ArenaNet has slowly been revealing more and more details about Guild Wars 2, slowly building up the hype for their next MMO and sequel to their immensely popular Guild Wars. Now it's time again, and the news this time are activities, feats, achievements and the personality system and a quick description of the four is in order to understand the following interview at all.
Activities are more or less mini-games that the players can get involved in, placed around in the various cities scattered across the world of Guild Wars 2. They include such honorable traditions as bar brawling, archery or snow ball fights.
Achievements are awarded for things you do in the game, while feats replace what is usually known as rest experience in other MMOs and reset daily. The personality system allows you to craft your character's actual personality, from being charming to barbaric - the last one can even unlock the option to punch characters you to talk to.
We sat down in a conference call with game designers John Stumme, Curtis Johnson and Ben Miller. We were also joined by lead game designer Eric Flannum.
You talk about activities as something that happens "on the side" of the rest of the game. How much priority do you put on creating these activities compared to other parts, like traditional MMO-things like questing and crafting?
John Stumme: Something like that, you know, we have equal priorities that we're working on - different people on the team are dedicated to working on different things. As it is right now, I've been in the one in charge of doing the activity stuff that we have for Divinity's Reach. It gets weighted with as much priority as we do for all the other things we are working on, putting it into the cities and stuff to make them awesome.
Alright. Because I was thinking about, you brought up the bar brawl, for example Funcom had something like that planned for Age of Conan, and I'm not sure that made it in at launch. Is there any risk that something similar would happen to the activities? Or is it an integral part of the game experience in itself?
John: These are getting built into the game itself, they will be there at launch. They are not something that we will tack on later, they are part of the cities.
Eric Flannum: One of the things I can say is that we tend to, you know, we were pretty tight-lipped about the game for a long time and we tend not to talk about things unless they are actually in the game. So when we talk about activities, like when we talk about the bar brawl, or the shooting gallery, because they are actually in the game you can go in and experience them right now. And so there is actually very little chance that most things we talk about are not going to make it into the game just because we run out of time or anything like that. Because, as I said, we tend not to talk about things unless we're very, very certain that we can do them. Certain as in they are in already.
Activities don't have a level requirement. Do you have any plans for rewards for them, and if so - how do you balance those rewards?
John: We are going to have rewards come out of the activities. An example that I've given is like for the bar brawl, while you are in there, you're knocking out people, you might get a tooth as a drop. And then we might have an NPC that is a collector that is associated with the activity and you're turning in teeth to him because it just so happens that he is the local dentist and you're basically sending business to him. So you can turn those items in for rewards. In terms of making them balanced, it's more about getting an aesthetic reward, like a weapon or an armor kind of thing, it's like a skin for that activity, you won't be able to get it anywhere else.
Will these activities be instanced at all or will people be able to watch them? Or like with the bar brawl, just jump in and take part of it at any time they like?
John: How they are working is going to depend specifically on which activity it is, because of how some of them are structured to work. So for example, using the snow ball fight; it's something that has one side as a definite winner, there's a scoring mechanic, you're going to queue up and it's going to be an instanced thing when it starts. But we could also have some that you can just jump into and join.
Right. How many of these activities do you have planned?
John: About 30-ish, I believe is what we're looking at.
You guys mentioned being able to break the game, and change the rules. How far can you go when it comes to these activities?
John: As far as it takes to make it fun.
But can you give any other example when you "break the game"?
John: Some examples that we can give...you know, we talk about so much of the game that is built on co-operation and working together and in activities we can take a break from that. Because sometimes you're just in the mood to do something different. The bar brawl is built around that chaotic, free-for-all feeling of the moment you're seeing in movies, when someone gets a chair to the back of the head from out of nowhere, even though he is fighting someone else. We can change those kinds of rules for scoring and stuff like that. Or in the case of one of the other activities in Divinity's Reach, imagine that you're playing polo, but polo had pitfalls and bombs and traps going off. Things that are completely off the wall that we can get in there.
Generally, MMOs are quite structured affairs. How did you decide, or how did the philosophy go, when you guys started to design these activities?
John: There's a couple of things that you want to do. Since they are tied to all the cities, you want something that feels appropriate to each of the races, and once you got something like that, you don't want the same kind of gameplay that is available everywhere else; then there would be no real reason to explore around. You want different compelling reasons, like "ah, I want to go to the Black Citadel because I can do this there!" or going to Divinity's Reach because they have these kinds of things there. So you want to have a wide variety of things that are there. We designers, we get the artists involved, some people from QA have gotten in when they got really cool ideas. And we sit down with them and talk it over and do what it takes to get that in there.
