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Message From the King

Glen "Famine" Swan from Funcom's Age of Conan answers questions, and discusses the game, life, and the industry. Let us know what you would like to hear about.

Author: FC-Famine

Dev-Intro: Producer for Age of Conan Live Team

Posted by FC-Famine Friday April 17 2009 at 10:27AM
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This week starts the beginning of our first set of developer introductions! As mentioned previously, I'm going to start snagging some developers time to time and have them either drop by or answer some questions. Today, it's fitting we start with the right hand man on the project with a interview that helps introduce our victim as well shares some detail about what he does for the project.


So it begins...




Famine: Who are you and what is your current position in Funcom?

My name is Henning Solberg, and I am the Producer for the Age of Conan Live Team.

Famine: Do you have any prior experience in the industry or what made you jump into game development?

I have been with Funcom since the summer of 95’. 14 years in the industry is rather hard to boil down to a few lines of text, but here goes: My first assignment was to establish Funcom’s Quality Assurance (QA) department, and for the first few years I stayed with the QA department as Quality Assurance Manager. In the years that have passed, I’ve been involved in most of the releases that Funcom had produced with a variety of positions like Designer, Lead Designer, Lead Scripter, Director of Online Services, Associate Producer, and finally as the Producer.

Famine: Some may not know what a Producer of the Live Team actually does. Can you tell us what your position entails?

The producer in general is the team leader of the project. The specific responsibilities tend to vary from studio to studio, and from project to project. My current role entails a number of various things with the project by: Planning, organizing, setting overall priorities, staffing, and etc. With that said, the most important task of a producer is to enable each and every team member to do their jobs as efficiently and smoothly as possible. The team makes the game, the producer helps make it happen!

Famine: Can you tell us about the different teams you help manage and a small summary on what their focus is on the game?

There are a number of different teams on the Conan project. Describing what they do can easily become a wall of text, since the number of different things that goes into the development process and how vast it can be running a MMO. So, I’ll try to keep it short, and give a brief rundown of the main teams and their core responsibilities:

  • Systems Team: This team is responsible for the core game mechanics in-game. Just to give a general idea of what they do, they handle the combat system, character development, class system, item system, and loot tables.
  • Content Team: They are the people that design and populate the game world with new cities, immersive adventure playfields and dungeons. They also design the quests and create the many encounters found in Age of Conan. Pretty much everything you could experience when you play the game has been in many ways either developed or influenced by the content team.
  • Code Team: The guys that make it all tick. Most of the stuff the other teams want to do will sooner or later end up on the programmers table. They provide the foundation everything else rests upon.
  • Audio Team: They are responsible for all sound effects and all music. Sometimes working with external composers, musicians, choirs and singers.
  • Localization/Text Team: They write the majority of the game text, and ensure that the quality of the text coming from other teams has proper quality. In addition they organize the translation of the original English text into the other languages you can use when playing Age of Conan (German, Spanish, French, Russian & Polish at this point in time).
  • GFX/Art Team: This team produces all the visual assets you can see in the game: Characters, NPCs, buildings, trees, grass. They make all the animations, and they create early stage concepts of things we want to add to the game.

(Concept Art - Xibaluku)

Famine: Now we have some understanding of who you are and what you do, can you share anything about next update?

Sure! It’s always a joy to talk about what we have in the pipeline. The next update contains a load of changes, improvements and new content. There is way too many of them to list here, so I will just mention two of the most important things. The RPG system has received a major overhaul, and as a result of this items will become more valuable to the players. In addition the next update will contain the Tarantia Common District. Both these things have been in development for quite some time, and for those that are eager to test it out, feel free to check it out on our public Test Server. Keep in mind though, that what you can see on the Test Server is work in progress and subject to change.

Famine: We talked for awhile just a few weeks ago about how we determine the focus for the updates. Can you share some insight on how we determine this focus?

Information and feedback from a lot of different sources factor into how we decide what to focus on:

  • We play the game daily.
  • We pay attention to what the players are saying, both in the game and on the forums. Reports containing summaries of the mood, opinions and wishes of the players are compiled, and evaluated, on a regular basis.
  • Feedback from the Test Server community. The Test Server is an important development tool for us, and we value the feedback from the players there highly.
  • Our QA department provides constant feedback.
  • Customer Service provides us with information about the issues that generates work for them.
  • A very extensive backlog of things we would like to add to the game.

These are just some of the things we factor when helping determine the focus for one update to a series of updates.

Famine: I'm all about community so I have to ask how important is the community to you?

