Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Alright, a bit early perhaps, but tomorrow early I’m going on vacation and thus won’t be around for a while (and thus won't be posting any updates). I’ll be spending most of the Holiday season with my family in my parents’ second home in France, hoping to relax most of that time. Reading, watching movies, playing some board games perhaps, just unwind and enjoy myself.

Unfortunately they don’t have anything better than dial-up over an old laptop there, so I won’t be online much. But to be honest I’m rather looking forward to spending some time away from the computer.

So I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy start to 2009. I’ll be back around the tenth of January. And watch out with fireworks.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Changed Text Column Width

You might've noticed already, but I made a small change to the style the blog uses by changing the width of the text column. This used to be 410 pixels wide, but I've changed it to 510 pixels now as I felt the old width was a bit too claustrophobic small.

Hope this makes the blog a bit more readable.

Monday, 15 December 2008

SW:TOR HeroEngine Interview

TenTonHammer has an interview up with Simutronic's Neil Harris. Simutronic is the company that created HeroEngine, which is being used by BioWare to create Star Wars: The Old Republic.

It's a decent interview and sheds a little more light on why BioWare chose HeroEngine for their game. It doesn't really give any further details about the game, but it does hint at the possibility of live updating of the game and streaming content (I'd imagine in many ways like how Guild Wars streams its content).

Anyway, here's a snippet:
There were a couple of reasons why they decided to go with our engine. First, we've known Gordon Walton a long time and has worked around us for quite a while. He's been around the online games industry since the 90s, as have we. At the time, they also had two employees that were former employees of ours and we had a unique way to build games that is core to the functionality of the HeroEngine and those guys got it right away and wanted to have access to that kind of methodology. We showed the engine to them - just as friends - at a show, and they said, "Hey, we want that too." That's really how we ended up working with them.
It's nice to hear that things have been going so well for Simutronic and that BioWare seems to be at the forefront of that success.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Video Documentary #1

As promised yesterday BioWare have posted the first video "documentary", meaning a video that's a combination of developer commentary, screenshots and ingame footage. And though the movie isn't entirely ingame footage (I'd say less than a third or it is, altogether) there's still a fair deal of it.
BioWare® and LucasArts™ share the vision for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ in our first video documentary, complete with new concepts, new screenshots, and real-time pre-production gameplay video. Hear about the approach to storytelling straight from The Old Republic’s Creative Director and Lead Designer James Ohlen and Principal Lead Writer Daniel Erickson, and watch Art Director Jeff Dobson discuss the aesthetic appeal of stylized realism. Watch the latest video documentary and experience the “look and feel” of Star Wars: The Old Republic now!
And indeed it looks quite decent so far (considering that it's pre-production footage). Though I still don't like their artistic direction (and I'm not talking stylized, I'm talking heroic proportions) it does in many ways feel like Knights of the Old Republic in a new jacket. And that is likely a good thing. Anyway, enjoy the video.

[EDIT] Since the embedded video played automatically, which is quite irritating when you're trying to read another post on the blog, I've changed the embedded video into a link to the video on BioWare's side instead.
[EDIT2] Replaced the text link with an image link.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

First Video Documentary Coming Soon

Seems that we're getting our first video footage of The Old Republic tomorrow. At least, that's how I'm interpreting the news on their website:
LucasArts and BioWare today announced that the first video documentary for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ will be posted on the game’s official website on Friday, December 12. The video gives an overview of the upcoming story-driven massively multiplayer online PC game set in the timeframe of the Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™ franchise and provides the public with its first look at in-game footage.
Of course it could just be a bunch of interviews and slideshows. But considering that GameSpot already posted a video interview for the official announcement I think it's safe to say that we'll finally get to see the game in motion.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

SW:TOR to be "microtransaction-based"

Just got the following from Kotaku:
The brand name for BioWare's upcoming Star Wars MMO may be a familiar one, but EA's plans for tempting you to part with your hard-earned cash are not.

Rather than asking for a monthly subscription fee, ala World of Warcraft, EA boss John Riccitiello has strongly hinted that the game will instead be "microtransaction-based".

To us, that sounds less like "pay as you go", more like "pay as you go for new GIANT LIGHTSABERS". Riccitiello also said that more on the game's payment structure will be revealed in February, so I guess we'll all be staying tuned.
Hmm, I'm not sure what to think of this. To begin with I must say that I'm rather shocked if they indeed don't go with the traditional monthly subscription fee. I also think that it depends a lot on what exactly you do and don't buy with these micro-transactions. But overall it doesn't sound good.

I guess we'll have to wait until February to hear more, but so far it seems to be yet another strike against Star Wars: The Old Republic. At least it should make the whole discussion on lifetime subscriptions moot.


Shacknews has some updated information on this:
Update: Electronic Arts has responded to Shacknews, reiterating that "no statements have been made about the Star Wars business model," and attributing Mr. Riccitiello's comments to a misunderstanding.
Of course, I'm sure that they said the same thing when Mr. Riccitiello let slips that BioWare was working on a KotOR MMO months before the official announcement. But at least this brings back the traditional subscription model back as a possibility. Or perhaps they'll do something completely different; I guess we'll hear more come February.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Spore Most Pirated Game of 2008

That subject title, or something close to it, seems to be doing the rounds as a headline now. Apparently TorrentFreak released a list of the ten-most pirated (through BitTorrent) games with Spore unspurpisingly leading the list:

2The Sims 2(1,150,000)
3Assassins Creed(1,070,000)
5Command & Conquer 3(860,000)
6Call of Duty 4(830,000)
7GTA San Andreas(740,000)
8Fallout 3(645,000)
9Far Cry 2(585,000)
10Pro Evolution Soccer 2009(470,000)

The message that people seem to be distilling out of this, including the original TorrentFreak site, is that Spore was pirated so much because of its DRM measures. After all, at about the time of the release of the game there was a huge ‘panic’ around the DRM measures that Spore would employ. And the general thought seems to be that because of these DRM measures a lot of people pirated the game where they otherwise wouldn’t have.

