Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Eternity Vault Developer Walkthrough

Last weekend was PAX and last Friday BioWare had for us a developer walkthrough of the start of the Eternity Vault Operation (first shown at GamesCom). Here is the official news:
Throughout the week of GamesCom, those who stopped by the EA booth had the opportunity to see a live demonstration of the Eternity Vault, one of the high-level Operations in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. In it, Imperial forces are sent to investigate an ancient prison that is believed to hold a powerful and deadly threat to the Empire.

We don’t want the people who couldn’t make it to Cologne to miss out. In our new video, BioWare’s Dallas Dickinson guides you through the opening minutes of the Eternity Vault. Check it out and be sure to visit our Twitter and Facebook pages for all the latest news and updates on The Old Republic.

I must say that I didn't find the walkthrough particularly compelling. Of course, as I've said before, it's true that seeing someone play an MMO is a quite different experience from playing one yourself. But watching that video doesn't give me the sense of "I want to participate in that". Quite the opposite.

Then again I've never been too fond of raids.

Read on after the break for some stuff coming from the conventions and the developer quotes.

First of all (thanks to SWTOR Crew Skills) it seems that BioWare snuck in an update of their crew skills page, revealing the last couple of them. I don't actually recall which ones they had and hadn't revealed, but here's the full list of crew skills:

Gathering Skills include:
  • Archaeology – the ability to seek out imbued items like Lightsaber crystals and ancient artifacts
  • Bioanalysis – the practice of collecting genetic material from creatures and plants
  • Scavenging – the art of recovering useful materials and parts from old or damaged technology
  • Slicing – a skill in accessing secured computer systems and lockboxes to acquire valuable data and rare schematics

Crafting Skills include:

  • Armormech – the ability to work with hard metals and electronic shielding to construct all types of personal armor
  • Armstech – the skill of constructing blasters, blaster rifles and upgrades
  • Artifice – the delicate work of constructing Jedi and Sith artifacts
  • Biochem –the engineering of performance-enhancing chemical serums and biological implants
  • Cybertech – the technical expertise to construct gadgets and components for Droids and high-tech armors
  • Synthweaving – the art of creating lighter outfits and armors that are imbued with supernatural qualities

Mission Skills include:

  • Diplomacy – the art of conducting and managing negotiations
  • Investigation – the skill of examining evidence and following clues to discover valuable secrets
  • Treasure Hunting – the ability to track down and recover valuable items by investigating a series of clues
  • Underworld Trading – expertise in the trading of illegal goods and services
Assuming that they're all equally usable, looks good to me.

Last week some some controversy over Origin's TOS. To make a long story short Origin's TOS had some clause where just installing it gave EA the right to datamine your computer for whatever they wanted (they've since modified the TOS, but it maintains that right; they just promise not to share it with anyone anymore). And we also know that SWTOR is digitally only going to be available through Origin. Even so, it seems that Dr. Greg Zeschuk feels that this exclusivity won't hurt SWTOR:

“Once you get into the digital space it’s pretty easy to get stuff,” says Dr. Greg. ” I don’t think packaging it on Origin is going to hurt it in any way – we’ll have such reach and demand that I think it’ll be fine. Our experience of working with Origin is that it’s actually pretty slick and works well. I wouldn’t say it’s totally a commodity to sell digitally but you know that’s an element of it, to create that digital download experience.”

And remember, to get into The Old Republic when it opens, you’ll almost certainly need to pre-order.

“We’re going to be at capacity,” Zeschuk warns. “One thing we’re telling people is that if you don’t pre-order a copy you may not even get in in the first month just because there’s so many people on the servers that if you don’t get it you may not play for a while.”

He's probably right. But even so I can't shake the feeling that this isn't in the best interest of the customers or the game. As for the TOS; I'll get into that a bit more in the developer quotes, but for now I'll say that it's a very good reason to simply not buy anything (else) on Origin.

In better news, one of the videos coming out of GamesCom that I wanted to share is this off-screen video showing Huttball PvP:

Not this is more of what the game needs in way of promotional material. Despite not liking PvP generally (and not liking the concept of Huttball much as it conflicts with my RP) this video made me excited about SWTOR gameplay for the first time since a long while. I've noticed this with Guild Wars 2 PvP match videos as well, but there's something about seeing a 'live' match with live commentary instead of one of the developer walkthroughs (which almost feel pre-scripted). It had me on the edge of my seat, cheering for the team the camera was following. And that move near the end was just brilliant fun to watch. What's more, it gives me the feeling that "I want to play that".

