- New Ager
- Ninja Kitten
- And many more…
Long time no see! It has been a while and this week I come bearing the systems team and all their magical mathematical ways. I will take you behind the scenes and show you the inner workings of our own systems team and the painstaking process of maintaining the balance in Age of Conan.
When it comes to developing and maintaining the game during its live phase, the systems team is really the backbone for the entire Conan team. They both aid in support for other development divisions and step up to the plate to lead in their own initiatives with new system features. Yet, there is much more to the team than just that and I set out to find out more from the systems team themselves…
(Dave Williams presents a paper-scissors-rock metaphor for community interaction.)
When I asked about a more refined description of what the team actually entails Lead Systems Designer Dave ‘Ilaliya’ Williams states:
A game at its core level is a series of mathematical comparisons called rule-sets, which possess varying degrees of complexity. This could be anything from a dice roll, to scissors cuts paper, to red blocks can only be stacked on top of blue blocks. Systems designers create the rule-sets, and then encapsulate them in a system that governs how different rule-sets interact with each other in game terms. Players interface with these rule-sets by playing content, which is created by content designers, and this content must be cognizant of how the systems operate since content is the player's window into the game rules. Systems Designers may create the ability in a game that players can use, but the content designers give it purpose by making encounters that require that ability.
This means Systems Designers must design the rule-sets and systems so that it supports the content vision, since generally at the Game Director level the vision is in content terms (I want dragons that breathe fire and pillage towns) and the Systems Designers have to figure out what this means in game-terms using the pre-defined technology, and then balance it.
In summary, the team takes great ideas and defines them with a system (or rule-set) in order to make them come to life. Sometimes this is easy to spot and other times it is not as noticeable to the player. Therefore, you could say that much of what systems designers do are behind the scenes of the actual game is hiding from the spotlight until some player comes along and finds it.
(Good systems designers come in 3's)
However, what actually makes up a systems team? Certainly there is not just one lone evil mastermind controlling the mathematical matrix of the entire game all by him or herself? I asked the Lead Systems Designer Dave ‘Ilaliya’ Williams to clarify what roles some of his team members fill and he explained:
The team as a whole has a wide knowledge base, which is necessary to cover all the areas of the game with which the team is involved. In addition to generally contributing to the big picture, designers will have one or more focus specialties in everything from power contribution budgets, to complicated mathematical manipulation, to class design/implementation, to entire systems such as items, PvP and trade skills.
Despite what the team focuses on and what they actually entail as far as structure, there is obviously a very large gap between the players and the developers here. Systems design has generally been a widely talked about topic on almost all games in our genre. Mainly it is because of the reoccurring balance changes that come out of the systems teams everywhere. All systems in the game must be maintained and sometimes that means fine-tuning them even more from the original implementation into the game you see today. The fine-tuning itself can either go one of two ways for the players; it can go either very good or very, very badly. It is very hard and very rare that you actually find a good medium in changes where all players are equally happy (from a community management perspective). Therefore, the reasoning behind changes or fine-tuning are sometimes lost in translation no matter how well you try to convey the messages.
(At Funcom, Systems Team has a tribal hierarchy. One cannot speak in meetings unless he holds the Coconut of Power.)
I am one of the Community Managers and one of my primary focuses is to bridge the gap between the developer and the player. These short peeks inside the minds of the developers of course help in giving you more knowledge of how these people actually make the games we all love to play. However, still I can see there is a huge gap between understanding why things happen and why things do not happen. For example, how do these people decide on what changes make it to the final patch or update and what does not? In another example, how do they even come up with these formulas or equations that convince them on a better balance for the game? As I sit here listening to the systems designers talk about reasoning, balance and even *gasp* calculus, it brings me down to reality that understanding their world is much more complicated than what any community has ever made it out to be.
The best way for me to understand something is by asking questions and the first couple of questions I posed were more along the lines of balance. This is one of the most talked about topics in almost all communities when factoring in different styles of game play. On the topic of what defines balance, one of the systems designers said, “Balance is not whether something feels correct, it’s whether you can mathematically demonstrate that two values are in a specific and pre-determined relationship. Now, there are some things that simply cannot be balanced mathematically (such as stun versus root), and these things we draw on experience and play testing.” Further adding, “Balance is validating that a relationship between two objects conforms to pre-defined philosophical direction and/or assumptions”
(Systems Designer "Didek" posts anonymously on the internet.)
