For those of you that don’t know, my actual occupation is a high school teacher, and this week I got to talking to my students about Christmas. I teach at a Catholic private school, so of course, the true meaning and origins of Christmas is taught but we also acknowledge that Christmas has become a largely successful commercial and secular holiday. So I asked my students what they wanted for Christmas this year thinking that being well in to the “age of reason” and with a mature conscience they would ask for things that would benefit mankind in general, like: peace on earth; an end to poverty; and end to racial and ethnic vilification; that sort of thing. Sadly, this was not the response I got from my students, but then again, these were 14 year olds I was teaching at the time. A response that sticks out in mind at this particular point in time when asked what this person wanted for Christmas was, “I want a [expletive] Xbox 360 Elite!”
Okay, so we live in superficial and materialistic times, especially when the youth of western world is concerned, but my student’s response made me think and on reflection I’ve decided that it’s not entirely a bad thing that we can make such demands. We’re experiencing a great deal of prosperity, and so we can afford to be a bit hedonistic from time to time. On further reflection, it made me think about Age of Conan what Funcom Game Director, Gaute Godager, said about the changes being made to the combat system most notably after the game’s delay was announced on August 10 of this year. “Santa Gaute”, as I am now referring him to in this edition of Mitra’s Method, indicated that all the changes should be ready by Christmas. Okay, that’s fine, but what do we really want in Age of Conan? What is your Age of Conan “Christmas wish”? If you’ve been good this year, what are you hoping Santa Gaute to deliver to you by the time the game is finished, polished, and ready?
The one thing I love most about Age of Conan so far is its unique take on the MMORPG genre. Yes, there are your traditional RPG elements in the game, that’s evident, but what has made it so appealing to me is its low-fantasy setting (no elves, dwarves, mages with flourishing robes and pointed rimmed hats, epic flying mounts, etc.), and its brutal hands-on combat. So suffice to say it’s a gamer’s Christmas wish come true, but with so much yet to be revealed to the gaming community since the announcement of the game’s release, we sit in hope and maybe just a bit apprehensive because we want to know more, but obviously impeded by NDAs and so much going on behind closed doors. Yet, like just said, our hope remains because we know our faith is well-placed with the Age of Conan development team and the scores of testers putting the game through the ringer in the General and Technical Beta phases. In keeping with this edition’s Christmas theme, I’m going to refer the developers and beta testers the “elves in the workshop” from here on in.
I am resoundingly confident that Funcom will provide for each of us a unique gaming experience with Age of Conan, because this is something many-a-gamer has been asking for with the various games they have tested and played in the past. So it would make sense for Funcom to come out with something that raises the benchmark and sets the standard even higher to keep fans sated and coming back for more after that. It’s simply not good enough just to meet expectations in today’s market; you have to go well beyond them!
A gamer asking for “a good gaming experience” or “just to have fun in a game” these days is just like asking for world peace at Christmas time. It’s nice and noble and by no means asked in vain, but what do you really want? What do you want? Here’s the chance you get: you see Santa Gaute at a local shopping centre accompanied by a few of his happy, little elves, and while I’m not suggesting you actually sit on his knee, you are still allowed the opportunity to tell him exactly what it is you want to see in Age of Conan. For me, mounted combat is a huge drawing card and something that I look forward to doing in-game, and while we haven’t seen much of mounted combat in action this year, we’re hopeful that the elves in their workshop are going hammer and tong at it just to make it, well, awesome for us. But what do I want from it? My Christmas wish for mounted combat that we be given the opportunity to use our mount (be it a horse, camel, or rhino and mammoth for sieges) not just as a machine for death and destruction, but a status symbol; something that says, “Hey, this guy has a horse, the horse looks menacing, this guy isn’t to be meddled with!” It’s a bit like guy we all seem to know who gets around on a scooter who pulls up next to another we guy we all seem to know who drives a Honda/Acura NSX (or something like that). So what am I trying to say? Basically, I want to pimp my mount! I want to give it a look that’s very “me”, but at the same time I wouldn’t exactly want players to dress their horse or camel like Paris Hilton dresses her Chihuahuas. A line needs to be drawn, obviously, but the opportunity should at least be given.
