PAX Panel: Guild Wars: Past, Present, and Future

I am actually sitting in my hotel blogging instead of going to the concerts or hanging around the halls of the convention center doing nothing. There aren’t any panels going on that I’m interested in, and I’d rather do something productive like write here.

The first Guild Wars panel of the day was called “Guild Wars: Past, Present, and Future”. The panel was structured in two parts. During part one, the people who work on the story, art, quests, lore, mythos, and environments came up, told the audience a bit about what they do, and then the rest of the time was given over to the audience for Q&A. During the second half, the game designers, Skill designers, and people involved in game mechanics told the audience about their roles, and then there was another Q&A session.

Part 1: The Creation of Guild Wars

This part of the panel covered the process of art and story creation.

Guild Wars Creative Team

During the scripting process, the writers have to build a lot of fluidity into the in-game dialogue, because making games is often a procedural process. Things are changing all the time, and though they have writing deadlines, they still have to build enough flexibility into the script that the dialogue will still hold up under changes. The example was giving about writing dialogue for Nightfall, during scene in which one of the characters is rallying the troops against an enemy. Jeff Grubb, Writer and Game Designer, had to make the dialogue for that fairly vague because at the time they didn’t know what enemy the players would be fighting against. In the middle of the process, the enemy changed.

In terms of thinking about creature design, they put a lot of thought into the process. When the Charr were designed, the artists thought about biology and animal psychology. Big cats are predators of humans, and humans have this ingrained instinct to sort of fear their glowy eyes. The Charr were originally demonic, but they wanted to do something different. They didn’t want an enemy that was orcs or familiar “evil” races in other fantasy settings.

In GW: EN, we will get a deeper look at Charr culture. From the Charr point of view, the Searing was a great success, and those involved were greeted as heroes. A lot of the ideas they had about the development of the Charr as characters are going to show up in GW: EN and even more in GW2.

For the Asura, one of the new races that will be introduced in Guild Wars: Eye of the North, they wanted something different. They modeled it after Stitch, from the Disney film, Lilo and Stitch, but they added a Guild Wars twist and flavour to them. When they designed the race, they also built the Asura culture in great detail. They put a lot of thought into, for example, what the male and female Asura wear.

One of the things I personally thought was interesting, and slightly disappointing, was that the Asura male and female follow human gender conventions in terms of fashion. For example, the artist said that the Asura females are more covered up on their torso than the males, they are cleaner, and like human females, they decorate their ears a lot more than the males. Whenever games build races, I always hope for something that deviates from human gender convention, since ostensibly it’s an entirely different race, but well — humans make the game, and game design is influenced by the culture and enculturation of the designers.

The ArenaNet story and writing team has been working hard on Guild Wars 2. Since GW2 is going to be set hundreds of years in the future, they have to think about the changes that the world will undergo during this time. For example, landscape changes due to magical forces. They did a lot of geological research to try and make it seem realistic within the setting.

In designing armour, they keep in mind that location of origin of the armour. For example, the elite armour of Nightfall, the Primeval set, comes from the Realm of Torment. They keep this in mind for every set they design, but they also work within the overall theme of each Profession. For example, the Elementalists are one of the more ostentatious, and for the females — scantily-clad, Professions of the game. In designing the Elementalist Primeval armour, they had to work within these constraints, amongst others. If there is an undesirable effect, such as weapon clipping when wearing sets of armour, the design team does know about it. It’s just a matter of doing the best they can, and some things can’t be perfect.

The Q&A session largely gave insight into the design process.

When planning out the storylines and the side quests, Jeff Grubb acts as the central co-ordination node. The writing team builds the core storyline first, and then the side quests are build around it. Members of the team are free to suggest and brainstorm side quests, and Grub makes sure that they are consistent with the world and with the main quests. Grubb was responsible for the evil mime side quest in Nightfall, one of my favourites because the writing is hilarious. There are a lot of ArenaNet in-jokes in Guild Wars.

There was a question about how the main bosses are designed. The storyline is first crafted, and out of that there is an iterative process between the writers and artists to create the bosses. There is a lot of back and forth between and amongst the various groups.

Who or what will be the big enemy in Guild Wars 2? They want to “get away from the god thing” which was a driving theme in Nightfall. There are hints “all over the place” in GW: EN, so people should keep an eye out. There are two explorable Realms of the Gods in Guild Wars. There are more than two gods in Guild Wars, but more Realms will not be in GW: EN.

