Breakfast with Jeff Strain

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jeffParis, 03 march 2005. I had been invited to a breakfast meeting with Jeff Strain. Since I had been briefed that I would not be able to take pictures, I wasn't really expecting an actual breakfast, but rather a formal behind closed doors "not to be disclosed" press preview of the game (especially knowing that NC's UK marketing director Dirk Metzger would be there, (I'm kind of cautious with the marketing people :p)). Anyway so I stepped into the Art deco loby of Parisian Hotel and was lead to what I expected to be a meeting room.loby Pleasant surprise I wasn't the only one not wearing a suit, and everyone's state of mind was more "shall I get some croissants or some pain au chocolats" (as you can seen on the picture bellow).The room wasn't a meeting room but rather an almost intimate tea room with a plasma screen on the right and bakery on the left , therefore feeling kind of "free to talk" one of the first thing I ask was "I know you do not want us to take any picture but do you mind if I record this interview?" ,Jeff to reply "mm no actually I don't mind you taking pictures at all,take as many as you like, and record sure".

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Jeff looking at the lunch menu

Q : Arena.net is now part of NC/Soft, a software editing company. What kind of concession in your creative process did you have to make to there marketing departments? I know that your art designers received photos of Asian beauty in order to create model that would match Korean taste, did you had to make more in depth concession especially in the core game design ?


Jeff Strain: No we were, had been very careful in terms shelling our self from the influenced of the marketing business. We really are a developer driven company and it was one of our core requirement when we started looking at working with externals, because basically the reason why we started Arena.Net, was so we could really takes some risk with the design, do the thing we wanted as we wanted them. We are doing a lot innovative and controversial thing with this game and most large successful company are scare for that. NC/Soft is a very ambitious company and basically, our relation with the company is that they fully trusted us to make a great game; they do not solicit or come to us asking to design thing to there like. The women's picture, we actually ask for them.

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Q:Could you tell us what are the ideas that you wanted to achieve, while designing Guild Wars?

Jeff Strain: Guild Wars was designed to be an online RPG that is very different from a traditional MMO, or what you think is a MMO. Guild Wars has the technology of an MMO with the 100 000's simultaneous online players, but in terms of the core design of the game, we chose not the follow the recurring ultima online, everquest, wow model. Guild Wars was design to be really different game than those, and the fundamental difference that we wanted to achieve was to design a game that reward you for your skill as a player rather that on the amount of free time that you have, to play the game.

Q: What were the reasons that made you chose to rethink the online RPG design?

Jeff Strain: When I said that the game was design to reward you for you skill rather than your time, what I am talking about is that, the traditional MMO, will often take 50 or 70 hours of content stretch it out over a 100 hours putting a lots of mechanics that require you to spend a lot of hours levelling from one lvlto the next, and the problem you see with this it that it hurts you the players in 2 ways. First of all it's very difficult to ever have any kind of interesting PvP in a game like that, because ultimately what makes the difference wherever your going tolose or win the PvP is your level, and your level is function of how much time you invested in the game. If you spend 400h playing a traditional MMO and are lvl 40, and I spend 100h hours and I'm lvl 20, there really no reason for us to compete. There is absolutely no chance I am going to beat you, your just higher level... And that's the traditional role playing game mechanic that was establish all the way back to you know the pen and paper gamesD&D in the 70 's , mechanics that has been cloned continually since it mutated to the computer game industry.

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The other problem with it is that the whole point of a online RPG is that it should be a social experience. You should be able to have fun with friends. But if you have 20 hours more every week to play than I do , then I cant keep up with you and we quickly get to a pointwhere you are able to do things, take part in challenges and go to part of the world that I cant go to, so it stops being fun for us to play together, it just breaks the community apart. So by creating a game that focuses on skill rather than time we are solving both of those problems. We think that for the first time on a online RPG PvP is really competitive meaning full and exiting, you make the difference not your timetable. We believe that there are a lot a player who don't have 40 hours a week to play a game, and what we wanted to do is make a game for those people, so that everybody can enjoy online RPG.

Q:The business model that you chose for guild war is controversial, you don't ask for a monthly subscription. Why did you make that choice? Wouldn't you rather have the players pay based on the time they play like other Online RPG ?

Jeff Strain: The important point for usis that you as a player always have the abilityto chose what you want to purchase and how do you want to purchase it,if the content seems cool to you , and you are into the game and you really want to explore the next chapter in the story , then great you know, we hope you'll buy the new chapter and enjoy it. But you don't have to! We will never prevent you from playing with the content that you have already purchased, once you bought it you are free to play it for as long as you like. Now Imagine that don't like chapter 2 but you like chapter 3, and one of your friend likeall the chapter , then you will be able to play with him in PvP tournament and alsothe chapters that you share ( ie:1 and 3). So its always your choice and we think that most gamers are really going to appreciate the fact that you don't have to subscribe to the game and be forced to pay15 euros (or the amountthey charge you over here).

