Monday, 27 September 2010

World of Darkness Announced

The big news this weekend, MMO-wise, was World of Darkness. Ever since CCP (developers of EVE Online) and White Wolf (creators of the various World of Darkness tabletop roleplaying games and such) merged it was pretty much known that CCP was working on a World of Darkness MMO. And that was pretty much all everyone knew. But this weekend during The Grand Masquerade, which is as I understand White Wolf's official conference, CCP officially announced their next MMO: World of Darkness (though some sources report it as "World of Darkness Online").

Read more details after the break (as well as an off-screen video).

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A Boy and His Wookiee

This week's Friday update gives us a number of "smuggler secrets", though I'm not sure if a Wookiee as one of the Smuggler's companion NPCs really counts as a secret. We also get the last issue of Blood of the Empire, wrapping up the storyline (but in such a way that it's bound to come back up again in various ways in the game itself). Here is the official news for the comic:
Blood of the Empire™ reaches its twelfth and final issue, and Teneb Kel must face the aftermath of his actions. Exal Kressh is defeated, but the Emperor and the Dark Council will have further plans for their servant. What fate is Teneb prepared to carve for himself? And what will he do about Maggot?

Check out the latest issue of Blood of the Empire now.
With Blood of the Empire finished it makes one wonder... how are they going to fill every other Friday now?

Maybe they'll fill it with more updates like the Smuggler update we got this week. With some details on the advanced classes for the Smuggler, information on the Twi'lek species that you can play as a Smuggler, details on the Smuggler's Wookiee companion (to make the Han Solo fantasy complete), details on the Smuggler's starship and even the Smuggler video (which was already released exclusively by Machinima last week) it's definitely some heavy-duty Smuggler information that they smuggled in. Here is the official news:
No two Smugglers are exactly alike, and you’ll be able to customize your character to fit your play style. You’ll face many choices in how your Smuggler develops as you explore the Old Republic galaxy. One of the most important decisions will be which Advanced Class to pursue—whether you want to become the fastest draw in the Outer Rim as a Gunslinger, or whether you prefer to specialize in some of the Smuggler’s more cunning tactics as a Scoundrel. Both paths have their own rewards and more choices within their various disciplines, but you’ll have to choose what style suits you best—or better yet, maybe you’ll want to try them both!

If you’re interested in playing something just a little more exotic than human, you might want create a Twi’lek Smuggler. Learn more about this species and get a closer look on the Twi’lek Inhabitants page.

No Smuggler would be complete without a Wookiee companion, so we’d like to introduce you to Bowdaar, the mighty Wookiee warrior. You can learn more about this known associate on the Smuggler page or by accessing Bowdaar’s biography.

A Wookiee’s not the only necessity. A Smuggler wouldn’t be able to do much smuggling without a personal starship. Check out the new Starship section of the HoloNet, and make sure to look at the Smuggler’s Corellian XS Stock Light Freighter. It’s the ship that can make the “Balmorra run” in just a handful of parsecs, and if you choose to play the Smuggler, it will be yours.

Finally, if you love the Smuggler as much as we do, we can guarantee you’ll enjoy the new Smuggler Class Gameplay Video. This video captures the spirit of how the Smuggler plays in the game, and if you look carefully, you might even see something you’ve never seen before.

Finally, on a slightly different note, Massively reports that Hasbro is apparently making a line of The Old Republic action figures. As the article puts it: "To have action figures made meant that you had 'arrived' in Star Wars fame". Here's the full text:

If you're anything like the other billion Star Wars fans in the world, then you most likely harbor a deep-rooted affection for the action figures (NOT dolls!) that became synonymous with the film experience. Ever since Kenner started the toy line in 1977 (and Hasbro after that), kids and grownups alike have decorated their bedrooms, offices and private sanctuaries with hard plastic likenesses of Luke, Leia and Chewie.

Star Wars action figures have not been confined to just the movies; sets such as Evolutions, Clone Wars, and Shadows of the Empire have all received their own lines. To have action figures made meant that you had "arrived" in Star Wars fame, which is why The Old Republic fans should rejoice to know that their as-of-yet unreleased MMO will become immortalized in Hasbro's lineup.

