The Secret World: Tørnquist Discusses Trailer

By John Walker on March 25th, 2010 at 9:27 pm.

Road, you're not meant to do that. Lie down.

The scenes shown at GDC of Funcom’s forthcoming MMO, The Secret World, are finally online for non-attendees to stare at. This is the first time we haven’t been seeing rendered cutscenes, so what will it be like? Well, like lots of combat. Against big things. And story. It’s about those two elements that we lassoed project lead Ragnar Tørnquist to one side to find out more.

So first, here’s the new footage:

The conspiracy-laden MMO boasts huge versions of real-world cities, filled with beasties from beneath. Here we finally get to see some of them moving, along with players excitedly attacking them. So what does that mean for how the combat will work? Is this traditional MMO hit-and-wait, or more real-time? Project lead Ragnar Tørnquist explains,

“It’s definitely real-time. It’s definitely not hit-and-wait. But it is an RPG. It is, in fact an MMO…RPG. Your character’s skills are hugely important, and there’s no twitch gameplay. We want to engage players, keep them busy, keep them focused – without tiring them out. MMOs are drawn out like world wars; they take time to play. Anything too intense will get tiring. So we’re working to make sure that balance is just right.”

The trailer also shows off a small glimpse of the writing, which seems dramatic and knowing. Which leads us to wonder how the game will balance combat and story – a game from Tørnquist is inevitably going to be story-focused.

“Luckily I have good people who balance me out – seasoned MMO veterans. But we’re trying new things. We want to create a world where you can find something new to do every day. And storytelling – or story-FINDING – is a big part of that”

But being an MMO, you can’t have a linear story. People will wander off at the wrong moments. But Ragnar divulges more details.

“The story in TSW is like a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are scattered everywhere in this big, huge room. And players have to piece them together. That’s what I love about storytelling in games. The discovery. The adventure of it. Stories are linear by nature, but they don’t necessarily have to be experienced as such every step of the way. You can find the pieces, put them together – hey, there’s a pattern there, in the jigsaw puzzle; a house, a character, a symbol – and then you start seeing the big picture, the whole picture. Or, you know, a TINY little piece of the gigantic picture – but that piece makes sense. And once you have that we might send you onwards, further along this path towards revelation.”

And the balance?

“To answer your question: there will be Balance. But always, always also Big Meanies. You can’t get away from the Meanies. So even if you’re Investigating and Exploring and Adventuring, it’s a dangerous, dark world filled with danger and darkness and things that go BOO.”

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57 Comments »

  1. Feste says:

    I really like the jigsaw metaphor for the storyline. It, and the be-tendrilled thingies, makes me think of the Cthullhu Mythos and there’s nothing I like more than running away from Dagon.

  2. Sobric says:

    Hmmmm. I was previously excited by The Secret World, very excited. But having seen those trailers, I find my self suddenly very unexcited.

    I think it relates to something Jim said in your last podcast, about the “next generation” of MMOs. One thing I’ve always hoped is that MMOs of the future would be able to get over that hump of having pretty boring combat. I don’t mean they have to revert to Counter-Strike style twitch gaming, but that video inspires nothing.

    I mean, one of the player character’s looks like he’s got Bunsen burner’s tucked up his sleeve while doing a bad zombie impersonation.

    • Feste says:

      But if it’s RPG, Dragon-Age style combat that’s sort of what you expect to see. When I saw that combat and I was dubious and disappointed that they seemed to be the same-old same-old.

      But if you think about it the actual visual representation of combat in Dragon Age and WoW isn’t much different, it’s what’s going on under the hood that changes things a bit.

      I’m still a little suspicious, but it’s not as if this is Mr Tørnquist first MMO so even at the worst it’s likely to end up as a really well written MMO.

    • Howl says:

      Well I was sceptical anyway because it’s Funcom but after watching that … awful.. in-game footage, it’s now completely off my radar. My spidey sense says Age of Conan engine used to make Cthulu themed MMO with clunky Champions Online combat.

