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Dragon Season: Lunch with Colin Johanson (Part I & 2)


Grand Inquisitor
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Dragon Season has a wonderful interview with Colin Johanson the Game Director for Guild Wars 2. They touch upon some of the new additions with the up and coming patches. Many will be excited with the new Guild Missions.

Hope you all enjoy :) The interview was done in two parts.


Lunch with Colin Johanson (Part I)

Written by:
2/20/2013 11:39 PM

What follows is a transcript of an interview that our UK members Sam (@tasha_darke), Andy (@Andypanda169) and Alistair (@Aeladriel) got from Guild Wars 2 designer Colin Johanson.

It took place in a restaurant in London where ArenaNet kindly invited representatives from a few fan sites, including Dragon Season, to have lunch with the developer. We’d like to thank ArenaNet for the invitation and, of course, Colin Johanson for answering all the questions patiently, providing us with new bits of information for you to sink your teeth into.

Please keep in mind that the conversation was recorded but, due to high levels of background noise, not everything could be fully transcribed, so we had to rephrase some things - mostly the questions asked, not Colin’s responses. Some questions were downright inaudible, so we had to deduce from Colin's answers what the question was. Finally, not all questions are from our members, but since it was very difficult to tell who was asking what at any given moment, we hope you'll forgive us if we've included something that Colin was saying to you. Thank you for your understanding!

THIS ARTICLE IS BEING UPDATED: Due to the length of the conversation, we’re posting only the beginning of it to allow you to get a glimpse of what’s being discussed. There’s a lot (a LOT) more to come and we’re working to transcribe it as you’re reading this, so please be patient and stay around, as this blog post will be updated with further parts of the conversation.

We got to see a horse in some Flame and Frost concept art and it got us thinking: Are we going to see mounts in Guild Wars 2?
Colin: That concept art piece for Flame and Frost [...] got put out with a guy standing next or riding a horse and by the second we got that put out, everyone said "MOUNTS ARE COMING IN THIS RELEASE" and I was like "Noooo!". Concept art team, you can never do that again! I say, if we ever did do them, we would need to find something really creative and very uniquely Guild Wars 2 to make them fit in the game, cause they don't really make sense in the world - travel is so easy, it doesn't really fit.

Can we get you into this sack, Colin?

Colin: Did you bring a sack?

PvP is on the blacklist [of our questions], so we figured you might not know enough about that...

Colin: I play a lot of PvP, but I hide so no one knows who it is. Cause it would be really embarrassing for me to go there and lose all the time and have my name show up. I'd have real trouble with the leader boards that come out - my name would show up like ten thousandth out of ten thousand.

When are guild missions triggered?

Colin: This is really up to you, you know, giving you a chance to kinda decide when the guild does stuff together. The guild leader, let's say, the officers basically get the chance to just kick off content constantly for everybody.

So, basically, what you're going to have is something like the little tick boxes in the guild panel as in, like, you can assign to a rank and, say, this person can kick off a guild mission?

Colin: Yes, that's right.

What can we expect from guild missions?

Colin: It's really spread out all over the game and it depends on which type of mission you're doing. There are actually five completely different types of missions and based on which one it is - bounty hunts, for example, is the really basic one, that's the one that you can get right off the bat when [February's] release first goes out. You actually have to unlock all the other missions types, so it's literally going to take months for your guild to build up enough influence to unlock all of them. It's really a progression here, [...] it's on the whole unlock tree just like any of the other guild abilities, so you make your way down all that stuff and you’ll use influence to kick off missions as well. So, finally, you'll have a use for that giant pile of influence. Some guilds are probably going to tear through really quickly cause they've got huge piles of it but it is going to take a while. With bounty hunts, you can pick which tier of bounty hunts you go on and it randomly generates bosses in different zones that get spawned because the bounty hunt started and it spreads your guild out all over the place. If you do a really big bounty hunt it will actually spread your guild across five different zones, where there is a boss in each and you have, say, 15 minutes to kill all five of them. So, you actually have to split your guild into five different groups and send them to all the maps and find them to take them out.

Are you going to add more guild features?

Colin: [There’s lots of stuff we'd like to add that] we're not doing in this one but, in the long run, we need to get all that stuff in, for sure. If you look at what features are built in the game, there's lots of stuff for small groups to do but there's not a lot of really compelling stuff for larger groups, in particular for guilds, other than WvW. We are really trying to get a lot more of that stuff in for building a good community, that's a really key component that we have to have. That's a big focus for us this year. It's just trying to get a lot more of that "what can my guild do together? How do we interact together? How do we maintain a strong guild and what's the content we can do and so that will be a really big focus for us".

Is there any possibility that the UI will help track other people [in guild missions]?

Colin: That’s the type of stuff we’re not building yet but I think that will be included in the list of stuff we’ll be looking into with other guild upgrades. We need to get to the point where we just sit down and start getting people working on it. We’re always leveraged by how many engineers we have, that’s our biggest issue at any given time. It is “how many programmers do we have that can actually code anything?”. The feedback, all this time, is “why don’t you build XYZ when you’re building this instead?” and there’s a bunch of stuff we build that takes designers and artists to do and we have tons of designers and artists and there are certains things that take programmers to do and we only have so many of them. So it’s always [about] managing what they’re doing - their list is just huge - versus content, which is easy for us to do. But, yeah, I think it’d be great for us to go after that at some point as well.

Some of us have small guilds, we don’t have 500 members and some challenges could prove quite hard. Are we going to see any collaboration mechanisms set in place?

Colin: Our hope will be that [collaborations] will kinda dynamically come out of this as sort of emergent gameplay. The bounties, for example, have different tiers so there’s a small tier that you can do - even small guilds can get those - you’ve got three bosses in three zones so maybe 10-15 people can do that, a small guild, and you can pick which tier you want to kick off based on how many people you’ve got online. Maybe one of the things that will come out of that is “our guild is going to do the tier 3 bounty which takes a lot more people to do, so let’s get 3 guilds together and our guild will kick one off and you’ll help us do ours and then you’ll kick one off and we’ll help us do yours” and the 3 guilds all work together to accomplish [it]. I think that kind of emergent gameplay hopefully will come out of that for sure. We don’t really know what to expect just because it is so hard to test internally to see what guilds are going to do [when all this goes] live. So, some of this is going to [emerge] when we put it out and we’re just going to see how guilds interact with it and what they do and then it will help us determine what other features and additions we need to work on.

