Earlier this month at PAX, we had the chance to speak with a few of the developers from ArenaNet about the upcoming MMO, Guild Wars 2.
Earlier this month at PAX, we had the chance to speak with a few of the developers from ArenaNet about the upcoming MMO, Guild Wars 2. A sequel to the successful Guild Wars (published by NCSoft), Guild Wars 2 is currently in full production, with a predicted release date sometime in 2010 to 2011. We learned quite a bit about the project, including its new and revamped engine, what to expect from PvP, and the story and lore behind it all. Before the interview, we had a brief chat with the team about the history of the franchise, and why they decided to make a sequel, rather than continue supporting the original Guild Wars.
ZAM: The trailer looks amazing. The architecture and the buildings look really cool.
Mike O'Brien: You don't even get a sense of how enormous that is, as you're flying through in the video. This is the kind of thing we could never pull off in Guild Wars I. This process of building our engine—we can imagine something like that, and then actually put it in-game.
ZAM: That was a very seamless transition between concept art and in-game. It looks like you can do a lot more with this engine; even with the mountains—they're obviously stylized—but they look a lot more real than mountains I see in other games.
Mike: And people think we're faking things; somebody was saying they thought the mountains in the background looked like a map painting or something. But no, it's explorable. You can go explore that mountain.
ZAM: And you said it's all free-roaming and persistent? Is there loading between stuff?
Mike: It is zoned, yeah.
Daniel Dociu: We still use instances for story-telling; in Guild Wars I, our outposts tended to be the persistent environments and our zones were instanced environments, so basically our community was formed in the outposts. Now it's crossed the spectrum; it's in the outer world as well.
ZAM: Can you set the story up for us, Jeff?
Jeff Grubb: Guild Wars 2 is set in Tyria, which was the setting for Guild Wars I. It's 250 years after the events of Eye of the North, and during that period, the dragons have awakened. But these dragons are just like shadows, echoes, you know, mere sparks compared to the elder dragons. The elder dragons—which you saw in the video—are these powerful, titanic, elemental forces. Zhaitan, who is only one of them, brought the sunken nation of Orr up from the depths and reanimated its population as undead minions, and makes its lair in Arah, which is the city of the human gods. That's how powerful the dragons are, and Zhaitan is just one of them. So this is the ultimate threat; they've awoken hungry, they corrupt anything they touch, they devour anything that gets in their way and they destroy anything that opposes them. And in this world—this is the meta-story; the largest story—is the story of the five living races coming together to fight against the dragon. Each of the races have their own conflicts; we have a large story, then we have racial stories, and most importantly, we have the story of you. Your story runs through this epic background of basically leading them past the war.
ZAM: So you're going to focus more on the individual character stories, and you're really focused on character customization at the same time. So how unique is each person's experience going to be?
Mike: Without getting into mechanics, we're basically trying to provide unique experiences for the players, based upon player choice, as opposed to a profession, or race. We have racial beginning areas; the Asura start in one area, the Humans start in another area...and they face the conflicts of their race. But as they grow up, they graduate from those conflicts to larger conflicts, as the race is starting to come together. And then finally, to fight in Orr itself. So there's a lot of versatility, but that versatility comes out of player choice along the path.
ZAM: Why were the dragons asleep, and why have they awoken?
Mike: They have always been here. They are power; raw, incarnate power. The City of the Gods was built on top of a dragon, the central transfer chamber that the sewer used in Eye of the North was built on top of a dragon...they're just literally magical reactors to a great degree. And the ‘why' and ‘where' are something we're going to get into, in the game itself; it's part of that story. But right now, it is like hurricanes and earthquakes hitting; it's a natural force, it's a uncaring force, it's a mindless force to a great degree. You can't reason with these dragons; you can't play Bilbo and Smog—you're not going to have a conversation with these things. They have their minions and corrupted lieutenants; each one has the different tendency, and all have left their mark on Tyria. The Charr lands have a huge scar basically dragged across the dragon brand, which was a dragon flying and breathing over that territory. And all along that area is a corrupted, nightmare landscape. You can see some examples of art form; we started asking [the art department] to give us some nightmare terrain, and they created some beautiful shots that we turned around and incorporated into the game.
ZAM: So the dragons play a pretty big part of the storyline. From a quest-to-quest or daily basis, will they be there in the backdrop? Or will they be an eventually-emerging theme?
Mike: Not every adventure will be a dragon adventure, but the adventures will build to the war. As you discover the world, the story expands with you. The humans, for example—since the time of Guild Wars I—have had a hard time. They've been driven out of their nations, they've had nations sink and blow up; they're reduced to one major nation, Kryta, in the city of Divinity's Reach. Their big problem is that they're confronted on all sides; they have bandits, they have centaurs that have come down out of the mountains, they are trying to basically make peace with the Charr, which have been their rivals and enemies for 250 years. There's a very tentative truce between the two big sides that we had in 'Prophecies.' This is not everybody getting together to sing Kumbaya; there are some major obstacles that have to be conquered?
ZAM: Is that part of the storyline, too?
Mike: That's part of the story; bringing things together and moving together as a unit. It does have a major payoff in the third act.
