Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Preview

A Conan game where you can't play as Conan? Funcom tells Kikizo why real-time battles and long-term support make this an MMO you'll want to check out.

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By Adam Doree & Alex Wollenschlaeger

Remember 2004? Tony Blair was still sitting comfortably at 10 Downing Street while across the Atlantic, George W. Bush was seeking to lengthen his stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Athens was preparing to host the summer Olympics and Shrek 2 was the 800-pound green gorilla in movie theatres. And far away, in a development studio in Norway, work got underway on a new massively multiplayer online game called Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.

There are many reasons why Age of Conan has been so long in the making. The short answer, according to Funcom's Erling Ellingsen, is that "creating an MMO takes forever."

Funcom isn't the first developer to struggle with an MMO. These thrashing beasts are as hard to rear as they are to control, not least because they're so diverse. Just ask any of the high-profile developers that have tried and failed in the genre in the four years since development began on Conan.

"It is really like creating several games at once," Ellingsen says, "because you're not just creating a game that's going to be over in 20 hours, like most singleplayer games. You're creating a game that's going to keep people playing for years and still not get bored of it. The amount of content is staggering."

Because of the amount of work that goes into a modern MMO, any publisher brave enough to attempt one will want to ensure, as much as is possible, that the game will ultimately succeed. The streets littered with the corpses of failed challengers serve as a warning to those coming afterwards. But there's another problem.

Combat, the part of the game that swallows up most of the time people spend in the game world, can sometimes be mind-numbing. Funcom saw overcoming this deficiency as its greatest challenge.

"That's been pretty much our biggest focus during the entire development - revolutionizing the combat system in MMOs," says Ellingsen. "Because we were also sick and tired of just walking up to something and clicking to attack and see your character do this every third second. It's really boring."

The result: a fully realized real-time combat system that allows players to attack and defend on the fly. Not only can players attack multiple enemies together using sweeping attacks, but there are also combos that Ellingsen describes as those in the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat fighting games.

"Everything is much faster, everything is quick and bloody," he says. "Visceral, I think, is a good word."

Another MMO staple getting a once-over is the idea of city building. Politics will play an important role in Conan and this will be concentrated in the cities players can create. It won't be the first game to do this. Think of Star Wars: Galaxies, LucasArts' ill-fated sci-fi MMO. But things have never been as well developed as they are in Age of Conan, says Ellingsen.

"It has a purpose," he says, including giving you bonuses. "It's a much bigger gameplay element rather than being just a place to hang out."

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