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Hidden Arcana: Developer Spotlight on Sean Hughes

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Hi, I’m Anatoli Ingram, and welcome to Hidden Arcana, where we’ll give you an inside look at some of the people and processes behind the creation of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™. This week, I spoke to Game Designer Sean Hughes about how he got his start in game development, the projects he’s working on at ArenaNet, and what beetles have to do with event design!

Sean started making mods for his favorite games when he was fourteen. After hearing a motivational speech in his senior year of high school about turning passions into new lines of work, he began seriously considering game design as a career. He studied at DigiPen Institute of Technology, and in his senior year became an intern at ArenaNet. His first responsibility was to help iron out bugs on the Skills team. Sean also worked on the mesmer’s elite specialization, the chronomancer.

Sean was offered a full-time position at ArenaNet following his internship, and he moved to working on maps for Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. While creating content for the game was much different than his previous work on skills, the skills and combat systems of Guild Wars 2 are so pervasive throughout the game that his experience proved useful. Players have skills, creatures have skills, and even bundles and objects can have skills; knowing how they work helps him make the best use of them.

Event creation is Sean’s primary responsibility. He described the process of creating an event in one of the Maguuma Jungle maps, which came to him after he saw the Nuhoch hylek using their massive tongues to grab and toss insects. Sean thought it would be fun if players could do the same thing, and so he came up with an event that would make use of the ability to toss bugs around with wild abandon.

The premise of the event is that the players’ allies want to raise beetles to serve them, but they lack the necessary bugs to fuel the process. It’s the players’ responsibility to collect creepy-crawlies, but it’s not as simple as picking them up or escorting them to their new homes. Instead, the event requires players to use control abilities to push and throw beetles onto capture points.

Events are built around one concept that makes them stand out, and in this case, Sean wanted to have players use control abilities to accomplish objectives. The first step was to build a prototype of the event from start to finish and determine whether the concept worked in action; concepts that initially sound good can end up being either too complicated, a poor fit for the game, or simply not fun. If the prototype seems promising, the next step is to invite fellow developers to playtest the event. Feedback was mixed: throwing beetles back and forth was fun, but the event was too easy and lacked tension, so Sean raised the stakes by adding enemies to harass the beetles and their would-be herders.

Feedback is an important part of content development, but it can be challenging to use effectively. Sean said that feedback sometimes correctly identifies an issue, but not the right solution. An event may also be working as intended, but the goals and objectives may not be communicated correctly to the player. Interpreting the meaning of feedback is just as important as gathering it.

Sean said that his love of video games derives from the endless possibilities they provide for doing the impossible. As a gamer himself, he wants players who choose to spend their free time in Guild Wars 2—and the events he’s designed—to have the best experiences he can create.

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