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GDC10: ArenaNet's Daniel Dociu discusses the art of Guild Wars 2

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Daniel Dociu, Senior Art Director for Guild Wars 2, was one of the panelists at last week's GDC, and Massively was fortunate enough to sit down and chat with him about the art coming up in Guild Wars 2. The information on this highly-anticipated game is starting to increase bit by bit, and Daniel had some interesting things to say about designing art for Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2. As a bonus feature, we've got a video slideshow of some of the gorgeous concept art featured at his panel at GDC. Keep your eyes peeled -- you might just see something you've not seen before. (Check Youtube for the HD version as well.) Follow along after the jump, and enjoy!

Massively: The first thing I would just ask is about designing art for an MMO in general. How would you do that differently as compared to other game genres?

Daniel Dociu, Senior Art Director, Guild Wars 2: There are a number of aspects that are specific to MMOs when it comes to choices and decisions you need to make. First, the fact that they are usually long-lived. You need to try to accomplish visual longevity in addition to accessibility, in addition to clarity. So longevity is an aspect that is driven by marketing, but it ripples down to art. In our case, we decided to go with a stylistic interpretation of reality over photorealism, because we believe that it ages better. With technology evolving at the pace it is, with every new console and every new video card that comes out and all of these bells and whistles that constantly allow photorealism to be within our grasp, everybody's kind of crowding that space. And we decided to go in the other direction -- it probably gives us more room to create and experiment.

This project is interesting as well, because it's an MMO sequel, which is hard to find. Were there specific challenges you had to face when creating the second version of an MMO?

Sure. First, it's always a good idea to step back and evaluate what you've accomplished with the first iteration, first generation of the IP, and try to keep the good and be critical about the bad, and build upon. Start with a strong foundation and hopefully develop or expand on previous accomplishments and take it from there. There's also the expectations that come with a sequel, the fact that you've already set the bar pretty high hopefully, and you are under pressure to deliver and surpass your own accomplishments. But that's a challenge that we are happy to take on.

In terms of the art and architecture, how do the two different worlds differ in terms of the design? It takes place far into the future from the first game -- what are a few main differences that you focused on in terms of design?

The fact that it takes place in the future is kind of a double-edged sword for us as a developer. On the one hand, it opens a lot of opportunities for us to depart from conventional fantasy, and do wilder, more imaginative things, which we always strive to do. But on the other hand, you need to keep the world somewhat familiar, and make sure you don't alienate your fanbase by their not being able to find any kind of point of reference in the new one. So there is this constant kind of balancing act between how much new stuff you want to introduce, and how much of the old vibe of the world you still want present.

The introduction of guns is one thing that is a major difference. How much of a debate was that between you and the development team? Obviously, if it's part of the future, there's a very specific look to a world that has guns and a world that doesn't.

There wasn't much of a debate -- it was mainly a design-driven decision. Driven by gameplay mechanics and gameplay balance. It was just one of the few decisions where they felt very strongly about it, and we didn't really resist it much. But it wasn't something that we suggested. It was one of the decisions that wasn't art-driven.

The world has changed -- the Crystal Desert is now grassland, and Ascalon is now Charr territory. Are there specific changes like that that made it hard or easy for you to figure out the new designs?

All of these changes are mostly story-driven. We just embrace them as they are. I don't look at them as hard or easy to deliver on -- it's just another challenge and we are happy to have all of the new technical advancements at our disposal that allow us to do new things. But we also enjoy taking second stabs at things we've done before, just with a new arsenal of tools that we have available to us. The fact that a desert changes into a grassland or an arid region becomes lush or the other way around, from our standpoint, it's just another opportunity to have fun with the tools.

So you're more focused on designing the environment rather than the history and the story?

We definitely are interested and follow the story, but we don't try to resist the story, but rather go with the flow. There are many other design decisions that were driven by art, but this particular transformation of the environment over time is definitely driven by story.

Do you have any thoughts on what Cantha and Elona look like?

Oh. [Laughs] 'He sighs.'

No. I mean, we may have thought about it, we may have kind of isolated ideas here and there, but we never sat down formally to kind of put all of these ideas out to be collectively evaluated or discussed or processed into a coherent vision.

I assume you're more concentrated on making the actual game?

Yes, we are very much in the thick of production, so there really isn't a lot of spare time left to deal with other continents in future releases.

Thanks for your time!

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