Interview of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (PC)
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UK RELEASE: 23-May-2008 (Released)  | NORDIC RELEASE: 23-May-2008 (Released) |  US RELEASE: 20-May-2008 (Released)
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  Interview of: Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures | By: Justin Fenico
04 May-2006
 

Interview with Funcom regarding the upcoming Online Action RPG, Age of Conan – Hyborian Adventures

  QUESTIONS  
1. A quick introduction for our readers if you would be so kind.

Age of Conan – Hyborian adventures is an Online Action RPG where you can step into the world of Conan (surprise surprise;) as an adventurer anno 10.000 BC. The game starts out as a deep and story driven single-player experience in the first 20 levels, before it branches out into a full-blown multiplayer experience in the last 60 levels. The game is very true to the dark twisted vision of Robert E. Howard, and it will be the first mature rated Online RPG.

The main focus of the game will be combat, and combat (did I forget to mention combat?), but not in a way you have ever seen in an Online RPG before. Age of Conan is filled with innovations, and some great proprietary audio and graphics technology. As it stands it will prove to be an amazing and gloriously brutal online game, bringing something brand new to the genre as a whole.

The development team on the game currently consists of about 100 persons, who combined have more than 70 released games and 10 MMOs under their belt. We started the development in the fall of 2003, and the game is set to launch in December this year.

2. I have to be honest, the first moment I heard “Conan” announced; I really thought you guys were going to recreate some sort of Saturday morning cartoon. Looking at the screenshots I can tell I was a bit mistaken. Care to tell me and our readers how far off the track I was and what Hyborian Adventures is really about?

He he, I know many who thought along the same lines as you, but we were never even close to going for that approach. Even though we are drawing on more than 70 years of lore from comics, movies, novels and whatnot, we are taking our main inspiration from the source itself, which is the legacy left behind from Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan. His tales are full of brutal violence and the promise of a swift death, but also of a world filled to the brim with layers of history, multiple civilizations and a struggling human race where the wild and “modern” meets head on. So, we have tried to tell a much bigger story than just that of Conan the barbarian, but of the entire Hyborian age itself, and its multitude of people.

When it comes to the lands you can experience in the game we have singled out three nations to begin with, namely Cimmeria, Stygia and Aquilonia. Cimmeria is the homeland of Conan, and a wild and inhospitable place filled with deep forests, wild mountains and large valleys (almost like Norway I would say;). Stygia is like a twisted evil version of ancient Egypt, and the flora and fauna is reminiscent of that of Northern Africa. In Stygia all sorts of foul things are at play, and the lands are filled with ancient and incredibly evil magic. Aquilonia is the mightiest of the nations of Hyboria, and at its throne as king sits Conan. Aquilonia can be likened to a combination of ancient Greece and the Roman empire, and its land are diverse and beautiful. In total we are building more than 30 regions inside these three countries in which you can explore, fight, socialize, build, trade and have a “jolly good time”, all the while merrily decapitating the enemy of course;).


3. Funcom is responsible for breaching the MMORPG world with Anarchy Online, the first massive online game focusing on the future instead of the traditional medieval genre. Now, with Hyborian Adventures, you’re taking a step back into a lost civilization. What made the team consider such an idea?

Well, we are just about to complete our take on the ages, with Age of Conan being at the end of the fourth age, Anarchy Online being in the sixth age, and our next online RPG being in the fifth age?. No, seriously, we had always wanted to make a fantasy RPG, and once we could start to free resources of Anarchy Online and Shadowlands, fantasy was the direction we first started looking towards. Not only did we have lots of internal motivation for such a project, but we were also “lucky” enough to get hold of a great license. And the more we dived into the Hyborian age, the more we understood how incredibly diverse the license was. It’s a far shout from the run-of-the-mill Elves, Orcs and Dwarves fantasy universes which surrounds us everywhere these days. In Conan almost everything is twisted and dark, and more than anything humankind itself is at the centre. True, there are evil demons, gods and monsters lurking everywhere, but the humans are the “rulers” of the world. This allows us to make a very different and more brutal and realistic fantasy experience, far from what you have experienced in any Online RPG before.

