GW2Hub: To start us off with something simple, can you tell us a little bit more about what we can come to expect from this WvW update?
Mike Ferguson: Wow! The culling update is going in, where we are straight up removing culling from World versus World. Hopefully this will change the game quite dramatically. We're also implementing our progression system where as you go through and play World versus World (complete events or defeat other players) you will gain world experience, that you can then use to gain world ranks which will give you world ability points which you can then use to buy world abilities. Those things cover anything from doing more siege damage to taking less siege damage, holding more supply or dealing more damage to guards. We're also adding updates to our badge vendors because Badges of Honor didn't have a whole lot of use to them so we're adding in a whole bunch of new gear stats. That's really the high level overview.
GW2Hub: As someone with an i5 2500k overclocked to 4.5ghz, with 8gb of RAM and a 560 ti (with GW2 installed on an SSD) WvW still runs horribly. Like any large scale event, my framerates plummet from 60 to 10-15 at times. With the removal of culling, surely this will only get worse? Have you had to re-optimise to ensure framerates are acceptable for everyone?
Habib Loew: Obviously we could have just flipped the switch, and said "Hey! clients will deal with what they deal with" but that didn't seem like a very good option to us. It would be a shame to set some bodies computer on fire for just playing on something a little lower specced than we'd recommend. So what we've done is basically optimise the network evolusation so on the client side that shouldn't be an issue; we're well under the minimum broadband connection needed, so from a network standpoint we shouldn't be overwhelming you with all these new characters we're telling you about. We've then introduced two new client options to help you control the way characters are represented once they've reported to your client. If you turn everything all the way up to maximum, we can draw up to 300 players on the screen at a given time. After that, we start displaying them as name plates only.
Using the World versus World character limit options, which is now part of the graphical configuration options in the user interface, you can adjust the number down from 300. You're still going to know about everyone in your visibility range, you just get control over how many are represented by name plates only or some kind of model. The second option is the World versus World character quality option. That lets you decide, given the number of models that you have, how many of those are the high resolution models you're familiar with and how many are the lower resolution models that we have been using a fallback. Those models are significantly cheaper to render and animate and so it eases the load on the client quite a lot. Between those two option choices you get a broad range of performance builds so it's entirely possible to setup your client to render everyone except for you, using the lower resolution model. This allows you to see 300 people, which isn't taxing as much. We feel that between all the options we've been able to maintain or improve frame rates for all of our clients across the board.
The culling system being turned off is about improving the player experience, to make sure they can see everyone in the fight. Given that, our goal was to at least make performance no worse. With a rig like you described, the default settings that are going to show up have been chosen to most closely mimick what you're experiencing today. You'll see about the same number of characters drawn. You may notice some frame rate changes but if you find that performance isn't to your liking, the first thing I would suggest is that you change the World versus World character quality setting. Making this lower will increase the number of models that are using the lower resolution version, which will have a dramatic impact on your frame rates. In the event this doesn't work for you, then you can always change the WvW character limit lower to shift more people to name plates only. My guess, is that with a system similar to the one you describe, you'll be able to get equal or better performance with a whole lot of models where many are drawn as fallback. In aggregate, you'll be able to get an increase in the total number of models you're seeing and then a lot of those will be the fallback models.
GW2Hub: Spells effects are one of the biggest demands in World versus World when hundreds of players are battling. Have you thought about or begun work on scalable effects?
Habib Loew: We have. That's something that is a separate system away from the player culling system. We chose to address culling first because we felt not being able to see people in a fight is a big issue. Now that we've got a solution on deck for that, we're actively looking into ways that we can modify the spell effects system to not only give better performance, but make smarter decisions about how we use spell effects so I'm really looking forward to that at some point in the future.
GW2Hub: How do you see the progression system you are adding encouraging players to participate in WvW? At times it sometimes feels like that is no overall goal. Winning a week is great, but it makes little to no difference in the grand scheme of things. It feels like something is perhaps missing from WvW that DAOC's realm pride really had and yet its difficult to put your finger on what...
Mike Ferguson: That's a good question. I think what the progression system really serves is kind of a different goal where players that were in World versus World for a long time kind of lost a sense of why they were playing if they weren't moving up or down a rank. The idea behind this progression system is the longer you play WvW, you get more bonuses to help you do better in World versus World. You can see your character progressing forward and getting better at stalking the enemy.
Matt Witter: And improved titles!
Mike Fergunson: Yeah the improved titles allow you to show off how much experience you have out there. Hopefully that will bring a lot of people back, but I don't think it will address what you raised.
GW2Hub: Can you tell us a little about the progression system: Is it going to be one where everyone achieves a rank in a few months of play or can you move up and down depending on activity? In World of Warcraft and its PvP you could drop ranks; to get to Grand Marshal you basically had to play battlegrounds non-stop for weeks. Obviously this was super hardcore but it did mean when you saw a Grand Marshal in the gear only they could get, they were seriously respected for the commitment...
Mike Ferguson: There's really no "rot" to this system; the progression you've achieved is yours for good. There are things that you get that you're going to keep and the way we've done that is by participating in WvW. You're gaining this experience, so we're rewarding you for it.
