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The Secret World Interviews: The New Game Director Speaks

By William Murphy on October 11, 2012

MMORPG.com: Hey Joel. Thanks for taking some time out to chat with us... I imagine things have gotten a bit hectic since taking over the Game Director role.  How will this job be different than what you did previously as Lead (Content) Designer?

Joel Bylos: I think one of the bigger differences is the increased sense of accountability to the player base. As the Lead Content Designer, I really only had to justify my decisions to Ragnar, who would then champion those ideas he agreed with. As Game Director I now have to take that role of championing the vision of the team and defending the decisions we make to the business side of the company, as well as aligning those decisions with the wishes and needs of the player base.

It's not a matter of trying to please everybody, but really a matter of clearly communicating to people how and why decisions are made, and then getting everybody on board with those decisions.

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MMORPG.com: How do you think TSW's direction will change under your tutelage? An example I can think of is how Craig Morrison took over Conan for Gaute Gaudager, the world of Hyboria's direction changed a lot compared to where the game was headed beforehand.  I know the work of making and maintaining a live game is a team project, but what are your ideas for enhancing TSW going forward?

Joel Bylos: I think it is inevitable that some of my personality will creep a bit more into the game, but honestly the content in TSW really already follows the direction that Ragnar, Martin and I set down for it. I wrote many of the missions in the game myself, so the game already has quite a bit of the "Joel" touch in it.

Ragnar is still the Creative Director and I am completely comfortable with the direction that he has set down for the coming months. Where I will need to do a little more work is actually the areas where Ragnar has less of a focus - PvP and Systems. I think you'll see more of my touch in some of the larger features we are working on in those areas - but not for a while.

MMORPG.com: Well, let's talk about the upcoming issue four, then.  It seems to be a meaty one.  Can you talk a bit about how the Chainsaw will be different from the Rocket Launcher?  Will it still have its own set of missions to obtain? That makes the Bazooka a lot more interesting of an achievement.

Joel Bylos: Absolutely! The Chainsaw is a Melee weapon (obviously) and it is designed to fill a slightly different niche than the Rocket Launcher. The Chainsaw has a variety of cool attacks, but it also has a secondary effect called "Deep Wounds" which also puts a DoT on characters which can only be healed through.

The mission for getting the chainsaw is picked up from our favorite (or second favorite for the Illuminati) mad doctor, Aldini. He asks the player to retrieve body parts for his "work" and the mission takes off from there. I've always found it kind of funny that the plastic surgeon in New York is essentially giving people new faces which he has taken off corpses.

The interesting thing about Auxiliary weapons, from a story perspective, is that not all weapons in the world are anima fused. There is a story reason why players can only select the original nine weapons at the beginning and that the Council of Venice had the special prototype rocket launcher stolen. The chainsaw mission is really the story of how an ordinary chainsaw becomes anima fused, and therefore capable of being used by players as a weapon. I think details like that are what give the universe of The Secret World that little something extra.

MMORPG.com: What about the first raid? You teased it a good bit in the letter. Can you give us more details about the story, and the mechanics within?

Joel Bylos: Actually, in the letter, I wrote that there are no trash mobs in the raid. That’s not quite accurate. There is a kind of trash, but it is not meaningless trash and it has a real purpose in the area and the storytelling.

I don't really want to go into too much detail on the actual raid itself - just to say that we based it on the fourth CGI we released before launch, so players will have the opportunity to meet and work together with the characters from our prelaunch videos.

Oh, and it all starts with Dave Screed, the conspiracy theorist in the Laundromat in New York.

MMORPG.com: Will players have to complete anything before entering the New York Raid? Or can anyone enter it with the right size group?  What is the right size, while we're at it? 

Joel Bylos: The raid is targeted at 10 players. Anyone can enter it, though people will need to be able to bring a certain quality level of gear if they want to succeed.

MMORPG.com: The player-run plays sound interesting.  How will these actually work? I remember how my friends and I spent hours taking screenshots of our characters doing emotes... this takes it one giant step forward.

Joel Bylos: I think it is a fun feature which definitely holds the caveat that you will get out of it what you put into it. We designed it to be quite freeform; there are only a couple of hard rules and then the rest is up to the players.

Players rent the stage, and then they are given stage access for 1 hr. During this time they have access to the stage and backstage areas of the Albion. Backstage players will find the "Stage Manager" tablet, which allows them to control lighting and effects. The tablet is an item that you can take with you off the stage, so it allows someone to sit in the audience and completely control the ambience and settings.

In addition the tablet allows the stage manager to control backdrops and weather - you can make it snow and rain on the stage as well as setting different backdrops (which are unlocked via various activities in the world) and they also control the opening and closing of the front stage curtains.

For the actual actors - you can control the props and placement on the stage. You can lock and unlock the stage, which will change the way that certain props work. For example, when the stage is unlocked, a chair prop can be placed facing in a certain direction. When the stage is locked, using the chair will allow your character to sit on it.

