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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: Getting to Know the New Game Director

MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood had the opportunity to ask new Age of Conan Game Director Craig Morrison a little bit about himself and his philosophies on gaming.

MMORPG.com:

Can you tell us a little bit about your games background prior to your time at Funcom?

Craig Morrison:

Like many before me I got into all this through many countless hours spent being an active part of modding and development communities. I tinkered around on everything from the old Mechcommander titles, through several first person shooters to Neverwinter Nights. I have been playing MMOs since the days of Meridian 59, and have tried to play every MMO I can get my hands on since then! Down the line, after extensive stints with Ultima Online and Everquest it was through work with fan-sites around Anarchy Online that I became an associate editor at IGN’s Vaultnetwork. That in turn gave me the opportunity to meet the team from Funcom here in Oslo and was eventually asked to join up and get to do it from the inside!

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MMORPG.com:

We have heard that you have a community-oriented approach to game direction. Can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy of MMO development?

Craig Morrison:

I think as far as the community interaction goes I will let my actions speak for themselves there, hopefully people are already starting to see the communication improve and the feel that the feedback does reach us. I think as I have come from a community background it’s an area that I obviously believe strongly in and having a good relationship with the players is very important to me. We won’t always agree that’s for sure, but I always feel that providing the player-base is aware of our intentions and we keep explaining things that it can always remain constructive.

As for my design philosophy I think it breaks down quite easily. The single question I am always reminding myself of, and having our designers ask themselves, is ‘is it fun?’ It is all about the experience for the end user, for our players, and we always have to keep that front and center in our thoughts. It’s very easy as designers sometimes to design as much for ourselves as for the players and we have an obligation to always be level headed enough to take that step back and analyze whether or not what we are attempting will be fun and engaging for the player.

MMORPG.com:

What positions have you held since coming to Funcom?

Craig Morrison:

 After I joined Funcom in 2004 I was the company’s community manager, working on Anarchy Online and the beginnings of the Age of Conan community, as well the launch of Dreamfall before moving into a production role in 2006 as project manager for AO. Then I moved up again to Game Director for AO in early 2007 before being asked to take the reigns on Conan last month!


Age of Conan Screenshot

MMORPG.com:

When you took over on Anarchy Online, how did that game change?

Craig Morrison:

I think our primary focus was two fold. Firstly we addressed some of the older lingering issues that had always bugged players, fixing some old issues and updating some of the older systems and rules to take into account changes to the game down the years.

Secondly we focused on delivering smaller content updates, but much more often so that there wasn’t such a large gap between new additions. That in itself also forced us as designers to come up with different types of content that could provide fun, repeatable short challenges for players on a regular basis. I think the players really appreciated the change in pace because previously the game had seen some longer periods between major updates. It was the same amount of content essentially just organized and spaced in different ways with hopefully improved reward mechanisms so players always felt they had something to aim towards.

MMORPG.com:

Aside from the obvious differences in the games, how does directing Age of Conan differ from Anarchy Online?

Craig Morrison:

I think that might be a bit hard to give an insightful answer to right now, might be worth asking me again this time next year! At the top level though there as also obviously differences in the size and scale of the game that present a great challenge to me personally, as well as the team. I think there is a difference in expectations as well with taking over a game that is new to the market rather than one that was well established in the genre by the time I arrived.

MMORPG.com:

How does your vision for the game differ from your predecessor's?

Craig Morrison:

I’m not sure there are all that many core differences there in terms of the game-world and what Age of Conan represents. I think the game has a fantastically realized game-world and an experience that is genuinely different and sets us apart from other MMO titles. We really have already captured that brutal energy of the Conan universe and it is reflected in the very action orientated combat system and the lush vibrant game-world. I think it would be foolish to not be proud of that and to strive to extend it even further.

The areas that I will be focusing on in order to achieve the ambition of take the game to the next level are two fold really. Firstly, as I have discussed with the community in my first letters to them, there are some fundamentals to the progression systems (in particular in relation to itemization and statistics) that have to be addressed and we are doing that. Then beyond that I really want to focus on the community aspects of what makes an MMO community shine, improving the PVP systems, improving the guild functionality and support systems and introducing ways that players can feel even more involvement in the world we have build up already.

MMORPG.com:

What are some of the most immediate changes that players should expect to see with you at the helm of the game?

Craig Morrison:

I think players should hopefully be starting to see that already, we are addressing many of the issues that players have brought to the table already. The last few updates have already seen the launch and expansion of the games PVP mechanics and the next ones will see more additions there as well as further improvements to areas like tradeskills, the siege system, ensuring the raid content is functioning properly as well as looking at some of the fundamental balance issues with PVP and such.

The next major update is already on our test server with many of those changes already available for players to test for themselves so I would encourage people who are curious and want to help in pushing the game further forward to join up there and let us know what they think!


Age of Conan Screenshot

MMORPG.com:

There are those who say that this is all too little, too late for Age of Conan. Can you speak to that?

Craig Morrison:

There will always be the merchants of doom! I understand that some players didn’t see in the game what they had dreamt it might be, and while some of that is unavoidable (the games we invent in our heads will always surpass those we are actually able to be produced, I know the ‘dream’ MMO in my head would probably be completely unfeasible for now at least. It’s those dreams though that feed the inspiration for what we can achieve!), I also know that we can improve on many of the areas that some players felt weren’t delivered well enough at launch. MMOs are a long term investment both from our end and for players.

There are those who will always want to presume the worst and predict all the necessary doom and gloom, it comes with the territory. What I focus on is proving them wrong and providing good solid fun entertainment for our players. Our players are our greatest asset, our advocates as it were, and I am quite confident that the game will be more than up to the task of being worth their time and energy. If we can continue to do that then I am sure we will be around for many years to come yet!

This is Part One of our interviews with the new Game Director. If you have any questions that you would like to see asked in the next article, please let us know (not every questions will be asked, but the suggestions are qappreciated).

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