Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Developer Dispatch: Companion Characters

It's been another busy weekend, and busy week, for The Old Republic. The biggest news of course was the release date announcement, and there's a fair bit more of that here too, but Friday BioWare also put up a blog and developer spotlight video centered around Companions. Here's the news for the video:

Even heroes need friends. Whatever epic journeys they may undertake, heroes always find they need allies to join in their adventures and help achieve their goals. This is why companions have been a traditional part of Star Wars™ since the very beginning and why they’ve been an important element in all the BioWare RPGs. Unsurprisingly, Companion Characters also play a critical role in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™.

In your story, they will provide colorful commentary and comic relief, and as your saga unfolds, they will become your most trusted allies. In combat, they will fight at your side, complementing your tactical expertise, and supporting you wherever you go. We are also pleased to tell you that after testing and feedback, we’ve added an additional layer of customizability for companions both in terms of their appearances and in terms of their tactics in combat.

Watch this new Developer Dispatch to hear more on the importance of Companion Characters in The Old Republic and some of the many ways in which they contribute to your hero’s journey and the overall gameplay experience.

Let us know what you think of the video in the Forums.

It's a nice video, thought I don't think it really tells us anything new (beyond some glimpses at companions we officially don't know about yet).

Read on after the break for more companion info, including a BioWare blog entry and a Q&A, various interviews, some Huttball and the developer quotes.

Next to the video BioWare also gave us the first blog entry by Senior Game Designer William Wallace on companions. Here's an excerpt from the full blog entry:


Players should feel like their companion is unique. Since your companions have a full set of armor and weapon slots, you’ll see a lot of variety in their appearances over time as you equip them with new weapons and armor that you acquire throughout your journey. After months of testing and evaluating feedback, we decided that equipment customization alone wasn’t enough to create the visual contrast that our players expected. So we decided to incorporate an additional layer of personalization to the game.

Players will be allowed to override the starting appearance of the companion, granting them different looks by modifying hair, skin tone, eyes and other previously unchangeable physical features.

Note (as I feel the blog isn't too clear on that) that you don't get free customization of your Companions characters, but instead you get a kit that you can apply to your Companion which completely changes the Companion's look; a single kit is one complete appearance (so no individually picking hair, skin, etc). Of course next to appearance you can also equip different armor to your Companions which also change how they look.

The video above was actually released first on GameSpot, along with a Q&A with Game Director James Ohlen. Here's an excerpt from the latter:

GameSpot: We understand that companions in Star Wars: The Old Republic have been greatly fleshed out since the last time we played with them--players will even be able to customize their appearances? How much freedom will players have to mess around with how their companions look? Any chance a companion's appearance will change with your character's alignment between the light and dark sides?

James Ohlen: Players are able to customize the appearance of their companions in two ways. Because companions are full characters with inventory slots, players can change the equipment their companions are wearing. You can give your tough-as-nails Mandalorian warrior companion some badass Mandalorian armor. Or you can put her in clothes reminiscent of Princess Leia's famous gold bikini. Players can also change the skin color, hair, and facial features of their companion characters. We wanted players to have more freedom than in any previous BioWare RPG when it came to companion customization.

Over on SWTOR Crew Skills they posted a chart showing the relations between the various crew skills. I'm not sure where they get the details from or how accurate it is, but it looks useful (basically pick a Crafting Skill, then the Gathering Skill strongest associated with it, then one of the mission skills associated with it for maximum effect). Here's the chart:

Fansite TORWars on the other hand had an interview with Damion Schubert. Here's an excerpt:

Will there be naming rules and will they be enforced? Will we be playing alongside “IPwnzJoo,” “Drizzt666” and “XplaguesX”?

There will definitely be naming rules that will be automatically enforced (first letter only capitalization, no numbers, for example). Profanity will be weeded out, and our customer service staff will also be working to weed out offensive names that manage to get by our automated filter. That being said, everyone has a different idea on what constitutes a cool, stupid and/or roleplaying-appropriate name, and so we probably won’t try too far to make judgment calls beyond ‘offensive’. My advice for players of any MMO is, if naming standards are important to you, find or form a guild with likeminded people who share your standards.

"Find a guild" doesn't really work though as you still run into people in the wilds (and turning floating names off doesn't work either since you need the names to identify people with). Not that 'bad' names really bother me. But I don't think that "find a guild" is really an answer here.

The fansite Republic Trooper has an interview with Charles Boyd about, what else, the Republic Trooper. Here's an excerpt:

[Republic Trooper]: One of the greatest inspirations for Troopers set forth by BioWare is the Trooper in the trailers, yet no one seems to know who he is. Can you shed some light on his identity?

