The Secret World Updated Q&A - Removing the Veil

Ragnar Tornquist divulges details on (almost) everything you'd want to know about the upcoming supernatural MMORPG The Secret World.

After getting a guided tour of The Secret World's premier dungeon at this year's Electronic Arts Studio Showcase, we were left with more questions than answers. To help shed some light on The Secret World's secrets, we caught up with Ragnar Tornquist, senior producer and creative director at developer Funcom (Age of Conan). Tornquist talked us through everything from character progression to social media integration to surviving in the massively multiplayer online marketplace. As for a release date, well, that's one secret we've yet to crack.

GameSpot: Making a massively multiplayer online game without leveling must be a challenge. In what ways will players feel a sense of progression, and how will experienced Secret World players prove their superiority to less-seasoned adventurers?

Ragnar Tornquist: Progression is vitally important in a role-playing game, and particularly in a massively multiplayer role-playing game. You're spending hundreds, potentially thousands, of hours in our game, and you want to feel that your character is growing and learning and becoming more powerful and versatile. Without levels, of course, we need other progression mechanics, and in The Secret World there are plenty.

First off, players will earn points in order to purchase powers. You get experience from everything you do: missions, PVP, monster slaying, crafting, lore, and achievements--everything. There are over five hundred completely unique powers in the game--at launch. We will add more postlaunch, and while you don't necessarily need all of these powers, the more you have, the more flexibility and choice you'll have. And The Secret World is all about choice. Powers are generally grouped by weapon type, and weapons have different properties, strengths and weaknesses, and unique characteristics. Having access to a wide variety of powers and, consequently, weapons makes you a more versatile and flexible player, and you'll be able to take on more of the content in the game. Players build decks consisting of seven active and seven passive powers, and the way these are combined and the interplay between both the active and passive powers is key to the role-playing and combat mechanics in The Secret World.

Secondly, gear--from loot, trading, crafting, rewards--is hugely important in our game. How you equip your character, and how you equip your character for a certain deck of powers, is crucial in having the optimal character build for any given situation. The player character has a number of slots, including magical amulets and trinkets, as well as occult implants called "chakras," that affect the player's stats, and a large portion of the character progression in the game comes from gear.

Not all horrors creep around in the dark, some like to get right in your face.

Clothing, of course, does not have stats--you can look the way you want to look, all the time--but since a lot of the clothing choices and outfits in the game are unlocked through missions and achievements, players will be able to show off their accomplishments by wearing these clothes; be it a stylish Soviet-era uniform gained by completing a dungeon, or a Stetson hat given as a reward for finishing a challenging mission, players can choose themselves what to brag about, how, and when.

In addition, players will increase in skill within weapon categories, meaning that someone who just starts out with a shotgun will not be as strong or versatile as someone who's been playing with a shotgun for dozens of hours. All players will also increase in rank within their secret societies, climbing the conspiratorial ladders from the basement up. These ranks open up new content and access to secrets, as well as things like vendors and unique items, and special missions that bring players deeper into the ancient mysteries and conspiracies of the secret world, and the ongoing conflict between the three factions.

There are other ways to progress--and to show off your progress--in The Secret World, and we'll reveal more as we get closer to launch.

GS: Music has always been an important part of Funcom's games. How is music being used to intensify the player experience in The Secret World?

RT: Both music and audio in general play a huge role in The Secret World, and we're benefiting from having a highly experienced audio director on our team (Simon Poole, who was responsible for Dreamfall: The Longest Journey) and a fantastic composer (Marc Canham) together with some very talented sound designers. Music in particular is being used as a tool to build atmosphere and tension, when needed. In fact, we've implemented a really powerful and unique combat music AI that analyzes the environment you're in, as well as every encounter with a monster, and modifies the music to fit the encounter.