The community is very important to us! The on-going feedback and communication with the players is a huge part of what makes MMOs so enjoyable to work on. The players help us shape the game. Hopefully we make the right decisions to facilitate for hours and hours of entertainment and challenges for the future of Hyboria!

Famine: There has been a lot of positive feedback lately from the community and the press with the recent updates. There have also been some concerns and issues still on the horizon. DO you have any input on what you've read on the interwebz?

Positive feedback is always very nice to get, and we have been fortunate to see more and more of it lately. Seeing that people enjoy what we are doing to the game is very satisfying. And, knowing a lot about what we have in store for the upcoming months I hope that we can continue to build on the current trend.

Famine: A lot of players ask this and I think it's fitting we ask you this. Do you currently play the game and do the other developers you help manage also play?

I try to play the game most days. Sometimes I manage to find time for just a few minutes, other times I can play for hours. We need, and encourage, all the developers to play the game as much as possible. We even have mandatory playtime inside of business hours to make sure that everyone gets that opportunity, even in the really busy periods. Knowing the game from a player’s perspective is vital when we decide what to focus on.

Famine: Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?

If you have gotten all the way to answer number 10, I'd just like to say thank you for taking the time to read through it all. :-)


Updates are Coming!

Posted by FC-Famine Monday April 6 2009 at 1:48PM
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I really wanted to get something published last weekend because of the insistent poking I’ve received on the course of preparing something new. I’ve still fail short due to all the craziness going on over here at headquarters (slacker) but I will soon make up for it later on down the road! Nonetheless, those of you who have not kept up-to-date with the current happenings should know that we have been crazy hard at work with launching the free trials; the next big update and picking ourselves back up from GDC.

(Ymir's Pass - Developers slaving away. I think if you look hard enough you will spot Craig and Henning)

Free Trials

Before I spew into it, let me just toss a shameless plug of the free trials. We are happy to have launched the trials and we’re also hoping to see some fresh feedback from those trying out the game for the first time or even those who might be returning for the new meat. I highly recommend that you head on over to the MMORPG.COM Age of Conan community forums and toss us some feedback on your initial reactions to the game or just general feedback on things you like and even dislike about the game. I frequently troll the forums here and I know many developers do as well thus anything that pops up there, big or small, will still be read.

Developer Update

Moving along here, this week I have a small update on the future developers that will be touching base with us on the blog. I sat down with our game director and our producer of the live team to discuss what special guests I can expect to kidnap. I’m happy to announce that the actual producers will step up to the plate and stop by to introduce themselves as well toss us frequent updates on their progression with the game. Just to give a peek, the producers and associate producers will represent the following teams:

• Live – The current game as we see it now.
• Content – Dungeons, Quests, and etc.
• System – Classes, Crafting, and etc.

This will be very interesting for of those who are becoming onlookers because we will surely introduce some new faces to the crowd over the coming weeks. I think the new faces will also open some new doors because of the new informative communication from those who lurk in the darkness from the public eye.

(Ymir's Pass)

Advocate Update

The last blog update was on the Advocate introduction. This week I wanted to share that we have recruited the bulk of our Advocates and have since then put them in place to help round of the current class concerns, issues, and suggestions for the communities they help represent. We have also completed our first round of the feedback process by asking each of those class Advocates to list 1 top issue (assumed bugs) that they feel the community sees as the biggest issue for the class they represent. That list of issues were compiled and sent off to the developers for feedback. We then took the developer feedback and tossed it back at the Advocates to update their top issue list and pass the information on to the class communities.

Now that the initial phases of the feedback process have completed, I’ll just drop right into why we only asked for 1 top issue per class and what ground we look to cover.

This first step of asking for just 1 top issue proves that the process is in place and is currently working how the Advocates want and how we want. The next step is to take it further by covering more ground and doing bigger concern, issue, and suggestion lists per class in the form of waves. What this means is that instead of asking for all top issues for all the classes from within the community, we will ask for the top 10 concerns, issues, or suggestions for 1 class at a time. That way we don’t end up tossing a 30 page report to the developers and overwhelming them with updates to get us the feedback now. Instead, we will take smaller steps to improve on the feedback process time as we have seen similar programs become burdened in that step of the process.

The last thing to mention here is that we do notice the communication of the developer feedback on those Advocate issues is lacking in visibility within the overall community. We notice that we need to develop better channels in which the Advocates can provide updates as well what we can do to increase visibility of those updates. This has been the only visible problem with the feedback process with the program and we aim to improve it for the future. That way you can pop in the class forums, see the top stickied lists, and then see the developer feedback sent to the Advocates in those specific forums as a whole.

Until we meet again!