Friday, 31 July 2009

Threat of Peace, Issue #12

As promised today we just get another three pages of the Threat of Peace comic. Here is the official news:
The twelfth issue of Threat of Peace™ keeps us on board the Imperial transport ship, where Captain Sivill’s brutal interrogation tactics have nearly killed Master Dar’Nala. Foreseeing her fate, Dar’Nala helps Braden escape from the ship in exchange for a promise that he will deliver an important message. Meanwhile, the escape pod carrying Jedi Knight Satele Shan and the Imperial Protocol droid SP-99 is detected by a passing vessel…

Check out the latest issue of Threat of Peace now.
Not much else to say.

Zam Interviews Jake Neri and Hall Hood

During Comic-Con last week the website Zam managed to sit down with Producer Jake Neri and Senior Writer Hall Hood to talk a bit about Star Wars: The Old Republic. And they recently posted this interview.

Here's an excerpt:
ZAM: Let's talk about some of those achievements. This is the world's first fully-voiced MMO, for example. At E3, we were told you started this project five years ago.

Jake Neri: I don't know when we actually started, but I know it's ongoing. It's something that starts with Paul and his team—they write a tremendous amount. What's the stat you just gave?

Hall Hood: (Laughs) I keep a running word count of dialogue that I've created for the game, and then I compare it against how many words of dialogue are in The Empire Strikes Back. As of this weekend, I've written enough dialogue [to fill] 23 Empire Strikes Backs! And I'm just one writer of many…

ZAM: And all of that dialogue is professionally voice-acted?

Hall Hood: It's beautifully professionally voice-acted. LucasArts is bringing in incredible talent and a real commitment to quality. The actors take our dialogue and make entire characters out of it. You listen to what people are saying and you get a sense that they have an entire history before [we] showed up.
Not a whole lot of information, but nice to read regardless. Though I must say that I'm getting increasingly fed-up with BioWare's general "we're not talking about that yet" answer to just about every question asked.

Even so, one writer already having written what amounts to 23 "Empire Strikes Back"s is quite impressive. And they're not even done yet. Just again shows how big the scope of this project really is.

[link] to the ZAM interview.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Unreleased Trailer Footage

It seems I missed some excitement last week (because I was away).

Some fans on the official forums found out that Zoic Studios, a visual effects studio (including game trailers and such), had a game demo reel on their website which included a couple of brief scenes from an as yet unreleased Star Wars video. And comparisons to SWTOR concept art seem to indicate that this is for SWTOR.

This was reported by the German site SWTOR-Station and speculation mounted. Forum members quickly pointed out that this was likely the cinematic trailer shown at the original unveiling press event (held October last year). As GameSpot put it then:
The presentation also included a brief cinematic CG trailer that showed a scene that could've come right out of the original KOTOR. In it, a Sith Lord, in black robes and all, flies in on a shuttle ship and lands on a pastoral planet next to a landed ship that was a dead ringer for KOTOR's Millennium Falcon-esque Ebon Hawk, walking next to an orange, assault-rifle-bearing robot that was a dead ringer for KOTOR's sinister, homicidal droid HK-47. The Sith Lord effortlessly repels an attack from what appears to be a Republic trooper, deflecting the soldier's blaster fire with a single gesture, and telekinetically strangling him, then flinging him away with another. In the meantime, another Jedi dressed in white robes, who is clearly intended to be a Light side Jedi, appears to be meditating peacefully while levitating a glowing crystal and several metal fragments in air. As the Sith Lord makes his entrance through a hallway of slaughtered Republic troopers, the Jedi's floating junk assembles itself into a lightsaber just in time for her to seize hold of it and lock blades with the Sith Lord.
More credibility was added to this being official footage from SWTOR when suddenly Zoic Studios took down the movie and later reposted it minus the three scenes. But not before some community members managed to capture the footage and turn it into a guild advertising.

So the following video is a mix of these official trailer shots and fan-made stuff. There are three short scenes from the trailer (the rest is probably best ignored):

Of course, community members also started to try and draw conclusions form the video (such as the Ebon Hawk being included or the planet Tatooine being included), but personally I think this is more something along the lines of a concept trailer to give a general feel of the game. Considering that the first trailer they showed was actually made by another studio (name the Deceived trailer made by Blur) it's also quite possible that they asked several studios to make a trailer and ended up picking the best one, but that at the time of the unveiling presentation the Deceived trailer wasn't finished yet.

It remains to be seen whether BioWare/LucasArts will ever release this trailer (and considering of how much higher quality the Deceived trailer was it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't), but it's an interesting thing at least.

Oh, and normally I wouldn't report on rumors (though I've considered adding a rumor label), but all things considered it seems very likely that this is indeed from an official trailer.

Here's a couple of screen captures from the three segments:

[EDIT] Here's the thread on the official forums about the footage.

Quiet Before the SWTORm

Ok, silly title. :p

Through the official forums Sean Dahlberg has let known that in the coming weeks, leading up to GamesCom, official news around SWTOR will quiet down a bit. As he put it:
Speaking of GamesCom and PAX, I wanted to go ahead and let all of you know things may be a little quiet around here for the next few weeks. For example, this week's update with be Threat of Peace #12.

After we get through these next few weeks, we have a lot of content in store for all of you. Our updates at the convention (and after them) will also include updates to the website for those of you who can't join us there. And yes, there will be some new reveals as well as the Gameplay Demo Walkthrough video.
GamesCom starts the 19th of August, so the next three Fridays (four if you count the previous one as well, which was rather slow too) there likely won't be a lot of interesting news coming. This Friday another issue of the comic and I expect pretty much the same on the 14th. And on the 7th there might either be nothing, a Fan Friday or something along those lines. But we'll see.

