Guild Wars’ starting area was built in “just a few weeks” after a last-minute request

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Daniel Dociu, art director at Guild Wars 2 studio Arena Net since 2003, is retiring. Stepping into his shoes is his son Horia, and we got the chance to speak with him about his new role. 

We reckon Guild Wars 2 is one of the best MMOs on PC.

We’ll have the full version of that interview ready for you soon, but in the meantime, here’s a fun story Dociu shared. Asked whether he could name any specific pieces of work that he’s exceptionally proud of, he thinks for a moment, but it doesn’t take him long to name pre-Searing Ascalon, the starting area of the original Guild Wars.

“We had finished the game, we’re in bug fixing mode, and everybody’s kind of taking it a little bit easy,” he says. After a devastating magical attack called the Searing, “the game started off in this scorched Ascalon, this very dark, fantastical version of a post-apocalypse. And our founder [Mike O’Brien] goes y’know what, I don’t wanna start the game like that. You’re fighting to save this world – let’s show them a world that’s worth saving.” A request was made to start the game in an idyllic pre-Searing Ascalon – which didn’t exist yet.

“And we’re just like: are you fucking kidding me?” says Dociu. “There’s no time, there’s no – just no!” To which the reply was: “Well, we’re doing it guys, ‘cause we wanna start off on a happy note and have people save that world, and whatever.”

Fortunately, “we had buttoned up our tools by then, we had our processes down, and in a matter of just a few weeks we went from not having anything at all to having this really beautiful castle, and you go outside and there’s these rolling hills.” Dociu was in charge of those rolling hills: “these fields of grain, and red poppies everywhere, and oak trees, and this very natural, beautiful autumn vibe that makes you feel like it’s the day before Thanksgiving here in America. And it was all done pretty fast – people were making castles, and I made a few marketplace storefronts with sausages and garlic hanging from the rafters of the carts of the guys who were selling there… To this day a lot of fans still say ‘man, that’s my favourite [area], I wanna recapture that’.”

Dociu says it “would’ve been easy for people to just sort of slap something together and get it out the fricking door, but everybody said ok, let’s make the sweetest, most beautiful thing that we could at the time, and we did it, and we did it quick. So that was something that me and I think the rest of the team were all very proud of.”

Indeed; pre-Searing Ascalon is meant to be a brief prologue experience, but Dociu has heard stories of players who will grind up to level 20 there just so they can “say that they’ve lived in pre-Searing Ascalon.” Doing so usually involves ‘death-levelling’ – a process in which players level-up timid monsters by sacrificing themselves to them, then kill the stronger monsters for added experience. “That’s just fantastic,” says Dociu. “And I think it’s hilarious, and it’s awesome, and it’s more than we could’ve hoped for. So I think that’s our first big ‘win’.”

Look out for our full interview with Horia Dociu on-site soon.