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Dev Tracker Fly-by (19-25 August)

Welcome to this week’s Dev Tracker Fly-by. A few posts to analyse from the developers in the week leading up to PAX Prime, where the big reveals are no doubt going to happen!

You nosa trashtalk me, Ani!

Last week, it was confirmed that what BioWare is referring to as local chat (i.e., what you /say, which can be seen by other players in your immediate vicinity) is still supported between the factions, though all other forms of cross-faction communication that they were initially testing have been removed.

We have one more post from Georg Zoeller, Principal Lead Combat Designer, which goes into some detail about this issue:

Players in a local area can reach only a limited number of players. Even if they go into a city hub to maximize their exposure, they’re still only going to reach players just closely around them. If you want to annoy more players, you have to work for it, that takes time and gives our Customer Service team time to minimize the damage you’re doing.

Planetary chat reaches every player on the entire planet. That’s a different story entirely.

We do have enough testers in our program to create statistically significant metrics (yes, I know what that term means, we do in fact have data from that many testers). We have a really good idea what we’re looking at.

As we’ve explained before, there’s a number of factors to this decision:

– Test data. We have chat logs, we have CSR complaints, etc.. We know what we’re dealing with, and if anything, the test audience is more mature and calm than we can expect live servers to be. We have a 0 strike policy and people violating our terms are removed from testing. That test data indicates that planetary cross faction chat would degrade the game experience for a large number of players and create very high customer service cost.

– Volume. You’re doubling planetary chat volume for planets visited by both factions. Chat is good, but too much chat isn’t, especially if it’s irrelevant (You really don’t care if a Sith Warrior needs help on his class quest when you are a Smuggler). This also reduces the reach of total ‘spam’ that people can do ‘advertising items’, ‘credits’, etc.

– Confusion. In addition to people being naughty in chat, you deal with honest mistakes by people (get together a group for a world boss and realize you’re 7 Empire guys and that lone Jedi who came along).

All that together lead us to go to a middle ground: We will allow local chat around the player but not planetary chat. You can have RP, you can have a nice discussion with your nemesis and your Smuggler can even act out your secret love affair with that cute Imperial Agent, but you can’t do it for everyone on the entire planet to see.

As usual, Georg lays it out in his straight talking style. I do wonder whether even local cross-faction chat will survive for long past launch. I’m guessing it’ll be a function of how much customer support time is being taken dealing with complaints. Once a certain threshold is reached, BioWare would presumably decide it’s more trouble than it’s worth, and (like WoW) will prevent all inter-faction communication entirely.

And to those who lost their right to test SWTOR due to saying inappropriate things: thanks! More spots for the rest of us.

Hutt Hutt Hutt!

At gamescom last week, we were introduced to the new warzone, Huttball. A few questions were raised in the subsequent discussion, which have been addressed over a few developer posts.

First, we were told that Huttball allows teams from the same faction to compete against each other (i.e., Empire versus Empire and Republic versus Republic). It was asked in the German SWTOR forums whether the same faction could compete on both sides in the other warzones; Georg indicated that this was not possible. In a different thread, he explained:

While at some point we had faction mixed teams during testing, the design for the game currently does not involve players of different factions mixing in the same team.

It is however possible for two teams of the same faction to meet each other in The Pit.

Note that The Pit is the arena in which a Huttball match is played.

Daniel Erickson told us last week that he designed the Huttball scenario specifically to allow the same factions to compete against each other. Clearly they are sticking to their thematic guns, with all other warzones having teams from the opposing faction on each side.

Brian Arndt, the Senior Visual Editor who authored the studio insider article “Crafting the Class Intros”, posted the following:

If you hold the ball to long it does explode in your face and leave a crater in the ground where you were.

In capture the flag scenarios, there is usually some penalty for holding on to the flag for too long; in WoW, this is a stacking debuff that causes you to take more damage the longer you hold the flag. It would appear that the variant on that in Huttball doesn’t impose a penalty on the player carrying the ball, unless they take too long to pass it!

Georg later responded to a post that was complaining that the timing of the fire jets in The Pit is random, with no visual indication that they’re about to trigger:

Actually, you can tell when the fire is charging up by watching the Czerka sponsored contraption or just by keeping a tap on the timing. There is absolutely nothing random about that fire.

Also, as demonstrated by the Sentinel in the video, it’s possible to avoid the flames using abilities such as Force Leap or Rescue (The Sage non-hostile Force Pull), which means defenders need to be mindful of their positioning lest they end up actually helping the enemy. (This is where Snipers/Gunslingers come in handy, they can’t be charged while in cover.)

It is, of course, also possible to get pulled into the flames by a grappling hook or Force Pull or to root / stun / snare other players inside the flames.