ZAM: You say the ‘third act.' Does that mean you're actually breaking the story down into multiple stages?
Mike: When we think, we think in terms of levels and how we want to progress. And so it is a multi-act structure. Because it's a persistent environment, it's one in which people will be going and participating...this is the story of the world that I'm telling you; this will have an effect on what you see and where you go as you're in these persistent areas—what kind of events are going to be happening, what kinds of things are going on while you're there. It's not a static world, waiting for you to arrive with the monsters wandering around. It's got its own life, it's own cycles.
ZAM: So as you continue through the world...
Mike: ...the world unfolds before you.
ZAM: So there are five races and they're all in harmony with each other; does that rule out PvP?
(All at once): No. (Laughs)
Mike: Not at all.
Jeff: I can talk about PvP; we're not getting into the specific mechanics, but I can give you the big vision since we've been talking about the big vision since 2007. PvP has always been a consensual part of Guild Wars, meaning, if you want to compete, compete. But you're not forced into it; people aren't going to be player-killing you as you're trying to complete a quest, or something like that. I don't know if you know the history of PvP in Guild Wars, but I think we were the first online role-playing game to take competition as seriously as we did; to really make it a fair playing field, and able to be played as an e-sport. We had two world tournaments [in which] we got the best guilds of all time from each different territory—and flew into Taipei one time, and Leipzig the other time—for head-on-head competitions, and gave away a hundred thousand in cash prizes each time. So PvP has a rich history in Guild Wars and it's certainly not something we're ignoring for Guild Wars 2.
ZAM: Are you going to be reinventing the wheel with Guild Wars 2 PvP?
Jeff: What we're doing is splitting it into two kinds of PvP for Guild Wars 2, because we want to be able to have that ultra-competitive, e-sport out of PvP. But we also want PvP in the world, that players can just get into. Competition can be intimidating if you're on a team, and your first experience is getting into the game and getting completely smoked, and your teammates are yelling at you and that kind of thing. So we're making one type of PvP—which is just ‘in the world' PvP—it's not race vs. race kind of thing; it's one world versus another world. We have servers, or worlds, and people can compete across the worlds. And it's real easy to get into, because it's the more the merrier. Every person who helps their world is just making their world stronger; there's nothing you can do that makes your world less-strong if you're out there in PvP.
The other type of PvP will be the full-on, competition, level playing field, strategic, skill-based PvP that we had in Guild Wars I. But really, you know, a purer version of that. Like, in Guild Wars I, you would come in and you would learn PvP mechanics over time, and unlock new abilities over time; that kind of thing. But in Guild Wars 2, because this is really just focused on the competition aspect of it, we'll just unlock it all. You can have all the abilities—access to every skill, right from day one—and just get in there and compete.
ZAM: Will there be any ranking systems and teams, or those sorts of things?
Jeff: We haven't announced specific mechanics [yet], but you can guess what we're going to have because we did a really strong job of that in Guild Wars I, and we'll do a stronger job in Guild Wars 2.
ZAM: What's going to happen to Guild Wars I when Guild Wars 2 launches? Will people still be able to play the original?
Mike: Obviously we're not shutting down the Guild Wars I servers or anything like that, so they can keep playing their Guild Wars I characters as long as they want. But we have a booth full of fans right now, and so we got to talk to them and say, ‘Hey, do you like what you see? Do you like what you hear? Is this the game you're exited to play?' And they're all exited to play it.
ZAM: Daniel, it looks like you and the team had the chance to get really creative, based on the trailer. I even saw some steampunk elements in there. Can you talk about some of the different environments that players can expect?
Daniel: Yeah, the fact that our engine has revamped has quite extensively allowed us to tackle ideas that we couldn't pull off the first time around. That pretty much applies across the board; climates, creature design, the size and scale of things. Indeed, the creative freedom we were able to take is leaps and bounds beyond what we did the first time around.
You mentioned steampunk; I thought that was pretty deep and that it was going to go unnoticed for now, but you caught it. We are pushing the boundaries of fantasy quite a bit. We don't want to alienate our customer base and scare thGuilem away; we want the game to be accessible to new players, but also acknowledge the accomplishments of Guild Wars I players. So it's kind of a balancing act between staying true to the original aesthetics, and pushing here and there a little bit.
ZAM: I don't think you'll scare away players at all. Fantasy is all about the imagination, and who's to say this isn't fantasy?
Daniel: That's how I see it. You'd be surprised to learn how large a percentage of people think of fantasy of green tights and pointy ears. We don't want to take sides in that.
Jeff: We're creating a world, and what's the point of exploring a world if there isn't the awe and wonder, you know? We try to create those moments of awe and wonder.
ZAM: One last thing; you mentioned the new engine, which I've been meaning to ask about. What does it allow, in terms of physics and movable objects, and all that crazy stuff that you see in these next-gen games?
Jeff: It's a full 3-D engine; its running Havoc on the client and the server...
ZAM: Destructible items, objects, waterfalls that distort your vision?
Jeff: All that; yep...
ZAM: Okay, thank you guys so much. We're looking forward to seeing more about the game.
Andrew "Tamat" Beegle