Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dagger and a bowl of rice ep.10: Jade Citadel

I would have never thought that I will be posting anything in "Dagger and a bowl of rice" series after the Final Word post. Three years after the realise of Rise of the Godslayer I find myself in most unlikely place: the Jade Citadel, a Tier 4 raiding zone. 
Why unlikely? I swore on Mitra many times that I am, at the very core of my being, a PVPer and not a Raider. Given the choice between Raid content and PVP content I will always go for PVP and doing raids always goes with it's PVP applications in back of my mind (in short: I need them PVE weapons). Since I am currently presented with no new PVP content (and this trend with continue with oh-no-so-innovate unchained minigames and lolwut?-Hyborian Race) I have decided to take raiding for a spin. Surprisingly I have enjoyed it and almost as much when I was struggling at the 1st boss with previous guild or when I was part of unstoppable force with my current guild, cutting down all bosses on 1st attempt. However this post is not about how "I am doing raiding because there is nothing else going on" (you might get that impression) or because I want PVE gear for PVP (I am hoping upcoming crafting will solve that once and forever), but rather it is about how Jade Citadel is just
a delicious experience in general.

In Age of Conan the Hyboria feels very "segmented" because each zone is pretty much a different part of a huge world. That is by design. In ROGS the team moved away from that concept and made each zone close to each other so you can move between them almost seamlessly. The other nice change is "what you see is what you get" philosophy that pretty much boils down to player being able to explore, in one way or another, whatever is visible on the map. And so the first time I have laid my eyes on the Jade Citadel I knew that one day I would like to go there and boss the Emperor around. And so I did. This is my story:

I really like the open spaces that are present in first 3 encounters. The fight with the General feels very epic and there is just so much stuff going on at the same time that it makes me feel small and insignificant, just another cog in this grand machinery of war.
Next is Basilisk which is really relaxing to fight as it is not a very demanding boss. The visual design of the Basilisk always fascinated me because it has this very weird and alien look, a total departure from classical lizard-like creature from the myths. Using ballistas to pummel the boss is also a nice touch and it adds that little bit of spice to otherwise pretty uneventful fight.

The imp that dwells in Citadel's garden is a swift change of pace after General and Basilisk. Clever mechanic and interesting looks of the boss, packed together with stunning visuals of the garden itself creates an unforgettable experience. Because the boss room is split in two the fight feels more up close & personal.

Zodiac is the ultimate puzzle boss that requires great amount of focus from the entire raid. First time around I got "carried" through this fight by the whole raid because they allowed me to just stand next to tank and DPS away. Second time around, however, I was expected to contribute in more meaningful way, by actually helping with the puzzle itself. I had to memorise 4 spots to stand in and needless to say it have proved itself to be quite a feat to perform when you have only few seconds, can't mess it up and you are in a room that makes you easily lose your orientation. 

I think you will agree that I have found a rather elegant solution. Yes, those are sticky notes placed on my monitor.All I had to do is stand in the same place every time and the proper spot to move to would be indicated by a note. Genius! Well, no, but it did the trick. 
I am feeling very humbled that I can be a part of this raid team because I can only imagine the grueling hours that it must have taken to crack this puzzle, learn it and then perform in a constant manner.
I didn't have to do it so it feel like "cheating" when I can have the opportunity to take down Zodiac on thefirst try, without much of an effort. I know it is only because the work raid team have put in when I was jacking around in minigames. 

Next stop is pretty funky fight with the Emperor in the court yard. I was baffled by Emperor's appearance: he looks like a GIGANTIC NERD, and that is coming from a guy who actually, indeed at this very moment , writes an Age of Conan fan blog. The fight is pretty OK, but the "mightiest sorcerer of the east" is an gross overstatement.

The memory cloud is probably the most genius part of the Citadel as it reuses old world locations. It felt weird to land on the beach of Tortage as lvl 80 assassin and then re-visit Strom and his merry band. The fights are entertaining, but I didn't like the trash mobs all that much. Granted, T4 is almost trash free compared to other tiers so I shouldn't really complain.

To sum it up I would have to say that I am very delighted with T4. Having some little experience with T1, T2 and T3,5 and completing T3 I have to say that T4 offers fun and balanced content that is topped off with a story that is worthy finally to a very well written Khitai saga.

What about Entity? Well, that is still on my list.

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.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

50.000 bites the dust

It is next 10.000 already? Damn!
Not only I have rounded up my kill score to the whooping 50.000 but also finished capturing all the footage for my pvp video (currently editing it down).

So how does one feel with 50k on his hands? Empty. That's right, I am not really all that pleased or proud of it or whatever. Why? Nothing to be looking forward to.

