Monday, 13 June 2011

E3 2011 Recap

Last Friday BioWare gave a quick recap of the news posts they'd made during E3 week, officially released the features video and talked about the deal with Razer to release SWTOR-branded peripherals.

The features preview video is the same one released on GameSpot last week, but regardless here it is again (with HD download available):

Over the past week, we have shown attendees at E3 and community members here some of the many ways that Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ adds a new dimension to the traditional MMO experience. To sum it all up, we wanted to provide a fast and convenient way to get a preview of the many features the game has to offer.

Get a preview of the many aspects of Star Wars: The Old Republic in our new Games Features video.

I actually misunderstood the video at first; I thought that it was a preview of the features that they were showing at E3 (no surprise since the first text the appears is "E3 2011 Game Features Preview"). But it has since been clarified that it's a video previewing features for the entire game, not just what they were showing at E3. Oh well.

Read on after the break for the other two updates and the developer quotes.

The second update BioWare had was just basically repeating everything that they'd posted during the last week. Since I've already posted all of them in separate messages I'm not going to repeat it all here; for that you can look at the official news post.

There was also supposed to be a video showing Alderaan, but that one has been postponed due to a last-minute hickup. Hence why there was an official news update for every day of E3 except for Tuesday. But we'll get that video in a few weeks most likely.

In the third and final update BioWare officially announced the partnership with Razer to release SWTOR-branded peripherals, including a special keyboard and mouse. Here's an excerpt from the official news:

In collaboration with BioWare and LucasArts, Razer has created some of the most impressive gaming products seen yet. Among these peripherals is the official Star Wars: The Old Republic Gaming Keyboard, the first ever keyboard to feature a full-color multi-touch LCD track-panel, with ten adaptive tactile keys located right above it for easy access to player skills and abilities. The entire keyboard will also convert from alpha-numeric to Aurebesh, the written language commonly found throughout the Star Wars universe!

The rest of the post talks about the mouse (showing images), the mouse pad (showing images) and the headset.

I'm not entirely sure if it's that useful to have your skills that far away from the wasd keys, but I guess you could probably rebind them to rarely used skills, possibly giving you an extra skill bar free. Either way I'll stick with my keyboard/mouse.

I also updated the E3 2011 links post again. Last Friday there were a couple of previews in addition to the official news items, and today had another two.

Fairly notable is three of the articles are fairly negative towards the game. First there is the Kotaku article, which feels that the game is too much like WoW and that it doesn't feel like Star Wars. Here's an excerpt:

I just had a hands-on demo with the hugely anticipated massively multiplayer role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic, but after an hour of watching self-described sizzle reels of prerendered and in-game footage, showing casually pirouetting Jedi and environments full of foxfire and crepitating tails of energy, I couldn't actually make myself actually play the game. This isn't the Star Wars I love. This is a cartoon fantasy of a world that once felt lived in, ancient and crumbling, but is presented now—three-thousand years before the events of the Star Wars movies—as mawkishly digestible neoteny.

Which isn't to say SW:TOR is going to be a bad game or that its story will be bad. (And Lord does Bioware think players of massively multiplayer games care about story; they've bet what is rumored to be hundreds of millions of dollars on it.) It's simply clear that the world that Bioware has created (or reinterpreted), the world in which they expect players to spend hundreds or thousands of hours within, is so unlike the Star Wars that excites me that I can't bear the thought of spending all that time living inside that universe.

While I agree on the (character) graphics (and feel that they are too cartoon-like for Star Wars), I don't really get his other complaints. Particularly when he says that SWG felt like Star Wars (which is comical because when I played it the main complaint was how it didn't feel "Star Wars-y"). As far as I can tell neither game has the intimacy of the first three movies, but I do think it picks up on Star Wars since the prequels and the Clone Wars cartoons. Particularly that latter; it's a lot like those (which I'm not convinced is for the better, but either way).

Tap_repeatedly has similar complaints (as Kotaku), saying that the combat is too much like WoW and that this isn't how Star Wars is. Here's an excerpt:

I really think Bioware have missed a trick  with this game (of gargantuan proportions) and more specifically by creating archetypes that fit into the tank, healer and spellcaster roles.  It’s just so entirely at odds with everything Star Wars. All Jedi use lightsabers and force powers (dependent on their attunement) but to create classes solely revolving around melee or spell casting is ludicrous. You don’t see Yoda or Count Dooku deciding which path to specialise in, they do it all and the combat is glorious because of it. But to see a sorcerer wielding a lightsaber and never using it once makes you wonder what Bioware were ever thinking.
I kind of have to agree with some of their views; by putting the combat in a standard MMO-style it loses some of its Star Wars combat flavor. But I'm not sure how fair it was to expect different; the more expensive a product becomes the more risk-averse it becomes too and the least risky thing is to go with a model that's already proven to work. I'm not sure if BioWare made the best decision with its classes and role distribution and such, but I think that it's workable.