TTH reports that Hasbro's Derryl DePriest confirmed TOR action figures are in the works for the 2012 roster. DePriest said on, "We're going to have to work in some of those great characters." Just which TOR characters will be made into dolls, er, ACTION FIGURES is anyone's guess at the moment, but there are already several possibilities in the characters we know from the cinematic trailers and the Holonet.
I have to agree with that last line; it is indeed likely that they'll include characters such as Darth Malgus and Satele Shan. I'm also kind of expecting Hylo Visz (the Smuggler who broke through the Mandalorian blokade as per the Timeline) because she has such a distinct appearance. But we'll see.

Anyway, that's the entirety of today's post. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.

[link] to action figures news at Massively.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Developer Dispatch: Designing the Light Side

Today BioWare has a new video for us, a Developer Dispatch where the developers talk about designing the Jedi classes. But first, today is also a Fan Friday with community art, new forum icons, new wallpapers (from the Hope cinematic trailer) and new poll questions. The most interesting bit though is, as usual, the Developer Corner in which Senior Concept Artist Ryan Dening describes the process of creating a piece of concept art. In particular it's concept art for a Republic Capitol ship that needs to be able to measure up against the Empire's (Old Republic period) Star Destroyers. Here's an excerpt:
When creating this design, my major inspiration was drawn from the medical frigate and rebel transport; those ships are some of the coolest looking because of their odd shapes and 'greebles'. I tried exploring some ideas based on these, but incorporated smooth, cleaner looking shells that related to other ships we'd already designed. I also wanted to make sure this ship felt somewhat tied to the Endar Spire from KOTOR.

In the end, I think we got something that hits the notes we were going for and looks really cool modeled in the game.

I started with some rough thumbnail sketches (left side). Once we decided to make the ship bigger, they all felt too small or similar to existing ships (left side). I took some of the elements I liked and did a couple new designs that had the mass and feel we were hoping for. Ultimately, we went with the ship design highlighted in red (right side).
I think that the final concept design looks very interesting and I can definitely see that going up against a Star Destroyer. Though it does lack the... simplicity of a basic Star Destroyer it'll be quite interesting to see how this turns out when modeled in 3D. Anyway, read the entire Fan Friday at the official website.

But as said, today also gives us a new Developer Dispatch video. Here is the official news:
Guided by the Light Side of the Force, the Jedi are the ultimate defenders of peace, justice, and the Galactic Republic. The developers of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ are taking great care to ensure that Players can experience the classical Jedi fantasy represented in the films by such iconic characters as Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, and Yoda.

At the same time, choice is at the heart of The Old Republic and Players can also explore many other ways they can take their Jedi characters. Whether that means walking the path of the Dark Side like Anakin Skywalker or simply adopting a unique combination of fighting styles, a variety of options will be available.

Watch Developer Dispatch: Designing the Light Side, and learn about the process involved in creating the Jedi classes for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I can't say that I agree with all the choices that BioWare has made for the classes, particularly the Jedi classes. One of the problems I find myself facing is that I'm often caught between the type of story a class tells and the kind of gameplay a class has; either I don't like the kind of story the class seems it will tell and do like the kind of gameplay it has, or I don't like the kind of gameplay it has and do like the kind of story. I'm hoping that I can make a Consular (whose kind of story I do like) that doesn't use a double-bladed lightsaber (a kind of weapon I detest and wish that BioWare had kept it just to the dark side) and doesn't focus too much on healing either (as I don't like playing pure healers). Even so the dispatch was quite nice to see and it did make me more excited about the Jedi classes and stories.

The video should be available for download later today (it isn't yet as of this writing). But you can already watch it on the website.

