September 29, 2008

Letter from the new Game Director of Age of Conan

The official Age of Conan website has posted a letter to the community from the new Game Director, Craig Morrison. (I believe you already heard about him replacing Gaute). It's a very long, informative and down-to-earth letter; having read through it all, I really can't help but think that "Silirrion" will do a lot of good to the game.

Here are the main points of interest:

  • Ymir’s Pass: this large new zone will stay on the test server through several updates on live in order to test and polish it as much as possible before releasing. I don't care about it too much personally, since it's a level 55-60 area; I think they should be adding more high level zones instead.
  • 2nd part of PvP system update: the consequence system will add repercussions for killing low-level players and other "evil" acts like that. A player who gets "murderer" status won't be allowed in towns, but they will be able to use services of NPCs in new "criminal camps" (although it might cost more than services of "honest" vendors). Nice to know that murderers will be able to use the NPCs as well.
  • Items to become more powerful: currently the items account for a maximum contribution of 25% of your characters total in any given statistic or ability, but they are aiming to increase that closer to 50%. They are also adjusting the formulas so the statistics, such as STR or INT, will add more to the visible abilities like your Health and Mana pools. I find that to be the best news of all, since I always felt that increasing your character's statistics through gear did very little in actually making him stronger.
  • Changes to Kingship and Powerpoints
    • Powerpoints are still coming, although there will be a name change (always thought the name was silly - thanks for that, Craig!) and it will be a loyalty program that will backdate and reward you for your active Age of Conan subscription you've had ever since the launch. 
    • Kingship, on the other hand, is being looked at and will probably be redesigned from scratch. It might also include some form of alternate advancement for your character, or "lateral progression" as the Game Director calls it.
  • Server merge: yes, it will happen, and both with North American and European servers in order to maintain healthy population on every server. Great desicion, and just about time, too!
  • DirectX 10: it's almost ready to be released in Test servers; how soon we'll seen it on Live depends on the results of the testing.
Overall the letter leaves a very optimistic and positive impression. Things are being done, and Funcom are working hard to improve the game. Head to Age of Conan's community site to read it all.

September 22, 2008

Jørgen Tharaldsen on the future of AoC

IGN's Connanvault has just posted an interview with Jørgen Tharaldsen, the Product Director for Age of Conan. The video was recorded at this year's Austin Game Developer's Conference which took place on September 14-18. Jørgen mostly spoke about the current state of the game and the upcoming content, such as the new PvP system and additional areas. Gaute's resignation and the just-released Warhammer Online have also been discussed, among other things. Watch it on YouTube below or head to IGN.


Here's a condensed version of the interview:
  • Now that there's no rush to meet the deadlines, Funcom is taking things slower and making sure that each new feature is complete and polished.
  • The main goal of Funcom is for Age of Conan to be a top MMO (a strong number 2, since they don't plan on competing with World of Warcraft).
  • The upcoming content includes PvP updates (which are coming out in stages) and new areas made to fill the content gaps, such as Ymir's Pass, House of Crom or Tarantia Commons. No exact dates are given, but most of this should come out this year.
  • Guild Sieges are a big priority of Funcom; they are working on balancing them and ensuring smooth performance with 48x48 (for now) players in the field.
  • Only 3 people in Funcom are working on the Age of Conan expansion. It's in the initial stage of developing and the release date is unknown at this time. The rest of the team are still working on improving existing content.
  • Gaute is leaving game developing for good and going back to psychology. Leave it to him to deal with AoC addicts!
When talking about Warhammer Online, Jørgen also bragged about Funcom pwning the EA Mythic team in an FPS game. Way to go!

September 17, 2008

Craig Morrison replaces Gaute Godager as Game Director for Age of Conan

Funcom announced some suprising news today. Apparently, Gaute Godager has resigned from his position as the Game Director for Age of Conan and quit the company he participated in founding and had been working in for the past 16 years. I guess we won't hear his cool Norwegian accent in Funcom videos anymore. With Gaute leaving, there's also very little left of the 'original' FC team.

