Tag Archives: age of conan

Mr Bigger, whatever are you doing down there?

I hopped in to Age of Conan: Unchained over the weekend, the now free-to-play version of Funcom’s fantasy frolic through Robert E. Howard’s world of brawn, beasts and breasts. With the release of this edition of their game, Funcom have decided to make it unrated, which thus allowed them to fully expand on the latter of that troika of fantasy staples. And when I say ‘fully expand’ I am being literal:

Apart from the fact that either some enterprising soul in Aquilonia has invented both silicon and a way to implant it into female breasts, or a Stygian teenager found an interesting new use for the Dark Arts while furiously practising with his magic wand in his bedroom, there’s also the splendidly ridiculous innuendo-laden increase to a male character’s ‘size’, where one assumes that it actually changes height, and not length or girth as the text might lead one to believe.

Age of Conan? Carry On Conan more like. Hopefully they’ll add a Kenneth Williams-esque ‘Ooooo, matron’ emote, which would, admittedly, be a strong contender to take the crown from our long term favourite.

Funcom are also taking the prestige cosmetic MMO mount to new levels:

Yes, yours for only 1100 Funcom points, or about $10, is a virtual prostitute! A cosmetic pet in every sense of the phrase. There’s also a priestess for 2100 points, but I’d watch out for those high class ones because they expect you to take them to the opera and buy them dinner in an expensive restaurant as a bare minimum before they give you their bear minimum, and where are you going to find a staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Age of Conan anyway?

Still, Sparkle Pony hasn’t got anything on Slapper Priestess.

Of course Anarchy Online has had a perfectly normal Funcom-Points-powered store for a good long while now, so Age of Conan’s slightly (im)mature cash shop is not necessarily a sign of things to come. Regardless though, I couldn’t help but wonder how they intend to monetize their forthcoming supernatural MMO The Secret World, and whether it too would offer options via an in-game store:

The Secret World. Let me tell you the great secret of the world, honey. The secret is… [waves you in closer] the secret is… in my underpants. I’ve got your secrets right here, baby. Yes, find out all the secrets of my underpants, unlock my deep dark treasure, for just 2500 Funcom Points!

Of course it would obviously help if that was delivered by a buxom young lady in tight leather, rather than the craggy bearded geriatric old man in a crusty pee-stained bathrobe that I was picturing.

To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.

Age of Conan has a bonus levelling system where you earn levels while your account has an active subscription. This pool of levels can then be spent on any character over level thirty to increase their overall level. You accrue levels at a rate which is comparative to the amount of time you would have otherwise had to spend actually levelling the character, and, as mentioned, it can also only be applied to a character that has already reached level thirty, something which doesn’t take a huge amount of time but is a suitable barrier to people rolling up a level one character and then boosting it up to the end game without any experience of the class whatsoever.

I was indifferent to this scheme, where some bloggers and forumites had railed against it I couldn’t see the problem; other players using it wouldn’t affect my game in any way – by the time it was released there were already enough level-capped characters to mean that the PvP game would be unaffected – and if I chose to skip content and get to the end game it was exactly that: my choice.

Now I’m actually starting to see that it could be quite a good thing in a mature game where players have already reached the level cap, perhaps multiple times. I’m currently in the middle of an alt dilemma in LotRO, having three characters that I really want to play but finding myself having a hard time playing any one of them, knowing that if I play one of them then that is time that I’m not playing the other two. Playing alt roulette and investing small amounts of time in each character is not an option either as I will be constantly repeating the same content (since they’re all close in level) and thus the sense of character progress – one of the primary factors for playing MMOs in the first place – will be greatly diminished, to the point where it’s very easy to burn out.

I’m also seeing quite a few posts amongst World of Warcraft blogs concerning people taking the time to level alts in the pre-Cataclysm lull, but with their hearts not really being in it and a vast majority of them discussing whether the levelling game in WoW is really relevant any more, and even worse, pondering whether they want to bother with the levelling game in Cataclysm, something that I would imagine Blizzard is banking on players wanting to do in order to keep subscription numbers ticking over while they get on with implementing the level eighty five end-game properly (you’re not expecting a comprehensive end-game on release, are you? Really?).