There may be truth to that. Or at least, there may be truth that because of the panic around its DRM that more people decided to pirate the game than would’ve otherwise be the case. Though I think this has more to do with the panic surrounding it and not actually with the DRM (Mass Effect, after having been scaled down due to more panic, uses the same DRM and people seemed overall quite happy with that). I’ll at least concede that DRM in one way or another had an effect on the number of pirated copies.

But beyond that I think it’s hogwash to say that these numbers prove in any way, shape or form that DRM is responsible for more pirated copies. In fact, I say that on their own these numbers are fairly useless. You see, I believe that Spore was pirated more simply because it was a far more popular game.

You see, the TorrentFreak site says that after ten days already half-a-million had downloaded the game, but by that time the game already had near to a million copies sold. And three weeks after release, the game was already close to two million copies sold. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if by now that number had already doubled to close to four million copies (but I don’t have any data to back that up).

And you see that in the rest of the list as well. It reads a lot more as a list of “which games were popular this year” than a list of which games were pirated more. To get a true representation of which games were pirated more you have to compare the number of pirated copies to the number of total sales. Then any game that has a significantly higher portion of pirated copies to legitimate sales is a game that’s been pirated a lot more (and I’m guessing that the DRM-free World of Goo is likely to top that particular list, though there too saying that DRM has much to do with it is misleading).

People are, in my opinion, way too quick to attribute pirating to DRM and success to a lack of DRM. The truth is that pirates pirate everything regardless of DRM or not and people are all too quick to find any excuse to justify doing something illegal, particularly if it feels like they’re not directly hurting anyone as a result. I think that there are a lot of people who jumped on the Spore DRM bandwagon as an excuse for them to pirate a game and thus be able to play it without paying for it, regardless of whether any DRM issues were justified or not. The way to protest against something in a game (like its DRM) is by simply not buying it, not by pirating it.

Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t think that DRM is the solution to the problems and even though I think that StarDock is getting far more popularity due to their stance on DRM than they deserve they do have a point in that it is continued online content delivery which is the surest measure against pirating. And I can see us heading to a future where all games, single-player or multiplayer, are streamed online (or perhaps even played directly on servers with local machines just displaying the results, so to speak). That way games simply can’t be pirated since you need an online connection and a legitimate account to be able to play the game. And until then I do believe that companies continuing to provide additional value to your games online is a good way to go.

Luckily such pirating issues aren’t really of a concern to MMO games (and hence why I think that MMOs are currently the most popular form of gaming on the PC as there companies know that they always keep full control). There’s little point in pirating a game if you have to pay a monthly subscription to play it anyway.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Article at Edge-Online

Edge-Online has an article up about Star Wars: The Old Republic entitled: Inside The Old Republic

There isn't really much there. At least not anything we didn't already know from previous articles. Though it does say that there will be eight classes, which is the first time I've heard that. Of course, could just be game-journalistic eye-to-detail (as in, they've pretty much just made it up or misunderstood something), or it could be that BioWare mentioned some plan for eight classes to them and they reported it as if it was common knowledge already. Either way...

Here's a snippet:
Each of the eight classes also has its own distinct narrative. “If you start our game as a Jedi knight, play from the start to the finish, then you play as a Sith from the start to the finish, you will not see one repeated bit of content. Not one quest, not one line, nothing,” says Erickson. Nothing at all? “OK, well, you might see different sides of the same conflict, but this is Star Wars – ‘Wars’, you know?”
I'm really starting to dislike the emphasis they keep putting on the "Wars" in "Star Wars", because combat doesn't interest me one bit. Ah well.

Story Writing Updates

It is Friday again and thus BioWare has a new update up. This week it comes in the form of two articles about story writing. One talks about a general, high-level approach to writing stories within BioWare and the other talks about how they're bringing these stories to the player in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The writing team for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ faces an unusual set of challenges. It’s not enough to write a great story; it’s not even enough to write a great player-driven interactive story, or a great player-driven interactive story that fits within a massively multiplayer environment. On top of everything, every story in the game must be a great Star Wars story. If it’s not, it belongs somewhere else.

So how does the writing team approach a challenge like that? Here’s a look at some of the features that make a Star Wars story worth telling.

The Foundation

We can all list familiar elements from the Star Wars films: Jedi, Sith, the Force, droids, lightsabers and starships; themes of heroism, redemption, learning, friendship and oppression; a trilogy structure, pulp-inspired “episode” names, and so on.

These iconic elements are the basic tools the writing team uses to build uniquely Star Wars stories—stories that feel like they’re part of the same fictional universe as the films. Not every Star Wars story needs a cantina or a wise old mentor, of course, but the films are the foundation for everything we do. If you’re not using at least some of those iconic elements, your story probably isn’t about Star Wars at all.

The original Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™ is a great example of a story that uses this foundation well. Even without characters like Luke and Leia, it’s clearly Star Wars—it’s a story about Jedi, Sith and redemption, taking place against a galactic backdrop of strange planets and alien species.

The Building Blocks

But we’re not restricted to the movies. The Star Wars Expanded Universe of novels, television and comic books provides a tremendous amount of material for us to draw upon (as does Knights of the Old Republic specifically). Without the Expanded Universe, we wouldn’t have Mandalorians, a Sith Empire or even our setting’s time period! We wouldn’t know anything about the temple where the rebels hid on Yavin 4 or the names of the alien species in Jabba’s palace.

