Massively: We’re on the horn with The Secret World Lead Designer Romain Amiel, who’s taking time out of his schedule to answer some questions about the game’s recent storytelling milestones — and perhaps hint about where it’s going next. So Romain, now that Tokyo’s wrapped up and you’re able to look back on it, what would you say was the zone’s greatest success in terms of development?
Romain Amiel: I was quite happy with the overall result of Kaidan. The environment captured pretty well the urban essence of a giant city like Tokyo, or rather what it would be feel like under similar circumstances. It felt huge and eerily devoid of life. It gave us a great source of inspiration to create memorable characters and stories of survival.
The scope and speed of implementation was probably the biggest hurdle we had to face during development. Urban environments are difficult to re-create. They require a lot of space and a lot of details to be accepted by the players.
Also, once set the playfield becomes extremely rigid to work with, making pre-emptive planning and design crucial. The zone can quickly become difficult to navigate as their might be a huge building between you and your goal, forcing you to take annoying detours. This is something we kept in mind at all times when designing new missions and planning player’s critical paths to complete those missions, but this definitely added another layer of complexity.
What challenges had to be overcome to make mounts — er, “sprint enhancements” — happen?
The “mounts” have definitely been an interesting challenge. A long time ago we said that we would never implement mounts in TSW because the game had no need for them given the way sprint works. So lesson learned… never say never!
We started looking at implementing mounts as a feature following the release of Issue 7 when we introduced snowmobiles to the game as a storytelling tool. We got the idea then that vehicles didn’t necessarily mean that it should allow players to move even faster, and we started looking at those vehicles as way to allow player to customize the way their sprint looked instead.
This opened up many opportunities, including simply changing the player’s run animation to allow player to express themselves fully, by runnings around like a ninja, levitating, or flailing their arms around in complete panic (like I would, if I had to face those creepy Gaku from the Kaidan parking lot in real life).
Outside of the “simple” animation overrides, the behavior of the vehicles became quickly problematic. The first iteration of the motorbike was very realistic. You would turn slowly as a bike normally would and you were not able to jump. While this looked cool at first, we noticed that people would immediately revert to the other sprints if they just wanted to travel through the world, as using the bike was too cumbersome. This was obviously a bit of a problem; we wanted players to be able to customize their sprint and still be able to play the game as normal without their choice becoming a hindrance to their gameplay.
It took us a few iterations, but we ended up with a prototype that offered a good compromise, allowing players to get a more roleplay friendly, natural-looking bike by using keyboard controls, while also being able to get more snappy responsive controls when using their mouse.
Do you have any further hints as to types of vehicles or animals that we may be riding?
I have a huge wish list of other custom sprints that I would like to release in the future. More than half of the things on that list come directly from players from comments I’ve seen on our forums, on Twitter, and even directly from some articles on Massively OP.
So many rumors around TSW! You’d think that game has something to do with conspiracy theories, wouldn’t you?
I’m going to be a bit cheeky here, and instead of answering which of those destination we’ll see first, I’ll answer which of these are we going to see up next? And the answer is… none of the above. We have one extra stop planned before we start looking at one of those three destinations.
With a smaller team and hand-crafted content that takes a longer-than-normal time to create, will we be waiting even longer for the next zones?
No. The team size hasn’t really changed in a long time, we even hired a few new faces recently. The main reason for the delays with some of the recent issues was linked to the nature of the content itself: difficult environments, story limitations that were set a long time ago that we had to follow, etc.
The plans for the content moving forward are a lot more reasonable. It will allow us to produce content faster with the same quality level we’ve always had. So you can expect new exciting stories with a great ambiance, awesome voice-over, that overall immersive gameplay we thrive to deliver, and probably a few bugs too, that we’ll quickly stamp out.
So you see, it will be exactly what you’ve come to expect.
And that said, we have many updates planned between now and Christmas.
Are apartments or player housing anywhere on the development schedule? What about other tools for roleplaying (such as the excellent Albion Theatre)?
We have discussed player housing internally many times, and we’ve written a few designs documents regarding this feature. Unfortunately, the time estimates to implement even the cheapest of those designs are quite high.
This makes it fairly difficult for us to prioritize this feature over others, as this would require the involvement of the majority of the dev team, and would prevent us from doing any other content update for a while, or adding any other features to the game in the mean time.
Furthermore, we know all of our current players enjoy TSW primarily for its stories. Not releasing any missions for a long period of time, because we are busing working on a housing system could be very detrimental to the game, particularly since we know that not everyone is currently interested in such feature.
We have plenty of other ideas for RP features that would not require the entire team to implement, allowing us to still release issues with content that everyone can enjoy and include bonus features targeted to more specific player groups.
Is there any chance we might see the return of popular NPCs such as Montag or Nassir, or is it too difficult to get those voice actors back? It’d be great to see many of these great characters return.
There’s always a chance for anything!
While it’s true that actors like Jeffrey Combs (who plays Montag) can be more difficult to book, it’s never stopped us before. We always try to tell good stories, if we need a specific character to give out more details about himself or a particular event that they were a part of, we will make it happen.
Regarding Montag and Nassir in particular, we do not have immediate plans to re-use those characters as they don’t exactly fit in the section of the main story that we are about to reach. However if we get a chance to revisit New England and Egypt in the future, whether to explore more of the local stories, or for special events, those characters are on top of my list. They are among many player’s favorites (and they are among mine!).
Fun Fact: Andrew Kishino (who plays Nassir) was in the studios recently, recording some characters for LEGO Minifigures Online. No doubt voicing someone that loves to “blow s**t up! Haha!”
Thanks for sharing all of this with us!