Thursday, January 3, 2008

There Will Be Blood...

And no, I'm not talking about the Daniel Day-Lewis film that's making its way towards many an Oscar this year. I'm talking about Age of Conan from Funcom which is currently slated for a March 25th release.

The always poignant Tipa had this to say about Conan's coming fate:
"Age of Conan will launch and sink without a trace. Come on. PvP with sex and boobies and lots of blood in an election year? The first politician who sees this game will tear it to shreds. ‘Sinking without a trace’ would be the best outcome. ‘Being used as a reason to crack down on MMOs’ would be the worst. Luckily, the teenage boys who make up its natural audience will balk at the subscription fees. Plus, who the heck even knows who Conan is? If the average player even remembers the old Schwarzenegger flick, that’d be amazing — the people who would want to play this game weren’t even born then."
I have to say that I think her statement and others across the blogosphere strike me as remarkably off-target. It's not that I don't see her point, it's that I think far too many people are focusing on the subject matter and the stupidly hyped blood and boobs aspect of this game. No one seems to be focusing on the actual gameplay, and it's in that aspect that I expect AoC to be at least moderately succesful.

I'm a big fan of Robert E. Howard's work, and while I'd love to see Solomon Kane in his own game before another Conan game, I'm confident in the pieces of work we've been shown by Funcom that they're taking the license seriously. Say what you will about the gore and the sex, but without either... it simply wouldn't be Conan. It wouldn't feel like Cimmeria or Stygia. However, despite the title of this post, I'm not here to play advocate for the mature-rated side of Age of Conan. I'm writing this to point out several areas where, if done right, Conan could very well push the genre in some very welcome new directions.

~Action and Combo Based Combat~
To say that traditional MMO Combat is in need of revision is merely an opinion, but one I'm proud to have. I do have my nostalgia for the highlight and hotkey combat, but I'm also the kind of person who believes in constant stiving for improvement. Combat in MMOs has largely been the same for the past 10 years, with very few successful steps away from the core mechanics. One of the more recent successful implementations of a new form of MMO combat has been Tabula Rasa (even if the game's sales underperformed), and Age of Conan is aiming to take things a bit further with their own Real-Combat System.

The RCS is basically a melding of what players will be used to in an MMO, and what a fan of God of War might be more inclined to enjoy. You will control the individual swings and where they're aimed at in AoC. You will aim the bow as you would in an FPS, and you will chain your spells together in an as of yet unrevealed "Spell-weaving" system. No longer will you simply, highlight one enemy, use your hotkeys, and watch the health fall. You'll have to think about the armor of your opponent as their defenses will adjust to where you're hitting them most, you'll have to link your sword swings in an appropriate manner for maximum damage, and you'll have a real chance to hide in some foliage and snipe an unsuspecting bandit from afar with your longbow.

While this will undoubtedly turn off some of your more seasoned MMO veterans, it does nothing but excite me. After playing and understanding the combat of TR, I can't wait for another company to take it one step further. If it plays well, Conan's biggest strength will be the Real-Combat System. This is where they need to make sure their focus lies. In yet another fantasy MMO primarily focused on combat, what's new needs to also be "what's good". The exact same sentiment goes also for Mounted Combat. If they're really going to do it, it had better work brilliantly. It's something many people want, but that doesn't mean it can be crap either.

~Town and PvP Keep Building~
Every guild or Clan in AoC will be able to amass the materials necessary to build their own towns or cities in the wilderness, and subsequently defend it from invading NPCs, or if in one of the Border Kingdoms (PvP Zones) from other Clans. This was something that was done to a very good end in old Star Wars Galaxies, and I think every fan of the MMO can agree that aside from the ghost towns they became, the player-made cities and villages in SWG were what made the game so special among other things. Again, IF AoC does this well, and they end up as more than a side-show and instead become something integral to the gaming experience, than the feature will be another aspect of what makes Conan so compelling.

