Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Interview with Gaute Godager

I give you an interview "to rule them all" with the Godfather of AOC - Mr. Gaute Godager.

1/ could you introduce yourself to the those of the readers that weren't following AOC development history from the very beginning?

Hey! My name is Gaute Godager. I was a cofounder of Funcom and was Game Director on Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures. In addition to that, I produced Anarchy Online, Funcoms previous MMO released as early as 2001. 

I was the "Vision owner" as Game Director on AoC. It basically was my baby, but I was by far not the only father nor mother. There were hundreds of dedicated, open minded, creative and supertalented people working on that title. It was probably why i decided to quit gaming back in 2008 after AoC was launched. Having worked so hard, with so many talented great people, on such a fantastic product with such a huge budget - and not having it succeed the way I wanted, I realized my career after that could only go one way - you guess where. I worked on AoC for 5 years. I was the first on the project. I pitched it. I designed all major systems of innovation (like the battle system), but it was honed, improved and made fantastic by all the others. 

2/ how exactly did Funcom pick Hyboria as a setting for the new MMO? Was staying so close to the source material a requirement from Paradox or was it something that the team felt simply very strongly about doing?  

I picked Conan / Hyboria as I wanted to express some violence and take a "pulpy-30s-fantasy-into-cheesy-80s-movie" IP (both cheesy and pulpy lovingly meant by me) into a deep, stylized HBO like grown-up game. Very few in Funcom welcomed the idea except managment and marketing, and the small team (Jesper Hansen (a super brilliant programmer now working in IO Interactive - I think) and Didrik Tollefsen (A masterly tallented Artist / art director) + myself) believed this would be a good product. People shook their heads and wondered why?`Now, for me, I reread Hour of the Dragon (had read them in my youth, im 43 ;p) and got going. I wanted that licence as we wanted something evocative, adult, violent and  different. Something non-cartoony. Believe it or not, we discussed many titles then, for instance Fire and Ice seriees, now made into Game of Thrones. Or maybe Joe Abarcombe, but something mature fantasy. 

The stroke of luck we had, was that Paradox had just bought the rights to ALL REH works, they were Swedish, and was seeking to revitalize the intellectual properties. I must say, having worked with both Disney and many other IP owners over the years, the Paradox guys were super nice and super professional  They, I think, hit it off with us because they sensed we "got" Hyboria. The darkness. The estrangeness. The anger. The corruption. The adolescence fantasies (tits and ass). The american dream incarnate (Conan). 

I wanted to stay close to the source material. They wanted it. They had refusal and approval rights, naturally, but they trusted us and let us run with the ball. In truth, they wanted our interpretation of Hyboria to be distributed to the makers of the later arriving movie. I felt they approved in our sense of style and attention to detail. They were great partners and inspirators. 

3/ Why the Hyboria world is so instanced? What was the reason for developing the game in such way?

Hm. Technological, historical and lisense based. Tech: We had good instance tech. It made the world server distribution much simpler. It makes the clients not break down. It makes us make the environment lush and graphically heavy (as you dont have to save polly count to support hundreds of players). Historical: In Anarchy Online we tried HUGE static areas. It crashed and burned, literally. Hundreds and thousands of players gathered to stress the game and try to take the servers down and crash coplayers with less expensive pc's out of the game. We got burned. We vowed: never again. License  We wanted to give players only the juice parts, the areas coolest areas REH described. Long travel seemed boring. This was not a sandbox game, it was a amusement park filled with attractions.

Did i want a huge open sandbox game - yes sir. Was Hyboria suited for that? Sure, but I still don't think that was the most important aspect. If I had got it free of cost, free of risk, free of creative loss - would i have put it in? Sure thing! 

4/ Why have you picked the post Hour of the Dragon era as a setting for the game? Hour of the Dragon or the Scarlet Citadel sound like a great ideas for whole expansions. You could have started in post Phoenix on the sword time-line.

I could have. But, I felt the villain was better, more classic Conan. I wanted the Acheron angle, that plot-line was epic. I needed, just like in Phoenix, a plot and setting where Conan was central for all players in the whole world. Also, it was googling "best conan story ever" or something like that, i found some vote on a conan fan web site, placing HotD at top. I couldnt find it again now, as I tried, so it might have been a dream. Anyways, HotD inspired me. 

