Design Philosophy and the Endgame – An Exclusive Guild Wars 2 Interview with Eric Flannum

While ArenaNet may not have had the same kind of massive floor presence as it did for gamescom and PAX Prime, the developer nonetheless still managed to make a huge splash with Guild Wars 2 at New York Comic Con 2010. Not only was the rewards calculator for the Hall of Monuments revealed for those players of the original game who have been eager to learn what shiny new things they can unlock for their GW2 characters, but there were also numerous demo stations and an excellent panel discussion for the game.

We also had the opportunity to sit down with Lead Designer Eric Flannum to discuss some of the design philosophy behind Guild Wars 2, including an interesting look at how crafting will fit into the game and what players can expect once they’ve reached the level cap.

Ten Ton Hammer: We know that there will be both PvP and PvE aspects to the game. Once players hit level 80 to you expect to have more of a focus on one type of gameplay over another such as competitive PvP?

"We don't want to force a particular playstyle on you when we didn't ask you to do that the whole time you were playing up to level 80"

Lead Designer Eric Flannum: Not really. Philosophically the thing we think is that we don’t want to ask someone to play a different game when they hit level 80 than they were playing to get to that point. What that means I think is if you were a player who just plays PvP – in World vs. World PvP it is possible to start as a level 2 character and level all the way up to 80 – if you did that we don’t want to force you to go do dungeons.

If you’re a player that likes PvE and you really like dungeons and mostly focus on them as you level up, we also don’t want to force you to participate in World vs. World as an endgame. World vs. World is kind of its own endgame, where it’s a constantly evolving PvP game.  

For events, we have a system where you can go back and experience them. So if you really like events and enjoy playing through them, what you can do there is take your level 80 character and go back to an area that maybe you didn’t go to before. It’s a huge game world, so let’s say you’re a human but you never went to the Sylvari starter area. You can go back to that area any time you want, even when you level past it and it will sidekick you down automatically when you get there so that you can do those events.

You’ll still be really powerful for that area, but you’re powerful in a way that you won’t break the events. Some will still be easier for you, but let’s say you really like The Shatterer or maybe you never even fought it before, you can go back and do that. As for dungeons, there are multiple dungeons when you hit level 80 but even there you can do the same sort of thing where you can go back to a dungeon and play through it at any time.

So the basic idea there is that we don’t want to force a particular playstyle on you when we didn’t ask you to do that the whole time you were playing up to level 80. We want you to be able to play the same game you enjoyed. Certainly you could decide to branch out and try the World vs. World thing to see where it goes; we don’t restrict you from experiencing different things either in that sense.

Ten Ton Hammer: What impact, if any, does that have on your personal story in terms of going back and experiencing some of the lower level content you may have missed the first time through the area?

Eric: Personal story is one area where we have to create more for you to have more of it added for your character once you hit level 80. So for personal story there are really two ways you can approach it once you’ve reached level 80.

The first is obviously the option to create another character, and you can choose different things or even pick a completely different background and will experience the story in a different way. You can also go find lower level characters who are going through things you might not have experienced yourself and you can see what their story is like compared to your own.

For example if you’re a level 80 human character but you’ve never really saw what the charr stuff was like, you can go and find a low level charr character who can sidekick you down to their level so that you can go through and experience that story with them. But if you really want to experience those things again for yourself once you’ve reached level 80 you’ll have to roll an alt.

Our business model also relies on us releasing new content occasionally, so we’ll be releasing more personal story that way as well. There are actually questions that we do ask you and decisions that you’ll make that have more of a minimal effect on the game right now, so they don’t cause big huge branches. We built those in kind of on purpose to give ourselves somewhere to go when we do add personal story expansion.

Ten Ton Hammer: Another design philosophy question: are you expecting to have crafted items like armor be on par with, or in some way better than normal loot you’d find?

Eric: Our philosophy on that stuff is that we want it to be different, but not superior or inferior to other items. We do want it to be the case where say you’re an armorsmith, you can make stuff that you want to wear and that other people will want to wear. But again it’s also a thing where we don’t want to force people into particular playstyles.

"Our goal with crafting philosophically is that you'll never make an item that is a throwaway item"

So there will be really good gear obtainable through dungeons, through your personal story, or from random drops in the world, and then there will also be really good gear obtainable that’s crafted.