So long as these building blocks don’t obscure the foundation, we’ll use them. We’re also not averse to creating new settings, species and technologies, expanding on old ones, or developing new themes. Contributing fresh ideas to the setting is one of the most exciting things about working in Star Wars—but those ideas always have to fit, which leads to…

Star Wars “Feel”

The flipside of straying from the films is that we need to be careful about what we introduce. It’s easy to accidentally ruin our Star Wars “feel” by writing a story that just doesn’t seem right.

Sometimes, identifying these ill-fitting elements isn’t hard—time travel and dimension-hopping are staples of science fiction, but they don’t work well in the Star Wars universe. Other times, it’s a matter of staying true to the mythology of the Force (especially when it comes to new powers) or figuring out “Would a Jedi really say that?”

It’s not uncommon for debates to spring up around the office as to whether a story idea is “Star Wars-y” enough, and sometimes there isn’t an easy answer. Maintaining a Star Wars feel is one of the most difficult things our writers do. We need to constantly edit ourselves and ask if what we’re doing is right for the grander story of the Star Wars universe.

Respecting the Continuity

There’s one last big challenge to writing a great Star Wars story. Even if the story grows organically from the setting, adds something exciting and new, and has an undeniable Star Wars feel, it still needs to work within thirty years of other Star Wars stories told in comics, novels and television.

Since Star Wars: The Old Republic takes place almost four millennia before the films, it removes a lot of potential for error, but it’s still not easy keeping track of when Species X was first discovered or when Technology Y was invented. We do our best to work within established continuity where we can, and adjust it gently where we can’t—even a long-forgotten issue of Marvel’s Star Wars comic series is something we’d rather not contradict.

We always try to respect the fact that we’re not the first or last writers to work in this universe. Yes, we want to leave a mark—we’d love to see other writers expanding on what we’ve done, years down the line—but not by hurting the continuity as a whole.

Alex Freed
Senior Writer and Managing Editor

“BioWare’s vision is to deliver the best story-driven games in the world.”
BioWare mission statement

“To create games that inspire, challenge and engage players.”
LucasArts philosophy

Creating great stories in video games is a hallmark for both BioWare and LucasArts. Star Wars: The Old Republic marks the beginning of a joint effort between these two companies to bring epic storytelling into a massively multiplayer online game. We believe that there are four pillars of the roleplaying experience: progression, exploration, combat, and story. Achieving a high degree of quality in each of these will create a rich, challenging, and emotional gameplay experience. Among massively-multiplayer online games, story hasn’t always received the same level of attention given to the other pillars. Star Wars: The Old Republic brings a new dimension to the MMO experience by putting story front and center.

What does this mean to you? When you play Star Wars: The Old Republic, you will experience a new level of immersion achieved through the following features:
  • Epic Star Wars™ environments and story arc
  • Class-specific storylines that evolve based on player choice
  • Companion characters with individual motivations and personalities that will change based on player interactions
In Star Wars: The Old Republic you will have an emotional attachment to your character and face decisions in the game which will guide the development of your character and determine the direction of the character’s storyline. Whatever your choices may be, you’ll still be the hero (or villain) of an epic storyline which gives extra meaning to the other gameplay pillars. Character advancement will be much more than coming up with efficient statistics. Exploration will be about experiencing new places, new people, and new stories. Finally, instead of just reaching for that next level, you will be engaging in visceral combat reminiscent of the Star Wars movies where you’re motivated to fight for more than just yourself – but also for a cause.

We believe that choice is the most gripping and crucial element of these stories. The team has left a lot open so that your decisions have a significant impact on the way the storylines and the characters develop. Because each storyline offers multiple paths, Star Wars: The Old Republic writers create much more content than you would expect from a linear game storyline. In fact, Star Wars: The Old Republic will contain more story content than all other BioWare games combined. As with the original Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™, some stories intertwine, and some decisions may lead your character down a completely unexpected path. Smaller choices may yield small results, but on some occasions may later lead to larger consequences.

In Star Wars: The Old Republic, your class means more than just the amount of hit points your character has or how many skills you can choose. Each class has its own epic storyline that will drive the majority of your character’s journey. These storylines reflect the spirit of the class you chose, some more traditionally heroic, some more sinister. Class-specific content allows you to play through a tailored experience based on your choices.

Along your journey, you’ll come across a feature that made the original Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™ series so immersive – companion characters. Companion characters are your non-player character (NPC) allies, each with their own personality, thoughts, and struggles. Companions will fight by your side and get caught up in your storyline. You might even get caught up in theirs as well. Because each of your companions has a mind of his or her own, they will react to the choices you make and may support or even turn against you.

With compelling choices, class-specific epic storylines, and fully developed companions characters, we are making a strong commitment to put the concept of story at the forefront of Star Wars: The Old Republic. By focusing on these story-driven features, our goal is that you will become immersed in your character and others around you, explore exciting environments, and in the end, get lost in your own Star Wars saga. Stay tuned to the official website for more updates and behind the scenes looks at Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Well, there you go. Still no word on how they're planning to provide longevity to the game, but they once again stress the fact that in their game story plays an incredibly major role.

And yes, it still feels like a massive single-player game you happen to play online to me. Not that that's a bad thing.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Why "Moon over Endor"

It’s been a while since there has been any news, so I thought I’d write that post to try and explain why I named the blog “Moon over Endor”.

Let me first get out of the way that it is not because of the Ewoks. If anything, it’s more despite the Ewoks. I used to like them well enough when I was young (which, I guess, was their point), but they have very little to do with my choice for a title.

