Monday, 27 June 2011

Battle for Alderaan Highlights Video

Originally meant to be posted during E3 week, but delayed at the last moment, this Friday BioWare posted the Battle for Alderaan videos showcasing a group quest (and not a Flashpoint as I first thought it was). Here is the official news:
Many people in attendance at this year’s E3 had the chance to slip behind closed doors and see a live demo of a previously unseen portion of Alderaan. In it, a group of players confronts a Republic war hero-turned-power hungry King who has seized the throne in a misguided bid to protect his people from an impending Sith invasion.

We wanted to share the experience with the community as well, so we put together this video to capture the highlights of the mission to bring down the would-be King of Alderaan.

It's a nice video and definitely helps gets excited about the thought of running in with a group of friends and doing this mission. Oh, and I quite like the Consular's outfit too.

The Alderaan video wasn't the only one they released this Friday though. They also released an E3 highlights video. That, some more articles from across the web and the developer quotes you'll find after the break.

Star Wars: The Old Republic had a big presence at E3 again this year with a lot of people getting a chance to try out the game. BioWare filmed some of their reactions and created a highlights video out of it. Here's the official news:

E3 2011 was a huge success for Star Wars™: The Old Republic, with thousands of fans and journalists streaming through our booth to get some hands-on time. The excitement was palpable and many people waited in line for several hours before finally getting into the booth. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive and we are truly humbled by all of the enthusiasm and excitement for the game.

We have put together a highlights video to share the best parts of the experience with the entire community. Thank you all for your continued support and passion for Star Wars: The Old Republic and be sure to keep checking back for the latest updates!

Of course as with any such video they pick and choose those bits that show the game in the best light (love that final comment) and it's of course hard to tell how good an MMO is going to be from such a brief time playing it, but I do honestly believe that most of those who played the game came away positive.

And they weren't the only ones coming away feeling positive after playing the game. Last week Penny Arcade's Mike "Gabe" Krahulik wrote an article about his experiences playing the game in testing. Here's an excerpt:

First of all, a lot has been made about the new “fourth pillar” of story telling. Is it really all they are making it out to be? In my personal opinion, yes, it really is a big deal and let me tell you why. In the short time I’ve been playing SW:TOR I have already given more thought to my character than I ever did in all the years I played WOW. I’ve had to make hard choices with my Bounty Hunter that have made me honestly think about who he is and what he’s like. At first I intended to play him as a real asshole but some of the moral quagmires these quests put you in just aren’t that black and white. Do I do what gets me the most credits? Do I stay loyal to the person who gave me the job even it means hurting Innocent people? As a result of all this I have a character that is a hard ass bounty hunter who has a soft spot for people in trouble and children. The only thing I could tell you about my WOW character Dudefella is that he was a mage and a hell of a good dancer.
This is, I think, quite an important article. The views of the Penny Arcade guys are in general quite well respected I believe so having one of them come out and write an article like that is probably going to help the game quite a bit. Of course it was a sanctioned article which they probably wouldn't have done if they had the impression that he would talk poorly of the game, but it's also important to note that they didn't review his article and let him write whatever he felt like (pretty much, I'm sure that there were a few things they asked him to not reveal just yet). Usually when hearing from beta/testing experience it's either from those breaking the NDA (and thus their motives are always suspect if they're willing to break their agreement) or filtered through the developers by hand-picking comments (much like the E3 highlights video above). So this was quite refreshing.

Then finally a few smaller things before the dev quotes. First of all BiOWare have revealed that not only will SWTOR have a playable demo at Comic-Con in San Diego, but that they'll also have one across the street from Comic-Con that anyone dropping by can attend (barring long queues) regardless of whether they can get into Comic-Con itself or not. Here's the news as Massively reported it:

Star Wars: The Old Republic community coordinator David Bass unleashed a pleasant surprise on unsuspecting BioWare fans earlier today. In a post on the official TOR forums, Bass told of a playable demo at the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con.

Big deal, I don't have a Comic-Con badge, we hear a few of you saying. Well, take heart. BioWare also recently announced that Mass Effect 3 (as well as downloadable content from Dragon Age II) would be playable at a hotel across the street from the con, and Bass says that The Old Republic will be there as well.

"Anyone (yes even you!) can come to the Hilton and wait in line to play any of the BioWare games," Bass wrote. You'd better get there early, though, and plan on packing your patience as well as a slew of your favorite portable Star Wars games to pass the time.

That sounds like good news for anyone in San Diego (or willing to make the trip there) to me.