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Q: Guild Wars has interactive storytelling, mission base structure. The is no global persistent single world that everybody inhabit, instead you have large public areas, like towns, that are like "traditional mmo", whereyou see hundreds of different player playing with you. But when you go out explore areas or take on a specific mission, you are put into your own instance of the world. The choice of instancing the game is highly controversial, what are its benefits?

Jeff Strain: Guild Wars isvery different from traditional mmobeyond the things I already talked about. Putting you and who ever you invited in your party in an instance, has tremendous advantages in terms of the kind of content we can add to the game. One of the problem with what is considered to be traditional mmo design is (jeff make a small side talk) (*you heard of FedEx quest? every one hate FedEx quest: go fetch me six snake's skins, deliver this package to Magius 300 miles to the north, everybody know that the FedEx quest just stop being fun after a while*) . The problem is that with the traditional mmo design, you really have to have Time sink quest like that. One of the reason is, because you cant change the world, in traditional mmo you can never have a persistent impact on the world, because there is always a group of people coming alone behind you. If there is a monster that you kill it has to respawn if there is a bridge there you can never destroy the bridge, every thing has to go back to the exact state that you found it , so you can't ever create a quest, that truly allow you to interact with the world, a quest that make you feel like you are progressing with the story. By adopting a mission base infrastructure, what we can do is actually make it feels more like an offline. It is just that with guild war structure you are able to do it with your friends without getting the impression that the thing that you are accomplishing are just you know the nth takes of an ever repeating story. You won't have to wait in line to do a quest in guild war.

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The other more immediate benefice Is that solve griefing issue like spawn stealing, ninja looting etc... Those kind of issues don't exist in Guild Wars, every monsters are there for you, you kill a monster it stays dead, you kill a boss you'll get the loot, you progress and feel like you are making the difference
Finally, the game keeps s tract of every thing you ever done, when you enter an instance It gets dynamically populated with quest, monster, NPCs, based on your and your friend's previous experiences. That gives us the unique ability, in terms of online RPG to create the perception that you are actually changing the world. Let me give you a concrete example of that. After the world is destroyed in the great searing, there is a rogue prince who has taken a contingent of the army to establish a forward base against the evil char. He disappears, you mission is to find out what happened to him , eventually you'll find him and he is completely surrounded by the chars, just about to be wipe out and you'll rescue him. Once you have done that, he will establish the forward base he was suppose to establish, and then from then on every single time you return to that area the forward base is there. There is obviously a lot a new quest that forward base being there, so he will ask you to go out on recognisance missions, ask you to do other things, but that s a example of the kind of quest you can never have in traditional mmo .Because, either you have establish the forward base or you haven't it either exist or not, in a traditional mmo you cant have different reality because every thing need to be doable for every one and every one share the same reality. So by adopting the mission base infrastructure, we really are able to deliver the kind of quest content, that you would expect from a real RPG where you are really modifying the world

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Q: During Last beta we were able to experience your new quest system, I really enjoyed the way there design the way you discover chose , tryyou discover the profession and each of there specialisation. The tricky question is will you introduce this kind of content in the rest of the game?

Jeff Strain:
Yes (and I can tell you that you have been playing in a lot more than just one beta event),.What you saw there was the first manifestation of this dynamic content I was talking about. I is some thing we did not have from the start , something that was introduced around January, and yes , now that we have this infrastructure in place that is exactly what the entire content team is doing now is adding that king of experience to the game.

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Q:The reason why I said this was a tricky question is that often quest are a factor of de-socialisation in MMORPG, as they are made to solo friendly no one no longer wants to play in groups and we end up in some kind of Massive Solo WAR Galaxy. Isn't that an issue?


Jeff Strain: Yes it is, our goal is that most quest will require more than one person to complete, the was majority of the quest that we are adding especially using this dynamic content are going to be design for team of players. Now, going further, since I 'm guessing that you are also concernabout our NPC henchmen, they were very consciously made to be ok but not great, they wont do any stupid things, but they are never goanna be as good as having real player with you nor will they have the same influence than real player . What we want is that if you want to play by your self (if you are in a bad moon for ex) you could do it. But what we really wanted isthat the best experience of the game would be with a couple of actual people, that you make friends in the game and play with people make community and enjoy the social aspect that anonline RPG should offer. That a great question, we do care and if there is something we are really we do not want to do is to ad content to the game that encourages you to play by your self.

Q: You said that you wanted to make an online RPG with an important strategic component that could lead to the kind of competition you find in RTS like Starcraft, and you said that had been inspired by the game logic and multiplicity that you can find in Magic the gathering. But was does specifically make Guild Wars 's Skills system different from other MMO?

Jeff Strain: In Guild Wars, skills are indeed very different from the skills that you find in the traditional mmo. As you know, you are not going to find fire ball n1 fire ball n°2 chain lighting n°1 chian lighting n°2 in Guild Wars nor will you find, that lvl 40 skill making completely useless the other skill that you learn at lvl 20. All the skills are balanced between each other, you have access to a skill panel that is not directly related to your level but you can only use 8 of those many skills during a challenge. A lot of the fun that people experience during beta event and work preview event, was the period just before getting into the challenge, when you are setting up your skills, thinking about the strategy you are going use. This is part of the game mechanism that makes the game skill rather than time.

