Welcome to this week’s Dev Tracker Fly-by. Talk about from famine to feast! A vast amount of news came out this week, including some posts from our (recently reclusive) favourite Principal Lead Combat Designer, Georg Zoeller. Let’s dive in.
Out with the old
You’ll note that there aren’t any links to forum posts this week. That is due to the news that the old SWTOR forums, which have served the community for several years while the game was in development, are now no more! Here’s how it was announced by Allison Berryman:
This Saturday, Dec. 10th, the Forums will become unavailable as we make preparations for launch. When they become available again, you’ll notice many exciting changes!
First of all, we’ll have many new forums available where you can discuss all aspects of the game, from Crew Skills to PvP. The Guild Hall forums will be expanded significantly and will include new “Looking for Guild” forums, class forums will contain sub-forums for each Advanced Class, and we’ll introduce a new Story and Lore forum for discussion of the game’s setting and story. To encourage constructive community building, you’ll also notice a “New Player Help” forum and a Community section that includes areas for regional check-ins and meetups, all kinds of fan creations and role-playing, and forums for server event organization. These are just some of the new forums we’ll be introducing. We’re looking forward to all the great discussion!
The launch Forums will be a fresh start: all threads, posts, and private messages will be removed and warnings and infractions on your account will be deleted. If you have any special posts or private messages that you would like to save, please do so now! When Early Game Access begins, only those who have redeemed their Pre-Order Code will be able to post on the forums, though everyone will be able to view them. Then, when the game officially launches, only those who have active game time will be permitted to post.
I suppose more frequent users of the official forums may be somewhat distressed at this news, but given its tone of late, I doubt all that content will be particularly missed.
Limiting posting in the reborn (and initially empty) forums to those with registered pre-order codes before launch, and after that to those with active subscriptions, is not surprising. It’s the same policy as most, if not all, MMO developers have.
David Bass was obliged to provide some comfort for at least some forum users who apparently wanted to retain their access to the SWTOR forums without actually intending to play the game (an idea that somewhat boggles my mind):
We completely appreciate your concerns about the post-launch forums, and we want to assure you this was a decision that was made with a lot of thought and research. It is very standard for an MMO to restrict their forums to paying customers at launch, and we are no different in that regard.
In response to your fears of where you can go, I happen to work very closely with the entire Fan Site community for The Old Republic, and I can think of a number of places that will be more than happy to take you in should you be unable to continue your subscription at any point. I’d like to direct you to this thread, which contains a list of all of our fan sites, including many Role-playing focused ones.
If you have any other concerns, I’m happy to put you in touch with any number of sites who provide a place for Role Players. Just let me know how I can help!
Courtney Woods also introduced an associated new feature, the Community Blog:
In anticipation of the upcoming launch of Star Wars™: The Old Republic™, we wanted to ensure we have a place to communicate the latest game status updates, community-focused news and developer thoughts as efficiently as possible to our fans. While our Forums are a great place to go for discussion and debate, this blog allows us to talk about things in greater detail, and to keep updates collected in one place.
Unlike our previous schedule of Friday Updates, this blog will be updated more frequently and at any time during the week, with updates being both big and small. Over time we plan to expand the blog to showcase the passion and excitement of our community, but we’ll start small and get bigger as we move forward. Initially, we’re going to use the blog to re-post a few recent (and important!) posts from our Forums, as the Forums are going offline for an overhaul before launch.
So no more Friday updates! Instead this blog will be updated whenever they’ve got something to say. The new look for SWTOR.com, including this blog, is most reminiscent to the revamped Blizzard battle.net sites for World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2. Not that that’s bad thing, of course.
We’re getting in even earlier!
Possibly the most exciting news of last week was Stephen Reid’s announcement of Early Game Access being extended from 5 to 7 days, starting on 13 December:
We’re happy to finally announce today that Early Game Access begins December 13th, 2011. This means that everyone who has pre-ordered Star Wars: The Old Republic and redeemed their pre-order code will have up to seven days to play the game early.
As before, when your Early Game Access begins will be determined based on when you redeemed your pre-order code. You will be emailed on the day you are being admitted to Early Game Access to confirm you can now access the game.
Early Game Access was extended to seven days to allow us to gradually ramp up the number of people in the game over a longer period. This allows us to ensure maximum stability and a good population across servers. It also allows us to have more flexibility on exactly how many people we admit per day.
