Tuesday, 12 June 2012

SWTOR's E3 2012

Last week was E3 again, and SWTOR was there as well. During EA's press conference on Monday Dr. Ray Muzyka stepped on stage to talk about The Old Republic:

BioWare also posted the video Dr. Muzyka shows at the end there on the official website:

Preview Exciting New Reveals from E3!

Throughout E3, journalists will be able to take a sneak peek at some of the exciting content that is coming to Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ in the next year. This includes new Space Content, an increased level cap, the upcoming Operation: Terror From Beyond, which takes players to the Gree-controlled world of Asation to battle against an army of unseen horrors, and more!

But our biggest reveal is the announcement of Makeb, a brand new planet never-before seen in the Star Wars™ universe! A fully-realized world for you and your friends to explore, Makeb will also introduce an all-new storyline. The Hutt Cartel, tired of being ignored by the great powers of the galaxy, has taken Makeb in an attempt to acquire an unmatched power which can bring both the Galactic Republic and Sith Empire to their knees. It will be up to you and your allies to face off against the Hutt Cartel, breaking their hold on this once tranquil world and end their bid for galactic domination.

Preview Makeb and see a small sampling of the other content coming up, in this new gameplay preview!

One thing you might notice when watching the two videos is that the second one, the one on the official site, doesn't include the "New Playable Species: Cathar" bit. I'm not sure why they left that out, but it's not there and it definitely is in the first one.

For the rest it's a new Flashpoint, a new Warzone, a new space mission, etc. The biggest surprise in the whole thing was that they're planning to raise the level cap before the year is out, extending the class stories onto a new planet from what I understand. Dr. Muzyka also announced that The Old Republic will be free-to-play for the first fifteen levels come July (which is pretty much the same as all the free weekends and friend trials that they've had, just without limit).

To be honest I found the whole thing, SWTOR's entire E3 presence, to be decidedly disappointing. Perhaps that is because I was hoping for a big announcement, like the development of an expansion or such and nothing of what they announced really fit the bill. In fact everything was altogether very expected. I would even say that it sounded somewhat minimal in the way that they represented it as "one of everything".

True, the raised level cap was a surprise... but I'm not actually sure that's a good thing. One of the biggest challenges for TOR right now is giving people enough to do. By raising the level cap, even if it's just by five levels (as I suspect), you're basically invalidating all of the current endgame content (just remember how trivial level 45 content is for your level 50 character). To keep all of that relevant they have to do a lot of extra work. Work which, I think, would be better spent on either making more current endgame content, or by making more of the existing content viable for a maxed out character (like downscaling characters going back to lower zones and such; lesson learned from GW2). Sure I want to continue my class stories and adding more for that is good, but I think that they can do this without raising the level cap.

Anyway, after the break more details about changes coming in Game Update 1.3, details on character transfers, the Community Q&A from last Friday, a bunch of links from E3, and the developer quotes.

There's a number of changes coming in Game Update 1.3, and this includes a number of balance and class changes. To explain these changes BioWare posted an article explaining them. Here's an excerpt:

Changes for Tank Characters

Each major patch is an opportunity to reassess the current status of key combat systems to make sure they’re still working how we expect them to. In Game Update 1.3, one of the major goals was to better normalize single-target and AOE tank threat.

  • Threat generation for all tanking stances has been increased to 100% (up from 50%).

This is a big one. We’ve received a lot of feedback from tanks regarding how easy or difficult it is to hold threat on various encounters. Between taunts and de-taunts and the fact that most encounters give tanks more uptime than DPS, single-target threat should be easy for a tank to maintain. While this change will make it even easier, ultimately single-target tanking gameplay won’t be affected much by this change. AOE threat generation, on the other hand, should improve significantly.

The post does a decent job of explaining what's coming I think, highlighting changes made to tank and dps roles (it seems that they're not making significant changes to healing roles based on the article).

Another change that BioWare is making to the game is what they're calling "Adaptive Social Gear". Basically this means that by using mods social gear can be made valid for any armor tier (before social clothes were always light armor, but now they can function as heavy armor with the right mods). And to highlight this in action they made a video:

Adaptive Social Gear in Action!

One of the features that will be included as part of Game Update 1.3: Allies is Adaptive Gear. Now you and your friends will be able to personalize your experience by wearing any social item in the game, and have that social gear scale up to match the highest level of armor that you can wear. You’ll also be able to augment your social gear with item modifications, giving you the full benefits of your high-end modified armor while being able to dress as an Imperial Trooper or a slave dancer.

See some of the combinations that you and your friends can come up with in this new video that highlights some of the countless customization options coming with Adaptive Gear!

I personally think that this is good. In fact, I feel that they should basically make all armor "adaptive social gear" so that I could play a Sage in heavy Trooper armor if I wanted to. Not because it's realistic, but because it enhances player customization. And by enhancing player customization you also enhance the kind of stories that players can tell and thus enhance roleplaying. I understand why they're only doing it for social gear. They feel that doing the rest of the armor as well would allow players to mislead other players while with the social gear you can't pretend to be a class that you're not (or, everyone knows you're in social gear). But honestly that argument sounds rather hollow. I find the argument players tend to make about it lacking immersion more compelling, but not strong enough either (and I could go into that, but that would probably be a full post all by itself).