Would a levelling pool such as the one Age of Conan has implemented benefit World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online veterans? If you could spend the first thirty levels getting the hang of the basics of a class, making sure it suits you, and then spend levels to skip to the end game, would you? For me, I like the journey as much as the end game, if not more, but sometimes I just want to skip to the end. If I had a limited pool of levels to use then the choice would need to be made with some consideration and not just on a wanton whim; tie those levels in to an active subscription as Age of Conan does and you have a rudimentary system of offline levelling akin (on a basic level) to EVE’s skill system which rewards veterans who have kept their subscription active. Would that be a bad thing? The system is much more finite than EVE’s incredibly expansive skill system, and so the idea of simply “playing offline” to level shouldn’t be a problem, after all, once you’ve hit the level cap you’ve not a lot of options other than to start playing or quit. It shouldn’t affect skill too much either: as many WoW raiders bemoan, most players reach the end game at the moment without having much group experience at all, and the end game in many of the current crop of MMOs seems to be where people start to actually learn their class with respect to team play. If nothing else it can be used as a method to smooth over the levelling run where it becomes too steep, allowing you to nudge your character through the pain barrier and give yourself a second wind before the lactic acid of the grind causes your MMO muscles to burn out; rather than driving players away, it could help keep players in the game where they otherwise might have burnt out and left. Certainly there will be that group of players who blow their entire pool of levels on boosting arbitrary abandoned alts to the level cap, still finding themselves bored and quitting, but I put it to you that these people would have quit anyway and would not represent the norm or majority.

The levelling game of mature MMOs is often seen as nothing more than a one or two month subscription extension before the real game starts for its loyal player base, many of whom already have characters at the level cap. Perhaps it’s worth rewarding those players by giving them a little freedom and choice in which characters they play and how.

Freedom and choice in an MMO? I must be new around here.

There are intangible realities which float near us.

The Tortage Formation Floating TeamHere we see a classic display by the world famous freeform synchronised floating team of Tortage Volcano, performing one of their signature manoeuvres: the Shinkansen. I’m not sure why characters in Age of Conan seem to spend a lot of their time floating off the ground, perhaps the belts that are worn during the Hyborian age are more than just simply a tool for holding up one’s trousers or skirt, and are in fact part of a powerful magnetic levitation system that runs throughout the land.

It has also been hypothesised that the average diet – consisting of rare-cooked meat and large quantities of vegetable matter – caused an excessive build up of methane in the digestive tracts of the people which, when ejected at pressure from the body, combined with the rigid tough leather kilts of the time to generate the effect of a rudimentary hovercraft. Further weight is added to this theory when one considers the general grumpiness and aggressive tendencies of the vast majority of the global population at the time, something which could very well be attributed to the daily assault on the senses that they suffered. Although the era of peace that followed was attributed in great part to the reign of King Conan, an alternative theory suggests that it correlates more closely with the invention of the nose peg by Hieronymus Pimhole II at the turn of the century.

Another less well supported but similar theory suggests that foot hygiene at the time was so poor that people walked around on a permanent layer of funk. The observation that people living in the Hyborian age were able to stop floating and fully submerge themselves into water as soon as their feet were wetted (and therefore cleaned) does add some credence to this supposition. The theory also sheds some light on the writings of several natural philosophers of the era, including Stoltin the Mature, who described most of the natural world in flavours of cheese, and whose most famous work – Memory of the Horridly Persistent Ammonia Honk of a Rose – shows clear signs that the people of the Hyborian age had trouble penetrating the incredibly powerful hum that their feet produced.

The theory that it’s a cheap trick of perspective used by naughty gods to make people look like they’re walking on the floor unless viewed from close to ground level, is clearly bunkum, however.

Does my belt look big in this?

I’ve been adventuring in Age of Conan again recently. Instead of picking up my high level Bear Shaman I decided to re-roll: it meant I could switch to an RP server for the generally more pleasant community atmosphere; make my way through Tortage to see what, if anything has changed; get to grips with the combat system again; and pop out of Tortage ready to run through the lands of Khitai, newly released with the Rise of the Godslayer expansion.

