Lunch with Colin Johanson


Are we going to see more consequences from our choices in-game?

Colin: You know eventually there’ll be a bunch of playable content. As for the story’s branching based on what players do, there’s not something we’re doing right now but down the road I can see that sort of thing being an option. It’s definitely something we’d like to be able to have (like) on different servers a different content that’s happening and the outcome is really different but, you know, we don’t have the back-end right now to be able to do that but at some point I hope we’ll be able to do that thing.

So, how much of the living story are we going to see in the upcoming patch? 

Colin: You’re not going to see a ton of stuff in February, [it’s mostly about the story] more setup stuff. [When] we hit the end of the year and decided to really make that a big thing for 2013 and as a result [this didn’t leave us much time to] build a lot of stuff yet, so I think towards March and April we’ll get into the cadence of what a living story can be and then that will build from there as the year goes on.

Are there any plans to add anything to the achievement system – Like a negative healer achievement? We found the rocks at the bottom of the diving board in LA proved deadly, was that discovered by the testers?

Colin: We thought it was funny enough, it was OK and we just did it.

Are we going to see more one time only events? For example, the return of the ‘hunger games’ event from the second beta weekend?

Colin: Content-wise we can do anything [we could ask]. I could see that [as] the way we introduced new [prominent] content, we could introduce new fractals that way, and new dungeons, have stuff that shows up for a month and leaves again. I think it’s kind of context-free; anything that we wanna do in the game we go for it. It really kind of gives you that sense of like it’s your favorite TV show (and) you regularly wanna tune back in and see what’s going on with the story, long term that’s where we want to get the living story to as well. We’re not going to be there for a little while, but at some point we really want to build up to this. We haven’t ruled it out but it’s not going to be something that we have scheduled. Certainly as we look at launching the game in other regions we might re-run them for those as well. So you can always jump into the China beta and check out the events going on there. I think in the West maybe.

What about weekend events? Similar to the old double faction weekends from Guild Wars 1.

Colin: We’ll probably take a look at that. I would prefer we do it more, you know, story-driven. I think it’s more compelling and I think that’s more where we are headed. I’m curious actually, that’s really something that we’re walking down that path now. Is that compelling to your guys? I mean, take everything that happened in January, and condense it down to say, a week’s worth of content and then the next week there’s more story that builds on that. Is that something that would interest you guys?

Absolutely. It’s really good.

Colin: Is there anyone here who doesn’t like this idea?

Well, it doesn’t affect those who do WvW much.

Colin: I think that’s fair. It’s really not intended for the WvW specific player. Maybe your keep commanders get replaced with specific NPCs per month or something about the story of what’s going on. We may be able to take elements out of the [current events] and understand how we’d have that. For example, cannons shooting toilet paper and pumpkins during Halloween. As long as we don’t take away from the game, that’s key, [it] may be nice if we can find ways to pull that off.

There was a big difference in how successful the Wintersday event was compared to the troubles from the Karka event. Do you feel you learnt a lot from the mistakes of the first? 

Colin: Tremendous difference. One of the problems that we had is, the day we shipped GW2 we immediately started development on everything that happened in October and November. And we were building it all simultaneously and so we learned about our lessons from October but we didn’t have time to do anything about them in November. There was basically like we’re locked into these release dates, we have a free trial in November, “go go go go go, we have to hit these dates”, and that’s one of the challenges of a live game. You know for five years, we spent five years saying “If it’s not ready doesn’t matter, just wait and then we’ll put it out when it gets ready”. And then we got into the live space it was “we have to keep free updates going, we have to have this fun stuff going on”. It really didn’t give us an opportunity to stop and catch our breath, say like “is this the right thing to be doing, is this the stuff we should be putting in the game?”. It was more “we have to get stuff out, let’s go!”. And we learned a lot of lessons from that I think in December; I think Wintersday is a great example of taking a lot of the lessons we learned from the other events and try to make it a lot more approachable, easier for everybody to play the content. We spread it out over a longer time, you can re-play stuff that you missed. Those are the types of strategies we are going to use for all of the live stuff going forward, just making it all a lot more inclusive. Certainly we want to avoid 400 people in the open world until we can deal with culling issues, and things like that. So it changes the strategy how we do stuff. It also means we really reverted back to our original philosophy which is “if it’s not ready don’t ship it and don’t talk about it until it’s polished enough that it’s ready to go”. And so things like WvW getting pushed back a month, that’s just an example of that. ‘Cause I think right after release we would’ve just put that out whether it was ready or not. And I think that instead what we’re saying is, even though we made the mistake of saying that this is the month that it’s coming, we shouldn’t have done that ‘cause that just sets expectations. We’d rather wait and get it right and then put stuff out whenever it’s ready to go. And I think we’re kind of back to the point where we’re comfortable in saying that and we have a better idea for what we wanna do.

