CCP's vampire MMO World of Darkness has been hiding from the light for the last twelve months, but behind the scenes a gear has shifted. The 70 strong team that formerly split its time between World of Darkness, Eve and Dust are now pursuing World of Darkness full-time.
It's nowhere near finished, however. Today's World of Darkness presentation at the Eve Fanfest in Reykjavik focused closely on the level design tools and shaders that CCP are using to build their next big sandbox MMO, but they did show a video. Built from World of Darkness assets, the "target footage" was designed by CCP artists to illustrate what life as an urban vampire will hopefully look and feel like in the finished game. Filming was strictly prohibited, the session wasn't part of the Fanfest livestream and CCP aren't likely to show it publicly any time soon, so instead I will use words to try and paint pictures in your head. I will also use actual pictures drawn with my hands. Here's what happened.
The video opens in a dim alleyway in the middle of a dark, wet city. The player character is an impossibly slender female. The dark, skintight trousers and splayed, spiked cuffs of her short, dark jacket are ostentatious enough to immediately mark her as a vampire, even before she approaches a man loitering in the alleyway and - after a seductive exchange - bites his throat out.
As she snacks bloodily on her victim (an NPC, McDonough confirmed later), a dozen vampires bound past the window lights of a distant rooftop, the player character tracks them for a moment as they vault over rooftops and vanish into the darkness, and then darts sideways and mounts a 12 foot brick wall with the speed and ferocity of a turbo-charged Ezio.
She quickly scales another rooftop and suddenly finds herself in an open bar. Dozens of other players mill about, chatting and drinking, dressed in sumptuous outfits. This is a representation of what CCP call the "paper doll" aspect of World of Darkness. They want fashion to be an important part of vampire society, one that could provide plenty of incentive for trade. Earlier in the presentation, McDonough suggested that vampire players will be able to hire or "manipulate" others into creating items for them.
Beyond the warm glow of the party, the troupe of vampires sail back into view. They're just silhouettes on the skyline, but their movements are quick and feral. The player character walks slowly through the party, keeping an eye on the hunting pack from afar. There's a strong gothic urban wilderness vibe to this bit. When I mention this to McDonough later he says that the scenes showing vampires leaping across rooftops from afar are inspired by scenes from CCP's internal quarterly playtests. He says that staying constantly alert to the environment outside safe zones is wise. 3360 kills were recorded during CCP's January test.
The player reaches the rail at the edge of the party, hopes over and then leaps the street beyond in one go. She clambers up onto the roof, cloaks and then makes her way through a mass of hissing air conditioning units. Emerging, crouched into an open stretch of rooftop she sees another vampire standing on the edge of the drop. The vampire spots her translucent form and adopts a fighting stance. As he spreads his arms a strange golden dust distortion appears around him. Before he has a chance to cast whatever spell he's weaving the player dashes forward twelve feet and punches him off the roof. She leaps after him and lands perfectly near his body (there's an obligatory CRASH of thunder here). Then she steps forward, opens his throat with a back-handed swipe and then drinks the blood from the wound. CCP aren't shying away from the violence of the vampire underworld. As she drinks, three other vampires drop down from the rooftops. She stands up to face her aggressors and the video ends.
The footage was rendered in the World of Darkness engine. McDonough admits that the working client doesn't run at the video's framerates, and postprocessing has been used to add additional lighting effects that they're planning to implement as they unlock DirectX11 features further into development. I wasn't taken with the spindly early character models, but the city - dark, brooding, soaking wet - was detailed and evocative. The window shaders CCP are building show interiors that shift depending on your perspective, giving depth to the multi-storey facades. Fans whirr in their sockets, steam rises from the drains. Everything glistens. I want to put on a trench coat, tip my hat against the rain and explore.
That wouldn't be smart. Players in World of Darkness start out mortal, but will be quickly tuned. Or so CCP expect. There will be players who try to last as long as they can in human form. Initially, it won't be a fully fleshed out way to exist. "We're not putting a huge amount of functionality into the mortal game," McDonough says. The other races that fill the World of Darkness universe like werewolves and mages won't be in at launch either, but CCP "consider this to be future expansions."
You can be permanently killed in World of Darkness, but it will be a difficult process. Being slain in combat won't do it, for example. McDonough said that a handful of players were perma-killed during the January CCP playtest, but wouldn't be drawn on exactly how. In the World of Darkness pen and paper RPG (the game is very much based on the pre-2004 classic World of Darkness setting) "final death" occurs when you run out of blood points. Interestingly, in the RPG, executions can be ordered by the Prince (a lordly mega vampire who rules the city). CCP have already confirmed that there will be player-elected Princes in the MMO. Will they have the power to single out enemies for complete destruction?
It's impossible to say at this stage because CCP are reluctant to give any specifics on systems they're in the middle of designing. They do mention that World of Darkness will run on one "shard" that will likely be supported by multiple server clusters to handle the added load of all that free-running. There will be multiple cities to travel between. Your character's movement is tied to the WASD keys. CCP also mentioned that they're planning to reflect the Masquerade - the pact that requires vampires to hide their existence from humans, though how is a mystery. In the video vampires were jumping freely around the city, visible to anyone who happens to look up.
The World of Darkness team are also wrestling with a desire to maintain the grim, gothic tone of the classic World of Darkness settings. "We've banned the names Edward and Bella and you can't make your vampire sparkle," McDonough joked, crushing the dreams of a million Twilight fans. I'm curious to see how CCP will stop players from voting in a brutal vampire Prince called Joe McLovelyface55. They've already made important tweaks to preserve the seriousness of the setting. "In the first internal playtest you could loot clothes. everyone was always naked, all the time. it was fun and beautiful."
World of Darkness isn't coming out this year. It's not coming out next year. It may take longer than that. CCP have held back from showing too much in case people start expecting with years of development left to run. The cat is out of the bag, however. The cat has crossed the sea. The cat has an apartment in New York and is trying to make it as an artist. I can't wait to see more in the years to come.