Our goal with our crafting philosophically is that you’ll never make an item that is a throwaway item. You’ll always be making something that is going to be valuable to someone. Whether it’s for yourself, whether it’s to put on the auction house, whether it’s a consumable that people want, there’s never a time when you’re just making something to increase your skill and then you’re just going to vendor it or chuck it or whatever else you’d do with it afterwards.

Ten Ton Hammer: So far we’ve seen both the humans and the charr, and both look simply incredible. In Guild Wars 1 you had only the one race so it was fairly easy to have those epic sweeping journeys that spanned entire continents, but will that still be the case with Guild Wars 2 where you have five unique races?

Eric: Oh yeah, absolutely. You can tell a little bit by scrolling out on the world map and seeing that that’s like, but it spans more than even what Prophecies covered, so it covers more area. It’s this big sweeping story that all of the races eventually get caught up into and leads you eventually to the lost continent of Orr which is a pretty cool endgame area.

Ten Ton Hammer: Each of the playable races will also have a unique home city, but will there also be a neutral city that serves somewhat as a gathering nexus for players regardless of which race they chose for their characters?

Eric: Yep, that’s Lion’s Arch. At about level 30 everybody’s personal story leads them to Lion’s Arch. It’s the city that we expect will be the main gathering point for players in the world kind of in the same way that Lion’s Arch is in Prophecies, so we’re building it with that in mind.

It’s a very cosmopolitan city, it houses all of the races and everyone is treated as equal based on their abilities. So it’s very interesting. When you get to Lion’s Arch you’ll get to see charr working with asura doing crazy, wonderful things that they could never do on their own and that sort of thing. So Lion’s Arch is very much that kind of city for everyone.

Ten Ton Hammer: Another hot topic with the community is the Transmutation Stones. There’s some concern about the extent of the microtransactions in the game, but I’m not going to ask you that question since I know you’re not there quite yet. But folks are wondering if things will remain mostly in the ‘services’ category, or if we’ll see other items for sale such as consumables or things of that nature.

Eric: I think we want to keep it in the vein of purely cosmetic stuff. Where that line is, is obviously arguable. For example I’ve seen places where a lot of people think Transmutation Stones aren’t purely cosmetic, but clearly we think it is. It’s almost like your definition of grind. It can be difficult to go to that point.

"We've already said what our leveling curve is like, so we're not going to turn around now and say we changed our minds and will be selling experience potions and scrolls. We're not going to do that."

A better way to phrase that is that it is not our intent to make it where people feel they have to purchase things to play the game, or feel like they need to spend money on additional things. For example we’ve gotten the question regarding transmutation stones of, “does this mean that you guys are making armors really ugly at higher levels because then that will force us to transmute.” Our answer was of course no, we would never do that. We’re considering this a convenience for players and a cool thing; we’re not going to cripple the game just to make a buck.

We’ve already said what our leveling curve is like, so we’re not going to turn around now and say we changed our minds and will be selling experience potions and scrolls. We’re not going to do that.

I mean, I can understand why there are trepidations about it. And the thing is we’re not asking people to just take our word for it, because we’ll release more details as soon as we’re ready to release them. The big thing I would say is that I hope they take it as a sign of integrity that we talked about the fact that transmutation stones are mostly available through the in-game store. The thing was we debated this internally where we said we really need to talk about the transmutation stones if we’re going to talk about how our items work and all of that. And our thought was that we really should because otherwise it would seem very much like a bait and switch if we never really bothered mentioning they’ll be available in the in-game store, and people will feel like we’re lying to them and we don’t want to do that.

So we ended up mentioning it, and maybe we didn’t mentioning them in the best way that we possibly could have but we also weren’t just trying to sneak it in. But hopefully players will at least be able to see that we were being honest with them and we will continue to be. And again, we want to continue our trend where we don’t release details until we’re pretty sure about them, because we don’t want to get into a situation where we promise something or say this works this way when we really know there’s a good chance it’s not going to work that way. Again, that feels like being untruthful to us so we don’t want to do that to our players.

Ten Ton Hammer: Another common obsession amongst our forum dwellers is Prince Rurik. Have we seen the last of him in Guild Wars?

Eric: I never want to say never, but we may have seen the last of Prince Rurik. He came back enough, so it would be a little mean to him to make him come back again. *laughs* Also the same for Gwen I think, but you never know.

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