Interesting Things About The Secret World

By Jim Rossignol on March 10th, 2011 at 6:09 pm.


Last week I got to see Funcom’s supernatural conspiracy MMO The Secret World in action, and I went from being interested to being excited. Maybe I was already excited, but anyway, there is now some state of arousal associated with it. For an MMO to be set in a modern-world scenario is intriguing enough, but some of the elements that Funcom showed off demonstrated genuine ambition. They want to do story, and they want to do bold new game ideas. The most interesting of these are the “investigation” quests. A few words on those, and other interesting things, below.

Funcom, evidently pleased with their work, were on fine form as they explained The Secret World at GDC last week. And so we were shown the beautiful cutscenes in which NPCs tell you about your quests. We were shown the defence of a town from waves of zombies – events in the open world that anyone can participate in – and we were shown sea monsters emerging and being slain by katana, shotgun, and pistol-wielding magic-users. It all looked pretty good. Solid, pretty, atmospheric, imaginative. It left me with the kind of feeling I don’t get after MMO presentations.

The key movement and combat mechanics seem like very much those of any number of MMOs out there, of course, but it was nevertheless it was remarkably dynamic. For example, laying down a field of fire and then luring enemies through it was totally possible for extra fire damage, and enviromental objects caused things to happen in the world – the slightly predictable example of car alarms attracting zombies made the group quest seem a little closer to Left 4 Dead than to World Of Warcraft. It was impressive stuff. Players were thinking about position and movement, and the difference between a melee character and the one standing at the back with a rifle was really clear. Convincing game design went much further than combat, too, with things like the cues for quests being in the world, rather than being the next NPC, or in the next flashing arrow. Tracking one of the monsters entailed finding flocks of ravens and seeing in which direction they flew off. Follow the flight of the birds and you’d encounter the next battle with your sinister target. Neat. Smart.


I was also fascinated by the character creation process, which is somehow “circular” rather than vertical. Funcom illustrated this with a “skill wheel”, which showed that while you character gets more skills, and is limited by his faction, he is not limited by class. You will need to progress along certain routes to unlock certain types of skills, yes, but the game is ultimately “flat”. You aren’t levelling up to be miles above newbies in power and hit points, you’re simply becoming a more talented and differentiated character. You can see precisely why this makes sense, and why it’s the kind of system I’ve been longing for over the years. This more like how real people become more experienced, and learn more skills, than the weird articifial elevator of power that MMOs usually deliver. All that feeds into PvP, of course, which is a domination game all its own, with arenas such as Stonehenge making up fantastical stadiums for the three factions to fight – yes – three way battles for control of the world’s mystical resources. Newbies and experienced contenders will all be able to play together, thanks to The Secret World’s experience structure.

BUT ANYWAY, the most interesting thing about The Secret World are the investigation quests. These are fascinating, leaky game systems that do more than ask you to collect mystery meats from fallen foes. Funcom showed us a group of players taking such a quest and then looking around in the world for clues. In this case it was a series of symbols on buildings, manhole covers and other elements across a town. Tracking these down allowed them to uncover some secret doorways in one of the towns houses and this led… to Google? Outside the game? Of course! Why not? By being set in the real world, The Secret World is able to draw in real-world elements. To solve the quest in this instance the players needed to actually do their research and find out about the characters – real world characters – who are involved in the conspiracy. These fed back into the game’s fiction, and ultimately to the resolution of the quest.


Imagine that: a fun and interesting application for alternate reality games, and Funcom say they’re going to try and drop new ones in every few weeks. The community will need to come together to solve some of them, explained game director Ragnar Tornquist, because they’ll span the divide between the games factions and even, potentially, between the real-world distribution of players across different parts of the world. They might take weeks, they might take months, but they’re a resource and a challenge that no other MMO can boast.

Not that this stuff is even essential to progress within the game world, either. These quests that require you to do a bit of research and to stretch your imagination beyond the build of your character are simply there for extra colour. You can get along just fine following your own character’s personal story and slaying monsters, if that’s what you want. However, in my mind, the fact that an MMO is even able to countenance these kinds of structures of play and investigation, blurring the line between the game world and the real world, excites the hell out of me. The Secret World might not have the biggest budget or the most compelling art, it might not really shatter the fossilised MMO way of doing things, but it’s working hard on being interesting. And it might just be the most interesting MMO project out there.

