Secrets Revealed: An in-depth interview on TSW

Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom sat down with The Secret World's Joel Bylos and Martin Bruusgaard to talk about TSW's unique idea of endgame content and how they see players progressing in this massive world.

Yesterday, I finally got the chance to talk about my exclusive hands-on time with Funcom's The Secret World. Of course, trying to fit every morsel of information into a single article can be a daunting task, so I skipped over some of the more obtuse concepts, choosing instead to focus on the overall game and how I found it. This didn't stop me, however, from swinging by The Secret World's official forums to host an impromptu Q&A session, so if you're craving even more hands-on information from me, the first four pages of that topic are filled with me writing essays in response to one-sentence questions.

Anyway, during the event we also got the chance to sit down with either Senior Producer / Creative Director Ragnar Tørnquist, or Lead Content Designer Joel Bylos and Lead Designer Martin Bruusgaard. According to the luck of the draw, my interview was to be with Joel and Martin (two for one!). Joel said that they give more information than Ragnar anyway, so I decided to jump on my chance. The following interview is a bit long, but if you're even remotely looking forward to The Secret World, you'll definitely want to read through all of this. So read on as as I get to talking with Joel and Martin about The Secret World's endgame content, how the team wants players to be progressing through the game, and much, much more!

ZAM: I'm here with Joel Bylos and Martin Bruusgaard, the Lead Content Designer and Lead Designer of The Secret World, respectively. Thanks for joining me guys!

Joel: Happy to watch you all play today!

Martin: This was the first time anyone from the public has touched the game, so it was really exciting for us.

ZAM: All right, well, I'm going to jump right in! Most of my focus will be on things we didn't see today and things that we haven't heard much about in recent interviews, so let's get to it! During the presentation we were told that The Secret World would have 150 hours of questing in the game at launch. Are we talking main storyline only here, or story quests and side quests included as well?

Martin: There are many more hours of content in the game. The 150 references the story missions, basically. Of course, this doesn't mean just doing story mission quests - mission after mission nonstop - it means doing the story missions while following the progression of the game. If you're just a new player and you go to Egypt, for instance, you'll probably get killed fairly quickly because the monsters there are stronger. Because as you play the game, you'll notice that you're getting better and better gear and you're naturally progressing. So those 150 hours reference just the story missions while following the progression.

ZAM: With many modern MMORPGs, one of the most important goals is to hit the "endgame." Unfortunately, and this is becoming a problem with modern MMORPGs, players are getting into this mindset of saying, "I don't care about anything up until endgame, because endgame is where the developers are telling me the fun is at." With a system like The Secret World, character development and progression can be considered very free-form and, technically speaking, there is no real end to it all, until you unlock all the abilities. How do you go about telling players that they've reached endgame? Will it be a big story arc, or are you more focused on creating individual story hubs for players to explore?

Joel: I think there is a strong vertical progression through items, but with builds, it's mostly a horizontal progression where specific builds may be required for some content. I think there is a tipping point, a balance between the two, but in the early game it's tipped more toward the vertical progression of the items because that is what players know. At some point later, however, that scale will get tipped and then it will be all about abilities and builds and how players create sets of equipment to match those. So endgame sort of sneaks up on you.

We're not doing something like World of Warcraft, where we say, "OK you're level 85, you've reached endgame!" Instead, players will reach that tipping point; where they'll reach the point where vertical progression (gear) and horizontal progression (abilities) are roughly equal in value, and then they'll realize they've been in the "endgame" for quite some time. And once you get there, it'll be all about the PvPing; the Warzones and the Battlefields. Or maybe you'll be all about the PvEing, where we've got these mobs we haven't yet named for launch, but internally we're calling them "true mobs." True mobs are basically the true form of monsters you find in the game. For example, every zombie you've met in the game has a poison ability, but the "true" zombie will kill you if you don't bring a purge for the poison ability. So you'll hit these mobs that just can't be beaten without the right builds. And that's how we're looking at endgame and adding longevity to the game.

