Monday, 10 January 2011


2011. The year that Star Wars: The Old Republic (is said to) launch.

Over two years we've followed this game and by the time it does it will be (at least) two-and-a-half. But the time is definitely getting closer. Will it be worth the wait? We can only hope.

I've been back from vacation for nearly a week now, but am still in the progress of catching up with all the news (both general game news and SWTOR-specific), so it'll take a bit before I've updated this blog to be up-to-date with everything. It seems that over the last few weeks a number of game sites published their hands-on experience with the game and I'll post it all here... once I've had a chance to read it all.

Next to reading news I've been busy with a number of other things as well; catching up on my tv shows, catching up with my friends in Lord of the Rings Online, enjoying my gifts (I got the last two campaigns for Guild Wars; Factions and Nightfall, as well as book 13 of The Wheel of Time series) and I got invited to the Rift beta last weekend (it's pretty much as I expected: very solidly put together, very standard MMO design I've seen a dozen times before, Rifts quickly lose their appeal to me and even become frustrating as they interfere with the rest of the game). But I promise I'll catch up.

For now, let me just post the news from the official website from the last few weeks (i.e. the Friday updates). Articles from other sites I'll hopefully be able to post later this week.

Though I usually try to put the official news before the break, since there's a fair bit of it now read after the break for a Deceived excerpt, a Fan Friday with Studio Insider, more information on the Trooper, a developer blog post on cinematic design, and new Holonet biographies.

I've read Star Wars: The Old Republic - Fatal Alliance over the holidays. It was a decent story that was clearly intended to show all player classes (though no real separation between the two Jedi classes and the two Sith classes). For my taste there were too many main characters, and the Imperial Agent didn't do a whole lot except whine, but it gave a nice view of how different class stories, and group stories, can interweave. They all had their own way of getting into the Hutt base for example. Interestingly it also shows that it's quite possible to write stories where Dath Vader and Obi-wan Kenobi work together.

The next The Old Republic book is said to focus on fewer characters, particularly Darth Malgus who we know from the two cinematic trailers ("Deceived" and "Hope"). Though the book doesn't release for a few months yet, over the past few weeks BioWare published an excerpt from it. Here is the official news:
A Jedi Temple smolders, crushed in a sudden and devastating assault. A powerful Jedi Master lies dead amidst the ruins. All this destruction wrought by the hands of one Sith Lord: Darth Malgus.

You watched him destroy the Temple on Coruscant in the “Deceived” trailer, and lead an attack on Alderaan in the “Hope” trailer. Now you’ll learn the history and dark secrets of this complicated Sith Lord. In the unsteady peace of the Treaty of Coruscant, Malgus’ terrible darkness only grows as he is pursued by a renegade Jedi bent on revenge.

We’re pleased to present the Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ community with an exclusive look at the first chapter of Deceived, a novel set in the Old Republic and written by Paul S. Kemp with the cooperation and creative consultation of BioWare and LucasArts.

The second chapter is also available for viewing on!

The book will be available at retailers on March 22nd, but you can pre-order your copy right now at the following online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powell’s, IndieBound, Titan Books (UK), and other retailers.
And here's an excerpt from the excerpt:
FATMAN SHIVERED, her metal groaning, as Zeerid pushed her
through Ord Mantell’s atmosphere. Friction turned the air to fire, and
Zeerid watched the orange glow of the flames through the transpari -
steel of the freighter’s cockpit.

He was gripping the stick too tightly, he realized, and relaxed.

He hated atmosphere entries, always had, the long forty- count
when heat, speed, and ionized particles caused a temporary sensor
blackout. He never knew what kind of sky he’d encounter when he
came out of the dark. Back when he’d carted Havoc Squadron commandos
in a Republic gully jumper, he and his fellow pilots had
likened the blackout to diving blind off a seaside cliff.

You always hope to hit deep water, they’d say. But sooner or later the
tide goes out and you go hard into rock.

Or hard into a blistering crossfire. Didn’t matter, really. The effect
would be the same.
The second update was a Fan Friday. Next to community art and such it includes an official new wallpaper (of Voss), new forum smilies and new forum avatars. But I'll leave you to find them all at the official post.

Together with the Fan Friday came another Studio Insider where World Designer Eric Young talks about how they designed Coruscant. Here's an excerpt:

The project started with research. We looked at how Coruscant was constructed in the movies, cartoons, comics, and games. Our concept team provided amazing work that gave us a vision of where the planet could go. We studied how large cities had been built in other online games, but we could find nothing so ambitious that had even been attempted, let alone successfully executed. We would be starting largely from scratch, there were numerous technical and artistic concerns to account for, and the schedule did not allow for wasted time. It was without a doubt a daunting task, but being both a lifelong Star Wars™ fan and an intrepid explorer of online worlds I was determined to capture the grand size and scale of the city that the movies portrayed.

