MMORPG: For those who may not have been following AoC these past few months, can you give us a good rundown of House of Crom and what it does for players?
CRAIG MORRISON: It's a really cool location, massive and very epic. While strictly speaking it is a dungeon in many ways it's really a playfield as it is really quite a vast location.
Inside the two House of Crom dungeons, players will revisit what remains of the temple created by the Atlanteans, and discover for themselves what happened thousands of years ago. House of Crom is actually made up of two vast dungeons. One social dungeon that supports multiple groups at the same time, and one six man dungeon. These areas are the largest indoor dungeons we have created to date, and there is a lot of great game-play and encounter crammed into the ancient halls.
The Threshold of Divinity is a social dungeon for up to four six-player groups for max level characters with nine separate encounters. Sent to aid the Cimmerians in driving out the Vanir desecrators, they will fight enemies both old and new, solve ancient mysteries, and learn the truth behind the House of Crom, and what happened there. And they might find that some puzzles are better left unsolved.
Having this operate as a social dungeon there will also be some challenges that require co-ordination across groups, these won't be essential to your experience, but they will offer a very different game-play experience and some of the best moments this dungeon offers...if you can figure out the mysteries involved. Having a multiple group settings also introduces all these cool new mechanics that we can play with.
The Vile Nativity is more traditional and is a six-player group dungeon for max level players. There are seven encounters in all; two of them optional. From the long-forgotten library where the Atlantean scholars once studied, to the treasury room where the wealth of Atlantis, was locked away, we are offering players a dungeon rich in lore and storytelling. Those who seek it could perhaps even learn snippets of the Atlantean language for themselves, unlocking even more clues into the history of the fall of Atlantis. Expect to experience everything from dodging explosions to working with unexpected allies; gargantuan foes to cryptic Atlantean riddles. It's really a cool game-play experience that matches the location perfectly.
The team have done a great job with our instanced content, and I think we have some of the best focused team game-play experiences out there right now, and House of Crom is another example of this.
The location is suitably epic, the game-play is intriguing and tells lot of interesting stories, and it will be very interesting to see how players react to the social parts. I can't wait for players to get to experience what has been done there.
MMORPG: It’s most a max-level update, right? Is there anything in the new update for the new to mid-level players to look forward to? If not, are there any plans to go back and revisit some older areas?
CRAIG MORRISON: Well, we focused a lot on that through 2011, so it was time for the max level players to get a good chunky update again. With areas like Ardashir, with its scaling instance, and areas like The Breach and the Forgotten City, we added quite a bit to the mid-game in 2011, so this time out it is the turn of the maximum level players to feel the proverbial content love!
We have also already being going back through some of the older areas, and those in the mid-ranges...for example The Fields of the Dead recently got a revamp, a cleanup and even some new quests.
MMORPG: The Threshold of Divinity Dungeon seems to be more geared towards puzzle-solving than fighting. What inspired this type of “social dungeon” experience?
CRAIG MORRISON: There are mysteries to solve while fighting! We can't drop the fighting, that wouldn't be very barbaric now would it? But yes, we have taken a slightly different approach than many would on this one. We really wanted to get back to the days when everything wasn't laid out clearly with a glowing icon or a breadcrumb trail. There are still your standard, expected quests, but we were really drawn to the idea of placing something in there that would require the players to think about it.
In many ways, while it definitely bucks the trend of the instant gratification culture that we live in, we didn't think there was anything wrong with also adding some hidden things that might give even more satisfaction when they are unlocked. Following a glowing icon on a map doesn't always allow the players to show off their smarts. There is a place for that to be sure, but there should also be a place for asking a little more of the players on occasion as well!
MMORPG: There’s been a lot of talk about exploration for House of Crom. Is that one of the things your team hopes to continue in future updates? We’ll admit: exploration has been sorely missing from a lot of MMOs these days. It’d be nice to tell players to “go figure it out” again.
CRAIG MORRISON: Exactly! Hiding these mysteries in there is fun, and I think players appreciate it. It also acknowledges those that like the lore, and enjoy the quest dialog (and it doesn't hurt we have some kick-ass writing there), and enjoy figuring our complex game-play goals. It is also importantly not divorced from the game-play. We don't think that just having 'some random lore updates' as separate text or a book hidden somewhere is anywhere near as fun as actually weaving it together with the high-end game-play. There is a real encounter to unlock there, something even the min-max power-gamers will be interested in unlocking. So you might be appealing to different motivations - 'I really want that epic sword' against 'I love a good mystery to solve with friends' - but both serve to get people invested in the location.
I really love that we are still able to do that with players on occasion.
MMORPG: The Vile Nativity on the other hand seems like a more traditional experience. What has the team done to make sure it’s “new” feeling in its own right?
CRAIG MORRISON: That's been a challenge for the team, in particular as this dungeon, and it's lay out was actually started years ago and then shelved. So the current team inherited it half done and unloved for quite a while, but they did an amazing job with it. One of the biggest boons is that we have our new lighting updates in the Dreamworld engine (the engine that powers both Age of Conan and The Secret World) and we can finally truly do an indoor location this large justice. The place just feels amazing, it has a fantastic old and cold atmosphere, so when you start being assaulted by ghosts and the remnants of this long lost civilization, it feels perfectly placed. The art team have done an amazing job there, and the game-play folks followed suit with some great encounters. The current team have learned a lot since they started, the instances last year had some great encounters in them, and those in the House of Crom further that standard. I am immensely proud of them, and the quality they have produced. I honestly think our instance game-play stands up well against anyone out there in the MMO space.
MMORPG: One last thing – there’s a lot of new loot for players in this update. Has there been any updates to crafting as well? It seems like one aspect of AOC that hasn’t gotten a lot of publicized love lately.
CRAIG MORRISON: Well, we agree, and that's why we announced late last year that we are in the middle of completely re-vamping the trade-skill system in the game. Top to bottom. We didn't want to just band aid the current system as we felt that it just wasn't interesting enough, so we committed to giving it a more complete and thorough overhaul, and will hopefully come out the other end with something deep and engaging, and closer to some of the older classic implementations of trade-skills rather than the 'just click for item' style of more recent games. So games like Star Wars Galaxies, are inspiring us a little there, with maybe a dash of Diablo, and some modern touches.
We will be talking a lot more about this as we move forward, and we are aiming for having something for people to test and play with early in the summer. It is a major re-vamp so we do have a little ways to go yet.
MMORPG: Thanks so much for your time, Craig! If there’s any one thing you want to tell folks about Conan in 2012, now’s the time!
CRAIG MORRISON: Thanks for the time, and after all the great content we launched in 2011, we really want to keep it going into 2012. With the trade-skill revamp and more new content, we are really excited about the depth we can add to the game this year. If you haven't tried the game in a while then now is a great time to check things out in Hyboria again. After all, with the free to play option, you can dive right in and check things out for yourself!