Quite some time has passed since my latest interview with the former Game Director (and current Creative Director) of The Secret World Ragnar Tørnquist, and in the meanwhile the Game Director role has been taken over Joel Bylos, that used to be the game’s Lead Content Designer.
After a couple unsteady weeks, the game is currently holding its pace of frequent content updates solidly, and players are enjoying a very extensive Halloween event based on dangerous kittens and Irish folklore.
With the advent of the new Game Director we felt it was time to hear about his vision, so I sat down for a chat with Joel to let him explain what changed at the helm of the game, and what he has in store for us in the upcoming months.
Giuseppe: First of all, congratulations on your new role. How does it feel to sit on the Game Director’s chair? Did your workload increase when you moved up from lead content designer? How much pressure do you feel?
Joel: Thanks for the congratulations. It feels daunting to step into the role of Game Director on such a large project, especially when taking over from somebody with as much experience as Ragnar. My workload is different – I wouldn’t say it has increased but the challenges are different. As Lead Content Designer I was doing a lot more of the hands on design day to day, now I am taking a broader overview and am also working a little more on the business side of things.
While I feel pressure to deliver to the player base, I think Funcom management are giving me the space I need to find my rhythm. It’s a big transition and a lot of people are looking to me for big things, so I am putting plenty of pressure on myself.
G: Ragnar retained his position as Creative Director, while you took the helm as Game Director. How does the synergy between you two work?
J: For the most part, Ragnar holds the creative keys to the world of TSW. I go to him for advice on anything related to the story, the characters and sometimes just when I need advice from somebody who I trust. Ragnar still writes and records most of the VO and provides input on the direction of the story. I handle more of the design side of things – features and team dynamics. All of these things tie together, of course, and Ragnar’s office is just a few steps away.
G: What caused you to consider reticule combat? Is it just a matter of granting a request from the fans, or it was planned since the beginning? Do you think it represents the future for the MMORPG genre?
J: Well, The Secret World originally was designed to be a reticule game. I wasn’t on the team then, and I missed the focus tests that were run at the time, but the general consensus seemed to be that for the type of combat The Secret World was trying to do, the reticule just wouldn’t work.
Still there were people on the team who were incredibly passionate about it and when the request came up in beta, I talked to Øystein, the Lead Coder, about how we could go about making it happen. Øystein dug up some of the older code and polished it off and then tested how it worked with a lot of the newer combat features.
I tried it out, felt it was good enough as an options for those players who prefer to play that way, and added it back .
I don’t think reticule combat is the future of the MMORPG genre. I think that any well done combat system can work in an MMORPG – as long as it makes sense and feels good I don’t think any particular type of combat is inherently good or bad.
G: The Secret World will soon receive its first raid. Will there be more? What kind of development balance do you see, for the future, between raid dungeons and group dungeons? More raid content, more group content, or an even mix?
J: I actually don’t really want to commit to more raids until we see how the first is received. Raids are very very expensive content and they are really a form of cheap vertical progression – in that you can force people to do them over and over again for small amounts of reward. I’d personally prefer to think more about what we can do to expand the game horizontally because the gear treadmill is ultimately a dead end. You have to throw developer resources at it and widening the gap between casual and hardcore for a long time.
Group content, on the other hand, can be facilitated in many different ways. Our group investigation missions “Puzzle raids” are being designed to draw in the crowd who would never touch a hardcore raid. We also have lairs for people who like to farm and we will be adding more small group focused content in the future. In addition the last nightmare dungeon version will also launch with Issue #4. I would definitely say that the mix in the future will lean towards group content over raid content.
G: In one of the posts on the official site Senior Designer Tanya Short mentioned that you guys consider Halloween like your Christmas, which is appropriate, given the theme of the game, but are we still going to get any kind of winter holidays event in December?
J: Absolutely, but I can’t really talk about it yet.
G: Around the launch of the game Ragnar mentioned the possibility of more clothes to be made available for purchase with in-game currency at Pangaea. Is that still happening? Any hint on a possible timeframe?
J: Our clothing comes in batches and I think the next batch scheduled is for Issue #5. That doesn’t mean we won’t do updates in the meantime, but I think the next major Pangaea update is scheduled for Issue #5.
G: I’m personally quite excited for the future implementation of Tokyo. Having lived and worked in the city, it still holds a special place in my heart. Will it be mostly a social and hub area like London, an adventure zone like Kingsmouth or a mix of both?
J: It’s definitely an adventure zone through and through. A lot of interesting characters live in Tokyo, but it is 100% targeted as an adventure zone.
G: Are we ever going to be able to move between dimensions and instances freely like we can (at least between instances) in Age of Conan? I mean without needing to have someone in the target dimension to act as a “beacon”. It would be very convenient, especially for the most socially oriented between us and for roleplayers looking for causal interaction.
J: We haven’t really discussed it at all as we haven’t heard of it as a complaint really. I feel like the Conan system of exposing the instances really makes the game feel quite instanced – whereas the TSW route of allowing people to meet up presents it in a much nicer fashion. I don’t like inconveniencing players, however, so if enough people in the community were to let us know, we could probably change it.
G: I know many would consider this minor, but given how useful the in-game web browser is, are there any plans in place to add some more features to bring it more in line with those available out of the game? I’m thinking about the ability to save bookmarks and to remember the last page visited for instance.
J: The browser is a touchy subject with the code team. The last time it was discussed I think I counted 72 swearwords in a 100 word statement. We are planning some upgrades to the browser homepage – not the least listing all of the new missions and where they can be found so players can easily orient themselves after a patch – but we don’t currently have any plans to upgrade the browser itself.
G: What about social network interaction? Is that ever going to be expanded? People love to share their achievements with their friends, after all.
J: Social networking is a tricky topic. Our philosophy has always been that it is better to draw than to push. In other words our social features have been designed with the idea of being able to pull information from your network to let you know which of your friends are playing the game. I’m not sure that we would want to change that – push features tend to annoy the majority of people.
G: Thanks a lot for your time and your answers. Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers to close the interview?
J: Thanks for listening! We appreciate the support and we will continue to work hard on The Secret World so for anyone out there who feels like jumping in to give it a try, we’ll be waiting!