So yeah.

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66 Comments »

  1. patricij says:

    but…the crucial question is…how many lines of coke can we expect?

    • Some_Guy says:

      I see a new game ranking method here, rate games in lines of coke.

    • McDan says:

      Wouldn’t an MMO have potentially limitless lines of coke?
      Up until you’re max level and finished everything, wherein you have to grief newbies for coke.

    • Temple to Tei says:

      Best thing: many MMO are now free
      Its free coke!

      Wait, hold it, they let you try it free and then you need to pay for the good stuff!
      Bad man Steve Pope is right! It is like coke, get you hooked with freebies and reel you in.

    • noom says:

      The Secret World of Cocaine

    • patricij says:

      And Funcom is da lead dealer in this case…with a lot of CM (Coke Masters) delivering and watching the coke shipments..this shit is deep!
      And also: RPS meme is born! Games are the new coke!

  2. Inigo says:

    Why are those three people killing a pink Terran Marine?

    • bastronaut says:

      Hot damn, I think that I saw a T-Rex wearing a slinky outfit made out of barbed wire. There’s some awesome looking baddies in there. I’ve been warily excited about this since the first announcement, but that video is unabashedly great.

    • JibbSmart says:

      Beautiful trailer. Very cool character designs. But gameplay wise, the character designs don’t seem to matter.

      It’s like how in many games (MMOs especially) you’ll find a huge wolf-like creature charge up to you only to stop in front of you and swipe at you at regular intervals, instead of pouncing on you, pinning you down, forcing you against a wall or dragging you by their teeth towards the pack.

      There are people shooting, but no one’s getting riddled with bullets. There are huge ball-and-chains swung around, but no one’s getting crushed. There are huge lumbering monsters stomping towards the players, and they’re just standing there mashing the attack button.

      If that’s how it is, I’m not expecting enough coke in this game to even bother rubbing into my gums. But I’ve never been that into MMOs.

      Jibb

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Your complaints don’t really sound like things unique to MMOs, though.

    • Dhatz says:

      RPGs arent just mmos, so please dont be overspecific with criticism.

  3. Hoaxfish says:

    I think the “modern” setting is strangely unexplored in gaming, sorta stuck between fantasy and sci-fi, not close enough to WW2, not post the Apocalypse… it’s nice to see some things try to address it, even if there’re some unreal elements blended in. Running around in a t-shirt and jeans, gunning down demons, always strikes a nice juxtaposition.

    As for The Secret World… I enjoyed Anarchy Online (one of the few sci-fi MMOs that survive), and look forward to this.

    The news that levelling is “outward” rather than “upward” is good to hear, as are all the other bits that are mentioned.

    Can’t wait to run around “London”.

  4. Theoban says:

    I shall buy this with both fists. Right in the money-hole

  5. 1stGear says:

    Want to be excited, then I remember that Age of Conan was a wicked sweet game…for the first twenty levels. Promises are very easy to make and even easier to not live up to, and that seems to apply to the MMO genre more than any other.

    Fug it, I’m excited.

    • ChromeBallz says:

      AoC was kinda “WoW with a twist” though, the game after 20 wasn’t interesting because it couldn’t compete in content with what WoW and similar games did before it. The gameplay was “too familiar”.

      Kinda have high hopes for TSW at this point though.

  6. The Dark One says:

    You aren’t making it easy to tamp down my excitement, Rossignol!

  7. Bhazor says:

    Does that mean Tornquist is finished with all this bally-hoo now? Does that mean we can start expecting a return to Dreamfall soon? Because five chuffing years is a long time to wait when you end on a cliffhanger.

    • WMain00 says:

      I second this! Dreamfall was awesome! The Longest Journey was awesome! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD COMPLETE THE STORY!!!

    • jonfitt says:

      Yes, here’s to hoping for a Dreamfall continuation.
      All the above info sounds nice, but I just don’t want to play MMOs.

