Romain Amiel Interviewed by Jeux Online

Romain Amiel, Game Director of Funcom’s The Secret World MMO, was recently interviewed by JeuxOnline.

The interview was in French, so for the rest of The Secret World community who would like to know what was said, one of its awesome community members, Karine Turcotte was kind enough to translate the interview into English. Here is the full translation.


JeuxOnline: 2012-2016, already 4 years since the launch of The Secret World. Years that had their share of unforeseen developments. But this year has been rather noteworthy with the addition of a lot of content: Issues 12, 13, 14, 15, Shambala, two revamping on Fusang and the museum…

Is it a feeling you share? As the Game Director, how did you live this year that just passed?

Romain Amiel: The year went by in a flash, with a heavy workload. We also moved to a bigger studio, which facilitates things now. But we had to continue working while dealing with the move.

Finishing the first season was definitely something high on the priority list on our side. We wanted to be sure to end it with a bang. We had the story written for quite some time now. Since launch, we knew where we were going: what was happening in Tokyo and how it had to end. It was rather fascinating to realize all the progression till then and finally deliver the story. It was really fun to write this part with Lilith, knowing where we were going afterward. It’s a good feeling for us as it’ll allow us to continue with less constraints in a sense: we did what we had to do and now we can begin working on the other things we want to do.

Issue 12 made it possible to explore dungeons and raids, that’s something that was very close to my heart. I’ve always been a rather hardcore player in MMO’s. In TSW, we place the importance on the stories, that’s something that interested me a lot in a professional way. I also love working on the dungeons. That’s something I did a lot in Age of Conan.

Issues 13 and 14 were interesting for us. It gave us a pause before starting Season 2. It allowed us to get back to the basic, to tell stories on the characters that interest us and to create content with elements we already had. We realized when we made Tokyo that creating a new zone was very time consuming. We want to be sure to not let time fly by without new content as we work on new zones. It’s a nice opportunity for us to revisit zones and some characters so they can share their stories.

Issue 14 is one that is particularly close to my heart since it was the first story that came only from me, without using any elements already established within the game. I wanted to come back to the City of the Sun God, which is one of the less appreciated zone, mainly because of its topology. And mostly, I wanted to try and come back to the horror side of TSW. We’d never really did anything like Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, asking for players to travel to the center of that pyramid with only a small, wavering light, and brave traps and riddles. I’m glad of the result and our teamwork. We continue to produce good content that the players seems to appreciate. It’s rewarding and it gives us a desire to keep working on this game that stands a bit aside in the MMO world.

JeuxOnline: Was Issue 13 a test to see how parallel stories would be received by giving them the name of Issue?

Romain Amiel: Not at all. Issues 1 to 4 already had that format. Even Issue 5, if everyone remembers that in the Tyler Freeborn chapter, there was also 3 other missions.

The name Side Stories was a mistake. Why we chose this name was because we had already announced Issue 9 to be the start of Tokyo. We had just finished Issue 8 and Issue 9 was running late because the landscape wasn’t finished. We already had missions made, cinematics that we had on the back burner that were never finished and we had the opportunity to have newly arrived designers. This was a chance for me to train them and teach them the tools by having them work on those investigation missions. We thus ended up with a serie of missions, ready to be launched, that the players would surely love, but no Issue, because Issue 9 was already announced, it’s Tokyo, what to do? We then had the idea of creating a new format, Side Stories.

That was a mistake, we probably should have made an Issue 9 and push Tokyo to Issue 10. It would have been better understood by the players in regard to the format.

We continued using that format for Tokyo, with the main story as Issues and all the other stories with the different characters as Side Stories. We ended up with a format of content similar to everything we could find in previous zones, each character has his own stories. And those secondary missions require as much work as the main story, for the same quality. But, from the fact that they’re not called ‘Issues’ the concept really didn’t sell well.

With Issue 13, we went back to the initial format. We tried to keep good stories, with stories that took about 20 minutes to complete per character. But despite everything, we had a mixed reception. Players were used to have Issues with a main storyline. Thus we went back to that in Issue 14. But we won’t stop ourselves from telling stories just because we can’t put them into a specific format.

Each time we create a new character, it’s because we need it in the main storyline. But we also put him into context, which gives us many opportunities to allow players to learn more. And players are rather keen on that. After that, the difficulty is to balance between telling the main storyline and explore the character’s background. But no MMO only offers a main storyline. It’s important to have many side stories.

JeuxOnline: Throughout the year, there’s been many updates to satisfy players: new quests, new dungeons, a new PvP zone… Which one were you the most excited to set up?

Romain Amiel: Issue 14 for the reasons mentioned before. But also everything that is dungeons and raids.

At the end of Issue 11, we could do the free update to bring the group version of the Penthouse. When I conceived the combat mechanic, I did so both for the solo and group version. We initially only had time to implement one version, the solo one. And when we managed to do it, we were quite happy to see that players were interested.