Are there any plans for a ‘hard mode’ for dungeons?

Colin: It’s interesting, we might do that. Right now we actually talked a lot about it and our biggest concern with it is it’s already hard to find a group to do a dungeon. When you add a hard mode on top of it you’re further fracturing the player base between story mode, three explorable modes and now three hard modes, and it can become extremely hard to find people to play with if we did that. For me, I always felt explorable mode was supposed to be hard mode, and I would like to see us fix the dungeons to the point where they really fall into the category, more than try and add another mode on top of it. So in the February release –we haven’t talked a lot about this- but we actually rebuilt all of the bosses of the Ascalon Catacombs, from scratch. All of them will be brand new in the February release. I remember the encounters have all been re-done as well. And we’re in the midst of going through all the major bosses in the game in 2013 and try to make them more fun to fight against, making them more challenging. Now that’s a huge project. That’s going to take us a really long time to do that. But just in February alone, we’re rolling some of that out and for a lot of people I think their answer for playing the game has been “it’s really fun but there’s not enough challenging stuff for me to do”. And I think that for people looking for a challenge we need to build in a lot more of that optional content that is challenging. I think “optional” is the key – we don’t want to make it so that a casual gamer feels they can’t play the game. We’re trying to go back and rebuild a lot of stuff to just make it a lot more optionally challenging for people looking for that, and [Ascalonian] Catacombs will be the first place we do that. Some of the open world champions are also getting rebuild in February, just some of the regular open world guys. And we’re going to keep doing that every month going forward, just go back and find stuff to try to make it a bit more fun.

And what about changes to the Fractal encounters?

Colin: I thought the guys who did Fractals have stuck a couple of really good encounters in there. I really hope that that’s how we build stuff in the future.

Any plans to bump up the maximum level in fractals?

Colin: I’m sure that at some point will be that we want to do that with content that goes with it so that there’s stuff to get to that’s new or feels more exciting. It’s not off the table.

Are we going to see more variation when fighting champions in the world? At the moment we’re faced with generic named ‘champions’, are there any plans for named bosses with a bit of lore or a unique feel to them?

Colin: Well, unique, mechanically, yes – we’re already doing that. We’re amidst going through every champion and veteran in the game and looking at their skills and try to make them more unique and more fun to play against and more exciting for groups and just a lot more involved content in general. Naming-wise, one of the reasons we didn’t name all of them is because most of them just respawn again. And in GW1 it was part of that concept that you clear the map, so you’d feel like it made sense. Whereas in GW2 when you see Burt the Ettin and he respawns every two minutes and with that it just feels really immersion wrecking. That’s why we chose to do that, that is names on very rare [bosses] in general, because we wanted to feel like this is a really big deal when you see this guy. But building up more back story behind guys and having named characters that do show up occasionally, I would hope that is something we did more of. I think our living story is the best place for us to do that, because it means they can show up one time, everyone gets to experience them and then they leave again. Like the Mad King boss fight for Halloween, I think that is a good example. Where for about a week, you get to fight the Mad King and then he left again. I would hope we get to do more stuff like that.

Are any new skins or armors going to be available through the Living Story? Especially relating to crafting recipes.