5/ The Combo system: where did you get the idea for it? It is still, after all those years, a unique and very fun to use system. Have the system turned out to be everything the team wanted it to be?

Back in 1993, just after starting Funcom, we did a conversion of a fighting game called Samurai Showdown. To get into the mood, we had one fencing lesson. Only one. The instructor said "all sword fighting are based around only 6 attacks. Up left, up right, straight down, down side up left, down side up right and stab. There are 3 ways to defend against these." These sentences just stuck in my head, left there to ferment. When we started making conan, I wanted something as visually stunning and brutal as God of War that just then came out. Also, all combat so far in MMOs had been so slow indirect, with exception of City of Heroes by Cryptic. I wanted to make the combat even faster and more action oriented than them. All this combined into the systems main idea. It was iterated on many times after that very first prototype that Jesper made. Directions were cut down. It went from a+b+c + d = combo to something like combo-starter + a + b. It gradually evolved. 

It was the most unique selling point of the game, and I think it made a huge difference. I think it changed what type of combat people accepted in MMOs. Look at EQ 1 and draw a line to Neverwinter. You will see conan in there directing the speed, intensity and flow of combat. 

6/ There are few things that the community has been arguing about since day 1 of Age of Conan so please settle those feuds once and for all by answering these:

1. why there so many female mobs in the game? It isn't true to the REH's world that, for example, Nemedian army is full of female warriors. Valeria is rather a rare breed of Hyborian adventurer and yet zones and dungeons are full of such warrior women.

2 reasons: a) Because we wanted to have more tits and ass in the game. Trueness to the letter was sacrificed to being true to the spirit of tits and ass ;-p

2. have you developed AOC as a PVP centric game or PVE centric? Or perhaps have you tried to reach some kind of optimal balance between those two types of content?

We said we tried to do both. But I guess we didn't really believe the game could stand on its own without good PVE, and felt that not many PvP centric games made it big, back then - so PVE drove the development. It changes with time. I might have made it differently today. 

3. what happened to weapons sheath? Older AOC videos cleary show a barbarian using 2 hander and having a sheath for it on his back.

What? Is it gone? Ask my successor! I loved the sheathing! Damn you all! It wouldn't have happened on my watch, I tell ya!

7/ What were the ideas for the future expansion in terms of the location? Was the Khitai setting your idea?

Yes. It was one of the last things i wrote before i left back in 2008, writing up the high-design for the expansion. It was to try to break into Asia with the game, making it Asia centric. It wouldnt have been my ideal expansion had the game become an financial massive success and thus being able to chose whatever I want. I would have moved towards the classical "middle-eastern" inspired countries, middle-euraisia inspired areas - ending in Khitai. Maybe some revisiting the places of famous Conan-in-his youth stories? I wonder what the tumbled down ruins of the Tower of the Elephant would look like? What would be hidden in the rubble? Sword Coast? Maybe a piracy expansion? That is one of the great, great things about REH and pulp - it simply has it all. It is pizza with marshmellows and beer and a great car and a sweet woman - all like mixed together. Its like only eating the best pieces of all juicy dishes, never minding the rest. Never minding that all doesn't mix that well.

8/ What was the most awesome idea for content that wasn't possible because of technological limitations at that time?

Yes - player kingship. Having a massive combat PvP system that would enable a guildleader to become actual king ordering NPCs around, deciding on laws, putting people to jail and enforcing justice. We sold it as "You can be king!". It was a flop - we canned it.

9/ Are you following AOC news at all or even playing the game or is it a closed chapter for you?

I play it perhaps once pr. year, just to see. I still have many Funcom friends and follow it all, from the sidelines. Playing it it makes me sad as I so miss the time developing it and "owning it". I miss the great atmosphere in the Funcom ACHA team (as we wanted to coin it), the talented people, the knowledge that you worked on something epic, the late night dinners with coworkers and friends, our parties, our work-crunches, our development breakthroughs, the time spent helping giving birth to the beautiful music with the very talented composer Knut Avenstrup Haugen, the lunches with Didrik and discussing art and how to visualize Hyboria with him - how to do to Hyboria what Peter Jackson clearly had done to Middle Earth, the sessions of motion capture where i tried to instruct true fighters in how to look more violent by being less effective, the long-sweaty review meetings laughing and joking as we tried to get the game to run, the first time i rode a horse in the game, the first time I saw Cimmeria spring to life in the game,  the E3 marketing stunts, the meeting of fans shaking their hands and feeling like a castmember of Star Trek on Comicon. Heck, I even miss the disputes, anal-lore discussions with other Conan fans on the team and general conflicts. But, I miss most of all working on something I was oh so proud of. 

