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The Anvil of Crom Extra: Silirrion on Age of Conan's past, present, and future

Jef Reahard

Welcome, barbarian friends, to a special edition of The Anvil of Crom. Age of Conan's third anniversary is here, and the sheer amount of things to talk about has necessitated two columns this week -- and driven me to consume a celebratory pint (or six) of Cimmerian ale. First up is a recent sit-down with Funcom's Craig "Silirrion" Morrison wherein the game director chats about the fantasy title's past, present, and future.

Hyboria has changed dramatically since AoC's May 2008 release, and even bigger changes are coming, including new content, a new server ruleset, and a big announcement that Morrison's been hinting at via Twitter in recent weeks.

Join us after the cut as we discuss PvP, PvE, forthcoming appearance slots, and more!

Massively: It's been an up-and-down three years, with launch bugs, the 1.05 revamp, and the Rise of the Godslayer faction grind generating a bit of rancor in the player community. Now that those issues have more or less been addressed, what do you see as the biggest challenge(s) facing the AoC dev team in both the short- and long-term?

Craig Morrison: The challenge with MMOs is always keeping pace and making sure your production team is able to keep a good healthy pace of content and developments. We've done a lot of work with our infrastructure over the last year and worked to put the team in the best position to achieve that.

Kara KorumIt's fair to say that AoC has as much, if not more, interesting PvE content than most themepark-style games had at their three-year marks. Despite the fact that more PvE content is on the way, outsiders still refer to AoC as a PvP title. Does that concern the dev team at all in terms of potentially limiting the game's playerbase? Also, has Funcom given any thought to a marketing push to highlight all that's new and different in Hyboria?

I don't think it is necessarily limiting. I am very proud of the content that we have in the game now, and I certainly think it compares very favourably with other games at the same mark (and some beyond it!). The game has always been a game with both PvE and PvP elements, and the setting, the very visceral and brutal world of Hyboria, in combination with the combat system, definitely does evoke certain feelings and a particular feel to the game's combat that lends itself to some compelling PvP.

Given the changes over the last three years, I think those who found the PvP too harsh will find that it flows a lot better now, while the upcoming Blood and Glory server might also appeal to those who want a little more PvP.

In terms of marketing the game, it's going to be a very interesting, and busy, remainder of the year for Age of Conan. You'll be hearing more about some of those things very soon, and I think they will have just that type of an effect on the game's profile.

The last year or so has seen a heavy focus on PvE updates, with the expansion and the more recent level 80 dungeon releases. Aside from Jhebbal Sag, there hasn't been a whole lot going on with regard to PvP. Is that going to change starting with Blood and Glory? Can you talk about any specific PvP-related content in the works?

That will depend largely on how things go with the Blood and Glory server. There has been a lot going on behind the scenes on that front, since a new server rule set takes quite a bit of preparation and work (as well all the work that has been done on the PvP queue matchmaking, which is complex work).

So as for what's next, it may be that we focus a lot on adding to that ruleset specifically or look more at additions or improvements for the existing systems for all the servers. The PvP development is very much based heavily on player feedback, so we generally work on them in stages, with each previous addition or change, and the reaction to them, driving the choices we make for the subsequent update.

And while we're at it, I have to ask about a release window for Blood and Glory, since the summer is moving right along.

The systems are now almost completed internally, and we hope to roll it out sometime over the next month or so; it will depend on the timing of the other updates a little, but it is probably coming relatively soon. It is more a case now of finding the right window to open the server up amid the other updates that are coming up.

CimmeriaThe general player mood in game and on the forums seems to be much improved in recent weeks. People are digging the updates and looking forward to the future.

Can you put your finger on some of the reasons for this shift? Do you think it has to do with the influx of new devs or possibly higher quality content and better communication? Is it just part of the natural ebb and flow of an MMORPG's lifespan? Has the dev team benefited from the positive vibes at all, or are the devs focused more on what's next?

It's always nice when the players are happy with the content updates! It has improved of late largely due to the fact that we have been able to return to our update schedule. We had a period last year when we were working on the Dreamworld Technology platform, which meant we were "locked down" for a few months, in that we couldn't put new content out until the tech update was done.

That period was a little frustrating for the players. Even if they know it's for the game's long-term benefit, it is still annoying to not get new content for a period. It was also a little frustrating for us in that regard, as we also want to get the content out! It did, though, also allow us to train up the new members of the team nicely, without the pressure of an urgent deadline, and that has proven worthwhile when you look at the quality and quantity of the new content this year... so it's really great that the players are appreciating that.

Any chance that AoC's crafting game will get an overhaul in the coming months?

Not in the coming months, no. It is an area that was never a major focus of the game. It is definitely an area we would like to improve at some stage, however, and we have started to throw around some early-stage ideas for how to approach that, but it's not at a production stage yet.

MMO games definitely benefit from having other things that players can do outside of the core gameplay, so it is an area we want to address at some stage, and as the game matures and other more critical updates have been done, the opportunity will hopefully open up for looking at the crafting system again.

Do you think the social events introduced last winter (horse racing/guild minigames/etc.) have made much of an impact with the playerbase? Does Funcom track how many players are using a given game system? Has the success/failure of these updates influenced the likelihood of any future non-combat game mechanics?

Those were small updates for those who like additional social activities. Just as with other parts of most MMOs, they are a minority interest. They won't make or break the game, but for those who enjoy them, they add an added interest, and they required very little resources to accomplish. They are the type of added-value feature or small content additions that we try and squeeze in now and again.

It's great to focus on the core elements of the game, but every now and again, it helps the overall offering of the game to have some other different activities for players to take part in as well. We will definitely consider additions like that again in the future; an MMO really needs those other things to fully compliment your core gameplay. Just as with crafting, I think in the long-term MMOs need those types of features.

KhemiSpeaking of non-combat stuff, I have to ask this (again) because I get a lot of reader emails on the subject. Are appearance slots still under consideration?

More than that -- in fact, most of the tech work is done; that feature will be coming relatively soon in one of the updates scheduled for the summer or early fall.

AoC is a pretty different game now than it was at launch, and most of the changes/improvements have come on your watch. Looking back, are there any specific updates or decisions that stand out? Anything you're really happy about? Anything you'd do differently?

Mostly I am happy with how the team has approached things, how much we have grown, and how the team has taken ownership of the game and built it up and improved it. Personally, I think the team did a great job on the expansion, and some of the gameplay in our instances is some of the best out there. I'm really proud of the quality of the experience there.

I think in terms of doing something differently, I would probably not have pushed out the Shrines PvP feature as early as we did; we felt the pressure from the players there a little too much, probably tried to please a little too much, and released a feature before we should have. I think that feature would have been greatly improved by a few more iterations that we ended up having to do on live, and people had already come to an opinion about the feature, so even after it was improved and tweaked, they were bitter about that early experience with it, so with hindsight I probably would have delayed it until after the expansion last year.

Where do you see AoC three years from now? Does 2014 Hyboria look as different from today's game as today's game looks from 2008 AoC?

Hopefully! The beauty of MMO games is that they get to evolve and grow. I am very excited to see where the current team members start to take the game now that they are up to speed and pushing out great content updates.

Thanks for chatting with us.

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

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