Come October 23, action fans are in for one heck of a bloody treat- THQ and Nihilistic Software present Conan , a hack 'n slash with more to it than meets the eye. We wanted to learn more about this potential thrill ride of a game – and we know our readers are curious – so we came up with a batch of questions. Robert Huebner, president and project director of Nihilistic Software, was good enough to answer them.
PSXE: The competition for action games these days is really steep. What do you think separates Conan from the rest of the pack?
Huebner: "We focused on the core combat systems to make sure the controls are fast and responsive, that the moves are fun to do and that there was a solid layer of strategy to the combat decisions the player makes. A lot of games these days focus on the cinematics or on canned moves or sequences, but sometimes even the prettiest game doesn’t have combat that stays engaging after an hour of so of play. We tried to build in a lot of complexity so the player has a reason to unlock and learn new moves rather than just sticking to one or two moves that can complete the whole game."
PSXE: Obviously, there's a major emphasis on combat in Conan. We've heard we can pick things up and toss them at the enemy, but how else can we interact with the environment?
Huebner: In addition to picking up objects and weapons, players can also use the environment as a weapon. For example, in many levels there are sharp spikes along the edges of the play area. In those cases, if players grab enemies and throw them, or use certain moves that cause enemies to fly into the air, they can end up impaling on these spikes, killing them instantly. In other cases, players can fight on a bridge and use specific moves to knock enemies off the ledge to their death. It’s also a lot of fun to set enemies on fire in the levels that contain torches or campfires. Well, not fun for them, but fun for Conan.
PSXE: The combat seems pretty deep to us. Conan will be able to perform grapples and throws in addition to using traditional weaponry, for example. What else can you tell us about the intricacy of the battle?
Huebner: Thanks. There are a lot of elements to the combat system, and our combat designers spent a lot of time working out the various interactions of the systems. Shields, for example, are useful because they can block arrows and can withstand heavy attacks. Stunning is also important; some enemies will prevent you from doing certain moves unless you stun them first. Then there are other things to explore like Prone kills, weapon steals, sweeps, shockwaves, song of death mode and so on. It sounds complicated but the different factors are rolled out over a number of levels, so it’s not really that intimidating, but it hopefully keeps things fresh. Oh, and parries, I can’t forget parries.
PSXE: Apparently, there will be experience to gain in the game. A lot of action games these days are adopting traits from other genres (like experience from RPGs). Will Conan feel anything like the third-person action in Oblivion, or are we simply looking at a straight-up action game with a few deeper aspects?
Huebner: I can’t claim that it’s anything like Oblivion. I do like the fact that in Conan, the player has to make actual choices about where to specialize in terms of learning new combat moves. I think we’ve tweaked the XP curve so that it’s impossible to master all the moves in a single play through. Since each of the weapon trees is different and has different uses, it will change your experience if you choose to specialize in two-handed swords instead of dual-wield, for example. That’s the main place where RPG systems get involved. It’s something we’d like to do more of in the future; I think it’s a good goal to have in mind. Most action games have a long way to go before they can be compared to something like Oblivion.
PSXE: Just to clarify, are we following the story found in the original movie? And if not, is there any resemblance, or are you just using the character in an entirely new storyline/plot?
Huebner: No relation to the movies. We actually are catching Conan at a slightly different period in his life from those films, and the character himself is more inspired by the book’s character. The literary Conan is a bit more talkative and has a different sense of humor from the movie Conan most people know. I think Ron Perlman did a good job of capturing this Conan, but it’s not what a lot of people are expecting if they only know the movie Conan. Hopefully games like this will encourage more people to check out the Robert E. Howard stories. I think they’ll enjoy seeing a slightly different side of the character.
PSXE: We've noticed from the screenshots that there seem to be many different environments. Can you talk about some of the areas we'll be exploring in Conan? Also, how much of this exploring will be open-ended?
Huebner: The game takes place in some familiar locations that were made famous in Conan stories, like Kush and Stygia, so we’re tried to be true to the descriptions of those places. The player also visits other places that we’ve invented that fit into the land of Hyboria, including some cool “secret” locations in the world that Conan discovers for the first time, and some cool underground caverns below Kush that are new to our story.
PSXE: As a general question, where do you see the industry going in this new generation when it comes to the action genre? What clear advantages have you noticed in working with next-gen hardware, and is that hardware difficult to tap into at this time?
Huebner: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think the action genre is really healthy right now and has a huge legion of fans, so I think it’s safe to say, between all the great third-person and first-action action games being released or in development, it will be a healthy genre for a long time. This wave of hardware is even better than the last (of course!). I think one thing that is happening for the first time with Xbox 360 and PS3 is that you can get an action-game experience that can meet or exceed what you used to get only on a high-end PC. So that’s great; we can start to expose console buyers to some of the more complex and deep action gameplay that only PC players got to enjoy before. I think the line between a PC and a console action game is blurrier than ever. HDTV resolutions are a big part of that, but also having the horsepower in the machine to actually RUN in high-definition at 60Hz or 30Hz.
The hardware is pretty accessible; it’s certainly no trickier than PS2 was back in the day, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential on both machines, so gamers will enjoy seeing the bar go higher and higher for a while yet. I’m not even 100% sure people have tapped out the PS2 completely yet!
Anybody catch that statement right there…? The part about the hardware being "accessible" and "no trickier than PS2 was back in the day"? Yeah, so obviously, some developers aren't whining about how tough the PS3 is to develop for. Anyway, we appreciate Robert Huebner taking the time to answer our questions, and we certainly look forward to getting our hands on Conan . Stay tuned for our review!