Slipping on the boots of a bloodsucker is one of the biggest draws of CCP’s long in development MMO World of Darkness but, as well as the chance to sprint along rooftops hunting mortals and other vamps, there’s a great deal to be excited for besides.
Taking Eve’s sandbox gameplay as a model, a model which generates endless stories of skullduggery, CCP are developing a game which will have their players develop friendships and rivalries with a freedom unlike almost any other game yet made. And all on top of the lore of the infamous Vampire: The Masquerade series.
At this year’s Eve Fanfest, CCP finally showed some footage of the game in action, so we thought it was about time we collected together everything we know.
It’s based on the pen & paper RPG
Starting life as a pen & paper RPG back in 1991, White Wolf’s World of Darkness quickly found a following because, well, vampires. It was a wonderful mess of overlapping lore: where vampires, werewolves, witches, and demon hunters lived, fought and played in the same world.
While the game won’t be adopting the ruleset of the pen & paper game, it just doesn’t translate into an MMO, it will be adopting the setting wholesale.
It’s a cross between Assassin’s Creed and Deus Ex
This year’s Eve Fanfest saw the first in-game footage of World of Darkness shown to the public.
CCP aren’t ready to release the footage we saw: but the best way to describe it is a cross between the free-running of Assassin’s Creed with the dark, rain-soaked cities of Deus Ex.
The footage opened with a leather-coated woman skimming through texts on her phone in an alley behind a dingy bar. Rain runs down the walls, covering everything in a wet sheen. At the foot of the staircase leading up to bar a bouncer stood leaning against the wall. She walked towards him, leaned in, suggesting a kiss, and tore into his throat. It’s quick, it’s violent, and he stopped struggling in moments.
As she fed we caught a glimpse of a group of people running across a distant rooftop. A pack of vampires.
Choosing to ignore the staircase she, instead, leaped from the ground to a first floor balcony, passed through the neon-lit bar full of young folk and stepped out onto the rooftop at its rear. Again we caught a glimpse of the vampire pack running across the rooftop. She broke into a sprint, leaping from the bar’s roof to the next building over, didn’t break her stride, and manages to catch up with one of the group. She punched him to the ground and, with a single swipe, tears out his throat.
We’re told that the footage wasn’t exactly undoctored: CCP admit that special effects were added in post-production, but it wasn’t a pre-rendered cinematic.
Graphically, the game looks on a par with Eve’s cabin sections, so far from the low poly art in World of Warcraft but not competing with the high fidelity of modern singleplayer games like Assassin’s Creed. But, considering this is an MMO we’re talking about, and one that, like Eve, will potentially be running hundreds of thousands of players on a single server, it was extremely impressive.
Discussing the video, World of Darkness’ senior producer Chris McDonough said “One of the things that we’re looking at is capturing is what it’s like to be a vampire, the ultimate predator, sensual, lithe, but strong and powerful.” It shows. The little I saw of the game conveyed the vampires’ cat like movements and how they can tear out another vamp’s throat in one move. Whether combat will be this single-hit win in the final game I couldn’t confirm – if so, it would make PvP a tense, brow-sweating affair.
New characters start as vulnerable fleshy humans
Before you become a creature of the night, stalking across rooftops and draining the veins of passing mortals, you need to be “embraced” by a vampire. Depending on which family of vampire turns you will alter your appearance and possibly even some of your stats/proficiencies, much as in Eve your starting faction determines how quickly you can gain access to certain ships and technologies.
Hopefully, this two race system will mean some players try to band together and create human-only factions. When asked about this, McDonough said with a smile “You can try.”
For launch, though, “we’re not putting a bunch of functionality or effort into the mortal side,” McDonough said. “We want to focus on vampires, that’s what we want to make a game about, the mortal content would probably come later, like a hunter, werewolf, mage type of expansion.”
Vampires aren’t invincible
The vampires in World of Darkness are ridiculously powerful creatures that can single handedly massacre a group of humans. However, there are not enough vampires globally to win a war against all of humanity. To prevent a human crusade against the bloodsuckers, the vampire clans collectively developed a set of rules that came to be known as The Masquerade, and agreed to prosecute any of their kind who threatened their secrecy, effectively becoming a self policing community. So, if a vampire is too overt in their hunting then the clans are within their rights to put a stake through the violator’s heart.
This core component to the lore drives many of the unique features of the MMO conversion. CCP, who merged with White Wolf in 2006, want to have players keep within the tone of the original RPG: they want to avoid having players leaping up the highstreet, stripped to their underwear, shouting “Dr Acula is in the crypt!”. The Masquerade is CCP’s way to direct player behaviour: act out of fashion and other players will be encouraged to smack you down, viciously.
