Hidden Arcana: Designing the New Lion’s Arch

by Anatoli Ingram on June 25, 2015


Hi, I’m Anatoli Ingram, and welcome to Hidden Arcana, where we’ll give you a look at some of the people and design philosophies behind the development of Guild Wars 2. The independent, semipiratical city of Lion’s Arch has seen years of attacks from minions of Zhaitan, giant enemy karka, and—most harrowing of all—Scarlet Briar. The latter seemed to be enough to bring the city to its knees, and its residents have spent a long time picking the pieces of their former lives out of the rubble. As of this week, the rebuilding is complete, and the difference is staggering! I got the chance to speak with Environment Art Team Lead Dave Beetlestone about the resurrection of Lion’s Arch.

Dave has been part of ArenaNet for twelve years and laid the foundations of old Lion’s Arch in the original Guild Wars®. The environment art team that he heads up is responsible for a huge amount of the items seen in the game—”from castles to candlesticks,” Dave said—and it’s important to them to have equality and diversity among the team members in order to create content from many different perspectives. Many of the current members worked on the original Guild Wars as well, and they’re invested in showing that the lore of the past is important in the present.

The target of Scarlet Briar’s attacks had to be something that players had a strong emotional investment in across the board. Destroying a racial city would have less of an effect overall; Dave pointed out that if Scarlet had fired on Divinity’s Reach from the air, for example, the charr would likely have felt only slightly threatened since they already have strong fortifications and heavy artillery. Lion’s Arch, on the other hand, is important to everyone. Not only is it home to members of nearly every race, but the nations depend on it to facilitate trade and commerce.

With that in mind, the design of Lion’s Arch didn’t make sense given its role in the story, and Dave described it as a matchstick city, ready to go up in flames. As a major center of culture and commerce, it was a natural target for frequent attacks, but in its original incarnation it was unrealistic for it to withstand them for any length of time. In reinforcing Lion’s Arch’s walls, the environment art team realized they could also reinforce its importance to Tyria.

The original Lion’s Arch design didn’t serve the purpose of a social hub for players as well as it could have, either. Services were sprawled haphazardly across the city, and there were few places to gather freely. The layout also created a resource drain, so rebuilding presented a good opportunity to arrange or remove elements that significantly impacted performance.

Lion's Arch Lament - Ruins

The new Lion’s Arch was created with easier navigation and accessibility in mind. Rather than scattering important locations around the map, thought was put into grouping them based on how players make use of them. The city retains much of its nautical-themed visual charm but with a more distinct purpose. As Dave pointed out, it makes far more sense to tell fellow players that they should head to the giant octopus or the jellyfish for various services rather than to direct them to points of interest or the nearest waypoint.

It’s not all about function. Open areas have also been added to help facilitate social events and role-playing, and there’s even a chapel for player-organized weddings. Rebuilding also gave the environment art team more opportunities to add fun details for players to find, none of which I’ll spoil!

I asked Dave how the redesign might affect official in-game holidays as well, and he explained that Halloween will remain in Lion’s Arch since it has strong roots in the city. However, Wintersday will continue to be celebrated in Divinity’s Reach, since it is a human holiday at its core. Events will take place where they fit best, rather than simply designating Lion’s Arch as the holiday hub.

Dave emphasized that he believes MMOs are about social play and relationships, and Lion’s Arch embodies that more than ever. It’s always been a melting pot and a symbol of the diversity of Tyria, but after weathering the trials of the past few years, the citizens of Lion’s Arch are happier than ever to call it home.