Fia Tjernberg Interview & New Engine Video
MMORPG.com: Can you give the readers a background on Anarchy Online?
Fia Tjernberg: Anarchy Online celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2011! I talked to one of the original developers recently while down at GDC in San Francisco and it was inspiring to hear him talk about the production of AO after so many years.
When I started working for Funcom in 2008, almost the whole development team was new like me, most of them people with remarkable talent hired directly from the player community. I've worked with these guys and girls for four years now, with a couple of recent additions, and I know why they get up in the morning and it's not because Funcom serves the best coffee in town. It's because we believe in the future of Anarchy Online, and we think that you will enjoy it if you aren't already.
We have introduced many expansions and content updates over the years, and I am now proud to present a new beginning – the first real video to reveal in game footage from our new graphics engine.
This first video is showing off the features that we feel already look great, specifically dynamic grass, shadows, water, and god-rays. The recurring desert zone starring in the video is Wartorn Valley, an area that for me really captures the nature of this game; a post-war era ridden by sandstorms, robotic scavengers and horribly mutated lab experiments.
As we get closer to releasing a beta client you will see more videos focusing on features like character detail and environment effects and possibly a before-and-after shot, and I will have a hard time not accidentally leaking the .exe before it's ready from an anonymous email address hosted somewhere in north of Sweden because I am very excited to give this to you.
MMORPG.com: Tell us about the upgrades coming to the game. How will it change?
Fia Tjernberg: The visual style of AO is very unique, with a sort of post-modern spin on science fiction and it contains a great deal of humor and warmth. This doesn’t necessarily shine through to a new player who might be used to a certain graphical standard, though, so the engine upgrade will bring to Anarchy Online the same core rendering technology as the other Dreamworld projects at Funcom (Age of Conan, The Secret World).
This is very exciting to us because both AoC and its expansion have won numerous awards for their graphics, so we couldn't have picked a better engine to go with for graphical quality. Now of course this will not automatically turn Anarchy Online into AoC, but the team gets to upgrade the game's art assets to make use of the new engine features so we will see great improvements nonetheless.
Once we've switched over, we will continue to support both clients for a transitional period, to give people time to migrate to the new engine. During this period, the existing engine will still be available as a fallback, just in case we need to fix issues we can only find when we release the engine into the wild.
I'm just talking about the engine upgrade right now, but of course we are also upgrading the starting experience and the game systems, but I 'm sure we'll get into that in a later question!
MMORPG.com: The game has stood the test of time, what do you think its secret is?
Fia Tjernberg: I am actually very surprised that the science fiction genre hasn't been more successful than it has been, but I think part of what makes AO so unique is because it's not a perfect utopian world with shiny blue walls restricting you from going places you can get hurt, but instead a post-war era where nothing is a certainty, and you can go anywhere you like – you just have to use your smarts, something we can relate to.
That, and the fact that it allows you to make any type of character you want, as we try to avoid level and profession locks as much as possible, so the only limit of your greatness is your imagination.
While Anarchy Online has levels and classes, they are put together in a completely novel way, because quite frankly the original team had little to copy. So while these upgrades are a lot of work, everyone is really excited about taking a game as unconventional as AO and giving it a modern appearance, without losing the uniqueness – since there's nothing like it out there!
MMORPG.com: When it was launched Anarchy Online was a risk in terms of making a sci-fi style game in a market of fantasy games. Tell us what that was like?
Fia Tjernberg: When Anarchy Online first launched it was one of the very first graphical MMOs, and it set many standards for the games we see today. They did take a risk – doing things that hadn't been done before. I imagine that the team working on it at the time really believed in this game, and they didn't see it so much as a risk – but an opportunity to create something new. I try to have a similar attitude. (:
MMORPG.com: As Game Director, you seems to have a lot of plans for the game, can you tell us about the new direction?
