By DavidCampbell - May 17th, 2010 We sat down and talked with multi-talented Guild Wars 2 character artist Kristen Perry, who took a break from her busy design work to answer some questions for us. As you’ll see, Kristen is so passionate about what she does that it’s easy to get her talking about clothing design…but not so easy to get her to stop. Hi Kristen! So what are you working on these days? Are you designing NPCs for specific areas of the game or for the whole darn thing? Actually, I have my hands in a lot of projects around here. The character department handles just about everything from concept work, to building, to designing customization systems and so forth. I’ve designed the female charr direction, the dye system—including all color design—one of the iconic characters, and just about anything that wears clothing. So far I’ve designed most of the clothing in Guild Wars 2, the NPCs for all races except for the sylvari (I modeled and textured Caithe, but I didn’t design her). I’ve also built a lot of the humans and helped manage the outsourcing for the rest. Then there’s the GW1 costume stuff and the Shining Blade viral poster, but that’s a different article. Heh. We sure keep busy around here! I guess so! Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve approached NPC and clothing design for Guild Wars 2? Designing the clothing for a race is a lot of fun, particularly when you start at the beginning with a clean slate. One of the things I really like about GW2 is it gave us the opportunity to see the town inhabitants as a whole, rather than just an individual list of needed people (even though what I got was a list of needed people, heh heh). This allowed me to draw a block of designs at once and see them all together. Doing that gives insight into how the NPCs work as a crowd, spreading out interesting silhouettes and shapes that make them simultaneously a good backdrop for the players as well as appealing individually. This is the first and most important step, as I’ll outright plan on designing by silhouette. There will be a shirt with short sleeves and another with long, one will be frilly while the other is tight, and even more mixing. The same line of thinking follows any pant or boot; all of their silhouettes must look appropriate for the culture but also have very different shapes for visual variety at any distance. Once you start designing with that in mind, then focusing on the details and traits that are unique to the race culture will add to the overall world direction. As with any project, all these pieces need to work well together: environment, props, characters, etc. So for the humans, I needed to design in the vein of what, for example, Divinity’s Reach townsfolk might look like. What would a pauper in Divinity’s Reach look like? Or a noble? A merchant? They all have to fit their roles and fit well together. Humans are probably the most familiar and flexible of the designs, as folks will wear just about anything. However, pulling from particular time periods in history is just the start. Though Divinity’s Reach does have a distinct flavor, this is also a fantasy environment, so my methods are more about designing a convincing, functional outfit — with a twist. They may be wearing a waist vest, but the side is split and latched and the collar is tiered leather. Maybe the overcoat is not just a gentleman’s long coat, but mixed with the layering of a highwayman’s trench and tailored with the double-breasted buttons of formal wear. Sashes are a favorite of mine — I love modeling the knots — but I’ll always twist up the pant they go with. The human costume designs that accompany this post in particular are a combination of gypsy, a little bit of gaucho, and the texture and durability of a farrier’s chaps. Is there a significant difference between the games in terms of design and the tools available to you? Oh good golly, we had to completely reinvent ourselves. There are leagues of difference in terms of process and result between Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2. Perhaps one of the most significant new tools is the use of normal maps. For the first time, we can make use of much higher modeling techniques to add richness to an otherwise modest poly budget. We do have more polys to throw around as well, but there’s a lot to be said for the smoke-and-mirror use of a good normal map. I think perhaps what I love the most, besides normals and the fun of 3D sculpting, would be the silhouette polys I can now add and the higher texture resolution that goes with it. A collar may have edge depth, whereas before it may have just been a texture shadow. I can add more fullness to forms and folds and really get a nice layered look. As for the resolution part, that may be a bit of bad encouragement for me, heh heh. Even in GW I loved the OCD challenge of trying to squeeze more out of my texture pittance, but now that we have the upgraded layout, my UVs have become veritable tetris excursions. I consider it a source of pride coming up with an efficient layout that allows me to texture brocades and stitching for which previous allotments may not have had the resolution. Of course, all the new GW2 techniques add decent extra time to the final process compared to GW, but I hope the amount of new detail we can squeeze out will make the fine folks out there happy. Are a lot of the designs iterations or evolutions of Guild Wars designs, or is this a big aesthetic departure? “I never look back, dahling! It distracts from the now!” — Edna Mode. I think the answer to that is “it depends.” Sometimes, if it’s just a merchant or beggar, there’s pretty regular sorts of designs for that which don’t need much iteration. If anything, it would be the more unique designs that get the reworks and the group therapy meetings. An iconic character design might go back and forth, depending on the scope of the roles needed to play. Other times, maybe there’s a good idea in a high level armor concept that is really neat but the designers might not have an appropriate place for it. Or perhaps they do, if it just had some minor tweaks. Now if your question was more “are we drawing from Guild Wars original concepts or are you giving us new stuff” then I would definitely have to say just about everything was re-envisioned. After all, this is 250 odd years later, and a lot has changed in the world. Cultures have evolved, people have relocated and reorganized. There may be some nostalgic nods to our predecessors, but overall the designs still have that “new car smell.” Unless the design calls for old and rotted. Then it’ll be “old and rotty smell.” What’s your favorite Guild Wars 2 design so far? Ack!! You’re asking me to choose between my precious! Hmm… well there’s the time I made that ribbed antiqued velvet with embroidered appliqué… oh! I can’t forget the hand-stitched suede with calfskin knotwork. And how can I ever omit the silk dupioni striped brocade with twill-roped trim? Ah, that reminds me, I wanted to pair the matte tack leather strapping with a robust canvas for specular contrast. But I think I’ll tackle the thatched tunic with horsehair rope first… I wonder if I should make the reeds preserved or newly cut with the green under-veining… hmmm… Umm, hello? Kristen? Sorry — what was the question again? Oh right, my favorite design. It’s always the same answer: the one I’m working on right now!