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Dev Tracker Fly-by (17-20 June)

Welcome to a weekend edition of the Dev Tracker Fly-by. The BioWare developers have been most chatty of late, so rather than have a single monster version at the end of the week, we’ll serve the SWTOR goodness in manageable portions.

Let’s start with an older post that I missed last week, in which Damion Schubert gives us some details about our inventory:

You start with 40 slots. You can pay to expand your inventory 10 slots at a time, capped at 80. The price of each row of slots gets progressively more expensive. That being said, any exact values (in terms of price and size) that you might see/hear about are prone to change as we make adjustments to the economy.

You can also pay to expand your ship’s cargo hold, where you can store significantly more items.

We do not use the ‘bag’ paradigm that some other MMOs use – it’s all one GUI.

Nothing really revolutionary here. Whether 40 to 80 slots is a lot is determined by just how much stuff a player character needs to carry around. For example, LOTRO has a silly amount of vendor trash, which all takes up valuable inventory space. Sure, you can just trash it, but it all sells!

Having quest items in a separate inventory with infinite space is a great innovation; no matter how much alternative gear, crafting items and consumables you have, you’ll never have the problem of not being able to receive a quest item because your bags are full.

I don’t recall whether it’s previously been made clear that your personal starship’s cargo hold is your bank. It makes perfect sense, since it’s always going to be on the same planet as you.

Georg lays down the reasons why you really should do your class quests. While you can probably skip everything else (world arc quests, world quests, etc) and get XP through other means (like warzones), this is stuff you’re going to need, and is probably part of the most optimal path to the level cap. While SWTOR provides a most enjoyable journey, we still want to get to the destination!

You meet your Companions through class quests.

You get your ship through your class quests.

You will get rewards through class quests, which include some really decent items that would cost you a lot of credits to replace. Credits that you’d probably want to spend to get a vehicle earlier.

Without doing your class quests, you lose out on a significant amount of XP that you would have to fill by other means. It can be done, but it will actually take longer to get to maximum level if you try to skip the class quests.

A forum user then wanted to know if there was some kind of tangible, desirable reward for finishing the class story arc, which would be sufficient to entice a player who’d reached the level cap to go back and finish it; Georg’s response:

There will be. Not talking about specifics yet.

However, no reward is going to be as interesting as the reward of the conclusion of your story. This is kind of like asking “What’s the reward for watching Episode IV past the point where they escape the Death Star?” It’s the satisfaction of a good story, well told.

It will be interesting to see if the class story is indeed compelling enough that its conclusion would be enough to get through it. But even if not, it’s clear there’s going to be some kind of shiny at the end of the rainbow.

Georg also tells us that “You get titles for various things in the game, including big milestones in your class story.” I’m hoping they don’t overdo this—in LOTRO, the number of titles you unlock throughout gameplay is truly staggering. Personally, I’d rather titles were awarded for achieving something significant, rather than simply following a pre-defined path that was designed for everyone to be able to easily tread.

Altoholics rejoice! Georg reassures us that the class stories are sufficiently different that levelling your alts—as long as they’re of a different class—will offer a fresh and original path through the game.

Each class has their own class quests. So unless you level the same class, you get excellent replay value, because they are all completely different.

Of course, if you want to play the other Advanced Class for a class you’ve already played, the class story will effectively be the same; it remains unclear just how much variety is possible given the different options you can take. It’s to be hoped that choosing differently will open up alternative paths through the story.

It’s worth noting that the world arc quests, world quests and group quests remain the same for all classes.

Gamers who were lucky enough to play through Tatooine at E3 with an Imperial Agent noticed that there was a distinct lack of cover. The available cover is supposed to be visible when you press a key; doing this yielded no results. Georg explains what was up:

That is not the case. As we communicated to some during E3 (but I guess, not all), Tatooine just hasn’t had a complete ‘cover pass’ yet.

Natural cover has not been removed from the game.

Georg, possibly bored on his weekend and so spending some time cruising the forums, has provided some more detail about class quests. Here he is addressing a concern that class quests seem to be providing some significantly good rewards, relative to the rewards from world arc quests and world quests.

I wouldn’t say richer – after all Flashpoints, PvP and other activities have great rewards as well… just not things like companions and such.

As for random mob killing … that’s not the game we’re making. You can do it, for sure, but it’s not going to be nearly as effective as questing or participating in Flashpoints, PvP and other activities.

Camping the spawns of random mobs is a part of the MMO legacy, grind, that we don’t really see having a place in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

(As someone who once wasted hours camping pygmy goblins ins Dark Age of Camelot, I am strongly in favor of killing that kind of ‘gameplay’ with fire).

