Inside ArenaNet: Developing Kasmeer and Marjory

Hello, my name is Matthew Medina, and I’m a long-standing Narrative Designer here at ArenaNet. When I joined the team on Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons™ and was given the assignment of creating the epilogue chapter, I knew that I wanted to accomplish two things with it. First, I wanted us to finally put end credits back into the game. Second, I wanted to add in a moment that I have been personally lobbying for internally since I was the Story Design Team Lead on Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™—the marriage proposal of two of our most iconic characters, Marjory Delaqua and Kasmeer Meade. This blog post will talk about how we got here—first from a game development perspective, and then from the angle of their character arcs.

Jory and Kas have been a crucial part of the Elder Dragon saga since the beginning of Season 1 of Living World back in 2013, starting with their first pairing in the chapter Hard Boiled, in which Marjory is hired by Captain Logan Thackeray to investigate the murder of Captain Theo Ashford. From those humble beginnings, they went on to help us combat Scarlet, take down Mordremoth and the other Elder Dragons, and battle against the God of War, Balthazar (much to Kasmeer’s chagrin). At times they grew apart, only to get back together stronger than ever (you can read the details in Morgan’s section of this blog post).

As their story has evolved, there were two other times the narrative team considered formalizing their relationship and progressing it to the next level; once at the end of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, and again at the conclusion of Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire™. In both previous cases the desire to move their relationship forward was there, but the timing of such an announcement was not ideal, and we ended up putting those plans on the back burner for a future time—perhaps when Tyria was not literally on fire and the characters could have a quiet moment with friends. In Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, it didn’t naturally align with the rapid pacing of the main plot, and in Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire, development shifts in the story’s conclusion made it an inopportune time to introduce such a joyful moment into a tense cliffhanger in the epilogue with the return of Kralkatorrik. So, we put their engagement on hold. Again.

Even when we moved into production on Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons content, the proposal was still something that we hadn’t talked about as a team. Now, I have been known to have a wild hair from time to time, and so as I was preparing the epilogue content for one of our internal development gates called “content complete” (which means that the chapter is ready to be played from start to finish by the team leads and stakeholders for the first time) I took it as an opportunity. Since I’d finished all my other tasks, I used my extra time to add the “pocket instance” (dev speak for a story-focused, noncombat moment for a player and their party) at the Dead End Bar as a surprise for everyone.

I did so fully prepared to be told once more that it wasn’t the right time, or that we couldn’t afford to add any more to the game at that point. I knew that even if it ended up needing to be cut, I could at least say that I had tried. As our leads played through the epilogue and experienced the rough proposal party, everyone loved it and agreed that it was finally the perfect time.

With approval secured, the conversation shifted to how we were going to execute such a pivotal emotional moment. From the beginning, I wanted this to be not just a moment celebrating our happy couple, but also a nostalgic button on the entire saga of Dragon’s Watch. This was not as easy as it might sound. We had our share of passionate conversations about who should and shouldn’t be there, and there were suggestions to include other notable characters like Caithe, Queen Jennah, Ellen Kiel, and even Lord Faren. Ultimately, we settled on keeping the group to the core members of Dragon’s Watch—plus Logan, since he was present at their first meeting—to keep the scope manageable and the voice budget in line.

With our cast decided, I turned to fleshing out the chapter, adding the mingling step so that players would be able to chitchat with all their friends and get a small taste of what they might be headed toward after Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons.

Enter Morgan Lockhart, one of our amazing writers, who took my stubbed-in dialogue and began to do what she does best. Morgan wrote the golden path lines, including the fantastic dual proposal itself, and crafted phenomenal exchanges with our guildmates that delivered strong character moments and closed out each of their arcs in the expansion, teasing us with glimpses of what the future may hold. My favorite of these is the suggestion that Marjory and Gorrik (along with Detective Rama and…Ivan?) may continue sleuthing together as part of their very own detective agency. Just don’t call it the “Friend’s Detective Agency”—at least not within earshot of Jory!

But there was one crucial detail that still needed to be addressed: the kiss!

I will let you in on a development secret here at ArenaNet. Because of the nature of the game, a lot of our animation budget is eaten up by combat animations. (Okay, maybe that’s not so secret.) As an action-packed MMORPG, combat animations are much more necessary than those the narrative group would love to have at our disposal. After ten years of Guild Wars 2 development, we have added to our library of noncombat animations, but aside from one cinematic, we have never had much call for characters to kiss. Until now.

Knowing this, I was fully prepared to do what all good designers must do: improvise! In my imagined best-case scenario, there were a few animations on our human female characters that I could have potentially “repurposed” (as long as I hid the results from the animators), or in a worst-case scenario I could have just had them pledge their love to one another with the basic “talk” emotes that we often use for characters in dialogues.

