Summary: John talk muscle and monsters with the Age of Conan developers, discussing poignant issues such as whether an axe or sword is a more humane way of disemboweling a man.
FiringSquad: First, how has the experience working and maintaining Anarchy Online helped in developing your second MMORPG?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: The work on Anarchy Online has been, and is, essential in our efforts to make another great MMO. We have been developing technology, processes and tools for MMO development ever since 1996, and this gives us a clear competitive advantage against a lot of other companies out there. Not only have we learned from our mistakes (so if we are making them now we are making new ones;), but we have also learned a lot about design and what is fun or not within an online universe. Mix that with an incredibly experienced staff, and I think we have learned a lot. We have also learned that even though a game turns five years, like Anarchy does this June, it can still perform very strong and keep on attracting hundreds of thousands of new players every year.
FiringSquad: Why did you want to create a game based on a licensed property, rather than your own creation?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: When we were developing the heralded Anarchy Online – Shadowlands in 2003 we started to look at other games we could develop in the genre. We really wanted to create a fantasy game this time around (since AO was a sci-fi game) and when we went through our options we (“almost” by chance) came across Conan Inc, who was looking for a partner to develop an online universe based on the Conan license. Having grown up with the Conan comic and movies, and being great fans of the universe, the choice wasn’t all that difficult, and here we are some three years later.
FiringSquad: Why was the Conan mythos picked as the basis for the game?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: The Conan mythos is incredibly deep and detailed, and contains more than 70 years of novels, comics, movies and pen and paper RPG’s. When you look at some of the most influential fantasy works made in the 20th century there is no denying that Conan are among the greatest, and he is known to be the worlds greatest fantasy hero. There is so much more to this universe than just Conan though, and the depth and scope of the world and its history is simply astounding.
We have set the timeline shortly after the story “Hour of the dragon”, one of the finest stories by Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan. In this age Conan has finally ascended the throne as king of Aquilonia, the mightiest nation of Hyboria (the world of Conan, set in BC 10.000). Bur Conan’s rule is on the brink of chaos, with ancient evils looming over the lands, and this is where the players come in. They can not control Conan, but they can be an important part of the epic story which is about to unfold.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the playable races and professions you can pick from in Age of Conan?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: At the start of the game you can choose between three different races; Aquilonian (think the Greek \\ Roman empires with a twist), Stygia (think North-Africa \\ Egypt, but shrouded in dark magic and evil) and Cimmeria (think the Celtic \\ Germanic people). You start out with the most extensive character creation ever seen in an online game (should you wish to), but you don’t have to choose anything but your looks until level five. Then you get to choose between the four archetypes Warrior, Mage, Priest and Rogue. You can specialize further in all of these classes, and cool choices like Lotus master, Waylayer, Herald of Xotli, Scion of Set, Bear Shaman and Priest of Mitra opens up depending on the way you wish to evolve. The thing here is that you have a lot of freedom on how to proceed throughout the game.
We have made a complete list of all the archtypes and classes in the game on the official website, and you check it out here: http://www.ageofconan.com/classList/classList.html.
FiringSquad: How will the backstory and quests be handled in the game?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: We have really tried something unique with Age of Conan, and that is to include a single-player Online Action RPG at the start of the experience! You thus start out the game alone, where the focus is on you, your story and your journey. As you emerge as a hero from this quest-driven and story focused part of the game, you will not only have learned the ropes of the game, but you will also be able to dig into the great lore of Robert E. Howard. As you move into the MMO part of the game at level 20 there will be hundreds and hundreds of exciting quests, and some of them are even involving King Conan. To make the quests feel more important, as opposed to simply scrolling through text to get to the phat loot as in most MMOs, we have also tried to have voice actors on key NPC’s, as well as having lip-sync and “actor” emotions and gestures. In addition we use different camera angles to get a more cinematic feel to many of the dialogues. Some eight people on the dev team alone are involved in the quests, in addition to us binding in stories from both the comics, new novels from Penguin books, and not the least the stories from Robert E. Howard into play. The aim is to make the quests in Conan a great, fun and thrilling experience.
In addition to that we have also meticulously fleshed up the world and the architecture of the world, so hopefully you will feel the ancient history and depth of it all not only through text and dialogue (and action!) but also through watching and listening. Story is very very important to Funcom, in all of our games, and Conan is no exception.
Jørgen Tharaldsen: Yes, definitively! For one we have a direct combat system, or our “Real Combat” engine as we coined it back in 2005, and this multi-point melee is brand new to MMOs. We wanted to be true to the action you instantly think of when envisioning Conan, and we are staying true to that in every regards, ranging from how you can ride and fight from mounts, to city sieges to how you can directly control your characters attacks and movement on the battlefield. In truth Age of Conan is all about the action, too, and we believe MMO players will really like some of the combat innovations we have brought along.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the creatures players will encounter in Age of Conan?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: We have tried to sample a lot of the history of Conan in the gameplay, and you can expect to meet many of Conan’s foes (and friends) throughout your journeys in Hyboria. The range of creatures goes from known animals like bear and wolves, to fiendish native people like the Picts, to mighty demons, gigantic creatures and horrors and beasts from the depths of the earth. The world of Conan is filled to the brim with unspeakable horrors, and we plan to keep you on your toes throughout the game.
