Friday, April 22, 2016

Why arena fails for spectators

I stand by my glowing review just a post away: yes, arena was a good idea and a clever use of the small resources the team has. Granted 1v1 on a flat arena ends up exactly how I predicted (everyone just blows all cool downs and hope for the best) but that was always the bane of duels and at very least people are doing more pvp which is always good. The only thing that I wasn't able to test on TL were queue and spectating and both of those things turned out to be horrible. 

Let's start with spectating in general: you can't select the fighters in the arena so you can't see their HP bars, names, spells being casted and even some of the particles.

When spectating duels you are just looking at two characters duking it out with a very vague idea who is winning and who is using what. You might not even be aware who is fighting because you can't see the names. Correct me if I am wrong but huge part of watching the duels is paying attention to HP bars since there is nothing more exciting than seeing the fight ending up with someone under 10% of HP. You can forget about that with arena.

When it comes to PVE it's even worst: all you see is a player face tanking some nameless pet. You can't see the particles on the floor that pet is casting, you can't see HP bars. Basically is as boring as watching the paint dry.

Here is my main grudge: since the arena is shared between PVPers and PVEers (can't imagine why) when I come in for some duels I have to endure (aka spectate) 3-4 fights of people face tanking their pet cat or whatever. Then I have my duel and then we are back to cat fights. At this point I am like fuck it and doing mini or logging off. So I am estimating I will be rank 4 with Gladiators factions in 2020. So if you are wondering: is arena content the lord and savior of Hyboria? Nope.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pit Master's Arena

The arena is now on TL.

Here is the post from TL forums:

Funcom Official Feedback Thread: Pit Master's Arena
This is the official feedback thread for the Pit Master's Arena! This new area allows players to challenge their pets, as well as other players, in head to head combat.

The entrance to the Pit Master's Arena can be found in the Fields of the Dead. For convenience, we've added a door to the Testlive Lobby that will take players right to this entrance.

Once inside, players will find a vendor named Ciaran the Kennel Master, who offers a couple of things to assist with testing:

* Mark of the Pit Master: This can be purchased and consumed to increase your faction rank with the Pit Master's Arena
* One Metric Ton of Pets: Purchasing and consuming this will temporarily increase your inventory, and give you a large number of pets. Please be aware that the inventory increase is temporary, and this will not assist in meeting the requirements to learn all of the pets. We strongly recommend that you learn all of the pets you are able to, and discard the rest before changing zones.

For the purposes of allowing everyone to test without needing to wait for others to finish, we have temporarily set this playfield up to spawn a new instance for each player that enters. If you wish to test the PvP battles, please use the Instance Selector near the minimap to join another players instance.

We look forward to hearing your feedback, and please let us know about any issues you encounter.

Happy Testing!
Last edited by Erelon; 03-18-2016 at 08:47 PM.

So how is the arena? Exquisite. Like I mentioned here AOC cannot afford to make bad content. In the case of arena Funcom took previously rather bland feature (non combat pets) and turned it into fun and engaging content. I can see myself collecting more pets because of the Pit.

So the Pit is in Cimmeria and you have to enter the instance to use all the feature. It doesn't work like PvP queue where you just sign up and wait.

You talk to NPC to get quest or to queue up.

The main idea behind arena is not only to fight but also to spectate. With how fun are different are the fights with each pet I bet everyone will want to see how player going against a very rare pet. Also I would laugh my ass off watching some scrub getting manhandled by Pleasurable Company pet or.... the kitten (yes you can fight it too!). Watching PVP is entertaining in an obvious way.   

There is no story behind the Pit on TL but I do hope we will get a nice chain of quests leading up to the the arena.

Of course we get more achievements. I was surprised to see no pet reward since in  this context it would been perfect.

In order to buy rewards you need to gain rep with the factions. I love factions!

PVE Arena

Getting right to the point: when you are teleported into the arena you will have 30 seconds to summon a pet that you intend to fight. At first you will be able only to summon white and green pets but after hitting higher ranks your options will expand.

Here is the breakdown (thanks to tapwater TL forum user):

Faction Rank 0 - Fight in Sparring pits only:
Common and Uncommon pets can be summoned.

