ArenaNet is hard at work on the sequel to the highly successful online RPG Guild Wars. We spoke with Guild Wars 2’s lead designer Eric Flannum and game designer Jon Peters from ArenaNet to find out how it’s progressing:
Strategy Informer:Guild Wars 2 takes places two hundred and fifty years after the original. What changes in the world of Tyria can players expect to see?
Eric Flannum: One of the things we knew we wanted to do when we first started designing the game was we wanted our world to not feel like a static fantasy world. There are certain fantasy worlds where you’ll return to them a thousand years later and they haven’t actually advanced technologically or very much at all and we wanted our world to feel very much alive.
It’s been two hundred and fifty years since the first game so you’ll see those technological advancements but you’ll also see things like social advancements in each race. For example, the human kingdoms were largely monarchies but now they’re more a parliamentary monarchy with some representation from the citizens.
Also, the elder dragons have since awoken and have subjected the world to a huge number of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. A lot of the coastline has been ruined or abandoned.
Players from Guild Wars 1 will find familiar places have been destroyed or abandoned. On our website we recently released the map of Lion’s Arch which was one of the most iconic central cities in the world. Old players have seen how much it’s changed – it’s a coastal city so it was subjected to all these floods. The ruins of the old city are actually in the bay of the new city now so players will be able to swim down and see some of that. We took a lot of these famous places that players remember from Guild Wars 1 and look at what happened to them in the two hundred and fifty years.
Strategy Informer:Graphically the game looks incredible but will it require high system requirements as a result?
Eric Flannum: Our philosophy in the original game which has stayed true in Guild Wars 2 is that we want the game to be accessible to as many people as possible so we’ve always tended to have pretty generous system requirements. We know what they’re generally going to be but we haven’t released them yet.
The one thing I will say is that to ensure the game always in a playable state is that we tend to develop on low end machines. We’re having a hard time finding the video card we’re developing on in stores now, so the minimum video card requirements are very low.
The videos we shoot are on pretty good systems so the game scales well, but it’s very playable on low end machines.
Strategy Informer:The footage from the opening of the game has shown a surprising amount of in-game voice acting. Is the majority of the game fully voiced?
Eric Flannum: The game isn’t fully voiced. We’ve tried to use it in situations that seemed most advantageous to us. For example, if a cut-scene is playing that only you’re seeing at the time we fully voice that to provide more immersion. Every time a character says something out loud in the persistent world that multiple people can hear it’s always fully voiced; if there are two NPCs having a conversation or a character yelling instructions or asking for help, for example.
The place where we don’t voice things are the in-depth conversations between the player and dialogue-heavy NPCs. We tend not to voice those since we find that most people will read faster than the dialogue is spoken and will want to skip ahead.
Strategy Informer:One particular quest sees your character putting out a flaming village with water buckets. Such interactions are rare in MMORPGs – will we see a lot more of them?
Eric Flannum: Absolutely. First of all, that was a dynamic event which is different from what you think of as a quest. Our dynamic event system is designed to be very multiplayer friendly as it gives players shared goals in an area. One of the things we try to do in those is really change up the MMORPG formula and not fall into particular patterns. Instead we try to look at each situation and decide to add something cool that would feasibly happen. Logically if pirates attack a town we’d think “what are they here for?” and “what are they trying to do?” Okay, they’re trying to burn it down and steal all the treasure; in that case you have the water buckets.
Another example is the trees you can interact with. There’s a character who wants apples and you interact with the trees to knock them out. We also have dams that are bursting that you can plug holes in, farm animals that need to be fed; we wanted the world to have a lot different interactions.
Strategy Informer:The original Guild Wars is regarded as one of the most “soloable” MMOs out there, partly thanks to the ability to recruit groups AI henchmen. Does this remain the case in Guild Wars 2?
Eric Flannum: It remains the case that the game will be very soloable but we do not have the A.I. henchmen. The reasons for that were first that it wasn’t that practical to have every player potentially equal an entire party of characters in a persistent world.
Second, a big part of why we needed the henchmen system in Guild Wars 1 was because you often needed certain character classes present to succeed. We wanted Guild Wars 2 to be a game where you didn’t need particular professions in order to play so we made sure they were lot more versatile and could switch roles when needed. Ultimately, this meant that we didn’t need the henchmen anymore.
Strategy Informer:Outside of the certain massively multiplayer hub areas the majority of the first Guild Wars was instanced and limited to a handful of players. Is this the case in Guild Wars 2?
Eric Flannum: No, not at all. Guild Wars 2 is a fully persistent game which uses instancing only for dungeons and certain steps of your character’s personal story. Other than that, it’s all persistent.
Strategy Informer:You’ve pledged the keep the series free of subscription costs but will we see any form of micro-transactions implemented?
Eric Flannum: Micro-transactions are something that we’ve had for quite some time in Guild Wars 1 and we plan on using them and the price of the game to pay for Guild Wars 2. Our theory behind them is that we don’t want them to be necessary to play the game. A lot of micro-transaction games have hideously slow levelling curves and the only way you can really advance in the game in a reasonable amount of time is to buy certain micro-transactions.
We’re looking to avoid those sorts of things while still giving players options with micro-transactions to make their experience more fun. Our philosophy is that we’re not looking to screw our players over for not buying our micro-transactions, we really look at them as an extra level of fun or coolness that we can add to the game.
Jon Peters: They’re a lot cooler when they’re something you want and not something you need.
Eric Flannum: Yeah. It also allows players to vote with their wallets as far as what they want to see. If you’re paying a subscription fee you’re kind of at the mercy of what the developers choose to give you for your monthly fee. Sometimes in some games what they give you is well worth it but a lot of the time it’s not. We feel like if we put out items and they sell real well then that’s obviously a signal from our players that they really like it and that they want more of it, and it’s very important to us to stay in touch with what our players want in the game.
Strategy Informer:Do have any updates for us on a possible release date?
Eric Flannum: We’ve mentioned that we want to put it through closed alpha and beta later in the year and we’re definitely on track for that. The important thing for us is to make the game we as a company want to make and want the fans deserve; to make the best game we possibly can and we won’t release it before we’re sure we’ve done that.
Come back next Thursday for some more tantalising details from the second part of our interview.