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Inventing Asura: Guild Wars 2′s Ree Soesbee and Jeff Grubb

Thursday, 15th September 2011 14:02 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Over on the official Guild Wars 2 website this week, the spotlight is on the Asura race, and VG247 has an exclusive interview with continuity and lore designers Ree Soesbee and Jeff Grubb as well as the first look at new assets featuring the diminutive, gnome-like mad scientists.

Jeff Grubb and Ree Sosebee

Ree Soesbee:Continuity and Lore Designer for ArenaNet. Completed her MA in English Literature and worked on her PhD at UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Author of more than a dozen novels, as well as numerous traditional RPG and CCG games.

Jeff Grubb:Continuity and Lore Designer for ArenaNet. Has worked on a number of RPGs and has written a number of successful novels, short stories and comics. Credits include The Finder’s Stone Trilogy and 2006′s Guild Wars Nightfall.

Jeff Grubb along with his colleague Ree Soesbee, both work at ArenaNet on Guild Wars 2 as the game’s lore and continuity designers. As world builders, the duo are tasked with creating the people, nations and races in the game, and are also charges with determining why monsters are roaming about the place, and what the overall theme of the game is.

In Guild Wars 2 there are five playable races, as opposed to the original where only the Humans could be played, consisting of the former; the Charr, the Norn; the Sylvari; and the Asura.

The Asura first showed up in the last of the Guild Wars expansion, Eye of the North, and are a race which was driven to the surface by the Great Destroyer, one of the servants of an Elder Dragon. In Guild Wars 2, the Elder Dragons, huge titanic elemental forces, have awoken and are coming back into the world raising islands from the bottom of the sea and leaving great scars across the territory.

How this pertains to the Asura, is the Elder Dragon Primordus, the herald of the Great Destroyer, drove them to the surface where they became a refugee race in Guild Wars 1.

Since then, they have done very well for themselves in Tyria, using their extremely advanced knowledge of magic and the arcane. This intelligent, gnome-like race used magic to carve a massive cube of stone out of the earth, and set it aloft in the sky. This, is their main city, Rata Sum, is where they are still building by carving pieces off and casting more things aside.

Looking at the Asura environment, it’s a very magical world which uses magic on a day-to-day basis as opposed to using it as a province of an elementalist. The majority of Asurans know about magic and how to use it, so they see it as part of their universe as opposed to separate. As far as what they look like, they were an underground, cave-dwelling race, so they are diminutive with long ears and big eyes.

According to Grubb, it would be “very dangerous to say that they are cute or inoffensive,” because not only do they have sharp teeth, but even sharper minds to go along with the attitude that they are “the heirs to the universe.” They are the smartest kids in the class and they know it.

Basically, the Asura are a rather narcissistic race of mad wizards, doing constant research to advance their sum of knowledge, all the while trying to solve everything the universe holds. They try to understand anything and everything, and believe there is no problem that can’t be solved given their application of intelligence, resources and willpower. Thus, these are the hallmarks of being an Asura.

VG247: Basically, what you are saying is the Asura are more mentalists than they are physical, because they use the Golems for all the physical work they need, correct?

Ree Sosebee: The Golems AND the other races. One of the ways that they interact with the other races is by having them do the heavy lifting. The Asura are inventors and when we say that we don’t mean just craftsmen or that they create physical things – they are intelligent and have thoughts on how the world should be shaped and should work, they have thoughts on how things should interact, they have philosophies that control their use of magic in technology of a magical design. They think outside the box constantly – that’s just what they do.

Jeff Grubb: People ask what the historical comparisons are, and they are really very much like the natural philosophers of the Enlightenment who were trying to discover what oxygen was and how the circulation system worked – like people such as Newton who were polymaths who worked in 15 different fields at once making amazing discoveries in all of them. Imagine a race of Newton’s, a race of Edison’s and you have the Asura.

The Asura are “very much like the natural philosophers of the Enlightenment.”

I imagine they could cause a lot of chaos as well because of their abilities. They don’t seem inherently evil though – more chaotic neutral maybe?

RS: Not even chaotic – they are just self-absorbed. Speaking in very general terms, an Asura’s primary goal is to further himself. He wants to be recognized for how intelligent he is. He wants to invent something that will change the world, whether that be an invention or a philosophy, he wants to be seen as prestigious and awesome and amazing and he wants everyone else to look up to him and curry his favor. They are not an evil race – there are evil people and evil groups but as a race they are simply self-absorbed.

JG: There’s a line of thought that on the one hand they are very lawful in that they are highly organized in their thought processes, but they are very chaotic in that if you get a bunch of them together, it’s like herding cats because they all have their own way of taking care of things. And while it is an organized and precise way, it is different than everybody else’s way.

I see that they like using a lot of electricity, so they are like a bunch of little Tesla’s walking around?

