Stare Into The Scrying Pool – A Guild Wars 15th Anniversary Developer Interview

Guild Wars 15th Anniversary Developer Interview

Happy Birthday, Tyrians! Guild Wars, the progenitor of our attack on the Elder Dragons, is 15 today. The old school adventure has taken legions of us on epic adventures across the Tyrian landscape, watched destroyers rise, and empires fall. It still continues to be massively popular today and developer ArenaNet is celebrating the success of this classic RPG.

After launching back in 2005, the NCSoft published title became a massive online hit. With its sweeping adventure, online connectivity, and buy to play model it stayed a staple in the online gaming sphere to this day. While the bigger budget MMO Guild Wars 2 might get most of the headlines, developer ArenaNet is busy celebrating this huge milestone. We asked a few of the team that has been through the long grind between titles to step away from the cake for a moment and talk to us about their memories of Guild Wars. We recruited three henchmen for this run. Joe Kimmes is our first party member. He is currently a Guild Wars 2 Content Designer and worked as a Content Programmer on Guild Wars. Matthew Medina is now a Guild Wars 2 senior designer with experience as a 3D artist working on props and environment art in old Tyria. Our gang is rounded out by Robert Gee who was a Guild Wars Live Team Designer and widely appreciated Game Designer for work across the Necromancer and Mesmer classes in Guild Wars 2.

With Guild Wars hitting 15 years I wanted to just ask what your abiding memory of launch was and for those of you that were there for the second time around how that changed?


Joe Kimmes: I started just after the launch of Factions, so my first big launch was Nightfall. I remember on the day the expansion was going live, a bug was found in an early mission but the programmer who owned it was fixing a priority issue elsewhere, so I was asked to figure it out in a hurry. At the time, I just moved as quickly as I could and found a fix, but looking back there was a lot of faith placed in me at that moment, only hours before players would be playing it!

Matthew Medina: Shipping the first Guild Wars was certainly a monumental moment in my development career, and I can still recall all of the developers and many of our family members crammed together in our small office space, listening to heart-warming speeches from Jeff, Pat and Mo, and then counting down together until the programmers “flipped the switch” and let players trickle into our world for the first time! We had all spent so much time and effort preparing for that day, so seeing the world become populated and getting to log in to view outposts full of people was nothing short of a dream come true.
Guild Wars 2 was like that but turned up to 200! It was still incredibly exciting, as so many of the team were new, and hadn’t shipped a game like that before but where shipping GW1 had felt like a big family gathering, the atmosphere of shipping GW2 was more like a giant party! We had live music, catered food, lights, and decorations, and even security! Both experiences are tremendous highlights of my time working at Arenanet and I look forward to more experiences like that in the future!

Back then did you quite have any idea that the game was going to have the impact it did?


Joe Kimmes: Before I worked at ArenaNet, I played GW1 but I didn’t have much idea of the scope of it; it was simply another computer game I could play with my friends. When I started seeing how worldwide the game’s players were, it was staggering.

Matthew Medina: It was certainly our hope, and something that as a team we always had faith in – from day one, I can that we believed that there was something special and unique in the experience that we were offering players, and we really hoped that how we executed on that promise and that vision would resonate with the players, but you really don’t *know* with certainty until you turn the service live, and watch it unfold in front of you in real time. I think we really started to see those things crystallize at our first big trade shows, when players and press got their hands on it for the first time, and we saw that there was a strong interest in the gameplay and the world we were creating.

guild wars 2 Hall of Ascension Guild Wars 15th Anniversary Developer Interview


How does it feel to see that content and area recreated in Guild Wars 2? (I think this hit me hardest in Glint’s lair)


Joe Kimmes: I always have a rush of excitement seeing familiar terrain! For me it was the Hall of Monuments at launch that hit me the most; stepping into the halls that I had spent so much time on, and seeing them changed but still there after so many years in Tyria, really made me feel like I was returning to that world for a new adventure.