Here's what he had to say about his desicion to leave the company:

I have done my very best making this fabulous game, but I have concluded there are elements which I am dissatisfied with. I have decided to act on this, and as a result I have chosen to leave Funcom. It is time to get new, fresh eyes on Age of Conan, and I wholeheartedly support the appointment of Craig. I have had a fantastic time these last 16 years, and I am very proud of the many things Funcom has achieved. Funcom and Conan will always be a big part of me, but as I now look to new ventures outside the gaming industry I am certain Age of Conan’s future is in the best of hands.
Uh oh - it seems there were some internal disagreements regarding AoC; not surprising really, considering all the heated debates about undelivered promises and complaints from the players about the state of the game, especially in the first 2 months after launch.

The one to take over his position is Craig Morrison, who had been working as Funcom's Community Manager, and later as the Producer and Game Director on Anarchy Online. He also seems to be a huge fan of MMO games and he had worked at IGN’s Vault as Associate Editor, managing websites dedicated to several of those.

Here's what Craig had to say about his new job as the Game Director for AoC:
Taking on the position as Producer and Game Director on Age of Conan is a great challenge but also one I welcome. I have a clear conviction I can lead the further development in a good way, evolving Age of Conan into something even better. My main priority now is therefore to listen to, and act on, player concerns, while ensuring we add additional great content to the game. At heart I will always be a gamer, and the coming changes and additions to Conan will always be done with the gamers in mind. Together I am certain we will shape an amazing future for Age of Conan.
I wonder if this means that we'll see some major changes in AoC; surely Mr. Morrison has a different vision of the game than Gaute did. This change could do a lot of good for Age of Conan; I don't want to say anything bad about Gaute, but now he has 2 'bad' MMO launches under his belt, while Craig Morrison (known as 'Sillirion' by Anarchy Online players) seems to have done a great job as the Game Director of AO.

September 10, 2008

Age of Conan PvP gear screenshots

Since the AoC PvP patch is supposed to come out some time 'very soon', I thought I would post screenshots of those cool and sexy new PvP sets and their stats and PvP level requirements. Here they are (yes, I'm aware that quality of some of those pictures is pretty bad):

Barbarian PvP set:

Bear Shaman PvP set:
Dark Templar PvP set:
Herald of Xotli PvP set:
Necromancer PvP set:
Priest of Mitra PvP set:
Ranger PvP set:
Tempest of Set PvP gear:
Assassin PvP set:
Demonologist PvP set:
 Guardian PvP set screenshot:
Conqueror PvP gear screenshots:
Screenshots of PvP weapons:
Screenshots of PvP jewelry and cloak:

What can I say; while the stats of those items are pretty good, the looks of the most are simply gorgeous. Also, it's pretty interesting to see a +magic dmg glaive (a polearm) for Tempests; most of them have been using 1 handed + a shield up till now, as far as I've seen. As for Demonologists, I see we have a choice between a staff and a dagger + talisman; the difference is minimum, with the staff adding a bit more magical health and mana tap, while the dagger/talisman combo adds some more intelligence and natural mana regen.

September 4, 2008

Warhammer Online lead designer writes Age of Conan off

There was a short interview with lead WAR designer Mark Jacobs posted on the Multiplayer blog at MTV.com. I thought it was a pretty interesting read since they were talking about the reasons why MMORPGs fail (MMOs have the highest failure rates among entertainment products, apparently!), and what is needed in order for them to succeed. One of the games that the Mythic VP mentioned was - yep, you guessed it - Age of Conan.

