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Designing Conan Exiles' beautiful barbaric gameplay

April 20, 2017 | By Chris Kerr

April 20, 2017 | By Chris Kerr
More: Design, Production, Business/Marketing, Video

“People can be a murderer by night in these games. They can run around killing everyone they see on sight, and in real life they're the sweetest people in the world.” 

Conan Exiles creative director Joel Bylos

Conan Exiles can be a brutal game at times. Its world is a harsh, unforgiving place, where you're only a few minutes away from meeting a lunatic who's just as likely to put you in a cage and make you dance as they are to kill you on the spot for a quick meal. 

But those are the very encounters that make the MMO such a compelling multiplayer offering. That level of ferocious, barbaric unpredictability ensures the experience never grows stale and keeps players coming back for more punishment, even after they've been turned into human soup by their next door neighbor. 

During our recent Twitch stream, we had the chance to quiz Conan Exiles' creative director Joel Bylos about that brutal game design to find out why he was so determined to craft an arena where players can make their most masochistic daydreams come true. 

"We all work in this industry so we all understand that it's role-playing. It's make believe. People can be a murderer by night in these games. They can run around killing everyone they see on sight, and in real life they're the sweetest people in the world. You know, for them it's just fun," says Bylos. 

"I think the social dynamics that come out in these games, you know the fact that you can threaten someone, make them come back to your camp, put them in a cage and make them dance or whatever. It's freedom right. And the person who's the captive isn't necessarily not enjoying themselves either. That's the thing. There's something nice about it. It's fun."

Compared to Age of Conan, Funcom's last MMO to use the IP, Conan Exiles is a more open experience. This time around, the studio wanted to give players the power to create content themselves, doing away with traditional questing structures. 

"[Age] was much more traditional. It's a deck full of systems that's based around you enjoying this questing system. We're directing you to content. Telling you to go there. Do that. Enjoy what Ive created for you as the content designer," continues Bylos.

"In this game it's like: here's a bunch of systems, create the content and enjoy it yourself. Figure out how you're going to enjoy it. Are you going to build an arena? Are you going to knock out slaves, put them in that arena, and tell other players to come and fight your best slaves for cash? How are you going to play the game? It's just this open world that lets players run wild with a set of tools."

For more insights and tidbits from Bylos, be sure to watch part 1 and part 2 of our Conan Exiles livestream. After you've done that, why not  follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for even more developer interviews, editor roundtables, and gameplay commentary.

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