Faction Rank 1 - Fight in Sparring pits only:
Common, Uncommon and Rare pets can be summoned.

Faction Rank 2 - Fight in both Sparring pits and the Main Arena - Sparring pits provide no faction gain: Common, Uncommon, Rare and Epic pets can be summoned.

Faction Rank 3 - Fight in both Sparring pits and the Main Arena - Sparring pits provide no faction gain:Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic and Legendary pets can be summoned.

Of course just bashing pets into oblivion would make for a horrible content so each pet is in fact a mini-boss. This means that pets will use special skills: there will be AOE that you have to avoid, CC to break or mechanics to figure out. Legendary and epic pets are obviously hardest, but even fighting with a green pet can have interesting and challenging. This NOTHING like the fights you are having with mobs in solo PVE.

Assassin throwing bombs at me. Better move out.

This pet will keep summoing guards until you kill him.

To sum it up: its done right, I can see myself indulging in this content on a daily basis. 

PVP Arena

I didn't have anyone to test it but it seems straight forward: you queue up and go for the kill. Now OBVIOUSLY a group arena would be a better choice. With the differences in classes and gear I imagine solo arena will turn into this experience:

And I can safely say we want something closer to this:

Now for my blasphemous prophecy: you can't just queue up and keep fighting with pets and players. Since there is a single arena you will have to wait for others to finish their fights before you can have another go. I can honestly see queues getting very long on Crom and people actually going to Fury because less population = less queue time. Go Fury!

I think Funcom has a good thing going with Arena but group option cannot come fast enough!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Interview with Andy "Odonoptera" Benditt

Andy used to be "that guy you petition when /stuck doesn't work" and now he pretty much runs the show at Funcom (or at least community managment). Going from humble GM to an evil genius took some balls, and A LOT of solved petitions. I have sit with Odonoptera on the GM Island (yes it's real!) to talk about his glorious work .

What is it like to be full time GM? Lets say you get to the office, grab your coffee and what is next? What is a "typical" day in a life of GM?

The actual process of being a GM is actually rather simple; you grab your coffee, you sit down, log in to your workstation, and simply press a literal "get next ticket" button.  The next ticket in line is then assigned to you, and thus starts the shift!  This could either be one of our in-game petitions for Anarchy Online, Age of Conan, The Secret World, or LEGO Minifigures Online, or it would be an e-mail ticket that has to do with billing or account issues.  All of our in-game petitions can range from raid misloot issues to general questions, to harassment reports, and bug reports.  All of our GMs handle everything across every game.  

What was your single most surreal experience as GM? Perhaps some player weirded you out or the game did something totally unexpected? 

I'll confess that the zaniest moments in my time as a GM (that I'm able to talk about) were not from Age of Conan, but rather from Anarchy Online and The Secret World.  Since you run an AoC site, I'm not sure what I can really say that could be relevant for this questionnaire.  If it doesn't matter, there was a time in The Secret World where I nearly screwed up a new raid boss encounter by accidentally placing a minimum health cap on the boss.  That was pretty nuts; my GM in TSW is mortal and can take damage (unlike in AoC and AO), so I intended to protect myself while observing a report about the boss and simply had the boss targeted instead of myself.  My head nearly exploded while this was happening, although I did eventually manage to run a command that killed the boss and gave everybody in the raid credit for the run.  So, not the end of the world--I did report myself to my manager immediately, and we sorted things out after that.  

GM powers. Everyone loves them. What exacly can you do as GM?

A simpler question to answer would have been "what CAN'T you do as a GM?" :)  

GMs have access to special commands that can affect a number of stats, attributes, and settings.  We can spawn any creature or boss, generate any item or token, teleport to any zone, or even change the time of day. With great power comes great responsibility, though--some of the commands we have access to can cause problems, so we never perform anything on players that could be considered unsafe or against the intended design of the game.  I've broken my skills and abilities on my own GM character on more than one occasion (to the point where I can't even sprint) and while it's not difficult to fix, that could cause a lot of unhappiness if that were to affect a paying customer! 

