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"It's Mabo, it's the Constitution, it's just... it's... it's the vibe". My brother-in-law is in the film industry, and last week he and I were talking about the so-called "vision" of film producers. He went on to tell me a story about a script he had submitted to a potential investor, and having after read the script at a point myself, I can tell you it was pure gold, but the investors felt that to make the movie more marketable a few "changes" should be made. The recommendations my brother-in-law received were nothing short of jaw-dropping, and not in a good way, I can assure you. Had my brother-in-law gone ahead with these changes to his script, his story, what would have resulted is a far cry from what we had originally penned when writing his first draft. I even remember my brother-in-law telling me that he felt he would have experienced an overwhelming sense of disconnectedness with the project and only be selling himself out if these investors had their way.
My brother-in-law's story made me think of the ongoing gameplay/lore debate on the official 'Age of Conan' forums. Most of us by now should know that the game is based on the works of pulp-fiction writer, Robert E. Howard, and 70 years' worth of Conan lore rooted in the short stories themselves, comics, and to a lesser extent, pastiche novels and books. As 'Age of Conan' is a game based on a very unique license, it's important for Funcom to realise they have the said lore to stay true to, but the opinion of most unfamiliar with the works of Howard is that you should sacrifice staying true to the lore in order to create and maintain an enjoyable gameplay experience. But of course, it's very easy for someone unfamiliar with the lore to say such a thing and as if to highlight a "gameplay versus lore" dichotomy (yes, Svengali, I used that word again).
Personally, I'm of the opinion that in a game like 'Age of Conan', and any other game with such a deep, rich, and unique history behind it, it's not a matter of "gameplay versus lore", but rather "gameplay and lore". It's ridiculous to even suggest that you can take 70 years' worth of Conan tradition and water it down completely to something unrecognisable purely for the sake of marketability. Can consumers not appreciate a good story? Do we have the inability to digest something rooted in tradition and, dare I say it, so classical? No, I'm sure we are all quite capable of absorbing something of the like, and especially all things Conan, so what's the problem?
The problem is in fact marketability itself, and Funcom, no doubt, would have asked themselves the question: "Could this game be both fun to play and a success commercially if done 'by the book'?" In other words, it would need to be considered what kind of game 'Age of Conan' would turn out to be if created by Howard himself down to the very finest detail - could a game like that be appealing to those unfamiliar the average MMO gamer and those unfamiliar with Howard's works and Conan lore?
Now, I've said it a few times before in previous editions of Mitra's Method, that I'm not an expert on Conan lore or that I claim to be one, but I acknowledge that there is a Conan lore, and like anything carrying such a cult following, it's not something that you can so flippantly toy with and manipulate. On the flip side, we have to understand we're talking about the gaming industry and the MMO market here, so it is with some reservation that certain liberties have to be taken by Funcom in creating a game that can be enjoyed by all MMO gamers and bring new gamers to the MMO market. It's with these things in mind that I decided to go in to the lion's den itself and ask these sorts of questions of Funcom Product Director, Jørgen Tharaldsen, who took some time out of his very busy schedule (namely, only returning from the United States a few days ago after taking 'Age of Conan' on the road) to help me give you guys some of the answers you're after.
My first question to Jørgen: When developing a game that has 70 years' worth of lore/tradition behind it, what measures are taken to ensure that an accurate depiction of a world with its characters is created? And his response: