MMORPG.com: Can you tell us about the Jade Citadel? Some of the raid concepts are very cool.
CRAIG MORRISON: They really are! I'm very proud of the way in which the designers have managed to take the themes that we chose for the experience in Khitai and translate them into raid game-play. Players will now get to venture deeper into the mysterious Jade Citadel that dominates the Paikang skyline, and is home to the Emperor himself. In the Jade Citadel players are inching closer to the powers behind the evil in Khitai, and these encounters ramp up accordingly.
Raid parties will now experience the dangers of the palace garden, where a mystical creature bound by the emperor is manipulating the forces of nature and make the gardens a domain almost impossible to comprehend for the human mind. Given that Khitai as a whole has been 'warped' in some way by this outside influence, this encounter is almost a metaphor for the corruption that the players have seen throughout their time in Khitai.
The challenge level rises in the majestic stardome of the Jade Citadel, where a mysterious stargazer has been seen tampering with forces from the skies and beyond. The living Zodiac awaits all players foolish enough to enter this domain of madness. This is honestly one of my favorite locations the team have ever put together and make work. I think when I first heard the idea for this encounter in the early design meetings, my gut reaction was 'you want players to do what?' but the team have really pulled it out, and it has made for one of the most interesting raid encounters I think you'll find in any MMO... and that's before you get to the Emperor himself!
And when they do, some might wish they had not tried to hold on to their sanity for so long, as what is awaiting them here is rumored to drive even the strongest men and women across the threshold of madness and eternal damnation.
MMORPG.com: Give us some history on Yah Chieng, what will it be like for players to face the God Emperor?
CRAIG MORRISON: The players have generally figured out by now that the Emperor may only be a step towards the final end game in Khitai. There are potentially older and more powerful forces at play in Khitai, and the Emperor, seen by many of the factions as a false god, is in many ways both a puppet and a manipulator. While he may be being influenced and controlled, he is more than capable of pulling strings of his own!
The encounter with the Emperor himself, without giving too much away, will challenge the players perceptions. In many ways the Emperor's power in Khitai is an illusion of forms, and the powers behind him are hidden and dangerous. The designers have used the concept of illusion and misdirection as the inspiration behind the final confrontation with the Emperor.
Given the entire experience in Khitai is hinged on making choices and choosing factional alliances, it is also appropriate that those daring these encounters will also have to make an important choice as they progress through these new encounters.
MMORPG.com: In terms of the Conan lore, where did you draw your inspiration from for the Jade Citadel?
CRAIG MORRISON: Khitai as a whole was more of an open slate from that point of view. Howard didn't base any stories there, so we have always had a little more freedom there, as opposed to areas that are more fleshed out in the lore, or a direct translation (as we did with Shadows in the Moonlight directly inspiring the Isle of Iron Statues in the recent Savage Coast of Turan adventure pack). In these cases where we have a little more freedom, we have always tried to be inspired by the themes of the Conan tales, and I think the role of the Emperor in Khiati plays into those well, and ultimately of course it all ties back to Conan's actions in the Tower of the Elephant.
MMORPG.com: Update 3.3 is critical for the Priest of Mitra class, what changes can players expect?
CRAIG MORRISON: The Priest of Mitra feat trees have primarily been improved and streamlined while making sure that the actual style of play of the Priest of Mitra class did not change dramatically. Several core spells have been updated to make them more useful and less situational and some have been made more user-friendly, and easier to manage. All the changes were done with the main goal of improving the flow of the gameplay experience of the Priest of Mitra.
MMORPG.com: What led you to make these decisions for the Priest?
CRAIG MORRISON: I think in this case it was just a little overdue. The class hadn't really had any major attention since things got updated for everyone with the 1.5 update back in 2009. Many of the other classes had been adjusted, or improved, with the new game-play systems introduced back then. This was our opportunity to work on a lot of the 'quality of life' type of issues that Priest of Mitra players experienced.
We also wanted to take the opportunity to give their feat trees slightly better definition.
MMORPG.com: How do you feel the class balance is in the game currently? Do you still feel the PvP can be polished?
CRAIG MORRISON: I think there are a few areas that we really want to focus on, both on a day to day level, in your everyday PVP, and then on a second level, look again at some of the auxiliary systems in the future.
On the core level we want to address one of the main sources of debate amongst players and that is the balance between melee based combat classes and the casting classes, and by proxy how the game handles the use of the stamina resource. This has been a sticking point for a while for many players, and we have made various adjustments and changes to try and remedy the imbalances within the system we had. However eventually you have to take a long term view, and recognize that maybe the system you have isn't the right one, and the solution needs to involve moving away from how things are now. That of course means more work, as it is harder to create something from scratch, than it is to simply manipulate the system that already exists.
So these mark a couple of important areas that we feel will have the most benefit to the PVP balance. They are also the areas that the players have more regularly insisted we address. We had always acknowledged that our previous tweaks and adjustments there were very much the 'band aid' temporary solutions for this area. I was never really happy with the fact that we had to prevent certain classes using potions as a stop gap measure (as it was really our only way to immediately enforce some balance). It was a clumsy, albeit effective, piece of re-balancing, so finally getting to address the use of resources in a proper way is welcome.
This revamp was what we have always really wanted to do for balance purposes. It's a not a small change however, so we will be testing it on the public test servers first so that the players can try it out and give feedback ... the problem we often see with significant PVP centric balance adjustments like this is that too many try and give feedback based on how they think it will work , rather than trying it out for themselves, so hopefully players will dive in and test out those changes when they go to test during the summer.
MMORPG.com: You also have made some changes to PvP for the House of Crom. Tell us how you came to these choices?
CRAIG MORRISON: We've added some new social loot to the player drop tables (i.e. the items that can be found in loot when you beat another player in PvP). This was a small addition, and one of the advantages of having those two relatively new systems, allowing generated loot from PVP encounters and of course the vanity system. People like more options for customization and we also want to seed some of these in the game as well, so that they don't only come from the item store.
MMORPG.com: What plans do you have for Age of Conan in 2012?
CRAIG MORRISON: We have a busy schedule planned. Up next are a set of new maximum level versions of some of the existing instances, so that they can also be used in solo and group play at maximum level and let people work towards their progression after they get to level 80. Then we will have more brand new raid encounters with the final encounters in Tier Four, as the players start to reveal the power behind the Emperor. These raids will really take things up a notch! I can't wait for players to see them, as they contain some really cool locations and encounters. Then we will have the next adventure pack expansion for the game. It is currently in pre-production and it should land at the end of the year. We will also be adding a new PVP mini-game in this period to come alongside, and related tothe adventure pack.
We will be announcing details on the new adventure pack relatively soon.
On the system side of things we also have a full plate release wise. We are currently completely revamping the crafting system in the game, and have a host of system updates scheduled throughout the summer, more classes get some attention, starting with the Tempest of Set, and then moving onto the mages. We will also be reworking the use of stamina in the game, as mentioned above, a core feedback point from the PVP community, as well as implementing a multi-feat spec system, and a bit further out we are also looking at the stealth system.
On top of that we have the Dreamworld engine upgrades like the single server technology that we will most likely start to use later in the year.
So we really have a packed schedule ahead of us for 2012, but we wouldn't really have it any other way.