Sunday, 21 August 2011

Warzone: Huttball

Last week was GamesCom, which means again a lot of videos and interviews and all of that goodness. They showed PvP and Operations with the primary big reveal, and the Friday update, the announcement of a new Warzone: Huttball. Here's the official news (with link to a video showing the zone):
In a time of turmoil where two mighty armies ready themselves, many citizens of both the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire have begun to look for an escape from the uncertainty of impending war. For many people on Nar Shaddaa this escape can be found in the gladiatorial confines of ‘The Pit,’ where two teams compete in a violent game for the amusement of Giradda the Hutt and thousands of spectators!

We are excited to reveal “Huttball,” one of the Player-vs-Player (PvP) Warzones in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™! Watch the video to see how the game is played and be sure to check back to for the latest news and updates!

It seems like a fun concept to me as far as PvP goes. Though honestly I can't see either my Republic character or my Empire character willingly participating in that. There's a war going on so the Jedi and Sith and Troopers and Agents (I can somehow see it for Smugglers and Bounty Hunters as neither are that invested in the war) are just going to participate in a spectator sport of violence?

Don't get me wrong, it looks like fun to play. But it seems like it's showing some wide cracks in BioWare's mantra of "story, story, story". And while it's fine to have things that are just there because they're fun and are outside the story, it seems that they're still trying to justify it with story which makes me very worried for the quality of the rest of their stories. We've seen such shortcuts before (like the incredibly artificial 'moral choice' in the Esseles Flashpoint). It's starting to feel like they're having a lot of trouble keeping the whole thing together.

Anyway, in the end fun is what matters, right? Read on after the break for BioWare's PAX plans, some GamesCom stuff and the developer quotes.

The second update we got last Friday was BioWare announcing their plans for PAX 2011. Here is the full news:

Each year the Penny Arcade Expo attracts tens of thousands of gamers to Seattle, Washington to preview some of the latest upcoming titles. Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ will have a big presence at this year’s PAX Prime with BioWare and LucasArts in attendance to reveal new information while letting attendees score some hands-on time with the game.

Throughout the weekend of PAX those who visit us at Booth 914 will be able to play through content from each of the four Origin Worlds. Attendees will also have the opportunity to get some experience with Player-vs-Player combat in the Alderaan Warzone, where Republic and Imperial teams clash in an effort to control and hold three different points on the battlefield.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Panel

Starting at 2PM on Sunday, August 28th, BioWare and LucasArts will be holding a Star Wars: The Old Republic panel at the Paramount Theatre, where fans will have the opportunity to be among the first to hear new reveals, take part in a Q&A session with developers and see a live demonstration of the opening minutes of the Eternity Vault, a high-level Operation taking place on the planet of Belsavis.

Community Meet & Greet

On Saturday, August 27th we will be holding a Community Meet and Greet at the Grand Hyatt Seattle hotel, located less than half a mile from the Washington State Convention Center. We’ll be starting at 7PM, so be sure to stop by to meet other fans of The Old Republic community as well as spend time with members of the BioWare team.

We haven’t forgotten about those of you who are unable to make it to PAX Prime. Be sure to check throughout the expo, as well as our Community Forums, Twitter feed and our official Facebook page for all the latest news and information from the PAX showfloor!

Yes, we're in the middle of convention season. With of course the main one this week being GamesCom in Germany.

It's interesting. In past years I've always been able to keep up with the conventions very well. But it seems that SWTOR has reached such a level of interest (some would call it 'hype') with so much covering it that it seems impossible to keep track. I get the main points, but where in previous years I felt that I got most of the articles and videos, that's no longer the case.

Luckily there are members on the forums who seem much better able to follow along. And where before I have just copied their links, that honestly feels kind of pointless (just follow the link to the thread and everything is right there). Not to mention that it is a lot of work formatting everything properly for the blog (which is why I still haven't done the same for Comic-Con). I've decided to stop doing that for these big conventions (easy to say, once this convention season is over that should be it as SWTOR should launch before the next one starts up). Instead I'll pick some of the ones I came across on my own. If you want everything, follow the link above instead.

Right, so first things first. GamesCom started for the public last Thursday. But was already open for the press last Wednesday. And last Tuesday EA had a press conference, much like they had before E3, showcasing some of the games they're publishing. Including The Old Republic, giving a demonstration of a bit of the Eternity Vault Operation. EA broadcasted the press conference live, and bits of it have made their way onto YouTube. The following one is the segment about The Old Republic:

It is hard to judge how good an Operation is from looking at a section that short. I must say that I found it utterly boring to watch, but then that's to be expected as watching someone else play an MMO isn't really that interesting. It only gets exciting when you're playing yourself and you have to juggle all of your skills while keeping track of all the chaos going on around you and then not messing up but responding to the various dynamic situations that crop up correctly and quickly.