Will alliance [cross-guild] chat be implemented some time?

Colin: Anything we can do that will help communication across communities is really important.

Is there any more functionality that is going to be added to the commander book?

Colin: Certainly there will be, that’s on the list of stuff that we’re not working on currently, but down the road we absolutely wanna make that more involved, [introduce] more stuff you can do as a commander. Anything that you guys can think of that are really strong community supporting tools, those are the types of things that we would really want to do this year, [that would] just make it easier to play with other people, coordinate other people. The more of them we can do, it’s just better of the game.

So, you’d like to get as much out in this year as possible?

Colin: Yeah, if we really can, I think that that blog post I did earlier this year was kinda trying to set the table for expectations of what we’re going to do this year. It’s a lot less, you know, opening new zones or things like that and a lot more “let’s take the core of the game and try to make that as solid as we possibly can and build on that and make that a lot better because there’s a lot room for improvement in that and I think that we wanna focus on that.

The commander’s book is character bound rather than account bound. Is there any possibility of that changing?

Colin: I don’t actually know. I asked the WvW team about that and they had some good reasons for why it’s [like that], for people getting to know who the commander is and they don’t want that concept if you’ve got 20 characters on your account and you log in with each one and there’s a different commander they really want people to get to know and recognize this specific commander. That was the reasoning for making it character specific. If that were to change, if it became less important for a commander to be a known name that people recognize and follow, that could be different, but I think that’s the primary reason [why it’s so].

It’s a shame that you can just buy it. It’s a shame that there is no prerequisite like a certain number of kills...

Colin: ...Or a voting system, where people on your server vote you up? It would be interesting, but it would be hard for us to take it away from people who already have it.

Perhaps the additional functionality that you mentioned could be based on competence and time spent rather than gold and then you wouldn’t have the problem of taking away from people what they’ve already gained. It could be kills, badges, objectives met, etc.

Colin: It’s hard to gauge, because even that would not necessarily be the sign of a great player. But some sort of system that allows them to be rewarded and people to recognize the commander, something like that would be really cool.

Will we see some improvements in the UI, in terms of flexibility?

Colin: Right now there’s really not very much at all that we can do with the UI, like resizable elements or anything, so, hopefully, at some point we can tackle that.

I wanted to finish my personal story as soon as I could, just to get rid of that green arrow on the screen. Are there any plans to let us hide UI elements?

Colin: Yeah, I think the UI team has something about it so that we can consolidate that whole right side of the screen, make it easier to manage and use. That’s still a long ways off, cause it would take huge engineering [...] to pull off. We do want to have that daily reminder up there too.

There’s a careful balance in the UI, because some of that stuff is the “I don’t know how to play this game, but there’s something telling me what I should be doing right now”, so we don’t want people to be able to get rid of something like that, because suddenly they would have no idea what they should be doing. There’s that very careful balance - there’s enough for advanced players to be able to do things without noobs getting totally lost.

Would you ever consider having players create content in the game?

Colin: I think the guild mission system is sort of a small step in that direction, it’s going to tiptoe down that line. It’s a concept of various content that’s gated by groups being able to kick it off. They’re not actually creating it, they can’t just go anywhere in the world and say “I wanna create content here”, but there’s a whole bunch of content that’s gated before its inception in the world… And I think that’s kind of us telling [our players to] “flip the lottery” to see how that goes.

It’s interesting that the perpetual thing that you battle with in an MMO is how do you create enough content for the players to feel like they always have something new to do. And that you never can keep up with creating enough for the people’s consumption rate. And the only real solution to that is either completely computer generated content where the game generates everything automatically which potentially loses kind of the soul and that feel of something that’s hand-generated content, or player-generated content and then the question of that is “how you control that stuff that isn’t completely breaking your system or operating outside the rules of the game?”.

You know, this happens with development you see, we build content all the time that’s terrible. And we have a QA team that comes in and tells us “This is terrible, redo it” and we’ll do it over and over and over again until we get it to the point that it’s fun to play. And often times it takes fifty or a hundred people to get that right. Or it takes thousands of alpha testers who’re playing it, giving feedback for weeks until it actually gets good. I don’t think a designer ever has had a good idea that the second they thought of it that is what we put in the game. It’s always been that someone thinks of something and then hundreds of people give feedback, gets iterated on over and over and over again... So the challenge with player-generated content is how you build that process into it where it constantly gets refined and made better until it’s actually [good with the game]. I don’t have a great solution for it but I think that those are the challenges that a game will face and my hope would be that whatever the cutting edge of that is, we actually get that implemented into Guild Wars 2 some day, but it’s definitely a challenge, it’s something we’re gonna have to figure out at some point.

It works for some games though, for Neverwinter Nights for example.

Colin: Yeah it’s just a win, right? As long as it’s fun. That’s the tough part. It’s like.. Neverwinter is a great example. Where, basically, in the original one, players can build all the content. They had really good stuff occasionally. Some of the player generated stuff is fantastic but you had to shift through all the other noise to get down to it. It’s a careful balance you have to walk, with how you open that up so everybody can get the right stuff and have a great time without having to pick through all the stuff that doesn’t make it great.

What about having people at the studio review player made content before adding it to the game?

Colin: That’s the tough part. It’s how you deal with all that overhead, because all you could end up doing is, instead of having a department of developers, you could end up having the exact same number of people and what they do all day is review content that gets submitted. And your pace is exactly the same because it takes them so long to review it all. You’re basically getting the exact same rate of content, so I’m not sure that that’s gonna help them solve the problem.

I think the key is how do you build a system that lets players generate content and infinite volumes you don’t have to review but it also works... I don’t know the answer to that. That’s a challenge for all of us to try and figure out, right? That’s what the next step will be some day and whether that happens in Guild Wars 2 or in another game it will be really interesting to see. I hope somebody comes up with the right answer. That’s not easy to solve.

How often do you guys step back from the content you produce?

