The staff AoC/JoL and users of the forum JoL had the possibility of putting about fifteen questions to Pharamond. Here are his answers. Thanks to him.

1/ Lately Gaute mentioned the "dynamic camps" in his letter to the community. Does one have to assume that you had to change the behavior of the PvE cities managed by the AI , which were supposed to attack the players PvE towns, or that you have removed that feature ? If not, could you tell us exactly how will work the conflicts between the AI cities and the players cities  ? Edit

Since it says, “The dynamic camps are still there,” I can’t see how that’d imply they’d been removed.
We’re currently looking at it based on the feedback we’ve gotten and where we want the game to go, so it’s in a review phase and there’s not much more I can say about it. Once we like where we’re at enough to talk about it, we certainly will.

2/ The community would like to know as thoroughly as possible the differences between a PvE city and a PvP battlekeep. What bonuses and penalties do they offer ? Why should a guild desire to own his battlekeep (except for the glory !) or his city, and what are the advantages of a PvP battlekeep compared to a PvE city  ? Edit

Battlekeeps/cities are pretty much required if you want to get into high-end crafting and material gathering and also serve as the heart and soul of a guild. They help your crafters, they give you a ready social hub for everyone to hang out in, the buildings may grant certain bonuses if you’ve built them, and owning a city in a resource and building playfield will also help you get more and better resources, which, in turn, will lead to better stuff for everyone.
Penalty-wise, they’re a good size resource sink and if you’re playing in a PvP area, people will be trying to take it from you and will probably stab you to do so. If you’re in a PvE area, you may face NPC attacks or patrols or whathaveyou, based upon what we decide from the process I described in question #1.

3/ Regarding more specifically the PvP, does the Border Kingdoms really exist or is it some kind of myth, as nobody has ever seen any screenshot or video about it ? If it does exist, what can you tell us about it ? Specifically, is the size of this area and it's three provinces big enough to accommodate hundreds of players ? Besides, the release is in three months. Do you think we should worry because we haven't seen anything yet about the Border Kingdoms ? Edit

We’ve shown city building (at GDC just a few months ago, as a matter of fact), player cities (GDC and the community event) in detail, sieges and massive PvP (since GC in 2007 and possibly before then), PvP battles, and the game itself. I suppose all that remains is to put it all together and say “By the way, this is the Border Kingdoms.” But who’s to say we won’t do such a thing?
As to the size, the Border Kingdoms are big enough for large battles while still being small enough for you to wander over and kick your neighbor’s sandcastle just for fun. Gaute is a psychologist, after all, and any psychologist will tell you that if you put people in a small enough space and give them a limited number of resources, they will eventually come to blows.
As for worrying, well, I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. 50 page threads about nipples. I watched threads self-generate rumors about not being able to sit at all (for the record, you can). All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain…

4/ Age of Conan will provide a PvP server, where players can fight outside the Border Kingdoms. The community is very excited by that, we love when there is challenge, and the achievement tastes better when it's hard to reach it. What can you tell us more about those servers ? Do you plan to implement anti-griefing systems (griefing is for instance greykilling, chainkill…) ? Is the "bounty hunter" feature still planned ? If yes, how does it work ? If not, why did you remove it ? Edit

The PVP server opened a few weeks ago and is currently in beta testing. It’s incredibly interesting as an environment and an experiment. It started simply as a PVP server. You could kill anyone pretty much anywhere. Naturally, it wasn’t long before level 80s were camping level 20s at resurrection points and we had to start making rules and policies and putting our systems in place.
However, this is a delicate question. PVP is incredibly popular for Age of Conan. We saw that when we opened the PVP server in beta and there was a crush of players waiting to get in, like the Beatles were playing in the Thirsty Dog Inn. We’re going to tread lightly, work with the beta players, and make just enough rules to make the game fun without compromising what the people playing PvP want.
With that in mind, there will be rules against harassment, but we’re basing them on what problems actually come up, rather than trying to legislate morality.

5/ Concerning the siege, will a "well-organized" guild of 50 players be able to defend itself or even win against a "bad-organized" guild of 100 players (if there are no mercenaries joining the combat) ? Edit

Certainly. In fact, if I was going to be getting into the massive PvP, I’d be reading up on my Roman-era strategies and tactics and watching some serious History Channel. Introducing collision into PvP means, for example, you could form a square around the casters and healers, and if your square is organized, the rabble would break like waves against a cliff. In a siege battle, a group of organized defenders could do things like sally forth to destroy siege engines before retreating, focus their attention on the guys on siege mounts and bring them down, focus their fire on troublesome individuals, focus on killing the healers, thus making it easier to take down the masses, or any number of things.
Of course, I’m a history nerd, so I’m going to take any excuse to tell you that.

