Interview with Age of Conan's Game Director Craig Morrison
Questions by Savanja and Benjamin J. de la Durantaye
Answers by Game Director Craig Morrison
Last week Age of Conan saw one of the biggest updates yet since its release 9 months ago and...
Questions by Savanja and Benjamin J. de la Durantaye
Answers by Game Director Craig Morrison
Last week Age of Conan saw one of the biggest updates yet since its release 9
months ago and you can be sure that there is far more to come! The first in
this series of updates brought with it several new zones, a PvP revamp of the
mini-games, and countless other fixes. With even more updates to come including
a revamp to itemization, statistics, gems, and more PvP updates this just isn't
the same game that we saw at launch and players are starting to take another
look at what could be one of the hardest working games on the market today.
Game Director Craig 'Silirrion' Morrison graciously took time out from his
busy schedule to talk with Ten Ton Hammer about the evolution of Age of Conan.
We'll discuss update 1.04, the things that haven't yet made it in, as well as
the plans for the future in this very open and detailed interview.
Ten Ton Hammer: First let's talk about the two new level 80 zones, The
Slaughterhouse Cellar and Xibaluku. These two zones are very different from
each other but interconnected in their storylines requiring players to play
through one to get to the other. Can you tell us how these two zones relate to
The Slaughterhouse Cellar is a much desired solo
Craig Morrison: Basically the Slaughterhouse Cellar is a solo player
experience to gain access to Xibaluku. There is a story in Xibaluku about how
the picts have started to find ancient dark magics and what they are doing in
the Slaughterhouse Cellar is kind of an introduction to what might be going
on. This will allow the players a solo experience in order to gain the key to
gain access to Xibaluku.
We've had good feedback since launch on the mix between solo instances and
team instances. With splitting this experience of Xibaluku into two parts we
have the prelude to it through the Slaughterhouse with a solo friendly
experience and then this leads up to the more boss encounter-centric encounters
in Xibaluku which they have to have a group for.
Ten Ton Hammer: As you have said, Xibaluku will be focused on groups.
Will this be a single group or will you be able to pull in a couple of groups,
and what will they be facing?
Craig Morrison: It's a single group instance. What we've tried to do
with Xibaluku is make the gameplay very interesting and dynamic. It's about
focusing on the boss encounters. I think that some of the feedback, in terms of
our higher level and group content at launch, was that the players felt that a
lot of the encounters weren't really interesting enough or there weren't enough
tactics to them. With Xibaluku what we have done is taken that feedback and
made an experience that is very different every time you do it. The bosses
behave in different ways, and more importantly, each individual boss does
something. When players go through Xibaluku they should be able to go "Oh yeah,
that's the boss that sends you to prison, this is the boss that throws you off
the cliff, or this is the boss where you have to do the platform puzzle". Each
one is identifiable in its tactics and players can identify with it and try to
counter it. There is none of these bosses in which you can just sit there and
heal your tank and just tank through the fight. These encounters will very much
be pushing the players to interact with the environment around them. They have
to worry about timing, and they have to worry about reacting to the bosses
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there a defined way to defeat each boss? Are people
going to require certain classes to take down a boss or are there various ways
to defeat any given boss?
Craig Morrison: We certainly don't design anything that will require
any said class and I think that's a most dangerous road to go down in an MMO.
Any good, balanced group should be able to get through the content.
In terms of tactics, it varies for each boss encounter. A couple of examples
of this is that one of the first bosses that players meet in zone has an ability
that, through the fight, he will mind control a player and send them to a prison
cell. A random member of the group will be picked and that player will then be
sent to a prison cell, the door locks behind them, and undead skeletons spawn
that they have to kill. Now if that happens to your main tank you might have a
much more serious problem than if it happens to one of your additional DPS.
Depending on who gets picked by the boss each time will have a bearing on how
the encounter plays out.
