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Interviews

Age of Conan, part one

Funcom fuels our barbarian fantasies as it takes us inside its PC and Xbox 360 MMORPG

Blizzard's all-dominating World of Warcraft is set to face its most serious challenge yet in 2007, a number of new 'big name' MMORPGs preparing to enter the market before the year is out.

Product manger Erling Ellingsen reveals that on top of creating a compelling MMORPG experience Funcom is aiming to incorporate cross-platform adventuring into Age of Conan. So, while the PC version will release first this October, PC gamers and Xbox 360 gamers could eventually be able to buddy-up and compare oiled muscly pectorals.

Over to Erling...

When development began, what kind of experience were you aiming for?

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Erling Ellingsen: We knew we didn't want to make a massively multiplayer online game that stuck to the established standards of the genre. We had to do something different with elements that have always been done in a certain way with MMOs - elements such as combat - so we immediately set out to come up with new ways of handling these gameplay features.

There's no point in re-inventing the wheel for the sake of it. We want to depict Conan's world as it was described in Robert E. Howard's novels, so we set out to create a violent world filled with war and conflict, a world that was a far cry from the typical fantasy this genre is known for. It's truly a brutal and very mature universe and I would definitively say we're realising these goals.

How has your experience with Anarchy Online affected the development of Age of Conan?

Erling Ellingsen: Making a MMO is like riding a bull when all you've ever done in your entire life is ride a horse. Having a game of this genre on our track record has had a tremendous impact on the quality of the production.

There are so many technical challenges that crop up, so knowing about those things already is valuable as we move towards release. We're able to do everything better than we did the last time.

What development challenges has incorporating a more twitch-style combat system into an MMORPG thrown up?

Erling Ellingsen: We wanted an MMO that had much more hands-on action than what has been done so far. You get to control every swing of your sword, you get to move around and use the terrain to your advantage and you have to actually aim at specific parts of your enemy's body.

It's the same with archery, where you'll have to string the bow and aim manually - as if you were playing a first-person shooter. The challenges were mostly technical. Issues with lag could kill such a system, but we're confident that we've designed it in a way that actually works.

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What other unique gameplay elements are you introducing?

Erling Ellingsen: Besides the real-time combat system, you'll have very unique features such as drunken brawling, the prestige classes, mounted combat where you actually charge into enemies, decapitations and the ability to cut of limbs, finishing moves and so on.

I also think many players will look at the graphics and realise that this is unprecedented in the world of MMOs. We're building a world with so many small details that you'll immediately be immersed.

The world of Conan is very different from other fantasy games. Violence is the norm and players will quite soon enough realise why this game is going for the Mature rating.

I would say that our city-building and siege warfare features are going to be some of the game's strongest points, and though they're not really unique to these games, players will find the implementation of these features solid.

Check back tomorrow for the second part of our interview where we ask Erling Ellingsen about PvP, end-game content, progress on the Xbox 360 version and more.

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