A few weeks ago, I had a coast-to-coast interview with ArenaNet. I sat on the one side, and a room full of people sat somewhere on that proverbial other coast. Two Guild Wars 2 developers, Jon Peters and Isaiah (“Izzy”) Cartwright and two ArenaNet community managers, Regina Buenaobra and Martin Kerstein crowded around a microphone for the interview on two big things. (A big thanks to Regina for setting this up!) Guild Wars 2 energy and skills were two concepts that were completely questioned and redesigned to escape the gravitational pull of the prequel, Guild Wars. These two concepts were also, in my opinion, of the most misunderstood when all the fans had was to imagine what it was like to play Guild Wars 2.
Cartwright took my early kick-off and ran straight for the goalposts, when all I had to say was “so, energy?” In the beginning of Guild Wars 2 development, there were no resources. Or rather, there was just skill recharge. They wanted to start as simple as humanly possible. After some testing, they decided that they did want another resource to balance encounters and give players some sort of encounter-success measure. This measure was not really found in the original Guild Wars where the encounters were binary; players either won or wiped. Then the designers went crazy with ideas for resources including resources on skills, items as resources, “bars,” and all sorts of things. After a ton of brainstorming and iteration, they landed on the energy bar.
Unlike Guild Wars, the energy bar in Guild Wars 2 is pretty big. A full energy bar can power many more skills, comparatively. Energy recharges slowly in-combat and out-of combat, and it can be supplemented by an energy potion, which is on a recharge slower in-combat and faster out-of-combat state. This was a long-term resource, whereas skill recharge was a short-term resource. Peters added that once two short-term resources were put on a skill, the system could get really confusing to players really quickly, which was another reason to get away from Guild Wars energy system.
Here’s the design kicker: the energy bar loves offensive skills and hates defensive skills. If a player is playing offensively, the energy bar is very easy to manage. It’s when the player goes in to a very defensive mindset that the energy bar starts draining quite fast. This way the energy bar allows for players to kind of choose the difficulty of an encounter. Very easy encounters will barely touch the energy bar, whereas difficult encounters requiring many defensive maneuvers and skills will put a significant dent in the energy bar. Cartwright noted that some of the fun of PvE-style play was finding how efficient a player could be. The energy system was designed to allow for a lot of gray area in difficulty and efficiency so that players could find their own personal sweet spot.
Cartwright moved on to the very controversial potion subject. Potions are items with a recharge that are used to replenish a significant amount of energy (like 60% of the bar). Potions are very cheap and very abundant, and they are not used to determine success of an encounter. ArenaNet didn’t want a system where it pushed a player to run out of potions in order to make the player lose. However, Cartwright said that potions can be used as another measure of success. Did the player use 3 potions in a fight? None? Potions were another way to let players decide on the difficulty of the encounters they wanted to attempt. When a player goes back to town to dump vendor trash and restock potions, the amount of potions required to restock can be used as a measure of how well the run went.
Peters said that potions became reflexive as players became competent in the game. As a player used up energy it became almost a subconscious decision to pop a potion. Kerstein chimed in and said as a non-designer with a player perspective that using the potions feels really natural. It just becomes part of the gameplay when players need that extra kick of energy.
I asked since energy and potions are a play-limiting resource whether they were used to design an average length of an encounter, or to determine the length that a player should be active in an average encounter. Peters said that there really was no plan to use the resources to set the length of an encounter or duration of active play. There were too many variables involved to simply say that when fighting X encounter it should take Y seconds.
Cartwright added that a more skilled player, such as one that sidesteps a drake’s firebreath instead of standing there and taking the damage, will use less energy. Healing skills are hard to use when under focus fire, and they require players to disengage to get that small pause to heal up. A big way to do this is to roll, which takes about 5% of the energy bar. Then the heal skill will take a decent chunk of energy. Whereas the player that simply sidestepped, or used a block skill, would not have to use such a large portion of the energy bar. In other words, smarter more skillful players will last longer with regards to the energy bar.
Peters and Cartwright then took a small tangent to discuss that although there is no more monk healbot, the support role still exists. This is another reason why the duration factor is to amorphous to determine. Players dedicated to support increase every other player’s duration of active play by running around and rezzing people or focusing on creature control and interrupts rather than damage. This helps everybody’s energy in the long run.
Since we had been using normal encounters as a baseline, I switched to the topic of epic encounters. The Shatterer was a huge boss where actions like rolling behind the creature to avoid a blow was impossible. The epic encounters are also much longer fights. Peters and Kerstein noted that with the bigger fights there are also many more actions to choose from. Players could help revive downed allies (at no energy cost). They could fire some cannons or deal with some of the enemy spawns harassing the cannons. There was even more room in the event to just run away and take a breather. Ultimately, Cartwright said, there is just more time.
In the Shatterer fight, it’s a big puzzle. If he freezes people, he will kill them unless they are broken free by other players. If he throws down some self-healing crystals, players have to destroy those before he heals all the damage. It becomes less about managing resources, and more about solving the puzzle as a large group of people. It’s not an attrition war.
This lead to the topic of dungeons because it was a smaller event where I thought resource management could be a huge factor. Peters said that coordination with the group was much more meaningful in the dungeons of Guild Wars 2. The story mode of the dungeon required some coordination, but they did not want to make a huge difficulty bar. The repeatable mode in the dungeons requires significantly more coordination. The coordination is an organic, fluid change in roles. If the warrior in the group that’s been trying to draw agro from all the creatures needs some energy, the elementalist might change roles so that the warrior can take a small breather.
Cartwright said that dungeons were more punishing on the resource end if players were not aware of the battlefield. They would be using more defensive skills, which would ultimately lead to energy exhaustion. He didn’t want to go in to dungeons too much because they were still balancing that content in terms of resource management (and everything else). But, the goal was to make it fun group-based content.
I had to wedge in a PvP question, especially with regards to 5v5. First, potions are reset to a certain number each fight. Unlike PvE, the players are not really responsible for potions, and each player will have an equal amount. It’s a pretty low number, but it resets on death. One mechanic they have been experimenting with is placing potions around a map so that during the battle players could go refill them. Cartwright said the system really works well with battlefield movement and spreading everybody out. The potions give a sort of re-supply mechanic. Obviously more defensive players will need to rely more on potions and the re-supply mechanic.
Peters said that energy is like ammo in an first-person shooter. Players really don’t watch it most of the time, but during periods of heavy activity energy becomes an issue. Yet in Guild Wars 2, the more defensive a player is the more the resource is used. So a player rolling around like crazy will burn themselves out pretty quick. A skilled player using rolls very tactically would be fine. They assured me that jumping, which requires no energy, gives no tactical advantage, but if they saw something negative come in to play with say bunny hoppers, they are ready to clamp down on it.
We moved on to stuff like elite skills, and I was sold… [to be continued]
like rainbows in diablo