Mirth and Melancholy: The Age of Conan Launch Party

Jordan Deam | 19 May 2008 21:25
Op-Ed - RSS 2.0

Before I could find a corner to curl up into, we were herded into the main auditorium, where Godager and Ellingsen whisked the audience through a one-hour tour of Hyboria, from their avatar's miraculous escape from a shipwrecked slave galley to a chance encounter with Conan himself. Norwegian super-fans, bedecked in animal pelts and wielding plastic swords, sat in enraptured silence, while journalists from Canada to Portugal blithely pointed hand-held cameras and digital voice recorders in the general direction of the stage. On-screen, the demonstration character - affectionately named "Akerbrygge" - grew from a level one weakling, wielding only a broken oar salvaged from the scattered detritus of the sunken vessel, to a level 80 raider absorbed in the neatly unhinged chaos of high-level dungeoneering. The puppet-master behind "Akerbrygge" used his GM powers to dispense of any unnecessary trash mobs between bosses while more heavily armored characters scurried around the bursts of multicolored light. Everyone was invincible, and nothing hurt.

Bright colors and big numbers notwithstanding, a great number in the audience were hopelessly lost. Perhaps under the weight of their vacant gazes, Godager took a moment to provide some much-needed context. "The organization and practice ... it's like, you need to rehearse it many times, and then you need to perform, and it needs to be perfect. And then the boss dies, and he has a massive chest, and in that chest are two pieces of tremendously cool-looking gear. And then every 24 people in that team has killed and gotten that piece of gear, that piece of equipment, weapon or whatever - then you're ready for the next tier." Ellingsen, for his part, was borderline apologetic to the mainstream press in the room. "Of course, we're moving into very hardcore territory here. Raiding is a hardcore thing, isn't it?" he prompted Godager. It's a feeling every gamer has experienced: attempting to vocalize your enthusiasm for a niche title to a non-gamer, only to sheepishly watch as it evaporates before you mid-thought.

The bosses felled, the meaningless loot collected (since everyone was impervious to damage, a pair of level one oarsmen with a few days to kill could have accomplished the feat), the event came to a close, and we were ushered back to the hotel with a few hours to compose our thoughts. Just as the combination of jet-lag and sleep deprivation began to sink in, we were corralled into another bus bound for an undisclosed location. A note to would-be kidnappers: Game journalists are extremely vulnerable to busses. Park a bus in front of their hotel, bound for a "secret destination" of your choice, and you have the beginnings of a very profitable human trafficking ring.

Thirty minutes to an hour later (amazingly, the "clock" function of my cell phone didn't work without a signal), I awoke to find myself at Olso's famous Holmenkollen, an Olympic-sized ski jump situated atop a large hill overlooking the city. Still half-asleep, I groggily imagined the implications the location had for the evening's festivities. A Cimmerian slip 'n slide? Mid-air rhinoceros jousting? Stygian dwarf acrobats? (Puerto Ricans would be cost prohibitive.) A few minutes of brisk Nordic air was all I needed to come to my senses. The towering structure was little more than a backdrop for the main event: a drunken Norwegian Renaissance fair. This, I quickly learned, was the best kind of Norwegian Renaissance fair.

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