Speaking of videos and staying strictly on the Republic side, earlier this week Machinima had an exclusive smuggler trailer video. Check it out:

The video shows what looks to be a peek at the Smuggler's stealth gameplay as well as what looks to be a Wookiee companion (no surprise there). And I kinda have to laugh at the Smuggler mentioning that he has the best ship, considering that all class ships are supposedly equal in abilities (same weapons, same speed, same maneuverability, etc). Though maybe it's for a large part self-deception on the side of the Smuggler. A well, it's a nice video.

And that's it for now.

[link] to Smuggler trailer at YouTube (from Machinima).

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Corellia: Freedom under Fire?

We get another planet from BioWare, and this time it is Corellia. But first there's another issue of the Blood of the Empire comic:
In the eleventh issue of Blood of the Empire™, Teneb Kel faces off against his enemy, Exal Kressh, for the final time. Two Sith apprentices, both aware of the secrets of the Emperor, now locked in battle in the tombs below the Sith Academy on Korriban--what will become of them? And who will choose the future of the galaxy?

Check out the latest issue of Blood of the Empire now.
As exciting as the comic is though, the main update this time is of course the new planet. Playing an important role int he Galactic Republic Corellia is the next planet to be revealed. Here is the official news:
Home to some of the Republic’s most influential leaders, the notoriously independent world of Corellia is of critical strategic significance. It’s been a symbol of personal and economic freedom since the Republic’s earliest days, and it’s become the center of all the Republic’s industry and enterprise. Despite long-standing evidence of corruption in Corellian government, the citizens have always been staunchly loyal to the Republic. Losing contact with the planet and receiving images of destruction has caused grave concern in the Senate for what may be happening on the ground in Corellia’s capital.

Access the HoloNet to learn more about Corellia. Check out this video to see the images of destruction that are causing so much concern. Also, don’t forget to visit the media section for never-before-seen screenshots, concept art, and wallpapers showing the scene from every angle.
I remember when playing the Star Wars Galaxies beta I spent pretty much all my time on Corellia (I think I made just one brief excursion to Naboo with another character at one point), working on my tailor skills and doing the simple missions. I remember some of the parties that we had there when beta started to run to a close. But though I loved it's rolling meadows and open landscape, by the time of release we got a bit bored of the planet and decided to spend the main game on other planets.

Even so, I'm happy to see Corellia make a return in The Old Republic. Though I must say that from the screenshots and videos the planet looks quite different than what I remember. Perhaps that is because in The Old republic things seem to focus on Coronet City where in SWG I preferred to spend more time out in the fields (I didn't much enjoy SWG's architecture). It will be quite interesting to see what stories and adventures are to be had on this planet, even if (or maybe because) I'm sure that it'll be quite different from my memories of the planet in SWG beta.

Also, don't forget the new wallpaper:

On a side note, the new person(s) doing the web updates for BioWare unfortunately don't seem to use full urls so while I'm doing my best to catch all of them when I copy-paste the news source html to the blog I apologize if I miss any, causing broken links. Maybe they will learn, but right now I must say that I think Sean did a better job.

Which brings me to a bit of sad news. Last week it became known that Sean Dahlberg has left BioWare:
Hi Everyone –

Sean Dahlberg has recently left BioWare. We would like to thank Sean for doing a great job building the TOR Community and we wish him well in his future endeavors!


The Star Wars: The Old Republic Team
The message doesn't say why he left or anything which, particularly with such a short statement, always gives me the feeling that the parting wasn't amicable. Either way I wish Sean the very best and want to thank him for the wonderful job he's done in the community.

In more pleasant news, PAX was last weekend and since then a few more interviews have surfaced.

First is a video interview with Daniel Erickson conducted by TOR-Syndicate. here is the video:

MMORPG also held an interview with Daniel Erickson, which they wrote up as an article. Here's an excerpt:

Once it was clear that Dan couldn’t talk too much about character creation just yet, we moved on to his role on the team: containing the massive winding monster that is the game’s script. We asked him how big the script was actually getting, or perhaps tome would be a better word. Dan said they’d recently hired a new writer and his “initiation” was to catch up to where they are with the story by reading a 1,000 page summary text. Yeah… that’s a lot of Star Wars fiction.