There is a boss further along in Xibaluku which has a platform puzzle where
the boss has a buff on him that makes him very powerful. In order to dispel the
buff and make him vulnerable to the players abilities there is an optional
puzzle they can do. This puzzle involves a series of buttons, levers, and
platforms that will appear over a big pit behind the boss. When they try to do
the puzzle a player has to hop from one platform to another as someone else is
activating the buttons. They can't do it with one person and they have to do
all this while the rest of the group is fighting the boss.
I think the guys did a fantastic job with Xibaluku. We really challenged
them to push the bar up a bit again and make sure the encounters have that
really dynamic feeling and challenge the players so that they look forward to
doing again. It's different, it's interesting, and a lot of the encounters in
there actually make the players challenge themselves. On top of all that, there
are actually different end bosses depending on how the players perform through
the experience. There are two very different and very engaging boss
encounters and how a group performs will determine if they get the boss that is
usually there or if they get the more impressive boss encounter which obviously
also has a little better loot.
Ten Ton Hammer: You mention that the one boss will have a bit better
loot. Just in general will the loot of these zones be major upgrades for the
average player or will it be on par with the already existing loot?
Craig Morrison: I guess it is subjective to what you are calling an
average player. In terms of the power level of the loot, because it's a single
group instance it is not as powerful as the raid gear that is out there; so for
people who are raiding, it wont be an upgrade for them. We've put some fun loot
in there and for the first time there are some social pets that players can earn
from defeating these bosses and there are new tradeskill recipes. We've tried
to itemize the loot table with the fun and interesting stuff so that even if the
players aren't getting a power upgrade from the armor and weapon items that are
dropping, there is still a reason for them to be there and there is still
something cool they might pick up through the experience.
Ten Ton Hammer: We understand that PvP mini-games are getting quite a bit
of work this patch; can you comment a bit on the changes that are going into the
Come to Xibaluku looking for a challenge!
Craig Morrison: We generally take PvP as a whole, and there are a lot
of changes in this update to all of the PvP systems. With the split we have
between PvE and PvP players, PvP is a very important part of the game and we try
to make sure that each update upgrades the system in various ways.
In terms of mini-games specifically, I think because we are a game that has
developed a decent amount of outdoor world PvP, mini-games have never been the
core of PvP like they are in some other games. What we found, though, was that
the players on some servers were having difficulty finding enough players to
start the mini-games particularly below level 80. What we've done in this
update is significantly overhaul the queuing system so that players can queue
for the first available fight rather than picking a fight and only being able to
queue one at a time.
And in addition to, but not directly related to the mini-games, we are adding
incentive for people to earn points for war declarations during mini-games as
well as outside. When a guild declares an intention to siege another guild's
city and battlekeep, there is a period of war declaration where other guilds can
also say "Now wait, hold on a minute! We want to also have the right to attack
that battlekeep!" What happens is over the period of war declaration the points
that the players have gained from PvP activity is counted towards a score.
Whichever guild has the best score for the end of the period is the one that
gets to assault the battlekeep!
Ten Ton Hammer: Another great incentive to participate in PvP. Moving on
to other important game aspects, do you have any idea when we can expect DirectX
Craig Morrison: DX10 is currently has been on the test server for a
while now and it is getting close. Obviously it makes sense to not put it out
for technical and safety reasons for the stability of patching it. We decided
to not put it out with the main update but it will go to the live servers at
some point during this series of updates. That's the plan we've communicated
for a while and it is still looking good. We are at the stage now of just sort
of trying to fine tune the experience for the players so it is smooth when they
get to use it. It's very easy with new rendering technology to make things
look pretty, but the key is to make it look pretty and run smoothly.
Ten Ton Hammer: How have the server merges been received by the
playerbase? Do you think they went well?
Craig Morrison: I do! I think that the players wanted the server
merges quite a while before we actually decided to do them. We received a lot
of feedback from our existing players that they did want to see it happen and
the reaction overall has been very positive. Players like having more people
around, and it is creating more vibrant communities and generally having the
positive effect that we had hoped it would have.
Ten Ton Hammer: So now that this first update has come in do you have an
idea of what the team will be focusing on next?
