Jason Stone, a designer on "Age of Conan: Hyborean Adventures," gave a presentation and discussion on the game Sunday afternoon at the New York Comic Con. "Age of Conan" is due to be released for Windows PCs May 20th, with an Xbox 360 version following about a year later.
"We just had our PVP [player-versus-player] beta weekend on Gamespot," Stone said, which represented the first time "Conan" was widely public. The open beta begins May 1st through IGN's File Planet.
A video from the game featured Conan as a king sitting on his throne, then exploring a large castle or palace before strategizing about an ongoing war in which Conan's tribe is "surrounded and outnumbered." A second trailer showed a seaside town, quickly beseiged by dark forces. In-game video showed a series of decapitations.
Taking questions from the audience, Stone said that the game discs will include native executable files for Windows XP and Vista, in both 32 and 64 bit configurations, so that the game should run smoothly on different systems.
Asked why the Lich and the Druid classes were removed from the game during development, Stone said that his team simply couldn't justify leaving them in. "When you think about the abilities the Lich have, they sound very different - but when we were working on it we found that a lot of the abilities of the Lich played very similar to the Hero. The same thing happened with the Druid," he explained. "What we came up with for their abilities just wasn't fun."
Stone said that the game can be played essentially solo, for casual users would prefer not to be unmercilessly assassinated by 15-year old hardcore gamers. The "normal" servers allow users to interact but not fight, except for in PVP areas, while separate PVP servers are available for the ultra-competitive. Similarly, user-built cities cannot be destroyed in normal servers, but can in the PVP version.
Considering the sexuality in R.E. Howard's Conan stories, there was a question about whether players could interact sexually in the game. "We did discuss a 'doing it' system early in the game," Stone said. "But none of the female employees wanted to help me with the motion capture."
Addressing the sexuality and other controversial themes included in Howard's stories, Stone noted that there was "a lot of slavery, racial hatred, rape, torture, and the general opinion that women are not equal to men," and that the game crew wanted to approach these aspects very carefully, in a way that could at once bring the world of Conan to life without undo offense. The designer said that certain things would be suggested rather than shown, so that when a prostitute offers the hero a "reward" for saving her life, adult players will know what this is without having it explicitly spelled out. "There's no /doggystyle command," Stone said.
Similarly, he later indicated that the risque things that do appear in the game are there because they existed in the source material. "NPCs say 'shit,' there are nipples on some girls, there are prostitutes," Stone said. "Everybody in the US thinks Conan's all about the boobs, everybody in Europe thinks it's about the blood--because that's what's controversial. But it's in the game because it's in Howard's writing. It wasn't like, hey, if we add nipples it'll sell a lot of copies."
In response to a question about man hours required, "We intentionally designed it to be around 6-7 days playtime to get to level 80," Stone said, at which point the player is rewarded with increased options.
Will "Conan" be coming to the next-gen home consoles? "The plan was always to get [the Xbox 360 version] out within a year of launch, but the challenge is how do we do it." He noted that there were questions as to how to integrate the service with Xbox Live, Microsoft's online system, and that the RAM footprint right now is high for the 360. It is also not clear yet whether combined 360/PC servers will be possible.
Asked, "What is best in life?" a popular "Conan" quote, Stone promptly answered, "To crush your enemies -- See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!" He quickly added, "Don't tell my wife!"
"We have a huge list" for expansions, Stone said, and this includes plans for both downloadable patch content and disc expansion packs. "Our team has already been split" to work on both, he added.
Stone got a question about his favorite race and class of character. "I spent most of my three years in Oslo working on combat, mostly melee combat," he said. "For me, most of the time, it was the melee classes I like." He also said he likes the support classes, like bear shamans, which can heal and "smash people's faces." Asked then about races, Stone clarified that "bear shamans have to be Cimmerians, but I really like the way the Stygians look, just because they're really nasty."
Stone praised the sense of history in R.E. Howard's Hyborean lands, and said that it will translate into the game. Noting that some of the real-life cultures the Hyborean tribes are based upon, such as the Egyptians and Celts, didn't historically overlap, he said that nevertheless "everything in Hyborea is very real - a city wasn't just plunked down but there was something there before it."
So is it any good? After explaining that game developers can get fatigued before their project goes to market, Stone said that "every one of us still wanted to play it, because it's the act of playing that makes it enjoyable instead of the content." Having established that the game does have a rich storyline with characters that "act like characters rather than quest dispensers," he said that the fighting alone is enough to sustain interest. "I killed hundreds of thousands of NPCS in 'Age of Conan,' just for the sheer joy of cutting heads off."
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