As I arrived, I noticed a third person at the panelists' table: Jeff Grubb. It was exciting to see another designer present for the event -- more words from the development team are always a good thing! Eric Flannum got things started by welcoming everyone and addressing the reason behind the limited attendance. He said they'd decided to do something "a little more intimate, with some participation." The screen and whiteboard suddenly got a lot more interesting. He continued by reviewing the dynamic events system as we know it, giving a few examples while Jeff and Colin sat back and most likely enjoyed the rest.
Once we got through the overview, it was on to the fun part: we, the audience, were going to design an event! The crowd was pretty excited about this, and it certainly explained the small amount of participants. Holding this particular panel in a room for 500 would have been complete insanity when it came time to choose locations and take suggestions.
We started by learning about three specific locations, courtesy of Jeff. Timberline Falls is a snowy, mountainous area divided by lakes and valleys. It's a higher-level area, in the 50-60 range, populated by water creatures in the valleys -- specifically, krait and quaggan (a new race we learned about a bit later).
The next area presented was the home of the charr Flame Legion. A level 60-70 region, it's even tougher than the previous location. There's a bit of a mountainous area in the northwest corner, but it's primarily the blasted landscape we're familiar with, and it's crawling with charr. Finally, there's Headland, a level 35-45 area. This is centaur homebase, with a few small human encampments here and there.
We took a vote, and Timberland was the clear winner. Honestly, I think the quaggan tipped the scales. Jeff had started to tell us about them and was stopped by Eric, who said that we'd go into more detail once an area was chosen. It piqued everyone's curiosity, and everyone in the room was anxious to hear about this new race. The quaggan are a pacifistic, gentle race for the most part, sort of short and stout creatures that get picked on a lot.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Jeff Grubb later on the exhibition floor, and he was such fun to talk with about the quaggan. They're such a gloomy race under normal circumstances (he described them as a bit like Eeyore) that the voice actors had a lot of fun with them. While normally they're told not to be too over-the-top, this was a special case. The quaggan have a deep, slow, throaty way of speaking, and they talk about themselves in the third person: "Quaggan saaaad," so it worked well for the actors to let loose and have a bit of fun with it.
The quaggan have another trait, however, that should make their enemies think twice about pushing them too much. As Jeff described it, "If you make them too angry, they will hulk out. The lips peel back, and the huge jaws come out, and they feel really bad about it afterwards, but when you have an angry quaggan, you have your hands full." They were a really fun race to learn about, and I'm very anxious to see more of them in game.
We learned more about the krait as well, and while we're familiar with them from EotN, this new version is a lot nastier, thanks to the underwater dragon. Eric described them as "reprehensible." Later on in the panel, it was amusing to hear several people throw out suggestions about krait spies who are good guys in various situations, because every time that happened, the guys insisted that no, the krait really are bad to the bone.
Many of the other races, while not as purely evil as the krait, have a strong mischievous streak that I can't help but feel might reflect the same in some ArenaNet designers. Some of the races that we're familiar with seem to really enjoy messing with what they view as lesser races. The norn, for example, share a border here and there with the sylvari lands. Norn find the sylvari's innocence too tempting not to have a bit of fun with, and it's hilarious to them to say things like, "Hey, check out that tree over there with all the beehives in it. You should go hit those beehives and see what happens."
For this part of the panel, we were discussing the grawl area at the very edge of this map. The poor grawl have not advanced in 250 years like the other races, and it's just way too easy to mess with them. The grawl worship a variety of things in nature, including a huge natural rock formation that they call The Mighty Oooh. The Mighty Oooh talks to them, tells them things, gives them orders, and they obey.
The Mighty Oooh is an asura hiding in the rock formation and amplifying his voice.
"The poor grawl have not advanced in 250 years like the other races, and it's just way too easy to mess with them."
The crowd enjoyed these fun tidbits so much, but the clock was ticking, so we moved on to designing our event. I'm focusing heavily on what we learned and decided in this panel, so while we skimmed over quite a few possible events in this map, we moved on pretty quickly to creating our own events. Colin took over at this point and reiterated our goal: every event should have a natural progression and consequences in the world. All three took us through a quick history of the area to provide a framework, and with that, it was time to design.
The suggestions thrown out ranged from the absurd to the impossible to the brilliant. Colin was writing ideas on the whiteboard as fast as they were thrown out, and the back-and-forth between the designers and the audience was such fun to watch. The designers have a good combination of an intimate knowledge of their world and a willingness to listen to what their fans have to say, and I really think that's part of the charm of Guild Wars
and Guild Wars 2
. They truly want the fans to be a part of things. Everyone in the room was really comfortable and having a great time.
Our basic storyline involved saving the quaggan from a krait attack, and as a whole, we loved the idea of bringing other races into our battle to help us attack the krait. Orrian undead, grawl, and epic sharks with laser beams (no, seriously) were incorporated into our virtual army, and then we started searching for a way to bring down the krait. Once we figured out what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, Eric stepped in as well and began diagramming how our events would chain and progress.
I won't give too much away, but when you find yourself in the southern part of Timberland and you come across some quaggan eggs that need saving -- think of us! The full panel ran an hour and a half, and if you want even more spoilers, you can watch it in its entirety thanks to a dedicated fan with a good camera
Thanks to Jeff, Colin, and Eric for being so generous with your time and creativity. Every attendee I spoke with was thrilled to be a part of the process, and we can't wait to see it in action.