MMORPG.com: Congratulations on six years with Age of Conan! Can you reflect on some of the high points of this epic journey?
Matthew Bennett: Thank you! Age of Conan and its community have had six great years, and though I wasn’t there as a developer for the initial launch, I was there shortly after as a player and almost instantly fell in love with the beautiful and brutal Hyborian world that Funcom had recreated in Howard’s image.
I started working on Age of Conan as part of the Rise of the Godslayer expansion team, specializing in dungeon and raid encounters. In that regard my first development highlights were seeing the players tackling that first content I had ever been a part of creating; seeing them turned into petrified statues by the mighty Basilisk, scratching their heads as they first encountered the star map in our zodiac raid and laughing (quietly) as they fell from the top of the labyrinthine Enigmata of Yag for the first time.
But the highest points for me have come over the last year. As I have become Lead Content Designer I have gotten a lot more autonomy and I really enjoy helping shape the direction of the game. So my real highlights have been developing the World Boss system and seeing the large number of players getting involved in that, shaping the itemization of the game and our most recent addition; finally bringing open world PvP back with a vengeance in our Festival of Bloodshed.
MMORPG.com: You still have a very core active community in the game. How much player input is there now for Conan with design decisions?
Matthew Bennett: I was asked a while back: “what is the best decision you’ve ever made as a game designer?" I thought about that for a while and considered the systems and content that I’ve been a part of and while I’m happy with the vast majority of that, I would say reaching out to the community to bounce ideas off and really trying to understand their needs has been by far the best decision I’ve ever made.
We have a really solid core community that really cares about the license and the game and, I’ll be honest, they know a lot more about some of our intricate systems than I myself ever could (like it is with most MMOs). Of course we have to be careful and analyze exactly what the players are saying and exactly what the underlying problems are, but for sure if someone takes the time to write something productive on the forums I absolutely do my best to read it and give it due consideration.
The community were actually a big part of the recent total revamp of our entire PvP itemization and as a result the disparity between the entry level PvP set and the highest PvP (or PvE) tier is now really quite small and I’m really happy with the results of that.
In fact the whole concept of the Festival of Bloodshed came from some events I scripted in about 6 hours to ‘reward’ the players (who have been asking for a long time for incentives to open world PvP again) that were coming onto our test servers to help test out those gear changes. So really the players can take credit for this rebirth of open world PvP too.
The current way the majority of the community is swaying in is that there is a desire for more end-game raid content and that’s a big part of why we are making a push to completely revamp and ‘unchain’ our current entry raids and bring them to the end game as well as continue to develop for our Palace of Cetriss raid.
MMORPG.com: Tell us about the lore behind Festival of Bloodshed. How does it play into Hyboria?
Matthew Bennett: This actually ties into our 6 year anniversary event quest. Our latest expansions and adventure packs have taken us a fair distance from the origins of the game, distant Khitai and Turan and the serpentmen of the Dragon’s Spine, so we wanted to go back to the gritty low fantasy roots of the game the Picts seemed a great choice for this.
So to quickly summarize the Picts have been cursed by the magics of ancient Acheron, they believe the only way to truly rid themselves of this curse is to spill blood across Hyboria in honor of their gods, Gullah, Jhil the Raven and Jhebbal-Sag. They have set up a number of events in dedication to those gods now all they need is the meat, so to speak.
Of course the denizens of the more civilized cultures of Hyboria are none to happy about this prospect and have begun to setup bounties and the like to fend of the Picts and those willing to participate in their games.
MMORPG.com: The Picts are a huge part of Howard’s world, what is it like working them into the game?
Matthew Bennett: The Picts are awesome, they sum up Howard’s world so well, savage, brutal, and bloodthirsty and with just a hint of fantasy wrapped up in there. Now PvP in AoC is savage and brutal and bloody and that makes the Picts a perfect choice for encouraging it in the open world.
The challenge which arises from this is the Picts are pretty much the perfect antagonist, half-man half beast so making them into a protagonist faction isn’t easy.
Enter the Wolf Pict clan of origins unknown. Now these guys haven’t really featured with any notable presence in AoC until this point and that allows us to use a little bit of artistic license.
They’re a little bit more civilized than the other Picts of Hyboria, that’s not to say you’ll be wanting to invite them into your guild city for a banquet, but at least you can fathom a word from them without being impaled on a spike and having you blood drained as sacrifice to Gullah.
What has allowed these Wolf Picts to grasp an understanding of the common tongue, perhaps it’s the curse afflicted on them by Acheron or perhaps some greater mystery, we’ll have to keep that to ourselves for now.