It seems that PC Gamer UK magazine has an interview with Daniel Erickson about BioWare's development process and they posted a few notes from that. Here's their article:

In an interview in PC Gamer UK issue 228, Bioware writing director Daniel Erickson gave some insight into the Bioware writing process and how it is at the forefront of their game design. “A BioWare writer is a game designer.” He said. “What I’ve learned though, and what the rest of the industry is still wrestling with, is: you can teach a writer to be a junior game designer. You cannot teach a junior game designer to be a writer. You need somebody who is a senior master level writer and then you teach them the basics of game design.”

Erickson also talked about the training process for new Bioware writers, saying: “When you come in as a writer at BioWare in general, and especially in the Austin studio, we have a three month training process where nothing that you ever touch will ever appear in game. Which is a fundamental difference – when I tell this to people at other studios they’re like “WHAT?” It’s a huge investment of resources, but it’s how we get the stories we do.”

The trainee writers apparently spend those months generating pitches and script material, culminating in full mod piece which is: ” that will be scripted by the scripters, reviewed, tested, shown to be a good piece and then thrown away.” When asked if particularly good practice peices were ever used he replied: “There have been – very, very rarely – there have been pieces that actually did get kept. Or at least inspired. The Mage Origin story from Dragon Age was a re-write, but was actually inspired by Jennifer Hepler, who is one of the writers on there, inspired by her training module.”

Read the full interview, with more on the Bioware writing process and the unique challenge of writing for an MMO in issue 228 of PC Gamer UK, which also contains features on Assassin’s Creed and Dwarf Fortress, previews of Deus Ex 3 and Mass Effect 3, and our Witcher 2 and Brink reviews. You can buy it online here. Suscribe here. Or buy it digitally here.

Unfortunately my local supermarket doesn't sell any PC Gaming magazines anymore and I'm not interested enough to get a subscription (not when I tend to get the news a lot faster and more detailed through online sources) so I doubt I'll be reading the full article until they decide to put it online. So for now the above will have to do.

And finally, in news only tangentially related to Star Wars: The Old Republic, last week it was announced that the other Star Wars MMO, Star Wars Galaxies, will be shutting down by the end of the year. Here's the news:

Dear Star Wars Galaxies™ Community Member,

We write to you today to inform you that on December 15, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and LucasArts will end all services (MMO and Trading Card Game) for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG).  The shutdown of SWG is a very difficult decision, but SOE and LucasArts have mutually agreed that the end of 2011 is the appropriate time to end the game.

We are extremely grateful to all of the SWG fans.  We have had the rare opportunity to host one of the most dedicated and passionate online gaming communities and we truly appreciate the support we’ve received from each and every one of you over the course of the past eight years.

In recognition of your incredible loyalty, we are extending special Fan Appreciation offers to the current SWG community. We also plan to go out with a bang with a galaxy-ending in-game event in December and hope to see you all there. The details relating to these offers and events as well as the timeline and specifics regarding the discontinuation of the service, are provided below.

Again, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to our player community for making SWG one of the best online communities in gaming history.


Sony Online Entertainment & LucasArts

This, to be honest, came as a bit of a shock to me. I honestly expected them to keep running SWG and offer an experience quite different from the one SWTOR will. One that can only be found in very few places these days: a true virtual universe to live in. I recall having played the game in beta and after launch and though in the end I decided to leave because of a variety of reasons the game has given me more memories that I hold close than most any other (including MMOs I played for a lot longer). On top of that the game had so many unique system no other MMO has really replicated since, systems I'd love to see repeated but now fear might never be if SWG is considered a failure (despite it having ran as long as it has it's also seen the most controversy around it and much hatred from the playerbase). Though I never really had any intention of going back there, it drives home that feeling that somethign has been lost forever.
Over on Massively they have a brief interview with John Smedley about it. Here's an excerpt:
This must be affecting you personally as well. If you could do the whole Star Wars experience over again, what would you do?

Here's what I would have done differently. I would have made sure the ground and space games were launched all at once. I would have given the game another year to develop and really polish it quite a bit. I think we created one of the most unique and amazing games ever created in the MMO space. It is the sandbox game. Nothing else even comes close to what we did there. I would have really taken our time and polished combat right so we never had to do the NGE. At some point the only thing to do is acknowledge the mistakes you made. But we can also look and fix them in the future. Since then, the projects that the team has worked on -- like the Chronicles system -- it's pretty amazing. I want to make sure that we really learn from that stuff. And I think we have. We're actually starting to put some of that stuff into our other games.

