Heya! I’m Tanya Short, Senior Designer at Funcom. I worked for over two years on Age of Conan and I’ve spent nearly a year on The Secret World. Recently the team and I have been working on our brand new Theatre feature, and I think it’s a really fun toy!
The Albion Ballroom Theatre is a grand old façade on Mayqueen Market in London, across the street from Ealdwic Park. As of Issue 4, you’ll be able to go inside, and put on whatever kind of show your heart desires! Our goal is to empower players. Open mic night? Sketch comedy shows? Extensive Shakespearean productions? Cabaret? Music video? It's really an open toolbox – you and your friends can use the Albion to do whatever you want.
We really hope people will get creative with the Theatre – it's such a unique opportunity in modern MMOs to be able to truly express yourself. We observed remarkable creativity and intelligence in the TSW community right from the start, a collection of minds drawn to puzzles and storytelling, and we think the Theatre might be something uniquely satisfying for them. I've played MMOs for over 15 years and I honestly haven't seen this mix of truly inspired people in ... well, ever.
So how does it work? One group at a time can reserve the stage for an hour for a small fee. Anyone who joins that group at any time has free access to get on stage and do almost anything you can think of! Raise and lower the curtain, place out sets willy-nilly, change the backdrop, add visual effects (weather, filth, confetti, etc), adjust the lights, trigger sounds and music... and tadaaaa you can host whatever show comes to mind. We've also added the "stagesay" and "act" chat commands, which broadcast your screenplay across a broader radius than the usual "say" and "emote" commands.
We wanted to keep the Theatre as personal and player-driven as possible, with an eye to promotion. Any would-be directors or comedians can also organise their publicity, through the forums, chat, etc. We've combined the Theatre chat channels with the London ones for convenience, and we're sure some of our fan radio stations (there are multiple!) might also help spread the news of the upcoming high-quality productions, and reviews of those past. Perhaps cabals will use their message of the day to track promising young screenwriters?
We initially discussed a more “minigame” design with points and scoring, but in the end, we decided to simply give players the tools to express themselves. We would rather see the limits of player creativity than stifle it with numerical judgments, especially since they can combine it with all of the usual ability effects, clothing, and character customisations.
With so many options, some coordination between multiple people may be required to achieve the desired effect. For example, we’re including a London telephone box as a setpiece, which might be boring by itself. However, combined with the London backdrop and a few zombie standee cutouts, you’re ready to stage 28 Days Later: The Musical.
Or, you could go completely nuts. If you run inside the telephone box, then change the backdrop to Stars, and then change the backdrop to sand dunes, you’ll start getting a time-traveling feel! If you had someone else to manage the “mysterious” musical cue, wind effect, and ambient lights, you’d really start feeling like a time lord! And if you want a mummy to stagger in from off-stage…
However, not all of the options are available when you first run in. There’s a good starter kit to help you learn the ropes, but you’ll want to expand your artistic palette quickly. The Albion has a resident Set Designer who will sell a few of his “theatric” bundles of cutouts, setpieces, and effects, but most of the bundles and backdrops will require a bit of adventuring. Once you’ve learned them all, you’ll have over 50 pieces to place, and since you can have up to 20 on stage at any one time … let’s just say I’m really excited to see what crazy things players come up with.
New England, Egypt, and Transylvania are the major regions of The Secret World—appropriately, the theatrical bundles and backdrops are primarily themed around them. For example, the "New England Theatrics" bundle has a chance of dropping from most monsters in the region. It includes 4 cutouts (Boat, Car, House, Picket Fence), 1 setpiece (Tentacles), 1 stage effect (Wind and Leaves), and 1 audio effect (Roar). When you open the bundle, you learn to use all of those on the stage!
If you acquire that bundle and buy the New England-themed backdrop ("Lighthouse") with your Solomon Island sequins, you get the "Occult Drama 101" achievement ... and get access to a certain special Siren Song to play on stage! A similar scheme applies to Egypt and Transylvania, with their own unique unlocks. A word of warning to those without a spy network: you may need friends in other factions to get certain hub-themed backdrops.
I can’t wait to find out where it will go next. Will players need more effects? More setpieces? More backdrops? Longer reservations? More stages? Masks? Recording options? Only time will tell, but we’ll be listening! Alternately, you can tell me yourself on Twitter, via @tanyaxshort anytime, and I'll see what I can do!