The third negative article comes from ([EDIT] now also reported on Eurogamer, in case you can't read the GamesIndustry article) which reports on complaints from analyst firm Cowen and Company. This firm complaints about, again, similar things; that it's too much like WoW with "the Bioware RPG nice/nasty dialogue tree mechanism bolted on" and that it may miss it's 2011 release window. Here's an excerpt:

Analyst firm Cowen and Company has described EA's MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic as "highly derivative" of World of Warcraft and suggested the game may miss its 2011 release.

"We got hands-on time with the game, and were largely unimpressed," stated Doug Creutz, senior research analyst covering the media and entertainment sector, in the firm's E3 report.

"Despite promises from EA/Bioware that the title represents a major step forward in MMO design, what we saw was essentially a World of Warcraft clone with Star Wars character skins and the Bioware RPG nice/nasty dialogue tree mechanism bolted on for non-player character conversations."

I don't think that it's fair to say that the dialog mechanics have been "bolted on". From what I could tell playing it was very much a core component of the game. I've always felt with BioWare games that I play it much more for the dialog and storytelling and not so much for the combat mechanics, which are usually uninteresting and forgettable (though I care little for 'combat' in general).

As for the release date prediction; I can't look into the future, but I think the analysts are simply confused by EA/BioWare taking a different approach to their release date announcement. Lots of MMOs announce it fairly early on, letting competitors in on when they should ready their own guns while making it harder for themselves to postpone launch when it looks like the game might need it. In short, just because they haven't announced any release date doesn't mean that they don't have one internally; they're just not willing to tell anyone yet. And that tends to throw analysts (who have to base their predictions of the future on comparative past cases) for a loop.

Then there's the complaints about it being a lot like WoW in all three of them. I'm not sure if that's fair to say. Sure, it's very similar in mechanics to WoW, but then pretty much every MMO is very similar to WoW. Heck, the darling of the MMO community (at least a few months ago) Rift is very similar to WoW; from what I've seen of all three games I'd even say that it's more similar to WoW than SWTOR is. And though I'd love to see an MMO that's far less similar (I'm very much looking forward to Guild Wars 2 precisely for how it's not similar to WoW) I'm not convinced that being similar to most every other MMO out there is really a bad thing for SWTOR.

You see, I think that there are three primary reasons to play SWTOR: because you like Star Wars, because you like BioWare games, and/or because you like (current) MMOs. If none of these three is true (or because you feel that the game is enough like the Star Wars you like) then you most likely won't like SWTOR. And that's alright. But I'm convinced that the group of people for whom at least one of those three is true will find a lot to enjoy about SWTOR. And I think that there's likely going to be a good segment of people who still like current MMOs, but are getting increasingly tired of their current MMO and are ready to try something new.

In the end though, I think that this negativity towards SWTOR is a good thing. If people expect SWTOR to be the second coming in MMOs then they're likely to be disappointed no matter how good the game might turn out to be. But if they're not expecting that much (while still willing to give it a try "because it's Star Wars", "because it's BioWare" or "because it's an MMO") then the final experience is much more likely to be a positive one (hence, in part, why I've been trying to be fairly critical of the game instead of being blindly positive).

It might be hard to read negative views, but try to read them as a reminder that the game might have flaws as it's almost assured to have them (as a game, particularly an MMO, without flaws has yet to be made).

Anyway, after all that let's move on to the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on renaming "ammo" to "energy cell".
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on raid size.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Gunsligner playstyles.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on good luck at E3.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on E3 thread.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Origin exclusive content.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on "Choose" trailer.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Origin exclusive content, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on E3 reveals.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on pureblood Sith Inquisitors.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Alderaan coverage.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on live stream(s).
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on features preview video.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on number of hotbars.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on resurrection probe.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on live demo.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on resurrection probe, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on live demo, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on combat text spam.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on non-Force companion lightsaber.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on number of companions.
  • [link] to Emmanuel Lusinchi on lightsaber colors.
  • [link] to Emmanuel Lusinchi on lightsaber colors, part 2.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on inventory space.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on (no) double-bladed Jedi Knight.
There have been a fair few developer posts on the forum during E3, as you can see above, of which I felt the following were worth repeating here.

The first post is by Stephen Reid and which I've already mentioned briefly above. It talks about the features preview video:

Let me clarify here.

What you saw on Friday (which you'll see again on this site, this week) was a preview of the features in the entire game - not a preview of what's being shown on during E3. For that, go to this page right here.