Craig Morrison: Well we've already got our next update going which
will have the revamp of the items and statistics. Basically quite early on,
immediately after launch, the players didn't feel there was any real incentive
through the itemization of the game to progress. The statistics, such as
strength or dexterity, didn't really mean enough to them to be worth investing
the time in upgrading it. It was a conscience decision early on in Age of
Conan development to not make the game item-centric and to make it more
skill based but I think that it is fair to say that we've come to the conclusion
internally that we probably went too far. When a player can wield a level 30
dagger at level 80 and not feel the difference we didn't get it right.
So what we are doing with the revamp is changing how the statistics affect
the character and we're not going to go to the other extreme either. We are
trying to find the right balance by keeping the things that made the game
appealing to people in the first place, such as the very hands on combat, and
the fact that it is not just down to your gear how well you perform, but we do
want to make sure that items and statistics are a viable progression driver for
players. They should be rewarded as they go along so that when they get that
new cool armor item for completing a quest that they can put it on and see that
it helps them in some way.
It'll be going to the test servers in the near future, sometime over the next
month, so that players can get to see it for themselves. There will be a lot of
information released as it also involves a slight re-balance for every class.
When we are doing something as fundamental as adjusting the statistics, what
they mean, and how much they affect the character, that also means that it is
the right time to look at all the classes, feat trees, and their spells and
abilities to make sure they are balanced with the new system in mind.
"We're happy with how things are progressing and
hopefully we are addressing the things that players really had issues
with after the launch."
On top of that, the update will have a totally new gemcrafting system, which
was another system of the game that had some serious issues after launch. The
gems went from being useless to being overpowered and we had to take them out to
prevent people from exploiting them. The guys on the team have spent a lot of
time revamping that system and making sure that it will work right and provide
tradeskillers with a way to have a valuable impact on the both themselves and
other players through the gems. It's going to be a sizable update that is also
a challenging one because we do have to be careful to not go too far in the
It is going to be an interesting series of updates and we expect it to be one
of the longer periods during testing. This is the kind of update that will go
through a few iterations on the test server with plenty of player feedback once
we release all the information to them.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the playerbase
about this update and the future updates?
Craig Morrison: I think mainly we're really starting to see,
especially once the items and statistics revamp is done, that most of the key
issues from launch have either been addressed already or will be addressed in
the next major update. We've tried to avoid just band-aiding things to keep
people happy in the short term. We have been looking at doing updates
comprehensively and making sure that we address things in the right way. With
the new content, new zones, PvP, the consequence system, and continuing making
the changes to siege system with the new war declaration and new PvP lootable
resources, it'll be interesting to see how the players react. Basically in this
update the resources required to build a battlekeep have now been changed so
that the only place to get these resources is in the border kingdoms, which is a
PvP zone, or these resources can be looted from players when killed in PvP.
Someone can take what you just harvested by killing you! It's about how can we
change the systems, improve them, build upon them, and actually tackle the key
concerns. What we are really looking at is how we can make the whole siege
system, the border kingdom, and the resource system come together to make a
meaningful whole so that guilds really have a reason to be there, shifting the
PvP to something meaningful.
A lot of the open world PvP was just kind of random PvP around zone areas and
now we want to try to move people into a PvP that really has meaning. They'll
have to go out and harvest if they are looking to siege another guild because
they will have to have the resources to be able to build a keep once they win.
To do that, they're going to have to harvest these resources which means they
are going to have to protect their people during the harvesting. Even if you're
not protecting them from the other guild youre probably going to have to
protect them from random gankers that are going to hang around where people are
most likely going to be. We'll probably have to tweak and adjust things like
the drop rate of the harvest system but I think it will be a real interesting
dynamic to see how guilds and the guild PvP develop from these changes.
We're happy with how things are progressing and hopefully we are addressing
the things that players really had issues with after the launch. No one here is
under any delusions as to the reason why the game didn't quite live up to
expectations and the team is working very hard to address those things. We hope
that the people will hear the positive word of mouth and they might try Age
of Conan again and hopefully they will be pleasantly surprised by what they
see when they get back.
We'd like to thank Craig for taking the time to talk with us and look forward to
seeing these updates in action!
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