I sat down with Colin Johanson and Jon Peters during the first day of PAX East to go over the content patch going live on Tuesday. Most of the patch features themselves are not really reflected in play testing, so I spent quite a bit of time watching the ArenaNet developers gang up on Jon repeatedly in the 5v5s while we talked about the Megaserver system. Before we moved on to Jon’s endless demises, we went over the other features and I got to see the way the User Interface had been developed to bring these systems into the game.
The first thing on the table was the update to the traits system. I am sure most of you know the basics of the current system and the main changes to the system that were announced, so I am going to skip straight to the gushy center. You can find them in the previous blogs that were released about the feature patch if you haven’t read them. The basics are: the addition of five new traits per class, a rework of the existing traits, a reduction in the overall number of trait points in order to make “every click matter,” free trait point refunds, and a new system revolving around discovering or unlocking traits.
Five new traits per class have been added and the existing traits have been reworked to bring more depth to the system. Colin and Jon were both excited by the trait changes since the reworks focused on bringing more skilled support choices into play. The game had been marketed as moving away from the dreaded “Holy Trinity” but Colin felt that the message had slowly morphed into an idea that the developers didn’t want players to be able to play specialized support roles. The trait updates have definitely improved the choices for those players that love playing healers or other roles focused on bolstering their allies.
A new guardian trait gives aegis to the guardian’s party every time the guardian successfully blocks an attack (20 second cooldown). Necromancer traits included some that caused conditions to heal the Necromancer when they were in death shroud or added support effects to the Life Blast skill. Elementalist traits provided more opportunities to create support effects from the skilled use of attunements. The new traits often focus on encouraging skilled usage of the classes unique abilities to allow better players to have a larger impact on their party.
Traits can now be respecced anywhere, anytime, at no charge. I will pause for a bit to allow you to rejoice… Don’t worry, I cheered too. We can now switch builds on the fly to better fill in gaps in a party’s abilities or if we happen to get bored of using a specific build while running around in Orr. Gone are the days of running to a trainer and forking over gold just to change how we played.
During development ArenaNet had originally talked about how the trait system would involve unlocking traits by going out into the world and completing challenges or discovering locations. One of the original examples of that was completing a challenge for a well renowned sword master in the region in order to unlock a trait related to his expertise. I mentioned remembering that example while we talked and Colin reflected on how long ago that seemed. It was a long time ago, as far as Guild Wars 2’s life is concerned, and it looks like we are swinging back around.
While originally developing the system, the developers soon learned that their original plans just wouldn't work the way they wanted them to. The system simply didn't fit with how they envisioned the trait system and the other game systems worked so they shelved it. The new trait acquisition system is an evolution of that original idea.
There are locations out in the world that have tasks in order to unlock the traits. Each location has a single trait for each class and by completing the tasks, you unlock the local trait for the class you are currently on. The system is similar to the Guild Wars 1 elite capturing system that players loved so much but it removes the annoyance of having to hope that a specific boss spawned in order to capture his skill.
All these trait changes are an exciting change for Guild Wars 2. Colin and Jon were excited by how the system is built to allow them to add even more traits in the future in an organic manner. The addition of the tasks to unlock traits allows them to add another reason for a player to go back into older maps they may have abandoned, helping to keep the entire world populated. Players always like having new toys.
The game had been marketed as moving away from the dreaded “Holy Trinity” but Colin felt that the message had slowly morphed into an idea that the developers didn’t want players to be able to play specialized support roles. The trait updates have definitely improved the choices for those players that love playing healers or other roles focused on bolstering their allies.
Next up we talked about the new wardrobe. Jon was happy to show off the number of skins he had unlocked, but when he opened the skin list that is now available in the bank tab, it readily became apparent just how far he had to go. Colin mentioned that there are more skins in the game than some players realize and hopes that the new interface helps to show these players that there are more looks out there for them.
The system allows players to show off their goodies without cluttering their bank with armor they hardly ever wear. Unlocking a specific skin opens that skin up across the entire account, not just the specific character. The interface is quite simple allowing a player to search for a specific gear slot and pick from any skin unlocked. At the click of a button, the skin is applied and away you go.
PvP players, don’t worry! You aren’t being left out to dry. All the above changes, of course, roll over into PvP, but even more quality of life changes are coming. You won’t have to run around to different NPCs in order to change your gear anymore. A central page has been added allowing you to change skins, builds, and armor or weapon modifications all in the same place. The Rune of the Traveler is being unlocked for SPvP so be prepared to chase down some speedy opponents.