Of course I'm not really one for raids; once you've done them once or twice it seems to me that they lose their interest. But hopefully BioWare's operations will be enough to keep those who do like raids entertained.

I think that the following article from GameSpy isn't really GamesCom-related but just happened the be published at the same time (and yes, references it). In it the writer seems to echo a lot of my own thoughts and worries. here's an excerpt:

Yet, if TOR's story holds the attraction that many hope it will, then BioWare will need to pile on the content updates far more regularly than what we've seen with World of Warcraft and Rift. Even the best stories require only a view or two before players start skipping through them, even if the voice-acting warrants a nod from the Oscars or the animations outdo the stunts we saw in the films. After playing BioWare's recent mediocre content add-on for the already divisive Dragon Age II (and after five months, at that), I can't say I'm overly convinced the developers can keep up with the demand they'll undoubtedly face.

This dogged focus on story, of course, may also affect the endgame. We'll get our first good look at TOR's endgame raids at this week's Germany-based Gamescom convention, but so far, what we know is hazy at best. As it stands, the focus on story seems to mean that sampling the many quest-lines available through alt characters may define the endgame for most players... and this worries me. I've never been an alt fanatic in MMOs (I still play the same World of Warcraft mage that I played on launch day), and I admittedly couldn't bring myself to replay Dragon Age II as a mage-slaying jerkface. If anything, TOR's story-heavy focus means good news for a casual player base that may want to kick back and enjoy a few good yarns, rather than commit to guild raids or mindless daily quests.

I personally think that's indeed BiOWare's objective: make something that the more casual playerbase will enjoy. Because I do think that in the end it's the more casual userbase that has made WoW as big as it is. And though the hardcore might not be too impressed with the current offering, I think that perhaps TOR might just spawn its own 'hardcore' who do very deeply get into TOR's endgame after having enjoyed the rest of the game more casually. I suspect that WoW's 'hardcore' didn't start out as that in WoW either.

Though yes, one of the biggest worries in that for me is the question if BioWare can continue to provide high quality content at a rapid enough pace. I think that at this point they should already have several sizable teams working on numerous content patches to be released in the months after release. Because though I had hopes for BioWare when they were one of the first with DLC with their Neverwinter Nights Premium Modules, since then they haven't really shown an ability to continue to provide high quality content.

And it wouldn't be a convention with TOR without Kotaku publishing an article with their now usual negativity towards the game. Here's an excerpt:

I am a lifelong Star Wars fan. I am a lifelong video gamer. I've been a fan of BioWare for a very long time, and honestly believe Knights of the Old Republic is one of the finest pieces of Star Wars lore ever built, whether the product of George Lucas, Timothy Zahn or anyone else who has ever written about a galaxy far, far away.

BioWare is going out of its way to tell the world how Old Republic will revolutionise the MMO. That line was thrown out at least twice during my showing.

But this game? What I saw today isn't doing it for me. It's telling me that it's revolutionising the genre, but all I'm seeing is just another MMO.

The article goes on, but I think that this bit is the most telling. The writer has said before that he's really more of a single-player gamer. And i think that he just really wanted a KotOR 3, having some aversion towards MMOs.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have no issue with people being critical (I like to think that I am as well after all) or just not liking the game. But I don't really get this seeming negativity. Maybe it's a matter of expectations? I do think that the game is a revolution in many ways... for the MMO genre. And I can understand how he wouldn't get excited about BioWare showing some of the more MMO-ish sides of the game now (as I don't either). But I have to wonder, did he really give the game a fair chance?

Ah well. To each their own.

To somewhat more positive news, GameSpot had a video interview with Cory Butler, Live Producer at BioWare:

And finally BiOWare answered a bunch of questions over twitter and Ask A Jedi collected them. Here's a couple of them:

@joshuajamesbh: Are Operations only limited to normal mode and hard mode or will there be more than two difficulties?

A: yes, we’re in the process of working on additional difficulty modes for Operations.

@NiklasABerndt:we have heard about difficulties on operations but will there be any difficulties on the endgame flashpoints?

