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CES 2007 Preview

Carolyn Koh Posted:
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Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, CES Preview

Carolyn Koh had a chance at this year's CES in Las Vegas to sit down in front of Funcom's upcoming title Age of Conan to get a hands on peek at the highly anticipated MMORPG.

Funcom was represented at CES2007 this year in the Games for Windows area in the Las Vegas Convention Center. I don’t usually brave the “zoo” but did so this year for the sake of MMORPG.com readers.

Despite Windows Vista blue screens of deaths with both computers, we managed to see a little of the newbie experience on Age of Conan. Due to launch in summer 2007, Age of Conan:Hyborian Adventures is three years in the making, and currently in the Friends and Family stage of closed beta.

I spoke with Erling Ellingsen, Product Manager and Jorgen Tharaldsen, Product Director of Funcom, Norway of whom I asked to describe the world of Conan for those not familiar with the IP. Jorgen’s description was quite succinct. “We are brutal barbarians struggling for survival in Hyboria.”

At this point in the world, Conan is not a young adventurer, but King of Hyboria. Although there are three different races, the Stygian, the Aquilonian and the Cimmerian in this world, Age of Conan does not have a faction system, but you do want to curry favor with the King. Always a good thing to be on the side of absolute power, yah?

We started in character creation and we found ourselves on a slave ship. That is the premise; that you’ve escaped slavery and are making your way in this brutal, backward world. As Erling showed me the possibilities, there is one word I can say about the level of physical character customization possible in Age of Conan, and that is “Amazing!” There are over 30 different aspects of physical attributes that you can adjust. For example, just for the cheeks alone, you can adjust the length, the width, the height and the depth. With this, you can create a very gaunt look or fat chubby cheeks.

The same goes for the body. You can create an anorexic woman with huge (and I mean huge!) ta-tas, a man with the physique of Arnie or Pee-Wee Herman as you wish, and as usual, there’s the wonderful single click randomizer. One thing you cannot do is to give your character a pot-belly. Ahem… you are an escaped galley slave after all. But, onto the game and its unique features!

Camp gameplay. Players can interact with the environment in different ways – one of them is to poison the water so NPCs become weakened when they drink. Another is distraction. NPC guards can be drawn off by firing an arrow or throwing a rock to create a disturbance.

“All NPCs have a radius of hearing and sight, and that will change depending on whether it is day or night. How much light there is to see by, how much ambient sound there is to disguise your movement.”

Funcom is still working on their AI to perfect that, but Jorgen tells me, “What we are trying to do though is to use our AI and dynamic scripting so that i.e. an area will change "behavior" at night, like it would in real-life. For instance the streets of a city will see a different kind of life at night than compared to day.”

Now I had to ask about sound, and was told by Jorgen that “Sound is very important to Funcom. There are about 10 – 12,000 sound effects and about 4 CDs worth of music written just for the game.” He went on to describe their proprietary SIM player – originally developed for Anarchy Online – that creates sound and music on the fly. “It’s a live re-mix of music.”

We touched on some unique class skills, such as the ability for Thieves to climb and pickpockets (only NPCs). Spellweaving is another unique ability – that of combining spells together before unleashing them.

“Oh by the way… if you draw too much dark magic, you could end up in hell, tormented by demons.” Ut-oh… now that that’s said, every spell caster is going to want to do it once just to see hell, and fight their way out of it.

Real Combat is Age of Conan’s calling card. Players will be able to control where they direct their blows in combat and if you happen to swing through a group of enemies, everyone within the arc of your weapon will sustain damage. There’s no auto-fire with bows, and there will be mounted combat – where the way you ride counts – i.e. more damage if you are charging than if you walk up and poke someone with a spear.

The Microsoft Xbox360 controller is compatible with the PC and Erling used it to great effect showing off the combat system.

Being set in the brutal, barbarian world of Hyboria, PvP is part of the game. Funcom plans to have Free For All PvP servers as well as regular PvE servers where there will be regions that PvP is active.

Three forms of PvP will be available. The one that is most accessible and could prove to be a lot of fun is Drunken PvP, or Drunken Brawling. With a cool twist – the type and amount of alcohol you consume affects your skills. Some skills may go up, others (such as the ability to actually hit your target) may go down. What sounds like it’s going to be really fun is that levels & equipment will not matter here, just the weapon you are wielding, how well you hit (it’s Real Combat afterall) and how well you hold your booze!

The Mini-Game is your basic arena type games such as King of the Hill and FFA. Players wanting to participate will be matched up by the in-game match-making engine – not only that, the PvP-leveling system divides the 80 levels into 4 PvP tiers, and players will be auto-leveled up to the max level of that tier during the PvP fight to keep the contest challenging.

Finally, there is massive PvP or siege PvP. An end-game type for guilds to battle for the control of keeps in the Border Kingdoms. Siege engines, mounted combat… calvary charges. Woot! All PVP will give you PvP standing that Funcom aims to track on their website.

The Age of Conan website: http://www.ageofconan.com actually has great in-depth information on the game and I urge readers to take a look at it as it will cover more information that a tradeshow article will be able to.

Funcom showed off the game play in full DX10. “A world first!” Jorgen was proud to proclaim. Already rich in colors and detail in DX9, the game looks wonderful in DX10. Gamers need not worry that they have to have Windows Vista as well as Vista capable machines to play Age of Conan when it launches though. Age of Conan will ship using DX9 with the graphics upgrade to DX10 available later in the game.

What about beta applications? “Soon… soon…” was the response.


Carolyn Koh

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn Koh has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.