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From here we were divided up into two groups and my group was taken on a tour through different parts of the Funcom offices lead by Erling Ellingsen. This was an opportunity to see the groundwork of this game; the developers hard at work making this game what it is set out to be on May 20, 2008.
Our first stop was the motion-capture studio where we were introduced to designer, Ketil Støren, otherwise known as "the motion-capture guy", who was dressed in a black lycra suit with photo-sensitive baubles tacked on which made him look more like a Christmas tree than a "dancing machine of death" (my photos didn't do him much justice either, I must admit), but it was very impressive to see him in action and gain an insight into his knowledge of medieval fighting techniques and swordplay. The motion-capture studio is set up in a fashion very similar to this, which gives Ketil plenty of room to swing swords and often play the victim to his own fatality moves. It was at this point some of remembered that it was mentioned that horse and other mount movement was also motion-captured, and suddenly the manifestations of a horse dressed up in a black lycra suit with photo-sensitive baubles tacked on entered our minds. We were told that all the motion-capturing for horses and other mounts took place in a large warehouse in London, but with no lycra suit involved (the RSPCA might have had a few words to say if this had been the case).
Ketil demonstrated a few fatality moves and explained to us briefly the sort of work he puts into capturing these animations, and to give you some sort of idea how hard this guy has been working, he has motion-captured several hundred combat animations and scores of fatality moves. Where fatality moves are concerned, Ketil plays the attacks and the victim, so things need to be quite theatrical as you can imagine. He certainly impressed us with his exceeding level of professionalism and the amount of heart he puts in to every blow and swing of his sword. All of these equates to a realistic and fluid look when players themselves become a dancing machine of death.
It was on to sound and audio engineering next, where we were introduced to Morten Sørlie who took us through what it takes to make sound and music sound extra special in 'Age of Conan'. First, we were shown the audio development tool that was made in-house and how it is used to script different individual sounds together to make a sound effect for a spell. If I remember correctly, the spell sounds effects were for a Demonologist's spell, and step by step we were shown the individual sounds used to make the finished product. It basically begins with a concept, and this is where Morten and his team attempt to envisage how the overall spell should sound. For this spell in particular, it was like putting in a blender the sounds of murmuring and groans played backwards, some claustrophobic screams, the crackling of fire, and a firebolt shooting off in a direction. When you put it all together you've got a very hellish, dark, tormenting, and murky sound that by itself will probably make you ask yourself if you remember to wear your brown underpants.
If it's not the sounds themselves that will make you soil yourself, perhaps you'll hit the "brown note" with Funcom making 'Age of Conan' 5.1 surround sound standard for the game. Morten played for us a musical piece from the game, a Cimmerian theme, first in stereo, and then we were able to hear it in 5.1 surround sound. Morten put particular emphasis on the point that they wanted to make the game sound fantastic even on stereo sound, but to blow the minds of people running things on a 5.1 sound card audio device. It's difficult to make out the difference on the video that I will be posting in a couple of days, but let me tell you first-hand there was a significant difference in the quality, but that, of course, is not taking anything away from the way the music sounded in stereo; absolutely stunning. The game will of course support 7.1 sound cards and audio devices.