But such patience should be rewarded with new reveals and a gameplay video (as well as other things I'm sure) around and after the convention.

Leading up to such a big convention (I think it's the second biggest after E3) I don't expect a lot of news from other games sites before GamesCom either. So it looks like it'll be a couple of quiet weeks. Of course I'll continue to report anything interesting that I come across.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Comic-Con 2009 Wrap-Up

I'm back from vacation; my grandmother's party was a great success and I quite enjoyed my couple of days. And now that I'm back I'm scrambling to pick up on the Comic-Con news that was released over the weekend.

We'll start with BioWare's Friday update which was, as expected, a Fan Friday. But they also noted a couple of the conventions that they're taking the game to. And, most interestingly, the public gameplay demo that they're showing. For those (like myself) who can't attend these conventions they'll also make the gameplay demo video available through the website. Here's the news:
TOR at GamesCom and Penny Arcade Expo
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be will be bringing the power of the Force to two more conventions this year, GamesCom (Cologne, Germany; August 19-24 ) and Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) (Seattle, Washington; September 4 – 6). During the conventions, the team we will be showcasing the first public gameplay demo as well as giving away Star Wars™ goodies to attendees. Stop by the community cantina and hang out with some of the members of the Star Wars: The Old Republic team.

If you can’t make the shows, don’t worry! We will have the gameplay demo footage available to the community on our official website. To stay up-to-date on The Old Republic’s conventions this summer, visit the Community Events page!
I can't help but wonder if they'll also come to the Eurogamer Expo end of October, which I'll at least be able to attend (provided playing Dragon Age: Origins doesn't keep me too busy :p).

With the Friday update they also added a number of new avatars to the official forum, three bounty hunters, two smugglers, a trooper, two nautolans, two wookiees and, strangely enough, four jawas.

But more interesting perhaps is that over the weekend several websites had interviews/Q&As with BioWare/LucasArts about the game.

First there's the Star Wars: The Old Republic - Exhaustive Q&A over at IGN, which seems to be the questions that people could post to IGN last week. And it does indeed cover a lot of ground, including lifting the veil on a few things we didn't know yet. Though it also repeats a fair bit of things we already did and has a "we're not commenting on that yet" with a number of them. Even so, it is an interesting article to read.

Here's an excerpt:
IGN: A lot of people wanted to know about the healing system. Will The Old Republic use a trinity system; the tank, healer, and the DPS class. Will the healer play a massive role, or will groups be able to go with no healing?

Dallas Dickinson: We want to make sure that we have many, many MMO roles filled there, but it's really important to us that players are able to actually play their experience either as a group or as a solo. So there are a number of ways that healing comes into the game. Several of our classes have healing branches that they can follow that will have some specific healing powers, but we don't want to make it a requirement for the base core game. That said, you're obviously going to be better off, especially when you get into higher-level stuff and into PvP, if you have healers on your side.

Jake Neri: I think we have a unique sort of twist on how healing works. I don't think we're speaking in total detail about it, but I think the people will be excited for it, and it's definitely a unique function of our game.
Some of the things to take out of the article:
  • Instead of having dedicated healing classes it seems that certain classes can (optionally) specialize in healing. Though specializing in healing isn't needed even when playing solo.

  • The combat, though using familiar MMO mechanics, really feels more action based and cinematic.

  • Character customization is very important, one of the ways they're achieving it is the equipment and items that you find changing your appearance.

  • All classes have slightly different combat mechanics. (Note that this does not exclude the possibility of classes being mirrored, a question they refused to answer.)

  • Several planets will be shared by some starting classes, but starting planets could be (re)visited by (other) classes as well. Players will cross paths. Planets have varying sizes; some planets being multiple zones.

  • There will be guilds and group play. Solo play is supported all the way through and one doesn't have to get involved in PvP at any point (though there is PvP as well).
IGN wasn't the only one though, TenTonHammer also has a Comic-Con Interview. It has the same issue with questions they don't want to answer yet and there's not a lot of new things there, but still a nice read.

Here's an excerpt:
Ten Ton Hammer: It's interesting that you mention the percentage of story in the game... is that an indication to the fans of just how much content you're putting into the game?

Dallas: If you think about BioWare games in the past, they relied heavily on the actual action. That's why you play these games.

If you want to have *just* a story, go and watch a movie. If you want a story that you are a part of and emotionally involved in - where you get to drive the action forward and engage in activities that alter the outcome of the story - that's the thing it should feel like. That's what we're driving towards.

We're simultaneously building a fantastic amount of content based on a story, but we're also building an MMO that is an RPG with really exciting content...

Jake: The four pillars.

Dallas: Exactly.

Jake: If we under deliver on any - combat, exploration, progression, and story - we're not creating the game we want to create.

Alexander: They all need to link together. When you're looking at the percentage numbers of story vs. content, that would be actual dialogue versus combat encounters. Ideally, ninety-five percent of the game has story and there's obviously a reason why you're doing something in the game.

We know that it's an MMO and you're chatting with your friends - and that won't necessarily be a part of the story - but you're asking them if you want to get together and go do this particular quest or activity together. Technically not story content, but all of your in-game activities should be tied into the story in some form or another.
One interesting thing, perhaps, to note in that interview as well is that, apparently, they haven't shown anything past level eight yet. Of course they haven't said how many levels there are (could be that there's only ten levels), but it's a good bet that this means they haven't shown anything past the first quarter of the game and definitely nothing high-level yet.

Next up, also has a Comic-Con Interview with pretty much more of the same. This article seems to have a couple of (small) inaccuracies though (like talking about an "Empire Trooper" where they undoubtedly mean a "Republic Trooper").

