"It's a mature game. Hyboria is a brutal world. It's savage. It's violent. It's sexy. There's no pink hearts and pretty fireballs. Heads will roll!" Announced Jorgen Thereldsen, Product Director of Funcom. This is the theme of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. "We have boobs in our game!" The demo room was in the basement of the Fairmont hotel and rigged up to look like a dungeon. Booth babes were on hand to pass out grotesque shrunken heads on a string.
Everybody and his brother, including the entire room of media people uploading assets, were connected to the same internet connection, bringing bandwidth down to a narrow pipe, but despite the technical difficulties, Funcom was able to provide an excellent demo. Ever the showman, Jorgen bragged as the group prepared for battle, "See? It's good to be a healer. You have a naked lady buffing you." Well, partial nudity anyway. Funcom was not shy to exploit the Conan IP's blatant sexuality.
We were shown the Black Ring Citadel, a high level dungeon for you and your 23 closest high-level friends to overcome. I parked myself by the Necromancer station and Jason "Athelan" Stone joined me as they showed the crowd a three-person party demo. The Necromancer is Age of Conan's pet class, and a multitude of pets are to be had. Funcom had previously shown the melee before, which I will repeat here for those unfamiliar with Age of Conan's real-time combat.
Unlike many games' point, acquire target and click for auto-combat, the enemy closest to your character is targeted. There are six different moves that you can employ and some arcing moves can also strike other opponents if they are close enough to you. The UI is sparse, but in the middle is a radial indicator which shows where your swing will land. If there is more than one mob in that arc, you will injure all of them. If there are none in range, you will just be flailing through thin air with your weapon. Like real combat, some moves naturally lead to others and players can string them together in combinations, to devastating effect.
Magic is used in much the same manner. Depending on the spell in question and its area of effect, you may injure more than one opponent with it. Having this sort of control in combat means that combat is involving and immersive. You have to pay attention. If you are the type of gamer that likes to have your Cheetos in one hand and your coffee in the other while your character auto-attacks mobs, licking your fingers every now and again to hit that flashing special attack button, this game is not for you.
Back to the Necromancer: Pet classes receive "pet points" as you level, with 8 points achieved at level 75, and different types of pets require different points to cast. We were shown a single point pet consisting of 8 scorpions. These were melee class with the added benefit of a poison attack. Pet controls are your basic aggressive / defensive / neutral (non-attack) stances plus direction - i.e. directing your pet towards battle. You could also direct each of your pets separately. Essentially micro-managing your little horde if you wish.
We were also shown a Reaper - or as Jorgen put it, "We made good use of Jar-Jar Binks here." It was a very tall creature, indeed reminiscent of Jar-Jar, and it was a caster. "It's a two-point pet," Jason told me. They did not have many other pets to show at this demo, but as the crowd thinned and press left for other events, I pressed for more details. At that precise moment, we had run into a gigantic Incubus mob. "Oh," said Jason, "You should see the Demonologist pet! The females have an Incubus and the males have a Succubus."
"What do you think? Buff?"
The Incubus was huge. Horned. Massive chest, six-pack, massive thighs, tiny loin-cloth. Jason and Erling Ellingsen, Product Manager, started playing around with the commands. "You have to watch the idle animation." The Incubus stopped swinging, dropping its massive sword where it sank into the ground. "Watch! It will cycle into the hip-thrust animation." Jason demonstrated, pointing with one hand while resting the other on his hip. Unfortunately, it wouldn't. So Erling took it back into combat readiness. It reached into the ground and hauled out the sword.
"So, how real to life is your art?" Someone asked. "We can see," was the response and Erling moved under the Incubus and swung the camera upwards. So did the artist flesh it out? We could not tell, and I'm not sure if that was fortunate or unfortunate.
It is a dark world, but colors were not muted. They are dense and saturated. It is difficult to describe the look of the Age of Conan. The constraints in place to allow real time combat in an MMOG meant that FPS had to be high. To achieve that, Funcom artists have very creatively used colors and color shading to create the illusion of a texture rich 3-D world. Spell effects are varied but particle density is light. Blood spills and flies, but does not last long. Use of contrast is clever and players are never blinded by spell effects nor does FPS drop in intense combat.
However with this fast pace of combat, I asked Jason how and when chat for coordination could take place. "That's a question that has come up time and again," he admitted, "but don't forget that when we are doing demos, we have limitless health and mana. The actual pace of the game is not quite this fast. There will be time for chat, and there's always voice chat."
"...And, there's always time for dancing and drunken gestures," Jorgen smiled as he demonstrated the multitude of animated emotes in the game. "Emotes can also be scripted together. You can totally have your character staggering around drunk and making rude hand gestures in celebration after a successful battle."
"Why no women avatars?" I asked, remembering the character customization available at CES in January. "Well, we aren't ready to show them yet." was the response. Hmmm, well, stranger things have happened. Lord of the Rings' music system for one, which was developed just months before their launch. Age of Conan will be launched in both a DX9 and DX10 version of the graphics engine. The Xbox Live version will be in DX9 in 2008, and their wish for it, is for the technology to be able to support hybrid servers by then, so that players on both the PC as well as the Xbox Live version can commingle in the same world.