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.