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January 21, 2008 is a date that may forever lay in infamy as far as the history of ‘Age of Conan’ is concerned; if you’re wondering why then I suggest you look up from the ground from time to time to see what’s in front of you.

Only a matter of weeks ago, Funcom officially announced a new release date (May 20, 2008) for their highly anticipated MMORPG, ‘Age of Conan’, and while some of speculators out there guessed correctly, that another delay was imminent, the rest of us were left thinking beforehand, “Surely there couldn’t be any more delays; things are looking good. I believe I will be playing on March 25, 2008!” It would seem, however, that there was justifiable reason to doubt. But despite this delay, and quite surprisingly, the reaction from the ‘Age of Conan’ community has been, in the majority, quite positive. I think what remains within the ‘Age of Conan’ community at the moment more prominently are the fans that have been keen observers of this development stage of a couple of years are so now, and will be the ones that will wait for ‘Age of Conan’ like nervous fathers-to-be pacing the halls adjacent to the maternity ward (speaking of which, that’s me in just under 10 weeks!).

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There is (or at least appears to be), within the ‘Age of Conan’ community, a universal acceptance that Funcom are treating the development and eventual release of the game like the landing of a jumbo-jet on airport tarmac. I’m no expert on aviation, but anyone that’s been a passenger on an aeroplane at any time in their life will know that there are a few ways that a plane can land: wobbly with aeroplane tires screeching as they stutter on the runway; a crash-landing (not an outcome anyone wishes for); or a nice, smooth landing that is controlled and calculated, and quite often results with the passengers in economy class applauding the efforts of the very skilled pilot (first class and business class tend not to clap… I guess for the price they pay they expect/demand a good landing). So for those of us that have stuck things out, even through the three delay announcements within the space of a year, what are we really trying to say to Funcom? In some sort of haggard decorum, what we’re saying to Funcom is this, “Just do what you need to do to get this game finished; we’ll be here waiting to play it”.

As most of you know, I was in the Funcom studios, myself, only a few weeks ago, as part of the ‘Age of Conan’ community event held in Oslo on January 18 (well, the formalities were on this day anyway). What I saw in the hovels of these developers, programmers, and artists, was not only a great game being made, but a staff that was genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about what they were doing. Each “strike team” was responsible for a different aspect, area, or feature of the game, so given to them was this sense of ownership for what it was they were working on. Sure, there were a few tired faces and so forth, but who can say quite honestly that they have never felt tired at work or after a long day of it? The developers I spoke to were friendly and very keen to show off what they had been working on, and of course more than happy to answer any questions that I wanted to ask them. Actually, at times I felt somewhat guilty because I was distracting them from their work.

Did I mention the team’s dedication? No, I don’t think I did. Just to give you an idea of the level of commitment the Funcom staff are putting into this project, the man, Erling Ellingsen, apparently was going on no sleep what-so-ever by the time me and the other very keen press and community members had arrived just outside of the Funcom building. I was later on told that Mr. Ellingsen had managed one hour of sleep at the most within the 24 hours leading up to the community event, but you would never had guessed it! Although the eyes were a bit puffy, Mr. Ellingsen very enthusiastically guided on a two-hour tour of the Funcom offices, and he did this twice! We were, as it was mentioned in my community event report, divided into two groups and while one group got to play through the Sanctum of Burning Souls (a level 37 to 40 raid instance), the other was taken through the offices by Mr. Ellingsen, and after lunch, we switched. The work was actually made easier for us as Mr. Ellingsen did most of the question-asking for us and prompted the programmers and developers we spoke to, and they basically told everything we (and of course you, the Mitra’s Method faithful) wanted to know. Then of course, he with the very pinchable cheeks, played host as we were taken to that “Stygian” restaurant to be wined and dined by the Funcom staff and be given an opportunity to mingle with the devs! Full commitment, full dedication, and nothing but sheer enthusiasm and passion for what he does. If you ever get the chance, I suggest you give Mr. Ellingsen a pat on the back for the excellent work he’s done for the community as an ‘Age of Conan’ product manager.

