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We always enjoy a good conspiracy theory, like the one that ensures that 90 per cent of all massively multiplayer online (MMO) games are set in a Tolkien-esque fantasy world. We’ve seen bits and pieces of The Secret World at many press events over the last few years, but we recently got our first chance to play it for real at an EA event in London. Wandering around the New England town of the demo there are plenty of Lovecraftian references hidden in the place names of the map we come across, such that the sudden appearance of zombies and Cthulhulic monsters comes as little surprise.
Using your skills works exactly the same as any other MMO as you activate a set of seven active skills using the number buttons of the keyboard (there are also seven passive skills that are always active). Perhaps the most important deviation from the norm though is that characters have neither levels nor pre-set classes.
As flexible as your abilities are though you will also have to make your character a member of one of three secret societies: the London-based Templars, New York Illuminati, and Korean Dragons. Unfortunately we didn’t get a lot of time to play anything as the Wi-Fi connection at the event blanked out about 15 minutes into our hands-on demo. From the outset it was actually called The World Online, we knew we wanted to make an MMO set in the real world. EE:There was always supernatural elements, but it was not actually set in modern day times originally. But if you do it less real-time, more of a standard MMO direction, it’s easier to create that layer of tactics and strategy to combat. The game director on The Secret World is Ragnar Tornquist, who is the guy that wrote the story for The Longest Journey and Dreamfall… all these award-winning adventure games. But I would also say that Funcom has a history of telling stories and making story driven games, I would say we broke new ground with Age Of Conan because Age Of Conan was much more story-focused than any other MMO up to that point. We’re putting even more focus on story, all missions are told through the cinematics and the story is kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle and as you explore the game world and do the missions you piece together these pieces of the puzzle. I mean we use instances and that sort of technology to do more story-focused gameplay parts, for instance the ranking missions for the secret societies – those are very story-focused so they happen in isolated single-player instances. But there are constant rewards for finishing storylines and we have something called a lore system, so when you’re in the game world and you find things you have this lore book which is updated with the storyline. But for a triple-A MMO like The Secret World you’re putting a ton of money and a lot of resources into creating content, storylines, fantastic environments, and so on. GC:But does that mean the whole company can be put into jeopardy over the failure of just one game? We have one of the most robust MMO engines in the industry, called DreamWorld, so we knew that we wanted to create a new MMO – there was never really any question for us that we wanted to go the single-player route. GC:The control Microsoft in particular demand over their Xbox Live severs must be an issue too? EE:For a game like Age Of Conan we roll out patches all the time and we have to be very flexible, if we need to fix something we need to roll out a patch very quickly. It’s all of those sort of challenges put together that just makes developers shy away from it and try to stick to PCs. GC:What will you be looking for then from the new console announcements, as a MMO developer? Music videos, short movies, and other kinds of short visual entertainment.Video musicali, cortometraggi ed altre forme di intrattenimento visivo breve.Get some! Actually dark days are already here, but perhaps contradicting a chick with a shotgun is not a clever idea.

