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Dev Tracker Fly-by (11 Nov-1 Dec)

Welcome to this week’s Dev Tracker Fly-by. It’s been three long weeks since the last Fly-by, with not much news but an awful lot of testing! This omnibus edition will therefore cover what has shown up over that period; turns out there were a couple of nuggets to be found.

Early Game Access

Three weeks ago, Courtney Woods announced that Early Game Access would be up to five days long:

One of the benefits to pre-ordering Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ is that you will gain Early Game Access before launch on December 20th. This is a chance to start your epic Star Wars saga early, as you’ll be able to create and play your character ahead of the official live game launch.

Many of you have been wondering how long Early Game Access will last, and we are now happy to announce that depending on when you redeem your Pre-Order Code, you will gain Early Game Access up to five days before the official game launch date.

Early Game Access is staggered over five days to ensure a quality experience for players at launch. Staggering access aids server stability and a gradual increase in player population through the game.

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Thus if you pre-ordered immediately following the announcement back in late July, you’ll be able to play for the full five days, starting 15 December. We still don’t know how this will affect those who pre-ordered more recently, as BioWare themselves needed to study the data accumulated from the Beta Testing Weekends to determine how best to stagger the waves of new players.

However, it looks like they’re nearly there, as on Friday, Stephen Reid gave us the following update on Twitter:

FAQ answer: We’ll have more details on Early Game Access next week, including downloading for those who pre-ordered (who don’t have client).

Given there’s less than two weeks until Early Game Access begins, looks like we’ll still have a few days of advance notice. Finally, another relevant point from Twitter:

Your pre-order code applies to any edition. You can cancel DDE and add a CE game code. Won’t affect Early Game Access.

What this implies is that what is offered during Early Game Access is indeed the same for all, regardless of whether you ordered the Digital Deluxe Edition, the Collector’s Edition or the Standard Edition. That is, you won’t get access to your extra goodies until the retailer from whom you purchased the game gets your cash; you’ll need to enter the game code specific to your edition, which you won’t have until launch.


A raindbow of color crystals

According to a thread on the official forums, Stephen Reid claimed at San Diego Comic-Con that SWTOR offered “dozens and dozens” of possible “Color Crystals” to change the colour of your lightsaber’s blade or blaster bolts. The original poster claimed that this was clearly not true, basing this on the Color Crystals viewable via Torhead, which derives its content from data-mining the game client, he only counted twelve.

It wasn’t actually Stephen Reid; it turns out that James Ohlen answered the question. What James said was (starting at around 5:20 in the video on YouTube):

“I can’t really go through all the different colors, but we do have the ability to have dozens and dozens of different colors. So, more than you’ve seen in the movies.”

So he didn’t say that there were a vast number of colors in the game, but really just indicated that it was possible to have as many as they wanted.

David Bass subsequently responded to the thread:

There are definitely still undiscovered colors out there.

Even if there’s only twelve distinct colors currently identifiable in the game, more can easily be patched in; it’s just data, after all, and I’d guess the actual color is simply numerically identified via its RGB (red/green/blue) value, so adding more would be trivial (no new models or animations needed).

So panic not, fellow Jedi: you too may eventually be smiting our Sith opponents with your peacock-blue or perhaps leek-green lightsabers!


Worldwide servers

World of Warcraft is well known for dividing its European playerbase from those on US servers. Even though both sides of the Atlantic are run by Blizzard, there is no way of moving characters between the European and US servers. Also, if you have a European copy of the game, you can’t play on US servers, and vice versa.

BioWare, to the great relief of many (including an Irish friend of mine who plays on US servers at the moment), is not creating any such barrier. As summarised by David Bass:

Everyone has access to every server. When you’re on the Server Select screen, there’s a tab at the bottom for North America and Europe. Switch to whichever you’d like. Have fun!


Legacy… surnames?

James Ohlen said something about an unannounced feature that will allows players to unlock currently-unavailable species for new characters at San Diego Comic-Con; that feature was interpreted to be the legacy system, a generic idea referring to being able to get some kind of advantage for new alts after having levelled an existing character. Nothing more was revealed, and there was not even confirmation that this feature had anything to do with a legacy system. Until now, that is! James Ohlen posted the following:

This build has our first iteration of the Legacy System! At its core the Legacy system is about allowing players to create a family tree of characters. Family is pretty important to the Star Wars universe, with the Skywalker family having one of the most interesting dynamics in movie history. This version is just the foundational components that we will use to build upon in the future. Here are the features of this iteration:

  • Once your character has completed their Chapter 1 storyline, they will be able to choose a Legacy Last Name. This Legacy Last Name must be unique and is shared across all characters on that server – so choose carefully!
  • Once you have unlocked your Legacy, any and all characters on that server will now contribute to that player’s Legacy Experience Points. Much like normal experience points, when you reach certain Legacy thresholds, you will increase your Legacy Level.

