Who would win a fight between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Gore? Not the most obvious of questions I know, but it's one that pops in my head as I'm driven through the snow-covered streets of Oslo, Norway, to get some serious hands-on time with upcoming MMO Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
Why would I think such a thing? Who knows where thoughts come from? But in this case I can see the logic. First, the Arnie bit. When I think Conan, I think Arnie. Arnie back when Arnie was cool. Back when he played vicious anti-hero Conan the Barbarian and decapitated a reptilian-eyed James Earl Jones atop a torch-lit temple. That's what Conan means to me. So I can see where that bit of the thought came from.
What about Al Gore? Well, there's some logic to that one too. You see, as our Scandinavian guide points out, the building on our right is where former vice-president Al Gore was recently presented with the Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental do-gooding. So you see where the Arnie versus Gore face-off image comes from - Arnie with his bulging biceps and loin cloth, Al with his impeccable suit and power point presentation.
Back in the real world - I spy remnants of the Nobel presentation - the local authority's effort to make the event as big a spectacle as it could possibly be. Roads are still closed. Signs and portable fences are still erect. I start to imagine how crazy things must have been getting in this city, so cold yet so beautiful, ready for such a high-profile visitor. Oslo must have been on crunch.
And so, mirroring the city it calls home, I arrive at the plush offices of Funcom, AoC's Norwegian developer, to find it is also on crunch. It is sooo on crunch. I get there about two in the afternoon and the place is pretty much full of developers, eyes glued to computer monitors, fingers darting across keyboards like insect feelers. Posters are dotted about the developer's cavernous walls - an image of a CRUNCH bar printed off and pinned on a board - a slogan: "It's not broken... it's your lack of perspective". Each one provides an insight into the mindset of these guys, 150 game developers working extremely hard to make the best game they possibly can. And when I finally leave, about nine at night, they're still there, plugged into virtual worlds that haven't even been born yet, desperately trying to get AoC ready for its March 2008 release date.
And from what I saw during my day long play session, where I tasted the opening eight levels of the game, got about half an hour in a mid-level group and managed to snag about an hour of player versus player combat, I have to say I'm not sure it is going to be ready for March 2008. Not if Funcom wants it to do anything in the dog eat dog MMO market anyway.
You see, the build I played was full of bugs. Little bugs, I admit. But when you add all those little bugs up, what you have is an infestation. And that's what AoC feels like at this stage - a super violent, perfectly ambitious fantasy MMO under siege from an army of bugs.