Worlds of Darkness 8: Q&A MMO panel at the Grand Masquerade 2011

I was present Saturday, September 17th at the Q&A MMO panel in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. Reynir Harðarson (creative director) and Chris McDonough (senior producer) gave little bits of information here and there and answered questions and queries from the assembly.
My notes, below, have been edited Saturday 24th to include my comments. I used quote marks for clarity purpose; these are not exact quotes.

- High-level design principles
"Before the advent of computer gaming, games were multiplayer. The trend is a return to that. True human interaction is most interesting."
"You can play very casually -e.g. like Magic:The Gathering."
"The game will feature external access from the Web."

- Scope of the game
"Vampires only initially, no other critters (otherwise shallow, lack of depth). Caitiffs are not part of the original game."
CCP has confirmed that, at start, the game will only feature the seven clans from the 1991 Camarilla. Werewolves or mages may be present as part of the occult background, but only as non-playing characters. It makes sense to focus on a small part of the World of Darkness (WoD) and to do it right before expanding the scope. The pen-and-paper game started that way. The print collection provides a template for a development roadmap. While adding layers of systems to the depth of the game, CCP just needs to make sure every one is properly "corified" so as to be fully compatible with potential developments in scope.
- Game mechanics design
"Live action roleplaying (LARP) inspiration for systems."
This neatly answers my question about the core gameplay model for this game. Eve Online had Elite or Freelancer. World of Darkness, the MMO, has the Mind's Eye Theatre game line. We will gather, we will chat, we will plot. There is a model for that, and it functions well -ask the thousand or so Larpers who attended the Grand Masquerade.

"It is possible to gain influence without fighting anyone. You can fight stuff, but it is not the only way."
"You have to make friends."
"There is some metaplot, but it unfolds differently."
Chris: "player-driven metaplot". This was an answer to a player demanding some story.
"World events: in."

- Game objects and world setting
"There are non-playing characters (NPCs)."
This was an answer to a question by Justin Achilli, former developer at CCP and currently in charge of the open development process with the V20 Companion Book. It looked like an inside joke question, however I am going to guess it might have been based on an actual discussion where Justin would have advocated the removal of non-playing characters. Only players (in two meanings of the word) might have been able to fulfill a number of functions such as dialogue and unique in-game appearance.

"The choice was difficult but the other options (like playing mortals during the day) were rejected: permanent nighttime."
The developers do not want to prevent the players from playing the characters dearest to them half of the day. Makes sense. It does not even prevent CCP from introducing daytime in the future as another shard with passageways into the nighttime shard or something like that.

Hopefully with a way to design them.

"One big huge community, multiple cities."
"No duplicates, there are differences between each city."
If I understood well (really not sure about this one), you can start the game in the WoD reflection of your real life city and try to plot your way to Princedom there (or elsewhere).
Perhaps CCP could try to crowdsource part of the design of some elements of what constitutes a city to the community? I can imagine people from Mexico, for example, building some Elysium in Mexico City with a housing tool otherwise used for havens. I would trust them to add more local flavor than CCP ever could.
And what about devising a program to partner with real world outlets, like nightclubs (advertising revenue for CCP, added content to the World of Darkness)?

A player requested that the use of Dementation powers could impact the interface of players of the affected characters, if I understood well. At least graphical effects. "We have systems for that."

- New player experience and character life cycle
"Everyone starts as a mortal. You cannot be Embraced against your will."
If a player tries to Embrace you, you will have the possibility to refuse. It means you can probably choose your Sire and your Clan. If I understood correctly the answer, it also implied that Embraces are player-made, with multiple consequences:
- you will have a hard time accessing the most exciting part of the game if you like to play MMOs without ever talking to other players; the socialization incentive this system provides will help form the first social structures;
- there can be systems using genealogy, both in and out of game.

"Unique characters."
Already the case in Eve Online, graphically speaking.
"The standard character sheet is similar to the one in the RPG."
Five-dot skills fit nicely with Eve Online's five-level skill system.

- Player versus player combat (PvP)
"You should never be totally safe."
Like in Eve Online. You can attack everybody everywhere, but there are consequences.

"Attacking other players lowers your Humanity and a low Humanity allows other players to attack you."
This control mechanism might naturally entice players to segregate themselves according to their Humanity rating.