Here's an excerpt:
All classes will also have their ranged as well as close combat skills. "Players will be able to use weapons to put their targets back into the correct range for their primary weapon skill," said Dallas, "A stun for example, so you can run up and engage in close combat or move further away for ranged combat."

Combat will be easy to get into, especially in the lower levels. The game will be designed for solo as well as group play. "SWTOR is not just about the single player experience," said Dallas, "It's an MMO and will contain the various features one expects to find in an MMO."
Finally the Darth Hater website has an audio recording of the Behind the Scenes panel at Comic-Con (I think that's the one that G4 was supposed to go to, but managed to miss).

Here's a direct link to the podcast.

There's a fair number of interesting tidbits in that podcast, including confirmation that players will be able to play species other than human (there was some concern over that on the official forums).

Another interesting thing is how they're comparing the Smuggler class to the Bounty Hunter class. This is leading some to speculate that the two classes are mirrors, but that's not actually what the developers are saying. They're comparing them on having similar style stories; both have stories dealing with the the criminal underground. That doesn't say anything about their gameplay mechanics (which is what class mirroring is all about) though; on that I'm still convinced that the Trooper and Bounty Hunters are gameplay mirrors of each other.

But to get back to the story equivalents, that does lead to speculate on other classes. It seems like that the Jedi and the Sith classes are story equivalents (as well as gameplay mirrors), both dealing with the Force 'religion'. With the Trooper being a class with a military story one can speculate that there will be a class with a military story on the Empire side as well, which fits in perfectly with earlier speculation of an Imperial Officer type class. That still leaves the last two classes, but another type of story that's important in Star Wars which hasn't been handled yet is a political story, which would fit earlier speculated classes such as a Senator or such for Republic and, maybe, a Governor/Viceroy for the Empire. Those are pure speculation, of course, but it would fit.

Anyway, that should have me caught up with current events again. If I come across anything more (either from Comic-Con or something new) then I'll post it of course.

[link] to the IGN Q&A.
[link] to the TenTonHammer interview.
[link] to the MMORPG interview.
[link] to the Behind the Scenes panel.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Away for a couple of days

I will be away the next couple of days to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday. So during that time I obviously won't be able to report on any news.

This means I'll miss Comic-Con and anything that comes out of it as well. But I'll do my best to report on anything from it that I can find when I get back on Tuesday.

As for this Friday's update, it is said to be a Fan Friday. While Fan Fridays can contain some nice things, there usually isn't that much to report on.

Take care and will be back next week. :)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Great Holocron

Hmm, something interesting seems to be going on.

About a month ago a user named "TheGreatHolocron" posted a thread title "The Great Holocron" over on the BioWare forums. Within the message was hidden the message "this is not a game".

Then about a week ago another message in the thread linking to four sites:
The homepage seems to be a field asking for an email address and it seems that BioWare started following the Twitter page at least.

But things really got interesting yesterday. First the following wanted poster was posted:

The poster contains text in Aurebesh, Star Wars' alphabet, which users quickly translated to the following:
The Great Holocron

The experience begins
august 24th, 2009
But even more interesting is that users started receiving the following transmission. Unfortunately I'm having some trouble getting it through my secure network (must be some browser settings), but luckily it has also been placed on a public network:

It looks like someone, apparently a Jedi named Jole Somaac, in some kind of forest. From the transmission he's trying to send he seems to be in possession of this great holocron. Whatever that is.

More discussion on these events and what it all means, people trying to puzzle out the clues, is being done on the The Great Holocron forums. And it seems that factions are already being formed. The question that remains is: who will get their hands on this holocron first? The Republic or the Empire?

Looking quite interesting indeed.

[UPDATE] It seems that the project was canceled; no activity for month and the site down. So I've changed the labels for this post. Pity; could've beens something special.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Video Documentary #3: The Voice of the Old Republic

Ooh, very exciting update today.

First there is the next issue of the web comic, Threat of Peace. Here's the official news:
The eleventh issue of Threat of Peace™ captures the scene on Coruscant, where Senator Paran Am-Ris is in the difficult position of delivering distressing news to a fellow Senator and to Jedi Master Zym. Even while digesting the delayed reconstruction of the Jedi Temple, Master Zym sends Orgus and Tavus on a critical mission to Balmorra. Meantime, halfway across the galaxy, a ruthless Imperial Captain tortures and interrogates Jedi Master Dar’Nala, seeking answers as to why her ship fired upon his.

Check out the latest issue of Threat of Peace now.
Seems that we're seeing the roots of why the Jedi moved to Tython being seeded.

The really exciting part of the update though is the third video documentary, this one looking at how the game is fully voiced (with lots of ingame footage of said voice acting). Here's the official news:
As revealed during E3, Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ will be a fully voiced massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. Watch our third Video Documentary where we explore how voice-over conversations deliver a deeper level of immersion and connection to the story and characters. Every playable character and every non-playable character in the game will be brought to life by voice actors - resulting in several thousand speaking roles and hundreds of thousands of recorded lines of dialogue!

Watch Voice of The Old Republic now!

Sounding quite good indeed.

And we know as well now that the icon in the previous update is indeed an uniform. However, it seems to be a normal military uniform (not even specifically imperial intelligence) and quite likely just for NPCs. Even so though, the foreshadowing from the last timeline update does seem to hint at some kind of officer class with that uniform. And when they show how the dialog is adjusted to the player ("Yes my lord", likely to a male Sith player) I can definitely see an officer version of that too. Ah well, we will find out soon enough.

For the rest of the analyzing of the video (I'm fairly certain I saw the cover system in action with green outlines of where you can go into cover) it'll have to wait until they have the HD video available for download.

