2020 has proved to be a momentous year for ArenaNet and Guild Wars. The seminal RPG would eventually cement the Seattle Studio as a major player in the gaming industry turned 15 years old and ArenaNet celebrates its own 20th anniversary this year. While marking this occasion, we got a chance to talk to ArenaNet Art Director Aaron Coberly and skimmed the recent release of The Complete Art of Guild Wars.
It seems fitting that the Complete Art Of Guild Wars chronicles the world of Guild Wars from the earliest moments of its conception to the latest Guild Wars 2 updates. The recently released tome comes courtesy of Indigo Boock and is published by Dark Horse Comics. This coffee table sized collection is a beautiful selection of art and concept designs that takes fans into the history of the Tyria with a glorious flash of color. Concept art, loading screens, character designs, and some exclusive additions from unreleased content fill the pages of this piece. The Complete Art of Guild Wars 2 is a must have for all heroes of Tyria that still revel in the loading screen filler that has largely fallen foul of blazing-fast SSD load times in modern gaming.
The Early Ages
ArenaNet’s new collection of artwork comes to split up into a series of sections, each depicting the rise of the Guild Wars franchise from the release of Prophecies through to the inception of the Living World. Nine different sections fill the bound pages with a glimpse back as a chronicle of Tyria. This includes artwork not just for the original release but for follow ups Factions, Nightfall, and Eye of the North. Guild Wars 2, the Living world, as well as the Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire Expansions are also part of this illustrious history. Sandwiched between these two games, readers will even find a sample of the designs that were prepared for the unreleased Utopia expansion. While peering through the pages of this tale, we took some time to ask ArenaNet Art Director Aaron Coberly about how the game and its artists keep Tyria looking so distinctly familiar to commanders.
Coberly : “I think that one of the things that I’ve always been really thankful for, about Guild Wars specifically, was Daniel. When he took over as our director and I joined not too long after 17 years ago, his vision was really to allow artists to be creative with under the umbrella of the wider universe.
An example of this is the Charr culture. The Charr build things. Everything is hard edges and rough, and if you bump into it you’re going to hurt yourself. All of our cultures within our world also had these same core of ingredients and so with all of the amazing artists that we’ve had over the years, we’ve been able to take that and then incorporate that into our world and because our world has pretty strong core building blocks. We can use those so we can have somebody come up with a crazy idea and we can incorporate that and fit it into our world and still have it work with the whole world.”
The artwork behind the unfinished Utopia Expansion, that eventually led into the creation of Guild Wars 2 is likely to be a highlight for any commander that has taken a step in Tyria. Looking unlike anything that treads through Tyria today, the creature creations that you’ll find between pages are a glorious glimpse of what might have been. Just imagine scrambling through the shantytowns of the Xotecha coastline, interacting with heroes from across time and space. It’s easy to see how Utopia continues to have an impact on Guild Wars even while we chase Elder Dragons through the mists.
While digging through the island of Xotecha and finding our way in the mists is an unusual delight that I did not expect, one of the joys of this compilation is a chance to look back and forward at the same time. Early images of Fort Ebonhawke allow end game players to find common ground with the impact of the past and understand the significance of the location when they run from the Black Citadel at the start of Guild Wars 2. This is particularly relevant by the time The Eye Of The North features, acting as a great touch point for players of both games.
Anybody who has not ventured back into Guild Wars or its three expansions might worry that there’s not much for them here but even when the artwork in this recent collection takes a definitive turn in heart of Thorns, it still feels like Guild Wars as Coberly described.
Coberly “I think we’re always trying to be fresh and I think that when we do specific things for a certain amount of time we ask how we can be unique, while still belonging in the world.The great thing about Guild Wars is that the races in the game give us so much freedom. You have a Human, the Charr, you have the Sylvari, you have the Asura. You have this super high tech verging on Sci-fi with the Asura, playing against the Charr that are grounded and forged in steel and iron. Then you have the Sylvari who are super new.
Our world is so rich and culturally vast that it gives us so many ingredients to work with, to ask what can we do.”
