Archive for the ‘Off Cuts’ Category

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Off Cuts

Marketing is a double-edged sword. Too much information too soon and you risk burning the audience out. Not enough information and they’ll likely get bored and move on to something else. Gamescom 2010 heralded the opening of the floodgates information-wise for Guild Wars 2 with the world premiere of the playable demo and the reveal of the necromancer profession.

The year since has seen ArenaNet release dozens of blog posts, many featuring in-game screenshots, sound-bytes and videos, covering various aspects of the Guild Wars 2 universe including quite a few behind-the-scenes insights. To date all but one of the eight professions have been revealed, crafting has been explained, several NPC races have been introduced (complete with background lore), underwater combat was unveiled, dungeon information (including video) has been published and one structured PvP map has been showcased and was available to play at the largest fixtures during the 2011 convention season. The behind-the-scenes blog posts in particular have provided a rarely seen insight into the creation of an MMO, and each one clearly demonstrates the passion and dedication of the staff involved.

In the four years following ArenaNet’s announcement that they were abandoning further expansions on Guild Wars in favour of a sequel they have firmly stuck to their design and development principles. No information is released about a feature until it is in the game and working. Even then it is fair game to be tweaked, overhauled or scrapped as testing and feedback dictates.

Such an iterative design process demands time and patience, from publisher, developer and fan alike. The marketing approach ArenaNet have decided to take with Guild Wars 2 is very much in keeping with the game itself – innovative and brave. Not a single fancy CGI trailer to be seen: all the released videos have consisted of concept artwork and actual footage captured from the game engine itself.

While this approach is much more open than that of most AAA developers, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to such a strategy. Fan burnout and backlash against features are the two primary disadvantages in my opinion, with the largest advantage being an unprecedented level of contact and intimacy with fans.

First, the down side. Fan burnout is always a big risk. I’ve been closely following the developement of Guild Wars 2 for a bit over two years now. I’ve had a few periods of disillusionment, mostly after the excitement of an information glut wears off. The bones have been picked over for the umpteenth time and there’s just nothing new to be gleaned. ArenaNet have done a pretty good job of pacing their information releases but given that all the gaming conventions occur around the same time a huge info spike is somewhat unavoidable.

Another major issue is the prejudging of features and professions based on limited information. Transmutation stones (point #3) caused an almost mind-boggling outcry, though this did abate somewhat once more information was provided. The revelation that energy potions were going to be in-game also triggered quite a strong reaction (potions don’t exist in Guild Wars). Here, however, the nature of iterative development came into play and potions have since been removed.

Each profession reveal garnered the usual overpowered/underpowered debates and arguments, plus the inevitable attempts to shoehorn each into one of the traditional MMO holy trinity roles of tank/healer/DPS. Such comparisons are unavoidable as people attempt to quantify and understand how each profession is going to fit into the game, particularly when Guild Wars 2 is throwing the MMO rulebook out the window and have largely invalidated such comparisons.

Now, on to the advantages.

First and foremost, slowly releasing information and relying primarily on word of mouth to spread it is going to build a core group of very knowledgable fans. Dozens of forums, blogs and fan sites of all shapes, sizes, colours, flavours and languages exist for Guild Wars 2. Some are more generalised, others are specifically focussed on one particular aspect of the game. A thriving wiki is already well underway, information having been pieced together from demo videos and convention attendees armed with notepads.

ArenaNet also have a strong social networking presence, with an active Facebook page and a twitter account. I’ve even tweeted ArenaNet staff members a few times over random and minor matters (some not even game related) and was stoked to receive a reply in a couple of instances. Several staff members, in addition to the three community managers, also frequently post on Guild Wars 2 Guru to clarify misunderstandings and even sometimes provide answers from specific staff members if an important question arises.

While I am unfortunately not in a position to attend any of the conventions (I’m Australian and flying halfway around the world isn’t within my budgetary reach as this time) many of the reports I have read from those lucky enough to attend have highly praised how helpful, approachable and friendly the ArenaNet staff are, despite convention stress, jet lag and general exhaustion. That is exactly the type of marketing which will have an immeasurable positive impact.

Starting slow with marketing as ArenaNet have done is smart on a number of levels. ArenaNet don’t have the same kind of money to throw at advertising as the likes of Blizzard and EA/BioWare do. Letting their established core of fans do the initial legwork is far cheaper and, in my opinion, arguably more effective. It’s worked too, the word is getting out. Established and well-known video bloggers, such as TotalBiscuit, and large gaming review sites like IGN and Gamespot have started running regular articles on Guild Wars 2.

ArenaNet haven’t announced a release date so far, yet I am content in the knowledge that each days passing brings me one day closer to playing Guild Wars 2. And eventually, there will only be one more day.

With my first step into Tyria the journey will truly begin.

All the World’s a Stage

Posted: September 22, 2011 in Off Cuts

I’ve never considered role-playing in a computer game before. Ever.

Two things have significantly swayed me in the past eight or so months though. First and foremost – Guild Wars 2. As the amount of information being revealed has slowly swelled from a trickle to a torrent my imagination has grown with it. Even though only a relatively small part of Tyria has thus far been revealed through the various demos I already feel drawn into the fabric of this lovingly created universe. I care about the overarching storyline, the different races and the world as a whole.

