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Exclusive Guild Wars Interview with Bobby Stein - The Next Big Step

Posted Tue, Nov 11, 2008 by Cody Bye

For game publishers, developing a massively multiplayer online game is almost like sticking cash into a $50 million slot machine. Once you've pulled the lever, all you can do is wait and watch as the numbers start to line up. Of course, thousands of variables are involved with MMO development, including the talent of the studio hired to make the game and the commitment the publisher has in making that game a success. Yet even with all of the talent in the world, you could end up like the unfortunate Ed McMahon: old, broke, and relying upon the charity of others to pay the bills.

In the case of NCsoft's Guild Wars, the slot machine rolled up with three of those big red sevens and millions of dollars came pouring back in to fill the coffers of the Korean-based company. Luck had little to do with this jackpot, and the quality of the content in Guild Wars - along with their "free-to-play" service - allowed them to sell over five million copies in just a few years. Someone in Korea must have a vault like Scrooge McDuck's that they use to swim around in vast piles of money.

Bobby Stein, Writing Team Lead

However, the champagne celebration is far from over at NCsoft and ArenaNet. With the sequel to Guild Wars - dubbed Guild Wars 2 - solidly in the works, the development team is already hard at work to create a title that will push the Guild Wars franchise beyond the "one hit wonder" category and into the realm of epic legacies like Ultima, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, and the Elder Scrolls.

Thanks to their incredibly talented development team, ArenaNet has another chance at striking MMO gold. It's been awhile since the release of Eye of the North and the Bonus Mission Pack, so the Ten Ton Hammer staff decided it was time to have a chat with one of the ArenaNet devs. Luckily, Bobby Stein, ArenaNet's Writing Team Lead, was more than willing to take our questions, and we grilled him over a number of topics, including the future of the Guild Wars games.

According to Bobby, the entire ArenaNet team have been working their fingers to the bone since they official released of Eye of the North. "We’ve been running silent and deep since we shipped the Eye of the North expansion making steady progress in several key areas. We’re continually refining our development tools to streamline content creation for writers and designers. Our engine team is busy as ever implementing new graphical features and optimizing code. The combat, dialogue, and gameplay systems are coming along nicely. So even though you haven’t heard much from us, we’ve been cruising along," Bobby said. "Our weekend and holiday events are as popular as ever, so if you haven’t fired up Guild Wars lately, you should log in and check out what’s new."

Frankly, Bobby is one of the best and the brightest when it comes to writing and the ongoing storyline that we've seen progress in Guild Wars and will see in Guild Wars 2 has a lot to do with him and his team. But crafting a story for a constantly changing MMOG is like trying to find a needle in a haystack; you may sift away all the clutter and still come up empty-handed. With a story as immense as that in the Guild Wars series, we asked Bobby what sort of problems he faced in adding additional content into the world of Tyria.

The art of telling stories is a subtractive art. You only keep the good stuff.

"Tyria, the world of Guild Wars, is the brainchild of a large team of highly creative people," Bobby answered, "It has evolved so much over the years that we’ve left ourselves lots of little loose ends to tie up. The Bonus Mission Pack was especially challenging because it required us to closely examine the existing stories of our iconic characters and fill in the blanks. Guild Wars 2 will introduce some new characters and races, but you might see a familiar face or two. We’ll also expand the world story through the novel trilogy we mentioned at PAX."

"Anyone in the game and film industries will tell you that production is a subtractive art," he continued. "You start out with a huge idea and an overwhelming number of assets, but are forced to pare them down to a manageable size. There are lots of stories and personalities on the cutting room floor—too many to mention, in fact. We’re seeding the world with lots of little details so that interested players can connect the dots."

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