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NYCC ’11 – Panel Recap

William Murphy Posted:
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One of the highlights of Comic-Con this week in the Big Apple was unabashedly Funcom’s The Secret World Panel, hosted by us here at MMORPG.com.  Presented to a packed room, Funcom’s Ragnar Tørnquist and Dag Scheve were on hand to give players a brief overview of the game, share a nice healthy chunk of gameplay that’s never been seen before, and answer a slew of fans’ questions.  While we wanted to do the gameplay portion live, the Javits Center’s net connection utterly failed us. Heck, we even had LiveBlogs waiting to be published, but couldn’t because the 100,000 plus people were too taxing on the local wireless and 3G connections were shot in the rooms.  To those who managed to do any live updates? We salute you.  Now, without further ado, let’s get to the panel itself. 

Our Garrett Fuller moderated the panel, and after introducing Dag and Ragnar to a thunderous round of applause, Ragnar explained that we have some great footage of the game he recorded himself before traveling to NYC.  He mentioned himself that he wanted to show it live, but due to the web troubles, we just couldn’t. 

Ragnar then gave the crowd, in case there were a few in the audience who didn’t know what The Secret World was all about, a brief overview of the game’s backstory and the war of the three factions.  He explained, as only he can, how in TSW everything is true.  Werewolves, zombies, mummies, vampires - it’s all true.  He explained that the three factions, Illuminati, Templar, and Dragon are opposed to the rising darkness in the world and work together to a point… but also have designs on obtaining and exercising power themselves and are thusly often at odds with one another. 

Ragnar then queued up the three main CG videos we’ve seen, each exposing us to some of the game’s key characters.  First we’re shown Mei Ling, member of the Dragon, in the now famous first trailer of her fighting the demon in her apartment with a katana.  Then we’re shown Rose, a Templar fighting the Revenant in the park with all the crows with a trusty shotgun.  Then we’re shown Alex, the Illuminati who goes to take a leak only to be accosted by a large demon that he combats with some pretty serious magic. 

But then we’re shown what I like to call the Cthulu cinematic.  This is where we’re told the three factions do share a larger and common enemy as a man named Zubari unites all three in a ruined cityscape to fight Cthulu.  The video ends before the real action starts, but it’s enough to get pretty much anyone buzzing. 

These videos were shown to remind us of a few things: one is that Funcom is deathly serious about developing characters you will love and hate and know in TSW.  The story and the NPCs and the players are all meant to intertwine, and the best way to do this is to developer characters people will come to know and feel close to in some way or another.  Rose, Mei Ling, Alex, and Zubari are all very pivotal in TSW, but Ragnar assured us there will be plenty more. 

Next we were treated to some never before seen video of the game’s early moments.  Called “Tokyo Flashback”, this series of events takes place literally just a few minutes after you create your character and dive into the game.  You are taken back in time, to where the darkness that’s swelling in the world first began and you’re playing right alongside Alex, Rose, and Mei Ling.  You’ll even get to see Zubari a bit later.  Ragnar reminded us that this was all work-in-progress from the beta version of the game, and that nothing was final. 

The basics are that all hell has broken loose in the subway of NYC and these characters are there to try and combat it.  It begins with all four of you meeting up and you come across a woman behind a gate who tries to tell you what is happening and plead for help, but she’s quickly cut down as some human-like creature with a monstrous gait and dark auras swirling about it attacks and devours her.  These are infected humans, we’re told, driven mad by “The Filth”, a source of evil that’s growing and growing on the verge of overtaking the world. 

We’re told that while this might seem like a “tutorial” of sorts, it’s not just about telling the players how to walk or how to attack in the game.  It’s about teaching them the sorts of visual cues and clues they’re going to need to be able to pick up on.  The weapon the player used (Ragnar, recorded earlier) was the shotgun, and Tokyo Flashback then showed how seamless movement and position in combat really are.  It’s still tab-targeting, but you can dodge attacks, move out of the way of certain projectiles, and being that the weapon Ragnar used was a shotgun you could see how conical the damage was as depending on where Ragnar stood he could hit three or more enemies at a time with the spray of bullets. 

We watched as Ragnar makes his way closer and closer to the source of the Filth, eventually meeting up with Zubari who tells him that things are getting worse and that there are bad times, etc.  We see how there are some skills with the shotgun that are used specifically to build up points for finishing moves.  Apparently many weapons in the game follow this sort of build-up.  Eventually the player is cut off from Alex, Mei Ling, and Rose and left to their own devices.  A wall crumbles and kills a particularly large enemy.  Behind it, the player steps into an area that has no walls… just black space and emptiness.  Floating orbs of light, power, and a mysterious sense of nothingness.  The screen goes black; Ragnar tells us we’ll see more when we play the game in April of 2012. 

Remember folks, all of this was about five minutes into the game.  Imagine what happens over the next 200 hours or so.

The Q&A came next, and was pretty chock-full of info too.  The first question posed was whether there was a traditional class training system, and whether the player had to run to a specific NPC or whatnot.  Ragnar answered by saying that they want players to learn through playing.  The mechanics of the game and the enemies and the interactions with the environment should be learned.  While there are “Anima Pools” where players will pick new skills, the weapons you learn to use will also have their own powers and abilities.  There are plenty of mechanics in place too, in order to make sure players aren’t lost not knowing what to do. 

