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Age of Conan: Unchained Interviews: The Savage Coast of Turan Interview

By Garrett Fuller on August 31, 2011

MMORPG.com:

Tell us about the back lore for Savage Coast of Turan. How did the story develop?

Craig Morrison:

The story was really inspired, as always, by the themes in Howard's original tales. Conan always, rightly, had a distrust of 'civilization', he saw through the machinations of politicians and despised corruption, so of course we love to weave conspiracy stories into the so-called 'civilized' societies that the player interacts with in Hyboria. That was really the starting point for the story in Turan. It might start of small, but players will soon realize that there is a grand plot at play in Turan, and it will be up to them to get to the bottom of it. Along the way they get to experience some great characters and storytelling that is very much in keeping with the Conan license.

This is mature subject matter as it were, and not for the faint of heart. Pirates in Hyboria are not dandy, eye-patch wearing lovable rogues, they are brutal, dangerous, whoring, criminals who must be treated with both respect and caution. The savages you find hidden on the islands of the Vilayet Sea are truly savage, and have no respect for the living. Man, woman or child, all are at risk from these brutal foes, who see us simply as food, or ingredients for their shaman's brews. The Kings, generals and priests of Ardashir plot and scheme behind each others backs. There are rarely 'good guys' and 'bad guys' in Hyboria, morality is usually defined by who you are allied with. It is in all those shades of grey that the true colors of Hyboria really lurk, and I love the way that we bring that to life.

So the inspirations for stories in that kind of a setting really come easy, because you are not restricted as much by typical fantasy stereotypes of good and evil. The boundaries there are much more ambiguous in a world like Hyboria. In many ways I always thought it is why the character of Conan has resonated with audiences so strongly down the years. He always cut through the crap and acted in his own honest way. It might be brutal at times, but it is that brutal honesty, often expressed with the thrust of his sword, that is part of the appeal of the character. You could say that Conan vents our frustrations in a way we can't. Therefore we always try and imbue the content we create, with that idea in mind.

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MMORPG.com:

What ties to the movie are you putting into this expansion?

Craig Morrison:

Given the time difference, the movie is set some twenty plus years before the game, we focused more on a couple of the characters. Artus and Ela-Shan, both of whom you will get to see in the movie. In our game Conan is now king of Aquilonia so he cannot always easily go and aid old friends, so instead the players have been sent to Turan to aid Conan's old friends in their current adventures.

MMORPG.com:

As Conan fans, are you excited about the movie and the re-imagining of the property?

Craig Morrison:

Very much so. We have been a part of the re-imaging really, for over five years now, the team at Paradox Entertainment, who own the Conan license have done an amazing job at making sure that all the different license holders approach things in a fairly consistent way, that focused on the core elements from the original Howard tales. So it is great to see it come to life on the screen. The Hyboria you see in the movie, feels like the same world the game is set in, or that which you see in the Dark Horse comics, and that is a great testament to the way that the license has been treated by Paradox.

MMORPG.com:

How has the Unchained model been working for the game? Have you seen a rise in playership?

Craig Morrison:

The new Unchained version has been a great success, we are very happy with how it has performed. The indicators are up pretty much across the board. Revenues have doubled, activity on the servers is up four fold, subscriber numbers are growing, and we are getting hundreds of thousands of new players coming through the doors. It has exceeded our expectations to be honest, and we have been very pleased with the reception, in particular from our existing players. Everyone likes to see more players in their game, and this change has achieved that. It puts us on a very sound footing for the years ahead.

MMORPG.com:

What aspects of the game do you feel have improved most over time?

Craig Morrison:

I think, three years in, that list is too long for the confines of one single answer. The game has improved in so many areas, I could take a few pages just to list them all in detail. Personally though, my own favorite element is how the team have handled the settings, storytelling and linked it to the gameplay and developed this tremendous sense of place, and action. The instances in particular, whether it is solo or team content, keep getting better and better as the team get better with their tools, and our platform matures. It is one of the best parts about working on an MMO, you genuinely do get better and better at producing content as you go along.

MMORPG.com:

What parts of Savage Coast of Turan are you most excited about?

Craig Morrison:

That's almost an unfair question, as I dislike picking out single areas of an offering that the team have put so much effort into. I have been playing through and testing all of the areas over the last few weeks, and can honestly say they all offer something fun, depending on your area of interest. If I absolutely had to name one element that most please me, it is usually the way that the feeling and mood of the areas are captured. Our game engine is capable of creating such visual delights that it is great to see how well the art and world design team combine to weave these intricate moods and atmospheres into each area. Dead Man's Hand is suitably brooding, The Isle of the Iron Statues is basked in the midnight moon that gives it this very atmospheric feeling. Fort Ardashir has some fantastic areas, in particular the location for the final boss fights, and the Temple of Erlik takes great advantage of our new lighting tools that we got earlier in the year with the Dreamworld update...and all that is before you get to explore the Persian influenced coast of Ardashir itself.

For me personally it is usually that sense of true 'world building' that gives me the most satisfaction. I have always been somewhat of the explorer type, and how well we realize the world of Howard's Hyboria always please me, even before we consider the gameplay. Thankfully, the designers have been rising to the challenge as well, and the new content is also top notch, populating that wonderful world with some engaging and interesting content as well!

MMORPG.com:

With the new model how are you now developing for Age of Conan, has the process changed?

Craig Morrison:

It hasn't really changed as a result of the new business model. We did get new tools and updated tools with the Dreamworld update early this year, and that has improved our content creation tools, and the visual tools we have to work with, so that is more what drives change in our production processes, and that is more about an increase in efficiency, rather than a fundamental shift in the principles behind the team. The Producer, Per Storløkken, has done a great job with the team, and they have really come into their own this year. We took a core of veterans that worked with us in Oslo, and moved them to the new studio in Montreal. Then hired a very dynamic group of younger designers and local talent here in Montreal, and they have meshed together brilliantly, I am very proud of the current Age of Conan team. That's really been the core change over the last year or so.

MMORPG.com:

What can we expect going into 2012 for Age of Conan?

Craig Morrison:

A lot more! After the Savage Coast of Turan adventure pack, we will see a pretty sizeable free live update later in the year, with the House of Crom instances and the completion of the tier four raids in Khitai. Then we will be announcing a new adventure pack for the first half of next year, which we have started pre-production on.

In addition we have some great technical advances coming up with the Dreamworld technology, and most importantly there is the so-called 'single server' technology. This update, that is currently in internal prototyping, will ultimately allow us to dynamically manage where players play, and who with, maybe even putting some of that choice into the hands of the players. So for example all the players who tag themselves as 'roleplaying' could get grouped together in the outdoor general world, but could then team up seamlessly with any other player when it came to signing up for group content, like mini-games, or group instances. It is an expansion on the kind of cross-sever technology you have seen games like World of Warcraft implement, and try to add a dynamic layer that could give us, and maybe even players, more control over their play experience.

Since we are talking about slightly longer term plans for 2012 and such, it also worth noting that we are starting to look at some of the other areas of the game, that up until now haven't been as important as the live updates. Prime amongst them being the tradeskill system. We haven't quite landed on the final scope of any changes, as that's exactly what we are assessing now, but we are looking at that area, as everyone agrees it is an area that could add far more value to the game if it was given some love and updating.

So there are exciting times ahead for the game, and we are very much looking forward to the next year!

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