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Dev Tracker Fly-by (26 Aug-1 Sep)

Welcome to this week’s Dev Tracker Fly-by. While I was initially concerned that this would be a quiet week, given it followed PAX, the developers made sure we had plenty to chew over!

All your base are belong to us

Ten Ton Hammer conducted an interview with Emmanuel Lusinchi, Associate Lead Designer, who subsequently needed to clarify a couple of apparently unintentional misquotes:

“The world PvP: you queue for it and we try to match a similar amount of players”
Should read: “Warzone PVP: you queue for it… “

You do NOT queue for Open World PVP. That would make it… not very open.

“and we give you valor, which are unique skills that are administered in PvP and are not linked leveling in any way, but just how well you are doing in PvP”
Should read: “and we give valor, which is a unique thing that is…”.

Think of your Valor Rank as your PVP level and Valor as your PVP XP, if you will.

Ten Ton Hammer have updated their published interview to incorporate the corrections.

This misunderstanding led many to conclude that the open world PvP in SWTOR was going to be similar to World of Warcraft’s Tol Barad and Wintergrasp: open world zones, but with the battles themselves treated in the same way as regular battlegrounds, with players queuing to join the battle, and those not participating being teleported out of the zone. However, from what Emmanuel has said, it’s clear that their open world PvP is exactly that: capturable objectives in the open world, that can be assaulted at any time, by any number of players.

The Valor Rank as a form of alternative advancement for PvP is interesting, and certainly different to what is found in WoW, though I believe RIFT’s system is similar to this. Gaining levels in your Valor Rank will apparently give access to better PvP gear, as well as grant privileges in warzones and provide some kind of visible indication at just how much you PvP.

How many engines does this ship have anyway?

A forum user started a thread to complain that a Jedi Consular, when using their Project ability, always pulls the same piece of equipment out of the ground, no matter what the environment. This may make sense on a starship, but it’s a little less believable in outback Tatooine. Georg Zoeller explains that all is not as it seems:

The ‘tank engine’ as people call it was always a placeholder. Consulars will project a large variety of objects into your enemies.

That said, they are going to be pulled out of the ground, which may be ‘immersion breaking’ for some and beg the question of ‘how come this planet has become the dumping ground for broken astromech units’, which may be a mystery.

The limitation here is a technological one and while we’re interested in pursuing a more environment appropriate selection of objects for you to throw, it won’t happen for launch.

It’s understandable: each object that is sucked out of the ground is a unique art asset, a model that must be created by their art team. While it would be nice to have a variety of objects to Project for any given environment, it would be a lot of work. I’m sure we can all live with a little monotony; the cool part is that we’re using the Force. To pull stuff out of the ground. To throw at people. It doesn’t get much better than that! (Aside from the Sith Inquisitor’s Force Lightning, of course.)

Tusken Raider brown is the new black

One of the best features coming in SWTOR are mods. From what has been revealed so far, it seems that at least some items have slots into which mods may be placed; the mods are what contribute the stats. The item itself would have few or no stats. It’s a good way of providing what is effectively cosmetic armor: you can choose an item based on its look, and then use mods to ensure that its stats are sufficient.

However, as Georg makes clear, the system is still in flux:

Until we have a developer blog or some in depth feature on our website, the details of systems like these may still change up to launch. We have very agile development processes that allows us to execute and validate even large scale changes with relative ease and we’re surely making use of that

Mods on items is one of the systems we’re going to tune until right up to ship. It has quite a few implications in regards to in game economy, crafting, the Galactic Trade Network and combat and we want to make sure that it all fits together.

What that means is that you can expect changes in the way this works based on what we’re seeing in testing. Already, our internal versions are quite different compared to what is in testing.

That’s why you’re seeing statements that may seem contradictory from time to time. It’s surprisingly hard to always stay on top of what is being tested externally, internally and what is in the current game developers are working on their machines with, especially if during convention season.