Colin: Yup. I think you can assume the same types of stuff that we did for holidays. You know, we kept adding more recipes and items and things. In the long run that’s the same thing we wanna do with living story. Sometimes living story will just be a holiday for a month. That’s kind of the concept, that’s there’s this narrative that’s going on, it may tie in to a festival or it may not, but we want to have all of that kind of feel it’s like the same of type of rewards.

Are we going to see more unique craftable items? What about being able to craft weapon skins?

Colin: Yeah, we just need more artists. (laughs) But yes it would be really nice to have more reasons to level your crafting to 400 and have cool things that you can get from doing so. I think that’s one of the problems with crafting right now there’s just not a lot of reason to do it.

a8e2eBattle-for-Kyhlo-2There are a few unique crafting recipes that are extremely rare drops. Getting one of these drops gives you a huge boost to trade with in the Trading Post. Are there any plans to add more of these items recipes, or make them easier to acquire?

Colin: I would hope we could extend that beyond weapon skins. I think this ties back into the question about tiered loot in general. I think one of the things we’re missing is a core rewards system that we can infinitely expand, that is unique from weapons and armor. At some point we’re going to have to introduce that or figure out what that is so that we’re not just doing endless tiers of loot forever. Hopefully there’s a bunch of stuff that ties in exactly with what you’re talking about in that system. Your Guild Wars 1 skill capturing is a good example of that. I think we need to find what is the skill capturing system of Guild Wars 2 that is the infinitely expandable rewards system.

What about excess dungeon tokens and transmutation stones? Any plans on recycling them or using them some other way? 

Colin: Absolutely we’re going to have to address that. I think any of that stuff that piles up and feels like it has no use… case that you can use that so it at least feels rewarding. Blues have the same problem. Yeah you can salvage them but otherwise when you get a blue you’re like “eh, whatever”.

…and then you stick them in the Mystic Forge and hope you get a green… 

Colin: And then 4 greens become gold fodder and that’s about it for trying to get your mystic forge rares. Ideally we need to find systems that make all of that stuff feel like you get it and hey you have a use for it. I think low level crafting items accomplish that right now. When you get one of those at least they’re useful for people across all levels. We need to find systems that make that the case for all items across the game.

You mentioned you had some issues you wanted to tackle in terms of crafting. What were they?

Colin: I think the biggest one is just making sure there’s a real reason to take crafting to 400 and things you can get out of it as rewards. That’s the biggest thing.

What are you doing towards that?

Colin: We’re not yet, we’re still trying to figure that out.

Any ideas?

Colin: Er… (laughs) open to em!

Any plans for introducing other weapons like scythes or spears coming up?

Colin: Um coming up no but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. The way the weapon system is built it’s really easy for us to add new weapons and tie skills to those.

People have been talking about 2 handed axes.

Colin: Yeah I see that one a lot.

(Others chip in with suggestions including pole staff.) 

Colin: Frying pan? (laughs)

There’s a set of ranger utility skills that aren’t being used, any plans to address those?

Colin: I actually have no idea right now what that group is working on. I’d have to check in with them and see when I get back. One of the biggest things we’ve kicked up is an analytics team that records all the data in the game and allows us to look at that and make decisions about the things we’re doing. They’re actually the team that helped us find a lot of the loot issues because we really just didn’t have any information to get that stuff. We kicked this team up so we could get that information so it’s incredibly useful actually to have that stuff so we can figure things out. Without that you’re kind of flying blind. We’re able to look now at what weapons are getting used all the time and we use that data to determine what weapons absolutely suck so we can go and fix those. What skills are being used and which ones aren’t and it really helps us determine what needs a boost.So I imagine if no one is using a bunch of the ranger utility skills they’re going to see that, look at those and then go try to address those based on the data. Hopefully that’s on the list if they think no one’s using any of that subset.

So will there be any plans to add additional weapon skills?

Colin: Certainly on the table. That’s something we are not working on yet, but it’s a possibility.