Martin: And that's the same way for heroic dungeons. Every single dungeon will be available in heroic mode, where we really require you to build certain ability effects. There will be hard blockers. You will not be able to progress, and you will die unless you plan accordingly. It's not to say that you'll need one specific ability, but it's all about bringing specific effects. For example, snare is an effect, but multiple abilities have snaring effects. As an example, you may need a snare in order to beat this dungeon, or a purge, or a cleanse, or a tap healer, or you need barriers.

One thing that I think is really cool is that with dungeon runs - especially the heroics - we don't look at what each individual player can bring to the table. Instead, we look at what the group, in total, can bring. So when we sit down to design bosses, we will say, "This boss will require one and a half healers." So this means that that group, in total, will need to bring at least ten-ish healing abilities.

ZAM: But how, exactly, are you going to communicate to players that they've reached endgame?

Joel: The idea is, actually, to make it so gradual that they don't. Instead, they might realize one day, "I'm chasing a blast build!" So they might be looking for where they can find the best blast gear in the game. Well, it'll obviously be the creatures that have blast attacks themselves. So you might think "well, I can't take on these creatures without bringing anti-Blast gear!" And guess what happens?

ZAM: Suddenly we're making specialty sets of gear.

Joel: Yep!

Joel: You might remember those core stats in the beginning of the game: the DPS stat, the Health stat and the Healing stat. As you progress in the game, however, those stats will become less important to you. Early in the game, yes, they're important, because you're skills just aren't focused enough and you need broad stats to succeed. But they'll become less important because you'll be chasing that one stat that makes your build perfect. 

Of course, it's a difficult thing to get exactly right, but I think we'll come fairly close to the point where players will realize, "I haven't been looking to increase my health or my DPS, I've been looking for this one specific stat to fine-tune my build!"

ZAM: And that's where all the fun of endgame is.

Joel: Exactly.

Martin: And, like we mentioned earlier, if you're chasing those Blast items, you might need to start looking for anti-Blast items, which makes the whole system self-capturing. We spoke earlier about Penetration builds, but the counter to the Penetrate stat is Block, so you'll need to stack Block rating if you want to go after monsters for Penetration boosting items.

ZAM: A lot of MMORPGs define their endgame by raid content. So they basically say "if you have fifteen more people around you than you're used to having… Welcome to endgame!" Why avoid sending this message?

Martin: Usually MMORPGs with levels are very obvious about their endgame: it's when that level stops going up. In our game, it's not as explicit.

Joel: We mentioned before that you're a skilled player. There are people who are more casual. They'll be able to get to a certain point in the game, but they might not be interested in fine-tuning their builds; maybe they'll be more interested in the mission content. A lot of the missions are repeatable, so I think people will find their level of competence. So you might have these really hardcore guys who make the perfect team build to take down this boss in this heroic dungeon in less than 30 seconds, but there will be other people who just like running missions in Transylvania, so they might keep doing that while filling out their Shotgun skills and just enjoying that. There are a lot of layers.

Martin: It's amazing, in MMORPGs, how skill level differences can be so wide. World of Warcraft has achievements for doing raids with nine people, or soloing things on heroic. People love that kind of stuff; making it harder and getting those achievements.

More Interview Questions on Page 2!

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# Nov 24 2011 at 8:11 PM Rating: Decent
1 post
I've been keeping this one on my radar for quite some time now. The more I hear, the more impressed I am with the scope of the project. Now, if the execution is in line with the hype, if they do it right, then this will be an MMORPG like no other in existence today.

I hope they can pull it off, but time will tell...
# Nov 24 2011 at 5:20 PM Rating: Decent
1,003 posts
this game is sounding pretty cool i will definatley be keeping an eye on this game.

i just hope they "get it right" because a lot of MMO's really don't.
# Nov 24 2011 at 10:06 PM Rating: Decent
4 posts
At least one developer recognized that there's more than the DIKU model.I have been following this game for quite some time and now six more months to go.
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