by Micajah May 18th, 2010 Can't get enough info on Guild Wars 2? Interested to learn more about the Sylvari, Norn, Asura, and Charr? Read this interview to find out all sorts of little details about your favorite race! It seems like the folks at Guild Wars 2 have set a blistering pace for the release of game information over the past month. With the unveiling of the Elementalist and the corresponding gameplay associated with this epic spellcaster and beyond, we’ve learned more about the game than we had garnered throughout the past few years since the title’s unveiling. From skills to dynamic events to combat, we’re starting to really see what kind of systems we might expect in the game. However, one of the areas that we’re still trying to learn more about is the actual world that exists in Guild Wars 2. We do know a few key facts regarding elder dragons and chronology, but the GW2 designers and storytellers have remained fairly hush-hush on everything regarding the newest race – the Sylvari – and some of the more in-depth, character-based interactions that players will be experiencing while playing their new avatars. So while the ZAM team was in Seattle for the LOGIN 2010 conference, we took a trip out to the ArenaNet studios to find out exactly what’s going on in the latest iteration of Tyria. We definitely learned some new tidbits… so much that we had to split our interview into two different articles! We were lucky enough to sit down with the "lore gurus" Bobby Stein and Ree Soesbee, so they had plenty to say about the different ways they've gone about building their expanded world. Additionally, we’ll be releasing another interview on combat and gameplay soon, so stay tuned folks; we have a whole GW2 blowout on the way! ZAM: A few months ago, you released the “Voices of Tyria” trailer that featured a host of relatively famous actors and actresses, but since then we haven’t really heard much about the voice over work. What can you tell us about the VO? What was your reasoning to go with voice overs rather than text? Bobby Stein: When we started looking at how we were going to take Guild Wars into the future, there were a number of things we wanted to add or enhance within the game to give it that larger scale feeling. Things like voice over were a really big part of that effort, so we sat down and discussed, with a variety of members from the design and writing team, our wish lists regarding the VO work. The original Guild Wars didn’t have a lot of voice over work in it, and it was pretty much relegated to cinematics. Without going into too much detail, Guild Wars 2 has significantly more voice content because we’ve learned that it’s much easier to tell a story and engage people when they’re listening and watching action unfold rather than reading a cluttered box. Ree Soesbee: One of the things that seems to be distinguishing the big and successful games from the flash-in-the-pan games, is how a player operates in the world [the developer has created]. It’s how immersive a world is. Does the player really get into the world and feel like they can change what’s going on? Do they feel like the world around them is alive? Voice is indescribably important in that. If you look at the top four or five games of the last year, most of them have had significant amounts of voice, and much more than most MMOs. [The Guild Wars 2 team] didn’t want to be the past… we wanted to be the future. ZAM: So are you still using that cinematic style like you did in the original Guild Wars? Soesbee: That’s a yes/no question. Are there cinematics for the purpose of storytelling? Yes. Are they like Guild Wars 1? Not quite, no. ZAM: It’s not a “pull you out of the situation” sort of cinematic style, like the first game? Soesbee: Yeah, and that’s one of the areas where single player games really differentiate themselves from MMOs. You can reach a part in the game, pause the action, sit down and watch an interesting cinematic, and then move on with the story. In an MMO, everyone else is standing around going “C’mon! C’mon! What are you doing?” Or one party member has seen a cinematic while the other hasn’t, and then you make the whole party wait. We don’t think that’s fun, so we’ve done everything we can to give you the same amount of storytelling – the same amount of feeling that lets you know that your character is alive – without jerking you out and shoving you back into the story. ZAM: One of the things that seems to be changing a lot from Guild Wars 1 to Guild Wars 2 is this idea that the world is open… that it’s giant and immersive. How are you handling that from a story perspective? How are the individual characters going to be heroes in this world? Soesbee: Some of the answer to that question will be revealed in a huge article we’re coming out with soon. That said, I’m going to be a little shifty in the way I answer the question. But basically, there are a number of stories all over the world, and they’re all very different. You can come across very different encounters and have very different experiences based on how you play the game. When it comes right down to it, if your home is threatened or your mother (sister, horse, dog, etc.) – something personal to you – is affected by the fact that the world is going to go down in flames created by these giant elder dragons that are rising for no purpose other than to destroy all life, you’re already invested. The story can be completely different from everyone else’s – because it’s your home that’s being destroyed or his father – but you’re both invested. ZAM: Are there different technologies being used to employ these storytelling experiences than what we encountered in Guild Wars 1? One of the big techs that has been used lately in MMOs is this idea of phasing… is that something that you’re trying to employ? Soesbee: One of the flaws that I found with phasing was that I’d be very excited to play with my friends, but they wouldn’t be on the same phase as me. So I found phasing to be a great idea, but a flawed one. I can say that we’re trying to avoid that sort of situation. ZAM: Let’s delve into some of the specifics of the lore. You’re introducing some new playable races in Guild Wars 2, which is relatively novel for MMOs. Typically you see a world start up where they have a set list of races and then add one or two along the way – even in expansions – but you’re adding a whole battalion of creatures that people can play. Soesbee: But they were always in the game… ZAM: The Norn, Charr, and Asura all were, but they were often just allies or enemies… Soesbee: But we do have the Sylvari, which