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Massively talks Mesmer: Our exclusive interview with Guild Wars 2 designer Eric Flannum

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

It's been days since we got the official Guild Wars 2 Mesmer reveal, but the excitement is still running strong through the fan community.

Here at Massively, we're just as excited about it, so we took some time to sit down with game designer Eric Flannum and chat about some of the background and design details of the eighth and final Guild Wars 2 class. Follow along after the jump to see what he had to say!

Massively: The Mesmer is an iconic Guild Wars class, and it's almost unique to this game. Was its development more difficult because fans are so familiar with the current version?

Eric Flannum: I think that Mesmer was a bit more difficult to develop than the other professions. For example, when we're developing the Warrior skills or how the Warrior should feel, we end up referencing the warrior archetype as it appears in other media (games, movies, literature, mythology, etc.). Fans are also exposed to all of these things, and so their expectations and definition of what a Warrior is tends to be pretty broad.

For the Mesmer, we're talking about a much more specific archetype that was developed for the first Guild Wars. At its core, the Mesmer was intended to be a kind of magical duelist who relies on trickery and deception. There are obviously fewer influences to draw from when developing such a profession, and while this means it may take more time to hit exactly the right notes (no Minstrel pun intended), it ends up being very rewarding when you do get it right.

What are some of the strengths and weaknesses in the original mesmer that helped you build the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer?

The fact that the original Guild Wars mesmer relied heavily on several concepts that we were removing from Guild Wars 2 made it difficult to develop. Things like energy denial and hexing weren't going to make it into the game, so we needed to find ways of replicating the style of play Mesmer players were used to in the original game. Fortunately for us, the answer to most of the missing elements came from things that were supposed to be part of the Guild Wars Mesmer but never quite had the emphasis that we wanted. Illusion magic was one of the Guild Wars Mesmers' attribute lines, but we were never able to fully realize the Mesmer as an illusionist in the first game.

Our skills are so visual in Guild Wars 2 that we knew we had a chance to play around with some illusion mechanics, and that's where the concept of illusions filling some of the void left by the removal of hexes came into being. For example, we use the Phantasm mechanic to simulate a skill like Backfire by having the Phantasm constantly applying the Confused condition. Because of this, the player has a choice to deal with the Phantasm or the Mesmer directly and can't just rely on simple condition removal to deal with the threat. The Mesmer at its core is all about setting up these kinds of situations.

Another aspect of the Mesmer that we were never able to fully develop was the duelist aspect. If you remember, the classic Guild Wars Mesmer was often pictured with a sword, but there were very few skills that actually supported this style of play. In Guild Wars 2, we base half of the player's skill bar on which weapons he's wielding, so we had a fantastic opportunity to allow the Mesmer to support a more melee-centric style of play. Of course, the Mesmer needs to rely even more on trickery when he is right in the thick of things, so the main-hand sword features more illusion creation than the other main-hand weapons with two of the three skills creating Clones.

What was an aspect of the Mesmer -- be it abilities, weapons, appearance, or anything else -- that you knew absolutely had to be a part of the class from the very start?

We knew that the Mesmers had to have the ability to interrupt their opponents. Since we were removing explicit interrupts as part of the game, this meant that the Mesmer needed good access to the other things in the game that function as interrupts, such as stuns and dazes. One of the shatter abilities is Stun, so that every Mesmer has a way to disrupt foes no matter what else she brings with her.

Conversely, what's an aspect of the Mesmer that was considered but didn't make it to the finished product?

Some of the really unique skills for the Mesmer from the first game were the various Wastrel's skills, which caused bad things to happen to a foe unless it activated a skill. This combined in an interesting way with the Mesmer's ability to shut foes down by denying them energy and interrupting them. We tried a few different variations on this theme in Guild Wars 2, but with how active our combat is, these skills tended to either be very ineffective or seem a bit random in what they were doing.

What's your favorite thing about the class?

For me it's definitely the play that comes from creating illusions and deciding when to detonate them and when to let them do their thing. It's an extremely active style of play that requires you to constantly be on the move, thinking about what you're doing next.

Can you talk about the Mesmer from a lore perspective? How and why has the class changed over the years?

I think the major thing that's changed over the years is the decline of humanity and the introduction of the other races. You see this reflected in the diversity of weapons available to the Mesmer. For example, who were the practitioners of Mesmer magic that first started using a greatsword to channel their skills? I have a feeling it was the Norn. Similarly, Charr Mesmers have popularized the use of pistols. The influence of the five races has caused greater diversity to occur throughout Tyria.

What about the Mesmer's appearance? Did designing such a familiar and specialized class for five very different races pose any particular challenges?

Thankfully, the Mesmer has a very strong visual identity in the original Guild Wars. I think our artists have done an amazing job of strengthening those visuals even more for Guild Wars 2. Take, for example, the Shatter effect that happens when Mesmers destroy their illusions. That came from a piece of concept art by Kekai Kotaki in which he was trying to create a cool image based on the Mesmer from the first game.

When Jens and the rest of our effects artists saw this, they immediately wanted to do an effect based off of it. So we needed to develop some technology whereby we could take the 3-D model and turn it into a 2-D billboard that we could then shatter. That's a great example of our art and technology teams working together to create something unique that I think gives the Mesmer even more character than she already has.

Thanks for your time, Eric!

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