Very nice update at least.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

IGN taking questions for SWTOR

It seems that IGN is talking to BioWare next week about Star Wars: The Old Republic and right now they're taking user questions to field to the developers.

Here's their news:
Got a Question for The Old Republic?
We're talking to the devs next week, and we're offering them your questions.

US, July 15, 2009 - Do Jedi Knights dream of electric sheep? What do Sith Lords like to do in their off time? Do you have a question about Star Wars: The Old Republic? The sci-fi MMORPG knocked our socks off at E3 last month, and now you have a chance to ask the developers themselves about the game.

LucasArts is holding a panel about The Old Republic at Comic-Con, with developers from both BioWare and LucasArts present to answer questions. But since many people can't be in San Diego next week we've set it up with LucasArts where we'll have a virtual panel of sorts. We'll take the best questions from our readers and ask them directly to the panelists next week, and then we'll post the answers on Friday, July 24.

So submit a question to the comments field below, and you may get it answered next week!
Of course there's already a load of questions, but if you've got one that you're dying to get answered (and which has a good chance of getting an answer instead of just "we're not talking about that yet") then it can't hurt to add it to the list.

Since I'll be away next weekend (and thus can't directly report on ComicCon either) I'll post a link to the answered questions when I get back.

Speaking of ComicCon, according to Kotaku LucasArts is set to make "several world exclusive announcements" during their Star Wars keynote press event. Here's Kotaku's news:
Who's hyping its Comic-Con showing now? LucasArts! The publisher of all things Star Wars and Indiana Jones is bringing with it games, creative types and "several world exclusive announcements" to make your visit to the convention worthwhile.

Two games promised to be on hand at LucasArts booth are Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes and LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues, with members of the dev team milling about to field your questions.

LucasArts will also be making a Big Deal out of Star Wars: The Old Republic, with a "making of" panel next Friday and trailer showings at its booth through out the weekend.

Most enticing, however, are the announcements that LucasArts is hyping. They'll be making those announcements at the Star Wars Spectacular keynote on Friday, leading us to believe they'll be Star Wars related. Yes, it's a wild hunch, but something just feels right about that.
Though note that, while this event will include Star Wars: The Old Republic as well, it is a general Star Wars event and the announcements could have nothing to do with BioWare's MMO. They might, for instance, announce that Yoda will make an appearance in the live action Star Wars television series that's in development (don't know if he does, but it would be a world exclusive announcement I think).

And again, any such announcements, if they are relevant to SWTOR, I'll report on when I get back from my brief vacation next week.

[EDIT 20090718]

Someone pointed out the Comic-Con 2009 Schedule. There's a lot there, a lot of different things there, including a lot of Star Wars that isn't The Old Republic. But then there is this on Friday:
1:00-2:00 Star Wars Day: Behind the Scenes: The Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic Jake Neri (producer, LucasArts) speaks with Hall Hood (senior writer, BioWare), Alexander Freed (managing editor, BioWare), Dallas Dickinson (senior content producer, BioWare), and Jeff Dobson (art director, BioWare), about the making of the new massively multiplayer online role-playing PC game Star Wars: The Old Republic. Join the team to get new behind-the-scenes information about the game!
Would be very nice if they (or someone) recorded that session and made the video available. Would love to see that session.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

BioWare Blog: Voice-Over in SWTOR

As promised this Friday we get a Developer Blog entry where the developers talk a bit about how it is creating Star Wars: The Old republic, talking about the various processes and aspects of development. And this particular blog is about the voice recording work.

As you might be aware BioWare announced at E3 this year that their games is completely voiced. Every single NPC (as well as all the PC, unfortunately) are all completely voices. And with each class getting its own unique story as well as all the multiple paths and multiple options players have and such that is absolutely massive. And this blog talks about just how massive.

Here's an excerpt:
And so began the crazy odyssey of voice-over (VO) production for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. It would be a joint effort between BioWare and LucasArts. BioWare would write all the scripts, create the schedule and be responsible for the tracking and integration of all VO assets. The LucasArts Audio Department, led by Darragh O’Farrell, would handle recording the voice talent and sending the VO assets to BioWare.

I was excited for the chance to work with the LucasArts Audio team. They had done the VO for a previous BioWare game, Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™, before I joined the company and it had been very well received. In fact, when I joined the world of VO production for games, my goal was to match the KOTOR quality bar.

But – The Old Republic would have at least ten times the lines of dialogue of KOTOR. Since neither BioWare nor LucasArts had experience on a project of this magnitude, this was an exciting and intimidating challenge. BioWare would be responsible for providing the reams and reams of scripts, as well as, managing the writing/VO production schedule. The LucasArts team would be responsible for finding the actors, recording and post processing the dialogue.
Some of the highlights from the article:
  • James: "We want to voice all of the characters including all player characters."

  • my goal was to match the KOTOR quality bar.

  • The Old Republic is the size of at least 10 KOTORs recorded back to back.

  • As a player, you can select from a number of different conversation lines which, in turn, lead to multiple options for NPC responses.

  • hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue

  • The voice-over is being recorded in 5 different cities (so far); Los Angeles , London, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto

  • By the time the project is finished, we will have worked with hundreds of actors - many on multiple occasions.

  • The entire game ‘script’ contains approximately 40+ novels worth of content.
Read that again... 40+ novels. That is a lot of story content. And since I'm lucky if I get around to reading half a dozen or so novels a year that means it would take me years to read everything SWTOR if they released it in novel format. :p

But while all that is very interesting and massively impressive, my old speculation bells start tingling at what might perhaps be the most intriguing things of all in this update... that tiny little image in the corner.