His comments on "the future of sandbox gaming" make me very curious about what they've got cooking though. I wonder what he's talking about.

Finally, Raph Koster (creative director for Star Wars Galaxies) also left a few thoughts on his blog. Here's an excerpt:

And it gave us features that continue to amaze people who don’t realize what can be done: real economies complete with supply chains and wholesalers and shopkeepers, that amazing pet system, the moods and chat bubbles (anyone remember what chat in 3d MMOs looked like before SWG?), player cities, vehicles, spaceflight…

And dancing. Which everyone made fun of. But as far as I am concerned, it may have been the biggest and best contribution, the one that spawned a jillion YouTube videos and may well be the lasting influence the game leaves behind, an imprint on all the games since: a brief moment where you can stop saving the world or killing rats and realize the real scope and potential of the medium.

I have to agree that the non-combat ways to progress were really unique, showing what MMOs are capable of (if they can only get outside of that "combat" box). And I often wonder if I would've liked being an Entertainer more than being a Tailor as I was. But then I probably wouldn't have liked being cooped up in cantinas without seeing the rest of the galaxy (I found it restrictive enough as a tailor without the combat skills to visit the higher level planets). Ah well.

That leaves us with just the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Tatooine cover.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con event planning.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on random mob killing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on class quest.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on release date announcement.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on player freedom.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on repeating quests.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on spaceship freedom.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on dark/light choices.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on sandbox elements.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on release date speculation.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on open world PvP.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on solo play.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on dark/light choices.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on unanswered questions.
  • [link] to David Bass on San Diego presence.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on grinding creatures.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con plans.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con plans, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on release date speculation thread.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Penny Arcade impressions.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on game testing.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Penny Arcade impressions, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on examining gear.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on holocom chat.
Of the posts I decided to quote the first one is by Georg Zoeller and talks about story choice and the main story.
There is definitely replay value in going the 'other' path. Quests change, there are different cinematics for different choices, rewards can differ and some parts of the story change significantly. Still it is one story, not two, so it is definitely similar to say, Mass Effect where ... spoiler ... you can save the council or get the killed, but ultimately save the citadel.

Choice in our games means that the player gets to decide how to approach the story and individual decisions, but we're not creating a freeform narrative with unlimited options, that'd be a bit too expensive.

To address a few other things:

(a) Don't expect to avoid the main story completely. You can't. If you never finish your story on the capital planet, you never get a ship and won't ever see any other planets. Which means you will end up unable to level up further as you'll outlevel your planet. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that players who think they want to skip the main story will quickly realize that they're not going to be ever competitive. It's a BioWare game and story is one of our top features.

(b) The main story line continues very close to max level. Even after that, we have quests, group quests, Flashpoints, PvP to level up with. Random mob grinding is not a preferred progression feature in our game. In fact, it's inefficient.

The reason is simple: To protect the player from themselves. Players gravitate towards the fastest/most efficient way to level and will repeat the most mind numbing boring activities over and over if they think it's the most efficient way. On the way, most will bore themselves to tears and ultimately quit the game. Hence the decision to make grinding mobs for XP much less efficient than the other ways to gain XP.

(c) If you play very completist (all quests, all group quests, PvP, space missions, etc.) you will in fact end up above level. However, since your class story ends before a lot of the world arc and other missions on a planet, you can then, at your choice, skip parts of the planet and move on. I've tried and it's almost impossible to outlevel your class quest completely, because it's just an inefficient way to play.

I honestly don't really get the desire of people to avoid the main story. I mean the reason to play any BioWare game is for the story; if you're looking to bypass the story then it seems to me you're simply playing the wrong game. Those looking to bypass the main story would probably do well to understand this.

I also never understood the attraction some have towards grinding mobs. But I guess to each their own. Again this seems to be clearly the wrong kind of game for that though.

In the next quote Stephen Reid talks about Light Side and Dark Side choices in dialog:

The Light Side / Dark Side symbols only appear when using a mouse to hover over the conversation choices.

When using the keyboard to select your options, you're essentially choosing 'blind'.

Therefore, you can pick your play style accordingly.

Personally I mostly play 'blind' and roleplay my responses - and quite enjoy it, thanks. However, if you want to 'max out' either Light Side or Dark Side points, we've given you the option to do that.

I've said it before, but I'm not happy that they're tying gameplay choice (such as whether you want to 'max' your points or 'roleplay' your choices) to a choice in input device (mouse versus keyboard). I'm a keyboard user and I feel that I need full information before being able to make my 'roleplay' choices; as I've already experienced playing SWTOR the intentions of sentences are often not clear and I'd hate to have to hover over every option with the mouse every bloody time just in case there might be a Light/Dark Side choice that isn't immediately clear.