JG: Tesla is the patron saint of this bunch. They would have loved him; he’s the patron saint of weird science. It’s not so much electricity as energy – magical energy. Electricity is part of it, but they also deal with lines of force. They have their labs, but these labs are under water or floating under the surrounding territories or carved deep into the rock and they look magical as well.

Asura, according to the lore, are centered around krewes or research organizations with one called the Inquest. Is this particular krewe going to create major problems?

JG: Oh, yes! To solve a problem, a bunch of Asura get together, they form a team, they solve the problem, they go their separate ways – that’s the concept of a krewe. They are a very organized operation in that sense. One of the problems that they have with the krewes, is that some are far off with labs out in the wilderness with privacy and trying yo make sure that they are the guy with the credit and that no one else steals it. A lot of the knowledge gets lost, a lot of signal drops out.

The Inquest has come up with a way of reducing that loss of signal and what they have done is to effectively create a corporation. They have created a hierarchy, they are much more lawful than the members of their race, but it tends to be lawful-evil, as they are cut off from morality at that point. So they will do things that most Asura will not want. Most Asura would not want to conduct experiments on sentient races, whereas the Inquest don’t have those qualms – they believe the end justifies the means. They are the kind of an organization where if you join the Inquest, you are never leaving and everything you do belongs to the group, so it’s very much a more structured and controlling organization. All Asura are manipulative, but the Asura are very heavy-handed.

“Tesla is the patron saint of this bunch. They would have loved him; he’s the patron saint of weird science.”

Each of the races have members of their own race that they are fighting; the humans are fighting bandits, the Charr have the renegade legions that they are fighting and in the case of the Asura, they have the Inquest that have the potential to beat the Asura at their own game.

Are they also located at Rata Sum or are they encountered at a different point in the game?

RS: They are, but Asura tend to have their own laboratories and if an individual is working on a project, they will have a place where they and a smaller group of people are tasked to working on that. The Inquest has larger labs and larger bases where they work on their things, but they have members in Rata Sum where they have representation there, because they are a large group of the Asura.

JG: In the starting area there is a former Inquest lab – with the accent on “former” – where they were experimenting when things went horribly, horribly wrong, so there is a big chunk of territory which is twisted and melted and has all kinds of strange magical effects going off all of the time. Part of the early story takes you off into that area.

That sounds cool actually.

JG: It is – we took the brakes off for the Asura, they are a cool race. They have magic as an inherent part of their life, like we have electricity. They consider it to be a component as opposed to something a particular class or group, or profession does.

When you go to their main city, will other races be able to go there as a hub, as they make use of the other races? For example, if you were playing as a Norn, would you have the opportunity to go to explore Rata Sum too?

JG:Not only will the other races be able to go, there is also an Asura gate from Hoelbrak, the Norn main city to Rata Sum.

Looking at the different crafting disciplines, when you play as the Asura will they still be able to choose crafting disciplines or will they implement arcane into tailoring tools or leather works and armor?

JG: The races make no difference – all races can do all crafts, do all professions or character classes. So while they are a very magical race, there are no restrictions for being an Asura warrior or guardian. In fact, I saw a lot of them in the demos that we have been running at the conventions because they have really cool combat moves and they look really good in the demos, so people are running around with these heavily armed little Asura with huge swords and they are really awesome. Everybody can craft, but where the Asura abilities take more prominence is in the stories – your own personal story where you are inventing, over and above what we have in our traditional crafting system.

RS: We don’t want to limit anyone with the idea that if you choose a specific race that you can’t do a profession or a craft, we very much want people to play with what they think is fun. There are certainly going to be recipes or things you can craft that, by that items nature, looks like it was invented by an Asura or a Charr, but that won’t matter to you as a player for the purposes of creating such an item or following such a craft – or profession path.

JG: The one unique ability that the Asura has is the battle suit. If you are playing as an Asura, you have a skill that no other race has, where you can call a battle suit into being. You can get into the battle suit and run around in it or other members of your party, whether they are human, Charr or other can get onto the battle suit and operate in it. Each of the races has their special abilities that belongs to their race alone, and this is something that only the Asura can do.

Does that mean that the Asura can call a Golem into battle?

JG: That’s a potential, I can’t answer that directly yet as it’s one of the details we haven’t addressed yet but it is a potential. We are a growing, living game as we are still under development and we know that the Golems are very much tied into the Asura, but how we are going to utilize them is still evolving.

Going back to the core story of the Asura when they lived underground, are they responsible for the scourge which is hitting the land now, because of where the power from their travel gates came from? The herald of the Great Destroyer used the gates to get to them, so are they indirectly responsible for all the dragon havoc caused?

JG: Back in the time of the Eye of the North, the Asura had a connection of teleportation gates that worked out of a central hub and they put that hub over a center of extreme magical energy, a strong arcane force where the Great Destroyer and Primordus were. That’s why it was a great source of magical energy, they were building over an Elder Dragon. When the Great Destroyer woke up, it captured that hub and then used those gates to get through the underground and that is what drove the Asura up.