The second thing I would ask of Santa Gaute while looking at his beard contemplating whether to try and pull it off or not, would be that of player-made PvE cities. I wouldn’t exactly want my city to turn out like a town without sheriff where chaos is law and anything goes. No, I would like to think that anybody could come and visit my city freely and buy my wares and so forth, but what if they run amok? Surely I couldn’t expect myself or my guildmates to be on watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure things don’t go awry (although that would make for some interesting PvP situations), could I? Perhaps I could enlist the help of NPC guards to keep watch over my city while I, its mayor, take leave in the real world. If a stranger drifts in and starts stirring trouble in my town, then my hope would be that my “hired muscle” would be adequate enough to detain this thug until I decide what fate should be set upon him. And what of my wares: my crafted gear and concocted goods? Again, I couldn’t expect myself or my guildmates to keep the shops running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so my wish would be that I could “hire” NPC vendors to basically sell my goods for me – completely automated but most importantly funneling the profits where they belong: in my own pocket or the guild bank. Essentially, player-made cities in Age of Conan should have the same bustling feel that any other main city in the game has. A player-made city should be populated by NPCs going about their businesses, and shouldn’t have that feeling that they’re only “alive” when the player characters are occupying the area.
My third Christmas wish, and this is at the stage where one of Santa Gaute’s little helpers has taken a photo for me to frame and send to my relatives with a Christmas card, would be concerning the world of Hyboria. From what we’ve seen in game videos and demonstrations so far, every zone and region is going to have its own unique and distinct look, but it’s the little things and subtle differences that make a place look and feel different than another place you have been before. I’ve been fortunate enough in my own life to have flow overseas and visit countries in Europe and North America, and aside from the very obvious differences in geography and other land features, it was the way people went about with themselves interacted with each other that made me feel I was in a very unique and special part of the world. It’s this same wish I would have for Age of Conan. If I’m an Aquilonian in Old Tarantia (Aquilonia’s major city), then like it is in real life, I should be treated like “one of the locals” or like a “favourite son” returning to his home town. Be I an Aquilonian passing through a village in a remote part of Cimmeria, for example, then I shouldn’t be trusted (at first), in fact, I should be met with hostility because it would be unlike a true Cimmerian to take to an outsider warmly so soon if ever at all.
The dress and costume of a city’s inhabitants should be distinct from those that live regions apart. In other MMORPGs NPCs tend to have these bland and generic look about them that would give the impression that the character artists were simply too lazy to give them that unique look we’re wishing/hoping for. Facial features and body shapes are a different issue all together, but dress and attire are things you notice foremost about other player characters and NPCs. For example, the women in Cimmeria should dress notably different to the women in Aquilonia or Stygia. But why stop there? Perhaps the women in two different Cimmerian, Aquilonian, or Stygian cities should dress slightly differently to each other as well. It shouldn’t be a dramatic difference, like comparing the way people dress in Los Angeles to way people dress in Nashville (I’m generalising here, so no offence intended, of course), but just enough of a subtle difference in attire to make a player acknowledge that even within a nation’s borders, there are these distinctions.
Okay, I think I’ve bothered Santa Gaute enough and given the elves in the workshop plenty of food for thought.
Now I throw it to you, the Mitra’s Method faithful. I want you to pretend it’s you coming to the shopping centre to see Santa Gaute and his happy, little elves. You already know you’re getting a good gaming experience and months of fun with Age of Conan, and you can trust Funcom with that because of their stellar track record (Anarchy Online, The Longest Journey, and Dreamfall), but if there’s anything you could ask for of Santa Gaute, what would it be? But just keep in mind the elves in the workshop also have the guidelines of the foreman, Robert E. Howard, to adhere to. And don’t forget, be nice to your siblings and Santa Gaute especially because you might just end up with a lump of coal at the foot of your bed this Christmas day.
I’m just about to wrap things up for another fortnight, but I would just like to mention that over the next few months Mitra’s Method will move to a once-a-month editorial, but every other gap week in its place will be an exciting exclusive I’m absolutely thrilled to bring you. But wait, there’s more! In January there’s something else on the horizon which I can’t quite tell you about just yet (a few things need to be confirmed first), but let’s just say it’s bonafide Mitra’s Method exclusive, and that you will only be able to read about it here on the WarCry network. So it’s with much excitement I implore you to stay tuned!
Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,
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© Stephen Spiteri, November 2007