GW2Hub: Do you think the addition of ranks and abilities or WvW specific character improvements will lead to segregation? Such as a scenario "X Guild seeking players with Y rank for WvW"
Mike Ferguson: That was actually a really big concern when we first started talking about this. We really didn't want it to be like that, which is why we made the abilities a little more generic across WvW and not specific on player versus player activities. You don't ever get a feeling of being super, super powerful because you have ranks versus a person who doesn't have anything you're just better at the things you're already doing like killing guards, manning siege or carrying supply. Hopefully we won't encounter your scenario, but once it gets out in the wild there's no predicting what players will do. I'm sure at some point some players will do that but we designed this system to not encourage that.
GW2Hub: Do you see this system as in its infancy with a view to rapid expansion (whether vertical or horizontal progression)?
Mike Ferguson: It is absolutely our plan that this is the first release of it, which we'll ramp up later!
GW2Hub: You mentioned badges and improvements to their use, can you tell me a little more about that? Can we come to see new, exclusive skins?
Mike Ferguson: There aren't any new and exclusive skins, but there are skins that are new to WvW that were previously unobtainable there. What we're doing is setting up a merchant that you can purchase your stat combinations from and an appearance option and kind of combine those. That's how you get your piece of gear.
GW2Hub: Does this extend to Ascended items?
Mike Ferguson: We don't have it in for this particular build, but it is definitely on our list of things we want to add to it, it's just that we encounter some issues getting it into this particular build.
GW2Hub: What do you think will be the biggest reaction to the culling change? Do you think people will take it for granted instantly?
Habib Loew: The play test that we've seen so far, that have been internal, the reactions are incredibly gratifying to watch. The typical reaction is "Holy crap! this is going to be huge!" it usually comes not when they first start playing, but once they start to play with the settings. When they can turn the settings up and see 300 people, that's usually when they get the "Holy crap! this is going to huge" moment. Ten minutes later, gamers are pretty good with what we give them so I expect they'll get used to the new system very very quickly.
GW2Hub: I remember when you first put the blog post out and showed the before and after culling screenshots that some people were instantly shouting "Photoshop!". That you guys had gone out of your way to Photoshop this entire image...
Mike Ferguson: (laughs) I would say that, that picture we released doesn't do justice to the system when you see it in action. The first time I saw it in action I was just like "Wow!!! This is amazing!!!".
Mat Witter: That's what it's like to be in the office with Mike, he just makes noises like that.
Mike Ferguson: It's true. It's a huge change!
Habib Loew: That screenshot - it's funny to me that there are conspiracy theories about it as though we would go to all this trouble (laugh). Like Mike said, it really doesn't do the system justice. In order to get that screenshot due to the logistics of the blog post timing, we actually had to do the screenshot with a map filled with bots. That was just because we didn't have the 300 people on hand to fill the screen. The screenshot really doesn't reflect the epic player battles you're going to see. It just looks amazing. We've been looking at World versus World for a long time and I don't think its ever looked better.
GW2Hub: You also mentioned in your original blog post that stealth will now work as intended. I know from experience - and I don't like the word exploit - but my guild certainly makes prominent use of stealth because of the extra 2 seconds (they all laugh) do you think it'll make a drastic change?
Habib Loew: There's a couple of answers there. I think on the one hand it is absolutely true that under the old system there were up to 2 seconds of additional stealth every time you came out of it. During this you were not invisible but other clients didn't know about you. Two seconds is pretty huge, that's plenty of time to come out of stealth, start attacking some body and then go back in and they never saw you. From that standpoint it'll make a huge difference, that kind of thing can't happen any more. If you're invisible, it's because you're using the skill - not because of anything else. That's a huge change. That said, professions that go invisible I still find incredibly difficult to deal with. You won't see anyone marginalized because of the change, but we'd hope to see stealth used less inappropriately. Thieves are still going to be useful - still going to deadly; mesmers are still going to be useful - still going to deadly, but hopefully not overpowered any more.
Mike Ferguson: There will definitely be some intense reaction to it as it is a big change. Like Habib said, mobility from something like a mesmers portal is always going to be useful. It won't be as easy to portal in and wipe a group out, but you can still get your group there.
Habib Loew: Portal bombs still work, with the exception that people can now see you when you show up. That's the way it should have always been.
GW2Hub: How long do you think it will take before we see the first Portal bombing name plate only video - death by name plate!
Habib Loew: Haha, about two minutes. They aren't up already? That's the thing we actually had to consider. When you're handing out options for don't render a character model, what you're inviting is for people to make an experience that is visually, not as often as the one that can happen on a super high end system. In fact on a super high end system you can still turn those settings all the way down if you're obsessed with getting that last little frame, but ultimately seeing models grants you information. You can see animations and tell what people are doing a little better but for players that choose to play that way (name plates only) I think most people will always go with models
Mike Ferguson: I actually want to see the opposite, with people having fields of people in front of them having massive crazy fights because that looks amazing.
GW2Hub: There has been a large amount of lag and skill delays after the last patch to the point where skills, for upwards of 10 seconds (in large fights) simply don't work. Can you explain the cause and the approach your tacking to prevent this from happening in future? Surely the removal of culling will only exacerbate the problem...
