An all things Age of Conan interview with Jrgen Tharaldsen

Kyle Horner
K. Horner|03.27.08

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An all things Age of Conan interview with Jrgen Tharaldsen

There's been a lot of discussion here at Massively about Age of Conan -- it's a given that you probably know we're just a little excited about its impending release. So when we recently got the chance to interview Funcom's own Jørgen Tharaldsen on several subjects concerning the upcoming barbarian invasion, our minds were instantly exploding with questions to ask -- it was difficult not to overload the poor man with endless queries. Rest assured that our craniums are still in one piece and Jørgen hasn't sent barbarians to lop off our heads -- at least for the moment.

The end result turned out fairly well, we think. Within this interview you'll discover the skinny on matters of whether or not pre-order customers really are getting early access, user interface customization, system requirements and all sorts of other topics that we're sure you'll find very interesting. %Gallery-11743%
Massively: We know the NA version of the game will contain everything but full nudity. Will there be any method -- possibly via age verification -- to unlock the 100% uncensored version of Age of Conan?

Jørgen: No, I am afraid not, but please note that there is no "uncensored" version. In fact, the North Americans ARE getting the full uncensored version of Conan as we created it and intended it, so there is no secret version some place. Perhaps some sunny day over the rainbow it will be ok for games like Age of Conan to contain full nudity, without causing complete havoc, but that day is sadly not there, yet.

The system requirements for Age of Conan have been officially announced. Are they where you planned them to be? Do you plan to work on further engine upgrades like the Cheetah 2 improvement?

Yes, I would say so. I think we have achieved what we set out to do, which is to create a game where you can scale the settings a lot compared to what kind of machine you have, while at the same time truly pushing the boundaries of PC MMO graphics. It is TRULY a nightmare to develop PC games with their moving target hardware, but I think we have pulled it off.

We will continue to optimize our engine, and new iterations of Cheetah will be deployed to the beta prior to launch to further improve performance. That work will continue post-launch as well, and for many years to come.

Were you aiming more for mid-range or high-end PCs with the system requirements?

If you look at all the PCs in the world we were definitely aiming at the higher spectrum, but if you isolate the PC gamers from that mass I would say we tried to hit as broad as we could. This plays into a much bigger choice as well; with a mature game like Conan, would a cartoony approach work as well as the "magical realism" approach we have chosen?

How much flexibility will players have when customizing their UI?

The players will have quite a lot of flexibility, and we know how parts of the community will soon start to tamper with what we have created. Ultimately the combined efforts and brains of our community are much better than ours, so as the months progress, I think we will see some ingenious solutions we hadn't even thought about. That is the beauty of MMOs I think, how smart the users are and how much care they take in improving the game experience for themselves and fellow gamers.

Did any particular class pose a challenge to implement from design to the actual game?

Every single class posed a major, major challenge to implement! There are no short-cuts in this, no "first iteration – Done!" shortcuts to be had. It's a nightmare of excel sheets, item balance, PvP balance, PvE balance, feat balance, group vs. solo balance, group vs. guild balance, etc. etc. In fact, NOTHING is easy when it comes to the class balance, as everything you do affects so much else. And when you launch it really becomes tricky, as people get so attached to their character that nerfing in itself can cause complete havoc. I don't envy Andrew Griffins, Evan Michael and the other class balance guys, to put it like that. They have a motherload of a challenge to overcome on a daily basis.

Does Age of Conan lean more towards PvP or PvE content? What would you say is the overall ratio?

With Conan we have really tried to make the best of both worlds, and you will both find a lot of PvE content and a lot of PvP content. We know that MMO gamers can't be pinned down to one specific group of people so we have just tried to ensure that you get really good gameplay regardless of what your preference is. (and yes, we are aware of the dangers of trying to please everyone and making no one happy but still, we have hopefully found the right balance)

The ratio cannot be given as a lot of the content is dynamic, and i.e. on the free for all PvP servers the ratio is naturally a bit different than on the PvE servers.

How long would you say it takes an average player to reach max level?

It depends on what your goal with the game is, and how you play, but we have estimated around 240 hours of playing time on average to reach the max level. This is a number which really means nothing though, after all, the essence is how much fun did you have while doing it, what happens when you reach the end, and how much fun it is to roll an alt. You know, after some time the players will work together and hammer and push at every single aspect in the game to make it go faster. I guess that is a part of what expansions and updates are for
Roughly how much focus is there on group-based PvE instances in Age of Conan?

Seeing as we were the company to create instancing in MMOs, we are naturally evolving this technology, so you can expect quite a lot of group-based instances. Some of the instances are also solo-friendly at the same time (level/skill dependent) and they appear in all level ranges. We don't use instancing just for its own sake, though. Instancing done badly can make you lose some of the social/competition aspects, so it's a fine balance. Hopefully we are making the right choices, and we are, of course, listening to our players to hear what they want.

Any official word on Battlekeep raiding schedules for the Border Kingdoms?

Hmm, I not sure I understand the question, but let me try? Our goal is that the PvP Battlekeeps will serve as a place of "eternal war", where there will be so few keeps (approx. 9 per server + smaller objective) that there are not enough keeps to meet demands. This means that we have also ensured that it won't take weeks to build them and get a siege going, so hopefully the guilds will have a brutal blast every night they wish.

How much customization will be available to players when choosing their buildings and the layout of their cities?

A bit, but not too much. We were faced with a pretty simple choice in all of this: what matters most--PvP gameplay or customization. Seeing how adding a lot of extra structures and approaches, or even allowing for an urban sprawl if we had "build where you want," would just have made us lose focus. We therefore went with what we believed to be in the best interest of most players, which is to have the most fun PvP siege battles we could come up with. This means that we have prepared certain areas of the land for building (with certain freedom within that land), and that those areas of land are well designed for siege gameplay and large amounts of players. This is something we can add more to post-launch should the players wish us to, and I am sure many will.

Remember that when you create virtual worlds like we do, we are faced with a constant "focus challenge." If you miss your focus, like so many games have done and are still doing, you are looking at tens of millions of dollars going down the drain.

There has been some talk about certain pre-order customers getting an early start, any official word on that yet?

Yes, that quite elegantly came out without us knowing it would, so I guess I can just as well confirm it here. All players who pre-order through selected retailers will be able to access the game three days prior to the retail launch (so 17th of May for US / Australia and 20th for Europe). This is great for us as it means we can stage the flood, somewhat. We will soon send out updated info to everyone in the community, as well as links to all the chains and countries where the offer is up.

We're sure you have plans post-launch for Age of Conan. Can you share with us what your first patch/expansion goals are?

He he, I know what we plan to do but I really can't tell The normal marketing spin, "Blah blah, it will be SO awesome, blah, blah, unique (insert adjective here)," really won't cut it I guess, so let me be circumstantial instead (since we can't talk about it quite yet, soon launching etc.): as soon as we launch, we go from being the developer of the Age of Conan MMO to becoming the service company who runs the Age of Conan MMO. From that moment on, we are moving into a different mind-set. Then it's not as much about us telling the gamers "This is what we want to create, and that's that, help us to tweak accordingly," but more like "what do you want us to create in addition to the things we want to create ourselves?" I think Funcom has a good way of listening to our players. We DO care (a great deal, this is our baby!) about how people feel about the game, and after we launch we WILL listen. We are only a success as long as enough people play our games, so we will do our very best to make sure that our community know they have a say. %Gallery-19114%
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