To explain the title perhaps first a little background is in order. “Endor” is used as a name for several things. “Endor” is the name of a planet, a gas giant (called “Tana” by the Ewoks). Around this planet a number of moons orbit, one of which is a forest moon (the “forest moon of Endor”). Seeing as living on the planet is impossible and living on the moon is (as it is where the Ewoks live) and considering the central role the moon plays in the last Star Wars movie people often refer to the forest moon as “Endor” as well. And together they’re in the Endor System (named after the planet).

So “Endor” is really the name of the planet, but it is often used to refer to the moon. And that gives me some nice duality to play with.

After all, if both can be “Endor” then which is the moon over Endor? Technically speaking the moon is the forest moon, as that’s the only true moon. But one could also say that if you are on Endor then the gas giant would look mightily like a moon (and, indeed, it does).

When you relate this to the development of the game (Star Wars: The Old Republic) one could say that the gas giant is the game (it’s still nebulous, it’s uninhabitable, etc) and the forest moon is where we, the community, live. So we can look at this moon over where we live and make all kinds of speculations about it, perhaps convince ourselves that we know what it is like. Thus “Moon over Endor” is us looking from a distance at an incomplete something that might seem substantial to us, giving us the feeling that we know what it is like.

But at the same time it’s also the other way around. “Moon over Endor” also refers to the forest moon, that place away from the real thing, orbiting the game, the community. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we’re all Ewoks, but for the most part we have a similar level of technological sophistication with the universe around us, the world that isn’t completely formed yet. We’re all looking up at the sky and dreaming about what might be.

Of course, I also just like the whole moon symbolism in general and I must say that a large reason for me picking the name is because I simply thought that it sounded nice. But there is at least a little more thought behind it; the forest moon is the community, orbiting a gas giant of a game, still insubstantial even if it looks solid enough from the limited picture we’re getting of it.

Thus “Moon over Endor” refers both to the community surrounding Star Wars: The Old Republic and to the process of us looking into the sky and think we know what the ‘moon’ (or game in this case) is like because the image we see seems clear enough.

And yes, I probably put way too much thought into that and should’ve just said “I like how it sounds”.

Friday, 28 November 2008

New Screenshots

BioWare released a number of new screenshots.

They're looking pretty good. The lightsabers definitely look better (thanks for listening, childre... I mean BioWare). Though I'm still not happy with the "heroic proportions" of the characters, I'm sure I'll live.

Now, let me see if this image embedding actually works...

A Kel Dor

Fight Amongst the Ruins

Sith Academy

Jedi Strikes Down a Nexu

A Sith unleashes Force lightning

Dark and Light Clash

Jedi Enclave on Tython

There you go.

[EDIT] Changed the width of the preview images. Looks a bit nicer this way I think.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Adjust Your Thinking: Story Comes First

I already quoted this bit from Rob Chestney’s BioWare Blog entry in a previous post, but let me quote it again:
What blew me away more than anything in those first few months was that this whole idea of story coming first… it wasn’t just talk. The storyline and narrative setting were the starting point of every discussion about design and even the conversations about art.
As I said before I think that there’s an important lesson to learn in that, but I didn’t say what I thought that was last time, so I thought I’d make a post about it.

The important lesson here is that, for BioWare and here specifically in Star Wars: The Old Republic, story comes first. As such we have to adjust our thinking to keep that in mind. When we talk about game design or anything really we have to keep in mind that story comes first.

Let me give an example of what I mean.

A lot of the discussion in the community at the moment seems to be, understandably, what classes are going to be in the game. And often these discussions centre around what gameplay mechanics people feel the game needs to have, like ‘needing’ classes for tank, damage-dealing and healing. For instance when people talk about there needing to be several Jedi classes the ones they suggest tend to be Guardian (in a more tank-oriented role), Sentinel (in a more rogue/dps-oriented role) and Consular (in a more healer/crowd-control oriented role), taken from KotOR.

What people seem to tend to forget is that for BioWare story comes first, and classes that people suggest tend not to be that indicative of story. Those three Jedi classes I mentioned above all are likely to have pretty much the same story. In fact, that is how it worked in KotOR; no matter which class you pick you get the same story. But BioWare have said that each class gets a unique story, so doesn’t it make sense that the classes themselves suggest to the player what kind of story and background you have?

Instead I prefer to look at the movies and see what classes those stories might suggest. One story is that of Luke Skywalker, which could be a Jedi class (all the way from clueless moisture farmer to Jedi Grand Master in the expanded universe). Another is that of Han Solo, something like a Smuggler class perhaps. These two stories intertwine and even share significant segments, but they’re still separate, particularly in the second movie where Luke is going to Yoda and Han is trying to escape the Empire’s pursuit. Or in the last movie where Luke is off to face the Emperor and Han is trying to deactivate the shield generator on Endor. Add some more classes for the other characters and their stories (like Leia who could be a Republic Soldier or such) on both sides of the fence as well as the prequel movies and you’ve got a solid set of classes.

That’s not to say that there won’t be tank/dps/healer archetypes, but the gameplay needs to work within the story and not the other way around. As such if you have the general classes story might suggest then you can look if those generally fit those archetypes. If not then you have to look for other solutions, like making each class flexible enough to take different paths. There might only be one ‘Jedi’ class (and there could be more, but it seems to me that they’d be story-centric like “outcast Jedi”, “redeemed Sith”, “rookie Padawan”, etc), but within that class one could specialize as Guardian, Sentinel or Consular. Think of it like the entirety of KotOR is really just a single class. I think that is the scope BioWare is talking about.

