Today we bring you Part III of our Q&A session with Colin Johanson! If you haven't checked out the other parts, here are the links to them:
Colin: Well certainly you'll be able to play a lot of content in it on down the road. I think right now it's more kind of the setup stuff as we're trying to get our feet under us for this Living Story thing works. But, eventually there'll be a bunch of playable content. As for the story branching based on what the players do, that's not something we're doing right now but down the road I can see that being an option.
That's such an awesome idea, that Living Story, brilliant idea.
Colin: It's definitely something we'd like to be able to have. On different servers different content is happening and the outcome of any can be different, but we don't have the backend right now to be able to do that but at some point I hope we will be able to do that.
So what kind of sort of changes might we see to the world itself as the Living Story progresses?
Colin: I think you're not going to see a ton of stuff in February. It's mostly just a little more setup stuff. We hit the end of the year and decided to really make that a big thing for 2013 and as a result we really just didn't have time to build that much stuff yet. I think, looking ahead, March and April is more when we kind of get in to the cadence of what a Living Story can be. Other than that we'll build from there as the year goes on.
Question about one time only events.
Colin: Content wise we can do anything. I can see that as a way we introduce new permanent content, we can introduce new fractals that way, new dungeons. Have stuff that show up for a month then leaves again. It's really kind of a context for anything that we want to do in the game. It really kind of gives you that sense of it's your favorite TV show, right. You regularly want to tune back in and see what's going on with the story. Long-term that's where we want to get living story to as well. We're not gonna be there for a little while but at some point we really want to build up to that.
Are there any plans of re-runs of the feature events like the Hunger Royale and stuff like that?
Colin: We might. We haven't ruled it out but it's currently not something we've got scheduled. Certainly as we look at launching the game in other regions we might re-run those for them as well, so you can always jump into the China beta and check out Hunger Games. But I think in the West, maybe? We'll see.
What about weekend events? In Guild Wars 1, you had double faction weekends.
Colin: We'll probably take a look at that. I would prefer that we do even more, you know, story-driven. I think it's more compelling. I think that's more where we're at.
I'm curious actually, because it's really something we're just kind of walking down that path now. Is that compelling to you guys? The concept of, you know, say take everything that happened in January and condense that down so maybe that's a week's worth of content and the next week there's more story built on that.
Absolutely, yeah, brilliant, yeah. I was about to say I speaking to the alternative reality gaming community and that's very similar to that. I mean that's unique to MMO's being able to do that, push that content out in that concept. That's really good. I like that.
Colin: Is there anyone who's not interested in that at all?
From a WvW perspective, it doesn't really have much of an impact. I mean the general feedback from the community seems to be "yes", you know, they want more of it. But from my point of view it doesn't really impact us at all.
Colin: I think that's fair. It's really not intended for the only WvW players. Although I did touch on the elements, right?
Maybe your keep commanders get replaced by specific NPCs for a month or something that tie into the story line that's going on. We might be able to take elements of that and roll those in. Wintersday and Halloween had that, where it's cannons shooting toilet paper and pumpkins. As long as we don't take away from the gameplay, I think that's the key. It would be nice if we could find ways to pull that off.
Group talks about events. Question about if they've learned from past events. For example, Wintersday was well received but the Karka event had a lot of issues.
Colin: Tremendous difference. One of the problems that we had is that the day we shipped Guild Wars 2, we immediately started development on everything that happened in October and November. We were building it all simultaneously. So we learned a bunch of lessons from October but we didn't have time to do anything about them in November. It was basically like we were locked in on these release dates, we have a free trial in November, go, go, go, go, go - we have to hit those dates. And that's one of the challenges of a live game. You know, we spent five years saying "if it's not ready it doesn't matter, just wait and we'll put it out when it's ready," and then we got into the live space and we have to keep free updates going we have to have this fun stuff going on and it didn't really give us an opportunity to stop and catch our breath and say like, "is this the right thing we should be doing, is this the stuff we should be putting in the game?". It was more "we have to get stuff out," and we learned a lot of lessons from that.