Will we eventually get skill templates?

Colin: We loved templates in Guild Wars 1 and I would say that it’s certainly a possibility in Guild Wars 2

One of the aims of the game was to make every class feel unique, but also viable and fun to play in a variety of ways. What professions have been highlighted as a falling short of this target and what crazy ways have been tried internally to spice them up?

Colin: For me, every profession actually has a lot of different variety available to it. It’s just a matter of if you enjoy that playstyle or not. So I think people look at each profession and they’ll judge it based on “Do I enjoy playing the ways of this profession offers me to play?” And so just going around the table, everybody is playing a different main for the most part. There’s no thieves or warriors here but there’s plenty of them in game. So we know those are represented. We talked about that graph that’s up on the wall. We look at that every day based on what profession people creating and it’s almost always very close to being even across all professions. That’s a really good sign, that is very, very hard to do. In Guild Wars 1 it was not even relatively close to that. It’s a big difference between viability of playstyles versus, you know, not at all. I’m actually really impressed at how generally balanced the professions are. There are certain skills or abilities that all need to get better but across the professions it’s actually pretty decent. It’s just a matter of what playstyle are you interested in. The thing that we have to improve is look at weapons sets that aren’t interesting for that profession or don’t fit the playstyle that we’ve said that profession should have and bring those up to the point that are.

***(Before the lunch started, Colin spoke about a chart displayed in the office that tracks live results of how many of each class and race are being played, so when one class becomes OP, it shows on the chart. At the moment, all classes are at a level field, with a slight increase in warriors and a slight dip in engineers. Races are hugely different, with humans and norn hitting the highest rolled races, and charr being the lowest.)

Like the possibility of dual pistol mesmers?

Colin: You guys can go around the table and everyone of you can name your profession and what weapon that you think is weaker than all the rest and it’s totally the case. We need to try to find ways to make those close to on par with the other weapons. There’s always can be one that somebody perceives as the best. If it’s a choice like “well I like double daggers better and I like staff better”, that’s ok, we want that. But if it’s just no one uses [for example] dual pistol mesmer because it just sucks. Those are the truly obvious ones that we need to go after first.

Would you ever go down the route of PvE only skills again?

Colin: Well, we kinda have that with racial skills. [It’s] the closest thing to that. How much we’ll expand on those, I don’t know. I’m not sure that that’s really that compelling

Yea, in Guild Wars 1 we found they became slightly overpowered in the end…

Colin: I would be shocked if we did too much of that stuff. It’s more skills that are game wide. The strongest split between competitive PvP and the rest of the game is possible. Some skills continue to get tweaked more for PvP. I would be pretty surprised if we do a whole lot of PvE only stuff.

Before I let others ask about WvW, something that’s come up in our guild meetings is we’d love to have guild halls

Colin: Me too, that’d be great. It’s just a matter of skill set wise the people who work on that, are also the same people who work on like seven other systems in the game. Basically all that stuff uses your account data and there’s only a couple of engineers really who completely understand how that whole system works and so we’re always time limited on what systems those guys can work on and them training others so they can work on those systems. So we’re slowly trying to expand all that stuff it’s just a matter of time really.

We’ve noticed that guilds sometimes fight against each other within WvW, and sometimes even seek each other out to create that kind of fight. Are there any plans to develop a GvG system in the future?

Colin: We have been noticing and talking a lot about it. What’s coming out of that I have no idea but it’s definitely something that we’ve seen.

Did you ever think players would alter their behavior in this way? That they’d end up doing something like this?

Colin: We expect that in every part of the game that some of that emergent gameplay will come out of it. How it’s going to work we don’t really know. I’ve watched the little duels that happen in WvW sometimes, like there’s a specific hour that people get together in a specific corner of the map and it becomes dueling. We figured that would happen somewhere, it was just a matter of where as we don’t have dueling right now. But some of it is always a surprise. The guild thing, we didn’t necessarily see that coming, we thought it would be strongly world based so I think it’s interesting to see that and it’s definitely something we’re talking about. I have no idea what’s going to come from it.

gw351Sometimes we’ve found that the rallying/downed/defeated mechanic can cause conflict between people in guilds and people who aren’t in WvW because it takes a lot of people to get them up quickly. Are there any plans to take a look at ressing?