You see, BioWare seems to have a tendency to hint at classes before they are released, or so I have noticed over the last half year or so. We got hints at the Bounty Hunter before they unveiled the Bounty Hunter, we got hints at the Trooper before they unveiled the Trooper, we got hints at the Smuggler before they unveiled the Smuggler... and when I look at that little image all I can think is "that does not look lite a Jedi, that does not look like a Sith, that does not look like a Bounty Hunter, that does not look like a Trooper and that does not look like a Smuggler".

And I know that it doesn't have to be a player class. It could be just some random NPC. Or it could be one of the other classes in an outfit we haven't seen yet. But i can't help but feel that the gray color and the general sense of 'uniform' of that character provokes a general sense of Imperial Security Bureau in me, particularly something like these guys. I know they're not exactly the same, but that makes sense as the ISB wasn't created until the time of the movies. And just as a lot of other things are 'similar yet different' (such as the Trooper armor not looking quite like Stormtrooper/Clone Trooper armor but close) so is this uniform.

And it fits with other little hints like that; the previous timeline hinted at soemthign going on and the next timeline heading mentions Imperial Intelligence. Such an Intelligence operative would nicely mirror the general abilities of the Smuggler class while still being quite unique and have a unique story. The question I have right now is if they're also going for the whole Imperial Officer archetype with them (such as Grand Moff Tarkin and such) or whether that'll be two separate classes. But it seems clearly hinting towards some intelligence agent class.

I don't know, maybe I'm seeing what I want to see. Not because I have any desire to play such a class directly (might perhaps on a distant alt somewhere down the line if I'm not burned out on the game by then), but because it would prove me right. I guess we can do nothing other than wait to find out.

It remains a nice blog entry though and though we knew that all that VO work was impressive, it helps to underscore again just quite how impressive, which is what this blog entry does. Hats off to BioWare (and LucasArts) if they can pull this off (which I have little doubt that they can).

Friday, 10 July 2009

G4TV Video Interview with Dr. Ray Muzyka

G4TV has a video interview with BioWare's Ray Muzyka.

It talks about a number of topics, including Dragon Age: Origins, the 'merger' with Mythic and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Nothing we didn't already know, but it's a nice interview regardless.

Later today we should be getting a new Developer Blog for The Old Republic.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Eurogamer Interviews Dr Greg Zeschuk

Eurogamer has an interview up with BioWare's Dr Greg Zeschuk. It is mostly about Dragon Age: Origins (which is good too) with some general BioWare philosophy thrown in. But they also talk briefly about the 'merger' with Mythic where Greg had this to say on how that relates to Star Wars: The Old Republic:
Eurogamer: Will you be using Mythic's experience with MMOs on Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Dr Greg Zeschuk: Oh yeah, without a doubt.
Though that seemed obvious, it's still nice to know. It is, after all, a good thing that SWTOR gets to use the wealth of experience that the Mythic guys have with building and running an MMO.

For the rest it's a nice article as well, particularly if you're interested in Dragon Age or just in general are interested in BioWare's design philosophies (which would also apply to SWTOR).

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

MMOZine Article and Interview

The free, downloadable magazine MMOZine has just released issue 13. And that issue includes both a preview and an interview. Here's an excerpt:
But surely you're not the first developer to have a story in an MMO game?

Obviously there has been story in MMOs and I don't want to say there hasn't, but nobody has actually made it a focus of their game. So when BioWare got together with LucasArts and said "What are we going to do here with the Old Republic? What are we going to do to the MMO space that's different, that's going to be challenging, that's going to be interesting and that's actually going to bring something new to MMOs?" Is was fairly obvious.
Altogether there's not much, or anything, new in there though. It's mostly the same stuff from last E3 again and again a reiteration that SWTOR is a story-focused MMO (as you can see from the quote).

The magazine requires Adobe Acrobat to read and does some fairly horrible things to take over control of your reader while you're reading it (trying to force itself fullscreen, disabling copy-paste, constantly trying to contact its website, etc). But I guess some of that is to prevent content theft and some of it to try and give readers a nice experience.

Can, in all honesty, be skipped.

PC Gamer UK Article at GamesRadar

As I noted a couple of days ago PC Gamer UK has an article on Star Wars: The Old Republic. And, just as article writer Tim Edwards told me there would be, Games Radar (the online arm of PC Gamer) have now put the article online for everyone to read.

Here's an excerpt:
Even at this early stage, The Old Republic is as polished, as playable and as slick as... that other major MMO. Why? How? Because BioWare Austin, the studio responsible, have paid attention to the details from the very start. And their ambition seems limitless. They want to make an MMORPG that encapsulates the essence of their single-player games: a true online sequel to classics like Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate. They want to make a game with proficient, modern production values, fully voiced cutscenes and multi-threaded conversations. They want to reduce the grind – removing the tedious fetch 10 and kill 20 quests that plague the genre – and tie everything into their story. They want to introduce genuine consequence, giving parties of players the kind of moral choices their single-player games have become famous for. Except that in this world, there are no save games, no chances to go back and see what might have happened.
If you don't have the magazine then I can recommend reading the online article as it's a good read. For some of my thoughts on it, see the blog post linked above.

[link] to the GamesRadar/PC Gamer article.

Old School LucasArts Goodness

Meh, I should've been in bed already, but this is just too good not to mention.

There is, simply put, a lot of old school LucasArt goodness coming to Steam.

You might already be aware that they're releasing a remake of the classic Secret of Monkey Island, possible their very best adventure game. If you have never played it then I highly recommend picking it up and getting to know Guybrush and learn the intricacies of Insult Sword Fighting. And though they've polished up the graphics, it still plays exactly like the old game (to the point that you can literally switch back to the old game as you're playing and continue from there.

