April 29, 2008

Age of Conan spellweaving revealed

Fellow Mages rejoice: the moment we have all been waiting for has come! Info about the spellweaving system has been revealed by Funcom's lovey-dovey partner IGN, and it's sure to give that warm, tingly feeling (like when you set someone on fire) for spellcasters and bring fear to the melee classes. The article isn't very detailed but it explains the essentials of spellweaving quite well. There's also a short 15 second video demonstrating spellweaving that you can watch on IGN or YouTube:

There still are quite a few things I'd like to know about spellweaving, although now that we learned about the basics, I don't mind waiting till the launch to find out. Here are some of the parts I found interesting for one reason or another. First of all, the apparent dependence on random chances which I don't think I'm going to like much:

After the state is enabled, spellweaving progresses through six stages, with transition between stages occurring around every ten seconds and occasionally when an offensive spell is cast. Each stage increases a passive spell damage buff, which will max out at around 25 percent <...> Once stage six is reached, the progression cycles back to stage one and repeats all over again, retaining the passive damage bonus. Additionally, each stage transition is accompanied by a chance to gain helpful or harmful effects. While the positive effects will be short duration, the negative side-effects will last until even after you've stopped spellweaving, leaving you vulnerable to attack.
If I understand correctly, the buffs (or debuffs) will be completely random and will not depend on things like your casting performance, timing the spells and such. Also, if you get debuffed, it stays "on" for the rest of the spellweave, and even after it. If you read the article you probably remember that among the listed debuffs there's also one which minimizes your spell damage. I'm guessing that if you get debuffed with that one, you have no other choice but to cancel your spellweave as you will be pretty much useless with your weakened spells. I guess it's all about keeping your fingers crossed that the nastiest debuffs don't kick in right from the beginning - since you don't have any control over this.

The other thing I would like to know is whether stamina/health drain is percentage-based or fixed. I suppose percentage-based would make classes with different health equally good at spellweaving; on the other hand, it would not reward those who try to buff their mages and priests up a little by acquiring +health gear.

One piece of info that surprised me is that according to IGN, the only classes who will be able to spellweave are Demonologist, Necromancer, Tempest of Set and Priest of Mitra. Miss anyone? Yep, apparently, Heralds of Xotli won't get spellweaving. I suppose it makes sense that more melee-based caster classes, such as Herald and Bear Shaman do not get spellweaving - they do get full 5-direction melee attacks after all. It was surprising only because I'm pretty sure I read from an official source some time ago that Heralds of Xotli would be able to spellweave their offensive spells.

I also have to say that I love the amount of control they are giving you in spellweaving (the chance-based buffs/debuffs aside). Towards the end of IGN's article I read something really promising:
During spellweaving the caster can activate a special power that turns the 1, 2, 3, Q, and E keys into ability keys that control the ebb and flow of the phase, pushing it into overdrive for increased damage or slowing it down to prolong the process. <...> And as a bonus, every class gets specific graphical animations for spellweaving.
Sounds great - looks like you can power up faster, at the higher cost of stamina or health. Now that's the "dark and dangerous" magic I excepted in Age of Conan!

April 28, 2008

Joe "Adus" Hegarty on Age of Conan AI

I have been wanting to hear more about the great AI that Age of Conan is supposed to have according to the official site, so I was really interested in this interview with Joe "Adus" Hegarty, the AI designer from Funcom. Joe works on AI for level 1 to 40 NPCs, and it looks like they are creating a very realistic world, where NPCs follow the day/night cycle of Hyboria (parents getting their children home before the dark), have the priority of needs (safety first, food second, etc.) and even interact with other NPCs on streets. This part reminded me of Oblivion (great game, by the way) and I imagine the cities in Age of Conan will be very lively and feel realistic with all the random conversations going on around you.

The only thing concerning AI that I'd like to hear more about are the 'monster' NPCs. I got the impression that Joe was talking mostly about 'humanoid' NPCs and didn't elaborate on the monsters much. Is it still true that deer will graze and drink water, and be hunted by wolves? I read it on the official forums sometime before and I guess it's nothing more but a rumor, but still - it would be great if they applied the whole 'hierarchy of needs' thing to animals as well.

