Interview with Colin Johanson, design lead for the upcoming Guild Wars Bonus Mission Pack
1. What is the Guild Wars Bonus Mission Pack? How many levels does it include? How does it fit within the Guild Wars universe?
The Bonus Mission Pack is a four mission collection we're giving away as a thank you to players who've spent at least $29 (€26/£17) or purchased Guild Wars: Eye of the North during our in-game store and PlayNC promotion (note: this promotion ends October 31, 2007). In it, players relive four great moments in Guild Wars history by playing iconic characters during the events that turned them into legends.
The mission pack provides four solo "story" missions. Each story is tied to one of our Guild Wars games. The original Guild Wars story tells the tale of how Saul D'Alessio and the White Mantle drove the invading Charr army from Kryta with the help of their unseen gods, the Mursaat. In the Guild Wars Factions story, we see a young Togo fight betrayal to bring an end to the Tengu Wars. The Guild Wars Nightfall adventure puts the player in the role of Turai Ossa at the Battle of Jahai, where the leaders of the two greatest armies in Elonian history squared off in a battle to the death. Lastly, players will experience Gwen's escape from her Charr captors and initiate her first meeting with the Ebon Vanguard from Guild Wars: Eye of the North.
2. What sets the Bonus Mission Pack apart from existing Guild Wars missions?
A number of factors make these missions unique. Players begin their journeys when they receive a book from a historian. The first few pages introduce the story and provide background lore that leads up to the event they are about to re-live. Our concept artists have created custom artwork for each page. It's not often that concept art makes it into a game in its original form—generally you only see it on loading screens—so this is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the jaw-dropping talent of our artists in new ways.
Each tome stands as a self-contained piece of lore, as additional pages get added when you finish the tale, completing the story. The new pages summarize the event you just played through and highlight its effect upon the world of Tyria.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, the mission pack stands apart from just about anything else we've ever done. Each mission is a single-player adventure that lets you play as the historical character—Gwen, Turai Ossa, Master Togo, and Saul D'Alessio—complete with a custom Skill Bar and specialized attributes created just for that legendary personality.
These customized toolbars provide us, as designers, the unique opportunity to create new and interesting types of scenarios because we have the ability to give every player the right tools for the task at hand. Our monster guru has even been building special enemies for players to fight under unique circumstances, so players will need to make effective use of each skill available to them.
Of course, some hardcore Guild Wars players, upon viewing the custom Skill Bar for a particular character, may say, "Wow! Anet is total noobz! They put "Otyugh's Cry" on my skill bar. GG lamers!!1!" Hold on! We custom-tailored BMP encounters so that each skill will be useful against enemies. Then, when you're done with the mission, you can brag to all your friends, co-workers, neighbors, family, and random people on the street how you "pwnd some monsters with Otyugh's Cry." I mean, people talk like that, right?
In all seriousness, in addition to tweaking encounters to work well with the provided skills, we've also created some new specialty skills. Ever wanted Spectral Agony on your Skill Bar? How about the ability to feign death as an enemy walks past? If you've been yearning for new PvE experiences, we think you'll enjoy the many surprises we have in store.
3. What locations are in the BMP? Existing maps? New ones?
Missions take place at locations within existing Guild Wars world maps, however the events all take place in the past. For example, the Battle of Jahai (Turai Ossa's story) occurred along the river Elon where the Fortress of Jahai now stands. In Turai's time, however, that structure did not exist. In the BMP, you'll get to see the area as it was long before direct passage between Kourna and Vabbi was blocked by that massive fortress.
So, while these missions take place in existing maps, the artwork is definitely not recycled. Now, I've always considered art to be the single most identifiable factor of Guild Wars. We're blessed to work with some of the most talented artists in the industry on a daily basis. And, when they created the Bonus Mission Pack environments, they did not disappoint—truly, these are some of the most gorgeous areas of the series.
In Togo's story, you visit the war minister's estate high in the mountains along the southwest shore of Cantha, where the Tengu peace accords take place. The gorgeous Canthan architecture combined with the snow falling in this wintry mountain locale creates a pristine setting unlike anything else in Guild Wars to date.
