Tuesday, 2 August 2011

‘The Esseles’ Developer Walkthrough

Last Friday BioWare gave us a walkthrough of the first Flashpoint that Republic players will get: The Esseles. Here is the official news:
During the week of San Diego Comic-Con, a select number of people had the opportunity to play through ‘The Esseles,’ a Flashpoint that Republic heroes will be able to experience for themselves early in their hero’s journey. In the Flashpoint, players must group together to protect a high-ranking diplomat and fend off Imperial boarding parties.

For everyone who was unable to join us in San Diego, we’ve put together a new video featuring developer commentary from Director of Production Dallas Dickinson. Check out our new Developer Walkthrough, and then secure your place in a galaxy far, far away by pre-ordering your copy of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™!

It's a nice walkthrough and serves as a nice counterpoint to the first Flashpoint walkthrough they released some two years ago. If I'm not mistaken that was the one the Empire side gets at about the same time.

That whole airlock thing seemed rather questionable though; a rather forced and unrealistic situation to try and jam in a moral choice. I find it hard to believe that BioWare's writers seriously couldn't come up with a better construction.

Anyway, after the break it's straight to the developer quotes. Yes, the Comic-Con links still have to wait until a later time.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Allison Berryman on pre-order codes.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on killing companions.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on switching ACs.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on group size.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on group size, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on killing companions, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on changing features.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on killing companions, part 3.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on test group composition.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on bosses and cover.
  • [link] to Georg "Bender" Zoeller on relationships with companions.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on multi-core CPU support.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on (no) appearance tab.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con feedback thread.
  • [link] to David Bass on Q&A questions.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on subscription payment outside EU/NA.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on latency issues outside EU/NA.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on questions outside EU/NA.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on community team dynamics.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on physical server locations.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on no companion kits.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on cross-faction emoting.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on quotes out of context.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con feedback.
  • [link] to David Bass on Comic-Con video.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on no Georg at CamesCom. (In German)
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on armor customization.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on killing companions, part 4.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Legacy system (not) confirmed.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on chat bubbles/window.
One of the big issues on the forum was that of the (story) death of your Companions. Or rather, the revealed lack thereof. Georg Zoeller made a number of posts on the topic explaining their decision to remove the permanent death of your Companions from the stories. here's his first post:
A number of things happened:

Companions, since that feature was created, have become even more integral to the game: They run your crafting missions. They are vital to your PVE combat performance. They allow you to substitute for missing roles in flashpoints. They are at your side are in Open World PvP.

All these functions are on top of their function within the story and losing a companion puts you at a permanent competitive disadvantage in the game. Yes, you made a choice, and yes, we might even warn you about it ... still: Bad choices happen when the long term consequences are not clear and the impact of this choice is like cutting off one of your limbs in our game. Ultimately, the choice you want to make for story reasons should not come at a permanent gameplay disadvantage.

Finally, our experience in testing for several months revealed significant complaints about the feature.

While it is great in concept, it did not sit well with a lot of players. We extrapolated the complaints and number of customer support incidents dealing with this issue based on the amount of testing support requests (It's amazing how many variations of "Guys, I accidentally killed my healer companion. Totally by accident. Now I am gimped. Can I haz back?" there are) to the launch population and that made clear that this feature was not a winner.

So, in short: We've tested it. It wasn't great. We cut it. We're sorry if some of you liked the design, it just turned out that with all the other changes we made to companions over time, this one had to go. You can see that as us selling out, but the way we see is 'phew, a bullet successfully dodged through the testing program. Thanks testers.'

To be honest I'm not convinced that the solution they chose for the issue Georg presents there is really the best one. For example, how about giving players a functional replacement for killed Companions? Maybe a droid with the exact same abilities as the killed Companion, but without any story or real personality to them. It is slightly contrived, sure, but at least it keeps the weight of potential death to the decisions you make in regards your Companions.

You see, it's not that I would want to kill my Companions, quite the contrary. I'd probably be very afraid that I'd make a wrong choice that would lead to a Companion's death. But that is exactly the point. Without the risk of death decisions lose a lot of weight, particularly in a universe such as Star Wars that tends to be a very violent and dangerous place. And I'm sure that there are other weighty decisions that make you pause and think, but knowing that no matter what choices you make your Companions will never die cheapen their lives and thus the decisions you make in them.

I can't help but feel that this is BioWare catering to the lowest common denominator; because some people might not really think or care and make a decision they're unhappy with BioWare just removes the ability to make the choice at all? What'll happen to any other choices people are unhappy with and complain a lot about? Particularly considering that the functionality concerns could've been solved without removing life or death choices for your Companions.

On another, more light-hearted topic, Georg posted a list of reasons for why the game has a group size of four. Here is his post:

So, why is our group size 4?

Because we are Star Wars: The Old Republic, and we are our own game

  • Our game is designed from the ground up around the group size of four.
  • We have a higher level of hybridization in all classes.
  • We have companions that are capable of substituting a missing role in a flashpoint group.
  • Everyone can revive other players, not just healers.
  • We have a higher percentage of tanks in the overall population.
  • All our classes can fill at least two roles.
  • Most of our advanced classes can fill two roles.
  • We're very gradually introducing roles in the game.
  • We always have 4 members in a group, even if there are only two players (although I doubt most players would be able to do a flashpoint that way).
  • There are 4 classes (on each side), which makes for a perfect iconic party.
  • AT-ATs have 4 legs!

So, while everyone knows [insert 50 facts about a very different game], we know that 4 was the perfect number for our game and we didn't think much about 5.

Personally I sometimes think that the whole need for a group to begin with is a somewhat archaic holdover from a poor MMO design that has become so ingrained in the format that it's not even questioned anymore. But considering I really don't care much how big the group size is as whatever the size will be right for the game.

