Tanya X. Short, Game Designer
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Event: End of DaysThe Albion TheatreSeasonal Event: HalloweenStory: Dreaming Prisons


The Secret World

The Secret World is a AAA MMORPG set in a supernatural modern day, in which every conspiracy, urban legend, and myth is actually true. It features full voice acting, the storytelling of Ragnar Tørnquist, and tacos!

I came into The Secret World as a freefloating Senior Designer, a trained expert in Funcom's tool suite, ready to fire-fight any bogged-down design. I was a flexible, independent resource, able to script, design, and implement, managing art and tech dependencies as required.

Before launch, I primarily contributed to the Dreaming Prisons story segments, in-game player clothing distribution, and a stealth-action faction mission. After launch, I helped finish the Albion Theatre and lead a team responsible for seasonal events. Together we pitched, developed, and implemented the Halloween and End of Days events.

 

Marketing materials

Event: End of Days

Zombies could spawn anywhere, anytime! But they would just watch curiously, if unprovoked...

Bolon Yokte' K'uh, the Mayan god between Ages, was a cranky boy after his nap!

We chose a traditional structure for the "End of Days" event, a one-time occurance starting December 21st, 2012 and lasting until January 7th, 2013.

Mayan undead follow you wherever you go, chanting dread magics. Three giant, deadly Harbingers roamed the world, seemingly invulnerable. Meanwhile, a new dungeon opened in the game's world hub, Agartha.

In order to find the Harbingers' weaknesses and earn ancient Mayan relics, players had to collect a temporary currency corresponding to the Mayan beliefs ("K'in", or days) about that dark window in time between the ages.

It was developed under extreme time pressure by myself, A.I. Designer David Fathers, and a handful of others part-time, providing hours and hours of replayability for an absolute minimum of development time. He spearheaded the level and encounter design for the final boss, while I focused on the missions and rewards.

Despite the rush, a few lovely details made it in. Bartenders sold time-limited party hats and cyanide drinks. London citizens chatted to each other in the background about the world's end. A whole new dance-club opened. We hope the End of Days will remain a story worth telling for years to come in The Secret World: "I was there when..."

Marketing also asked me to write an 'in-character' blog post (my 3rd) detailing the event for the game's fans: http://www.thesecretworld.com/news/blog_the_end_of_days

 

The Albion Theatre

Before launch, there was a theatre space made for London, but it didn't make it into the city proper due to optimisation. A design concept was floating around, but nothing had been nailed down for what to do with the level -- a hangout? A minigame?

I was part of a three-scripter team who worked on it part-time for months, in between our other duties, because we felt strongly that a virtual world like TSW should have more player-generated content, even if most players won't take advantage of a high-investment system. Together, we came up with a design and implementation strategy for empowering players as much as possible.

We ended up creating an entire reward structure surrounding it, in which players had to adventure and spend to unlock all of the 100+ options, including 3d setpieces, 2d cutouts, backdrops, particle effects, audio effects, lighting, etc. Using these, players could depict anything from a zombified London to Romeo and Juliet in the snow.

Journalists seemed excited by the idea, as were the German players, who put together a comprehensive guide as soon as it went on TestLive.

I also wrote my second blog post for TSW marketing on the topic of the Theatre and its possibilities: http://www.thesecretworld.com/news/blog_take_the_stage_at_the_albion_theatre

 

It was satisfying to fulfill a promise we'd made to the players, that the empty exterior at launch would become a memorable evening's entertainment.

Pictured: 2 setpieces (Phone box, Car), 2 cutouts (Faun, Zombie), London backdrop, confetti effect, police strobe effect, 'jazzhands' emote.

Event: Halloween (Samhain)

We re-purposed Stonehenge, a Player-versus-Player playfield, to serve a new interdimensional purpose.

I was the leader of the design and development of the first seasonal event in The Secret World, Samhain, running from October 18th to November 1st 2012.

I pitched three different iterations of the event to the game director, ensuring each was closer to his vision of the narrative, atmosphere, and lore than the last.

In the end, we settled on a cat-themed murder mystery, spanning all of New England and reaching beyond space and time into Lovecraftian horrors.

We raised the bar for quality, knowing it was the standard against which all future events would be judged, and it was close, but we made it. The writing, concept art, and voice acting all came together to produce a generally polished experience, though we later agreed it could have benefited from a more replayable segment.

I'm interested to see how the main villain of the piece returns in future events. Each incarnation promises to be slightly different, since voodoo serial killers tend to be hard to nail down.

This was also my first opportunity to write a game development blog at marketing's request: http://www.thesecretworld.com/news/blog_halloween

 

Meet Irusan, a lesser-known Irish folk legend, as re-interpreted by The Secret World.

Story: Dreaming Prisons

What Amundsen really discovered under the ice...

Dreaming Prison part 1. I collaborated directly with the game director to iterate on and improve the narrative pacing and atmosphere.

This story segment occurs after the player has completed the main story mission of New England (~20 hours), around one third of the way through the game. The player follows Roald Amundsen's footsteps (and his charming, fictional granddaughter Aveline) through memories of Antarctica, including temptations of gifts promised by a silver-tongued Dreaming One. I was particularly proud of the player experience I concepted and crafted here, in which the player has dream-like encounters with historical figures that the Dreaming One claims to have given gifts in the past, such as Cyrus the Great or William Randolph Hearst.

For these, I was primarily a gameplay designer and scripter. I was given a space and I designed the gameplay to suit the story objectives within that space. This resulted in some creative problem-solving for the third area in particular, which would have taken players an hour to traverse by normal means, which is not ideal when puzzle-solving. I ended up adapting the fast-travel system present in the main hub of the game, with a bit of extra scripting to handle the special circumstances.

 

Player enjoying Part 1 ("Dawning of an Endless Night"):

 

The next segment comes at the two-thirds mark in the narrative, after the player has completed the main story mission of Egypt (~40 hours). The player endures verbal abuse at the hands of the Dreaming One, and has more surreal dream-like encounters similar to the first segment. This time however the Dreaming One claims to have made brilliant historical figures suffer, such as Marie Curie and Nietzsche. At the end, having seen all the ways in which othesr have suffered, they must choose whether to apologise for insolence by kneeling before it or defy the Thing even further and attack it. You can watch a player enjoying Part 2 ("Black Sun, Red Sands"), from 7:40 or so:



The final dreaming prison visit occurs at the very end of the game's story, after the Transylvania story mission (~60 hours), and serves as the entire plot's climax. The player solves a series of simple puzzles and in doing so learns more about the fundamental mechanics of the world, and the machines imprisoning the Dreaming One.

After brainstorming a few concepts and technical designs with the team's A.I. Designers, I scripted the puzzles myself in Lua and Funcom's proprietary scripting engine Scry. I also worked with an audio engineer to ensure the musical tones communicated the success and fail conditions clearly. A secondary (visual) method to solve the puzzle was also introduced after launch, to provide a method of play for hearing-impaired players.


Player enjoying Part 3 ("Mortal Sins"):



The puzzle difficulty and complexity ramps up steadily over the course of the level. The first iteration only requires the player to find one "broken" node (one of the glowing points) out of six. The second requires the player to find two out of six.

The final puzzle, depicted to the left, requires the player to find two broken nodes out of twelve... unless they decide to instead make a moral decision to break open the puzzle instead. In the story, the green cubes are "Gaia Engines", imprisoning the Dreaming One. By repairing or destroying the final Gaia Engine, the player signals their allegiance to either the pro- and anti-Gaia factions.


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