The Anvil of Crom: Craig Morrison interview

Welcome to another installment of The Anvil of Crom, Massively's weekly look at Funcom's Age of Conan. It has been a big week for the sword and sorcery title, with the much-anticipated Update 1.07 going live on Tuesday, bringing a wealth of fixes as well as the Shrines of Bori PvP content. With Rise of the Godslayer looming on the horizon, it's as good a time as ever to take a break from our normal commentary format and chat with Craig 'Silirrion' Morrison, Age of Conan's Executive Producer and Game Director.

Follow along after the cut as we chat about everything from the forthcoming expansion, to PvP mini-games, to social options.


Massively: AoC has changed a lot since release. If you could point to one aspect (improvement or addition) that merits a second look from folks that may have abandoned the game after launch, what would it be? Why?

Craig Morrison: I honestly think it's a bit hard to choose just one. A lot has changed, and a lot of new content has been added. So I think it is really the sum total of all of those things. Each individual player may have had different reasons for not liking the game back when it launched, so depending on their own personal outlook it might be different things that appeal to them now.

The performance has been improved considerably, the content gaps have been addressed, the item and statistic system has been completely revamped (no more pesky 0.02% upgrades, it's all much easier to comprehend) and we have added complete new game systems. Things like the consequence system to PvP early on, through to recent additions like the Guild Renown system that offers a lot of incentive and rewards for guild game-play...and that's before you consider the great new dungeons, raids and encounters that contain some really interesting gameplay elements. So I think it very much depends on what any given player didn't like about the game in the first place.

The forum community seems fairly divided when it comes to the roleplayers/PvEers and the PvPers. Was there any particular reasoning behind making the only official roleplay server an open PvP server?

The players really decided that themselves in many ways. That is where the healthy and ongoing population developed. In a general sense the game population is a pretty even mix between the PvE and PvP servers.

The Godslayer expansion looks to add a lot of new content and advancement opportunities. Do you foresee any problems with the player base migrating towards the new content and abandoning the rest of the game, rendering it lifeless for newer players?

We have tried to mitigate that to some degree. Obviously the initial rush will take players to the new lands in large numbers, which is to be expected. At the top level however we have also kept key gameplay aspects like the resource and building zones, the guild cities and the siege gameplay in the original world to continue to give people reasons to travel back and forth.

Likewise the decision to not raise the level cap was influential there, as high level players will still want to seek out the original raid content as well for certain items. It is also why we chose not to have zones for all level ranges in the expansion, so that players who aren't at the maximum level yet still have reasons to explore the original content as well. So while it will undoubtedly happen to some degree, and is unavoidable, I think we have tried to be careful to still incentivize players to use the old world.

The item and statistic system has been completely revamped and we have added complete new game systems.

Any plans for further seasonal or special events like the Night of Lost Souls in the near future? Any live/GM events?

Events, yes for sure -- in fact the Update 1.07 that is hopefully going to the live servers this week (we are doing the final launch testing as I write this) includes a pre-expansion special event which introduces players to some of the Khitan elements and offers some great limited time rewards.

I think live events or GM controlled events are another matter, and that isn't something I see us doing. Unfortunately as cool as those events can be, they are also very heavy on time and resources and usually reach a very small number of players. That means that they aren't really cost effective for us to consider.

So special events and limited time events, yes for sure, but you are unlikely to see GM-style events in Age of Conan at this time.

Any plans for expanding player spaces/creativity options in the form of housing or keep decorating options?

There has actually just been a huge update there in terms of the Guild cities through the new Guild Renown feature in the last major game update (1.06). Through this system players have the opportunity to earn and use a lot of decorative items for their guild cities. In terms of individual player housing it is something that is always on the list of 'possibly at some stage' types of features, but so far it hasn't quite made it up the priority to ensure it's the next feature made. As time goes by you may see it make it up there although there are no plans in the immediate future.

Social/appearance tab functionality?

That is something we have a design for, and have even done the initial infrastructure work, but was pushed back due to the expansion and the new PvP feature coming up. It is something I would like to see in the game at some stage so we will have to sit down after the expansion and take another look at it.

I remember hearing about a player prison system for the PvP-ruleset servers back around the game's release. Something about players ganking lowbies would bring imprisonment for a certain length of time and the offender would be forced into repeated tasks over and over again before allowed back among the general populace. What ever became of this idea?

I think that falls into the category of something that sounded cool during early development but proved impractical. While some elements of it made it in through the PvP consequence system (players earn a poor reputation and NPCs no longer interact with them and they have to either use the special shady outlaw camps, or do what we call redemption quests to earn back their reputation) it wasn't something that ever made it off the 'ideas' table during the original development.

In my brief time back in the game, it's very rare that I've been able to queue up for a PvP mini-game. After several hours of waiting, the 5-19 queue holds steady at 4/12 people during Eastern prime time on Cimmeria. Any plans to address this or make mini-games more accessible in general?

We would like to add the ability to have cross server mini-games at some stage, but it is a good chunk of work. That is another thing that will definitely be up for discussion after the expansion. I think also that player behavior does come into it to some degree, as players seem to focus on gaining levels ahead of PvP 'as they go' as it were. This is especially true in Tortage where most players prefer to play through their destiny quest and focus on completing the more story driven game-play in Tortage. Hopefully as and when we can take a look at more cross-server functionality we can help incentivize people doing them more often before the higher brackets.

A lot of contemporary MMOs have expanded onto the social networking scene. Any plans for AoC in this arena?

That's something that has been explored a little, but for now we have been focusing on the live updates and the expansion. Might you see it in the future? Quite possibly.

What feature of the Godslayer expansion or the Shrines of Bori patch are you most excited about? Why?

Just like with the first question that is kind of hard to answer because I am proud of the work that the team have put in across many areas. So really I am just looking forward to see how the players react to it all. There really is a lot of good content and what I think will be fun and compelling game-play in both the live updates and the expansion.

That's copping out and not really answering the question a little isn't it! Again it probably depends on what excites you as an MMO player. For me I think I am most excited about how well the team have put together the expansion, it's a great game world with a really interesting and intriguing storyline. While many players skip that stuff in search of the latest items and rewards I think that having a well-defined background and an interesting environment really enhances the experience. So for me personally, some of the cooler stuff is actually the things that the more reward-focused players might be oblivious of, but I am glad that it is there nonetheless.

Thanks for your time.

That's it for this week's Anvil, folks. Join me next week as I finally make my way out of Tortage and into the wilds of Cimmeria (or is it Stygia, I can't seem to settle on a main character). Until then, I leave you with the greatest piece of concept art in all of gaming.



Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via jef@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.