With being GM you can pretty much do anything in Hyboria. Have that ruined the game for you in some way? I mean it must be demotivating to work towards anything in AOC when you can just summon that legendary sword with few key strokes. 

It's true that being a GM 'demystifies' the game's content--As I said above, I am able to transport myself to any raid zone without needing any requirements for anything, or grant myself the cream of the crop as far as gear goes.  On the other hand, spawning all that crazy gear on myself and then smacking target dummies makes me want to put in the work to get that stuff on a real character, if for nothing else but to show off a bit!

When it comes to GMing how deep is your knowledge about the game? Do you have a very technical knowledge or do you have a lot of AOC playtime under your belt?

I won't speak for anybody else, but my own personal knowledge about the game primarily came from GMing over the years.  I haven't played a ton of AoC recreationally, although I do have my own private incognito account that I hop on from time to time to see what's up, which is especially helpful to do in order to scope out the tone of chat without attracting attention.  Now that I'm working with the community aspect of AoC rather than strictly service, I've been playing a lot more on my own.

GM Island. The stuff that myths are made of. Is it real? Do GMs really hang out there?

There is indeed a playfield literally named "GM Island", yes.  GMs 'hang out' there in the sense that it's the default location we return to when we're done assisting a player or need to remove ourselves from a zone.

Your transition from GM to CM was rather unexpected. How exacly that happened and why?

Out of curiosity, 'unexpected' in what way?  I've been interested in doing Community work for quite some time and had brought it up on more than one occasion.  An opening showed itself, I applied, interviewed, and was fortunate and grateful to have been offered the position.  Really, it's like any other transition you'd expect in a workplace:  you work hard at your task, get to know people, show interest in something, and see what happens!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

1 year in review - 2015

Yet another Hyborian year has passed and it is time for my savage review. When you look at the list of things that were promised in 2013/2014 it will be pretty obvious that most of the stuff did not get delivered. On another hand ..... Oh snap! Did I just copy/paste intro to last year's edition

"Ya you did, also you have been slacking on posts as of late".

 Well shut up, voice in my head, I am back to my blogging routine and OBVIOUSLY I will be back on meds soon enough.

Let me start over: 

Yet another year has passed without the promised crafting revamp. Really, guys? I mean REALLY?

"Now you are just grumpily ranting"

DAMN IT! Ok, lets just dive in:


Apart from some unmentionable community managers being angry with me for the 2014 review pretty much NOTHING changed. If anything the monthly letters (in 2015 written by Sezmra) got progressively shorter and less substantial. In the end Tomium made a thread that pretty much said "Ok guys, tell us how to do our jobs as CMs" and asked for a feedback. Apparently it was pretty unsuccess attempt because the thread got deleted and both CMs quited Funcom. AOC is now under new CM management and he already has proven himself capable of turning things around. But that, my loyal readers, is for 2016 review.


The first event was the anniversary/adventure pack called Shadows of Vanaheim which was a disaster by all means. Just read the review. On the up side Matt 'Cirith Gorgor” Bennett  in the interview I did with him pretty much said "we fucked up, this won't happen again" which was very honest and very professional of him.
The team totally redeemed itself with state of the art Halloween event The Shambling Plague. That event was so good that I will actually post a late review soon enough. 


This update was nothing short of a miracle. Pretty much gave Hyboria a second life and brought the game a little closer to modern MMO standards. I now spend my time in the game going from zone to zone doing all the quests for the achievements and snatching up those treasures along with panoramas. I am doing this mainly for the story and  I have found some real GEMS when it comes to quests that I have missed leveling up back 2008. Being now well versed in the black arts (and by that I mean having good knowledge of REH's Conan) I can really appreciate the creativity that went into the creation on some of the quests. My only wish is that achievements update went on top of another, more substantial update because achieves are great side dish, but fail a little as a main course.


Biggest surprise of 2015 was The Palace of Cetris going live. No one, I mean NO ONE expected the team to actually finish the T6 raid and go live with it. Of course T6 being top tier raiding is pretty much open to few Crom guilds but that is supposed to change with new Raid Finder system

So as you can see not much has happened during 2015 but what went live was of great quality (except Shadows of Vanaheim which is just shamefull). If you are into PVE then 2015 has a lot to offer. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Interview with Alex Tornberg - painting Hyboria with a brush..