While my own favorite Sylvari, Scarlet, gets a mention in the recent compilation of this work, it’s probably the inclusion of art for the unreleased Utopia concept art that many long term fans will appreciate. Set sometime between the last Guild Wars update and the hit MMORPG Guild Wars 2, Utopia was a new explosion of color on the map. This new island straddled the mists, untethered from the concepts that held down traditional Tyria. As we pondered the vibrant refugees that hang on cliffs overlooking the edge of reality, we asked if Utopia was supposed to be this convergence of ideas.
Coberly “Now, I don’t know exactly, the hyper-specifics on how it all came together. I know that we were experimenting with new inspiration. With our cultures, we take a lot of in real life inspirations and test how can we then incorporate that and how can we make that spectacular within our world.
At that time we were playing with new ideas. At the concept stage, and this is what’s being shown, it was all exploratory. This was an example of us asking, ‘Hey could we do something like that? We can take these elements and add these ones?’
I feel that, early on, whenever you’re coming up with an idea, or an area, or an expansion, or all those kind of things you start off with a really blue-sky and try to push the limits of what you can do. Daniel would say ‘Don’t give up on an idea. Go all the way. Go all the way and then go beyond what you think is appropriate. Scale the heck out of it and just go crazy. Then come back and figure out where your limits are and then bring it back’, as opposed to asking if that is okay.”
The shanty towns of Xotecha certainly look like they would have reached for that blue sky. With clear inspirations from the cities of Rio, we pressed on how the team find that inspiration to develop those ideas and shoot for the stars. Do they go as far as visiting the desert plains, like the Team at Jagex did before the Runescape Menaphos expansion?
“One of the things we do is look at what we’ve done, and then look at what we haven’t done and then look at the world and there’s so much inspiration. That’s just one influence though. It’s really taking what we’ve done, trying to move into different areas that we haven’t done, and then working with design and narrative. It’s about understanding how that would that then fit into the story. Ideas can start off the and as you progress, narrow down and totally get that sweet spot.”
Only 200 Pages
I’ve had the pleasure of picking up more than a few Collector’s Editions and artwork collections from a range of great games but this compilation of concept art comes from one of the largest archives or artists available in gaming. Just a quick glance at the Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 wiki showcases work from dozens of incredibly skilled concept artists alone, never mind character artists, vfx designers, animators, and environmental artists who have had a hand in crafting the evolution of Tyria. While the Complete Art Of Guild Wars is an amazing collection, it barely scrapes the surface of the work that goes on behind closed doors at ArenaNet.
Coberly : “Concept art is an amazing and beautiful component of video game creation, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story or describe how many amazing and talented artists there are involved in the process. That doesn’t even take into account the programmers, the graphics engineers who actually work with us to do to help us make all of the visuals in the game and the designers who help us tell fantastic stories. This is a beautiful component, but only one component of something so much larger.
Of course, we’ve been fortunate to have so many talented concept artists but that’s just one component of an amazingly gifted our team as a whole. We had a student class come in last year and they asked me to give a presentation, and I’m trying to think about what I would do, and one of the first things I did was ask, “Do you know all of the disciplines that exist within in our team and we got to show them all the effects artists, technical artists, you have your map artists, you have your prop artists. There’s so many disciplines and then even within those disciplines you kinda have people who are really good at a specific area, like for the character team. You know we had one of our artists who was just really really incredibly good at hair”
Understanding that with such a massive operation, and twenty years, picking just a few items to pull into 200 pages must have been a massive challenge for ArenaNet and writer Indigo Boock. Before we took to the winds we asked Coberly what his personal highlight is from 20 years of Guild Wars art.
Coberly “This might sound a bit cheesy but it has to be that we’ve created this massive world and that we are still going. It’s great to see us supporting the fans and have them supporting us, and we’re still moving forward. That’s the biggest thing for me, that we’ve created this world that is still sustainable. It blows me away.
From a much more narrow perspective, I’m also really invested in the characters in Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2. I love the fashion wars. It’s great seeing websites where players are taking characters and pushing them beyond what I might have imagined they would look like. It’s cool how people put together the different components in game to make something entirely different. I think that seeing people really build the avatar that they love and have a real connection to is deeply satisfying for me because it’s something that I’m very personally invested”
While Tyria’s fate still hangs in the balance after the dramatic end to No Quarter, I”m quite sure that it will continue to have a place on my own coffee table even if the Jormag turns up for to the all you can eat mystical buffet. The Complete Art of Guild Wars 2 is out now, published by Dark Horse.