Then when you talk about what is not balanced; the systems team is quick to respond. Obviously showing off how much they lurk and troll on the forums for feedback; you could tell a great deal of what they do is because of what the player is experiencing rather than what changes they are stating. Looking at it from afar, you can see this is one of the gaps between the developer and the player. What does the Systems Designer look for in feedback to influence change over systems? Simply put from one Systems Designer, “Players are experts in how they feel about a game and that's very valid.” On the other hand, sometimes things can become distorted and even from a community management view -- I can see this being very valid. Players sometimes state changes without consideration of the impact of said changes on everything else within the game world.
You see, systems in game are not interacting with just themselves. It is like a big orgy of interaction with all other systems in the game. Sometimes that gets lost in translation in regards to feedback from the player-to-developer. It is much harder to change one aspect of a system saying, “Plz increase this spell by X damage,” because of how its increase will affect everything else. Therefore, in most cases the systems designers convey the best feedback are from players who tell them how the ability in question feels, how it plays and why it is not terribly useful in its current form.
In the end, the Systems Designer's overall passion is to create good and fun gameplay for the player. Their actions are not just determined from the player’s experience, but of their own experience as a player. Furthering this point, Game Director Craig ‘Silirrion’ Morrison adds, “Judging balance is born out of experience as a player and not just divulged from a player. The key thing that separates a good systems designer from a knowledgeable player is the ability to look objectively and pragmatically at that big picture – the overall effect.”
(The Senior Systems Designer gathers feedback from valued sources.)
It is very clear that there is a gap between developers and players. It’s my job to help bridge that gap as much as possible WHEN possible. As we look behind the scenes, we can also see that the systems team is made up of many people who work on some very important parts of the game. Some of it is hidden and some of it is very clear. Nonetheless, we can see the systems team relies on feedback in order to balance what they call the unknown and trying to figure out the rest of the equation can complicate things much more than it needs to be. The best thing to take away from all of this is that the systems team does not use a magic 8-ball to decide the fate of the game. Everything has a plausible reasoning behind it but can sometimes need fine-tuning in order to get it in line with the big picture. Then when you reveal it, let the world know not from exclaiming how your proposed change is balanced but how the selected change feels, how it plays and why it’s not terribly useful in its current form.
Until next time, I salute you and bid you farewell!
There is always a lot of speculation on what goes on behind the scenes during the development of a game. Some people imagine lots of sweaty developers packed into one room trying desperately to get the latest patch or build out for whatever deadline they are on. Other people believe they are all sitting at their desks with their super quad-monitor machines pwning n00bs in the latest FPS while drinking lots of Redbull. Then a slim few actually picture a great group of people who work hard doing the things they love to do; making games!
Whatever you believe the guys over here are a great bunch of people who make the impossible and unimaginable happen every day. They work day-in and day-out trying to stay ahead of the game while trying to keep up with the player. It's not an easy task by any means and a lot seem to forget how hard the journey really becomes.
Today I'm going to take you on a small ride around the studio and some of the people who help make Age of Conan happen. These guys and gals help develop and maintain Age of Conan on a daily basis while having to deal with all the issues that come along with it. Nothing is ever easy when you have such a massive game that requires constant attention and large level of detail as the games in our genre.
The first team we'll take a look at is the content team. These are the guys who make all the quests, dungeons, NPC's, and basically add substance to our game. They come in many different sizes, shapes, and varieties when it comes to content design. You have people who specialize in level design, quest design, game play design, script design, and even story design. They all do their part and all work day-to-day on the next big update to Age of Conan.
(Lead Designer Joel Bylos having a laugh with co-workers and the Project Manager)
When we talk about content I think the biggest thing that comes to players mind is quests. Designing quests in Age of Conan is a very complicated and involving process from initial concept to a finished quest. The quest designers have to struggle with things like keeping quests interesting, fresh, and within the lore. It's very easy to fall into the whole 'kill, collect, talk' type of quests that everyone knows and in today's quests. So the designers are always seeking the middle ground by making something new and exciting, but still within reason to implement and on schedule with the next patch, build, or update.
