The original Guild Wars was an intriguing game that combined the hack-and-slash gameplay of the Diablo series with the meta-game strategy of Magic: The Gathering, but it also relied heavily on "instanced content." That is, rather than have the game take place in a fully shared, persistent world where all players could interact at once, much of the game took place in instances--smaller, closed-off areas that were designed for smaller groups of players. Developer ArenaNet is now working on a sequel that will bridge the gap between the original game and a full-on massively multiplayer game with a persistent world, but the team is also looking to emphasize story and online interaction in the sequel. Lead designer Eric Flannum explains.
GameSpot: Can you give us a progress report on the game's development? What parts of the game is the team currently working on?
Eric Flannum: Our top priority is putting the finishing touches on our demo for GamesCom and PAX. We're very excited to let our fans try Guild Wars 2 hands-on for the first time. We'll be showing the starting human experience and a high-level Charr area, so that's what we're concentrating most of our efforts on at the moment.
GS: We understand that the intent in Guild Wars 2 is to tell a deeper story with a better narrative system than just clicking on a quest-giving character and reading a quest description along the lines of "go kill 10 rats and bring me their tails." How will players experience the story in the game? Will we see more scripted sequences with escorted characters explaining what's happening? In-game cinematics?
EF: We tell the story in Guild Wars 2 in a variety of ways. There are cinematic sequences which are a mix of 2D and 3D art and are fully voiced. For example, each story starts out with a beautiful cinematic that establishes the background of the player's chosen race as well as a more-personalized section that talks about that character's specific background. We also have scenes which take place in the gameworld which also feature full voice-over. These scenes occur in the world and can happen in a variety of situations. The scripted sequence you mentioned with an escorted character is one example of this. Finally we have dialogue trees for players who want to go more in-depth with the story. These dialogue trees make heavy use of our personality system to provide role-playing opportunities for players who want that sort of experience.
GS: It's very fashionable for role-playing game developers these days to talk about the importance of consequences for players' actions. How important will the effects of players' choices be in the game? How much will the world, or at least players' experiences, change if players decide to rescue the burning village, or decide to not rescue the princess?
EF: Player choice can have a variety of consequences in Guild Wars 2. There are generally two types of choices that players are involved in. The first type happens during the personal story and often features moral dilemmas that will have a dramatic impact on the narrative that the player experiences. Do they try to save an old friend who has gotten into trouble, or go stop a villain from killing a large number of strangers? If the player chooses not to save [the endangered characters], those characters may die. Players [will make many of those decisions] in an instanced home area.
The second type of choice is one that gets made by aggregate player actions in the persistent world. If players don't keep the centaurs and bandits under control in the human starting area, for example, then they will miss out on a variety of merchants, waypoints, and other services. Not to mention all the burning villages, poisoned wells, and general unrest that will also occur.
GS: The previous Guild Wars game offered an excellent hack-and-slash role-playing experience with some really interesting meta-game strategy, but despite its online play options, it wasn't necessarily massively multiplayer in every sense. We understand that the intent is to make the sequel a full-on massively multiplayer game. Tell us how. And tell us why.
EF: This was a common critique that we heard about Guild Wars. We made the first game heavily instanced to combat a lot of the things we saw as problems with massively multiplayer games--things like kill-stealing, griefing, and the inability to affect the world. With Guild Wars 2, we saw the opportunity to combat those same problems, but this time, [we'll do so] in a fully persistent world. So we use things like our event system, shared player goals, and our loot and experience point systems to eliminate many of the problems we see with other persistent-world games. To give one specific example, our event system lets players affect the world through their actions, so we don't have the problem that other games have in which a sick quest character is given an antidote only to drop to the ground a few seconds later so another player who takes the same quest can then "cure" the character. In our game, a sick character is cured until something makes them sick again, and players will almost always have the chance to prevent that sickness from occurring in the first place.
GS: How will Guild Wars 2's player-versus-environment play better reflect what ArenaNet feels massively multiplayer games will be about? For instance, how does the game handle grouping?
EF: Grouping is handled in a manner that will be familiar to most players. You can start a group and invite anyone you see fit. We see groups primarily as ways for players to keep track of each other and to help facilitate communication. One thing that is unique to our game is that it's a perfectly viable option for multiple players to play together without grouping at all. We distribute loot and XP to any player who participated in killing a monster. This means that a player can never take XP or loot away from another player by trying to help them, and it's always a viable option to help a player who's in trouble. We want it to always be a good thing when one player runs into another in the world.
GS: How will Guild Wars 2's player-versus-player competitive play embrace the concept of being "massively multiplayer"? Will there be new PVP modes?
EF: We have two types of PVP in the game. The first is a small, team-based competitive style which places everyone on equal footing. Our second type, or "world vs. world," is a massive game type that takes place between multiple worlds (or servers, as other games call them). WVW features battles with hundreds of players, keep sieges, resource gathering, and a lot of map-wide strategy. We haven't released a ton of details on PVP yet because we're still very much working on it. Our basic policy is to not talk about things until they're in the game and we've had a chance to iterate on them. You can expect to hear more about PVP in the coming months.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the game?
EF: Guild Wars 2 has been a labor of love for all of us on the team. From the beginning, we have tried to make a game that built upon many of the ideas we established with the first game--and we've been pushing those ideas to the next level. At ArenaNet, we are always trying to push the boundaries of what's possible in an online game and constantly challenge ourselves to provide the best possible experience for our fans. We hope that as many people as possible can make it out to GamesCom and PAX to play the game. We think that they'll be pleased by what they experience.
GS: Thanks, Eric.