We already have plans for how we will expand the functionality of the Legacy System in one of our major post-ship patches. This will include being able to shape your Legacy’s family tree, and give you a reward for all those Legacy Levels.

In the current build of the game available for testing, we have seen how this has been implemented. My own character, a Sith Warrior, completed the first chapter in his class story (somewhere around level 30), which resulted in a dialog box appearing asking me to choose my legacy surname. From that point onwards, an additional bar appeared on my UI, below the regular XP bar, showing my “legacy points”. Hovering over the bar indicated my “legacy level”. The legacy bar is the same across all your characters (on the same server) from that point, as they will all be contributing legacy points as you play them.

Having a shared surname seems like an odd kind of reward—personally, it’s something I could very much live without. For people like me, you do have the option of hiding your legacy surname, so it’s not displayed for other players to see.


Proto-guilds

The opportunity for players to join pre-created SWTOR guilds via their Guild Headquarters is now gone. Courtney Woods provided a warning last week that the deadline was fast approaching:

A few weeks ago we announced that Phase 3 of our Pre-Launch Guild Program had begun. Phase 3: Deployment allows guild members to see whether or not their guild qualifies for transfer into the game. As we approach Early Game Access for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™, we want to remind all of you in guilds that the Pre-Launch Guild Program will end on December 2nd, 11:59PM CST so that guilds can be assigned to servers for Early Game Access.

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Whoever is currently in a given guild will now have the opportunity to join that guild when they create their characters when they start playing in Early Game Access. You will be automatically directed to the server on which your guild was pre-created, thus removing the need to communicate the server name between players.

However, a thread was started on the official forums to complain that a guild leader was not able to choose the server on which their guild would be placed. The reasoning was that the guild leader who made the post was in general testing and had developed a good relationship with other players on a test server, and wanted to ensure their guild ended up on the same server as the others in that community.

That isn’t the way it works, of course, and would defeat the purpose of allowing BioWare to evenly distribute guild populations across the available servers. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck, as David Bass explains:

You are never going to be forced to join a specific server. The guild placement is a convenience and a suggestion, but at no point are you going to be forced into joining that server. Not to worry!

Anyone who has more questions about the Pre-Launch Guild Program should take a look at the Guilds FAQ, as it contains many of the answers to your questions and concerns.

To ignore BioWare’s suggested server for your guild, all you have to do is ignore the server that you’re initially directed to, and create a new guild on the server of your choice. You’ll have to communicate the name of the new server to your guild mates, but it can be done. This is what players who want to roll on RP-PVP servers will be doing anyway, as the guild placement doesn’t support that server type and so won’t pre-create any guilds on those servers.

 


Beware the orange pixel!

A very minor and subtle bug that everyone playing on the fourth Beta Testing Weekend noticed was a single orange pixel in the top left of the UI. It looked exactly like a dead pixel, but was in fact an artefact of the game. Anas Alkhabit, a SWTOR software engineer (previously at Mythic), let us know that they’re on the case:

The team and I are glad people are examining every pixel for any secret messages or renegade pixels and bringing them to our attention. The pixel has been preserved in carbonite until we figure out the appropriate solution for its indiscretion.

-Father of the .

The build released in the middle of last week, a few days after the fourth Beta Testing Weekend, was sans orange pixel. I almost missed it! Well, not really. Once it’s pointed out to you, it’s hard to avoid noticing it. David Bass confirmed its demise:

Today, we here at BioWare will be celebrating the life of one who left us before his time. The Orange Pixel will certainly be missed, but never forgotten.


AC switching

BioWare have consistently said that being able to change your Advanced Class is not going to be supported, at least at launch. This particular choice, which you make at level 10, is intended to be permanent. The last time they spoke on this, there was a window of opportunity in which you could correct your mistake, that would get progressively more expensive as you levelled up, becoming prohibitively so at level 20. However, it seems that this has been removed. A forum user demanded to know the reasoning behind this decision. Georg Zoeller, Principal Lead Combat Designer, was happy to oblige:

Mainly interface improvements that reduce the chance for players to make the wrong choice. Including the ability to preview skill-trees.

*It’s been testing favorably internally for a while and we’ve just started rolling this out to more broad testing.

This is a topic we will constantly evaluate as the game matures. It’s very possible that somewhere down the line we find that we want to give people the flexibility of switching ACs, but for launch, this will not be possible.

Another thing:

I’m seeing quite a bit of ‘but you said…’ in this thread. Here’s the thing.