  3. Azhrarn says:

    Needs more sanity shattering horrors that eternity forgot…

    so far, colour me unimpressed.
    Unfortunately it looks like fairly standard MMO fare to me, just set in modern times, rather than the usual fantasy setting.

    • Wulf says:

      Which means it’s inevitably going to be even more boring than a well-written fantasy MMORPG (and they do exist, see: Guild Wars), which is a shame, really.

      It’s like he’s ignoring his own lessons from The Longest Journey. I’m really not that excited about this, because even looking into the story I’m not that inspired, it’s basically a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo, the holy light, the ebil darkness, the modern priests of the day versus the dark denizens of the night. Of course, Grant Morrison could write that, but Ragnar can’t, and what we end up with is silly things, vampires, zombies, and typical B-Movie werewolves.

      It’s a shame, really.

      When I first heard about this I was hoping for something involving hidden dimensions, a la The Longest Journey, other worlds within our own, sort of like the White Wolf Universe, lots of different dimensions tied in, that sometimes lead to wildly different worlds, but all the worlds are connected somehow and what happens in one world can affect the others, and the play happens across all the dimensions, and by improving things in one dimension you slowly improve the situation for all of them. Now that I’d love to play.

      But this is just Christian Kids with Superpowers Go Nuts™. :|

      I kind of hope I’m proved wrong about that, but from all that I’ve read (and I’ve been following the forum a bit) and seen… that’s pretty much what it amounts to, and I’m not at all inspired by that, Ragnar, sorry.

    • JohnH says:

      This is more in response to Wulf than the OP. Have a look at the earlier lore/hints that was released for TSW and you’ll see that there’s more to it than just zombies and werewolves. Been some great bits about the world inside the world as an example.

      I’m still worried that Funcom will screw this game up like they’ve done their other MMOs, will be interesting to see when the time comes.

    • Wulf says:

      @JohnH

      I know there is, but what I was getting at is that I’ve been reading a lot of the forums, and the snippets released there. I made this point better in a later post, but what I’m getting at is that the game isn’t really dark, it’s more of a ‘cheesy’ B-Movie dark, and tends to feature creatures which are better suited to B-Movies than, say, World of Darkness, with very little to offset that.

      This is a huge disappointment for me, really… and the trailer just confirms it. I’m just waiting for him to write more about Stark and Arcadia, which is where he usually shines, providing he hasn’t become too shy for the sort of bold writing that The Longest Journey had.

  4. Tei says:

    I like the design of characters. I may like the combat system. The one of AoC whas good, I can see how the same people that has already done a good action combat system can do it again ( lets ignore Champions Online here ). It could be a very good MMO,.. but theres something anti-gamer in MMO’s. Games are supposed to be fun, MMO’s don’t even try anymore to be fun.

  5. Okami says:

    MMOs are like women. You meet a new one and it’s even prettier than the last one and you think that maybe this time it could work out, but then you come to know them better and realize that it’s just the same old boring combat system and then they remind you of your mother and you hit them with a hammer but they won’t stop screaming so you hit them more until they’re silent and then you have to bury them in the backyard but there’s hardly any place there anymore…

  6. Serenegoose says:

    if combat is real time and so on then the fix for combat looking poopy is easy. It’s called -feedback-. There’s really no excuse for not having monsters that lurch back in pain as you hack at them, that limp when their legs are shot, wail in pain as they go up in flames. When it’s missing, it makes the combat feel incredibly bad, when it’s there, it helps significantly.

    • P7uen says:

      Every MMO has lost my interest after my initial jaunt for precisely this reason, glad to know it boggles someone else’s mind as well.

      How can I be affecting the world when I can’t even make this cardboard cut-out flinch?

      Except Planetside. Hurrah!

  7. Vitamin Powered says:

    At the end of the “generic prophecy of generic genericness” I wanted a disappointed “Sooooo… no lottery numbers?” reply.