Fia Tjernberg: Anarchy Online is extremely relevant today, because it's a game that offers more customization and freedom than many of the competing MMORPGs. I can see a recent trend in the demand of these more open sandbox systems, because it allows the player to be creative with mechanics and enjoy a tailored play experience, and I personally think this is really interesting and something that we as developers are continuing to explore.
During the years the game has taken interesting turns, and after this many years of production my most important contribution as a creative leader will be to unify our content and make it more accessible, ensuring that AO can be successful even amongst modern competitors.
As part of this we're working towards a massive overhaul of our systems mechanics and content interaction. We want even more of the game mechanics to be visible to the player, offering more choices when it comes to customization, as well as offering better support for all different play styles.
Another part is releasing a new starting area – nay strike that – a completely new starting experience. We still have many newcomers, and although it's a lot easier to begin today than it was when it first launched, the game has improved so much these past years, so we feel the starting experience should be updated to reflect this and do the game full justice.
Two new areas are being built right as we speak, where you will master your chosen profession and take a stand in the conflict between Omni-Tek – an intergalactic hyper corporation, and the Clans – the anarchist rebels of Rubi-Ka. You'll get to drive hovercraft vehicles, customize body implants, loot a massive amount of stuff, use duct-taping skills to improve your equipment, duel your friends - and much more!
Choose your allies carefully!
MMORPG.com: What is something you’d like to say to players about Anarchy online that they may not know?
Fia Tjernberg: AO has 14 professions available to you, so there's something for everyone! Perhaps the Enforcer – not so brainy – but charmingly equipped with a huge construction beam? Maybe the Bureaucrat – able to charm anyone that comes their way, only to sue them afterward? You might be interested in the Engineer – building and commanding nasty slayer robots? Or perhaps the Fixer itself – a true anarchy icon, a dirty trickster with more than one illegal tool up its sleeve. Take a look for yourself on our official site and decide which one will suit you! (:
We’ve had an extremely popular, time-unlimited, Free-to-Play program available for many years now, offering access to Classic Anarchy Online, set on the planet of Rubi-Ka.
You will be able to team up and level in dungeons, randomly generated missions, or through outdoor hunting, and if you simply want to keep to your own for a while you can choose to take on daily missions as well. You'll also have access to massive multiplayer PvP, team PvP and duels.
When you subscribe, you'll immediately get access to the expansions; new areas to explore, more customization, mechanized vehicles, and additional levels and gear to really start pushing the power of your character.
MMORPG.com: What do the new graphics and engine upgrades allow the team to do that was not available before?
Fia Tjernberg: Lots of things! We have re-modeled all the character heads in the game, going from a puny ~200 poly count per head to more respectable meshes of ~2000 polys, allowing for all those nice features like normal mapping and specular mapping to occur. There are 362 unique heads in AO, so it has been quite a large task, but the result is simply breathtaking.
The artists are polishing the characters' bodies too, alongside making all new rocks and trees. The quality of our outdoor environments has drastically improved, specifically when it comes hand in hand with dynamic shadows and grass that moves as your character walks through it. We are currently improving the cities in a similar fashion, with new building meshes, texture upgrades, and all sorts of other great new features.
MMORPG.com: What are your plans for AO in the coming months of 2012 after the upgrades go in?
Fia Tjernberg: We try to keep an open communication with the community, listening to feedback on what needs improving and what they like to see next, so we are continuously releasing updates to Anarchy Online including both improvements and new additions. Once we’ve released these significant upgrades all of our resources will focus on all new content. I would personally like to see more of Rubi-Ka, and the conflict between Omni-Tek and the Clans.
I shouldn't be mentioning any specifics or they start to go prematurely wild on the forums (; but I can't help but reveal to you something that we're working on that I am very excited about – our new player market! A browser based trade market, making it possible to buy and sell things to other players directly by utilizing the in game mail system. It will be available with the next update, and patch notes and release date is to be announced.
And by the way – we are hiring!