Age of Conan

Ever wanted to strut around in a loin cloth, cleaving the heads off enemies (or friends who haven’t paid for their round of mead) with your mighty axe? Now you can without getting arrested thanks to Age of Conan, the new PC multi-player online roleplaying game.

SFX caught up with the game’s creators at Funcom to get them to tell us what’s going to make Age of Conan stand out from World of Warcraft and its ilk (which is a very Conan word, dontcha think?) Erling Ellingson, Senior Product Manager, was the man with the answers.

How heavily are you influenced by the original Robert E Howard stories of the 1930s? Are you fans of those stories?

“We are incredibly influenced by the original stories! That's really our bible here at the office, and we have made it very clear from the beginning that we would base the game in the original Conan literature. The result is the true Conan experience, bloody and brutal, sexy and decadent.”

As this is a MMO game, what will you tell people who are disappointed that they can't all be Conan? Will they be able to see or even meet Conan eventually?
“I think the fact that you can meet Conan and quest for him is even cooler than being him. We have made him into a detailed, deep character that you will enjoy getting to know. He's not just a sword-wielding barbarian that you jump from platform to platform with. Yes, you can meet him, but you will actually have to earn that honour. And when you do meet him and get access to his throne room... well, trust me, it's monumental!”

How does the new multi-point melee system work?
“Previously, fighting in massive online games tended to feel like two Excel sheets going at each other with an axe. We wanted to make Age of Conan feel more like an action-oriented fighting game. There is still plenty of depth there, but we added a layer of interactivity to the mix where you basically control every moment of your weapon manually. You hit left, right, up, down and so on, and it turns into an actual sword-fight!"

How will the game be distinct visually? Are you basing the style of Conan's world on the 1980s movies?
“Actually, while we're trying to create our own distinct look (and our art director, Didrik Tollefsen, is doing a marvelous job with that), I do think the ’80s movies proved to be quite inspirational to us in terms of the visual style. It's often colourful, but also very dirty and realistic.”

What will the game offer that's different from other MMORPGs like WoW and Everquest?
“There are several things, really, but one of the biggest differences from those games is the fact that it's a mature fantasy title. We like to call this ‘magical realism’. Sure, you'll find 50-feet tall yetis to battle, but there are plenty of mature themes, language and content. Then you have the remarkable graphics that's ages beyond what's currently on the marketplace, and – of course – the dynamic combat system!”

We've heard about something called a city building system in your game – tell us about that.
“We all know that massive online games are a social thing. So we knew we had to go beyond just killing and loot-hunting, and that's why we started working on a fairly sophisticated crafting system and quite an elaborate city building system. It enables your guild to claim a piece of land and erect different buildings that will give your guild various benefits, such as player advantages and access to more crafting recipes! It's quite a cool thing, really, where you run around in a massive city seeing buildings rise from the ground! It's all about team work and creating stuff together.”

It seems like Conan is very much a mature game with plenty of violence – do you think this will attract a different kind of player to other fantasy games at the moment?
“Yes, I definitely think it will. Research shows that the average massive online gamer is in his (yeah, still ‘his’ and far too little ‘hers’) mid-twenties. That means there must be market out there for massive online games that are geared towards those who are 18 years or older. I certainly have a lot of love for the other games on the market, but it's time someone provided us grown-ups with something more tailored to us!”

What will future expansion packs bring to the experience?
“That's really a bit early to say, but I can promise you that everyone at Funcom is running around with a brilliant idea in their head! So it's just a matter of identifying the most brilliant of those ideas and giving it life. We look forward to announcing something on this in the future.”

What had been the biggest challenge in putting this game together?
“The sheer scale of it! This is such a massive undertaking; it's one of the most advanced computer game productions in gaming history. It has taken us almost five years to do this, and over 450 people have been involved in the development of the game. The complexity of it is staggering, from revolutionizing the combat system of the genre, to pushing the limit of what's possible in terms of graphics and storytelling!”

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is out now for £39.99.

Click HERE to see another video of the game!