by Micajah May 18th, 2010 The ZAM staff concludes our "Reinventing Tyria" series with in-depth looks at the Sylvari, voice over artists, and the problem of endgame storytelling. Check it out! As the ZAM staff discussed a few days ago, we had the incredible opportunity to take a trip to the ArenaNet studios, where the development team is hard at work on the sequel to one of the bestselling MMO (and PC) games of all time, Guild Wars. While at the offices, we sat down with two of the foremost Guild Wars lore experts at the studio, Bobby Stein and Ree Soesbee, who were kind enough to answer our questions about the story and setting surrounding Guild Wars 2. In the first part of our interview, we discussed some of the general concepts people will find in the storytelling in GW2, and in this part of the interview we opted to go even more in-depth and really get the low down on the Sylvari and what it takes to really be a solid voice over artist. So keep reading to find out more, but make sure you check out part one of our “Reinventing Tyria” series to make sure you haven’t missed anything! ZAM: Back to voice a bit, why’d you decide to bring in some relatively big name actors and actresses to do these voice overs? Was it just to show them off in the trailer? Or did you find that they were a really big asset to the voice team? Bobby Stein: Sometimes if you read the dialogue for a certain character, you hear a certain voice in your head… maybe that’s for a particular actor or style that you’re familiar with. Generally we went with whoever, through the casting process, worked out best for the role. We wanted to individual that really brought the particular character to life. It’s not like we said, “Oh, I want to work with this particular actor in this role.” ZAM: So there was a casting process? Stein: Yes, and it was actually pretty involved. In fact, one of the agents for a particular actor made a Twitter post saying “Thank god this really crazy casting process is over. Congratulations everyone!” ZAM: *laughs* Stein: And we were saying, “We haven’t talked about this yet!” Anyway, we go with the actor or actress that really fits the character or race that we’re looking to personify. We want to bring these iconic characters to life. Ree Soesbee: We get some surprises too. When we talk to our casting company, we give them cues about looking for voices with certain qualities or give them examples of voices that we think might fit these roles. Sometimes we get hits with those voices, and sometimes we miss. And then sometimes we get a voice that isn’t what we asked for, and it is absolutely perfect for the character. And then we get moments where we say something like “This character really should sound like this actor…” and a bit later we’ll get a call back from the casting agency telling us that that actor is free to do the work we want. ZAM: That’d be a boon… Stein: There were times where the voice actors actually approached us, because they were genuinely interested in the game we are creating. ZAM: So can you tell folks – if they haven’t taken the time to view the trailer – who you have working on the project? Soesbee: We can’t reveal too many details, but we do have Troy Baker, Felicia Day, Steve Blum… ZAM: Blum is absolutely phenomenal. Soesbee: And his voice is like that in person, too. It feels like it shakes the very ground. Stein: There are also some voices that we haven’t really talked about that appear in our combat trailers, and I’m actually interested to see if people can identify the voices of the elementalists and the various other voices you hear in those trailers. ZAM: Will we know all of the actors and actresses? Soesbee: I don’t want this to come across incorrectly, but we do tend to be loyal to people who have done voices with us before, because we know them. We’ve worked with them before and know how wonderful they are to work with. A lot of those actors, if we have roles, they’ll be on the list of people we’d like to see try out. Stein: The ease of the work is a big factor. If you bring in someone that hasn’t done a lot of voice work before, it is sometimes a bit of a struggle to make them feel the context of what they’re reading the lines for. Voice actors are amazingly hard working people. The guys and gals that can come in and blast through lines, offering three different reads of each, are phenomenal. I mean, you can get different meanings out of a line simply by how it’s inflected or stressed. There’s an advantage to working with professionals. They know how to bring out elements that we don’t even know are there. Soesbee: A good example is Steve Blum. We hadn’t even been in LA a week and people were coming in and reading a role, and we were trying to explain to them what a Charr was like. Big, furry, angry, etc. Steve Blum walks in and we show him the trailer and who he’s going to play. He instantly says “Rytlock is a badass.” He knows who the Charr are. He knows how to play one of these characters. I don’t have to explain the Charr to him, he just has to know who Rytlock is. If you watch him in the Voices of Tyria trailer, you can notice that he’s snarling while he’s reading Rytlock lines. ZAM: Let’s switch gears to professions a bit. The elementalists have been in Guild Wars for awhile… are they receiving any changes like what we’ve seen with the new playable races or the new look of Tyria? Soesbee: They’re mostly staying the same. The biggest tweaks to lore that are affecting professions are the fact that we are including other races that can harness these powers. Suddenly you go from a human-centric world that has myths about magic based on human myths, and suddenly those myths don’t entirely work for the Charr or the Asura. But we still have to make magic work. So we’ve maintained the storyline so that everything the humans have said is as true as they know it to be. No one has been lied to. The gods came and put humans on the world, but there were other things