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Funcom | Play Now
MMORPG | Genre:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 05/20/08)  | Pub:Eidos Interactive
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Age of Conan - Beta Concerns Q&A

Last week, we spoke to Funcom’s Age of Conan Product Director Jorgen Tharaldsen about the company’s decision to hold an Open Beta through the subscription-based website Fileplanet. Now that the Fileplanet Beta is underway, a number of player concerns have arisen about the game’s performance and potential launch problems. This week, Tharaldsen speaks once more with MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood, answering a number of concerns that have been raised by our readers.

MMORPG.com:

We have heard many complaints about the presence of loading screens in Age of Conan. Can you tell us why they are there? could the game have been made without them?

Funcom:

When we started to develop Age of Conan we really wanted to bring a new level of immersion to MMOs (and judging from the feedback we have done exactly that!), and we wanted the most lush and detailed areas we could possibly deliver (while hand-picking the best from the Conan lore, across Hyboria). It was therefore a trade-off that we divided Conan into zones, and by doing so we also, naturally, had to have load times between the zones. I think this price is worth paying, for sure, but for Open Beta we reintroduced an old bug which expanded the loading times way beyond the acceptable (the bug makes the game write and store tons of code while loading, which increase the loading times too much).

It is noteworthy to mention that if you want a seamless world, you need to stream a lot of the content to make it load right. We tried this, but it meant degrading the quality of the graphics, and even getting a lot fewer interest points in the game, so the end result was an easy choice. Quality won!

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MMORPG.com:

We have heard that the Fileplanet Beta client is actually an old client and won't be the one used on release. Can you speak to that?

Funcom:

It for sure won’t be the one we have on release! I mean, 150 experienced MMO developers working crunch are able to polish, a lot;) We are making some great updates and fixes based on the lessons learned, lessons we would not have received without the stress we put our servers and systems under. I must stress that it was, and is, beta, and the verdict should come for our launch version, not the version three weeks before.

And yes, I have seen the same rumors that it’s old, but it’s not entirely true. We tried to include the best we had on a stable approach, but in our eagerness to please we wanted to get a few additional fixes out (hence we pushed the launch back a couple of hours). In order to reach the May 1st date some of those fixes led to unwanted side-effects which weren’t discovered in time. For some, it got a bit rockier than we wanted. We are running an extensive survey now, and from the first few hundred replies (which should be statistically correct), it seems that most people are actually having tons of fun AND good performance. We are humble about it though, and admit that things could have gone smoother, but the experience some people have had now has helped us to improve for launch, which is what really matters.

It’s also clear that those who are in our Closed Beta have had a more stable and better experience because of the reasons mentioned in this interview, but rest assured we are aware what caused this and have some really nice updates for you come launch ;)

MMORPG.com:

A number of players are complaining that they are experiencing poor performance despite meeting the recommended system specs. How do you respond to this?

Funcom:

This is true for a minority of the players, but I feel pretty confident it’s not because of their systems alone but because of stalls and memory leaks, or even simpler things like trying high settings on a low-end machine. I mean, with the graphics we have, no lowest spec machine can even be kicked to perform well on high. I have to point out that a number of players are reporting stellar performance on the very same approach (meeting recommended specs). We cannot knee jerk to forums posts though, we need to ensure that the data we get, and where we subsequently put our best coder brains, is based on logic and correct data. We have now gathered loads of data, and we have learned a lot. It will surely improve for launch.

MMORPG.com:

Do you expect performance issues to be resolved before launch?

Funcom:

I don’t expect any high-end PC game to resolve absolutely all performance issues before launch, and it won’t be any different with Conan. It never ends as new graphics cards, drivers and machines are introduced. HOWEVER, when we are playing the launch code here we see great performance across numerous systems, OSes and cards. I was just down to the coder HQ (aptly renamed and organized for launch), and a laptop on low specs performed great with the fixes implemented! We have now FIXED the main causes of the issues on the Beta which were synch compiling of shaders and fragmentation of memory. The symptoms of these problems included most of the issues that some experienced, including missing NPCs, players falling through the ground, the map missing and crashes. In the latest builds we have improved memory handling and we do shader-compilation asynch, and OMG does it help! That we have solved this issue means a lot to us. It was unfortunate that some people on the Open Beta were affected by these issues (our bad), but now that we have the solution I am in a strange way happy about it too. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack, now that we have found it I can with relief say that it would have been _much_ worse to find out about this at launch.

MMORPG.com:

Can you tell us what led Funcom to decide to create a game that would require higher-end computers to run?

Funcom:

People love great graphics, and everyone is, regardless of what they say, being pumped by graphics. It’s a trade-off, surely, and both a gift and a curse, but at the end of the day it has also propelled us into the position as the, by far, most read about, viewed and awarded MMO in development. In all of this (famous last words etc.), I think people will actually be pleasantly surprised about how well Conan runs on lower than the highest spec machines.

MMORPG.com:

There are members who are complaining that (from their experiences in the Fileplanet Beta), they expect AoC to have a "rocky" launch and point to AO's launch as an example. Can you speak to this?

Funcom:

If you say that you surely weren’t there for the AO launch. I was, and it can’t even by a fraction compare.

We got a couple of surprises when we launched the Open Beta (which it was honestly great we found them at this point and not at launch). We also proved beyond any doubt that our server technology is rock stable once we deployed the first fix (we expected more issues, and did not get them, a very good sign). That most all (80-90%?) seem to think our core gameplay is really fun and engaging is a very nice outake, and that we have taken immersion, storytelling and audio in MMOs to a whole new level is another one, and so much more. We are on track to something special, and it’s FUN. The day we dig down because of bad news we have lost as a company. We are about learning from the things which don'tt go as well as we would have liked them to, and improving on that.

Do I think we will get a rocky launch? Any MMO launch is a major challenge, and there is always something, but I think we are looking good at the moment. We have been through the storm before, so we know what we are up against, and I think we have what it takes to make it right.

MMORPG.com:

On the flip side, what are the best results that you have gotten out of the beta so far?

Funcom:

That most people love our game! That it’s fun, that it’s mature, that the combat system delivers, that the previews coming up are so good, that our server tech is even better than anticipated, and that we learned so much, and not the least, that we are able to fix the majority of the reported issues for launch.

MMORPG.com:

You hinted at a beta surprise in our latest interview, care to reveal this today?

Funcom:

Yeah! The short version; we have an epic ending to our open beta! We had always planned something special, and it was a chore to not speak about it during the fuzz leading up to this, but we didn’t want to destroy the emotional impact the news would have. Hopefully the players will love what we have coming for them, and I think they will. We don’t plan to do major patches to the Open Beta before it ends though, but some tweaks there might be;)

And what is the surprise? On the 10th of May, we are transforming the entire Open Beta into PvP MAYHEM, while at the same time giving players to all which Hyboria as to offer! That is right, as we take down our servers for a short period we are at the same time changing the entire server rule-set to Free For All PvP carnage! Your servers will ALL become PvP! Participate if you dare, or make a new character and stay in the safety of Tortage!

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