[Charles Boyd]: I can! His name is Jace Malcom, and he was the commander (though not the founder) of the original Havoc Squad, back before the Republic Army’s Special Forces teams were organized into their own distinct division. Havoc Squad’s success on Alderaan showed the galaxy what small, elite units could accomplish, so Malcom is definitely an inspiration to Troopers throughout the Republic. He has since been promoted into a higher command role, and often acts as a military consultant for the Republic’s allies as the cold war heats up.

Strangely enough it's a very Trooper-centric interview, so if you're interested in the Trooper then it's a good interview to read.

With Eurogamer Expo last week Darth Hater held a couple of interviews there as well. The first one is with Stephen Reid. Here's an excerpt:

What is the response so far from the people that talked to you?

It was really good from the people I spoke to. A lot of them haven't played the game before, so it is great that they are able to get their hands on it for the first time. They are seeing lots of little things that you do not necessarily see unless you play the game; little quality of life touches and stuff like loot colors were some things that I heard people remarking on. Along with few other things that they noticed and were rather surprised to see. It is always great to see people laughing at dialogue as well and enjoying the choices that they get to make, especially if they are Dark side. So yeah, generally looks like a pretty good response, and PvP was well received as well, so that was good.

The second interview they held was with Daniel Erickson. Again, an excerpt:

You spoke a bit at PAX Prime about story variables and how they exist in The Old Republic. Can you elaborate on how big of a difference this makes when you're talking about phasing? For example, are you just talking about rooms, or are you talking about entire cities, planets? How much change is based on what you choose to do in the story?

Daniel Erickson: We keep phasing to very small portions of the game. What we do not want to have happen in our game is the, "I'm standing on a street corner, and I'm supposed to meet you there, and you're not there because you don't exist in my universe." There are games that went that way, but when we talk about phasing, we're talking about small scale phasing. So when I go in a room where I'm supposed to meet the long lost love interest and I killed her dad, everything is going to be correct for that. Everything is going to be going for that. In the class pieces there's a lot of parts where you go off to different small worlds, to asteroid bases, to space stations or something that are very personal to your piece. That whole place maybe exploded and be on fire or whatever, but we're not doing anything that is ever going to separate out the main body of the game and the community. We do not want to split up people's actual reality.

Gamasutra has an interview with James Ohlen about finishing up The Old Republic. Here's an excerpt:

As far as polish, something that strikes me as particularly interesting about this project is that it's fully voice acted. Traditionally an MMO can iterate easily because they don't have to worry about going back in for a re-recording of dialogue since it's text only. Is this a challenge?

It's been something that we've had to be aware of, but we've been aware of it since back in 2006. We knew it was going to be something we had to worry about, and the big thing is, when you're doing game balancing for quests, it's really about the activities that you're doing. So, if you're told by the NPC "You have to assassinate this guy," we can change what happens in-between that and you getting to him.

If we get feedback that the current way the mission runs is not intuitive or not very fun, we can change how the mission goes. But the actual conversation at the beginning where you're told to kill him off? That doesn't have to change. So, most of the feedback we get is around the actual activity that you're sent to do.

At GDC Online in October Georg Zoeller will have a talk titled "Rapid MMO Content Iteration and Validation with Spatial Analysis in Star Wars: The Old Republic". In anticipation of this Gamasutra has an interview with him. Here's an excerpt:

What are some techniques BioWare uses to create content for The Old Republic? Are there specific tools or processes your find particularly useful?

One of the interesting aspects of the game engine we are using is the fact that it is a large-scale collaborative environment. That means that most content creators work together on a single environment (i.e. server) and changes happen in real time. While an artist might sculpt a mountain in the background, a designer on the same map could be working on creating encounters or placing harvest nodes for crafting.

It's safe to say that collaborative real time development creates significant challenges on larger teams and, especially earlier in the process, introduces rather stringent requirements regarding the quality of everyday work -- after all, if you accidentally delete the terrain on a planet, everyone standing on it will plunge to their death, which isn't great for productivity.

However, there are also some great benefits to this approach compared to the traditional "build" model, such as the ability for a team of designers and artists, co-located in the same room, to create and iterate on a quest hub together in-engine as well.

I had to chuckle at the productivity comment.

A week ago EA's Eric brown spoke at the Goldman Sachs conference and Darth Hater live blogged it. He didn't really say anything new though. He mentioned that SWTOR might slip into 2012 (and various news sites picked up on that) and while that's still technically true with BioWare having since announced a release date is kind of moot.

