On Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a community lunch with Guild Wars 2 game designer and sword-swinger extraordinaire Colin Johanson. At a secret location in London, we gathered around a table – representatives from all corners of the community – and awaited the arrival of the big man with the big smile. We’d been corralled by Aidan Taylor: Community Manager at NCSoft, and he plied us with drinks whilst we swapped WvW war stories and waited eagerly.
Once Colin arrived (after having tactically placed myself directly opposite him at the table) we provided a pint of lager (he declined the traditional warm beer) and a fish finger sandwich (also a British delicacy), and then we all took a communal deep breath before the onslaught of questions began. What follows is a summary of what we managed to squeeze out of him:
- PvE Content and Gameplay
- The Living Story
- Guilds and Guild Missions
- User Interface
- World vs World
- Game Philosophy and Vision
We talked about the possibility of making the skill-bar more dynamic by allowing the addition of a utility skill into the elite slot at the expense of your elite skill. However, Colin was reluctant to say this could be done off the bat, he compared it to the original game were players had so much freedom and choice when it came to what skills they might choose to bring, that balancing the game became a nightmare, and it became prohibitively complicated for new players to learn. So, any changes such as this would need to be weighed against the possible complications which might arise as a result of their implementation.
The ArenaNet team loved skill templates in Guild Wars 1, and would love to bring them into the new game. But again it’s an element which is on the table, but not being actively worked on currently.
We talked about User-Generated content. Colin mentioned that Guild Missions are a small step in that direction – insofar as the content is gated and activated by specific player input. When you fully commit to allowing significant user-generated content into your game, however, then you have to be able to quality control the vast amount of content which users are going to want to create – and this would require the kind of manpower that ArenaNet simply don’t have on tap at the moment.
They are adding more mini-games (ala Keg Brawl) soon, and the new daily achievement system will point players towards playing new games when they’re released. Hopefully this will also encourage players to repopulate the home-cities.
They are looking at new ways to recycle items which players receive very often, but usually just sell to the merchant or drop into the mystic forge (think blue weapons/armour, transmutation stones and dungeon tokens), again this is something which is on the drawing board, but not in actual development at the moment.
Colin mentioned that they want to develop a core reward system “that we can infinitely expand, which is unique from weapons and armour” to ensure that they aren’t adding more and more tiers of loot.
With the February update every single boss within the Ascalonian Catacombs has been revamped – this is a process they want to go through with every dungeon to make sure they’re all up to scratch, but currently only AC has been looked at. We should notice the changes once the update drops.
Similarly, some of the open world champions have been updated with the February update and as with the dungeon bosses; they’re in the process of revamping EVERY veteran and champion in the game.
Someone suggested adding a “Hard Mode” dungeon option. Colin emphasised that they want to avoid adding further paths to follow because it is already difficult enough to find a party for a dungeon – and adding another mode would further split the playerbase. He always considered Explorable Mode to be the equivalent of Hard Mode, so getting the explorable paths up-to-scratch would fill this gap.
ArenaNet want to add more reasons to level your crafting professions to level 400. One community member suggested that one way to do this might be to add the ability to craft skins, rather than items.
There is a bleed cap of 25 because each tick of bleeding takes up server bandwidth and to allow infinite stacks of bleed would end up being very heavy on the server. Also, it simply wouldn’t be balanced – even if each player had their own 25 stacks which they can put up.
When asked whether there was the possibility of adding new weapon types, Colin was surprisingly open to the idea – it is reasonably easy for them to add new weapons and tie skills to them! Hurrah!
There are plans to add content to Southsun Cove – in fact some of the guild missions occur there.
The new changes to the loot tables and methods for increasing drops from veteran and champion mobs should increase the drop rate of precursor weapons in the first instance, but this isn’t the final solution. They’re looking at ways to ensure that there is a 100% way to obtain a precursor.
New Legendary weapons will only be added once this means of obtaining a precursor is implemented.
Where is Final Rest? That question was just met with maniacal laughter… sorry!
There is a possibility that I might have persuaded him to add Fish Finger Sandwiches as a cooking recipe, though don’t take that as 100% (I also suggested that an NPC called “Will” might want to sell the recipe, but again, I live in hope *fingers crossed*).
Initially, player action won’t have an impact on the way the story unfolds. Certainly you’ll be able to play along, but there won’t be diverging storylines dependent upon how you act during the story. Colin admitted this would be an interesting path to pursue; perhaps with different servers experiencing different content, but they don’t have the backend to support this kind of behaviour yet.
The intention is to make the Living Story like watching your favourite TV show – where you want to drop in and see what’s happening with each of your favourite characters each week.
Eventually, the Living Story might serve a similar purpose that the weekend events would play in Guild Wars 1. Instead of being a simple stat or drop-rate increase, the weekend event would be more story-driven. In this way, each big Living Story update would be like a festival in and of itself.
The Living Story content will come with new items, crafting recipes, weapon skins and other items similar to the kind of content we’ve received with Wintersday and Halloween.
Currently they’re aware that a lot of content is geared towards small groups – and this obviously bodes well for smaller guilds (the five-man limit in dungeons/fractals for example). One of the main objectives of the updates coming over the next year are to provide far more content for larger guilds to do – this is the main objective of the Guild Missions. They are supposed to give large guilds ways they can play together and enjoy the game together.
