Today dawns a new age! Well, it’s not quite that dramatic, but I think it’s a pretty big deal for me at least anyway. Let me first begin by briefly introducing myself. My name is Stephen (known as “weezer” to many), and I am AoC WarCry’s newest addition to the gaming community network as a contributor and columnist/editorialist.
I will not bore you with a complete introduction (there are profile pages for that), but I will kick things off by telling you bits and pieces about my own journey into the ‘Age of Conan’.
Every fortnight (barring the demands of marriage, full-time work, and other commitments) I will be writing a column/editorial (heck, let’s just call it an ‘editorial’ from now on, shall we?) discoursing the heavy and not-quite-so heavy issues and topics surrounding the ‘Age of Conan’ game, and by doing so, as well as encouraging some sort of cognitive process, I hope to get you all just as excited as I am about birthing myself into the Hyborian age and further rooted into the world created by Robert E. Howard. So may the dawning proceed!
Admittedly, I joined as a late-comer to the ‘Age of Conan’ online community, only taking a serendipitous interest in the game throughout 2006. I had knowledge of the character, Conan the Barbarian, and was familiar with the existence of a writer named Robert E. Howard (I teach high school literature after all), but the core of my Conan knowledge came from the John Milius incarnations of Conan the Barbarian in 1982 and 1984 starring the “Governator” himself, Arnold (“Ahhhnold”) Schwarzenegger (interesting, “Schwarzenegger” is recognised by Microsoft Word’s spell-check… anyhoo!). Say what you will about Milius’ interpretation of the Conan character and Conan lore itself, but one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that Conan the Barbarian was and still is a classic fictional character!
You can’t have a good story without good characters, and as a fan of literature and good fiction, a strong character is something I look for when choosing a narrative. At heart, I’m a diehard Superman fan! My earliest memory of Superman was as a three year old walking into my older brother’s room and stealing his Superman book, which was a sort of ‘Choose Your own Adventure’ story with a really cool cover (pre-crisis Lex Luthor, General Zod, and Toyman amongst others) and a bookmark with a pop-out cardboard picture of Superman in a flying pose that I flew around the house like an F-18 Hornet. A year later, my Nannu (“Grandfather” in Maltese) put on a VHS tape of Superman II that he had recorded a few weeks earlier just for me! I remember being in awe of the amazing things Superman could do, namely, beat up the bad guys, clamour around as this clumsy reporter but still be so very likeable by those around him. As I got older, I learned more about the Superman mythology and again was awestruck, but this time by the originality and complexity of this character’s history, specifically, as a character originally made as a villain by two Jewish men, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, both struggling artists/authors during the depression in America in the late 1920s and through the1930s.
Originality is the core of every great character, and it’s the reason why my fascination with Superman exists even to this day. Siegel and Schuster had their inspirations of course, but when you think of how big Superman has become over the last [almost] 70 years, could Siegel and Schuster have ever imagined how iconic their cape-wearing, bullet-proof, building-leaping Kryptonian would become? Could it ever be fathomed by them that some day their creation would be one of the most globally recognised characters? Superman’s story is deep, and while some details have changed and been added over time (you might call this “evolution of character”), the foundations of the character have remained unchanged and even today Superman is a character that is timeless. Even in the face of social and cultural trends, Superman maintains the same values envisioned by his creators when they first put pencil to paper all those years ago.
For many, my experiences of Superman would run parallel with those of who have grown up with and followed the Conan lore and mythos. While Conan the Barbarian has not shared the same commercial success or international acclaim as Superman, it is not to say Conan the Barbarian is any less of a character than Superman. Conan himself was a character created by a man with an influential creativity and vision, something I am only now discovering as I read through ‘The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian’, a volume containing the first third of Howard’s Conan stories presented in the order they were written. I also purchased and read through ‘Conan: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Savage Barbarian’, by Roy Thomas and by DK Publishing. I’m far from being an expert on Conan lore, and nor would I claim that I could become one, but both the guide and the book have provided me with a substantial amount of information about Howard’s world.
“His [Howard’s] writing is incredibly descriptive, so the reader does not have to use a great deal of mental energy to picture the people and places entwined in the stories.”
