Interview with Craig Morrison (part 2 of 4)
Continuing interview with Age of Conan's Game Director!
The game has been accused of lacking content, especially for high-level players. Can you show us some of the latest additions to the game?
There is one area that has been focused on since launch. I wouldn't say that players felt content lacked for just high-levels. They felt there were gaps in the consistency of content delivery. Not all the level ranges were consistent with one and other. We have tried to address that with Ymir's Pass, a huge playfield that is aimed at players between levels 55-60. There has been the new Xibuluku, and the Slaughter House cellar added at Thunder River for level 80 players. I think they will have a nice experience in that dungeon.
Can you tell us about the dungeon?
Xibuluku is a challenge for players because we tried to make sure the content was interesting and engaging. We didn't just follow the standard; the boss wasn't just a meat slab that had to be grinded. We tried to ask the designers to make the bosses and challenges in Xibuluku a bit more interactive and dynamic so that encounters were more interesting for the players. It's important to have the player meet a boss and go "Ah, that is the creature which does this and this". In Xibuluku, most of the bosses have a trick up their sleeves, or slightly different mechanics from what players are used to.
For example, one of the bosses in Xibuluku has a platform attached to it. There is a button on the wall that removes the boss' protective buff (which gives it strength). This buff makes it next to impossible to kill it. You can't reach the button at once, so there is a series of four buttons along the wall in front of a pit, which the players have to press in sequence to make platforms appear and disappear. But you have to do it with teamwork. One person has to press the buttons, whilst another has to jump over the platforms, as there isn't enough time for just one player to press the buttons and jump the platforms. All this has to be done whilst someone else is fighting the boss.
It's all about making the encounters dynamic and interesting for the players, even for the best players that figure everything out, the hardcore ones. Good design is what keeps them on their toes.
One of the other bosses in Xibuluku has the ability to take control of one player in the party and put them in a prison cell. The door then closes behind them and a skeleton spawns, and to get out they have to kill it to get a key.
The boss chooses randomly who it takes, so it might take your main healer, your tank or your DPS. It sounds like a simple mechanic, but when you think of what impact it may have on the party, it gets interesting.
This is what makes a good design, but you don't want to do it too much, since it will become annoying or confusing for the players. It's all about finding the right balance.
There is another area at Xibuluku where there is a waterfall. By the waterfall there is a very well timed path. So if the party members walk too fast, they'll get in trouble, and if they walk too slowly, they'll get in trouble. There are bats that come out from underneath. There is also a boss which follows them down the path. It doesn't do any damage, but it performs a knock-back attack if they are facing the wrong way, which might knock them off the cliff.
Again - simple but interesting. And that is what we wanted to do with Xibuluku. We have received good feedback from players, and they seem to be going back to it multiple times since their experience will change and their knowledge of the place increase for each time. In MMOs, you have players who play for weeks, months, or even years. You have to make sure you develop content that is fun enough to be repeatable.
One of the exciting things about Age of Conan is the concept of massive PvP in siege battles. How far have you managed to take this by now?
For each update, we try to tweak and refine this concept. It is one of the hardest areas to balance and test, simply because of the number of players you need. So it's always a challenge. We have added more systems to constantly try and make it more appealing and interesting for players, and more involving for the community. For example, in the last game update we introduced two new systems related to the siege PvP. One was the war declaration system, which allows the siege to be preceded by a period of war between guilds that want to do that siege. If two players are declaring their intent to siege a keep, a period of four days prior to the siege point follows where the two guilds have to compete and get PvP points for every PvP-act they partake in. Only the guild with the most points will be allowed to commit the siege. It extends the siege of the guild to a greater period of time.
It makes it a lot more personal.
It does! This is about building up the group, the guild dynamics and the community. It also allows guilds to have competitions and see who is going to attack them, and it is something we will continue to expand. I think with siege PvP we try to alter or add something in every update, rather than following the procedure for all the other content where we build a focus for each update. For example: "In two updates, we are going to have a big focus on trade skills". With siege PvP, it's integral for the community and the high-level players that we do minor things ever single update. This is to make sure this feature will constantly improve and evolve into something even more dynamic and interactive for the players.
The second change we made would be that the battle keeps require special resources, and these resources only spawn in PvP areas. So if people want to gain resources to build a keep or siege, they need to collect all resources in the PvP areas. This obviously makes them open for attack. What's more is that these resources can be looted from the player if they die in PvP-combat. If you have collected a hundred pieces of the resources required to build the keep, you can be killed by another player and lose everything on your way back to your guild city. It adds an interesting dynamic to the system and is something we will continue to tweak and expand. We have to get the refresh-rates of the resources correct so there is a right flow of supply and demand. I believe the feature is starting to put the other elements into the mix, so it becomes a more integral part of the high-level gameplay. When it comes to the sieges, I think that the players who do them really enjoy them.
The feedback has been good, and the teams are constantly making sure that we are addressing the issues and the bugs that come up.
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