So far so good. I’m out of Tortage, with nothing of note to report: the experience is still smooth and enjoyable, although it didn’t wow me as much as the first time I played through, but that’s perhaps because I knew what to expect, and games have moved on a little in ambition since the time that the voiced MMO content and personal storyline ‘tutorial’ of Tortage was a Big Thing. Khitai is pleasant, with much better quest organisation and zone progression than the other areas I remember from my previous time in the game; quests are still the standard MMO fare, and the zone is still pebble-dashed with mobstacles, which is a particular shame in this instance because the lands of AoC, and Khitai in particular, are breathtaking and must surely call to the explorer in everyone.

However, it’s hard to explore in a game when it’s abundantly clear that every inch of land has aggressive enemies placed in just such a way that you can’t go anywhere significant without drawing the ire of a great many of them. I know combat is the be all and end all of MMOs, and I certainly shouldn’t complain about that in a game based on the world of Conan, but it does ruin a lot of the sense of adventure when you can see you’ll have to fight your way through wild cats, say, that just happen to be spaced in regimented fashion all the way up the side of the mountain you were thinking of climbing; it’s like posting a big sign at the bottom of any interesting geographical feature that says ‘You must grind this hard to explore here’. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me: is it the case that you’re trying to slow players down and make them play longer by making them grind to explore? If so, do you think that works? Do the majority of players look at the mountain and think “Well there’s probably nothing up there anyway, so I’ll definitely want to grind through a horde of crap animals to get there” or do they wander off, do only the quests that they need, and blast through your content and out into the next zone. Now if the way up that mountain was clear, and the player takes the time to explore, they’ve actually played for longer in the zone than they would have with the mobstacles in the way. Not only that, if they then find something of interest at the top of the mountain, part of a collectible set of items with a reward on completion, say, then they’ll be more inclined to explore other mountains. Not every mountain has to have a reward at the top, but a clever developer might put one at the top of the nearest and most obvious mountain at the start of the zone. And a clever developer certainly wouldn’t need any explanation of the nature of many MMO players when it comes to the OCDness of collecting things and getting a shiny reward at the end of it.

Age of Conan has interesting, some might say frantic, combat and I’m enjoying the Bear Shaman class again, and will probably expound on my likes and dislikes in a future post, hopefully in comparison to the other melee healers that I’m playing in my other two MMOs of the moment – the Warden and Captain in Lord of the Rings Online and the Warrior Priest in Warhammer Online. There’s plenty more to talk about in Age of Conan, including some of the amusing bugs and quirks that I’ve come across in my short travels so far in the lands of Hyboria. I thought I’d share this one here for now, a belt reward I got from one of the first quests I did in Khitai. As well being a stunning interpretation of Hyboria’s China, Khitai also has a very Asian feel to the culture, and as such the light and medium armour is all bulky padded layers compared to the more skin hugging leather of the other races. Once you have a full set of armour it looks quite imposing, but of course to get everything situated correctly the belt has to be rather large to compensate for all the bulky armour: fine if you’ve got a full set, but if you get just a belt… well, at least you’ll never hear anyone ask “does my bum looks big in this?”

Postcard from Tortage.

Hello dear readers. Greetings from Tortage, where I am currently enjoying sun, sea and slaughter. The locals are very accommodating: they’ve all accepted my two-handed hammer against their noggins with nary a complaint. There is a whole abundance of wildlife on the nearby islands, fascinating creatures with the most amazing pelts, all of which are now hanging on the wall of my room in the Thirsty Dog Inn. I’ve met all manner of colourful members of the local villain underground, although they were all a rather a sanguinous colour after I’d finished visiting with them. Many of the natives have never seen a bear shaman before it would seem, as they are all very keen to rush up to me and greet me in their traditional way: sword waving about their heads and screaming. Still, my trusty war-hammer Gunhilde was happy to greet them in the equally traditional manner of the bear shaman: whistling and singing as she swings through the air and then vibrating with pleasure as she makes contact with these new peoples of the world. Anyway, must dash, we’re continuing our tour over to the White Sands, where apparently there are some ancient ruins that are worth visiting. Something about ancient treasures and demonic lords of the underworld; I must remember to take my camera. Hope you are all well, don’t forget to feed the plants while I’m gone.

