Sunday, 17 July 2011

Studio Insider: Crafting the Class Intros

This Friday BioWare had a Studio Insider for us in which Senior Video Editor Brian Arndt tells us about creating the class into videos. Here's an excerpt from the full post:
Well, we are all proudly working on a Star Wars video game, a lifelong dream of mine and probably all of the team. What does the player need to see first to know they are about to play a part in the Star Wars universe? You guessed it!

As a part of the BioWare Creative Services team, we get to spend all our time in The Old Republic filming and editing gameplay walkthroughs, character progression videos, taking screenshots and even creating the Timeline video series. We work around the clock to deliver these Friday updates for the community (and even read your forum posts to see what people are looking forward to seeing and try and get them in there!). It's exciting and exhausting but a lot of fun, and the team is super passionate and proud to be doing it. So how did we end up crafting the class intro video assets for in-game, you might ask?

The studio insider post shows the Sith Warrior intro (which, as I understand from the post, has been modified since) and part of the work-in-progress Smuggler intro.

It's interesting. I recall that from my hands-on I noted that I was missing exactly this. So I quite enjoyed reading this insider post and can't wait to see the ones for the classes I'm intending to play (though preferably not before actually playing the game... silly as it might sound I don't want to spoil the feeling of those first few moments).

The article also includes a Community Q&A on the sound design. And BioWare also made a post about their Comic-Con presence. That, a long video interview with Daniel Erickson and the Developer Quotes after the break.

As I said above the Studio Insider also includes a Community Q&A where Senior Audio Artist Scott Morton answers the community's questions regarding the sound design. Here's one of those questions and answers:

Q: Will special ability sounds change as you upgrade your weapons, or will they stay consistent throughout the leveling process? For instance, the Trooper’s ability that launches a grenade - you get this fairly early on with your basic equipment, but will it sound the same at end-game with an epic rifle? – Noobinator

A: Certain abilities will have fixed, signature sounds while others will dynamically change based on the weapons you have equipped. When you loot a new Lightsaber or blaster, you’ll notice that it almost always makes different sounds than the one you were previously using. We’re really happy about how weapon sounds can blend with your abilities to make your combat sound unique. Rare weapons are even more special – you may find a rare weapon that also has a rare and more powerful set of sounds associated with it.

You can read this and the rest of them in the Studio Insider post.

BioWare also made a news post about their plans for Comic-Con. Here's a bit from that:

San Diego Comic-Con is the single largest pop culture event in North America, attracting over one hundred thousand passionate comic book, movie and video game fans each year. This year is looking to be another big year for the event and both BioWare and LucasArts will be there to make some announcements about Star Wars™: The Old Republic™, and once more give people the chance to get their hands on the game.

At 3:30PM on Thursday, July 21st our panel for Star Wars: The Old Republic will be held inside room #6BCF. During the panel we will be answering questions from the audience, giving away some items, showing new gameplay footage and making some announcements!

Of course people are now speculating what that announcement is going to be. Some think it'll be the release date (unlikely and I personally wouldn't expect them to). Others think that it's their pre-order plan (entirely possible, though would make more sense if there's a known release date). And some thing that it'll be more on their elder game like more on raids or other things for players to do at max level (sounds like a very good possibility). Personally I also wouldn't be surprised if they announced when they're going to announce the release date. We'll have to see. I just hope that those who can't be there can follow the panel too (i.e. hopefully someone will record it).

That's it for the official news, but over on Gamereactor they have a 15-minute long video interview with Daniel Erickson. Now, I wasn't able to find a way to embed the video so you'll have to watch it over on their website, but here's the introductory text for it:

Getting Petter MÃ¥rtensson to stop talking about Star Wars is difficult and when he sits down with Star Wars: The Old Republic lead writer Daniel Erickson the result is the longest interview we filmed at E3 2011. The duo focus on the story, the end game and the possibility of a closed or open beta is also discussed.
Again, see the video itself on their website.

And that just leaves us with the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Damion Schubert on sharing missions.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 3.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 4.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 5 (healer rezzing).
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Game Testing invite-a-friend.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 6.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 7.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 8.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on death and difficulty, part 9.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 3.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 4.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 5.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 6.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 7.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 8.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on 64 bit. (in German)
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Death stealth duration.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 9.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con opportunity, part 10.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on ripping off Gauntlet.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on (no) fishing.
  • [link] to David Bass on using mouse when being filmed.
The first post I'll copy is one by Damion Schubert on sharing quests:
When you share a mission, it offers them a summary page detailing the quest.

