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Guild Wars 2 news » Designing the Steel Warband

Hi there! I’m Chloë, one of the Living World content designers for “Visions of the Past: Steel and Fire.” I thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain and discuss some aspects of this release’s design. I’ve been a huge Guild Wars 2 fan since long before working at ArenaNet and I love talking about game design, so I hope you find this as interesting as I do!

My work focused on building the Steel warband and the dynamic events that revolve around each member. But before we delve into that, first, a little about the goals we had when creating “Steel and Fire,” as this context is important when discussing the specifics of its design.

Building a Vision

For this release, we wanted to focus on presenting Living World content a little differently. Instanced story chapters are a fantastic way to deliver narrative with specialized gameplay; in the case of “Steel and Fire,” that means playing as Ryland and using his flamesaw to interact with the world in fun ways. We wanted to expand upon this and build additional story-focused content that players can enjoy over and over again, together. Some of our main considerations were:

  • Blending strong narrative beats with a replayable multiplayer experience. This presented a unique challenge (more on that later), but stepping out of the commander’s shoes allows us to directly experience events that would otherwise occur off-screen. This was especially important to us when it came to finally revealing the gaps in Almorra’s story—something that we have been eager to share with you for a very long time!
  • Content that revolves heavily around as many in-game rewards as we could pack in, with a variety of acquisition methods so players have plenty of goals to work toward over time.
  • Gameplay that appeals to a variety of players, both overarching and more granularly within the Steel warband’s events.

Making the Steel Warband Come Alive

When designing Ryland’s warband, we wanted to create fleshed out characters with distinct personalities, whose group dynamic allowed us to see more of Ryland’s character. The charr have always been my favorite, so I was particularly excited to design how Cinder, Ranoah, Nicabar, and Vishen look! In addition to their appearances, the events themselves help us learn more about them. I wanted them to feel like they were actively contributing to combat and interacting with players in meaningful and fun ways. After all, they’ve been entrusted with an important mission and are capable fighters, so they ought to feel involved. Tailoring events and activities around each warband member helps create unique flavor and player interaction to get to know them better.

My favorite example of this are the sniping events, where Vishen really comes alive. The audio team did an amazing job setting up dynamic variants of her dialog to either sound normal or like it was over comms, depending on proximity. When she moves to her sniper perches, she kneels and starts firing at enemies. I should mention that it is surprisingly tricky to make an NPC do two things at once; they can’t multitask gracefully like players can, so kneeling while firing without standing up in between shots took several iterations to get right and look natural. I created a modified NPC-friendly version of the deadeye’s Kneel skill to custom set her default idle pose, then paired this with custom attacks that use matching animations to ensure seamless kneeling the whole time.

When you reach her sniping perch, she offers you a rifle bundle to help snipe enemies. Overall we feel strongly about letting the player keep their own skills to not take away player agency, but we designed several opt-in circumstances such as this one to give players some gameplay variety. This is where I really wanted Vishen to feel alive and work with you as a team. The second bundle skill, Team Fire, charges up a powerful shot with laser sights on your target. It’s not called Team Fire for nothing: Vishen will also train her laser sights on your target—sometimes with reactionary dialog to your actions—and you will fire in tandem to deal a massive hit! I’ll let you in on a little secret, though, because this is just sneaky trickery under the hood. In order to work gracefully with multiple players sniping at once, everything is actually all sourced from the player. When the skill is used, it performs a query and sets Vishen as a variable to reference. The skill then prompts a second visual-only skill using Vishen as the source, and voilà, she shoots a blank timed with your shot! These might be small details, but I think it really makes a difference in making her feel more alive.

Rewarding Engagement

Working together with the Steel warband certainly has its benefits. I wanted there to be meaningful, enticing outcomes for participating in their events, especially since some events require straying from the main path considerably. The rewards should outweigh the cost put in, or else the events don’t feel worth taking the time to do. Spending time to ascend to Vishen to gain a huge damage boost, retrieving ammo to utilize the tank’s skills, or collecting ingredients for Nicabar’s tonics all bring instant gratification, no doubt. But they also bring long-term benefits to the mission; by protecting the tank and boosting allies, the mission progresses faster, bringing better rewards at the end.

