Monday, 21 February 2011

Studio Insider – Sith Temple

I was sick over the weekend. Though not sick enough to be unable to write blog entries (pretty much just a cold and a headache), I decided to be selfish and postpone writing the blog entry. The Friday update wasn't that meaty anyway, so you've not been missing out on much.

That's because Friday gave us another Fan Friday with Studio Insider. Altogether very information-light. So I'll just skip straight ahead to the Studio Insider (I'll look at the rest a bit more after).

In the Studio Insider Concept Artist Diego Almazan takes us step-by-step through how he created concept art for a "Sith Temple". Here's an excerpt:

After touching up the details a bit more, I added other patterns on the floor and overhang. I also adjusted the overall color to simplify the process as I continued, and to provide a more readable version for the environment team once the piece is complete.
You can see the rest of the process and the final result at the original page.

Read on after the break for the Community Q&A, the Fan Friday update and developer quotes.

The Studio Insider also contained the usual Community Q&A. Though I have to say that it was particularly light on any details. I probably could've answered all of them myself and gotten to pretty much the same answers. I get that there are a lot of people who don't know every detail they've released yet, but seriously isn't that what the community is for? Isn't that what the general website is for? What about those who come in a few months and missed this update, are we going to get the same information again because they weren't here now?

Add to that the fact that the answers are horribly generic and void of any specific details and the whole Community Q&A was more frustrating than helpful. For instance, take this quote:
Q: How friendly will this game be for solo players in the endgame? (asked by Benjamin)

A: The Old Republic has a lot to offer to players with many different playstyles, and we want to make sure there’s something fun in the game for everyone. Even if you don’t want to join a guild or participate in Flashpoints or other multiplayer content, we’ll have plenty in store to keep you entertained!
I get what the question is trying to ask as I'm curious as well: what will solo players actually be doing at 'endgame'? And I'll admit that the question was stated rather poorly (how can you, with that question, expect any answer other than "very friendly", though we didn't even get that much). But the answer doesn't even seem to talk about the same thing as the question just saying "we've got lots of things to do in the game for lots of playstyles". It doesn't even address the endgame at all (just leaving it to be inferred, even if other MMOs have taught us that just because you can solo to the level cap doesn't mean that you've actually got anything to do once there).

I would've loved to hear something like "we've got plenty of solo Flashpoints at the level cap" or "we've got whole planets full of solo quests at the level cap" or "we've got this mechanic where you can work towards being able to solo content otherwise meant for groups" or "we've got this neat system to make starting an 'alt' more meaningful" (there were some rumors of such a system a few years back) or even just "we don't really have any solo content at the engame, but..." or whatever the case might be for SWTOR. But instead all we get is generalities that anyone could've already guessed at (certainly for an MMO of this caliber, particularly if you've heard anything about the game before). Even if they don't know yet (which, at this point, should be really, really worrying) then either say that or just don't answer this particular question at all.

Then again, considering that all questions are like that (except for the jumping one, which we already knew the answer to two years ago) that would pretty much leave them without a Community Q&A. Which at this point I'm fine with as I'm getting fed up with the constant generalities (and I think that's also where a lot of the complaints in the general community of lack of information is coming from).

But also to those of you asking questions; at the very least try to ask specific questions. Think about how the developers might answer it, think about how they might avoid answering or just give you general information and then adjust your question to make that harder to do. "Will it run on a broad range of hardware?" Even if you didn't know that they've already answered this numerous times before what do you expect them to say? "No, it'll only run on top-range hardware"? Think it through, please. Sure, you can be too specific to the point that you know they're not going to answer it yet (like when giving them your specific hardware configuration and ask if that'll run it), but you can do some things to encourage a more informative reply. Maybe by asking if the hardware requirements will be more along the lines of something that can run game X, something that can run game Y, or something that can run game Z. They might still avoid the question, but at least then it's completely their fault.

Of course, they'll then probably skip your question and instead pick a more generic one that they can give a nice generic answer to (as there'll always be people asking generic questions that don't invite informative answers). But then again at least it won't be your fault.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. Things like that just get to me I guess.

The Fan Friday update contains the usual fan art, an update about PAX East, new smilies and avatars for the forums, etc. Most interestingly it also contains some (new) concept art (though it feels like I've seen some if not all of it before):

And that just leaves us with the...

Developer Quotes

I'll just list the developer quotes up until the Friday update here. There have been some more quotes over the weekend, but I'll list those next time.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on standard attack range.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on placeholder assets.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on opening moments.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on GameSpot video music.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on playing all eight classes.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on respeccing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on class voice actors.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on showing armor progression.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on GDC 2011.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on curved hilt screenshot.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on GDC 2011.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on armor damage.
  • [link] to Gabe Amatangelo on PvP specs.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on ship cargo hold as bank.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Gordon Walton leaving BiOWare.
The first post I'll quote here is one by Georg Zoeller about the developers using placeholder assets in the game:
On that topic:

The way game development works is that you often create assets during early development that eventually get replaced.

For example, you need a movement animation in the game as a prerequisite for pretty much anything else involving a character.

These kind of high-dependency assets get roughed in or prototyped as quickly as possible early on to minimize bottlenecks - e.g. once you have basic character movement, you can start doing more specialized work. If you don't, you can't start on that, so they block the rest of development if they're not there.

Usually, all those early assets will get replaced with their final versions later in development - at a time when all the details have been worked out (e.g. the character speeds have been fixed, their special attacks are known, etc.).

This is true for all kinds of assets. Animations. Sounds. Weapons, etc. We've mentioned that almost nothing about the UI is final - again, it's much more important to get a functional and somewhat presentable prototype UI in place to allow development and testing of dependent features than it is to get everything beautiful, right and polished the first time.