Adding in these environmental dangers will make Huttball matches a lot of fun, and probably extremely chaotic. Not only do you have to worry about the opposing team, but The Pit itself is out to get you. Sounds awesome!

A forum poster questioned the likelihood of societies at war coming together to compete in a game. Georg replied, citing the obvious example of the Olympic Games, which has been used throughout history to do exactly that.

Is it so hard to believe that the best warriors of various, often hostile, factions would come together at a neutral place to test each other’s prowess and ability in various ways? Especially if there’s the chance that some accidents may happen to the other team on the way?

It’s not like that’s unheard of, even during a cold war between mortal enemies

When put like that, it’s hard to argue with.

We then had a forum user complaining that Jedi wouldn’t be competing in a gladiatorial style of staged combat. Georg once more stepped into the breach:

I can confirm that Jedi players will not be forced to participate in Warzones. If your idea of roleplaying your character is to not participate in such events, our game fully supports that playstyle.

Our game offers a broad variety of choices. Jedi can fall to the dark side or pursue the light side. Even though some might say ‘Jedi shouldn’t be able to throw enemies that surrender from mountain tops’, we believe in giving players options to roleplay their personal story.

It seems that some people have a fixed notion about what the Jedi are and thus what they would do. In an MMO which is providing a shared world for us all to play in, I’m certainly glad that we’re not being particularly constrained in what we do or how we do it. My own vision of the Jedi Order involves them being the ultimately fair, even-handed arbiters, enforcing the peace of the Republic—but outside of that, they can do as they please, including participating in whatever sports they choose!

But as Georg said, if you don’t think it’s appropriate, then just ignore that aspect of the game. The rest of us won’t mind.

Finally, a post by Georg about the neverending issue of ensuring that all the classes are properly balanced, a critical concern for PvPers:

Since it was brought up as a concern – yes, the Combat team is taking Warzones into account in the class/PvP balance, so we’ve made sure that all Advanced Classes offer some form of mobility / utility that is useful in Huttball (leap, grapple, pull, push, speed, etc).

Instead of going the route of everyone getting the same, we opted for everyone get’s something fitting their class and role.

There’s some pretty advanced plays being made on our internal server by the more experienced guys.

At least for now, they are avoiding the homogenisation of abilities, ensuring that all classes have their own signature moves to perform various feats. We will see if they can maintain this diversity as the game goes forward. Let us all fervently hope that they can!

A bit o’ UI news

On the subject of the in-game map, Stephen Reid responds to a forum user who observed that the map only goes transparent—allowing you to see where you’re going—when you move:

That’s correct. Stand still, it’s opaque. Move and it goes semi-transparent.

Georg later added:

Even better, it goes as transparent as you want to set it in the game options! (Just added )

The degree of transparency has been mentioned as a concern since it was discovered during playtesting at various conferences over the past few months. It’s good to see that it’s now adjustable. Presumably you can disable the transparency altogether, so that (if you desire) the map will stay opaque while moving.

Stephen also responded to a post that was complaining that a UI option that allowed the “fog of war” to be disabled was symptomatic of the developers dumbing down SWTOR:

Don’t panic (or embed keys in your face). It’s being tested. There are many wild and wacky menu options in the client right now, doesn’t mean they will be in the final game.

The “fog of war” is a term that grew out of RTS games, where the areas of the map showing those areas you’ve yet to visit are obscured. In this case, while Stephen is saying that it’s not final, when you consider that the Star Wars civilisation is supposed to be technologically advanced, it seems odd that maps of the regions you’d be travelling through wouldn’t be available. Personally, I’d be just as happy not to have that feature.

Raids… I mean operations… no, screw it, I mean raids!

Stephen Reid provided a wonderful summary addressing some of the concerns raised about SWTOR’s sole operation (i.e., raid), the Eternity Vault:

First of all, loot containers. After every boss is defeated during a normal difficulty Operation, every player will receive a loot container. Inside that container each player gets a chance for loot specific to them, or commendations that can be exchanged for other loot. So to be specific (because this seems to be confused by PC Gamer) that happens after each boss is defeated in a normal difficulty Operation, and not just once at the end of the Op. (There are multiple bosses in Operation: Eternity Vault for example.)

Second, Gabe was misquoted a bit on the lockout thing (it’s a bit loud here on the show floor!). There are lockouts, but they are designed to be ‘flexible’. This means, for example, if I have killed Boss 1 in an Op group and Gabe has killed Boss 2 with another Op group, then I can join Gabe’s Op group and together we can defeat Boss 3 – but Gabe can’t go back to Boss 1, until the lockout expires.

As Gabe has said there are going to be difficulty modes. We’ve spoken about ‘normal’ and ‘hard’ modes so far, which will be available for both 8 and 16 player Op groups.