In addition there are a series of useful "effect" items that players can use. These are basically non-lethal spells which allow players to do different effects on each other, without doing any damage. My personal favorite is the "fake death" effect, which allows you to perform a dramatic death move.

I am really excited about how the playerbase will take these tools and run with them - I think that this sort of mechanic really highlights the strengths of our clothing system and our setting.

MMORPG.com: Now the doozie... how will reticule combat work compared to the tab-targeting? Are you thinking about making it a must in PVP, where typically tab-targeters might have an easier time than the reticule players?  Basically... give us the details!

Joel Bylos: Hehe, well I don't want people to go overboard and think that this is going to completely change the combat experience of TSW.  During beta we had a HUGE thread on the forums with people requesting a way of locking mouselook and adding reticule targeting. We didn't have the capacity at the time, but Oystein our amazing Lead Coder, did a bit of work in his free time and created this optional targeting mode.

Basically the player can switch targeting modes using T (remappable of course) and the camera will switch to a 3rd person over the shoulder camera, and a reticule will appear in the middle of the screen. Players can control the placement of the camera by zooming in or out while in the regular mode - once they push T they are locked into the distance that they chose.

While in reticule targeting mode, hovering the reticule over a target will select that object/person/monster as your active target. You fire off abilities as normal, but if you don't aim at the target, you will clear the target.

I personally find it useful when rapid target switching is required and you don't want to tab through a crowd - it's also useful for identifying your priority targets in a crowd. Naturally it works best with ranged style weapons.

It brings you closer to the action and it adds a little extra oomph to the immersion. I'd like to stress that it is not going to dramatically change the way we design skills and abilities and that we consider it to be a Quality of Life feature for players who prefer to play that way, rather than a massive overhaul to the way combat works in The Secret World.

I'm looking forward to demonstrating it tomorrow in the Livestream on MMORPG.com

MMORPG.com:  How long will we be waiting for the animation re-vamp?  It seems like a fairly serious overhaul.  What's going into that?

Joel Bylos: It is a process that will take some time. The plan is to roll it out in stages as best we can. So we'll start with "first impressions" animations such as the basic combat, movement and jumping (oh yes jumping) and then work our way through the more detailed stuff. I can't honestly put a timeframe on it but I will say that improving the first impressions of the game and combat is one of my priorities as Game Director, and therefore this is a priority for me as well.

MMORPG.com:  Can you give us any updates on the Looking for Group and Dungeon Finder tools?

Looking for Group was released with 1.2. We released it with the most basic functionality and we consider it a decent stepping stone for improving the feature. We will continue to look into updating it in the future.

MMORPG.com: Can we talk at all about issues 5 and 6?  It seems like the team's actually picking up steam as it goes... is development on the game getting easier as time goes on, despite the setbacks shortly after launch?

Joel Bylos: I think we are getting more comfortable as a Live team and we are streamlining our processes as we move forward. We always have a pretty large backlog of planned features, missions and stories and we tend to work on things in cycles with a large push for a particular feature or event. I think setting lofty goals for ourselves really helps - we care and we want to deliver value to the people who are supporting us.

MMORPG.com: Can we talk a bit about the PVP in the future?  What improvements are you looking to make to the three-faction warfare?

Joel Bylos: Oh,  that would be a massive spoiler. In the short term, we are making some changes to Fusang which will encourage less zerging and more defense and tactical play. In addition we are providing more reasons for people to go in there, including an "underdog" mission which automatically spawns on the weakest faction in the area and gives them a way to swing the tide of battle in their favor.

I'll talk a little more about the changes during the livestream, but I would like to encourage people to come and help us our during our "kill a dev" events which will be coming up on the Testlive server as a way of testing these mechanics.

MMORPG.com: The Secret World is a divisive game.  You said it yourself. Why do you think MMORPG.com users are so fond of it, and what do you think it will take to continue to grow the game's popularity?

Joel Bylos: I think it is divisive out there in the larger sphere of "general gaming". The MMO genre is very broad and the difference between two MMOs is usually much greater than say the difference between two first person shooters, especially in terms of gameplay mechanics.

I think that MMO players (and therefore people who visit MMORPG.com) are aware of this and they understand what The Secret World was aiming to be - and they judge it according to those criteria. I think that in the general gaming sphere, there are plenty of people who think that an MMO = WoW, and then they use that as their basis for comparison.

MMORPG.com: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers, Joel? Some parting words on the future of The Secret World?

Joel Bylos: I gave a presentation to the team just a couple of days ago and I ended it with a few comments about what we do every day.

We aren't curing cancer or stopping world hunger. We're making games, and this means that the work we do every day should be fun. If we are having fun, if we are enjoying our work, then that will come across in the things we create for our players. It will be amplified by the things that we create and our players will respond to it and take it and use it to make it something more.

That is the strength of the MMORPG. That is the experience that you cannot get anywhere else. And The Secret World has the best setting in the industry for enabling us to continue creating these kinds of experiences.

Cheers,

Joel

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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