The world is made up of a network of modular cities
Play takes place in a network of modular city areas, the scale of what we saw suggested they’d be closer in size to a few city blocks than an island on GTA. Each section is populated by NPCs and players, with a mixture of PvE and PvP possibilities. It’s a system that lends itself to being expanded as new players fill the game and new content is created.
CCP want to move away from killing five rats and fix Eve’s learning gap
“What we’re trying to do with our PvE is segregate some of [the game’s] complexity into directions you can take for a while,” said McDonough, this is a way to guide the players through the learning curve of working in a sandbox game. “We do have a complex social structure and anything that requires you to interact and understand the framework of the interaction with other players is going to be more complex than ‘Go there and kill that thing and collect five of those things and come back here.’”
Eve has forever struggled with showing players how to jump from understanding the basic mechanics of the game and seeing what is possible in the freedom of a sandbox game, this more complex approach to PvE is designed to bridge that gap.
We weren’t shown and PvE in action, but there were slides showing what looked like semi-scripted missions or NPC owned buildings, filled with patrolling guards areas of interest, like stash rooms and weapon lockers.
PvP is influenced by Eve Online
The balance between PvP and PvE interactions are likely vary between city sections. Borrowing from Eve’s nullsec model, some sections will have a higher level of NPC policing in which aggressive actions will earn yourself an evisceration; lower security areas will be more player run and, so, more open to abuse.
It would follow that the high security areas would have a higher proportion of PvE events; and low sec areas will be open to more PvP scraps.
It will feature permadeath
It’s not often that a game features permadeath, much less an MMO. But World of Darkness will. McDonough confirmed “there are ways that players can be permanently killed. It’s a risky cool thing and there are definitely different permutations of what can cause that to happen.”
How does it work? When we asked, CCP wouldn’t confirm any details of the system, but would answer some yes or no questions.
Death in standard combat won’t result in a character wipe, but a single player could permakill another player. The community, too, could gang up and perma-kill a single player.
This suggests a couple of possibilities: we know that there will be a panel of community-elected players who will oversee certain aspects of the game, like Eve Online’s Council of Stellar Management. There’s a good chance they will have the power to vote for a player’s permanent demise. What would bring it to their attention is difficult to say, could a player who’s been griefing other players be executed? Or would it be for people who have been acting out of character? Or maybe the community believe there’s a leader of a faction who is gaining too much control.
Whatever the case, McDonough told us that “it’s in the client now and we’re using it. A few people have been perma-killed.” Much to the joy of the testers.
Player-created communities will drive the game
“Players have to be able to form up and organise themselves,” McDonough said. “It’s the very essence of what the sandbox is.” There are lore factions – different clans of vampires – but players will not be restricted to who they can socialise with. Instead, they will be free to form their own communities, like the corporations in Eve. These player-created communities will be able to form alliances and, again, much like Eve, single players will be able to rise to great notoriety and gain political power through the metagame.
To encourage the formation of friendships and the declaration of nemeses, World of Darkness will ship with a number of systems to allow communication outside of the game client. Of course, there will be the forums but also mobile apps that allow for chat and PMs – like what we’re seeing released for Eve and Dust players
Eve’s stories are generated by the freedom of alliances and rivalries between players; at the heart of every story of skullduggery that makes it into the news is one player screwing over another. If that’s the model that World of Darkness is following: then expect some seriously dark tales to emerge
It will have a real economy
Beneath the surface of World of Darkness will be a fully functioning economy, built entirely through player-made items. Don’t expect to be sat stitching together clothes in the back room of a dingy room, though: “immortal lords of the night don’t make shirts,” says McDonough. Instead, a term which kept being mentioned was human networks; groups of humans who you command to generate commodities.
Players that command a large and efficient production network will be akin to the mega merchants in Eve, rising to the top via wealth alone. Vampire factions will need these players on their side if they’re to be able to fund their ongoing wars with enemy factions.
It won’t launch as a finished game
When World of Darkness does eventually launch – and that’s not likely to be for at least another two years, much more likely four – it should be a fully playable game. But it won’t be finished. It won’t ever be finished. The years following the game’s launch is when we’ll see it flesh out, not simply with content expansions, as with most other MMOs, but whole new chunks of sandbox systems. CCP are planning an involved bounty system. They want players to make their own content. And they have much more to come.
This is how CCP work: they are masters of iterative development. Playing Eve today is little like playing Eve a decade ago. The core systems are still there but they’ve been polished, expanded upon, and redesigned.
I believe that World of Darkness has astonishing potential: it may well be one of the most compelling MMOs in development right now. It’s that magical combination of sandbox design and relatable setting. Too many MMOs currently in development are playing it safe, sticking with the generic fantasy setting, or simply lifting feature sets from their competitors. World of Darkness, while comparable to Eve, promises to be something new and experimental.