“We took the brakes off for the Asura, they are a cool race.”

Since then, the Asura have fine-tuned their gates, so they are no longer dependent on that central hub and make use of more dispersed hubs. It operates more like packets in computers – just as the internet functions because not every piece of information takes the same route. This is an example of how the Asura learn from their mistakes; horrible things have occurred and they look for ways to stop them from happening again in the future.

As far as we know, the Asura were not responsible for the awakening of the Elder Dragons, nobody knows why the Elder Dragons woke up or why they show up once every 1,500 years or so. There have been a number of them that show up: one of them is Primordus, another was Jormag, the ice dragon, who awoke in the North and drove the Norn south. Another was Kralkatorrik the crystal dragon, who awoke and then left a huge scar in the Charr lands of Ascalon to get to the south. They are all deadly, nasty creatures, but the Asura are not responsible for awakening the dragons, they just built a major component of their society on a fault line and were not aware that they had done so.

There will be different Asura gates to travel through, then?

RS: What we wanted to do with those gates, was if you and I are friends and wanted to play together, you as a Norn and I as an Asura, we won’t have to run across the entire world to find each other, we would just go to our main cities and via the Asura gate transfer to where the other person is playing and join up.

JG: By the same token, this means that the Asura have infiltrated a lot of the other societies. If there is a Charr in the human city of Divinity’s Reach, he would be looked on as an enemy of twenty years ago and attract attention, whereas the Asura are known as the guys who run the gates which makes them less threatening. These Asura are very insidious, they are the mad wizards.

Since they are more “brain than brawn,” would you say they are more gnome-like creatures than goblins? Because when you think of goblins, you picture a nasty, more threatening creature.

JG: Interesting that you mention gnomes, because I created the Tinker Gnomes of Dragonlance which were the technological gnomes. The big difference between the two races is that the gnomes of Dragonlance were these boffins that built things that blew up and made inventions that required further inventions to fix. The Asura are serious, the Asura are competent. They know what they are doing and if they build something it will happen. If they are going to build a monorail, they will build a monorail; they won’t build something that will not change the world. The Asura ultimately believe that the universe is a big equation, the eternal alchemy which can be solved and that is their goal.

Guild Wars 2 – Asura Race Featurette

As far as the weapons are concerned, are blasting rods or magical swords part of these weapons?

JG: All weapons are available to all races, so humans will have staffs and rods and Sylvari will have swords, the difference is how they approach these. Humans tend to be more traditional fantasy weaponry. The Sylvari grow their weapons, so they would have an axe, for example, that would look like a butterfly wing attached to an organic post. The Asura weaponry, as you noted, tends to have much more of an arcanic feel to it. There’s a sword, but it’s a glowing sword. There’s a blasting rod, but it has bits floating and orbiting around the hilt, so they take what they know into the creating of their weaponry.

So they will have use of all weapons, then, just in different manners? For example, I know some games will allow a wizard to use only staffs and one-handed swords whereas a champion can use a two-handed sword.

JG: We talk about the difference between race and profession, so not all professions will be able to use all weapons. For example, warriors would not use a scepter and focus whereas the elementalists would not use a two-handed sword.

RS: But an Asura could be either one of those and so could a Norn, so it’s much more based on the profession as to what weapon you will use.

Anyone can chose any profession like that then? I know games like LOTRO for example, certain races can’t be a Warden.

JG: We didn’t want to limit people that way. We wanted to tell the story about why the Asura are cool through the story. As most Asura will be magical characters, they’ll be elementalists or necromancers, but as we said, we saw a lot of people playing Asura warriors because they have some really cool moves.

How is development going and are you getting closer to announcing when you will go to beta? I am hoping, soon?

JG: Development is going really well, we have just rolled out a new demo at PAX, at Cologne at Games Con and we’ll be at Paris Games Week as well, that is showing off where we are right now. We have stated that we are going to do a closed beta by the end of the year and based on the information that we are going to be gathering from that, that will set how far we are. I can tell you that the entire staff, as a result of being at these conventions, is incredibly super-charged about getting this game done. We have written a lot of checks through the last few years saying we will be doing this , we are going to get rid of the trinity, we’ll be handling story differently , and one by one we’ve been showing people that we can do this. Now we have to get it across the finish line.

I saw the Norn demo at GDC and I loved it.

JG: Yeah, we throw you into the middle of the combat and that demo teaches you what it’s like to be a Norn. You are a hunter, you want to gain reputation and at the end of it, you get to fight a huge Ice Worm. It’s not your “kill 5 rats” type of demo. It is a truly beautiful game; I just can’t tell you how fantastic the art is, how well the entire game is coming together for us – and it’s just a great game to play.

ArenaNet will start holding small, closed alpha and beta tests sometime this year, with feedback determining a date for the public beta test and the game’s ultimate ship date.

We’ll have the trailer posted for you in a bit.

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