Here we have Part II of our Q&A with Colin Johanson. If you missed Part I, you can catch that here.
On a related topic with the blue tag: is there any chance [...] position of that on smaller character? it very quickly disappears into the crowd of nameplates [...] (This refers to the commander icon.)
Colin: That's an interesting point, yeah. I'll throw that out to our UI guys.
Question on the ability to resize and change the UI.
Colin: Right now there's not very much at all we can do with the UI, from like realizable elements and things so hopefully at some point we can tackle that
Question on hiding UI elements such as the purple daily stars, green personal story arrows, etc.
Colin: Yeah, I think the UI team has something down the road so that we can consolidate that whole right side of the screen and make it easier to manage and use. That's still a long ways off 'cause that's a huge engineering project to try and re-do the way all that works. That's definitely something that at some point they'd like to take [...]. We do want to have that daily reminder up there too, so it's a careful balance, right.
You must be able to sort of just say I've seen it, go away now, even if it's just for one play session or just until the next map load or something.
Colin: As an advanced player it's not something I'm worried about now. Yeah, careful balance 'cause that UI, some of that stuff is like the, "I don't know how to play this game, here is something telling me what I should be doing right now," so we don't want people to be able to get rid of some of that because they suddenly have no idea what they should be doing. There's that very careful balance, making sure there's enough for advanced players to be able to do things without newbs getting totally lost.
Yeah, 'cause it's a very tidy UI isn't it? Compared to a lot of MMOs we're used to toolbars spread everywhere.. a very neat, concise UI.
There's certain things which still would be nice to do. Once you hit max level you don't really need the XP bar there anymore, it's just extra clutter.
Colin: Unless you're setting up skill points.
I've got a rather sort of involved question, well it's not really involved, one of the questions I've got was about user-generated content - how in the past the focus on gaming, on MMOs, was to develop content. There seems to be mood, particularly with other games like Team Fortress, Minecraft and what's rumored to be in TESO towards player-developed content. Is that something that you'd be looking forward to Guild Wars 2 down the line?
Colin: I think the guild mission system is sort of a small step in that direction, it's kinda tiptoeing down that line but it's a concept of various content that's gated by groups being able to kick it off. They're not actually creating it, they can't just go anywhere in the world and say "I want to create content here". But there's a whole bunch of content that's gated from its inception in the world until a guild comes and creates it. I think that's kind of us toeing our foot in the water to see how that goes.
It's interesting right, the perpetual thing that you battle with an MMO is how do you create enough content for your players to feel like there's always something new to do and you can never keep up creating enough for people's consumption rate. The only real solution to that is either completely computer-generated content where the game generates everything automatically which potentionally loses kind of the soul of.. that feel of something that's hand-generated, or played-created content. And then the question of that is how do you control it so that stuff isn't completely breaking your system or operating outside the rules of your game or, you know. This happens with developers, we build content all the time that's terrible and we have a QA team that comes in and tells us that this is terrible, re-do it. And we'll do it over and over and over again until we get it to the point that it's fun to play and often times it takes 50 or a 100 people to get that right or it takes thousands of alpha testers who are playing and giving feedback for weeks until it actually gets good. I don't think a designer's ever had a good idea the second they thought of it that is what we put in the game. It's always been somebody thinks of something and then hundreds of people give feedback and it gets iterated on over and over again. So the challenge with player-generated content is how do you build that process into it where it constantly gets refined and made better until it can actually go in the game. I don't have a great solution for it but I think that those are the challenges that a game will face, and my hope would be that whatever the cutting edge of that is we actually get that implemented in Guild Wars 2 at someday but it's definitely a challenge and something we're gonna have to figure out at some point.
Yeah, thanks, I'm really interested in the player-generated content thing because we've had some guild members who have come in and burnt through content and then just left where I think building a strong community you've got the tools to enable the players to do events, like the guild missions, basically use what's in the game already in a more creative way.
