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The Secret World’s lead designer talks about the origins of the game and its future

(This interview was conducted before we ran our review of The Secret World, which you can find here).

Although it doesn’t quite have the same license backing as Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of World of Warcraft, developer Funcom’s The Secret World may still be the best MMO you will play this year. The game veers away from the traditional MMO settings of the far future and magical past, and instead offers a look at the world under the skin of our own world.

We recently had the chance to speak with Martin Bruusgaard, Funcom’s lead designer of The Secret World.

What was the genesis of the game?

Martin Bruusgaard: We wanted to make an MMO unlike any other. We looked at different settings, from medieval [to] sci-fi, but realized that the world we live in, OUR world, is incredibly interesting! When we mix our world with all the different myths and legends that exist all around the world, it creates a very interesting mix of something natural that you know and are familiar with, and something more unknown that you still have some references to.

Since there aren’t any levels to the characters—how will the skill building work?

We have both horizontal and vertical progression. The vertical progression comes in the form of items; Better items make you stronger. The horizontal progression comes in the form of different abilities. We don’t have any classes in the game, but we have over 500 abilities, and the players are allowed to mix and match them as they please. This means that the players can forge their own class, and define the way they want to play the game!

How will that play out? Is there a “level cap” when it comes to skills?

Yes, there is. We have currently 9 different weapons, and the player can wield two at the same time. Each weapon has a skill associated with it, and this skill defines how good an item in the weapon line you can equip. This skill can be maxed, but the cool thing is that the players can max all of them, making them a complete master of arms. The same goes for abilities. A player can buy all the abilities in the game, making him or her the most versatile player there is!

And there are subscription fees.

There is a subscription fee, similar to other subscription based MMOs. In addition we have an item store and here players can only buy vanity items. We do not want a game where players can buy any form of power, as that would be unfair to all other players. The item store is mostly filled with clothes which have no stats. We wanted a game where all players could look exactly the way they want to look. This has been an issue in traditional MMO, where there are usually one armor set which is the best, and the result is that all players at the endgame of a certain class look the same. In our game, the items that have stats are invisible, and therefore do not dictate how you want to look. You could be the most badass player fighting huge demons in hot pants and a tank top.

The game uses real locations, as well as long standing myths. How much research went into the development?

We have a brilliant team that researched all different kinds of myths, legends and pop-culture elements from all over the world. The big challenge was to weave this into our world in a believable way. This means that when we created London for instance, we had to capture the essence of London to make sure that London feels like London. If it didn’t, players wouldn’t believe the setting. We have a huge challenge when it comes to creating our world. Players will be much more unforgiving when looking at something they know what looks like in the real world, compared to some made-up mythical place. The feedback we have gotten on this has been amazing, and players really immerse themselves in The Secret World.

What are your influences that affected the story?

Everything from conspiracy theories, to myths, to fairytales and to urban legends. Every location you go to have something different, a different theme and atmosphere. In Solomon Island, off the coast of Maine in the US, it’s influenced by Steven King and H.P Lovecraft. If you travel to Egypt, you’ll have more the Indiana Jones feeling. Over at Transylvania, you have our unique take on vampires, and their crusade to take over the world. Lots of variety, that’s for sure!

Was there ever any discussion, of making the game for consoles as well?

We have no plans, but it could definitely be a game that works well on consoles. Since the players have to make a selection of what abilities to bring, 7 actives and 7 passives, the players will have fewer buttons to press than in a traditional MMO. If sure you’ve all seen screenshots of players playing MMOs and have over 50 buttons they can press…. We have people in the office that consistently play our game with a gamepad. If we did put it out on consoles, we wouldn’t do a direct port. It would require some adjustments.

Will the story be significantly different for each faction?

Yes. All three secret societies will have a unique storyline, and different motivations for why they are involving themselves in The Secret World. They all have their separate hub cities, Templars in London, Illuminati in New York, and Dragons in Seoul. From there they get their orders, and they all converge in the adventure regions where they have a lot of the same content, but different reasons for doing it. All the three secret societies have a story mission that will lead them through all the playfields, and work as a red thread through the game. Some of this content is similar but a lot is also unique, so if you want to see everything, you will have to try out all the different secret societies :)

What are you proudest about in regards to this game?

I am very proud of the interesting content we have managed to create. We have a very varies set of mission types, even types that has never been seen in an MMO before. Some of these missions, called investigation missions, will require the players to really think and investigate to be able to progress. The feedback on this has been amazing. Players also seem to really like the fact that we don’t have any classes, and I’m very proud that we have been able to design a system that actually gives players a choice, not just the illusion of one.

Any confirmed plans for DLC?

We have lots of content plans, and we have already started producing this. There will be new abilities, new playfields, new missions and new characters to meet. We are very committed to this game, and we will keep producing content for years to come!

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