Earlier in the week we talked with Game Director Craig Morrison to get some details on Funcom's new Age of Conan expansion: The Savage Coast of Turan. The six minute dev trailer also walks us through some of the vast environments and intriguing stories that will be included in the expansion. You may want to dust off your broadsword and grab a new loin cloth because this expansion is shaping up to be a nice addition to AoC's barbaric adventure.
PCG: Was it challenging to base a game's expansion on a movie? What are the benefits, and the extra hurdles you have to overcome in the process?
Craig Morrison: In our case it is actually relatively straight forward in some ways, largely due to the fantastic relationship we already have with the license holders at Paradox entertainment. They truly believe in the Conan brand, and we actually communicate with them actively on a weekly basis, every week, movie or no movie. So we were very used to that process, and it works well.
The challenge for us in this specific case was the time periods. The movie is set during Conan's younger days, while our game is set some twenty plus years later when Conan is king. So we had to find a good hook to link the to the movie, and we found that in some of the characters. Just as Conan has survived the twenty years between the movie and our time line, so have his allies, and the players are dispatched to Turan to aid Conan's old friends.
Will this expansion be available for a premium or included in the F2P content?
CM: The Savage Coast pack is paid content. We are doing both free and paid updates for the game. So for example the five new dungeons added this year already were all free to premium players, this pack is paid content, and then we have another free update at the end of the year that brings with it another huge new dungeon and new raids. The pack is also priced very much in that frame of mind, with a cheap entry option for players of just over ten bucks, which we feel is really great value for the amount of content that is being added in this adventure pack
How many new zones will be added in this adventure pack?
CM: The adventure pack features a massive new outdoor playfield that encompasses the city of Ardashir and the surrounding coastline, and contains two new solo instances, a new team instance, and new raid encounters. We really wanted to try and address the old 'something for everyone' challenge, by providing one strong example of each play style preference for content. Thus we tried to create these substantial additions for each category.
The area around the city of Ardashir is massive, and forms the main outdoor area for content in the adventure pack. Level wise it is aimed at players in the level 50 range. We also offer existing players a 'free' level 50 second character already, and this will be available again so that veterans can dive right into the story content as well. This was an area that we really wanted to add to content to, and the Savage Coast pack will supplement the existing progression areas nicely, adding another choice for players that improves the variety of content available. Offering over fifty quests, this area will provide many hours of great content, and hopefully become a favourite destination for those progressing through their dangerous careers in the brutal lands of Hyboria.
There is a dynamic solo instance in the shape of Dead Man's Hand - it adjusts to the level of the players so anyone level 50-80 can enjoy it. A level 80 team instance that sees players taking on the might of the Turanian military in Fort Ardashir, a level 80 solo instance in the Isle of Iron Statues, and lastly a brand new raid area with three different boss encounters behind the impressive visage of the Temple of Erlik.
Any unique features being added along with The Savage Coast of Turan?
CM: No, this is a content expansion pure and simple. Sometimes what is most effective is just focusing on adding great new playable areas and expanding the world. Features can take up a lot of time, and they are also something we now really want to do as part of the free updates rather than the paid updates so that all players get to benefit from new features when they are added.
We know the expansion takes them into the same areas as the movie, allowing them to fight many of the same adversaries. Will The Savage Coast of Turan have content not from the film?
CM: The locations aren't actually taken from the movie, as I mentioned above, the challenge for us was the time difference, over twenty years difference. That meant we pretty much had to tell a different story. We really didn't want to go down the road of doing a weaker story, just to tie in more explicitly. I guess we could have done a re-tread and go for the 'another evil warlord finds the same mask and tries to take over the world' type of thing...but the inspiration of the license is too rich to do let ourselves be that lazy.
So instead we created a whole new original storyline. We combined the characters from the movie, Artus and Ela Shan, and placed them in an existing part of Robert E Howard's universe, the coast of Turan. It also allowed us to take inspiration from some of Robert E Howard's original themes and stories.