Matthew Medina: I can say, as a longtime developer, especially one who worked on some of those environments in Guild Wars 1, it gives me goosebumps to see some of the changes that transformed the world and the setting between Guild Wars 1 and 2. In particular, I worked on the prop set for the original Tomb of the Primeval Kings as well as the Temple of Ascension, and seeing both of those revived and updated for Path of Fire just took my breath away, and I couldn’t wait to run around in them to see how the artists had re-envisioned those locations.


It’s great to see new weapons coming into Guild Wars 1. Tell us about the new rewards and what inspired them?


Joe Kimmes: With the 10th Anniversary, we added a set of special unique weapons with strong, fixed stats. This time the hope was to give players the feel of having a new tool to revisit their builds with, so the 15th set is customizable but also features previously-impossible attribute requirements, allowing the weapons to be used at full potential on professions other than their normal wielders. I doubt they will dethrone any speed clear builds, but I hope some players will enjoy the chance to paint outside the normal lines a bit.

How difficult is it to even create these now? Stephen Clarke noted on Redditt that it can be really difficult to get the supporting tools up and running for any development as time creeps on.


Joe Kimmes: In some ways, it’s faster – the hardware creating new builds is much more powerful than it was 15 years ago! But there are tradeoffs, as less-critical tools fall into disuse. The biggest challenge was probably shaking off my own cobwebs and getting back into the swing of GW1 programming!

guild wars hal of ascencion guild wars 2 Hall of Ascension Guild Wars 15th Anniversary Developer Interview

Looking at the game now it feels like a perfect time for the wave of classic comebacks to boost interest in the original Guild Wars. Do you think we’re ready for a new wave of Guild Wars interest?


Joe Kimmes: I’d love to see it! We’ve done a lot of work to make sure that Guild Wars 1 is still online and available, and it’s always great to see players experiencing it for the first time.

Matthew Medina: I certainly think so! I think that the fact that the game, and the franchise, have endured so long is testament to the players and the community finding something of value in the world we create together, and I am optimistic that together we will continue to build on the world of Guild Wars now and for many years to come.

Guild Wars still stands apart with its own story and systems. Combat in particular feeling like entirely unique. Is that distinct identity part of the game’s longevity and appeal?


Joe Kimmes: I think there is a simplicity to GW1 that really strengthens it, and gives it that longevity. You have an incredible number of options, but ultimately just 8 skills, a few pieces of equipment and 20 levels worth of attribute points. Within that there’s a countless number of challenges you can set for yourself or strange builds to try to get through difficult missions with.

Matthew Medina: Having and building upon a distinct vision with the Guild Wars franchise is one of the things I’ve been most proud of as a developer at Arenanet. We’ve never been happy settling for the standard approach to problems and are always looking for ways to look at solutions from a different angle, and to apply that methodology to everything that we do, whether it’s how we approach combat design, aesthetics, or storytelling. I think that sort of thinking is what leads us to stand out a bit, and lets our community know that we’re not afraid of taking risks.

guild wars Hall_of_Monuments

Looking back, people have grown up with the game. It’s had a massive impact on several lives. What’s it like to have a piece of work that has that sort of legacy and to be a part of it?


Joe Kimmes: Sometimes I step back and can’t believe it’s been 15 years! There are undoubtedly players younger than the game itself who are trying it right now, and some of them will go on to work on their own games. For the players who have been with it from the start, I hope that they have fond memories of their adventures in Tyria.

Matthew Medina: For me, it’s truly humbling. When I’ve spoken to players and fans from the community who tell me about the tremendous positive impact that the world of Tyria has had on their personal lives, I find myself speechless to some degree. I am so incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this franchise, and to have had the opportunities we’ve had to empower other people to explore and experience the settings, characters, and stories of their dreams.

Compare and contrast doing expansions for Guild Wars 1 vs 2? How did your thought process change regarding expansions for each game?