are a race that no one has seen before. Lorewise, the Sylvari will have very important things to do, but playwise, there were holes in our archetypes. There’s the character that’s very invested in nature, there’s the chivalrous character that’s very knightly, there’s the elflike character who’s very fey… and we wanted to appeal to those players too. A lot of players were saying that they loved the smart Asura or that they love the Charr because they rip people’s heads off. There was this entire faction of dedicated fantasy gamers that came to our game wanting to see themselves reflected in the world, and we wanted to make sure that was there. ZAM: What kind of difficulties did you experience with writing out the lore of a newly created race – the Sylvari – compared to these other races that had existed prior to the events leading up to Guild Wars 2? You’ve definitely come up with some unique concepts for them, especially since they’ve only been around for a grand total of 25 years, compared to the “hundreds and hundreds” typically seen in fantasy. Soesbee: They’re certainly not elves. As much as people think that they look like elves, they’re not elves. They don’t have that veneer of ancient history or that old weariness to them. The Sylvari have a very fresh look to the world; everything is very vibrant and interesting. They want to know how things work You know what Kryta looks like – you’ve been there a hundred times. But when you go with a Sylvari, he’s fascinated. It’s a whole new experience for them. ZAM: From a world building perspective, what kind of efforts did you take in changing the world? Two hundred years have gone by in your world… what kind of “sacred cows” did you feel like you needed to sacrifice on the bloody alter known as “gaming fun?” Soesbee: It wasn’t quite like that. We didn’t sit down and parcel out the game into what worked and what didn’t. We parceled out the game into what was a good story in the game. We looked at it with our minds focused on the areas that people loved; we didn’t want to destroy those. We wanted to find out why people loved them and bring those characteristics out more in the game. We wanted a game where players could be a hero, so we wanted a world where a player could do that. When we look at Tyria as a whole, through all the expansions that we’ve released, it’s so rich. So full of content. There was so much that we wrote right at the beginning of Prophecies… there was a background story centered around King Adelbern and how he claimed the throne and his son (Prince Rurik) and Althea and the wedding they were supposed to have. There’s this gigantic amount of lore that we wanted to show and didn’t have a chance to show. So now we’re going back and taking a look at things and really exploring how a lot of these situations and pieces of lore that we concocted would have played out over the span between Guild Wars 1 and 2. We’re not going to come up with things out of the blue or slaughter pieces of the story just because we didn’t like it. We want to find a way to make it make sense. Bobby Stein: With the bonus mission pack, for example, these were characters that we introduced that we weren’t able to get into all the rich detail with them. To be able to put in a few missions that told the stories of these individuals at that point in time gave us a degree of flexibility, because we could explore the entire story and gave players another building block – another piece – that built upon the Guild Wars story. Since we’ve had so much time to invest in building Guild Wars 2, we can start to explore where some of these other stories will fit in the overall scheme of the story. Is this a part of history? Or is it something that’s happening right now? Soesbee: The live team is continuing to do work on Guild Wars 1 content, and we’re constantly talking to each other about where certain elements of the Guild Wars story are going. We definitely try to have a back-and-forth to make sure every element of the story and game make sense. ZAM: That seems like one of the challenges of creating a sequel… you definitely want to transition a portion of the player base into Guild Wars 2, but you still want to support the original game to a degree, right? Soesbee: Exactly, but you’d have to talk to the live team with what they’re doing on that front. That said, it’s the problem that all sequels have, which is this idea that you loved what we did the first time, but we can’t just repeat what we did. However, we can’t change the whole world drastically either. So how do we do something that’s between a radical change and what players have already seen? It’s a fine line to tread. The only way to really be successful is to identify what people love and do those things. In the A-Team, people really liked the smart humor and watching things blow up… but you didn’t necessarily have to have the exact same storyline to key on those facets. In Guild Wars, people love the heroism and the depth of story. People ask us questions on the forums, and if a thread has 400 responses, it’s obviously something that people are interested in. We definitely pay attention to those threads. ZAM: Do you have any examples of areas of the game people love? Soesbee: Sure. A lot of questions I’ve been receiving lately are focusing on the “Charr vs. Human” war and what the source of it was and where it came from. We’ve released some information on Ascalon and what happened at the end of King Adelbern’s reign. There’s also been some questions regarding what original Asura life was like while they were underground. Where the Sylvari come from and why… we can’t answer that one at all because it’s a big part of the GW2 story. *laughs* There are just so many tiny facets of lore – I mean we get tiny questions like “Why don’t the Norn have beards?” ZAM: It’s a good question – why don’t the Norn have beards? Soesbee: It’s because we didn’t concept them with beards, and we just thought that if someone doesn’t want a beard, they don’t have to have a beard. And if they do want a beard, they can have a beard. Another question we received was if the Asura base their virility or “macho-ness” on their ears because we had a quest where an Asura had small ears and no one would date him because of the size of his ears. So that’s the sort of questions that we receive and people often ask if we’re going to follow some of these models in Guild Wars 2… these tiny little details you can get gigantic stories from. ZAM: Make sure you check back with us over the next few days to see Part Two of our Guild Wars 2: The Second Coming of Tyria interview!