He elaborates further, making it blatantly clear why you effectively must following your class quests through.

There is definitely replay value in going the ‘other’ path. Quests change, there are different cinematics for different choices, rewards can differ and some parts of the story change significantly. Still it is one story, not two, so it is definitely similar to say, Mass Effect where … spoiler … you can save the council or get the killed, but ultimately save the citadel.

Choice in our games means that the player gets to decide how to approach the story and individual decisions, but we’re not creating a freeform narrative with unlimited options, that’d be a bit too expensive.

To address a few other things:

(a) Don’t expect to avoid the main story completely. You can’t. If you never finish your story on the capital planet, you never get a ship and won’t ever see any other planets. Which means you will end up unable to level up further as you’ll outlevel your planet. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that players who think they want to skip the main story will quickly realize that they’re not going to be ever competitive. It’s a BioWare game and story is one of our top features.

(b) The main story line continues very close to max level. Even after that, we have quests, group quests, Flashpoints, PvP to level up with. Random mob grinding is not a preferred progression feature in our game. In fact, it’s inefficient.

The reason is simple: To protect the player from themselves. Players gravitate towards the fastest/most efficient way to level and will repeat the most mind numbing boring activities over and over if they think it’s the most efficient way. On the way, most will bore themselves to tears and ultimately quit the game. Hence the decision to make grinding mobs for XP much less efficient than the other ways to gain XP.

(c) If you play very completist (all quests, all group quests, PvP, space missions, etc.) you will in fact end up above level. However, since your class story ends before a lot of the world arc and other missions on a planet, you can then, at your choice, skip parts of the planet and move on. I’ve tried and it’s almost impossible to outlevel your class quest completely, because it’s just an inefficient way to play.

He also talks about the obvious issue of replayability when leveling alts. While your class story will be different (assuming your alts are of different classes), the world arc quests and world quests are indeed going to be the same. It’s made clear that the choices you made won’t really have any lasting impact; it’s simply unfeasible (due to expense) to really do that.

Next he attempts to allay the fears of a forum poster who is concerned that the fully voiced MMOs mean a whole lot of cut-scenes that may not appeal to the majority of gamers, expanding this complaint to a general accusation that game designers are playing god in deciding what gamers find efficient in their style of play.

New things are often disturbing, I don’t fault you there.

Thankfully, cutscenes in our game can be skipped, so I don’t share your concern there.

We’ve been pretty clear that this is not a sandbox MMO, so don’t expect ultimate freedom. The cost of story is some degree of linearity … If you expect to just run out into the world completely ignoring the story, there are other MMOs, even in the Star Wars universe, that offer an experience more akin to that. Story is one of our big features, and if you hope you can completely avoid that, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

As for designers playing god? Sure. It comes with the territory of creating worlds, the rules of how their inhabitants and objects interact with each other, and the limitations of these interactions. If that’s not playing god, I don’t know what it is.

Games that offer the freedom to do all you desire are not games, they are simulations. MMOs borrow from simulation to a varying degree as it makes it easier for players to understand and accept the world (It’d be a shame if you had to explain ‘gravity’ to a player, etc.) but they also make heavy use of restrictions in order to protect the player:

* Player versus Player restrictions. The launch of Ultima Online taught the entire industry why completely unrestricted player versus player content will cost you most of your customers. Sure, there’s people who think this is the best thing ever – but they are a vocal, tiny minority.

* Chat Filters. Surprisingly, someones freedom to insult other players results in unhappy players. And since players come to games to be entertained, not insulted, restricting certain chat interactions prevents you from losing players.

* Respec. Kind of an anti restriction really – but still, it’s a mechanic to protect the player from making mistakes that cause the loss of hundreds of hours of gameplay because you made a wrong skill choice.


* And, in our case, you can add ‘mindless monster grind’ as the most effective way to level. Our experience tells us that while some players enjoy it, most players don’t and they’ll still do it if it’s effective. If you like grinding monsters, sure, you can still do it in our game, the creatures respawn just like in any other MMO – but it’s just not going to be the most effective way to level.

An awesomely clear statement defining the difference between a world simulator—the true sandbox MMO—and a WoW-style theme park with its inherent linearity.

This post alone is convincing evidence that Georg knows what he’s doing. His presence on the team bodes very well for SWTOR, and probably helps to explain a lot of the gameplay we’ve seen.

Next we have a forum poster opining that (from what Georg had been saying previously) there would be no daily quests in SWTOR. It’s not obvious how he came to that conclusion, because nothing Georg said implied that. The poster despised having to do dailies for reputation and in-game currency, though is (understandably) lost as to what could replace such content. The response:

Well, repeatable quests cut both ways. You could grind them, but you could also want to play them because you had fun doing so, especially in a group. Currently, as it stands, there are repeatable quests, including group content, space missions and Flashpoints.