April 25, 2008

Hyborian Insider #2 (Friday Update)

This week's Friday Update is the second issue of Hyborian Insider with Erling Ellingsen, the Product Manager for AoC. He talks about Age of Conan PvP here - mostly mini-games, actually. Team Annihilation and Capture the Flag (or Skull, as they call it) are previewed in this video, as well as several locations for these, such as the Blood Ravine or the Lost Temple. We also get to see some pretty cool ranged combat footage where a Ranger keeps hitting his enemies with arrows from afar. Download the high quality video from the official site, or watch it on YouTube:

Two things caught my attention here (annoying jumping guy in the background aside). First, while PvP exp and levels are mentioned, Erling says nothing about PvP feats - only special items you can get if you have a high enough PvP level. Could it be that they're even more similar to WoW ranks now and don't give your character any new feats/skills at all? Second, it's the ease of using the queue system for the mini-games - which is a great thing, as these are mostly meant for casual gamers. Like Gaute explained in one of the videos (GDC 2008 presenation, I think) he wants people to be able to "login, jump right into PvP action, fight for 20 minutes and then log out" which is exactly what these games are good for.

Siege combat is also mentioned towards the end, but the footage is from an old trailer and Erling tells us to stay tuned for more info about it as AoC gets closer to launch.

April 22, 2008

Funcom's update on Age of Conan for the investors

Funcom has released a new update today for the investors of the company. It contains lots of interesting information you wouldn't find on the official Age of Conan website. No marketing gimmicks here - just realistic stuff.

First, Age of Conan has apparently gone gold, probably back on 8th April - it seems the rumors based on that filmed calendar were right after all. Now even the biggest skeptics can rest assured the game will be released on time - so start reserving those holidays for the end of May, people!

Funcom has passed the Age of Conan Gold master milestone according to plan and the retail DVDs has been delivered for box production. At launch an online update will be available for downloading where additional content, optimizations and bugfixes will be included.
I just wonder if spellweaving, battle keep sieges and all the other planned goodies made it into the gold version (seeing how spellweaving still wasn't there in the GameSpot's PvP weekend). But hey, even if they patch it in right before launch, I'm good as long as it's in the game.

Another interesting piece of information is the official pricing. The suggested retail price is $59.99 for US and 49.99 € for European markets; seems a little steep, but since I placed my preorder with GAME few months ago when it was still only 17.99 pounds - which is more than two times less - I'm a happy man.

The monthly fee is the standard $14.99 to play on US servers and 12.99 € for playing on European ones. Like with the game box price, Europeans are getting a pretty bad deal (since right now $14.99 is only around 9.5 €), but at least they are not charging the same amount of euros as they charge dollars; besides, I'm sure the American currency will rise again... But I guess that's not the topic of this blog.

The update also tells about the marketing campaigns Funcom will undertake together with Eidos. More than 12% of the company’s anticipated gross revenues from Age of Conan will be spent on marketing, so expect to see the game on the covers of many gaming magazines.

I also found it interesting that at launch Age of Conan servers will be able to support up to 500k-600k active subscribers (note: not simultaneous players online). Apparently, increasing that capacity would take Funcom anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Also outlined on the update are the key risks according to the company, something you won't find on the game website. Here they are:
Key risks before launch:
Unforeseen technical issues that will require more time to correct than is available under current time schedule.
Key risks at launch:
Technical issues related to network and servers and to client performance such as stability and frame rate for different hardware configurations.
Key risks after launch:
The quality of gameplay, and thereby the longevity of the average subscription, and the ability of the Company to quickly address potential technical issues during and after the launch period.
Looks like May is going to be a pretty crazy month for Funcom, let's hope they can deal with all the difficulties in launching what might become the biggest MMORPG of 2008, and more!

April 21, 2008

Mitra's Method interviews Shannon Drake

There is a new interview posted on WarCry Network with Funcom's Community Manager, Shannon "Pharamond" Drake. It doesn't have too much juicy info, I'm afraid; Pharamond wasn't able to answer the question about Age of Conan going gold due to a 'stock market thing', and the question about the content of the game expansions due to fear of rabid, caffeine-addicted game developers attacking him. And it seems he cleverly evaded the question about whether Gaute got any better in PvP or not... Hey, sometimes silence is an answer, too.

One interesting piece of information was about the PvP levels. Apparently, these aren't as much 'levels' as they are 'ranks' of sorts. They probably still add a few new feats for your character, but if you're lvl1 PvPer facing a lvl20 PvPer, he won't have much advantage because of his higher level at all - it's merely an indication that he's good at the game and managed to work his way up to the top. Which shouldn't be that hard when you think of it, because while you do lose PvP experience when you die at the hand of another player, you cannot 'delevel' - once you gain that new PvP level, it's yours to keep forever.

April 18, 2008

Answers from Kalanthes #2 (Friday Update)

This Friday Update on the Community Site is a huge improvement over the previous one. Not only they posted a new batch of answers from Kalanthes, these are also pretty interesting and informative. They have information on Age of Conan system requirements, the look of armor and weapons, collision detection and hiding from ranged attacks, death and ressurection, day/night cycles, respecing feats, and finally, some new things about the mechanics of mounted combat. Here are the questions I found most interesting:

Hi Kalanthes,
I've heard conflicting information on mounted combat. Can archers shoot mounted?