In fact, using a 'rough in now - refine later' approach often enables developers to collect internal and customer feedback, work out previously unknown issues and then implement a much stronger final feature (instead of trying to get it all right from paper to screen the first time).

The stage the game is in now, is where things are rapidly coming together, a lot of polish happens on all fronts and where two or three weeks of concentrated work make huge differences in how things appear.

There'll be still quite a few of those kind of functional placeholders (such as the UI) in the game around PAX, but you'll also see a lot of things that used to be placeholder in their final versions.

Anyway, I thought I'd give you some insight on how this works. It's not that we don't listen to feedback on the forums - we do - but sometimes you just have to let the schedule run it's course, even if the community is very vocal in their concern about a specific placeholder feature.
I thought that would be useful to repost here so that everyone knows what they can roughly expect out of the game.

The second post is also one by Georg Zoeller, posting on the German forums (and thankfully adding his own English translation) about the voice actors for the player characters. Here is his English translation:
EN: We have one professional voice actor per class and gender. As seen in several videos, there are items that may modify the voice of a character (such as helmets or masks). The voice actors have been picked with great care since they have to deliver an enormous amount of content at highest quality - after all, they are with the player for hundreds of hours.
I still wish that the player character would go unvoiced (as I want to give my characters my own voice and mannerisms and personality and not have it provided by a voice actor; is much more immersive for me that way), but I'm glad to hear that, since these characters do have voices they're making sure that it's of the highest quality.

Damion Schubert made a few posts as well, such as this one about repairing armor:
Armor takes damage during gameplay, but still offers full benefits until such time that it is completely broken. Armor can be repaired for credits. No, we are not looking at permanently destroying items.
Some MMOs don't have repairing and such and, to be honest, I think it's a bit of a pain to constantly have to be repairing your items. I understand that it's meant as a money sink, but I don't find armor (and I guess item) repair to be a particularly inspired way of handling it. To players it's really just frustrating.

I'm not really one for PvP, but PvP posts do seem to be a bit of a rarity so it's nice, for those that do like PvP, to see Gabe Amatangelo make a post about it:
Fellow PvPers,

Have no doubt, we aim to ensure every Advanced Class has at least one spec that has its place in competitive PvP.

The PvP team is already diligently tuning classes based on testing results and will continue to do so as new functions come online. By functions, I mean things like enabling Smugglers in cover to be immune to ‘charge’ and ‘pull’ abilities.

I'm always concerned with how PvE and PvP interact, how some skills are better for one and some for the other and such. And honestly, as someone not that interested in PvP, it often feels as if PvP tends to ruin a lot of otherwise good things (very often it seems in discussions on forums that certain things can't be done "because of PvP"). For example the main argument against cross-faction communication tends to have to do with people in PvP throwing insults or such (to say nothing of the whole two-faction approach to begin with). I often wish that PvE and PvP are just to completely separate systems altogether (separate sets of skills, separate levels, separate classes even perhaps, etc). Will the above mentioned 'specs' be mainly useful in PvP? What happens if, as a PvE player, I accidentally pick that spec because those skills sound like fun to me?

Unfortunately his assurances to the PvP crowd there only makes me worry more about the PvE side.

Next Damion Schubert has a very short post talking about player ships and the bank:
Your ship's cargo hold is, indeed, your bank.
That makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, it makes me wonder whether a player's ship will act as more of those services. I can see the player ship acting like a mailbox. We already know that it's crafting central for players. Auction House would perhaps be a bit harder to justify, but is still possible.

Then again the question is if it wouldn't be preferable to gather players in certain spots instead of segmenting them all off to their own ships. Not that there's usually much communication between players at a bank or such, but I do wonder if there's any incentives for players to gather in certain places.

I guess that we'll see in time.

And finally a post by Stephen Reid about Gordon Walton leaving BioWare (as you might've heard).
Normally, we would not comment in threads like this. The decision to leave any company is entirely personal, and Gordon's reasons are his alone.

Then again, as Gordon's a great guy and left us on great terms, we thought we'd give him one last right of reply. So here's Gordon:

Thanks to all the well-wishers and even the haters. A few things I thought I'd mention.

1) SWTOR will be an awesome game!

2) Working at BioWare was my best experience in my 33 years in the games industry so far! It's not a good company, it's a GREAT company.

3) I wasn't working at SOE when the NGE came out, and frankly I was adamantly against doing it.

4) I don't hate the SWTOR space game or JtL, really! (Read the transcript of the talk or listen to the recording to find out what I actually said, versus what people say I said about space...)

5) Unfortunately, there is very little customer understanding of how the game development business actually works - but that is fine, as seeing how the sausage is made won't improve your appetite for the games!

Personally, I’ll be buying and playing SWTOR the day it launches. It will be not only something different, but in my mind a more immersive experience than anything that I’ve seen on the market to date.

Best wishes to the potential customers here and all the great folks building SWTOR!


Everyone here at BioWare wishes Gordon well in everything he does in the future!
And that's it for now.

1 comment:

Force Meridian said...

I've been fighting off the end stages of the same crud that's going around here also. Alas, no rest for the wicked!

As far as the "endgame" goes, I don't expect to be be too wrapped up in PvE Raiding myself. I'm hoping for robust PvP, space-combat that's both rewarding and challenging (and fun, of course), and an engrossing crafting system. Crew Skills look to be on the right track so far, so I'm cautiously optimistic. I will be devoting a large amount of time toward crafting, but the "soloing" bit made me wonder as well.

Going back and soloing old content was occasionally a lot of fun in WoW, for example. With SWTOR's emphasis on story, I'd love to be able to go back and re-explore some of the previous flashpoints at my leisure, but I do hope they include some "at-level" soloable content as well. It certainly doesn't have to be out at launch, but here's hoping they take it into serious consideration.