It also brought to mind thoughts of an observer mode. It could be a lot of fun to just watch matches like that. Particularly if there are going to be some 'official' (possibly player-run) matches with commentary and all that. Lots of potential there.

Over on VG247 they have an interview with Dr. Greg Zeschuk, covering a number of BioWare-related topics and of course also talking about The Old Republic. Here's an excerpt:

What do you feel is next for the team? I imagine there’ll be post-launch support in a big way, but will you also be looking at expansions?

I think the answer is both, for a while. What’s interesting is we don’t know what or how much support we’re gonna have to give. We assume that there’ll be something, so without a doubt our expectations are that we’ll have to do some post release support and we’ll probably be working on the software for a long time – you never stop optimizing a game like this. We’ll always be trying to increase the capacity of our servers, make the client run faster – that’ll go on forever.

However, you touch on a very important point which is post-release content. It’s essential – going back to what we were saying about retention – one of the ways you retain people is to be very, very clear that you’re going to modify and add to the game over time. That’s something we’re actually doing – we’re already thinking about and planning for it.

To me it seems somewhat worrisome that they're just "thinking about and planning for" additional content. They should be doing more by this point; they should already be working on it. The game is to be released in some three months or so, and it's going to be three months after that (at most) that people are going to expect the first big content patch. And then again three months after that. It seems to me that to have content ready for that in time it already needs to be in development now.

Post-release content support remains one of my biggest concerns for SWTOR, particularly considering that BioWare just haven't been very good at all with that for (most of) their other games. And right now it feels like they're on a plan t maybe release new content over six months after release (or release largely inconsequential new content before). And that's simply too late for many players.

But we'll have to see. Overall it's a decent interview.

The German fansite The-Force.eu has an (English) video interview with Gabe Amatangelo:

The interview is mostly about endgame content and is quite decent.

I don't really visit the Metro site (don't read the newspapers that they hand out in the Subway here either), but I still came across a preview/interview article regarding The Old Republic. The preview is more a preamble to the interview and doesn't cover anything new (though I do agree with their assessment of Huttball), but the main part is the interview with associate lead designer Emmanuel Lusinchi. Here's an excerpt:

[GameCentral]: We must say we don't understand the art style, because that does seem reminiscent of Warcraft. It certainly doesn't seem reminiscent of Star Wars and it's completely different in style to the photorealistic pre-rendered cinematics and trailers.

[Emmanuel Lusinchi]: Okay, so the art style. We do that on purpose because a realistic looking game will look great the first year, will look okay the second year, and look terrible three years later when people make fun of it. While a more abstract style has more longevity. More polygons, better technology, would add nothing to the style we've chosen.

We want people to be able to play this game forever, literally. Part of the attraction is to have this alternate universe you can go to whenever you like and if it looks bad after two years you're going to feel cheated. So we wanted something that would have a lot of legs and we picked an art style that we have not seen anywhere else, which we wanted the game to look exactly like the concept art. And we take great pride in taking a vista that a concept artist has done and rendering it in-game and then put them side-by-side and see if we've hit the same notes and style.

So we picked an art style and we had a lot of people thinking that it was terrible in principle. But when you play the game, because the game look so different when it moves compared to a screenshot, I don't think I remember anyone who after they played it for weeks, or even days, complaining about it.

They would say oh, maybe that animation, but they will say, 'Oh we love the vista of the planets, the characters'. So hopefully we've succeeded, but it's a communication issue and you can't please everyone.

I find it interesting that Metro also complains about the art style. Sure, you can get used to anything, but that doesn't make it right or good. To me the excuse of "it needs to look good even after many years" feels... poor. But ah well.

At PAX BioWare had a The Old Republic panel where they apparently talked about world PvP. MMORPG has the news:

This afternoon's Star Wars: The Old Republic panel at PAX Prime brought details on one of the game's remaining features that hasn't seen much light: World PvP!


  • Many different neutral planets that players can fight over, with territory control.
  • There will be bases, turrets, and other objectives that players can control on these planets (Ilum is one example planet).
  • Can call in bombing runs on the enemy base once planetary defenses are down.
  • Valor (and other) rewards for players who participate. 'Mercenary' commendations can be earned via World PvP to purchase the best PvP gear.
On the one hand that sounds great for the PvP community. On the other I hear "many different neutral planets that players can fight over" (one of which being Ilum) and can't help but think "there are 17 main planets, one of which being Ilum, so does this mean that there are far less PvE planets than I thought there were?". I suspect that we'll get more World PvP information soon (maybe even this Friday) so perhaps we'll see then. For now though it feels like we've lost something to me.