4. Let’s get one thing on the record; is Hyborian Adventures edged towards more of a single player or multiplayer experience? If you could, expand both branches and give us a slight peak in what we can expect from both facets.

The game is geared towards both, but the beginning of the game is definitively a single-player experience, whereas the later part of the game allows you to do both soloing and group and guild gameplay.

The single-player part has four branching story arcs depending on which of the four base classes you choose. You start out your life as a galley slave (here you create the looks of your character), but as events unfold you are eventually able to break free from slavery, ending up on a beach with only a broken oar as a weapon. Your first mission then is to get to the pirate city of Tortage at the far side of the island, but to get there you must first figure out how;) In this part of the game, and all parts of the game, we have really tried to focus on a deep and involving (and quite brutal;) story experience, drawing influences from games like God of War, Knights of the Old Republic and of course our own Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. With the singe-player part we have truly tried to do something about how you are introduced to online worlds, and it is a lot more than just a glorified beginner area.

In the multiplayer parts of the game you are suddenly given a lot more options, not only in terms of social interaction and group and guild gameplay, but also in terms of getting access to a gigantic gameworld, filled with untold horrors and amazing explorations to be had.

So, we are trying to deliver both a single-player game and a massively multiplayer game, and we believe that all fans of RPGs should find something they like in Conan.


5. An RPG with a “real combat” engine? How exactly do you plan to pull that one off? Does that mean we won’t need to point and click anymore? Even for online battles?

The coin Real Combat engine says something about how we look at the combat in Age of Conan, and in truth it encompasses many forms of combat; hands-on melee combat in real-time where you can hit six different parts on the enemy body, as well as ranged combat, siege combat, formation combat, magic combat and mounted combat.

At the heart of it all is the fact that we wanted to move away from the ritualistic, sometimes even static and almost “whack-a-mole” approach to combat you find in most Online RPG’s these days. I mean, this is Conan, and we truly wanted to bring that “take that you son of a…” feeling to combat, and to make this true we had to go at it in real-time. You can therefore control the melee combat with a gamepad (should you wish) and your opponent has six different areas of the body where you can strike. As you chain certain attacks together you will notice how this can improve the flow of your combat, even resulting in combos and special attacks. As we are moving ever closer to release I think we have totally pulled this off, and to me fighting in Conan is the coolest found in any Online RPG this far (just sitting on a horse wielding a two handed sword banging down on an enemy, ah, the glory!). Add to that the fact that you also have an almost FPS like aiming system for ranged combat, that you can create player-made battle formations (think roman shield formation, for instance), fight from the horseback, participate in large sieges and also wield deadly magic, and I feel confident the combat experience will bring something new and fun to the table.

That is not to say we are going totally away from many of the things which so many players love about MMO combat (like the depth and strategic aspects of it), but simply that we have tried to reinvent and innovate a very important part of the gameplay in online games. In Anarchy Online we introduced things like instancing, mission system, guild based content on demand, drag and drop chat interfaces and so forth into online universes, and in Age of Conan we aim to continue our quest of making those universes more interactive and fun.

6. So what kind of elements brand this game as a RPG?

All of it, he he, no, it’s about character evolution, and your place in the story. From the very first seconds of gameplay and character creation it is evident this game gives you a lot of choices on how YOU wish to go at the game, and how you wish to evolve. It’s a game which should be very simple to get into, but also a challenge to master, just like a good RPG should be.