Treasures we Seek
The next thing we think about when people mention content is raids and encounters. The game play designers help shape player experience by developing challenging yet fun game play for everyone. However, it's not all fun and games when having to come up with new, diverse and challenging encounters that are still fun in-game. Like quest design, it's a very involving and complicated process to design new fun encounters that also still have to be very challenging and while also being very rewarding to the player. On top of that, they have to do all of this while keeping at pace with the players themselves. For example, developing new content for a major game such as Age of Conan is not done in one day. It takes many days to produce fresh new encounters that will still present a challenge that also wont be burnt through by the player in a hour. As everyone should know by now, content is not cheap and requires a lot of focus in order to be within standard and out the door for everyone to enjoy.
(The writer and his work followed by his passion)
Next up is the position that many people don't talk about as much when it comes to content creation. Even more so, the role itself is starting to make a very good presence in the industry as we push forward with more immersive story-driven games. As if you didn't know already, I'm talking about the writers. The writer is the guy who helps create the dialogue and creative story elements behind the game, and occasionally fill in for other text-based tasks. The challenges on the other hand for the writer can sometimes be very mind-numbing, literally! Having to take a bunch of characters for example and coming up with different “voices” for each of them especially after you've worked on a few dozen of them is very challenging. Besides individual character voices, you have to try and maintain a general, Conan voice through all of them like with a fantasy setting sort of vocabulary and not just generic fantasy, but brutal, savage fantasy that fits the setting. Then of course you have the other challenges of finding an economy of words. In gaming, you often have very specific brackets of space to put your words. So you have to convey characters and settings and expositions in that space. Nonetheless, writing for such a story-driven game such as Age of Conan is hard enough. Having to stay true to the lore and not stepping on toes is a painstaking task that the guys here have to do day-in and day-out.
(Lead Designer Joel Bylos and Producer Ørjan Mathis Tvedt reviewing the expansion with the world designer)
Finally we have the guys who I love to refer to as the 'destroyer of worlds' on the content team. Mostly everyone knows these guys as the world designers. These guys are responsible for making all the terrain, hills, mountains etc and adding all the assets that make the world as the player sees it without the implementation of the NPC's. The challenges these guys face when making the world of Hyboria usually falls on the ability to make a realistic and interesting world. Again, it's a very involving process when you have to make eye-popping world design that also has good space for game play or exploration. For example, there can be a lot of different types of elements in one playfield like villages, jungles, a coastline, and other various things that have to put together in a cohesive way. So the guys have to think about how the world was created and shaped by nature and then how it was altered and influenced by the presence of people or creatures within it for the players.
Words of Truth
This would not be complete without some developer input on how content is developed and how the players receive it. The main thing to highlight here is that the developers are players too. The only thing that separates them from you (the player) is that they also happen to enjoy making games as well. Developers struggle with issues just as you do when it comes to making a game. They just so happen to deal with it more because not only are they concerned with the things going on from a player perspective, they’re also concerned with it from a developer perspective (their work).
The content team is a very important part to the overall team. They have the job to fill the game with lots of fun and challenging game play that players will enjoy. Coming up with new quests or new raid encounters is not something that can just be at the flip of the switch. It will take time and it will be an involving process from concept to a finished product no matter what the game. The good thing to remember here is that everything has good intentions behind it. New encounters down to eye popping new world designs are meant to be fun and rewarding to the player in the end result. Everything else that follows is just what comes with developing a game or universally understood as inventing the light bulb.
Hey everyone I thought I would drop by and give everyone a preview of our seasonal content that will be coming in with the update 1.05.6 next week.
We have added in a few single player quests as well as a new team quest where players must hunt down three lost souls from Hyboria’s past. These quests will take players into areas they thought to be familiar but now have an eerie shadow cast over them.
Along with these new quests there will also be some unique rewards players can get such as the Unholy Backscratcher, Fermented Brain Juice or the skin altering void essence. Players will also have the opportunity to get their very own pet Soul Devourer!
Alongside our seasonal content we will be bringing out a few new programs to reward our long term players. As of today the 3 month subscription offers a 20% discount, 6 month subscription yields a 30% discount and 12 month offers a 45% discount vs. the regular one month plan. This is more than twice the discount than before. Keep in mind when you purchase these longer subscriptions you will get your veteran points up front so you can have access to all of our new veteran rewards too! Finally we are going to be starting a program rewarding players for recruiting their friends to play AoC, but we will have a little more information on that when it goes live with the update so keep an eye out for it!