We asked Dan what exactly being the lead writer on such massive project is all about. There are so many lines of dialog, so many quests, so many classes to write for… not to mention all the different choices players have when it comes to each quest and the resulting paths opened with each choice. It’s plain to see that managing such a project would be a nightmare of continuity. That’s what Daniel Erickson is tasked with. He’s the task master when it comes to keeping it all together, and more than that finding a way to make each section of the game somehow interconnected and not feeling like just a bunch of pointless exercises in killing womp rats.
A final interview, this one with Blaine Christine, is over on Massively. Here's an excerpt:
Massively: What can players expect from the endgame?

Blaine Christine: Let me preface it by saying that we know endgame content is very important for folks, so it is something we are definitely going to focus on. We have not released a lot of details yet, but what we have said is that we will indeed have raids. We haven't announced specifics around what will definitely be endgame content. Additionally, we have mentioned our player vs. player Warzones. We will have multiple Warzones. Those will mostly be higher-level content, where players participate in larger player vs. player battles, where they experience epic Star Wars ground combat on kind of a grand scale. Then beyond that, we expect -- because it's a BioWare game with BioWare storytelling and multiple branches through the stories -- part of our endgame is players playing through classes that they haven't played or replaying through certain classes to see how certain companion characters or certain branches can affect the outcome of that particular storyline. Additionally, we will have the auction house, crafting and harvesting, guild play, and all the things people are expecting out of an MMO.
Finally Daniel Erickson has made a post on the official forums with some clarification. Apparently, in a conversation with a fan at PAX, he said something like (when speaking about what species players will be able to play): "If you can't imagine it making out with Princess Leia, you probably won't be able to play it." People got confused over that since a lot of people tend to have a pretty strong imagination and can imagine all kinds of things making out with Princess Leia (personally I can only think about her making out with Han Solo, but there you have it). So Daniel posted:
Hey Folks,

Sorry for the confusion. Booth chat is, let's be clear, not an official information release. What you got was one line of an extended conversation that was had between me and one of the players at the booth. We started talking about what made a hero in Star Wars and then, once that was clear, there were some jokes about what the romances would look like had we gone for the toybox approach of letting you play anything in the action figure line. That's the part of the conversation the quote came from.

The first part was merely a repetition of something we've said before. Namely that lead characters in an RPG must be something the player can relate to. There has never been a movie or major Star Wars series with a complete freak job as the lead and that's because dramatically it doesn't work. We don't understand what it means to be a giant lizard or a droid or a walking ball of jelly. We love the weird characters but they are always the sidekicks, not the emotional connection in the movie. To do an RPG that way every NPC you ran into would have to react to you depending on their own cultural bias and the entire "into the strange" adventure that is Star Wars would be lost as you would be the strangest thing in the room. People would constantly be asking you for information about your weird species and their emotional content that the vast majority of players simply wouldn't have and their ability to really BE this character would be nil.

So whether it’s Dragon Age, Mass Effect or The Old Republic, PCs are near enough to humans for us to crawl into their skin. They have generally understandable facial expressions, they don't look ludicrous speaking the basic language, they can interact with the rest of the galaxy without a constant "what the heck?" reaction from the NPCs. The freaks, the droids, the weird that we get to know and learn about--that's where our companions come in.

It's okay to turn to your companions and say "What are you supposed to be?" It's not okay to look in the mirror and say that.

In the future I can see a day where we would do a Trandoshan or Wookiee type story but it would have to be just that. Not a simple graphic swap where now your smuggler is a giant lizard man and nobody notices but a full class story where you learn what it means to be this strange alien and deal with the rest of the galaxy and their reactions. For the present, however, our heroes are our projections of self, headed into a galaxy of wonders and adventures.

I know that this isn't what some people want but I hope it helps them understand that game design isn't simply throwing random features into a game because they seem cool. You have to have a goal, a final holistic ideal that you're trying to hit. The Old Republic is, and always has been, about starring in your own version of a Star Wars movie. Not playing a background character from scene 5, not about living a humdrum day to day existence in the Star Wars worlds (there are no refreshers--sorry!) and not about pulling out the extended action figure line and getting to use it as virtual costume party. None of these are, by themselves, bad goals and could absolutely be fun in a very different sort of game. But in TOR they would work directly against what we were trying to achieve.