Here's a video:

And the game now has a release date of July 15th. Great; I wasn't expecting it until late August or such.

Then there is the new Monkey Island game Tales of Monkey Island, an episodic adventure of which the first part release, well, today! And though I'm never quite sure of the newer Monkey Island games (after Curse of Monkey Island), this one looks like it could be quite good. here's a video:

And if that's not enough, they're also releasing a bunch of other classics on the 8th of July. And with the suggestion that there will be more in the future. All on Steam.

Here's the list of the first ten:

• Armed and Dangerous
• Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
• Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure
• LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventure
• Star Wars Battlefront II
• Star Wars Republic Commando
• Star Wars Starfighter
• The Dig
• Thrillville: Off the Rails

Indiana Jones?! Loom?! The Dig?! Wow! There's some serious nostalgia there. Haven't played the others so much, but I hear Republic Commando is pretty good at least.

Drat, I'm sooo going to run out of time to play all these (again).

Here is the official announcement. And thanks to Kotaku, VG247 and Gamasutra.

[EDIT 20090907]

As of yesterday the games are now all on Steam (with the exception of The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition, which will be available next week). I can't speak for Euros or Dollars, but Tales of Monkey Island costs about £25 for all five episodes (and the first is said to last roughly four hours). The list of ten games above all have different prices (for example, I recall Lego Indiana Jones being about £13 and Star Wars Republic Commando about £7), but the four old adventure games are £3 each, which seems like a massively good deal to me (if you don't mind the dated graphics). And yes, I bought those four and Tales as well. Good times.

Monday, 6 July 2009 Interviews BioWare Doctors has an interview with general manager of BioWare Dr Ray Muzyka and creative officer Greg Zeschuk to "discuss the maturing games industry, and how innovations in hardware such as Microsoft's Project Natal can help developers create more emotionally engaging storytelling experiences."

Here's an excerpt:
Q: If you can narrow it down to just one thing you'd like to see happen in this industry soon, what would that be?

Greg Zeschuk: I'd probably have Star Wars: The Old Republic out. That would be the one thing. That's my answer. (laughter)

I mean, I'm sort of facetious about that, but at the same time, I think it's interesting because I think it's really going to surprise people. You play it, and it's interesting because you can really easily solo the game, or you can play in multiplayer. And the solo experience, the character acting, the dialogue flow is like Mass Effect, and you completely forget you're playing an online game. And then your buddy shows up and you're like, oh yeah! Hey, let's do this together now. It's really interesting because it sort of breaks new barriers. For us in many ways it's the next evolution of storytelling, of sharing these stories and having the flexibility of playing together and sharing these stories.
That quote is also pretty much the only thing directly related to Star Wars: The Old Republic, but it is overall an interesting article.

They talk about about controllers and how to further improve story telling in games. But to me the most interesting is how they seem to (finally) see that games don't need combat to be interesting. For years I've been saying (including on the BioWare forums) how there are so much more ways that they could deal with the "gameplay" part of their games. For instance, imagine a game that takes racing instead of combat, but that fueled with BioWare's strong storytelling. Instead of "get some story, fight some monsters, get more story" you'd have "get some story, race your car, get more story". And they could easily interweave story in the game parts just as much as with combat.

Or take other gameplay mechanics. A Sim RPG? Or a platform RPG? A puzzle RPG? A sports RPG? There are so many possibilities that it's absolutely baffling that they keep to just combat for so very long.

And I also believe that story could stand on its own. Maybe in some sort of revival of the adventure genre. But there you'd need either a load of story content to keep people busy for many hours (without just showing them pre-rendered cutscenes or pre-scripted ingame cutscenes) or the question becomes "so what do people do minute-to-minute?" Story telling has, after all, been a fairly passive endeavor and in games people want to be involved.

But I do definitely think that there is a lot of scope for roleplaying games that don't have a focus on combat and killing. And I am very happy that BioWare seems to think that the time is right for that. As such it wouldn't surprise me if the secret project they're working on is something just like that.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

SW:TOR in PC Gamer UK Magazine

So I was doing my groceries today and as I walked past the magazine stand I noticed that PC Gamer magazine had Star Wars: The Old Republic on the cover. Wasn't expecting that, but I bought a copy to check it out at home. And indeed, it seems PC Gamer just released their August issue (yeah, it's still July; I don't get that either) and that they have their E3 coverage in it. And part of that coverage is a 5-page article covering Star Wars: The Old Republic.

This is how their website puts it:
What do you imagine could be in it? Let your imagination run wild... No! Those ideas are rubbish! It's way better than what you thought of. For instance, how about the world's first hands on details for BioWare's super-excellent-looking Star Wars: The Old Republic. Tim spent so long playing it that when he came out of the tiny room the entire building was dark, populated only by people emptying bins. There's pages of info on the MMO we're looking forward to most.
The article itself is quite decent, but there are a number of errors in it. For example, they mention a few times that there are six classes, when we know that there will be eight. And overall there is not that much new information in it. But it is nice to read what someone who played the game thinks of it (and how excited he apparently is about the game).

