Fanfest: World of Darkness Update

The World of Darkness MMO has been waiting in the wings for a long time. After their 2006 acquisition of Atlanta-based White Wolf Games Studio, the makers of the Vampire: The Masquerade pen and paper roleplaying game, many people speculated CCP would create a World of Darkness-based MMO. It took some time before this was speculation was proven true. Development has been delayed on several occasions due to changes in focus of CCP's efforts, particularly after the disastrous release of EVE Online: Incarna, which some have said was intended to be a testbed for character technology used in the World of Darkness game.

Since then, followers of the WoD effort have been curious to see what progress has been made on the game. CCP announced that they were still working on the game at Fanfest in 2012, and showed some rendered environments to give an idea of the look and feel they are going for. However, until now we haven't known just how much - or how little - progress is being made towards finishing the game.

The short answer? From what was demonstrated at Fanfest 2013, progress is slow, but steady. CCP has invested a tremendous amount of effort into building systems and tooling that will allow them to rapidly prototype, create and modify every aspect of the game, from buildings to Disciplines - the magical powers posessed by the vampires in the game. Much of the presentation on the World of Darkness at Fanfest focused on showing off these tools. I got the sense that while progress on the game itself has been slow, CCP has been (sensibly) focused on building a solid foundation on which to construct the game.

That's not to say we didn't get any details about what CCP has been up to over the last year. The World of Darkness team has divided the work on the game into three key areas: 

  • The sandbox, or providing the mechanisms within the game that players will use to build empires or oppose one another,
  • The coffeeshop, which focuses on the social aspects of the game both in and out of the game, including mechanisms for chat and forum posting,
  • And finally the theme park, which is the environments, NPC flavor and background that will bring the World of Darkness to life - or unlife, as the case may be.

According to Chris McDonough, Senior Producer of the World of Darkness game, CCP has spent the past year focusing on building the sandbox, with its team of about 70 developers and artists creating the basic mechanics that will allow the game to function. They've made considerable headway on that, and now in 2013 they are focusing on the coffeeshop and theme park aspects on the game.

McDonough was crystal clear on the release schedule: there isn't one, yet. The World of Darkness game isn't going to be rushed, and when it's done, it's done. One attendee asked in the Q&A after the game whether he was worried about missing out on the Vampire zeitgeist, but McDonough was unflappable. He'd rather build a great game than try and ride on momentary trends. From looking at the time that it has taken to get this far, we can infer that it will take at the very least another year - more likely two, if we assume the coffeeshop and theme park implementations will take the same amount of time as the sandbox did - before we might hope to see WoD enter beta. 

One thing that impressed me was how committed the WoD team seems to be to remaining true to the original intellectual property of the World of Darkness. The notion that actions should have permanent, lasting consequences is not only a core part of the sandbox philosophy, it is one that translates quite well to the World of Darkness as a whole. Life as a vampire can be remarkably brutal, nasty and short if you make mistakes, and the obligations and stresses of Kindred society translate well to the sort of political maneuvering, espionage and backstabbing that are de rigeur in the EVE sandbox.

Finally, to whet our appetites and to show the player base where the WoD team is trying to take the game when it reaches its finished form, Mr. McDonough showed some footage that demonstrated character movement and combat. He was quick to say that this footage was not entirely recorded inside the game, and that many effects and even textures were added in post-production. The video had been made by the art and design team to show where they want the game to end up; the game itself is nowhere near this level of polish yet.

In the video, a vampire spotted several enemies moving across the city and pursued them, pausing briefly beforehand to feed on an NPC to gather her strength before following them. Movement was smooth and had a solid feel. One thing that raised my eyebrows was how energetic the movement is; McDonough said that the team wanted to give players the feeling that they were a powerful creature of the night, and that character movement should express that. I'm not certain that I entirely agree with the decision that vampires - at least not WoD vampires - should be able to leap from building to building without the use of certain special abilities. McDonough did point out that the ability to jump and climb with superhuman strength and agility does make the urban environment more interesting from a tactical perspective, which is a valid point. McDonough also emphasized that there are game mechanics that enforce the Masquerade, the charade that vampires maintain to hide their presence among humans, so that you can't start leaping tall buildings in a single bound when humans are watching.

When our character caught up to her quarry, combat was fast and brutal, with more of that solidity and speed that had been shown previously in the movement. It "felt" satisfying and showed off that there were a number of ways to interact with the environment that could help dispatch enemies. In the video, our character snuck up on one of her adversaries as he perched on a rooftop, shoved him off and pounced on him from high above, taking advantage of the fact that the impact had stunned him briefly. The whole thing looked a lot more satisfying than combat in most MMOs, and suggested gameplay possibilities that are a lot richer and more satisfying than your average theme park clickfest. As a combat model I was again struck by how it invoked EVE's richness and depth.

Overall, the World of Darkness is in good hands, and while we're having to be extremely patient, it will probably be worth the wait. If CCP achieves the vision they have set forth, they'll have a solid game.

Kesper North is a humble line member in GoonSwarm Federation. His passions in EVE are nullsec politics and solo PVP. He gladly accepts donations of Orthruses. Twitter: @KesperNorth