It's not all glitz in the games industry. Sometimes, no matter how many times you ask "Do you know who I am?" in however many funny accents, you still won't get an exclusive interview. My Guild Wars 2 interview with Global Brand Manager Chris Lye and Designer Jeff Grubb ended up being a round table affair, with a German guy, a German girl and a Russian guy. But since they were all asking smart questions, I've included their questions too. Ha!
Feast your eyes and brain on my four interviews for the price of one after the jump.
German Guy: In Guild Wars 1, even where the setting was familiar, you would discover things you had not seen in other games. For example, the little houses in the trees, or some other amazing ocean vista...
German Woman: Oh yes, you'd often be saying “where did they get that idea!”
Chris Lye: Well, absolutely. And it's very easy to explain that. Daniel Dociu, who is our art director, he is absolutely intent on making sure that the fantasy world of Guild Wars doesn't look like the fantasy world of any other game that you have seen.
Jeff Grubb: Look at the size and scope of Divinity City, this is an ultimate fantasy city. You go up to the upper city and you're under a great glass dome, it's filled with plasma and orreries with suns and planets and it's moving around, and there are two huge buildings opposite. This is that kind of attraction, it's the bit where people inhale breath and go “raaa!”
CL: The same is true of that big dam where the harpies are. It's beautiful, and it's not just a backdrop, you can go up onto the side of that and see just how big it is. We've always had these titanic, wonderful structures and our games development teams have always been capable of handling these things and bringing them into the game.
German Woman: I love the concept art, I have all the concept art, and I was really pleased to learn that the concept art was to be more a part of the game.
CL: This is part of Daniel's philosophy. First of all: great concept art is something you want to use and expose people to. It doesn't matter if it's not a finished 3D render, because great art is just great art. We totally bought into that. The other thing is having an engine which can take the kind of stylised art and recreate it faithfully within a 3D environment is something that our old engines couldn't quite do, and the new Guild Wars 2 engine can do incredibly well. Those two factors led the the game looking as it does.
JG: It's is very much playing to our strengths, we do want to use the great art. This brings it into the game. We want more things that set us apart, and our art helps us with that.
RPS (aka English Guy): A related question- your trailers have had a lot of ArenaNet guys saying that you're doing this or that differently, or this or that's really new. I was wondering with this emphasis on being different, where you take your inspiration from?
CL: Well we're not just designing an MMO. We don't want to make the best MMO ever, we want to make the best game ever. We're all gamers and you can see it when we analyse particular game mechanics, we're looking at systems from other games, other video games, other pen and paper games, and we're saying “does this component work? What happens if we change it? What has to change for standard RPG storytelling to work in an MMO world?” We can talk about moving under water: we had a traditional breath-bar and so on, which keeps people from going under water, it was punishing them for going under water, and we want people go under water. No one worries about how long Mario can hold his breath, so the same has to be true here. It just has to be fun.
JG: You know I think some game designers aren't even aware of the constraints they place themselves under when they say “We're gonna make an MMO, this is exactly how an MMO works.” We said “we want to make a really fun online world, how might that online world be fun?” Jeff talks a lot about this cross game influence, but look at the game trailer and cinematics guys. They don't just look at game trailers, they look at movie trailers, TV commercials, anything. They are just asking “how do you do great visual storytelling on a screen?”
CL: And we are thinking in terms of the story first, as opposed to “is this constrained by the fact that we placed it in an MMO?” Consequently we have to think about how this sits with the mechanics and systems we are designing?
RPS: Which explains the home city instances...
CL: The home cities, the instancing, various characters, and people's individual stories. Characters that have character, people who you will remember from your own story.
Russian Guy: I want to ask about PvP. What will it look like in Guild Wars 2? Will be that mixture of Magic The Gathering and Counter-Strike?
JG: We have not revealed the full details of our PvP yet, we're saving that for later. But what we can tell you now is that we will have two distinct modes of PvP. One will be the competitive PvP you are familiar with, where experience doesn't matter and it's purely down to player skill. And there's the new element of PvP which we call “role versus role”, where one GW2 server will play against another GW2 server in something we call “the Myth”. It will be like a big RTS map with resource points and control points, and three servers will be going at it. Instead of units there will be players.
CL: It's under development, we just aren't able to say exactly “this is what it is” right now.