Speaking of the release date, it seems that Best Buy jumped the gun on the announcement and updated their listing a tad too early. Though I admit that when I saw that at the time I just thought that it was another case of retail just guessing (but it seems that they were informed before the fans were... which is exactly why every time retailers change their guesses fans keep jumping on it).

Right after the release date announcement Darth Hater had a quick interview with Stephen Reid. Here's an excerpt:

So, how early is Early Access on the release date for both launches?

Yup, we are not ready to talk about that yet. As I've said before, it'll be days, not weeks. The exact timing on early game access kind of depends on preorders and on the game testing program and the results from that, so we'll have to wait and see. As soon as we know the number, we'll obviously give everybody the number. Before Early Game Access starts, there will be an opportunity to download the client, so you won't be trying to download the client from the beginning of Early Game Access, unless you choose to do that. So as soon as we have that information, we'll get it to you. Just like as soon as we had the information about release date, we got it to you.

Over at Eurogamer they have a short video of the announcement (I was sitting in the audience somewhere there). No embedding unfortunately. And they also have a write-up of an interview with Greg Zeschuk about the launch. Here's an excerpt:

"World of Warcraft only launched in North America in 2004 and it was six months later in Europe. Korean games launch slowly. We're taking a - it's a big launch.

"It's probably one of the biggest online launches simultaneously in the world," Zeschuk went on. "It's daunting. It's exciting."

And of course, someone made release day cake:


BioWare also officially opened their facility in Ireland from where they'll do customer support in Europe and from where they'll run the servers. Here's an excerpt from the news:

Speaking at the grand opening of the new BioWare Ireland facility alongside the nation’s Prime Minister, Dr. Ray Muzyka, EA Senior Vice President and General Manager of the BioWare Label, said “MMO launches are complex, and we are determined to set a new standard for a high quality, stable, smooth launch for our fans. Our new BioWare facility and team in Galway is critical to ensuring we deliver on that goal. We’ve got a solid base of people here already in Galway . . . we’re looking for more. From Ireland . . . from the rest of Europe to support our German and French customers . . . from all over the world. We want you to join us here at BioWare Ireland.”

Back to Eurogamer Expo and Darth Hater has a 20-minute video showing Huttball:

So long as nobody really know what they're doing it's fun for all involved (but as soon as some people start to learn more advanced techniques to beat the opponents it tends to stop being fun for those not as much involved).

The ever-busy Darth Hater also went to the community meet-and-greet held on Saturday (personally I couldn't attend) and posted some highlights from the Q&A session. Here's an excerpt:

Q: What about surnames?

[Stephen Reid]: There's a very good reason we haven't discussed surnames yet, and that will be revealed before ship.

[Daniel Erickson]: Or not. Those are the only two possibilities.

SR: It's one or the other. I think it'll be revealed before ship. I'm hopeful.

Q: Will there be achievements in the game?

SR: There will not be achievements in game at ship, correct?

DE: Not correct.

SR: Not correct?!?

DE: Not correct. Achievements have made ship in fact. They're not going to be the achievements, the crazy achievements that you have to place everywhere, that are like, "Hey if you drink 6 beers and fart in a cantina," those are not going the achievements to go in. Version 1 of the achievement system which go in, which is actually doing big, heroic stuff, because there's a ton of great optional content in The Old Republic, like, "Hey, I went to every world and kicked the world boss's ass." Those kinds of achievements. That's going to be the level one system. People need reasons to go back to planets and run around and do that other stuff, so that will come second. The first system is, "Hey, here's my bragging rights, here's the bad ass stuff I did in-game."

SR: And you thought you weren't going to get any other good news today. Awesome. I didn't even know that was happening.

I'm still strongly suspecting that the surnames thing has to do with the much rumored legacy system. but we'll see before launch. Or not.

Finally (before we get to the developer quotes) GameIndustry had an interview with the BioWare docs Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk. I think that you need an account to be able to read the interview, but you're not missing out on much if you don't have one. It's the same kind of stuff about BioWare and about the future and ensuring quality and all that. Here's an excerpt:

Q: Have there been any surprises in the beta tests?

Greg Zeschuk: I don't think there's really been any surprises, but you learn stuff. Certainly the way people play can surprise us. One thing that's really funny is that people find interesting exploits, you hear about some tricks that people have found and just "wow, that's ingenious!"

One of the favourites when we opened the early test was that when the two factions were first in the same place we had these taxi guys right on the edge of this cliff. And so one guy got bored, he'd finished all the content and he just sat there waiting for people to arrive and then Force Pushed them off the cliff. He did that for like an hour. Everyone that showed up.

