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Jeff Strain talks Guild Wars Nightfall

ArenaNet's big cheese on story, culture, kids with weapons and killer giraffes

How does Nightfall continue the story of Prophecies and Factions?

Strain: I call it the third instalment of a trilogy: the original game took place on the continent of Tyria, and Factions took place on an entirely different continent - the continent of Cantha. Now we've come back to a new land, by the name of Elona - but it's contiguous with the original continent. Players from the original Prophecies campaign will remember that there was a large area called the Crystal Desert. In the south-east of that, there was an entire other section of the continent - and that's Elona, where the story picks up.

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A lot of the creatures, the boss monsters and the lore that the players were introduced to as they crossed the Crystal Desert in the first campaign will now be fully explored. Nightfall is really designed to take a lot of the story threads and take them to a satisfying conclusion.

Why did you choose a more African theme?

Strain: It's not really an African theme - one of the things we try to do is take mythologies, cultural elements and different fantasy traditions from different parts of the world and explore them with a fantasy twist. So what you'll find in Nightfall, in terms of the architecture, creatures, the colour palettes we chose and the feel of the story itself, all have a North African flavour. It's not a representation of North Africa, it's a fantastical rendition.

The characters you meet, the way they talk, the languages, the clothing, the materials used in the construction of the buildings, the outlines of the sky against the cityscape - everything is always unique in every individual campaign in Guild Wars. We want them to stand apart from each other.

What with the different real-world cultural foundations of the Guild Wars instalments, do you have to be careful what you portray?

Strain: In all honesty, in this case we have to treat it very, very delicately. World events are going on, in particular in Northern and Central Africa. With ongoing wars, we have to be very careful about the rendition of children and of people in the game - we have to be careful to be respectful of every single nuance of culture.

Have you had to change anything because of that?

Strain: In one case, we found that we had a character who was portrayed as a child who was a little more militaristic than he should have been - in other words, he had a weapon. What with all the problems in Africa with children being conscripted into revolutionary armies, we decided to completely rewrite that section of the game to make sure there was no nuance of that whatsoever. That's something we're constantly analysing, and we feel confident this is a very positive and affirming portrayal of these cultural elements.

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The characters we've seen in the new Dervish role look fantastic. What can you tell us about them?

Strain: The Dervish is a truly visually-striking character - peering out from the hood with these piercing green eyes - but in motion, she's breathtaking. The way she whirls, the way she moves: the kinetic motion and the flowing cloth - we're really excited about that.

Beyond that, her skill package is very unique - she can take on the visage of one of the five gods in the game - taking their form for a period of time. It's exciting for people to be able to morph into these huge, towering godlike forms and wreak destruction on the battlefield. That's probably her main draw.

How do you come up with new monster designs?

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