It's in these two (3 if you count mounted combat seperately) facets that all hope lies with Age of Conan. If they're built right, if they work well, politcal quagmire or not the game will be a success in the States, and in whatever parts of Europe it sees release in. Last I read, Gaute Gaudager was talking about how they have to tone down different aspects of the game for different countries, so expect to see a EU and NA release relatively close to each other if not simultaneous. I am not saying that the emphasis of the press concerning Age of Conan hasn't been solely on the boobs and the blood. Hell, the last trailer for the game had more flying heads than Kid Icarus. But I'm intelligent enough to know that it's just bad marketing. It will undoubtedly work for some, both teens and violence-loving Droogies alike will dig Conan for its gore and sex-filled atmosphere. But not me.

I'm more excited about the new ideas the game is trying to bring to the genre. As fans of the Universal MMO we should all be focusing more on these merits, rather than its jubblies, media be damned.

Sorry for any typos, busy morning and just wanted to hammer this out quickly.


EDIT: Tipa unintentionally reminded me of one of my main reasons for writing this. The Xbox 360. That's the wildcard here. Forget the gore (which I might add is no more prevalent from what we've seen than in God of War or Resident Evil), and forget the sex (you can make it with an alien woman as either a man or a woman in Mass Effect, need I remind you?).

This article is meant to put those aside. The focus here is on gameplay, and also the fact that Age of Conan is aiming to be the 1st true MMORPG since FFXI hit the PS2 to make it onto the console side of things. I'm sure I'm not the only 360 owner who wants to be able to play his favorite genre with the comfort and stability a console provides meshed with the depth and socialization that thus far is only available on the PC front.

I think AoC will do okay, but not great on the PC. Where it will shine, if it plays well, is the 360. There are some 16 million (right?) Xbox 360 owners across NA and EU, and I'm willing to bet at least 500,000 of them are wishing they could play WoW or some other real MMO that's not the uber-hardcore FFXI on their sexy little consoles. I know I am. I'm not trying to be all over Funcom's jock here, but come on... what console owner that likes MMORPGs wouldn't want to play a solid offering on his/her console? It can be done, it just hasn't been yet for my tastes. I hated FFXI. Bring on Conan. I HOPE it turns out well. I really do.


Brenda said...

These sorts of mechanisms, which are groundbreaking, are best left to a different genre of game.

Successful MMOs, even the hardest of them, are casual games requiring little skill. You see the skill arise in PvP and especially real FPS games -- I watch my son play Lost Planet and Call of Duty 4 on the Xbox and he ALWAYS plays against other people and those with skill and those without are separated by a wide chasm. The main purpose of an MMO is socialization; otherwise they are FPS or RTSs or something more focused to separating people from the body parts they once loved.

And trust me on another thing. You can't have a successful MMO without women. And only the hardest of the hardcore will play this atrocity.

Bildo said...

Oh that brings to light another point, I think the sales will lie mostly in the Xbox 360 realm, far more than the PC if the game turns out well-made.

That was one of my main points and I forgot to mention it!

I would hardly call this game an atrocity... I mean really, if it is than 95% of all cinema, literature, and art is as well. I do think you're right that it will be a hardcore-player type of game, and primarily male-dominated. But I see a large section of 360 owners, myself included looking for an MMO on our console that's not 6 years old (FFXI) or complete crap (PSU).

I appreciate the voracity you have towards this game, but I think I'm going to have to completely disagree with you. There is a place for the old-school style of MMO, but I for one am in desperate want of new game mechanics. Having grown up playing consoles, and moving to PCs in my teens only, I would be lying if I said that I think PC gaming holds even the smallest candle to what it feels like to play a console.

But that's matter of preference. I simply like chilling on my couch with my controller more than at a desk with my keyboard to game. The day a truly good MMO comes to consoles with out sacrificing gameplay or functionality, I'll be there with bells on. Even if I have to use a KB and Mouse on it, it'll still be comforting to know that it will a.) run flawlessly, and b.) employ use through my ass being on the comfy couch.

Again, not focusing on the blood or sex here. That's been focused on too much. I'm more intrigued by something new in the WAY the games are played. As for socialization, I do worry about the "asshats" that may prevail in AoC thanks to the hardcore nature of the subject matter and gameplay, but it's a risk I'm personally willing to take given the strides they're making to shake things up.

Personally, I don't AoC's community will be any worse than any other MMO these days. The game's are becoming too mainstream to avoid the numb-nuts. They're here to stay, but thank god for /ignore.

That was a rant. Sorry.

Brenda said...