German Guy: The battle that we saw from the single player game demo seemed kind of chaotic, everyone doing their own thing. It seemed a bit unstructured with different player groups fighting the enemy. How are going to cope with that problem?
JG: We find that people are most aware of what is going on in their personal environment, they will tend to know they have someone near them who is, say, injured. They know people are valuable to them whether in your group or not. People will take the time to rez them because they know players are more valuable to them alive. We do intend for these battles to be chaotic, it's going to be Saving Private Ryan rather than being neat rows of soldiers. That works well with The Shadower, because he is a dragon minion and he brings chaos where he is. And it's worth pointing out that the way people die in GW2 means that they are not gone or ported off the battlefield, someone can come in and grab them and pull them up. The penalty for death is not so harsh, so trial and error is a viable way of working through these encounters.
German Woman: It seems that each of the classes in GW2 can do a lot of different things very well?
German Guy: Yes, the warrior can use bows in a very efficient way, is there things that the warrior cannot do well?
CL: The way this works is that each of the professions have something that they do very very well. With the warrior he is the master of weapons, the ranger has other skills. They can both use bows, of course, but the effect will be slightly different. A bow in the hands of a warrior will be different than a bow in the hands of a ranger. The necromancer has a death shroud that no one else has, for example, so each has a different experience, even if they might have overlapping features. We looked at people's styles of play, say a healer, and we can see that there are people who like to offer support, run around and bring people back to life and so on. That's viable for an elementalist, and for a ranger. We are rewarding playing styles without locking people in. I like to play warriors, but I don't have to be up close to the giant monster. I can pull back and use the bow and still feel like a warrior, not a heavily armed warrior.
RPS: Death shroud?
CL: This is a special ability where you enter the death shroud, you become immune to knockdown, you have a different set of skills, and you can move around outside of your body. You are a black blur, a Dr Strange character. Your body is left behind, and you look like you are dead. You can use this to explore, that's how I use it, and Chris tends to use it to lead the bad guys away from me. It also gives necromancers and extended life, because they go into the death shroud when they die.
RPS: And then people attack that?
CL: Yes, they attack the death shroud figure.
Russian Guy: Why increase the level cap to 80?
JG: People like to see the numbers go up? It might have been capped at 20 before, but people would still ask if we were raising the level cap. It's still important to us that it's anti-grind. We're not going to do that that thing where it slows down to level as the levels get higher. We just want to have a good story going on. We are not afraid of people being at the highest level.
German Guy: How will the sidekick system which allows low level players to play with high level players work for rewards? What about if I am level 70 playing with my level 15 friend and I am sidekicking down? Is there a reward?
JG: So it's interesting to look at how dynamic events are rewarded. You don't get gear, you get things like gold, karma, and experience. You can never have too much of that stuff. But the real reward for sidekicking down is being able to play with someone you want to play with. If you are a social gamer then that's the thing. If you are all “I must maximise my XP per hour!” then well you are probably not going back to help your friends anyway.
German Woman: Where do you get gear from if not from drops?
JG: You can buy it with gold or sometimes earn it through karma.
German Woman: But is there unique treasure you can find in the world?
CL: Rewards come from events. One of the events, for example, is to bring back old weapons from an armory. And in that situation the armory is selling more powerful weapons than would normally be available, so that's a reward in itself, it's not a random drop.
German Guy: So no repeating stuff to earn the right loot?
JG: There will be a form of repeatable content that is set within dungeons, but I don't think we've said what the pure motivation for repeating a dungeon is. We need to talk about that in some detail at a later time.
RPS: I have a friend who is a terrible healer, so I was wondering: how accessible is that rally ability that lets you revive downed friends? Is that available to everyone?
CL: Yes, that's available to everyone at all times. The ability to rally a friend is a fundamental.
German Guy: So it's easy to do?
CL: Sure it's just a case of interacting with the fallen body while you are not getting kicked too hard by a monster. You will need some time and space to do it. But also if you are the one who is down you can still attack, and you can bring yourself back by killing one of the monsters. (That is so in Borderlands – Jim).
JG: So the thing with skills is: we don't want to stop people who are good at something being more excellent than average, we just want to remove the part where people are tragically, tragically bad at something. We are going to have groups, and you will be able to see health, and if you are a bad healer like me, I can have an auto-health replenishment spell going on, but I won't be as good as the guy who is working on targeted health for everyone.
