"Ready when it's done" announces World of Darkness executive producer Chris McDonough - is there honestly a more disappointing statement in the gaming industry? It leaves eager fans in a nether region of excitement and anticipation; cautiously optimistic of a short wait, while also trying to combat that nagging sense that there's another Duke Nukem Forever on the way.
Like so many others, I would have left EveFest forlorn and vampirically unfulfilled, if I didn't know the capabilities of CCP as a studio. World of Darkness is a game that takes place in a setting of vampires, politics, and nightly-mischief - it is complex, mature, and full of promise: and with the guys that have created the most complex, mature, and promise-filled MMO to date - well, I can stand to wait a little while longer.
Vampires are Always Late
The World of Darkness online game has been mooching around cyber-space for some time, mostly in rumour form. Never officially announced to such an extent, when CCP merged with White Wolf in 2006, it was assumed that this was a logical progression: then we heard nothing: and then 2011 happened.
Proving to be the Icelandic developer's most difficult period, last year provided a whole host of challenges for the studio, including lay-offs, an emphasis on focus, and an announcement on the staff blog that "World of Darkness will continue development with a significantly reduced team." Things were looking, well, dark for the prospective MMORPG.
Then a cowboy-hat wearing, night-rocking, developer called Chris McDonough took to the stage at EveFest 2012. Equipped with a slide-show, a few choice videos, and a hangover, fans finally got a taste of what is in store for the Masquerade.
"I wanted to come out here and spend some time with you guys and talk a little bit about where we are and what we've been doing. It's been a little bit of a weird last year" begins McDonough " I wanted to start out with some of the early concept design we did in trying to get the look and feel of World of Darkness right. We wanted to try out some of that early "classic" vampire feel, so we put together some videos:"
What followed was an entertaining video reminiscent of Nosferatu and other early gothic chillers, with the audience reduced to laughter and many whooping cheers. McDonough continued "That wasn't what we were looking for - so we thought we'd try something a little newer and edgier - something to catch the kids' attention and all the awesome young people who are now into vampires. So we came up with this one:"
Addressing the 14-year-old-girl-shaped elephant in the room, the auditorium dimmed as a Twilight spoof illuminated the room, as well as the faces of the assembled crowd. Waiting for the laughter to subside, McDonough then playfully proclaimed "So we said to ourselves ‘OMG we got it right!’"
Fear not - CCP are only joking about the R-Pats influence on World of Darkness. Coming straight from the former White Wolf offices, this latest MMORPG is deeply entrenched in the ideas of its pen and paper forefather.
So why such a long wait for details, and a release date? McDonough explains, "Part of the reason why we've been keeping it such a secret is that I don't want to release any info until were ready to really show something that's going to make you guys go nuts, and really lives up to the legacy - and I don't want to feed some marketing machine for years and years when we're not ready."
With the reasons for delay out of the way, the senior producer then begin to detail the team that were currently working on World of Darkness " It's been taking us a while to build a team like this, and part of the reason why is that this is a team of triple-A developers that have worked on virtually every MMO that has ever shipped, along with a whole host of other triple-A titles - so we have really built a quality triple-a development team." From Mass Effect, to Dark Age of Camelot, and even further still to Star Wars Galaxies, when the developer's say they have netted an all star team, they truly mean it.
With this staff McDonough and others have been working quietly since 2007 on conceptual design, building design tools, and most importantly getting the "feel" of the game world right. Focusing on three main areas for design, sandbox, coffee shop, and themepark CCP are creating a game which is all things to all people, but are keen to reiterate their stance as a "hardcore" company for those that want to immerse themselves in a virtual world.
"Sandbox is really important to us; for us that is the legacy of CCP. I know when people hear vampires they think "oh my god this is going to be some fruity, care-bear game" and it is not. This is a CCP game: there is back biting, deceit, deception, and all of that." The developer's are keen to stress the chops of the MMORPG, rather than allowing it be diluted by drawing a wider-audience.
There is also a renewed focus on the political sides of Eve Online, but with a desire to formalise all of this in design. Where CCP's space-adventure grew organically and the community helped drive features such as the in-game council. McDonough wants to integrate all of this early on "having the ability to vote for other players to have real positions in the world: and those positions will have power and authority - so as a player you will be able to be the prince of a city, you will recognised by other players as the prince - you're going to have to fight for it and politic for it but that is a core focus of the game."
Of course a lot of these systems and dreams are easier to produce now that CCP has Eve Online, and its 9-years of experience to look towards. World of Darkness will use the same Carbon engine as their other products, meaning that they will also use the single-shard world, while also utilising a graphical powerhouse that seemingly never ages - kind of like a vampire.
Other focuses for the team include innovative combat, a better approach to the infamous CCP "learning cliff", and controversially, perma-death is to be included. Explaining his feelings for the project McDonough summed up the ambitions of the studio "Watching Dust 514 work with Eve is like watching the video game world change right in front of you - and we want that same feeling with World of Darkness - just even better."
And just for those eager pen-and-paper fans: it is confirmed, forget Requiem, CCP are planning to use the lore, clans, and all of the night-time jiggery pokery, straight from Vampire: The Masquerade.
And there was much rejoicing.
To talk further, McDonough then introduced CCP and Eve Online founder Reynir Harðarson and chief marketing officer David Reid to the presentation, opening the forum to player questions.
Non-surprisingly the first lofted arm eagerly rang out the question on many cynics lips "Do you feel pressure to capitalize on the vampire craze happening with Twilight?" to which Reynir Harðarson replied “In truth, vampires have always been there, always in the background; every once in a while a vampire movie comes along and brings some new things. It's not going away."
But it was David Reid who really hit the nail on the head "As the marketing guy, I guess I'm the defacto capitalist of the team so I would be remiss if I didn't say a weaker development company might have to do that and see the potential and say ‘wow let's do this in the Twilight craze’ but that isn't what the World of Darkness is. This is something that has lasted for 20 years as a brand, there's a loyal following and a tremendous amount of high integrity work done by the team in Atlanta it would be a mistake selling that out without putting on the right triple-a polish on it. So other companies might have jumped at that chance, but that is definitely not the feeling at CCP."
Fielding another question from the audience, an obvious World of Darkness fan stood up proudly proclaiming "There's a lot more stuff in the lore of the game other than just vampires; will you be adding any of that into the online game?" First to answer again Reynir Harðarson replied, "In the World of Darkness you have werewolves etc, but we decided to first focus on the vampires, and then we will add in other stuff at a later date. We want to do the vampires, and do them really well."
Talking about the scope and location of the World of Darkness universe, another audience member asked about the size of the world, and if they were intending to use real-world locations: once again, Reynir Harðarson had the answers.
"We are not ready to talk about the scope...It'll be big. In regards to cities, we examined it quite a bit, and what we found is cities are generally...boring. We're using a stylised version, but they will be named after real cities, you'll have a New York, a London, and a Paris etc."
From the back of the room someone then cried out "How bloody and violent will it be?!" Reynir has all the answers, it seems: "It's going to be quite violent and bloody - it's not going to be violence porn; it’s meaningful violence." Chris McDonough also had his own views, "World of Darkness isn't like other vampire licenses; it's always been a very mature property. The essence ofCCP and White Wolf is to uphold the integrity."
And with time running out, the session finally came to an end. While the developer's are still keeping things close to their chest, the interesting touted features are already making for an exciting game. Will they pull it off? Time will tell, and speculation dictates that we probably won't be seeing this MMO until 2014 at the earliest. It's going to be a long wait, and hopefully worth it.