So did we limit species choice for romances? No. Did we limit them for our goal of bringing cinematic storytelling and the dream of living the Star Wars movies to the MMO space? Absolutely.

Hope that helps!

So I guess that proves that Wookiees won't be a playable species. Though before Wookiee lovers despair to much, it also offers the possibility of, sometime in the future, there being a truly Wookiee-oriented story where you not only get to play one but actually experience what it's like to be one (instead of just being a human with fur who can only speak in grunts). At least I certainly hope that they'll do that in some kind of expansion or DLC or something.

Anyway, I think that's it for now.

[link] to video interview with Daniel Erickson at YouTube (from TOR-Syndicate).
[link] to interview article with Daniel Erickson at MMORPG.
[link] to interview with Blaine Christine at Massively.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Mysteries of Knights of the Old Republic

With PAX running this last weekend BioWare had another quick surprise update for us, showing us a teaser video titled "Mysteries of Knights of the Old Republic". Here is the official news:
The Jedi Civil War left many unanswered questions. In the difficult days following the showdown between Darth Revan and Darth Malak, the Jedi Order struggled to survive, leaving little time for investigations. Redeemed as a Jedi, Revan traveled into deep space in search of a mysterious evil. We now know that the source of this evil was the reconstituted Sith Empire, but that solves only a portion of the mystery…

Watch the teaser video shown at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) for a glimpse at what may be revealed as you journey through Star Wars™: The Old Republic™.

For me the trailer was a series of ups and downs. First down as I found out that it was about Revan (and considering that it's not my Revan the character can do nothing but ruin the story for me). Then up as I noticed that they're continually referring to the character as "Revan" (instead of with "he" or "she") to the point that it seemed unnatural to do so. But then down again as the voice over referred to Revan as "he". And finally up again with the quick cameo at the end.

I still think, at least based on this brief video, that it should be a cinch for them to include a gender switch for Revan at least. I mean, all it takes is changing a few voices here and there. Of course I don't know what else there is to the quest, but so far I've yet to see any real justification for why our KotOR stories suddenly don't seem to count anymore. Maybe it's the whole 'rebuilt' thing (oh, "Revan was female, but we created a new Revan as male this time"... yeah that'll work <rolleyes>).

Anyway, speaking of PAX Darth Hater went there as well and got a few nice tidbits for us. First there's an interview with Blaine Christine. Here's an excerpt:
There is really a controversy on the forums right now about the Jedi Wizard, and the meanings behind that name and why it was chosen.

Blaine Christine: I'm not intimately involved with that particular naming process, but all I can say at this point is we watched the forums closely... the Darth Hater forums, our forums, and we paid attention to what the community was saying. We certainly noticed the frenzy around that particular name, and there may be some announcements forthcoming in the future around that particular name.
Again it's nice to hear that it's looking good that they might change the name of that class.

Darth Hater also has a bunch of videos showing the stage presentation for The Old Republic, including some community members playing the game in a group live on stage. I won't link all the videos, but you can watch them all at the Darth Hater site.

And I think that's it for now.

[link] to interview with Blaine Christine at Darth Hater.
[link] to PAX presentation videos at Darth Hater.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Space Combat in The Old Republic

Today's Friday update officially adds Space Combat to the game mechanics. Here's the official update:
Blast your way through asteroid fields, enemy fighters, and a variety of other obstacles as you encounter fast-paced Space Combat missions in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. In these occurrences, you’ll fly your personal starship to various “hot spots” on the galaxy map and experience gameplay that will evoke memories of some of the great Star Wars™ space battles.