Anyways, that’s all for now so make sure to come check out the new event next week as well as the Iron Tower and the new Veteran System.
Hello Everyone! Famine added me as a contributor to this blog a few weeks back and it has been a busy few weeks for me but I thought I would drop in to give everyone a few updates and talk about what is going on in Age of Conan.
Before I get into the good stuff I should probably let everyone know who I am and what it is that I do here! My name is Dominic Acquarulo and I am the US Community Coordinator here at Funcom and you will find me on the forums as Senek. Before working with the community team I was a CS Lead for AoC so I have a spent a lot of time actually in the game. One of the cool things I have been able to work with lately is the Advocate Program. The Advocates are a group of players that give Funcom feedback reports based on their experience and the discussions they have with the community in regards to their class. As of late I have recruited several new Advocates who are doing great things over on the boards, so if you are a new or returning players or just looking for a little more information on your class check them out!
As far as in game news update 1.05.5.1 was all about the latest class focus with Conquerors in the spotlight. In addition to the class focus, we also addressed some small game issues that arose since the last update. Come check out the detailed update notes here.
We are now doing public testing of the next update which you can check out on our Test Live servers. With this update we will bring out The Iron Tower, which is conclusion of the Tarantia Commons story line. It is a single team instance that will put players up against 4 new bosses and 5 new mini bosses. There is also a chance players may face one of five rare bosses Betty Wolfsmilk, Jack Knives, Horace the Shadow, Nightcharm and Vulferam.
For our veteran players we are will be rolling out a veteran rewards program in the near future . Players will be rewarded for the length of time they have played and will earn points to purchase some very cool veteran items. Some of the rewards include veterans teleports, advanced riding, a swift mount, a full feat respec and the ability to reset feat costs.
Looking past the Iron Tower and into what update 1.6 will bring we have even more exciting things including House of Crom, Guild Renown, a new Tower PvP system and the much anticipated Tier 3 Raids.
Well, that’s it for this time but if there is something you want to hear about or something you would like to see in a future blog let me know!
I just wanted to sneak a small mention on our new contributor that we've added to the nifty blog. US Community Coordinator FC-Senek has now officially joined the blog so that we can keep this bad boy flowing with great content for months to come.
Senek will aid in more of the community side of things and I’ll aid in more of the development side of things with the blog. That way we can have a very well rounded blog that covers both player content and developer content that you would like to see.
Nonetheless, check out some of the new shots from Dragon*Con in the mean time.
(Funcom Party @ Dragon*Con 09')
(Funcom Party @ Dragon*Con 09')
(MMO Round Table @ Dragon*Con 09')
Until next time!
Man! August has been a real crazy month and now that it’s over, it seems that September is starting to be just as crazy with all the promotional efforts for Conan this week. Yet that’s the fun of being in community and working for a publisher slash game developer in the first place, right?!
We have both Dragon*Con and PAX to attend this week. I’ll head over to Dragon*Con this Friday to help represent the new expansion promotion and the other half of the team will do the same at PAX. Both of these conventions will contain the latest info on Rise of the Godslayer and then some. I’ll hopefully snag some nice pictures and video on my end where I’ll encourage the guys over at PAX to do the same.
I should also mention that Funcom will host an awesome party at Dragon*Con this year at the Marriott Hotel on Friday September 4th at 10PM EST. The party is open to anyone that attends Dragon*Con this year and we hope to attract not just Conan players but really any avid MMOG player under the sun. So if you’re out and about Friday night then stop on by and have a drink with us!
(Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer Expansion Screenshot)
Besides all the planning, convention and upcoming events on the way I have some good news that I wanted to share about my position and this blog. I’ve recently been promoted to Senior Assistant Community Manager for Funcom to help with the community teams efforts between development and marketing. What this translates to is that I’ll have a more active role in the information between the entire community and marketing team when it comes to development. How it all works now is like you would expect it. Players convey information to the community; the community team picks this up and then throws it at the heads of the developers. I’m basically taking what the team throws at the developers and throwing it HARDER! In respect, I’ll do the same for the developers when throwing things back in retaliation.
