This past weekend, I spent about 35 hours in transit across the Atlantic Ocean and back. Not for a holiday, but instead to visit Oslo and the rather impressively sized offices of Funcom. The company itself takes up five floors out of the six in the unassuming Norwegian building and houses their roughly 300 employees.
When you walk through the offices, you’re likely to hear any number of languages being spoken: Norwegian, German and French, just to name a few. We were told during our visit that Funcom has employees from a wide variety of countries with nearly as diverse an array of languages, and as a result many of the meetings and inter-office emails that take place about the game take place in English.
The diversity of the Funcom staff was mirrored in the wide range of countries represented by my colleagues in the media, with reporters from countries like: France, Belgium, Australia, Russia, Germany, Canada and the US. It just goes to prove once again that Age of Conan (and MMOs in general) have a wide following worldwide that stretches well beyond the North American market.
Before we reached the office doors, we were greeted by an armored and armed man on horseback who vowed to protect us from the dangers ahead. Now, I've seen a lot of sights, but the looks on the faces of casual passers-by was amusing. The show didn't stop there though, as we were then promptly attacked by another man on horseback and an infantryman who were summarily driven off by our mounted friend and a bow-woman who bore a striking resemblance to a certain blue-painted archer.
Free of the attacking hordes, we arrived at the offices as the developers were involved in morning team meetings that help them to see where they are going and how best to proceed with the day`s work and activities. The Age of Conan team as a whole is divided into what the developers call "Strike Teams", groups that work together on some part of the game. By way of example, there is a team specifically dedicated to the 1-40 aspect of the game.
We were shortly joined in the conference room by the Age of Conan Director, Gaute Godager and Jørgen Tharaldsen, the game`s Project Manager who introduced us to the game`s new official website. The new site, which you can see for yourself at www.ageofconan.com , we were told, "embodies what we try to do in how we present the game" and is built around three words that capture the tone for AoC: Live, Fight and Explore.
After checking out the new website and their most recently released video, Godager gave us a little bit of history on the game`s development:
Four and a half years ago, we were told, there was a discussion about what project should be tackled next. There were a number of candidates, but that Conan turned out to be the IP of choice. The Conan comic book series has always been popular in Norway, and the lore has a strong following. Combine that with the Norway`s viking history, and the dark and bloody world created by Robert E. Howard seems like a logical choice.
Speaking of dark and bloody, we were also informed that AoC had officially been given an `M`rating by the ESRB and an 18+ rating from PEGI (the European equivalent). Not that the announcement comes as any great surprise to the game`s fans, who have been told since day one that these were Funcom`s objectives, but the rating is always one of those things that its nice to have official word on, especially with the game now only a little more than two months from launch.
Godager went on to tell us that the Conan license was previously owned by a Sweedish company and that their current license has allowed them a great deal of creative freedom in the way that they have developed the world and adapted the lore to an MMORPG setting. It`s hard to remember sometimes that AoC was originally conceived and in pre-production in a pre-World of Warcraft world. "We tried," said Gadager, "in a pre-WoW world, to plan a game that would grab MMO players` interest". While I can’t speak for others, during my stay in Norway, I saw and learned a number of things that grabbed my interest. Over the next couple of days, as I recover from Jet Lag, I will be putting all of this new and interesting information to paper:
Crafting in Age of Conan is an innovative take on the classic MMORPG model for the creation of goods. The system, as is the case in many MMORPGs, is based on collection and creation by recipe. The biggest difference, we were told by Funcom staff, is that crafting (called Tradeskills in Conan) advancement is story and quest-driven. That being said, there are still a number of interesting aspects of the Conan Tradeskill system that deserve some attention:
Other Fun Facts
Tomorrow, we will go into aspects of the game like City Building, Mounted Combat and the like, but today, I thought I’d share some of the random facts that came out during the trip: