The Guild Wars 2 Fan Experience at PAX East 2011
Like most industries, life in this nutty world we call games media has its good points and its bad points. There are times when its kind of like busting open a bag of what you thought was your favorite trail mix only to discover that its got strawberry flavored sardines in it. While you can pick out the offending aquatics pretty easily, youre still left with a bag full of nuts that taste like fake, fishy strawberries.
On the flip side, I wouldnt change what I do to afford those oddball bags of strawberry sardine flavored trail mix for the world. Case in point: I got to attend PAX East not only as an industry professional, but also as a long-time hardcore fan of all things Guild Wars.
Now in its second year, PAX East is already beginning to take a similar shape to its west coast counterpart. That is to say, its quickly establishing itself as one of the better fan events in the industry. But purely fan focused events can often be a mixed bag much like the one described above. Sometimes developers are a bit less inclined to reveal major new aspects of their projects due to less potential mass media exposure. Or, as was originally the case with ArenaNet, if they do plan to give fans something completely new to be excited about during one of these events, all it takes is one media outlet breaking an embargo to spoil things for everyone else, thus adding their own special brand of sardines into the mix.
"Fully Loaded" is certainly one way you could describe the expo hall at PAX East this year
An interesting side effect of that whole nutty chain of events surrounding the early reveal of the thief profession is that not only did fans get to learn about whats new in the latest demo build before heading to the event, it also granted them the opportunity to decide exactly what part of the game they wanted to check out first if they managed to snag one of the highly coveted demo stations.
While the professional in me had a set agenda for the bulk of my two days in Boston, the obsessive Tyrian lore nerd and Guild Wars fan in me spent as much time as I could stalking the various members of the ArenaNet team that were on hand for the event. Along the way I also had the opportunity to connect with a lot of franchise fans, both old and new.
But knowing that there were plenty of other fans that couldnt make the trip to Boston this weekend, I wanted to give you at least some idea of what the whole experience was like not only from the perspective of the manager of a dedicated Guild Wars 2 fansite, but the fan side of that equation as well. After all, fan is right there in the word, and its because of all of you that I love what I do so much.
"Fully Loaded" is also a good way to describe the Alienware booth on Friday morning thanks to the legion of fans who showed up to play the Guild Wars 2 demo
As you can see in the above image, the initial Alienware booth takeover on Friday morning was literally spilling over with GW2 fans eager to watch the demo being played by others even if they werent able to get in on the action during those first 2 hours themselves. Apart from the small team running the media presentation upstairs, most of the Anet devs were down on the show floor and readily available for fans to ask whatever questions they could dream up. This held true throughout the weekend, with a constantly rotating cast of Anet All-Stars such as Colin Johanson, Jeff Grubb, Jon Peters and many more making the rounds.
The next stop on my GW2 journey was the aforementioned formal media presentation. Ill spare you another lengthy diatribe on how gutting it was to have the presentation leaked early, but suffice to say, the main attraction for me was the hope of a few minutes worth of Q&A time once the demo wrapped up.
Jon Peters (left) and Randy Price (right) walk us through the norn starting area (center) during the formal media presentation
As luck would have it, Ethec and I had the opportunity to attend the presentation twice back-to-back, giving us a chance to speak with Jon Peters about everything from the path norn characters would take as they progress beyond their starting area outside of Hoelbrak, to how and when they gain access to their unique shape-shifting abilities.
In case youre wondering, the answer to the first question is that your path through Guild Wars 2 as a norn will initially take you west through the Shiverpeaks, and into Kryta where youll hit the gates of Lions Arch right around level 30. In fact, all 5 races will have a similar progression, insuring that LA truly becomes the kind of racial melting pot its described to be in both Ghosts of Ascalon and Edge of Destiny.
Lion's Arch was not open to players in the newest demo build, but this should give you some idea of what they mean by the city being rebuilt using shipwrecks after the original city was flooded. Judging by the size of the gates alone, I'm guessing that Lion's Arch is going to be a truly epic city.
For the answer to the second question concerning norn shape-shifting, be sure to read my lengthy look at Ten Things We Learned about Guild Wars 2 at PAX East 2011.
After the presentation wrapped up, Ethec and I decided to snag some lunch and meet up with Ben and Space Junkie, the other members of the Ten Ton Hammer mercenary hero team covering the event. As luck would have it, we were also joined by a few members of the ArenaNet team. Since I didnt want to badger them too much about GW2 (though I easily could have for the entirety of PAX East and beyond) we mostly talked about some of the other promising titles being shown down in the expo hall.