Classes aren’t the only place where keeping story in mind is important. Some people have been clamouring for a strongly player-driven economy with lots of player crafting for most mundane items. But while I’d love to see something like that the question one has to ask themselves is: what does it contribute to the story? Sure you could tell the story of a moisture farmer on Tatooine, but is that the kind of heroic story BioWare is looking to tell? Note that Luke’s story pretty much starts when he stops being a farmer. Instead let crafting be heroic itself and add to the story. I think learning how to craft your own lightsaber, having to gather rare parts in dangerous places, and learning to customize your own outfit to establish your character more would fit the bill, but not this endless clicking of buttons that crafting usually is in most games.

Another place where one might need to keep story in mind is when talking about things like instances. Instances are often considered a dirty word by MMO gamers these days, which is a shame since they are one of the strongest tools MMO developers have at their disposal to tell stories. It gives them unique control over the area, allowing them to change it for a specific player depending on the circumstances. If you’re asked to get rid of a certain boss and that boss just respawns then that automatically takes away from the story. After all, in the end you’re not really changing anything and stories are all about change. Even more, with instances the developers can make changes to the world, destroy part or add new parts, etc. Imagine going over a bridge to get somewhere, but when you need to get back the bridge has been destroyed and you need to find another way. You can’t do things like that in a shared environment where others still need to cross that bridge.

I can probably come up with a dozen more examples and I’m certainly not saying that story is the only thing to keep in mind. After all, it still needs to be a solid game as well and it still needs to feel massive to players. All I’m saying that in all our discussion and thinking about the game, thinking about how it might work, we need to keep in the back of our minds that for BioWare story comes first.

So adjust your thinking: story comes first.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Allakhazam Interviews Sean Dahlberg

Allakhazam has an interview up with Bioware Community Manager in charge of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Sean Dahlberg.

The Old Republic Interview with Sean Dahlberg

It's a nice read, but there is not a lot there. In fact, the only thing of note there, to me, is how often Sean uses "he" and "him" for Revan. Since she was female in my game this is very worrisome as something like that could collapse their fourth pillar (story) for me and possibly bring down the game with it.

Let's just hope that it was a slip-of-the-tongue (it's not easy to keep from referring to a character by gender).

Friday, 21 November 2008

PCGamer Article at GamesRadar

I already posted the text of the PCGamer article on Star Wars: The Old Republic before, but now it's up at GamesRadar (the online home of PCGamer). You can read the article here.

Thanks to darquenblade on the official forum for posting the link.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Couple of Updates

There have been a couple of updates over the last week or so; nothing too spectacular. A short news message has come to my attention stating that, apparently, George Lucas is throwing his full weight behind Star Wars: The Old Republic. The general consensus on the forums over this seems to be “great… as long as it is sideline support”. It seems that people don’t want him to get directly involved in the story and gameplay decisions, and I can’t really blame them considering how the prequel movies turned out. BioWare can do this just fine without his involvement.

There has also been some news that LucasArts in optimistic about the game. Not that surprising, but it seems that they are literally aiming to be a WoW killer, which causes me no end of concern. At least it seems Blizzard thinks that it could happen, though to me that sounds like they are just covering their bases (and it gives them stronger grounds to make themselves seem even better when it turns out, yet again, that people just go back to WoW again; which is what they did with WAR).

And of course BioWare released some new concept art and added a couple of new avatars to their forums. The concept art is nice, but personally I’m more interested in seeing ingame graphics as what we’ve seen so far has been decidedly underwhelming. I suspect that they’re not showing more ingame shots precisely because of the negative feedback, having decided to wait until the graphics are more polished. I hope so at least, because judging from the screenshots I’ve seen so far I’m not sure I could stand playing the game. Odd considering how nice the concept art looks.

I also noticed a BioWare Blog entry where Rob Chestney gives us a bit of background on how he came to be a senior writer for BioWare. It is odd how I missed that before and only noticed it as I was gathering the links above. Of particular interest to me is the following quote:
What blew me away more than anything in those first few months was that this whole idea of story coming first… it wasn’t just talk. The storyline and narrative setting were the starting point of every discussion about design and even the conversations about art.
I think there’s an important lesson to learn in that, but I’ll talk about that in another post. For now I’m just happy to file this one under “blog” and leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Wheel of Time MMO

Alright, so this has nothing to do with Star War: The Old Republic, but it's something that caught my eye (and at least has relevance as in being MMO-related) so I thought I'd post it.

I noticed at Kotaku that apparently there seems to be all kinds of plans in the works for the Wheel of Time. This popular series of fantasy novels by the late Robert Jordan is apparently getting a movie (or several) and games related to the movies. Now while that news in itself is interesting, what really caught my eye was that they're apparently planning to also make a Wheel of Time MMO. From BigDownload:
In yet another game announcement out of left field, VentureBeat reports that a Hollywood production company called Red Eagle Entertainment is getting into the game business, starting with an MMO based on the Wheel of Time fantasy novel series created by the late Robert Jordan.

Red Eagle has the movie, TV and game rights to all 11 novels in the best selling series along with the rights to the upcoming and final Wheel of Time book (currently being written by another author based on notes by Jordan who died in 2007). Games are planned to be tied into releases of movies based on the Wheel of Time novels with VentureBeat reporting that Universal Studios may pony up as much as $150 million to make the first novel, The Eye of the World. An Wheel of Time MMO is also planned.

This won't be the first time that a game based on the novel series will be released. In 1999 the now defunct Legend Entertainment released a first person action game based on the Wheel of Time series. Published by GT Interactive (now renamed Infogrames/Atari) the game got good reviews but was overshadowed by the release of Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament at the same time and did not sell as many copies as anticipated.
VentureBeat has a bit more on the movies and other games.

