We here at TalkTyria are excited to bring you guys our first interview with ArenaNet! The lovely ladies Ree Soesbee (Lore & Continuity) and Kristen Perry (Character Artist) were kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding the mysterious sylvari lore, their emerging place in Tyria, and a few other tid-bits regarding the story of Guild Wars.
So let’s take a look, and enjoy!
Q: Can you tell us anything about new about the Nightmare Court? Like how many of the sylvari have joined (population percentage, maybe)? Can players choose to be a part of it, or are there any related titles? Who started or leads it?
Ree: The Nightmare Court is going to have a lot of coverage in my blog post for Sylvari Week, so I don’t want to spoil too much of that! I can answer your direct questions, though. The population of the Nightmare Court is roughly ten to fifteen percent of the sylvari. As with all enemy groups (the Sons of Svanir, the Flame Legion), players may not join the Nightmare Court. The Nightmare Court began during the time of the Secondborn sylvari (the second generation of sylvari born from the tree, about six or seven years after the Firstborn). The Nightmare Court’s current leader is the Grand Duchess Faolain, who is a Firstborn. She converted to the Nightmare Court and was not part of its original inception.
Q: Was the sylvari’s birth into the world a response to the threat of the dragons like they believe? Or something else?
Ree: The sylvari believe they were created by the Tree because of the dragons. I can’t tell you anything they don’t know!
Q: When they were first born into the world, how did the other races initially react? Were they generally welcomed or did they have some sort of proving of themselves they had to do? Was there anybody there when the first group awoke?
Ree: There were no other races at the Pale Tree when the Firstborn awoke. They began to explore the world, and first found the asura, who saw the sylvari as a particularly new species of flora—test subjects, at best. After that particularly rude awakening into the social environment of Tyria, the sylvari were far more cautious. Luckily, the second race they met were humans. The sylvari already knew of them because the Pale Tree held the memories of Ronan and his encampment so many years ago. That was a far more positive encounter, and taught the sylvari that there are good people in the world as well as bad.
The sylvari did have to prove themselves – they still do! It’s only been twenty-five years, and many of the other races don’t wholly accept them. The sylvari struggle to discover their place in the world, and to forge those relationships. They are very much the ‘outsiders’ in Tyria, and they face a world that is unsure about their nature and their capabilities as a race. It’s a fascinating story to tell!
Q: Are there any sort of familial systems for this race? Are newborn sylvari taken under the wing of older, more experienced sylvari or do they go off on their own right away?
Ree: The Firstborn are seen as ‘elders,’ wise counselors and mentors. Four of the Firstborn lead the various cycles, the internal factions of the sylvari (Dawn, Noon, Dusk, Night). Those four, in particular, are seen as authority figures, and run the government of the Grove. The other Firstborn are also seen as guides and leaders, and are given a great deal of respect because of it, but these four ‘elders’ actively turn their attention to the day-to-day running of the city and the political interaction with other races on behalf of the sylvari.
The sylvari don’t have ‘family’ in the way that humans, norn, or other races do, but they very much consider their cycle to be sort of an extended family; a group in which they are welcome and to which they owe a certain allegiance. They see this as a sort of family in the way a charr sees their Legion as a sort of family.
One unusual thing that you might not know – there are sylvari twins on occasion! Once in a while, a pod will flower upon the Pale Tree, and there will be two sylvari inside instead of just one. These ‘twins’ tend to exhibit a greater empathy toward one another, and are usually very close. The visions they experienced before awakening also usually seem linked, as if they were walking through the Dream of Dreams together.
Q: How early in the game do we run into Caithe? Is she around for new sylvari players, like Logan is for humans, or will she appear later?
Ree: Right off the bat! Caithe is among the first people that a newly created PC sylvari will meet. And, man, does her new model look amazing. I’ll admit, I begged Kristen for the cat-tail dreads…
Caithe will play a large part of a sylvari PC’s storyline, in the same way that Rytlock will for the charr player, Eir for the norn, and so on. The sylvari players will be the only ones, I think, that truly understand her perspective – because the sylvari that think and feel very differently from other races in Tyria.
