Just a small article – and a reaction like it was the end of the world! During our visit at Funcom studios in Oslo we played the most anticipated MMORPG Age of Conan for several hours and noticed low detailed textures, clipping problems and a lot of bugs. After reading our preview article many gamers were concerned that Funcom may not be able to handle the problems in time or even change the release date again. Even our explanation that we were shown an old version of the client and that Funcom is aware of the problems and will do anything to fix them could not cool down the overheated climate within the community.

So we again asked the one person that knows the answers to all of your questions: Erling Ellingsen, Product Manager at Funcom. Will they push back the release date of Age of Conan again? Will the developers fix all the bugs in time? And what is the development team working on, those last months before shipping? Read all the answers exclusively at gamona!

Dieses Interview gibt es auch auf Deutsch. Hier klicken!

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gamona: Hi, Erling. The client of Age of Conan we played during our visit at Funcom Studios in Oslo was not the most recent version of the game. Could you tell us, why this was the case and how old that version was? What is the difference between the version we were allowed to play and the one you’re working on at the moment?

Erling Ellingsen: Hello, Gamona! Yes, that’s correct. The reason why we do not let journalists play around with the very latest code is because it has not been sufficiently tested. So we revert to an older code that we know works as intended without too serious bugs. We rather want the journalist to see some odd bugs like missing clothing or strange camera angles, than broken quests and so on.

Erling Ellingsen, product manager, answered all our questions.

When you make a new version of the code, sometimes you will end up with things like that; broken quests and such. This will quickly be corrected one quality assurance has gone through it, of course, but we feel most comfortable going with a tried and true version for journalists. You might say we should wait with showing the game until it’s completely done, but we’re so enthusiastic about this project that we just have to show it to you guys!

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Generally, this is industry standard and it’s how most developers handle preview sessions.

gamona: We noticed quite some bugs and unfinished stuff in the version we played, e.g. low detailed textures, clipping problems and other bugs. Are you guys aware of all these problems and will you made it to fix them until release?

Erling Ellingsen: Yes, we are very much aware of it. It’s all in the “to be fixed” pipeline if it hasn’t already been fixed in the newer code. We’re several months away from release and we’re constantly improving on the game, adding new features and putting in more content. The nature of game development means that bugs will appear when you do these things to the game’s code.

Funcom development studios at Oslo, Norway.

This is just how game development work. It’s all being fixed, of course, but we’re working out from a list of priorities. Sometimes that “hair goes through the helmet” bug is further down the list of priorities than something else, but we will get to it. When we invite journalists to come and play a game that’s in development right now and going through changes and additions on a daily basis, we always make sure to tell the journalists that “hey, guys, you will be seeing some oddities because of this, but it will be fixed somewhere down the line.”

Most journalists are experienced with how game development works, and knows that you don’t judge a game several months away from release based on oddities they may have experienced when playing code still in development. Once the game is out, though, then it is very much the journalist’s responsibility to point out bugs that for some reason is still there.

gamona: A lot of our readers are concerned that you may not be able fix the problems in time. Will the current release – March 25th 2008 - date be the definite time of shipping? Is it set in stone?

Erling Ellingsen: We are very much on track for the March 25th release, and that’s what we are working towards. We’re really looking forward to bringing you all into the game!

gamona: The MMO community out there is a bit like WoW tired…of course we are setting all our hopes in Age of Conan! But what if you are not be able to handle most above mentioned problems in time: Will you release the game anyway? Any chance for an first day patch?

Erling Ellingsen: We have delayed the game several times now, and it has always been because we wanted to work more on it. Funcom is one hundred percent dedicated to quality – we’re gamers by heart and we live and breathe Age of Conan – so we want to make it ready before it goes out.

Age of Conan is going to be the mammoth among MMORPGs.

But the beauty of massive online games is really that we can continue to update it once the retail box hit the shelves. The game disc itself goes into production quite a few weeks before the game servers goes live, so there will be a lot of work being done on the game in those precious weeks. So yeah, there will most likely be a lunch day patch.

This is really something most massive online games do. It’s a luxury that we have. When you make a single-player game you can’t expect people to patch it when it goes live. This gives us a few extra weeks of work from we deliver the gold disc to players start pouring in.

gamona: What are you, the game designers and the QA department working at right now? What is the biggest task ahead in development?

Erling Ellingsen: Right now we’re mostly working on polish. We’re working on killing those bugs and improving on the game based on the feedback we’re getting from the beta testers. We’re putting the final touches on content, making sure everything is fun, and that really goes for the entire company – from marketing to quality assurance to the designers themselves!

gamona: Funcom has a lot of experience with MMO’s thinking of Anarchy Online. By all means, an MMO’s success is definitely based on enough content! Especially end game content is very important, we are not willing to only grind like hell once we made it to the level cap. Can you tell us something about the amount of content in Age of Conan? Please think of all the PvE guys who need content like hell…every day…

Erling Ellingsen: We all know that content is incredibly important in a massive online game. Let’s be honest here, Funcom won’t really make a lot of money if no one subscribes after the free month! So we’re constantly working on putting more stuff in there, and right now I can say that the game world is huge and that there are hundreds of quests to complete and monsters to slaughter.

The wall of ideas at Funcom.

One of the really good things about Age of Conan, though, is that we have very player-driven end-game content. Sure, there will be raid dungeons and whatnot, but I think a lot of players reaching the later levels will be taking part in massive siege warfare between guilds, crafting and creating player-run cities. Some of the best content you can get is content that the players create for themselves. After all, massive online games are all about the social element!

Of course, we will continue to update and add to Age of Conan once the game launches. We’re really looking forward to putting more content in there and even start working on expansions, and all of us working on Age of Conan has a ton of ideas on what to do!

gamona: Thanks for your time, Erling. We are really looking forward to playing Age of Conan soon!

Erling Ellingsen: It was my pleasure. I hope to see you on the blood-soaked battlefields of Hyboria soon!