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SWTOR Interview: Tom Interviews Daniel Erickson

During Eurogamer Expo 2011 Tom from TOROcast had a chance to talk with Daniel Erickons, lead writer of Star Wars The Old Republic. We apologise for the poor audio quality of the video.

One thing that should be mentioned; the audio quality of the video is pretty poor. There was nowhere quiet we could go and the camera I was using wasn’t suitable for the location. However, we did the best we could with what we had.

Just like to give a massive thanks to Trey for doing the transcript, Kitt Brown for the camera work, Barry and Shaun for making Eurogamer an amazing experience and Daniel Erickson for taking the time out to talk to me and put up with the cold.

Video is at the bottom of the page.


Tom (TOROcast): Do all class stories share the same world or are they separate. So for example, if the Jedi Knight’s main class story is to kill the Emperor, would he have to be killed at the same stage of the story as the Imperial Agent.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): In other words, are they all living in, not a planet per se, but are they all living in a cohesive universe. What they are not is in lock step time-wise, so many of the class stories actually are a little bit out of sync as far as what time goes on with them, so it might actually in fact end up you are seeing things on a planet that are repercussions that someone else did in that planet from the other side. Usually people on one side of the faction are on the same sort of time period but it might be a bit off-step by weeks or even months from the other people, from the other faction.


Tom (TOROcast): In that case, do any of the class stories intertwine?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Absolutely.

Tom (TOROcast): They do.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Yes, there are definitely things you’ll see from other sides. One of the most fun things are being on one faction, goes through the story, getting told something and being like “I know for a fact that is not true”. I was actually there on the other side, especially when you’re dealing with, let’s say the government voices. The Republic’s not quite as bad, but they’ll do it as well, the Empire’s very heavy on the propaganda. So they will spin something they give you, say a mission briefing, and you’re like, that’s totally… alright that’s fine, if that’s how you want to put it, I know when I was a Jedi that actually yeah, it was something totally different.


Tom (TOROcast): This is for future things. Does BioWare plan to add story content through patches or expansions. So will we have to wait for patches so we can expand our storyline when we get to level 50, or are you saving that for expansions.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): We’re not talking about post-release content yet.

Tom (TOROcast): Didn’t think so.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): I’m still here, I’ve still got a job, we’re still doing new stuff. But how we’re delivering it not something we’re talking about.


Tom (TOROcast): Will the universe be a static universe, or will it be ever-changing.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): The interesting thing about it is not a… people are wondering you know, am I going to be able to do something and the ground breaks open, and I don’t know, spaceworms come out. It’s not that sort of a world. What we do have is very different of course is that we do have a trilogy that goes in there and more chapters coming later which means that we have time that does go forward so as you’re playing things are going to be changing and things are going to be evolving, so we shift the world and we change stuff that goes on, but it is not a—players getting together and, you know, all collecting bread to create a giant bread monster that then lives there forever, it’s not that sort of thing.


Tom (TOROcast): A few questions on operations. We know that during Flashpoints, you have a conversation system, how will the conversation system work in Operations.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): The sixteen-man conversation is actually a pretty exci…—ah, no. Just terrible. “Everyone raise their hand who wants to go dark side!” No, what we do with the operation is we do all the conversations and the serious sort of multi-player conversation stuff before the operation. So when you’re picking up the quest you could be in a full party and you can have the conversation and do that. Once you’ve actually put the whole operation group together and you’re going in, then we do all of our storytelling through communications, we’ll do through plaques, things coming over the PA, so we still get, you know, we still get the feel in there, so one, they’re replayable, that’s the whole point of an operation obviously, so you don’t want to go through the conversations again and again and again, and two, no one wants to have a conversation. It’s hard enough just getting a raid group together and pointing them in the right direction.


Tom (TOROcast): So in that aspect, with Flashpoints, during the conversation scenes you can select one operation, to go for a slightly harder or easier route, than say another option. Are you thinking of doing that in operations in a different way? Or is that not available in an operation.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): There are definitely some operation plans that allow multi paths through there. We’re kind of keeping the lid on how that stuff goes, for the same reason that we’re showing very little. You know we keep showing the same beginning parts of the Eternity Vault and that stuff because that’s the stuff that the guilds are really going to want to get into. We want to keep as much of that a surprise as we can.


Tom (TOROcast): The Voidstar, can you say anything about that?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Yeah!

