We sent Cara to talk to meet Guild Wars 2's Mike Zadorojny and find out about their new "Living World" system. This is her report.
Remember Guild Wars 2? It is this really pretty MMO that looks sort of bluey-purply like the side of Ben Nevis and has magic in it and stuff. Well anyway, I have totally sussed out their plan. Arenanet want to take over the world by instigating real war via virtual war in Europe. There is no real evidence for this, but it is fact. They sent for me to talk to them about their new episodic story system, Living World, but I stumbled across their sinister machiavellian undertones after too long. Read on for Hard Hitting Journalisms On An MMO Scale.
Arenanet are rolling out a new system in Guild Wars 2 called ‘Living World’ that adds story updates every two weeks:
“We’ll refine and update existing content and locations, we’ll overhaul our explorable dungeons to make them more exciting, update our reward systems, add new fractals, create new activities, and turn our world’s giant bosses into even more epic encounters. We’ll introduce holiday festivals and other events that will appear on a yearly basis, but with updates and changes each year. We’ll create events that change the landscape of the world forever, leaving behind epic monuments, destruction, new playable content, and fantastic memories in their wake. We’ll introduce new maps and regions permanently to the world, but with a storyline that drives their creation and discovery to make them feel natural and seamless rather than suddenly tacked on.”
I went over to see Mr Lead Content Designer Mike Zadorojny to ask him why they’d decided to even do this because they’ve already taken our initial one-off payment - Arenanet could probably just run off to a tropical island with daubs of cash and drink out of coconuts all day, the scoundrels. Instead they are actually making new stuff. “We wanted to revitalise where the MMO was going,” he said. “The game had been out for a couple months so we said we want to look at the game at a more macro level to have a story that’s changing, and adding more permanent content to player interaction and things that are happening. We started this experiment at the beginning of the year with the Flaming Frost team... It gradually got bigger, and now we have four full teams actually working on this. They get up to four months at a time to build one whole month’s worth of content that’s constantly changing.”
Mike has clearly been watching way too much Lost. “We look at it kind of like television shows ‘stay tuned for next time when something exciting is about to happen’” he explains. “For us, we’ve got two weeks, and we’re going to tell you something new. We’re tying everything together from the content to the gems store to the rewards, and they’re controlling what the player experience is going to be.”
But this isn’t the only thing Arenanet has planned. “We are planning on other features with other teams,” Mike says. On the 25th of June, they rolled out a new mastery track in World vs World, and they are still adding things to structured PvP. “We’re still supporting those things as well,” he said, adding that feedback from the community also shapes the content. “We are listening, there are multiple ways we are listening,” he said. They go to conventions and on the forums, and use in-game metrics to respond to the way players want to play.
“There’s a lot of things that we are working on and that we have done based on things that have been requests,” he says. “One of the major features we are looking to integrate now, one of the teams that I am working with is actually designing an in-game looking for group tool, which up until this point the fans have really kind of owned on various fansites and things like that. Because we have actually access to much more information live we’re going to be adding features that they just couldn’t do because they don’t have access to the same stuff we do.”
“We’re also looking at how do we develop our dungeon systems... With this Living World strategy we can... have a story that talks about how one of these villains takes over a dungeon path or something like that, we can go change things, and so our goal is to really change the world but use the story as a mechanism to basically tell what’s happening.
“For us it’s really about gameplay in the moment-to-moment: for us it’s the stories you’re going to walk away from when you put down Guild Wars 2 and you remember fondly about oh I had this awesome time.”
Guild Wars 2 is interesting in that you can play World vs World vs World: battle other regions of the world in a full on assault. This often means that UK servers end up playing against France or Germany like some sort of weird World Cup tournament, but with injuries that are only slightly more virtual than any footballers’ ones. I found this very suspicious. “Most of the reason we did the language servers the way we did is because people would congregate on more of their natural home - it’s just a bonus that it kind of ended up with country versus country,” Mike says innocently. I ask if they deliberately want to start an actual war in Europe. Mike and Craig Stephens, the PR, giggle a little bit. I get tougher. IS THE US TRYING TO INFILTRATE EUROPE VIA INSTIGATING WARS IN GUILD WARS 2? I ask. There is no desklamp to shine in their faces and so I scrabble around the table. There are only some biscuits and drinks on a tray.
No! The Real Journalism Hat is on! Along with the Special Leather Gloves I can use to SLAP the face of Craig the distractingly handsome PR [have they plastic surgeoned him as a way to try and distract me from my duty?] to make him talk. I have SUSSED THEM. THEY ARE TRYING TO START A REAL WAR WITH GERMANY AGAIN VIA THE VIRTUAL MEANS OF AN MMO WHERE SOME OF THE MOST POWERFUL ENEMIES ARE BUNNIES.
Bunnies are bastards. I’ve sussed you, Arenanet. I have The Scoop.
“This is going to be the headline,” Craig says to me. “This is going to be the headline of the piece, I can see it now.”
I have scared them, RPS. They are running for cover. Craig is laughing, though I choose to interpret this as laughing OUT OF FEAR. I imagine myself polishing a small medal for Good Journalism. (They give out medals for game journalism, right? Like, I bet Ellie Gibson has medals pinned to her journalism dress uniform and there is some sort of ceremony like at the end of A New Hope.) Mike looks over at Craig Stephens, who is our PR chaperone for the day. “PR, are you going to get me out of this?” he says. Scared of me. Scared.