Ray Muzyka: Or actually in the earlier builds you could take out the taxis' riders. The players would come back, they're waiting for their vendor and there's no taxi vendor.

Greg Zeschuk: Someone actually had to pop in and say stop...

Ray Muzyka: We fixed it too.

Greg Zeschuk: Yeah and that's a good lesson. So as long as you're aware and cognisant and watching all these things you can make rules, make the taxi vendors unkillable, don't put things on the edge of a cliff, like all these little funny things.

Ray Muzyka: And analytics and telemetry and the volume of content, to make sure that players actually have a lot of things to do for a very long time and to really accommodate all the different styles of play in a massively multiplayer online game, player versus players, player versus environment and small versions and big versions of that and crafting, the story, the innovations we bring to bear in the MMO, there's just so much to test and so much to do. But it's coming along very well, we're very pleased with it.

And that leaves the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on spec preference concerns.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on armor difference.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Eurogamer Expo Meet'n'Greet.
  • [link] to Emmanuel Lusinchi on communication (French).
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on retail client.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on retail client, part 2.
  • [link] to Emmanuel Lusinchi on EU testing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Bounty Hunter info.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on account security.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on skill trees.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on devtracker.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on stealth.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on EA investor call.
  • [link] to David Bass on pre-launch guild program.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on pre-order code redemption.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on class population.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Georg Zoeller.

The first post I'll repeat here is one in which Georg Zoeller talks about the 'stealth' that Marauders and Sentinels (can) get:

The Marauder/Sentinel stealth really isn't stealth, it's a very short term ability usable for both escape or offense. You're not going around with it undetected for any significant period of time.

All classes which have long term (modal) stealth abilities (Agent, Smuggler, Shadow, Assassin) have access to an 'in combat' stealth, the ability to engage their stealth ability while actively engaged in combat. This is a fairly recent change we've hinted at a number of times. Players that follow the stealth centered skill tree in their class (e.g. Infiltration) also have the ability to further improve this ability.

I didn't know that the Marauder and Sentinel (advanced classes for the Sith Warrior and the Jedi Knight) got some kind of stealth-like ability too, so that was news. And we've seen some of that in-combat stealth; one of the classes (Agent or Smuggler, I don't recall) had something like a smoke bomb in one of the videos.

The next post I was going to repeat here was one where Stephen Reid explains what Eric Brown said at the Goldman Sachs conference, but most of that is moot now that the release date has been announced.

So I'll skip straight to the last quote where David Bass gives an explanation of the Pre-Launch Guild Program:

We've seen some confusion today with the launch of Phase 2: Alignment that we'd like to clear up. As stated in the Guild FAQ, the Pre-Launch Guild Program allows you to register your guild before the game releases in order to be placed on a server with your Allies/Adversaries at launch. At no time do we force you to join a specific server, either as a guild or as a player. During Phase 3: Deployment, we will assign servers to qualified guilds, effectively reserving their guild name on those servers and ideally placing them alongside their Allies and/or Adversaries. Guild members are free to accept the offer in-game, or they can choose to ignore it and join whichever server they'd prefer instead.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Guild Headquarters, I encourage you to read the entirety of the Guild FAQ. It addresses each phase of the Pre-Launch Guild Program separately, and provide answers to common questions regarding the program.

I think it's good to re-iterate that they're not forcing anyone to join a specific server (makes sense to me, but apparently not to everyone). The whole pre-launch program seems to be more a way intended to reserve guild names; perhaps that's the best way to look at it.

Anyway, that's it. A bit late, but as you can see there was a fair bit to get through.

[link] to Q&A with James Ohlen at GameSpot.
[link] to crew skills chart at SWTOR Crew Skills.
[link] to interview with Damion Schubert at TORWars.
[link] to interview with Charles Boyd at Republic Trooper.
[link] to interview with Stephen Reid at Darth Hater.
[link] to interview with Daniel Erickson at Darth Hater.
[link] to interview with James Ohlen at Gamasutra.
[link] to interview with Georg Zoeller at Gamasutra.
[link] to Goldman Sachs liveblog at Darth Hater.
[link] to Best Buy news at IGN.
[link] to quick interview with Stephen Reid at Darth Hater.
[link] to release date announcement at Eurogamer.
[link] to interview with Greg Zeschuk at Eurogamer.
[link] to release date cake at KWSNi.
[link] to Ireland facility news at EA.
[link] to Huttball video at Darth Hater.
[link] to Q&A highlights at Darth Hater.
[link] to interview with Ray and Greg at GameIndustry.

1 comment:

Entilzah said...

Big week, and yet again you have been able to highlight the best of it. Thanks for the hard work!