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Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Preview

publisher: Funcom
developer: Funcom
genre: RPG

PIV 2400, 2GB RAM, 30GB HDD, 512MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: May 20, 08
» All About Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures on ActionTrip

The gaming year ahead should bring plenty of fresh titles to the next-generation scene. PC gamers won't be left out either, with a number of games to look forward to in the coming season. One of them is a rather promising MMORPG, coming from the creators of Anarchy Online. Game Director Gaute Godager was kind enough to share his thoughts on Funcom's Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.

Funcom divulges new info on PvP combat, castles, guilds, individual quests and more. In addition to that, we discovered more about how the idea for Age of Conan came about, and why the developers opted to create an MMO game in this particular universe.

ActionTrip: Do you feel that your previous achievements, like Anarchy Online, are of any help throughout the development of Age of Conan?

Gaute Godager: Yes, absolutely! Making a massively multiplayer online game is a whole different ball-game than making a single-player game. It's just such an incredibly complex venture that as a game developer you end up learning something every day as you go along. The first time you make such a game, it's going to be a roller-coaster ride to the very end. We believe we made a great game with Anarchy Online, and it's matured fabulously well through the years. With Age of Conan, we had all the experience a development studio can gain when making its first MMO, and I think it's evident when you look at how the game has come along in development. We're able to experiment a lot more and we're able to stretch the limits to a much greater degree. That's what we're doing with Age of Conan. We're really setting out to stretch the limits - and even create new ones - of the MMO genre. Much of the reason why we're able to do this is because of Anarchy Online.

ActionTrip: We're interested to know why you guys chose Conan as a setting for the game. What exactly inspired you to do so?

Gaute Godager: At one point, a few years ago, we sat down to plan our next MMO. We knew we wanted to do something with a license, and we played around with several different ones before we settled with Conan. While there were many other licenses available to us, we instantly knew what we wanted to do when the Conan license turned out to be available. This is just such an incredibly rich franchise and there is so much stuff for us to draw upon when making a game based on it. Its probably one of the best licenses you can have when making an MMO - there are over 70 years worth of books and comics to draw from and I don't think we could ever run out of content even if we tried. Also, I really think the Conan universe is so different from the typical high-fantasy worlds out there. This is something I think players are going to embrace because it is different. We're not trying to do what everyone has done before us. We're trying to create a truly unique MMO, not only technology wise, but also when it comes to the setting and the world itself. Conan is one of the world's greatest fantasy heroes, but he resides within a world that really separates itself from the others. It's a much more sinister, brutal and realistic world than what people are used to. Magic-users do not run around with pointy hats shooting pink stars - they will summon the demons of hell that will stop at nothing to rip your throat out. This is a large step away from the typical high-fantasy literature people are used to, simply because it has a much more realistic focus than what you're used to. Okay, realistic is perhaps stretching it a bit too far - after all, this is a world where you will end up battling one hundred foot monsters rising up from the waves!

ActionTrip: What has your team done to capture the spirit of Robert E. Howard's novels?

Gaute Godager: A lot! It was very important for us to remain true to Robert E. Howard's stories and the lore created around Conan. We're working very closely with Conan Inc. who has the rights to the intellectual property of Conan, and we've also got one person working full-time on the game as a lore specialist. Everything we do with the game has root in the lore in one way or the other. The areas you will venture through is familiar from both the comics and the books, and the characters who populate it will often be familiar names. Take for instance Kalanthes - a character you will meet fairly early in your adventures - who most Conan fans will quickly recognize. Sometimes we're using elements from the comics and not just the books, like the character Kern Wolfeye. Age of Conan is also the first MMO that is to be rated Mature and we chose this simply because that is what we had to do in order to stay true to the license. While we're not going over the top, Age of Conan is going to have all the elements that make Conan so easily recognizable, such as scantly clad women (Ooh, yeah! - Vader), blood and gore, a sinister setting and so on. Violence is an important part of Conan's universe, and we really believe Age of Conan is going to capture that element faithfully without overdoing it.

ActionTrip: This game's described as a world with massive multiplayer encounters, on top of offering a story-driven gameplay experience. What's the back-story in Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures?

Gaute Godager: As an MMO, you're never bound to follow a story in any way. You are free to do whatever you want to, be that running around looking at the flowers, build a gigantic city, battle for land control in the Border Kingdoms or fight dark evils in the deepest depths of the world. There is, however, a very strong back-story in Age of Conan. Basically, Conan's arch-nemesis Thoth-Amon is raising an army of "brainwashed" slaves that he will use in his scheme against the King himself. You are one of these slaves, and the game starts as you are chained onboard a Stygian slave galley somewhere outside the Barachan Isles. You manage to break free from your bonds and you wash up ashore on Tortage Island. The first few hours of the game will be spent here as you learn the ropes, but as the game advances and you step into the massive world, beyond which you will play together with thousands of other players and you will have the opportunity to continue delving into your own character's history and Thoth-Amon's scheme. Somewhere along the way you will even get to meet King Conan himself, and you will take an active part in the battle between him and his enemy. We've even released a full-color comic book detailing this story that was released in about three hundred thousand copies in the US earlier this year. We believe Age of Conan will give people enough story and lore to satisfy even those who prefer single-player games, without taking away the freedom an MMO world usually provides. This is still an MMO, with thousands of people living in a virtual world!

ActionTrip: Establishing a steady flow of players and keeping in touch with the community is obviously an important step in the process of making an MMORPG. What are your thoughts on that?

Gaute Godager: Focus on the community has been important for us since the beginning. We've always had a very close relationship with our Anarchy Online fan base, and we have several community representatives that work towards both these players and the people following the development of Age of Conan. The community is absolutely essential when it comes to MMOs, and we strongly believe in letting future and current players take part in the whole process of creating a game. We've been listening so much to the community of Age of Conan, that we've even changed elements in the game because of their feedback. One example is the renaming of classes, something we did based on feedback we received on the forums. We have a strong affinity to the people in our community, and we're doing everything we can in order to keep them with us and satisfy their needs.

ActionTrip: Tell us a bit how players will be able to create, customize and develop their avatars.

Gaute Godager: Players will have a wealth of different character customization options in Age of Conan. In an online world populated with thousands of other players, it is an absolute necessity to allow players to create a unique character by themselves. Basically, there are three races that are playable at launch - the Aquilonian, the Cimmerians and the Stygians. The Aquilonians are very similar to Romans, whereas the Stygians reminds you more of middle-eastern cultures; Egyptians in particular. The Cimmerians are the Nordic sort of people, stout and somewhat barbaric in nature. The actual character creation process takes part within the Stygian slave galley, where you will sculpt both the body and the face in the outmost detail. You can create a thin, muscular, fat or normal character - and you will be able to use sliders to alter the size of any body part, like for instance the arms, the legs, the chests, the stomach and so on. Moving on to the face, you can "nip and tuck" every single bone and muscle, altering the face to perfection - or imperfection - as you can even make a crooked nose if you want to. I think players will be amazed over how many choices they actually have.

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