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Interviews: Joel Bylos on the Past, Present & Future of TSW

By Shannon Doyle on August 21, 2014

Getting the opportunity to interview developers is one of the highlights of my career. Getting the chance to meet them in person is really the only step up from it. I’ve had the pleasure of not only interviewing The Secret World’s Joel Bylos before but I also met him at Gamescom a few years ago. He is passionate about TSW, and loves a good joke. So when the anniversary for The Secret World was approaching I reached out to get an interview. It was poorly timed though. Funcom was just about to shut down for a summer vacation and Gamecom would be our focus shortly afterwards. And though MMORPG isn’t finished with their Gamescom coverage yet, and PAX Prime isn’t far off I thought I would sneak in this interview anyway.

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Hello! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about The Secret World. If we could start off please tell us your name, what you do, and which faction you belong to.

Hi, my name is Joel Bylos, I am the Creative Director and my faction is a well kept secret hidden in the bowels of an Orochi facility on a quantum encrypted drive. Of course, someone stuck the password on a post-it note nearby so...

The Past

What was the hardest part of making Tokyo?

Tokyo has been in the pipeline for a very long time, but the single thing that took the longest when creating Tokyo was the art. An urban playfield isn't simple to make - there are hundreds of assets to create and place, as well as the rendering budgets for making those assets visible and trying to wrap it all up in a package that doesn't destroy frame rate.

Otherwise, of course, it is just time consuming to build content to the high quality standard that we hold ourselves to in The Secret World, so it takes time to get there as well.

Was there anything that you really wanted to make it into Tokyo that had to be cut out?

Not a lot so far, as we have been quite good at planning when and how we are going to release the different areas.

Probably the biggest thing I would have preferred to do with Tokyo is release it as a whole complete package, as a single gigantic update. It was originally designed that way, but the best laid plans of mice and men…

Anything we couldn't finish for Issue #9 simply moved back a little, so Issue #10 contains some of the things we wanted to see in Issue #9.

Everyone has their own favorite NPC in TSW, which is yours?

That's hard for me because it is like choosing a favourite child. Writing any of the characters in The Secret World is an absolute joy. In Tokyo I had a great time writing Inbeda, leopard skin bathrobe and all, but honestly there are so many fun characters in the game it is hard to pick a favourite. Ricky Pagan, the leather-clad rockabilly environmentalist is coming up in the next Side Stories patch and he is amazing fun!

The Present

Is the development team taking any breaks from Tokyo to work on other things?

Not really, they just took a break for Summer holidays and now we're all back and charging forward on Tokyo. I mean Tokyo is a real microcosm of the overall game content - a dungeon, a lair, an aux weapon, a scenario and of course, continued story missions and outdoor missions, so we're doing a little of everything in Tokyo.

Can you tell us anything about what the dev team is currently working on?

Currently we're polishing up the second Side Stories pack to accompany Issue #9 and then we'll be fully focused on Issue #10. The writers are finalizing scripts and starting recording sessions for the new characters in Issue #10, the artists are busy creating all of the assets, the system designers are working on the AEGIS shield implementation and the next Auxiliary weapon and the coders are working on several new features we have planned for Issue #10.

I can’t tell you what the coders are doing, unfortunately, because then the Illuminati would kill a puppy. Again. Teasing has serious consequences, trust me.

How did you celebrate the anniversary in the office?

Celebratory drinking and cake! Mostly we chatted about the last two years (in disbelief “has it really been two years!?) and logged in to watch how players were enjoying the Guardians of Gaia event.

Of course, I decided to log in my GM character, make myself into a giant, a go do a tiny amount of DPS to the Kaidan golem. Compensating for something? Absolutely.

The Future

Are there any plans yet for what will come after Tokyo?

Oh absolutely. I have a pretty solid overview of the game through Issue #24 or so. I mean, not ridiculously detailed plans, but a good concept for the major plotlines and their various resolutions/twists. It includes a nice mix of new zones combined with more standalone issues, such as the much discussed PvP issue.

Frankly put, the further in advance we have planned, the more foreshadowing, hinting and teasing we can do. And the more of those “ah ha!” revelation moments we can give players. Digging into the lore of The Secret World is a reward all of its own.

In addition to that, we made a feature list that we would like to do post-launch. I remember when we made the list we joked that it was probably about “5 years” worth of coding work. We’ve added some features from that list already, but we have plenty more to go and each and every feature on there is something the community has also requested (often loudly!).

What hopes do you have for The Secret World at the third anniversary?

My eternal hope is that our recent adjustments help to speed up our delivery so that we have a constant stream of updates. But mostly, I just hope people are still enjoying the game and updates that we have made.

We’re all artists at heart, so seeing people enjoying and living in the world we have created is a really gratifying feeling. Happy players who love the game will always be the greatest reward for hard work.

Are there any features you would really love to see added to The Secret World that there just hasn’t been time for yet?

As I mentioned, we have a long list. Personally, I’d love to bring back The Secret War in some form in the game – allowing players to recruit and train their own agents who they can equip and send out on missions. But as I say, we have a list and it is always important to evaluate where we are before we can do anything on that list!

I’d like to thank Joel for taking the time to answer our questions, for making Tokyo as awesome as it is, and making The Secret World a game so many fans adore. It has been an amazing two years and all of us at MMORPG hope that TSW will continue for many, many more years to come.

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