Friday, 18 November 2011

Bringing Down the Hammer (on the NDA)

The NDA has been lifted! That means that all across the world people can finally inform their significant others what they've been so secretive about all these months. And it means that you'll see a bunch of previews articles appear all across the net, that too.

But before we get to that the official Friday update, consisting of a trailer for another Flashpoint and the announcement of a new (non-fiction) book. Here's the official news on the Flashpoint video:

The ‘Hammer,’ a powerful prototype battle station developed by the Republic, was thought to have been destroyed in the war, but it has mysteriously reappeared in the possession of the expansionist Advozsec. Determined to assert their new power, the Advozsec have been using the weapon to conquer neutral worlds in the Outer Rim. Now, before the Hammer can strike again, both the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire have set plans in motion to bring the station down.

We are excited to present a new preview of ‘Bringing Down the Hammer,’ just one of the many Flashpoints in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™.

It's one of those movies which, while decent, I doubt I'll remember a month from now. Then again, I'll be playing The Old Republic a month from now so I doubt it'll matter much anyway.

Continue reading after the break for the book news and a wave of articles come out of the NDA lifting and news on the newly announced Legacy System. That and the developer quotes of course (this week with a special guest star).

Last Friday BioWare also announced a new book that looks at the art and creation of the game. It's called "The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic"; here's BioWare's news on it:

Chronicle Books has released a new book which highlights the process of creating Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. Co-written by former Star Wars Insider editor Frank Parisi and BioWare Writing Director Daniel Erickson, this book chronicles the creation of the game, with over 150 pages of conceptual artwork and interviews with various members of the development team.

The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic includes over one hundred pieces of artwork, many of which you have never seen before. Much of the artwork is accompanied by text describing the process of creating each class and every world as well as the process of working in this previously unexplored time period in Star Wars™ lore.

In addition to working on creating a familiar-yet-different feel to the Star Wars galaxy to represent an age over 3,000 years before the rise of Darth Vader, the book also explores some of the content created exclusively for the game. In the below sample, we can see some of the concept art for the many creatures that inhabit the previously unseen world of Voss, as well as a couple of familiar creatures.

This book is available now, and you can purchase it through the book's publisher, Chronicle Books, as well as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

Note that I didn't include all of the concept art shown in the original post.

One bit of surprise news last week was that they suddenly started talking about the Legacy System. Long rumored as a way to encourage replay it now seems to be just that... though different from how I expected it to be. Here's the post by James Ohlen from the forums:

Hey Everyone,

This build has our first iteration of the Legacy System! At its core the Legacy system is about allowing players to create a family tree of characters. Family is pretty important to the Star Wars universe, with the Skywalker family having one of the most interesting dynamics in movie history. This version is just the foundational components that we will use to build upon in the future. Here are the features of this iteration:

  • Once your character has completed their Chapter 1 storyline, they will be able to choose a Legacy Last Name. This Legacy Last Name must be unique and is shared across all characters on that server - so choose carefully!
  • Once you have unlocked your Legacy, any and all characters on that server will now contribute to that player's Legacy Experience Points. Much like normal experience points, when you reach certain Legacy thresholds, you will increase your Legacy Level.

We already have plans for how we will expand the functionality of the Legacy System in one of our major post-ship patches. This will include being able to shape your Legacy's family tree, and give you a reward for all those Legacy Levels.

We look forward to reading your feedback on the Legacy System!


A later post by Damion Schubert also clarified how you can display the legacy name (slightly re-formatted):

You can choose to do one of the following:

  • Display your legacy name as your last name ("Raiel Firewalker")
  • Display your legacy name below your name

    The Firewalker Legacy
  • or choose to hide it altogether.

This choice can differ per character.

I was expecting something where if you finished the story with one character it would allow you to start a new one with the same family name or something. But this sounds much better. Not only encouraging replay, but also sounds as a way to do veteran rewards. Though I do wonder what your Legacy Level actually does. And I wonder what names people aren't allowed to use; I'm assuming that names like 'Skywalker' won't be allowed, but other names? Dev names? "The Ohlen Legacy" has a nice ring to it.

