By Jeffry Vaughn February 23rd, 2011 Hi, I’m Jeffrey Vaughn, a content designer here at ArenaNet. I’m responsible for creating events, populating the world, and trying to make sure you’re always having fun. One of the most recent maps I worked on was the Wayfarer Foothills, the starting area for the norn, just outside of Hoelbrak in the Shiverpeak Mountains. It was especially exciting because this map is the first area many gamers will experience in Guild Wars 2. I thought I’d talk a bit about the process that we use when creating content and tell you a little about the Wayfarer Foothills area and its events. I don’t work on the story team, so I won’t be spoiling any of the personal story steps. While I will discuss some of the events a new norn player will come across, there will still be plenty to discover. Norn are large, loud, and deeply spiritual. They revere the four great totem animals—Bear, Raven, Snow Leopard, and Wolf. They believe in living large and being as epic as possible. Personally, I like both shamanistic cultures and Nordic mythology, so I’m a big fan of all things norn. Getting Started When I’m first assigned to a map, I have a big conference with Colin Johanson, the writers, and the environment artists that I’ll be working with. We go through the map sector-by-sector to determine the general feel of each area, what creatures live there, and what story we want to tell in that region. Most of this work was done a long time ago, during the early design of GW2, but this also means that lots of it was done before we had a better idea for what does and doesn’t work in an event, and we usually have to do some quick redesigns as we go. We also try to look at the “world rewards” for each event; that is, what are the consequences for winning or losing an event? This might range from something minor—such as an NPC that turns into a vendor and offers items you can’t get elsewhere—to major consequences, like an entire town being taken over by enemies or a whole new event chain kicking off. Once we’ve all agreed on the basics, I run off to my desk and start laying out the foundation for each event. To start, I usually place the essentials: the key NPCs, the enemies, and any objects directly involved in the event. My goal at this point is just to get a feel for the timing and fun of the event. Often, we’ll identify problems early on—“This escort is too long,” or “Why am I being attacked by minotaurs? They live across the map.” I can try to solve these on the fly, but if I have a bigger concern, help is always a quick e-mail or conversation away. After I have an event up and running, I try to play through it several times to make sure it all flows and makes sense. I fix as many obvious problems as possible, and I put in requests for anything I need: additional art or special creatures or what have you. The Iterative Process Once the event is fully playable (but not necessarily cool yet), we send it to QA. We have two main QA passes that we do, each of which involves several runs on the event. The first pass is the “Type 1-2” pass, where QA looks for any major bugs, particularly those that break the event entirely. Once the event has no remaining major bugs, we move on to the “Type 3-4” pass, which is where we ask them to bug anything that seems off, including minor polish issues, like “NPCs don’t face each other during a scene,” or “Objective text is somewhat unclear.” It’s during the 3-4 pass that we also have the writing team come in and finalize all of the event text, from UI (the objectives and event goal) to talk lines, scenes, and conversations. I tend to write functional but bland dialog, so it’s up to them to turn a sentence like, “Thanks for bringing me dolyak meat,” into something like, “Ah, it’s a bounty! This will make a fine jerky. Kids! I’ve got your lunch right here.” Getting through the 3-4 pass usually takes a few tries. As I fix the issues that QA discovers, they find new and creative ways to interact with the event and break it. Once they sign off on an event, it goes into the creative review stage, which is where Colin and I sit down at his desk and he plays through the event, making notes as he goes. At this point, hopefully, we’re only looking at minor balance or polish issues, like adjusting spawn positions or changing enemy difficulty. Most of the time, I only need to make one more polish pass on the event, then Colin signs off and we can call it done… for a while. As new features or tech go in, I’ll often go back and revisit finished events, just to add that final touch. Once we have several events in an area that are ready to go, we ask the entire company to play the map together for a couple of hours. These “all calls” are incredibly helpful. There might be issues that only appear when ten people are playing an event at the same time, or something that I thought was totally clear turns out to be confusing. We hold “small calls” more frequently, where we ask just fellow designers to play a specific map for an hour or so. As we’ve said before, we strongly believe in the power of iteration. Just because an event was originally designed one way, we aren’t compelled to follow the design to the letter. It’s my responsibility to make content as fun as possible, so I’m given a lot of freedom to make changes. Our environment artists, prop creators, creature team, and everyone else on the team that I work with have been extremely responsive and quick to tackle anything I ask for. I can’t say enough good things about the team as whole. Wayfarer Hills Let’s take a look at Wayfarer Hills, the norn starting area, as an example of our iterative process. The southern area of the map has four shrines, each dedicated to one of the great totem animals. The original design called for four identical events, where the Sons of Svanir—norn who have forsaken the Spirits of the Wild in favor of the Ice Dragon—would attack the shrines and you’d have to try and fight them off. We got these events in, and while they worked just fine, they didn’t feel very compelling. Not wanting to throw away the work that had been done, we first tried to bandage the original events by changing the enemies at some of the totems from Sons of Svanir to dredge, another norn enemy. We still didn’t like the way this felt though, since each event was mechanically the same, and all the totems felt exactly the same. After another meeting, we finally settled on the current design: Bear Shrine This event was almost unchanged from the original design, but it seemed appropriate, since the Sons of Svanir want to prove that Dragon is stronger than Bear, so they’re trying to deface Bear’s shrine. Wolf Shrine I didn’t want all the totem spirits to feel too passive, so I turned the tables in this event: the Wolf Shaman at the shrine calls a pack of wolves to join you in an assault on a nearby Sons of Svanir camp. Raven Shrine This event is totally different from anything else on the map; it’s a riddle contest. There’s little combat involved, unless you stray into the outskirts of the shrine where skelk like to steal raven eggs. The riddles have an old-school adventure game feel. Snow Leopard Shrine For this event, I decided to try something a little wacky. We wanted Snow Leopard to feel like a hunter, and we kept tossing around ideas for how to make a hunt-themed event. The final result: dredge from a nearby mine are digging their way under the area and threatening the sacred snow leopards around the shrine. Speaking to the Snow Leopard Shaman will allow you to transform into a snow leopard, and you can reveal the hidden dredge by snarling at them and frightening them. We went from four carbon-copy events to four unique events that each reflect the theme of the area and the character of the norn. New events always mean additional work, both for me and QA, but in the end, we were much happier with the feel of the area. We also like that two of the first events you run into—at the Raven and Snow Leopard shrines—feel a lot more involved than content you’d expect to find at the beginning of most MMOs. As you can see, flexibility is very important in concept design, as is accepting criticism and coming up with ways to fix issues that arise. Sure, it can be a little frustrating when QA sends you some minor bug on the fifth version of an event, but in the end, it’s all worth it. I don’t mean to gush, but this team is so easy to work with and smart about their requests that I never feel like I’m being asked to do the impossible. I listen to every suggestion and try to make everything as awesome as possible. Thanks for reading this far! I hope this gave you a little insight into what life is like as a content designer and the process we go through here at ArenaNet. Trust me, when you get your hands on Guild Wars 2, you’ll be glad we took our time!