And then the cinematics team came along! As part of the review process we used on Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons, they reviewed some of our more cinematic, designer-crafted in-game moments—which internally we have dubbed cinevents—and granted us the benefit of their expertise on things like camera positioning, staging, character movement, etc. And when they took one look at the proposal scene mocked up in the game, they knew that we couldn’t deliver on that moment without additional support.

Despite their enthusiasm, there was trepidation about how much time their team would have. But thanks in large part to Senior Designer Connor Fallon’s incredibly enthusiastic support, Cinematics Director Chelsey Shuder and her team agreed that we couldn’t ship it at our quality level without providing the characters with custom animations. Cinematics Animator Da-Hee Im was assigned to the task, and her passion and expertise immediately helped us take this to the next level.

Over the course of several weeks, the cinematics animators storyboarded, planned, and executed an amazing sequence of animations. Working with such custom animation assets can prove challenging, as many of the tools we have for controlling animations are focused on combat; in the end, I used a combination of emotes and skills firing in sequence to get them to play as the animation team had storyboarded. However, the final product turned out so much better than I could have imagined.

With the “how” questions answered about the proposal, let’s talk a bit about the “why.” For that, let’s bring in Morgan Lockhart to talk about the characters in more detail.

Writing Kasmeer and Marjory’s Arc

Hi, I’m Morgan Lockhart! I was the writer for the proposal epilogue as well as a few of the other Kas/Jory scenes that fed into their romance subplot over the course of the golden path. When Matthew Medina first “proposed” the beat, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. As a queer woman, I couldn’t have been happier to be involved with picking this thread up and bringing it to its next big step.

We worked hard to strike a balance between allowing them to develop as a couple and carrying their own story lines. We didn’t want to shackle them together unnecessarily, but we also didn’t want them to be a couple in name only. They both had important jobs to do in Cantha, which necessarily drove them apart for large chunks of the story, but we brought them back at key moments and tried to give you little insights into how they maintained their relationship even when they were apart. If you caught a certain scene in the chapter To Catch a Spider, you’ll know what I mean—but also, what were you doing eavesdropping, Commander? It was important to me to include that scene, because so often queer representation ends up stripped of any sensuality to make it more comfortable for the wider audience.

Of equal importance was to have them together in the last few chapters. I wanted them to deliberately insist they make what might be their final stand together, side by side, because though they are each their own individuals, their relationship is one of the things that forms their bedrock. And then, with the last big battle of the Dragon Cycle won, they were able to move on from it together to the next stage of their lives.

As Medina mentioned before, this beat is something we have considered doing for years, and it never seemed like the right time. Part of the reason for this is the narrative reality that these characters have essentially been “at war” for a decade. The dragons have been their first, second, and third priorities, and they’ve put off the milestones of peacetime life we all take for granted. There’s a beat where the commander expresses surprise that Joon has a child, and Taimi quips that it’s a normal thing to do, “If you don’t spend your time traveling around the world fighting dragons. Just sayin’.” All the members of Dragon’s Watch have had their personal lives on hold for years, and so something we tried to do in the epilogues in general is show how they are all now having to figure out what it means to settle down and live in a postwar era. For some, the answers are fortunately clear. Others will have to continue to search for a bit, while others will never really leave the war behind, no matter how many years go by.

I would have loved to have more time to express more of the impact of those experiences. I touched on it a bit with Braham, who is clearly grappling with his trauma due to the events of The Icebrood Saga (something that was reflected in his scenes I added to last year’s Dragon Bash as well), and Caithe has a beat where she remarks on a sense of confusion as to what she will do next. Of course, there are no entirely lost opportunities in an ongoing game, as there is room to explore that in future releases! I did deliberately avoid assigning too many feelings to the commander, though. While our player character clearly has some elements of a “canon” story, we try to avoid ascribing too much. At the end of the day, this is a role-playing game, and we want you to have the room to fill in what your commander is feeling.

Writing the proposal itself was difficult. As anyone who has tried to write vows or a wedding ceremony can attest, it’s difficult to write about love that plainly without getting a little cheesy—but that’s because the thing being expressed goes so far beyond words. So, I tried to think about their journey together and write something that was simply sincere. Hearing Sumalee Montano and Janell Cox perform the scenes and bringing them together go on my personal list of highlight moments in this expansion, and I’m glad to see it’s meant something to many of you too.

As a final note: to answer Gorrik’s question, “Which of you actually…?” While the answer is “both of them,” of course, in my mind it was Jory who brought it up first—though I imagine they were both thinking it. But in that moment when she rushed to Kas’s side after the defeat of Void Mordremoth, in my mind the feeling of, “I almost lost this woman, and I never want to lose this woman,” shocked something into action that was far overdue for them. I am glad that we—and they— finally found a place of resolution and closure where they could be free to move forward.