Secrets of The Secret World - An Interview with Joel Bylos and Ragnar Tornquist
It was a dark and stormy nightÂ
Ah, who am I kidding. Actually, it was a warm and breezy evening in Santa Monica, California, and some Ten Ton Hammer colleagues and I were heading to an E3 press party for FuncomÂs upcoming MMOG, Age of Conan. We arrived at a rather plain looking building, but when we walked through the doors we found girls in metal cages, clad in chainmail bikinis, dancing to a throbbing techno beat. There was a vague S&M dungeon vibe to the scene (not that I have firsthand knowledge of S&M dungeons), and talking above the din was almost impossible. Such was the hype-and-spectacle-driven marketing for AoC.
But that was 2007. Fast forward 4+ years and here we are awaiting the June, 2012 launch of The Secret World, FuncomÂs newest foray into the MMOG space. ThereÂs no doubt that the marketing surrounding The Secret World has been far less in-your-face than ConanÂs. Gone are the caged women in skimpy chainmail (what is it with female armor?). In their place, weÂve seen a subdued, conspiracy-based marketing scheme marked by ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) that invite fans to search for clues and solve puzzles related to the gameÂs story. As TSW nears launch, Funcom has started to ramp up its presence, revealing game mechanics and systems, so that gamers have a sense of how the game will function, without revealing too much of its story.
Preserving the Mystery
But is The Secret World too secret? WeÂve seen comments throughout the gaming community expressing worry that the buzz for TSW hasnÂt quite reached its pinnacle yet.
ÂWhen it comes to the secrecy aspect of The Secret world, thatÂs part of the theme,Â said Ragnar TÃ¸rnquist, Creative Director. ÂIÂm kind of sick and tired of knowing everything about every game that comes out. I like the mystery. I like not knowing everything about something before I get a chance to try and play it myself. Unfortunately, itÂs not possible for me, but I would like to go into The Secret World knowing as little as possible. The joy, the amazing experience of it, is basically in being thrust into this world as someone who is unfamiliar and then discovering it as you go along. ItÂs a journey of discovery, of finding all these amazing things all over the world. To learn that Âeverything is trueÂ is such a big part of the game. So the development team has always pushed for Âless is moreÂ marketing, not because we want to protect anything but because we want to preserve the experience for the player.Â
"The joy, the amazing experience of it ... is discovering [the world] as you go along."
ÂAnd I think weÂve taken a less Conan the Barbarian approach to marketing,Â added Joel Bylos, Lead Content Designer. ÂWeÂve tried to target our core audience right away.Â
But wonÂt too much secrecy make it difficult for the uninitiated to discover The Secret World in the first place?
ÂIÂm not concerned about that kind of feedback,Â TÃ¸rnquist said. ÂWe have several months to go. We have taken a more toned down approach, but weÂve shown every core feature in the game. But maybe information needs to be collected into an experience.Â
He explained that what seemed to be missing from FuncomÂs marketing of The Secret World right now was the Âexperience of the average joe.Â He noted that, for now, there has really been no way to electronically peer over the shoulder of someone actually playing the game. That will change, he noted, as more players are brought into beta over the next couple of months leading up to launch and we start to see more video featuring actual game play.
ÂWeÂre obviously not going to be one of the biggest-biggest games out there--we donÂt have the same amount of spin--but I think weÂve gotten a lot of attention in PC gaming, and in MMO gaming in particular,Â said TÃ¸rnquist. ÂEvery indication IÂve seen is that weÂre amongst the top games in terms of attention, right next to games like Guild Wars 2.Â
Limiting Play Styles, or Limitless Options?
As you might expect, the conspiracy theme of The Secret WorldÂs marketing is indicative of its game play. The game will include four types of missions: action, sabotage, story and investigation. Of the four types, investigation missions differ the most from the usual MMO fare by asking players to step outside the game to look for clues from real world sources. For this purpose, The Secret World will have an in-game browser.
We wondered whether The Secret world was limiting itself to a niche market by deviating from more standard quest types and asking players to solve intricate puzzles--a pastime fun for some, but frustrating for others.
ÂThereÂs a big distinction between something being easy and something being accessible,Â Bylos told us. ÂI feel that investigation missions are accessible. But theyÂre hard. People will have to think.Â
ÂIf you donÂt like one of the mission types you donÂt have to play them,Â he continued. ÂItÂs not like you canÂt progress in the game doing other things. There are so many opportunities in an MMO to play the way that you want to play. I donÂt think it limits things; I think it gives people more options, and I donÂt think thatÂs ever a bad thing.Â
Joel was also quick to quash the idea that Google, or the in-game browser, could become a frustrating purveyor of spoilers for those interested in keeping the mystery in their investigation missions. To prove his point, he suggested typing the title of The Secret WorldÂs most popular ARG--ÂI Love BeesÂ--into Google. He noted that nothing related to The Secret World appeared in the top resultsÂ unless you added the phrase ÂThe Secret WorldÂ to the search string. Want spoilers? Call out TSW by name in your search. Want to avoid them? Simply leave it out.
If you love the idea of investigation type missions, youÂll be happy to know that The Secret World will contain 25-30 of them at launch, and that they will be continually added post-launch.
ÂAs we go into launch and beyond youÂll definitely see the ties between the content and the real world grow stronger over time,Â TÃ¸rnquist noted. ÂJoel talked about the number of investigation missions in the game at launch, and these are the things weÂre definitely going to be adding to the game post-launch as well, increasing the connection between our world and The Secret World.Â
Onward to Launch
Originally aiming for an April, 2012 launch, Funcom opted to push back the release of The Secret World to June 19th.
ÂWe aimed for June to give us some time to really polish this game and have it shine as much as possible,Â TÃ¸rnquist said. ÂWeÂve been in beta for the longest time; weÂve had a playable game for years and years. But itÂs good to have time to spend polishing, tweaking, listening to beta testersÂ and thatÂs what weÂre doing now. But we are ready, and the game will be great at release.Â
ÂContrary to what seems to be popular opinion,Â Bylos added, ÂAge of Conan actually launched incredibly well. It was very stable. And weÂre expecting the same sort of stability [with The Secret World], but improved performance that comes from four years of working on the engine. The game is incredibly stable; it runs really well in general, so itÂs going to run even better in a few months.Â
If youÂre ready to lift the veil and discover a world where all of your darkest nightmares, every conspiracy theory, every myth is true--and the monster under your bed is real--pre-ordering The Secret World will guarantee access to beta weekends.
Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Ragnar TÃ¸rnquist and Joel Bylos for taking time from their busy schedules to chat with us about The Secret World.