      I’m not saying that I think this MMO doesn’t do something I think I want, I just fundamentally don’t want to play an RPG where everybody is their own hero. It’s not even a chosen-one complex, it’s that nothing I do changes the world or affects anything permanent. Whether or not I kill 10 rats for the barkeeper, it matters not a jot.

    • wu wei says:

      Teaming up with a bunch of corps to take down someone’s Titan in EVE has a pretty big impact on the game world.

      More so on the Titan owner, sure :)

    • jonfitt says:

      As ever EVE is the exception.
      My problem with EVE is that if I wanted to be a tiny cog in a corporate machine I could just go to work. :)

    • Dhatz says:

      this what mmos need: AI underlings for players, or console underlings for PC players, u know what I’m mean

  8. Torgen says:

    I’m suddenly far more interested in this game. At first I was “WOW” then I was “meh”, but now I”m “oh, reeeeally?

  9. Lambchops says:

    This remains the only MMO I’m currently interested in and only the second I’ve ever been interested in (my interest for Jumpgate: Evolution waned as it doesn’t appear to be delivering what I’d want from that sort of game). I just like the intrigue surrounding it. Investigation quests sounds like something that could work really well if done right. Here’s hoping.

    • bob_d says:

      Yeah, this is the only MMO I’ve read about that intrigues me; I don’t know if I should be hoping that it’s good or bad. If it’s bad, I won’t have to worry about getting sucked into the MMO hole…

  10. Gaff says:

    I’ve been keeping tabs on TSW for a good couple of years now. It seems like Funcom have really hit something that has not been done before, or at least not done well.

    The graphics looks decent, the gameplay looks fast-paced so hopefully there is enough meat on the bones to keep everyone happy.

    If they are intending to hit beta in a couple of months then you can probably guesstimate they would open it up to a closed beta (for the public) maybe 2-3 months down the line from that. I am hopeful of a late 2011 / very early 2012 release.

  11. DeepSleeper says:

    I worry about the idea of requiring google to solve in-game puzzles. I’ve played in ARGs and games like In Memoriam (I believe?) where you’re asked to google up some stuff, and inevitably the first hit becomes SUPER SPOILER GUIDE FOR (game name here).

    • patricij says:

      it’s always terrible idea…unless they build in the browser inside the game and somewhat secretely (so the pranksters can’t mimic it) rig it to avoid the FAQs and walkthroughs…

    • aerozol says:

      Sounds like the larger rl quests might be one-offs (months to complete?), so that would remove that problem.
      I was wondering about that as well- it doesn’t work at all if the quests are repeated. Randomizing through enough options is a deterrent- which is why I’m also guessing that ‘the directions the ravens fly in’, or the positions of clues that you have to find for those quests, will be random… if not, hello walkthroughs/ maps for 95% of users. Bit of a shame I guess.

  12. Resin says:

    I was really excited about this a couple years ago, but it was hard to maintain enthusiasm over such a long period of development. It’s got a lot of interesting ideas, but I wonder about their actual ability to deliver fun gameplay, ultimately its still an MMO, all of which I’m just a bit burnt on.

  13. coldvvvave says:

    BUT WHERE IS DREAMFALL CHAPTERS?

  14. Jorum says:

    given the general success of most contemporary “fantasy” books/tv (Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Nightwatch etc..) I’ve always been surprised it hasn’t been done a lot more in gaming (although seems more popular in Japan).
    Possibly designers have till now been people bought up on traditional high-fantasy genre.
    Maybe now the younger generation of devs bought up on Buffy etc will start showing their influences.
    p.s – this reminds me I was on some kind of mailing list for this game. Apparently according to the questionnaire thingy my ideal faction is the sneaky morally grey oriental “neutral” lot (whatever they were called).
    Although this would seem to be the natural placement unless your a) a egomanic ruthless sith-a-like or b) insanely puritanical uber-paladin

  15. bildo says:

    Why is using google to complete a quest fun and interesting? You’re being taken out of the game world to solve an in game quest. Sounds sketchy. Color me indifferent for the time being. Sounds like an interesting game, but I absolutely don’t want to be going outside of the game to complete parts of it. The world is based realistically, I get the connection, but does that actually make it fun? Release date will tell.

