This week we interview ArenaNet to learn more about personal stories in Guild Wars 2. While dynamic events has everyone talking about Guild Wars 2 and is one of the top reasons why we started GuildWars2Live, we are also very much interested in personal storylines. In this interview we geared our questions towards personal story in hopes to have a peek at the depth of the experience without spoiling any content.
Joining us for this interview are several game designers working on Guild Wars 2 including Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda, Theo Nguyen, Leif Chappelle and lead game designer, Eric Flannum.
GuildWars2Live: Dynamic events are very exciting, but we're also interested in personal storylines. Given that dynamic events are practically happening everywhere you look in Guild Wars 2, what are ways you encourage and remind players that they also have a story to progress?
Annie: Mechanically speaking, we always mark the location of the player's next personal story step on their map and keep a note in their UI. Their Hero tab will also have a Journal element that will keep them up to date on what they've done already, and what they've got to do next. Beyond that, we try to seed elements throughout the world that entice them to want to get personally involved. For example, when you start an asura and are running around the world, you start running into Inquest recruiters, golems, and operatives. You can find out certain elements about them from people in the world, but they're more broad strokes-you can tell early on they're a big deal in asura society, but you haven't personally engaged with them yet. But as you start on your personal story, where you're a rising star in the asuran collegiate system, you'll suddenly find the Inquest involving themselves with your affairs a lot more directly. Moving further through the world, to higher level content, you'll start to see representatives of the three great orders of Tyria-the Vigil, the Order of Whispers, and the Durmand Priory-you'll probably want to know more about how the organizations work internally, and the sort of missions they undertake. If you continue your story, and you'll meet representatives of the orders firsthand who will tell you about their approach to Tyria's threats, and want to recruit you to help combat them.
Just as we try to seed the personal stories to move you throughout the world and experience dynamic events and other content, so too do we hope that the player's exploration of the world whets their appetite to experience it at a deeper level.
After thoughts: The Inquest is an asura corporation that has come together to complete specific tasks. Members of the Inquest work towards goals by means that generally defy asura ethics. "Most Asura would not want to conduct experiments on sentient races, whereas the Inquest don't have those qualms - they believe the end justifies the means. They are the kind of an organization where if you join the Inquest, you are never leaving and everything you do belongs to the group, so it's very much a more structured and controlling organization." - Jeff Grubb on VGA247
GuildWars2Live: How important is following the personal storyline for a character's development?
Theo: It depends on the sense in which you mean “character's development.” In terms of power progression, the personal story is entirely optional. If it's not something you're interested in, you don't have to participate, as is the case with most of our content.
Leif: To expand a bit on what Theo said, every story instance scales you to the recommended level, and the content to how many friends come along. Even if you start engaging with your level 3 story at level 67, and bring along two friends that are 10 and 80, you should still have a fun time without one-shotting everything. That said, you'll get the best appreciation for the overall world setting by playing the story as it comes, since it helps to explain who exactly all these races and factions are-especially once you begin working alongside one of the Orders of Tyria.
Theo: That's just for power progression of course, if by character development you mean the sense of establishing your character's story and their relationship with the world around them, it's a key facet. The personal story is the narrative thread that guides your character through the game. It's where you determine who your character is and the role they play in the greater conflict.
Leif: I totally agree, it's absolutely key to establishing who your character is as a person and how they relate to and impact the world in a permanent way. Important characters may live or die depending on your choices in the story. Major battles are fought that turn the tide in a growing conflict. How you choose to proceed may lead to meeting someone new along the way. They'll move in to your home district, and you'll get the chance to know them even better. This is especially important as a sylvari, since you begin with no history other than your Dream. Who you meet helps establish who you are.
GuildWars2Live: The decisions a player makes potentially changes what they get to see in their home district. It has been said to affect how NPCs speak to you and the services provided. How has this been designed so that there is not a preferred storyline to go by?
Theo: The intention of the home district is not to give player mechanical advantages. There will be NPC services provided there but they'll be equal for all players. We want players to be able to play the story they want to play, rather than ever having to worry about which course is optimal for them from a game play sense.
The home instance is intended to be an area where you can see the consequences of your actions. Notable NPCs from your story will appear there based on the decisions you make through the personal story. You go to the home instance to further develop your relationships with these characters. It's another facet of defining who your character is, not what game play advantages are available to them.
GuildWars2Live: When a character reaches the end of their personal storyline, how does (s)he continue to develop their home instance?
Eric: We haven't released details on this yet but we'll certainly talk about this sometime before we launch.
GuildWars2Live: Each race has to deal with its factions, clans, colleges, or courts. How often will we see the personal storyline intertwine with these groups and what freedom does the player have between them?
