Funcom's ambitious upcoming MMO The Secret World attempts to bring together numerous modern mythologies and wrap them all up in an accessible, action-focused MMO experience.
As Star Wars: The Old Republic creators BioWare will attest to, that is much easier said than done. While the Mass Effect developer managed to partially succeed, ultimately releasing a safe, deritivite MMO experience with some interesting narrative moments.
Funcom on the other hand seems to be taking a much more risky approach.
We recently had the opportunity to chat to lead content designer on The Secret World, Joel Bylos, here's what he had to say...
So, what does a Lead Content Designer do?
I'm responsible for making sure that everything from the writers makes it into the game in the right format, the gameplay is good, the missions work with the story, the missions are fun in their own right. I'm in charge of the quality level in the game, making sure it all matches a standard.
You do have astoundingly strong writing and strong writers, which is very unusual for videogame studios and especially for MMOs. Do you think the MMO is the best vector for a great storyline, given MMO players tendency to skip story?
My personal feeling is that it's a genre that's still looking for an audience in a lot of places, and I think there's a place for storytelling in MMOs. The thing about our storytelling, the cutscenes and stuff, you either take a lot of the story in and you like it, or you don't give a shit and you don't have to pay any attention to it. I think that's how MMOs need to do story, actually. It permeates the game.
Every mission you do ties in to the story and, even if you don't care about the story, it kind of gets under your skin. Most players don't like to play games without any motivation at all. Hopefully, the aim of the game is to have people theorising about what it all means.
If people start doing that, even their friends who aren't into story might getting dragged in. I use this analogy a lot; it's like the first season of lost. There's lots of questions, a few answers and we want people talking about it.
Does that mean like Lost or Battlestar or the Wheel of Time... all these media with lots of build-up, obscurity and complexity that the ending can never be satisfying?
I don't know. I know the ending, so it's hard for me to know if it's satisfying or not. The thing about the story for the Secret World at least is that it ties all the way back to what humanity is all about, where we come from.
It doesn't really include gods, but it goes right back to our origins, it's like millions of years of storytelling. Just to give you some idea, the timeline of the game is several million years, but the part players see in the game is three weeks. The idea is to keep expanding on the game and people will keep digging further and further in history.
Do those datestamps keep appearing in the game as you go along?
You saw the Tokyo incident? You played that today. That's what happened three weeks ago and then you suddenly got summoned by a bee. We don't try to timestamp the forward part, only the looking back part. Everyone knows when the event happened - three weeks before the game launches.
Yes, it'll say three weeks forever but players will understand that things move forward - and there are plans in the future to progress the game, and take choices that players make in the world a bit further as well.