A-ha, if you're thinking of it as a fantasy-based FPS kinda game instead of an MMO, well, you're looking right at the teenage-young man market right there, and they might appreciate it, unless their moms walk in on them at a bad time.

I know how uncomfortable I would be if my son were in the living room playing something like this.

Yeah, the Xbox 360 is a good match for this sort of game.

Bildo said...

The big ? on the 360, or ?s are as follows though:

1.) Will the game translate well to the console? it has a good chance thanks to the combat mechanics, and built in VOIP on Xbox Live. Even if it needs a KB and Mouse to be played, it could work as many 360 owners are your hardcore males gamers and very likely are set to use a KB and Mouse set up if need be.

2.) Will Xbox Live Gold be required to play the game? If so, people having to pay 6 bucks a month, plus 15 more for the game might be a stretch.

3.) Cross-combatibility with the PC? Will PC and Xbox gamers play on the same servers? Is this bad or good? Will it be advantageous to one segment over the other?

Other than these issues, I don't see how Conan could fail on the 360. The only thing that matters is that the game is put together well and receives critical support. If it gets lampooned on the PC and the 360 or even just the PC and then is considered better for the 360 when it comes out later in 2008... then it could be disastrous. Game reviews sway the console market even more than the PC market. It needs to sit well with them, as in mid-8s or higher to sell well.

It's a sad truth, but people really do go by that damned number-attachment at the end of a review more so than the review's wording.

wldwlf said...

I am looking forward to this game. Not necessarily the nudity but the combat and the raw world of Cimmeria. I have always liked Conan in comics and movies and also games. It sounds like a fun romp.

*vlad* said...

Ok, I know nothing about this game, except what I've read here.

All this talk of nudity/sex surprises me somewhat. I have read the Conan books plenty of times, and apart from the odd kiss and 'smouldering tension' between Conan and the odd femme fatale now and again, I fail to remember any sex in the books at all.
Is this brought in merely to attract the more immature male gamers who otherwise would never even have heard of Conan?

Bildo said...

To be honest, the Howard books were written in the early part of the 20th century, when sex was still very taboo, but the sexuality was there. Mentions of sexual slaves, topless women and whatnot, if I'm not mistaken were also in the books and comics based on Howard's work.

The only thing that worries me about this in AoC is just how far they take it. Your character will apparently be able to have sex and receive a buff in doing so (much akin to The Witcher's lead, Geralt, banging everyone he meets). Will it be explicit? Or will it be more like some lady or man taking your hand and going off behind a curtain, hearing some giggles and moans, and then you come out "refreshed", a la The Sims 2?

Personally, I'll say it again, people are making way too big a deal out of this.

heather (errantdreams) said...

Here's the thing about Conan. I don't mind an 'adult' game. I don't freak out at the sight of a nipple. What I do mind is calling it 'adult' and then treating sex and nudity in a remarkably juvenile manner---and everything I've heard so far indicates this is what's happening.

Bildo said...

Agreed, Heather. But I still want to think that it's a fault of marketing. Because until we all get a chance to see the game in action, it seems that the trailers and media we have are focused too much on these themes, thusly giving the impression that that's all there is to AoC.

I hope, and I believe, that this isn't so. If the game meets its scheduled release in March, it won't be long now before we find out.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a melding of the FPS and MMORPG worlds, but I don't think the technology(affordable technology) is up to the demands yet. Even the newest MMOs are having difficulty with the turn based combat lagging for many people. How do you aim your bow when lagging?

*vlad* said...

"and comics based on Howard's work"
my point exactly. This is not Howerd's work. Call me a purist, but I hate it when people take other people's stories and warp them into something which they are not, whether it's Conan, Dune, or Lord of the Rings (a la Jackson's mess of a trilogy).

Anyway, rant over!

Bildo said...

Hehe... I understand your thoughts exactly, Vlad. But I definitely am happy that there's a treatment coming regardless. I'm weird I guess... but even when it's a mess I love seeing universes I'm fond of come into a new light.

It may not be a direct or even good translation, but it's a continuation, or a derivation if you will. And I'm glad Conan is seeing a renewed interest even if he is a shadow of what he originally was.

Anonymous said...

"If the average player even remembers the old Schwarzenegger flick"...

Oops, another person that should read more books and watch less movies!