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Age of Conan: Unchained Interviews: Post 1.5 Interview

By Jon Wood on July 03, 2009

MMORPG.com:

How was 1.5 received by the game's community when it finally launched?

Craig Morrison:

I think it has gone very well all things considered. Most players seem to appreciate the new build of the items and that they can now easily see how the items tie into their character. Likewise I think the new content has been very well received ad people are really enjoying the experience in Tarantia Commons, and the guild changes have also been welcomed.

Of course there are some things that need to be addressed, as we knew there would be, and, as we knew it would be, it is in the class balance area that most of the feedback lies...and of course in that area the feedback is never anything short of vocal!

We had always known, and been quite upfront with the community in advance, that there would be some things we had to address after the update was released to the live environment. With something on this scale we knew that there would be elements that would require additional tweaking and adjusting and were prepared for that. As we also expected the greatest challenge there is in the class balance.

The follow-up to the update is very important so we can adjust the areas of the balance that weren't quite right 'out of the gate' as it were. That is what we are already working on now, I think with the new systems we didn't quite get the relative strength of the spell using classes against the melee damage in PVP. That's the main area where the feedback is very vocal, and rightly so, as that area is the part that does still need further adjustment.

I think in PVE things have come together quite nicely by and large and there is less to tweak there, which is encouraging, we do know though that we have to make the adjustments for PVP promptly and properly so that we ensure the PVP game-play is also as fun.

There are also a couple of the raids that are not quite there yet in terms of having the correct difficulty and we will need to tone them down a notch (although several guilds have already surprised even us and defeated those encounters with a dedicated effort even before we tone them down. They still need adjusting of course, but there were some mighty efforts by those involved in those kills!)

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MMORPG.com:

There are comparisons between this most recent update and the Star Wars Galaxies NGE where the game was radically changed after launch. For them, it was disastrous, how is the case different with AoC?

Craig Morrison:

I almost have to laugh that one off as I think it's quite off base. Having played through that myself (as an SWG subscriber at that time) our current game update is (if you will pardon the unintentional pun) 'light years' away from what was done with the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies. That update completely and fundamentally tried to redesign the entire game-system for that title, and that is nothing like what is being attempted with the current update. The NGE was indeed a radical departure, this on the other hand does not really contain any radical changes to how the game is structured. The same classes are all still present and correct, their feat trees are just updated rather than being removed or replaced, so this update doesn't have any real similarities with the NGE at all. For real SWG followers and fans it maybe, just maybe, has some similarities to the CU, in that what are doing is adjusting and improving the existing system rather than adding a totally different one, but even then I would say that they are fairly loose similarities.

I am sure there will be some who did genuinely prefer the 'old' way and that's fine, people are entitled to their opinions, but we wouldn't have moved forward with these changes unless we were confident it was the right direction for the game. In an MMO environment we unfortunately can't please everyone all of the time and we have to make the changes that we feel will have the most beneficial impact overall. In addition, the update was driven very, very firmly by the player feedback in the first place.

MMORPG.com:

For those who don't know, can you tell us what led to the decision to radically change the game's item system?

Craig Morrison:

Again, I'm not really sure that 'radical' is the word I would personally use to describe it, but I guess that is subjective! As I just mentioned in the previous question it was driven firmly from the feedback from players after the launch last year. While not a radical change, revamping the RPG system was certainly a major decision. I think though that it was an easier decision to make than you might think. The feedback regarding items and their relative worth was pretty consistent. People just didn't see the items and statistics in the game as meaning enough to their character. When we sat down and looked at it none of us really had any doubts that this was an area of the game that just wasn't delivering what players wanted and expected from an RPG system.

That of course opened up quite a few risks as well. Changing something so fundamental to the game after launch always means you have to be careful and mindful about what players like about the game already. I think though that the feedback made it an easy decision, it was an area we really had to address in some way and we didn't want to apply a 'band aid', it was important to me to implement a sound and thorough solution. The systems revamp is about giving us a sound and solid foundation from which to build the game in the future. Now that we are not restricted as much by the very narrow power range of the original system it gives us more room to manoeuvre.

MMORPG.com:

Looking at the game as it stands today, in all honesty, what are its greatest strengths?

Craig Morrison:

We have a fantastically well realized game-world and system to build upon. I don't think there is anything out there that quite looks and feels like the world we have created for the game. We have a game-world and setting quite unlike anything out there. It is darker and more brutal, a truly mature setting and everything that comes with that. I think it also looks absolutely amazing and the team did a fantastic job realizing the world first described by Robert E Howard in the Conan stories. The content in the game I think really stands out both in setting and in the quests and storytelling. With each new addition the team is adding more dynamic elements and more interesting and engaging encounters and boss fights.