going on that the gods didn’t know about and the humans didn’t know about that effects how physics works in Tyria. That said, we’re not changing or altering things at random and pretending that they didn’t exist. We’re going to make it make sense. But that does end up changing professions, because you have the Elementalists that now have to fit with these other races that are in the world and can utilize their magics. Tweaks, but nothing that breaks the lore. ZAM: Can you go into anymore depth on the Sylvari? They’re really the one race that people don’t really know about... Soesbee: And I’m tremendously excited about them! The first Sylvari set forth on the world twenty-five years before the game begins. However, the tree that the Sylvari came from is older than that and dates back to the events in the first titles – you can see it in the Eye of the North. The tree is 200-250 years old, but the first Sylvari blossomed and came out – we use the term “awakened from the dream” – twenty-five years ago. The Sylvari has a certain state of knowledge in that the tree is like a racial memory. Things that a Sylvari learns – not in its specifics but in the sense of things – is stored in the tree so that the next generation has a certain amount of knowledge. So if the first generation came out and said “I wonder what that is! What is it? It’s a sword! I can hit things!” The second generation would then come out, and they wouldn’t have a memory of picking up a sword and learned to swing it, but they would know that the item is a sword and they kinda know what that’s for. This sort of racial comprehension then lends itself to the idea that the Sylvari love to do exactly that: Explore. They run out and look at things so the next Sylvari can know what that object is. Anything from a blade of grass to a specific type of fruit fascinates them. That said, the Sylvari are new, but they’re not naïve. They’re not babies. They just don’t have experience. They’re like a kid out of college; they’re educated and knowledgeable, but they’re not experienced. Because they’re new and literally coming from the world, they have a sense that there’s something wrong. The other races go to some lengths here and there to deny the threat. The Asura, for instance, believe they can just go hide underground so they’ll simply bug all the other races and leave the Asura alone. The Sylvari know that it’s not just a dragon that’s terrorizing a locale over yonder; it’s a sickness in the world. You can’t ignore it or the world will be destroyed. ZAM: Are there racial prejudices directed at the Sylvari? Soesbee: If you look at a map and see where the Sylvari popped up, they appeared right next to the Asura. The first thing that the Asura think when they see the new race is “Aha! A test subject!” So the Sylvari had a really quick awakening to the other races in the world. While it didn’t cause ‘em to go to war, it did lead them to be a bit more cautious and not just wander up to people spouting things. That said, the other races certainly have blinders on in the same way that you see your car every day, you don’t realize that your car needs a wash. A person that sees it once a month might realize it really does need a cleaning. ZAM: Switching subjects – how are you handling this idea of in-game storytelling? This concept that only end game players actually get to see the end of a story told throughout the game… Soesbee: Do you consider the death of Arthas to be storytelling? ZAM: I guess not…. I mean it is sort of inevitable and everyone knows it’s coming. Soesbee: When you play through the dungeons – and I have played WoW for a long time and have a stupid amount of 80s – I don’t consider doing those raids and instances the same thing as telling a story. It’s not. You’re getting to see awesome stuff, but you’re not really experiencing a story. The story in WoW is that you run into a guy’s home / lair / castle and you beat him up. It’s cool… but not a story. Although there’s plenty of interesting flavor pieces going on around you in these dungeons, I’m not sure it’s actually a story. I don’t want to critique their game, but I was interested in the death of Arthas, but I don’t think it was a story. ZAM: How is Guild Wars handling it? Soesbee: We’re really doing it two ways. You have to break the story down into pieces so people don’t need to feel like they can’t eat or sleep or get all crazy because they need to see all of this story at once. Additionally, we can’t make the pieces so small that they’re just flavor, which is what I think happens in the higher level WoW areas. So, like a play, I think the story has to unfold in acts… in segments. This helps us on the development side then be able to adjust the story for every player, because those segments can be different as long as they’re both telling the same story. While two people may want to destroy the great dragon, one may want to kill the dragon because he’s threatening his home, while the other is because of the threat to her mother. The pieces can be moved around and have different motivations while still allowing the entire story to make sense. We look at our process of storytelling and begin that journey at level 1. It doesn’t start at level 80. On top of that, the things you do at the very beginning of the game, those motivations still make sense at the end of the game. There’s a whole world out there, and you’re actually a piece of that grander story that’s going on with every character in the game. You may save the house at the beginning of the game from the evil villain that’s going to burn it down, but the dragon will eventually consume everything anyway. Thus what we’ve done is make you invested in that house. And so when the dragon comes to destroy everything, you’re still invested in your house. The story has meaning all the way through, from beginning to end. ZAM: Thanks so much for your time! We really hope to check out more of Guild Wars 2 when the time is right!