Let's say you're moving through an area with a lot of roaming monsters. The AI will pick up on this and start what's called "tension music," creating an atmosphere of impending danger, which immediately segues into combat music--completely seamlessly--if you're spotted and attacked. During combat, if you're fighting a single undead creature, we might stick with low-intensity combat music, or perhaps even just sound effects, while battling a crowd of undead would up the tempo and intensity of the music. Fighting stronger bosses kicks the music up to a whole new level of intensity, and you'll really be able to tell when you're in trouble: the drums kick in, the volume rises, and your adrenaline with it. It's a really effective tool to illustrate game mechanics through music, and it's also an intriguing and original feature that I think players will appreciate.

The monsters aren’t the only supernatural forces in this game.

In addition to the combat music, of course, we have tons of orchestral and contemporary music befitting each locale in the game--from New England to Egypt, from London to Seoul, from hellish dimensions to secret Soviet research facilities. Every location has a different sound to it, with unique music and effects that bring everything together.

GS: What challenges have arisen in trying to fit various cultural myths together? Have you had to abandon any potential story tangents or references because they didn't fit with your overall vision, or because they seemed to contradict other story threads?

RT: The writing team has spent the last five years doing tons of reading and research into every conceivable myth, legend, and historical event, and tying all that research together with our own extensive backstory and plot. Of course, while "everything is true," not everything fits our vision, and we have left quite a few things out of the mix--for now. The game will grow and expand after launch, and it might be that we'll pick up some abandoned pieces down the line.

But, in general, we've made sure that everything we use in the game follows one coherent vision and direction, and when there are contradictions, those contradictions are intended and essential. You can't have a conspiracy without diverging points of view, conflicting theories about what really happened, and the different secret societies in The Secret World have opposing philosophies, which are reflected in a player's story mission. There is so much depth and texture to our story, drawn from so many myths, legends, and history--both real and invented--I look forward to seeing the discussions and theories it will spawn after launch.

GS: Age of Conan was a completely new direction for MMOG combat that gave players a direct connection with what was happening onscreen. How will The Secret World's combat make players feel like an active part of the onscreen action?

RT: The key to the combat in The Secret World is player engagement. We don't want our game to feel static, for players to just sit and wait for a cooldown to clear and to push that button again. We want players to react, interact, to feel like they're in control and that every decision matters. Each weapon in our game has a different feel and strategy to it, and the combination of weapons--players can carry two, and create decks to support that--requires players to really think before they go into the field, when they put their decks and gear together, and while they're in a combat situation.

Combat resources play a big part in that, as does movement and combat tactics. Who do you engage? How? When? Sometimes the player needs to analyze the environment before going into combat, and there are often ways to distract enemies--such as causing an explosion or a fire--and avoid direct encounters, or at least massive encounters, altogether.

It's also important to note that most of the attacks available to players allow for movement while attacking, so players aren't necessarily locked down. You can fire your gun while running, for example, or cast a lightning bolt while circle-strafing your enemy. Combat in The Secret World feels engaging and dynamic and fun, and we're confident that players will enjoy it.

GS: Anarchy Online and Age of Conan were both criticized for their technical issues at launch. Have you learned from those experiences? What steps are you taking to ensure that The Secret World is technically solid at launch, and do you have any assuring words for cautious consumers?

RT: Funcom's DreamWorld technology--an evolution of the server/client technology used for Age of Conan--has been live for several years now, and, in our experience, it's remarkably solid and stable, a result of all the great feedback and dedicated testers both on staff and volunteers outside Funcom. We don't see a lot of players complaining about stability in Age of Conan today, and the expansion pack launch and constant content upgrades for Age of Conan have gone very smoothly.

Color coordination is key when fighting the world’s nightmares.

Regardless, with The Secret World, we'll be running plenty of beta events between now and launch to test our severs with thousand of simultaneous players, and we've made client performance and server stability key focus areas for our tech teams. MMORPGs are uniquely difficult beasts to launch, and it's hard to cover for every possible eventuality, but Funcom's experience and expertise in this area will really help The Secret World have as smooth a launch as possible.

GS: It's no secret that the MMO genre has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. What can I do in this game that I can't in other MMO games?

”So, um, who wants to hit the giant barbed wire demon first?”

