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Our second interview with ArenaNet, and this time we weren't toying around. Some pretty hard hitting gameplay questions that resulted in a few understandable dodges, but some great answers and very interesting teasers all round. Thanks to Lead Game Designer Eric Flannum, and Game Designers Isaiah Cartwright and Ryan Scott for participating! Now on to the interview:

GW2Guru: Can you tell us anything about character creation options? What tools will we have available to personalize our character?

Eric Flannum –Lead Game Designer: We’re still finalizing details on character creation but you can expect to see a ton of physical options such as body type, height, and advanced facial customization. In addition to these physical options you will be able to customize your characters background and personality by filling out a biography. One of our designers, Ree Soesbee will be talking in more depth about the character biography in an upcoming post on our website.

GW2Guru: You've talked about making spell/skill effects clearer in terms of demonstrating the actual effect, making the game more spectator friendly. Will we be seeing the return of something like 'observer mode' from Guild Wars?

Eric Flannum: It’s definitely a goal of ours to make PvP in Guild Wars 2 as spectator friendly as possible. We haven’t worked out all the details yet but you should see something comparable to observer mode at some point in Guild Wars 2.

GW2Guru: What else are you doing to provide more intuitive visual feedback to players?

Eric Flannum: One example would be that we’re customizing skill effects and animations such that they’re a lot clearer. We released video of the skill Phoenix recently which is a ground targeted skill that flies in a straight line from the caster to the target and then returns to the caster hitting everything along the way. When it returns to the caster it will also heal them. That’s a pretty complex skill but just by seeing a video of it with no UI onscreen all of you on GW2Guru were able to figure out what it did. We’re also trying our best to clearly define AOE on skills that can strike an area. We’ll be experimenting in PvP on letting you know what team an AOE is affecting through use of color. Conditions will have more immediate and visible effect on both players and NPC’s. These are some of the things we’re doing to communicate what is happening in combat in as visual a way as possible.

GW2Guru: Can you tell us about any of the 'structured PvP' formats?

Ryan Scott – Game Designer: While we’re not ready to release all the details on structured PVP yet, there is some information we can share.

First of all, it’s important to clarify that Structured PvP and World versus World are very different beasts. WvW will take your current character – as is – and have them join an ongoing, large-scale battle to win rewards for their world. Structured PvP will equalize everyone’s character level and unlock all options from the start to have two teams fight in a fair, instanced game.

We’ve mentioned before that we’re taking some cues from first-person shooters with how we’ll handle PvP in GW2. This, specifically, means a few things:

‣ GW2’s PvP will use the same formats for both pick-up/random and tournament play. Gone are the days of different game modes for differing skill levels, so players can learn skills that are relevant in all levels of competition.

‣ Pick-up play is 100% hot-joinable. You can leave or join a game already in progress, and the game modes and types will be built to support this. This removes the catch-22 of groups disallowing newer players to join, when those same players can’t get better because they can’t find a group. Tournaments will also be supported, so arranged teams will be able to face off in a competitive setting.

‣ Since games are hot-join, we want to add support for micro-communities to have some control over the type of play environment they want, while in turn letting all players seek out the experience they enjoy. We’ll be releasing more details on how we’re doing this later this year.

GW1 has a legacy of having strong PvP and competition, and we’re going to great lengths to make GW2 the best PvP MMO on the market by leaps and bounds.

GW2Guru: Crafting and gathering are hot topics right now, can you elaborate on either of those, and how they will impact a players experience?

Eric Flannum: It wasn’t really our intent to be coy with the FAQ and avoid answering the question about whether or not there’s crafting in the game so let me start by saying that there is definitely crafting in the game. We’re still designing many of the specifics but players should expect crafting to enhance their adventuring experience and not be a system that tries to replace it. What I mean when I say that is that crafting will not be something players can engage in as a career without ever going out and slaying monsters and being a hero. We think that systems that allow players to do that can be a lot of fun but just aren’t right for what we’re doing in GW2. Expect a crafting system that has multiple crafting professions, discourages player conflict over resource nodes, no “throw away” crafting of items that you don’t care about, and generally works with and enhances all of the other game systems in GW2.

GW2Guru: It's been implied that there may not be a 'dedicated healer' class in the game. Is that a role that some classes will excel at filling, or will that form of defense be spread across a team?

