Guild Wars Updated Q&A - Single-Player, Future Updates, GameSpot Weekend

ArenaNet producer Jeff Strain provides recon on the upcoming GameSpot member-exclusive weekend session of Guild Wars, along with new details on its single-player content and the future of the game.

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While role-playing games have traditionally been about using swords to fight orcs to gain experience points and money, ArenaNet's upcoming Guild Wars will have a slightly different focus. Yes, you'll be able to play as a fantasy-themed character with access to swords, bows, and magic spells, but you'll be playing online, either exploring hunting grounds with friends or going head-to-head with other players by pitting your skills against theirs. Last weekend, players from around the world were able to try out the game in ArenaNet's "world preview event." And this weekend, GameSpot Complete members will be able to play through an even more expanded version of the game. Producer Jeff Strain provides more details on the upcoming event, as well as information on the game's single-player content, its items and crafting, and its future.

GameSpot members will be able to take Guild Wars for another test-drive this weekend.
GameSpot members will be able to take Guild Wars for another test-drive this weekend.

GameSpot: Tell us about the new areas we'll be able to explore in the upcoming GameSpot-exclusive weekend test session. Are they the same as those in the world preview event? What's new or different, and what aspects of the game do these areas show off?

Jeff Strain: Once we get into this weekend's event, which GameSpot subscribers will have access to, we will have not only the areas from last week's world preview event, but also a lot of the original areas from the first E3 event...but [with an] updated package with all-new missions. A scorched region will be made available [as the starting area in the game], [in addition to] a snowy mountain peak area. [Both] parts of the missions [were] available [at] the E3 event, but [both were] greatly expanded with all-new content as well. So GameSpot members will have the ability to go from the very beginning of the game to about the middle of it.

GS: Tell us about the character content and skills that will be available in the GameSpot-exclusive weekend session. What's new or different from the world preview event, and why were these particular skills chosen to be shown?

JS: At this point, all 450 skills are implemented and [are present] in the game. You find skills through a variety of mechanisms. For example, you can acquire them within a mission; you can capture them from boss monsters; or you can use the game's player-crafting system, in which one player can create a "charm" item imbued with a specific skill that can then be given to another player. However, fundamentally, the skills that are available are driven by the missions that are available. In the GameSpot event, players will have access not only to the skills from the world preview event, but also to all the skills that are available in the new missions unveiled this weekend. We're not ready to reveal exactly which skills these will be, since we do want to maintain a surprise factor, but there will be a whole new realm of content.

GS: We've had a chance to see some of the noncompetitive content in action, but our readers are probably interested in hearing more details. Could you shed some more light on the "hunting grounds," which are the wilderness adventure areas just outside of towns and missions? How tough will they be, what kind of rewards will players get, and how easily will quick hunting sessions fit into casual players' schedules?

JS: Great question. Guild Wars' missions, as you may know, tell an overarching story, but the hunting grounds are areas surrounding all the major population centers of the world, where you can have more of a casual, traditional role-playing experience. They're very large areas with more side paths, more hidden quests, and other things to do, and the further you delve into them, the more difficult they get. These areas are structured so that if you just want to play an hour or so by yourself, you can grab a couple of artificial intelligence-controlled henchmen, which we'll cover later, and pop into one of these areas to have a lot of fun. Of course, if you want to have a little more structure and invest a little more time, you can also invite some friends to come with you.

GS: Tell us about what's planned for the game's economy. We've heard about the possibility of computer-controlled merchants that might sell items to players. What about players buying, selling, or bartering with each other? And what about the concepts of item decay and repairs?

JS: Let me answer the last part of that question first. The answer to the question, "Will Guild Wars players need to worry about item decay and upkeep?", is an emphatic "No." Guild Wars was, in every way, designed to identify those things about role-playing games that were perceived to be "grinds." Item decay is just not fun. You don't want to work hard to craft a custom sword for yourself, [which] you're excited about, [to] then end up feeling guilty about using it. That's just not cool.

Now, to address the questions about the game's economy. As you go through the world and fight monsters, [your enemies] will always drop the items they had been using against you. So you're not going to find bats that drop a powerful magical sword from out of nowhere. But that doesn't mean all the items your enemies drop will all be immediately useful to you. You can take, for example, a piece of armor and bring it back to town and break it up into its component pieces--hide, teeth, bone, and so on--and components like these actually form the basis of the crafting economy.