RT: In The Secret World, you can be whoever you want to be. You don't have to lock yourself down into one class and one role, but instead you can experiment and create hybrid decks that make your player character radically different from any other character in the game. Without levels, you're also free to explore the world in a nonlinear fashion--hopping from New England to Egypt, for example, when you've had enough of the fog and the dead rising from the ocean, and you want some sun...and evil sun-worshiping cultists.

In addition, you get to explore modern cities such as London, New York, and Seoul; use weapons such as shotguns, assault rifles, and baseball bats; fight vampires, zombies, and parasite-infected humans; and set off plastic explosives, dodge security cameras, hack into computer systems, decipher locks, and, together with other players, solve intriguing and complex puzzles in our unique investigation missions. These story-driven missions take online cooperative play to a whole new level, and players are required to work together--both in-game and outside the game--to research conspiracies and ancient history, solve mind-bending puzzles, and use lateral thinking to crack these mysteries wide open.

GS: Based on what we've seen so far, it looks like The Secret World is packing in a whole rogues' gallery of supernatural monsters. Which iconic horrors can we expect to fight against in the game: vampires, werewolves, the Sleeping God Cthulhu?

RT: Players will encounter and do battle with a huge variety of monsters, pulled directly from mythology, urban legend, and popular culture: from the walking dead of Kingsmouth, the ancient mummies of Egypt, to pure-blood vampires and experimental human-vampire hybrids in Transylvania; from demons in hellish dimensions and bloodthirsty Mayan sun-cultists, giant tentacled god-creatures in Times Square, and growling werewolves in the Carpathian mountains, to parasite-infected humans in the Tokyo Metro and dark shades inside the dreaming mind of an eldritch god-thing. The variety is massive, and our monsters are some of the most unique and horrifying monsters ever seen in an MMORPG. We've got some amazing monster designers and artists making these creatures, and I'm really proud of what the team has come up with. I think players will agree!

GS: Since The Secret World is set in modern times, will there be any cross functionality with social media services such as Twitter or Facebook?

RT: We haven't announced any cross functionality yet, but the opportunities are too good to miss out on--so yes, there will definitely be hooks into both social media services and other out-of-game media such as websites and community forums.

GS: What has the development team learned from the successes and failures of other MMO games, and what does an MMO game need to do in order to survive in today's marketplace?

RT: It's pretty simple: it needs to be a good game. It needs to be fun to play, approachable yet deep, and it needs to support hundreds--even thousands--of hours of gameplay. We need to keep players engaged and entertained as they progress through the scripted content, PVP, and other gameplay mechanics.

To that effect, we've made sure that the content in The Secret World has meaning and value. Our missions aren't about killing 25 vampires and collecting their fangs. They're about digging deeper into the mysteries of the world, interacting with characters and the environment, exploration, puzzle-solving, sabotage, and story-telling. There's plenty of combat, of course, but rather than being the sole reason for the missions, they're an integral part of accomplishing the goals in the mission--and sometimes you even have a choice. Jump in and attack everything that moves, or find a way to distract or mislead your opponents.

The same goes for all the other game mechanics as well. In The Secret World, you're rewarded for playing the game, and you're given a reason to do what you're doing--be it PVE, PVP, crafting, achievements, socializing with other players...everything. Making MMORPGs is probably one of the most difficult things in this industry, and it takes a lot of people and a lot of time to get it right--not just from a production point of view, but also through focus testing and bug fixing, ensuring that the client-server technology is stable, flexible, and bug free.

If you run out of enemies to fight you can always turn on your friends in PVP.

But most importantly: an MMORPG needs to be fun, plain and simple. And since I play The Secret World every single day, and still enjoy myself immensely every time I log in, I can at least promise that our game will be tons and tons of fun!

GS: Thank you for your time.

Written By

Want the latest news about The Secret World?