The main thing to take away from all of this is the fact that I’ll spend more time with development and feedback. This is a very good thing for us because it’s always good to improve the quality of feedback or even communication with that feedback. It’ll also allow me to write better development blogs because I’ll have more time to sink into the developers with the information you’ll really love.
(GC 09' Age of Conan Booth)
In closing here, now that I’ve switch focuses we’ll need a fresh face to help take on the past responsibilities. Thus I’m proud to announce we have a new Community Coordinator Dominic 'Senek' Acquarulo who will act as the primary liaison for the US/English community. Dominic will also help out with the MMORPG.com blog as I help get his feet wet and I feel that his contribution will only help improve the blog as we push closer to the expansion.
(Dominic 'Senek' Acquarulo)
Until next time!
The past few weeks have been very interesting for us on the community and development teams. We’ve both launched one of our biggest updates to date along with our reevaluation campaign. I’ve personally been swamped with all of this including preparations for our annual Dragon*Con convention that will surely kick some major ass this year.
On to the good stuff!
Our Game Director Craig ‘Silirrion’ Morrison has just popped out his monthly production letter to the community. This month’s letter covers the next focus that will include guild system changes. I won’t go into too much detail here but to summarize we're introducing a new Guild Renown system. This will bring in some interesting game play aspects for guilds like Renown points based on guildy actions in-game, Renown levels that utilize those points as sort of a guild level for your character and Renown rankings that basically combines all the above into a guild rank for more competitive elements. Along with that, the letter also mentioned some significant additions like new zones in the form of House of Crom, Thoth-Amon’s Stronghold and the new Tower-Based PVP objectives in the Border Kingdoms.
That’s just some of the recent news to hit the stand. The other good stuff is what’s been going on with developers right now. Currently the guys are working mostly with the last few smaller updates for the Update 5 series. This includes any additional adjustments based on feedback from the players and anything else we feel that should be added before we hit the next development focus. From what I can share so far, they’ve also been tweaking some of the classes too. The guys have been reviewing over the Barbarians and Bear Shaman classes recently and have made some additional changes to their game play (details on those come later). They’re also looking at other classes based on the feedback from the player’s post-update 5 and have confirmed some Conqueror and Dark Templar attention soon after.
The possibility of class changes wouldn’t be complete without the Advocate input though. We’ve just completed an interesting round of feedback with the Advocates on the proposed changes currently and some of the ones to come. On top of that, we’ll be gearing up for some additional recruiting to help fill the gaps in the program to aid more of the future class changes and maybe HOPEFULLY other game play elements like the RP, PVP, and Raiding Advocates. I would like to at least have the RP and PVP advocates in as soon as possible just based on the community topics of interest currently and of course some of the PVP enhancements on the horizon.
In closing, we’ve got some conventions coming up. One of which will be the first one for me to actually plan for Funcom. I’ve never planned and organize any of our past convention efforts so this will be a good experience for me with our attendance at Dragon*Con 09’. The initial planning is all completed and out the door. Most of which will focus on a really good panel for Age of Conan conducted by our wonderful Lead Designer Joel Bylos that was behind the ever so popular play field Ymir’s Pass! I’ll also be hosting our annual FunCon party that has a very GREAT location this year and some great new events. Some of those events will include more giveaways and hopefully a very awesome competition for some insane prizes. More details on that specific convention will be confirmed later on but for now I’m very excited about it and there will be some special surprises in store for those who come to Atlanta, GA on September 4th through the 7th this year.
Hope to see you there!
On the last entry we talked about the overhaul of the RPG system to Age of Conan with the character statistics and itemization enhancements. Today, we’ll go into more detail about those statistic mechanics and how they’re shaping up on the live servers.
Just to provide a brief summary here, we’ve revamped and added new stats to the game to further improve items, abilities and the works. This in return helps address the concerns with itemization and making stats more meaningful to characters than what they were before. To give you an overview of what’s been changed, let me first toss out the basic mechanic ‘trickle-down’ changes to one of our core attributes like Strength:
Strength (1 point)
The above can tell you a lot about what we’ve changed. The ‘trickle-down’ from just strength means a lot more and on top of that it adds some new bonuses than what we had before. One of those new bonuses for example is the ‘Armor’ stat that is added with every 1 point of strength. The new Armor stat falls into our new ‘Armor and Protection Mitigation’ system for both physical and magical attacks. This both helps increase the usefulness of having Strength on items as well abilities throughout the game.