Q: We know from the novels that they can eat food like the other races, but do they need to? Can they get energy by other means, like from the sun?
Ree: They need to eat and drink. Sylvari biology is very different from humans (and they can rest in the sun to feel rejuvenated), but they do have the same functional needs as most mammalian species.
Q: Being new to Tyria, they don’t seem to have the same sense of humor we’re accustomed to. What sorts of things do sylvari do for fun? What would they find humorous or entertaining?
Ree: Sylvari sense of humor has come a long way since the Firstborn awakened. At first, they didn’t understand humor too well, but over the years, the race has begun to show a sense of fun. They have a fairly dry wit, and enjoy letting others ‘get the joke’ after a moment or two. Some of them are mischievous and pull pranks – especially when they are newly born from the Tree.
For fun, sylvari do the things other people do – go swimming, explore new places, try new things, spend time with friends, tell stories, put on plays, and sing songs. An individual sylvari might enjoy fighting so much that she thinks weapons training is ‘fun,’ while another might currently have an obsession with cooking.
Q: What significance do the seasonal traits hold, if any? Does it affect their personality at all, or is it purely aesthetic?
Ree: The cycles affect sylvari personality, but you could also say that human social strata (gentry, streets, commoner) affects personality. I go into a great amount of detail on this in my blog post, so I can’t be too descriptive here without being redundant! There are aesthetics for various ‘seasonal’ appearances, and we encourage players to choose appearances related to their cycles, but the two are not forcibly connected.
Q: What was the motivation behind the re-design? Was it because of player reactions or were you guys not happy with how the first iteration turned out?
Ree: I asked Kristen Perry for her help on this one:
Kristen: The sylvari race always needed to be noble, beautiful plant people. Previous designs took into account many different proportions of those three tenets, but not really as much of a balance of all three together. The more diverse and deep the lore of the race became, the more we realized we really wanted a visual that matched, so I began developing my new direction on my own time while we were preparing for gamescom last year.
The main key to the design was developing an obvious anatomy that clearly described the race as plant rather than an offshoot of human. However, because the race tightly relates to the essence of human due to the Pale Tree’s influences from Ronan, the overall form has a human silhouette. But if you look more closely, you’ll see the forms are really quite alien. They are a collection of abstract notions the Pale Tree had about what made up the human, as she really only saw the surface. They are a tree’s interpretation of humans.
In exploring the anatomy, you can see a lot of different details. The forearms, for example, are not a human arm with leaves tacked on top, but rather a shape created by many stem tendons and long leaves coiling around one another to create the structure. The faces of the sylvari are not restricted by the anatomy of the skull as a human would, but are created by layers upon layers of plant materials that press together, forming the illusion of anatomy. On the outside, they are beautiful and elegant. Looking closer, you’ll see how different they really are. I hope everyone enjoys exploring the details!
General Lore Questions
Q: Any more details on “Sea of Sorrows”?
Ree: Not at this time. Look! Air!
Q: When Zhaitan awoke, was it because someone/something woke him or did he just naturally awaken (aka: cycle of awakening)?
Ree: There are no apparent signs that anyone or anything ‘woke up’ Zhaitan, nor do scholars of Tyria believe that it, or any of the awakenings, was a triggered event. For one thing, the dragons’ awakening began 250 years ago and has slowly and methodically continued since then. It would be very difficult for anyone to have been around to trigger each over that large a period of time.
Q: It is said all dwarves who participated in invoking the Great Dwarf’s power to battle the Great Destroyer were turned to stone. Are there dwarves then who are not stone out in the world somewhere still (assuming then there were some dwarves who did not participate)? If so, how are interactions between them and their stone brethren?
Ree: All of the dwarves eventually participated in the ritual. There are no non-stone dwarves in Tyria.
Q: Are there any other minor / non-playable races we will learn about, such as the tengu?
Ree: You get to experience several stories about the minor races. I’ll spoil this much – one of the later storylines that players can experience in the game has to do with various minor races, such as the ogres, the quaggan, the skritt, or other races. Through that storyline, you spend quite a bit of time with a minor race and learn a great deal about them.
Thanks a ton for taking the time to answer our questions!