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E308: Erling Ellingsen talks patch timeframes for Age of Conan

Michael Zenke

Earlier today we sat with Age of Conan product manager Erling Ellingsen. Due to the development cycle Conan is in right now, Ellingsen didn't really have anything in particular to show us - but he did have some things to tell us. Primarily we were there to find out about some lessons learned from the first months of Conan's launch-life. The man himself offered up:

  • Timeframes for the addition of new high end content like Imir's Pass.
  • The welcome news that the female avatar DPS bug will be squished much sooner that the 'few months' we'd previously heard.
  • Confirmation that the DX10 version of the game should be viewable at next month's Leipzig event.
  • The news that fan (especially male fan) favorite Keira will be an important quest NPC in the Imir's pass zone. The dealy assassin will offer important quests to all heroes of the appropriate level.
And a good deal more. Read on below the cut for our full interview with Mr. Ellingsen.

How do you feel about Age of Conan's launch, now that it's a few months down the line?

Erling Ellingsen: It was a fantastic launch. Technically it was perfect, servers stayed up whole time, billing, logging was great. There were of course a few bugs when we launched, but I think that's true with all MMOs. The game was perfectly playable, polished. It was just the launch that we wanted. Especially considering Anarchy Online, we were biting our fingernails.

Do you have any recollections from launch day, any memories that stand out?

We had a huge screen set up in the office that tracked the number of people logging in across the servers. We sat there, all dressed up and watching the numbers rise will drinking champagne. "Oh, the US just woke up." It was a magical experience.

How do you feel about the transition from the Beta to Live experience? It seemed as though those final patches changed a number of things and smoothed things out.

A lot of people were saying that we put in "miracle patches", and it really feels that way. Even for us at Funcom, the last couple of weeks was a real turnaround. We knew we were on track, but the last few weeks before launch everything just came together. That's the thing about MMOs, though, they can look unfinished for so long and suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Thank god!

You mentioned earlier some bugs, which we know the community has found frustrating. Were there any that you've fixed that you were particularly frustrated with?

Ooo, you're asking me to point out bugs? [he chuckles] There were a few bugs with sieging where the framerate wasn't as good as it should have been. After the first one we fixed that immediately, and performance has improved something like 300%. That's the thing with MMOs, right? You see what works and doesn't work and you fix things right away.

What we want to focus on now is the itemization experience, more graphical diversity with items, make statistics more meaningful - we know there is room for improvement there. And PvP, we want to make PvP more important. That's why we are going to be rolling out a new patch all about PvP soon. PvP levels, PvP experience, PvP items. That sort of stuff.

Some of the changes to classes deal with serious issues, but in some cases new issues have cropped up as a result of the initial changes. Do you have any sort of plan in place to deal with these ongoing problems?

We have a team just specifically working on class and class balance. There will always be the case where fixing one thing breaks something else. That's just the way MMOs are, they're very complicated. The way we fix that is just by crushing it right away, as fast as we can. We have a patch process though, right? It doesn't happen right away. Patches have to go through development, QA, the test server, and then back to QA, and then out to the live server. There's sometimes a lag there. It takes some time, but we're constantly working on issues like this.

The one bug that we know is still a concern for the community is the female DPS problem - people are definitely still talking about that. Is that patch process one of the reasons it's going to take a while to reach the players?

Rick Reynolds: That's very complicated, because it's not just one animation per attack. It depends on what weapon they're using, other circumstances as well. The animations were all given a lot of attention, to make sure they looked really good. Remember, it took a long time before women were playable in Beta, they just didn't like the way they looked. Then they found that the animations did affect your DPS. They can't just go in and trim off a few seconds from every animation. If we had just fixed the timing issue at the cost of how the animations look, that would have been its own problem.

They've been working to get them done at all levels, putting the animations in on the test server, working with QA, and getting them done at every level. The customers have asked to see what Funcom is working on before it goes live.

So that fix is on TestLive right now?

Ellingson: A part of it is. It might not be all of it. It at least addresses the problem.

That's interesting, because we had noted that you said the fix could take months. It's great the update is coming so much sooner.

Reynolds: It's tricky, because sometimes the Funcom people see something on their internal test server, and it's hard to recall whether the public can see a fix or not.

Ellingsen: It's a complex project, that's for sure. [laughs]

It seems like you are working to address some content that just wasn't in the game when it went live. The new dungeons, the new quests, the new zones, what's the timeframe on that. Is that moving to test soon?

Ellingsen: There's definitely a lot, there's a lot that we really wanted to get into the game, but because of time we just weren't able to put it in. We held off, saying "it's not good enough." There are almost 60 new quests with voiceovers, the continuation of the important lore quest. There are 30 quests that were cut before launch that are back in. They're scattered around the game but many of them are in the Eiglophian Mountains. We know that the content at 55 and higher is a bit thinner than the rest of the game.

We're also adding a new zone called Ymir's pass. That's also plus-level 55. A lot of new content for the endgame now, several dungeons coming in.

Which of these additions are going to be coming our way first?

I don't want to put a date on it, but I think we'll see Ymir's pass live in August. That new zone should be out next month. That's a huge new outdoor zone. It's in Cimmeria so there are lots of mountains and snow. Snow giants, lots of monsters, and Kiera - Conan's assassin. She's going to play a big role in the zone. She's going to be an important quest NPC in the area.

There are not that many MMO developers at E3 this year. You're here with Eidos, but we were wondering: why are you here this year?

Primarily to talk with sites like Massively - we know we don't have a lot to show right now, but we wanted to talk about things exactly like this, the new content, the bugs. We're planning a much bigger presence at Leipzig. We're going to have something good to show there. DX10. The DX10 version of the game.

Is there anything in particular about the DX10 version of the game that you enjoy? Any graphical element you really like?

The water looks really pretty? [he laughs] That's not really what it's about. It's just generally better in the details. More realistic smoke, sharper textures. It's not going to be a huge revolution, it's just going to look prettier.

We know you folks were thinking of expansion content before the game came out. When do you expect you'll be able to put the launch behind you and step up to the new content, enjoy the live game?

I don't think that's ever going to happen. We're gonna keep on going really strongly. Updating the game, patching it, making it better. The road map we have internally is long into the future. We're definitely going to be patching and improving. We're of course working on an expansion, though we're not really ready to talk about that now. We do think it will launch early next year, though. We'll start leaking more information about that soon, though.

Thank you very much for your time, sir. Have a good show.

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