“Just luck really, that it did turn out that way,” Craig says, before saying “no, I’m joking, I think it’s amazing that essentially people are playing with each other all over the world. And this is gonna sound like the classic PR answer, but generally it does bring people together - it levels any sort of rivalry.”
A likely story. I bet it’s fucking murder out there.
"We did think that rivalries were going to happen, but we didn’t think it would be on the nationalistic level, it was more on the world level,” Mike says. “I’m on Stormbluff Isle, we’re a super competitive server and Jade Quarry and I can’t remember the other one but there was one other server, and the three of us just had the biggest rivalry, that whenever the three of us got together in a matchup, it was ridiculous.”
I ask about the big war stories: the feuds, the rivalries. Because Mike’s the content creator, he didn’t have any immediate answers. “That’s the stuff that we’re looking at more - going how can we support this,” he said, before suggesting that I look to the community managers for more of the war stories.
I went to the forums. I opened my arms, and then I bellowed very loudly to you to embrace me and whisper in my ear. You gave me the stories.
Undisputed King of the Guild Wars 2 RPS war stories is Krathor, who runs a blog over here and is a moderator over on the RPS forums. Some of his reports from the field sound gloriously like they could be told over a campfire cup of cocoa. Gunnar’s Hold is Krathor’s playground.
“When I joined I discovered that we were under more pressure than I originally thought we’d be. While Gunnar’s were putting up a valiant effort with defending Bay, we were losing camps on the northern part of the map. I put out a call in /G chat for [RPS] to rally and assist our server’s efforts and seven noble heroes responded. Admittedly, most of those who joined me also used it as an excuse to level their alts, but at least we were doing good work!
To be honest, I expected for us to wipe without the assistance of a bigger group. Luckily, we headed over to the camp Foghaven first and joined up with a roaming [MARA] group there. Pure serendipity brought us together and that same serendipity came into force a few minutes later, when our combined force marched south. As we passed under the Redlake tower tunnel from capping the Redwater Lowlands camp, we heard a call from above.
It turned out that a little Asuran mesmer had managed to hide in the Lord’s Room as it was being capped earlier in the afternoon. We had no idea as to how long he had been there, but given that we had to casually loiter around the front of the tower while the buff on the lord wore off, I would say that Dzagonur had just managed to take it but had not checked for mesmers.
As far as I could tell, [MARA] had not been alerted to the presence of this person in the tower, so I wonder if he just intended to wait there for as long as it would take for a group of our size to come along - whether that take five minutes to happen or thirty.
We nabbed Redlake easily thanks to a lack of German presence in that area of the map and then marched on to stir things up at Bluebriar.
Following that we lost [MARA] but ended up merging with the map’s main zerg, smashing the Dzagonur break-out at Redlake.”
MMO blogger Chris Wray got in touch with me to tell me a World vs World story. It was long, but I’ve got enough room for a little bit of his favourite tale:
“The men behind the wall were starting to lose out to the enemy who had built both a cannon and a battering ram, they were starting to take down the gate and we couldn't get to repair it as, like with the cannon, a few mages were dropping firestorms behind the wall, keeping us away, and archers were doing the same with volleys of arrows. I had started to resort to desperately taking potshots with my rifle, just hoping I could distract them or take one or two out when I saw a few allies running from behind to attack. I leaped off of the wall directly onto a hunters head and killed him, then charging and stunning a mage. It felt like we could actually do this, the odds had evened a little and we gained the element of surprise. Only that didn't help much and, still outnumbered, I died.
As soon as I respawned I raced down to the keep only to find the gate nearly open, the enemy were still battering away, firestorms, volleys of arrows and a catapult crashing against the wall and behind the wall, keeping the defenders away from the gate while a battering ram pounded away. That's when the gate finally gave way and the attackers charged in. I tried to get close but was spotted and was chased away, I did the only heroic thing I could do and retreated to Stonemist, which was now under attack from the west by the Green army, who had captured the surrounding resource camp and tower to the west and resource camp to the north-west...”
Needless to say, Chris’ battle there was eventually lost, but it’s the story and not the outcome that’s the thing. Although Guild Wars 2 wants to bring this new Living World episodic content to the fore, having it change every two weeks to give players unique, one-off experiences, it’s clear that the stories that stick in our minds are still very much the ones that players make with each other. The narratives we make for ourselves are more important to us than the ones that run alongside us: the overarching idea that our World might be playing against Holland’s in WvW changes the narrative frame for us - it somehow becomes something else again, even if there is little nationalistic sentiment in players. Isn’t that one of PC games’ greatest experiments? Persistent worlds on a grand scale, where we live out other stories, trappings of the mundane or extraordinary that only echo in our real life travels. Places where people can convene through technology colliding.
All of the screenshots in this article were taken from the RPS Guild Wars 2 forums. You can read the rest of the war stories the RPS forums have to offer over here, courtesy of squirrelfanatic, another lovely RPS Guild Wars 2 soldier. Arenanet have started rolling out their new Living World scheme already. Pop back in if you haven’t already, and let us know what you think of it.