The Conan stories are beautifully written, to say that least. Howard is a writer that has gone through a great deal of trouble creating a delicately composed picture of the world of Hyboria and Conan’s exploits. His writing is incredibly descriptive, so the reader does not have to use a great deal of mental energy to picture the people and places entwined in the stories. The Howard short-stories also make it quite easy to characterise Conan: he is a fierce warrior that is cool, calm, and collective all at the same time; “street smart” and savvy, as he very rarely puts trust easily in those he does not know; and a sort of “accidental hero”. Conan seems to always be at the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how the reader looks at it) and either strikes at every opportunity, or fight with a ferocious tenacity when he has his back up against the wall.
Conan is not the sort of character who will do things “for the greater good” like Superman, and he’ll quite easily turn down a plea for help if the benefits do not appease him, but if there is a damsel in distress or a scantily clad “wench” in need of some brute force, he will find it reasonably difficult to refuse. You could actually argue that Conan can be better compared with Batman rather than Superman; “Supes” is contrastable with Conan, but comparing the two would be like comparing apples and oranges. So if you know your anti-heroes, you probably already know Conan, yet that’s not to detract anything from Conan’s uniqueness and originality as a character, but more of a gauge for those who are not familiar with Howard’s work to give some sort of indication as to what could be found in the Conan stories.
So what about the big wait? What can we do to keep ourselves occupied between now and October 30? Well, if you’re anything like me, or whether you’ve been tracking the development of ‘Age of Conan’ from the start, you’ll have found a wealth of information about the game itself, but how does your knowledge of the Conan lore stack up? To finish with, I would like to make to you a few recommendations of things you can do between now and release (or beta testing if you’re that lucky):
- Purchase Robert E. Howard’s works!
If you enjoy having a book in your hand, sitting in your favourite chair or laying leg-up on the couch, then put in your mitts a Conan book. You mightn’t have any luck purchasing a Conan book from your local book retailer, so you might need to look online. I purchased my copy of ‘The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian’ paperback brand new from Amazon for $10.85US (not including postage and handling). Other Conan volumes available are ‘The Bloody Crown of Conan’ (book two of the series), and ‘The Conquering Sword of Conan’ (book three of three in the series, which is also available from Amazon for the same price). As mentioned earlier, these three books contain Howard’s Conan stories in the order in which they were written.
- Scour the Internet!
If you don’t want to shell out the cash, then you could always check out Robert E. Howard at Wikisource, but spending that much time in front of a computer screen, scrolling down every so slowly might get a bit tedious (I know I find it annoying anyway). Having said that, the works are there free of charge, so if you’re living on a shoe-string budget, a bit of scrolling and spending hours in front of a computer screen isn’t going to bother you too greatly.
- Can’t be bothered reading a lot but still want to learn the lore?
Another acquisition I made (again, as mentioned earlier) was ‘Conan: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Savage Barbarian’, a sort of “Conan encyclopaedia”. This book can also be purchased from Amazon, and will set you back $16.49US (not including postage and handling). You’ll get a very good explanation of things in this guide, complemented with beautiful illustrations and pictures from various Conan artists. The guide presents to the reader necessary background information to the Hyborian age, and tracks Conan’s career from wandering Cimmerian all the way to Conan as King of Aquilonia. I’ve read through this, and I highly recommend it.
- Quit being a lurker; get involved!
Yes, I’m talking about online communities, namely forums. For those of you who are not familiar with the term “lurker”, a lurker is someone who will read posts on a forum, but makes no contribution themself. I’ll be forward with you: I was an ‘Age of Conan’ lurker for a good seven months before I decided to take the plunge and register at the official ‘Age of Conan’ forums. There’s an online community out there, and they’re happy to answer your questions (well, as long as you read the FAQ and ‘stickies’ first). An online community site is a great place to generate hype, meet people, join a guild, and discuss the mundane to the brain-meltingly interesting. You’re only going to get the most out things by being involved. There’s also the WarCry ‘Age of Conan’ community if you want frequent and reliable news, updates, and commentary on the game.
Personally, I’ve done all four of those things (at least, I’m doing a bit of each at the moment), and at the moment I feel quite contented with the steady flow of input being fed to me. You may decide to do only one or two of those four recommendations, but what ever it is you do, pace yourself – six months can be a long time to wait if you run out of things to keep yourself busy. Speaking of keeping busy, let me just take a moment to applaud and affirm those who have been waiting and have known about ‘Age of Conan’ since mid-2005. For you guys to still be around making positive contributions to the global ‘Age of Conan’ online community, is a real testament to your patience and passion for this Funcom project. It’s communities like these that make games great, and I personally (as does AoC Warcry) look forward to entering into the Hyborian age with all of you.
Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,
Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, March 2007