PAX East 2018: Guild Wars 2 game director Mike Zadorojny on Path of Fire, monetization, and more

    
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I can show you the world.
It’s not every day that you walk into a building dominated by an enormous griffon, the enormous statue replicating the mount in Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire. You could, of course, argue that the griffon is functionally an upgraded version of the glider from Heart of Thorns, but that just brings you back to the idea that Path of Fire is closer to what people wanted from Heart of Thorns in the first place. It’s a bigger expansion for people not interested in the rather narrow focus of the jungle.

Which makes sense, since according to the game director, Mike Zadorojny, the focus of what the expansion was meant to be about was radically different between the two expansions, and Path of Fire was closer to an expansion of the base game.

I had the chance to sit with Zadorojny and chat about various issues of both current development ant future direction, although we did not have that chat on the back of the griffon. (There were people waiting in line.) But considering the nature of the griffon and the talk, it might have been appropriate.

As he explained, the big difference between the expansions was the fact that Heart of Thorns, from the start, was seen as an “endgame” expansion. It was designed to give players at the cap things to do, but also was focused very much on the nature of endgame structurally.

Path of Fire, by contrast, was always meant to be much more focused on exploration and the associated experience. It extended to zone design as well; while there’s still zone-wide objectives in the expansion, the goal was to avoid having players feel as if the zone “shut down” every so often for pursuit of a single high-end objective. Having mounts in play also helped contribute to a feel of exploration and movement.

Reed.

Of course, you can’t talk about endgame without talking about the game’s raids, which Zadorojny says the team is still happy with. The big difference between the raids in GW2 and in other games, as he sees it, is that there’s no way to gear past them; you can’t just earn better gear to make them less challenging, they’ve always got a skill barrier. As such, they provide a good endgame route for people who enjoy that sort of challenge, while retaining enough rewards to make them desirable.

And story? That can be one such reward. For players who can’t or won’t take part, content creators can close the gap on “missing” story, and the mainline story is never supposed to be a part of raids. It’s always something that the team is thinking about, since story is important and everyone wants to see it.

We also talked a bit about roles for the various professions, which he sees very much as an emergent property of design. When the game launched, the goal was making every profession self-sufficient; when dealing with content like raids and particularly challenging fractals, roles like tanks and healers come naturally. Balancing the roles as part of the profession is a matter of looking at things holistically, so the goal is always to ensure that even if a given profession can’t fill every role, every role has something to do and is useful in a raid.

That is the goal, anyhow. He’s aware that there are outliers.

Fractals, meanwhile, are serving as a good “replacement” for dungeons just by successfully creating a backend of reliable repeatable content. You don’t wind up running the same routes over and over, there’s already a structure for rewards and progress, and putting in new parts makes for a new experience without invalidating the old. The core is still the same; Fractals just do all of the things dungeons did, only better.

And what about PvP? The game has hit its roadblocks for things like e-sports, and the current focus of the team is on creating a healthy competitive environment to let these things start from players rather than developers. Supporting the infrastructure (like the player-run GvG tournament) helps foster more development, as this sort of competitive atmosphere only thrives when player support is backing it.

The story of the story of the story of how we killed another god.

I asked about the recent rather high-profile narrative hire, and the good news is that it’s not about a change in direction – quite the opposite. Before this point, the teams for episodes were working in more relative isolation; the new hire serves as more of a showrunner or overall director, ensuring continuity and helping to bridge the gap between stories more efficiently.

As for the future of that particular storytelling… well, you’ll have to wait a little while to see how things come together. (He jokingly suggest I ask about some of the overall designs again in a year.) Every release raises the bar a bit further.

We talked a little bit about experimentation with monetization, and he noted that the Mount Select License was a direct result of specific feedback. The original idea with the randomized skins was that leaving everything to chance isn’t fun and it was meant to be helpful, but the actual execution made it clear that there was a gentler way to get the same result of “collect as many as you want.”

As he looks at it, both items were successful in terms of learning things and gauging player feedback. It’s a field that’s still being explored, in other words.

We also talked a bit about things that are probably not happening. New professions, for example, have probably been sidelined forever in favor of new elite specializations; they allow the team to change the feel of a given profession without actually forcing you to play a new character along the way. New races, too, are a lot of work for limited rewards, and any sort of console development is also not something the team is focused on.

Obviously, none of this is set in stone; he stressed that the quote to take away is not that new races will never be added. It’s just not the current direction.

He did, however, mention that some of the big shifts in season 4 were a result of programmers going under the hood to change parts of the underlying game engine, as it has expanded beyond what was originally intended for the game. So plans can always change.

Too hot (hot damn)

Last but not least, he talked a little bit of some disappointments with how Path of Fire turned out. Obviously, the team is happy with the expansion as a whole, but he does feel like some of the item rewards were a bit too heavy on the crafting side of things. There are lots of rewards that don’t necessarily feel as rewarding as the equivalent ones in Heart of Thorns. He also would have loved to have done more multi-tier armor upgrade like the ones found in the Silverwastes, but that wasn’t quite in the cards; it’s a goal for the future.

But as a whole, Zadorojny and the team is happy with player response and the ongoing state of the game. He’s glad that players continue to support the title, and he hopes that everyone enjoys seeing where the game is going next. I was assured that it was going to be cool (albeit without details).

We’d like to thank ArenaNet, Mike Zadorojny, and assistant global brand manager Elisabeth Cardy for taking the time to answer our questions.

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Boston for PAX East 2018, bringing you expert MMO coverage on everything (and everyone!) on display at the latest Penny Arcade Expo!

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Dolvic
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Dolvic

I just want to shout out your shout out to Liz.

