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Message From the King

Glen "Famine" Swan from Funcom's Age of Conan answers questions, and discusses the game, life, and the industry. Let us know what you would like to hear about.

Author: FC-Famine

Behind the Scenes: The Content Team

Posted by FC-Famine Tuesday November 10 2009 at 2:05PM
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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)

Epic Journey

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)

Voices Within

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)

Worlds Away

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.

LordBonezy writes:

Must be nice doing puff pieces a few days before we find out just how far the bottom has dropped out of Funcom's ability to do anything given their economic status.

I particularly like the titles of your paragraphs, Epic Journey, i.e. without much company, i.e. in terms of player populations and the need to merge servers again to concentrate enough players locally in order to allow groups to function correctly again, and my favorite...

Voices within, funny when 75-85% of quests in the game are still missing voice acting and there are no plans to add them. But oh lets rush out an expansion before finishing this aspect of the game and before fixing dozens of other things wrong with it.

Sorry to rain on your parade, well wait, now I'm not. Too bad your dev team doesn't do their thing more often, and more consistently than they do, cause at current pace all they deliver is 3 updates a year which can hardly be considered major updates.

Tue Nov 10 2009 4:14PM Report
CyanSword writes:

@Lordbonezy Hate to break it to you but they have even done three updates in the last 14 days let alone the last year :p They seem to be doing three MAJOR updates a year that add whole new playfields, dungeons and systems and do frequent hotfixes and stuff in between. Conan has it's issues but speed of delivery is not one of them, at least not anymore than any other MMO dev. With the exception of Turbine I would say they are better than any other dev team at adding new stuff

Now of course so much oftheir game was horribly broken at launch they are only just getting through all those issues so they are playing catch up for sure. So by all means knock them for what they are bad, adding to their game is not one of them.

..and they never claimed the game was going to be 100% voice acted so nothing is 'missing' there either ;) Your tolling is consistent and strong, but at least aim at the parts that are valid there are many things you can knock Funcom for, why make up stuff that doesnt stand up to a good rebuttal when you could pick on actual weaknesses?

Tue Nov 10 2009 4:54PM Report
GPrestige writes:

Look at LordBonzey's post history. Anything he says about AoC can be taken with a grain of salt. He is so far biased on the negative side that his words are just hot air.

Tue Nov 10 2009 5:21PM Report
pcolapat writes:

I played age of conan for over a year. I had alot of good times in the game, but its glory days are over. Too many bad decisions. To begin with, the put in the notoriety system, which basically castrated the game. Hyboria is supposed to be ruthless, they made it too safe. They don't do world events. The game world while beautiful, feels dead. Nothing unexpected or new ever happens in that game. You have a nice world, funcom never brought it to life. I leveled four characters in that game all the way to eighty. I like the game, but i couldnt stay. They need to rethink how to manage that game. Take what they have and make it thrive, but I dont think they have it in them to do that. I have moved on. I am waiting for the mmo that makes me want to log on everynight. To experience something new everytime i play the game. Funcom had that when they had open free for all pvp, but they killed it.

Wed Nov 11 2009 12:56AM Report
ioryadragon writes:

what about Anarchy? why they still working on this AOC crap

Wed Nov 11 2009 2:02AM Report
Isma2 writes:

Thank you for an interesting peek behind the scenes, Famine. I have played AoC since launch, and I'm enjoying it more than ever - mostly because the look and feel of the game is in a league of its own compared to other MMO's.

With regard to FunComs updates, I agree with CyanSword - they are substantial, and they are frequent enough. In the early days you would experience content gaps while levelling, and you might be bored at 80 for lack of end-game content. This is no longer the case. With the last character I levelled, I had absolutely no problems finding quests to do at any time. Also, my alt levelling has slowed down lately because there just being so much to do for my lvl 80s. Several interesting and challenging lvl 80 group dungeons have been introduced since launch, and raid content is about to be expanded again.

If there is one bad thing to say about the updates, its that they tend to be buggy, and to re-introduce old bugs. However, to me at least, this is a relatively minor frustration.

Wed Nov 11 2009 4:21AM Report
Zioz writes:

You wanted to avoid a 2nd Wrangeline didn't you ? :P

Wed Nov 11 2009 7:20AM Report
dejand79 writes:

This is all nice, but AOC has major problem with server lags and for me (and the majority of other people I played with), this seems to be the main reason why someone gives up playing. People don't want to pay for a game that has so many crashes and something has to be done to fix that. I have played wow previously but AOC is mouch more by my liking but am sorry to see the game ruined by such errors. Some players like one type of content other like somting other, you just cant please everyone but you have to make your game stable! I think thats basic..

  AOC is a great game but please fix the lags and minimise the bugs Funcom! :D

Wed Nov 11 2009 8:46AM Report
demoniizer writes:

More like 1 update and 2 others after that to fix the first update

1 step ofrward 2 steps

Wed Nov 11 2009 11:36AM Report
FC-Famine writes:

Thanks for the input guys. It's always nice to read more feedback on the game. :)

Wed Nov 11 2009 3:18PM Report
Muren writes:

Imho the game is better then ever. Irontower in commondistrict is pretty sweet. Worked from start. Crows Nest (also common district) is a nice small instance.

The big issue rigt now is unplayable sieges. The lag in siege is terrible. In everyday game i dont have any lag at all.

Problem right now with quests (Especially lvl80 destiny) is that they have been nerfed and is so easy to do its boring. Please make it harder. Also global chat is a disaster. This chat should have a 20-30 sec delay of posting.

Aoc is eyecandy and fun to play. What i miss is 12 persons instance (very hard one) with some nice drops. I would also like to have a 10m freezone around rezpads and npc:s. We have a beauteful world to play in, yet people camping the roads outside Oasis / Kheshatta for hours. Its like playing quake.

Also take away kill/death ratio so we dont have to see players lvl 80 camping lowlevel players just for the rating. Another important thing with pvp is that lowlvl pvp (kidspvp) should give much less pxpxp then highlvl pvp (grownup pvp).

And for gods sake, loosen up the forums. The official forum are like Pravda 20 years ago (Yeah i am that old). One of the biggest threds that was not moderated is "Official hug tread"! C´mon funcum.

Thu Nov 12 2009 5:56AM Report
Sturmrabe writes:

What fucking lag are these people bitching about? pcolacat was about dead on, though I haven't playing in a while.


But even after release the lag was never intolerable, and it only got better, with the lower pop now its logically impossible that there would be the same lag... that is to say not much.

Thu Nov 19 2009 6:51AM Report
TJKazmark writes:

I can't comment on AoC, having only played a trial account a while back, but it was nice to see a little behind-the-scenery at a developer. Personally, I'm interested in every aspect of creating a game, MMO or not, even PR. Regardless of possible bias, this was a pleasant read.

Wed Dec 02 2009 11:36AM Report
maveric007 writes:

Sorry but the late end game content pretty much killed this game. I can also agree with the lack of community content and really enjoyable word events was bad. Crafting also came to late to even make that aspect interesting. I'm an over year subscriber who is currently unsubscribed.

Thu Mar 04 2010 8:54PM Report
undead17 writes:

thye are wokring very hard on there game and so they should it is visually stunning music is haunting and very true to the game ,,,,,,,,,,sadly end gem for higher levels ....well sucks  they pvp looks like fun but after waiting 4 hours to try to get 1 pvp game going i gave up. they need to bring ppl back to the game and keep them there

Thu Mar 04 2010 10:53PM Report writes:
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