Eurogamer: How long has The Secret World been in development?
Ragnar Tornquist: It's been in production for five years now. We started in 2006. Yeah, MMOs take a long time! The game did actually start production before then as something called Cabal in 2002, 2003. The team went off to do Dreamfall and then we returned to it after and started tinkering again.
We've been in full production for the last couple of years.
Eurogamer: How much has Funcom spent on The Secret World?
Ragnar Tornquist: Oh, I think people would probably kill me if I revealed any numbers. But these games are expensive and MMOs are probably the most challenging games to make. It's hugely complex - it's like making five other games.
The Secret World is a triple-A title. It's a solid bet for Funcom and EA... It's definitely equal to Age of Conan and in some ways it surpasses it... On the content side we go further than what Conan did. We are pushing to have as much exciting content as possible; more monsters and locations and things like that.
Eurogamer: You describe TSW as "triple-A" – do you consider games like Rift, World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic to be your peers?
Ragnar Tornquist: Yes, in some ways. In terms of scale and amount of content we're not trying to match World of Warcraft - that would be completely insane and would take us about 10 years! I don't think anyone expects, going into Secret World, that it's going to be as massive a world and have as much content as WOW does. But that's not our focus.
We want to be unique and different. The fact that we're all MMOs doesn't mean we shouldn't do different things. We embrace the competition and we stand apart.
I keep saying triple-A title because people have looked at MMOs in the past as second-tier games, that come out and aren't polished, are broken. But that's not the case any more. Rift showed that you have to be polished and it's not acceptable to launch half a game.
Eurogamer: You say you're focusing on storytelling - to the same degree that BioWare is in Star Wars: The Old Republic?
Ragnar Tornquist: Their approach to storytelling is very different to ours. We're not really about the personal story; we're really not about that story where you as a character go out into the world and have all these exciting adventures with sidekicks and things.
The Secret World is much more about you as a member of a faction, as a member of a secret society that is out to rule the secret world. It's about you as part of a secret army, fighting for control of the secret world and also to hold back this rising darkness. It's all about you along with other players in a living environment.
And that's our approach to the story... It's perfectly soloable, but you will be doing that with other players.
Eurogamer: What are the storytelling mechanics?
Ragnar Tornquist: Our game is about the real world and you have to research history, current events, characters and conspiracies, mysteries in the real world and bring that into the game world and solve puzzles through that.
These investigations, they can take players an hour to figure out or they can take players weeks and months to figure out because they'll basically be a huge ARG, something that feeds on external sources. It's a big jigsaw puzzle.
There are two sides to the story. There's the story mission you play when you start out in your secret society and that carries you through the entire game. It informs the entire game. It changes the entire game based on which faction you are.
There's also the jigsaw puzzle, and there are thousands of them; tens of thousands of pieces scattered about the game world in lots of different ways: in dialogue, in mission cinematics, in gameplay mechanics, in other things that I haven't talked about that I'm not going to tell you!
At launch you will maybe see a 10th of the entire picture. Launch is only the beginning of this story.
Eurogamer: You've been in development a long time – how often have you gone back to the drawing board?
Ragnar Tornquist: I wouldn't say that we keep going back to the drawing board, but of course we do change things. Some parts, like the story – the overarching storyline has remained pretty solid since 2003, although lots of details have changed. The game mechanics have definitely changed as we implement and prototype and iterate on things.
The game has changed massively in a lot of ways and it has to, because that's how every good game is made. The systems and underlying ideas of The Secret World have changed and modified for the better.
Eurogamer: As it stands, how much of The Secret World game is there?
Ragnar Tornquist: I guess our first beta phase is a month from now. It's a limited beta, which means there will be external people but don't expect an invite yet.
It's a limited section of the game. Large portions of the game are playable, large portions are very testable, but it doesn't all look as good as it needs to look. We're going to start with some sections of the game and expand on that. It's really hard for me to give a percentage estimate, but we are quite far along.
We're at the point where we know when the game is going to be released, but we're not quite ready to tell people yet.
Eurogamer: Will there be an open beta for The Secret World this year?
Ragnar Tornquist: Again, I can't tell you that. But there will be a lot more beta phases as we go forward. Like I said, the first one starts in a month. We are going to have a lot more and we'll keep expanding how many people are in it.