Funcom's Craig Morrison • Page 2

Age of Conan - one year later.  

"So on a fundamental level, it was just the original creative decision that we didn't get quite right. That's one of the risks that you take when you're making a game on this scale, for this number of people. You believe in something and you try it, and on this occasion, unfortunately, it just didn't work out."

Fixing the item system isn't just about giving players shiny new toys to play with, however. As I talk to Morrison, it becomes clear that the mistakes the team made with itemisation have impacted every part of the game - causing knock-on problems and headaches that have dogged Age of Conan for a year.

Take, for example, the other major problem with the game's items - the common criticism that they all look the same, with players at level 50 barely distinguishable from players at level 30.

"That was exasperated by the fact that the items didn't do much, so there was no real motivation for the player to change their items," Morrison explains. "There were many more items out there, which players had to look a little bit more deeply to find, but there was no motivation for them to do so. They all ended up using the generic armour because it did the job."

Another area which is changed significantly by the new patch is those guild cities - player-built towns which provide benefits to the guilds who have the resources and manpower to construct them. Along with player-versus-player sieges, which have improved in leaps and bounds in the past six months thanks to the attentions of a dedicated team within Funcom, guild cities are the apex of Conan's endgame. In Update 5, the cities have developed a whole cast of new NPCs and exclusive new retailers for players to use.

The big push with PvP, Morrison says, is to give players more goals and objectives - so they're not just brawling outside the city gates.

"We wanted to give the players more rewards for being part of a guild and taking the time and resources to build up a guild city," says Morrison. "Communities are very important to MMOs - they're the fabric that knits it all together. We wanted to make sure that guilds have goals and objectives of their own as well, and that's something that will carry on with a great deal of focus in the next update cycle, with some systems that are coming there. This was the first step."

Of course, for many players, sieges and guild cities will remain out of reach. They're available to players involved in the largest, most organised guilds - are there any plans to open up this kind of experience to the rest of us, letting those who don't play several hours each day still try out the sieges that feature so prominently on the back of the box?

"Yes and no," is Morrison's answer. "I think there are some things we can do there, and some things we're looking at. We've been batting around things like a mercenary system where players can recruit to fill gaps in their siege forces, so players can volunteer themselves to be hired. We will continue to look at that, but so far, it's been slightly down the list of priorities."

Conan's caster classes are overpowered right now, Morrison admits. They're planning to issue a fix shortly.

That's not to say, of course, that he's not thinking about the average player - the guy who only plays six to eight hours a week, which Morrison reckons is the norm for an MMORPG.

"[We are] looking more at how we can get people involved in PVP - encouraging people to be open to the idea of playing PVP, and giving it a real meaning," he tells me. "I think that's the biggest barrier to people taking part in PVP, is them not having a reason to do so.

"Last year the PVP levels were a first step in that direction, they gave people a reason and goals and rewards, so they could get into PVP. Now we want to take it a stage further and give more meaningful goals, based around social activities - community activities that don't require you to be in a 50 to 100 person guild to take part in."

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Rob Fahey

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