Age of Conan Interview
Interview with Jorgen Tharaldsen, Product Director at Funcom, by Kester
Transcription of an interview conducted January 23rd, 2007 at the Games for Windows Launch Event in San Francisco
Kester: I am here with Jorgen Tharaldsen, Product Director at Funcom, the maker of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. What can you tell us about this new game?
Jorgen: I'm here today showing Age of Conan, which is an MMO game, set in the mature, brutal, barbaric world of Conan. And in this universe, you enter the game as a character. You create this character - you start out as a galley slave. And Conan is to become King of the nation of Aquilonia, one of the mightiest nations in this world. And you enter this world and you fight, and you live, and you explore, and adventure in this massive universe, alone or together with friends. You build cities, you go fight demons and demigods, you use magic or the sword or the bow or just make an impact on this world. It's a game where you have a mix of focus on storytelling and having a really good story aspect with it, with lots of gameplay. And I think the core difference of this game, compared to all the other online games now, is our combat system and the way you actually do combat in the game.
Kester: And how does that work?
Jorgen: We have something called a real combat engine, which is a real-time combat system. It doesn't sound much if you're used to console games, but for online games it's a big step forward. It means that if you play with a gamepad, or even with a keyboard and mouse, you can actually fight in real-time, like you do more in a console game. And you can string attacks together into combos and special moves and fatality moves, and you also have ranged combat in real-time, you have formation combat, where you can group many players. You have siege PvP combat or player versus player combat. You have mounted combat, where you can fight from horseback or mammoths, and you can strike the sword down. It's just a massive mix of what you can actually do with the combat. You can build your own cities. You can lay siege to other cities. Yeah, there's really a lot of options to the combat.
Kester: The graphics for it look fantastic.
Jorgen: Yes, it's one of the showcase games for Windows Vista. What we're showing here today is DX10. One of the first PC games in the world to get that technology up and running. The best part is not just the technology, but the look and feel of the world and the way the art director and his team - it feels like it's a real world. And with dense scenery and the way lighting has been set, the textures, the buildings, I think everything is coming together, and it looks like it's an existing world. It has this magical realism thing to it. It's not completely real, because it's a fantasy universe. I'm in awe, pretty much, of what the artists have been able to do.
Kester: And how about the AI? You were telling me a little about the AI earlier.
Jorgen: With online games, you're playing a lot of hours in the game, and we really worked on the AI to make it dynamic. So not everything becomes static, and becomes the same every time you meet it. We implemented something called a need-based AI system. And it's based upon Maslow's hierarchy of needs. So that means that pretty much every imp you meet in the game has certain needs to fulfill. This means that they have a need to sleep, they have a need to get food, and they have a need even for social needs, some of them. It depends on what we program them to do. It means that there will be dynamic behavior based upon, for instance, time of day, or if it's night or day, based on if you're alone in the world or not. Like if you run out in the wilderness, and you see a pack of wolves, they're more likely to attack you if you're alone than if you're traveling in a group of players. It means that we really can scale the AI. And you also use artificial intelligence for instance, for enemy camps, where the gameplay will scale and differ, based upon who you are, where you are, what kind of group is there - it just gives more randomness to the encounters, instead of knowing what exactly will happen in each region. It gives more unpredictability, and hopefully more gameplay variety and replayability. It is really cool, and it becomes a bit more humanized. You know, games in the old times, you could really find out the pattern. That's important you find out the pattern in this game too. It's not like it's going to be completely unpredictable, because it is a game, and people have certain expectations of what a game should be. But just by what you saw in there - just by changes between night and day, and how the whole scenery changes - the drunkards come out in the street, and different kinds of shady characters come out, the guards change with it, etc., it really makes the whole world come more alive, I think. Instead of having the same guy hang on the corner regardless of what you're doing. We know people will spend a lot of time in our cities and our environments, so we try to give them something unique.
Kester: And when does it come out?
Jorgen: It's coming out this spring. The launch window is set for March to May. We're in a closed beta at the moment. All our partners are testing, we are testing. As we move into the spring, we'll get more and more people into the beta. In the final stages, we're going to open up to thousands and thousands of players. Right now I think it's a fantastic game to work on, because it's quite different from all the other games out there, and we've been able to achieve most of the goals that we set a few years ago.
Kester: Sounds fantastic - thank you for your time!