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Dev Profile: Ole Herbjørnsen

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The Lead Designer of Age of Conan talks about his role and how he attained it

In a special Saturday edition of our weekly Thursday feature, we bring you a profile of Age of Conan Lead Designer Ole Herbjørnsen. Herbjørnsen works for Norway's Funcom, who have also developed the MMP Anarchy Online and the adventure game The Longest Journey.

MMORPG.com: Tell us a little about your childhood. How did school and where you live influence your choice to join the video game community?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

My first foray into the world of computer games started when my father was buying my sister and myself a Commodore 64 back in 1985/1986. He already had a PC at home for work, and since we occupied it, he came to the conclusion that everybody would be better off if we got a separate game console! :)

MMORPG.com: Can you remember your first video game? How often did you play, what other games had an influence on you?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

As I mentioned above I started playing video games back in 1985 on the C64. I played lots of different games and off the top of my head I can remember: Bozo the Clown, Blue Max, Defender of the Crown, Wiz Ball, Hunt the Bismarck and Carrier Command.

Back in those days I would typically play 4-5 hours per day. A friend of mine had a C128 with a floppy disc, and we would play lots of different games either head-to-head or in coop (like Wiz Ball). Since the graphics back then were pretty primitive (and took a turn for the worse when I transitioned to the 80086 IBM XT with CGA-graphics!), I prefer deep and involving gameplay over fancy graphics. My favorite genres are probably strategy, role-playing games and simulator games.

MMORPG.com: Besides games what other influences brought you into your career? Whether it is books, movies, or artwork everyone has different tastes, tell us about yours.
Ole Herbjørnsen:

Besides my father getting me hooked on video games at an early age, I've always liked fantasy and sci-fi. Even though I enjoy reading a good book or watching a movie, it generally leaves me wanting more. I like to explore "what if" scenarios, and with a video game, I am allowed to have an impact and control the course of events. I enjoy watching a Babylon 5 episode or reading a Conan novel, but in all honesty I would rather immerse myself by standing on the bridge of an Omega destroyer or chopping Vanir heads right and left. Besides I enjoy the amount of time you can actually spend in a game, taking a break from reality and getting into "the zone".

MMORPG.com: What was your first job in games? What other games have you worked on?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

Working at Funcom is my first real job in the gaming industry. I did a couple of projects with some friends while studying computer science at university, but these were generally too ambitious for our limited set of resources.

MMORPG.com: What is your job at Funcom? How did you get your foot in the door?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

One of my friends from university got a coder position at Funcom a couple of years back, and he recommended me for a designer position. A couple of interviews later and I got hired as a content designer. I've worked as assistant lead designer and now I am the lead designer on Age of Conan.

MMORPG.com: Take us through a typical day of work on Funcom while working on Age of Conan, what is it like when you show up at the office?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

We usually start with a lead morning meeting at around 9 am every day. At these meetings all leads, the project manager and game director gather and discuss various issues which have surfaced, be it a nasty bug, coordination with marketing, milestone and feature changes etc. At 10 am the entire team gathers and we typically spend 5 to 10 minutes going over issues which concern the team as a whole. All good things come in threes they say, and we have a quick designer meeting afterwards where we share information that was not relevant to the entire team.

Once all these mandatory meetings are dealt with, I spend time on workflow improvements, quest design reviews, personnel issues (luckily very rarely), coordinating with Quality Assurance etc. Other than that my job description is a bit difficult to fill out and no two days are the same. Lots of issues will pop up during the day; it may be hectic and stressful at times but this is also the kind of job I enjoy. We have a lot of talented people working on the team and I feel privileged and fortunate to be given the chance to be part of such a team.

MMORPG.com: Are there any friends or family who had a major impact on your career or chasing dreams that you'd like to talk about, do they play games?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

Well, my parents allowed me to play as much games as I wanted (maybe a bit too much!) as long as I did my homework. Most of my buddies also played games, we used to have LAN-parties etc., where we would gather and play different types of games together, and we would buy and read gaming magazines, discuss the reviews, test games and discuss strong and weak sides of game design (these discussions could go on for hours!). Some of them later went on to study computer science, and I felt that was the natural choice as well. As far as I know, though, I am the only one who ended up actually working in the gaming industry -as of yet.

MMORPG.com: The video game industry continues to grow very quickly. What are your hopes for games in the future?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

I hope the focus for games in the future can return more to game play and less on fancy graphics with the latest bells and whistles, be it single player games, multiplayer games or MMOs. Ideally, you would have both to appeal to a broader audience, but if I had to make a choice between the two, game play is always king. This is one of the topics I will be discussing in my online blog. You are of course welcome to chip in with your two cents as well. The address is: www.ageofconan.1up.com

MMORPG.com: How have things been progressing with Age of Conan? Have you enjoyed working on such a strong IP as Conan?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

The development of Age of Conan is going really well. We're right on track and the game is definitively looking really, really good at this point. Creating these games is so much work - it's like creating four games at the same time - but when working with so many talented individuals, it is just a joy to see how the game evolves every time I log in for some playtime. I constantly find something new that's added since last time. Personally, I had only limited knowledge of Conan before starting to work at Funcom. However, during the first few weeks I read all the original works and several pastiche books as well. This opened my eyes to a different kind of fantasy universe, more brutal, less civilized, more evil, in a word, conanesque. From a design stand-point having such a strong IP as Conan is both a blessing and a curse. We have to be much more aware of potential lore issues than if we did not have an IP to follow (or if it was developed in-house). On the other hand it gives us lots of inspiration and background information which we can use as a basis for our game.

MMORPG.com: Is there anything you would like to write to the readers of MMORPG.com that we have not spoken about?
Ole Herbjørnsen:

I want to thank everyone who shows interest in Age of Conan. I see that we've had many votes from the MMORPG.com readers, and it's incredibly satisfying to see that people are anticipating our game. We're working very hard on giving everyone the game play experience that we have promised, and we're really eager to show more stuff from the game. The coming months are going to be exciting for everyone who follows Conan!