Designing the Living World

by Leif Chappelle on March 27, 2013

Hi there! I’m Leif Chappelle, one of your resident Living World designers. While Angel McCoy has delved into the concept and vision behind the Living Story within Guild Wars 2, this month we’ve decided to let you in on a few of the driving ideas behind how we’ve approached designing content for a living, breathing world.

Gaining Momentum

In terms of events, Halloween and Wintersday were huge undertakings with an equally large team. Yet these were also single-beat events contained within several weeks. The story of the world needs time to gain momentum, and so the Living World team started gradually while we took the time to develop out the large years-spanning plot and characters that we’re now prepared to unleash into Tyria.

What we’re creating is an actual chronology of the world. Flame and Frost has taken several months to develop, but it’s just one story arc within the overall plot beginning to unfold. The events of Flame and Frost will create repercussions throughout the world, bringing new tales and conflicts to light. Through the course of 2013, the concept of these Living World releases will grow in scope and grandeur as we move ahead and build up the groundwork to make this a key component of the developing and ever-changing world of Guild Wars 2.

Tools of the Trade

In January, Flame and Frost began with a single thread: the exodus of norn and charr refugees. It also established the first of a continuing series of achievements we’re using to track the ongoing series of events.

“…the concept of these Living World releases will grow in scope and grandeur as we move ahead…”

With the Refugee Volunteer achievement, you’re able to indirectly help out the traumatized refugees. With Lost and Found, we were able to expand upon this so you could become even more personal allies of those in need. Each week in The Gathering Storm, two more refugees opened up to relate their experiences.

Of course, the struggle against the invaders shouldn’t be limited to smacking signs back into shape. Each chapter of Flame and Frost has also introduced new events into the world. And with The Razing, we’re upping the ante even more with the introduction of two new characters and their own personal struggles against the Molten Alliance between the dredge and the Flame Legion.

Experiencing a Story

Similar to your character’s personal story, the tales of Rox and Braham play out in instances. The open world is perfect for conveying the overall state of the world and involving everyone in the ongoing struggles, but our experiences with dynamic events have taught us that the open world is not always the best venue for playing out individual character arcs and for developing a personal involvement with the story. Braham and Rox’s instances can be tackled solo or with others, and ultimately serve to provide you with a chance to team up with new and colorful allies.

Because these stories exist apart from the player’s personal story, we’ve chosen to use achievements to track your progress through the timeline of both Rox and Braham’s stories. Because this means your progress is tied to your account, we’ve opened up an oft-requested feature: replayability.

What this means is that if you’d like to play any of the Living World story instances again while Flame and Frost is ongoing, we’ve placed NPCs that ask you to recap what happened, therefore allowing you to revisit the past events. Perhaps from another character’s perspective, perhaps with friends; it’s up to you!

Yet, because all of this transpires within a limited amount of time, the world of Tyria continues to turn. The story arc of Flame and Frost will eventually conclude, and a new arc will begin. At that point, it won’t be possible to revisit the events of the previous story arc, so be sure to see everything by the time Flame and Frost concludes! Just keep in mind that the opportunities to achieve greatness and experience all that the Living World story has to offer will be frequent and many, and that there will always be something new coming.

An Improved Experience

One of the key bits of feedback we’ve received while working on developing the Living World story, is that all these golden stars are a bit much to take in. To this end, we’ve introduced a new series of markers to further specify the function of various story NPCs and locations. The core golden star will continue to guide you to completion in Living World storylines. The piece of parchment marked with a star denotes an NPC meant to dispense important information about the world during the story arc. The golden portals show entrances to instances related to the story, and there are now living world versions of both collectors and scouts.

In addition to the markers, you can use the scout system’s map cinematics to give closer guidance to important locations. The Living Story scouts in Diessa Plateau and Wayfarer Foothills will point out hot spots in the struggle against the Molten Alliance, while mails sent by important characters will point out the next step along your way through the Living World’s story.

What’s Next?

I’ve outlined a number of ways that we’ve approached aspects the Living World story: achievements, events, and instances. Yet we have a whole game’s worth of systems at our disposal.

In the coming months, you may see the Living World story play out from any number of approaches: activities, dungeons, crafting, or others. You’ll see more holidays along the lines of Wintersday and Halloween, but even those sorts of events have an overall continuity. When Mad King Thorn blew up the lion statue in Lion’s Arch, that actually happened and it took time to repair. Tixx’s inventions live on in the enthusiasm of refugee Malia and her best friend Rex Splinterstorm. We’re all living the events of a present-day Tyria, and everything matters. Every few weeks, you’ll want to know what happens next, and we’re happy to oblige.

We’ll see you in the Living World!