  8. Daz says:

    In all of the previews and media releases this game was being touted as a very dark game, but this trailer seems completely the opposite, I am kind of disappointed by that.

    I’ve been really looking forward to seeing how this game turns out, but like others above, this has actually turned me off a bit. Sure it looks pretty, but it seems to have the tone all wrong :(

    • Wulf says:

      I was actually expecting what I saw, which disappointed me more.

      I’d picked up from the forums that the ‘dark’ of The Secret World wasn’t the World of Darkness ‘dark’, or the Grant Morrison sort of ‘dark’–both of which are good–but more the B-Movie sort of dark, where there are zombies, werewolves, and vampires, all rendered in questionable special effects, accompanied by Scientists speaking in a monotone-voice.

      The only real difference is that it’s no longer a skilled person who saves the day, it’s just someone with magical powers. So Ace doesn’t fly a fighter jet, he runs around awkwardly shooting flamethrowers from his wrists.

      Why Ragnar, why? D:

    • Tei says:

      i don’t talk in mononotone voice never the pauses and these things are optional anyway no one can blame on me was a weakness of the communication system to begin first it must kill everybody related or fix it maybe a chain reaction with ice 9 in the pacific will do it or just trading energy with dimensions on different levels of currency/potential

  9. Shh says:

    I’m underwhelmed for some reason. I had above average expectations for this. And knowing Funcom, they’ll probably mess this up badly and the game won’t be in a playable state until 6 months to a year after release.

  10. 1stGear says:

    A MINUTE OF SPORADIC GAMEPLAY FROM A GAME THAT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A RELEASE DATE?!?!?!!

    WORST.
    MMO.
    EVER.

    The only concern I walk away with is Tornquist’s description of the storytelling method. The “jigsaw” method can be extremely interesting if done well, but it is extremely easy to fuck up and leave the viewer confused about what happened. Doing it in a MMO only increases the degree to which one can fuck up. Didn’t look at that random item in that instanced content 10 levels back? WELP, YOU NEVER FIND OUT WHO THE VILLAIN WAS SORRY.

    • Wulf says:

      Usually a minute is all you need with an MMO. Most mainstream MMOs out there can be summed up in a minute. Watch World of Warcraft for a minute and you’ll either like what you see or not, an hour later you’ll be enjoying yourself or you’ll still be baffled about what the appeal is.

      It’s amazing how telling that minute can be, but yes, more so with an MMORPG than any kind of game. There’s a lot you can take away from a minute if you’re perspicacious and observant.

  11. Spyman6 says:

    I’m quite looking forward to this; although the video doesn’t show much, the premise is great, and the story aspects should be good.
    By the way, anyone know what’s happened to Ragnar Tørnquist’s website, http://www.RagnarTørnquist.com?

  12. somnolentsurfer says:

    “There will be Balance”?

    Balance???

    With I capital B?

    So, is this Stark then??

  13. Mr Labbes says:

    I think it looks cool, I mean, what did people expect, it being an MMO and all? An interactive Lovecraft story not involving any combat, because combat in MMOs is always boring?
    Edit: I should probably add that I loved Guild Wars, and this reminds me of it, and it has Lovecraft, and that’s all I need at the moment.

    • Wulf says:

      “I think it looks cool, I mean, what did people expect, it being an MMO and all? An interactive Lovecraft story not involving any combat, because combat in MMOs is always boring?”

      The important question here is: Why not?

      There’s a precedent for it, after all, and one that I really enjoyed. Uru Live had lots of players, well written lore, a fantastic story, and not even a little bit of combat.

      But that’s the difference between an MMORPG and an MMO. This, sadly, is an MMORPG, but that doesn’t mean that MMOs which are not RPGs can’t exist, they do exist, and they’re quite brilliant. Minecraft is an MMO (some of the servers have more players than a Champions Online district), and Minecraft’s Creative mode (and even its Survival mode with the ‘Peaceful’ option on) doesn’t have a bit of combat either.