This is what gave me the arguments to justify to marketing the creation of dungeons for Issue 12. When we had Tokyo in mind, we approached it as a normal zone, with characters, missions but also a dungeon, a raid… When we started slicing it in Issues, we had no idea what to do with the dungeon. We had never done any Issue on a dungeon.

I was happy to make this Issue 12 because I had a tons of ideas for the bosses. And there was the AEGIS system. Though the system is rather complex and not optimal for solo play, it had many possibilities in groups. It allowed us to bring new things that people had never seen in TSW or even in other games.

The other side of the coin, as we had somewhat foreseen, was that the Issue didn’t sell as much as a lot of players are not that interested in the dungeon aspect of the game.

JeuxOnline: Do you plan on pursuing in this perspective to answer to every player types or, as the previous years, will you focus on quests that have the support of far more players?

Romain Amiel: Personally, I’d love to make everyone happy. MMO’s are the only type of games that try to do that. It’s rather hard to do.

In any case, the main component of TSW is its story and it’ll stay our priority.

JeuxOnline: Will this fifth year that is starting mark the beginning of Season 2?

Romain Amiel: I can’t go into details for the moment. But we have a lot of things that are in the middle of development and, as we could see with Tokyo, if we want to make it right, we need time. We don’t have a huge team and some aspects take more time than others. We are evaluating which things need to be done so we can create Season 2 in the best way possible.

Season 2 is already completely written. The next as well. There are a lot of projects for the future of TSW. But we have this unique chance to be in between two seasons and we want to use it at the maximum to give ourselves a chance to have a good future for the game and to make the next seasons as great as Season 1.

JeuxOnline: Issue 12 introduced two new dungeons but also the Nightmare difficulty for raids. This made the ability to succeed in this kind of content reserved to the ‘elite’ crowd. There was until then an undeniable difficulty but it didn’t ask for perfection and an additional difficulty was proposed through Achievements (Master Planner, Raids under 5 minutes) Does setting the bar so high have a demoralizing effect on players that might be tempted by the challenge of Nightmare dungeons and raids?

Romain Amiel: I agree that there is a demoralizing aspect for the ‘midcore’ players – most of the peoples saying they are hardcore are actually midcore. Hardcore are rather peculiar and it’s rare to do content just for hardcore, most of the challenging content is generally made for midcore.

The perception of people is that, as soon as something is out, you have to complete it as fast as possible. What we did for dungeons and raids was to add a slow progression to be sure that we would not have to add a little bit of content every patches, mainly to equilibrate. Thus we added everything in one go. We thus have the progression for next year and we can focus on other aspects of the game.

Furthermore, if we had the okay to work on raids at this time, we were not sure to have it later. Thus it was better to take advantage of the occasion and get everything out at once instead of risking to have to spread the workload and the content releases.

It would eventually have been possible to finish the work on the raids and to play for time on the different content launches so that players have the time to get the necessary equipment instead of presenting so many difficulties to all players in one go.

JeuxOnline: If you had no resources limitation, what functionality would you dream to implement in TSW?

Romain Amiel: I think we already have most of the functionalities we wanted.

Then, the museum has its limits. I’d love to implement a real housing system where players could really have their own space to personalize by changing the color of the walls, placing furniture, an entrance to the sewer to a secret lair, etc. We already have a design for this functionality. But it’s also really ambitious, and unique. If I had the possibility to do everything in this design, I’d be very happy and I think the players would be as well. It’s not only housing, which is a functionality that is aimed at a selective group, but the design was thought to take in consideration all types of players.

It’s really ambitious and I’m not sure it’s doable since we’d need a lot of tools and many things for the coding.

JeuxOnline: Windows 10 has arrived, with it DirectX 12. Do you intend to use it, or Vulkan, to improve the global performances of the game, to get back to the performances we had in the beginning or, even better, to surpass them?

Romain Amiel: Those are things we are looking at but it’s not easy. To switch to 64-bits and under DX12, we’d have to redo a big part of the game, everything in aspect to rendering, thus rebuild the engine of the game, among other things. Then we’d have to update all the tools that are affected by the rendering, like Scaleform for example. Every things that may be secondary but are included in the code. We’d thus have to pay for the new licences to be able to integrate the new versions and take the risk of breaking everything. It’s unfortunately a huge task.

There is one thing we are evaluating at the moment that, if we manage to do it, could help a lot to make the game run on Windows 10 and on new machines. But it’s in the testing phase right now.

JeuxOnline: But what is the influence of those tools on the lower performances of the game since launch?

Romain Amiel: The lower performances come from something else that we are trying to understand and improve. There is one part that simply comes from the addition of new content: the more things on the server, the heavier the load. The main cause is all the player generated statistics. As soon as a player teleports or change zone, the server needs to recreate the character. All the achievements, all the new skills learned, all the missions accomplished, all those things are saved. And all the players nearby must also have that information. It means a lot of data that goes back and forth and a lot of optimization problems.


Source: Original Article

Translation credits: Karine Turcotte