Game Director’s Letter - February 2013

Hi all,

I was recently given the privilege to take on the mantle of Creative Director for Funcom's live titles: Age of Conan, The Secret World and Anarchy Online. It's a great honor to be able to be a part of setting the direction for three of the most original MMORPGs ever made.

As most of you know by now, Funcom has established a joint, centralized team of experienced developers who have been tasked with supporting, enhancing and expanding all three live games. That means we have a shared pool of design creativity and technical know-how that each game can benefit from, and having the live team working on site at our Durham office – which also holds our community, quality assurance and customer service teams – is a huge plus.

I will be leading up the team together with Scott Junior, who has taken on the position as Executive Producer. We both have many years of experience working with Age of Conan and we have a ton of exciting ideas we would love to turn into reality.

It's been almost three years since Rise of the Godslayer was released - the first expansion for Age of Conan and the project I had poured my heart and soul into for more than 18 months. A mere month after that, most of the Conan team moved to Montreal and I was moved onto a new project - The Secret World. I left Hyboria behind as a project, but still played regularly and kept track of what was happening with the game and the community.

So now, having the reins of Age of Conan passed to me feels like coming home! Age of Conan was my first game as a professional developer and, as a huge fan of the works of Robert E Howard; it has always held a special place in my heart. The Secret World has given me perspective, it has helped me to grow as a designer and it is this expertise that I am excited to be bringing back to Age of Conan.

It's an exciting time to be returning to the world of Hyboria! I'm still working to get plans into place, but there are so many opportunities for the direction of the game. From Kush to Corinthia, The Black Kingdoms to the Pictish Wilderness, Zingara to Zamora - there are hundreds of locations, lore and conflicts from the Howard stories that we have yet to explore in the game.

In addition, we have a new Conan movie on the way, with Arnold reprising his role as Conan, though this time as Conan. Because this is much closer to the timeline of our game, this represents a great opportunity to tie plenty of the content in the game to the movie and we really look forward to learning more about the video so that we can start coming up with great content for the game. We’ve done that before with our Savage Coast of Turan update which introduced content that tied in with the 2011 movie release, and we can’t wait to learn more about the movie so that we can start coming up with all sorts of great ideas on cool stuff from the movie to put into the game! 

Obviously we have a lot of exciting ideas on what to bring to Age of Conan specifically, but it’s also incredibly important to keep in mind that the new setup allows each game to take advantage of many of the improvements made to the other games. This is especially true for Age of Conan and The Secret World due to the fact that they are built on the same architecture and can share advances in development.

So, let’s talk a little bit about what it means to have a single, live production team working on three games.

A core team is always more agile than larger, separate teams and is cross-functional, meaning that anybody should be able to step in and work on anything. Because we work with the Dreamworld Engine, most of our in-house tools are shared between The Secret World and Age of Conan so it is simple to hop from one project to another. Below I will list some of the advantages that this gives us:

Parallel Feature Development - If we were going to add, for example, a ranked arena system to Age of Conan, we would be able to easily port the feature across to The Secret World. With a little GUI work (also shared apart from the art style, thanks to Scaleform) and some new 3D environments, both games would have a working ranked arena system. Because the feature is essentially the same across projects, it would also mean more thorough QA testing as most bugs found would be shared. This can be extended to include almost any new feature that is not setting specific.

Quality of Life Features - One of the more important facets of a shared codebase is a shared array of features that can be easily moved between games. Examples that we have added to The Secret World are autoloot area buttons, mapable dodge keys and media pop-ups (close up of in-game objects containing information). Bringing those to Age of Conan will improve the day to day experience of old and new players alike.

Voice Acting - We hire a lot of Voice actors to do voice overs for The Secret World and we are often required to pay them for 4-5 hours of voice work - even when they are only recording 15 minutes for the next The Secret World issue. Using this extra time to fill out the voice acting in the world of Hyboria is a great way to bring more life to the world and more immersion for players in general.

Of course, those are just the advantages of a shared team and it doesn't mean that each game won't be getting unique content. The Conan team has done a lot of work in preparing Dragon’s Spine and the instances contained therein and the tradeskill revamp. I'm in the process of assessing the status of those and aiming to get them on the test server as soon as they have passed quality assurance certification.

In the same update you can expect to see over 200 code fixes and a new networking layer for the game, which should improve the play experience and reduce disconnects and lag. I am also doing an investigation into the server numbers and seeing what possibilities we have regarding bringing the population together, be it server merges or bringing over the single-server technology from The Secret World.

One of the things I would like to get rolling on Age of Conan is a regular update cycle. Obviously things are a bit topsy-turvy right now as we adjust to the new team structure and internal processes, but when things settle down, I hope that we can deliver regular updates. That may mean slightly smaller updates than you are used to, but delivered more often.

I'd like to invite the Age of Conan community to share their thoughts on the future of the game on the official forums and I look forward to working together with you all to bring further new adventures to Hyboria!

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank you Craig Morrison for the great work he has done leading the development on Age of Conan for the past few years. I had the pleasure of working with him during the development of Rise of the Godslayer, and I have many fond memories from that time. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

And with that I give the microphone to Craig who has put together a few parting words for the community:

"It has been an honor to be a part of this project for over four years. I have worked with a series of great, talented teams, and it has been a privilege to get to work with one of the best communities out there. With the move of the team to North Carolina this marked the perfect opportunity to pass that torch, and allow a new generation to put their own mark upon Hyboria. I have tremendous faith in the new folk, and your new Game Director will be a familiar face. Joel Bylos was the lead designer on Rise of the Godslayer, and is a huge fan of the game. I trust he will be making sure you all continue to enjoy your adventures in Hyboria. I am immensely proud of everything we have achieved and the fact that the game is still alive and thriving four years on is testament to a lot of hard work by a lot of talented people. There are always those who are quick to the nay saying, and whether you wish us well or are glad to see the back of us, I am sure that we can all agree that this world is an amazing and visceral telling of the world that Robert E Howard imagined all those years ago. While I will be moving on to a new opportunity within the MMO world, the world of Hyboria will always, always, have a very special place in my heart. – Craig Morrison”

Joel Bylos
Creative Director