We bring you the latest details on World of Darkness from EVE Fanfest 2013!
When building a sandbox-based MMO, getting the foundation right is crucial. It's a lesson that CCP learned when developing EVE Online, and has since continued into World of Darkness. But while the studio didn't present much gameplay, executive producer Chris McDonaugh shared a wealth of information about those pre-production steps.
The last 12 months have seen a small team of 70 artists, designers and engineers build the technical foundations of a mature, modern day MMO. Basic core systems such as movement and combat have been a heavy focus in order to ensure that navigating vast cityscapes uses the full range of powers available to an immortal vampire.
Based on the modern-day RPG from White Wolf and acquired by CCP in 2006, McDonaugh explained that there are three aspects to WoD's foundation. The sandbox has received the most attention so far, ensuring that players can leave their mark on a constantly evolving city, controlling parts of it and having a meaningful impact.
The second aspect, named Coffee Shop, comprises the social tools and mechanisms that will bring players together, either to build something or to tear it down. McDonaugh added that political play will be a part of WoD, with all the backstabbing and betrayal that tabletop and LARP players will be familiar with.
The Theme Park is the final piece, representing PvE content that will be used as an additional layer, much like it is in EVE. We're hoping to hear more about how NPC factions and gameplay will affect the sandbox in future updates.
The studio has also been gathering a number of metrics from internal playtests, from population numbers to player flows. In one month alone, internal testers managed to inflict 3360 kills on each other. Don't expect to go on stake-wielding slaying sprees though; both the Masquerade and Elysium will be present as core features.
This year has seen CCP gear up, layering on additional features. The out-of-game experience is one such component, promising to support interaction with the universe through a cellphone or tablet.
Characters have also seen attention, from NPC AI and behaviors to motion capture, to get that look of leaping across buildings and dropping twenty feed from a rooftop to street level. Clothing is another important part of that look, with fashions included to support all the vanity that vampires display.
Much of the pre-production effort has also involved creating the tools that will allow rapid development of those rich, varied cityscapes. Each large city in World of Darkness will be seamless, with cities located in geographically dispersed servers, all networked together as a single shard. Components from EVE Online, including network and rendering code, have been used in WoD's development.
Discipline powers make up a significant part of a vampire's powers, so getting the gameplay right is vital. In order to build discipline powers and fine-tune the effects, CCP use a custom scripting tool dubbed Athena. General combat abilities and other scripted events are also managed using this tool.
Level generation and art mapping are also supported by specialist tools. Areas are mapped out and roughly populated with a grey boxing tool called Jessica, allowing a designer to block out rough 3D environments that take into account the jump and movement attributes of characters. Art mapping is then performed in a further tool, named Genesis, where artists can quickly layer textures onto the grey boxes and start bringing the area to life.
The final pass is added using shaders to provide both atmospheric style and intricate detail. Shaders for rippled glass, puddles and running water, randomly generated brick walls and more have been created. Shaders have even been built to provide the illusion of internal structure to buildings without creating additional geometry.
Maintaining the Masquerade
World of Darkness has been largely working under the radar since it was announced in 2006, with many of the developers moving back and forth between both of CCPs PC titles as production schedules have required. While 2013 is DUST 514's year, we can expect to hear more from the darker MMO in the years ahead.
As McDonaugh wrapped up the keynote, we were treated to a small excerpt of footage intended as an art target that's indicative of planned gameplay. But while CCP isn’t committing to a release date or launch window, instead preferring to release 'when it's done', we could clearly see the dark, moody atmosphere that they're striving to create.
Don't expect launch to be the end of development either - McDonaugh teased that while vampires are the initial focus, we might see other powerful entities such as werewolves and mages emerge in future updates or expansions. But either way, we have a lot to look forward to as this dark underworld is revealed.
Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor