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Developer Profile: Elliot Kingdon

The Age of Conan Community site features a fresh interview with Quest Deisgner and Lore Master for the game, Elliot Kingodm.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do for Funcom?

I’m an Information Systems graduate from the UK and Quest Designer and Lore Master for the Conan project.

My Dungeons and Dragons experience helped get me my job here at Funcom. I’ve been running D&D games for twenty-five years and I currently run a 3.5 campaign here at Funcom.

I started playing computer games on a 16K ZX Spectrum, then the 48K version and then a Commodore 64. I’m one of those guys who still talks about Elite. I got my first PC just so I could play X-Wing and I still love playing computer games.

What was your first encounter with the world of Conan? How long have you been a fan of the Conan world?

I’ve been a fan ever since the classic 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian. Director John Milius, a contemporary of George Lucas and Francis Coppola and a legendary screenwriter, combined beautiful cinematography, a great cast including James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, and Mako with a real passion for the source material and a great soundtrack.

Like the original books, it’s a great pulp B movie classic. It delivered plenty of blood, a brutal decapitation and one of the most memorable movie lines ever.

I’ve also been a massive fan of Robert E Howard’s books and read them all as soon as I could get my hands on them. Then I really started to appreciate their classic 30’s feel and style. For me the original stories have a Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure quality with a liberal dash of Call of Cthulu.

As for the comics, I’ve always loved John Buscema’s artwork, so it was a real thrill to see it in the Conan comics. His supercharged pencils capture the dynamic quality of the Conan character really well. I grew up with a Buscema Conan bubblegum sticker on my bedroom door.

Do you have a favorite Conan story, one that really defines the world and the character for you?

Queen of the Black Coast is a stand-out Robert E Howard story. It’s an exciting mix of adventure and Lovecraftian horror. It gives an excellent insight into Conan’s universe and Conan has perceptibly grown as a character by the end of the story. Howard really manages to convey the humidity of the jungle and there’s a great flashback sequence where an ancient event is revisited.

I’m also a fan of Conan and the Grim Grey God; great characters, an excellent pan-Hyboria adventure and a really well crafted story. Sean A. Moore’s untimely death was a great loss.

What is your role as one of the lore people? What does a “lore guy” do?

We keep an eye on continuity issues, guard against gaffes and act as information resources on the Conan universe. My favorite Lore question so far is can we change the name of Lord Atum because it means tuna-fish in Portuguese? (Sorry no).

Occasionally we have to detail vague parts of existing lore to lock down story or design aspects.

One of the big debates on our forums is about the role of magic in Age of Conan. In your opinion, how rare is magic and magic users in the lore? How does the lore jibe with the number of casting classes in the game?

Conan is a low-magic setting, but magic is still a fundamental part of the Conan mythos. The world itself is founded on ancient magical empires from Atlantis to Acheron; Hyboria is steeped in sorcery and fabulous lost cities of the supernatural litter the world.

Sorcerers corrupted by magical power, priests of strange gods, white druids and benign wizards all inhabit the Conan universe. Masses of spell wielding players may seem out of place, unless there is some explanation; a sinister mystery to uncover. And what might be the consequences of such a massive influx of magic? Could Hyboria itself be in peril?

How hard is it to adhere to Lore when you're making an MMORPG? Where does the team draw the line between staying true to the lore and making a balanced, fun game with mechanics that work?

A computer game is a change of medium, the same way as films are, inevitably different from the novels they are based on. Players should be prepared to enjoy Robert E. Howard's Conan universe in a new way, through an MMORPG experience. It will inevitably be a different experience from the books, but will still reflect the same Conan spirit and adventure (and plenty of blood).

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chris Nolan's Batman Begins and the recent Casino Royale film are all good examples of film-makers retelling stories and reinventing or re-examining characters to great effect. Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come and Mark Millar’s Ultimates graphic novels are also excellent examples of presenting favorite characters from fresh view-points.

Lore is an invaluable framework. Staying true to it and producing a fun game need not be mutually exclusive. And nothing we do in the MMO will violate the original stories, they’ll still be right there on the shelf.

Tell us a bit about the influences and what the team draws from. For example, how important do the original Howard stories rank against the work of other authors, the comics, and the movies?

Howard’s stories are the foundation of our work. Whenever design or lore questions arise, we go back to Howard’s work to try to find answers. We also pick out the best pastiche works to draw upon.

The Dark Horse Conan comics, especially the Kurt Busiek/Cary Nord run, had an inspiring and fresh take on classic stories, although they appeared late in our development process.

And our own art department and concept artists have done an exemplary job of firing our imaginations. The classic art of Frank Frazetta is also a great source.

Conan is known to dispatch his enemies quickly, so the list of foes who are still alive by the time of the game is rather short (and the same goes for many of his allies). Will there be many characters from the lore that players can meet and/or fight in-game?

The ‘death’ of a character is one of the easiest literary obstacles to overcome. From Sherlock Holmes and Gandalf to countless comic book characters, death is rarely permanent. Take Howard’s Hour of the Dragon and you have a perfect example of a villain rising from the grave to cause havoc.

One of the lore aspects I’ve enjoyed is getting the chance to use some of great characters from the Conan universe, so players can expect to meet some of their favourite Conan figures.

Who's your favorite NPC, monster, or boss in the game? What's their story?

Conan has to be my favorite. Part of the game’s thrill is going from destitute, unarmed ship wreck survivor to mighty hero and meeting King Conan and aiding him in his battle campaign.

Conan was great as a lone-wolf, thief and adventurer, but I really loved it when he commanded a nation and led armies to battle. Getting involved in these sweeping epic wars and battles is great fun.

I also love this period of his life; the years after the Hour of the Dragon are such a rich period. It’s been great to work with and explore.

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