Colin: All the time. I think one of the really unique things about ArenaNet is [that] the QA team is actually embedded in all the projects. At almost every other game company I’ve worked at or heard of, the QA team is in a separate building. They are not allowed to talk to developers. I’ve heard horror stories about some companies where they are not allowed to make eye contact with people who work on the game. And if they walked down the hall they need to look down as they walk past. And that’s an experience a lot of QA testers go through. It sucks, right? That’s awful.

And that’s not how you make good games. Good games are made by hundreds and thousands of people who are all giving feedback and so you come up with the best ideas. I think that if you can put your ego aside and realize that you’re never gonna have the best idea, everybody together will come up with it, then you can make really good games.

So we bring our QA team and they sit with all the developers that are part of the process and if any of them says “this isn’t good enough” we stop it and don’t put it out. And we work on it until it gets to a point where everybody is truly behind it. I think that that’s one of the unique things about the company, with our alpha testers we try to do the same, give them a chance to really say “hey, this isn’t working at all, we’re really concerned about it”. There’s a lot of content that people have never seen that we’ve actually just canceled because it wasn’t working and we take it back to the drawing board and we try something else. And that’s part of the develop process that’s behind the curtain. I can’t tell you how many times a specific event in the game got built and done over and over and over again until it got to the point where it’s actually what you see in the game.

It seems like a major difference between yourselves and other studios that you’re willing to be very open with the process. That you’re prepared to go onto a fansite and say “this isn’t ready, we’re going to shelve this” or “it’s not going to make it into this build, you’re not going to see it for another month”.

Colin: I don’t know of too many other companies that do that. That’s really different. It means that sometimes we will make a huge mistake, we will do completely the wrong thing, everybody gets behind it and then we’ll come to realize we did the wrong thing. You have to be able to get out there and be like “hey, you know we really blew it on this, we are responding to that and we are gonna change our plans because of that” and I think if you can be honest about that it can make a difference too. Certainly we’re human, we make really bad mistakes sometimes as well and as long as we we accept that and go do something better we’re going to be ok.

How does it feel having fans hold you to account like that?

Colin: It helps. There’s still plenty of vicious folks who want us to be infallible and I wish we could be. I think we definitely get the benefit of the doubt more often that other studios do because we at least try to have that level of interaction and honesty with our fans as much as we can do.

How do you go about balancing the expectations of a long standing fanbase with your vision of the game?

Colin: It’s really tough. At the end of the day we have to look at if it’s exactly like Guild Wars 1, we already made that game and if people love exactly Guild Wars 1, they should play Guild Wars 1. And so it has to be something different or we’re going to end up remaking it and build the exact same game we already built. We definitely look at it that way. We know there are going to be some people who aren’t going to be thrilled with Guild Wars 2 because it isn’t Guild Wars 1 and it can’t be, it wasn’t going to be successful because we’d be competing with our own game.

One of the things that is missing that we saw in Guild Wars 1 is the ability to have a normal skill in place of an elite skill. Is this something that’s possible to introduce in Guild Wars 2?

Colin: Potentially yeah. I think some of it is a question of accessibility. Any time that you start adding more and more complicated roles to the way things operate it gets that much harder for new players to understand how the game works and play it. We have to be really careful with that, like Guild Wars 1 eventually turned into that where by the end was a very niche game. It was very very complicated and hard to learn how to play and it was incredibly fun for all of us who understood it. But for a new player, we saw very few new players who would get into the game and stick with it for a long time just because it wasn’t that accessible. It was really overwhelming, with very complicated roles so we need to make sure there’s a careful balance. Great depth as you level through the game and the game gets more complicated at a rate you can learn it but it doesn’t completely overwhelm you in the beginning as well.

So on that same stance, there have been some comments that new players have come into Guild Wars 2 and found the learning curve quite steep. What kind of things do you think you’d be able to do to help assimilate new players into the game?

Colin: We’re actually working on that right now. As we look at releasing the game in other regions we need to make sure that the new player experience is as easy to learn as possible. So we’re going back and looking at everything we can do to try to do that and we’re looking for a lot of feedback on that too. We’re evaluating what level players leave the game and what level things should kick in.

Sticking on the topic of skills, there’s bits of information coming in about the march update and WvW skills. Can you elaborate a bit on those?

Colin: The WvW progression system doesn’t give players skills, it just gives them new abilities that are specific to WvW. For example, if you are standing out in a field and you are fighting 1 on 1 against a player the abilities do not make you more powerful than anyone else in WvW. They just expand your ability to operate in WvW. We don’t want to create a system where like five years from now someone who has leveled way down the tree is able to just kill everybody else. Instead it just makes you more functional. It gives you additional abilities that help your capacity in WvW, but doesn’t make you more powerful. An example could be “potential carrying of more supply”.

I take it this is a passive thing, it’s not slotted in your bar?

Colin: Correct.

So the intentions are with not allowing players that have been in WvW for a long time to bully new players out of the format?

Colin: Correct. I think that that goes against core design philosophies so we would never want to do that. You're more functional but not more powerful I think that’s the best way to put it. We might do some things like you’re better using siege weapons which could be interpreted as slightly more powerful but it’s only in very specific situations, when you’re on siege and everything. I think that’s maybe far enough away from the core issue that maybe it’s ok. We would never like give you more strength, more power or anything like that. We don’t want to touch that stuff.

Does that same assumption apply to any potential increase in the level cap? Traditionally an increase in level means an increase in power.

Colin: I don’t know at this point. We’re really not focused very much on that stuff we’re really focused on how do we make the core live game we’ve got as strong as possible, so we haven’t really looked that much into the answers to those questions would be yet. But certainly at some point we may raise the level cap and with that it could mean that your stats all go up by 10 levels, but leveling is easy enough in Guild Wars it’s not really a big deal if we’re going to do that.

It’s more about the gear. If a character is kitted out in exotic gear and the player leaves the game for 8 months and comes back after the level cap goes up they have to get a whole load more stuff.

Colin: I think in other games that’s super frustrating and I hope that we’d not do something along those lines. I think that we can do thing that are unique to Guild Wars and are different than that

Is there any potential addressing of the WvW achievements which some of them are nearly impossible to do? As they are, they’re going to take a very very long time to do.

