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Beyond the MMORPG - Conan

In this Beyond the MMORPG column, Managing Editor Jon Wood takes a look at a small aspect of the recently released Conan game for the XBox 360 and expresses concerns about "franchise" or IP MMORPGs.

As you all can probably imagine, this last week has been a busy one for us over here at MMORPG.com. With the holidays coming up, family to visit, Reader’s Choice and Editorial Awards to plan, illness due to crazy weather and other wacky adventures have kept me away from my PC for the last week save for work, which means that I don’t have a new game to talk about in this week’s Beyond the MMORPG. Fortunately for me, I spent some time this past week watching my brother play the new Conan title for the Xbox 360. While I didn’t see a whole lot of play, like any good loud-mouth, I do have a few comments.

For those of you out there who are interested in this kind of thing, Nihilistic Software is the company behind the game, and THQ are responsible for the publishing.

So, I sit down on the couch to watch my brother play Conan. I’m doing other things, so my attention isn’t really focused on the action on the screen. I look up from time to time, and I see pretty much what I expect to see; impressive visuals. Frankly, the game looks great. It’s gritty, and gory and, if I wasn’t mistaking, even showed the occasional breast or two. Really, in that department, it’s everything you might expect from a Conan game.

Conan really is a hack-and-slash game, which I’m not complaining about, it’s hard to imagine a Conan game without it. The only real problem that I had with the game (and the reason that I am writing this article) came when I heard Conan (and pretty much any other character) open their mouth.

It’s not like I was expecting to hear Arnold’s voice or anything. I come from a theatre background, so I understand the concept of different people playing the same role. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the fact that the guy sounded like he belonged behind a desk somewhere, not roaming the lands in a loincloth.

Once I notice the less-than-impressive voice work, I start to pay a little bit more attention to what was being said, as well as how it was being said. Once I started listening for it, I heard the word “Barbarian” used over and over and over again. Yes, I understand that that’s what Conan was sometimes called, but come on! If variety is the spice of life, then the dialogue in this game is like a glass of water, and I don’t mean a glass of water you get from a tap today with fluoride in it. I mean a glass of plain water.

So, what’s my point? It’s not that Conan isn’t a good game. In fact, I’ve focused on one aspect and one aspect alone. It should be clear that I am in no way commenting on the playability of this game. That being said, this is a deal-breaker for me. I couldn’t take multiple hours of poor voiceovers.

My point then, is simple. When developing a game based on a famous franchise like Conan, it is hard to please everyone, and even the smallest things can be a deterrent for some players that will keep them out of your game.

I make this point because 2008 seems to be a year for IP titles (games based on pre-existing franchises), at least in the MMORPG market and from the perspective of a fan of a franchise, it’s a hard thing to make.

Development teams have a hard enough time creating MMOs when they are working with their own IPs, but when you throw existing franchises into the works, they create any number of new and interesting problems.

Let’s take a look back at my experience with Conan for the 360. I didn’t like the dialogue and the voiceovers. Neither element is critical to gameplay, but because the development team didn’t meet my expectations of what a Conan game should be, I won’t play it. The same goes for Age of Conan or Warhammer Online, both games that I’m currently excited about trying, but if, for example, the dialogue is poor or either game doesn’t hold true to its original source, I simply will not play them.

The bottom line here is that I am far more likely to be turned off by a small element of a game if that game happens to be based in a universe that I know and love while I’m more likely to give leeway to a game in a universe that I’m not so familiar with.

Anyway, I’m off to play Guitar Hero III, a game that has cleverly avoided using any voiceover talent at all.


Jon Wood