Age of Conan: Unchained

Age of Conan - 13 months after launch

It's been just over a year since Funcom's Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures launched. It sold well at first, but lack of content drove players away... Now things are looking better again and we sent our questions to the new game director Craig Morrison.

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There is a Swedish saying goes something like "up like the sun, down like the pancake" and this rings true for Age of Conan's launch. But it's been a year and opinions have started to turn around, more content has been added and we were given an opportunity to have some of our questions answered by Craig Morrison, game director.

Age of Conan: Unchained

How would you describe the new area in Game Update 5?

The new outdoor playfield with associated dungeons is called Tarantia Commons and is aimed at players 75 and above, with the dungeons aimed at level 80 players. The zone features a lot of quest driven content based around gangs inciting civil unrest in the commons district of King Conan's capital city. Players are able to influence the unrest in different directions based on their actions. I think it's turned out to be a really interesting addition to the game's content and features some compelling new quest lines and encounters that the players will really enjoy.

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The content in Tarantia commons follows the various gangs and factions that live in the commons district of King Conan's capital city. The area is wracked with civil unrest and disputes between these gangs, players will find themselves in the middle of this urban melting pot and will have to make some choices about which faction or gang they choose to help and whether they get involved in the unrest itself.

Howard created a very real world for this universe and it is great for us to be able to dive into the some of the harsher parts of the world. Despite it being the seat of King Conan himself, the city has an underbelly. The commons district is a seedy and dangerous place where everything is cast in a moral shade of grey. This isn't your clean ‘black and white' battle between good and evil; it's a tale of survival on some very dangerous and bloody streets!

The press got to see Tarantia Commons about a year ago, what took so long?

Strictly speaking it hasn't been in development all that time, it was put on hold for periods to allow us to focus on updates like Ymir's Pass and Xibuluku for example. So while the majority of the original design, asset creation and world building were done last year, the game-play team has only really concentrated on implementing game-play over the last few months.

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What was your main focus with Game Update 5?

There is quite a lot in this update and so there were several key focuses for this update cycle.

Firstly there is the revamp of the item and character statistics, some major changes to the classes with all the classes getting improved and updated feat tress that take into account the new system, a complete overhaul of the gem crafting system, a lot of new goals and additions for guild cities...and all that before we even talk about the content itself!

Then there was the content itself and the addition of Tarantia Commons we have already mentioned. So all in all it is quite a substantial game update this time around.

One of the major gripes players have had with Age of Conan is itemization and how stats have affected their characters. You've said that's been improved in GU5. Can you give any examples on how the new system works?

Mainly these changes are intended to make the item and character statistics easier for players to understand and to allow us to offer players more options when it comes to their character builds. We received a lot of feedback about this after the launch last year. Players felt that the item system was hard to grasp and the statistics didn't affect game-play enough. With the revamped system in the latest update you should now be able to look at an item and immediately see whether it is better or worse than something you already have. Likewise the changes allow for more options for the player as more of the statistics are now meaningful to the player.

Describing the detail of the changes is an article all in itself! We have posted a good description of all the changes over on our community site, so if you would like to know more of the details make sure to check it out.

(Link: Official Age of Conan website

How do you feel the last Game Updates have been received by the player-base?

I think it has gone very well all things considered. Most players seem to appreciate the new build of the items and that they can now easily see how the items tie into their character. Likewise I think the new content has been very well received ad people are really enjoying the experience in Tarantia Commons, and the guild changes have also been welcomed.

With an update as large as this one though we always knew that there were going to be some things that would need to be addressed after it went live. We have been quite upfront with the community in advance, that there would be further adjustments in follow-up updates as well. With something on this scale we knew that there would be elements that would require additional tweaking and adjusting and were prepared for that. As we also expected the greatest challenge there is in the class balance.

The follow-up to the update is very important so we can adjust the areas of the balance that weren't quite right ‘out of the gate' as it were. That is what we are already working on now, I think with the new systems we didn't quite get the relative strength of the spell using classes against the melee damage in PVP. That's the main area where the feedback is very vocal, and rightly so, as that area is the part that does still need further adjustment.

I think in PVE things have come together quite nicely by and large and there is less to tweak there, which is encouraging, we do know though that we have to make the adjustments for PVP promptly and properly so that we ensure the PVP game-play is also as fun.

There are also a couple of the raids that are not quite there yet in terms of having the correct difficulty and we will need to tone them down a notch (although several guilds have already surprised even us and defeated those encounters with a dedicated effort even before we tone them down. They still need adjusting of course, but there were some mighty efforts by those involved in those kills!)

Age of Conan did launch with a bunch of issues and got a kind of bad reputation in some circles. What advice would you give to another MMO-developer that ends up in the same situation?

I think all I can say there is talk about the approach we have taken with the team, and that is to focus on reacting to the players feedback and working hard to resolve the issues and focus on improving the game. Word of mouth is really an important factor in MMOs and I think you only turn that around by players liking what they see in the game, and more importantly, having fun with the game! If you focus on the right things and move in the right direction and the players can hear, see and feel that then you are giving yourself the best chance of turning around public opinion on the game.

Last August the word was that Age of Conan had around 400k players. Any official word on what those numbers are today?

I am afraid that those numbers aren't public. Being a publicly traded company on the stock market here in Norway that's not information I am able to give out. Information like that comes through our financial reporting to the Stock Market. I think in general though it's fair to say that there are many elements of the game that players have really enjoyed and given great feedback on and areas of the game we have room for improvement on. As was mentioned in the last financial report we have started to see some very positive trends in the games populations.

A bunch of players felt cheated when what they thought was a promised event turned out to be nothing more than an opportunity for them to create their own event. They also felt like the official reply from Funcom was patronizing. What would you say to those players?

I think that the attempt to get players together was best-intentioned and certainly a lesson learnt for our community team. It is very unfortunate that we didn't get the communication quite right and that lead to players being confused by the occasion. Some times things don't work out the way that you envision but I do think the community team was attempting a really nice initiative in trying to get players together. We can only apologize that it wasn't communicated clearly enough and it was certainly a learning experience and will help the community team communicate it better next time around.

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