Then you have the combat system that is much more involved and reactive in nature than many games out there. I think people really enjoy that part of the game and appreciate what it brings to the game-play.

MMORPG.com:

Using the same honesty, what are its greatest weaknesses?

Craig Morrison:

I think the most obvious weakness is everything that didn't go well at the games launch. We have now had to work through not only the actual issues and get them resolved but then be faced with the fact that we have to convince people the game is worthy of a second look. Game-play and content issues are relatively straight forward to address, working on improving the general perception of the game takes longer and means we have to ensure the updates are better and better so that players start to have a positive opinion and that the word of mouth about the game improves.

Game-play wise I really want to improve on the guild functionality and those community elements that help keep people enjoying their game-experience. I think that is an area that we can definitely improve on and is where we will be focusing a lot of resources for the next update cycle. We really don't yet offer enough incentives and progression options for guilds and that is something I want to address.

MMORPG.com:

If you could directly address the players who left the game angry and disillusioned shortly after launch, what would you say to them?

Craig Morrison:

I would point to all the improvements, like those listed in this interview that have been made since the game launched. Then I would say that they shouldn't just take my word for it and to them come back and try it for themselves since I have a little bit of a biased opinion in that respect! Players can find a free trial available and there will soon be a reevaluation offer to previous players so they can come back and try it out for themselves. Anything I say really pales into insignificance compared to actually experiencing it for yourself!

MMORPG.com:

There are many who believe that it is unlikely that AoC will draw back a large number of players even with these changes. Can you tell us a little bit about how you plan to draw in old and new players?

Craig Morrison:

I think that in addition to the normal avenues, like trials and re-evaluation offers that the sales and marketing folks take care of the best thing we can do is to continue to improve the game and make sure the game-play experience is as good as it can be. After all, that is what matters most to players.

MMORPG.com:

So, all told, looking back from launch to today, what has been added to Age of Conan that makes it worth our subscription fees?

Craig Morrison:

Short answer - quite a lot! The long answer takes a bit more time! Earlier in the year we summarized it for the interviews I did at GDC in San Francisco, when we last met up in person for an interview with you guys, and I think that list is still relevant. I actually found it quite hard to distill it down to a single page, so the short answer is that a lot has been done, the longer answer breaks down into quite a few areas!

  • New Content We have added countless hours of more content through updates such as Ymir's Pass - the largest playfield yet that comes with an entirely new storyline inspired by the classic Howard tale 'The Frost Giant's Daughter'. Then you have Xibaluku, a new end game dungeon packed with dynamic and engaging boss encounters for maximum level players. In addition we have added countless more quests and rewards to the game for players of all level ranges. The launch dungeons have also been revisited, revamped and generally improved to provide new and more interesting game-play and rewards.
  • Enhancing PVP The world of King Conan is a brutal one and we have made sure to focus on building on the games PVP offerings. One of the key elements that players reported enjoying in the game was the ability to be part of a bloody and exciting game-world and we wanted to build on that. Not only have we added a full PVP leveling system, with a host of rewards we build upon this with a full PVP consequence system that adds a true meaning to PVP combat and allows those that would tread a darker path to actually become criminals based on their actions, opening up a whole new game-play experience.
  • Improved Sieges Building on the desire to have truly meaningful and engaging PVP in every update we are continuing to refine, add to and improve the Siege warfare PVP elements. We are striving to keep adding new features to make guild vs. guild game-play matter more. In the most recent updates new PVP specific resources required to build and repair battle-keeps have been added. These resources must be fought over between players, and can be looted from vanquished foes corpses, adding more intensity and drama to the siege experience.
  • Stability and Performance Our technical team has been hard at work ensuring that there are constant improvements being made to performance and stability. Framerate has been increased on a wider range of computers, memory leaks have been corrected and bugs have been ironed out making the game-play experience a lot smoother and stable for the user.
  • General Improvements The big main features always get the headlines and previews, but we have also gone to great lengths to ensure that the smaller points and general polish also get some care and attention. A huge amount of general improvements and enhancements have been made, some small, some larger, but all combining to provide a better Age of Conan experience. More travel options have been added, more voice-overs, a new friend interface, the raid interface has been improved, a new GUI options mean it's now easier to locate and get into PvP mini-games, tradeskills have been improved, loot rewards have been re-distributed, vanity pets are available as a special reward for those who adventure through the new Xibaluku dungeon... and the list goes on! These changes may never be in the spotlight but they all contribute to improving the experience for players each and every time they log in

...and all of that is before we get down the content of the latest game update! So a lot has been achieved in the last year and I think Age of Conan is a far better offering than it was at its launch last year. So hopefully people are willing to give it another chance and come back and try for themselves to see what has improved and what we have added, and hopefully find that it is a game they can enjoy and have fun with enough to warrant subscribing to the game!

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