The next fan asked whether there were sort of “hand-holding” objective points or maps and things like that to be followed.  I imagine he meant whether or not you’d take quests and go after them using a quest helper sort of checklist that many games have these days.  Ragnar explained that there are all sorts of different content.  Some will be instanced, most will be wide-open shared spaces, and some Investigation Missions will even force players to search the web and the wide world for answers (though this will be able to be done in-game via browser and won’t require alt-tabbing). 

Next, Ragnar was asked whether all powers and spells were able to be learned in the game.  He answered by saying that the 500 plus skills can all be learned by one character.  He said that while alt characters may be wanted to experience the other factions’ stories, by all means they intend for players to truly invest in their characters and not just “dump” them when they get to the max level.  Especially since there are no “levels” and it will take a very long time to max out your characters’ skills.

Then Dag and Ragnar were asked if the game world was really modeled on the world as we know it, and they replied in kind by stating that they’re even headed to the lair of the NYC-based Illuminati before traveling home to Oslo to get more shots of the locations their using from New York.  So yes, while not the entire world will be modeled in-game, most every place they use will be based on their real world counterparts. 

Another person asked whether players will still choose their origin story at the beginning of the game, as once had been talked about a long time ago.  Ragnar stated that while they’d moved away from this concept, it’s more because they want players to shape their story within the game, and not with questions or choices at character creation.  Instead they want you to experience how they begin and how they become powerful foes of evil.

Next someone asked if Ragnar could explain a bit more about character progression in a level-less system, and what the purpose of doing dungeons or whatnot would be if not to level.  Ragnar responded by saying that while the game doesn’t have levels, it has tons of other progression systems.  First, there’s all the skills you can learn (horizontal progression) and secondly there’s all the gear you’ll obtain which is how the player is gated between different sets of content.  Basically, you’ll start with one crappy shotgun, but as you play and go through the content, you’ll get better and better items and your skills and spells are directly affected by your gear.  You’ll need the gear to really grow your powers past their basic level of effectiveness, since you won’t be getting “Fireball 1 through 10” as it were.

Another fan asked if there were specific bits of gear for each Society, and Ragnar confirmed that yes there certainly are.

Then someone asked whether there were more than just the three main factions, and Ragnar explained that there are indeed many more factions, and that the Counsel of Venice manages the rules of engagement between all of the world’s secret societies.  They may stand divided in their pursuit of power, but they all truly do want to stop the evil that’s threatening the world at large.

Next, one gentleman who was at all of our panels and clearly a fan of PVP asked whether there would be missions to infiltrate or chances to foil the other societies.  Yes, Ragnar confirmed, there will be missions that send you behind enemy lines.  Not just for PVP sake, but for PVE and narrative reasons as well.

Someone then came up to the mic and said that Tokyo Flashback looked very easy and that he was worried about there being no challenge to the game.  Ragnar said coyly, “I knew someone would notice.” Then he proceeded to assure the audience that since Tokyo is mainly a starting point of the game, the ease of play is deliberate.  He said to be sure the game will get quite difficult at spots and while they want anyone to be able to play it their goal is “easy to learn, difficult to master”. 

Lastly, someone asked about the revenue model, and Ragnar again confirmed that The Secret World is an AAA game and that they and EA alike both agree that the level of content and constant stream of additions they plan on adding for free are worth the subscription their asking for.  Additionally, the game will have some micro-transactions but that they’re going to be of the vanity sort and nothing that will put some players ahead of others due to the size of their wallets.  Instead it will be the sort of stuff that one could buy to “look cooler” or travel faster as it were in terms of non-competitive play.

There were a few more questions posed to the developers, and here they be:

  • Is there going to be a lot of range DPS available to where you can be a spell caster, or enchanter or a crowd control, or a specialist heal-hybrid? There will be indeed several sorts of magic available to the players.  Even a new type of magic that they're calling Chaos, which is hard to explain but Ragnar likened it to the butterfly flapping its wings and creating a tidal wave miles away.
  • Will be able to master them all if being Illuminati, or would I make a different character for a different faction to master a different type of magic for example? You will be able to master all 500+ skills in the game, no matter your faction, though it will take a lot of time, obviously.  There are faction-specific items that however.
  • Storytelling tools for role-players, what's available? While Ragnar expects players to role-play naturally via the story and the factional conflict, there are things like dancing mini-games and the ability to use “props” to actually put on a play within the game too.  He was a bit cagey on this, but we’ll have to see exactly what he means in the future.
  • What kind of hardware specs are required to max out the game? While the team expects the game to run on a laptop, it won’t look pretty doing so.  To get the absolute most out of the visuals, 8GB of RAM will be needed, and a GPU with 1GB or 2GB of video memory would be necessary.  But a Core Duo should work for the CPU just the same.  Again he said it will run fine on meager laptops, but the “top-end” machines would be best served having that sort of memory and video card capabilities.

And with that our all-too-brief hour was over and we were left wanting more and more.  The Secrets are starting to be uncovered, but I’ll be damned if NYCC made the wait any easier.  After watching Tokyo Flashback in action, I can’t wait to get my hands on TSW now more than ever.


William Murphy

Bill is the former 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.