So I let it be. It is still your baby, but it not yours. It just makes me - sad. Its like driving accidentally past the house of your ex girlfriend. You see her being happy without you. You are a bit angry and a bit happy for her and a bit sad - all like bungled up inside. So I let it be. 

But that is just me. It makes me happy if people still enjoy it. It truly does.  

10/ Were you a fan of REH's Conan or was it just a material that you had to work with during the development?

Eh, I hope you get i was a fan by now?

To me Conan was, in my youth, the essence with how good it would be to be a grown man if life was simple. You fight. You live free. You destroy corruption. You travel. You form great friendship. The women are all beautiful and though they try, they can never resist you, in fact - secretly they all want you. It is the essence of adolescence male fantasy. It made me fall asleep with a grin on my face remembering I could wake the day after to express that in a game. 

Slith: And I would like to personally thank your for developing such a wonderful game. Not only it allowed me to make a lot of new friends, but also to express myself. But most importantly AOC exposed me to the wonderful works of REH which I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Thank you!

Gaute: /bow I do appreciate your kind words. And thank you for allowing me to walk down memory lane with a purpose.  I felt now I did something great, building on something fantastic like the works of REH, and I am very happy you agreed with me. I guess history would define AoC as more dubious a success, but I don't care.


Jeadelyia said...

Really nice interview, thanks Slith.

Anonymous said...

Nice thanks Slith and Gaute

Nooo, sheatiiiing :(

Anonymous said...

Great interview and nice to hear from Gaute.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I just recently talked with a friend and said to him that the only old videogame I really enjoyed to play again was Samurai Shodown. Isn't it strange ?

I didn't knew Funcom made a conversion of it and that Age of Conan was a bit unspired by it. Haha guess there's no coincidence in my love for those 2 games, haha.

Thank you Slith and Gaute for the interview, I enjoyed reading it.


Slith said...

Piracy expansion .... ZOMG :O Why I can't haz it instead of Secrets of Crapspine?????

Scandral said...

AoC is the best mmo ever made. Thanks for a great read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Epic interview! It was really nice to read Gaute´s story. I have played since Beta.

Gaute did such a amazing work at the beginning and it is still the stuff that really makes AoC unique.
I only wish the launch and beginning would have gone better and could have been done without investors pressures...only God knows how fantastic would the game be now. So many ideas were left out when everything started to go wrong.

All the best to Gaute! I hope you realize that your ideas and overall work on AOC was awesome. It is always your game your baby.

Age of Conan really needs your visions...and original team.

Rathothis said...

Thanks Slith for this interview. And thanks Gaute for the fantastic game you left us with. Sure it had issues at launch. Sure it has been streamlined since then, to the point where some of what made it unique is no longer there.

But the game's visual direction, combat system and general corniness still oozes with charm. There is no equal!

Anonymous said...

many thanks to gaute for his AOC vision and slith for the itw!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic interview!. It's clear to see that we were right in thinking that Gaute was a genius and that AoC really belonged to him.
I'm the same age as Gaute and I think that growing up in the post war era we were all surrounded by stories of horror and heroism and that we wanted to be part of an experience like that and AoC captures that perfectly.
Gaming reached a pinnacle with AoC in terms of a progression in gaming from the late seventies through early consoles and home computers up to the powerful PC's we have today. It's probably impossible to develop a game like AoC now because of the pressure to make games primarily for consoles first.
Good luck to Gaute, I hope you get another chance.

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview...tyvm. Great to hear from Gaute! Loved the game long-time and still do now-and-then, though with a sadness for what might have been.


Aell said...

Gaute, I salute you for one thing above all.

The "Heroic" rating on gear was a stroke of genius. It meant raiders could have their fun gaining powerups without breaking PvP in any way.

When Morrisson has it removed, AoC was effectively castrated. Every poor decision since then has stemmed from that one.

But you really should have fixed or removed the gems earlier.

Sreen said...

EPIC interview dude! I knew you'd nail it. I wish he was still on the project as creative director. Wonder what he's on right now...