I would much prefer an option to get Light/Dark Side choices highlighted in a different color so that I can see at a glance which option is which. (And similarly, for those preferring the mouse and be left in the dark about the choices an option to always hide the icon in the center). This simply cannot be a complex option to implement; the information is already there (or they couldn't display the icon) and coloring text differently should be a cinch.

But unfortunately sometimes BioWare seem allergic to implementing options to accommodate different playstyles and instead try to implement single solutions that please everyone. Which is a pity, because sometimes implementing an option really is the best thing to do to make the largest number of people happy. Particularly when implementing it should hardly take any development time at all.

Damion Schubert also made a post about Light/Dark Side choices. Note that his one post contains two separate replies (and I removed the quotes he's responding to):

LS/DS is one gear faucet, and not a particularly plentiful one. There are many gear faucets in the game (random drops, crafting, quest, etc). Someone who chooses to eschew the LS/DS system will be able to find workarounds.

It's a delicate balance because, for example, there are often conflicts between LS/DS and companion affection. We want choices to matter, and so there are some minor results for LS/DS and affection, but we also want people to be able to 'play the story'. BioWare storytelling is, ultimately, most interesting when it's a Rorschach test, and you're not choosing to pump points up a meter. We want people to see tangible benefits for those choices, but not be so overpowering that the player feels hamstrung by them.

While in most cases it's obvious, in some cases it's not so much. A written line can take several meanings, based on inflection, and as anyone who has played Mass Effect can tell you, paraphrased dialogue choices can also sometimes disguise what the writers had in mind. For example, "I don't think so" can be used to express actual bewilderment and confusion ("I don't understand what you're getting at") or grim fatality ("None of you are getting out of here alive"). Mousing over the line can, in this case, make the intent much more clear - if you see a Dark Side icon, you know which meaning of 'I don't think so' the writers had in mind.

I'm a pretty hardcore numbers guy (obviously), and in general, I find when I'm playing that I'm choosing without mouseovers except in cases of more ambiguous choices. In those cases, I'm pretty glad it's there. That being said, there's no right answers here, everyone's play style is valid, and we do what we can to support as many of them as we can.

Originally I was going to respond to Stephen's post about alignment-restrictive gear giving players the impression that to get the best value they have to min/max the Light/Dark meter and thus would always be forced to use the mouse in dialog. And I'm not convinced that just because there are viable options still for 'Grey' characters this isn't still the impressions. After all, if you've maxed you Light/Dark Side then you'll still have those 'Grey' items available and the ones specific to your alignment. More choice means more flexibility and more chance of finding the best gear. As long as gear is tied to alignment there is always going to be some gear that might be considered best under some circumstances that's also alignment-restricted. Hence a smart min-maxer will always try to max out their alignment bar (particularly considering that it doesn't cost anything else).

To put it shortly; people are going to min/max alignment one way or the other and it's not smart design to 'force' people to do tedious things like move their mouse every single dialog just to find out what option is what.

As for his second reply, that's only going to work when you realize that a dialog choice is ambiguous. If you think you understand the intention (as I did in my playing of SWTOR) then it's not going to help... unless you mouse over everything just in case you misunderstand something. Again, just allowing people the option to turn display of this on by color coding the text would solve every problem.

The final quote is a short one by Georg Zoeller about joining dialog through holocom:

A favorite use of mine is for one player to go back to town and turn in quests and the rest of the group camping out in the wild. The player then turns in the quest and the group holos in.

It doesn't change the overall time to complete the quest, but it does allow the group to relax, hunt, craft instead of all spending time on travel.

I quite like that and that's actually a pretty clever use of the feature. Playing with a group of friends you can take turns turning in quests while the others do things like crafting in the meantime. Have definitely had it in the past where half the group was waiting because the other half was crafting.

Then again, my friends would probably want to travel back to town anyway to do things like pick up class-specific quests and such. But I guess we'll see.

Anyway, that's it for now.

[link] to Gabe's SWTOR impressions at Penny Arcade.
[link] to Comic-Con demo news at Massively.
[link] to PC Gamer UK article at PC Gamer.
[link] to SWG shutting down news at SOE.
[link] to interview with John Smedley at Massively.
[link] to thought on SWG shutting down at Raph Koster's website.


Entilzah said...

Thanks again for the best summation of the week's news I have seen!

Ayane said...

You're welcome. :)