The Guild Missions themselves come in a number of formats. ArenaNet posted a new blog post which details a number of the formats over on their official page, but Colin gave us all the run-down of one specific type: the Bounty Hunt. Bounty Hunts are multi-zone tasks to kill a number of enemies across a number of areas within a certain time limit. All Guild Missions are tiered (during the lunch Colin suggested that there are up to three tiers, though he didn’t confirm that was the limit) a tier one mission might only involve killing three enemies across three zones, and this should be easily doable by ten to fifteen players, whereas higher tiers might involve five enemies across five zones and this will require a significant amount of coordination.
The ability to kick-off Guild Missions will be added as an ability which you can assign to a rank in your guild – just like you might assign access to the guild storage or the ability to kick/promote lower ranked members. The Guild Missions will require influence to unlock, although Bounty Hunt will be unlocked right off the bat as soon as the update drops.
Additional guild features such as the ability to see last login time, and easier ways to track guildies across areas on the minimap are features which they want to add in the future, but they aren’t actively being worked on at the moment.
Due to the nature of the engine they’re running on, they aren’t currently able to provide the option to resize or hide certain elements of the UI. They’d really like to do it, but it won’t be soon because it will be a big task.
The achievements star in the top left was particularly mentioned as problematic for experienced players who might not be interested in daily achievements, but Colin argued that they had to balance the needs of the veteran players against those who are new to the game, and they were reluctant to hide elements of the UI which might make the game easier for new players to understand.
We had a number of very enthusiastic WvW players at the table, and Colin got a thorough grilling about every aspect of the feature. In particular we were interested in the upcoming WvW update (which is said to be hitting sometime after February), as well as improving certain elements of WvW and eliminating some of the more frustrating features.
The WvW abilities which can be earned by playing the game will not increase the ability of the player to defeat other players on the battlefield instead they will “expand your ability to operate in WvW, and make you more functional” as a WvW player. Instead of simply increasing their power or total health, they might allow the player to carry more supply or do more damage to walls with a catapult. These will be passive buffs rather than a skill on their bar.
We mentioned the currently unfathomably epic WvW achievement system, and Colin confirmed that balancing the WvW achievements is one of the team’s upcoming jobs.
Currently, compared to PvE farming, entering into WvW is vastly underwhelming in terms of drops. Colin confirmed that there are plans to add ascended items into WvW – but it needs to be balanced properly, so as with everything, it will only be shipped once they can confirm that they will not be too easy or too difficult to obtain. Certainly, with the new daily achievements system they are mindful that there are enough possible daily achievement paths each day to allow it to be fully completed within WvW alone, thereby ensuring those WvW-only players have access to laurels.
There are also plans to balance WvW drops across the board to make it more profitable in general (in line with PvE).
The WvW 30 minute Siege timer is to protect server bandwidth – to prevent the game getting clogged up with unlimited siege items!
The current WvW maps are the largest they can have with the engine so increasing the size isn’t an option, but the ultimate aim is to allow all players to play WvW and not have to queue for it. They’re looking into ways they might achieve this.
I was a little taken aback when Colin said that, personally, he would prefer that the WvW Jumping Puzzles were in an entirely separate zone to the battlefield itself.
World Completion, on the other hand, is unlikely to be removed from WvW, as it brings a decent number of new players from PvE into the genre.
When you flip a supply camp currently all the supply in the camp immediately transfers to you. This means that there is no negative for taking the camp, supplying up and immediately moving on. Colin suggested that if the supply were bumped down to 0 when it flips, and the players around were required to stay and complete another task to win back the supply then it would encourage players to protect and fortify camps more rather than taking and then leaving them.
And the prize for the smallest change which might have the biggest impact – the threshold for the orange swords has been increased. Colin said it had been increased from five to “I think 25, but I’m not sure!” So don’t count on that number, but it has certainly been increased. This is to encourage the use of “scout” players as opposed to using the orange swords to track enemies. This change will come with the February update.
The big philosophy which Colin wanted to get across is that 2013 will be a year where ArenaNet take all of the brilliant pre-existing content in Guild Wars 2 and polish it until it shines like your mother’s favourite silver spoons. It won’t be a year for massive updates adding new zones, instead they want to take each core piece of the game and improve upon it.
We talked about the uniquely iterative way in which ArenaNet developed and continue to develop Guild Wars 2. Colin mentioned how the QA team is inherently embedded in the design process for every element of the game; as opposed to the set-up in other companies where sometimes the QA team might be encouraged to not even maintain eye contact with the development team in the hallway. Because the QA team is a vital part of the process, GW2 developers have to be willing to let go of content if it isn’t good enough – and if one QA tester believes that a feature isn’t ready to ship then it won’t be shipped.
They’ve set up a new analytics team to help them gather data about the game. They helped to gather the loot info to inform the new loot table changes. Hopefully, this will allow them to implement more informed game updates.
Colin’s favourite flavour of ice cream is salted caramel.
Sometimes his goatee isn’t as perfectly manicured as it appears in the promos – it all depends on the amount of sword swinging the night before.
And that’s a wrap! I really appreciated being invited along to represent GuildMag at this event, thanks to ArenaNet and in particular Aidan Taylor for getting it all sorted, and thanks to Colin – who never did finish his Fish Finger Sandwich.