I’m still unsure whether a boss drops items in addition to the loot containers that all raid members received. I’d assumed that wasn’t the case, so that the loot containers were provided instead of boss loot, but I’ve heard commentators indicating that this was wrong. I’ve yet to see a definitive statement from BioWare on the subject.

The flexible raid ID system is effectively identical to that introduced to WoW in the patch presaging its Cataclysm expansion. What remains to be confirmed is whether the 8- and 16-man raids shared the same raid ID; at this point, as they seem to be following WoW’s example on this, I’d assume they do. That means I could kill the first boss in the Eternity Vault in a 16-man raid; if I got no further, I could then join an 8-man raid to kill the second or later bosses, but I would not be able to have another shot at the first boss.

The Germans et al are coming!

There was plenty of information provided for the Europeans who are willing and eager to play SWTOR. As you may recall, Europeans have only been added to those participating in game testing relatively recently; for a long time, it was limited to those in the US. Stephen Reid talks about how they will be ramping up the European participation in game testing in the coming weeks:

Right now Game Testing is ongoing as it has been for quite a while. While some Europeans are in this program and are testing, there are more testers from other countries.

We will be adding more testers during September, including testers from Europe. This will increase the number of European testers by a considerable amount. As part of this increase, we’re hoping to add a number of European Guilds.

Beta Testing Weekends in the EU will start after the US, but not much later. That’s about all we can commit to right now.

Stephen then addressed the concern that SWTOR won’t actually be releasing until a couple of days later than the US in Europe:

We are still aiming for a near simultaneous release of The Old Republic in all of our launch countries. I say ‘near’ because US/NA retailers and UK/EU retailers restock on different days of the week (traditionally Tuesday in the US and Thursday/Friday in the UK). There’s very little we can do about that.

Finally, Stephen made a monster post addressing a raft of questions about Europeans and game testing, some of which are discussed below.

First up, a worldwide launch isn’t being considered for the reasons we’ve stated several times already. With the volume of expected pre-orders and ultimately launch day customers, we took the decision to limit the amount of copies available to ensure the highest quality of overall game service from day one onwards. That decision was complex and difficult to make, as ‘game service’ for us encompasses many things, from servers to customer service and everything in-between.

Digital copies are also finite because every copy sold is another customer hitting the servers on launch day.

This remains the consistent story of why they are limiting the release to the US, Canada and a subset of European countries. What’s new is that they’re apparently limiting the number of copies that will be available, to explicitly cap the potential SWTOR population at launch. It’s certainly an interesting strategy. Their market research must be telling them that if left unchecked, they could be overwhelmed on launch.

Stephen provided the following answer to a forum user who was concerned that US players would be queued ahead of their European counterparts in the early access program:

No, as stated previously, it’s based on when you redeem your code. It’s also important to note that everyone who pre-orders gets Early Game Access.

Given there are two sets of servers, one set in the US and one somewhere in Europe, and that players will be added to those servers independently, the relative position in the early access queue shouldn’t matter between the two regions.

As to when the early access period will start:

This seems to be essentially the same question as above – when does Early Game Access start for the US/EU – and that’s still being discussed. (In part it depends on our total number of pre-orders, which is still ongoing.)

I will say that Early Game Access for each territory will end on launch day for each territory, and the grace period will then start.

Presumably the early access window is flexible; the more pre-orders they have, the more time will be needed to add players in waves. Remember that the entire purpose of early access is to ensure that no one zone on a given server is overwhelmed with players. Their goal, I believe, is to keep login queues to a minimum. We will see how this innovative strategy works in practise!

There’s still been no indication of how long the grace period will be between launch and the point at which you need to enter your game code to continue playing. I remain hopeful that it’s sufficient to allow my pre-ordered box to be delivered from Amazon US to Australia.

I don’t need no stinkin’ Origin

While it’s been said before, Stephen Reid once again confirmed that you do not need EA’s Origin client at any stage to obtain or play SWTOR:

Regardless of what other games may choose to do in their integration with Origin’s desktop client, here’s what our situation is:

You are not required to use the Origin desktop client to download, patch or play the game client for Star Wars: The Old Republic.

This applies whether you purchase The Old Republic via Origin.com or from a retailer in boxed form. You will not be forced to install the Origin desktop client.

There are still various consumer benefits to the client itself, but it’s not required for The Old Republic.

Some concerns have been raised that the Origin EULA is apparently unreasonably intrusive. While that may or may not be true, it won’t matter to those of us playing SWTOR.

That concludes this week’s Dev Tracker Fly-by. For corrections and direct feedback, please email me using jason@torocast.com. I’m also on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

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