Designing the risk/reward for Nicabar’s tonics took several rounds of experimentation and feedback to arrive where it is today. The concept for the tonics started out as a bundle item rather than a special action skill, but this proved to not be a meaningful or fun reward since it tied up normal skill usage. It also competed with other bundles unless used immediately, which often was not ideal for maximum gain. As a special action skill, players carry it until they are ready, and this helps increase its desirability. I also had to play around with balancing how many ingredients were needed and how long collecting ingredients took. These events are in a fairly unique situation: they must be completed in only a few minutes, unlike many events in the open world that can take as long as necessary. Originally, all of Nicabar’s events needed all four types of ingredients, like his camp event does. Cutting each additional event down to two ingredients apiece (grubs and flowers, mushrooms and snow) and allowing players to throw ingredients made each event much more manageable for a warband on the move. I also had to consider the effects of the tonic; even a quick-to-complete event might not be worth the trouble if the results are brief and lackluster. Thus, I designed the tonic effect to stack in duration so coordinated players can reap up to 10 minutes of benefits. The perks of an environment that is more controlled than the open world also allowed me to go a little crazy, combining a high damage boost, quickness, vigor, regeneration, and magic find as a cherry on top. The strength of the tonics makes working with Nicabar more enticing and satisfying.

A Focus on Replayability

When creating this release’s highly replayable content, two of the things we kept at the forefront of our minds were balancing gameplay with storytelling and creating events that remained fun after many playthroughs. With large amounts of dialog, it was important that it blended well with gameplay without it causing lulls in action. This required many timing tweaks to create good pacing and prevent unnatural overlaps. We took advantage of the breathing room between enemy encounters for character development dialog, which in turn also makes these calmer sections more interesting. Many of the dialog lines also have several variants to make each run through the content a little different; other dialog, such as Cinder’s flamethrower dialog, is dependent on event outcome.

When designing the Steel warband’s events, it was highly important that they feel fun after the first time. Some of my favorite events in Guild Wars 2 have mechanics that put a spin on a classic event category, adding an extra level of fun engagement that I enjoy replaying again and again. I wanted memorable events that feel like you’re actually interacting with the characters and the world around you. I created Cinder’s events particularly with this in mind. At the heart of it, they’re kill-count events: kill the required number of Svanir, tar elementals, or skelk, and you win. There’s a lot of killing that happens in the rest of the public mission already though, so I wanted some kind of mechanic to set it apart. Enter Cinder’s personality: determined, hot-headed, and certainly not the kind of officer to be outdone by new recruits. We tossed around a bunch of ideas as a team that coalesced into something perfect for Cinder and her power-up opportunity: a kill competition between her and the recruits. She’s more than able to handle herself against enemies (and she will win the events if players don’t outdo her); she just wants to boast her prowess and see what you’re made of. Mindless killing suddenly becomes a lot more engaging as you try to steal kills from under her nose, coordinate to prevent enemies from ever reaching her, and make sure you’re in the lead before the timer runs out. All the while this causes her to become more and more fed up with losing, culminating in flamethrower burnination as a reward. This is also going on while the tank is under attack from icebrood, so players can choose how they want to approach this scenario and mix it up each time they play.

Events for All

Player choice was an important consideration when developing “Steel and Fire.” We wanted to create appeal for a variety of player types and skill levels. Since it’s story focused, the public mission needed to be inviting for those who seek that out, especially since completing it unlocks access to Ryland’s story instance. But we also wanted players who desire more challenging group content to be able to enjoy it as well, so we added increased difficulty options to tackle.

We applied this philosophy to the warband members’ events too, so that players can engage with the content in ways that they find fun. Players who enjoy exploring jumping puzzles can snipe with Vishen from a comfortable distance. Players who want to support their group in ways other than combat can collect ingredients for Nicabar’s tonics or throw scrap to repair the tank. Those who like trying new ways to play might enjoy raining down terror from inside the tank or shooting dwarven cannons. Players who just want to fight enemies traditionally can join Cinder’s kill competitions and defend the tank from incoming enemies.

However you decide to play the content, I hope you enjoy becoming a member of the Steel warband and joining Cinder, Ranoah, Vishen, Nicabar, and Ryland on their mission. Please let us know what you think! Whether it is positive or negative, constructive feedback from all perspectives is invaluable, and we’d love to hear from you.

See you in Tyria!

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