I think December with Wintersday is a great example of taking a lot of the lessons we learned from the other events and trying to make it more approachable, easier for everybody to play the content. We spread it out over a longer time, you can re-play stuff that you missed. Those are the types of strategies we're going to use for all of the live stuff going forward, it's just making it a lot more inclusive. Certainly we want to avoid 400 people out in the open world until we can deal with culling issues, things like that. It changes the strategy of how we do stuff. It also means that we've really reverted more back to our original philosophy which is "if it's not ready, don't ship it, don't talk about it until it's polished enough that it's ready to go." So things like WvW getting pushed back a month, that's an example of that. I think that right after release we would have put that out whether it was ready or not and I think that instead what we're saying is, you know, "even though we made the mistake of saying that this is the month it's gonna come," and we shouldn't have done that, because it just sets expectations. We'd rather wait and get it right and then we'll put stuff out when it's ready to go and I think we're kind of back to the point where we're comfortable in saying that and we have a better idea of what we want to do.
On the note of more content there was a question, would there be a possibility to add "hard mode" to dungeons that are already in the game?
Colin: It's interesting. We might do that. Right now, we've actually talked a lot about it, and our biggest concern with it is that it's already hard to find a group to do a dungeon. When you add a hard mode on top of it you're further fracturing the player base between story mode, three explorable modes and now three hard modes and it can become extremely hard to find people to play with if we do that. For me, I always felt explorable mode was supposed to be hard mode and I would like to see us fix the dungeons to the point that they really fall into that category more than trying to add another mode on top of it. So in the February release, we haven't talked a lot about this, but we actually rebuilt all of the bosses in the Ascalon Catacombs from scratch. All of them will be brand new in the February release and a number of the encounters have all been redone as well. We're in the midst of going through all of the major bosses in the game, in 2013, and trying to make them more fun to fight against, making them more challenging. That's a huge projects, it's going to take us a really long time to do that, but we are just in February alone and we're rolling some of it out. For a lot of people their answer for playing the game has been "it's really fun, but there's not enough challenging stuff for me to do," and I think for people who are looking for challenge, we need to build in more of that optional content that is challenging. Optional is the key, right, we don't want to make it so that casual players don't feel like they can't play the game. But we're trying to go back and rebuild a lot of stuff to just make it a lot more optionally challenging for people who are looking for that and Catacombs will be the first place we do that. Some of the open world champions also are getting rebuilt in February, just some of the regular open world guys, and we're gonna keep doing that every month going forward - just try and just go back and find stuff to make it more fun.
Question/comment about Fractals.
Colin: I thought the guys that did Fractals did a lot of really good encounters in there. I would hope that that's more how we build stuff in the future.
Are there any intentions on bumping up the maximum usable levels of Fractals? (Comment on how past level 40 you have to get pretty creative.)
Colin: Yeah, I'm sure at some point. We'd want to do that with content that goes with it so that there's stuff to get to that's new or feels more exciting. That's not off the table.
Question on champions - how in GW they all had names and lore behind them and in GW2 they are generic. Is there any chance of getting more unique or interesting champions?
Colin: Unique mechanically, yes, we're already doing that. We're in the midst of going through every champion and veteran in the game and looking at their skills and trying to make them unique and more fun to play against and exciting for groups. Just more involved content in general. Naming wise, one of the reasons why we didn't name all of them is because most of them just respawn again. In Guild Wars 1 it was part of the concept that you cleared the maps and you feel like it made sense, whereas in Guild Wars 2 you see "Bert the Ettin" and he respawns every two minutes. It just really feels immersion breaking. So that's why we chose to do that - that names in general are very rare because we wanted it to feel like this is a really big deal when you see this guy. But building up more back story behind guys and having named characters that do show up occasionally - I do hope that's something that we do more of. I think our Living Story is the best place for us to do that because it means that they can show up one time and everybody gets to experience when they leave again. Like the Mad King boss fight for Halloween I think is a great example. For a week you got to fight the Mad King. I hope we do more stuff like that.
Question on if the Living Stories will introduce things like new skins and armor and if you will be able to craft anything new.
Colin: You can assume the same type of stuff that we did for holidays, you know where we kept on adding new recipes and items. In the long run that's the same thing we want to do with the Living Story. Sometimes the Living Story will just be a holiday for a month. That's kind of the concept - that there's this narrative going on that may tie into a festival, it might not. But we want to have all of that feel like it's the same type of reward system.
Question on if it's possible in the future to be able to craft skins rather than the armor and weapons themselves.
Colin: Yeah, we just need more artists. I think it would be nice to [have] more reasons to level your crafting to 400 and have cool things from doing so. I think that's one of the problems with crafting right now. There's just not a lot of reason to do it.
Question about extremely rare recipes that were hard to acquire and if there are plans to add more or make them easier to get.