A: Yes, there will be a ‘hard mode’ for some early level Flashpoints which sets them to level 50. – Gabe

And that leaves us with the developer quotes for now.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on players in warzones being bolstered.
  • [link] to Daniel Erickson on twi'lek fan art.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on selection for testing.
  • [link] to David Bass on Guild Testing Program.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on GamesCom Meet & Greet.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on commenting disabled.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on no cross-faction chat.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Eternity Vault.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on (no) cross-faction questing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on no cross-faction chat, part 2.
  • [link] to David Bass on Eternity Vault demonstration.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Rest XP.
  • [link] to Damion Schubert on Rest XP.
  • [link] to David Bass on social points.
  • [link] to Daniel Erickson on Huttball.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on map transparency.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on fog of war option.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Operations.
The first post I'll copy here is one that I'm sure is of interest to a lot of people, namely David Bass announcing Guild Testing:
We are very pleased to announce the start of Guild Testing for STAR WARS: The Old Republic! This program will allow guilds to be considered as a whole for inclusion in the Game Testing Program, allowing us to gather important data regarding how guilds play The Old Republic, as well as how organized groups deal with various mechanics and systems in the game. The program is already underway, as we’ve invited the first wave of guilds into testing, however we’ll be adding more over the coming weeks alongside the general Game Testing invites.

How do I sign my guild up for Guild Testing?

All you need to do in order to have your guild considered for Guild Testing is to have an active guild with at least 10 members registered in our Guild Headquarters. We also recommend creating a recruitment thread on our forums, but please make sure you are following the Recruitment Guidelines we’ve set forward. Guilds that spam recruitment messages after multiple warnings, for example, will not be considered for Guild Testing.

How are guilds selected for Guild Testing?

In general, guild testing is done randomly from all eligible guilds (that is, those with at least 10 registered members in the Guild Headquarters). Throughout the program, we will be looking to let in both large and small guilds, so as long as your guild meets the minimum requirement, you have an equal chance of being invited to testing. In addition, we may, at our discretion, choose a few select guilds that are active and helpful in the community, since we could use that sort of helpfulness in-game and on the Testing Forums. Note that this will be done in rare circumstances, in order to reward our dedicated community members. Please do not contact any BioWare staff requesting access to Guild Testing, or else your guild may be removed from consideration.

How do I know if my guild has been selected for Guild Testing?

Guild leaders will be contacted directly with detailed instructions when their guild gets selected for testing. It'll be their job to pass the appropriate information to the rest of their guild in order for everyone to be sent testing invites.

What is involved in Guild Testing?

Guild Testing works the same way as Game Testing does, however by being invited as a guild, you gain the advantage of being in the same testing group and being on the same server, allowing for more coordination amongst the guild for testing group content. You’ll still be a part of the general Game Testing population as well, and will have access to the general testing forums as everyone else does.

Are European guilds eligible for Guild Testing?

European Guild Testing will begin at the same time the European Testing Program begins in the near future.

If you have any other questions about the program, feel free to post in this thread or email us at Again, please do not contact us asking for Guild Testing consideration or your guild may not be considered for testing.

Now, I'm not in a guild and have little interest in testing SWTOR to begin with (I'm happy to wait until release and play a finished game this time around, thanks). But I'm sure that a lot of the folks who are in one of the many guilds are quite excited by this. For those who do get in, good luck and help make TOR's guild system the best it can be.

Another thing that caused some concern last week was a comment by the devs that cross-faction chat had been disabled. This worried me personally greatly, as it sounded like roleplaying with members of the other faction wouldn't be possible. Thankfully Georg Zoeller clarified:


Let's back up for a minute and clarify what's going on here.

Nothing has changed since San Diego Comic Con.

As discussed at SDCC, the decision was made to separate the general chat channels by faction. However, this decision ONLY affects the planet-wide chat channels such as "General Chat." If you're standing next to another player (local chat), you can talk to them regardless of what faction you're part of.

The only thing we removed, as already mentioned at Comic-Con, was the ability to communicate with the opposing faction across the entirety of a planet to avoid the issues (like griefing, abuse, and other factors which led to a very unpleasant experience) which we saw way too often in testing.

We discussed the option of hiding the global chat and defaulting it off, but ultimately the ratio of negative incidents was too high to justify that. The reasoning here is simple: We really didn’t want to create a game option that essentially says "[x] Give me an 80% chance of having an infuriating and annoying chat experience," and putting the onus on the user ("you can just /ignore them") is not our idea of a quality game experience.

Removing planet-wide cross-faction chat radically reduces the amount of reach a misbehaving player has before account action can be taken. We’ll likely add the ability to filter local cross faction chat as well.

Hopefully that clears it up a bit.

