Interview with Craig Morrison
Final part of our interview with Age of Conan Game Director, Craig Morrison.
<-Part 3 of the interview.
What can we expect the future of Conan to look like?
MMOs live for a long time. This summer we'll see the 8th anniversary of Anarchy Online. This year is also the 10th anniversary of EverQuest. I think Ago of Conan will be around for many, many years. It's difficult to foresee the future, but the great thing with a MMO is that you get to react to the market. Just like with hindsight, it's difficult to look into the future. We will always concentrate on making the game fun and engaging for the player, and if we keep having that as a goal, we won't go wrong. It's always about providing fun for the players. We have to remember who our audience is, and this is something that we are always stressing to our designers. If we achieve that, then the rest comes to us. Just like "A field of Dreams". "If you build it, they will come" for us I think if remember to make it fun then the rest falls into place!
Is there any new and exciting content that you intend to release? If so, can you show/tell us?
I think that the next game update is actually very technical, because it's the RPG system and the items update. And the patch does also have the Tarantia Commons District, which will be released as a part of the update cycle. Whether it will be in the first patch or not, we haven't quite decided yet.
Tarantia Commons District is, as the name suggests, a part of Tarantia, Conan's capital city. It's kind of a story-driven playfield, relating around riots and civil unrest that's happening in the capital. The player has to choose which side to work with or work against in the civil unrest. So it will be quite interesting.
Will it have any implications on the game world?
Inside the story in that zone, yes it will. Obviously in an MMO, where you have to consider many players rather than just one, the whole 'changing of the world' is a big debate, and it's hard to achieve the large scale dramatic changes people would like. I think it will certainly have an impact on the story for that playfield. The players will be able to influence what is happening at that given time in terms of the riots and which side will win. It won't be one of those things where the game world changes in a dramatic way, but it will be more on the level of what sort of bosses will appear or what quest become available to which people, etc.
We are working on a higher-level playfield called "The House of Crom", which is an indoor playfield - a dungeon experience. I can't go into too many details, because it's still in early development. The playfield itself is built, and we are currently working through the content and establishing how much will be dedicated to single parties, raids, etc. But nothing is decided yet.
Any decision as to where The House of Crom will be placed?
The players who know the lore and have explored a bit will already have some guesses as to where the entrance is. I believe there might be some theories out there already.
Like with Xibuluku, we are focusing on dynamic encounters here. Where it will be in regards to raid content, we haven't decided yet. Those sorts of details are the things the designers are still working on. As it stands right now, the interior and location looks very impressive. This will be the next big content addition.
You have a dedicated team working on the Xbox 360 port. Will there be any difference between the PC and the 360 versions? Are they going to be cross compatible?
That I can't say right now. The decision has yet to be made if the players should be able to play together, so there is a lot of technical discussion when it comes to the Xbox. Deploying an MMO on the Xbox is something we are very keen to do. Obviously consoles are a key platform to moving forward. It's however technically challenging, and will take a good deal of work to get the systems up and running.
Many people who saw the guys presenting the game prior to its launch saw it being played with a gamepad, so the game has been designed from the beginning with the consideration that this has to work with a gamepad.
So will there be changes? Yes, sure, in things like the rendering engine. Technically there are a lot of differences between the versions. In terms of game experience, we will try to ensure that there isn't a drastic difference. But there will be some in regards of the technical aspect.
On your forums there is a weekly suggestion thread. Can you mention some of the best suggestions so far? And have any of them been taken into effect?
When player suggestions get accepted, they are not necessarily taken literally. The suggestions range from small to massive. Some are little tweaks that have been done, and some haven't. Then you have those that want to redesign the game. But it's great to see that level of enthusiasm from the players. I think that some of the smaller things are done, like GUI edition and similar issues. You can see in each update that some of the changes are things that have been suggested on the thread or from feedback. I think it's a myth that developers don't read forums. All developers read forums, daily. I certainly do.
So yes, we do take them in, but suggestions like totally new game-systems are not taken word by word. They might however inspire thoughts in one of the designers that might have an effect on something we are currently working on or planning to do.
Overall, it is a combination of straight influence of everything from "I think you should put a button there." to the "Wouldn't it be cool if you had a big boss that does this and this". But again, it might spark a thought.
It's certainly good as inspiration, or evidence for that matter. One of the designers might say "You said no to that idea, but look at what they are talking about right here!" In that way they might use it as a means to score points with the producers.
At the end of the day, the designers are players too and don't think too differently from the gamers. They have the same motivations, the same things they might find interesting or fun. I think players would be surprised to find out how many of their suggestions have already been covered.
It's always good to see player feedback. Sometimes you will find matters that makes you go "Oh yeah, I hadn't thought of that." That can be a really simple or a really complex thing. This feedback can be something players have seen in another game or something they have thought of themselves.
With mechanics it's kind of hard, because no one has actually copyrighted the RPG-system mechanics. So it's more about interpretations: "Oh, I have seen this feature, has someone else done it?". Personally I'm always careful about adding content. I would never add a system in a game; for the sake of that some one else has it. I added the system because I thought it would give more value to the game. And it is the most value we can get from that system at any given time. Sometimes it will be like a system on another game, but I will always have asked our designers to put a personal touch on it and not just copy.
I think that our PvP systems, where we added the PvP levels and the consequence system, was a good derivative of that. Yes, we added a PvP leveling system, which is very much like what you'll find in our own games like Anarchy Online, or in other games like World of Warcraft or Warhammer. But we also added the consequence system, which is unique to our game. And while we have elements that have existed in other games, we still did it in a slightly different way, like the redemption quests, which are very uniquely Conan, and feel 'right' in the setting.
I think that is the right way of looking at it. Is to "Oh, we need this, just because so and so did it. We need to do it in a way that keeps with our license". There will be elements that are part of a system here and a system there, because pretty much everything has been done now. There probably hasn't been a unique MMO mechanic since the first generation. There are only evolutions of and additions to what already existed. The achievement system in World of Warcraft for example has been taken from single player games. It's an element that has been in other games for many years. EverQuest did things like alternate advancements many years ago. Ultima Online did skill based game-play etc etc. I always challenge the designers, so rather than say "Let's 'steal' this." We should look at it and find that it's actually a derivative from this, this and that in the past. So we can then go back and look at all those. Find what made the best combination of all those elements, and let us do it the best way we can.