With that said, we’re still planning on allowing a large number of people into Early Game Access on a daily basis. In our final Beta Testing Weekends, we had hundreds of thousands of players on the game servers – and we have additional server capacity for launch. However, we still need to remain flexible during Early Game Access, and this led to the decision to notify people on the day that their Early Game Access begins.
We know many of you expected and wanted advance notice on Early Game Access, but we made this decision to ensure that we could remain flexible and react to unforseen issues during launch. Our number one priority has always been a smooth launch, so this decision was a necessity.
The good news is that effectively everyone is being given two ‘extra bonus’ days as the EGA program is now up to seven days long. The bad news is unfortunately we cannot let people know on an individual basis when they will gain access until we are ready.
We do understand that you are concerned about when you will receive the email. To save your F5 keys, as well as being notified by email, you will also be able to check the Launcher for Star Wars: The Old Republic. When you have been granted Early Game Access, your Play button will be enabled. (You will need to restart the Launcher on occasion if you’re still grey.) Finally, you will be able to login to your account page here on SWTOR.com and check your status.
We absolutely understand (and appreciate!) everyone’s eagerness to play, but this plan will ensure that we don’t fall at the final hurdle – bringing people into the game at launch. We hope you’ll bear with us as we gradually grant Early Game Access to everyone who pre-ordered.
What has caused quite a bit of consternation is that no one will have any advance warning on when they’ll get into Early Game Access. We know the order is based upon the order in which people registered their pre-order codes; thus if you pre-ordered very close to the announcement back on 21 July, there’s a very good chance you’ll be in the first batch when the servers open at 7am EST on Tuesday. For everyone else, you won’t know you’re getting in on a particular day—or even what time of time, since it seems they’re adding multiple waves over the course of each day—until you get an email from BioWare letting you know. You could constantly refresh your account page on SWTOR, or restart the launcher to see if the [Play] button is enabled, too.
Speaking of the launcher and the game client, if you’re one of the few who missed out on the “every man and his dog” fourth Beta Testing Weekend over Thanksgiving, Courtney Woods tell us that you are now able to download the game ahead of Early Game Access:
Early Game Access* for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ is only a few days away! Starting December 13, 2011, The Old Republic will begin emailing invitations to start your Early Game Access. Invitations will be sent throughout the Early Game Access period offering rolling access to the game in the order in which you redeemed your Pre-Order Code, so be sure to check your email inbox!
To ensure that players can get into the game as quickly as possible when their Early Game Access begins, we are now allowing everyone who has redeemed a Pre-Order Code at ourCode Redemption Center to pre-load the game to their computer.
In order to download the game client before Early Game Access begins, you need have already logged into your account and redeemed your Pre-Order Code. Once you have done this, you can download the game client by clicking on “My Account” in the upper-right of the window and then click “Pre-Order.” On your Pre-Order page, click the large button that says “Download Game Client” to begin download of the game!
The size of the latest, freshly-installed game client is roughly 18.5 GB. If you were in a previous Beta Testing Weekend or were in general testing, yours may have some accumulated extra files (my own client was over 37 GB). While this may run live game, if you’re worried about disk space, it wouldn’t hurt to do a clean install while we’re waiting for Tuesday!
Stephen Reid also took the time to quash a persistent rumour:
The amount of Early Game Access granted is dependent on when you redeemed your Pre-Order Code in the Code Redemption Center.
The maximum amount of time available does not increase according to which edition you pre-order. Regardless of whether you pre-ordered a Standard Edition, Digital Deluxe Edition or Collector’s Edition, your amount of Early Game Access time is still dependent on when you redeemed your pre-order code.
As far as getting into Early Game Access, it’s a level playing field; no special treatment for purchasers of the Collector’s Edition or Digital Deluxe Edition. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the bouncers who’ll keep the riff raff out of the VIP Lounge once we’re in-game.
A few more details about how Early Game Access is going to work from Stephen Reid:
We’ll be gradually opening servers throughout Early Game Access, although by the end of December 13th we’ll have quite a lot.
Emails will start to send quite quickly after 7am EST on December 13th (which is when Early Game Access officially starts).
We can never guarantee an email will be received, due to various factors beyond our control. However as I said in the post, you can also start the Launcher to see if you have access yet.
… a valid payment method is required upon redemption of your Game Code. There are more details in this FAQ. If you use a recurring method of payment such as a credit card, you will not be billed until after your included 30 days are up.
