Going from dark horse to multi-million seller, Guild Wars has been the Cinderella story of the MMO world, battling against the heavyweights of WOW and EverQuest II for supremacy - and holding its own.
Art director Daniel Dociu certainly has got a lot to do with this success. We've cornered him to find out more about how the look and styles of Guild Wars, and the new expansion pack Eye of the North, came about. All the while wondering where we've seen that face before...
A PROBLEM OF SIZE
Daniel Dociu: The scope of the game is definitely one big challenge. An MMO of Guild Wars' proportion is something I hadn't done before, and it took a different perspective.
It needed a different kind of thinking: a lot more planning, the ability to step back and look at the big picture and plan for all the details to fit and work within the context of a broader storyline. And from a production perspective the scope doesn't even compare!
We're talking 100 maps, each of them vast enough for the player to roam around for hours. Then there's the need for having all of these maps to look reasonably unique, diverse, different and rich. In an MMO, you can go anywhere, and see everything from a different angle - and that's a real challenge for the designers and artists.
Dociu: With Factions, we were participating at a trade show in Asia where we built a small prototype map with an Asian feel to it. We were at a point where we were wrapping up Prophecies, and we were thinking what possible directions we could follow with our next chapter, and the good response we got from that demo prompted us to dare tackle an Asian theme.
We figured it made sense from a story standpoint, it allowed us to move onto a different continent and it was something we hadn't done before. We all got excited about the challenge. It was very well received, and so we moved onto Nightfall, and we had to decide where we'd go next. We felt that Africa and the Middle East had a lot to offer, and thought "Hey, let's give this a shot.
Dociu: I do inspirational pieces that stimulate the imaginations of the art team and designers. We use my art to start conversations, and many of the ideas that have to be adapted to the realities of production to make them usable in the game - some turn out not to be useable at all.
My job is to inspire the team and push the envelope, and lay the base for the content. Because I believe the environments set the tone for a game, I gravitate towards defining the look of the regions, but when I want to take a break from that, I try my luck with creature or character work.
Dociu: I am not in control of the storyline, nor do I want to be. The way that I personally like to work, and the way things oftentimes work out, is that I throw out ideas and propose a possible context that these ideas could work in - a seed for the storywriters to consider.
If at that point I manage to get them inspired and they get excited about the idea, I'll leave it up to them to expand on that and let that seed grow. We'll negotiate back and forth, and make sure the idea isn't watered down and doesn't compromise the integrity of the vision. It's a collaborative effort; a synergy of ideas.
GETTING IN THE MOOD
Dociu: We let everybody loose for a week or so to go and search the web and hit the library for inspiration. We then dump a lot of reference material into folders that are then organised by subject, and add to a huge database of imagery that we put together for each of the new chapters in the game.