Otherwise Gunhilde will be having words when I get back.

Love Gunnbjorn.

We read to know we are not alone.

Zoso wrote to me at work this morning – I’m offline in the evening at the moment for reasons that I’m sure I’ll go into in a meandering and flannelling fashion sometime soon – huzzahing the fact that we’re both set for a rhino riding rampage in Age of Conan should we ever reach the heady level of the forties in said game. He also mentioned, however, that we would at least have our bonus order belts for extra carrying capacity in the meantime; apparently you get a free belt in lieu of the mount which you can’t use until level forty. This was news to me, and I realised that I’d not fully read the deal before making my order for the game, I’d just skimmed it and hit purchase.

And now I worry that I’m speed reading various things in real life as though they were quest texts, and I wonder what sort of trouble that could get me into in the future:

You are purchasing blah blah blah Conan blah blah rhino blah blah blah blah blah early access blah blah. Blah blah blah 24 pounds blah. Blah. Blah blah blah.

Yes, yes, yes. Whatever. 24 pounds, rhino, early access. It’s all there, just let me purchase the thing already. Click. Click. Done.

<Two months later>

%ding dong%

Me: “Hello?”

Delivery Man: “Good morning sir, a delivery for you.”

Me: <Looks at delivery note> “Hmm, there seems to have been sort of mistake.”

Delivery Man: “Sir?”

Me: “Well, it’s just that this seems to be a delivery note for a female African black rhino implausibly called Conan, an artificial insemination kit and twenty four pounds of black rhino semen.”

Delivery Man: “That’s right, sir. One rhino and an ‘early access’ insemination kit. Starting a breeding program are we sir?”

Me: “I… really didn’t read that order properly, did I?”

<Another delivery man arrives>

Delivery Man 2: “Morning, sir. Just sign here for your order of a warhammer on a line, an aged Nganasan shaman and twelve dismembered heads.”

Me: “Oh dear.”

I don’t think that it’s necessarily conditioning on the part of MMOs that has caused this, because I understand that there are plenty of people out there who play MMOs and read the quest text in full, and that these people are still able to lead fulfilling and healthy lives. I think, in fact, that my altitus is as much to blame as anything, what with constantly rolling new characters and repeating old content, one generally begins to accept quests automatically because they’ve been experienced before. This is habit forming, though, and eventually you begin to see every set of quest text as an overly lengthy interruption to your game-play, even if reading that text would take only a matter of tens of seconds. It’s often a false economy though, even with the excellent quest trackers in modern MMOs, the quest text is usually there to explain where you are required to go, and what it is that you have to kill ten of this time. So you end-up revisiting the quest text, skimming it to find the pertinent information, and wasting more time than if you’d just read it all in the first place. Alas, the habit is formed, and it is a strong one: text is your enemy and must be ignored at all costs!

The problems lies with the fact that it translates too easily into the real world; it crosses that ineffable boundary between fantasy and reality and haunts your ways, like when you’ve just woken from a dream and have yet to shake it off as the fictional creation of your subconscious. Of course, you soon realise that there is not, in fact, a giant space octopus with tentacles made of creamy pasta and a single fulgurating eye of pure topaz trying to steal the collection of George Clooneys from under your bed.

I’m sure you can relate to the experience now, because even if you don’t skip the quest text, I think we’ve all had that dream.

Take off your hat to your yesterdays.

I received an email this afternoon when I got home that contained the code granting early access for, and subsequent rhinoplasty of, my characters in Age of Conan. Or something. It’s definitely got something to do with horns, at least. Or maybe that was getting the horn? Must be all the mature boobies in the game. Not sure what the sexual attraction of antiquated seabirds is, but I suppose that there are stranger things in the worlds of Robert Ervin Howard.