Colin: We’ve got a team looking at all the achievements stuff and they are picking through and try to identify anything that they can do to make achievements more fun, more visible, better rewarding, all of that.The other guys who redid the January’s achievement system, in February they are updating it with a bunch of new achievements. They’ll give you rotating achievements to pick from. So, over time they’ll be looking at all the achievements to kinda make them more interesting.

Are there plans to add more ways for WvW players to earn Ascended gear without having to leave the WvW environment?

Colin: It’s coming. We are still figuring out the best way to put them in there, so it doesn’t feel like it’s just stuck on or doesn’t fit in with what we’ve got. Certainly in the short term you can at least earn the laurels to pick that stuff up. We want to make sure that every day there are enough daily achievements that are WvW completable, so that you can always earn your laurel every day. And then with the new choice system we want to make sure that at minimum you can just play WvW and complete that to get those ascended items. Right now for a PvE player there are two ways to get them. There’s random luck chance and then there’s a guaranteed eventual timeline, you get them from laurels. WvW only has the guaranteed timeline that you can get them from laurels, there’s no random jackpot type element and so we need to identify what’s the best place to add it. The WvW team is working on that, but that stuff will end up in DubvDubs eventually.

Are there plans to look at the money aspect too? Playing WvW isn’t seen as being as rewarding as PvE for money.

Colin: I think that’s something else they’re looking at as well. We want to have every part of the game to be as rewarding an experience as possible so you don’t feel that you have to go to this one place and that’s the only place that you play to get rewards. We want to encourage people to spread all over the game. That’s the best possible thing for our game so we don’t have abandoned zones or abandoned areas and we need to make sure that’s a big push for us this year. To make sure that all of that is going on.

Are we going to have some reasons to get back into the starter cities like Divinity’s Reach?

Colin: Yeah I think at some point we’re going to have to start to do that too. I think when we talk game wide that the cities would fall under that category as well.

The 30 minute timer on siege in WvW. Is there any chance that with some of these new abilities that engineers have a way of making it last a bit longer?

Colin: We’re not planning that right now but you never know!

Having to tap siege every 25 minutes is the bane of my life. Why was the timer put on the siege? Was it so that you don’t end up with troll siege equipment stopping you putting down useful ones?

Colin: Yeah. Every item in the world costs server bandwidth for us and an infinite number of items infinitely generated means our servers can get into trouble. So that is why it’s there basically, yeah, it’s to save bandwidth for us.

----- Colin goes to wash his hands as food has arrived while Craig from NCSoft has 4 plates of food arrive due to a menu misunderstanding and tries to hand it out to people. ----
Last edited:


Grand Inquisitor
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Part 2

Lunch with Colin Johanson (Part II)

Written by:
2/22/2013 3:09 AM

Due to the interview turning out to be rather long. We decided to split the whole thing into two parts. If you have not read the first part of the interview yet, you can find it here.

So, what follows is a transcript of an interview that our UK members Sam (@tasha_darke), Andy (@Andypanda169) and Alistair (@Aeladriel) got from Guild Wars 2 designer Colin Johanson.

Again, the interview was recorded but, due to high levels of background noise, not everything could be fully transcribed, so we had to rephrase some things - mostly the questions asked, not Colin’s responses.

THIS ARTICLE IS BEING UPDATED: Due to the length of the conversation, we’re posting only the beginning of it to allow you to get a glimpse of what’s being discussed. There’s a lot (a LOT) more to come and we’re working to transcribe it as you’re reading this, so please be patient and stay around, as this blog post will be updated with further parts of the conversation.

Are we going to see more consequences from our choices in-game?

Colin: You know eventually there’ll be a bunch of playable content. As for the story’s branching based on what players do, there’s not something we’re doing right now but down the road I can see that sort of thing being an option. It’s definitely something we’d like to be able to have (like) on different servers a different content that’s happening and the outcome is really different but, you know, we don’t have the back-end right now to be able to do that but at some point I hope we’ll be able to do that thing.

So, How much of the the living story are we going to see in the upcoming patch?

Colin: You’re not going to see a ton of stuff in February, [it’s mostly about the story] more setup stuff. (When) we hit the end of the year and decided to really make that a big thing for 2013 and as a result [this didn’t leave us much time to] build a lot of stuff yet, so I think [walking towards March and April we’ll get into the cadence of what a living story can be and then that will build from there as the year goes on.

Are there any plans to add anything to the achievement system – Like a negative healer achievement? We found the rocks at the bottom of the diving board in LA proved deadly, was that discovered by the testers?

Colin: We thought it was funny enough, it was OK and we just did it.

Are we going to see more one time only events? For example, the return of the ‘hunger games’ event from the second beta weekend?

Colin: Content-wise we can do anything [we could ask]. I could see that [as] the way we introduced new [prominent] content, we could introduce new fractals that way, and new dungeons, have stuff that shows up for a month and leaves again. I think it’s kind of context-free; anything that we wanna do in the game we go for it. It really kind of gives you that sense of like it’s your favorite TV show (and) you regularly wanna tune back in and see what’s going on with the story, long term that’s where we want to get the living story to as well. We’re not going to be there for a little while, but at some point we really want to build up to this. We haven’t ruled it out but it’s not going to be something that we have scheduled. Certainly as we look at launching the game in other regions we might re-run them for those as well. So you can always jump into the China beta and check out the events going on there. I think in the West maybe.

What about weekend events? Similar to the old double faction weekends from Guild Wars 1.

Colin: We’ll probably take a look at that. I would prefer we do it more, you know, story-driven I think it’s more compelling and I think that’s more where we are headed. I’m curious actually, that’s really something that we’re walking down that path now. Is that compelling to your guys? I mean, take everything that happened in January, and condense it down to say, a weeks worth of content and then the next week there’s more story that builds on that. Is that something that would interest you guys?

Absolutely. It’s really good.

Colin: Is there anyone here who doesn’t like this idea?

Well, it doesn't affect those who do WvW much.

Colin: I think that’s fair. It’s really not intended for the WvW specific player. Maybe your keep commanders get replaced with specific NPCs per month or something about the story of what’s going on. We may be able to take elements out of the that(current events) and understand how we’d have that. For example, cannons shooting toilet paper and pumpkins during halloween. As long as we don’t take away from the game [point?], that’s key, (there) may be nice if we can ways to to pull that off.