Our initial designs for Coruscant were relatively conservative, and ultimately unsatisfying. We quickly decided that we did not want to settle for a mere facade that only hinted at a metropolis in the background, we wanted to offer players a seamless and immersive experience, so that players could take a transport from the shining towers of the senate district down into the canyons of the market and criminal sectors, and finally beneath the layers of metal and glass into the rusted industrial structures deep below.
Considering that they now seem to post the studio insider (previously dev corner) details as a separate news item I think I'll also update the labels on the blog. While the fan updates might be nice (and I'm truly impressed with the skill the community continues to display) people tend to be more interested in official game news from the developers I think. But I'll do that later.

The third update is all about the Trooper, giving us the class' advanced classes ("Vanguard" and "Commando"), a Companion NPC (Tanno Vik), a player species (Zabrak), their player ship (the Rendili Hyperworks BT-7 Thunderclap) and a Trooper Class Video. Here is the official news:
Always on the front lines of battle against the Empire, Troopers seize every tactical advantage at their disposal to defend the Republic. With combat experience and intense training, Troopers can specialize to increase their battlefield prowess. The Trooper’s Advanced Classes will allow you to customize your Trooper to match your desired playstyle: improve your Trooper’s defensive tactics and capabilities to become a nearly unstoppable Vanguard, or go all-out on offense and become a deadly Commando.

In addition, several other details about the Trooper class are now available:
  • Meet one of the Trooper’s more irreverent companions, Tanno Vik, an ex-military demolitions expert who really loves his job.
  • Humans aren’t the only species who step up to defend the Republic. The indomitable spirit of the Zabrak has lead many of these aliens into the ranks of the Republic’s finest. Learn more about this proud race on the Zabrak Inhabitants page.
  • Troopers are given access to the high-powered Rendili Hyperworks BT-7 Thunderclap, a heavily-armored starship powerhouse upgraded with state-of-the-art tech requisitioned by Republic Special Forces.
  • The Trooper’s dedication to the Republic and its ideals fuels a powerful drive for victory, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Watch the Trooper Class Video to see what drives a Trooper – and what they do to those who threaten the Republic.
This also marks, I think, the first player species to have been officially confirmed for multiple classes (Zabrak can also be Sith Inquisitors next to Troopers that we know). And the first official confirmation of the Trooper's player ship. Nice news all around for those interested in player Troopers I'm sure.

BioWare also had a developer blog update in which Lead Cinematic Designer Paul Marino talks about making all those ingame cutscenes (large and small). Instead of the normal ignore-able quest text boxes BioWare is making every conversation with an NPC an actual conversation with ingame cinematics. And Mr Marino talks about this daunting task. Here's an excerpt:
The inclusion of Cinematic Design is what sets The Old Republic apart from other MMO games. Rather than being led by a disjointed, text-driven narrative, the Player is part of a dynamic plot in The Old Republic. In conversations, we can show those subtle moments where characters interact with and affect one another; where choices matter. Do we kill the Sith acolyte? Do we spare him? Will he show up later in our character’s path to be dealt with? Or will he fight alongside us, supporting us in the most crucial of times? These choices are gameplay, presented in cinematic form. Sure, they could be made through the use of simple point-and-click, text-only interface, but the reward of our choices would be passed over and the player would never fully experience the impact of those decisions.

Other BioWare games have proven how rewarding interaction in conversations can be. In The Old Republic, we extend this approach to the group level – every player in the party has their say in which direction the conversation will go. A young exile takes an adversarial tone with the group, and challenges them to a duel. Your Sith Inquisitor grows impatient with him and chooses to detonate some nearby explosives – but will it be overruled by another who votes to fight him? Beyond advancing your story, this system extends the gameplay experience into conversations, allowing the vote roll to factor into how the narrative plays out.
Note that a couple of the images on that page are pop-up videos; click on them to see a brief moment of ingame cinematic.

I must say that I have a fair number of doubts and worries about The Old Republic, but this cinematic design is the one thing that excites me above all others. I think it will completely change how the game feels when every quest starts with cinematic dialog and every decision and major moment comes accompanied with an ingame cutscene. For me the gameplay can be mediocre as long as this part works really well.

And finally last Friday BioWare updated the Holonet with a couple more Biographies: one for the Republic Supreme Chancellor Janarus, one for the Sith behind Imperial Intelligence Darth Jadus, and one for the ruthless bounty hunter Jewl’a Nightbringer. Here is the official news:
We’ve uncovered new HoloNet records containing detailed information on three prominent figures in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. Make sure you know who’s who in the galaxy – you never know when such information can pay off.

In these new holorecords, you’ll learn about Supreme Chancellor Janarus, stalwart protector of Republic ideals and source of hope for its people. Opposite Janarus, hidden in the shadows, you’ll discover the enigmatic puppeteer of Imperial Intelligence, Darth Jadus. Elsewhere in the galaxy, the cold-blooded bounty hunter Jewl’a Nightbringer ruthlessly hunts down slavers, gangs, and crime lords who manage to catch her attention.

Visit the Biographies section of the HoloNet to learn more about these fascinating characters and to discover more characters and companions you’ll encounter in The Old Republic!
And that's it as far as official updated go. There should (hopefully) be another official update on Friday. I'll try to post the third-party news before that, but otherwise will include it with the post for Friday's news.

And hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season. May 2011 turn out to be a great year.

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