"PvP is very different (from what I don't remember), smoother and more restrictive."

"You can die permanently – including vampires."
Like for the Embrace, permadeath appears to be a matter of choice. It would make sense to carefully craft a set of guarantees around it. Just ask any Eve Online player who lost his shiny ship to a wave of lag. You do want the players to be able to evade permadeath by following specified courses of action.
Permadeath does not need to mean the loss will hurt you as much as would, for example, the loss of your character in Eve Online. There are ways to make it more palatable to players, as I previously pointed out. If the player can come back as another vampire, possibly even of lower Generation, it can offset the loss of all his contacts, wealth, boons and other assets. After all, CCP does want to kill characters, not to lose customers.

"Diablerie and Generation under discussion."
Generation is more troublesome than Diablerie if the playerbase Embraces itself, if you wish to stick with the canon. You would probably need to renounce the limit on Fifteenth Generation.
Plus, a system with player-run Embraces set in the Old World of Darkness would put new players at a heavier and heavier disadvantage as time goes by. Blood Potency, as a replacement or a complement to Generation, could solve this issue.
EDIT: Chris says a little bit more in an interview with Generation could end up being the result of your in-game activies, like levels in Diku-type MMOs.

- Roleplaying and maturity
"This is not forced roleplaying game but emergent. The interests of player and character converge: that is roleplaying."
I hope they entirely remove static quests, using other devices to retain players who like to farm.

"A staff lawyer is looking into the implications of adult content. Characters in underwear are not allowed in public spaces, you can do it in havens. Opening the possibility for full nudity risks lowering the maturity of the game by opening venues of abuse by kids, trolls, etc."
"Inappropriate character names can be reported, there will be bans on that ground."
Good luck to them for that.
There will be tons of abuse in the game, if only because betrayals and character assassinations are part of the eternal war vampires wage against each other, and accepting with good grace the loss of a character in a contemporary world, who looks like a cooler version of yourself, will not come easily to many players. I think that, like in Eve Online, reputation will be everything.

- System requirements
Query about keeping minimum system requirements low.
Chris jokes "The game is done, we wait for machines to become powerful enough to run it."
"It's gonna run on the laptop."
Common sense. When World of Warcraft came out, the average machine was able to deal with cartoonish graphics. In two years time, even smartphones may be able to handle realistic graphics.
Also, not entirely untrue. Some Eve Online players reported losing their graphic card to the Incarna expansion (which uses the graphic engine common with WoD).

- Localization
"Epic localization system" called Cerberus... Same for Eve Online. (French version on the way!)

They also said:
"There will be more next year, everything is not set in stone."

I urge you to check the post on Umbral Echoes for another take on this MMO panel.


  1. "One big huge community, multiple cities."

    This has the potential to be HUGE. Did they say anything about consoles?

  2. It was not mentioned. Now, if a dumbed down version of the MMO is available through browsers or apps as hinted, it could be platform-agnostic. It could be the game, minus the graphic engine and the possibility to physically affect other PCs. I don't see why at some point it could not be used from any device connected to the internet and with browser capability (more of a phone thing). A kind of a giant Killer game where you would plot and roleplay during the day; going into the meat of things (combats) when you come back home after work.
    But nothing so far about porting the client to consoles.

  3. Good thoughts and analysis! Also thanks for the linkback to my blog. :)

    As one note, the translation engine is called "Cerberus," not "Circus."

  4. Thanks Mike, I must have misheard. I edited the post.
    I do not have access to privileged information, but I suppose it is really more of an engine to localize rather than to translate. Meaning that it would not translate content (executives with brain and budget do rely on human translators for that) but rather allow translation of content to be performed smoothly, with consistency and without having to deal with code.
    In the past, the translation of computer games has at times suffered from content inextricably merged into the game code and from inconsistent translations. My understanding is that, for their next games, CCP might have built from the ground up a system that allows them to just feed the translated content to the game engine and have it function normally.

  5. Hey, I just read another interesting post:
    Apparently I got it all wrong, it is indeed a translation tool... for chat.
    Quote: "Using software called Cerberus for real time translation in game via text chatting. CCP Chris said 5 languages (didn't state which however) on release."