Designing the music is also a very iterative process. Often the members of the writing team will go to composer Jeremy Soule and ask for “exciting” music or “heartbreak” music or “something with lots of horns”. Soule will take that and go to work, come back to them, and then they will decide on the things they like/don’t like. Lots of back and forth in this process as well. The design team are very involved in the music.

Part 2: The Development of Guild Wars

One of the main themes of this part of the panel was passion. Every single person at ArenaNet has a great passion for what they do and for Guild Wars. They all really believe in the game and want to make it as great as they possibly can.

Guild Wars Development Team

One area of the game where we see this passion are the holiday events, which are managed by Colin Johanson, one of the Game Designers at ArenaNet. The first Guild Wars Halloween was created two weeks before the day. People worked very long hours to pull it off. For example, the physics system for the Rollerbeetle Races was designed in one day. They just wanted to make it a really cool, fun thing for the players. It’s about doing things better and improving, so with each event, they add more cool things. They will continue to have in-game events in Guild Wars after GW: EN and before GW2.

A lot of the Q&A delved into Skills and game balance, particularly the tension between PvP and PvE players. Even though it looks like ArenaNet is a monolithic entity, the reality is that there are a lot of intense discussions within the company about Skills about game balance and so on. Though the decisions look like they were made very decisively, behind that there is often a lot of dialogue, discussion, and debate about game design, Skills, etc. There are conversations going on all the time, so don’t think that everyone all agrees 100% of the time.

There was a question asked about whether Heroes have a place in high level PvP. Isaiah Cartwright, who is ArenaNet’s main Skills person, answered that they want to make the game open for everyone, and sometimes people don’t have 7 other people they want to play with. Heroes are there for those people. I could tell that his personal feeling was that PvP is PvP for a reason — you want to play with other real, live humans, not Heroes or Henchmen. It’s a continuing discussion at ArenaNet, and balancing what people want is a double-edged sword.

Competition drives Skill balancing. Rarely does PvE influence Skill balance. One example of where PvE did influence Skill balance was with Minion Mastering Skills. Minion Masters were pretty broken, in that they would absolutely dominate in Hard Mode, because you could spawn almost limitless numbers. Minions “trivialised” Hard Mode. They had to nerf this or else Hard Mode wouldn’t be hard.

Someone was wondering why there would be no Elite Skills or PvP Skills in GW: EN. GW: EN is the first Guild Wars expansion. The Skills have reached a very high level of complexity, and they didn’t want to create more balance issues for something that is not a full release. The Elite Skills can almost define a build, and they didn’t want to add to the complexity. They wanted to add Skills without having to worry about the constraints of PvP and what it would do to game balance.

Someone asked whether players were going to influence world events after GW: EN and before GW2. Will there be player participation in the possible rebuilding of Ascalon? The answer was that GW: EN already gives players the ability to influence future events. There is also the release of the Bonus Mission pack later this fall, which will allow players to relive key battles in Guild Wars history.

This led to a discussion about realm vs. realm in Guild Wars 2, and how they were going to integrate the PvP and PvE aspects of the game. There will be some sort of realm vs. realm, but behind this is the driving philosophy that they want to let people play the way they want to play. There will be loose, open, and persistent areas, but there will also be separate guild vs. guild (GvG) areas in a fair way that won’t interfere with the other parts of the world.

One of the most pressing concerns of the fans are how they are going to differentiate Guild Wars 2 from other MMOGs since they are moving to more persistent areas. This is in the mind of the game designers at all times. There is an awareness of a lack of innovation in the genre, and they want to break from the mould, but without sacrificing the fun. ArenaNet has a lot more experience in working with instances than their competitors, so they sincerely believe that they will see success with Guild Wars 2.

EDIT: The panel was recorded, and it will be available somewhere on the Penny Arcade Expo website. The official Guild Wars website also has a summary of the panel.

  1 comment for “PAX Panel: Guild Wars: Past, Present, and Future

  1. Mark
    26 August 2007 at 11:07

    Interesting comments.

    Hopefully they are mindful of not having too many different pvp events in GW2, otherwise there is the risk of spreading the playerbase too thon.

    As much as I like Heroes, it is a bit depressing that the average 8 human PUG, even with an appropriate class balance, is deficent in my experience compared to 2 competent players + 6 heros.

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