Please tell us a bit about yourself and the work you did for Funcom.

I’m a concept artist and art director from Sweden. I started out working in the games industry as a Concept Artist in 2005 and in 2006 I joined Funcom working on Age of Conan. I spent 5 years working there. When I started out I designed mostly characters, armors and weapons but after a while I started doing environments and architecture as well. I worked as the Assistant Art Director on the Rise of the Godslayer where I had a big part in setting the style and art direction of playfields like Pai Kang and Gateway to Khitai as well as overseeing the art production of other playfields and content. I also spent a couple of days creating all the tattoo textures for Rise of the godslayer and I did a lot of the tattoos in Hyborian Adventures as well.

After I left Funcom I worked as an Art Director for an Electronic Arts studio for a while. Nowadays I work as a freelancer mostly for movies and TV, but I’ve done some work on games as well like for example on Path of Exile.

Please do tell us how the concept artist participates in the development. For most of the gamers concept art are just pretty pictures that we drool over druing the long wait for the game's release.
What was your role exacly and how your typical day working for Funcom was looking like?

A concept artist is the person who visualizes the art directors vision through sketches and illustrations. Every asset and every building in a fantasy game needs to be designed, every location needs sketches that sets the mood of the area. So on a game like AoC there a lot of work for a concept artist. We had somewhere between 4-6 concept artist working the game during the time I was there, but nowadays big fantasy games like that would probably have around 10-15 concept artists working on them. A lot of the work isn’t the type of illustrations you drool over though, there’s a lot of rough sketches or painting over screenshots from the game to show the environment artists how it is supposed to look and so on.

A normal work day would probably be something like this. I come in around 9 and have a coffee with the guys. After that I would look through my task list and see what concepts where a priority to finish first and then start drawing and painting. As I was the Assistant Art Director and Lead of the Concept Art team I would get interrupted routinely during the day for regular meetings and reviews or just questions or requests from other departments, I would also have to prioritize the work for the rest of the concept art team for every milestone. Then I’d head home sometime after six in the evening, depending on the workload at the moment

How are you collaborating with other developers and writers? Is your art something that others create around (hence the words „concept art”) or is it more of a team effort where for example writer tells you about the main story line and you are trying to get the tone and the mood of that story into the concept art?

On RotGS we worked very closely with Joel Bylos who was the Lead Designer then. The Concept Art team was working on the expansion before anybody else than Joel was really working on it. So there was a lot of brainstorming and sketching without any real story connected to them, some made it in others didn’t. We had a really great Concept Art team on that expansion. Stian Dahlslett as the Art Director, we had Grant Regan and Torstein Norstrand who had been working on AoC for years already, some great new guys in Ville Kinnunen and Per Haagensen and I was the Lead Concept Artist, and then Didrik came back and helped out with the final touches of the game. Both Grant and Ville are Howard fanatics. It was really a joy to work with these guys and probably the best team I’ve worked with.

Joel was really great with using the Concept Art team to help out on RotGS, we usually worked very close with the World Builders and Level Designers. Sitting next to them at times when the playfields or levels were built giving advice directly to them or doing quick paintovers showing how we envisioned the look and feel, probably the best team work I’ve seen during my years in the industry.

What does your creative process look like? Are you flipping through Conan comics? Are you taking the inspiration from real world architecture?

Most of the inspirations comes from the real world, it’s really the only way to get a fantasy setting to feel believable even though you try to get some of that old comic stuff in at times. Then you just let your design sense take over and you do your own twist on it. Didrik had a really great vision for AoC and how to get inspired by history but not copy it and the Art Bible he set up for AoC was comprehensive, detailing out each culture and what fitted them and not. It’s quite complex really, creating a good fantasy setting. You can mix stuff from different timelines, but you have to be wary so you don’t make it feel unrealistic. Howard could be really crazy and mixing stuff from the 19th century in some stories with things from ancient Rome in others for example, his stories didn’t always make sense in a historic fashion. So you really had to think about what can we use in AoC and what would just feel out of place.