Other big news coming out of the panel, as Ten Ton Hammer reports, is that the upcoming September Beta Weekends start on September 2nd (i.e. next weekend). Good news for all those interested in testing (and good luck getting selected).

Darth Hater has a couple of videos from the panel, including a demonstration (and hilarious party wipe) of the Eternity Vault with members from the audience. And they've got a world PvP on Ilum video and the Q&A. Here's the World PvP one:

Again, I suspect that we'll get more information on World PvP soon.

Massively has a PvP Hands-On impressions article from them playing the Alderaan Warzone. At the end of the fairly brief article they have the following list of pros and cons:

  • Graphics are smooth and polished, and animations are fluid
  • Class balance seems to be coming along well; no terribly obvious imbalance
  • Warzone design encourages teamwork
  • PvP and combat gameplay is nothing new (yes, I know, not necessarily a con. Just my opinion.)
  • Some minor environmental problems can be frustrating
  • UI needs a bit more polish
  • Classes can be hard to distinguish, making it difficult to focus priority targets
I must say that the last con surprises me a bit; I hadn't heard that one before. Perhaps that's a matter of getting more used to the game. Or perhaps they were looking for the wrong thing (I think that in SWTOR it's more the weapons used and ability effects that distinguish class appearances over armor silhouette like in most games). Hopefully they'll manage to address the other issues before release.

Back to MMORPG they have an interview with Emmanuel Lusinchi. There's a lot of good stuff in there, so allow me to pull out a couple of the questions.

What do you feel is the most exciting aspect of the game?
Emmanuel Lusinchi:
We wanted to make the game feel more like a story then just another level grinder, we wanted you to care about your character, so that you aren't just playing to get more experience instead you are playing because of the feel that your character is immersed into the story. For example there is a Star Wars scroll that is constantly being updated with your personal story every time you finish a quest to help remind you what is going on, the idea is to get you so involved in the story that you would forget what level your character even was.
I knew that there was a Star Wars scroll, but I did not know that it was continually being updated. That is... really cool.
What kind of cool updates might you have in the future for the game?
Emmanuel Lusinchi:
Well there is a lot we have in mind but if I say most of them I will probably get fired so hmm what can I tell you... Mini-games! There will be a lot of new mini-games coming out in the future.
I think that a lot of people have been anxious about seeing more mini-games (like Pazaak and holo-chess and such) so it's good to hear that they're planning on adding a lot more of them.
So can you tell us something that no one else knows this far?
Emmanuel Lusinchi:
There is no appearance tab for SWTOR, but there is something that is not unlike it in concept in what it will allow, we are hoping that everyone will like it. It serves the same purpose, and is built right into the game. It just makes sense to have because we understand the concept of everyone looking the same and nobody wanting to have a twin just because they have the same gear.
I'm guessing that here he's talking about slotting mods in your armor. I think that during the panel they've said that you can get, for example, a full suit of sandperson armor and if you slot it with purple mods then that's totally doable. (They said so during the Q&A as listed on Darth Hater). Very sweet; wasn't happy with not having an appearance tab.

Above I linked to an MMORPG article noting some World PvP highlights. In that article they promised a full writeup of the panel. And so here it is. Here's an excerpt:

The team also confirmed that they were limiting numbers that could get into the game on the first two days of launch. These days will be reserved for players who pre-order the game and players were assured that this is purely a logistical decision to ensure that servers will not be overwhelmed and that players will have the best launch experience possible.
I'm not sure if "two days" is a number that BioWare mentioned or whether it's an assumption on MMORPG's part, but it'd be the first the that we hear how long the head start is supposed to be. Two days is not that long at all really. Or maybe they're really just talking about the first two days after launch, not including head-start. Hard to say. Either way it sounds like the exact 'launch' date is going the be somewhat fuzzy.

GameSpy also had some hands-on time with The Old Republic's PvP, trying the Alderaan Warzone and Huttball. And they rate the "Star Wars-iness" using Star Wars movie quotes. Here's an excerpt, showing one of their main critiques:

Controls: After years of intense training -- living every second on the razor's edge between life and death -- my Sith Assassin... regularly lost track of his target and stared blankly as a lightsaber gently caressed his legs off. Given the pace and size of these battles, the target-and-hotkey-mash method (shamelessly swiped from World of Warcraft) hits a few snags. To make matters worse, you either have to repeatedly click on enemies or awkwardly shift between hotkeys and mouse controls to attack. Either way, targets tend to squirm away from you in the chaos of battle... and not because of any particular skill on their parts. Verdict: I've got a bad feeling about this.
I hadn't heard any issues with the targeting controls before and indeed something that's somewhat worrying. If targeting doesn't feel right then the game quickly won't feel right either. Luckily that's also one of those things that can still be polished before release.