Now, as I understand it they don't even have a developer for the MMO yet or anything and it'll likely be far in the future (if it ever comes to fruition as we've seen more MMOs been canceled). But personally I think this could be absolutely awesome. Though the books could drag on quite a bit I quite loved the characters and the world Robert Jordan painted. And yes, I would love to play a Green Ajah Aes Sedai with a small flock of Warders. I also quite loved the old Wheel of Time FPS (which was the most strategic FPS I've ever played and quite original with its myriad of different abilities) and used to run a clan for that game, but always felt that it really should've been a roleplaying game as the setting is just ripe for it.

But I'm probably getting way ahead of myself here. At the moment they're just plans and they haven't event started development in any way, shape or form (as I understand it anyway) so if anything it'll likely be many, many years in the future (so much so that I'll likely long be tired of SW:TOR or any other MMO I might pick up in the coming years).

It's nice to dream though.

Massively Links

Hadn't noticed before (and I'm sure there's a load of other gaming news websites that I haven't seen before), but came across a link to one of their articles which led me to explore and uncover a whole load more link to articles.

Originally I just thought to edit my original links post, but then wouldn't that be defeating the purpose of a blog? Besides, with the links label you can find all posts with links anyway, so I decided to just make a new post.

Some of the more interesting articles:
Lots of nice information there, though I think I'd already seen all of it in various other places. Still nice to have it collected like this.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Choreographed Combat

Through Kotaku I've been made aware of a post at VideoGaming247 where BioWare makes some brief statements about the combat in The Old Republic, stating that it'll be "choreographed":
BioWare chief Greg Zeschuk reckons traditional MMO combat - with those involved “swinging through each other” - wasn’t going to work for the newly announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, with the game needing a new, “choreographed” take on online fighting.

“Without a doubt,” he told VG247 when asked if the game’s combat had been built from the ground up. “If you recall some very specific things from the gameplay video, it was choreographed.

“One big difference, especially against the MMO space, is that typically everyone swings through each other. That’s the way it’s been done. It doesn’t look great for Star Wars.

“Star Wars is choreographed, it’s elegant; it’s big, powerful moves and lightning bolts flashing, but in a way that makes sense visually and aesthetically. One of the goals we have it to create this choreographed type of combat that looks as though it could be taking place in a Star Wars movie.”

The gameplay video showed both Jedi and Sith involved in light saber combat, and there was certainly none of the repeated fighting animations we’ve come to expect from MMOs: swords hit each other, opponent’s actions were dependent on other parties in the fight, and so on.

No date for the game as yet.
I'm not sure what to think of that. Choreographed sounds awfully... non-involved. And I don't want combat where I press a button and then watch the characters go through some choreographed combat sequence. I want to do the combat myself, make it feel like I am swinging that lightsaber or firing that blaster.

But perhaps he just means that it'll look like it's choreographed as the characters react properly to what the other characters are doing (under player control). We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, 10 November 2008

PCGamer Image Scans

Rvmax posted some scanned images from the PCGamer article. It looks like one or two concept art images and three or four ingame shots.

I'm not sure I'm quite happy with them. I mean the environments look nice, but the character looks very disproportionate. With that wasp-thin waist and over-sized bosom she looks rather ridiculous. And of course they still have the over-sized lightsabers (really, in both shots they look at least two times too thick to me). Here's a tip for the developers: if it doesn't look like the character can press her thumb to the nails of her other fingers while holding the lightsaber then it is too big.

Anyway, here's hoping that they solve their art-direction problems and choose one that actually looks nice.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

PCGamer Article

Jordano posted a transcript of the PCGamer Holiday Edition article on Star Wars: The Old Republic. Here is his transcript in its entirety.
The past decade had made it clear that gaming, not film, is the medium where the great Star Wars tales of this generation are being told. While George Lucas was busy working on the mediocre-at-best Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Baldur’s Gate developer BioWare was crafting the outstanding role-playing game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which earned PC Gamer’s Game of the Year award in 2003. These past two years, while LucasFilm was making this year’s childish and critically panned animated feature, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, BioWare was working secretly on its next project: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively multiplayer RPG set 3,600 years before Lucas’ films, and sharing the original trilogy’s spirit of fantasy adventure, mature yet jovial tone, and appeal for all ages, BioWare has picked up the torch that Lucas dropped somewhere along the way; this is where the fans of old-school Star Wars storytelling belong.

No pressure or anything-although Dr. Ray Muzyka, cofounder of BioWare, is already well aware of the stakes. “It’s something I think we recognize as a real challenge: to meet and exceed the expectations of fans. And that’s something that’s very sobering, because we’re big fans ourselves. We want to make sure that our audience gets something they can look at and say, “Wow this is the best MMORPG I’ve ever played, and I love it, and it’s everything I wanted a Star Wars game to be.’ That’s a big challenge, but we want to take that on.” He says as The Old Republic is unveiled at BioWare’s Austin studio, “We want this to be the biggest thing we’ve ever done at BioWare.”

But with BioWare’s Edmonton, Canada studio hard at work on games set in universes they themselves created (Dragon Age, and presumably the second part of the Mass Effect epic), why did the developer decide to devote so many of its resources to someone else’s story? “We love Star Wars, is the easy answer,” says Muzyka. “George Lucas created something that’s pretty amazing, with all this rich potential, and there are so many great things you get to do. It’s a universe that we’re very passionate about from having worked on Knights of the Old Republic and from just loving the great elements in Star Wars.”

With The Old Republic, BioWare’s stated goal is to put you into your personal Star Wars fantasy. No, not the one where Princess Leia asks you to polish her golden bikini: the PG-13 one, where you’re a hero fighting an epic battle between good and evil, and your actions determine the fate of the galaxy.