6/ We recently learned that the Prestige Classes disappeared. Can you tell us what features from those classes will be present at the release ? More specifically, is it still possible to increase the size of a group up to 10 players, and to have a slave collecting resources for us, and all those good ideas that were part of the Prestige classes ? Edit

Most of the “good ideas” of the Prestige Classes will still be there, yes, you just won’t be locked into a specific type anymore. It’s all about you, who you are in the world, and what you see yourself doing as a crafter.
We still have a couple goodies left in the “To be revealed” bag, and I’d certainly count this as one of those. We’re certainly not going to tell everything in mid-March and go “Welp, that’s our game. Hope you buy it in May!”

7/ Lots of players were expecting a challenging craft system and were disappointed by the recent information about it, for instance the fact that we can forge a low quality sword in the middle of a forest with precisely no forges around. This sounds a bit like the craft system is quite useless and looks more like a gadget even more basic than in World of Warcraft, than one of the main features in the game, essential to any player who wants to be challenging in PvP. Do you think the crafting system in Age of Conan is interesting and clever, and why ? Didn't you underestimate the interest of the MMORPG players towards this activity ? Do you think you will improve this feature in the future ? Edit

We know people love crafting, and we love crafting (I have crafting spreadsheets and management systems at home that are far more complicated and embarrassing than anything I use to manage my actual finances, to put it in some perspective), but a really hardcore crafting system (in terms of grinding and polishing and spending hours at the forge) probably isn’t in the cards for Age of Conan, because that was not our goal for the crafting system in the game. Our goal was to make a system like our combat system, something everyone could use and enjoy, while those who really want to dig down in the meat of it will find all sorts of rewards waiting for them.
Like I said in another interview, we feel we’ve gotten a system that’s fun for everyone. We think skill—getting all the right stuff, finding recipes, and running your crafting “business”—should replace endurance. Succeeding in crafting should be about completing quests, finding components, and actually making things, rather than seeing if your butt can endure 6 hours of sitting still pressing “Make” and “Destroy” over and over again. To put it in some perspective, there are nearly as many quests for crafting and making things as there are for regular leveling, so it’s hardly a “gadget.” It’s had just as much time and effort put into it as the combat system and other core systems and we think the depth of options will please those who really like to get in and get their hands dirty, while still being approachable and fun for those who just want to do it every now and then.
As for being useless, I think you’ll find it impossible to find socketed items without crafters, to put gems in those sockets without crafters, to build cities without crafters, to get gear tailored to your playing style rather than relying on drops, to have handy potions and consumables, and so on.
As for PvP, like we’ve said numerous times, player-made items are the only things that have sockets and can take gems (whereas the dropped gear is what it is when it drops), so if you want absolutely customized gear, you’re going to have to talk to a crafter.

8/ About the melee combat, the combo system has been modified in order to make it's adaptation smoother or easier or whatever. However, there are players who seems to prefer the older system, less directed towards a "newbie-friendly" concept and harder to master. What can you say about it ? Do you plan to propose both the systems ? Edit

I’d sum it up as: People always prefer the system in their head. (Personally speaking, I prefer the Star Wars prequels that were about Anakin Skywalker being a badass Sith Lord).
There’s a difference between “hard to master” (as in the system has a level of depth requiring skill and dedication) and “hard to learn” (where the system is hard to come to grips with, period), and the old combat system was flawed and hard to learn in the “this is confusing and not fun and I wouldn’t play this,” sense.
We heard this from everyone. Beta testers, journalists, people we brought into the offices to test, everyone told us we had a problem with the way things were going, to the point that we delayed the game—costing us lots of money, lots of burned goodwill, lots of bad PR, lots of player angst, lots of trouble with our publisher, lots of trouble with retailers—to fix it, which was not a decision we made lightly. We’re not going to make a system that has to be survived (like I said in the crafting system question). We’re going to make a system that is fun, and we think the current combat system accomplishes our goal of having a fun, deep combat system, while it’s also approachable for new players.

9/ Are there commands such as /face, /stick, /follow, as in Dark Age of Camelot ? Any comments about this choice ? (In my opinion as an ex-DAoC PvP player, and as I think many other DAoC players, /stick and /face both are very important additions to the PvP gameplay, though I think there are lots of people disagreeing with us.) Edit

I haven’t seen anything like this at all, though they may be hiding away somewhere and I just haven’t run into them. Our combat system relies so much on you maintaining your facing and staying active in combat that it seems like it would be unfair if you got around to someone’s side or back and he just, boom, turned to face you again. We want people moving around in combat, trying to stay active, trying to get the advantage on the other guy.

10/ About the magical system, the spellweaving being a major feature in the gameplay, at least as important as the melee combos, what can you say ? Explicit information would be very appreciated, maybe a little video showing how it works at the moment ?- please insert fresh news here – Edit

Spellweaving is just as important as melee combat and combos, and we are working to ensure the system makes mages just as much fun to play as the fighter classes. Since spellweaving is one of our big, sexy core features, it will get the big, sexy core feature treatment when we are ready to reveal it.

