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Dana Massey Posted:
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From AGC – Conversation with Jorgen Tharaldsen

Funcom’s sophomore title Age of Conan is currently in Alpha testing. At the Austin Game Conference we met with Jorgen Tharaldsen for breakfast to discuss the upcoming MMORPG.

“We can play the game now,” said Tharaldsen of Conan. “It makes you want to play more.”

A staff of almost 70 people is hard at work in Norway on the product, compared to 17 full-time on Anarchy Online, which was first conceived in January of 2003 and officially entered production in September of that year.

“It is getting a lot more expensive to make these games if you want to compete,” observed Funcom’s Product Manager.

Age of Conan strikes new ground in several areas. Most notably, it is a single-player and MMO hybrid. Players create their characters and play a full single-player campaign until level 20. They estimate the single-player portion will last roughly as long as other popular RPGs such as Fable. This aspect of the game has four branching story arcs built in, and will require online registration to avoid piracy, although Tharaldsen was quick to point out that no fee is required until online play begins.

Story is another key to the game. As the inventors of instancing in online games, Funcom continues this trend in Age of Conan. The game places the player in broad, story-drive instanced quests. However, do not fear. Once the online game begins, online it is. They may have invented instancing, but they will be careful not to overuse it to the point of undermining the social aspects of the title.

Funcom also addresses boring combat with this release. Similar to an FPS, Age of Conan has no targeting. Instead, players hit where they swing; you use the number pad to direct your attacks to six key areas on the body.

The game also does not have ‘attack feats’ in any traditional sense. Instead, players must learn to use their different strikes in tandem and realize which strategies work and which do not. What is more, players can fight from the back of mounts in much the same way.

Formations are also a large part of the game and with plans for collision detection in the game, players should be given a tactical experience unlike anything they have seen in an online game to date.

“[Age of Conan] is based around players who have 10 hours or less a week,” Tharaldsen stressed. He went on to note, that regardless of the game, “Players who play 10 hours a day will always run out of content. It’s unavoidable.”

With this casual theme in mind, the company has built the game so that most players can achieve maximum level (80).

Apart from inventing instancing, Funcom has also been a pioneer in in-game advertising. Will they bring that to Age of Conan? Definitely not. Tharaldsen stressed that the company needs “to respect [their] players.”

There could be a lot of big news on the horizon from Funcom. When asked, Tharaldsen claimed that console gaming - which will be made easier than ever with the next generation of hardware - is another area Funcom would like to explore, but beyond that there is nothing to reveal on that front. Yet.

Thanks to Jorgen for his time. Check back for more AGC coverage in the coming days. It comes as fast as we can write it!

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[Editor's Note: Funcom originally told us that collision detection was not in the plans, but contacted us after publish to say that it was. As a result, we have modified paragraph nine (October 31st, 10:30am EST).]


Dana Massey