Here are a couple of quotes with my thought following:
"The Sith is an action-point class. Do you play many MMO games?"
"A few."
"So he plays a bit like the rogu... oh, you've got it."
...(snipped)... [My Sith character] earns points by swiping and smashing; he can then spend them on finishing moves.
Ok, so Sith (and thus likely Jedi) play a bit like World of Warcraft rogues minus the stealth. Now, I very much like melee combat, magic-using classes, but the rogue's point building system is absolutely horrible. Mythic did the same kind of thing with their Witch Elves in Warhammer Online; and it turned what could have been a fun melee class into a "build, build, build, release, build, build, build, release" class. Absolutely boring to play. So this has me rather worried. not a good start.
Even at this early stage, The Old Republic is as polished, as playable and as slick as... that other major MMO.
There are a few more references to how good the game is already looking, but this is encouraging. Even if developers usually spend a fair bit of time specifically to polish their presentation demos to near finished quality. But it seems the writer of the article seems to think that "The Old Republic is a credible World of Warcraft killer."
A fully voiced cutscene follows, with the kind of dialogue choices and moral consequences that you'd usually expect from singleplayer roleplaying games.
Just reiterating this as people still dont' quite seem to get how SWTOR will feel as rich as a single-player game. Though slightly worrying is how it seems that one of the choices (let the captain live) seems to give an easier continuation of the quest while killing him gives a more difficult result: "The numbers are striking, particularly without the buffed and healed reinforcements from sickbay." I fear that sooner or later you might have websites full of the 'best' solutions, making multiplayer less fun because everyone just want to go with the 'best' solution instead of following the story. But then, I do get the impression that this game is probably much better played as a single-player game online where you can invite your friends along than as your typical MMO.
This creates a problem: most people aren't familiar with the expanded Star Wars universe. BioWare have groundwork to do, as Vogel explains: "So all this stuff we're doing around the game: the comic, the timeline videos, that's all to bring people up to speed with the setting. ...(snipped)..."
There seem to be a number of people complaining that they don't know anything about the game, by which they mean the mechanics of the game. Yet I always find that odd, considering that Bioware releases more roughly every week. As this quote shows though, they're not that interested in revealing game mechanics and are more interested in getting players into their story and their setting, and that's what they're doing instead.
BioWare have developed different game mechanics for every character class. The Jedi and Sith are melee-focused magic users, while smuggler and trooper classes will use cover to keep out of trouble, and fight with blasters. The bounty-hunter, the only other class so far revealed, can use the kinds of tools we seldom see in MMOs: a jetpack and a flamethrower.
They mention that Troopers use cover... yet I believe that they are wrong. From all I understand from Bioware the Trooper is a "get in there and kill stuff" class. The whole quote is odd as they group Smuggler with Trooper as being similar (while those are on the same side) and keep Bounty Hunter separate, while from what I know the Trooper and Bounty Hunter have similar game mechanics with the Smuggler being separate in that it makes heavy use of cover.

One interesting note is slightly further though. He notes that while walking around as a Sith there are places to take cover behind. He asks if that is for the Smuggler and gets a confirmation, which is odd since it is an Imperial Flash Point (i.e. PvE) and the Smuggler is Republic. So either the place is reused for Republic content, which contradicts their statement of no shared content for the two sides, or it's actually for the Smuggler's equivalent class on the Empire side.
"We have to ignore the top of the hardcore," says Walton, talking about those players who will simply ignore the story and min-max their way to the top end of the game. "We need to make a game that is accessible to the Star Wars fan, and the BioWare fan. Because really BioWare is a company that is about making a great RPG experience, not about making games for a hardcore MMO audience."
This, I think, might be the quote that got me happiest in this article. And it would explain why there seems to be some confusion from the more 'hardcore' players out there who simply don't seem to understand what SWTOR is doing.
"I don't know if you noticed," Vogel says, "but it's all synchronised combat. We have a synchronised animation system, it's not like every other MMO where it's two guys dancing, watching each other run through the animations. This is like KotOR. Blades hit, we can block stuff, people are actually parrying -- you always know why he hit."
We've heard about choreographed combat before and this goes into that again somewhat. This 'synchronized' combat should help to make it feel more cinematic.
But what if you want to join the party halfway through a mission? Isn't that going to be confusing for other players? "We actually have a system to do that. You have to decide: either we're going to start over for you, or they could join you where you are."
So this seems like confirmation that not only can people join you in your missions, but they can join half-way through... or you can start over if you choose. The only problem I can see with that is that it gives rise to people grinding misisons; play it almost to the end and then just before it finishes reset it this way to do it all again. But perhaps they're keeping all (or the best) rewards until the end. Also makes me wonder how that's going to work with the choices you made. You could use this to see what the result of the other choices are.
At the end of the presentation the point is made that what BioWare have shown is nothing like the MMOs we know of today. Where are the PvP arenas? Or the large, 25+ player raids? Or auction houses? Or, hey, space-combat?
Vogel raises an eyebrow. "Oh, we have all that too. We're just going to wait a little bit to show you that."
On the forums a number of people have already latched on to this quote as "space combat confirmed" and, indeed, from PC Gamer's podcast (linked below) they say again that space combat has been confirmed by the developers. However I'm still skeptical; the quote above sounds more like PC Gamer's interpretation with a quoted answer; did they really say "space combat" in the question (and not, say "space content")? And does "space combat" mean like in KotOR or more like SWG's Jump to Lightspeed? I have nothing against the latter directly, but it seems to me that they've already got more than enough to get right to add space combat to the mix.

Anyway, it's a nice article.

And as I said above, PC Gamer also has a podcast up where they talk a bit more about the game, starting from about 2 minutes in.


I just got the following message from Tim Edwards, Editor of PC Games: "I've just spotted that you're hosting scans of a piece in our magazine. Could you take them down, please - they're our copyright. We'll placing the content online ourselves, soon enough."

So I've removed the links. I'll put a link up to the content when they put it online. With my apologies to PC Gamer.

