Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Smuggler Character Progression

I'm back from my long weekend and had a bit of catching up to do regarding SWTOR (and it didn't help that they had site maintenance today). But now that I am I can bring you last Friday's updates.

There were three updates; a character progression video for Smugglers, a blog post about... let's call it The Old Republic's expanded universe, and a PAX highlights video. Here is the official news for the progression video:

As your character progresses through the saga of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™, you will see them advance as you unlock new skills and acquire or craft superior gear.

Whether running blockades to deliver vital supplies or evading Imperial patrols, the Smuggler must rely on his wit and guile just as much as the blaster at his side. As the price on his head rises and his enemies grow more dangerous, the Smuggler will have to acquire new skills and utilize more powerful weapons and armor to survive.

Get a look at some of the ways the Smuggler can progress and see just a small fraction of the weapons, armor and abilities that become available to him.

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

It's a nice video, giving a decent impression of the Smuggler. But I can't help but note one thing. Though it's based on one of my favorite Indiana Jones scenes (if not executed quite so well) there's a scene that made me raise my eyebrows. I've wondered how they would balance a class such as a Smuggler to be in line with the power of a Jedi/Sith (at least in Troopers and Bounty Hunters I can see how they do it... lots of heavy weaponry). And the clip where the Smuggler one-shots a Sith shows that they didn't, not really. Because nobody should be able to score any kind of hit like that facing any kind of Force user. Yes, I know that you won't be able to one-shot like that in gameplay (ignoring level-differences), but it still seemed very odd that anyone could just do that with a blaster. It's like taking a pebble and throwing it through a fortified vault door.

It just brought back fears that they aren't handling the power balance, how Jedi/Sith are near demi-gods in the lore, properly. And that could have severe consequences for how the setting feels. How much it feels like Star Wars.

Anyway, after the break the other two updates, a few tidbits, and the developer quotes.

The second news BioWare had for us last Friday was a blog entry by Senior Writer Alexander Freed about the comics and novels of The Old Republic. Here's an excerpt from the full blog article:

For the comics, it's our job to make sure the designs you see on the page match the designs you see on the screen. Every artist has his own style, but to make sure that everything remains true to the established aesthetic of a project like The Lost Suns, BioWare supplies hundreds of pieces of reference art. Between all the screenshots and concept art of different outfits, species, weapons, abilities, environments, and characters, the amount of source material used to make sure the artists keep the comics feeling accurate to the period adds up fast.

This also means that there are designs which you'll see in the comics before you see them anywhere else. For that matter, there are designs you'll see in more detail in the comics than you'll see in the game - not because the detail isn't there, but because when you're actually playing you tend to be too busy fighting the ancient monsters to admire the color of their scales.

I quite like that they're providing different media to expand on the The Old Republic lore. Though I still haven't read Deceived (still waiting for it to be released for Kindle, which I don't expect to happen anytime soon) and I'm still unhappy about Revan getting such prominence in a new book (it feels like they're stealing my character from me by making her out to be something she's not) in general it's nice to have more stories and more lore available for those that are interested in it.

And the final update BioWare had for us was a highlight video from PAX-Prime. Here's the official news:

Every major show and convention we’ve attended this year has been a blast, and PAX Prime was no exception! Throughout the weekend, thousands of fans visited the Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ booth on the show floor. They were able to spend some time playing the game, and many even had the chance to face off against other players in the Alderaan and Huttball PVP Warzones! Those who attended the Star Wars: The Old Republic panel were able to watch a live demonstration of the Eternity Vault operation. They were also the first to hear new information about open world PvP on the planet of Ilum.

The reception from the fans at the panel was extraordinary, and it was an incredible experience meeting all of the awesome people who made their way over to check out the game. The reception from fans makes us truly grateful to have such dedication and passion in our community.

We have put together a brief highlights video to share some of the fun moments from PAX Prime. Thank you to the remarkable community for your continued passion and support for Star Wars: The Old Republic!

Not much to say about the video; it's about the same as every other show/convention highlight video they've had. It gives a rough impression of how it was to be there, and people seemed to enjoy the game (though obviously they wouldn't show anything of people not liking the game if there were any like that).

Last week Gamasutra posted an article from the Citi 2001 Tech Conference where EA's CFO Eric Brown made a few comments regarding SWTOR. Here's an excerpt:

"We've actually studied WoW pretty carefully," CFO Eric Brown said at the Citi 2011 Tech Conference on Wednesday.