Colin: Soonish? No, I’ll just be honest about that, but it’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at. There’s not a really a simple solution to that. We can’t say “new players, you can’t play the game” and we can’t completely redo ressing or change the way that ressing works quickly without drastically changing a lot of other parts of the game play. So that’s where we’re going with that. It’s going to take a lot of discussion, a lot of trying to figure out what is the gameplay we want and how do we want it to play. Long term, hopefully that’s not an issue and we can find a solution that we’re happy with. But we’re just looking at it at this point, trying to figure out what does that mean for us, what do we want to do, how do we keep it fun for people to play and at the same time not ruin the experience for a group of people. That’s really tough, there’s not a simple solution. (pauses) Or well there are but they make people really angry. (laughs)

Sometimes you end up in WvW with a huge zerg behind one commander, continually moving from one keep to the next. There’s not an incentive for people to defend towers.

Colin: Well, that’s one that’s been around longer and we’ve been aware of that and working on fixing this for a while actually. We’re definitely gonna try to do a lot of stuff to address that and help drive people to be wanting to spread out more. I think personally one of the things I find playing WvW that’s an issue is I get a little group together and go try to take a keep, the second there is a certain number of people there, we’re like five, a little orange crossed swords pop up and the other team knows where I am. And so the zerg is able to take me out. And as an old DaoC player my favourite part of that was there were scouts, right? People were assigned as scouts to spread out all over the map and the scouts’ responsibility was to find what people went and report it back to different people and they would spread out and the little orange swords just ruin all of that on and so, basically, everybody knows where you are all the time if you try to do something.

I spend way too many hours watching water gate in the garrisons just watching for golems. I think 4 hours was my longest shift. It’s not fun, I don’t want to do it, but it’s got to be done.

Colin: So our February release is gonna change that. The little orange swords won’t pop up unless there’s at least… err, I wanna say like 25 people have to be on the spot. That’s a really small change but it’s actually gonna drastically change the way people play WvW.

When a supply camp changes hands in WvW, the Righteous Indignation buff goes on the supervisor to stop it changing hands, but it can still be taken down with vulnerability and condition damage. Is it being looked into to change this maybe so that the camps can’t actually be taken and are protected?

Colin: Those are the types of things we’re looking at. We might not necessarily go with that solution, but things to spread out the players more and make it less rewarding to playing in a zerg. There’s nothing wrong with having the large group and then a bunch of smaller groups that spread out from it. But when everybody is in a group of 200 running around together, thats not good.

Was [the veteran] intended to be unkillable?

Colin: It’s not intended to be unkillable, but it is intended to slow it down a little bit. For me part of the problem is that the zerg can take out the supply camp and the second it swaps to them, all the supply is instantly available to them. So there’s never a moment of like “Build our supply line, spread out then move on to the next point and attack”. Instead it’s “we now own this, we have all the supply, let’s move on to the next fight”. You are always able to constantly rebuild instantly, because you always have supply. There’s no negative for the zerg to have take a place, fortify it, spread out and move on to the next. I think it would help a lot if we’ve got more mechanics along those lines.

You were talking about a scouting role, but it’s boring standing in an empty keep and there’s no rewards.

Colin: I would hope that we could try to find ways to make that a lot more interesting.

If I can tag someone who’s attacking a gate I can sometimes get some karma [while scouting], but otherwise I’m sat there for hours with no rewards. It sucks but it has to be done.

Colin: It’s tough, right? Cause we don’t wanna have botters, we don’t wanna encourage people to sit there and actually afk farm stuff either cos that’s horrible for WvW also right? And there’s all those dead players just sitting there, taking up space space for people who really want to play.

