Yesterday, Colin Johanson, Game Director of Guild Wars 2, blogged about the future of the game and the much-anticipated January and February updates (initially described as "basically an expansion's worth of content"). Much of the post is your typical "we're trying to make this the best game it can possibly be" and "we're gonna blow your mind with all of these new features" hype, which I'm guardedly-excited and cautiously-optimistic about.
It's easy-- and certainly trendy-- to praise Guild Wars 2's design philosophy as innovative and progressive. But realistically, it hasn't had the revolutionary impact on the gaming world that many anticipated and predicted it would-- there are some definite issues with the weapon-based skill system (and combat in general), encounter design, and the loot/gear model, among others.
Even still, there are a couple of lines from Johanson's article that I think are particularly significant not only to Guild Wars 2 itself, but the video game industry as well:
"Allowing players to share experiences in an open world where other players are seen as helpful, rather than competition, is a huge component of what makes our game what it is. Open world online games are always strongest when players are encouraged and rewarded to interact as a community, to support other [sic] each other, and when the flow of the game ushers players to go places where they run into other players across all levels and have shared experiences.
These key pillars — a sense of community and a dynamic, living world full of different experiences every time you log in — are what makes Guild Wars 2 what it is. ... We’ve shown some of the promise of a truly living world, but we still have so many ideas on how to take this to the next level. Put simply, we’ve barely scratched the surface."The focus on "community-driven" (a term he uses in other parts of his post) is intriguing. By definition, every massively-multiplayer game relies on some sort of community. In most games (ignoring purposes of socialization for the time being), in-game communities arise out of a need to achieve a certain end. In World of Warcraft, groups and guilds form, for example, to raid.
ArenaNet, however, seems to be more interested in encouraging, developing, and nourishing in-game community for the sake of community itself, rather than for a particular result. They want the creation of community to be organic; happenstance; incidental. They want players to come together spontaneously, to meet each other by chance when "the flow of the game ushers" them to one another; brings them to "shared experiences".
Sounds like real life, right?
That's what has me the most fascinated. The idea that 'unseen forces' in the game world have the power to bring people together just like in the actual world. Virtual fate, basically.
And that's why the "living world" comments actually have some weight to them. Since the dawn of the video game era, developers and designers have been trying to create "living, breathing worlds" in their games. Humans in general have been trying to mimic and recreate life in their art for millenia. It's nothing new. But again, where ArenaNet differs is that it's not trying to fool us into thinking that Tyria is a reality equal to our own, it's that they're trying to make the game world function as a reality unto itself. Simpler than real life, for sure, but perhaps just as legitimate. Events occur in a particular part of the map regardless of the player's (or players') presence; NPCs do their thing even if they're alone.
|(Taken from the UESPWiki's |
"Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary" article.)
To be fair, such depth of reality has been achieved before. Oblivion and Skyrim feature rich worlds that function and carry on without the player's input. But it's worth noting that Skyrim and Oblivion are single-player games. Guild Wars 2 looks like it's going to try and base the reality around its players, not its terrain or digital inhabitants.
We'll see what comes of all this high-minded talk, and how much Colin Johanson and ArenaNet can do with it. Guild Wars 2 is an exceptional game, but it's not yet the force it should be. Separate from whether or not they succeed, the ideas that ArenaNet and Johanson are proposing could have a pretty significant impact on the future of game design and the capabilities of games themselves, beyond being just a form of entertainment.