So that’s it. Strapped in, locked down, doors to automatic, turbines to power, all systems are green for go. F.A.B. All ready for the take off of Age of Conan. I’ve given up reading the general bloggerama because there’s no real firm information. Vanguard looked like a train wreck in the making from day one. Age of Conan seems more like Pirates of the Burning Sea in this case: it could go either way, and nobody is really sure which. But there’s more drama in soothsaying doom.

So it’s just a case now of gripping on to the armrests, singing the Golden Grahams song and waiting for the g-force of launch to kick in, followed by the rickety rockety ride through the atmosphere, and then either the weightless elation of orbiting through the gaming heavens, or plunging back to earth in a crimson ball of pure forum-ite flame.

Oh, those Golden Grahams.
Oh, those Golden Grahams.
Crispy, crunchy, Graham cereal,
brand new breakfast treat.

Asses are made to bear, and so are you.

The age of Conan approacheth! I’ve been trying not to post too much about Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, ‘Hyborian’ being based upon the Ancient Greek word ‘hyperborean’, which we all know is made up from the word hyper meaning “I am very”, and borean meaning “Bored”. So a fine setting for an MMO then!

Both Zoso and I are trying to ignore AoC as its release creeps up on us. I say ‘creeps up on us’, but of course it has arrived with all the subtlety of a rabid fox in a tuxedo filled with fire ants, making his grand entrance at the March Hare’s summer ball by bursting out of the giant cake and attempting to sing Happy Birthday Mr President while stamping on his tail which has caught fire from all the candles.

And like the barbarian of the title, the Funcom marketing department has launched itself into the midst of its sworn enemy – we consumers – and whipped, bludgeoned and smote them with the vorpal sword of AoC, although not fuelled by an unquenchable rage in this case, but instead by a soul wrenching outpour of unadulterated venomous hype.

We try to pretend here at kiasa that the game is not going to affect us; it’s an honest and stalwartly British attempt to not be bothered by something that is clearly doing its very best to push us right to the extreme limit of being really rather annoyed indeed, in a manner more often applied to that great British past time of queuing. It is a little known fact that the average British person is actually born with a secondary nervous system that allows them to sense queue dynamics in real time; such a system allows them to not only calculate exactly which queue will be the fastest to move forward (and then fail utterly to take that queue due to some unknown inherited sense of Edwardian etiquette), but also fully equips them to deal with a lack of queue etiquette by others. We, the great British queuers (that’s queuers), watch very carefully as the queue dodger makes their way up the outside of the line, ducking under the clearly marked barriers that delineate the correct formation. We observe them reach that point, usually just in front of us, where they have to decide whether to push in or make their way to the back of the queue again while feigning an interest in the geometry of the local architecture. We wait patiently as our secondary nervous system detects the minute variations in their body temperature and heart rate. We pay no direct attention to them, and give off on air of not being bothered at all “it’s just one place in the queue, we’re in no tearing hurry”. And then our quarry makes their move, and side steps into the small gap we’ve left for them, and the trap is set: our space has been invaded, our rights have been trampled upon, and if they had bothered to bring a flag it would have practically been a declaration of war. With our inherent advantage of generations upon generations of Darwinian queuevolution behind us, we wait with a quiet and studied confidence. Biding our time. Until the moment… is just… right. And then we rear-up to our full height, our leonine presence commanding all to observe us in awe. And then we let out a really, really loud *tut*.

The grand old masters of many queuing session may even roll their eyes skywards, just to really show them.

Where was I? Oh yes, bear shaman! Because bears… like queuing. Yes.

I’ve decided from the small snippets of information that have managed to pierce my hype shield that I like the look of the bear shaman best out of all the classes in AoC, they seem to tick all the boxes on my character suitability survey. Primarily these boxes consist of: the ability to heal and or support other classes; the ability to get into melee a bit and not have to stand at the back looking like you’re trying to sneak out to go to the toilet; and the ability to assume the form of, or have some connection to, a sodding great ursus arctos horribilis or the like. These are the same reasons why I will probably try a Warrior Priest in Warhyper: Age of Rodomontade. I intend for the lack of bearness about the Warrior Priest to be made up for by an overabundance of bareness instead. So if you want to find me in WAR, look for the naked Warrior Priest bludgeoning the enemy with his ‘weapon of the gods’.