To help achieve the goals Muzyka and fellow cofounder Dr. Greg Zeschuk have set, the Austin studio has assembled a team with a wealth of collective experience earned working on a combined 40 MMORPGs, but that doesn’t mean they’re planning a cookie-cutter MMO. In fact, they have some radical ideas about how to make The Old Republic different, “We’re turning it up to 11. We’re not doing an incremental change, we’re really going far beyond what everyone else has done,” promises Design Director James Ohlen.

First and foremost: choice. Never before in the history of MMOs have there been quests with multiple outcomes depending on your actions, and with those actions having long-term effects. As in previous BioWare games, the circumstances of your birth do not determine whether you’re good or evil; it’s your actions that determine your alignment with the Force. In The Old Republic, you’ll frequently make difficult choices about whether to follow the Dark Side of the Force and do something despicable for a quick reward, or do the right thing and earn Light Side points for your character. The kicker: this is an MMO, so unlike a traditional RPG, you can’t save and go back to see what would have happened if you’d taken the other road. You’re stuck with your choices, so you must choose wisely. Adding this level of choice is a huge undertaking that literally doubles the workload of the game’s writing team.

“We’re really excited about bringing story to the MMO space.” says Muzkya. “We love MMOs, we play pretty much all of them collectively, and we think there are a lot of amazing games out there, but we think we’re adding something new. In addition to exploration, customization, progression, and combat, we’re adding a meaningful story that you get to play through as a character. You get to live the experience as a Jedi, Sith, or other classes.”

Quests the design team has in mind-formulated by saturating countless whiteboards with fantasies based on the movies-are complex operations involving multiple objectives with several group members acting as a team, says Muzyka. “The thing about Star wars is that it’s not all about combat or exploration; there are some subtle moments, too, like where Obi-Wan is sneaking through the Death Star. You’re doing some things kind of behind the scenes that are really important, and you feel like you have a purpose. Imagine you’re in that role, and you’re the one that’s turning off the Death Star’s tractor beams and force fields.” Meanwhile, your friends are fighting their way through guards to rescue a hostage or to escape.


For Ohlen, this project is about realizing the perpetual RPG he’s dreamed of since working on Baldur’s Gate. “I always wanted a space where I could, as a player, go and play my RPG forever, I’ve got those characters, I’ve got my stuff, and I’m just going to keep having adventures in this world. Even the sequel RPGs start over, right? Now, it’s the new characters in a new place, and we’re going to start you at level 1. You never get that campaign feel. My first thought when they brought up the idea that we were going to do this story based RPG was, ‘Wow, we can actually have this, a place where I can go with my friends and have these adventures and do these stories, and we can keep doing it.”

Principal Lead Writer Daniel Ericson estimates that The Old Republic will have more quest content at launch than every BioWare RPG to date, combined. That list includes Baldur’s Gate (and its Tales of the Sword Coast expansion), Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (and its Throne of Bhaal expansion), Neverwinter Nights (and its three expansions), KOTOR, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect. Fans who were expecting a KOTOR III will not be disappointed, says Muzyka. “We joke that we actually are doing KOTOR III, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII. It has that much content in it.” Essentially, the team is creating multiple games- if you play every quest as a Republic character and then start a Sith character, Ericson promises you won’t see a single repeated quest anywhere.


So exactly what’s different from that other Star Wars MMO that came out a few years ago and missed the mark for many fans? In short: everything. “What Galaxies tried to do was create Star Wars on the micro-level,” says Zeschuk. “It was an experience where the moment-to-moment was small stuff, whereas for us, really, the moment-to-moment is the big stuff. It’s big, it’s the macro, it’s at the heroic level.”

The first step in that direction is to dispose of the trivial busy-work quests that aren’t worthy of a hero’s time. “I’m busy saving the world, I’m not going to talk to you about your dog, I’m not going to find your lost keys. I’m going to do big, bold, heroic stuff.” Ericson proclaims. “One of the things I’ll always do when people are pitching things is to just hold it up against one of the Star Wars characters. If someone’s pitching something the Sith are going to do, whether it’s a side-activity or a plot, or whatever. I send it back to them and say ‘And then Darth Vader does…’ and I put a big blank. And if you giggle when you put it in there, that’s a failure. That doesn’t go in our game.”

Another hallmark of BioWare’s RPGs that will make the jump to its first MMO is companion characters-NPCs that join the player’s party and not only fight alongside him, but also interact with him socially and react to his choices. “They’re not pets, and they never have been.” points out Ohlen.

“You can romance them, make friends with them, be betrayed by them, and they can even decide to leave your party if they don’t like what you’re doing” All players will have access to a broad spectrum of companions to choose from, and Ohlen promises there’s a good explanation for two players having duplicate companions that is no way involves cloning. Having persistent characters around you who treat you like a part of the universe to balance out guys going AFK or talking about their homework is an ingenious way of building immersion.


We don’t yet know everything there is to know about The Old Republic-not while questions like “Will there be player-owned spaceships” “Will there be a space game,” “What kind of crafting system of heroes use.” And “Can I get my own Hunter-Killer droid army” still linger. But BioWare appears keenly aware of what features it’ll need to succeed in today’s saturated MMO market, where a game must distinguish itself from literally dozens of other contenders- not to mention the 11-million player gorilla, World of Warcraft. But if anyone has a shot, it’s BioWare. In the same way Apple, a company that had never made a cell phone before, has revolutionized the mobile communications landscape with the iPhone by using its strengths in interface design, BioWare has the potential to turn the MMO world upside down with best in class expertise in character-driven RPG storytelling. That, combined with the Star Wars universe, means The Old Republic has all the ingredients of a game-changer in the making.