Colin: I would hope that we could exapnd that beyond weapon skins. I think this ties back into the question about tiered loot in general. I think one of the things that we're missing is a core rewards system that we could infinitely expand and is unique from weapons and armor. At some point we're going to have to introduce that or figure out what that is so that we're not just doing endless tiers of loot. And hopefully there's a bunch of stuff that ties in that is exactly what you're talking about. Guild Wars 1 skill capturing is a good example of that. I think we need to find out what is the skill capturing system of Guild Wars 2 that is the infinitely expandable rewards system.
Question about excess dungeon tokens and transmutation stones.
Colin: Yeah, absolutely. We're going to have to address that. I think any of that stuff that piles up and feels like it has no use... In an ideal case there's something that you can use that for that always feels rewarding. I think blue items have that same problem. You can salvage them, which is nice, but otherwise when you mostly get a blue you're like, "eh, whatever."
And you put it in the Mystic Forge and hope that you get a green...
Colin: Yeah, and then your four greens become gold fodder and that's about it for trying to get your Mystic Forge rares. Ideally we need to find systems to make all of that stuff feel like when you get it, "hey, I actually have a use for that." I think low level crafting items accomplish that right now. When you get one of those, at least they're useful for people across all levels. We need to try to find systems to make that the case for all items across the game.
You mentioned that you have some other issues you want to tackle with crafting. What are they?
Colin: For me the biggest one is is just making sure there's a real reason to take crafting to 400 and things you can [get] rewards out of it. That's the biggest thing.
What are you doing to resolve that?
Colin: We're not yet. I think we're still trying to figure that out.
Question on if they plan on introducing new weapon types like scythes or spears.
Colin: Coming up? No, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. I think that with the way that the weapon system is built, it's really easy for us to add new weapons and tie skills to those.
Comment about two-handed axes.
Colin: Yeah, I see that one a lot.
Comment about pole staff.
Colin: Frying pan.
Question about ranger utility skills that aren't being used and how it hasn't been addressed yet.
Colin: I actually have no idea right now what stuff that group is working on. I'd have to check in on them and see when I get back. But one of the big things that we've kicked up recently is basically and analytics team that records all the data in the game. It allows us to look at that and help make decisions about the things we're doing. They're actually the group that helped us find a lot of the loot issues recently. Because we really just didn't have any information to get that stuff. We kicked this team up so that we could get all of that information. It's incredibly useful to have all of that stuff so that we can figure things out. Without that you're kind of flying blind. We're able to look now at what weapons are getting used all the time and we use that date to determine what weapons really suck and go and try to fix those. And what kind of skills are getting used, which ones aren't. It really helps us determine what needs a boost. So I imagine if no one is using a bunch of the ranger utility skills, they're going to see that and look at those and go try to address those based on that data. So hopefully that's on the list if no one is using those subset [...].
So are there plans to change or add new weapon skills?
Colin: It's certainly on the table. It's not something that we're working on yet, but it's a possibility.
Question about adding skill templates.
Colin: We loved templates in Guild Wars 1 and I would say that it's certainly a possibility in Guild Wars 2.
One of the aims of the game was to make every class feel unique, but also viable and fun to play in a variety of ways. What professions have been highlighted as a falling short of this target and what crazy ways have been tried internally to spice them up?
Colin: For me, I think that every profession actually has a lot of different variety available to them. It's just a matter on if you enjoy that play-style or not. I think that people look at each profession and they'll judge it based on, "do I enjoy playing the ways this profession offers me." So we could get, just going around the table, everybody's playing a different main for the most part. There's no thieves or warriors here but there's plenty of them in-game so we know those are represented.
We talked about that graph that's up on the wall at work. We look at that every day based on what professions people are creating and it's almost always very close to being even across all professions. That's a really good sign. That is very hard to do. In Guild Wars 1 it wasn't even remotely close to that and it's a very big difference between viability and playstyles versus not at all. I'm actually really impressed at how generally balanced the professions are. I think that there are certain skills and abilities that all need to get better, but across the professions I think it's pretty decent. It's just about what playstyle you're interested in. And I would have to say that the thing we have to improve is look at weapon sets that aren't interesting for that profession or don't fit the playstyle that we've said that profession should have, and bring those up to the point where they are.
Question about dual pistol mesmers.
Colin: You guys can go around the table and name your profession and one weapon that you think is weaker than the rest and it's totally the case. We need to try and make those close to on par with the other weapons. And there's always going to be one that someone perceives as the best. If it's a choice like, "well I like double daggers better," and, "I like staff better." That's okay - we want that. But if it's just no one uses dual pistol mesmer because it just sucks? Those are clearly obvious ones that we need to go after first.