The Secret World Interview with Senior Producer Ragnar Tornquist
Sean W. Gibson / Jun 28th, 2012 No Comments
GI: Having gotten some hands-on time with The Secret World at E3 I can say that the graphics were stunning and a wonderful departure from … well … every other MMO we’ve played the last few years. When developing the game what were your goals for the visuals and what breakthroughs do you think you’ve accomplished from an industry perspective?
RT: It’s always really hard to recreate the real world — and that is exactly what we’re aiming for in The Secret World: to make a world that feels exactly like our world, but with a dark twist to it. It’s important for us that players are drawn into the reality of our setting, in order to believe in the story and the characters, and to make the more fantastical and horrific elements more solid and believable. This has been a tough challenge, both in terms of environment and character art, but particularly in terms of animation. With so many abilities, so many cut-scenes, and the fact that all characters are human — the animation team has worked really hard to be able to cement our super-heroic characters in behaviour and movement that feels natural and realistic.
I do think we’ve really succeeded in creating a world players can believe in and that draws them in and allows them to buy into the fiction and get lost in these massive, detailed environments. We’ve done a ton of research on every single location in the game, on every monster, every weapon, every asset, and it shows — The Secret World feels like the real world.GI: The setting of The Secret World seems to draw from many different real-world influences – how did you incorporate the mythology behind the Templars and Mayan doomsday prophecies into what appears to be a normal looking New England town?
RT: Our deep and massive back story draws from a vast number of sources, including ancient mythology, pop culture, urban legends, history, fairy tales, and a healthy helping of our own lore. Everything ties together, however, and as players progress through the various locations and unravel the story, they will discover exactly how all these different myths and legends and conspiracy theories connect. It will all make sense in the end!
GI: Many players love to group up but at the same time at the lower levels many MMO players like to experience a game solo. If players decide to go the single player route, what differences in gameplay will they experience compared to folks moving around in large parties? Will there be AI companions?
RT: Solo players will have a ton of content available to them, including most of the missions in the game — and, of course, the story mission that runs like a red thread through all the locations in the game. What solo players will miss out on are the team instances, some of the world bosses, the lairs — large and intricate monster camps — and perhaps a few of the more challenging missions. Solo players can, of course, jump into PvP and they’ll have a good time, although joining our Battlefields and Warzone as a team is definitely more fun.
GI: Level progression has been totally rethought with your game. Whoever you are, you can go anywhere. Was this a game logic decision made early or late in the development cycle and what moved the heard in this direction?
RT: The Secret World has no levels and no classes, but that doesn’t mean players don’t develop and progress, or that they’re capable of taking on any monster or handle any challenge from the get-go — far from it. Although a new player can, in principle, head directly to some of the more challenging locations, they’ll quickly find themselves overwhelmed, and in order to gain the abilities and gear they need, they should probably follow the directives given by their secret societies, and progress through the storyline. The freedom is yours, however, to develop your character in any direction, with any weapon, and the way the Ability Wheel and role-playing system works makes it easy to quickly get to grips with new weapons and fighting styles.
We always wanted to do something different from other online games — both in terms of setting and story, and in terms of game mechanics. Since our game is set in the real world it made sense that there were no traditional classes. We’re no longer born into a single role; we carve our own path through life, and that’s what you do in The Secret World as well.GI: Speaking of a new concept for level progression, we hear there’s no classes in TSW and that players level themselves up in skills they deem important (or fun). Will this lead to a singular “best build” or even a tragic Jack-of-all-Trades (decent at everything, but not strong enough at anything)?
RT: Definitely not, since players will want to focus on different things — be it dealing or taking damage, healing, support, or other hybrid play styles. Every build in the game has a possible counter, and players will continue to explore and evolve their strategies as they unlock the Ability Wheel. If someone comes up with a ‘best build’, you can be assured that another player will soon come up with a build to counter that build, and so on.
GI: The previews from other outlets have all said that TSW is really story drive and it’s a good one. Beyond the story, what other gameplay features do you think give TSW a competitive advantage in the MMO marketplace?
RT: I already talked about how The Secret World is a game without classes or levels, allowing players to develop their characters in any direction at any time. This freedom is central to the game, and it really is our key competitive advantage. Then there’s the factional conflict between the three main secret societies — the Templars, the Dragon and the Illuminati — which affects not just PvP, but also how the story develops through the game. You’re really seeing the story and setting through three very different perspectives, and it pays to play the game from each side, in order to see the full picture.
In addition to that, our unique investigation missions require players to actually think and solve puzzles, explore the world and do research outside the game, something no other MMO has ever done. And finally, the fact that the game is set in the modern-day real world is something that makes it feel fresh and original and exciting. We all play and enjoy fantasy and sci-fi MMOs, but it’s nice with a world that feels so familiar and yet so radically different from everything else out there.GI: How will players between factions interact? Will there be hostility between the groups, or will there be opportunities for inter-faction relationships?
RT: “United against the rising darkness, divided in pursuit of power” — that’s how we describe the relationship between the three playable factions. There is definitely hostility between the Templars, the Dragon and the Illuminati in the PvP areas — El Dorado, Stonehenge and Fusang Projects — but players can also team up cross-faction in the adventure zones, in order to fight the greater evil. Our guilds, however — called cabals — can only contain members from one faction, so we’ll definitely see more grouping up between players who are part of the same secret society in the long run. And that’s how it should be.
GI: When a new big-budget MMO hits the market there’s always a rush to it, but many have fallen short in keeping the masses playing after a few months. Some companies have identified this risk by shoveling out regular content updates. Others wait for massive updates on a yearly basis. What’s the plan for The Secret World?
RT: We’re going to deliver new content on an ongoing basis, but that doesn’t mean we won’t also have larger content upgrades down the road. We already have a sizable team working on post-launch content and features, and we definitely don’t plan on players waiting very long to see what’s next. The Secret World will be a living world that keeps growing and evolving — both in terms of game mechanics, story and space — and we’ll start talking about that as soon as the game has launched.
GI: Could you talk about the dynamic of “modern warfare” within an MMO space. For example, people are going to be arming themselves with knives, bats, shotguns and other weapons. Does that make any mechanical difference in TSW as opposed to a dagger, lightsaber or laser gun?
RT: Players can use weapons as varied as pistols, assault rifles and shotguns, blades, hammers and fist weapons, as well as the magic schools of Chaos, Elementalism and Blood Magic. These nine weapon types feel very distinct, very different from each other, but the greatest joy lies in combining two weapon types in order to draw on the synergies between them — therein lies the true power of our combat system. The weapons do act as you’d expect them to, although all the weapons in the secret world are enhanced with occult powers, which makes them a lot more potent against the forces of darkness.
GI: There’s obviously been a lot of technical achievements made in TSW and countless development hours. At the end of a gaming session, what do you want those that play your game to feel?
RT: We want our players to have an emotional reaction to the game. We’ve always said that The Secret World has soul, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud about. It feels like no other game, no other game world. It feels unique and fresh and new. From the role-playing system, which deviates so much from a traditional class based system, to the setting, the characters, the secret societies and the story — it doesn’t feel like anything you’ve ever played before, and I’m sure our players will appreciate that.
GI: With the game golden, are there any final words for those that have been patiently waiting for this game to be released?
RT: You won’t be disappointed! And the journey only begins at launch — we have so much fun and interesting content and features planned for the future, it’ll pay to stick around!
tags: ea , interview , mmorpg