"We spent a lot of time studying the first twelve months or so of WoW, and just to be clear here, when they initially launched, they did not launch in dual geographies. They went North America only."

According to Brown, particular attention is being paid to the game's initial customers.

"We really want to make sure that the first group of users into Star Wars has the best experience," he said.

"For example, when they log on, they have instant access. [Even] when they're playing in a densely-populated world, the bandwidth and response time is excellent. So quality of service is really important to us."

He also talks about post-release content and compares BioWare's plans to its DLC plans for some of its past single-player games (which I'm assuming refers to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games). This, to be honest, is a bit worrisome considering how incredibly poor BioWare's DLC was generally for those titles. They were generally reviewed as short and sub-par in quality compared to the games themselves. They also came, in my opinion, way too late when most people had long since finished the games and long since moved on to other games (to say nothing of how most dlc felt as if it expected the player hadn't finished the main campaign yet when in actuality most players probably had). But we'll have to see how they'll do with The Old Republic; unlike with their single-player games MMOs kind of stand or fall based on how good the post-launch support is, so BioWare can't make any similar mistakes there.

And that leaves just the developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Smuggler Orbital Strike.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on cover.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on cover, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on Smuggler attacks.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on EU testing invites.
  • [link] to David Bass on Guild Testing.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on EU testing invites, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on EU testing.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on EU testing, part 2.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on language packs.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Beta Testing Weekends.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on EU support.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on Testing FAQ (German).
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Testing FAQ.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on Beta Testing Weekend report.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Beta Testing Weekend report.
  • [link] to Chris Collins on Beta Testing Weekend report (German).
  • [link] to Chris Collins on EU testing, part 3.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Testing FAQ, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Testing FAQ, part 3.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Beta Testing Weekend report, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on instancing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on instancing, part 2.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on creativity.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Testing FAQ, part 4.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on instancing, part 3.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on instancing, part 4.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on instancing, part 5.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on instancing.
  • [link] to Georg Zoeller on (no) level 1 in Warzones.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Friday update.

On the official forums Georg Zoeller made a post explaining a bit more what the difference is between physical cover and portable cover:

You are correct. The object you are cowering behind needs to break line of sight to the attacker. If you pop out your head to shoot, they can hit you, so you need to be careful with your timing while in cover.

Enemies you have cover against display a green shield above their head. It only works against directed attacks (e.g. a grenade to the face will still do damage to you).

Smarter enemies will realize they're not getting anywhere with you after a while and try to go for aimed headshots to your exposed head above the cover line or, as mentioned, toss a grenade at you.

Portable cover on the other hand grants some defense bonus to you even when enemies attack you from another direction.

A Warrior can't charge you with Force Leap while in cover, but yes, he could walk up to your cover point, jump on top of it (or behind you) and the physical cover will no longer grant you any benefits. It's your job to make sure he doesn't get to do that

I honestly thought that portable cover was exactly the same as physical cover, except that you can put it down anywhere. I thought that portable cover was kind of a way for the developer to make up for not putting enough cover points in a map. Now that it's clear that they function differently, I strongly hope that they'll very liberally sprinkle cover points throughout their maps as it would suck to play a cover-based class but there simply not being enough cover points (even though there might be objects that look like you should be able to take cover behind them). I already noticed some of this when I played an IA where you, in that build at least, couldn't hide behind trees for example. The cover system really will succeed or fail based on how well BioWare does with placing cover points.

The next post is by Chris Collins regarding EU Testing. Originally they were intending to send out invites for people to test the EU servers, but as you can see they decided to postpone this for several reasons:

As promised, we have an update on the batch of Game Testing invites being sent to players in the EU.

After a lengthy discussion here at the BioWare offices, the decision has been made to postpone the proposed Game Testing invites for EU players for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there’s a new build of the game on the horizon. This is a major build, meaning there will be character wipes and a new client to download. As you may be aware, the current client download is around 27GB in size. If we were to invite players en masse today, those players would have to download the entirety of the client to access the game. There’s every chance that later this week, the service will go offline and this new version will be rolled out, meaning everyone currently in Testing will have to not only download the entire client again (another 27GB download), but will also have their characters erased and have to start afresh. This is a relatively large amount to download in such a short space of time and not an experience we want new testers to be exposed to.