The prison camp where Gwen is being held in the beginning of her story is located within the lush green Charr lands of the Eye of the North expansion. However, if players look to the south they can see the transition between this "Eden" and the hellish landscape of post-searing Ascalon. During the mission, players can scour the ruins of Duke Gaban's estate and marvel at some gorgeous early Ascalonian architecture.
The story of Saul D'Alessio begins on the far northern edges of Kryta at an iconic, remote Krytan village, providing players the opportunity to view areas of Kryta they've never seen before. This mission occurs at night, as Saul and his loyal White Mantle followers attempt to sneak into a massive Charr army camp. The ambience this map provides has to be seen to be appreciated.
Last is the story of Turai Ossa. This gorgeous map gives players the opportunity to witness a full-scale Guild Wars battle as it takes place. Adventurers can pause to enjoy breathtaking mountaintop views and watch hundreds of soldiers battle the undead along the banks of the river Elon. You will see artillery batteries unleash salvos into the distance and the returning fire from undead bone ballistae. For the grand finale, players fight Palawa Joko, mano a mano, on a rope bridge suspended hundreds of feet above the swirling masses of fighters.
4. Why tell these tales?
We wanted to pick pivotal characters from each of the major Guild Wars releases and highlight their untold stories. For example, we now know that Gwen escaped from the Charr, but players don't know the details. Each mission takes a story that somehow shaped the campaign it is tied to, and gives players insight into why it happened, who the principal characters were, and how their actions shaped history. One of our goals with Eye of the North was to tie up a lot of the major storylines presented in the original Guild Wars campaign. The mission pack tackles additional stories from each campaign that we had left relatively open. There are even bridges to Guild Wars 2 from the Bonus Mission Pack, so in a way it strengthens the bond between the two distinct timelines just a bit more.
Some of the most fun we've ever had as a team was building the Sorrow's Furnace region for our players. The Bonus Mission Pack is really the first chance we've had since then (other than holiday events) to take on a fun side project. It just seemed like the right thing to do before we turn our attention fully toward Guild Wars 2.
5. What are some challenges you and your team faced when designing/developing the missions?
The biggest challenge for us right now is balancing Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 at the same time. We have a lot of exciting ideas we want to implement in Guild Wars 2, but at the same time there are so many things we want to do with the existing Guild Wars campaigns and the Bonus Mission Pack. It's hard to find time to do everything!
Another challenge was trying to decide which stories to tell. There were many characters we wanted to dig into and many stories we wanted to tell. Trying to narrow it down to just four was really tough. One of the ideas we ended up throwing out was the search for Joe's girlfriend. You remember Joe the devourer, right? Oink the pig also had an epic legacy that was worth telling, but with only four missions we simply couldn't fit him in. Sorry, Oink. I'm holding out hope that Cartoon Network picks up his story for Adult Swim. It may revolutionize television as we know it. In the end, the idea of going with the most iconic characters from each release seemed the obvious choice.
6. What are you most excited about?
Well personally I'm most excited about pizza, beer, and Seattle Seahawks football, not necessarily in that particular order. However, when it comes to the Bonus Mission Pack, I'm truly excited about giving players the opportunity to go back in time and play as these iconic Guild Wars characters at pivotal moments in the history of our world. In addition to the cool lore we're getting to finally display in detail, this concept of playing as a historic character opened up so many different gameplay avenues not normally possible. It has been a blast to work on this project simply because we were empowered to go "outside of the box" with new ideas.
7. Anything you'd like to add in closing?
I'd like to say a big thank you to everyone involved in building the Bonus Mission Pack! There are far too many people involved to name, but everyone who contributed did an absolutely fantastic job. Our players are receiving some really cool new content as a result of all that hard work, and I hope everyone has a blast playing through it. And, on a final note, a thank you to all of our players. It's because of you that we enjoy our jobs, and are motivated to keep making cool content. We've all had a lot of fun together through three campaigns and an expansion, and we hope you enjoy our latest creation.