I’ve certainly not looked at any forums or wikis or twenty five page magazine spreads about how much damage the assassin does, or how cool the Herald of Xotli looks when they’ve turned into a sodding great demon, because with my well documented altitus it would be an utter disaster.

Hmm, Stygian Herald of Xotli eh?

No! No no no. Bear shaman. That’s what I’m going to play.

Assuming nobody else is.

Aye, and there’s the rub. You see I, like many others I’m sure, like to be somewhat unique within my close party of like-minded grind monkeys. I understand that there will be a thousand or more clones of my character all identical barring a slight change in the style of facial hair, and perhaps an unsightly birth mark which is in a place that will never see the light of day in a family MMO or otherwise. This is the way of all MMOs to date, other than City of Heroes, where I can create a sentient atomic pea, controller of the very earth itself, who was grafted on to the body of a recently decapitated therapist, and who is called Terra Pea. I’m fairly sure that that guy is unique. Special. Like me. In the straight-jacket sense.

However, within my small circle of friends, those whom I will be playing with on a regular basis, I like to play a class that nobody else is. Which is quite tricky when – and Zoso may back me up on this if he’s feeling generous – I seem to have an extraordinary ability to pick the class that someone else has decided that they want to play too. I remember my fantastic start to World of Warcraft. I was playing a dwarf paladin, and that was that. I’d planned his talents, worked out his look, calculated optimal dungeon runs for best gear distribution. I was set. When I turned up on day one of the WoW release, another in our party had decided to play a paladin. Of all the classes we had to pick from, and there were only five of us, we’d got two people already playing the same class, thus fighting for the same loot, and the same role in the group. We even had the same embarrassing birthmark damn it! So I rolled a priest. But the priest wasn’t really what I wanted to play, I convinced myself that it was at the time, but really it was just me trying to justify my stupid desire to be playing a different class to the others, to add a new dynamic to our group, and not just be the guy ‘playing the other paladin’.

Long story shor… uh… quite long, actually, I eventually got my paladin to level 70 in WoW. After my druid though, who I settled on mainly, if for no other reason, because with a little effort I could be a reasonable rogue or tank or nuker or healer, and therefore fill a role that wasn’t already filled by somebody else. It worked rather well, for me at least, and sated my altitus enough that I didn’t roll a new character for quite some time, and it’s the main reason why I love true hybrid characters so much; I don’t need to be the best player that ever lived, or have the most powerful character, if I can do a little to help in an area of play that otherwise wouldn’t be covered by others, then consider me deeply satisfied.

Thought for the day.

Reading Zoso’s post from yesterday – about Age of Conan’s use of captchas for access to their forum search – made me wonder what sort of clue this might give us as to how their game will operate:

To prevent bots in our game, Age of Conan is pleased to announce a revolutionary new anti-bot technology for our combat system: The Combat Captcha.

For example: you press 1 to activate your Skullsplitter with a Side Order of Extra Gore ability, and a captcha pops up:

It looks like you are trying to crush the cranium of this Cimmerian. To prove that you are a genuine player, please type the word displayed below in order to complete your manoeuvre.

cROm sEz DiE

The letters are formed from the entrails of your previous opponents and framed on a background that looks like the crime scene from a slasher film; if you can identify the word and type it in time, you get to execute the ability, and probably your opponent. Genius!

I think it could work. Gone are the days of mindless key mashing in order to participate in combat, now you have to stay on your toes, improve your typing ability and your reading skills, just to be able to play the game at all!

Look forward to other exciting uses of Internet security technologies to protect your game-play soon, such as the dial-a-spell protection mechanism, where upon attempting to cast a spell a small mathematical problem is displayed on the screen and you must type the answer in on a virtual keypad in order to complete the spell-casting.

Big Brother is watching you play.