Conan Q&A: Barbarian Influences

The Cimmerian barbarian is invading consoles early next year, and we prepare for the attack in our Q&A with project director Robert Huebner.

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Conan the Barbarian. Women want to be with him, and men want to be him (or, at least avoid being beheaded by him). Since his creation in 1932 by author Robert E. Howard, Conan has built a legacy that has sustained through movies, television, comics, and countless novels. Indeed, there are few more iconic characters in heroic fiction than the famed Cimmerian, and fewer still that seem to be tailor-made for the slash-first, ask-questions-later world of video games. In early 2008, publisher THQ and developer Nihilistic Software are bringing the adventures of the mighty barbarian to life with the release of Conan for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. To get a feel for the game's direction, we recently spoke with Robert Huebner, president of Nihilistic and project director for the game.

GameSpot: Conan has experienced a resurgence in recent years--especially in comics and games. Where does the character's long-term appeal come from and how do you leverage that in a game?

Robert Huebner: Like a lot of good movie and TV characters, Conan is all about wish fulfillment. Conan is the ultimate badass. He doesn't take any crap from anyone, and he doesn't care what anyone else thinks he ought to do. Plus, he always gets the girl. Or girls. You can't get much more alpha male than that. Any game where it's just fun to be that character for a few hours can potentially be a very fun experience.

GS: There has been talk already of the game featuring a healthy dose of violence, which is definitely something fans would want to see in a Conan game. In addition to that, what elements do you feel a Conan game must have?

RH: Violence is part of it, but Conan's attitude toward that violence is key as well. In Conan's world, he isn't the cause of the violence; it's all the pesky people who keep trying to tell him what to do, throw him in jail, or infringe on his Crom-given freedoms that caused the violence by putting themselves on a collision course with his sword. We want the game to convey that Conan worldview. Conan isn't a deep, brooding hero, but he's always in the moment.

GS: What does Nihilistic bring to the project?

RH: We've always been big fans of character-based games and action adventure games in particular, so Conan was a great fit for us. We were actually working on game concepts based around a third-person fighting game when we had contact with THQ and found out about the Conan license work they were doing, so it was a natural fit. The world of Conan really fits our preferred art style--sort of dark, stylized, and hyperrealistic--and we've got a great team of experienced combat animators who really love to sink their teeth into a guy who is a master of multiple weapon styles and has a take-no-prisoners approach to combat.

GS: Where does this game fit into the--excuse us--Conan canon? Is this the Conan from Robert E. Howard's stories, the Conan of the films, or the Conan from the comics? Or some combination?

RH: We're squarely in the Howard camp with this one, going back to the source material of Howard's original stories. We've also drawn visual inspiration from the comics, but story- and tone-wise, it's definitely the books that have inspired us.

GS: How much of the game's cast and settings will draw on familiar Conan lore, and how much is original content created for the game?

RH: We want to tell an original story. Someone who has read all the books would get something new and surprising, but we also use a lot of familiar locations and themes. Howard drew some really compelling and interesting locations in Hyboria, so we can't resist visiting those places. We tried to find a place in the official timeline where we can tell an original story that feels like it was the sort of story Howard would have told. We also have some surprising new locations as well, so players won't always get what they expect.

GS: Yours won't be the only game on the market starring the famous barbarian when Conan is released. How do you hope to set yourselves apart from the competition?

RH: We think the most compelling thing about the Conan license is, well, Conan! Approaching a game like this, we wanted the player to be Conan and not an inhabitant of Conan's world. That's always a tricky thing with MMOs. You can't have everyone running around being the most badass barbarian around. Someone has to be the supporting cast. But with a single-player game, it's all about making the player live in Conan's shoes for several hours.

GS: Are there any games out now that are influencing Conan's development?

RH: Our combat team definitely enjoys the more challenging edge of this genre, so things like Ninja Gaiden and the Devil May Cry series get a lot of playtime. In terms of visuals and style, we also consider God of War as an influence.

GS: Lots of authors have tackled Conan over the years. Do you have any particular favorites or perhaps examples of those that influenced the storyline for Conan in particular?

RH: One story inspiration was the Queen of the Black Coast saga by Robert E. Howard, which was a good example of a solid Conan story with all the classic elements in place.

GS: Finally, who wins in a fight: Ralf Moeller's Conan or Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan?

RH: I guess it depends if we're talking Arnold 2007 or Arnold 1982.

GS: Good point. Thanks for your time, Robert.

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