The worldbuilders can flag any quest as being non-shareable on any step. As a general rule, they tend not to flag any quest as shareable after a major 'save the princess/kill the princess' level decision.

Also as a general rule (and this is by no means absolute), we make a special emphasis to ensure that group/heroic quests are as shareable as possible.

In my experience playing MMOs it's always a major pain when quests aren't shareable and can even tend to tear a group apart a bit as some go off to do their non-shareable quests. So I hope that BioWare is really, really careful with this and has some good systems in place to mitigate the problems with it. For example, I can understand why quests in quest chains aren't directly shareable... but when trying to share a quest in a chain I feel that it should then share the first quest in the chain (or however far they are) so that they then have the chain as well and you can help them get up to the point where you are, to continue on from that.

I'm also a bit worried about his last remark there as it makes it sound like quest chains might split, making me wonder if you can even play with people who made different decisions or if that's going to be a pain as well. The same goes for personal story quests; just because it's my personal story doesn't mean I might not want to play them together with someone else (I can definitely see a group of people helping do each other's personal story quests in turn). I think that there's a real risk that the focus on story might get in the way of the convenience of playing together here. Playing together should be absolutely natural and as smooth as possible; any obstacle to that needs to be seriously considered whether it's worth it and whether there are ways around it.

Georg Zoeller made a number of posts about death systems ingame and how they relate to difficulty. Here's the first big post on the topic (most of the others tend to be some further explanation on a few points and reiterating things):

I'd just like to reiterate our stance that Death Penalty makes a game more punishing, it does not create a greater challenge to overcome. It's a mindset from the early arcade game times, when throwing barriers into the player's path ensured they would spend more quarters and time on a game.

A harsh death penalty causes players to play risk averse and conservatively, which is not our goal.

To resort to an overused term: It's not terribly heroic to be risk averse. Heroes take risks and reap great rewards. If Han and Luke had been risk averse...

The goal for us is to offer entertainment to our players. That means reducing incidents where players quit in frustration because they have to re-run the same content over and over. (Note that they may occasionally still quit in frustration because the actual encounter was too hard for them, but at least then the frustration is directly related to the encounter, not the penalty after it.)

It's not terribly heroic to rush in a dozen times and be defeated either, so we're taking care to calibrate the system where the on-the-spot medical probe isn't viable for one-man zerging through content.

Let me give you an example of an encounter in the game (without spoilers) we introduced after changing to the medical probe system:

At some point in the story, a Jedi character may end up on a Sith ship in a commando mission to take out a powerful Sith Lord who is said to have uncovered a powerful and deadly attack with the Force.

After fighting through Imperial troops, Imperial special forces and the Lord's prospective students from the landing bay to the bridge, the player finally gets to face the Sith. As Sith Lords go, he's pretty confident in himself and makes it abundantly clear, in slightly too many villainous words, that there is no hope of standing against him, etc. As Jedi go, your character may probably say something like 'Like most of your kind, you're pretty full of it'.

A battle ensues. 20 seconds into the battle, the player suddenly feels a stabbing pain in his chest, falls over and dies. Turns out that this particular Sith Lord wasn't joking about his capabilities.

An attentive player may have noticed what lead to that this turn of events and, next time faced with the Sith Lord, will make sure the outcome is different. Other players will pay closer attention next time, may fail again and defeat the enemy in the 3rd attempt.

Keep in mind that enemies will heal back to their previous state after the player falls, so there is no way to just rush this Sith Lord quickly and defeat him over time.

This scenario was not really possible in our game before the introduction of the medical probe. Before that option, you'd have to travel through the Sith Warship from the landing bay back to the bridge. If the content is open world and not instanced (and the largest part of our game is open world), you'd also have to fight through everyone again. That's between 4-15 minutes of 'death penalty' each time you'd die. Our testers absolutely hated that.

Now, with the ability to have a limited number of in-the-field revivals, this kind of scenario is one of the things we're deploying more widely through the game.

BioWare has never been afraid of using failure-learn-succeess mechanics in our games. A large part of what the Baldur's Gate series successful was exactly this mechanic. By introducing the medical droid option to the game, we allow ourselves to have challenging boss battles more frequently that require the player to learn and adapt to overcome the obstacle. We're in process of updating many areas of the game now to increase the overall challenge of combat as a result.

Obviously the threshold of what is acceptable is different from player to player and obviously we're aiming to hit the sweet spot that is right for most of our players, so yes, if you're ultra hardcore and wish the medical probe wasn't there or could be only used once, you're going to be disappointed ... but nobody forces you to use it. The 'revive at medcenter' (and walk up to 15 minutes back to your death location is always available.