      I’m not saying that The Secret World shouldn’t have had combat, but I do think it would’ve been better had they gone the APB route with it.

    • disperse says:

      It takes a lot of the mystery and horror away when you know the Shoggoth is a level 44 mob and damage numbers are springing out of its head. (Of course, we don’t know for sure that this is how the Secret World is going to work.)

      When I used to play the pen and pencil Call of Cthulhu RPG we almost never got into combat (and when we did it often ended badly). I wonder if you could make a game almost entirely based on the accumulation of knowledge with gradually increasing dread followed by a climactic encounter with the supernatural.

    • Tei says:

      Re: horror

      Horror is easy , and is easy to produce with minimalistic resources. I think.
      Or the b-movie genre will not exist.
      I am sure is even possible to get a manual about how to do exactly that in any decent public library (section: movies, moviemaking).

  14. Chizu says:

    I’ve liked the sound of this game for a while, and I am still really interested.

    But honestly, I am more frustrated by the lack of Dreamfall Chapters development :’(

  15. Gritz says:

    I wish I lived in a Secret World where Tornquist hooked up with Telltale and gave us some Dreamfall/TLG episodes.

  16. The Dark One says:

    His interviews in other places go into a little more depth when it comes to combat. At any moment, you can only slot in seven active and seven passive abilities.

  17. speedwaystar says:

    This may seem churlish, but i can’t help but think: FUNCOM GAME. Which is depressing, given how great this *could* be (and how great Anarchy Online looked on paper, and how great… etc etc).

    • Warskull says:

      Calling them on their past games is certainly relevant here. Especially when they past two MMOs they released were unfinished and broken beyond belief in many aspects. These are the people who did Age of Conan and Anarchy Online. There is no reason to expect them to start making good games now.

    • invisiblejesus says:

      It’s fair to call them on that, absolutely. However, I do think it’s also fair to point out that Gaute Godager was heavily involved with both their past previous games, most notably in squandering the opportunity they had with Age of Conan. I think there’s a chance that with Godager out of the picture Funcom could really produce something special. They have the ideas and the ambition, and with Gaute out of the way it may be that they’ll have the right kind of management to make it happen. It’s not a sure thing, but having played both Anarchy Online and Age of Conan and having followed their development a bit, I really think that a new Funcom game without Gaute involved has a good chance of being great.

    • Wulf says:

      I don’t know if it’s all down to one person, though.

      I was hoping that Cataclysm would bring change to Warcraft after Kaplan left, because the prospect of werewolves as playable characters intrigued me, but alas it was not to be because everything I’ve read about Cataclysm is set to worsen the current condition of Warcraft.

      It’s not only the person you want to worry about, but whom they’ve infected with their bad ideas.

    • Seol says:

      @invisiblejesus:
      Well, Gaute is back at Funcom, only this time as a clinical psychologist, instead of game director. And there’s a fair amount of management rot that never got the axe.

    • Warskull says:

      @invisiblejesus:
      There is a lot more wrong with Funcom than just Gaute. You are best off expecting this game to be terrible and avoiding it until you hear otherwise (by sane people, there are still a lot of crazies running around insisting AoC was great.) They are going to hype it, tell you they are a different Funcom, and just flat out lie to get people into the game. If you buy into that chances are you will get burned and it will be just like their other MMOs.

      It sucks when a game you really want to be good is terrible, but there isn’t much you can do about it.

  18. Reverend Speed says:

    First MMO other than Love to catch my interest. Big Lovecraft fan, so if it can serve those interests VAGUELY well (minus, I’m sure, a sanity counter), I’ll be up for it.

    Dig the art, the majority of the writing I’ve heard so far, the factions, the Wheel of Time travelling and conceits, the lack of levels, the combat that I’ve seen.

    …It’s just so annoying that the guy behind it is Ragnar Tørnquist. Launching an MMO seems like a risky way to redeem yourself after those twin April Ryan atrocities.

    Still, anyone can grow as a writer. The best of jolly good luck to him.

