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Age of Conan: itemization and server merges E-mail
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
In the latest Producer Letter, Craig 'Silirrion' Morrison, Game Director for Age of Conan, announces the next game changes. In the list we can find the second phase of the PvP update, server merges to condense the player population and increased importance of the equipment over player skills and stats.

Today I wanted to take the opportunity to go over some of the updates, changes and developments you will see in the game over the coming weeks and months. Hopefully this will give you a little insight into what order things are being addressed in and what sequence you will see the new content arrive in.

There are two things on the immediate horizon that will very soon be on the test server for public testing in the shape of Ymir’s Pass and the second stage of the PVP update. There are a couple of things I want to address on these.

Firstly Ymir’s Pass is a large zone and has quite a bit of content to test. This may mean that it stays on the test server through several updates on live. We have the ability not to include a given playfield when we build new versions for live, which means that this testing won’t hold up the release of the other new content and Ymir’s Pass will still get the time on the test server that it needs. We want the experience to be as good as possible for its release and feel the public testing phase is important in that. We hope to be bringing the playfield to the test server shortly, and we all hope you will enjoy the many varied encounters it brings.

Then there is the second stage of the PVP update that brings with it the consequence system. This new system allows for players PVP actions to have real consequences in the world, and it will greatly enhance the entire PvP experience in Conan. As you know the system is meant to bring repercussions for repeated evil behaviour (i.e. killing players outside of your level range), so should you chose to “gank” other players, a whole new gameplay area opens up! For one, it will result in you no longer being welcome in many parts of the game-world, but in its place you will have to rely on a newly arrived network of camps and areas that function with a little more moral ambiguity. This is very true to the essence of the Conan lore, and a change I think many players will find intriguing.
You will be able to access the same services as you can in the “orderly” parts of the world, but you might find your new ‘friends’ have a price for their services. We felt it was very important to make the system as immersive as possible and not just a purely mechanical system on top of the game-world to support PVP. So to that end, these new camps and NPC’s function as a kind of “shady network” for those with more nefarious reputations. Be warned though. It also means that those who hunt for such criminally inclined adversaries might find out where to look for you!

The other new content additions are all shaping up internally, and I’ll let you know the order in which they will appear after Ymir’s in my next letter.

Moving on to some things a little further out I mentioned in my welcome letter that we are working on the itemization and gem systems, as well as how the budgets for character statistics are going to be refined and improved. This is an area I wanted to elaborate on a little in this letter.

One of the issues we have been working on in that regards is the limited budgets that were originally assigned to the in-game items. It was always the intention that Age of Conan would not be a game where items would be the deciding factor in encounters. This meant though that the statistics available for items, and their actual effect on your character, was simply too slim. The items do scale within very limited ranges and have quite a limited effect on your characters abilities, and this I feel we need to do something about. When we sat down and analyzed the way this worked and the impact it had on players actual sense of progression through the game we came to the hard choice that something had to change.

With that in mind we have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare for a shift in the range and meaningfulness of character statistics and items. So what exactly does that mean? Well, firstly it does not mean that we are going straight to the other end of the spectrum and making items the ‘be all and end all’ of progression. We will though be making items and statistics more important to your characters.

Currently the items account for a maximum contribution of 25% of your characters total in any given statistic or ability (if you had all the stat modifications available for that statistic equipped, which in itself isn’t always practical). We are aiming to increase that so that your statistics from items contribute closer to 50% (although it will vary slightly from class to class), while also adjusting the formulas so that ability statistics (strength, stamina etc) contribute more meaningfully to your visible abilities, like health and Damage per Second. Items do have an effect on those calculations at the moment, but just in numbers, and that mean it isn’t always all that visible or impactful given the vagaries of an inherently random roll system. The most telling factor is probably that many players felt these statistics were ‘broken’ when in fact they were working correctly, they just didn’t contribute enough of a variance for players to see or feel it properly in combat. Evolving this part of the game is therefore something we deem very important, and something we are actively working on right now.

So what does it mean to the game-play? It means that items will have more varied and more meaningful statistics. Existing items will be modified appropriately and you won’t have to go and find new gear (of course it might mean you want to, once the statistics start to be more meaningful!). We are aiming for the conversion to the new system to feel like players have not lost any relative power in their game-play experience. The key difference will be that if you don’t have your items equipped, or relatively up to date with your level, you will start to notice the difference! We feel this is important for the ongoing progression in the game to be more meaningful and we are not doing it lightly. It will go through extensive testing and feedback cycles (this letter being the start of that part of the process!). We genuinely want to ensure that we have the ability to deliver a much more meaningful feeling of progression and achievement for players, but without going too far away from the action elements that makes the unique combat system what it is.

It is currently coming together internally and will require a good deal of testing at our end. We will be letting you all know when the new system is ready for public testing. In the meantime your feedback will be an important part of the process, so please feel free to give your initial thoughts and reactions. I am certain that this change will improve the overall gameplay experience, and that items dropping from encounters will matter more than it currently does.

Next up I wanted to cover two features that were talked about previously that will change significantly from what was originally mentioned, and that’s ‘Powerpoints’ and ‘Kingship’. While both are great concepts I felt that we needed to go back to the drawing board a little with both of them. They will however make an appearance in some form in the future.

The ‘Powerpoints’ type of concept will appear first in some form of loyalty program, although I think we might try and find a more suitably ‘Conanesque’ title for it! (…and yes, for those who have asked in the forums, any loyalty program will in effect be ‘backdated’ and take into account how long you have already been subscribed since launch).

The ‘Kingship’ concept will be taken back for another design round internally, before we announce our plans for building the guild and conflict elements of the game. It’s an area that I believe is key to the ongoing success of any MMO and is an area that we really want to do well. This means that we are taking another look at how to best achieve it. This will include looking at building more, and better guild support functions inside the game. Also we most likely want to include some other forms of ‘lateral progression’ at the same time, an alternate advancement path for max level characters, for example. It is an area that I feel will bring some great new content to the game in the new year, but we have to address it properly and put something in that will have lasting appeal.

Another aspect which has popped up in the forums recently is whether we are going to do a server merge or not, and I can today confirm that we are actively working on an approach to merge servers, both in Europe and North America. It’s important for us to ensure the best gameplay experience for you all, and more healthy populations on each and every server will make sure we maintain healthy communities for the game in the future. Still, there are many complexities involved in this, and we want to ensure that everything happens as fair and streamlined as possible. That work has now started, and we are naturally making sure that guilds and players can get to new servers in the best possible way. We will come back with more info on this, but I hope that this will serve as a positive injection to the social scene in the game.

Lastly for today (I think I have taken a good deal of your time already, hopefully constructively so!) I also wanted to mention that we‘ve come very far with the DirectX 10 version, which we unfortunately had to keep on internal test-servers for launch. It’s now almost ready for the full test server. Once the next game-play update is out expect to start to see the DX10 functionality coming to the test environment. How long it will take to transition to live will depend on the testing of course, but it’s starting to shape up nicely. Having done some reviews of it internally over the last few weeks I can admit that a few of the features really do give some added visual punch. I know it’s a feature that is long awaited and I can assure you the technical folk here are working flat out to try and get the version in a state where it can be considered for live release.

So that’s about it for this update, I think there is a fair amount to take in and comment on there, so I’ll leave you all to digest it and I look forward to your input.
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