Last couple of months my pvp was fueled by my passion for making a pvp video and minigames - to be honest - were all about getting that sweet sweet kill and capturing it via Fraps. Now that the project is done (at least some stage of it) PVP seems, again, a little meaningless. With crafting pushed back the only things we have on the horizon are unchained minigames and ridicules "The Great Hyborian Race" .

I was fully expecting a new, creative juiced to be flowing through AOC's veins, but we are still getting highly Funcomized content which I am calling "old stuff, minus something".

Blood & Glory server? Old pvp server minus guards and Bori.
Unchained minigames? Old minigames minus gear and AAs (yeah, giving out all the gear is pretty much taking it away).

The Hyborian Race is so stupid that it makes, in retrospect, PVP World Bosses seem like a grant idea.

So in a nut shell The Hyborian Race will be a race to lvl 80 and highest pvp level over period of 3 months on a new B&G type of server. After the event is over the server will get removed and all the existing characters will get moved onto old B&G server (post mergers it will be Rage server).

This is "content" that requires you to pour hundreds of hours into new character if you want to be any were close to competitors. In the end of the day the race will be won not by the best pvper , but by a man (or a teenager most likely) that will dedicate most time to the endeavor. You cannot out-pvp-lvl someone that might just be average at pvp, but still has the time to simply pvp more than the rest. Racing to lvl 80, on the other hand, will be a PURE form of re-doing content (and for some: re-re-re-re-re-doing content). 

This content is pretty much a big nothing that  supposedly won't take any resources to create.
In other words: if we set the expectations at rock bottom we cannot fail.

The Hyborian race, for me, is pvp equivalent of horse racing track: no one asked for that and devs are delivering because its dirt cheap to deliver.

But there is other issue that is bothering me more and more: Game Director Nusquam attitude on forums.

While I appreciate that Game Director comes to the boards with replie,s more and more so some of the posts are just cracking wise at paying customers.


Forum God
Nusquam's Avatar


Originally Posted by K4nnyc View Post

As far as I'm concerned thats a very below average letter.

The Hyborian race, not quite what I was expecting for the B&G ruleset. I will not be partaking, dont want to make another character, I have too many already. I was hoping for some NEW game systems, instead its the same content rebranded with "Hyborian race". I'm sure nearly all vets let out a huge sigh and did either a single or double facepalm at Funcom. Getting us to roll another character on yet another server... Shame.

1.Can you give us news on the merge? Date/Times, the letter didnt tell us anything new at all.
2.Can you give us news on crafting revamp? Date/Times eta?
3.Can you give us any real information because this letter is lacking in fact and intention.
4.Can you tell us definitively what EXACTLY are your short term and long term plans for pvp. No more messing about now, we waited too long already. Because if you have no plans tell us so we can fvck off to another game. And if you have plans but dont tell us until you put it on testlive then regardless of if its crap or not we all know it will be pushed to live. So start talking now, it will only benefit you in the end.
Lol first of all at the implication that I am somehow hiding information. I have been as upfront with you guys as it is possible to be, without making things up just to "have something to say".

2. No. I'd be talking about my hopes if I gave even a tentative estimate and then people would make it a promise.
3. Yeah, sure. I'll make sure next letter I stop adding "false information".
4. You have been told. Multiple times. Minigame in Dragonspine, Unchained Minigames. Great Hyborian Race. General fixes as we have time and see fit. That you expect more is fine, but that is what we have on our worklist.

You either like the game or you don't. If you are hanging around because you feel like I am stringing you along with false promises, don't.

I am telling you the state of development and the plans for development.

 I personally don't enjoy this "forum buddy" attitude in Director Nusquam and posting "lols" in replies along  pretty much "you don't like the game then quit". That is the kind of stuff that I can get from other forum posters, I don't think it suits paid professional with high position in MMO industry.

That is something that I actually admired in the previous guy in charge:  Silirrion . He didn't post on forums very often (but he did reply on twitter quickly), but when he did he would take all the pitchforks and torches and cotton candy like a champ. I understand that no one wants to be personally attacked (and that DOES happen on boards), but professionals are expected to maintain their professional integrity and for me that is NOT getting into forum flame wars with paying customers. Granted those customers might be rude fucks, but still they are paying YOU to provide service.

This Hyborian Race thread reminds me a lot of old [Petition] Stop developing the PVP Wolrd Boss thread and I think Silirrion handled it well: he posted a lot and still defended his stance on bosses, but there was a professional politeness to his replies.  Nusquam is just rude.

Anyway I wanted to get this off my chest, weave my epeen around with 50k kills and get it out of the way for the big interview I will be posting next week: exclusive with Gaute Godager - AOC's creator.