Want to know everything ever about Funcom's conspiracy loving MMO, The Secret World? Because - between our preview and the first part of this interview - I feel like we may be ruining the whole "secret" part. Then again, when you're deciding where your precious, precious subscription money is gonna go, I feel like secrets are a bit overrated. So then, continue into the southern reaches of this post for lead content designer Joel Bylos and lead designer Martin Bruusgaard's thoughts on the viability of leveling solely through investigation missions, endgame content, what they learned from Age of Conan, and tons more.
PCG: Why did you decide to restrict players to three missions at-a-time - as in one of each type? And could that change before the final game is out?
JB : Yeah, it could. It depends on the amount of outcry. But I really feel like it works. The idea behind it is that our missions aren't very traditional. As an example, just using World of Warcraft as the standard, you go to the camp, you go to the edge of the camp, you pick up the boxes, they say kill these guys patrolling the camp, you go back to the camp and you kill the guys on patrol in the camp, then you go back and you get another quest, and you kill the boss in the camp. So you end up going back and forth three times. Whereas we have the tiered system. The first step is this, the second step is this, the third step is this, the fourth step is this. And then bang: you get your reward and you don't ever have to go back to the mission-giver if you don't want to. You're doing this for your faction.
I guess you could say that our quests, in some ways, they stack up to about three Conan quests. We thought "We want people to focus on this chain that they're doing." This particular chain is one coherent story arc, and it's cool to get people to focus on that. Because I think that brings people back to the journey, if you want. In a game like World of Warcraft, a lot of people, they're on the treadmill trying to get to the top.
We want people to enjoy this world that we spent so much time making. Take a look around, get off the treadmill. It's partially why we have the investigation missions as well. All these details, like the sewer lids have everything to do with some of the missions. The sewer caps have encoded messages. Take a look at the details, that's where we're at. That's the reason.
Creating A Living, Breathing World
PCG: To me, The Secret World's, er, world felt like a real place, which was really cool. The trend in gaming right now is to make an "open world," but it's basically just a hub for a series of incredibly linear missions. There's not that much attention paid. Do you think that's a problem? The current en vogue example, I guess, is RAGE. It didn't really need to have an open world, but they just sorta did it anyway.
JB : It could have just been levels, yeah. I really liked RAGE, but I wanted a shooter with levels. Not levels as in character progression with levels, but linear corridor shooter levels. That was what I liked about RAGE. When I was in those bits, the open-world bits felt almost tacked on.
MB : It's always been super-important for us that when we create this world, that we make it believable. Because this is the real world. This is the world people know better than any other universe around here. So when they go through it, even though this place is fictional, it has to feel like the real world. We've done a lot of research. The guy who made Long Island is from Long Island. When we made Kingsmouth, we sent three people to Maine to take pictures and soak up the atmosphere, try to bring that into the game.
Age of Conan
PCG: At this point, a lot of people look at you and say, "Those are the people who did the Conan MMO." What are your big takeaways from Conan? In the process of making that game, what did you learn that you're applying here?
JB : On the marketing side, we've been a lot more toned down with The Secret World - not announcing features until we've actually made them, or had them working in a way we're happy with. I think that's been a lesson, because Conan had incredible hype, a huge amount of hype. It burned us a lot. For example, the DirectX 10 version of the game. The render team worked on that version really hard, and then a month before launch we saw that stability-wise, we needed to make sure DirectX 9 was working the best, and DirectX 10 we'd get back to. And so we had to cut the DX10 version.
We probably shouldn't have even spoken about the DX10 version. I think that was a marketing lesson. In addition to that, in terms of the content creation experience, we saw what happened with, for example, the way we said that items wouldn't mean anything in Conan. Or we said they shouldn't mean as much, because we wanted to have it all based on player skill. I think with The Secret World we've realized that you can have that cake and eat it.
PCG: The investigation missions are something really unique that you do compared to the glut of kill-collect-kill-collect-kill MMOs. The closest comparison I can think of is in World of Warcraft's Archaeology. But that wasn't so well-received. A lot of people didn't really enjoy hunting around for things. They wanted to actually swing swords, buckle swashes, and collect boar gizzards. So are you afraid at all that people are going to look at investigations and think, "This isn't really what I play an MMO for"?
JB : Absolutely, there's player types that don't like that sort of gameplay at all. And that's fine. You don't have to do it to gain skills. It's not something you have to do. You can avoid it. So I think that people who don't like that sort of content will just skip that content and hopefully not feel cheated.
I guess the important thing for us is, we're trying to cater to many different play styles. We have all these different mission types. The PvP missions, the faction missions, the investigation missions, the action missions, the sabotage missions. We've sort of spread the styles a bit. If you want a particular style, you can play that style. I guess for me it's like an MMO is a smorgasbord. There are so many features in an MMO. Single-player games can focus on doing a couple of things really right. MMOs are expected to do a lot of things. I think it's fine that we say to people, "If you don't like this content, you don't have to do it and it's not going to impair you in any way."
MB : There will be websites that list all the answers that people don't want to look for. Either they'll ignore it, or they'll look for the answers and just get the reward and keep going. But the ones that do love gameplay like this, they won't spoil it. Or at least we don't think they will spoil it for themselves.
JB : It's crazy how aggressive people were about not spoiling the missions for each other. They were super-aggressive about it.
MB : It's really resonated well with the public. People are really, really excited about it. I think it'll be a good thing.