When It’s Ready

Discussion in 'Guild Wars 2' started by Aspira, Nov 27, 2010.

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    Aspira Admin Officer

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    By Eric Flannum November 17th, 2010

    Whenever we get asked when Guild Wars 2 is going to be released or even when we’re going to release more information, we always give the answer, “When it’s ready.” I realize that ultimately this is an unsatisfying answer, but at the same time it’s the most accurate and honest answer that we can possibly give. So what do we really mean when we say “When it’s ready“?
    Developing the Game

    Developing any computer game is an extremely complex and time consuming act. MMOs, which require hundreds of hours of content and many complex systems from combat to economy, are especially difficult to develop. Add to this the fact that you are often working to coordinate the efforts of about 150 or more people across many different disciplines and it gets even more difficult.

    For us at ArenaNet things can be even tougher. We like to use what we call a very iterative development process. What this means is that we try to prototype and implement systems early so that we can play with them in the game, see what’s working and then quickly make changes to see multiple iterations of a feature. In practice, this usually means that we implement a system and then have to reimplement parts of it again, sometimes even reverting to a previous version that turned out to have been the right thing all along. For particularly tricky systems or features (User Interface, I’m looking at you), this means that we need to iterate on many pieces of it, even going through a dozen or more different versions before we finally home in on the iteration that really works. On a few occasions we have had to totally throw a system out and start over from scratch.

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    Of course, there are both good and bad things about this approach. On the downside, this iterative approach means that our development schedule can be very unpredictable (I apologize to all of our producers who must often feel like they’re herding a group of monkeys—rabid monkeys). We may say that feature X will take two weeks, but that assumes that feature X doesn’t morph into feature X 2.0 or even feature Y. We can always pad the schedule, but how much padding is enough when you have no real idea if something is going to work correctly until you put it in? The answer is that you basically can’t.

    This also means that you will often have to redo your own work. For example, everyone who has worked on the User Interface in our game has been through a ton of iterations on the same elements. Working on something over and over can be a very frustrating experience, however I think our UI is better for it (kudos to all involved!), which leads us to the major upside of our process.

    The primary thing we get out of this iterative development process is that it helps us get things right. We can make a better game because we try everything out as it’s being implemented and we aren’t afraid to take something that isn’t working and say “this isn’t good enough.” It results in a game where all of the various systems are working together to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. We couldn’t do this if we were more worried about finishing things by a particular date.

    At the end of the day, making the best game possible is the most important thing to everyone here at ArenaNet. It’s what we think our fans want, it’s what we want as game creators, and it’s the thing that we think will make us successful as a company.

    It’s all about the information

    Everything that I’ve said here also ties into how often we are able to release information. We don’t hold things back according to some sinister master schedule, to intentionally tease our fans, or for any of the other malicious purposes that I’ve seen bandied about on various forums. We try to release information when we feel like it’s ready and in a way that’s going to satisfy the people waiting for it. If we did anything else it would just result in a lot of speculative features and gameplay elements being talked about, many of which would either never make it into the final game or would be very different when they did eventually make it in.

    Let’s take professions for example. We’ve released information on each of our professions when we felt confident that the basic mechanics and skills for that profession were reasonably stable and when we could afford to take time from our development schedule to make the videos, web pages, and articles that passed the information along. We do try to make estimates on when we think we’ll be done with each profession so that we can start planning out our videos and articles, but as I mentioned before, those are just estimates. Several months back we took a look at all eight professions and tried to figure out what order they would likely be ready and when to reveal them. Today that order is very different; some professions have moved up in the schedule while others have required more work than we first thought and are not actually ready for us to talk about. The necromancer’s profession ability (Death Shroud) alone took a ton of iteration before we arrived at something we were happy with.

    Once we feel a profession is ready to be talked about, that’s just the beginning. Designers have to write up the information on the profession; writers have to edit that text so it’s a coherent web-ready article. Our cinematic department has to storyboard the skill videos, get them approved, coordinate and shoot all the footage—not to mention actually editing all that footage together. Our audio department has to check and adjust sound on the video to make sure it’s ready to go. Then our community team has to coordinate with our web team to actually get the site up and running and looking good. Our PR and marketing folks have to arrange supporting interviews and articles with outside sources. I’m probably skipping over some parts of the process, but you get the idea: the creation and coordination of the release of a single piece of information takes a lot of time and effort.

    That’s great… so when’s it done? And when’s the next profession release?

    Taking all of the factors above into account, there’s just no good answer that we can give to those questions. We know when we’d like to be done and we try to plan as best we can, but the truth of it is that at this point we can’t be certain exactly when Guild Wars 2 is going to ship. To do that we’d have to commit to a date too far in advance and the quality of the game would suffer. For example, if you know you absolutely have to ship a game by a particular date, you often have to make some very tough decisions. Do you cut content? Do you maybe cut a profession? Or a race? A lot of games have had to make those choices. The thing is, we don’t want to do any of those things and we are in a position where we don’t have to. That’s not a luxury that every developer can afford. In fact, most can’t. The reason we can afford to do this is because NCSoft believes in us as a developer and believes in Guild Wars 2 as a game. One of the major reasons they believe so strongly in us is in large part due to all of our fans. The support that you’ve given Guild Wars in the past and the support that you show for Guild Wars 2 now has been amazing.

    So what is the status of the project?

    All I can really say is that we’re working as hard as we can to get the game into your hands as soon as possible. We’re working hard on the implementation of things like crafting, guilds, PvP, and underwater combat. We’ve got another profession in a good state and are getting ready to start the long process of preparing it for its debut. We’re getting closer and closer to finishing the remaining four professions. We’re in a little bit of a lull information-wise as the holidays approach and we put our heads down to make progress on the development of the game, but rest assured the information will flow again; the coming year is going to bring with it a lot of cool information and maybe a few surprises as well. All we ask is that you please be patient while we make Guild Wars 2 the game it deserves to be.

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