  19. ZIGS says:

    Fuck MMOs. I’m trying to enjoy an engaging story here, maybe even some decent combat mechanics. I don’t NEED to be forced to interact with other people in order to accomplish this

    • bl says:

      You almost sound like someone’s putting a gun to your head forcing you to play them.
      MMOs and engaging focused storylines just don’t mix. That’s what single player games are for. Don’t like MMOs? Simple, don’t play them!

    • disperse says:

      Unfortunately, every standard-fare MMO in development takes resources away from the creation of games with new, innovative, systems.

      I think it’s telling that the last true CRPG with a co-op mode was Baldur’s Gate II.

    • ZIGS says:

      @bl

      True, no one’s forcing me to play it. It’s just it’s a shame seeing a potential good game going down the drain (at least for me) due to a questionable gameplay decision in order to justify a questionable mean to make more money out of it

  20. Warth0g says:

    I’m still excited for this, as anything that scratches my horror itch is OK with me.. I’m disappointed with the monsters though… they lack something – they’re a bit derivative whilst at the same time, there’s not much evidence of horror’s back catalgue being mined effectively. I see the Tank from L4D2 and a big stompy monster seemingly made from rubbish. Both vey ho hum.. and much of the atmosphere for something like this needs to come from the monsters.

    That said, the floaty, flappy, squid with Lovecraftian overtones thingy looks awesome, and is enough to make me want to buy it all on its own…

  21. Tabris says:

    Intriguing; it kind of reminds me of the SCP Foundation but with a side order of Lovecraftian tentacle beasties. Interest has been classified Euclid pending further investigation.

  22. ShadowNate says:

    I don’t care much about an MMO from Tørnquist. I just want to see the continuation/conclusion of the Longest Journey story. You know.. before I die and all.

  23. Quests says:

    I don’t care about combat, RPG point&click combat is fine(but plz don’t give me Cooldown moves, i hate em).

    The important thing is i don’t want a linear sequence of quests NPC from NPC, You just farm mob after mob to get better gear. what’s the challenge about that?

    He mentioned some kind of jigsaw type of puzzle i have no idea how it works in a game but it gives me hope. In WoW you collect quest after quest and collect rats after rats and all you care about is your gear. If there’s some kind of PUZZLE to solve people will stop caring about gear, they’ll try to solve the puzzle.

  24. luminosity says:

    What a bunch of misery guts you all, mostly, are. “This game, which is showing very early footage for a very short amount of time, and which the lead has said will be extensively iterated over, is going to be terrible!” Still, I guess WoW has a lot of subscribers so therefore it’s cool to pick on MMOs.

    I think it sounds interesting. Nice lore, yes a bit campy and silly, but it worked for Buffy, and you can’t have an MMO-length experience be all horror and mystery all the time. Realish time combat, limited abilities, puzzles, and Ragnar working on story. Sounds like it’s worth waiting around to see how it turns out to me, instead of rushing off to prejudge asap.

  25. Ronin says:

    Keep in mind that the game is in pre-Alpha stage of development. So the models, animations, and fighting style all have time to improve.
    And it doesn’t matter so much what company is financing the game; what matters is the team that’s putting it together. Ragnar and his team seem to be one of the best things to happen to MMO’s in a long time. We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a _good_ game!

  26. Blacula says:

    I know it’s cool and popular to knock Anarchy Online, but it was honestly a good game. Did any of you even bother getting through a few levels of it? Or are you all just relying on the Blizzard press team to tell you what games are worth playing?

  27. Sinewave says:

    When I saw the character models I did think they looked a little plastic/cartoonish, kinda like an MMO about the SIMs. But I don’t really care. You get used to the art style and it’s the gameplay that really matters (and like Ronin said, it’s only pre-alpha anyway). At least the characters are really unique looking from one another. I get the feeling that storytelling is going to make this MMO.

    Plus apparently we get to meet actual Bigfoot, and not just another Wookie :P

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