11/ In order to hit an opponent with a melee combo, you need to stand still, which gives the opportunity to your opponent to just step back and easily avoid your swing. It seems quite hard (impossible when the guy is running around ?) to hit someone moving with melee combos. Meanwhile, the Ranger and the mages seems to have less problems with this issue. Any comments ? What did you plan to balance the effectiveness between distance and melee  ? Edit

This is something we’re dealing with as it comes up in beta.
Melee classes will have several ways to deal with pesky rangers and mages, from their weapon selection (mages hardly have the armor and health to stand up to several crossbow bolts in the face, for example) to skills like snares and charges and so on. Mages also have limited mana, which means they can’t kite another player forever and not face consequences when they run out of juice. And let’s not overlook the fact that if you’re burning your sprint skill to circle around that big, nasty Guardian, you will eventually run out of stamina, and then things get ugly really fast. At least, if you’re the guy in silk…
Just from my observations, “bunny hopping” and guys running around in circles are largely old habits. Once players learn the combat system and learn how it works (like “No matter how much you hit Stab in The Face, if you’re not close to them, you won’t stab them in the face”), you see a lot less of it. From the live demos we’ve done and from watching the game in beta, initially you see people trying to play it like an FPS or like in another game. You see the frustration when they realize, no, it doesn’t work like that, and then the little lightbulb coming on as they figure it out. From there, combat stays active, but the maneuvering and fighting is a lot more subtle, a quick step to the side rather than these big looping runs back and forth.

12/ Is the "drunken brawling" feature really removed ? If yes, why, and what is the main reason, as this feature seems to be quite easy to implement and was very expected by the players ? Edit

No. Drunken Brawling just needed some work. It didn’t feel fun enough to commit to, feeling more like a gimmick than something people would want to play a lot. Drunken Brawling, like all of our minigames, is intended to be a fun, complete experience that you could play for hours and hours, and it needed more work to reach that point. Ultimately, we’d rather have the feature fun and complete and released after launch—if it comes to that—rather than pushing it out half-done and no fun to check off a bullet point on a 4 year old list.

13/ A part of the community feels that AoC won't be at it's full potential on the release. What features are you planning to implement or improve during the months coming after May ? More widely, do you plan to implement free "mini-addons", importing new regions, classes or races, or is everything going to be charged ? Edit

Part of this is going to be defined by the community and what the game needs when it launches, since if people are crying out for a fix for a pressing problem, we don’t want to be committed to working on a new feature.
We’re going to be going with the usual model, with bugfixes and new content in patches, and huge new feature-type things in expansions.

14/ With the last announcements, AoC seems to get closer and closer from the other MMOG's and to "lose" it's identity, while three years ago, this game seemed to be a lot more groundbreaker by it's announced features. Any comments ? Did the release of World of Warcraft change your vision about what a MMOG should be  ? Edit

All MMOs in development are “the most groundbreaking game ever” until they encounter reality.
Let’s look at what we have: DirectX10 support, beautiful engine, massive PVP combat, small-scale PVP minigames, 12 interesting classes, unique takes on magic, character development and crafting, working, fun, and functional mounted combat, a mature and brutal setting, a license and backstory like no other, score and music by an award-winning team, enough solo, group, and crafting content to keep you entertained no matter your playstyle, player cities, siege battles, the hands-on combat system that has been the heart and soul of the game since day one and is still in place, hammered and shaped into a work of fighting art and hundreds of thousands of possibly insane fans just waiting to help (or crush) you when you set foot in the world, and no elves.
I think people will find the changes we made were for the sake of making a better game. We do mean what we say and we know how upset people are when features are cut, but a game, especially a game of this nature, is a living, breathing thing with a life of its own. A feature in an MMORPG can’t be fun 20 or 30 or 100 times, the way you can have cool gimmicks in a single player game. A feature in an MMORPG has to be fun thousands and thousands of times for years and years to come for thousands of people across every playable class.
We’re ultimately going to make the most fun game that we possibly can, and if it comes down to “We said we’re going to have Feature A, but Feature A isn’t fun,” Feature A is gone.

15/ In your opinion, what is the crucial achievement in Age of Conan ? Where do you think the players will spend their time in Age of Conan, Capture the Flag for instance ? Any comments  ? Edit

I honestly think a lot of people will spend their time just taking in the world. It’s so rich and so full of life and you really do feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of Conan himself. I sometimes leave the client running in the background just to hear all the ambient sounds and noises of the landscape. While I can easily open my office window
On a personal level, I plan to be pwning n00bs. That will be my crucial achievement.

16/ By the way, the release date is still planned for May, right  ? Edit


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