Interview with Eric Flannum (Onlinewelten)

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    Eric Flannum (Lead Designer) interview April 29th, 2010

    Onlinewelten: You have revealed a lot of details about Guild Wars 2 and we are beginning to see the big picture. Naturally we are still curious about particular aspects and we thank you for the opportunity to ask some questions. You have announced that the combat system will involve tactical movement and game world interaction. What does that mean? Do the players have to manually block or evade? Does higher altitude correspond to an increased hit probability or do lightning spells have increased damage under water?

    Eric Flannum: What that means is that combat will encourage tactical movement - we want to reward players who recognize tactical situations and move to take advantage of them. This can be as simple as realizing that the drake you’re attacking is getting ready to breathe fire on you and moving to its side or getting ready to block with your shield. Some skills have additional effects when used from the side or behind an opponent so flanking can also be very important.

    Players can actively dodge many projectiles and while being on higher ground doesn’t grant an increased hit probability, using line of sight to place cover between your character and enemies can be very advantageous. A warrior can shoot through an elementalists Static Field to charge up his shots making them do more damage. To take advantage of this the warrior needs to keep the static field between himself and his enemies.


    Onlinewelten: What are environmental weapons? Maybe traps and pitfalls which can be activated or catapults that can be used?

    Eric Flannum: You mentioned interacting with the game world in a previous question, this is where environmental weapons come into play. In Guild Wars 2 whatever object you’re holding in your hands determines your first five skills. This is true for the normal weapons that players use but it extends into temporary environmental weapons as well. For example a player may come across a rock and pick it up. This will change the first five skills on their bar such that they can now throw that rock at enemies. Your profession can also affect what you can do with environmental weapons. An elementalist could hurl the rock high into the air and cause it to come crashing down as a meteor.

    The variety of environmental weapons in the game is huge and we are adding more of them all the time. One event has bandits burning the local crops, players can go to the well and get a bucket to throw water on the fire and help put it out. Centaurs break down the door of a mighty fortress creating wooden beams that can be picked up and used to literally launch the centaurs back out of the fortress. Players can interact with catapults using skills to aim and fire them. Certain professions are even built heavily around the concept of environmental weapons.


    Onlinewelten: When you speak about visually unique and appealing skills and effects, does that mean that every single skill will have its unique animation? How many skills can a character choose from and will it be possible to maximize them all - at least in principle?

    Eric Flannum: Most skills in the game have unique animations and effects however we do share when it makes sense to do so. For example many rifle shots and bow shots use the same animation but the projectile that comes out from these shots will be unique. A character can choose from dozens of skills in the game and can maximize all of them that are available to their race and profession. A warrior for example cannot learn elementalist skills.

    Onlinewelten: Do players have to choose the skills they will fight with in the cities or can they circle the skill set even while on the move? Why did you choose to increase the slots of the skill bar from eight to ten?

    Eric Flannum: Skills can be swapped out whenever a character is not in combat. If a player wants to tinker with their skills while running somewhere then they are definitely able to do so. One of the things we wanted to do with the skill bar in Guild Wars 2 is preserve the ability for players to customize their characters and create skill builds which was one of the coolest things about the first game. We also wanted to make it so players couldn’t bring completely worthless builds and always had an effective set of attacks that worked well together. Because of this we have moved to a system where players do not choose their first five skills individually. Instead they choose a weapon and then that weapon combined with their profession determines which skills they have available. A warrior who is wielding a greatsword will have a set of five skills to build around. Most professions can also equip and switch between two different weapon sets for additional variety.

    During early implementation of our combat we played around with a different number of skill slots for the second set of slots that you equip skills into. We felt that 5 skill slots gave us a good balance between of ease of use and flexibility. The five weapon skills along with the five slottable skills gave us our current ten slot skill bar.


    Onlinewelten: Quests tailored to the characters personality are a fascinating idea. In how far will they have an influence on the characters persona and future? Will players have to decide between good and evil? Are there any repercussions for players in a group?

    Eric Flannum: The personal storyline has a lot of influence on a characters future. Players will often be faced with moral decisions, decide whether or not to save the life of a friend, or decide to side with or against a close family member. All of their choices will impact content that they will see in the future. Although we do present the player with some tough choices we don’t let them go down an evil path. We want to keep our efforts focused on telling players a personal story with their character starring as the hero.

    Players can choose to play through story content as a group but when they do so they choose to play through a particular characters story. In this case the other party members are witnesses to the main characters story and although they will be rewarded for helping that character, they are not affected by any long term decisions made.


