The Secret World Interview, Part Two

The second half to Rock, Paper, Shotgun's interview with The Secret World lead designer Marten Bruusgaard, lead content designer Joel Bylos, and writer/director Ragnar Tørnquist is now online, and this time they talk about the game's enemies, upcoming beta test, endgame content, and more.
RPS: Now that Ragnar has left us for a brief time, let's talk about some of the ways in which The Secret World deviates from traditional MMO design. No levels and no classes. How difficult has it been to make that shift and how much difference does it make to the flow of the game?

Bylos: Levels are a very good mechanic for keeping people on a track. So when you make a game that has levels, it's very easy to make sure that people are fighting the monsters that they should be fighting because they have the right number over their head; the same one as the player. So they can think, '˜oh, this is the right monster'. It's also a way of trying to stop players from going back to areas to exploit the content. Part of the challenge of creating a level-less game is, first, making sure that people feel like they're getting more powerful. And secondly, making sure that people feel they can go to new places and do different things without a number being superimposed telling them what they can and can't do.

Hopefully, you guys felt that today a little bit. You started off, not really super-weak, but you weren't super-powerful either. And as you played the game, you progressed both in skill as players, improving at actually playing the game, but you also gained more powers and became more versatile as characters. I think that's a large part of the challenge. Making sure that the process feels natural, without us telling you, or putting a signpost there.

So, the missions do that in more subtle ways. There's a mission called supply run, where you pick up stuff. That's a very simplified way of looking at the mission yes, you do pick up stuff but in addition, you learn the layout of the town. You learn where you can go and where certain things are located. That's just one of the ways in which we guide you, but we try to use subtle methods. I think I said before that I believe World of Warcraft uses a very heavy hand to guide players. It says, '˜pick up this stuff here, go and do these missions in this place here, do all the quests then go this place here and do the quests there'. That's very heavy handed. In our game, we try not to be as heavy handed. It's much more of a light touch and comes through in the places you visit and the people you meet.

Bruusgaard: It's all about progression. We want to give players a sense of development, to pull them further into the world without thoise numbers above players' and monsters' heads. It seemed to be working really well. You guys ended up fighting harder monsters than at the beginning, but without any number telling you that you were ready to fight creatures with a '˜3' above their head. We think that's a better feeling. A natural feeling of becoming stronger.

In addition to that, we can talk about the lack of classes. We feel we have created a system that is easy to learn and hard to master. You will be able to do damage from the get-go just by hammering buttons, but if you invest time in learning the skill system and feeling the depth of it and taking time to sit down and read what the powers do you will be rewarded for it. We've always said that would be important if players learn the system they shall be rewarded.

And it should be like that, right? We've made a comparison to Magic: The Gathering. A lot of the game is won in advance of combat, taking the time to sit down and decide what a deck should do. And then going out and executing it correctly. We put a lot of emphasis on that, allowing multiple layers of synergy. It's there in the states, the triggers, the weapons and it's a system that allows people to play around and have fun. If you don't want to invest too much time, you can just mash buttons and you'll be able to get through some of the content like that. You won't be able to do everything. As you progress through the game, things do become harder and harder. Eventualy, you'll need to bring specific .ffects', as we call them. But then we're talking endgame.

To me, it feels right not to be locked down to a class. I play every MMO out there and I'm done with re-rolling. First thing I always roll is a healer and then after some time I want to play a differnet class but have to play for months to get to the point I want to be at. We've been able to do away with that and it's working.