Effectively that’s telling individuals when they’ll get in, which we can’t do. If we did that, the likelihood of someone, somewhere getting ‘screwed over’ is high – because they’ll think they’re on (say) Day Three, and end up in on Day Four because of some reason we can’t predict.
We may allow a load of people into the game on Day One, and find an unknown bug that causes severe problems. A server could blow up. A hurricane could hit a data center. We don’t think we will have these sorts of issues – and large scale testing has not given us major problems – but we are being cautious.
A bit of insight into the process, and how it was affected by their testing during the Beta Testing Weekend, particularly the massive one over Thanksgiving:
That’s not what happened during our Testing Weekends, and we were at considerably higher numbers in the final weekends than we’re projecting for Day One of Early Game Access. In fact we specifically tested for scenarios where hundreds of thousands of people hit the servers at exactly the same time, and saw smooth ramps to maximum population servers.
We’ve never had servers down from over-capacity, although yes, we have had queues – and yes, we’re expecting queues during Early Game Access and launch, although we are going to be extremely vigilant to keep those queues to a reasonable size/wait-time.
All this tells me that SWTOR’s launch is going to be incredibly smooth. Admittedly it’s at the cost of no one knowing when they’ll actually be able to play during Early Game Access, but that surely beats crashing servers and hours-long queues.
Those lucky Europeans
Speaking of consternation, another announcement from Stephen Reid certainly managed to disturb many:
Our sales and marketing teams are working closely with retailers in the US and Europe to ensure that copies of Star Wars: The Old Republic will be delivered in time for launch day.
In Europe, game copies will be available at retail starting on December 15, 2011. For those of you in the USA and Canada, game copies will be available at retail starting on December 20, 2011. For those of you who pre-ordered digital editions of the game from Origin.com, you will be emailed your Game Codes starting December 16, 2011.
As soon as you receive your Game Code (AKA ‘product registration code’), be sure to enter it on your account under Code Redemption, because as soon as you enter the code you will receive your digital entitlements in-game (i.e. digital items included with the game edition purchased). Remember, your billing cycle will not start until official game launch, on December 20, 2011 at 12:01am EST.
There will be no ‘grace period’ post launch in which those who are in Early Game Access will be able to continue to play the game. In order to continue playing past the Early Game Access period, you will need to enter a valid launch game code and payment method. Please read our FAQ for more information. We apologize for any previous messaging which may have led you to believe otherwise.
If you’re on the European side of the Atlantic, all is most assuredly well. Given the game is releasing there on 15 December, there’s a very good chance that you’ll have it in time for launch.
That’s important because of the other bombshell: no grace period! Not really a surprise, because TOROcast already broke this news after the fansite summit. But the effect remains that at least as of now, if you don’t have a valid game code once midnight EST on the 20 December rocks around, you’re going to be shut out of the game.
David Bass gives an important warning in case you’re lucky enough to get a game code early:
If you are redeeming a retail key on our site prior to Early Access, you will not see it immediately show up on your account page. As long as your key was accepted when you entered it (and you saw a message acknowledging that), you are all set for launch! The account page will update when Early Access begins on December 13th to reflect the code having been used.
For US folk, it seems that they’re sticking with the 20 December street date, but are working with retailers to ensure that everyone has their game in their hands by then. No guarantees, unfortunately. We do know that purchasers of the Digital Deluxe Edition or the standard digital edition from Origin will get their game codes emailed to them starting on 16 December (it’ll take up to 48 hours to get them out to everyone); Origin physical orders will also start shipping on the 16th.
There’s a persistent rumour that Amazon is going to be emailing game codes to purchasers, but Stephen Reid has said that while he can’t comment on what retailers are doing, this seems very unlikely.
For those of us in red zone countries, who were blocked from buying the game digitally, and were thus relying on physical copies of the game to be delivered to us… well, we’re kind of screwed. I live in Australia, and so the earliest I’d see my copy that I ordered from Amazon is sometime after Christmas. My own way of dealing with this is to get a friend who lives in Belfast (Northern Ireland) to buy a copy from a local retailer, since they’ll be available from 15 December; the game codes are not region-locked, so EU codes will work for those playing on US servers, as I will be.
Finally, a bit of reassurance from Dr Ray Muzyka via Twitter:
We hear you & are taking the grace period issue very seriously. We’re looking at all our options.
So don’t give up hope; the Doctors may swoop in at the last minute and do something cool, like reinstate the grace period, though it sounds like EA were the ones who decided against it. We will see.