There was a big difference in how successful the wintersday event was compared to the troubles from the Karka event. Do you feel you learnt a lot from the mistakes of the first?

Colin: Tremendous difference. One of the problems that we had is, the day we shipped GW2 we immediately started development on everything that happened in October and November. And we were building it all simultaneously and so we learned about our lessons from October but we didn’t have time to do anything about them in November. There was basically like we’re locked into these release dates, we have a free trial in November, “go go go go go, we have to hit these dates”, and that’s one of the challenges of a live game. You know for five years, we spent five years saying “If it’s not ready doesn’t matter, just wait and then we’ll put it out when it gets ready”. And then we got into the live space it was “we have to keep free updates going, we have to have this fun stuff going on”. It really didn’t give us an opportunity to stop and catch our breath, say like “is this the right thing to be doing, is this the stuff we should be putting in the game?”. It was more “we have to get stuff out, let’s go!”. And we learned a lot of lessons from that I think in December; I think Wintersday is a great example of taking a lot of the lessons we learned from the other events and try to make it a lot more approachable, easier for everybody to play the content. We spread it out over a longer time, you can re-play stuff that you missed. Those are the types of strategies we are going to use for all of the live stuff going forward, just making it all a lot more inclusive. Certainly we want to avoid 400 people in the open world until we can deal with culling issues, and things like that. So it changes the strategy how we do stuff. It also means we really reverted back to our original philosophy which is “if it’s not ready don’t ship it and don’t talk about it until it’s polished enough that it’s ready to go”. And so things like WvW getting pushed back a month, that’s just an example of that. ‘Cause I think right after release we would’ve just put that out whether it was ready or not. And I think that instead what we’re saying is, even though we made the mistake of saying that this is the month that it’s coming, we shouldn’t have done that ‘cause that just sets expectations. We’d rather wait and get it right and then put stuff out whenever it’s ready to go. And I think we’re kind of back to the point where we’re comfortable in saying that and we have a better idea for what we wanna do.

Are there any plans for a ‘hard mode’ for dungeons?

Colin: It’s interesting, we might do that. Right now we actually talked a lot about it and our biggest concern with it is it’s already hard to find a group to do a dungeon. When you add a hard mode on top of it you’re further fracturing the player base between story mode, three explorable modes and now three hard modes, and it can become extremely hard to find people to play with if we did that. For me, I always felt explorable mode was supposed to be hard mode, and I would like to see us fix the dungeons to the point where they really fall into the category, more than try and add another mode on top of it. So in the February release –we haven’t talked a lot about this- but we actually rebuilt all of the bosses of the Ascalon Catacombs, from scratch. All of them will be brand new in the February release. I remember the encounters have all been re-done as well. And we’re in the midst of going through all the major bosses in the game in 2013 and try to make them more fun to fight against, making them more challenging. Now that’s a huge project. That’s going to take us a really long time to do that. But just in February alone, we’re rolling some of that out and for a lot of people I think their answer for playing the game has been “it’s really fun but there’s not enough challenging stuff for me to do”. And I think that for people looking for a challenge we need to build in a lot more of that optional content that is challenging. I think “optional” is the key – we don’t want to make it so that a casual gamer feels they can’t play the game. We’re trying to go back and rebuild a lot of stuff to just make it a lot more optionally challenging for people looking for that, and [Ascalonian] Catacombs will be the first place we do that. Some of the open world champions are also getting rebuild in February, just some of the regular open world guys. And we’re going to keep doing that every month going forward, just go back and find stuff to try to make it a bit more fun.

And what about changes to the Fractal encounters?

Colin: I thought the guys who did Fractals have stuck a couple of really good encounters in there. I really hope that that’s how we build stuff in the future.

Any plans to bump up the maximum level in fractals?

Colin: I’m sure that at some point will be that we want to do that with content that goes with it so that there’s stuff to get to that’s new or feels more exciting. It’s not off the table.

Are we going to see more variation when fighting champions in the world? At the moment we’re faced with generic named ‘champions’, are there any plans for named bosses with a bit of lore or a unique feel to them?

Colin: Well, unique, mechanically, yes – we’re already doing that. We’re amidst going through every champion and veteran in the game and looking at their skills and try to make them more unique and more fun to play against and more exciting for groups and just a lot more involved content in general. Naming-wise, one of the reasons we didn’t name all of them is because most of them just respawn again. And in GW1 it was part of that concept that you clear the map, so you’d feel like it made sense. Whereas in GW2 when you see Burt the Ettin and he respawns every two minutes and with that it just feels really immersion wrecking. That’s why we chose to do that, that is names on very rare in general because we wanted to feel like this is a really big deal when you see this guy. But building up more back story behind guys and having named characters that do show up occasionally, I would hope that is something we did more of. I think our living story is the best place for us to do that, because it means they can show up one time, everyone gets to experience them and then they leave again. Like the Mad King boss fight for Halloween, I think that is a good example. Where for about for a week, you get to fight the Mad King and then he left again. I would hope we get to do more stuff like that.

Are any new skins or armors going to be available through the Living Story? Especially relating to crafting recipes.

Colin: Yup. I think you can assume the same types of stuff that we did for holidays. You know, we kept adding more recipes and items and things. In the long run that’s the same thing we wanna do with living story. Sometimes living story will just be a holiday for a month. That’s kind of the concept, that’s there’s this narrative that’s going on, it may tie in to a festival or it may not, but we want to have all of that kind of feel it’s like the same of type of rewards.

Are we going to see more unique craftable items? What about being able to craft weapon skins?

Colin: Yeah, we just need more artists. (laughs) But yes it would be really nice to have more reasons to level your crafting to 400 and have cool things that you can get from doing so. I think that’s one of the problems with crafting right now there’s just not a lot of reason to do it.

There are a few unique crafting recipes that are extremely rare drops. Getting one of these drops gives you a huge boost to trade with in the Trading Post. Are there any plans to add more of these items recipes, or make them easier to acquire?

Colin: I would hope we could extend that beyond weapon skins. I think this ties back into the question about tiered loot in general. I think one of the things we’re missing is a core rewards system that we can infinitely expand, that is unique from weapons and armor. At some point we’re going to have to introduce that or figure out what that is so that we’re not just doing endless tiers of loot forever. Hopefully there’s a bunch of stuff that ties in exactly with what you’re talking about in that system. Your Guild Wars 1 skill capturing is a good example of that. I think we need to find what is the skill capturing system of Guild Wars 2 that is the infinitely expandable rewards system.