The latest possible word from the mounted combat guy: Archers and spellcasters can both shoot/fire/cast spells when mounted. There are some limitations regarding what spells can be used (for spellcasters) and archers have a more limited targeting cone than they do on foot, but it is possible for both to “shoot” mounted.
What great news! I would hate to get my hopes up for nothing, but for now, I'll just assume that Athelan made a mistake when answering the questions about ranged mounted combat on his blog (hey, everyone's human). Shooting arrows and throwing spells from horseback really adds a whole new aspect to the game for ranged classes. Oh, and it seems Assassins and other dagger-users aren't going to be left out from the fun either:
Lets say you are using a class that can only use a dagger as it's main weapon. If you are on a horse, will you still be able to participate in mounted combat as far as hacking and slashing your opponents on the back of the mount?

You can still hack and slash away with a dagger from the back of a mount, if it’s one of the smaller mounts, and every class can use the mount’s attacks (kicks, tusks, etc.) to drive their enemies before them.
I imagine you won't be able to reach with your dagger as far as a polearm-wielding Guardian can, but it's still better than not being able to attack from horseback in melee range at all, isn't it?

Overall these are some good news for AoC Mages. Just don't get too excited or expect an 'overpowered' class, because it was also said that Mages have very few instant-cast spells, and probably have to stand still while casting. Now, if they just posted at least some info on spellweaving...

April 17, 2008

Age of Conan Open Beta on May 1st

Ah, so many exciting news about AoC recently! Today Funcom announced that the Open Beta for Age of Conan will start on May 1st. Hold your horses, though - it might not be as 'open' as it sounds. First, only 50 thousand people will be accepted ('only' is relative, of course - 50k is a whole lot of players when you think of it). Second, you have to be a paid subscriber of FilePlanet to participate ($6.95/mo), as they're the ones distributing the game install. I have this long standing dislike for IGN and Fileplanet so I think I'll just pass on the offer and experience the game in full when it comes out, but I'm sure some people will jump at the opportunity.

As you might have guessed the 'not-so-open' beta has gotten various heated responses from the community. Majority of the questions were answered in the just-posted letter from Jørgen Tharaldsen, the Product Director of AoC. Personally, I don't really have any negative feelings about Funcom's choice - perhaps only them naming this test 'open' when it is not - but like I said before, I'm not going to pay for a stupid Fileplanet subscription just to get to play the game to 13th level (yes, this restriction is also in).

On a brighter note, it seems NDA will be lifted some time soon: the letter mentions it will happen 'way before we launch'.

April 16, 2008

Clan of Conan #15 with preorder information

The 15th issue of the Clan of Conan newsletter has just come out. Of course, it should have been sent to the e-mail boxes of the subscribers, but, like usual, I didn't receive it in my Yahoo! Mail. Thankfully you can just read it online on the official website. Preparing for the launch, it has all the info listed on preorder bonuses, mounts, the Collector's Edition, and the three days early access.

I'm especially glad the Early Access has been clarified by an official source. If you preorder Age of Conan, you are going to get a special key that will allow you to enter the world of Hyboria 3 days early (17th for US and 20th for EU) and play the game for 10 days before entering the game key from the physical box itself. This will apparently cost you 5 dollars or euros, and you will have to download the game a few days before the start. I'm pretty excited about this and plan to take advantage of early access (to own the noobies after the masses join the server, of course). At first I doubted whether GAME shop where I preordered provided this bonus, but it seems most of retailers do and you should get your key by they end of April.

But this brings my attention to another problem. You see, the early access costs $5 or 5 € - which is approximately 50% more. I do hope it doesn't mean US version will have a $15 monthly fee while playing on Euro servers would cost you 15 €. This would be pretty unfair towards European gamers!

Zergwatch interviews Jason 'Athelan' Stone

Zergwatch have put up a new interview with Age of Conan's Game Designer Jason Stone. Instead of asking your usual questions about gameplay, graphics and such, these guys seem to be more interested in things like boobies, sex, violence, and whether Arnold would play Age of Conan or not. This unusual interview is pretty humorous and has some interesting pieces of information, too. Like this quote here:

Zergwatch: Alot of times the subject comes up about "How is AoC different from World of Warcraft?" Surely, you hope to win over existing WoW fans who may actually enjoy the game. In what ways would you say your game is like WoW for those people?