Habib Loew: I can explain what causes skill lag, in as much or as little detail as you like, but ultimately what we're calling skill lag - that's a result of the server running at 100% utilization. It is literally not having enough time every frame to process all of the actions going on, as to why it's happening in any given situation that's a lot more complicated. Guild Wars 2 is a huge game and there's a lot going on. You've seen World versus World; there's skills going off and loads happening. We're definitely going to have to deal with a thing commonly called the end squared problem where you add one more person to the mix and it doesn't just make things a little bit harder, it makes things harder because they're interacting with everything else. The complexity just increases. There are a lot of contributing factors in terms of what we have to calculate but in terms of why do we see more lag at any given point, as the game is growing (skills added, removed, monster behaviors adjusted) those things are using a finite resource in the CPU. It's not particularly related to culling, and this is a really contentious thing as people like to say on the forums that they don't believe me when I talk about this stuff, but rest assured I'm telling the truth!
The way this works is that culling and lag are both terms that get overloaded to mean a lot of different things. When we're talking about culling we're talking about the process of the server not talking to the client. When we're talking about skill lag, we're particularly talking about the lag that happens because the server is at 100% utilization. You can have client lag which could be because of low frame rates or poor network connection but those are not the things we're talking about here. Culling isn't related to skill lag, because the server has to know about all the things about all of the players, all of the time. That is pretty much a constant. The process of culling did use a bit of CPU, so we'll get a little bit back when we stop doing it, but not so much that I think it'll have a noticeable impact on skill lag. In terms of dealing with the skill lag that has begun to crop up lately, and yes we're absolutely aware of it, the best thing I can tell you is that we're always watching performance and always looking to improve it. That's something that happens from programmers, all the way down to designers. It's absolutely something that we're looking at and absolutely something we're hoping to fix. Ideally, from our perspective, you'll see improvements with every patch.
GW2Hub:Has Anet considered adding random weather effect into WvW, to spice things up a bit? Such as dangerous storms randomly manifesting over big battles causing conditions and damage to those fighting in the area (forcing players to change tactics) or fog to hide in?
Habib Loew: That's a great question. We are thinking about it. It's not particularly a performance issue for us, but different environment zones reflecting different map status' is absolutely something we're interested in and definitely something people have been asking questions about internally lately.
Mike Ferguson: We actually have a little bit of it already with the Quaggan camps but like Habib said, it's something we're looking to add more of.
Matt Witter: We like WvW to use a lot of tactics. Its not really about it being 5 on 5 or a fair fight, it's about how I can use the terrain I have in order to be victorious in this huge battle.
Habib Loew: We'd love for, eventually, for weather to be part of that calculation. Our general policy is to take small steps and advance it over time. It's really in the hands of the players as we never quite know what the players are going to do with the changes that we make. So rather than change the game type in one update, we'll do a little bit and see what the players do, allowing it to grow over time a little more.
GW2Hub: Internally, since you've turned off culling, have you seen any interesting tactics develop?
Mike Ferguson: It's an interesting thing when the very first time you see someone try to launch a portal bomb (laughs). I don't know whether we've seen the end result of those tactical developments but I've seen a whole host of previous tactics start to fail.
Matt Witter: It's interesting because the portal bomb is still a tactic, it still gets me into the middle of your mass and promotes chaos, but you're not invisible, you don't have that two seconds. You're in the fight instantly with no warm up to it. I think the tactic still exists, I just think that they are much more difficult to employ.
Mike Ferguson: It'll be exciting to see how people react when they see a giant zerg coming over the hill. Before they would never know that was coming, but they can now do preparation and split off or decide whether to hold and build some siege.
Matt Witter: Formations really come into play at a certain point now.
GW2Hub: I'll have to ask, as the token WvW question, is there any update to the Orbs of Power? The removal of culling is obviously going to have a huge effect on drawing players back into WvW but to keep them there, is there that focus that the Orbs of Power was?
Habib Loew: First I'll give you our standard Weasley answer and then maybe we'll give you a real one (laughs). Of course we are interested in implementing and continuing to add reasons for players to play on all of the maps. How was that for an answer?
GW2Hub: Haha that will do.
Matt Witter: Haha we don't want to disable content and never come back to it, but we want to ensure good game play and ensure it's fun and secure.
Habib Loew: You didn't hear it from us, but it's definitely something we're looking at.
GW2Hub: How do you guys fancy joining some of us Europeans for a WvW evening?
Matt Witter/Mike Fergunson: That sounds a lot of fun!
GW2Hub: I'm on Gandara! You might have to pay a Gem transfer fee...
Mike Ferguson: As long as you guys are buying (laughs)
Matt Witter: Definitely sends us some information and we'll come out to join you guys.
Mike Ferguson: The WvW team likes to field our woes periodically and login to play and I imagine a bunch of us would be up for joining you guys over the pond!
Guild Wars 2 Hub would like to thank ArenaNet for the time they took out of their busy schedules to take part in this interview and we look forward to them joining Ten Ton Hammer and the European community for a WvW evening. Interview conducted by Lewis B @PersistentWorld.