I think that the greatest mistake that Funcom made was not listening and not learning from what had gone before. When they looked at the game when they were ready to launch, I can’t imagine how they didn’t see the issues that other people saw. According to their annual reports, they had plenty of money. They should’ve looked at it and said, ‘We need to delay this game.’ There are probably reasons I’m not aware of… but I think that’s their biggest sin.
Mark also said that in some way he wanted Age of Conan to succeed and to show everyone that it's not only Blizzard who can create a successful MMO. In other words, the lead designer let us know in no uncertain terms that he didn't view Age of Conan as possible competition anymore. On the other hand, he didn't write the game off completely yet:
If Funcom are willing to spend the time and the money to fix the things that — according to the players — are broken, and put in the things that players say they didn’t put in, they can turn it around. But now they’re going to have to leapfrog over us and then leapfrog over Blizzard in order to bring back a ton of players — that’s going to be tough. They won’t be what they could’ve been.
I agree completely that Age of Conan didn't deliver all the things that Funcom 'promised'. The game was clearly overhyped; if it wasn't, perhaps the players would be more forgiving, and instead of seeing a lot of initial sales and a huge nosedive in subscription count later on, we could have seen low to moderate initial sales followed by a steady growth, with Funcom adding new content continually.

Still, subscription count isn't the only indicator of how good an MMORPG is. I'm sure Age of Conan will find it's niche in the MMO market, even if it won't be a huge commercial success that it could have been. I'm also sure that a lot of players (including me!) had and are still having tons of fun adventuring in Hyboria.

Continuing the same thought, if Darkfall will come out and deliver the promised features such as free-for-all PvP and full PvP loot, many players (especially the Ultima Online crowd) will surely call it the best MMO ever - but I somehow doubt that Darkfall will ever come close to, say, Warhammer Online in terms of subscriber numbers.

Head to Multiplayer blog to read the whole interview.

September 1, 2008

Age of Conan hyperlink exploit vulnerability fixed

As you very well know, Age of Conan's chat system (which the game inherited from Funcom's other MMORPG, Anarchy Online) allows the users to link to items and even post hyperlinks. Those are usually used for guild recruitment, but according to a recent publication from a security expert firm 'Independent Security Evaluators', in-game links could be used for malicious purposes as well. This affects both of Funcom's MMOs, because, as I mentioned before, they share the same chat system. Two types of attacks were possible in Age of Conan:

  1. The so-called 'directory traversal vulnerability'. By clicking an in-game hyperlink, the player's character could be forced to 'read' (post in the 'Say' chat) a plain text file located anywhere on his computer, one line at a time - since the game interprets each one of them as a script command. If you have AoC installed in C:\Program Files\Funcom\Age of Conan, for example, a link that would make your character read a file located at C:\mysecretdiary.txt would look something like this: ../../../mysecretdiary.txt. Looks harmless enough, unless you like keeping all your passwords in a text file named passwords.txt on your desktop, or have one full of Age of Conan's emote commands - but even then, the hacker would have to guess the location of it.
  2. The buffer overflow attack. By employing the same tactics, the hacker tricks a player into clicking a hyperlink. The game script parser cannot handle extremely long lines of text, so if the link is pointed to, for example, ageofconan.exe (a huge file), the game client promptly crashes.
Like I mentioned before, AO is also susceptible to this bug; in fact, the exploit could do much more harm there, since it actually allows the hacker to gain access to the victim's computer. This requires the player to click two hyperlinks, first of which opens an actual website and places a special cookie on his computer, and the second one, which executes the said cookie by means of previously mentioned 'directory traversal' bug. It is all demonstrated in a cool video from ISE that you can watch on YouTube below or download a high quality version from the creator's website. The poor guy in this clip gets pwned and his Anarchy Online account details are sent to the hacker.

It seems Funcom has acted on ISE's warning quickly and released patches fixing the first vulnerability in both AoC and AO. The second vulnerability is apparently still in the game though; here's what ISE guys had to say about that:
We do not believe that the buffer overflow alone currently poses a serious risk to players, but we recommend that Funcom fix it promptly so it cannot be used in any future hybrid attacks. In the meantime, we suggest that players exercise caution when downloading custom game scripts from third parties.
So, the standard stuff - find out what you're clicking before you click... And you should really get Firefox + NoScript as well and set it as your default browser instead of that outdated IE; it makes surfing much more secure.

Anyway, I haven't seen any of those links floating around in AoC. Then again, I don't really pay much attention to guild recruitment links, not to mention actually clicking. Has anyone seen people posting these, or perhaps even fallen a victim to one of those exploits himself?