Tom (TOROcast): First thing, can you give a very brief explanation of what the Voidstar is, and the objectives of it.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Sure, the Voidstar is an old experimental ship that was done. It was from the Imperial fleet that got lost way back during the great war. It has been rediscovered by both sides and they’re in a race for it. What it is from a practical gameplay standpoint is it’s an assault map, you first do one direction then the other. So you get to defend then you get to assault, depending on—it sort of goes randomly. The nice thing is all the VO, everything about it changes depending on which direction you’re going first. So it sort of shifts the story on who got there first and what’s going on. The Voidstar actually disappeared for a little while, we redid the whole map. There’s a whole bunch of gameplay improvements they wanted to make, a whole bunch of GUI improvements, so it really gives you that feel of doing the boarding action from one side of the other. You’ve got time for, and then points based on how many of the objectives you’ve grabbed. Then you get to see which team won.


Tom (TOROcast): So with the map size, how does it compare with Alderaan?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): That’s hard to say off the top of my head because it is a ship, it’s a little bit more linear, in each of the pieces, so I would say total size is probably bigger than Huttball and smaller than Alderaan, but it’s hard to guess, because it’s several, it’s three different rooms connected together through one ship things, a lot of hallways, it’s a very different feel to…

Tom (TOROcast): Kind of claustrophobic.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Yeah, as much as, you know, as much as you can with getting that many guys in. It’s a little bit of an exaggerated ship size because we need to get the people in there, so…


Tom (TOROcast): How many can play in the Voidstar?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): It’s the same as the other one. I think it’s 8v8 right now, I know there’s been experiments that have gone up beyond that, but I think those are still in testing.


Tom (TOROcast): Is it actually in-game at present, in testing.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Yes.

Tom (TOROcast): The Voidstar hasn’t been mentioned much by BioWare, is there a reason for that?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): We brought it out first, and we did show it a little bit, and we got it in testing and people played it, and it needed a lot of work. So we yanked it. And at the same time, we have teams going sort of concurrently, at the same time they were building Huttball, and Huttball was a much more successful first run. So Huttball came out and needed far less tweaks for it, we did a little of that, we went public, and took Voidstar back to do work on it.


Tom (TOROcast): This is from Taln, he asks if there are any plans to allow for post-launch micro-transactions such as vanity pets, server transfers…?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): We’re not talking at all about business model right now.


Tom (TOROcast): What is your most memorable moment of making Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it can be anything, it can be having the best doughnut of your life in the morning?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Honestly, there have been so many of them. The most recent one was actually hearing the voiceover commentary for Huttball. I wrote Huttball, and I heard they got Steve Blum to do it, and I was super excited, because he’s an amazingly versatile actor and hearing—so I wrote these little commercials in there, and most of the people who actually have done it do not realise that Steve Blum is also doing—he’s doing the Baron Deathmark part, but he’s also doing the commercials because when you’re playing the thing, the game they actually come in very naturally right in the middle of them, and I asked them to do them as a sort of public radio spot, right, it’s not an ad, it’s a, this is our sponsor. So he’s got this huge amazing Baron Deathmark part persona, and then he just drops directly out of it, to do the sort of old school radio announcer, to do the ads, and then right back in the crazy. He got me excited. Whenever I get to see, there’s such a large gap between the time that we writing something and then when it gets actually scripted, it’s in the game, the entire voiceover pipeline, all the way through localisation, through all of that and then we get to see it, it can be months, or even it’s been over a year before on some of the stuff. So when we get it back, there’s a great moment of getting to see all the pieces come together, it’s very exciting.


Tom (TOROcast): With phase 2 guild pre-launch just been announced, do BioWare have any plans to add similar features to the web site post-launch, for example maybe an armoury or…

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): We’re very interested in all that kind of thing. So connectivity is huge for us, anything that gives community more tools, more research, more access. All on the table. Right now we’re trying to support everything before launch, but post-launch, there are whole teams that are going to be set up to do that sort of thing.


Tom (TOROcast): What is the most bizarre thing on the wall of crazy?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): I don’t know about bizarre, I think the thing we all talked about the earliest that sat there and people always look at and go “What?” was the guild starships, the guild capital ships, right, which was funny because that we brought up that James Ohlen was always like “What are you talking about?” And then it started to come randomly, spontaneous from the community as well, “Can we have capital ships?” I think that’s the one that we still look at and go… It sounds neat, but how would you do that?

Tom (TOROcast): It’s still in the planning phases for that.


Daniel Erickson (BioWare): It’s an interesting thing, anytime you’re giving individual space, you are running the risk of giving things to the community that actually breaks community. As soon as you take the population and parse them out into different places—if every big guild, if let’s say the sort of status symbol was to have a big ship then all the guilds went off to their big ships, you’d just run around a big empty planet, and everyone would complain that there was nobody in the planets, so…

Tom (TOROcast): So it’s BioWare’s objective to get a certain planet to be a social hub, or little areas on each planet as maybe social hubs…

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): What we actually have, we have large social areas that have gone in the game that I don’t know if we’ve talked about yet.