A new map has been added. A map that has no capture points. No capture points you ask? Yes, no capture points. Players have been using custom maps to run their own deathmatch games for a while now by just ignoring the existing capture points. The developers want to support the PvP community and have created a map just for this purpose. It will only be available in custom games for now, but if the game type is met positively by the community as a whole it could be added in to the standard rotation as well. I know a lot of PvP players have wanted this for a while and it willing be arriving to an arena near you this Tuesday. The PvP announcements have already bolstered the SPvP community. Colin was particularly excited about the increase in numbers in registration for the recently announced Tournament of Legends, with registration for the tournament increasing by almost 10x more than past registration numbers. Only time will tell if the numbers will stay at the new level, but the developers will be watching closely to help support the growing player numbers there.
Here comes the piece de resitance, the big kahuna, the feature to end all features. Please excuse me if I use some phrases incorrectly here; I am ridiculously excited about the Megaserver (and you should be too).
The Megaserver system has been designed to better develop the in game community and increase player interaction. Players are automatically brought together based upon their existing connections in order to fill maps with people you already run in to. As a social gamer at heart, I threw up a “Success Baby” fist when we got to this feature which got a laugh out of Colin and Jon. This is about the time where Jon got hit with a Quaggan finisher.
The system’s algorithm uses a combination of the player’s party members, friend list, currently represented guild, other guilds, home world, and language in order to place players together. Gone are the separate maps for different worlds and gone is having to choose what server to guest on today. Hop in a map and play with your friends with no hassles. Sounds great right?
The answer was that the megaserver can pretty much use any parameter the developers want it to. Which led to the question: Should it?
Some players have had concerns about the system. The most salient of these being from the roleplaying community. The roleplaying community in games typically organize themselves on to a specific server. This serves a couple of purposes: concentrating them together, reducing the number of “trolls” that come in to annoy the role players, and just increasing the sense of togetherness the community has. Players have concerns that the new Megaserver will destroy this. It won’t, it will actually make it better.
I spent a long time talking with Colin about this. I actually spent most of the time in the interview talking about the Megaserver as a whole and a good half of that conversation revolved around these concerns. As an occasional roleplayer myself, I wanted to ensure that the communities that existed already wouldn’t be hurt by the new systems.
The Megaserver still concentrates like characters together. Your friends and guild members aren’t going to be ripped from you with this system and even the players in the roleplaying worlds will continue to be together. At the surface level, the system seems pretty straight forward, but when you follow Colin down the rabbit hole, a whole new perspective opens up. The Megaserver actually concentrates friend groups that you might not know existed. Your friends and guild members will be in the map with you, but remember that they have friends and other guilds as well and that THEY have friends and guild members too. These people are going to be in your maps just as often as your friends are and are going to become familiar faces to you as well, increasing the likelihood of them becoming your friends. Guild members often just become a name in a chat room that you never really get to know. With the new system, Colin sees guilds actually becoming closer with one another and the interpersonal interactions actually getting more personal.
What about trolls? The megaserver actually makes it harder for people to troll roleplayers. Or at least it makes it harder for them to actively seek us out. With the current guesting system, people can hop over and berate roleplayers at will. The megaserver removes guesting and makes actively seeking out targets more difficult. Yes, incidental contact with trolls is going to be more likely, but we all know that you can’t avoid them all and most of the community is used to the occasional troll or two. We know how to handle them. The flipside to that is incidental contact with potential roleplayers has now increased.
How did you get in to roleplaying, you ask? I started in DAoC by just happening to choose the server the RP community used. I didn’t know what roleplaying was; I didn’t choose that server on purpose. I am a roleplayer purely by chance. If I hadn’t chosen that server, I never would have stumbled into Orien and asked him “What the heck are you doing?” I wouldn’t be the gamer I am today, and the megaserver makes this more likely to happen. They don’t have to pick your server by chance, they just get dropped in with you on occasion. Adding people to the community is always a plus.
The conversation morphed into another beast I don’t think any of us really expected. I asked a pretty simple question about if the megaserver would be able to use more in depth data such as people you had partied with in the past or people who liked the same content as you. The answer was that the megaserver can pretty much use any parameter the developers want it to. Which led to the question: Should it?
Should we want the game to drop us in with players like us? Say I am a jumping puzzle fanatic, overly simplified and silly of course but it is easy to use. If the server puts people like me together, I am likely to interact primarily with other “jumpers” and no one else. I wouldn’t ever really have a reason to do any other content and the game would be fracturing possible connections. We all agreed this was bad. Colin and I both view MMOs as a social world where the players build connections. The game systems should support this, not work in a way that inhibits it. Sure, the system can micromanage player placement even further than it currently does, but the developers are fully aware that there are parameters you just shouldn’t use. Personally, I think it would be hilarious if they dumped everyone with a Twilight skin active into the same map but it isn’t going to happen.
To wrap it up, I am excited. I am one of those players that jump in and out of game. I get bored and move on and come back for a bit. The new patch makes me want to jump back in and I call that a successful patch. ArenaNet has goals for the systems and plans to develop them further in ways that benefits the community. This feature pack should bolster existing communities and help new ones form. I look forward to future social improvements, and that isn’t just me being selfish.
You stay classy Tyria.