The second trailer for The Secret World, an online RPG developed by Funcom, first shown at the Penny Arcade Expo 2009.
Il secondo trailer per The Secret World, gioco di ruolo online sviluppato da Funcom, presentato al Penny Arcade Expo 2009.
But The Secret World is set in the real world – one in which you go into battle armed with an M-16 and wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Although the premise of the game is very different from other MMOs the basics of the gameplay are much more typical of the genre.
The developer we’re playing alongside is armed with an assault rifle but we have some sort of enchanted mace, which proves to be perfectly suited to bashing in zombie brains. This is in part meant to avoid level grinding, while also allowing you to redefine your character’s skillset on the fly. This choice can’t be changed once you start playing and forms the basis of the PvP (player vs. Whether 15 or 30 minutes though a press event is no useful place to get a handle on a MMO with more than a hundred hours of gameplay.
So that is primarily a publishing and marketing agreement, we started working on The Secret World… I think well over five years ago now. Is it just because they’re copying each other or is it something about the setting that makes it intrinsically well suited to the genre – the melee combat perhaps? Just doing, like machineguns and those sort of weapons in a MMO is more difficult, because it’s not a shooter. And he really wanted to make an MMO that focused on story, because story is his strength and as the game director he wanted to bring that into the game. And I would definitely say that I don’t think there are any other MMOs that have focused so much on story. The story that we have built goes way beyond the scope of the game and we hope of course to tell these things through things like expansions and updates. So for example you have something called The Filth in The Secret World, and when you find out more about The Filth it pieces together a story that you can actually read like a typical length story.
It’s still dominated by World Of Warcraft, but there seems to be a healthy middle class of games beneath that which are surviving quite happily with many fewer players. Cryptic are one of the bigger studios and they’re doing a new game called Neverwinter, which is free-to-play from the get-go.
So breaking into that market and convincing people that your game is better than World Of Warcraft is very challenging. EA when they were marketing and communicating with Star Wars I think they made it very clear that you don’t need 12 million people to make it a huge success. Age Of Conan did really well, I mean we sold over a million copies and selling over a million copies is a huge success for any game. And if you do really well and you can keep the game going and growing, the possibility for return of investment is absolutely gigantic. But for the Xbox I remember there was quite a process you had to go through to patch and back then you also had the hard drive issue: how many patches can you have before it becomes an issue for a console user?
Making an MMO is a hugely complex technical project that I would say is more difficult to make than a single-player game, so actually putting it on a PC and a console is even more of a challenge. It is the same size, but compressed at a lower bitrate so that it can be watched while streaming on a good connection.

There is a significant layer of fantasy on top though, in that in the game’s version of reality every single conspiracy and myth (except for aliens) is true.
Skills are selected from a wheel-shaped table and although there are readymade selections that mimic classic MMO classes you are still able to pick and mix as you please. But that’s something we changed relatively early on, because we wanted to create an MMO that was set in the real world and where we could draw upon modern day and real world myths and legends.
And of course another important part of it is that making a modern game, in the real world, is I would say more difficult. When you have a machinegun equipped you’re sort of expecting that you should be able to aim with it and shoot with it and so on.
He’s definitely one of the reasons why we have gone in such a story driven direction. You’re not a hero, you are one of many people who are drafted into this secret war against the other secret societies and the rise of darkness. Maybe several years into the future but… World Of Warcraft was this social phenomenon in a way, it was something that blew up and they hit at the right time and they made a fantastic game as well of course. I mean they launched with a much, much lower number, so I don’t think you have to do that at all.
MMOs are very content heavy and content takes people to create, because content needs to be handcrafted. I mean there are certain MMOs that have done it, Final Fantasy XI for instance and DC Universe Online for instance, so there are definitely games that have done it. Tagged birds, blade, cross, feather, guns, hair, merry go round, raven, shoes, swing, the grim reaper, train. What we basically saw when we were testing it, on both externals and internals, is that for a game like The Secret World that has such an intricate system and abilities system, people are expecting combat to be more tactical.
If you look at the development of MMOs through the last 10 years they’re becoming more and more story-centric, because people want those experiences.
But many MMOs are very complex in their GUI [graphical user interface] and their control system and I think a lot of companies are focusing so hard on making the PC version that they don’t have enough time or capacity to do consoles. And you have to create storylines that are relevant to stuff that people are actually much more familiar with.
And if you do it real-time, we at least have found it more difficult making a game that focuses more on the synergy between the different abilities.
They want to infuse their offline role-playing adventures with their online role-playing adventures. And also when you’re making an MMO piracy is not an issue and for Funcom… MMOs are what we do.
So creating something that’s believable in a modern day real world setting is more difficult than creating something that is believable in a completely alien setting. And that’s something you can have a very small team making, and if you hit on the right notes and you make really good systems you have very low costs and very high returns.

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