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Massively Exclusive: World of Darkness interview

Chris Rippee

The 2011 Grand Masquerade in New Orleans is over, and the monsters have all gone home. In their wake, we're left with a series of exciting revelations relating to the upcoming World of Darkness by CCP Games. While it's only in pre-production, it has already sent fans of the World of Darkness setting into a frenzy of anticipation. The new details only give rise to more questions, however, and speculation has run rampant, especially given how radically CCP's new game departs from the standard MMO model. Thankfully, Massively has some answers.

Shane Defreest, the Community Developer for CCP North America and White Wolf Publishing, was kind enough to take the time out of his hectic schedule to answer a few of our questions relating to the game. He sheds a bit of light on World of Darkness, discussing the choice of setting, player factions and playable clans, the business model, and how he views the experience of the game. Enjoy!

Massively: The old World of Darkness setting, despite being wildly popular, was ended in favor of NWoD. Given that NWoD is still in production, the community has assumed that it would be used for the MMO. So why was the old World of Darkness setting chosen?

Shane Defreest: The decision to end that game line originally was a business decision based upon the current climate of roleplaying games, and I think that there were probably a couple of elements to it. There was some burn-out in creating such high-intensity content that was so serialistic, and also a belief that [the setting needed reinvention] -- kind of the way bands feel the need to reinvent their sound. They have to go make an album or a couple of albums that are nothing at all like what their fans are used to listening to. In the future, though, they acknowledge that people really like these hits, and then they come back together and go back to doing what they really do.

This was kind of a similar thing. Vampire: The Masquerade is what we're really known for. It's what we've done the best... all of the things people see in vampire pop culture are to some degree Vampire: The Masquerade-inspired or at least V:tM-influenced. So the hardcore gamer is going to look at the books that we're making now, but if you step back and look at our back catalogue as a body of work, there's an obvious choice.

World of Darkness b&wFollowing upon that, the World of Darkness is this huge, labyrinthine place that's full of supernatural creature of all types. As Vampire: the Masquerade is sort of the flagship of the World of Darkness setting, I have to ask how the various supernatural creature types are going to be implemented within the game and whether any of them might be playable at launch?

None; it's a vampire game. At launch, they'll be NPCs. Because it's a rich world, the werewolves and mages will have their presence felt, but they'll be flavor and not playable characters to start, much in the same way that the game was originally.

Will the Sabbat be represented as a playable faction?

What you saw last night are the starting clans. That was the big reveal: Those seven clans are going to be the starting playable clans at launch.

I was still trying to interpret how that sort of burlesque act specifically related to the game itself. Last night was actually a great way to go about a reveal. I think a lot of us expected a screenshot montage.

It's hard to describe this, but we keep describing what we're trying to do as a lifestyle experience. In my own part of the presentation last night I said that Vampire, as a roleplaying game, was kind of an anomaly, and not just in that it was adult enough to have girls and other people who were interested in it. The fact that it was a roleplaying game was an "and" and not the "the." So if we can hit that on the MMO front and put the game somewhere between an MMO and virtual world that draws people in because they like the style or the personal connectivity or the music or the style of it, and then there's a game as well, we'll bring in a broader range of people and create a very different experience than just saying, "Oh, it's a game." And I think the fashion component was the right way to sell culture before selling a game.

The social divisiveness of the setting is one of the most compelling aspects, and one of the main worries that I've heard expressed is how that sort of social conflict can be systematized within the confines of an MMO. Would you comment on how you're going to do this, or on what sort of design paradigm you're using?

One of the things that I've said in the panels is that nothing is set in stone and that we're still in pre-production. The focus, though, is on player agency. Players, obviously, make the world, and [we're focusing on putting] more systems in place to facilitate social repercussions, giving real people the ability to enforce those [rather than encourage] a mob mentality. If you're going to have a prince of a city, for example, and the prince has power, and a part of that power ultimately would be the blood hunt, it's a big deal. It's like sending someone to the gas chambers or the electric chair. There's a process, but if you can really kill people's characters after they've screwed up so many times, you can put a system in place.

It's kind of like the old Activision games. If you break the masquerade a certain number of times, then the cops just keep coming. We're not doing that specifically, but things like that will definitely be represented. With the humanity system in the game, when you get to humanity zero, bad things are going to happen and you're going to lose your character.

The Grand Masquerade logoIt was discussed in the panel that it seems as if the game is going to be vastly more mature, both in content and game style, than any other MMO on the market. How will that affect the way that it's going to be marketed to the audience as a whole?

I think that's Vampire: The Masquerade overall, regardless of whatever iteration it's been presented in. I think the Activision games did a great job of accurately portraying that. I thought that while they were both great games, Bloodlines particularly did an excellent job of conveying the setting. I felt like I was playing World of Darkness. I thought that Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, the card game and the LARP, didn't diverge from the setting at all either. They haven't felt gratuitous or inconsistent, but rather "this what we're marketing because this is what we have." If people know what we're about, then they know what to expect. I don't think we need to do anything different -- we just need to apply what we do to another medium.

Do you think that the maturity of the setting and the playstyle of WoD could be detrimental to the subscription total at launch? It seems to be a difficult balance to strike between marketability and setting.

I don't think it'll be detrimental at all because if it were detrimental to this, then it would have affected all of the other iterations as well. Those Activision games each sold 350,000 to 450,000 units. I think that there's a market that really wants that experience and other games that have tried to do it. If our game gets a mature rating, it gets a mature rating. So what? I think that there are some games that have a level of gratuitousness that ours won't. If our game has nudity, then it'll be because that's part of what game needs. It won't be a T&A show, and there won't be fountains of gore erupting out of people's heads just because that's what you do.

Have you touched upon the idea of microtransactions? I know that EVE Online, CCP's flagship game, has recently introduced a microtransaction model that has received a lot of interesting commentary from the playerbase.

Without discussing the specifics too much, I would say that we're very cognizant of the way these games are developed and the trends that are occurring in the market. So it would make sense. It will absolutely be a very visually aesthetic game, and the market is changing. More games are trending that way, and I would question how long a pure subscription model would last. The tide is changing, and we see that.

Thanks for your time, Shane!

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