Russian Guy: So what sort of group sizes should we expect? What sort of size raids...
JG: We haven't really locked that down. One of the things we want to focus on is making small Guilds viable. When you place the emphasis on 20, 30 or 40-man raids within your game then you are basically making small guilds impossible. They can't compete. If you want to belong to a big guild then high end play focused around small numbers doesn't have to be an issue, because you still end up having more resources, more people to group with, and so on. We fully expect guilds to still exist, but it should be viable for you and four friends to play high level content together.
German Guy: Can I explore dungeons alone? Or with one friend?
CL: Yes you can. Well, you can go into them all by yourself, whether you can complete them is another thing. Dynamic events in the world will scale up from four people participating, but our dungeons will need to be designed around know we have five people coming in from this direction and they are going to do that, and the order of the creatures. If you go in with a single character you are probably going to have a very difficult time, and that's because our dungeons are closer to our traditional instanced content where you go in with a limited number of people and encounter the creatures that are there.
German Woman: There's very little armour in Guild Wars 1, will you have more options for armour in Guild Wars 2?
CL: We're all about options and itemisation in Guild Wars 2, although I don't believe we've really talked about this in any detail at the point. In Guild Wars 1 we didn't give people as much option for things like armour as we'd hoped, and we will be providing greater options this time around. I think you will like what we've done this time.
RPS: With the dyanmic events you're seeing people arrive, with the event getting tougher as you go, with everyone getting rewarded for their involvement in the event. But what's to stop one character coming in, firing two bow shots at a boss and then running off?
JG: Well there will be a threshold for inclusion. If you do fire just two shots off and run then you might not make the threshold for that event. We haven't revealed how participation works, and we may not because then people will already know how to play the game.
Russian Guy: When will you shut down Guild Wars 1?
JG: We have never said we will shut down Guild Wars 1, and I don't expect we will any time soon. The servers are very efficient to run.
CL: I expect to see people playing both. You will have gamers playing GW1 with their Monday night group and GW2 with their Tuesday night group, and enjoy both.
German Guy: So if the Guild Wars 1 servers are more efficient to run, does that mean the persistent world of 2 will make them less efficient to run? You are still subscription free?
CL: I know that the programmers for this stuff have been given a very similar brief for server infrastructure to the one they were given for GW1, but I don't have an answer for you I'm afraid. We don't know enough about the technical side of what has changed versus the persistent world stuff for us to be able to give you a useful answer.
German Woman: So there have been paid-for outfits and other things introduced to Guild Wars 1 in the past years, are you planning on doing this for Guild Wars 2?
CL: Yes, we have been introducing microtransactions to Guild Wars 1 over the past few years, and we've been paying a lot of attention to what people like and don't like about them. What feels like a correct purchase, what feels too close to affecting gameplay to be comfortable, etc. We're using what we've learned and we will have microtransactions in GW2. We have GW1 as a test bed for this stuff and we are still learning.
RPS: All the respawning from waypoints, being rezzed by anyone, and so forth, it feels very smart, but isn't it likely to endanger the tension of combat?
CL: We haven't really noticed that in combat yet. When I am down and fighting for my life, I feel it.
RPS: And there's no XP penalty?
JG: No, feeling stupid about dying and having to run back to the fight is punishment enough for most people.
CL: Having to pay off death by doing more in the future is unfair. We don't want to annoy people further after having died.
RPS: So, Final Fantasy XIV has three capital cities and three factions to choose from, and they're each finding unique audiences. A lot of female players go toward the relaxing city, businessmen go for the Machiavellian city, and the developers are changing their game's content to suit these demographics. I thought that was interesting.
JG: We do recognise that a certain kind of players are more attracted to a warlike faction than a noble, gentler faction. We're designing with that in mind: people who can play just as humans, people who can play as Asura.
CL: Yeah, and we have different kinds of people working on this stuff too. The guys who are doing the big mechanical military stuff are quite different from those who want to work on the quiet vegetative areas and explore that that stuff is about.
JG: We have five very diverse player races, and I think that will cater for a wide range of tastes.
German Guy: But how quickly can my friend who is playing one race going to be able to meet me?
CL: Immediately. In the main city. We've thought about exactly that, and you can find each other pretty much straight away. There's no waiting thirty levels before the worlds converge.
RPS: Thanks to everyone for their time.