Exploring this new area will open up a whole new set of exciting quest lines that will see the player uncover an evil conspiracy and reveal an ancient evil.
Continuing our tradition of mature and compelling story-telling, players will find themselves plunged into dark political plots, power games, and the machinations of would be dictators, kings and warlords. In a city where the thieves and pirates may be the most reliable allies you have, you have to watch your back and keep your blade close!
Conan himself rarely had any tolerance of corruption and evil that he found was inherent in the so-called 'civilisations' of Hyboria, and Ardahsir is almost a microcosm of everything our favourite barbarian despised about the world around him. So it is something that we take seriously. In many ways it is a key element to understanding the concept behind much of Robert E Howard's writing.
Conan was in many ways a very genuine character. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is brutally honest. He had little time for those who would scheme and plot and exploit others, his hatred of these elements of 'society' drives a lot of the conflict in the original stories, and really dictates who Conan chooses to ally himself with. In many ways, while clearly an anti-hero, it is also the aspect of his character that still appeals to this day. He cuts through the crap, disregards politics and acts as his heart dictates. That really inspires many of the stories we tell.
Any new pvp or dungeon content?
CM: The new dungeons described above offer some great new experiences, and there are options for both solo, group and raid players to enjoy. We wanted to add a little of something for each play style preference with this update and the slate of instances reflect that. They are not your usual dungeons those, with both Dead Mans Hand and the Isle of the Iron Statues being complete islands, with multiple quests and their own interesting storylines.
We focus the PVP updates for the free updates, as we want everyone to have access to them, as with the new mini-game and the new server rule-set that we have already released this year, and the upcoming PVP world bosses that will come later in the year. Therefore you generally don't see PVP features in the paid content updates as we want everyone to have access to those.
Dead Mans Hand is a huge instance with many quests, that can be done daily, it is more like a mini-quest hub than it is a dungeon run. With some really dynamic boss fights and quite a few compelling, and slightly disturbing, quests to partake in.
The Isle of the Iron Statues on the other hand is more linear and focused. This is because it is kind of a direct re-imaging of the original Howard story - Shadows in the Moonlight - and allows the players to follow in the footsteps of the great barbarian himself. Conan was stalked by a powerful foe on that island many years previously and the players will have to negotiate similar hazards.
The Fort Ardashir is your more traditional dungeon experience, with some brilliantly realized boss encounters that our players have really responded well too. It is a great dungeon run for a group to enjoy.
Lastly, but by no means least, The Temple of Erlik is possibly the most spectacular location we have created yet. It really is a majestic temple, and a location that really pushes our new indoor lighting technology to the boundaries of what is possible in an MMO these days, it really is an amazing back-drop to the three new raid encounters for high level players.
Will the adventure pack bring anything new to the item shop?
CM: Yes, although not required or linked to the content. There are new social vanity armors available that are inspired directly by the costumes in the movies. So if you want to really like Conan himself, you will now have the chance. These are purely cosmetic armors that allow players to tailor their looks without effecting their stats. The folks on the movie made some fantastic costumes so it was great to be able to recreate some of them in-game.
When we set up this interview, your marketing folk described this expansion as one of the "prettiest play fields in Age of Conan we've ever created." What specific types of zones and environments can players look forward to?
CM: The art team has as usual outdone themselves. It is something we are immensely proud of. Our Dreamworld engine technology had been improved even further over the last year, and we do genuinely think we can claim to have the most advanced visuals of any MMO, and have a fantastically talented art team taking advantage of it! Turan as a culture was inspired by ancient Persian influences and you will see that inspiration in the landscape around the city of Ardashir.
The locations are diverse and visually stunning, and I think the team has raised the bar for themselves again with this one!
From the bleak ravaged desolation of Dead Mans Hand, through the moon-lit jungle of the Isle of the Iron Statues to the opulent and magnificent city of Ardashir, with it's center-piece temple literally clawing out of the sheer cliff above the city, there is such a great visual breadth to the adventure pack that even I never cease to be amazed by what the team can produce.