    Onlinewelten: You have revealed that Guild Wars 2 will include some old and some new professions. Will all professions from Guild Wars make it into the sequel? Why have you decided against a primary and secondary class just like in Guild Wars? Will it be possible to change the class?

    Eric Flannum: You’ll see some of the Guild Wars professions make a return and you’ll see a few professions that share some similarities with those from the original game. You’ll also see some professions that are unlike anything previously seen in the Guild Wars world.

    We had secondary professions in early versions of the game. We felt that they presented us with several problems. One of the things that made balancing Guild Wars a challenge was that secondary professions made the matrix of which skills in the game could be combined into a build massive. We wanted to avoid those types of balance concerns in Guild Wars 2. We also wanted to push how different each of our professions is in Guild Wars 2. For example the elementalist can attune to the different elements which didn’t combine well with how the warrior plays. Our last concern was that racial skills already did some of what secondary professions did in the first game without some of the same drawbacks. Although it was a tough decision, after taking all of the factors into consideration we decided not to include secondary professions in Guild Wars 2.

    Onlinewelten: You have confirmed the elementalist class. Will it play similar to the existing class in Guild Wars and what purpose will it have in a group?

    Eric Flannum: In Guild Wars 2 an elementalist can attune to one of the four elements. The attunement they are in combines with their choice of weapon to change the first five skills on their bar. For example an elementalist attuned to fire and wielding a staff will have access to five skills including the Fireball skill. An elementalist attuned to fire and wielding a scepter and focus will have access to a completely different set of five skills including Dragon’s Breath. When that elementalist attunes to water he has five new skills.

    Attuning to the different elements will also provide the elementalist with an ongoing passive effect. Fire attunement will damage any foes striking the elementalist. Water will heal nearby allies. Earth will protect the elementalist giving him additional armor. Air attunement will cause bolts of lightning to randomly strike nearby enemies. Elementalists in Guild Wars 2 can be extremely versatile, able to go from a support character to a damage dealer in the blink of an eye. Because of this an elementalist will always be welcome in a group.


    Onlinewelten: You are talking about a living world and dynamic events. What will be the interval between different events? Will there be more than one at the same time?

    Eric Flannum: The interval between different events can vary greatly. Some events are initiated by player action, some by the success or failure of a previous event, some events rely on the day and night cycle of the game for their timing, there are many different ways that events can start.

    There are always multiple events going on at any given time within a map. Events also scale dynamically to take the current player population into account. For example I was playing through our starting human area and wandered up to an area where a giant water pumping station pumps water through pipes towards Divinity’s Reach. Usually this pump station is working like clockwork but bandits had attacked it in an earlier event and succeeded in destroying the pipes. This shut off the flow of water to the city and workers were working furiously to repair the damage. The bandits of course were trying to kill the workers to stop them from completing the repairs. There were already a small handful of players defending the area so I joined in and helped them. As more and more players joined in the defense the number of bandits attacking increased and soon we had an epic struggle between players and bandits that ended with us emerging victorious over the bandit menace. Event timing, density, and dynamic scaling combine to make exploring the world of Guild wars an exciting experience where you never quite know what’s lurking around the next corner.

    Onlinewelten: How do you plan to avoid kill- and loot stealing?

    Eric Flannum: One of our primary goals for Guild Wars 2 is to make it a fantastic cooperative experience. We want to eliminate that feeling in most persistent world game where you view other players as pests or obstacles to your fun. Why play a multi-player game if you aren’t going to play with other players? We accomplish our goals in a couple ways.

    Events give players shared goals. In the water pump example it didn’t really matter how many bandits I killed in relation to another player what mattered was that I participated in the defense of the workers and that we succeeded as a group. We also do things in our loot and experience distribution system to encourage players to play with each other and not to covet monsters like they were precious resources. Our formula can be a little complicated but it basically works like this; once a low threshold of damage has been reached by a player on a monster that player gets credit for the kill and will receive full experience and loot for killing that monster. This means that as long as I’m actually trying to kill something I’ll receive credit no matter who lands the killing blow.

    All of this combines to encourage players to play with and help each other. A player can log into Guild Wars 2, never join a party with other players, never speak to another player, and still feel like they are playing in a cooperative multiplayer game.

    Onlinewelten: Will you implement a strict separation between different regions? In Guild Wars Europeans were not able to play in American districts and vice versa.

    Eric Flannum: We don’t have the concept of districts in Guild Wars 2. We ask players to join different worlds, what you might call servers or shards in another game. We’ll have some worlds that are based in different territories but at this time we have no plans to restrict what worlds players can or can’t join.

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