In general I must say that I like the system. I know that there are people, particularly roleplayers, with concerns but I don't see the problem. The legacy doesn't restrict your roleplaying (can always choose to hide your legacy name and treat it as just a game mechanic like any other) and for the rest it's up to your imagination to explain how members of different species and factions can be part of the same 'family'. The easiest solution (and the one long since built into all my Star Wars characters) is to treat it like a House name instead. If they started restricting it to the same species/faction then that would be a problem. The only thing I would like to see is the ability to share the legacy name with friends somehow (so that you can both be part of the same family/House). Maybe allow them to use the name but have them keep a separate legacy level?


Of course the big news was that the NDA has now officially been lifted, allowing beta testers to talk about their experiences. And as a result a number of sites came out with their previews. Most of which I haven't actually had the chance to read yet.

  • [link] to Sith Inquisitor preview at MMORPG.
  • [link] to Imperial Agent preview at MMORPG.
  • [link] to Sith Warrior preview at MMORPG.
  • [link] to Bounty Hunter preview at MMORPG.
  • [link] to concerns article at Gamespy.
  • [link] to beta videos at IGN.
  • [link] to character creation preview at IGN.
  • [link] to beta gameplay video at GameSpot.
  • [link] to preview links at BioBreak.

As I said I haven't read most of those yet. But I did read Gamespy's concerns and wanted to briefly respond to each of the ones they listed.

  • Lackluster Character Creation - To some degree I have to agree with them on this concern. Compared to most other MMOs this day and age the character customization seems rather lacking. More species to play would definitely be nice (even if just more near-human species... I want to play a Zeltron). And for a game that has so many close-ups of your character's face the lack of face sliders is particularly apparent (often in MMOs you've got all these sliders... but then never notice the effect of them as you're watching your character's behind from a long distance away all the time, but TOR is very different in that respect). Even so, I wasn't actually all that bothered by the character creation. It's more extensive than many other MMOs (particularly WoW) and I can see this as a place for them to expand in the future (more species in DLC, more hairstyles, more colors, etc). It could have been better, but it also definitely could've been worse.
  • Tiresome Voice Acting - As I keep saying whenever someone asks how good the game is: it depends on what you're expecting out of it. I think that a lot of the criticism you (will) see comes from people expecting another MMO. And in many ways they're justified (as it is billed as an MMO and has all of the same features... it really is an MMO). The problem is that these people tend to play the game the way they play MMOs and, it seems, don't allow themselves to get immersed into it. When I read comments like "Every time you want to pick up a standard 'kill 15 droids' mission" my thought immediately is "you're missing the point" (and "why the hell would anyone want to pick up a random kill quest to begin with"). You don't pick up a quest, you follow the story and that points you towards things that need to be done to continue the story. And in that sense I can't see how the voice acting would ever get old. The only valid concern is in having to deal with other people who don't get it (I can't ever see myself skipping dialog in Flashpoints unless I'm playing with friends, we've all already done the Flashpoint before and we agreed in advance to do so). If others want to derive themselves of story, regardless of whether they've already seen it or not, then it's their problem. That said, it might be a good idea for BioWare to implement a feature where the group leader can set it so that all group members auto-skip the dialogs (clearly informing members of this).
  • It's Too Easy - As they mention, it's hard to judge difficulty of an MMO that's still in beta. Difficulty is constantly being tweaked and not perfect everywhere yet (there's a village on Ord Mantel where I can one-shot enemies with my standard attack and I've definitely run into cases where the difficulty was too high as there was no way to avoid dying, sometimes repeatedly, before winning). And of course there's the general problem with making an MMO that anyone can not only play, but succeed in. So the base content has to be a bit easy for MMO veterans. That said there are definitely ways to increase the difficulty for yourself (like trying to solo heroic areas, going after planet bosses, playing content above your level, etc). Though I should note that I've got no idea how the endgame difficulty stacks up.
  • Decisions Without Consequences - I have to agree with this concern. For all the talk of consequences BioWare has done (kill or spare the captain) there seems to be very little actual effect and such instances seem to be rare. NPCs will talk themselves into letting the quest continue on track regardless of what you say to them most of the time (and if you refuse a quest then it's still available to take, in fact doing so makes the NPC forget you even spoke at all). Decisions you make might be remarked upon, but rarely seem to change the course of the quest ("I heard you acted poorly as a Jedi... but let's continue on this special Jedi mission"). Though I haven't played enough to run into any long-term consequences I can't help but feel that there are likely going to be far fewer of those than hoped for, or at least most of the time you won't notice the consequence (if you decide to kill someone then you're not likely to notice when that someone doesn't show up where otherwise he would have). And with Companion influence having little effect (and able to be bought off with gifts) and Dark/Light choice having little effect (beyond restricting a few items) it doesn't feel like choices in the story really matter.
  • You're Stuck With the User Interface - I kind of agree with this one too. If I were to develop a UI for an MMO then the first question I would ask myself would be "how can I make this so that users can modify it in detail". Because as a UI developer probably the most important lessing to learn is (particularly when it concerns an MMO): everyone is different. Beyond being functional and stable and all that the main requirement for an MMO UI is that it's modifiable. Not a big issue for me as the default UI (when enabling some extra bars) works fine for me, but definitely a point where they could've done a lot better.
  • Paper Thin Replayability - I guess it depends on what your tolerance is for replayability. Personally I can only play through any of BioWare's games once as the second time will feel way too similar (basically the same story with only relatively minor differences). But I know that others can play them through multiple times with different alignments, classes, etc. "On my next playthrough I'll try and romance Juhani". In general I think that The Old Republic can be played through roughly four times (more or less depending on your tolerance). Once for each faction at least, that much is a given. But then also once each for Dark/Light, particularly if you also switch between Force/non-Force user as each can really change the tone of the story (but neither alignment nor class alone enough to validate a separate playthrough; playing a Lightside Jedi Sage vs a Darkside Jedi Sage doesn't make enough difference, but change that to a Darkside Smuggler and it'll feel different enough). And let's not forget that most MMOs don't offer any of that differentiation (regardless of class or species the experience is always pretty much exactly the same) and I think TOR is in a pretty good place replay-wise. It just comes down to, again, whether you're willing to re-immerse yourself in the stories you might've already seen or not.