What about excess dungeon tokens and transmutation stones? Any plans to recycling them or using them some other way?

Colin: Absolutely we’re going to have to address that. I think any of that stuff that piles up and feels like it has no use... case that you can use that so it at least feels rewarding. Blues have the same problem. Yeah you can salvage them but otherwise when you get a blue you’re like “eh, whatever”.

and then you stick them in the Mystic Forge and hope you get a green...

Colin: And then 4 greens become gold fodder and that’s about it for trying to get your mystic forge rares. Ideally we need to find systems that make all of that stuff feel like you get it and hey you have a use for it. I think like low level crafting items accomplish that right now. When you get one of those at least they’re useful for people across all levels. We need to find systems that make that the case for all items across the game.

You mentioned you had some issues you wanted to tackle in terms of crafting. What were they?

Colin: I think the biggest one is just making sure there’s a real reason to take crafting to 400 and things you can get out of it as rewards. That’s the biggest thing.

What are you doing towards that?

Colin: We’re not yet we’re still trying to figure that out.

Any ideas?

Colin: Er... (laughs) open to em!

Any plans for introducing other weapons like scythes or spears coming up?

Colin: Um coming up no but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. The way the weapon system is built it’s really easy for us to add new weapons and tie skills to those.

People have been talking about 2 handed axes.

Colin: Yeah I see that one a lot.

(Others chip in with suggestions including pole staff)

Colin: Frying pan? (laughs)

There’s a set of ranger utility skills that aren’t being used, any plans to address those?

Colin: I actually have no idea right now what that group is working on. I’d have to check in with them and see when I get back. One of the biggest things we’ve kicked up is an analytics team that records all the data in the game and allows us to look at that and make decisions about the things we’re doing. They’re actually the team that helped us find a lot of the loot issues because we really just didn’t have any information to get that stuff. We kicked this team up so we could get that information so it’s incredibly useful actually to have that stuff so we can figure things out. Without that you’re kind of flying blind. We’re able to look now at what weapons are getting used all the time and we use that data to determine what weapons absolutely suck so we can go and fix those. What skills are being used and which ones aren’t and it really helps us determine what needs a boost.So I imagine if no one is using a bunch of the ranger utility skills they’re going to see that, look at those and then go try to address those based on the data. Hopefully that’s on the list if they think no one’s using any of that subset.

So will there be any plans to add additional weapon skills?

Colin: Certainly on the table. That’s something we are not working on yet, but it’s a possibility.

Will we eventually get skill templates?

Colin: We loved templates in Guild Wars 1 and I would say that it’s certainly a possibility in Guild Wars 2

One of the aims of the game was to make every class feel unique, but also viable and fun to play in a variety of ways. What professions have been highlighted as a falling short of this target and what crazy ways have been tried internally to spice them up?

Colin: For me, every profession actually has a lot of different variety available to it. It’s just a matter of if you enjoy that playstyle or not. So I think people look at each profession and they’ll judge it based on “Do I enjoy playing the ways of this profession offers me to play?” And so just going around the table, everybody is playing a different main for the most part. There’s no thieves or warriors here but there’s plenty of them in game. So we know those are represented. We talked about that graph that’s up on the wall. We look at that every day based on what profession people creating and it’s almost always very close to being even across all professions. That’s a really good sign, that is very, very hard to do. In Guild Wars 1 it was not even relatively close to that. It’s a big difference between viability of playstyles versus, you know, not at all. I’m actually really impressed at how generally balanced the professions are. There are certain skills or abilities that all need to get better but across the professions it’s actually pretty decent. It’s just a matter of what playstyle are you interested in. The thing that we have to improve is look at weapons sets that aren’t interesting for that profession or don’t fit the playstyle that we’ve said that profession should have and bring those up to the point that are.

***(Before the lunch started, Colin spoke about a chart displayed in the office that tracks live results of how many of each class and race are being played, so when one class becomes OP, it shows on the chart. At the moment, all classes are at a level field, with a slight increase in warriors and a slight dip in engineers. Races are hugely different, with humans and norn hitting the highest rolled races, and charr being the lowest.)

Like the possibility of dual pistol mesmers?

Colin: You guys can go around the table and everyone of you can name your profession and what weapon that you think is weaker than all the rest and it’s totally the case. We need to try to find ways to make those close to on par with the other weapons. There’s always can be one that somebody perceives as the best. If it’s a choice like “well I like double daggers better and I like staff better”, that’s ok, we want that. But if it’s just no one uses [for example] dual pistol mesmer because it just sucks. Those are the truly obvious ones that we need to go after first.

Would you ever go down the route of PvE only skills again?

Colin: Well, we kinda have that with racial skills. [It’s] the closest thing to that. How much we’ll expand on those, I don’t know. I’m not sure that that’s really that compelling

Yea, in Guild Wars 1 we found they became slightly overpowered in the end...

Colin: I would be shocked if we do too much of that stuff. It’s more skills that are game wide. The strongest split between competitive PvP and the rest of the game is possible. Some skills continue to get tweaked more for PvP. I would be pretty surprised if we do a whole lot of PvE only stuff.

We’ve noticed that guilds sometimes fight against each other within WvW, and sometimes even seek each other out to create that kind of fight. Are there any plans to develop a GvG system in the future?

Colin: We have been noticing and talking a lot about it. What’s coming out of that I have no idea but it’s definitely something that we’ve seen.

Did you ever think players would alter their behavior in this way? That they’d end up doing something like this?

Colin: We expect that in every part of the game that some of that emergent gameplay will come out of it. How it’s going to work we don’t really know. I’ve watched the little duels that happen in WvW sometimes, like there’s a specific hour that people get together in a specific corner of the map and it becomes dueling. We figured that would happen somewhere, it was just a matter of where as we don’t have dueling right now. But some of it is always a surprise. The guild thing, we didn’t necessarily see that coming, we thought it would be strongly world based so I think it’s interesting to see that and it’s definitely something we're talking about. I have no idea what’s going to come from it.