Leif: A lot of your interaction with the various factions depends on what type of faction they are, as well as your own personal choices made during the course of the story. An asura, for example, can belong to one of their three colleges. This determines how they begin their story; who they represent, work for, root for. They'll also encounter members of these colleges out in the world doing their thing and reinforcing what types of innovations they're responsible for.
An asura will also have major interactions with the Inquest from the word “go.” It will always be an antagonistic interaction however-you can't join up with the bad guys-but it's also not a mustache-twirling black hat situation, either. During the course of your story, you'll see the enemy factions in all sorts of situations that help establish who they are, what they're about, and discover more about the individuals that belong to them.
Once you encounter the Orders of Tyria, you'll see what they stand for, represent, and how they deal with situations. And then you'll join one. Yet, even then, you'll still see and interact with the other orders. They don't always agree about everything, and those conflicts and compromises help to set the stage for how your story proceeds.
Annie: When we were designing the story for each race we asked, "What about this race makes it unique? When I as a player choose to play X, what am I expecting?" This is easier for some than others: obviously for the charr, their legions shape them from a very early age, so that's key. For the humans, whose civilization has had a large fall from grace and is valiantly trying to hold itself together, class boundaries help shape the characters from their society. Beyond that initial choice, we wanted to examine a little more about the character's past in a personal fashion, and make that something nicely reactive. For the norn, who are all about personal glory, this really meant picking out a failure: a defeat by a rival, a loss of an heirloom, or getting black-out drunk! Beyond those initial choices, which are available to the player when they create their characters, the story evolves to stop being about choices you made about the past and more about the decisions that shape your future. The choice of which order you feel like joining, about how you react to the other denizens of Tyria-those happen after character creation, as the player is going through the game.
Another thing we considered while shaping the personal stories is evaluating each race's personal enemies, and drawing a difference between what I've nicknamed the "understandable foe" and the "implacable foe." The implacable foe is something or someone that cannot be reasoned with, where negotiation or peace is not an option. The understandable foe may hardly be interested in negotiation, but they're easier to approach, and it's not a massive stretch of the imagination to see why they do what they do. They're also the ones capable of subterfuge, too, so they're the more complex enemy. For the charr, the implacable foe are the ghosts of Ascalon, doomed by the Foefire to constantly reform and battle their ancient enemy. The understandable foe, on the other hand, are the Flame Legion, who-even though they're huge jerks-are somewhat understandable in that they long for the "glory days" of the charr theocracy, when Flame Legion zealots rampaged through Ascalon. Sometimes these foes can even be linked: the implacable foe for the norn is the ice dragon Jormag and its corrupted ice minions, but the understandable one are the Sons of Svanir. Even though the Svanir are also huge jerks, they approach the issue of Jormag with a somewhat deluded form of norn logic: “Dragon is powerful, therefore if I worship Dragon and try to take its power to conquer it, I will be great as well!” (That theory doesn't work so well in practice, but... well, you'll see.)
The player's interaction with these two types of initial foes-implacable and understandable-is another part of how we develop their stories. For example: all three charr legions tangle with their implacable foe in the tutorial, but depending on their selection of legion in character creation, things change from there. If the player chose to play an Iron or Blood legion charr, they have run-ins with the Flame Legion at first, but remain focused on their goal of taking out as many ghosts as possible. The Ash Legion, on the other hand, are tasked with hunting down the source of the Flame Legion disturbances and tackling them directly.
After thoughts: At this point we've very much convinced that Guild Wars 2 will provide players with a strong sense of relationships in the world our character will lives in. While assured that there isn't an ideal story to follow, we should feel free to make choices that work towards our personal interests or whatever you want to role play!
GuildWars2Live: Similar to how dynamic events can be added to the world of Tyria, can we expect to see expansions to their personal story, whether it is through free updates or future expansions to Guild Wars 2?
Eric: We haven't made any concrete decisions about what's in boxed expansions, what's in free updates, and what's in smaller paid updates. All of that being said, personal story takes quite a bit of time and resources to develop so it is likely to be a feature of boxed expansions.
GuildWars2Live: It's been mentioned that one's personal story can be played together with a friend. Are there limitations for this to happen? Are there party restrictions similar to dungeons?
Eric: The limit on the number of people who can participate in the personal story is five, which is the same as dungeons, which is the same as the max party size in the game.
GuildWars2Live: Bonus question, can we get a beta key to Colin's heart?
Eric: I think that's a unique item and already belongs to someone.
After thoughts: We figured this would be worth a lot. Perhaps we can negotiate a trade. How about an army of battle golems controlled by a single chicken or a boat full of ectos? Oh well, we tried.
We want to give a big thank you to everyone in ArenaNet for setting aside time to answer our questions. We can't wait to share our experience with everyone else in the new living, breathing world of Guild Wars and look forward to the continuation of its story.
Pre-purchase of Guild Wars 2 begins next week on Tuesday. If you're hoping to get your hands on the Collector's Edition, start checking with your local game retailer.