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Bruno Brito

We also talked a bit about roles for the various professions, which he sees very much as an emergent property of design. When the game launched, the goal was making every profession self-sufficient; when dealing with content like raids and particularly challenging fractals, roles like tanks and healers come naturally. Balancing the roles as part of the profession is a matter of looking at things holistically, so the goal is always to ensure that even if a given profession can’t fill every role, every role has something to do and is useful in a raid.

That is the goal, anyhow. He’s aware that there are outliers.

Somewhere, the Manifesto is rolling restlessly.

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Sleepy

Path of Fire was all about exploration? The mob density made exploring a bit of a miserable experience.

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Greaterdivinity

Gah, next time this goes on sale I should pick it up, I’m finding myself missing my guardian as of late but I have no desire to finish the HoT content. PoF still sounds much more my speed, and I guess I can stop being salty at Anet about HoT at this point.

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Sushi Maru

HoT Maps were far superior to PoF. The meta events, the design, the size. That all fed in to making HoT maps seem like a community activity.

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Dystopiq

Well I got bad news for you because a good chunk of the community did not like HoTs event design. It was far too reliant on population and extensive teamwork meaning many events failed simply because there weren’t enough people.

gelfred
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gelfred

I agree with Sushi Maru, but I do feel that the playerbase has conflicting tastes.

People left because they didnt like HoT for sure, and I have to assume people did for PoF too, as me and a few friends stopped.

The large events were the unique thing of GW2 for me, RIFT in the past did some quite well too. I played it mostly for this, but the PoF stuff didnt provide me much to do. I really enjoyed it but tired rather quickly.

Hopefully they will create content that caters to both tastes!

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The Gleeful Grognard

I would argue that HoT maps remained some of the most reliably played content in the games once the population got used to it.
With it being very rare that you were doing events alone and where when the meta springs up as long as you don’t arrive on a newly spun up map during the meta that there are multiple full maps of people doing the content.

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Dug From The Earth

The only thing HoT had over PoF, was better meta events for public groups, and that was ONLY if there were enough people on a map to do them.

The map/level design was hated by most. Frustrating and a pain to traverse, even with gliding, and completely locked out to many until they managed to grind and get the abilities to access many areas. So many people got lost trying to get around.

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The Gleeful Grognard

Eh the only abilities you needed for the most part were gliding and mushrooms, that is not much of a barrier (totally overblown)

And I still think a lot of the issue with HoT was the contrast of how it went from what we experienced in core to HoT requiring more from the player, if it had gone
Core – PoF – HoT in terms of content (but say without mount use for hypothetical discussion) people would have been much happier with HoT on a whole.

Also, I never understand how people can find the HoT maps hard or frustrating to navigate. They are very straight forward.

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Dug From The Earth

They are very straight forward.

and up, and down, and under, and over….

its the whole verticality aspect that the focused so much on implementing that turns HoT maps into a massive pain to navigate and get around compared to pretty much ANY other maps in any other mmorpgs.

Also, People complained about the PoF spawn density and rate.. you cant go 10 feet in HoT without some little freaking dino nipping at your heals, or some plant spitting at you. At least in PoF, you can out distance mobs easier.

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

I’d love to know which Maps are played more heavily – HoT or PoF. It certainly looks to me as though HoT, even now, has better populations than PoF (the core expansion maps, not the LS ones). It’s hard to be sure though – it might have something to do with my playing EU hours on NA servers.

One good thing ANet really does seem to have nailed, though, is keeping all maps of all eras in active play indefinitely. You can go just about anywhere and find a reasonably busy map. Megaservers help a lot but so does spreading requirements for new content across the entire atlas.

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Simon

It’s the positive and negative about the game in my opinion. The lack of power creep. I wish the end-game gear was just slightly more powerful, but I do like that it’s not making content obsolete like many other MMORPGs sadly end up doing.
The fact that there is level sync also helps, and it’s also not done in the terrible way that FFXIV does it, where you lose skills instead of just stats.

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The Gleeful Grognard

Why do you want new gear to be a bit more powerful? what is the point… they would just have to make new content harder to compensate.

And as for stomping old content, we kinda already get that as it is sadly with the general low difficulty of open world content and poor level scaling where everything dies in 1-2 hits.

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McGuffn

HoT and the reason is that it is endgame focused. 4 map metas versus essentially max level leveling zones.

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The Gleeful Grognard

I would have agreed with you 2-3 months ago but I was in the PoF maps the other night grabbing hero points for an alt and they were all really busy (no bounty trains or anything either)

It seems like there is a certain population that is just now making an open world home for themselves on those maps.

That said, the HoT maps will be more populous at peak meta times (VB night, Tarir and Dragons Stand) but if we even it out I am not so sure anymore. Probably still HoT maps, but the lead might not be so big.

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Matt R

You talked about every aspect of the game other than WvW?

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The Gleeful Grognard

Well we know what their plans are for WvW and know it is going to take time for the systems to be made for it.

I am not sure WvW needs anything else made until the new systems get implemented.

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Matt R

I mean it’s been two months since they announced the world restructuring concept. It’d be nice to know how it’s going, and maybe even a realistic time table for when to expect it? ATM it sounds more like Star Citizen’s release date, aka up in the clouds with no confirmation it’ll ever happen.

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Bruno Brito

Because it is. Let’s be real here, when was the last time Anet actually did something worthwhile with WvW without messing everything? They’re never releasing dates for WvW anymore, because the WvW pop is ( rightfully ) jaded. There’s only so much abuse you can take.

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The Gleeful Grognard

That doesn’t change the point I made. There is nothing to talk about until it is implemented.

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The Gleeful Grognard

… You are asking to avoid the Star Citizen release date issue… by doing what CiG did that caused the Star Citizen release date controversies.

Interesting tactic.