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Friday Update:Update from GDC

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Take a peek at the process involved in bringing Age of Conan to GDC, and also check out what the press is saying about the game at the show. And oh, we’ve also got a bunch of new screenshots for you!

For the last couple of weeks, both marketing and the development team have been hard at work preparing for the Games Developer Conference that this week took place in San Francisco. While the developers have been working on polishing many of the game’s features – such as the fatality moves – the marketing team have been working towards getting as many journalists as possible to drop in and have a look at the game.

Web sites such as IGN (click here to read) and Gamespy (click here to read) have already given their thoughts on the game, but more will most likely follow in the coming days. Several new screenshots have also surfaced thanks to coverage from the conference, and you can check many of them out here in the community site’s screenshot section.

“This year’s GDC has been great for us. We’ve had the opportunity to show Age of Conan to many members of the press, and we’re thrilled to see how enthusiastic many of the reactions have been,” says product director Jørgen Tharaldsen who is in San Francisco together with several members of the development team as well.

The Games Developer Conference is first and foremost an industry event, a place where like-minded programmers, artists and other people involved in game development and marketing can meet and share their experiences with each other. But still, it’s also a great place to showcase your product and get the attention of the world’s gaming media. That’s why you will also see news articles and in-depth previews coming out of the conference.

The days leading up to the show are always hectic at Funcom. First comes the easy part, where everyone comes together and brainstorms over what they would like to show. Of course, everyone would like to show everything right away, but when you work with marketing a computer game you also have to consider the fact that you need material to show for several months ahead, and you don’t want to be revealing everything at once!

When both marketing and development have banged their heads together and have finally settled on what to show, reality quickly sets in and the “to do list” suddenly becomes a huge two-headed monster that eats developers for breakfast and forces marketing to watch. When developing a computer game, everyone is working on their little bit and it’s not until the latter part of development and during the beta period that it all fits together and works seamlessly as a game. For tradeshows, the developers often has to improvise by putting things together in haste and bug fixing as they go along.

It’s an industry fact, and we all have to do it. It becomes easier as the game matures and more features becomes available, and because Age of Conan is so far into the development of the game right now, we’ve been lucky enough to be able to more or less pick and choose what we want to show at the Games Developer Conference this year.

“Right now it’s all about determining what to show and when to show it. Early in the game’s development we had to create makeshift solutions to be able to show advanced features, but now our biggest concern is just making sure we don’t reveal everything in one go. And that’s a challenge, because we want to show it all now!” says Tharaldsen.

Still, things do need to be polished before they can be shown to the world, and for the last couple of weeks the developers have been hard at work going through their task lists and making sure everything works the way it should. A so-called strike team is created who works relentlessly on preparing a version that those going to the conference can bring with them -- with all the deadlines that involves!

One of the biggest challenges we face when setting out to demo Age of Conan, is how to show as much meaningful content as possible in the usually short amount of time that we have. Massively multiplayer online games are, as the name says, massive. It can take hours upon hours to reach different levels of character development, and getting to some parts of the game can mean months of actual gameplay.

So how do you show the good stuff right away when you only have half an hour to impress a journalist?

“I’ve created a series of scripts that quickly lets whoever is playing the game level up their character and get access to really cool equipment, feats and combos. That way they are able to quickly develop into a character that looks impressive, and show off features that wouldn’t really be available until later in the game,” says item designer Mats Remman.

One of the characters that are being showed at the Games Developer Conference is the Soldier who turns into a Guardian. Whoever is playing the game can quickly level up to the sort of Guardian that they want, and all the combo moves will suddenly become available to them along with some of the better gear. This allows us to show diversity in characters and gears without having to actually go questing for hours to get there!

As the week comes to and end and the conference closes its doors, both marketing and developers head back to the offices to continue working on the game, preparing it for the upcoming beta phases and finally launch.

Here is some of the coverage that has come out of GDC so far:

Preview on TenTonHammer Preview on GameSpy Preview on IGN Preview on Kotaku

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