Finally, over at The Escapist they had some PvE hands-on time playing the starting story of the Imperial Agent. What stood out most of them was that you can sleep your way out of trouble; here's an excerpt (note, slight story spoiler for the very start of the IA's story):

Once in the Hutt's palace, though, things got interesting. After my meeting with the Hutt, a contact of the pirate my character was impersonating showed up and confronted me with the fact that he knew I was a fraud. The game presented a couple of options: The contact could be paid off to shut up, I could just shoot him, or I could - wait for it - flirt with and then seduce him. I went for the last option and was treated to a scene of the Agent and her new friend walking off, and then her returning alone some time later.
Having played through that bit too I know exactly what character they're referring to. Since I was playign a male IA I don't recall having gotten that option (and I recall picking the option to just shoot him to see how that would work in the game). But yeah, using seduction like that is definitely up my (female) IA's alley. Though I'm not sure Id call her a female James Bond.

And that's it. I thought that was plenty, but if you can't get enough of PAX articles and videos and such then the official forums have the usual thread collecting links. There you can find a lot more.

For us though all that's left is the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Brian Arndt on exploding Huttballs.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Jedi in Huttball.
  • [link] to David Bass on PAX 2011.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on (no) same sex romances.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on (no) mixed faction Huttball teams.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Huttball gameplay.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on map transparency option.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Huttball gameplay, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on EU testing.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on EU testing, part 2.
  • [link] to David Bass on guild testing thread.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on testing/preordering/release.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Origin's desktop client.
  • [link] to on .
The first quote I'll pull out is one by Georg Zoeller, addressing something that I've complained about before; Huttball (or Warzones in general):
I can confirm that Jedi players will not be forced to participate in Warzones. If your idea of roleplaying your character is to not participate in such events, our game fully supports that playstyle.

Our game offers a broad variety of choices. Jedi can fall to the dark side or pursue the light side. Even though some might say 'Jedi shouldn't be able to throw enemies that surrender from mountain tops', we believe in giving players options to roleplay their personal story.

While that all sounds well and good, choosing to not participate (and thus potentially locking yourself out of a fun type of gameplay), the bigger issue here is that it feels very wrong to have a bunch of Jedi and Sith play a very public game of Huttball. I can imagine the rare Jedi/Sith (I would imagine most dark side Sith to be above such things) participating, but then likely while doing their best to hide the fact that they're Jedi/Sith (and the same goes with Troopers and Imperial Agents). It just doesn't make sense to see dozens of them duking it out for entertainment of a Hutt. It would be so much better if you didn't actually have your weapons/powers and it was really more of a (deadly) sport.

Anyway, that's enough complaining about the lore-approach to Huttball for now.

The other quote I'll pull out for you today is Stephen Reid addressing the Origin TOS controversy... somewhat.

Regardless of what other games may choose to do in their integration with Origin's desktop client, here's what our situation is:

You are not required to use the Origin desktop client to download, patch or play the game client for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

This applies whether you purchase The Old Republic via Origin.com or from a retailer in boxed form. You will not be forced to install the Origin desktop client.

There are still various consumer benefits to the client itself, but it's not required for The Old Republic.

I think that he edited his post since I copy-pasted it here (you can see at the link that the wording is a bit different), but the message remains the same.

And I'm very glad to hear that we won't have to use Origin at all (and from his quote I'm assuming that digital downloads can be downloaded without using the desktop client as well). That means that it won't have to touch my system at all and that I don't have to subject my system to EA's potential datamining. And even outside that I have no desire to run another app in the background.

And that's truly it for now.

[link] to crew skills revealed news at SWTOR Crew Skills.
[link] to Origin controversy news at The Escapist.
[link] to Dr. Greg Zeschuk's comments at PC Gamer.
[link] to Huttball PvP video at YouTube.
[link] to interview with Dr. Greg Zeschuk at VG247.
[link] to video interview with Gabe Amatangelo at The-Force.eu.
[link] to preview/interview at Metro.
[link] to world PvP news at MMORPG.
[link] to panel news at Ten Ton Hammer.
[link] to PAX panel videos at Darth Hater.
[link] to PvP Hands-On Impressions at Massively.
[link] to interview with Emmanuel Lusinchi at MMORPG.
[link] to PAX panel article at MMORPG.
[link] to PvP article at GameSpy.
[link] to PvE Hands-On at The Escapist.

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