Age of Conan and the Boobies Issue

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I’m a fan of Robert E. Howard and his stories of Conan the Cimmerian. I started reading them at a pretty early age, and swiftly devoured all the pastiche stories I could find, watched the first movie (which I still think is a triumph of fantasy filmmaking,) and read lots of the various Conan comics books that Marvel was putting out at the time. As recently as this past holiday season I was piecing together the last of my collection of Howard trade paperbacks that Del Rey released based on the fancy Wandering Star hardcover editions. Howard was my first love in fantasy, long before I managed to struggle down to Rivendell. I still think his work is the best of its kind, often taken less seriously than it should be due to the proliferation of amateurish pastiches and “posthumous collaborations” with people who weren’t born yet when Howard died, and the impure vision of the character as seen through the films and comics.

I thus want very much to be excited about the upcoming Age of Conan: Hyborean Adventures from Funcom. At times I have been. But as we’ve seen the release date creep closer only to be pushed out again repeatedly, and as we’ve started to see promotional materials, marketing spin and hands-on reports from various sources that make the game sound more exploitative and twitchy than I would like to see, I’ve grown progressively less encouraged. Now the date has been pushed back again, to May 20th.

On the one hand, if it means getting a better game at launch, a more distant release date is a good thing. Nobody wants to release the next Vanguard, and I’m sure that Funcom has that in the back of their minds. But they also need to understand how discouraging such things are to the audience that’s eagerly anticipating the game, and who will be key word-of-mouth advertisers for it when it does finally arrive. I think this has been one issue that’s taken root over the last six months or so, which have seen Warhammer Online overtake AoC in the buzz department, even though Warhammer itself has been pushed back several times as well. Why can’t developers follow Blizzard’s lead here and only announce release dates they’re sure they can hit?

Besides that, there’s the boobies issue. Age of Conan has been touted for months as including at least some nudity. Now, I’ve very unprudish on the issue of nudity and have no problem with it being in Age of Conan in theory, as long as it’s used in a non-exploitative, genre-appropriate way (and it certainly is entirely in keeping with the tone of the source material.) But I would just as soon not see it if it’s going to be tasteless, or done simply to pander to adolescents… and much of Funcom’s marketing of the issue has certainly struck an unwholesome tone with me. The point at which the presence of nipples in your game becomes a major selling point is the point at which you should not only be thinking about pushing back your release date to get some actual game in there, it’s when you should consider cancelling the thing altogether for being exploitative trash.

I’m still hopeful about Age of Conan. I’m just not optimistic any more. I still intend to buy it and give it a go, but I’m also a big Tolkien fan and LotRO let me down in a big way. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope.

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