FiringSquad: How will the game handle team play and player vs player combat?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: Team play will be important in Conan (but you can solo too!), and up to 10 players can be in the same team. We are also doing our best to make sure it will be easier to find other players around the same level range. You can even play with a friend of lower level through our “master and apprentice” system. In addition we are introducing player-made formations, which bring something brand new to MMO team play. With formations a leader can command the shape and direction of the formation, and the players are “tied together” (think of a rubber band around the group) but with each player having a certain freedom. You can at any time drop out of the formation should you wish to, but the more tight-knight and disciplined the formation is, the more tactical advantage you gain of course. These formations gives your group a bonus, and they also allow for the protection of softer targets, for instance in dungeon crawls. You will also find that certain formations will break the formations of opposing players. There is a lot of depth to this system, but it’s quite easy to learn, so we truly look forward to see how the players will adapt and how it will all play out on the bloody battlefield ;)
When it comes to PvP it is an essential part of the gameplay experience in Conan, and we are truly focusing on PvP so that it will be fun, brutal, action filled and fair. We are giving you the chance to be a dancing god of death, and your “dance of the steel” as Game Director Gaute Godager puts it should bring loads of entertainment both through the level progression and in the end-game. In general we have divided the PvP into three distinct parts where the players can bash the brains of their opponents out.
Drunken brawling is a hilarious, unique and very “Conanesque” PvP form where every player, regardless of their level, can fight it out in the bars and taverns of the world. Your fighting ability here depends on how much you drink, and what you drinkJ The more you drink the more pain you are able to endure, but the less chance you have of hitting! So it gives the word binge drinking a whole new meaning, and it’s quite unlike any PvP action you have seen before ;)
PvP mini-games is a selection of mini-games, like Last man standing, King of the Hill and so forth (as you know from FPS games), but with a unique Conan twist, of course. These fights will take place in areas of the world dedicated or designed for PvP combat. To level out the fact that many friends have different abilities and levels, we also have a PvP-leveling system where we have divided the 80 levels into 4 tiers. So if you for instance are level 68 but all your friends are 75 you will be auto-leveled up to the max level of that tier during the PvP fight. You might not have amassed all the special attacks, feats and whatnot like the top level players, but at least you have a fair chance of winning if you are cunning;)We have drawn inspiration from the battlegrounds in WoW here as well, and these games should be fun, intense and brutal ;)
Massive epic battles – This is the ultimate large-scale PvP form where guilds and coalitions of players can build their own cities in the border kingdoms, and fight it out in massive battles. Just think of it! Engines of war, mounted warriors charging on horses and mammoths, formations of players struggling for every inch of land, tearing down walls or breaking through the formations of the enemy! For glory and power, with blood and brutality all around, this is truly going to be a part of the gameplay which shines.
I would also like to add that there will be a voluntary PvP system in Conan, in the sense that you only need to fight in PvP should you want to. This means that in most and many regions of the worlds you can not PvP unless certain parameters are met;) Griefing is a nasty thing for those who are on the victim side, and we therefore try to give the players safe zones. We are also toying around with Free for all PvP servers, should the demand be there. Our tech allows for it, and should enough players wish this form of server we do have the ability to implement it, and if not at launch then at least shortly after should our players want it.
Jørgen Tharaldsen: This is not a feature, per se, but I believe the feeling and ambience of the world will truly make the game stand out. When you are there, inside the world of Conan, sword in hand, with the blood rushing through your veins, delivering damage and death, then you should truly feel like you are there, out of this world, and inside a realm of danger and death.
I can sum the features in all their brutal glory :)
…there is so much which make Age of Conan stand out, and I feel certain we will deliver a special and compelling online experience upon our launch.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the art style and graphics for the game and how will it look compared to those classic Conan book covers?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: First of all the Art Director on the game is Didrik Tollefsen, who in recent years has worked on masterpieces like The Longest Journey (Art Director and co-creator), Anarchy Online – Shadowlands (Art Director) and Dreamfall (Concepts). This means that we have one of the best art directors in the world, in my opinion, when it comes to color, light, balance and ambience and that intense attention to detail and consistency. Together with a vast team of talented artists and animators, and our own proprietary Dream World Engine, we are truly pushing the envelope on graphics and animations in MMO’s, and I believe our screenshots and videos prove that.
That said, we are not trying to mimic anything out there, but rather create our own “magical realism” version of Hyboria, and how it looks in 3D. We naturally draw influences from the many, many great Conan artists of the past and present, but the demands of a 3D world compared to a 2D comic means that we must carve our own path.
FiringSquad: What is the current status of the game's progress and when will it be released?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: The game is shaping up in a great way, and we recently won the E3 award as the “Best MMO of Show” Gamespot, IGN, Gamespy and Yahoo Games. The closed beta is scheduled to start this summer, and the release is set for Q4 2006. If you drop by our community portal on www.ageofconan.com we will let everyone know more about their chances to join the beta when the time is right. Oh, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter and on the forums, that might very well increase your chances of securing a beta spot ;).
FiringSquad: After Age of Conan's released, what plans does Funcom have for content updates?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: We are 100% committed to the prolonged life of Conan, so much that we recently extended the MMO rights for the license up to 2023. We plan to support the game with exciting and fun content updates, expansions and improvements from the get-go. We are in for the long-run when it comes to Conan, and we aim to deliver our players tons of cool new content as the game progresses. The great thing about the Conan license is that it lends itself so well to further updates, I mean, 70 years or lore and background means we have an almost limitless well of lore to dive into.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Age of Conan?
Jørgen Tharaldsen: Every once in a while a game comes along which tries to push the boundaries of its genre, not just for the sake of it but to bring something brand new and exciting to the table. With Age of Conan we are doing exactly that. It will be a brutal and exciting journey filled with dangers and thrills, and we are working hard and dedicated to bring a great world of entertainment to all the fans out there.
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