The other factor that has fired my imagination has been the Mass Effect series. Almost chalk and cheese when compared to Guild Wars 2 I know, a sci-fi RPG / third person shooter and a fantasy MMORPG, but bear with me.

What really drew me into the Mass Effect series was the role-playing element. I played my first femshep as me from a moral standpoint, so she ended up about 75% paragon, 25% renegade. I found the storyline and the ability to choose different dialogue options and actions to be incredibly immersive.

Finishing the first game was a major milestone for me – it was the first (single player) game I have ever played all the way through to the credits. Considering how many games I own and how long I have been gaming that is both a very embarrassing admission and a testament to how great the game is.

Upon finishing Mass Effect I promptly imported my existing femshep into Mass Effect 2 and played that right through to the credits as well. For the sake of nostalgia I’m going to make the third game I play all the way through Mass Effect 3. I pre-ordered the collectors edition a few weeks ago.

While a little different from the paragon/renegade system in the Mass Effect series, the personality system of Guild Wars 2 will add immeasurably to the role-playing experience for me. It will even allow for a change of personality over time, depending upon the responses you choose when interacting with NPC’s. Tired of being a persuasive charmer? Choose a certain path of responses over time and you can eventually wrap up a conversation by punching the other party in the face.

I don’t yet know to what extent I’ll role-play in Guild Wars 2, or on how many characters. I have eight characters planned already, one for each profession. I also have an extensive back story written up for one of them, but he isn’t going to be my main.

Being able to join multiple guilds with one character is certainly going to open up a lot of possibilities and flexibility. If I do choose to role-play a certain character I can have him in my main guild to play with my mates, but also with a role-playing guild for the times I want to immerse myself a little more in the world.

The depth and quality of the Guild Wars universe lore weaves a rich tapestry against which to let my imagination run free.

The men and women of Tyria are ready, and we shall be more than mere players.

Bushfire Moon

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Off Cuts

Not with a whimper but a bang did the Engineer profession arrive last Thursday. Today, after a curiously extended period of silence from ArenaNet, we have a Q&A for the most controversial profession released thus far.

Lead designer Eric Flannum has hopefully assuaged at least some of the fears generated by this mechanically inclined master of mayhem. I am probably more excited for this class now, as the answers given point towards a profession that will be anything but an “I Win” button on legs. With turrets. And grenades.

With the final, and most complex, profession yet to be revealed *coughMesmercough* I look forward to reviewing the full compliment of professions available in Guild Wars 2 and finding out how many extra character slots I may need to buy to play them all.

And finally for those wondering about the incongruous title of this post, a bushfire moon occurs when there is a large amount of smoke and particulates in the atmosphere from a bushfire and the moon appears vastly larger at the horizon than usual, and is often a rather disconcerting colour also. I feel it rather nicely describes the amount of panic and doom saying that has taken placed about the Engineer based on diddley-squat information.

Wait for the smoke to clear people, lest you step on a land mine.

Jade Coloured Glasses

Posted: August 14, 2010 in Off Cuts

ArenaNet’s most recent video offering and follow-up to the blog post on the same topic, their MMO Manifesto, is chock-full of actual gameplay footage (not CGI) and several very forthright and enthusiastic staff members.

If you have yet to see this video, enjoy. If, like me, you’ve already watched it more times then you care to admit, enjoy again.

Reactions to this manifesto have been many and varied – from outright enthusiasm to complete cynicism. I have personally been following the development of Guild Wars 2 for some time now and definitely lean more towards the enthusiast camp.

A recent fear has developed for me though. If Guild Wars 2 doesn’t deliver all that has been promised, MMO’s have pretty much been spoiled for me forever. Ok, maybe “forever” is a little melodramatic but at least for the foreseeable future. I’ve dabbled a little with a couple of free to play MMO’s to pass the time, but the moment I rock up to the first quest NPC (duly identified by something floating over their head) and get my very first quest to kill 10 vicious and dangerous dowhatsamadiddles that are in actual fact standing quite inoffensively a convenient distance away I die a little inside. Damn you ArenaNet!

My MMO-playing history is brief – Guild Wars (I’m calling it an MMO alright?) and Warhammer Online. I started playing Guild Wars a couple of years after its launch (around November 2007) and I played Warhammer from launch until my subscription ran out about a week ago. Even bought the Collectors Edition. At this point in time I don’t intend to re-sub – WAR has become very stale to me. I even got bored of dabbling with alts and that’s really saying something. The more information that has been released about Guild Wars 2, the more jaded I have become about the current state of the genre.

Rather then playing WAR for altogether too many hours in any given day, I have been reading a number of web comics, making Guild Wars 2 Guru my second home and reacquainting myself with Guild Wars. The specifics on what will actually result from Hall of Monument achievements once a Guild Wars 2 account is linked with a Guild Wars 1 account remains to be disclosed, but I have been having a great deal of fun rediscovering the game and all it contains.

If ArenaNet do deliver on even half of what they have promised, and I truly hope they deliver on all of it, Guild Wars 2 will be a force to be reckoned with. It might not be every one’s cup of tea but nor should it. Jack of all trades, master of none is not a title that should be associated with Guild Wars. ArenaNet have themselves a great niche with Guild Wars and while the eagerly awaited sequel will carve out a new niche in its own right, the general feel of the original still seems to be there.

Time will tell I suppose, I just hope that time is Soon™.