“If [we’ve] done it right, it has a chance to be a truly gigantic, monolithic project.” says Zeschuk. “The potential success of making the great Star Wars MMO-the online experience where you somehow capture the magic of the world of Star Wars…it’s incredible.
Thanks Jordano.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hippocratic Game Design

Every week The Escapist publishes a series of articles online covering digital entertainment culture. Today one of these articles, titled “Hippocratic Game Design” and written by Tom Endo, takes a look at BioWare’s founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk and draws a link between their origins as practicing medical doctors and the profound sense of empathy common to BioWare’s games.

It’s an entertaining read and an interesting look at why BioWare’s games have generally been so well received. To pull a couple of quotes from the article:
Aside from Zeschuk's training software, medicine and gaming rarely crossed paths for the aspiring developers. However, Muzyka and Zeschuk's experiences as doctors provided the philosophical foundation of BioWare that has been instrumental to its unique success.
For Muzyka and Zeschuk, the process of developing a videogame is akin to practicing medicine in that they are both processes larger than one doctor's abilities or one designer's talent.
They're keenly aware of the line between influence and imitation - BioWare's projects will always remain in that same pantheon of games that Muzyka and Zeschuk currently enjoy.
Particularly that last one offers some hope I find myself lacking regarding The Old Republic, particularly stemming from the fear that they will imitate World of Warcraft on too many fronts making it feel like that game “with more story”. But perhaps I’m reading too much into things.

Regardless, the article is a nice read about BioWare’s founders and their approach to game development (in very broad terms).

Halloween Lightsaber Humor

When Diablo 3 was first announced, fans complained that the screenshots were too colourful and that Diablo was supposed to be a dark and gritty world. Blizzard clearly could see the humour in it when during their last BlizzCon they revealed Diablo 3’s new logo.

In similar fashion when BioWare announced The Old Republic the fans have been complaining that they don’t like the art direction and that the lightsabers were way too large (something which, based on the screenshots, I tend to agree with).

Luckily it seems that BioWare can see the humour in this as evident by their Halloween costumes:

Whether you agree with the complaints about the art or not, it’s good to see developers taking it this well. After working on a game for years and pouring your heart and soul into it any criticism can be a hard blow. So it’s always good to see that developers can take it well.

With thanks to Kotaku for the original story.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

New Title Image

Last night I spent a few hours creating a new title image, as you can see at the top of the page.

Ok, so most of it is just BioWare’s logo for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I managed to find a high-resolution version of the image at VideoGaming247 and used that. Then I downloaded a Star Wars font from and added the “Moon Over Endor” text.

I spent quite some time trying to get the text right. First in selecting the right characters (you’ll note that the two “R”s are different for example) and then trying to get the spacing right. I added a bevel similar to what the “Star Wars” text at the top has and then used masks and custom-made gradient fills to get the colors (though for the bevel I used an existing gradient in PSP). And finally a similar kind of brown smear behind the text. Though it doesn’t look exactly like the Star Wars text, it’s fairly close and I think it looks nice.

As I added the title image to the blog I also updated the background of the blog by using a starfield image I made a few weeks ago (combination of noise filters and brightness/contrast manipulation for the stars and some cloud filters for the nebula). The image was designed to show behind text, hence the stars aren’t too bright. Even so, I also added a partly transparent background behind the post text to set it apart a bit more.

If the background behind the text looks funky (like pure white I think it is) then you’re using a web browser that doesn’t support transparent png image files (i.e. an older version of Internet Explorer). If so I strongly suggest getting Firefox which is free and in almost every way superior to Internet explorer (IMHO).

Anyway, there you go. New title image. I hope you like it.

New SW:TOR Images

Over on the official forums Dexter posted a couple of new images; screenshots and some artwork.



It might just be me, but the first thing I think when seeing that first screenshot is "I wonder if you can sit on those chairs".

[EDIT 20090425] Since the OnlineWelten images seemed to give trouble (most of them tended to be gone) I moved the images over to my own server. I also had to scale a couple of them down (by 50%) or they wouldn't work for some reason.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Star Wars: The Old Republic Links

Since BioWare announced their MMO last Tuesday there've been a host of articles across the Internet looking at various aspects of the game or just giving a general overview. I wanted to start off by posting a number of the links I've come across.

Official Site:

Live blogs of the announcement press event:
Articles at IGN:
Articles at GameSpot:
Articles at VideoGaming247; I'm not going to list all the articles, but there are a number of good ones at the link, including a video of the announcement press conference (that I've yet to watch since the audio is too soft to hear it here at work).

Articles at TenTonHammer:
Other articles:
Finally I also wanted to link an article from InformationWeek, which is an older article (from 2007) so BioWare is just talking about their MMO in general terms, but it's interesting because it's the only article I know that hints at a release date. Though the main content of the article is interesting as well.
Here's another one from 2008 stating "Fiscal 2010" for the BioWare MMO (note that they're wrong in when Fiscal 2010 is as it is somewhere between April 2009 and April 2010; they're off by a whole year so the title should be "BioWare Made MMO Coming in 2010"):
There you go, that'll do for now. I'll post more links as I run across them.


Welcome to Moon Over Endor. This is a blog dedicated to Star Wars: The Old Republic by BioWare and (role)playing in general.

Since BioWare announced this MMO a week ago it's been on my mind a lot. So far I've always greatly enjoyed BioWare's games more than any other and generally enjoy playing MMOs as well, though usually only for a fairly brief time before the game gets tiresome. As such I'm quite excited about BioWare making an MMO, one in the Star Wars universe no less. However, I also do have a number of concerns that I hope to get into later.

The biggest thing to swallow will likely be that this won't be what Star Wars Galaxies was supposed to be, which is a shame. But maybe, just maybe, BioWare will manage to lift their MMO above other MMOs in the same way that they've lifted their single-player games above other single-player games.

And hence why I'm here and why I'm starting this blog.

So I bid you welcome; we're going to be in for a wild ride. :)