Funcom’s new MMO, The Secret World, is being released in June and pre-orders for the game became available this week (including the option to buy a lifetime subscription for an extra £160 over the cost of the game itself). I’ve been keeping half an eye on this game for a couple of reasons – partly because of the leveless/classless level progression and partly because of the real-world setting but mostly because of the heavily Lovecraftian and mythology influenced setting and themes.
Then I watched a video (embedded after the link) from Funcom’s 2012 GDC presentation and I’m sorry to say that my interest declined dramatically. Why? Because of something they appear to have messed up that, in retrospect, SWTOR did very well.
First you should watch the video. If you’re only interested in seeing the bit that’s relevant to what I’m talking about, skip forward to the gameplay preview that starts at about the 15 minute point. (Note that the gameplay has subtitles if you can’t listen to the sound).
What you see is the player character talking to a questgiver or, to be more precise, a questgiver talking to the playercharacter. In fact, calling her a questgiver is possibly a misnomer because, as they take great pains to point out, she doesn’t actually give you a quest but tells you to stay away. Not that it really matters because what I didn’t see was a “Leave area / Explore anyway” accept/reject mechanism – so talking to the NPC will give you a quest to complete regardless.
But what really, really irks me is the questgivers dialogue. For a start, I don’t think it’s particularly well written and it could have done with some polish but that aside, the major problem is that it goes on. And on. And on and on and on. In fact, the entire piece of dialogue lasts for two whole minutes.
In my days as a script reader/editor, if I’d been given a script that had what amounted to four pages¹ of one character talking, there would have been some very concise and pointed notes given. It’s a cardinal sin of screenwriting. Sure, you can have dialogue heavy scripts – take Kevin Smith’s Clerks script for instance. By necessity of making a (very) low budget film, he had to make a character and situation driven piece that didn’t have a lot of action. If you look at page 10 there’s a couple of pages of dialogue that’s mostly one person (The Activist) talking. Importantly, however, he is not the only person talking and there are brief exchanges with other characters. Also, the dialogue itself is well written (YMMV) and provocative, driving the scene forward. Page 13 contains dialogue from only one character, Veronica, but each line is interspersed with very specific actions.
The Secret World doesn’t do this though. The scene in that video is one character talking and nothing else happening. We don’t even see the players thong-wearing character reacting to what they’re being told. They just stand around looking slightly redundant and unphased by the tale of horrific deaths or references to government procedures that you might want to learn more about. It’s just a slightly crazy CDC operative talking solidly, by herself, for two minutes.
One of the main features of SWTOR is the fully voiced quest givers and the dialogue wheel (something which, as I’ve said before, really comes into its own in group dialogue situations). This introduces a second character into dialogue heavy scenes and necessitates a break after every three or so sentences. Quest scenes may well last two minutes but the substantial difference between SWTOR and The Secret World is that it’s not two minutes of one character speaking.
Now I’d understand if Funcom didn’t want the player character to be voice-overed but that still shouldn’t be an issue, as evidenced by another Bioware game, Dragon Age: Origins. Having dialogue response options available will break up the NPC soliloquy and also make the scene more natural. The options could have been as simple as “Who are you?” “What’s Phase Seven?” “What happened to the rest of your team?” as well as a simple “Well, thanks for the warning, I’ll stay well away” in order to refuse the quest.
I probably shouldn’t dwell on the fact that, after her initial “Don’t come any closer! You might be infected and by the way, I’m wearing a hazmat suit!”, the NPC doesn’t even come aross as bemused at why a person wearing a crop top and low slung jeans is hanging around a Filth ridden area. I wonder if there’s even an option to wear a Hazmat suit?
We won’t know how representative this quest is of interactive scenes in the game until it’s played, of course, but as this is the NPC that Funcom chose to show in their presentation then it must surely be one that they’re proud of.
So there we are: my strong feelings regarding the games storytelling has lowered my interest in playing this game. I am still interested but I think I’ll definitely wait until three months after release to get a better idea of how it’s all panning out. Anyone else have any thoughts?
¹ As a rule of thumb, one page of properly formatted screenplay is equivalent to one minute of screentime. However, a page of action and no dialogue is roughly equivalent to 2 minute of screen time and, conversely, a page of nothing but dialogue is about 30 seconds worth of film. It’s obviously not a direct one-to-one conversion but it’s a useful guide.