So when I was designing some building or artifact I would first make a design board with photos from different things I thought would work for that. Then I would get inspired by that and design something new from it.

Robert E.Howard wrote some very vivid descriptions of buildings in Hyboria, were you using those descriptions for inspiration?

Yeah, absolutely. Though we tried to bring some sanity into it. Howard could be really descriptive about certain details and didn’t really bother with the big picture at times. But it was always a pleasure trying create something from the inspiration of Howards writing, I always took a pleasure in trying to get the details in there. Like for example purple minarets in Paikang, though they turned into purple roofed pagodas.

Tell us a bit about creating the art for Khitai expansion in general. There are hardly any descriptions of Khitai in REH books and very few Conan comics so Funcom had to create whole country from scratch.

Doing Khitai was a business decision. We had heard rumors from management that the next expansion was going east. We all hoped to be doing Turan, Shem or something like that, maybe basing the work on the Tower of the elephant. It felt like the most logical thing to do. But upper management wanted to break into the asian market. Around the time we started the work on Khitai our Art Director, Didrik Tollefsen, got the chance to work as a consultant on the Conan movie that was in the works at the time, that ended up being the horrible one with Karl Drogo as Conan, and left for that. Just after that the subscription numbers on AoC was starting to drop really  fast due to the lack of  quality content on later levels, so our director Gaute resigned from Funcom. Craig Morrison took over the management of AoC and Stian Dahlslett came in as Art Director, both of them had been working on Anarchy Online prior to that and I was promoted to Assistant Art Director and Lead Concept Artist. So the production of Rise of the Godslayer or Road to Khitai as it was called back then got off to a really rocky start. But it ended up being one of the smoothes productions in the history of Funcom.

That being said, Khitai is easily my least favourite region we designed for AoC. Our Khitai is very much based on ancient China, if you travel to the Forbidden City in Beijing and walk around there you will feel like you’re walking around in some city in Khitai, and a lot of the temple ruins were based on Khmer ruins. The clothing and armor designs have a much more modern feeling than that we had done earlier, and we have things like wolf mounts and tiger mounts which belongs in the high fantasy type of setting we tried to avoid with AoC. The quality of the art is a lot better in RotGS though, but all in all when we did Khitai it never really felt like we we’re doing a setting in the Hyborian Age. But I think it did turn out looking really good anyway and Joel managed to get a nice twist to the story which felt very in line with Howards writing.

House of Crom is  the most unique area in Age of Conan when it comes to the visuals. Tell us more about your ideas and inspirations that went into HOC.

Directly after the concept art team had finished work on Hyborian Adventures we started working on dungeons for upcoming patches, this was around March-April 2008. The first one we did was an Acheronian Dungeon in Thunder River, which was later named Xibaluku. When that was finished we moved over to a dungeon that had been in the works ever since the project had started back in 2004-2005, House of Crom. This was a mammoth of a dungeon, the size of it was like a whole playfield of it’s own. There was a lot of old design documents to build upon and I think the dungeon was supposed to be released around the same time as Ymir’s Pass, so it was sort of tied into that.

We had hinted a lot of atlantean designs throughout the Cimmerian playfields but House of Crom was where we really got the chance to explore that. The Atlantean design was an expansion of what Ron Cobb, the production designer of the film Conan the Barbrian (1982), had developed for the movie. Mixing historic designs from both the Mayan and Norse cultures it made for a really compelling and unique look. We really took off with that and visualized an enormous underground city that had been frozen for centuries. It had lots of secret rooms and interesting puzzles for the players to solve. We we’re going for an Indiana Jones sort of feeling with a lot of adventure and booby traps. We also used the connection between Howard and Lovecraft for this dungeon and had a giant squid like creature designed to be the final boss.

Last but not least: the Dark Cathedral. It was supposed to be a map for PVP minigames and even after 7 years of games release people are still asking about it (more info: Could you possibly tell us what was that map all about?

