Bonus Mission Pack Designers Interview
After the interview with Colin Johanson, we did a follow up interview with all three primary designers from the Bonus Mission Pack (BMP). These are:
Colin Johanson (CJ)
Linsey Murdock (LM)
John Stumme (JS)
What other projects did you work on before the BMP?
CJ: All the campaigns plus Eye of the North. Also a lot of live content for the game for the first couple years, such as the holiday festivals. I also worked on destroying the Tomb of the Primeval Kings, another event that happened as part of the living history of the Guild Wars world.
LM: Eye of the North and Nightfall. I did the explorable area spawns for Drakkar Lake, most notably the rabbit-hole encounter. Double Dog Dare was a popular NF quest I worked on, as well as play balance for the Norn Fighting tournament, and of course the Black Moa chick.
JS: I started on Nightfall and Eye of the North. I also worked on the Lunar Festival, text for the Norn tournament, the Asura cipher chain, and the Gwen quests, Then and Now, Here and There, and Fire and Pain.
When you designed the BMP, which missions did you work on?
CJ: I designed Togo and Turai's stories, but we all helped each other out. The missions were much better with input from all of us.
LM: I worked mostly on Saul's story.
JS: I did a lot of Gwen's story.
How did you work with various teams and individuals such as artists, animators, programmers, QA testers, writers, other designers, and so on?
LM: Lots of emails back and forth, and meetings with people to talk about various tasks—specifically with the coders. We discuss what is feasible, and what is not. From there, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in the Saul mission there are a number of NPC followers. I had to meet with the coders and figure out how to make them livable. Could we turn them into henchmen with flags? No, we couldn't because you can start this mission from any outpost. That meant we'd have to place special henchmen in each outpost, just for this one story. So instead of henchmen we used NPC allies, but we still had to figure out how to manipulate them. That's how we developed the "Form Up and Advance!" skill, which allows the player to have fun controlling NPC allies, even though they aren't henchmen.
CJ: That (the new skill) was outside the framework of what our system had done before. There were probably ten incarnations of it until we got it to work right.
LM: We really wanted to make them hench, but they were tied to the outpost. We improvised and came up with a good solution.
CJ: When communicating with other teams, there was a lot of free thinking and unrestrained brainstorming. We would often meet in a room and just let people come up with their own ideas and run with them to see what happened. We did "devil's advocate" some of it, but overall we treated most design concepts as valid. A good example is the interaction with the concept artists. We went to the artists and gave them ideas, but we didn't give them any real direction. They went off on their own and came back in a week with mind-blowing ideas and concepts. When we took these concepts into the actual design of the Battle of Jahai, there was plenty of back and forth between us, the level artists, and the sound team. We quickly discovered that frame-rate considerations kept us in check because the original map design violated a lot of our standard rules. The eventual result was different from the brainstorming ideas, because it had to account for the game engine's capabilities.
JS: There were quite a few examples of this for Gwen's story. There were many things the engine wasn't designed to do, and we needed extensive communication and feedback between departments to make the engine work for the mission. Gwen's Hide skill, for example—we had nothing like that before. To show Gwen in her hidden state, we had to create an entirely new species for her. Gwen plays animations that show her getting into her hidden position, but at the very end, she shifts into her new species. What made this work were the efforts of Rebecca Coffman, who made the animations, Andrew McLeod who made the species, and of course Shana Gitnick who coded the mission and tolerated my ridiculous ideas. There was also a lot going on with the artists on Dave Beetlestone's team, especially the siege devourer—getting the pillar collapse that Brant Fitzgerald made to work just right, and tuning the cinematics to show the killing of the devourer.
How do the ideas you originally come up with change over time? Do you have a creative process you go through?
LM: Design prior to implementation often goes through many changes. In other words, you don't know what something is like until you get to test it in the game. You could have this awesome idea, but it could be horrible once you see it in play.
CJ: The first version of Togo's story was pretty boring once we played it, even though the idea was really cool. Lots of people in the company gave us feedback, and the mission finally came together. Linsey and John were given a framework for the design, so they had a fairly limited box to work in, but they turned it around and gave it a lot of life.
JS: Gwen's story also went through a few iterations, particularly in the section involving the ruins. I wanted to tell a story there of something that had happened in the past—something players could take part in, and give a sense of "If I had been there, I could have made a difference. I still can make a difference," to Gwen's character. Getting that section correct was a collaborative effort between me and our Writing Team, tossing out ideas to each other, and coming up with this style of narration and presentation that we hadn't used in Guild Wars before. Just getting together with people and talking things through is a big part of the creative process—especially in working with Colin and Linsey. We'll sit down in a room together and say "Hey, here's this insane thing I'm thinking," or toss out a random comment, and pretty much the first thing any of us will say is, "That's awesome, and we could make it work like this, or this!"
How does designing for a BMP differ from designing for a major game?
