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Our PAX South Interview With Mike O'Brien and Colin Johanson

Jason Winter Posted:
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At PAX South, ArenaNet finally revealed the secrets they'd been keeping for so long. Heart of Thorns was announced, and with it came a flood of new information – and, naturally, more than a few questions.

I had the opportunity to talk with ArenaNet President Mike O'Brien and Guild Wars 2 Game Producer Colin Johanson later that day, where we covered a slew of topics related to Heart of Thorns and the new and exciting direction it'll be taking the game.

MMORPG: For a while now, it seems like there's been an undercurrent of discontent among some players, that communication wasn't great, that there was a lot of hype and not as much being delivered, or just straight-up silence on a lot of topics. Did you ever feel like you were making the right decision in taking as long as you did or were there times when you thought that maybe you were asking for too much trust from your players?

Mike O'Brien: I actually wrote a letter to our players about this not too long ago. I understand where they're coming from. As a Guild Wars 2 player, you've invested a lot in this game and you want to believe in the future of the game. We always knew what we were working on internally, and we've been very excited to get to the point where we could tell players what we've been working on. We knew that eventually, this day would come, and we've been looking forward to it for a long time.

I said it when I wrote that letter and I hope that they will understand today, that something as important as this, something as important as Heart of Thorns isn't just an expansion pack. It's laying down the fundamentals of how character progression and how truly challenging content will work in Guild Wars 2 going forward. This is what we've got to get right. As much as we would have loved to tell players everything, this whole time we were testing and testing, making sure all these systems would fit together to create the experience we wanted to create. We knew that the day would come when we would have the comprehensive package that we would be proud to stand up and announce.

We hope that players will look back to today and say, that yeah, it's been a long, hard time getting to today, but that it was worth it, and now we know the vision of Guild Wars 2 going forward.

MMORPG: Speaking of “todays” and dates in general, that was an obvious omission...

MO: You know we're not the kind of company that's going to say, “Here's when the game is going to be released,” and you know why. It's not because we're trying to be cute, it's because we don't know. We're going to get into beta testing, and the release date of Heart of Thorns is going to depend on making sure it's the expansion pack we want to release. Guild Wars 2 fans are going to be participating in the beta testing and making sure we get this right before we release it.

Now, I think the exciting thing, though, is that things are going to happen fast. We are six weeks away from PAX East, and we'll be there with a playable demo of Heart of Thorns. Shortly thereafter we'll be at Rezzed with a playable demo for Europe. I know everyone wants to know “when, when, when,” but I have to say, the fans were patient and waited until today, and things are going to start moving fast.

(Note: I later heard from another, unofficial, source that dev blogs would be starting up on the GW2 website soon, and be presented on a weekly basis.)

MMORPG: You covered open-world PvE, PvP, WvW, in your reveal. Of course, that means people are going to say, “Well they didn't talk about X, so they're not going to do X,” where X could be dungeons, fractals, guild missions, whatever... I know you aren't going to tell me exactly about everything, but would it be a true statement to say that stuff you didn't specifically talk about is still stuff that could be a part of the expansion?

Colin Johanson: I think from a feature perspective, the core fundamental features that make up Heart of Thorns, we talked about today. We were maybe intentionally vague when we didn't talk about what types of content you're going to experience specifically in the jungle, but the most important messages we want people to take from today are that you're going to be able to explore a new area, and we know that Guild Wars 2 needs more challenging encounters and more challenging group encounters, and it needs extremely challenging encounters for groups to build up to and defeat. We're going to be providing all of that with our Heart of Thorns experience.

MO: I do want to be clear, we are not being coy today, we're not saying, “Oh, here's a tease of Heart of Thorns, but there are other things.” Our players were very patient waiting for today, and we announced every major feature of Heart of Thorns today.

MMORPG: Every MMO developer thinks they're putting in tons of stuff in an expansion, and three weeks later, some players are all “we're done.” Especially when you don't have the gear grind that forces people to play, how are you building things to ensure that it takes the proper amount of time without seeming too grindy?

MO: We release content all the time, but honestly, most of it is not very, very difficult challenges for groups. And when you think about it, I think you'll realize that's because it's hard for us to be able to release content that's so difficult that most players can't solve it right away. That's actually a lot of the genesis of Heart of Thorns: being able to put in these endgame character progression systems so that we can release content in the jungle that requires you to have played all of the jungle to build up the abilities you need to solve that content. If you haven't played the jungle and you haven't built up your character, you're not going to beat that content.

We've been developing content, but we haven't been saying that it's the ultimate group challenge. I think that's something Guild Wars 2 needs and hasn't had. Heart of Thorns is laying the groundwork so we really can bring ultimate challenges to the game.

CJ: And once we've got that, we can make regular, meaningful updates so that it always feels like our world is changing and evolving and that there's constantly new stuff for you to defeat and overcome and you can spend a lot more time and have a lot more depth with all the content we build because of that.

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Jason Winter