If that's not acceptable, well, to put it after Obi Wan: "This might not be the punishing experience you are looking for", because that system is not going away

I'm always a bit worried when developers try to assure players that a game is difficult as different players have different levels of skill and without a difficulty setting it's possible that one gets left out because they're not good enough for the content. Though in MMOs there are some ways to mitigate that (by purposely being a bit higher level than the content) that does mean that the game needs to have enough content for players to play that way (and get to that level to begin with). Mostly MMOs have just enough content to stay equal level with the content, where they really need to have more so that players have more flexibility.

That said, it sounds to me like they're taking a good approach outside of that. Make the game difficult, but not so frustrating that people would mind dying a few times. This way dying can be a learning experience and as long as it doesn't feel like repeatedly banging your head against a wall until you get lucky (and I've certainly had that in MMOs as well) it's all good. A difficult balance to strike perhaps, but I'm hopeful that BioWare can find that balance.

Another post by Georg Zoeller on the same topic is about the rezzing abilities ingame:

We don't have healers to res, they would have no point, as you pointed out

Every player has the ability to revive fallen players (outside of combat).

Sages and Sith Sorcerers get in combat revival. That is all Consular Sages and Sith Inquisitor Sorcerers, not just the ones the specialize in healing/support.

So, as you can see, we're doing things a little bit differently.

I don't think I'd heard yet that every player can revive other players (and if I did I'd forgotten), but that's nice to hear. And the approach to in-combat revival sounds good to me too (though I do expect that those Sages/Sorcerers specializing in healing/support might be able to increase the effectiveness of their in combat revival skill).

Finally Georg Zoeller made a somewhat humorous post explaining why there is no fishing in The Old Republic:

Hmm, let's see:

Hutta - Poisonous swamp, all fish are horribly mutated creatures that would eat you on sight. Better not go fishing.

Ord Mantell - Wartorn world, full of Separatists and men of fortune. Overabundance of unexploded ordnance polluting landscape and the ocean. Better avoid fishing there.

Tython - Lush landscape, so peaceful, except for those Flesh Raider guys. Who look like Sharks (at least according to Tython chat on the test servers). Just think about it. Sharks that walk. Better don't think what's in that water. Avoid fishing!

Korriban - Barren desert world. Full of evil and Sith. Empty of water, though. The only fish died millions of years ago. Some say it's because the Sith are allergic to water (another reason they never learned to swim apparently).

Coruscant - Are you kidding? Remember the trash thing in the Death Star? Think about an entire planet dumping their garbage down the various drains. Better not fish there!

Dromund Kaas - Nice jungle world. Healthy climate. Well, except for lightning strikes. Some natural, some clearly overly angry Sith raging at the resident weather. Fishing during lightning storms? That's a no. Well, maybe if you're a Sith Sorcerer, but then again, you're probably allergic to water. Dromund Kaas is out.

Taris - Lush jungle world.... full OF A DESTROYED CIVILIZATION. What little water is there is infested by .. things. Probably fish ... with Rakghoul plague. Too dangerous to fish.

Balmorra - Hmm, perhaps. If it wasn't for those bug things. Nasty large bug things. With claws. Ah, and the fact that Empire and Republic are fighting. No relaxing fishing in a war zone. Better avoid that.

Nar Shaddaa - Ah yes, a techno moon. No water to fish there. If there was, it'd be full of drowned gambler corpses and hutts. Hutts don't like being fished. Out.

Tatooine - The Dune Sea. Great place to fish ... for most.. I hear you can fish for Sarlaccs there. But there are Jawas. With Rocket Launchers. Out.


As you can see, it's clearly not very viable to fish in this galaxy. Maybe if you'd fly over to that Calamari planet. But then again, as soon as you'd deploy your fishing gear, all the fish would just go 'It's a trap' and there is that.

I've taken up fishing in a few MMOs (like my brief stint in WoW and in FFXI as I recall) and it was generally a nice, relaxing thing to do for a bit that quickly got boring, but that you did anyway if you didn't have anything other to do (like you were waiting for a ship to arrive or such). I don't mind seeing it go in SWTOR, but I do wonder if they have anything to replace it... something for players to do while they're waiting. One can argue that there shouldn't be waiting times, but there are always going to be and people need something to do during that time. I don't really care if it's solitaire Pazaak or such, as long as players have something to keep them occupied without requiring too much attention.

Anyway, that's it for now.

[link] to video interview with Daniel Erickson at Gamereactor.


Janelle said...
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Entilzah said...

Thanks again for an excellent summary! I appreciate your hard work compiling and writing all this stuff up!