MMORPG: Players that have been invested in the lore obviously have their own favourite characters. Which of the characters has seen the biggest change during Living World, in your eyes?
Mike: Biggest change. I really don’t know for sure, but the two that come to immediately to mind are Braham and Taimi. You saw them as individuals at the very beginning. In Taimi, it was just kind of this little runt who was trying to squirm her way into Lion’s Arch and was trying to say that Braham was her guardian to the original Lionguards way back in the day.
You saw that friendship a kind of develop over time. In this last season you saw a tiny come through very horrific moments and things that have changed her life. There are subtle things that you will see about her like she no longer has her cockpit dome on her Golem closed. It is always open now because of when it tried to suffocate her. With Braham you saw obviously with his mom's death. There was a storyline for Braham as he tried to find a way to grieve and that's kind of been a through line that we've been telling. Both of these characters will continue to have more of that evolution. Taimi, obviously, has picked up a couple of new friends with Gorrik and Blish, but at the same time you're still seeing that that growth. We didn't want to things to stagnate. We didn't want characters just to be on screen just because they've been there the entire time. We want to make sure that we can flow the cast in and out because there was a storyline for them to help in or because they were part of something.
Marjory and Kasmeer for example. Kasmeer was there in Path of Fire and we felt like we did a good job with that story. It felt ok to move her away from the main spotlight so we could focus on these other characters for a while and get to know kind of the harshness that they're going through. In some ways, as the commander or the player character you don't get necessarily have that same emotional journey that some these other characters are so we allow you to kind of live through the triumphs and the tribulations of these characters are having. We allow you to be alongside them, help them overcome their challenges, and then we do throw the occasional twist in there, like Joko’s monologue there at the end of episode three.
Elisabeth: It can be pretty difficult, after all, to do this over the course of a single expansion. You’re trying to tell a story and deliver a compelling character arc over the course of maybe 15 or 30 hours that a player may be rushing through. With Living World, if you are revisiting people over the course of the several months, it feels like they have time to breathe and grow, but you’re also checking in with them regularly, so regular players going to be able to follow that development.
MMORPG: The pace of change has shifted over the years; do you feel that ArenaNet is at a good point with the pace of updates now?
Mike: I think we are close. If you look at the last couple of updates, they came out a little bit over the three-month mark and all that was due to us. As we moved into season three we tried to streamline various things and when we looked into season four we realised that we were not as efficient as we could be. So, we had to spend some time building those logistical gates and legwork underneath. That allowed us to move into a more streamlined process. So, my hope is that you can expect it to be much close to two months in the months moving forward but we you know obviously we have that leg room in there just in case. At the end of the day I need to make sure that the quality of these episodes is going to be something their fans are going to be proud of and that we as a company are going to be proud of. If we need to take that extra week or two I don't want there to be a concern. It’s more about us wanting to be sure that we've got it just right because everything has been progressing and becoming bigger and becoming more grandiose in terms of our telling the story.
Things have been getting ramped up and we've also got, I think, a stronger narrative that we've been telling now than we have in some of the previous seasons the voice acting has also risen to the challenge as well. Taimi’s voice artist, Debi Derryberry has been phenomenal for us to be able to take that emotional arc with that character. So, seeing all this kind of go together it's just been incredible.
MMORPG: Not all of the changes are around character and story. How has the change in the cadence impacted your ability to bring in new tech, like the recent weather tech updates? The two-week cadence must have been crushing for that.
Mike: When we were doing the two-week cycle, it was more about understanding when tech was going to come online. It was it was a little bit harder to plan around because we couldn't put ourselves in a situation where there was a dependency there so that, for example, know episode four of season two needed something but it was going to come online until the very last moment or even missed that cycle. By going more to this longer cadence, we now have programmers that are embedded on each of the content teams who can do small minor tech updates who do things like the wind tech and the brand storm stuff that you're talking about. We can get some of the smaller improvements done on the side, because the engine is extremely flexible, while we have our main gameplay programming group that's working on bigger tech and bigger features like the movement physics for the roller beetle.
MMORPG: For some of the more casual players that haven’t really experienced the previous seasons, including season 1, are you looking at some way to allow them to pick that up as a bundle or experience the previous content?
Mike: Nothing that I can talk about at this point it is one of those things that we're always investigating in terms of how we could have a better place variance for a player that's been around since the beginning from the betas to a player who starts tomorrow. It’s something we’re aware of in trying to figure out how to balance the game experience.
MMORPG: One of the more surprising reactions to character development I saw was the community push back to Braham. Did you expect that response?
Mike: With any release with any online game you always expect the unexpected. Sometimes we're trying to be subtle and sometimes it doesn’t really hit home and then we are a bit more obvious with it just to get the message through and get understanding of what's going on. In Braham’s particular case I think we were going into a very interesting dilemma because how you grieve and how people grieve is very different. There’s also a little bit of cultural bias there as well in terms of how you actually celebrate or mourn the loss of a loved one and so that was definitely something where we had a long-term plan and we wanted to make sure that we could see it through to the end. We understood where some of the outrage came from maybe wouldn't necessarily expect as much of the outrage that was going to happen. It is one of those things where everybody grieves differently. A lot of what we do in terms of how we build characters is from personal experience and how we experience the world. Not everyone sees the world the same way so I can understand why some people felt he was being extremely emotional and going off down the dark path but that's kind of the road that we want to go because we need to show him as a character. He needed to have that struggle that went to his very core and rocked the foundation of what he understood for himself as a Norn, as part of that culture for him as part of a member of Dragon’s Watch.
MMORPG: At what point did you decide that rather than live through the experience of these characters, that you would take the decision of having the player character kill Scarlet, taking a massive moral choice out of the player’s hands?
Mike: I believe it was for the last four-episode arc for Scarlet, it was really when we decided to turn that character around. I believe we took a little bit of a hiatus to be able to tell that story line. Again, that was one of those things where we had this larger story arc that was very subtle about Scarlet building her forces. It almost became like monster of the week. It didn’t get there but it was getting in that vein of becoming too cartoonish, and for us it was about how we put the stakes back there. It became about giving scarlet a voice. We gave her a specific character arc in terms of what she was trying to do and then we layered in complexity. Right now, that we've had two plus years to go back and look at her actions and what led to that moment. She became a much deeper character because it wasn't just this villain that was always coming around every week and declaring “I’m going to take over the world”. It became more about understanding her visions, being potentially being touched by Mordremoth, and what that influence meant to her, realizing what the Sylvari were and the danger this posed to all of Tyria.
MMORPG: Over the last four seasons of Living World, do you have any personal highlights?
Mike: I've been working on Living World since almost the beginning. I think there's a couple moments I still stand out for me and they fall under the extended Living World umbrella. The introduction of Super Adventure Box. It wasn’t part of the storyline, but it was a lot of fun when we were doing it. The creativity that came from the team working on it was incredible.
The Giant Marionettes fight and the final episode of season two, where we added the last section to the Vinewrath encountered in the Silverwastes, because that was one of the first times that we had tried to create such an organized game play experience. I think in a lot of ways, the Silverwastes led to a lot of the core competencies that we built into Heart of Thorns.
I’m actually playing twelve seasons in my head right now and I have to highlight the feeling of Lake Doric. The conflict between the Centaurs, the White Mantle, and Logan's foursomes was something that really captured that sum of everything that you were doing from the personal. It was all supportive of the greater conflict and then we got to go in the back door in a Caudecus’s Manor and that was always fun too.