(To be continued)


Grand Inquisitor
Stratics Veteran
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Just adding part 3 of the interview.....

Lunch with Colin Johanson (Part III)

Written by:
2/24/2013 1:02 PM

Due to the interview turning out to be rather long, we've decided to split the whole thing into three parts. If you have not read the first part of the interview yet, you can find it here.

The problem we have in Jade Quarry at the moment being top of tier one in North America, is that we currently have something like 50k point lead and no one wants to log on to actually play, they don’t feel the need to log on. That is a really big de-motivator at the moment, there are guilds falling apart because of this. If that could be addressed somehow...?

Colin: I think they’re really the same problem. It’s like if you’re getting killed or if you’re winning by a lot, in both cases there’s no reason for you to log in and we need to fix both of those. I think there can be the same answer for both, pretty easily. Because it really is the same issue, which is: “why do I play every day” as opposed to “why do I want my server to win this week?”. So that’s really high on our list of stuff we’re trying to address.

Was there a reason why you went with servers for WvW rather than teams?

Colin: So the biggest reason that I’m aware of - and a lot of this is just to provide context for some of these answers - I was only on the content team when a lot of this stuff was decided so it’s hard for me to say 100% for sure what the decision-making process was four years ago when I wasn’t in the room. But I would guess that the reason that that was made was to try to make worlds feel more important to players and feel like the people that you play with on your world is your community and that teams would be a subset of that and it wouldn’t feel as compelling. It’s interesting to see if that stuff stands up now that the game is out if that’s still the case. Do people really feel a bond with their world or...? Actually that’s really a question for you guys. Do you feel attached to your world at all or do you really feel like your guild or the people you play with in your guild are more...?

We’ve built up our server from tier 9, so for us, yeah we do feel that bond. I can imagine for those who moved, especially just before the gem prices were introduced, who jumped about a lot to avoid trying to avoid queues and stuff like that, them not being as attached, whereas for us we are really attached.

So I was just thinking there’s the server you play on and the server you represent in WvW right?

Colin: Correct.

So I was wondering why have them linked? why not choose the server to wvw on and the actual server you choose to play on the rest of the time be independent of that?

Colin: The reason for that, is we wanna build that sense of community, so that the people who are out in PvE when you go back from WvW or you are out in the PvE world, you are trying to improve them. You see these people and you have the capacity to say: “You are part of my world, come represent us in WvW, help us out”. I think Guild Wars 1 had some really compelling parts of this, like the “Hall of Heroes”. When the message went out in the game that said: “Our world now controls that”. That was sort of a sense of everybody who was on that side. They felt tied to it, they felt like they were part of that win. I would hope in time that we can get that type of messaging for WvW to a certain degree as well, so that everybody who is on that world feels an even greater tie to it. But definitely, the biggest reason is just so you recognise and get to know the same people in every part of the game. There are a huge percentage of our playerbase who play WvW and also play PvE on a regular basis, so we want to create that tie between the two of them so you really get to know people and have a community.

What’s your favourite flavour of ice cream?
Colin: (laughs) Salted caramel.

One quick PvE question: where’s the Final Rest? (laughs)

Colin: If I told you, then I’d have to kill you. (laughs)

Tell us or the pony gets it!

Colin: I love the pony, but I can’t tell you. Someday you will all discover it and then everyone will be really excited.

There’s a cap on condition stacks of 25. In a scenario where you have two thieves attacking a boss and one of them can achieve a stack of 25 by themselves, the other one essentially becomes useless because they’ve got nothing to stack on. Is anything being done to address that to make them less redundant?

Colin: Currently no. Interesting statistic for you: every condition in the game costs server bandwidth. ‘Cause we have to track how often the condition is running, what the duration of that condition is and what the stack is. So the more stacks we allow them more expensive it gets because we’re tracking every additional stack on there. And so we could, say, you can have infinite stacks. Number one: that becomes really unbalanced. But number two: it’s actually extremely expensive for us, on a performance basis. That’s one of those weird, kind of back-end server issues that can help make game designer decisions regardless of what you want to do with it.

One of the things people have been talking about is having their own individual stack limit that they can apply, rather than an infinite amount on one boss.

Colin: Yes, it’s tough. It’s certainly something we can look at, it does drastically change the way that the professions play, right? It does say “you can no longer stack all of one type of condition”. It might change the skills on each profession if we were to do that. It would encourage a little more group play to some extent. It’s not something we’re really talking about, but it’s an interesting idea. I’d have to think a lot about what the effects of that would be overall, but it’s an interesting... interesting idea.

Is there any plans to add further content to Southsun Cove?
Colin: Yes. There are Guild Missions that happen in Southsun Cove. There is content coming. (cheers)

I really like the landscape of the cove.

Colin: Yeah we are definitely going to continue to expand on that.

The real question is how many times can you run past the champion Karka.

Colin: (laughs) And pick up the node and run back.

Precursors. A little while ago there was mention that there were going to be other ways to get hold of precursors, like through the scavenger hunt.

Colin: Someday yes.

Someday. So no plans for the immediate future?

Colin: We’ve thrown in a few more RNG ways to get them, like random chances for places they could go in the game recently, but that’s not the real solution. That’s just a “hey lets just increase the number of places people can earn them at this point”. The fixes for qualifying for loot that will go in the February release will also increase the chances you can get precursors ‘cause it means you have a higher chance of rolling for loot in every creature that you kill. Which means you have a higher chance of getting a precursor. So that will help as well. But long term we’d like to do something that’s a little bit more epic where there’s a clear path of “here’s everything you need to do and when you complete it you automatically get a precursor.” We’re not working on that right now, we’re really trying to design what that would be, but yeah certainly at some point we will create a system that allows you to do that.

Any plans to make legendaries account bound so they can’t be sold in the trading post?

Colin: I think the only concern with that would be retroactively changing it, because they’re already out that way.

Could you do it going forward?

Colin: So we can’t. The way that items work is if we do that we affect all the existing ones. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen there, that’s really more up to the commerce team and how they want to handle that but it’s certainly something where there’s been a lot of discussion about it.

With regards to legendaries, you can take Twilight and Sunrise and combine them to make Eternity. Are you planning on doing that with other legendary weapons?

