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.