Today we have a rather unique interview. Pål Frogner Hansen is the Project Director of Age of Conan and our resident techie caught up with him to get some insights into the nuts and bolts of their game. They're a bit on the technical side, but they provide an interesting peek behind how these games are truly built.
Answers by Pål Frogner Hansen (Project Director, Age of Conan)
Questions by Patrick Driggett
WarCry: What is your workflow?
Pål Frogner Hansen: Wow! That is a massive question. Doing an MMO like ours, you have a whole lot of different workflows. We have more than 100 developers on the team, split into different kinds of coders, quest designers, world designers, item designers, character behavior designers, effect designers, effect gfx-artists, concepters, character, monster artists, modelers, etc. All of these guys are making content and framework that is interdependent with other people's work. To make everybody be able to work efficiently on their own and at the same time, together with others, require lots of processes, many workflows and in many cases, use of pretty advanced technology. Digging deeper into the details could easily fill a day of explanation, so I better not.
WarCry: Are people tasked to a specific area or do they move to whatever features need to be done next?
Pål Frogner Hansen: We have a lot of specialists. In almost every area of our production. At the same time, everybody has always had a pretty long list of what to do next. When that is said, people are being moved around somewhat too, to ensure that people are not stuck in an area or to have more people in critical areas at specific phases of the production.
WarCry: How do the programmers integrate with the artists work?
Pål Frogner Hansen: Some artists work by their own and just work with huge lists of work to crunch through, while others sit next to programmers where they tailor make content for each other. The whole team is very dynamic and flexible. People walk around a lot in addition to communicate via email, icq and our task-tracking tools.
WarCry: Do you use any specific software development methods like Extreme Programming or Agile?
Pål Frogner Hansen: We are pretty extreme! Well, we borrow from many of the popular methodologies out there. But we are not following one 100%. I can give some examples. We do have a lot that are designed. We have a final deadline. We need to fit into this. At the same time, we have many parts of the game where we have a lot of iterations. For example combat. Combat has been into many iterations already. We will then do as many iterations as we can within the time we have. We also use many small strike teams within the big team. These have short cycles (2 weeks) where they have small goals each time. And we have a lot of reviews.
WarCry: How much input do people have into the design of the system they are currently working on?
Pål Frogner Hansen: There is no general answer to that. We do have everything from strict and rigid designs to "it's up to the implementer to make the design", but all of this is coming to an end now, as we have external testers in our beta, and we are in the finishing stages.
WarCry: What development environment's / IDEs do the programmers work in?
Pål Frogner Hansen: Programmers use the latest visual studio for the most part. Some use emacs. For python we use Wing and Eclipse.
WarCry: Are there any innovative technical features that you've implemented that you feel are new to the Game Industry?
Pål Frogner Hansen: We have several neat ways of doing the technical solutions. I can't be sure if it's not ever done before, but there is definitely world class tech in the areas of network scalability, rendering (DirectX10), animation system, development environment and the whole backbone technology that we have in the Dreamworld Engine (which is the official name of the whole tech-base, including all the content tools that is used). I don't think I should go too deep into the details, but a funny story was when I got a personal presentation at GDC from a big player in the industry where they bravely showed off their newest inventions that were coming up in a commercial tool soon. -I just said to myself "Cool stuff, but we've had this tech since 2004"
WarCry: What associated technologies and languages are you using as in scripting languages like Lua or perhaps ActionScript for interfaces?
Pål Frogner Hansen: For interfaces we are not exposing it to any scripting languages. That is the status today. This might change.
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