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Age of Conan: Developer Profile - Joel Bylos

Each month, to coincide with the release of the Age of Conan Newsletter, MMORPG.com brings you a profile of one of the developers working on Funcom's Age of Conan. This month, it's Quest Designer Joel Bylos who answers our questions.

MMORPG.com:

Tell us a little about your childhood. How did school and where you live influence your choice to join the video game community?

Joel Bylos:

I grew up on the east coast of Australia, in a little town called Maclean. Maclean is about fifteen minutes from the beach and so I spent a lot of my younger years surfing. My father bought a C64, and surfing gave way to playing the SSI Gold Box games and the classic Bard’s Tale Trilogy.

I went to the University in Newcastle, Australia, where I spent most of my time playing games, surfing and avoiding Geology, Philosophy and Literature classes. By the time I left Australia for Norway, I was certain I was going to be a game designer or a writer, I just wasn't sure which.

 

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MMORPG.com:

Besides games what other influences brought you into your career? Whether it is books, movies, or artwork everyone has different tastes, tell us about yours.

Joel Bylos:

I've always been a fanatical reader, absorbing whatever I can get my hands on. I'm a huge fan of Lovecraft, and the steady feeling of growing dread that you get as you read a Lovecraft story is something that I have tried to recreate in the dungeons in the game.


I admire the work of Stephen King, especially his Dark Tower series, and anything by Neil Gaiman is worth the read.

I'm also a huge fan of Brom's art. His work on Dark Sun for TSR was awe inspiring. I also recently picked up Mind Fields which features Jacek Yerka's art and Harlan Ellison's short stories. It's a great way to get the inspiration juices flowing.I've always been a fanatical reader, absorbing whatever I can get my hands on. I'm a huge fan of Lovecraft, and the steady feeling of growing dread that you get as you read a Lovecraft story is something that I have tried to recreate in the dungeons in the game.

I admire the work of Stephen King, especially his Dark Tower series, and anything by Neil Gaiman is worth the read.

MMORPG.com:

What was your first job in games? What other games have you worked on?

Joel Bylos:

Dare I admit that Conan is my first? I made a lot of modules for NWN back in the day, and I've also written several short films and stories, but Conan is my first foray into the world of professional game design.

MMORPG.com:
What is your job at Funcom? How did you get your foot in the door?
Joel Bylos:
My job is Quest Design which covers both design and implementation of quests. In addition to that I write dialogue, which is an absolute pleasure.

I got my foot in the door by being persistent and not giving up on my career choice. My first application to Funcom didn't even net me an interview (it was for the position of Item Designer). My second application got me an interview and, eventually, the job.
I think this goes to show that if people are truly passionate about what they do, there is a place for them in this industry.
MMORPG.com:
Take us through a typical day of work on Funcom while working on Age of Conan, what is it like when you show up at the office?
Joel Bylos:

I'm an early riser so I usually get to the office around seven, while the cleaners are still there. I've found that I tend to produce a greater quality and quantity of writing early in the morning, so I stick to dialogue until everybody arrives. Then, after the morning meeting, I usually work on quest designs or tweaks.

If I have some new designs, there will generally be a meeting with an Associate Producer, a Gameplay Designer, a GFX artist, a World Designer and another Quest Designer. The designs will be critiqued and tweaked by each profession until we have a quest that will work, will be true to lore and, above all, will be fun to play. It can be a harrowing process, having my work critiqued so early in the process, but in the end it will make for a better game.

I usually round off the day with implementation and bug squashing, both relatively technical tasks that give me time to think of new quest ideas.

MMORPG.com:

Are there any friends or family who had a major impact on your career or chasing dreams that you’d like to talk about, do they play games?

Joel Bylos:

My wife, Suzette, has been a great influence. She's a psychologist and has some very interesting insights into what it is that attracts people to different types of games. She's been very supportive of late nights and deadline grind. She's a huge fan of anything made by Bioware or Obsidian.

My best friend, Schaeffer, is a huge FPS fan and pretty much introduced me to the concept of the casual player. No doubt later this month, he'll make me play through Halo 3 on co-op mode. Finally I have a circle of friends who I simply refer to as "The Economists". They all have interesting insights into games and gaming as a market force and some very good ideas about online economies and their evolution.

MMORPG.com:
The video game industry continues to grow very quickly. What are your hopes for games in the future?T
Joel Bylos:

In single player games, I am looking forward to gaming systems catching up to graphics. I've played no modern CRPG's that come close to offering the choice and consequence seen in a game such as Arcanum or Fallout, while still managing to tell an engrossing story. And those games were made close to a decade ago.

Multiplayer games, especially MMORPG's, are already moving in the right direction. Developers are giving players the tools to realize their own adventures; just one example is player cities aspect of Conan. I hope that choice and consequence in online games continues to grow and that eventually every MMO player will be able to influence the world they play in, just as we do in the real world.

MMORPG.com:
How have things been progressing with Age of Conan? Have you enjoyed working on such a strong IP as Conan?
Joel Bylos:

Age of Conan gets better every day. Every time I see a new version there is something to gawk at. An example is that today I drew my weapon… and I watched in amazement as my character gritted his teeth in preparation for combat. Sure, it isn't the kind of feature that makes or breaks a game, but all the pieces of the game have really started to come together.

As an IP, Conan is a blessing and a curse. A curse because there are so many iterations of Conan that have existed before this game and we can never be certain which side of Conan people have seen. Have potential players read the Howard stories, or have they only seen the movies? Are they fans of the comics, or perhaps they are into the pastiche novels? The IP is a blessing because of what it is, Conan. There are very few characters that resonate as strongly after a century in print as Conan does, and we're trying our hardest to do him justice. We hope that the fans will agree.

MMORPG.com:

Is there anything you would like to write to the readers of MMORPG.com that we have not spoken about?

Joel Bylos:

Almost everybody at Funcom reads the forums and any news postings about our game. Your feedback is heard, if not always acknowledged, and we appreciate the support we have been getting from fans, not just of MMORPGs in general, but of Howards work who hope that we are creating something truly worthy.

Come March, we hope you won't be disappointed.

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