Secondly, this new build will bring about the first localised versions of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which means those of you that speak French and German will have the chance to play the game in those languages, for the first time ever. We’re extremely excited to be able to offer this to our players and as such, we’re keen to get a lot of feedback from European testers in particular.

For those of you that may have missed the messages we put out on the subject already, last week saw a number of issues arise with key systems that prevented us from sending out invites to EU players. Had everything gone to plan, we would have been able to offer two weeks of testing time to new users. However, given the issues that arose, this was physically not possible.

So while we understand that this news may not be what a lot of you wanted to hear today, we hope that you’ll understand our position. Given the news of this new build, it’s now more important than ever that we invite European players into the Game Testing environments, so you have my word that this batch of invites will happen, it may just mean you just have to wait a little longer.

It’s also important to remember this is just the beginning. In the future, we’ll be inviting more and more testers to the EU Game Testing environments as well as future Game Testing weekends. So even if you’re not invited to this next round of testing, there will still be plenty of chances to get involved.

As ever, as soon as I get any firm news around the matter, I’ll make sure to update everyone.

I can very well understand where they're coming from and think that the decision they made is only the sensible one to make. Of course that's easy enough for me to say considering that I'm not really interested in testing anyway. But it won't kill anyone to have a bit of patience. As long as their EU operation runs smoothly in the end, and I have every confidence that it will, a delay on when they start testing isn't a big deal.

Since there are a number of questions about the different kinds of testing that they're doing and such Stephen Reid posted a FAQ to answer some, well, frequently asked questions regarding testing. Here's the opening few sentences:

Beta Testing Weekends began last weekend, to get more people than ever before testing Star Wars: The Old Republic. We invited a number of testers in to experience the game this past weekend, and will continue to invite more testers, in greater numbers, as we move towards launch.

While the number of those invited will increase over time and while we plan to invite as many people as possible who are signed up for Game Testing to test, there are no guarantees that everyone who applies will be invited.

It is also important to note that not every weekend going forward will be a Beta Testing Weekend. In September, we're hoping for one more Beta Testing Weekend, which will be larger in invite size than the last.

Read the full post to get all the questions and answers.

One thing that stood out to me as surprising was that they're not likely to re-invite people who've participated in a Testing Weekend back for the next weekend. Usually with MMO betas, once you're invited in you stay in (in cases similar to BioWare's where there's continual testing as well as 'weekends' it usually means that once you're invited for one weekend you're invited to the all). There is sense in that approach as people get to learn the game and might be able to progress further. But there's sense in BioWare's approach too. Particularly considering that the balance and progression part probably comes from the ongoing testing and not so much from the weekends. And it makes sense wanting to give as many people as possible a chance to 'test'. but a friend of mine, who was invited in one Beta Weekend and had to miss half of it due to server issues, isn't happy with it.

The final post is also from Stephen Reid and also concerns testing, the last Beta Testing Weekend specifically. In it he gives an update on how the weekend went from BioWare's perspective. Here's an excerpt:

What were the objectives of the weekend?

Primarily this was a small scale simulation of a launch scenario. That means, bringing on a large number of players, starting with the invite process, then proceeding through download, install, patching and logging on to a fresh new server.

We were looking to have large numbers of players on the game's Origin Worlds, like a launch day; we were looking to test our limits on PCU (peak concurrent users); and obviously we were testing to see how all this 'felt' to new players and whether they enjoyed the experience.

On top of that, as always, we were seeking feedback on the game itself - how it feels, how it plays, what people like and dislike.

Again, read the full post for the rest of it.

There's a couple of posts from the beta forums from players included in his post, but generally I don't find those very useful. BioWare obviously only picks those posts that put their game in a positive light (in that sense beta leaks tend to be much more valuable and generally much better for the game as well as they give a much healthier and more balanced view of it). BioWare's own views on how the testing went are much more useful. For one, it makes clear that they're still on track for a Holiday 2011 release (they've noted in the past that the release depends a lot on how well the beta weekends go).

And so far no word yet on when the next weekend will be (beyond "hopefully in September").

That's it. Since then BioWare obviously made a bunch more posts (including some promises of same gender romances in the future), but that'll wait until the next update.

[link] to post-launch article at Gamasutra.

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