That is at least a relief. Though as I understand you can't send tells to members on the other faction either (and somehow I doubt you can add them to your friends list). That's still a concern to me. MMOs are about communities and friends. And if my friends happen to play on the opposing side I want us to be able to get in touch with each other ingame so that we can arrange which side to play on together. Though there are many other obstacles to playing with your friends as well, none of which I've got the feeling TOR is addressing (if they have even been considered at all) as it's just doing the "MMO-default". But ah well, that's a whole other rant entirely. For now I'm just glad that the potentially very interesting cross-faction roleplaying isn't dead.

There was also a question about "rest XP", what it means and how it functions. Stephen Reid gave an explanation:

It's something like this. In our case, right now, you become 'rested' when you log out in a cantina.

I'm afraid I can't recall the exact specifics on numbers, but when you re-login with a 'rested' character you gain XP faster up to a certain amount, then go back to the 'normal' rate.

I'll try and get Damion to elaborate. As always, we're testing features like this, things will no doubt change, get tweaked, etc.

And indeed, later Damion Schubert added some more details:
To shed a little more light on how the system works right now: you earn Rest XP by going to a Cantina. You continue to earn Rest XP over time if you are logged out, provided you log out in a Cantina. Currently, Rest XP is capped at (meaning you can only accumulate up to) roughly a level's worth of experience.

As long as you have Rest XP, you earn double XP from any creature kills. Rest XP does not contribute to other sources of experience (completing missions, exploration, codex discovery, etc).

Well, there you go. Works pretty much as standard in MMOs as well. I think some people were worried that your character would continue to gain experience while you were logged off and instead it's just a bonus for when you start playing again. Another disaster averted.

Above I wrote some concerns about Hutball not really fitting with the characters and stories. Daniel Erickson attempted to explain:

Hey Folks,

Totally fair question. I wrote Huttball personally and gave it my big stamp of approval. Huttball came from a request by the pvp team to have a mode that could mix sides in the event of unbalanced factions. So it's not Empire vs Republic playing insane death sports, it's anyone who wants to win some prizes and flex their muscles going to Nar Shaddaa, gambling center of the galaxy, and blowing off some steam. Story is important but so are alternate, setting-appropriate activities that give some depth and variety to the world and the gameplay experience. There is a crazy Hutt that likes running huge arena events for his amusement. Your choice if that's the way your Bounty Hunter enjoys spending his downtime.

Hope that helps,
Daniel Erickson

As I said above I can see this working for a Bounty Hunter or maybe even a Smuggler. Depending on what personality character you play other classes might even work too. But in the larger sense it just doesn't make sense that Jedi and Sith would go into something like this for sport. Particularly not since lightsabers aren't really weapons for 'blowing off steam'. Now I could see it if it was actually a completely different mode, something where you don't have your weapons and skills (well, maybe a few for those cheating dark siders). As is it might make sense for the Hutt, but he doesn't answer how it makes sense for the characters.

Again, I'm happy to say that it's just something outside of the story itself. I'm just saying that it's clearly showing the cracks in BioWare's approach to story.

Finally Stephen Reid clarified a few things regarding Operations:

To clear some of this up...

First of all, loot containers. After every boss is defeated during a normal difficulty Operation, every player will receive a loot container. Inside that container each player gets a chance for loot specific to them, or commendations that can be exchanged for other loot. So to be specific (because this seems to be confused by PC Gamer) that happens after each boss is defeated in a normal difficulty Operation, and not just once at the end of the Op. (There are multiple bosses in Operation: Eternity Vault for example.)

Second, Gabe was misquoted a bit on the lockout thing (it's a bit loud here on the show floor!). There are lockouts, but they are designed to be 'flexible'. This means, for example, if I have killed Boss 1 in an Op group and Gabe has killed Boss 2 with another Op group, then I can join Gabe's Op group and together we can defeat Boss 3 - but Gabe can't go back to Boss 1, until the lockout expires.

As Gabe has said there are going to be difficulty modes. We've spoken about 'normal' and 'hard' modes so far, which will be available for both 8 and 16 player Op groups.

We'll talk more about difficulty modes and how they work later, but suffice to say, Gabe and his team are focused on making sure endgame content is both accessible and challenging.

To be honest I'm quite intrigued about their difficulty modes. But I'll have to be patient and see what they are when they're ready to talk about them.

And that's it. The next couple of days I'll be offline (got family over and doubt I'll have much time for the Internet). But hopefully should be back in time for next Friday's update and stuff from PAX.

[link] to SWTOR during EA Press Conference at YouTube.
[link] to A New Hope article at GameSpy.
[link] to article at Kotaku.
[link] to video interview with Cory Butler at GameSpot.
[link] to twitter Q&A at Ask A Jedi.

1 comment:

Entilzah said...

Thanks once again for an excellent summary of the important things that happened this week. I really appreciate the work you do collating this!