Interview with the Live Team – Part 1, Winds of Change

As promised, we share with you the first part of the Guild Wars Live Team interview about the content that was added with the “Winds of Change” updates. I was surprised about the length of the answers, especially the ones voicing critique on some of the things the community did not enjoy so much (need I to remind you about the “Minister Cho” part?). The amount of insight into the development process of Winds of Change is a great read, so I hope you will enjoy this first part of the interview. In the first part of the Winds of Change set of quests, the eleven “Cleansing…” quests were criticized by a lot by GW community members for being boring and very repetitive. The second part offered more variety. Was that a direct response to criticism or planned all the time?

John StummeJohn Stumme: The overall design of Winds of Change had been completed long before it went into production, so the changes that you see in part 2 aren’t a direct response, so much as it is the story picking up its pace. Part 1 was intended to be a gradual introduction that began to establish the Ministry of Purity as a believable faction within the world, one that was populated with members that were people, and not just green names in a map. The player’s main point of contact through this was Zei Ri, and he was written in a way to give players a sense of who the Ministry was drawing in, and how their movement was evolving.

By having the story start small with the vanquishing of the Afflicted, there were two things we were hoping to accomplish: first, to give players a direct sense of feedback from their actions. Removing Afflicted from a zone in the story was a permanent act. I feel like there haven’t been enough times when there is a tangible sense of progression that is given to the player’s actions and this was a response to that. Second, Winds of Change is a story very much about beginnings – I felt it would be more interesting to see the start of a group that will influence the history of Cantha for hundreds of years to come, and to give players all of the information that they will need to understand the ramifications of their actions for the future.Afflicted Mesmer

Of course, if things always played out the way that we planned, life would be uneventful, and offer us nothing to learn from. On a mechanical level, each of the quests to remove the Afflicted were varied in how they operate: fighting groups, fighting bosses, holdouts, escorts, etc. Fundamentally, these are the formats that almost every quest in Guild Wars can be broken down into – so why the difference in perception? There are a couple of things that I think factor into the way that the first part of the content was received. Let’s start with the enemies themselves: the Afflicted.

It’s no secret that the Afflicted will never hold the same special place in our hearts that the Charr do. There’s a lot of genuine dislike of them for having Soul Explosion in the campaign that introduced melee glass cannons. They’re grotesque, and single minded in their purpose, which leaves them without a certain charisma that our best villains have. We were fighting the Charr all throughout Ascalon, but they were an intelligent enemy with story and intrigue of their own, and that contributes a lot beyond the mechanical experience of just hunting down the red dots on your radar. We tried to add more story and interest to the Afflicted by focusing on the people that have been affected by them, and the impact that they’ve had on Canthan life – but it turns out that no matter how shiny the bow you place upon its head (or bulbous tumors?) an Afflicted is still just an Afflicted.Zei Ri

Second is the matter of distribution. This is something that I’ve played around with a bit, trying to find what works best for us. War in Kryta was doled out over a long period of time, where there only may be a scene released every few weeks, but it was an ongoing effort. The biggest positive of the approach was how it kept people involved, and looking forward to the next incremental update. The cons were how it meandered, and the feeling of “That’s it?” after each update. Winds of Change has sought to put releases out with more concentrated amounts of content to keep the story tighter, and to give players an amount of content to come back to. Unfortunately as we found out, a lot of people sat down to plow through all of the content in a single sitting – which compounds the feeling of doing the same thing as there’s no space between to let the story sink in, or see the various scenes and changes happening in the world.

What I believe to be the last major reason was the most intentional one, and that was trying to convey the feel of the story through the mechanics. In the first part of Winds of Change, the story is about the Ministry of Purity coming together to accomplish something great – wiping out all of the Afflicted is a big task, and we wanted it to feel like a big task. The hope was that at the end of it all, players would get some sense of what it must feel like to be the Ministry of Purity at that moment.

TenguThere was also the concern that if that segment were significantly shorter, the Ministry of Purity wouldn’t feel as though they had the same weight or significance in the world – it’s much easier to accept a group as “they’re just going to turn one-dimensionally evil,” if they never had much of a chance to show that they’ve done good, and that there are good people that still comprise their ranks. So all told, this one really boils down to personal preference – I’ve seen players that have really enjoyed the approach, and obviously players that haven’t. In the future, I’d like to put out an update that makes some revision to the Winds of Change content – namely making some of the first phase quests optional, and adjusting some of the difficulty.

As I say, there’s something to learn from everything, so we’ll continue to make revisions to improve the experience. Look forward to Part 3, which will feature roughly 300% more Afflicted than previous chapters! (Disclaimer: that isn’t at all what’s actually going to happen.) Hard Mode for most of the Winds of Change quests is a lot more difficult than Hard Mode experiences for Guild Wars players so far in Factions, as is vanquishing after you have driven the “original Factions inhabitants” away. Was that the intention of the Live Team, and if “yes”, why did you decide to do it?

AfflictedJohn Stumme: The increased difficulty was an intended decision. The idea being that Winds of Change is post-game content. We had the opportunity to take zones like Shing Jea for example and increase the challenge of the content in this zone to increase the number of playable zones for players in the end game. Of course, that’s the official explanation. The unofficial one is that Andrew just likes to balance things in a way that makes people suffer. He takes a lot of pride in that, too.

As I’m sitting here and writing this, Andrew is looking at revising the spawns for some of those zones. As a matter of fact, I’m actually listening to Joe give him a hard time about Minister Cho’s Estate. There’s a lot of griefing of each other that goes on in our room, and that, ladies and gentleman, is how work gets done here on the Live Team. The Tengu had an important part in the second set of quests in Winds of Change and have been interesting from the lore point of view. Will they continue to be important in the third and final part, or will the focus shift to Kurzicks & Luxons this time?

John Stumme: I don’t want to spoil too much about what happens in the final part, but I will say that the various factions players have been interacting with all have a part to play. It’s been leading up to one big moment, and I’m really looking forward to players getting a chance to see it – Joe has made Guild Wars pull off some new tricks to make sure we have a unique and memorable final encounter. Are you planning to move Guild Wars Beyond to Elona, or will the Live Team shift to “regular maintenance” for Guild Wars with bug fixes and small expansions to the known events?

John Stumme: Currently, we’re not scheduled to be working on content for Elona – as this would require more time and resources than we’ve got on our hands. However the entire story for the possible content has been written, in case we decide to pursue it. Even if we don’t, I’d love to clean up the story and get it out to fans in some way, shape, or form – it’s been a project that Mike Zadorojny has been heavily invested in (when not doing exciting Guild Wars 2 things!).

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