That said, yes, there are mods in the game, yes, you can mod items and yes, modded items can stay relevant over very long periods of time.

So the mod system is here to stay, but the details are still being finalised. Georg’s mention of their development process being agile bodes well: this lets them react quickly to player feedback, updating the systems as needed; the alternative is a more static process where we’d effectively be stuck with whatever had been designed earlier in the development cycle, with updates much slower to make.

You sure do have a pretty mouth

A forum thread was started to complain about apparent limitations in SWTOR’s character creator, specifically about the number of options granted for each adjustable characteristic (e.g., head, scars, complexion, eye color). A linked video was NDA-breaking and so was removed. However, Georg did comment:

It’s nice speculating, but the number of options per slider is heavily dependent on certain choices (gender, race, etc.).

It seems that the quoted number of options was for a specific case, and thus wasn’t representative of what’s on offer overall. As someone who plays zoomed way out, and so I pretty much never see characters close up, this kind of thing doesn’t bother me in the least, but I realise others do want to be able to tailor their character’s appearance. From what’s been revealed here, it seems there are a reasonable number of choices and thus possible combinations, so we can all be if not unique, then fairly varied snowflakes.

Look, my name is Lor’nird, not “Consular”! Geez!

In a thread over in the German SWTOR forums, a user noted that the tag above players’ heads showed their AC, not their name. I can imagine those players in PUG’d dungeon groups who refer to the other group members by their class names would be right at home with this.

All is not as it seems, as Georg explains:

The names of the character’s seen in the gamescom demo were intentionally set to the character’s Advanced Class to make it easier for people to see what is going on.

I wonder if the character creator would let me choose the name “JediGuardian” in the live game? Let us hope not!

You can’t catch me! You can’t catch me! You can’t… .

In Huttball, when you have the ball, your movement speed is drastically reduced. A forum user noticed this, and assuming the ball was holographic, wanted an explanation about why this should have a slowing effect.

Georg, clearly in a whimsical mood, chose to humour the poster:

The ball is not a hologram, it’s a… well, explosive device encased in a shell of uranium (very heavy material) that is being held afloat by a force field.

Why is it explosive you may ask? In earlier versions of the Huttball rules, the Hutt got greatly displeased with the fact that some teams liked to hide and turtle extensively in their own back field. And so he had a little safety added to the ball. When the Hutt gets greatly displeased by the lack of action, he can now create some action himself by hitting that remote detonator button…

This does reveal the reason for the eventual self-destruction of the ball: to prevent turtling. That is, one side scores, leading 1 to 0, then “turtles” by holding onto the ball in a defensible area (if one exists in the Huttball arena), not attempting to score, but thereby preventing the other team from being able to score either.

In WoW, the longer you hold the opponent’s flag, the more vulnerable to damage you become. SWTOR’s solution in Huttball is certainly more impressively dramatic.

Shhh! Don’t tell. It’s between you, me, and those 100,000 other guys.

With the beta weekends starting this coming weekend, there was much speculation about whether the NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement) that applies to the current game testers would be lifted. The definitive answer from Georg:

Yes, they will be under NDA.

There was some expectation that the NDA would be lifted once the number of testers was dramatically increased in the beta weekends, but it seems that’s not going to happen. The reason for thinking this was that with so many more people playing the game, trying to keep a lid on leaks would be impractical. However, BioWare are going to do it. Presumably if things are rough on the first couple of weekends, they’d rather the world wasn’t told, while they sort out the issues that are surfaced. I’m guessing that if things go well, they may lift the NDA early; otherwise, I’m thinking it’ll be lifted when they announce the launch date.

One day, Europe, you too will have local SWTOR test servers.