LM: It's so different, especially for us, because previously we did mostly quests in explorable areas. This was also the only real project at the time with a development cycle that was ending soon, so there was much more support from other teams than we might normally get.
CJ: The single player aspect changes it tremendously, and was the key to successful puzzle designs. With multiple players, we have to throw out a lot of ideas because they won't work. With only one player to worry about, we know where the player will be and how the environment will react, at all times. Also, defining the Skill Bar for players allows us to design monsters specifically for those Skill Bars, which can make the fights more interesting and fun.
JS: The BMP was also very different in the tone of the stories we could tell, and how we could present them. In a major Guild Wars release, the focus is on the players' characters—the things they do that shape the world around them, and their adventures. With these missions, we could tell more of the story of the world itself by showing the deeds of those who had come before.
Did you have more than one idea for how the stories would end? How did you choose between them?
LM: Well, these were partly historical, but we had only very rough guidelines. For example, we knew Togo had done something to gain respect from the Tengu, but we didn't know what. All we knew about the White Mantle and Saul was that they came to power and he disappeared.
CJ: There was a giant battle where Palawa Joko faced Turai Ossa one-on-one in a fight to the death, but Palawa valued his own skin so highly he wouldn't be out there leading his troops at the front of the army. So we needed to figure out how Turai could get to Palawa, who was leading his armies from a safe distance.
JS: For Gwen, all we knew was that she had escaped from the Charr. Exactly how she managed to do so, however, was unknown.
The Battle of Jahai was a very visually impressive mission. Can you talk about the intent behind this?
CJ: I wanted to show a huge battle in Guild Wars. Up to this point we hadn't really been able to do this. It had been our intent in Consulate Docks, but there are limits on how many creatures and NPCs can be active at a time. Seven or eight players on a map makes that worse because they can run off in different directions and cause all sorts of things to spawn. With the Battle of Jahai, we knew where the player was at all times, so we could design for that. The level artists went out of their way to show the army and specifically show it moving around the player.
How did you come up with the skills the various playable characters would use?
LM: It was probably a solid week of meetings where we discussed Skill Bars. The only one similar to the original was Gwen's, but even those initial plans changed. Once I put my Skill Bar in for Saul I realized it was horrible. The same for Togo.
CJ: We redid each Skill Bar at least seven or eight times.
LM: You might think something sounds cool, but until you play with it, you just don't know.
LM: Two custom skills I originally made to control NPCs were condensed into "Form up and Advance!"
CJ: We designed many of Saul's custom skills a couple of weeks before the release.
JS: The first part of Gwen's bar didn't change that much. Her skills are as much a part of the story as what you're actually doing. We're portraying Gwen in a situation where she is captive and powerless, while at the same time explaining how she became the person she is in Eye of the North. If you were in this situation, how would you feel? You would want to kill the Charr, but you can't. Her skills reflect that—she throws rocks, hides, and plays dead. In the catacomb section, there was much revision in the skills because the story itself changed a lot. Even though her skills are part of the story, a skill has to be useable in the mission itself.
What about the skills the enemies would use?
LM: That was part of that initial week of meetings. We were trying to tailor player Skill Bars to fight against specific enemies.
CJ: They didn't change as much as the player Skill Bars, but they changed here and there. We also changed the monsters to fit with the first set of skill changes.
LM: As we played and accumulated feedback, there were many small balance tweaks and so on.
What factors influenced the design of the landscapes and environments?
LM: The Saul mission is nighttime, so he sneaks around. Since it is a nighttime Kryta mission, I wanted part of it to be reminiscent of Riverside Province.
CJ: We wanted each map to have a distinct feel that separated it from the others—the Charr lands from the edge of the Searing to the non-Searing, for example. That's the only time you really see that. Also, we didn't really do any high-mountain snow missions in Factions. So in Togo's story we combined the Canthan architecture with the snow, to get a sort of Himalayan feel to it.
Now that the BMP has been out for some time, what do you think of the feedback from fans?
CJ: It's nice to see how people enjoyed playing through the missions. We weren't entirely sure how people would take the single player experience.
LM: It is also interesting to look at the feedback and see which mission people liked the most. It is spread out evenly, with no clear favorite mission above others.
CJ: This lets us know we accomplished a goal of designing different missions for different tastes. One of our greatest challenges was making sure we designed the missions to match the image people had in their minds from these great moments in Guild Wars history. We didn't want to disappoint players by presenting images that jarred their expectations.
JS: It's been pretty amazing to see the kind of feedback we've gotten on the missions. It's been overwhelmingly positive (which is fantastic, because creative people are fragile, sensitive creatures). Each of us had specific things we wanted to accomplish with our missions—in a lot of cases they were things that simply hadn't been done before in Guild Wars. There's always a degree of uncertainty when you're trying something new, but the fact that so many players found something they enjoyed tells us we're moving in the right direction.