That said, since that article we had a last minute hitch with our Alderaan coverage. You'll see Alderaan covered elsewhere on the web this week, and here on The Old Republic site in the next few weeks. (Check the article for links to the sites we expect to see Alderaan coverage on.)

As I said I misunderstood the preview video as well, so I'm glad that Mr Reid cleared that up. And as you can see it also includes the comment on the Alderaan video they were planning to release (likely on Tuesday), but which has been postponed a bit. Makes me wonder what the hickup was.

The second post is by Georg Zoeller. During E3 a new resurrection mechanic was revealed; when you die you can summon a medical probe which resurrects you on the spot (instead of back at the medcenter and forcing you to walk all the way back to where you were). You can still respawn back at the medcenter, but this is a lot quicker if you want to stay in the field. Of course this also caused some controversy, so Mr Zoeller gave some further details on the probe:

Let's give you some details, since it's E3 and we're being generous

The reason we added this system is that the worlds in The Old Republic are huge and a travel death penalty turned out to be much more punishing than initially planned. Our testers were quite vocal about that.

Our testers also commented that they liked the more challenging content compared to other MMOs (no, Daniel's demo wasn't showing that, since running harder content and talking and answering interview questions is a bit much to ask of a writer ).

Since we wanted to retain the latter, but also fix the death issue, we decided to go with this solution.This system was just added. Currently, in testing, it works like this:

The first time you die, you have the option to summon the probe almost immediately or return to a med center. If a friend tries to restore you instead, the probe option is replaced by the 'accept help' button.

The second time you die (within 30 minutes), the timer to call the probe is 20 seconds.

From there on, the time increases so you'll probably want to go to a medical center instead (which will restore the initial timer).

As said, we just added this system and there's quite a bit of tuning left. We may decide to attach a service fee to the droids. We may make it so you have to purchase insurance in order to call the droids. We may take them out completely. Details like how it works in World PvP are still being tuned as well.

In other words: quicker respawn means the difficulty can be higher. And as with everything it's still very much subject to change. As such, seems a good thing to me (even if I am somewhat hesitant at a higher difficulty).

Stephen Reid made a post about the number of companion characters you'll get:

Right now, you'll be able to have up to five unique companions per character in The Old Republic. We're still looking at this in Game Testing, but that's the current number. Any one of them can accompany you on missions.

That number does not include a droid (one for Republic, one for Empire) that's found on your ship.

Five companions seems reasonable to me. The more companions there are the higher the chance of you 'connecting' with one (having one you really like). But on the other hand the more companions there are the thinner each companion will be. Five seems like a reasonable compromise between the two, allowing for relatively fleshed-out companions while still giving a decent variety. And don't forget that this means that there's a total of 40 unique companions in the game (five for each class). That's a lot of companions to write.

Emmanuel Lusinchi made a post on the French forum (with English translation) about the color of lightsabers:

This is correct, but not complete. It is true that the color depends on the crystal and that each faction has an unlimited access to its traditional colors (for example, blue and green crystals for the Republic). But for the opposite colors, access is for now limited by the character’s alignment. So, you have to follow the Dark Side to have a Jedi with a red blade. Of course, like all our systems, we are testing all this and it is always possible that the details will change a little before the game is out.
I'm not sure how much I like this. I'm never too fond of anything that limits customization and roleplaying; shouldn't it be possible to play a light-side Jedi/Sith with a red sword to make it seem as if they're dark-side followers (or the other way around if you feel that such deception is something a light-sider wouldn't do)? Then again I can also see the argument that it might ruin the flavor a bit if everyone could just use every color.

I just hope that this is limited to the "traditional" colors for the most part (i.e. blue, green and red) and that the other colors (yellow, orange, purple, etc) are seen as "neutral" colors and can be used regardless of alignment. That seems like a reasonable compromise to me.

The final post is by Damion Schubert and talks about inventory space:

You start with 40 slots. You can pay to expand your inventory 10 slots at a time, capped at 80. The price of each row of slots gets progressively more expensive. That being said, any exact values (in terms of price and size) that you might see/hear about are prone to change as we make adjustments to the economy.

You can also pay to expand your ship's cargo hold, where you can store significantly more items.

We do not use the 'bag' paradigm that some other MMOs use - it's all one GUI.

It's hard to say whether 40 is enough as it depends on how much loot drops and how easy it is to get rid off (my selling or breaking down to components or anything like that). It also seems likely that buying more inventory space will be a must as you can never have enough of that (particularly not if you like to hang on to various different outfits for roleplaying or such).

And I hope that when he talks about "price" he means ingame price and not some micro-transaction BS.

Anyway, that's it for now.

1 comment:

Entilzah said...

Thanks so much for the rundown! I always go to your summaries each week and for every event since it quite effectively hits the high points of what I "need" to know out of what has happened.

I appreciate greatly your hard work!