Chris Collins, European Community Manager, stepped in to provide some answers for those across the pond who are eager to get into game testing:

First off the invites going out to European players that Stephen mentioned are happening very soon (we’re talking days here) and will be to our Game Testing program. This means that those invited will have continued access to the Test servers throughout the Game Testing stage of development. Those invited will play on test environments out in the US, so may experience some latency related issues from time to time. As long as those testers are aware of that and can work around it when needs be, we’re excited to get feedback from a larger EU crowd.

In the future we’ll also be holding EU Testing where players will access our European Test servers specifically, this is what we refer to when we talk about EU Testing.

The Game Testing Weekends that have been mentioned are just that; they are weekends where invited players will only have access for a weekend.

It was a little surprising that they do not yet have European servers running, but are instead getting the European players to log into US servers. When the NDA is lifted, it’ll be interesting to hear from those testers, to give those of us outside the US who will playing on US servers an idea of how the latency affects gameplay.

Chris also answered a question as to whether only the English version of the game would be available for testing:

Nope. We won’t be restricting access to native English speakers only.

This presumably means that the voice overs in German and French are done and ready to be tested. Let us hope that those testers with bandwidth caps can choose to download a version of the client with voice files for their language only. Given how much dialog is in SWTOR, it would make the download much, much bigger if you were also picking up the other language files!

Game testing spots for everyone! And a new car!

In BioWare’s SWTOR panel at PAX, a graph was shown to indicate that the number of game testers was being increased over time. An keen forum user with too much time on his hands analysed the graph, determining that the second beat weekend would increase the number of testers by 75%, the third by 150%… and so on. An admirable effort, but as Stephen Reid points out, kind of wrong:

Adam, I hate to burst your bubble here, but the graph shown in the presentation has no relation to any actual numbers. It was purely a visual aid. Blaine even joked about it (deliberately).

As stated, we’re starting Beta Testing Weekends with a relatively small number of tester invites (in comparison to the number of people signed up for testing). Over time, the number of people invited for each weekend will increase, but that number isn’t on a linear ramp. It’ll increase depending on how each Testing Weekend goes.

More information will be coming tomorrow after we finish collating, but I didn’t want anyone to watch that video and assume it was an insight into exact numbers.

Well, 10/10 for effort. Given there are apparently 2 million potential testers signed up, I suspect an individual’s chance of getting in is going to be small, unfortunately. Best of luck getting chosen! Remember, if you didn’t get into the first beta weekend, there’s always the next few weekends, as Allison Berryman tells us:

Hello everyone! We know you’re all very eager to test the game, and want you to know that this round of invitations is just the beginning. We’ll continue to invite more and more testers, and the chances of getting into a Testing Weekend will keep on rising as we roll out invitations. If you didn’t get an invite this week, it may be disappointing, but do keep in mind that there are MANY people signed up to test. We’ll definitely be inviting more of you, so keep checking your inbox (and spam folder!).

As well as continuously checking your email, you could also compulsively check swtor.com/tester to see if you got in. However, probably best to remember “the watched pot never boils”, and try not to check too often.

Stephen Reid had to step in to reset expectations in response to a somewhat broad statement made by Blaine Chrstine, BioWare Produce, at the PAX panel, where he basically told everyone they’d get to test the game very soon. Since that’s clearly impractical, a forum user wondered whether we were deliberately misled.

I wouldn’t say it was a lie, but Blaine‘s perception of what ‘very soon’ means to our community is probably different to yours (and mine).

Knowing this audience, I wouldn’t have said ‘very soon’ and in fact didn’t when I wrote the script – which Blaine (in the understandable excitement of playing host to a room of 2,000+ people) diverged a little from.

We fully intend to invite as many people as possible who’ve signed up for Game Testing to test the game, although we cannot guarantee (for a number of reasons) that we’ll invite everyone. I also wouldn’t say that everyone who signed up is getting in ‘very soon’; I would say ‘before launch’, though.

BTW apologies on not getting to this sooner. I was back-stage during the show and thanks to the acoustics I couldn’t quite hear Blaine‘s exact lines… so couldn’t correct him faster.

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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