Guild Wars' crafting system isn't about repetition. You don't go out and chop a bunch of wood or mine a bunch of ore to eventually become a better crafter. Crafting is actually carried out by computer-controlled non-player characters, and it never fails. So, to go back to the above armor example, you might break down the armor into component pieces and then ask a crafting character in town to use the components to build a completely different item that you actually want. You might find a dragon's fang that could be used to craft the hilt of a sword that would grant you magical protection against fire. Every item has a few customization options, and there are literally tens of thousands of different items in the game. But once you customize a weapon for yourself, it's bound to you for use; you can give it away to someone, but [he or she will] be able to only break it down to its components. So, yes, there is trading in the world, [including] dyes for your armor, and you can trade noncustomized items.

Team or Henchmen?

One of the primary reasons we made this decision is to prevent players from simply purchasing an extremely powerful weapon. Once you've "made" an item powerful by customizing it, you, and only you, can wield it. We're definitely very careful not to create an economy that allows a player to just go to eBay and pay real-life cash for a powerful character. Again, going back to the core philosophy of Guild Wars, there is no "überweapon." You can create a highly customized weapon that takes advantage of your character's specific attributes, but there's no way that you can buy an item that's so much more powerful than someone else's stuff that you can essentially buy an advantage. Guild Wars is a game of skill.

The game is designed to be played in teams, but you can just as easily go it alone.
The game is designed to be played in teams, but you can just as easily go it alone.

GS: Tell us about the henchmen system. Was the system devised to help casual players who don't have the time to seek out companions, or was the system devised to help advanced players balance out their teams? Or both?

JS: I would say that henchmen are mainly intended for casual players and beginners to help them pick up and play the game. Missions in Guild Wars are designed to be interesting to a team of actual players. We didn't set out to create separate missions ideally suited for a single player [or] for groups. Guild Wars is a team-based game. However, it's absolutely a fact that people sometimes like to play by themselves, and whether that's something they just feel like doing today [or whether that's something] they prefer [to do] in general, we're going to support that. We never want to put players in a position where they find they can't find the "right people" to play with and [subsequently] decide not to play at all. Henchmen are available at every outpost for every mission, and you can just invite them into your party and go. Their AI is quite sophisticated. Monks will keep you healed, rangers will know to stay back and fire arrows, warriors will take the front lines, and so on. They're no substitute for human players, of course, but it's perfectly feasible to play through the game with henchmen.

GS: We know that the plan was always to supplement the initial release of Guild Wars with additional "chapters," new expansions that add comparable amounts of content in terms of new areas, new monsters, new items, and even a few new skills. Now that Guild Wars is undergoing a series of test sessions, what can you tell us about plans for future expansions at this time?

JS: Here's what I can tell you about the future of the game. First of all, we've always said that our intent is to release a couple each year. So we're looking for about a six-month time frame for each release. Also, you mentioned "a few new skills," and I'd probably revise that. We're not going to be releasing a few new skills and maybe one new character class, because we're not going to release "expansion packs." We're going to release what we call a new chapter in the world. We want to make it very clear that the scope and scale of content you'll be getting in the new chapters are comparable to what you'll be getting in the original game.

Along with that, we'll, of course, be keeping live content up to date. With our online streaming mechanism, we have a unique ability to do that in an organic way--daily, or sometimes even hourly--so you're not going to have to sit there and patch your client with a 40MB [patch] that comes out once a month.

Guild Wars has been carefully crafted to have a resolution. You're definitely going to find a satisfying, "we saved the world" conclusion waiting for you. But we're creating an ever-expanding universe. A good analogy might be the "module" system from the Dungeons & Dragons pen-and-paper game. Individual modules tell specific stories, but [they tell them] within a D&D universe that is consistent and structured.

In terms of play and mechanics, here are some of the hints I can give you. People have asked us, for instance, whether the game will have different races or even offer the ability to play as monsters. Right now, the first chapter of the story is a human story with the six professions. But, certainly, as we go into additional chapters, we'll probably provide the ability to play as monsters and other types of creatures as well. So we will indeed explore new territory. New chapters won't just be more of the same, and they should offer additions [to] the gameplay and technology fronts that most players should find pretty exciting.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the upcoming weekend test event or about Guild Wars and its progress, in general?

JS: I guess the one thing I'd like to say is that people who play Guild Wars always seem to be surprised and pleased at how different an experience they have, as compared to other role-playing games they've played before. It's not a traditional massively multiplayer online game; it's a unique game and a unique experience. I'd really encourage GameSpot members to play this weekend.

GS: Thanks, Jeff. Maybe we'll see you online.

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