Colin: It's just a win, right. As long as it's fun, that's the tough part. Neverwinter is a great example of that, right. Where it's basically, in the original one, players could build all the content and they had really good stuff. Occassionally some of the player-generated content is fantastic but you had to sift through all the other noise to get down to it. And so it's a careful balance you have to walk. How do you open that up so that everybody can get the right stuff and have a great time without having to pick through all the stuff that doesn't.
I think they were talking about submitting like player-generated armor - one of the best Skyrim content is players making their own models and stuff like that. I think the way they were talking of doing it was you submit to Bethesda and they say "Yeah, that's good content," or "that works," and it then goes in the game but it seems like quite a lot of admin overhead to get that into.
Colin: That's the tough part, right, is how do you do it without all the overhead. 'Cause what you're going to end up doing is instead of having a department of developers you're going to end up with the exact same number of people and all they do all day is review content that gets submitted. And your pace is exactly the same because it takes them so long to review it all and you're basically getting the exact same rate of content into the game. So I'm not sure that's going to solve the problem. I think the key is how do you build a system that lets players generate content unto infinite volumes and you don't have to review it but it also works and gets in the game. I don't know what the answer to that is. I mean, that's a challenge for all of us to try and figure out, right. But that's what the next step will be someday and whether that happens in Guild Wars 2 or another game will be interesting to see. I hope we're the one that comes up with the right answer but that's not easy to solve.
Question about how often they look at something they produced and then decide to step away from it.
Colin: Oh, all the time. I think one of the really unique things about ArenaNet is the QA team is actually embedded in all the projects. Almost at any other game company I've worked at or heard of the QA team is in a separate building, they're not allowed to talk to developers. I've heard horror stories about some companies where they're not even allowed to make eye contact with people who work on the game and if they walk down the hall they need to like look down as they walk past. And that's an experience a lot of QA testers go through. It sucks right? That's awful and that's not how you make good games. I think good games are made by hundreds and thousands of people who are all giving feedback until you come up with the best idea. I think that if you can push your ego aside and realize that you're never going to have the best idea and that everybody together will come up with it, you can make really great games. So we bring our QA team in and they sit with the developers that are part of the process and if any of them says, "this isn't good enough," we stop it and don't put it out. We work on it until we get to the point where everybody is really behind it. I think that's one of the really unique things about the company. Alpha testers - we try to do the same and really give them a chance to say, "this isn't working at all and we're concerned about it". There's a lot of content that people have never seen that we've actually just canceled because it wasn't working and we take it back to the drawing board and try something else. That's part of the development process that's behind the curtain but I can't tell you how many times that a specfic event in the game was done over and over again until it got to the point to it being what you actually saw in the game.
I think that openness to say that you're willing to say no to content is kind of part of the difference between like your development studio and other companies - this whole "we're not gonna tell you about it" where as you will come around to talk to the fans and sites, "this isn't ready" or "we're gonna shelf this, this isn't coming out 'cause its just not gonna impact the game in a way that's going to be enjoyable for you."
Colin: Yeah, I think it's unique. I don't know too many other companies that do that. I would love to see that at this point. It's really different, I mean, it means sometimes that we will make a huge mistake, right. We'll do completely the wrong thing and everybody gets behind it and we'll put it out and realize we did the wrong thing. I think you have to be able to get out there and be like "hey, you know, we completely blew it on this, we're responding to that and we're gonna change our plans because of that." I think if you can be honest about that it makes a big difference too. Certainly we're human and we make really bad mistakes sometimes as well and I think as long as we can accept that and go do something better we're gonna be okay.
Comment and question on how the fans are more forgiving of ArenaNet and how does it feel to be held accountable.
Colin: It helps. There's still plenty of vicious folks who want us to be infallible and I wish we could be but I think we definitely get the benefit of the doubt more often that other studios do because at least we try to have that level of interaction and honesty with our fans as much as we can.
One of the things I've got down here is that there was some quite disappointment from GW1 fans about some of the things put in the game. Things like not being able to play with friends in different regions, asthetic weapons, that kind of stuff. How do you go about balancing the expectations of this longstanding fan community with the vision of the game?
