On Friday the 3rd of November, Curse Gaming went to visit Funcom at their Offices in Oslo, Norway. We were met by a rather stressed Jørgen Tharaldsen - Funcom's Production Manager. Despite the obvious bad timing of our arrival however, Jørgen and all the other people we got to talk with were more than happy to give us some time to talk about what they were doing and answer our questions. It should prove that our tour of Funcom itself was almost just as interesting to us as the information of Age of Conan itself.
As has been mentioned many times, Age of Conan is a next generation MMORPG scheduled to hit the market in 2007. During our tour of Funcom we got to view how the game plays out as well as how it is developed and tested in person.
The first thing we noticed was that Funcom pays extra attention to the sound development in regards to AoC. With everything being created in Dolby 7.1 channel surround, they want to make AoC as much an audibly stunning experience as a visual one. We were introduced to the main sound and audio environment designer, who informed us how detailed the process of integrating sound as a unique experience in an MMO can be.
Further, our tour comprised of looking at the graphics development as well as some of the concept artists work. Nothing really unique about these departments and it suffices to say that Funcom's designers definately know what they are doing.
Perhaps the most interesting departments at Funcom were the content design and Quality Assurance sections. This is where the "real game design" is being done when we players think about "creating games". The world is populated and quests and features, enemies and allies alike are put into the world for our enjoyment. Interestingly enough, the development tools used to populate the AoC world reminded us alot of the tools we saw in Ryzom Ring's custom mission editor - albeit a lot more complex and functional. That being said, almost all of the software used in creating AoC is custom made for Funcom and is by no means something you can find and download somewhere. One thing is certain, long gone is the days of entering coordinates in a database with no visual editing - a method of game creation old classics like Everquest used.
Lastly we were taken to another part of the building where Q&A (Quality Assurance) is performed. I have to admit that getting to see some of the combat in person and how thoroughly they had seemed to test it was impressive. While in the Q&A area, we got to see a graphics bug with the way grass was rendered and how they responded to it in action. The Funcom employees knew exactly what caused it and had the fix ready immediately.
The last part of the tour was simply Jørgen pointing at a door stating that the section behind that door was where they were developing a secret new MMO game which name and project details had not been announced yet. We can only speculate on what surprises Funcom will bring to us next!
Age of Conan
After the tour of Funcom was completed, we got to sit down and talk very briefly with Jørgen about where Age of Conan was heading, both in regards to game play and also what us, the players and community, are going to be able to do with the game in form of addons and fan sites.
Let us start with addons and UI modifications. As this subject is close to the nature of a games community, it was also one of the first questions we had for Jørgen. To put it as accurately as possible, Jørgen stated that user made UI modifications and addons were going to be available and implemented in AoC’s design, however – they were going to be limited in functionality. Jørgen stressed the fact that they did not want addons and UI mods to become such an integral part of the game that players ”couldn’t function properly without them”. An example is that you will not be able to create addons that perform a series of game-play actions such as auto-healing people with low life, or pre order a set of combat abilities. The idea behind this is that they want as much as possible to be left to the players actual skill rather than the creativity of some addon coder.
Due to our limited time, we were not able to go any deeper into some of the more interesting mechanics of the game such as player controlled cities and siege weaponry or end-game PvE content at this time. However, we do plan to get back to these subjects in the close future, so stay tuned!