Home Editorial Rediscovering the “RPG” in MMORPGs: The Secret World

Nothing Everything is true. Everything is permitted.”

Imagine a world where every myth, legend and conspiracy were true ― that’s Secret World in a nutshell.

Developed by Funcom (creators of Age of Conan and The Longest Journey) and published by EA, Secret World is an MMORPG that depicts a contemporary universe of three secret societies united in their battle against the rising darkness, but divided on philosophical differences in their quests for world domination.

There are the Dragon, who wield powers of chaos in an effort to maintain global balance; the Templars (sound familiar anyone?), ever-dedicated to the truth of universal justice; and the Illuminati, who utilise the tools of social and financial power to influence historic events around the world.


"Geez...you never saw anything like this in the cop shows...well, maybe on cable, not the network ones." - A cop from the game. True story.

Aside from the aptly-named “Secret Wars” fought by these underground societies, the story of Secret World is one of darkness.

Evil comprised of your worst nightmares is awoken among  elaborately-woven myths, urban legends, back-alley stories, underground whispers, fairytales and a healthy sprinkling of authentic history. *

As with any RPG, story is the core of the entire experience. How does TSW address this element of the game?

Cinematic Sequences!

I know, I know, you’re all sick of watching video clips of pretty characters talking about a bunch of stuff that you don’t give a crap about,but according to the developers, “the cut-scenes focus on characterization and atmosphere, but will always contain clues to the mission ahead.” In other words, pay attention, ‘cos it might just come in handy!

In addition, these scenes will feature characters who are fully-voiced and realized by real actors through motion capture, creating a more immersive experience for the player in a lively world.


Real-World References

Creative director Ragnar Tørnquist also described the inclusion of “investigative missions” in addition to the standard story missions and side quests that have been staples of the RPG genre for decades.

These will involve puzzles and problem-solving which will further “unlock the mysteries of the world.” What does that involve? Research! Players will be asked to find answers from both within the game world and outside of it, in the real world. Unfamiliar with the “lore” of the real world? Fear not, Wikipedia and Google to the rescue!

There have been discussions among the development team on including an in-game browser to facilitate such investigative activities and minimizing the disconnect between the in-game experience and the real-world experience. However, Tørnquist believes that whether an in-game browser is included or not may not be as big an issue as it may seem:  “It’s not like jumping from a straight fantasy world back into the reality of Google. You’re going from a place where everybody has web browsers to another place that’s exactly the same. And you might have to talk on forums, you might have to do some research, you might have to learn a little about, say, ancient Rome in order to progress.”

In addition, Funcom is also developing their own online resources in order to bleed TSW further into the real world. One of which is Kingsmouth.com, an authentic-looking tourist site for a location within the game. This is just one of the websites that Funcom is launching which players will scour for clues, secret passwords and the like.


Final Notes

The Secret World is currently in closed beta, and according to Funcom’s latest press release, open beta will begin next year prior to the April 2012 launch. There has also been no official announcement regarding the business model and price points for the game.

* Personally, I’m a big fan of urban myths and legends, especially when they’re combined with history and conspiracy theories. I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that this is one of the major reason for Assassin’s Creed’s success as a franchise, as the universe it portrays is a fascinating one that we could relate to in the real world from a contemporary and historical context. I absolutely loved the puzzles in AC which linked the game to real-world historical people and events in intriguing conspiracies, and I anticipate that more games will follow suit in some fashion. As long as creativity is free to roam, I believe that can only be a good thing.

6 replies to this post
  1. All I can say is FINALLY. It has been so long since i’ve ever truly been excited over an RPG. While it is true that I enjoy these extreme fantasy, and magic MMO’s, i’ve really craved an RPG that had a realistic, perhaps even niore appeal to it, and the trailers for this game certainly give you that feel. And not only that, the developers are using it as a subtle to way to, *gasp*, learn! One might say blasphemy, I say great. Maybe it’s because i’m a history freak, but this game really does sound like it goes above and beyond the normal RPG, what with all the investigation in the real world, and full actor characterization in game. But we are probably going to have to be cautious, on account of the fact that what game developers advertise, and what they deliver, can be two very different things.

  2. This is a very unique idea, and one that, if done correctly, should prove quite successful. However, the line between proper and fail execution is an incredibly fine one in this case. The problem the developers face is giving the player the sense of escapism game provide while still allowing the real world to intrude. The key to their entire venture lies in balancing on that razor’s edge between feeling more than oneself and still knowing you sit in your own skin. Immersion, in short, and the manipulation of such.

    While I don’t have the time or the funds to even think of diving into an MMO, I’ll be curious to see how this develops.

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