Another change, which is starting today, is that players can transfer their characters from select server to select other servers. The intention here seems to be a sort of soft server-merging, trying to increase the population on certain servers. Here is an excerpt from the full article describing this:

How will it work?

Initially we considered allowing players to transfer to any server they wished, or to a variety of different servers. However, on a massive scale, this free-for-all approach causes potential problems. Players who are anxious to ensure they end up on a heavily populated server will naturally flock to what is perceived as the 'biggest' server, potentially over-populating that server. This eventually leads to the exact situation we're trying to move away from. Our aim is to maximize server population across the entire service and to enhance the gameplay experience for our players.

Therefore, we made the decision to strictly limit the initial phase of the Character Transfer Service to only allow transfers from selected groups of origin servers (where you're moving a character from) to selected individual destination servers (where you choose to move a character to) based on the player populations of the origin and destination servers. In some cases, a large number of origin servers will be eligible to move to a single destination server. In others, very few origin servers will be transferring to existing high population destination servers. Remember, the goal here is to push almost every destination server to an active population that's higher.

This process will be gradual and staged over time. Despite huge improvements being made to the Character Transfer Service by our server team, there are millions of characters to be moved and there is a limit to how many can be moved daily. We want your character to be transferred as quickly as possible, but we will need you to be patient as the process completes. Once your transfer starts we estimate it will complete in a few hours, but with the potential volume of transfers occurring, you may find your character is queued for transfer for a while as we deal with the high volume.

The post for how it's going to work was made last week, but as of today they've announced that it's available for select servers. Here's an excerpt from the announcement:

To start the character transfer process, login to your account, click My Account and then click Character Transfers in the left hand menu. From there you will be able to select Start a Character Transfer and see if you have any characters eligible for transfer to selected servers.

For guild members and masters, you will not be able to transfer your guild as a whole to your new server; instead you will need to reform it. If you have a guild bank, it will be re-granted to your new guild on your destination server by Customer Service. This is not an automatic process and you will have to contact Customer Service directly.

The character transfer service will be made available gradually, starting with a small number of the lowest population servers and adding more until all servers eligible for transfer are made available in the service. Eligible servers will be listed as they become available for transfers at www.swtor.com/transfer. This is to prevent potential server load issues. As a result, you may have to wait a short period before you can begin your character transfer.

Looking at the list of eligible server and comparing it to some unofficial server status data it seems that all eligible servers tend to be on the low end of the population scale. But, unless I'm just missing it somewhere, I can't find any reference as to where they can transfer to. So it's hard to say. If they transfer to another low population server I'm not sure if this is going to work. It might just be better to merge servers and get it over with.

[EDIT] Though I'm not sure where they get the information from, Darth Hater also lists the destination servers, which seems to indicate that the transfers are to the most populated servers.

Finally, for the last of the official updates, BioWare also posted another Community Q&A. Here's an excerpt:

Alxandria: Can we get a detailed breakdown of the affect of Presence on our companions? I'm specifically targeting info that would explain if the bonuses are weighted or static.

Jason Attard (Senior Game Designer): Your companion gets a fixed amount of damage, healing, and health per point of Presence on your character, and that amount does not change as you level up. This is the exact same sort of scaling done for Endurance and Power. In fact, putting 100 points of Presence on your main character is equivalent to putting 50 points of Endurance and ~85 points of Power on your companion, so if you’re playing solo or 2-player content where you have your companion out it’s mathematically the most effective thing you can do. This is offset by the fact that it’s split between offense and defense (making your companion less role-specialized) and that you’re sacrificing your personal effectiveness to increase the effectiveness of an AI.

As for how it scales as you level up, characters get lots of Endurance and Power on their gear, but typically don’t get much Presence. This means that, early on, Presence tends to be a bigger proportion of your overall stat budget (and thus plays a bigger role in your companion’s effectiveness) than it does in the late game. In theory, you could make Presence more important by seeking it out for your gear, but in practice we found most players prefer to increase the power of their own character instead, so we made Presence have more of a niche role, and balanced the PvE game assuming players do not itemize towards it at all.

I don't think that I've ever chosen to take presence; whenever I got it I got it automatically from something (such as from having maxed a human character). And even with this explanation, and even considering that I tend to play solo a lot, I still wouldn't choose to take it because by doing so you automatically make yourself less useful in situations without your Companion (such as if you decide to group after all). Unless I want to have multiple sets of armor (which I don't) it still seems a waste to take it. Then again, I play solo and yet never use the heroic moment ability either. So maybe that just makes me weird.

That's it for the official updates, but there were also a number of sites reporting on SWTOR at E3. Though to be honest, after filtering out those just repeating the official news, there wasn't that much left. In fact most of it comes from Darth Hater and most of it was actually about the Game Update 1.3 which went up on the Test server last week. And because this post is already getting rather long I'll just post a list of links without quoting from any of them:

  • [link] to SWTOR during EA's E3 2012 conference at YouTube.
  • [link] to interview with Daniel Erickson at GameSpy.
  • [link] to E3 presentation summary at IGN.
  • [link] to interview with Hames Ohlen at SWTORHub.
  • [link] to MCM Expo presentation summary at Darth Hater.
  • [link] to E3 presentation notes at Darth Hater.
  • [link] to E3 gameplay demo at Darth Hater.
  • [link] to 1.3 coverage at Darth Hater.