    • JB says:

      Would be nice if you accessed the browser from an ingame computer though, right?

    • patricij says:

      Eve Online has an in-game web browser…so where’s the problem, Funcom? Lazy?

    • wu wei says:

      EVE has an in-game browser because it’s the only way to stop players from going batshit crazy during the 96.9394% of the game time in which you’re warping between map points.

      Frankly, I’d rather the game devs focused on the game than adding desktop toys.

    • nimnio says:

      You’re not “leaving the game world”. If some quest has you reading a Wikipedia article, then that’s a part of the game world.

      In-game browser or out-of-game browser makes no difference. Either way, you’re staring at your monitor.

  16. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    Orange and blue. Orange and blue. Should be a tag, orange and blue.

  17. Danarchist says:

    I really think this looks cool. Anything, and I mean anything that gets me out of “kill ten rats” mode would be a breath of fresh air. For the first time in my life I have 0 subscription/FTP games on my machine. This triggered when I left off on a quest in wow, went to dinner, came home and logged into the rift beta and discovered I was doing an identical quest, almost down to the wording, in two different games.

  18. Mac says:

    Probably broken on release and will remain so some 2 years after launch if Age of Conan is anything to go by …

  19. ZIGS says:

    But can you play it alone and still enjoy it?

  20. apricotsoup says:

    Looking interesting, I am however surprised that there hasn’t been more word from the World of Darkness MMO as I had these 2 up as rivals.

    Last I remember was the swish cloth animation which was ages ago.

    It didn’t die behind my back did it?

  21. dragon says:

    I wish FunCom would go back to single-player games. I am done with this type of MMOs (the WoW kind that everyone tries to copy).

  22. Davey Jones says:

    Hellboy MMO.

    • Dhatz says:

      Driving mmo, but shift 2 quality on HP2010 map where are actual NFS cities as well(could be whola artificial racing island), or the death race the game the.
      Machete machete machete!
      Destroy all pokémons!
      Spore Vs. SG-1: the natural genocide!

  23. Gabbo says:

    Make finding April Ryan’s body a quest in the game and I’ll hand them whatever amount of money they want. Otherwise, only kind of interested, hope it drops and does well so more TLJ/Dreamfall can be released.

  24. lumenadducere says:

    Yeah, the ARG that’s been going on and off in the game’s forums is brilliant and fantastic. The community instantly bands together and everyone starts throwing out ideas and trying to come up with possible ciphers and links to the few hints we get…it’s chaotic and some of the most fun I’ve ever had with any game – and it’s all just a prelude to a MMO.

    I have no idea if the Investigation quests are going to be on the same level of awesome that the TSW community has experienced, but if it’s even half then it’s going to be a great time. This is by far the MMO I’m the most excited about, and it’s got a great team with some extensive plans for the future of the game. I can’t wait until they finally get around to releasing it.

  25. bascule42 says:

    Please…if you have to spam game blogs then it speaks volumes for your useless hopeless fucking business of peddeling cheap knock off goods. Good reputation? Where? In ur arse? Be better if it was forkingshoes…then I’d buy a pair.

  26. bascule42 says:

    *Ahem*…

    TSW is looking rather spiffing. My MMO-o-meter is still a bit damp after so many years. I think I burned out on too many lines too quickly – I mean too many hours too quckly. However, I’m still optomistic that someone will produce a quality MMO that breaks with tradition of 10 things from those guys, 10 of those other guys dead of you please, repeat for a few levels, then “find-a-pal” and kill this big guy here.

  27. LennyLeonardo says:

    Dear Rocks Papers Shotsguns,

    I hereby propose that the next time you cover this game, you use the headline ‘World of Lovecraft.’

    Instant edit: Google says a game with this glorious name exists already, but work webfilter begs to differ. Oh well

  28. niffk says:

    if anybody’s been watching the interviews, and enjoys their competitive pvp, check out this interview:

    http://www.gamereactor.eu/grtv/?id=10418

    sounds like they know what they’re doing. this progression system sounds like it’s going to be fairly similar to guild wars/mtg, which is promising.

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