Jason: WoW was interesting in the fact it took what was already established about MMO's and made it polished and approachable. <...> We have certainly tried to copy this to make the game accessible for people and to step up our levels of polish. <...> we have also done some re-working of interface options and whatnot to make it more familiar to those who played WoW.
So, there you have it. Polishing the game and making it more accessible is a good thing, as long as it doesn't decrease the complexity and depth. Hopefully Age of Conan will be 'easy to learn, hard to master'.

April 15, 2008

Retail Trailer and Tutorial Video

Funcom decided to give us, the fans a treat and and released two new videos - or I should say, they and Gamespot did. The first one is a short tutorial, showcasing and explaining different parts of the game's UI. It doesn't have a lot of information and is really basic, but seeing the interface in Age of Conan for the first time (yes, I'm not in beta) is very cool. The video is produced by Gamespot and you can find it right here, or watch it on YouTube:

The design and colors of the UI seem to match those of the character selection screen I wrote about in my previous post, so probably this part of the game is almost finished and won't change much till AoC is released. It looks pretty good; the only negative thing I could think of is the hotbar being pretty large and taking up a lot of space. Perhaps it's to show off their high resolution skill icons? Also I don't see much point in one-click Help and Friends buttons when you can use a keyboard shortcut for that (I'm the kind of player who prefers only the stuff I need for gameplay to be on the screen). You will probably be able to hide the unneeded elements of the UI though, so it shouldn't be a problem.

I was expecting something more from the second one, since it is titled the 'Retail Trailer', created for promoting the game with only a month left till it's release on May 20th. Turns out it mostly has edited and combined footage from previous trailers. Still, the soundtrack choice is great and I guess it captures the spirit of the game well. It has mounts, magic, demons, and even some nudity (the back of a topless girl with cute pigtails standing in water, and also a succubus - yes, I have an eye for such things). No decapitations though - I suppose that was necessary so they'd be able to show the trailer to a wider audience. Again, download the good quality version from the official site, or watch it on YouTube:

So, if you were new to AoC, would watching this trailer be enough to get you interested in the game? Personally, I'd at least look for some more info about it, since a mature MMORPG like this is something new and fresh.

April 12, 2008

Friday Update: character selection screen video

It seems like Funcom doesn't want to give us much Friday Update love. This time they released a 16 seconds long, high resolution 3 MB video of the character selection screen. Yup, that's all. They rotate three of the characters (a Conqueror, a Herald of Xotli and a Barbarian) around for a bit so you can see their features and the armor they're wearing. According to the devs, this 'very latest, cutting-edge, ganked from the developer’s desktop' version isn't even in the beta yet and is still a work in progress, so we're supposed to be lucky to see it so early. That doesn't change the fact that it's still merely the character selection screen... Not too exciting.

On a brighter note, GAME finally announced their preorder bonus for those who reserved the 'normal' version of the game: a mammoth mount. Great news for me since I placed my preorder with them. Looking forward to raiding your city!

April 9, 2008

Age of Conan release date clarification

As AoC's release date draws closer and closer, another delay seems highly unlikely. Barring a catastrophe (like coffee spilled all over Funcom's servers) we should all be playing Age of Conan in another 40 days - and only 37 for those who have early access. Pharamond, the Community Manager, has also posted this in the official forums yesterday:

Nothing has changed.
Europe release date is the 23rd because you launch games on Friday in Europe.
US release date is the 20th because you launch games on Tuesday in the US.
Since that was a European site, they asked me about the European date.
There also have been rumors circulating in the forums based on a calendar seen in one Norwegian interview with Gaute Godager. According to those, AoC was supposed to have gone gold (burned to DVDs getting ready for release) yesterday. However, there was no announcement from the devs whatsoever, and nothing really happened on the 8th of April. What can I say - Funcom's 'gold' mark on the calendar might have been something they did for the lulz :-) (Why else would they show it to public!). Besides, 40 days before release might be a bit too early for mass production of the game. Anyway, here's a link to the interview if you understand Norwegian; the calendar shows up for a short time around 14:22. Gaute also says that he 'guarantees the game will be released on 20th May' at the end!

April 8, 2008

Customer Service and the Followers of Asura

 Edit: if you're just looking to join Followers of Asura, simply follow this link to their official website.

The TenTonHammer people sure know how to ask the right questions. I've learned more from this interview with Brian Lee (the Customer Service Manager for Funcom) than most of the recent ones on other sites put together, since they usually just recycle old questions and don't actually reveal anything new. Okay, the behavior policy and their attitude towards gold sellers is nothing special; it's very similar to other subscription based MMORPGs. As for the naming policy, Brian promises they will not allow profane names, names containing trademarked material, names containing numbers, and even names of characters from Conan books (hooray to that, I don't want hundreds of different variants of Conans and Thoth-Amons running around!). But of course, only time will show how well will that work. They can filter many of the names at the character creation screen, but people tend to get creative, and then catching the offenders will be up to GMs... And the Followers of Asura, of course.