Colin: It's really tough. I think that at the end of the day we always have to look at if it's exactly Guild Wars 1, we already made that game, and if people love exactly GW people should go play GW, right. So it has to be something different or we're gonna end up remaking the exact same game we already built. So we definitely look at it that way as we know there are some people that aren't going to be thrilled with Guild Wars 2 because it isn't GW and it can't be. It wasn't going to be successful because we'd be competing with our own games.
One of the things from Guild Wars 1 that is missing from Guild Wars 2 is the ability to have a utility skill in the elite slot. Is this something that's possible to be implemented in Guild Wars 2 because I know a number of classes, specifically as an elementalist, our elites skills are underwhelming in most instances and to have a utility skill in the elite slot would be better than a lot of the elites. Is this something that would potentially looked at?
Colin: Potentially. I think that some of it is accessibility, you know, any time you start adding more and more complicated rules to the way things operate it gets that much harder for new players to understand how the game works and plays. So we have to be really careful of that, like Guild Wars 1 eventually turned into that where by the end it was a really niche game for people who really understood how all of it worked. It was very very complicated, it was very hard to learn how to play and it was incredibly fun for all of us who understood it. But for a new player, we saw very few new players would get in the game and stick with it for a long time just because it wasn't that accessible. It was really overwhelming, there was really complicated rules so we need to make sure that there's a careful balance of great depth as you level through the game and the game keeps getting more complicated at a rate you can learn it - that doesn't completely overhwelm you in the beginning as well.
So on that same stance, I have heard a few issues where new players have come in and found the learning curve quite steep. So what kind of things do you think you can do to help assimilite new players into the game?
Colin: We're actually working on that right now as we look to releasing the game in other regions we need to make sure the new player experience is as easy to learn as possible. So we're going back at looking at everything we can do to try and do that and we're looking for a lot of feedback too. We're evaluating what level players leave the game and where they should kick in.
Sticking on the topic of the skills, obviously there's bits of information coming in about the March update, that there will be WvW specific skills. Maybe you can elaborate on those?
Colin: So the WvW progression system doesn't give players skills, it just gives them new abilities that are specific to WvW and they are not intended to make it so if you're standing out in the field and you're fighting 1 on 1 against another player the abilities do not making you more powerful than anyone else in WvW. They just expand your ability to operate in WvW. We don't want to create a system where like, five years from now someone who's leveled way down the tree is able to just kill everbody else. Instead it just makes you more functional and it gives you additional abilities that helps your capacity in WvW that doesn't make you more powerful than anyone else.
Are you able to give an example?
Colin: Like potentially carrying more supply, would be an example, things like that.
It's like a passive thing that's not slotted in your bar or anything, it's just something that's active in the back?
So I gather the intention is not to allow players that have been in WvW for a long time to have more power than than someone who's just coming in for the first time.
So you guys are potentially aware of that issue.
Colin: Yeah, I think that kind of goes against our core design philosophies so we would never want to do that. We need to make sure that you're more functional but not more powerful. We might do some things like you're better at using siege weapons, which could be interpreted as slightly more powerful but it is only in very specific situations where you're on siege and everything. I think that that's at least far enough away from the core issue that maybe it's okay but we would never give you like more strength or more power or anything like that. We don't want to touch that stuff.
Does that same assumption apply to any potentional expansion and the level cap? You've said the level cap went to 100. In my MMO history an increase in level means an increase in power and I'm not assuming that's going to be case in Guild Wars 2 or...?
Colin: I don't know at this point, we're really not focused very much on that stuff. We're really focused on just "how do we make the core live game we've got as strong as possible?" So we haven't really looked at what the answers to those questions are. Certainly at some point we might raise the level cap and with that that could mean that your stats all go up another 10 levels, I think leveling is easy enough in Guild Wars  that that's not that big of a deal.
It was more of the "I've gone and got my exotic armor, I've gone to all the dungeons here, I leave the game for a few months and because of an expansion sudden I then have to go buy and farm all my gear again because the stats have gone up."
Colin: I think in other games that's super frustrating and I would hope we not do something along those lines. I think we can do things that are unique to Guild Wars  that are different than that.