Norwegian studio Funcom is working on its next massively multiplayer game, The Secret World, which will let you explore an alternate version of the modern world where old wives' tales and occult superstition have become reality and dark forces are attacking the world. Your role in the game will be to join one of three secret societies and do battle with the encroaching evil all over the world--even in New England. The first location to be revealed in the game is Kingsmouth, and GameSpot is pleased to reveal new details on the location along with the very first in-game footage of The Secret World. Game director Ragnar Tornquist gives us a guided tour.
GameSpot: It's great to see the first actual gameplay footage of The Secret World. Set up the video for us--what are we going to see in the video? What's the location?
Ragnar Tornquist: I think the video--or "found footage"--speaks for itself, but Kingsmouth is a sleepy small town in Maine, on the Atlantic coast of the United States. It's the kind of place where the population doubles during the summer, and off-season it's very quiet and slow. I think the town's official Web site gives you a good idea of what sort of town it is...before the incident. Something bad is about to happen. Something very, very bad. The video hints at this happening, but the full revelation won't come until we launch the game. There's a major incident, and there are few survivors--and players will be dropped right into the middle of all this. One important theme in The Secret World is that of heroism, and we're going to put players in a situation where being a hero is very difficult--where it's about containing and gathering information and preventing the darkness from spreading, rather than saving a few lives.
GS: What is the significance of Kingsmouth? How will this seemingly quiet little town exemplify what The Secret World is about?
RT: It's the perfect example of what's happening all over the gameworld: Dark days are coming. And no one in the know wants widespread panic, so part of what the players have to do is contain this darkness--prevent the truth from being broadcast beyond the borders of the secret world. Part of this is, of course, kicking zombie butt. But part of it is also following your secret society's storyline, exploring the island, digging into the lore, speaking with characters--finding out what's happened, how to stop it, and how that ties into similar events across the world. It's the starting point, but New England isn't the occult ground zero. It's just the beginning of a long descent into total darkness.
GS: We understand that the town will have its own population and even its own local government, presided over by certain key characters in the game. Who are the most important characters we'll meet in Kingsmouth? Why are they important?
RT: Some of those characters have already been revealed--in subtle ways--but the question is: Who will survive? And how? And why? For what purpose? This is something we're going to reveal more of as we move forward; we want players to get to know these characters before they start playing the game so that they'll already have a relationship with them. That way, it'll hurt even more when we...ahem.
Of course, there won't be just locals on Solomon Island. In fact, players will encounter several characters that have arrived on the island for various--and nefarious--reasons, including a seemingly innocuous group of hippies, some guys in black vans, and even the US military. All of these characters will be fully voiced, of course.
And there might even be some nonhuman mission givers. I'm just sayin'.
GS: America's New England region is a rich source of old wives' tales and occultism. The area was home to the Salem witch trials. It's the birthplace and home of horror author H.P. Lovecraft. How will such influences tie in to the gameplay of this area? Can you give us some specific examples?
RT: Obviously, Kingsmouth--and Solomon Island--draws inspiration from a lot of different sources, including Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Edgar Allen Poe. Not just in terms of references--you'll find plenty of those in the unlikeliest of places--but also thematically. And this applies to our entire story, not just the bits that take place in New England. That's really where it began, before we settled on any specific locations, with those sources and influences, and it was only natural that we paid proper tribute to our inspiration by creating an adventure region that wears its influences on its sleeves. These themes and backstories permeate the game, but New England is where we bring it home.
Specific examples are hard to list without spoiling things, but players will face horrors that have risen from the depths of the sea. They will unravel an ancient curse that's haunted this island for a very long time. And they will encounter characters that harbor the darkest of secrets. The story of Kingsmouth will be revealed through both the story missions and tons of side missions that expand on the lore--and everything, every single mission, every character, is tied to this storyline. Nothing's left to chance. Everything is significant.
I think the players who spend the time to dig deep--too deep, perhaps--into the lore will really see how far these influences go, and how we've also made them our own. We're much more than wink-wink, nudge-nudge references to Arkham and Dunwich: for us, it's about the look and feel, the themes, the background, the depth and scope of the game universe.
GS: Given that no players will start their lives in New England (we understand that the three main character hubs will be Seoul, South Korea; London, England; and New York City), how will players be introduced to locales such as Kingsmouth? Will they be given missions to travel to different cities to solve a mystery or two there, for instance?
RT: Players will have the freedom to explore our gameworld--but yes, they'll also have missions that lead them from the first baby steps in their hub city, through to the "end"--which, of course, will be just the beginning. And that includes sending them on assignments to various locations. It's all tied to the three secret societies: players will have to learn the ropes, prove their worth, and follow instructions. If they don't...well, they can choose to do that, too, but it might be a little harder to get ahead. It's all about freedom, though. If you want the story, it's there, fully voiced and crammed with cinematics. If you don't? Just go out, have fun, and kick demon butt.
GS: About how big will Kingsmouth be in virtual meters or miles? How big will the average town or quest hub area be in The Secret World?
RT: Big. I mean, Kingsmouth may not be a huge town, but it's a sizable community, and that's just the beginning. Players will be able to explore all of Solomon Island--every single centimeter of it--and the town of Kingsmouth constitutes, at most, one-tenth of the playable area in New England. For explorers like myself, this is the perfect playground, and there's such a diversity of locations and points of interest across the island, it's going to keep players occupied for a long time, and that's just one of the many locations in the game.
GS: We know that players can join one of three different secret societies with very different philosophies about how to carry themselves and how to win the war against the dark forces laying siege to the world. How will characters from these different factions have differing experiences in a place like Kingsmouth? Will the Illuminati have some kind of homefield advantage, being from nearby New York? How will the townsfolk of Kingsmouth (and other locales in the game) treat characters from each group differently?
RT: Most civilians will know little to nothing about the secret societies and the secret world; just like most of us, we're oblivious to the truth. Of course, now that things have happened--dark things, scary things, wet and slithering things--the surviving civilians are wising up to the fact that, yes Virginia, monsters are real and they are here to eat us. While the secret societies will be evenly balanced, Kingsmouth--Solomon Island--is indeed closely tied to one of them, and that's going to be meaningful. The other secret societies won't be left out: they have historical links to other locations in the game. And since Kingsmouth is early on in the progression, it's not going to favor one secret society in front of another.
GS: What sorts of adventures will be found in Kingsmouth? Will it be more of a battleground area for fighting monsters, more of an adventuring area for solving puzzles and collecting clues, or an even split between the two? Are the game's various hub areas being designed around having a different mix of action and adventure/investigative gameplay?
RT: Yes, yes, and yes.
Or more accurately: it's going to be what you make of it.
Of course, there's going to plenty of action, plenty of monsters to slay--starting with zombies and ending up with, well, very scary things--but yeah, some missions are much more about exploration, adventuring, puzzle solving. There's one in particular that I really like called The Kingsmouth Code, which requires players to really pay attention to subtle signs to uncover a subterranean secret--and while monsters do pop up, that's not the meat of the mission. It's about investigating the town to unravel its mysteries. And it feels really fresh and fun and unique.
Every location in the game will have a balance of gameplay to ensure that we cater to the different playing styles while keeping focus on what players are tasked to do: to fight the rising darkness in the name of their faction.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about this new area, or about the game in general?
RT: I think I've said enough. If I reveal any more secrets, my life might be in mortal danger. They are watching.
GS: Aha. Well...all right, then.