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Q: Speaking of lvl 20, for a lot of traditional mmo player this number seems awfully low. During last weekend even, i realised that I was already lvl 7 and I didn't even fished the tutorial...It this some thing we should be worried about?

Jeff Strain: No, With Guild War you should not think in terms of traditional mmo , where over time you just get higher and higher level. On those game it ishow you are getting more power full and how you'll access what is considered to be the high end, so to lvl Up isone of the main reason why you're a playing the game . In Guild War we consider lvl 20 to be what we call "ascendant", that's when you are a fully trained character, that's when the games really begins andwe are getting you to ascension pretty quickly. Probably about after 20 hours you'll be a ascendant character, and then we completely eliminated any differences in terms of things that you cant do with your friends, while your playing skill are likely different from your friend's. In both terms of PvP and content that we will be realising both in the original games and in the upcoming chapter it will all be designed ascendant characters, the benefit of this is that we will make new content to the game its for everybody , it just not just for those people who happened to be lvl 50 or lvl 40 or lvl 30 . We wont have to dived up and make sure we are making new content for every sub categories of players; instead we are just making contend for all players


Q: Will we find time sink, treadmills (namely "crafting skills") in Guild Wars?

Jeff Strain: They are component of traditional mmo that you wont find in Guild Wars.. You wont find crafting skills for players like wood chopping, baking, or thing like that , they are some great games on the market that offer that kind of interaction, but we didn't want to design that kind of time investment for Guild Wars. GWis design to get you quickly into the game, very combatstrategic oriented , so one of our core goal while creating this game was,to eliminate the time sink that you find in traditional mmo , I m not talking only about lvl grindings, I am also talking about the about of time you spent to get into the game and accomplish something , one of the phrases that we get around at the office is make a game where people have fun not a game where fell like you need at least 3 hours in order to get to the point where they'll be having fun. We wanted to make a game that was quick and visceral.

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Q: One question that really needs explanation: how does World at War works?

Jeff Strain: The Tomb of the Primeval Kings, is leading to the underworld where an international automated 24/7 pyramidal tournament takes place. If you arrive and hold its top position (the hall of heroes) It really means that you are the best in the world and I mean the world not just a server of a few thousands people. Now when you will be creating your account, you will be able to choose from witch Home World you want to belong: the US World, the European World or the Korean World. If a team of your home world holds the top of the tournament, as long as it's holding this first place, some thing really specials happen in all the cooperatives missions that are around the games for all players from your home world: the statues of the gods come to life and raise there arms to the sky opening portals leading to unique missions not available at any other time are activated. In those hot missions you will find new skills new creatures that you can charms,items, quest etc.. But you will only be able to access those missions while you home world team is keeping that top level, so even if you are not a PvP player it give you a reasonto feel that you are part of a community and support the PvP guys from your home world.

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Q: So French home world? No French or German home district?

Jeff Strain: No, not for the time being, we wanted toroughly have home world of similar population size, but regarding French community districts, in fact the server look at your language settings in the game an try to put you in the district where you are more likely to find player sharing the same language.

Q: Speaking about districts what is your feeling regarding "role play district", it is my understanding that it shouldn't be a technical issue?

Jeff Strain: You know that an interesting question and we had that request and it certainly is for us something easy do and I think that it is some thing that the development team is looking at. I mean it's easy to do and there are a lot of players who love to play in character to have and have that kind of hardcore IC role-play experience. I can't tell you for sure, but that something I personally think would be nice. The only thing . mm . I'll tell you... Is that if you do this kind of instances, you can be sure that some people will just try to go there and try to ruin it. So one possible way would be that when you create your account, perhaps you can check a box like "I play in character" or some thing and only if you have done that once you created your character those area would appear so that people who didn't check the box wont just go there and shout "I Want McDonalds"...

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Q: some of ourreaders requested to be able to remove your capes in non competitive areas, you know there is always someone in your guild some one complaining about colours mismatch: your Guild Green capes doesn't look nice on her pinkie outfit.

Jeff Strain: Capes are a controversial issue; you see our concern is that people feels there are communities of players and that players within those community are proud of what they stand for. So capes are really part of the characters and the way they bound into the community.


Q: Oh I understands, so let say that I'm in town and I see (by there capes) the guild of the "red dragons" I could tell my self something like "oh boy here come the red dragons lets try to join there guild", or may be something like "I'm going to make a guild to show them I could do just as good". If so, then why not to offer the option to remove the cape only in exploration orin mission, where it's not so important so show you are member of a guilds?

Jeff Strain: all I can say is that it is under discussions but I'll pass your suggestion to the dev team.

That's All folks :)
Un grand merci à Jeff, Dirk, Alex, à la ravissante Cécile, à Eric et enfin à Anne.




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