Tom (TOROcast): It was on one of the trailers, it did say social hubs…

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Yes, but it didn’t say where they are, I think we’re actually going to show them off. They’re some of the most brilliant, amazing art I’ve seen in the whole game, because they got built last, and it’s always a problem when you’re doing game development, when you get to the end you’ve got it all figured out. Like, we could just start over, and everything… But they’re fantastic looking, you can get to them from all over the galaxy, and they’re built just to be social hubs, and places to hang out as players.


Tom (TOROcast): So they’re not instanced?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): No. We want everyone together.

Tom (TOROcast): Do these social hubs give anything additional, like maybe an in-game benefit, like a buff, or is it just purely for the social aspect.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): There’s—one, they are actually the segues off to most of the endgame content, and a whole lot of the Flashpoints and things like that. In addition, they are rest hubs, and we’re making it very easy to get to them directly, so what we’re hoping is that especially for elder game players, this is going to be where those players log on and off, and where most people come together to put groups together, to go off and do any of the elder game stuff.


Tom (TOROcast): Let’s say I’m a wizard, and I could add one thing to TOR, instantaneously, what would it be?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): I don’t know, what would it be, you’re the wizard.

Tom (TOROcast): I’m giving you the option to add anything in the game whatsoever.


Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Zero bug count.

Tom (TOROcast): That’s a good one, that is. Hopefully I’ll be able to manage that, but we’ll see.

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Sometime this morning. That’d make all of our lives much easier right now.


Tom (TOROcast): Do you have any further clarification on add-ons and maybe a macro system for launch?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): I don’t. I know that both macros, all of the sort of GUI customisation, all of that stuff, that I’m pretty sure is—anything beyond the most basic is getting in post-launch. They got put behind ***.


Tom (TOROcast): So how’s the future story coming?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Well, we’ve been on that for quite some time.

Tom (TOROcast): You’ve said yourself that you’re a roleplayer, like to roleplay, like myself…

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): We’re talking about MMOs, right?

Tom (TOROcast): Oh, yes. What will BioWare do to enforce people are roleplaying on roleplay servers?


Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Short of name policing and things like that, there’s very little we can do on a game this size. You would literally have to have thousands and thousands of people who were dedicated to running around—the thing with an online world is you get other people, and what I always try to think is, “Oh, that guy is roleplaying a jerk! Alright, there are plenty of those in the real world, I guess they’d be in my world as well.”

Tom (TOROcast): That’s a nice way to look at it, I’ve got to start looking at it that way. Will there be cosmetic items in game, not with real stats, but purely for cosmetic.


Daniel Erickson (BioWare): There are not only cosmetic items that are purely for cosmetics, but we’re also doing some really nice stuff connecting some of the most prestigious cosmetic items to the slotted systems, so you could, if you wanted to be the incredibly hardcore guy who worked really hard for it, take your great awesome cosmetic items, your beautiful formal dresses, your slave bikini, and mod that up to such a way that you could be there in the operations, with the best of them.

Tom (TOROcast): So you could be raiding in a slave bikini?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Absolutely. Takes some serious work though.


Tom (TOROcast): That’s dedication. I’ll tip my hat to someone who did that. Is there a kind of guild advertisement system in game, or is it going to be like the old fashioned way of communication, of actually talking to people?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): I’m not actually sure what the final guild tools are going to be, I’ve seen all the stuff that’s in plans, but I’m not sure what’s going to get—there so far.

Tom (TOROcast): Will there be chat bubbles?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): Chat bubbles! You mean above-the-head chat bubbles. I’ve seen them. They’ve been in the game and out of the game. I think it is a server load question. For some reason there’s—but I know they’ve gone back and forth so I’m not sure where they stand today.


Tom (TOROcast): One final question, is BioWare thinking forward into the future and doing universe-wide events? Like big massive world events that both factions get involved with, maybe like giant red worm attacks Coruscant, and they both have to get together to fight it off. Is BioWare planning anything like that at launch, or is it…?

Daniel Erickson (BioWare): We’re not talking about future content, obviously. The only thing I will see is that you lose something very quickly from Star Wars as soon as it becomes the Jedi and the Sith team up against robots from galaxy X, so anything we do like that where we’ve got to get together will probably be extremely rare. Whenever you see the factions do that in games it very quickly makes the faction war not really the main thing, and this is Star Wars. These two sides do not get along.

I would again like to thank everyone who helped me with this interview.

You all rock.

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One comment

  1. If my ears don’t deceive me at this part:

    Daniel Erickson (BioWare): I don’t. I know that both macros, all of the sort of GUI customisation, all of that stuff, that I’m pretty sure is—anything beyond the most basic is getting in post-launch. They got put behind ***.

    He says “They got put behind ‘Make game run'”

    Just my opinion, in case you wanted to fix it 😀

    Great interview!

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