Watch the gameplay footage of Space Combat in the latest addition to the Game Systems section and learn more about the rewards players can unlock in Space Combat. Also check out the media section to see screenshots, concept art, and wallpapers portraying these heroic battles in space.
The information in the article is pretty much what we already know and the trailer is the one that was released earlier already. One thing I hadn't specifically heard before yet though is that space combat "is designed to make travel times literally fly-by", which gives me the feeling that it'll be treated similar to the shoot-m-up minigame in Jade Empire where you sometimes get a shooting game when going from one location to another (or you could, I think, choose to skip it). Not sure yet if I like that or not.

A bit more worrisome though is that "you'll obtain rewards that will be useful in other aspects of the gameplay experience". Though I'm sure that, despite the dubious wording, this doesn't mean that you have to play the space combat minigame to get the best things for PvE or PvP, I do generally dislike it when you have to play one kind of gameplay to get things for another kind of gameplay. It just seems like a poor designer's excuse to try and connect to otherwise unrelated types of gameplay. Then again I have a general issue with minigames that are completely disconnected from the main gameplay; either make it an integrated part that's an extension of the existing gameplay or leave it out because if I wanted to play a tunnel shooter then I'd buy a tunnel shooter game. And this reward comment doesn't inspire confidence that BioWare's designers have really managed to make the two integrated (if they have to resort to cheap tricks like that).

Anyway, instead of going off of a rant again let me point out, as the news article says, that there's also a wallpaper for the Space Combat:

It's kind of funny that the ships that's most in the foreground, most active and in a position that one might imagine a player controlled ship to be, is actually The Old Republic's version of an x-wing. This, I feel, because such a ship would actually work quite well in the kind of battles that they're trying to simulate where (with the exception of the miniature star destroyer which is undoubtedly the Imperial Agent's ship) the player ships all seem to big and clunky to me to be maneuvering the way they are in the trailer video. I guess it's the same kind of humor of how each time they mention A New Hope's run on the Death Star they try to make it sound as if Han Solo's ship was the star of that battle.

In related news, Gametrailers has a video interview with Daniel Erickson about Space Combat, taken during Gamescom:

The most interesting thing from this interview seems to be that they're experimenting with letting players earn XP for playing the space combat game. Beyond that I feel that separate gameplay types (PvE, PvP and Space Combat) should remain completely separate unless they're completely integrated I'm not sure what I think of that. It seems nice for those who like Space Combat, but won't that just mean that people can level up without actually learning to play their class? Or is 'learning to play your class' no longer really part of leveling up anymore these days?

Finally, PAX is currently in full swing and BioWare is there as well showing off TOR. And website Ask A Jedi has the first details. In particular they had a Q&A session with Senior Producer Blaine Christine and Lead Writer Daniel Erickson and posted a few highlights from that (with the full interview to follow later):
  • They’ve definitely heard the “feedback” on the Jedi Wizard. My take is that there is more info coming in this regard.
  • Companions aren’t going to make players gods above those who choose to play without them, but also players won’t necessarily be able to “spec” their character to make up for lost companion stats, if they choose to play without one.
  • Advanced Class choice has been relegated to “still in development” – meaning, very much on the fence as if it will be permanent or not. But the Advanced Class choice you make seems to be the role are likely to be playing.
At least it's very good to hear that BioWare has heard the complaints on the name for the Consular's advanced class, giving me hope that they'll see reason and change the name to something better. The third point gives me some hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll allow players to switch advanced classes. I think that it would be really sweet if within one character you could have a build for each of the advanced classes (and switch somewhere in the city or such). I hate being locked into a single role in MMOs and that would at least give some flexibility.

The post also makes brief comment on the gameplay as they've experienced it:
Of the two classes I’ve played so far (Smuggler and Sith Inquisitor,) both of them felt visceral. I felt very connected to the character’s movement and abilities. There were no disconnected animations that were supposed to be connected to an ability I pressed 3 seconds ago, etc. There’s lots more to say, but I’ll leave you with that one for now. To me, this is probably the most important thing – that control “feels” right – considering the amount of time we tend to play these games.
And that's it for now. I'll do my best to keep you updated.

[link] to video interview with Daniel Erickson at Gametrailers.
[link] to PAX day 1 update at Ask A Jedi.