Looking at the other side of the fence with another core attribute that mainly deals with spells rather than melee like Strength, we can see the basic mechanic ‘trickle-down’ changes to Intelligence:
Intelligence (1 point)
Intelligence also follows the same direction as Strength but more aimed towards our spell users (mages). The revision also includes a new bonus called ‘Protection’ that is added with every 1 point of Intelligence. Like with Strength, this falls into our new ‘Armor and Protection Mitigation’ system but instead of adding more armor for physical damage, this adds more armor (or protection to be more correct) for magical damages such as Fire, Cold, Electrical, and etc damages.
Rating Statistic System
Along with these changes I have to talk about the Rating Statistic System that has also a big part of the latest update. This system introduces a number of new ratings and some converted ratings that will also help make items more meaningful while trying to improve character builds over time:
With the addition to those ratings we also have some new PvP Ratings that only exist on PvP gear. So if you have 20 in Evade Rating and 20 in PvP Evade Rating then your effective rating is calculated at 40. Some of those ratings are the following:
All of these new and revised statistics mean a lot to our last update and provides us with the foundation to make those itemization and ability improvements. Though, it’s best represented with a comparison with the old-versus-new listings below. The first listing is one of our old items pre-update and the second listing is the new item revised with some of the stats mentioned above post-update.
Item Type: Heavy Armor
Requirements: Level 75
Wear Location: Hands
Item Type: Heavy Armor
Requirements: Level 75
Wear Location: Hands
As you might have noticed, the revised item has more ‘pop’ to it when it comes to first impressions. Even if you didn’t know the mechanics behind the stats, you would feel that the item had more value and more power for your character. Although, the point is not all visual as we have to make those statistics actually provide a new meaning to the item and to the character that utilizes that item over say an item he or she had been using since level 20 now they’re level 70.
The update to the stats is not the ‘win-all’ for the update however. Going into this, I don’t think the developers felt this would be the change that addresses everything. The point is that it’s a step in the right direction with improving systems that need to be improved as well helping address some of the major concerns within the in-game community. We hope to follow the same path with additional systems in the future.
It’s a long run coming but one we are for sure running.
(Post this on your facebook)
It’s been awhile since I’ve had an update to the blog. Dana has been poking me to at least get something updated but the past few weeks have been super busy! We’ve got one hell of an update on the way and there’s a lot to do. However on a different note, I see we have some healthy competition lined up on our blogs. It seems a lot of new developers have jumped on the bandwagon with taking this cool feature on to greater heights. That’s always a good thing to see from our end because we were one of the first to start blogging here. It was our original intention to give something back to the MMORPG.COM community while encouraging other developers like ourselves to start blogging here. I’m glad it’s growing and I hope many more will jump in.
Sooo… What do I have here for you today? Well, I wanted to give a small little teaser to the next update. I don’t want to go into too much detail because the guys will have more on the update and all that it entails later on. I would hate to spoil those nice previews or features just because I’m excited about what’s being pushed out next.
Our next update is one of our biggest ones yet. It contains a lot of changes that would take a few pages to convey and I really only want to give a small piece of the big cake. That being said, the piece I want to share is the updates to the RPG system. The updates to that system in short means we’re taking our character statistics and making them more meaningful to the player. We’re taking things like the core attributes (strength, wisdom, etc) and making the ‘trickle down’ of those attributes affect the character more. If that wasn’t enough, we’re also enhancing how the core attributes work in their specific bonuses.
We’re also introducing a few new systems to the update of the RPG system. I won’t go into too much detail there but I’ll just say that it allows us to enhance our items, abilities, and even our buffs better than before. This is important because it means that items and even abilities become more meaningful and rewarding to the character when receiving them. On top of that, it also allows more dynamic character and item builds in the long run.
What excites me the most about changes like this is that players will have a variety of statistics to consider when building their characters. Having those statistics means that players can really focus on the things that perfect their roles in-game. Now tanks will be able to focus on the things that make them a better tank and DPS’ers will be able to focus on the things that improve how they deal damage. Players will be able to enhance the hell out of their previous or new builds and get the most out of it in Age of Conan.
How do you feel about character statistics in game? Does having a variety of meaningful statistics to consider that also play a significant role in your character output that much important to you? If not, why?