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The Secret World Column: Are the Floodgates Opening?

By Suzie Ford on February 09, 2012

Funcom has taken the name of its next MMO to heart. The Secret World is largely a secret MMO world to most of its hopeful fans. Much to our dismay, the team has kept the game under wraps for the most part and has only leaked snippets of information out from time to time.  What has come out has been met with a lot of interest and spurred the desire to know more, dang it, RIGHT NOW! Yet up to this point, that hasn’t happened and one can certainly picture the dev team rubbing their hands together with glee while saying, “We’ve got ‘em now, boys!”

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However, Funcom has always said that the target release for The Secret World is “April 2012”. Still, it’s time for Funcom to get those information wheels grinding and give out some new facts about the game in order to generate buzz and, one can hope, sales for a game that has landed squarely on many people’s “Most Anticipated” list for the year. Happily for us, that actually seems to be happening. In the past couple of weeks, some very interesting information has started leaking out about all sorts of Secret World things, things that will surely get fans slathering for more.

DECKS AND THE ABILITIES WHEEL

One of the most sought-after pieces of information players are clamoring to know more about is the skill wheel that players will be using in The Secret World. Polish site MMOZ.pl has a terrific interactive example of what the abilities wheel looks like and will behave like. Of course, this isn’t finalized by any means and may contain interactions that have changed since originally published, but it gives us a good idea of how the system will work.

“Synergistic” abilities are one of the biggest things that Secret World developers point to as something never yet seen in the MMO space before. It’s a hugely complex system that will undoubtedly serve those who micromanage their skills like a scientist.  The Secret World wants to reward those who prefer to find their own combinations and synergies in the game by keeping the abilities system wide open for experimentation. In fact, TSW has over 500 abilities resulting in thousands of possible combinations. Micromanagers rejoice!

Funcom realizes, however, that not all are willing or able to understand such a detailed system from the get-go. To give players a good start in the complexities of the system, The Secret World will ship with something called “decks” or premade templates in essence.

When talking about decks on GamesRadar.com, Lead Designer Martin Bruusgaard outlined what decks are and how they function:

A deck in The Secret World is a collection of 7 active and 7 passive abilities that work well with each other. Each deck will enable the player to fulfill one or several roles, either soloing or teaming up with others. Upon collecting all 14 abilities the player is also given a kick-ass outfit, so he won't only be able to play the part, but also look the part! 

Bruusgaard is quick to point out, however, that this isn’t a sell out to the “casual” player and that decks are a starting point for players to familiarize themselves with the wheel and its complexities. Consider it a jumping off point in a way. The team is hopeful that these decks, once their power is discovered, will lead players to look for other ways to combine abilities to reveal more synergies. I can only imagine the sites that will crop up around the astonishing number of possible combinations.

A bit worrisome, however, is the possibility that players will become overly dependent on the decks and won’t look for ways to combine abilities to form their own personal decks. With the thousands of ability combinations, it’s mind-boggling to think of how long it will take people to find the “right” collection. Will we be stuck with endless FotWs? I hope not.

That said I know that when I was in Montreal and playing The Secret World, I was overwhelmed by the wheel. I suspect that I’ll be “one of those” who will likely never venture outside of what comes from Funcom. I like to be competitive, after all, and don’t always have the time to invest in discovery. Color me bad.

You can see a great example of how these decks will look in today’s exclusive look at TSW's Deck Templates. You'll see examples of three of the thirty decks (one for each faction) that will be available.

TECHNOLOGY BEHIND TSW: DREAMWORLD ENGINE & MORE

The Hydra Initiative recently featured an interview with Funcom’s Lead Programmer Øystein Eftevaag about the “back end” of The Secret World. The discussion centered on several intriguing points:

  • The Dreamworld Engine is the core engine for both Age of Conan and for The Secret World. According to Eftevaag, the engine is pushed forward by the newest game in development, in this case, The Secret World.
  • While the Dreamworld Engine is robust, there will still be some necessity for transitions and splash screens due to the huge variety of textures, meshes, etc. However, the team is working to keep those to a minimum and to move through them as quickly as possible.
  • Social hubs tend to be the most crowded and the DW Engine will be making behind the scenes adjustments to how many other players or NPCs can be seen when hubs are packed with people and framerates are in danger of tanking. According to Eftevaag, “it’ll have to get really crowded before your framerate starts suffering!”
  • As is well known, players will have to “research” topics to assist in quest completion. To do so, an in-game browser will be included in The Secret World that is basically Google Chrome “wrapped in a third party framework called Awesomium” and is fully integrated into the game. Players will not have to toggle out to get the information they need.
 

Let’s hope that information begins to pour forth from Funcom and the TSW dev team. We’re within a few months at the outside and we want more dang it! What are YOU looking forward to in TSW? What do you still want to know more about? Let us know in the comments!

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