And in fact the smaller the group size (to a point) the easier it is to form groups as you naturally need fewer members. Even larger amounts of people can easily split themselves over multiple groups of three and four. If you have six people then form two groups of three each. If you have ten then form a group of four and two of three, etc. The only problematic number is five people as then one group would only have two. Of course that does mean that all group content has to be about equally do-able by a group of three (with one Companion). We'll have to see if that's the case.

To get back to the Companion killing topic for a bit, here's another post on the topic by Georg Zoeller:

Let's give a hypothetical (to avoid spoilers) example for how this can work.

A companion might have betrayed you. In the past, one of the options for our character to react to it was to kill him. For many players, that would make total sense, but it would fight with the fact that they rely on that character for certain crafting missions, or even for combat prowess.

If we are successful with story and presentation, you will experience emotions like anger or disbelief in those situations and they will lead to passionate short term reactions, like selecting that 'I don't forgive traitors [kill him]' option.

Popping a warning window up at that point isn't great, it really interrupts the story. Just letting the player kill the companion isn't great, because most players do not read Forums and they do expect games to be fair to them. The game in this case wouldn't be fair. In order to make the emotional choice you wanted, you'd have to forget about the permanent disadvantage your character would have to endure.

Instead, now, you might get a different option, maybe 'I cannot risk letting a traitor go free [carbonize]', maybe 'You can think about what you've done while you rot in the brig [imprison]'. Those options would obviously have an extreme hit on affection.

I do think it's possible to retain the integrity of the story that is important to BioWare story fans this way without having the large scale customer support issues when the feature meets traditional MMO players not used to such things.

We totally realize some of you still would have liked the old system, but there is a 0% chance of that coming back.

Again it seems that he fails to realize that killing a Companion does not have to mean losing any functionality that Companion provided. Heck, provide one generic droid model (maybe with a texture change depending on whether it's fulfilling a 'tank' role or 'healer' role or whatnot) and it wouldn't even require much additional modeling work. And it would perfectly suit the Star Wars setting to boot (which uses droids for pretty much everything).

His example is cute, but expertly demonstrates the exact opposite of what he probably wanted it to demonstrate. The example makes it perfectly clear that the "carbonize" and "imprison" omptions don't have anywhere near the emotional impact of the "kill" option. And that's exactly because killing someone is permanent and irreversible, where the other two are not. As such it demonstrates that in SWTOR it's apparently now impossible to make choices with such permanent consequences for your characters, which in my mind cheapens the whole thing.

And it's not just killing. It's now also impossible to make choices that upset your Companions so much that they leave, never to return. That can't happen, because then you'd be without that companion again. There can't be stories now where one of your Companions is kidnapped and you have to work to get them back... because while they'd be kidnapped you'd be without the functionality they provided again. You can't have stories where Companion characters become terminally ill, and even if they would you would know that no matter what you do they'd never die from their 'terminal' illness because you'd be without that functionality again. It just seems so horribly limiting, being stuck forever with Companions simply because BioWare made the mistake to tie their functionality so strongly into the game without providing alternatives for when the Companion was gone.

It's just... disappointing. I expected better of BioWare to be honest. And I didn't even particularly care about the issue until I read Georg's comments and really started to think about it.

Anyway, I'm sorry for going off a bit of a rant again with the Companion thing. Let's move on to the next quote in which Georg comments on the lack of an appearance tab in SWTOR:

There's more to this:

The mod system in our game is extremely extensive. You can already keep weapons and armor that you like up to date, stats, wise, for long stretches of the game.

For most items, most, in some cases all, stats on an item come from it's mods, which can be replaced throughout the game.

And a bit more on the subject:
1) You'll find preinstalled mods in most items. That's where their stats come from. Whether or not the item is better depends much on what you already have of course. The key is that if you like the look of it very much, you can use the mod system to make the item usable for a very long time by replacing those preinstalled mods.

2) Rarity/Quality has more to do with the number of slots available than level.

3) That question is not being avoided. Right now, you cannot dye your equipment. We might add that ability at some point in the future, but currently the option you have is to 'unify color to chest piece' or not.

Will this system provide you as much options as the appearance tab you are asking for? No it won't. But it definitely provides a whole lot more visual customization than a purely drop driven MMO as you can modify the equipment you find/buy in the game with any fitting mod you buy/find/craft.

I like the idea of an item's effectiveness coming from mods in the item instead of from stats already pre-baked into it. Though I'd like an appearance tab best (or rather, would prefer that stats be divorced from appearance completely) this at least sounds decent. It also sounds like it contradicts some earlier statements where wearing the wrong armor for your class would be gimping yourself (what if my Jedi wears that Stormtrooper armor, but slots Jedi mods into it), but at least it gives me some hope that my appearance won't be wholly tied to whatever armor I'm supposed to wear for my level/class/build.

Anyway, that's it for now.


Entilzah said...

I hear your thoughts on the Companion Death. This seems to me it might be one of those "let's wait and see how they implement it" type of things. I guess you could always choose not to use a companion again if you want to have the emotional attachment of "killing" them. Still... wait and see, I guess.

I also wonder if the mods will be a percentage thing rather than raw stats. So if Trooper Armor has Trooper Stats, and the mods modify them percentage wise, it wouldn't do much good to the Jedi... who knows?

Thanks again for the summary!

DJ Khy said...


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I was wondering if you'd like to exchange Blogroll links with us?


Please let me know! Email: info@swtorcrewskills.com


Ayane said...

Khy, sent you an email. :)

Entilzah, I don't think choosing not to use a companion is really the same thing. That way you miss the emotional impact of the choice in the story. But we'll see... right now I am way behind on writing the next update.