One of the things you are talking about now are "feats". Can you give some solid examples of what these feats will look like?
Curtis Johnson: Feats are kind of our answer to rest experience and daily rewards. Feats are things that the game is tracking about your playtime, they layer on top of everything you're doing. Like how many things you've killed, and at certain levels you get rewards for that. We keep track of how many things you've killed simultaneously, what variety of enemies you are encountering, and all this are specific areas that as you meet certain levels in them you get bonus rewards for that day.
You say that this is a way for casual players to keep up with the more hardcore players. Only like through rest experience, or any other forum of bonuses?
Curtis: It's experience point bonuses, it's gold bonuses, there might be specific items or buffs that you get through feats. Basically they help to make your initial playtime, like the first hour or two, be more efficient. And so a casual player that plays for a short time, compared to someone who plays three or four times as long, might get up to about half as much experience points. Those first hours are more efficient, and give you a larger reward.
Right. The hardcore versus casual debate is something that, which you guys probably know, have been going on for quite some time. I know you guys mostly want to talk about activities, feats, achievements and so on, but is there anything you can talk about that goes into that debate? You know, like the difference between different playstyles of MMO-players in general?
Eric: You mentioned some of the systems we have in place...it's not like we want to put them on exactly even playing fields, because you really can't do that. I mean, it's just going to be the case of somebody who plays 24/7 is going to get stronger in the game. What we can do is make it so that for casual players there is sort of this power plateau, that we talked a lot about when making the first game. In some games, you get to max level for example and you got this whole progression ahead of you, and a lot of that progression is very, very hardcore. Like it requires you to be in a raiding guild, or requires you to be a great PVP'er, things like that.
So our basic philosophy on it is that we want our power curve to be attainable by the average player at that level. So what that means can be like reasonable expectations for obtaining items. So let's say you're going into a dungeon, and you're trying to get an item that you would normally consider being a raid item in another game. In most games, what would happen is that the end-boss will drop one of like twenty different items, or five different items, and which item it drops is kind of random. So in order to get your armor set you'll have to run that dungeon dozens and dozens and dozens of times because not only is the boss not necessarily going to drop what you want, but there's probably other people competing for that as well. So you have to have DKP-systems, or that kind of thing, so what we've trying to do with our dungeons is that if you're participate in that dungeon you are guaranteed to get an item that you want.
This was a philosophy that we had in Guild Wars as well, where you don't have thousands of hours ahead of you in the same dungeon to fill your equipment slots. You have to do it a finite amount of times and you know how many times you have to do it. Hope that answers that a little bit.
I was thinking about while you were talking... In the first Guild Wars, I had my PvE character and my PvP character and there was this whole unlocking of skills that happened over time - with my PvP character especially. You rack up points for winning and then you can spend them on new skills and new weapons and stuff like that. Is that anything you are bringing with you to Guild Wars 2?
Eric: For that specific thing... Our organized PvP is actually not going to feature any power progression unlocking, everybody is going to be on an even power level and all the unlocking is going to be for purely cosmetic items. So everyone will be able to have access to the same power level of equipment and all the same skills and you get to unlock cosmetic achievements. And then we have our world versus world, which is basically, you taking sort of a PvE character into it and it's closer to what you're describing in that you have the normal kind of PvE progression where you're unlocking abilities and you're leveling up and you're gaining skills and you're gaining items and your power curve is increasing. So we've separated those two concepts and made our sort of organized PvP have a complete even playing field and our world versus world have that power progression.
You used the word "achievement", and that is one of the systems you've started to talk about now. You've mentioned that achievements will unlock things like titles, but are there other things they will unlock? Like more cosmetic items or actual gear?
Curtis: Our achievement system right now is like our long-term player goal system. What they do is like show you that you are on the path of mastering something and when you max that achievement you've mastered that thing. So, we kind of say, "you're done in that area now, we don't really expect you to continue there", so they are kind of the end markers for all of our content.
Another thing you've started to talk about is personality (formerly called diplomacy). It's about how NPC's react to you, but how will that tie into actual gameplay? People kind of expect these days, in modern MMOs, to go to a wiki and know exactly how a quest is going to play out. Is this something that will play into the actual game, or will it more be like I can punch people in the face just for comedy reasons?
Curtis: The personality system is in a lot of ways... you can describe it as that, I suppose. It's really a roleplaying system, it's not meant to determine what you can do in the game but more how you approach those situations, what your character's personality is. When you come up to a person who is offering buffs or special food items or something like that, your actions towards them and their reaction to you is determined by your personality. But there really is a way through that situation for any personality type. But just because you run into a character that you can punch in the face with one personality type, it's not certain you can make the same character fall in love with you if you have another personality type, but we do try to create these equal opportunities.