The Secret World

The Secret World

Follow

Discussion

41 comments
Rixxamus
Rixxamus

I am not a MMO gamer, I prefer games like Syberia and TLJ/DF - but i really want to try this!  It will be my first MMO. The story and mechanics sounds great.  Elder Scrolls RPG games I find extremely boring, more over - I am not 20 years old any more and do not have the time to roam endlessly in a game wasting time, so i like a concise, almost linear story ala Mass Effect, even open world but without the endless 'levelling up'; i have been wanting to try a MMO with modern settings and as a mature gamer (I'm over 30), I look for more story than play. I support Funcom and will see if this can change my mind of MMORPG. Any older gamers here? Opinions? Cheers.    

undyingRuin
undyingRuin

Wow this is the first time I saw this game, and it looks amazing. Will def keep up on this, really interested in this because of the trailer.

GAMESHARQ
GAMESHARQ

Anyone know how to sign up for the beta?

Kerethos
Kerethos

I'd be most excited to see this on the 360, but the online gaming market is a tough one. SW:TOR will likely see a large surge at launch (as does most MMO's), so one can assume that TSW won't launch in competition with it. But TSW seems to be bringing something new to the table, stepping away a bit from the WoW-formula, so I'll keep watching in anticipation for further information and gameplay. It looks quite interesting right now and not like yet another WoW-type game (meaning similar gameplay, different world).

lastonehp
lastonehp

i just hope that despite all the marketing; when it comes down to the basics, the player will have great freedom of movement and an intuitive interaction keys and options

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

This MMO has been on my radar for a long time. The screen shots and gameplay videos look hot.

Divine_Stryph
Divine_Stryph

I am seriously rooting for this game, and I hope it does actually find it's way to the Xbox 360. I don't have a gaming PC anymore [weeps] so if this did actually reach the Xbox, I'd be very grateful.

Lazy_Marine
Lazy_Marine

Ragnar tornquist is a legendary visionary , i am really looking forward to this. The longest journey was one of the most epic Storylines told in Gaming history. I hope they learn from the mistakes of Age of conan

Elann2008
Elann2008

I've been following this one for a while. Day one purchase.

nanagasm
nanagasm

@Zloth2: Agreed - death penalty should be standard question fodder for MMO design discussion. The mechanics of death makes a huge impact on how MMOs play over the long haul. I myself like stiffer penalties. Some people like light penalties. Neither is right or wrong. It's all about preference. But which is in this game?

rahl247
rahl247

senior producer and creative director at developer Funcom (Age of Conan) need i say more. this is already in fail mode. AoC died now they trying to get more money.

McCarron
McCarron

Looks great! I love their creature designs. Looking forward to getting lost in conspiracy. I do hope they improve the player character models a bit more. They don't seem as detailed as the creatures and the player animations could use a lot of work. Still hopeful though!

cousinmerl
cousinmerl

looks interesting, bit of a break from the usual dungeons and dragons - but i wonder what makes this so different from hellgate gameplay wise?

Viktormon
Viktormon

@DanGleeSack Ever heard of Firefall? Check it out.

DanGleeSack
DanGleeSack

@Crystal-Rush look at EVE, huge worlds, completely player driven. The economy is based on supply and demand, you can pretty much do what you want. The battles are huge in space and require some tactics. Heard about this along time ago but lost track of it.. The design of the creatures and settings looks amazing, i hope they don't screw this up. What i really want is a mmo shooter, it would combine the action/skill of a shooter with the creation and openness of an mmo. There was Huxley, but i don't know what happened with that. This seems to be moving in that direction, but we will see how it turns out.

theslimdavylp
theslimdavylp

Looks interesting... like a MMO RPG cluster****

nyran125
nyran125

im really sick of this type of gameplay....."Secondly, gear--from loot, trading, crafting, rewards--is hugely important in our game" that kind of gameplay is boring me to tears in todays gaming. Especially the loot and rewards part... my god. Maybe its time for MMO's to get innovative maybe? rather than just loot loot loot, reward, achievement then rinse and repeat and grind and grind!!! Im so over it.