Isaiah Cartwright – Game Designer: Healing in GW2 is different from most other MMO’s. One of our goals is that you should always be happy to see other players and this shouldn't change based on their profession, race, skill choices, or anything else. Which means each player needs to be slightly more self sufficient so that one particular profession is not required to do any given type of content. It's why we made the healing slot a required part of the skill bar. It allows us to make the heal skill powerful enough so players can take care of themselves. There will still be ways to support your allies and some professions will specialize in support but no single profession is always required.

GW2Guru: Protection Prayers was a highly praised attribute line in Guild Wars, making defensive play more active and skill based rather than just pushing up health bars. Will we see the return of a similar skill type, even if it is not part of a single class?

Eric Flannum: You will definitely see professions with skills that are used proactively to prevent damage. I can’t really say more without revealing specific professions but you’ll see some protection type play mechanics in Guild Wars 2.

GW2Guru: There's a lot of speculation about the effect of a races stature and strength (norn warrior vs asuran warrior, for example). Are these purely aesthetic factors, or will there be a mechanical impact?

Eric Flannum: The racial differences such as stature and strength are purely aesthetic. We don’t want sylvari to be faster than the other races or norn to be able to jump higher as that would put more gameplay significance on race than we wanted. We want racial choice to provide flavor, story, and a little bit of skill variety such that players don’t feel they need to play a particular race/profession combination.

GW2Guru: Given that professions are permanent, a player will need 40 characters to experiment with every possible combination compared to the 10 of Guild Wars. What would you say to players who are worried about falling behind because they have picked the wrong race/profession combination?

Eric Flannum: I would tell those players that they don’t need to worry about creating a combination of every race and profession. It is not our intent to make one race better at any given profession than another. The racial skills are designed however to be less powerful than their profession equivalents. They are meant to provide additional flavor and breadth to a profession without increasing their overall power level. For instance the asura skill Arcane Blast is a simple ranged magical attack and looks pretty cool and feels very asura. However, every profession has some sort of range and often of a more specialized type that they could have taken instead of Arcane Blast. These profession skills tend to play off of the other unique skills and mechanics that you find in the profession as well. The racial skills are meant to supplement builds, giving versatility at the expense of overall power. They are not meant to be the cornerstone that makes or breaks a build.

I highly doubt that we are going to see any racial bias as far as builds go. If for example I want some healing support I’m not going to look for a sylvari character (even though they have more in the way of racial healing skills than other races), I’m going to look for an elementalist or one of the other GW2 support professions. If I happened to get a sylvari warrior in my group and he brought some heals, that would be a bonus but he’d be sacrificing some damage or survivability, and not healing as well as an elementalist in water attunement would.

GW2Guru: Will there be incentives for multiple guilds to play together, such as an enhanced guild alliance system?

Eric Flannum: We have a lot of plans for incentivizing guilds to play together but we aren’t ready to talk about them yet. I know that’s not a great answer but I wanted you to know that it is something we have plans for.

GW2Guru: You've talked about the inclusion of web based guild chat. Do you have any other plans to extend the community out of the game?

Eric Flannum: Once again this isn’t something that we’re currently talking about in great detail but it is something that we’re very interested in. We’ve got a lot of plans in this regard, we just aren’t prepared to reveal them yet.

GW2Guru: You've never been a developer that follows the pack. Are there any particularly unconventional aspects of Guild Wars 2 that you are really proud of, but haven't mentioned yet?

Eric Flannum: One of the things we haven’t mentioned yet is the huge role sound plays in our game. From the great music that Jeremy Soule’s written for us to our sound effects and our heavy use of voice acting, we are striving to make Guild Wars 2 the best sounding MMO of all time. Walking through the streets of Divinity’s Reach and hearing all of the conversation going on is a pretty unparalleled experience in MMO’s.

GW2Guru: Why do so few norn characters have beards? Where do they find time to shave, and don't their chins get cold?

Eric Flannum: I think this is where Huginn would say “norn have no need of beards, they are norn.” Norn of course have a lot of idle time between hunts and usually have a bladed weapon of some type around, sometimes they just get bored. Of course their chins don’t get cold, they don’t even bother wearing shirts most of the time! I’m just kidding of course. For those who love their bearded norn, don’t worry you’ll have a full range of beard options during character creation and it will be the norm for norn NPC’s to wear beards as well. I am of course just referring to male norn, female norn almost never have beards.

Thanks again to the guys for answering the questions, and to ArenaNet for helping to coordinate the interview. Add your comments over in the forum: Interview with Eric Flannum, Isaiah Cartwright, and Ryan Scott
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