Talking about space, if you disconnect in WvW and your team is doing well, you end up having to go back in a queue which can be an hour or more. Is there anyway we could reserve a spot for a bit so we could get back in right away after a disconnect?

Colin: Right now, no. You know I talked about the same couple of people who are required to do a lot of the guild features, are the same couple of people who need to do all the server back-end for the same stuff that you just said. Really anything that involves large amounts of server messaging or things, those are always bottle necked by the very very best programmers we have who can work on that extremely difficult set. So right now, no, some point I would hope. And maybe reconnecting isn’t the way we solve it but we need to find to solve the queue issue as well, so any number of people can play it some day.

What about making WvW bigger [greater numbers]?

Colin: Yeah, bigger we can’t do currently with our existing tech, those are the biggest maps we can make. It’s actually just an engine limitation which means fixing that is gonna be a nightmare.

What about moving the action around the map, because it all seems to be condensed in the centre at the moment?

Colin: All those things are on the table. For the spreading players out and try to make better use of the space we’ve got. The WvW team is really looking, right now, at all of those options. That’s a big part of what their focus is, it’s trying to answer these questions. That’s certainly one of the options they have been talking about.

What are your thoughts on the PvE aspect of WvW, including jumping puzzles and world completion?

Colin: For the jumping puzzle, I would prefer that they not be in the WvW map and it’s a separate thing. Especially when there’s a queue like that and people are trying to get in. It disconnects players from the content that they are trying to play. How we answer that is going to be interesting. There’s a lot of different ways that we can separate that out, but in long run it’s very unlikely that that will stay in the WvW map where it’s eating up population queue. We’ll go somewhere else and we’ll have to figure out the best way to do that. “World Complete” is an interesting one. We’ve seen from our data metrics, that because [WvW] is on “World Complete”, there’s a bunch of people who play WvW because it takes them there to actually get to know it and they end up having so much fun, that they stay.

That happened with my guildie, yeah.

Colin: I’ve talked with countless people who said like: “I only went there for that and end up running around and I got so addicted to it, that I can’t stop playing it. One of my best friends actually got into it because of “World Complete” and literally he’s on 4 hours a day now and he doesn’t play anything but WvW. “World Complete” is the only thing that got him into that. I’m really nervous about moving it, cause I think that’s a great recruiting thing. It also kinda sucks for people who don’t want anything to do with it and have to wait for those areas to get opened up. It’s a tough one. I don’t really know a great answer for it.

When you’re playing on servers at either end of the WvW ladder you end up fighting the same opponents every week. Any plans to look at matchmaking?

Colin: Matchmaking has the same problem as everything else I just said, which is basically the same couple who have to fix that also. It’s all server work. Certainly matchmaking is another thing that we’ll be looking at at some point based on when our resources are available. Matchmaking works right now. It obviously gets stale though, when you fight the same people over and over again. That’s less than ideal. Our major goal is how to make the existing game more fun first, before we deal with matchmaking. Because if it’s so much fun, it doesn’t matter if you fight the same opponent – I think that’s ok. So, I would say that that’s higher on the priority list, but at some point give matchmaking a look and try to find ways to make that more exciting. Personally I’m a huge fan of the English or I guess, European football relegation system. You fight your way up and it’s here and you get get knocked our out of a tier and you are fighting your way through it. I don’t know how we adopt exactly that but it’d be awesome if we could do that. I wish American sports had that. It’s a way better system in the long run.

One of the things that we have a problem with is keeping people motivated to play when their server is doing really badly. Have you ever thought about changing the score sheet to show only the current score of the server rather than the cumulative score for the week?

Colin: [That’s] a really interesting idea. I’ve never heard anybody at the office throwing that out there, so I’ll go back and throw it at the WvW team to see what they think of that. Definitely we want to solve this problem. We want to create incentive for you to login every day. An incentive for you [would be] if on Thursday your server is getting destroyed and there’s a reason why you still want to play. Surprising people at the score is an interesting way of accomplishing that. That’s very very different from the stuff that we’ve been talking about. That’s a very simple thing we can do.

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