Alright. That's good, since there's a lot of vendors in various MMOs that I would love to punch in the face.
Eric: We will have to add a lot of punching in the face for you!
Thank you very much! Especially since I will be playing an Asura... It's going to look hilarious! Anyway, it looks like the personality system and the activities will give roleplayers a lot of ways to approach Guild Wars 2. How important is that subset of players to ArenaNet?
Eric: That subset of players is very important to us. When we look at our audience, who we want to try to appeal to, both from the standpoint of ArenaNet doing well as a company and us as game creators, trying to get as many people to enjoy our work as possible, we want to try to hit a pretty broad market. And early on we looked at who we want this game to appeal to and basically, anybody who plays a PC game or who might be inclined to play any sort of PC game that has RPG-elements in it, and so... that can be a very diverse group! You've got people who love Diablo and Borderlands and then you got the people who enjoy Planescape: Torment.
In one case it's a very action oriented, get loot, kill stuff-kind of mentality, and in the other case it's more like "I'm going to read these dialogue trees and really get into the personality of the characters and really get into story". And we want to appeal to those people as much as possible equally, those players are very important for us. You can see that reflected in activities which are for social players, players who just like to hang out in the cities and gab with other players and have some non-level related, fun stuff to do. And then in the personality system, where we can really allow people to go "hey, I want to roleplay this dashing rogue type who uses charm as well as my force of will to convince people of things". We want to facilitate as many different playstyles as possible.
What you've told us about Guild Wars 2 is that it's more of an open world that changes and isn't that kind of static world that most MMOs are right now. And one of the things that I've wanted to ask you guys for a long time isn't about any of the stuff we've talked about today - but how do you go about actually making that work? Isn't that extremely difficult?
Eric: Getting those two worlds to sort of play nice with each other is probably our most difficult task and one we think are on our way of solving, but we're always improving the game. You look at some non-MMO open world games that are on the market, like all the Rockstar games or other open world games, and they often do have a fairly strong sort of linear storyline combined with open world. Sort of sandboxy interaction. And there is a lot of things to learn from those games about doing that sort of things. I think the main thing for the MMO is, you can't make any of the types of content 100% necessary in order to move forward. Because if you do that, like if you completely sandbox then a lot of players who want a more directed experienced are going to get a little lost. And if you lock people on to a rail, "go to point A to point B to point C", a lot of players that are maybe looking for that more sandboxy experience are sort of going to chafe at that.
I think that just through the way we don't make any of the content mandatory, you can pick and choose what you want to do for the most part, and the way we sort of advertise a lot of the sandbox content... It's there, it's very easy to tell that it's there, you walk around the world, you might be on a quest, like you've been told about this bandits and your story has to do with around them. And then your walking by these wheat fields and hey, there are bandits burning the wheat fields! And it just seems very natural for you to intervene in that. One of things we've seen with a lot of our early testers is that they are kind of trained by other MMOs. They walk by a guy shouting for help and they'll ignore him because they don't have a quest for him.
Eventually, as they start playing Guild Wars 2, they start going "wait a minute! That guy that was yelling for help? He's talking to me! Even though I didn't have a quest for him...oh, there are bandits burning the fields! I'm a hero, I should probably go stop that." So it's very natural for people to start getting into that mindset. What we've seen is that a lot of players really want that sort of guided experience, so the trick has been to give them that guided experience, and then let them know about the more open elements of the game while they are going through the guided experience. And it's up to the players when they feel they are comfortable jumping off the rail. So hopefully we've done a good job at that.
When it comes to that sandboxy stuff, compare that to the first Guild Wars where you had more or less no sandbox, but you had a perfect opportunity to tell stories. Have you ever felt like you've gone off the deep end and wanted to say "let's go back to that safe instanced world of Guild Wars"? Or is there stuff there you can bring with you to Guild Wars 2?
Eric: I think we feel like we're going off on the deep end a lot. <laughter>
Ben Miller: In Guild Wars, we got really good at telling instanced storylines and working with small groups of players playing in instances and crafting this very cool, unique experience you got to go through. In Guild Wars 2, we're taking all that we learned in Guild Wars about storytelling and creating cool, epic adventures and that pretty much is what your personal storyline is. So all of the cool, instanced content that we learned how to make in Guild Wars, we're translating all of those lessons into a major piece of content in Guild Wars 2. And interweaving all the sandboxy, dynamic event system into that at the same time.
Thanks a lot for your time, guys!