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The last three months: a seeming final trimester for eager 'Age of Conan' players as they continue to watch their beloved game grow and develop, and what's even more exciting is that the best is yet to come. Add to that the forever ongoing anticipation of General Beta, and you've got yourself an exciting final term of filled with high hopes, trepidation, and perhaps a degree of uneasiness within some fans as they hold minor concerns for a game they hope to invest a lot of time in. If anything is for certain, the next three months are going to be very, very interesting for Funcom; there's still so much more to see from them.
E3 has come and gone for another year, and while its structure was different, we still felt the same level of excitement we get from other games on the horizon or only in the first steps of development. For 'Age of Conan' over the last couple of years, we have seen the game grow through progress in development and evolve to how we see it today. You only have to look as far as gameplay videos from the Game Developer's Conference in March to see how far things have come.
As spoken about last fortnight, some of the pre-E3 coverage was fairly negative, to say the least. Based on what these reviewers had seen in the builds they were playing on, they were left with the feeling that with so many "issues" apparent in the demo, they were wondering if three-and-a-bit months was enough time to get this game polished before release? There were also some suggestions that another delay in the release of the game was a foreboding reality. I believe this year's E3 demonstration has silenced many of those critics, but alas, a large portion of the fan-base was dissatisfied with what was not shown at E3.
In response to the apparent lack of game content shown at E3 this year Funcom developer, Jason Stone (Athelan), has said:
"We were very limited on time for presentations - like 20 minutes total - so we couldn't go into the detail we could have."
Earlier comments by Erling Ellingsen (LordOrion) also only pointing out what was obvious about this year's E3 convention:
"No, the GameSpot video did not include everything we showed to the press in the Age of Conan area. More coverage may appear later, though, so keep your fingers crossed and you may get the entire thing on video from somewhere.
This year's format for E3 meant that only invited press got to see the game in action, and they may choose to show all or only parts of what they saw. At previous E3's you had a lot more press attending the whole show and they could in many cases just wander into any booth they fancied and start capturing stuff. This year's E3 was smaller and strictly invitation-only."
The various press present at E3 this year were in complete control of what published. In the publishing industry, we call this "selection of detail". The first thing to keep in mind here is that a large number of the gaming press present at E3 this year would have had a myriad of other games to cover, so unfortunately their time could not be invested exclusively in one particular game for any longer than an another. The second thing to keep in mind is that same proportion of gaming press are not the 'Age of Conan' fans we are, or perhaps not the slightest sense similar. If this was the E3 of previous years, you definitely would have seen a more comprehensive coverage of the game. Erling continued by stating:
"Earlier [at E3] you also had non-press attendees, like fans, who would capture everything and put it on YouTube or write in detail about what they saw on the game's forums. This time we're a bit more at the mercy of the select press who attended and got to see the game."
I'm not going to re-hash exactly what was revealed to the public through the game press (you can do your own web-surfing for that), but let's be honest: what was shown to us was still very, very cool, and the game in its flow (animations, latency, etc.) has come a long way from what we have seen earlier. All this is very promising, and this leads to us to the future: what is there left to see? Still so much, but this why the final countdown is largely an exciting part of a game's development.
So what's left to be seen? What do we want to see more of from Funcom in 'Age of Conan' before release? Well, it has already been somewhat confirmed that we will see Siege Warfare in action live at this year's Games Convention in Germany between August 23 and 26, just over a month away, so that's something quite big to look forward to. And yes, you can expect a lot of coverage from that as no doubt a lot of 'Age of Conan' fans based in Germany and surrounding countries will very likely attend and get the skinny on the game. Although we can be an overzealous bunch, fans know what type of questions to ask about the game they're most interested in, because they usually know what they're after (so you can start feeling sorry for the Funcom developers attending that convention now... thrown into the lion's den, as it were, and will be kept very busy).
