Well, here it is! My very first article for WarCry. Woo Hoo!

As I’m sure you all know, everyone dreams of writing for WarCry. Who wouldn’t? The money! The corporate jet! The expense account! The wild parties at Hef’s mansion! Yup, writing for WarCry is The Cat’s Pajamas! (Google it, you young whipper snappers!)

So here we go! Urfang’s first article!

Age of Conan. The folks over at Funcom are walking a tightrope with this game. That is, they need to make a viable game, but at the same time, they need to keep at least somewhat true to the “lore” or they’ll offend all the folks who have been fans of Robert E. Howard for years and years.

Of course, that begs a couple of questions.

First, just what counts as “Lore”?

Second, what is the real, honest, bottom line purpose of an MMO from the point of view of the company that makes it?

When it comes to lore, you have your purists who figure that if REH didn’t write it, it’s blasphemy, to the lore. Then you also have…what would you call them? Opposite of “purists”? Lore “impurists”, I suppose. Folks that figure not only REH writings, but also the stories by other writers like DeCamp, Thomas and, yes, even the Ah-nuld movies count as sources of “lore”.

And then, of course, you have the gamers who really don’t care about Conan lore at all and are just looking forward to a game with some cool PvP features.

Oh, as a side note, if you haven’t read the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, you’re missing a treat! They’re mostly short stories…can be read in 10 minutes, and they’re a blast to read! And here’s the best part, you can find them free online at places like Gutenberg (Oz version).

http://www.gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html#letterH

So anyway, back to the lore. From the interviews we’ve seen, I think we can assume that most and maybe even all of the folks at Funcom that are working on Age of Conan are Conan enthusiasts. But where they fall on the lore scale is anyone’s guess. I’m sure most of them have read REH, but probably many of them have also read <sharp intake of breath> the various Conan comics and even watched some of the <shudder> TV shows.

Now let’s switch for a moment to the goal of Funcom in making this game. After which, I’ll make some kind of point. I promise.

Money. Cash. Income.

If that surprises you then you need to get out of the cave more often. Developing an MMO is a HUGE expense in both time and money. Developers are NOT cheep. Really good developers are quite expensive. (I know this. I’ve worked as a software developer for companies like American Express and Intel and when it came to pay, I soaked them for every possible farthing. Now ask me if I feel guilty about it.) And further, keeping a released game up and running is a money sink that the United Nations would be proud of. (Though most MMOs have more results to show for the expense…) Housing servers. Bandwidth. LOTS of bandwidth. Ongoing developer work for patches, upgrades, expansions, etc..

And on top of the expenses involved, the company wants to make a profit. (Oh, the humanity! He said the “P” word!!!) Yup, they want to make a profit. Surprise, surprise kids…they’re not doing this just because their life long dream has always been to entertain us at their own expense.

Funcom has said that they estimate 200,000 or so players to break even. Ok, so that’s nowhere near the WarCraft player base, but it’s still a lot of people. 200,000 paying accounts.

So they want to draw in as many people as possible. And not only draw them in, but KEEP them in. Keep the game fresh and enjoyable for them.

While it’s true that there are a lot of REH fans. Many of those fans are not into MMOs. The number of people that are hard core, purist REH-Conan fans AND MMO players is probably a lot less than that 200,000 that Funcom is looking for.

So here’s the tightrope: Funcom has to make Age of Conan a game that’s well balanced, inviting and enjoyable to people who have never heard of Conan and Hyboria as well as the hard core lore-mongers (like me) that consider DeCamp to be the Anti-Howard.

And that means compromise.

Not everything in Age of Conan is going to be just as it was in Howard’s stories. Some things will be changed for purposes of game balance. Other things will be changed for purposes of making the game play and interface easy learn. And, frankly, some things will be changed simply because the developers didn’t think this or that aspect of the Conan stories was as cool as you or I might think.

For example, there’s been some discusson on the Age of Conan official forums (http://forums.ageofconan.com/index.php) about having Dark Templer’s as Cimmerians. Or for that matter, having ANY casting classes as Cimmerians. Other folks (well, sometimes the same folks) have questioned why Cimmerians, an arguably more “natural” race can’t have druids, but the other races can.

The point is not that Funcom is “wrong” on any given piece of lore, but rather, that each of us who have read Conan stories, seen the Conan movies or whatever, have our own idea of what Conan is like…what Hyboria is like. And that may differ from how Funcom game architects see it.

Remember, Funcom has to attract 200,000 (and preferably many more) players. They can’t afford to cater to any particular segment of the player base at the expense of others. So I’ve no doubt there will be much in Age of Conan that IS like the Howard stories, but some that is not. Much will cater to the avid PvP player, but other stuff will not. And so on.

Hummmm. I promised to make a point in here somewhere, didn’t I? So ok, here’s my point: Enjoy Age of Conan for what it is – a leading edge MMORPG with a lot of great features that also has a strong Conan and Hyborian flavor. But don’t expect it to always match your idea of Conan in every detail. I look at it sort of like the Conan movies. They weren’t really very true to the REH stories, but they were still a lot of fun to watch. Same with AoC. I think we have reason to believe that AoC will be more like Howard’s vision than the movies were, but still…be prepaired to cut Funcom some slack. It might not be as true to the stories as some folks (like myself) would like. It might be that the vision of Hyboria presented is different than how you or I imagined it. But that’s ok. Take the game for what it is, because what it is looks to be pretty damn good. (Oh, crap. Can I say “damn” on WarCry?)

In closing, remember these words of sage wisdom. (I’m old, so I can give out sage wisdom.) Enjoy the video games. I sure do. But every now and then, push yourself back from the keyboard, brush the potato chip crumbs off your underwear, wade through the piled up Mountain Dew cans and go outside. There’s a whole world out there that you can interact with. The graphics are unsurpassed! The range of options is fantastic! There are literally THOUSANDS of crafting/trade skills you can learn. And in real life, those trade skills really matter! And EVERYONE is a PC!

Enjoy!

So Sayeth Urfang
Beer Shaman of the Snowhawk Clan
(No, it’s not a typo…)

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