I think this was supposed to be a Capture the flag type of map. This was done during the end of the production of Hyborian Adventures. There was a lot of dungeons that just was created without any proper art direction then, it was sort of like the wild west. The concept art team got these handed to us to try and salvage them. Me and another concept artist, Fred Rambaud, got the job of trying and fix these. I was handed Dark Cathedral and 2 or 3 more dungeons to work on. Dark Catherdral was supposed to be something Aquilionian, but the geometry the level designer had used for it wasn’t really close to how  the Art Bible said Aquilonian architecture should look, he had just made up his own stuff. It had lots of rounded arches for example, which was a big no no. It couldn’t really be salvaged without too much rework but I tried my best. I think most us was quite happy that these never was released.

All images are property of Funcom.
photo of Alex Tornberg by Shashank Uchil (

Thursday, October 1, 2015

65.000 kills - season finale (on Crom)

 While this wasn't really posted on the blog some of you that follow me on twitter/facebook know that I have moved to Crom about a month or so and also joined one of the most renown raiding guilds in AOC's history: Destiny. Upon my arrival to Crom I had to kiss my name goodbye and rebrand my assassin as "Sliith". That  was a pisser but such is a prices for moving to a different server (on top of 20 EURO price tag). I have had nothing but positive experience with Destiny folks and they were kind enough to offer me spot on their T5 raiding team. The vibe was great and the raid team was as skilled as you can get so T5 boss killing was, as expected from any established raiding guild, a farm. Yet somehow I couldn't really get into raiding mindset and with each raid I felt more and more like I am doing a chore rather than enjoying a privilege of  T5 access. While epiphany of "shit, I might not be into raiding after all" was neither sudden nor really an epiphany it became painfully evident that I have zero business changing out on Crom for PVE reasons. Looking back at my raiding experience so far it's pretty obvious that whenever I was really doing any regular raids it was in order to get PVE gear for PVP. It was at that time when PVE weapons were superior to PVP weapons and it was common for people to raid T4 (or at least farm cloud) in order to get them weaps. I am very much a min/maxer kind of guy so I will grab an upgrade to my character if I can. Also it's not like I need an edge over other players but I hate being at disadvantage and that was the case with PVE weapons at that time: those were just so much better.  In my humble opinion raiding as a whole just went to shit-town on Fury. Of course pure PVPers dropping from raiding all of sudden had a snowball effect with more and more people leaving for Crom. Since there is nothing in PVE that I would really want being at PVE server discouraged me more and more from logging on. I quickly realized that I am missing a vital part of AOC: open world pvp. It's not like open world pvp is all that wide spread on Fury, but I like the idea of it: at any given moment you might get jumped (aka ganked). For me removing that feeling/idea by transferring to Crom has made AOC experience bland and tasteless, it was no longer brutal Hyboria but rather some kind of la la land. This isn't a jab at Crom players, its just my honest assessment of what I like in AOC and what it felt like to lose it. Of course "the grass is greener on the other side" was also a factor in my server transfer. Crom, at least in my mind, was a shiny beacon of evermore good stuff. More players. More content. More activities. That turned out to be a lie (or to be more frank: I was delusional about it). Crom has more PVE activity for sure, but that is it. It is NOT Fury server II with everything better. It's just different and that doesn't translate into "its just better". Prime example? World Bosses. I am not a huge fan of thing content, but at least on Fury you had to group up into a raid and then mind the gankers trying to strip your out of your boss rewards. That was part of the fun. On Crom? You just wack the boss into oblivion and the excitement lies in rushing into another instance to tackle another boss and doing it before the said instance gets filled with people.
Minigames on Crom are just about the same like on Fury. So if you are like me and you like: PVP as main activity, soloing achievements (quests, panoramas, treasures) and doing occasional dungeon run then Crom has nothing to offer you. If anything the experience will be worsts on Crom, at least I found that true for me.

 So I have buckled up, ponied up another 20 EURO and went back to Fury where I have re-claimed name "Slith" and my spot in Clan of The Free City guild. In effect, if it wasn't for 40 EURO billed to my credit card, no one could have ever suspected that at one point I have walked  the lush PVE fields of Crom server.

But this episode was supposed to be about 65.000 kills mark. So yeah, that's a thing now. I have heard a rumor that some were around 67 k the kill counter restarts to 0. Is it true? Well, I am about to find out soon enough.

Welcome back Fury, I missed you.