Monday, December 18, 2006

Virtual Gaming Tabletop Photoset


This is pretty awesome, a photoset of constructing a custom computerized tabletop for gaming. Basically a Dell monitor with a nice case that you can place figures on - this is definately the gem of someone's game night.

Source: Virtual Gaming Tabletop Photoset
Originally published on Fri, 15 Dec 2006 20:22:36 GMT by Josh

Hands-On: Age of Conan

Hands-On: Age of Conan: The Hyborean Adventures

HANDS-ON: Mounted combat, soul corruption, drunken brawling; it is soon time to crush your enemies and see them driven before you.

We've all seen the movies by now. Even the one with the basketball player. And I'll bet you sat through Red Sonja as well. Robert E. Howard's books continue to sell, and their critical appeal hasn't sagged either. When you think about it, Hyborea is the perfect setting for a game. And in the hands of Funcom, why not an MMO?

Set for release around April of next year, Age of Conan is an ambitious project. Let's go down the list of what they have planned.

Under the Hood

That's right, it's coming out on the 360 in the same time frame, although Funcom is still hammering out how they want the console and PC sides to connect -- if at all. Regardless, there will be a DirectX 10 version for Windows Vista, and it will be one of the "featured titles," so you can assume some inter-operability between Windows Live and Age of Conan. Blood and bytes. You'll also be able to use a 360 gamepad on the PC, controlling the action like usual.

We saw "only" the DirectX 9 version, but it still looks pretty darn good, with a long view distance, lots of interesting terrain and architecture, and smooth framerates, even though this build was only certified as alpha. Funcom appears to have worked hard at providing a wide variety of building styles, with thatch huts crowding up against gloomy stone towers. The whole art style is at the opposite end of the spectrum from WoW, which favors blockier shapes and slightly a whimsical character appearance. There's haze in the air, the water ripples prettily, and you should have weather effects out of the box. 7.1 surround sound is also a big factor.

The Background

This is based on Robert E. Howard's books, rather than De Laurentiis' movie adaptations. So while Ahhhnold won't be showing up any time soon, we have a much broader palette we can paint a world with. Along with the Cimmerians, we have the Aquilonians, based roughly on the Romans, and the Stygians, who are like the Egyptians. (Conan's people are comparable to the Celts). They're in an uncomfortable alliance against Thoth-amon.

Your character starts out in a slave ship, with amnesia caused in some way by Thoth. You also have an unusual tattoo. Both of these mysteries will unfold through a hybrid single-player storyline. Your appearance, however, is up to. You can randomize your guy or choose from an expanding list of sliders, nearly to the degree of The Sims. Of course, most of the choices you make won't matter when you're completely dressed up, but some of your choices, like complexion and sheer size, will always be obvious. Your choice of ethnicity will determine what classes (or "archetypes") are available to you, but you won't have to choose a specific role right away. That will be determined in the course of play.

Armor and weapons follow a less fantastic line than in World of Warcraft; you won't find any flaming bathtubs on your shoulders. But you will find the icon-based paper doll inventory.


The Design

You will start out on the beach, having escaped from the slavers, armed only with a broken paddle. Nearby, you will find your first missions; these exchanges take place in a letterboxed style, with dialog choices allowing you to do a little role playing. From there, you'll head into the jungle. Perhaps you'll find more missions along the way, but you will definitely learn how to fight. Melee is much more nuanced than is usual, with several different buttons dedicated to specific attacks. You can sweep around, attacking multiple baddies, or you can leap up and land a devastating blow, or you can stabby stab.

And not only will mounts be available, but you can fight while riding. You may want to stick with your trusty sword, or you can grab a lance for a surprise jousting match. It's up to you. Your combat options are more limited, but you can of course move around the battlefield much faster.

Magic also gets an interesting treatment. The Herald, for example, described as a "melee mage" casts spells on himself for protection and damage. You have to ride a fine line, however, because casting too much magic can turn you into a demon, and that will have some affect on gameplay. However, if you can manage the tightrope, there's Spell Weaving. Basically, you can create your own magic effects; there's a "container" spell, another action inside this that builds upon the first spell, and a "lid" spell to finish things off. This type of magic can be quite powerful, but you will accumulate "soul corruption" and may eventually die, even as the corruption grants you extra powers. When you die, you must fight your way out of Hell. Literally.

The Game World, and Beer

As we mentioned, there's a single-player aspect to this. In fact, you can play the game up to level 80 before you need to enter the online portion. Or you can play this section in "co-op" mode, with a small party of other players. However, the MMO half is where the action is. Here, you can join clans and build your own villages, if you have at least thirty players in your little tribe. It can be your travel hub, trading post, repair shop, and more. You can hire NPCs (non-player characters) to guard the place, peons to do the dirty maintenance work, and there are upgrade tiers for all buildings.

Unfortunately, you could spend hours with this game and only scratch the surface. That's the way it is with MMOs. The universe is complex, in the hopes of keeping people interested in it. Our tour eventually had to be cut short, but not before the Funcom guys showed off the drunken brawling mechanic. No, this ain't a joke.

As it turns out, getting drunk and punching someone in the face can actually turn out to be a good thing. Nobody dies, mind you; instead of death, the loser is just knocked out for a little bit. If you find that the whole thing is not your bag, you can hunt down virtual water and coffee to quicken the path to sobriety (which works a lot faster in a virtual world than it does in Real Life). Adding depth to this minigame is a rock-paper-scissors approach: Different types of alcohol will give you different abilities -- and weaknesses. So you can't simply chain wins together because you press buttons faster than the other violent wino.

We were also shown some Super Secret stuff we can't talk about yet, so keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for an update. It's hard to wait, but at least you don't have to contemplate it on the Tree of Woe.