Timeline 3: The Return of the Mandalorians

Well, I said that there would be another timeline (or, to be more precise, Sean did). But first we have the first three pages of the second act of the Threat of Peace comic. Here is the official news:
The tenth issue of Threat of Peace™ marks the start of the second chapter of the story, taking us to the embattled world of Balmorra where Republic forces are receiving word that the planet has been ceded to the Sith Empire under the terms of the Treaty of Coruscant. Even as the local commander shares his withdrawal orders with his troops, Jedi Knight Fortris Gall shrugs off his orders to rescue a squad of captured Republic soldiers.

Check out the latest issue of Threat of Peace now.

Seems like they're pressing home the news that you can dual wield lightsabers (which they also did at the E3 demonstration as several sources report). I wonder where this will go.

But of course the biggest news today is the new Timeline, titled "The Return of the Mandalorians". Here is the official news:

The Keeper of the Jedi Archives has entered a new holorecord. Continuing his investigation, Master Gnost-Dural delves deeper into the history of the galaxy after discovering that the blockade that Hylo Visz helped end was a result of the actions of the new Mandalore.

BTC 8 – During a Republic resurgence in the Great War, a bold young warrior rose to fame in the Gladiatorial arenas on Geonosis. Adopting the ancient and infamous title of Mandalore, this young leader amassed an army of Mandalorian mercenaries and bounty hunters. The new Mandalore led his forces to form a blockade and challenge the Jedi Order, effectively turning the tide of the war back in the Sith Empire’s favor.

Watch the third Timeline holorecord, The Return of the Mandalorians, narrated by actor Lance Henriksen.

You can also download a high resolution version of this video.
The timeline talks about how the blockade that the smugglers broke through got formed in the first place with the rise of a new Mandalore leading a new army of Mandalorians. Here is the full text:
























Of course, now we'll get still more threads in the official forums with people thinking that Mandelorians will be the next class (undoubtedly supposedly as a balance to the Trooper), completely ignoring that the text clearly lists Bounty Hunters as part of these Mandelorians (and that Bounty Hunters are a clear balance for the Trooper), but they'll probably continue to do that until all classes are known.

And speaking of which, I do get the feeling that another class is hinted here. At the very end you see a Mandelorian with two men in uniform. Two men who, I have little doubt, are imperial intelligence agents. Something that seems even further strengthened when you realize that the next timeline point (and thus the next update we'll get) has the following description (emphasis mine): "Frustrated by a series of republic military victories, imperial intelligence adopted new tactics to force an end to the war." And as the image shows it hints at the next update. So it seems similar in hinting at the next class as the hint of the Smuggler class did two timeline updates ago.

Anyway, it is a nice update and I do enjoy hearing Mr. Lance Henriksen talk.


The old timeline videos (and this new one) are available as downloadable videos now. Open the links for these images below to go to the video and then use the download link on the video menu to download it:


Friday, 3 July 2009

Yahtzee's Prototype vs. InFamous Challenge

Yes, another update that has nothing to do with SWTOR. But this is just too funny to pass up. Don't worry, we'll get a new timeline tonight according to Sean, so suck it up until then.

One of my favorite reviewers, and of many other I'm sure, though not so much for the quality of the reviews and more because of entertainment value is Yahtzee (doing the Zero Punctuation reviews for The Escapist Magazine; you know, the videos with the guy who talks really fast). And a couple of weeks ago he did a review where he compared InFamous and Prototype. Here's the video:

As you can see, at the end he can't decide which of the two quite similar games is the better one. And to ensure that balance would be restored to the universe he (jokingly I'm sure) proposed a challenge to both developers to prove which one was better. "Namely, which of the two studios could produce the best image of the rival game's main character wearing women's lingerie."

Now it seems that both companies took the challenge to heart (or, more likely, that they decided to play along with the joke and get some free advertising out of it) and they sent in images doing just that. And here is Yahtzee's response to them, declaring a winner in the end.

For your convenience though, I'll put the two images below (there's a third one as well here, but it's not as good as the other two). Oh, and these are not for the faint of heart.

Can you guess which one he picks as the winner before reading the article?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

GaiKai Technology Demo

When, at last year's E3, OnLive surprised the world with what seemed to be working cloud-based gaming on a thin client (meaning, all the processing is done server-side and all you need is the 'power' to display a video). But there was one man's voice that basically said "dammit, they beat us to it as we wanted to show the same thing at E3".

That one man is David Perry and that same thing is Gaikai.

Gaikai, from what I understand, differs from OnLive in that it doesn't require a micro-console on top your TV or an application download for your computer, it simply uses a Flash player in your browser. So, basically, Gaikai turns every single game (that they have on their service) into a Flash game (concept wise as the games retain full graphic detail and everything).

But perhaps it's better to show you instead as David Perry today released a technology demo video on vimeo. Be sure to watch until the end where he demonstrates that it can be useful for more than just games:

Of course, as with OnLive, the proof is in the pudding and I'd want to see myself how good this really is, whether it truly feels like playing a game locally. I suspect that, at the very least, the resolution will be much lower and there will probably also be some noticeable latency between your input and when you see the effect on screen. But it should at least be good enough to play those games you otherwise might've not given much chance. Looks interesting at least.

And with his demonstration of World of Warcraft and EvE one can't help but wonder how it would be to play Star Wars: The Old Republic through this. So much for the benefit of "stylized realism" allowing it to run on everyone's computer. :p

On a side-note, I'm also changing the "OnLive" tags in the previous posts on that service into "Cloud Gaming" tags to group OnLive and Gaikai together. Not that I expect to have much news on either.

Thanks to VG247 for the original news.

GameSpot Short with Richard Vogel

GameSpot has a short video interview up with Richard Vogel (looks like it's taken during E3).

The most, and pretty much only, interesting things from that video is that each class has about 200 hours of storyline. That is pretty massive.

[link] to the video interview.