Nothing new here, except that it appears there are repeatable quests for groups. I wonder if anyone will fly off the deep end due to single-player repeatable quests not being explicitly included?

It’s a perennial problem for MMOs: what do your players do in-game when they’re not doing operations and warzones? And if they’re not raiders or PvPers, what are they doing? Flashpoints?

And if they’re soloers, and so have no interest in Flashpoints either… then what? That question was raised in Episode 107: what content is there for solo end-game players?

It sounds like SWTOR’s answer to this is effectively the same as other MMOs (single-player daily quests, crafting, etc) for soloers.

However, the introduction of space missions is something truly new. At least so far, it’s clearly intended to be a single-player experience, and yet is going to offer some short, variable gameplay that’s easy to drop into. I suspect this will be a sleeper hit for BioWare, especially as there’s an entire progression path for one’s starship (similar to games like Elite and Eve Online). In addition, new space missions can be continually added with relative ease–because they’re single-player, it means they’re significantly easier to test.

It will be interesting to see how much difference having space missions in SWTOR makes. I know that I’m pretty bored in WoW at the moment—between raids, there’s really nothing interesting to do to progress. Once your reps are maxed out, you’ve got plenty of gold, and you don’t PvP, things can be a little dull. One can get very sick of a limited set of dungeons once you’ve run them enough times, especially once there’s nothing more you need from them. If WoW had something like space missions, though—I guess we’ll find out with SWTOR whether this is a world-changer!

It’s been stated a lot recently—including by Daniel Erickson during his Tatooine walkthrough at E3—but Georg reiterated that as soon as you have your starship (received on your faction’s capital world), you will have access to everywhere.

Once you have your ship, every planet in the galaxy can be flown to.

Of course, flying to a level 40 planet at level 12 might not be the greatest idea, but still, you can do that.

I believe it’s around level 10 that you get your starship. Before that you, Daniel mentioned you’ll need shuttle passes to get around. However, once you’ve got your starship, the sky’s the limit! Well, as long as you don’t want to go to the opposing faction’s capital world, anyway.

Emails going out to a select group of prospective SWTOR testers sparked a lot of forum activity. The emails are for a marketing research survey, to presumably determine the demographic that the targeted people fall into; this would allow them to choose who would actually get invited into the testing program.

Stephen Reid was busy clarifying the situation; the first nugget of interest:

In fact, given the two-step nature of the research process (fill out a survey, qualify, then get invited) and the small numbers of people invited, you have about as much chance to get selected through Game Testing through normal means as you do via this research.

This implies that they’re doing focus testing on particular market segments, in addition to random selection used to populate the current, ongoing and (apparently) scaling up testing. Stephen also warned people to ensure that breaking confidentiality was a fast-track way of not getting invited:

Share ’em, and you sure as heck won’t be getting into the test… regardless of whether you were accepted or not.

Don’t make me press the red button…

To ensure that hopes weren’t unnecessarily being maintained, Stephen said:

Like any research project, more people were invited than were actually required for statistically significant results. Therefore, we have already sent all the emails we’ll need. We’ll get the required numbers from those emails.

But all is not lost:

Your chances are just as good now as they were before you got the survey email. You don’t get thrown onto a ‘do not use’ pile. Unless you break the Game Testing Agreement.

So while there may be no more survey emails, and even those who received them may not be in a target group or required to make up the needed numbers, the regular testing program rolls on. The chance therefore remains that you may get a very nice surprise in the form of an invitation to participate in testing sooner or later!

Just in case you were hoping to avoid listening to the vast amount of voice over work that SWTOR will include—for whatever reason, perhaps you want to just read subtitles—Daniel Erickson tells us that the only way to do that is to switch off the sound!

Yes, in all cases you hear the VO (unless you turn your speakers off).

Finally, in a lighter moment, Stephen Reid provides a somewhat disappointing insight into BioWare’s decision making process for SWTOR.

In case you’re wondering, BTW, we have a very tightly integrated development team who come to decisions together. While I sort of like the idea of a cage match in which Erickson and Ohlen face off vs Schubert and Amatangelo for the fate of The Old Republic, it just doesn’t work that way.

No cage match? Boo. Not sure which of those pairs would dominate, now that I come to think about it; probably a fairly even match!

That concludes this weekend edition of the Dev Tracker Fly-by. For corrections and direct feedback, please PM on the Torocast forums via user Trey. I’m also on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

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