At PAX Prime this year we had the chance to partake in a very intriguing look inside ArenaNet’s process for creating dynamic content in Guild Wars 2. Lead by Lead Game Designer Eric Flannum, Lead Writer Jeff Grubb, and Lead Content Designer Colin Johanson, the panel was a tantalizing taste of what it must be like to sit in the meeting rooms with the ArenaNet crew and spend the day conceptualizing and building one of MMO gaming’s most anticipated titles. The three took us through the inception of their dynamic events system all the way through to actually designing an event within one of the game’s many regions.
The developers started by defining what an “event” is in terms of an MMO. It began in the earliest games as simply the act of hunting mobs, or killing enemies. Later the modern “quest” was invented, which was still basically running around killing things only this time with a reason given by an NPC. The next further evolution of an event ArenaNet attributes to Mythic’s Warhammer Online and the Public Quest system. As evidenced by recently released games the Public Quest system has proven popular. But ArenaNet believes that they’ve found a way to take MMO events to the next level with what they’re simply calling “Dynamic Events”.
Back before Guild Wars 2 was announced, ArenaNet was hard at work on something they called Guild Wars: Utopia. The idea they had for dynamic quest content was something they really wanted to pursue, but as they designed and evolved the idea, it became clear that the game they were making was going to be too far away from the original look and feel of Guild Wars. Not only that but the systems they had in place couldn’t quite be bent in the way they needed to be for all the ideas they had. Eventually it was decided that to do everything they wanted to do with the Dynamic Events, it would probably just be best to design a whole new game…and so Guild Wars 2 was born.
According to the developers there are three things that Dynamic Events must have: immediacy, world changing aspects, and consequences. The immediacy requirement is met by having things happen as soon as players enter an area. Rather than have an action triggered by getting some quest text and then having the player initiate the event, the goal of Dynamic Events is to have the event happen to the player. So while they might be triggered by talking to an NPC, when the event happens it happens for everyone in the area.
An example the guys gave was when a player approaches two ogres and they pipe up to ask him for some help in driving harpies away from their village’s water source. This is leading us to the “changing the world” aspect of Dynamic Events. Eric mentioned that each one of the events can lead to different branching events. Some zones in Tyria have events that stretch the entire span of the zone. The developers want players to have a sense of adventure that means more than just hopping from one quest hub to another. During internal play-tests it’s not unusual to watch entire bands of players rove together across a zone completing (and failing) different events. And while there’s a personal story for your character, and plenty of traditional quests in the game as well, Eric said it’s not uncommon for the staff to wind up spending entire evenings playing just the events.
But, let’s go back to our ogres in need of help. The consequences and “changing the world” aspects of Dynamic Events are easily seen in the example they gave us. The harpies hogging the ogres’ water source are in danger of eradicating the ogres’ livelihood. They train many varieties of different beasts back at their village, beasts that need the water to live. So if the players fail or refuse to help the ogres the animals will die, and village will falter, and the ogres just might become violent towards the people of Tyria. However, if players help the ogres the water troughs get filled, the animals can drink, and suddenly the ogres are looking to sell off their livestock. Maybe the players get access to some better pets, or maybe in another event in the area, you’ll get some help from the ogres when you need it most. Most everything in every zone is connected somehow and failing and succeeding at each event has its own consequences and world changing effects.
The events do run on cycles however. So if you fail to help someone do something one time, that’s not the only chance you’ll ever get. It won’t magically repopulate a la some random mob in the wild, but a failed event will lead to another event which will eventually wind up back at the original point. Now try to imagine that you have to spend all day every day thinking of these events and tying them to one another… it’s like writing a thousand choose your own adventure books at once and making each of them connected. But that’s just what ArenaNet’s doing with Dynamic Events.
Rewards wise, ArenaNet doesn’t want players to have to worry about looting during an event or rolling dice for dropped items if they’re in a group. Instead players will be rewarded karma (separate from regular money) for helping whoever in the events. When an event is completed, they’ll be able to visit a Karma vendor who will offer different rewards depending on the event. For instance the ogre event mentioned above might lead you to being able to purchase some of the ogres’ valuable pets. And while you will always gain karma for helping out in events, the vendors won’t always appear. If you fail, you’ll not get the chance to buy the rewards, and instead will have to wait until it’s completed successfully.
Ultimately it seems that ArenaNet is aiming to give players a much more dynamic way of experiencing content in MMOs. They want the experience to be less about reading, and more about seeing and well… experiencing what’s happening in the world. They want the events themselves to have consequences and make visible changes in the world even if they’re not permanent. And lastly they want to make sure that participation in the events is both easy and rewarding. Judging by the extensiveness of the presentation and just how many events they’re seem to be plotted along a handful of the game’s maps, ArenaNet’s well on their way towards achieving that goal.