Followers of Asura is probably the most interesting thing mentioned in this interview. No, it's not some dark cult - it is Funcom's volunteer program, similar to the ARK program in Anarchy Online. It will be up to these guys to report some more serious issues to the GMs, and also guide the little clueless noobies around the harsh world of Hyboria. Apparently, the program is already functioning, with the first Followers doing their work in General Beta. If you want to join, you will have to either get into beta, or wait till the game is released and then apply.

Another point of the interview that I found interesting is that according to Funcom's representative, they are going to punish excessive griefing. Again, I suppose it's nothing unexpected in MMOs which actually have customer support, but I wonder how that will work. Will lower level players report you often after you kill them? I don't intend to target a single guy for hours and stop him from enjoying the game, but I fully intend to kill some lowbies every now and then :-) Hey, who doesn't?

April 7, 2008

Cimmerian dance moves

Take a peek into Funcom's motion capture studio in this video. It's in Norwegian, but even if you don't understand the language (I don't) it should be pretty self-explanatory - they are doing the motion capture for the in-game Cimmerian dance. Apparently, the dance is a traditional Norwegian one, called "Lausdans" or "Halling". I thought it looks impressive and pretty dangerous, and not only to the performer, but to anyone standing nearby! If the above link doesn't work for you, you can also watch in YouTube, but it's in lower quality:

I'm happy to see that Age of Conan follows the mature game theme and doesn't have any silly dances like some other MMORPGs (you know what I'm talking about). Anyway, according to the Norwegian guys on the official forums who were so nice as to translate everything, Stygians (females, I assume) will be getting a belly dance, while Aquilonians will have some sort of European dance from the Baroque. Nice!

April 4, 2008

Friday update: 4 new screenshots

Most fans of Age of Conan probably check the Community Site on Fridays to read those eagerly awaited updates on the game. This time Funcom has listened to the questions about spellcasters that the forum members have been asking, so they have brought us... *drum roll* four new spellcaster screenshots!

Spellcaster screenshot 1 Spellcaster screenshot 3 Spellcaster screenshot 4 Spellcaster screenshot 2

Well, these certainly look awesome, but I find the update itself lacking. With just 45 days left till AoC goes gold (time sure flies fast!) and no official info on the new spellweaving system, I was expecting they would give us a preview of how that will work.

For those who didn't know, the original vision of spellweaving was combining multiple spells and all their effects into a single powerful one and unleashing it upon your foes - but that was changed along the way. All we know about the new one is that it's supposed to be 'similar to melee combo system'. If I remember correctly, this little tidbit of information was posted on some French site who had the honor to interview Funcom guys during GDC 2008. Hopefully we'll soon learn more - I'm very much looking forward to spellweaving with my Demonologist!

April 3, 2008

Exclusive Age of Conan screenshots at IGN

If you have been following the news on the Community Site, you probably know that IGN has launched their own website about AoC which can be found at conanvault.ign.com. Now, I don't like IGN much because of the annoying ads (the ones that take up whole screen and you have to click to continue to the actual content), but there's no denying it's a big gaming portal, and Age of Conan could always use some more publicity. Anyway, the people at IGN posted 3 exclusive Age of Conan screenshots yesterday:

IGN screenshot 1 IGN screenshot 2 IGN screenshot 3

Frankly, I don't understand what's so "exclusive" about these (aside from the fact that Funcom allowed the testers to post them, of course). They look plain weird, not to mention way too dark to me, and the ground textures are all blurry. Thankfully, people at the official forums explained the screenshots were probably made by a beta tester who just doesn't have the best computer - so there's no bloom effect or anti-aliasing. That reminds me, the games usually do look a whole lot brighter with bloom turned on. It doesn't look like the owners of lower-end PCs will be able to enjoy the graphics of Age of Conan much, though. What do you think?

April 2, 2008

Optimizing Age of Conan

If you don't mind some technicalities, Ole Herbjornsen (the leet Designer of AoC) has just updated his blog at 1up.com with a post called "Tools of the trade". It's a nice long read about how code and data optimization is done to make sure the game runs smoothly and looks great. Ole explains everything so well even I can understand it! Now I'm feeling all smart because I know a bit more of how are games developed.

On a completely unrelated note, I hope we didn't get any victims in the yesterday's attack of the elves?