Robert E Howard created a true fantasy legend in the 1920s and 1930s with his character of Conan the Barbarian. One of the most popular and influential characters in all of fantasy fiction, the man of few words and a large sword has sold tons of books and comic books and has appeared in two feature films. Now the universe of the character will be brought to life by Anarchy Online creators Funcon in Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures late this year. FiringSquad got a chance to chat with Funcon project director Jørgen Tharaldsen to find out more about their plans for the game.
FiringSquad: First, how has the experience working and maintaining Anarchy Online helped in developing your second MMORPG?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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?
: 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.