One title that instantly sprang to mind for most of us as being a highlight of the show is Firefall, a game that Jon Peters described as Tribes Online. While the next incarnation of the Tribes franchise is currently being developed by Hi-Rez Studios, the Tribes connection is readily apparent once you factor in Scott Youngblood as the design lead for Firefall. To get an idea of how that game is shaping up, be sure to use your mouse to insta-travel over to my Firefall Multiplayer Impressions from PAX East 2011.
Eventually the clock turned a lazy brow towards 5pm, so it was time for us to scamper over to the Westin hotel for the NCSoft community event. Unlike the somewhat low key ArenaNet meet & greet held during PAX Prime last fall, there was already a massive line forming to get into the community event long before the doors ever opened.
One of the main attractions of the community event was naturally getting a chance to have me sign a copy of my bestselling autobiography, The Rise and Fall of Scribe Sardu and the Exploding Atomic Doom Bees. This might have made getting in the doors a bit difficult, but thankfully I was wearing my mild-mannered reporter disguise for the evening.
Above left: My demo station minus the PC. Apparently I'm far too overpowered and needed to be nerfed! Above right: VIP attendees consuming as much of the demo as they can before the doors open to the public.
Seriously though, the 20 demo stations for Guild Wars 2 were, for many, their only viable chance to spend some hands-on time with the game due to limited availability on the show floor. In fact, I managed to snag the last remaining station during the early VIP access for the community event. But as youll see in the images above my hopes of getting any hands-on time with the game were nearly dashed against the rocks and ground into sand so fine that it stays between your toes long after your vacation has ended.
Thankfully the awesome tech team swooped in and saved the day by completely replacing the PC at my demo station. I unfortunately neglected to get their names, but do want to extend my sincere thanks to them for being so genuinely awesome.
Speaking of awesome, shortly after I got the GW2 demo back up and running, I was joined by Global Brand Manager Brian Porter who spent the rest of my demo time discussing various aspects of the game with me. Be sure to keep an eye here on our community site for my full updated impressions for Guild Wars 2, but for now Ill leave you with a not-so-subtle hint: it freaking rocks.
While the community event might have been somewhat light on swag, lucky raffle winners walked away with some impressive hardware, including Nvidia GPUs and an Alienware laptop. I declared myself the "bonus round" winner and tried to snag one of the GW2 demo stations, but was mauled by a pack of angry moas before I could reach the exit.
After the demo wrapped up I spent the rest of the evening stalking ArenaNet devs and gaining new insights into a whole host of things going as far back as the release of the first Guild Wars campaign. For example, did you know that the original inspiration for GW2's dynamic event system is old text-based RPGs from the 1980s? I couldn't get Colin to give me any exact titles, but he quickly disproved most of my Tabula Rasa theories. I also did my best to obtain any info that could potentially be used to fuel my Prince Rurik conspiracy theories, but alas, Anet is onto my secret plans
Truth be told, however, the best thing about the community event was the legion of fans that showed up in support of GW2 and the full lineup of NCSoft titles. It was great to hear what people think of GW2 so far, and to see some who were awesome enough to come dressed as their favorite GW characters. In fact, I made a promise to one of them that I would give her everlasting internet fame for being cool enough to attend the event as Gwen. She's not only featured in the header image for this article, but be sure to jump to the last page to see her full costume in all its glory!
The line for the "Fantasy MMO Redesigned" panel filled up a full hour before the doors opened up
The following day I somehow managed to have a light enough schedule to head over to the Fantasy MMO Redefined panel discussion. As you can see above, the line for the panel was completely full over an hour before the panel began which further reinforced just how many die-hard GW2 fans were in Boston over the weekend.
I somehow managed to snag rock star seating for the panel, which consisted primarily of a lengthy Q&A about various aspects of the game (for those of you interested, I'll be posting a full analysis of the discussion later this week). Afterwards, I also had the opportunity to speak with community manager Regina Buenaobra who is one of the nicest people youre likely to meet in the industry.
The team from ArenaNet focused the bulk of the panel time on answering fan's questions
Unfortunately I had to make a hasty exit to make my next appointment, and thus ended my weekend of rampant GW2 fandom. While my overall enthusiasm for the game is something I could easily ramble on about until Farmer Dirks cows come home and begin their reenactment of the Searing, I should probably wrap things up for now.
But before I go, I just wanted to thank the many ArenaNet devs for allowing me to talk their ears off throughout the weekend, and the growing army of GW2 fans that make this kind of event so memorable. Speaking of which, don't forget to hit the jump below to see the awesome Gwen cosplay from the NCSoft community event!