Every once in a while you'll be doing an interview only to discover that you've touched on a topic that transcends the scope of the standard Q&A format. Our recent interview with Colin Johanson was one such case, as we quickly discovered when we began discussing the dynamic events system in Guild Wars 2.
In particular, we were interested in learning more about the fan reaction to dynamic events so far, and how Colin and his team have approached managing expectations for that particular system. What follows is a lengthy analysis of the system overall that may have originally been born of a much larger discussion about the game, but ultimately became more of a dev journal specifically about the dynamic event system.
So read on to hear what Colin has to say about dynamic events in this exclusive GW2 dev journal!
A Dynamic Events Dev Journal
By Colin Johanson
The overall reaction to dynamic events we’ve seen feedback-wise has been overwhelmingly positive; they have accomplished a lot of the goals we had hoped they would by making the world feel alive and really immersive for the player.
That being said, there are absolutely some folks who I think were expecting more from them and were disappointed. It’s tough with any feature like this, because as a company you want to hype it up and get people excited for the new thing you’re doing, which always means some folks will let their imagination run away with them and picture something more than what you’re doing.
I’ve seen feedback where people were truly upset an event could happen more than once in the world, though we’ve been saying all along that they do continue to occur in the world. I think it’s easy to try and picture this world filled with events that just happen for you and never happen again—heck, I would love to play a game like that—but the amount of work and manpower it would take is simply not in the scope of what is possible for us in Guild Wars 2. Millions of people need to be able to play through the game and be entertained, so we need to have events be part of chains and branches that can chain back in the other direction and repeat, or one-off events that can occasionally repeat so there is simply enough for people to do in the game.
Are events an entirely brand-new system people have never seen before? No, they are not. They are our attempt to innovate on traditional concepts and elevate them to something different than what people have experienced before, while keeping alive enough of the old so that people feel comfortable with the system. It’s worth noting that development on our event system started long before we ever knew about games like Warhammer Online or Rift, which share some commonalities with the events in Guild Wars 2. We learned lessons from their choices, but they never drove our core decision to use dynamic events. Focusing on what really makes dynamic events unique is really important in either enjoying them or in being disappointed based on the expectations someone may have for them. For us, the things that we expect from the dynamic event system, and what we think makes it unique, are the following:
Unlike any game ever made before Guild Wars 2, these events are our core content model for the game world. In other games you might find hundreds or thousands of quests, and some events scattered around as well; we literally have thousands of events with additional content scattered around to help support those events. The events are the core world content in Guild Wars 2 and make up the bulk of the content in the game between the open world and dungeons, with stuff like more traditional-style renown regions and exploration challenges there to provide a supporting hand to the events. We believe this creates a fundamental paradigm shift in the way you play and experience the game.
Events can have outcomes, which can lead to more content and affect the world. When an event ends, if it succeeds or fails, other content can be directly triggered for everyone in the world because of it. Events occur based on a variety of world conditions and triggers; they generally aren’t kicked off by talking to an NPC (though a few are). Many of them have various timers or complex world rules that determine when they can occur. As a result, you could play through an area where at one time one event or event chain is going on, or nothing is going on, and come back later to find different content there. It helps create a dynamically changing world where every time you come over a hill, every time you enter a village, you’re not entirely sure what you might find, and this hopefully gives a sense of discovering the unknown everywhere you go in the game. Over time this will become even more prevalent as our live team slows down how often the events already in the world run, and rotate in new events to create an even wider variety of content in the game world.
Events scale in difficulty, so the more—or less!—players who show up, the number of creatures spawning and their levels change, bosses become more or less powerful, and so on, to help make the experience fun, regardless of the number of players participating. You never have one-too-many people doing an event and making it trivially easy; any player can always just jump right in and help out and have a good time, since the game takes them into account in balancing the difficulty. This also means years after the game releases, if you’re in an area where the population isn’t super high, you can still do all of the content available in the game world (except for the very hard group events), because it can scale down to single-player difficulty. One of my great frustrations with some of the event systems developed in the past is that while I loved the content, if no one else was around, I simply could not play it later in the game’s life cycle because of the lack of players. This frustration is removed with our scaling system on normal events.
Events have immediacy. When you find one, you immediately see what’s going on and can actively see the content occurring; you don’t have to talk to an NPC to accept a quest and then be able to see (or in most traditional cases, not see) something going on in the world. Are the centaurs attacking the town? Yes they are, and you can see them, and see smoke rising from the town, and hear people running up and asking you in voiced dialogue to help them save their town. When you enter the area of an event, the objectives immediately appear on your screen, and most of the time you don’t even need to read them to understand what’s going on—you can clearly see it in the world. All of this helps remove the barrier between the player and the game, and creates a more immersive experience. The game basically telling you, “HOLY CRAP! CENTAURS!”—as opposed to your having to tell the game, “I want to do this content now,” as with a traditional quest system—can make the world feel more alive, drawing you in. And when the event ends, you immediately get rewarded—finding an NPC is not required to get your stuff.
Events truly are cooperative. In traditional MMOs, you’ll often find yourself competing with other players for mobs, struggling to tag them for loot drops, or to get on the high-score list for rewards for the public quest. Our core systems are designed so that everyone who helps kill a mob gets experience and can get loot. If you die, anyone can run up and help revive you and they get rewarded for doing so. Everyone who participates in events gets rewarded at the end, and everyone could earn the best (gold) participation reward if they all helped in the event for most of its duration. This builds a sense of cooperation between players, and helps make it feel like another player in an event is never a hindrance; they are instead another resource you could use combo skills with, or someone to help protect and revive you. Other players, even if you don’t know them at all and don’t talk to them, make the game more fun. This is perhaps the thing that is most unique and innovative about the event system as a whole.
If you focus on the features above as the core ingredients to the dynamic event system, and say, “Did ArenaNet accomplish what they set out to do, using the above guidelines as their guide for building a dynamic event system?” then hopefully you’ll find yourself saying, “Yes, they succeeded,” and “I see what the core differences are between this and traditional more quest-driven MMOs.”
One final note I’d add is that in playing over the beta weekends, I’m constantly amazed at how few people stick around after a dynamic event to see what happens. We’ve seen this for a long time, and I know a lot of it comes from being trained in a traditional MMO, or even other games that have some sort of event system, that once the event is over, things are done and you should leave. Most events in the game have something that occurs after the event is over, and many people just run off, never to see what occurs.
After events, there can be a dialogue between NPCs that leads into new events and event chains, they can turn into merchants selling rare loot, or alter the world geometry and props based on the outcome of the event. NPCs will dig up treasure chests you can loot, or find environmental weapons you can use. The creatures that spawn in an area can drastically change due to the outcome of events, or sometimes they’ll just do silly fun things, like train a moa dance team that performs for you.
This is an overriding theme of Guild Wars 2: Stick around, smell the flowers, and enjoy the ride; there are tiny little details around every corner of the game. Don’t run to the next thing on your checklist after an event; hang out and see what happens—if you save an NPC, follow them and see where they go, you can find all sorts of fun surprises. Most of the events truly do have some sort of outcome or effect on the world.