Monday, 21 September 2009

AGDC/PAX: Big Teams and Solo Play

A slightly misleading title perhaps, as the "big teams" refers to big development teams (instead of player parties), but ah well.

The last couple of days a few things have trickled out of GDC Austin, which was held last week (from the 15th till the 18th), as well as a couple of video interviews from PAX that I hadn't seen yet.

To start Gamasutra has an article about the talk BioWare Austin technical director Bill Dalton had titled "Star Wars: The Old Republic And The Challenges Of Big Teams". Here he talked about the challenges they face(d) in the development of SWTOR because of the large size of the development team. Here's an excerpt:
"It's great in the early days to run wild and free. You need to avoid getting panic-stricken over the fact that you're not generating game content," he says. However, "At some point, you really do need to say 'This is it, this is how the game's going to get delivered and we can't be messing around with that stuff anymore'."

Dalton showed some case studies from the development of The Old Republic to explain his problem-solving methodology. The game is being developed using the Hero Engine, an MMO engine which allows for real-time simultaneous editing by all disciplines -- great for visualizing changes, but put under strain by the size of the team working on TOR. Dalton was careful to note that his team stopped taking code drops from the engine providers some time ago and that the engine's capabilities may be profoundly different today.
It' an interesting read, particularly in seeing how the HeroEngine isn't an end-all-be-all solution to MMO development; just because they have this engine (which I believe still makes a lot of things a lot easier for them) doesn't mean that there aren't challenges and problems arising from that as well.

Similarly GameSpot has an article about the talk BioWare Austin's lead systems designer Damion Schubert held regarding players who play solo for whatever reason. He lists a number of different types of solo players and how designers should cater to them. Here's an excerpt:
Schubert stressed that there is still a magic to massively multiplayer experiences, and all MMO games need them at some point since it's the genre's differentiating quality. Also, without that multiplayer feature, MMO games are competing on an unlevel playing field against traditional single-player games. MMO designers can work on combat, but they'll never match the God of Wars or Batman: Arkham Asylums of the world, Schubert said.

That said, Schubert specified that it is "unacceptable" to make an MMO game today that doesn't have a "significant chunk of gameplay" accessible to the solo player. He didn't suggest that everything be accessible to those playing alone, just that there needs to be something for all the different types of solitary gamers.
As someone who tends to play solo a lot myself I definitely find it an interesting read (and glad to see that the BioWare developers recognize solo players, even though I already knew that... in fact at times it seems as if people fear that they might cater to solo players almost exclusively). I often see people wonder why people like myself play an MMO if we play solo so much, but I don't get that confusion; it's like saying "if people want to play in groups then why don't they play hockey". I could go into reasons in-depth, but I'll just leave it at saying that just because one might play solo a lot it doesn't mean that you always want to play solo and that you don't want to interact with other people.

Third up is a brief video interview with Sean Dahlberg put on YouTube:

Thanks to Darth Hater for the link.

From that post at Darth Hater also noticed two video interviews taken at PAX by G4TV. The first is with BioWare Austin producer Blaine Christine and is about some balancing issues. Here's what G4TV has to say about the video followed by the video interview itself:
With all the classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic, a lot of players have questions about the game's balancing. You'd think that Jedi and Sith would totally own in the game, but that's not the case. BioWare Austin producer Blaine Christine spoke about class balancing and gave details on the recently revealed trooper class at PAX 2009:
"The trooper is from a very high-profile mercenary-unit that is the elite -- the cream of the crop in terms of the clone troopers. He's not just your average run-of-the-mill guy. First of all, he is a hero. So if you think of the most bad-ass trooper, could he theoretically take on a Jedi? Sure! And we've seen things like that in the movies where Obi-Wan is battling with Jango Fett, for instance. So it is possible."
Check out the full interview with X-Play's Adam Sessler!

Next is an interview with BioWare Austin producer Jake Neri about how SWTOR will change the face of MMOs. Here's G4TV's post followed by the video:
When LucasArts revealed that it was partnering with BioWare for a Star Wars MMO, millions of people (including Rodians, Mon Calamari, and Twi'leks) paid attention. Star Wars: The Old Republic promises to be like no other MMO to date. At PAX 2009, producer Jake Neri revealed how the game's story and combat will distinguish it from the pack.
"What we're really trying to do with The Old Republic is introduce the idea of story into an MMO. The genre has a ton of good games -- games that focus on combat and exploration and progression, but when we came together with BioWare to make this game, we wanted to focus on story and what that means in an MMO.

When we looked at the combat and we started out, the goal was to make it heroic and cinematic. One thing that's interesting -- I don't know if everybody knows -- is that everything that we've shown is up to level eight. At level eight, most classes you see are pretty impressive. We've got cool bounty hunter abilities that people look at and say, 'Wow, I can't wait to do that!' Our Sith warrior flipping through the air and rocking people to the skull -- people want to do that, right? It's cool. It's unique. It's exciting. It's heroic. From the beginning of the game, we're trying to deliver that experience."
Check out the full interview with X-Play's Adam Sessler!

They're decent interviews, though nothing really new in them that I noticed. Still worth a watch if you've got a few minutes to spare.

[link] to article about big teams at Gamasutra.
[link] to article about solo players at GameSpot.
[link] to video interview with Sean Dahlberg at YouTube.
[link] to video interview with Blaine Christine at G4TV.
[link] to video interview with Jeki Neri at G4TV.

1 comment:

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