7. Can you give us a description on what gamers can expect to see in the land of Hyboria?

It will be a fantastic variation, that’s for sure! I really can’t nail down one particular thing, as it ranges from mountains, cities, forests, jungles, deserts, caves, dungeons, castles, glaciers and so on, and every new place looks unique and different. What I can assure though is that every single one of these areas is created by hand and with great attention to detail. To this end we have developed our own proprietary engine (The Dream World Engine, trademarked and all that;) which allows us to build online universes a lot better. It also allows us things like the ability to depict an incredibly detailed and beautiful universe, ranging from how far you can see in the distance to how many objects you can have on the screen at any one time to how the fog in the morning lifts or how the setting sun changes the mood of an area. If nothing else I feel certain Conan will be the most detailed and graphically beautiful online world ever created upon our launch, and I think our screenshots proves that.

8. You can also create player-made battle formations? For starters, what exactly are they and why would we need to worry about what a formation is in the first place?

A formation was essential in any large-scale fight involving multiple humans in real-life, and it was one of the reasons for instance the Roman empire got as far as they did. In Conan you can thus create player-made formations, consisting of both NPCs and other players. Depending on your skill in commanding others, you can lead a whole troop of your fellow fighters towards the enemy, be it mounted, ranged or on the ground. The leader of the formation is the one deciding which kind of formation to have (wedge formation etc.), and in which direction the formation should move in, but each and every player has freedom within the formation (think of a rubber band around the group). Formations are great for lots of things, both towards other players and against monsters, and in combat you will find that being in a formation gives bonuses and strategic advantages as well as the ability to shield weaker targets.

We believe that formations, and finding out how to make and break them, will be a great and fun part of the social combat experience, and it allows the players a chance to team up as they have never done in an online RPG before.


9. I’ve read that gamers can play with neat little things like catapults. This is more than just your average rock and slingshot. What type of arsenal will we have at our disposal?

Rocket launchers, BFGs and….he he, no as befits the Age of Conan you will have at your disposal various engines of war, like the catapult. These are necessary for the siege part of the gameplay, where you can fight against other players or invade cities made by NPCs (or maybe they will take the fight to your walls instead;). Exactly how many siege engines there will be remains to be seen, and we will go into detail on these as soon as we can but as with everything else we are making sure that what you get is both balanced and fun. I mean, hurling rocks towards an enemy gate sure is fun, especially with the promise of blood on the blade later in the battle.

10. You’re proudest moment thus far in creating Hyborian Adventures?

After E3 last year when Gamespot awarded us their “Best MMO of show” as well as giving us the runner-up award for “The most innovative game of show”. That was a great moment. Showing the game in a pre-alpha stage, and not having shown it to anyone external during the first 18 months of development, well, those awards and others at E3 last year showed us that what we had worked on for so long could impress even the most jaded of journalists, and that was a good feeling. I mean, from zero knowledge prior to the announcement on the 20th of April to hero just three weeks later.

These days what I am most proud is the fact that I am working with such a fantastic group of talented people who delivers day after day. Just seeing the whole world come together piece by piece, better and better, just makes me very proud to be part of such a great team. Now, I would say that anyway since I work here, but what we are creating is amazing me, and everyone I think, and this is of course a major inspiration.

11. And finally, you’re chance to really grab our attention. What does Hyborian Adventures hold in store that gamers will truly want to experience over and over again?

And you are asking me this now! By Crom!? I think you would want to explore and fight it out again and again and again in Age of Conan. There, on the battlefield, hands-on, together with your friends and allies, fighting your foes and the unspeakable evil all around. You might also want to dive into the other aspects of the game, like building cities, trading, roleplaying or just being social, but at the heart of it all is the rush of adrenaline as you let the merry song of death sing joyfully from your swinging sword. For if it’s one thing which is true about Conan is that it is no ordinary fairytale, but a brutal, lustful, lush and sinful universe made by grown-ups, for grown-ups.


A thousand thanks for doing this Q and A for us and I look forward to learning more about the world of Hyboria. Check back next week when I’ll dive in even deeper into the world of Hyboria during TTG’s week at E3, the anticipation is beginning to brim!
 
  SCREENSHOTS
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (PC)
Click to enlarge this screenshot of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (PC)
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