BUNTARG
BUNTARG

The visuals and monster designs look fantastic, and Tornquist really does a great job of talking up the various aspects of the game....but i too have half an eye on SWTOR already. Im going need to do some hands on investigating to see how the combat feels, better get signing up to any Beta testing thats going on then.

Kh1ndjal
Kh1ndjal

apart from setting, i see no reason why i should play this over guild wars 2.

aman579
aman579

so this isn't on the PS3?

Poodger
Poodger

I have been semi-following this game for a while, and I like some of the unique approaches they are taking, but I remain guarded. I will be picking up The Old Republic when it releases, so I am already going to be paying one subscription. Now, I don't mind paying a second subscription, but this game needs to show me that an extra 15 dollars a month is worth it... I am not sold quite yet, but my attention is definitely in their court.

moncealyo
moncealyo

Why not make a great single player game out of this instead. I think funcom would make more money.

NadCAtarun
NadCAtarun

@Zloth2: is there really a strong link between death penalty and audience type? Of all the MMORPGs I've played, Dofus had the most severe death penalty, yet it was definitely aimed at casual players and its servers were full to the brim with obnoxious immature people. RIFT barely penalizes death at all and, at least on the server I joined, has the best gaming community I've known to this day.

NadCAtarun
NadCAtarun

After years of following it, I have huge expectations for The Secret World... which makes it oh so likely that I'll be disappointed. From what they showed at E3, most of what Tornquist describes here has really been attempted... but for combat involvement. The combat system they showed was exactly what I've seen in every other MMORPG out there: click, click, click, OMG I'm in AoE, move, move, click, click... It's not a bad system per say, it works in every game out there that works... But I wish they'd either show us something really new, or drop the pretentious "we are made of awesome" talk.

Olgark
Olgark

This is starting to look like a really cool game. Been following it now since it was first mentioned. Its good to see companies now trying to look at a different way to give players progress in the game without levels and skill trees.

Barighm
Barighm

Well, it looks like the monster designs are cool enough. That giant skeleton thing on the first page sure looks creepy.

Zloth2
Zloth2

Dang, I wish they had asked about what penalty you get if you manage to get yourself killed in the game. Are we actually going to be punished for stupid play or will we just be slapped on the wrist at pushed back into the battle? Or maybe a small penalty that stacks if you keep dying over and over? That kind of thing tells me a lot about what sort of audience they are aiming for.

Ovirew
Ovirew

@Crystal-Rush Why? The MMO genre has hardly gotten tapped, most games in the genre til now have been carbon copies of each other. The definition of an MMO can be broadened to any massive, constant game world where many gamers play. It doesn't have to be another WOW clone if that's what you're thinking.

Ovirew
Ovirew

This game has been in development for a while now. I remember it being talked about in like 2009. The atmosphere seems original.

Evilnator
Evilnator

This does seem to have this TLJ feeling to it.

Crystal-Rush
Crystal-Rush

MMO.......pass. Can this genre die already

CrazyBakas
CrazyBakas

I heard they are not going to release it on 360. Is this true?

DopePope_basic
DopePope_basic

why does an EA symbol at the beginning of a video always make me hit the 'pause' and 'back arrow'?

Dezuria
Dezuria

The setting for this game as amazing, please Funcom I beg you, don't screw this up.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

damn you Funcom I want the next "The Longest Journey" games, not another MMOs :(

smoman5000
smoman5000

Great interview. Alright, tornquist got me interested in this game. The concepts sound great and the monsters look nuts.

leepialong
leepialong

definitely sound interesting but it FUNCOM made it down

Rixxamus
Rixxamus

 @nyran125 I agree.  I really wish these games could have gameplay options that are actually more than just difficulty settings.  I wish there was a story mode, made from the already existing content.  I would play Elder scrolls if i could choose a linear main mission mode that includes automatic content discovery that side missions provide in free roam mode; as opposed to doing side missions like 'go catch ten fish'.  Innovation is key. A Linear RPG content mode is not a contradiction to the RPG, as it is a modality of personalising an experience - innovation in tailoring.