Overall I'd say that if those are the biggest concerns with the game (and beyond a bare-bones support for roleplaying I can't really think of any other ones at the moment) then the game is in pretty good shape indeed. They don't list any concerns about the game mechanics, no concerns about lack of content, no concerns about lack of endgame, no concerns about lacking PvP, no concerns about poor crafting, no concerns about awkward controls, no concerns about lag or system requirements, no concerns about bugs, etc (to name some examples of what could've been a problem). But I guess it all depends on what you're looking for in the game and what you expect out of it.

I'll leave it at that. Since I haven't read the other previews yet there's little point in quoting anything from them. I'd also say that if you're worried about spoilers in The Old Republic then this might be a good time to 'go dark' on any TOR news as there's likely going to be a lot slipping through the cracks now that people can talk freely about the game. And different people feel different towards what constitutes a 'spoiler'. Even so I'll do my best when talking about the game to avoid any spoilers. One thing I can definitely guarantee though, there are no spoilers in these developer quotes.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Next Beta Testing Weekend FAQ.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Next Beta Testing Weekend FAQ, part 2.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Next Beta Testing Weekend FAQ, part 3.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Next Beta Testing Weekend FAQ, part 4.
  • [link] to David Bass on beta keys.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on website maintenance.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Early Game Access.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on more website maintenance.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Next Beta Testing Weekend FAQ, part 5.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on website login issues.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on Origin beta keys.
  • [link] to Greg Zeschuk on NDA lifted.

Pretty much everything above revolved around the beta and early access (nothing new there). And even though you're probably very well aware by now that the NDA has been lifted (if only because I mentioned it a few times already) I thought it would be worth sharing the post making it official by special guest star (because the BioWare Vice President rarely posts on the forums) Greg Zeschuk:


As of now, the non disclosure portion of our Game Testing Agreement is officially lifted. While all players must still accept the Game Testing Agreement, from this point on testers may now freely talk about their experiences this past weekend in the game, as well as post screenshots and gameplay videos of their testing experiences. We encourage you to come join us on the official Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ Forums to share your experiences!

The Star Wars: The Old Republic community site will have a copy of this message on the forums and it will also appear in the Patcher. Players may not talk about nor reprint posts from our testing forums as they are still fully covered by the confidentiality portions of our Game Testing Agreement. And all players who want to participate in the upcoming Beta Test Weekends still have to accept all terms of the Game Testing Agreement. So, other than that, free feel to talk about and share your experiences in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

My thanks go out to everyone who has beta tested and continues to beta test the game. It has been with your help and feedback that Star Wars: The Old Republic is where it is today. We really appreciate your efforts.

May the Force be with you!

Greg Zeschuk
VP, Electronic Arts, BioWare Austin, General Manager

And that's it.

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