Colin: Yeah we will at some point expand on the legendaries there might be new types of weapons, more combinations. Certainly there will be more legendaries at some point. Certainly weapons, maybe even other types of legendaries, we’ll see. But yeah we’re not done with those. But what we don’t want to do is roll a whole bunch of them out when we don’t have a better system for getting the precursors.

Is there going to be a fix for females Asura and their shoulder pieces?

Colin: Er, I would hope so. I don’t know where that is on the pipeline.

You’ve got to look good while killing people!

Colin: And when you dance on their corpse you’ve got to have shoulder pads. It’s very important.

Is the customization of weapons coming?

Colin: It’s an interesting idea. I know our art team would like us to do it. It’s not currently something that we have anybody working on but it is possible in our system for us to do that.

What about making dyes account bound?

Colin: I think at this point it won’t happen. I think it’s gone too far down that path. I don’t think the commerce team will swap that back. That would be my guess.

When it comes to community run events in game, we’re struggling with items to hand out as many of the tonics are account bound. Can anything be done about it?

Colin: We’ve tried to do as many of those as we can and we certainly will keep doing more of them. I think the holiday festivals were loaded with that stuff. I would like to do a lot more of those. They’re just fun for social events right? To get together.

Can you really unbind the quaggan tonics? Because I want to give those to everybody!


It’s one for the commerce team. There’s a lack of stuff to give away. It gets a little disappointing when you see repeatedly “first prize is dye”.

I dunno I sold a black dye the other day for 9 gold the other day.

I bought one for 20 gold... Shoot me.

Colin: It’d be great if you’d bought his dye. (laugh)

Activities, such as bar brawl, is there any other ones in the pipeline?

Colin: Bar brawl is coming eventually.

(laughs) We’ll accept eventually! So anything else on the horizon?

Colin: There are other ones we’ve prototyped but they need a lot more work before they get added. But at some point we’d like to have them all over the game. One of the nice things about the new rotating achievements system is you can pick like er... I want to say Keg Brawl is almost every day of the week there’s different things you can do in Keg Brawl to contribute towards your daily. And my hope would be as we add more mini games like that we can create a little rotation so that Monday is Keg Brawl day and everyone goes to Keg Brawl for a day because it’s on your daily achievement list. Tuesday is Bar Brawl day and everybody goes there and Wednesday is Shooting Gallery or whatever it is.


Colin: Yes maybe that one.

It’d be a nice way to get people to go back to the cities.

Colin: Yeah I think that’s going to go a long way.

I really like the new dailies system.

Colin: Yeah the one in February is so much better. There’s so many things we wanted to do that we can’t do because we don’t want to force people to do a specific game type that when you open it up and give them a choice of “hey pick 5 of these 10 and do the things you want to do” then suddenly jumping puzzles go on there, keg brawl can go on there. We’re not forcing you to do that game type, and it becomes a choice.

With the new dailies system, it’s amazing how many people don’t know how to dodge

Colin: That is why we put that in (laughs). It is incredible how few people actually regularly dodge.

Colin is there anything that we haven’t asked about that you wanted to share with us?

Colin: Er, the fish sandwich was delicious. Thank you very much for this discussion! I talked too much but that was a great pick, thank you.

Somebody wanted to ask how you manicure your beard...

Colin: It’s different every day. (laughs) Some days it’s kinda crooked because I’m half awake when I do it.

Would it be possible to have more options for guilds, like having dots on the mini map of where other members are to help stop people getting lost?

Colin: Yeah we were talking about that earlier. It’s certainly something that we would look at. Right now no one’s working on that but over the course of the year, every community building tool that we can do that makes it easier for you to play with other players, gives you more reasons to play with them and a better rewards set is what we’re going to be focussed on. The guild missions are definitely a huge part of that and we want to keep building stuff like that.

Anything you’d like to ask us?

Colin: What’s your favourite part of the game? What is the thing that’s most compelling to you? (Indicates down one end of the table that have been asking the WvW questions) I know what it is for you guys!

  • Jumping puzzles mainly.
  • I hate jumping puzzles, I’m so bad at them (laughs).
  • I like playing with friends, and making new ones.
  • I think for me it’s all the little areas that are hidden gems.
  • I’m still trying to get into the kitten room.
  • That’s what keeps me going back and doing more exploring, it’s finding out what’s over there. That kind of detail you put in the world how vibrant it is.
  • And like you said, actually going in and finding Aurora Glade and things like that. I like all the easter eggs from Guild Wars 1. That’s my favorite thing, I’d like to see more of that in fractals because that’d be awesome.
  • I’m much more of a dungeons person.
  • Did you have a mission to destroy everything from Guild Wars 1? (laughter round the table) Apart from Granite Citadel is anything left standing?
Colin:The ruins of many things are there!

Any plans for storage of town clothes and dungeon tokens?

Colin: Yeah dungeon tokens probably earlier than town clothes but it would be nice to do things to allow you to store any of that stuff. It’s just a matter of when.

Sorry did you say for dungeon tokens before that we are going to have another use for them?

Colin: Well I think we’d like to give you more reasons to use them. If nothing else just new items on the vendors down the road is something we’ll be looking at for sure.

I think I’ve got 5 or 6 stacks of some of them

Colin: As we add new types of reward systems to the game we’d like to layer those across everything we’ve got. Some I hope would eventually, we’ll add new types of rewards and they’ll go on laurel vendors, they’ll go on merchants, they’ll go on karma merchants, they’ll go on dungeon guys, on Fractal NPCs. We can layer it all across the game to help make everything more rewarding.

Can we get a photo? Would that be ok?

Colin: Yeah sure, team pic!

(We get up to take the pic)

One final thing, is considered an exploit to move siege equipment from one character to another?

Colin: It’s not an exploit, we’re totally ok with it.

What was the reason why they were done that way?

Colin: I don’t remember the reason for it but there was some good reason for it. For the life of me I can’t remember what it is now. There was a reason though that made sense when I heard it. (pauses) I’d have to ask, I can’t remember. But yeah we don’t consider that an exploit.

Ok cool.

At this point I would like to thank all of those who helped with this colossal undertaking. It was a blast to work on this transcription with you people. This is the main reason I'm here. My love for you guys. And here's your proof:

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