Other things to look forward to: we're yet to see the different types of PvP in action. Yes, we'll see Siege Warfare at the convention, but what of the other types of PvP: Drunken Brawling and the Border Kingdoms minigames? There's also crafting and the prestige classes, player-made cities (not to be confused with Siege Warfare and Battlekeeps), classes that we've only read about in Friday updates that have not been demonstrated in gameplay videos (we've seen the Guradian the most, but a bit of the Necromancer in play more recently), the skills and leveling system (something that definitely needs to be seen in more detail), mounted combat (we're left wondering how that has come along especially in development this year), soul corruption (and visiting Hell after your soul has been corrupted too much), spell weaving, and lately there's been a cry to see more of the female character model. We understand that Funcom was not happy with the way the female character looked initially, so some tweaks and changes are being made to make them look better. Anyway, I'm positive I haven't mentioned absolutely everything in a list of things yet to be seen, but as you can see it's quite extensive and these particular features are not small or insignificant by any means.
Yes, there's probably a perfectly good explanation as to why we haven't seen these features in great detail, and as discussed last fortnight Funcom are exercising their right to reveal what when they most feel most appropriate. But such is the nature of the fan that they begin to come to their own conclusion that the reason these things are not being shown is because they're not ready, then they begin to wonder if all these things will be fixed and ready in time for release, and then they conclude that the game will be delayed. It's gamer mass-hysteria and "doom-calling" at its geeky best.
I understand it's easier said than done for most, but let's be frank with each other for a moment: you need to worry less! Yes, you've been disappointed by other game development companies and their games in the past ('Vanguard: Saga of Heroes', I'm looking in your direction), but what needs to be understood is that Funcom is Funcom, and 'Age of Conan' is 'Age of Conan' - essentially, the performance and success (or lack thereof) of game development companies and their games is not an indicator of how another company's game will perform, even if with your Jedi senses you can see similar "patterns" occurring in the game's development. Worrying is only going to ruin not only your own personal excitement and anticipation for a game, but that of others, especially if it's unwarranted.
We can be so caught up in worrying what we're not seeing or what we haven't seen, that we lose sight of the bigger picture: 'Age of Conan' is coming on October 30, there is still three months for any further polishing to be done, and all that content to look forward to and learning about. Then of course there's General Beta. Again, let's be honest: how excited are we about that? I don't think I've spoken to anyone that doesn't want to be in beta testing the game, getting a feel for the world and trying out all the content for themselves. Instead of asking "Why haven't we seen [insert feature here] yet?" ask "When are we going to see [insert feature here]?" Sure, you might get the answer that most developers seem to give: "Soon™" but at least then you begin to ask yourself "How soon is 'soon'?" and that's how excitement and anticipation is built: uncertainty, because only the developers can guarantee it - the rest is speculation.
By all means, read press reviews, previews, blogs, and discuss it all on cyberspace and with your pet dog, but take it all with a pinch of salt, and not just the criticisms, but the praises too. This is all about your experience, after all. Your current perceptions of the game will be definitively different to your actual experience of it when you actually get the chance to try things for yourself, whether it be in General Beta, Open Beta closer to release, or at release itself. Also, don't confuse taking the criticisms and praises with a pinch of salt with turning a blind-eye to the criticisms and only accepting the positives from something like this, because being accepting of both is very important, but they alone should not determine how you by yourself perceive the game in its current and ongoing state or at release.
Between now and October 30, we have, as already mentioned the Games Convention in Germany between August 23 and 26 where Siege Combat is said to be demonstrated (perhaps we can get something official on that soon), at least 12 more Friday Updates to look forward to, three more issues of 'Clan of Conan' (the official 'Age of Conan' monthly newsletter), one or two more developer diaries to come, not to mention the little tid-bits the Funcom developers give us in their discussions with us on the official 'Age of Conan' forums, and of course that's all just from Funcom.
It's clear that we have so much to look forward to barring the endless fun we'll be getting out of 'Age of Conan' when it is released, and it's in the words of Isaac Asimov, Russian author and scientist, that I take solace in when I myself anticipate the release of new information and ultimately a new game: "The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing."
Until next fortnight, this is Stephen "weezer" Spiteri,
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© Stephen Spiteri, July 2007