I’m a firm believer in doing the right thing, and that involves being able changing your mind and make new decisions based on facts and feedback. The only field where it is seen as a bad thing for people to change their mind is politics. We’re not in politics, we create entertainment software.

We’re willing to change almost anything when presented with good evidence that it is the right thing to do (which means if it is beneficial to the overall game experience). For example, we found that players being able to permanently kill their companions was bad for the game. We changed that, even though we had already announced that feature, because it was the right thing to do.

In other words, we reserve the right to change our minds based on feedback and testing. This is part of what makes an MMO, an MMO.

The UI that presents you with your choice of Advanced Class has been substantially improved, at least relative to the version I saw in the second Beta Testing Weekend. It is now very obvious what the choice you are making means. As Georg says, they’re adjusting their gameplay based upon feedback as their vast cadre of (soon to be former) testers try it out. Ultimately, we must trust that BioWare are doing things that are in the best interest of the majority of the playerbase.

If a given choice is something that you personally can’t abide, you have the obvious choice to not play! You may believe that a given decision was wrong, and that it “ruins” the game, but if you’re in the minority… well, tough luck.

Stephen Reid responded to a question on the subject via Twitter:

AC changing may happen post-launch.

Race-, faction- and gender-change may happen post-launch, too! All he’s really saying is that they’re not ruling anything out—and why would they, given that they really are wanting to provide players with the best gameplay experience possible. His tweet set of the usual firestorm on the official forums, to which Stephen eventually responded:

Folks, please don’t overreact about the possibility of something happening in the future.

Advanced Class switching (or re-speccing, take your pick) was, at one point, potentially going to go into the game. Right now, it’s not in the game. It could potentially be added after launch. Like, frankly, anything else. To quote Georg “we reserve the right to change our minds based on feedback and testing”.

This thread is feedback. It’ll be taken into account by the developers, along with the usual metrics we look at. I’ll say this much – any sort of Advanced Class changing is not under discussion for launch, or even right after launch.

Absolutely anything in the game is potentially open to change in the future. That’s part of what an MMO is about. Your feedback on those changes is absolutely welcome, but just because we say that yes, something may potentially happen in the future… that doesn’t make it a certainty.

So there you go: never say never. It’s why game developers like Blizzard try their best never to use absolute language. No one can see how things will go in the months and years ahead, and making a definitive promise about a feature never going in, or coming later, is futile.


Music of SWTOR

BioWare is providing us with a large sampling of their zone music from the game as we count down to launch, as Courtney Woods explains:

The Collector’s Edition of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ includes seventeen original tracks, but this is just a small sampling of the breadth of music that was composed specifically for the game. As we count down the days until our December 20th launch, we want you to experience the entire original score! That’s why, starting today and continuing every day until launch, we are releasing one new musical track available for download each day on both Facebook and YouTube!

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As usual, at least some people found something to complain about, raising the issue that BioWare was apparently giving away for free what the purchasers of the Collector’s Edition would receive on their exclusive musical CD. David Bass set them straight:

Just to clarify, the music we’ll be releasing over the next month are additional tracks which are not part of the Collector’s Edition.

So enjoy what is being provided, and know that you’ll have yet more music on your CD in a few weeks!


The community team gains a new member

Finally, Joveth Gonzalez has joined SWTOR’s community team. He provided the following introduction:

My name is Joveth Gonzalez and I’m your new Associate Online Community Manager (essentially, Chewbacca to Stephen Reid’s Han Solo).

I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars, and it goes way back to my early childhood and my prized Millennium Falcon toy. It continued when I begged my parents to get me the 1995 VHS re-release of the original trilogy after playing through the SNES Super Star Wars series. I’ve seen all the movies and have played through most of the Star Wars games over the years, including of course, Knights of the Old Republic. I also happen to regard Mass Effect 2 as one of my favorite games of all time (I love games with incredible narratives) so working at BioWare is a great honor for me.

I’ve been in the video game industry for over 5 years now, with various marketing and community jobs under my belt. I’ve done everything from console titles to social games, so you can say that I’m pretty well-rounded in terms of experience.

Community has always been something that I’ve been passionate about, even before I knew that there was such a thing as a community manager. I enjoy acting as the liaison between fans and developers and it makes me incredibly happy to see the community affect change in a game.

It took me a really long time to appreciate the fact that I am working in the industry that I am most passionate about and I truly am lucky to have such an amazing job. I look forward to getting to know you all!

He subsequently answered questions from curious forum users. These included obtaining a copy of Stephen Reid’s launch beard (he and others are letting their beards grow until the game launches):

He also explained how to pronounce his name:

Jove (as in “BY JOVE I THINK HE’S GOT IT!”) is perfectly acceptable. The correct pronunciation is Joe-VETH (accent on the last syllable)

Welcome, Joveth!


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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