Wow, that list actually turned out a lot shorter than I thought (in part because of all of Darth Hater's 1.3 update articles being group together in the last link). So on to the developer quotes then.

Developer Quotes

  • [link] to Allison Berryman on graphics optimization.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on graphics optimization, part 2.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on free trial members chat.
  • [link] to Amber Green on PTS patch notes 1.3.
  • [link] to Joveth Gonzalez on character transfers.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on character transfers.
  • [link] to Joveth Gonzalez on character transfers and guilds.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on Community Q&A questions.
  • [link] to Antonia Phillips on Group Finder.

There was a lot of action in the developer quotes over the last week... but none of it all that interesting. I've tried to pick out those that might be interesting above, but I might've missed a few. Either way the most interesting post came from a new BioWare face to the dev quotes, Antonia Phillips, who talked about the group finder:

So, some of you may have seen my posts in the forums and might have been wondering, “Who is this person?” Well, here it is! My name is Antonia “Toni” Phillips; I’m an industry veteran who has been working on SWTOR for the last two years, most recently with the Group Finder team.

A solid Group Finder system is very important to us and we have been keeping a close eye on the forums and your feedback. We are evaluating all of the feedback from the PTS and I wanted to take a moment to respond to the most popular topics we’ve seen.

Thanks for all the responses and keep it coming!

Shuttling to Starting Location:
One of the issues most commonly noted is that you are not returned to your original location when you end/exit a Flashpoint or Operation.

This is not a bug; let me explain that a little bit better!

In the game today, without the Group Finder, when you exit a Flashpoint or Operation you are NOT shuttled back to your original location - you're taken to the entrance.

Although this is currently how the Flashpoint and Operation exit technology functions, we understand the importance of modifying this functionality, especially for the Group Finder. We already have a plan to provide this as soon as possible. The moment we know what update this can be included with, we will let you know!

Tiers of Flashpoints:
What is the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 Flashpoints, you ask? Difficulty! Tier 2 Flashpoints are more difficult than Tier 1 and we felt that it wouldn’t be a good experience to place undergeared players into groups where they couldn’t meaningfully perform their assigned role. To support this, Tier 2 Flashpoints will be disabled by default and must be actively enabled through the Group Finder filters. Although there is only a single selection (Lost Island) for Tier 2 right now, there will be more in the future.

In addition, Tier 1 and Tier 2 Flashpoints share the same Group Finder daily reward mission. As we gather feedback when this feature goes live we will be making changes to the reward structure as needed.

Gear Score:
While we may never implement a “Gear Score” system, we understand the need to correctly match players with appropriate content. We also understand the need to match groups with a high chance for success. We are currently evaluating several ideas to improve this.

Ignore lists and Group Finder:
Quick Tip: if you place a player on your ignore list you will never be matched in a Group Finder group with that player. Although we have a loading screen tip already implemented for this option, we realize that we will need to more clearly communicate this.

Advanced Classes and Roles:
The roles that you are allowed to queue for in Group Finder are based on your Advanced Class and not your skill point allocation. For example, if you are a Jedi Sage you can queue for both Damage and Healing. We know that this option launches in advance of multi-speccing. However, once you launch Group Finder you can limit yourself to a specific role if you so choose.

Queuing Order:
Group Finder attempts to place you into a group by evaluating potential group matches in a specific order. This order is matched to the in-game order displayed in the Group Finder window. For example, at level 50, Group Finder will first check if you can form a valid Operation, and if not, it will then check Hard Mode Flashpoints, and so on. The specifics:

  • At level 50 this will be in the following order: Story Mode Operations, Hard Mode Flashpoints Tier 1, Hard Mode Flashpoints Tier 2, Flashpoints, Planetary Destinations
  • Under level 50 this will be in the following order: Flashpoints, Planetary Destinations

Planetary Destinations:
You want more content controls for Planetary Destinations and so do we! We know that planetary destinations are an area of improvement for Group Finder in future releases, and we're looking at more options, like adding directly selectable Heroic Missions and world bosses.

As we form our plan for future improvements, one of the pieces we need the most is your feedback. We are in the process of evaluating potential designs for player-set group size and specific mission queuing, among many others.

What do you want to see?

I haven't tested the group finder, as I don't play on the Test server, but I think that it'll be a really useful tool for helping people get groups and play the content. Though the above does indicate that it could definitely be better. For one, I think that being able to do world content is going to be pretty important as well. I also have to wonder how well this will actually work; you can have all the group finder that you want, but if there simply aren't enough people interested in playing certain content on your server then it's not going to do anything. And I'm not convinced that the server transfers will improve the problem that much (in fact it'll make it worse on the already lowly populated servers for those who don't choose to move). That really makes me wish that they'd just implement cross-server functionality to the group finder.

Anyway, that's it for now.

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