By Bobby Stein August 5th, 2010 Hey there. I’m Bobby Stein, the Lead Writer for Guild Wars 2. My group writes and edits a variety of game content, from voiced scenes and cinematics to in-game books and UI text. We work closely with content and world designers, artists, programmers, sound engineers, and QA personnel to ensure your eyes are entertained, your ears are pleased, and your funny bones are tickled ever so subtly. If you’ve been keeping track of our development progress, you already know something about our combat system , how dynamic events work, and our unflinching commitment to storytelling. It’s time you learned how we’re bringing Tyria alive with world-class voice talent and a new approach to dialogue. Crossing the Picket Line MMOs and CORPGs have relied on text bubbles for years to establish mood, develop characters, and create ambience throughout hundreds of hours of play time. They denote who is saying what at which moment in time. If you’re not looking directly at the “speaker” or eyeing your chat log, you could completely miss the information. We’ve learned through experience that text bubbles fail miserably without audio. They remind you that you’re playing a game, that your characters are lifeless, soulless, and silent. In a fight, word balloons serve as little more than protest signs that taunt your enemies. This isn’t news to anyone who plays video games. What is news is that we’re crossing that proverbial picket line into the 21st century and giving our characters voices. Entire cities of them. Shut Your Eyes and Open Your Ears To help you get a feel for the level of immersion you’ll experience while walking the streets of Divinity’s Reach, we asked one of our talented voice actors to read the next few paragraphs aloud. We then layered in-game sounds over his dialogue to give you a sense of the rich soundscape in Guild Wars 2. When you’re ready to begin, play the sound clip below and read along! The Sounds Of Divinity's Reach [mp3]http://www.arena.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Fred_Tatasciore_SFX.mp3[/mp3] All these elements layer atop one another to blanket you in sound (and that’s before you factor in Jeremy Soule’s stirring new musical compositions). Whether you’re listening through a pair of headphones or surrounded by a 5.1 setup, you’ll notice a big leap in audio density from the original Guild Wars to Guild Wars 2. Just be sure to take an occasional break while you’re out slaying drakes on the plain. You just might overhear something interesting. Getting Perspective Early on during Guild Wars 2 development, we discussed how much voice we wanted in the game. Everyone agreed that simply recording cinematics wasn’t enough, but how much would we need to immerse players in our world? We thought about the kinds of experiences we’d had in our favorite audio-heavy games like Grand Theft Auto IV, and we started paying attention to all the different ways that they employed voice-over to not only tell an engaging tale, but to literally surround you with sound. We talked about our planned content types, how we wanted to use audio in combat scenarios, and the different ways that we could both entertain and educate players about our world. We made a decision that, quite frankly, questioned our sanity. We’re voicing the equivalent of more than 60 feature-length films. Granted, you won’t be absorbing most of this dialogue through traditional cinematics. Instead, we’re evenly distributing story bits, lore, gameplay information, and ambience over hundreds of hours of play. Yes, we’ve got gorgeous, stylized cinematics that will make your jaw drop, but much of what you hear simply happens all around you, or at specific dramatic points in your personal story. We’re also aware that there can be too much of a good thing, which is why we’ve developed a sound throttling system so you won’t hear the same combat chatter repeated over and over again during fights. Those concerned about the game being diluted with “snappy one-liners” can breathe a sigh of relief. You won’t hear quips every five seconds, and most of them aren’t smarmy in nature. That annoys us just as much as it does you. Now with Less Forsooth! The Guild Wars universe is most definitely a high-fantasy setting, but that doesn’t mean its denizens speak like Renaissance faire performers. Events in Guild Wars 2 take place about 250 years after the original series. To match the new setting, we’re cutting back on the stereotypical ye olde English speak in favor of tighter dialogue in active voice, because most people don’t identify with characters who speak in archaic expressions and passive language. (Plus that stuff just sounds silly when read aloud. To see what we mean, listen to the clip below.) To be clear, there will be certain characters or races that speak in more formal terms, but by and large the inhabitants of Tyria speak more naturally than they did in the past. Judging from our internal tests this is absolutely the right direction for our game, and one that won’t alienate old fans or newcomers to the series. More to Come I haven’t even mentioned our huge cast of voice actors or the new things we’re doing with character interaction, but I’ll save those for a future article. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for more details on Guild Wars 2 development, including a piece from our audio team colleagues. Thanks for listening.