There is also an individual (whom I will not name publicly), another member of the Funcom staff, that sent me an email the day after it was announced that the game’s release was being shifted to May 20, 2008. The decision to delay the game’s launch another eight weeks apparently only came a day after myself and the other press and ‘Age of Conan’ community members had been in the Funcom offices checking things out. So it’s quite true when people say that in business, and especially within the gaming industry, anything can happen and at any time. As you can imagine such an announcement knocked me for six (I was made aware of it at the same time the rest of the world found out about it), that is, I was a bit surprised by it especially after having seen how great everything looked on the monitors sitting on the desks of the developers, but I, myself, quickly came to that epiphany, if you will, where we as a community are telling Funcom, “Just do what you need to do to get this game finished; we’ll be here waiting to play it”.

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Anyway, this individual that sent me the email apologised to me. Yes, you read it right: apologised. To sum it up, this individual felt that it was necessary to apologise to me because of the game’s delay. Overcome by such a humble gesture, I did think to myself, however, “Why am I being apologised to?” and “Why should these people find it necessary to apologise to anyone to begin with?” They owe us nothing, to be quite frank; they’re making a game that one day thousands and thousands of people are going to enjoy, and they’re making important decisions for the betterment of it. But still, I was overcome by this individual’s sheer humility in making such a gesture. This consolidated my confidence in Funcom even further (if it’s even possible to consolidate on consolidation); I’ve been a big fan of the way Funcom have handled themselves throughout each delay announcement and so on, but this spoke to me volumes about their true desire to make this a game that is going to be loved by those thousands and thousands of player; they quite truly have the fans’ best interests at heart and as Gaute Godager has said himself from time to time, “This game is going to kick ass!”

“Let me be very clear about this; as opposed to our last pushback in August we are not about redesigning parts of the game this time around. Now we are on the final stretch, with the goal plain in sight. I have assured you before, but we are neither the first nor the last gaming company to add more development time to our game in the last stretch. That is not an excuse though, but ultimately it’s the quality which matters. That is the only yardstick which truly matters. This additional time is about hope. In only four more months you will know if we made the right move. I feel confident we have!” – Gaute Godager, Letter from the Game Director, January 21, 2008

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If I could refer back to the plane landing analogy for a moment: I’m not sure if any of you keep up with international news, but this week, the pilot of a Garuda Indonesia Airline flight that crash-landed in March of last year, killing 21 people, was charged with manslaughter after evidence showed that he ignored 15 automated warnings and the advice of his co-pilot to abort a fast-landing at Yogyakarta airport (source). Crash and burn, and with disastrous results. Funcom are in the cockpit with ‘Age of Conan’ at the moment, and they could have landed between March and May of last year, and they could have even landed on October 30 of last year, but what would have been the price of that? So at this point they’re circling the airport looking for the right time to land and with the best possible conditions. It was looking like they were going to land on March 25 of this year, but it seems they have heeded those “automated” warnings and warnings from their co-pilot(s). A release in 2007 might have meant a crash and burn; a release on March 25, 2008, might have meant bumpy landing leaving many of the passengers irate and disgruntled (even the ones flying first or business class); but a landing on May 20, according to their judgement and the advice of automatons and the co-pilot(s) will warrant a nice, smooth landing that is controlled and calculated, and will hopefully result with the passengers in economy class applauding the efforts of the very skilled pilot.

I can understand the scepticism of many fans even at this point in the game’s development, even having after said all that; once bitten, twice shy, after all, and there are those [few] within the community that speculate another delay. Let them doom-call, leave them to it. Anyone that has flown before will understand that from take-off to landing, your fate is tied to the hands of the pilot; you’re just along for the ride. What ever Funcom do between now and the game’s release is up to them, and after having seen Mr. Godager speak about ‘Age of Conan’ in person and really believing him, I can see what is driving this game: the people behind it.

‘Age of Conan’ is going to rock, and I say that as a fan very, very confidently.

Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,

Out.

Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, February 2008

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