monarch of the Majapahit Empire. Together with his prime minister Gajah Mada, he reigned the empire at the time of its greatest power.
Jayanegara: Prince of Kediri in 1295 reigned from 1309 to 1328, was a Javanese King and the second monarch of Majapahit Empire.
Paramewswara: The last King of Singapura. According to the Malay annals, he ruled Singapura from 1389 to 1398. The king fled the island kingdom after a Majapahit naval invasion in 1398 and founded his new stronghold on the mouth of Bertam river in 1402.
Raden Wijaya: A Javanese king, the founder and the first monarch of Majapahit Empire and the son-in-law of the last Singhasari monarch, Kertanegara.
Samaratungga: The head of the Sailendra dynasty who ruled Central Java and Srivijaya in the 8th and the 9th century.
Sang Nila Utama: A Srivijayan prince from Palembang said to have founded the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299.
Sultan Mansur Shah: The sixth Sultan of Malacca. He ruled Malacca from 1459 to 1477. He ascended the throne after the death of his father, Muzaffar Shah.
Sultan Muzaffar Shah: The fifth Sultan of Malacca. He ruled from 1445 to 1459.
If a player picks the Malay civilization, the bottom left and center of the navigation bar will show a ship image and a spherical symbol respectively. The ship image is based on a carving at the Borobudur Temple wall, while the spherical symbol is based on Surya Majapahit (Sun of Majapahit), a symbol commonly found in the ruins of Majapahit era.
Despite the Malay being loosely based on the inhabitants of Malay Archipelago, some of the civilization's traits are primarily borrowed from the Javanese that would later become part of modern Indonesia. Their campaign focuses on Gajah Mada, the chief minister of the Majapahit Empire based on the island of Java, who is considered a significant figure in Indonesian history. Their Wonder is the Kalasan Temple, which is located in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
The Karambit however, while a popular weapon with the peasants of Java, is actually said to originate from Sumatra (from where the Srivijaya Empire originated), and more specifically from the Minangkabau people, based in West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat) and known today as the largest matrilineal society in the world.
According to Majapahit era literature, the Majapahit Empire controlled parts of the island of New Guinea, which geographically belongs to Australasia. This technically means that with the inclusion of the Malay, Age of Empires II now represents parts from all continents except Antarctica.
If a Malay player starts fishing from a Fish Trap that was initially built by another civilization, it will still provide unlimited food. If a non-Malay player fishes from a Fish Trap that is built by the Malay, the Fish Trap will only provide 715 food.
One of the in-game dialogues of the Monk (Om Maheshwaraya) is one of the praising forms associated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Majapahit was a thalassocracy only during the reign of King Hayam Wuruk. However, the quality of the navy as well as all of its military declined after his death due to continuous civil wars and purposed neglect by the monarchs. Thus, when the empire was defeated and taken over by Demak, it only ruled the eastern part of Java.