Joe Kimmes: When I was hired, we were working on Nightfall; I think at the time, there was a thought that each expansion had certain boxes to check – two professions, new tutorial, new story, a certain number of skills per profession. In Eye of the North, and in GW2’s expansions, we broke out of that mold and were more experimental with the goals for what an expansion could add to the game.

Any favorite pieces of content you worked on in Guild Wars?


Joe Kimmes: For playable content, I still have a soft spot for the quest “Flamingo-ing… going… gone.” in Istan. It was one of the first ‘complicated’ quests I made, since you are not allowed to kill the offending flamingoes but instead have to use emotes to shoo them away from a farmer’s fields. I learned a lot in the process of making it, and the silliness of chasing flamingoes around on the dev servers trying to get them to work properly has stuck with me.
(Trivia: in an early development version, the flamingoes were neutral, not friendly, so by forcing an attack the player could opt into combating the flamingo problem more directly. Ultimately the designers changed the flamingo team to prevent that harsher route through the quest.)
My favorite mechanical addition is Mercenary Heroes – at first, I told the designers it couldn’t be done, but having said that it became a challenge and eventually a reality.

Matthew Medina: I think the work of mine that I still cherish most are the various props that our team made for pre-searing Ascalon. It was something that we got assigned fairly late in the development of Prophecies, but creating and then assembling the assets which we used to construct this pristine, magical fantasy of Tyria before a cataclysmic event was exactly what the game needed to create the emotional connection we wanted to.
The quest I had the most fun building was the Dwarven Boxing quest in Winds of Change. It takes the player through an entire zone punching out gang members with an NPC buddy so they can deliver a letter to the emperor. It was incredibly goofy and had no real bearing on the plot but I had a good laugh the whole time I was making it.

What about GW did you love the concept of, but wish it could have been implemented better?


Joe Kimmes: I am the fastest Rollerbeetle racer at ArenaNet, and mention that whenever the chance presents itself, but the Rollerbeetle races go faster and around sharper corners than the GW1 engine was really optimized for.

Ok some fun stuff. It’s been 15 years tell us something you’re still not done or something you still need to complete?


Joe Kimmes: I will confess that I ended my personal Hall of Monuments journey at 45/50 points. I’m pretty proud of that total, but to get those last few points is where the true effort begins, with maxing titles, vanquishing and so on.

Matthew Medina: My Hall of Monuments is sadly underwhelming! I keep saying that I will log back into the game someday and push that number up, but then I remember how bad I was at the original game.


Favorite hero?


Joe Kimmes: After a lot of consideration, M.O.X. Everyone digs giant robots! And it has unique transformations for the Dervish avatar forms, which is a detail I really enjoyed programming at the time. Its addition was also one of the first pieces of content that I worked on for the GW1 live team after Eye of the North released, so I have fond memories of his associated content.
Matthew Medina : Jora, hands down. I always loved her story, and after recruiting her she maintained a permanent slot in my party.
Dunham the mesmer henchman is my favorite “hero”. Early on when I was playing GW1 I had a near party wipe in the Ring of Fire islands and Dunham bravely soloed the hydra boss in order to get his res signet back and save my party.

Favorite villain?


Joe Kimmes: Without needing time to consider, Palawa Joko. I loved his character in Nightfall – in a different story he would be the final boss of his chapter, and you expect his betrayal in every mission that you meet him in. Instead, he helps you out, true to the bargain you make with him, because he’s savvy enough to avoid picking a fight with another once-a-generation legendary hero. He plays the long game well and, as we see in GW2, it pays off for a long time.

Matthew Medina: The one I love to hate is Bonfaaz Burntfur, the architect of the Searing and the destroyer of Ascalon. That fiend!


For many of us, the Hall of Monuments above remains the last jumping-off point between Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 and the first familiar point that players of both games found common ground in. At first, it seemed like a passing of the torch but maybe after the celebrations are over and the cake is spent, the new graphical updates, the latest weapons, and the old world of Tyria might draw in a new round of adventurers as Guild Wars continues to play host to a whole range of explorers.


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