Pre-created guilds are go for launch!
David Bass announced that guilds created via SWTOR’s Guild Headquarters are now locked, ready for deployment:
Today we are announcing that the Pre-Launch Guild Program for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ has come to an end. Guilds that have met the prerequisite of having four members redeem their Pre-Order Codes at our Code Redemption Center are now locked for transfer into the game in time for our December 20th launch
On Monday 12 December, all members of eligible guilds (i.e., those with at least four members who have registered pre-order codes) will be emailed with the name of the server on which their guild will be deployed. This information will also be publicly available via each guild’s page in the Guild Headquarters.
David later confirmed that whenever you get in during Early Game Access, your assigned server will definitely be available:
Here’s some good news – assuming all things being equal, and without any disasters occurring, we’re planning on bringing up all the servers on which pre-imported guilds are being placed on Day One of Early Game Access.
Again – that’s assuming no disasters – but this ensures whenever you get Early Game Access, if you have had your guild deployed the server you’re deployed to should be ready.
There was some concern that achievements weren’t yet in the game; David Bass was able to provide some reassurance:
Achievements are indeed in the game currently. You’ll receive achievements for things like killing certain “Epic Enemies,” unlocking titles, and accomplishing objectives in PvP. These are all kept in a special category in your Codex, so that you can view how you earned each one at any time.
From the examples given, it seems that SWTOR’s achievements are going to be for non-trivial feats, unlike other MMOs. It would be nice if achievements were actual achievements, so to speak.
All things are never equal
Georg Zoeller provides a detailed counter-argument to a proposed scenario that indicated that the Jedi Sage was seriously imbalanced if going head-to-head with its mirror Advanced Class, the Sith Sorceror:
Here’s why your scenario doesn’t concern me in the least right now.
Let’s look at the conditions that need to be met before this becomes a major issue:
(a) You need to be in world PvP, with both sides flagged.
(b) You need to find some cozy 1:1 time with nobody else interfering. (Harder than you think).
(c) You need to be around the same level. Otherwise, it’s unfair to start with. You need to be roughly in equivalent gear.
(d) Both of you will have their major, 15-minute companion gated healing ability on cooldown or not on cooldown, because if one player has this one and the other doesn’t, it’s all over anyway.
(e) You need to both characters to start combat at the same time. First strike advantage is a massive benefit and situations where both sides start a 1:1 combat at full health in Open World PVP are rare. Most situations involve someone getting jumped while half down on health fighting a mob.
(f) Naturally, both sides need to be roughly equally skilled. Otherwise, the better player will bury the worse player.
(g) Unity needs to be off cooldown (300 secs). That’s a long time in Open World PVP.
(h) Both sides need to be using the same companion type. One being DPS the other one healer introduces a major imbalance in the fight.
(i) Both sides need to be the same spec. 40% health back on a healer is very very painful as that takes a lot of time to bring down.
(j) Both sides need equal access to consumables. You don’t sacrifice your companion if you have a high end stimpack.
(k) Did I mention companion gear being comparable?
Short: Open World PVP is rarely balanced to begin with. 1:1 scenarios between two mirror classes with equal starting resources, comparable specs, no interference and otherwise perfectly balanced conditions are as rare as Wampas on Tatooine.
We’re aware of the mathematical and gameplay imbalance there, but honestly, we haven’t seen it impact gameplay in any major way at this point. I don’t care much for this kind of theorycrafting, until I see a measurable impact on gameplay, I have much bigger things to worry about in the game (including Shock/Project, which is fairly minor to start with).
Theorycrafting is one thing, but how it all plays out on live is what actually matters. Given Georg’s professed (and proven) love for data-driven analysis, I think we can be assured that if imbalances are detectable during regular gameplay, it will be dealt with.
Emmanuel Lusinchi, Associate Lead Designer, provided a most detailed update on the state of the modding system, which you can read in full on the community blog.
To boil it down:
- Moddable items are now the “Custom” quality, identifiable as orange (rather than green, blue or purple)
- An item’s mods can be updated anywhere by shift-right-clicking on the item (no need for a workbench anymore)
- Mods can be extracted from an item so it can be reused, but this will cost credits (the amount varying depending on the mod’s level)
- The base stats on moddable items (including armor) will scale with the level of the mod in a particular slot (e.g., the Armoring slot for chestpieces)
- The available mod slots has been unified
- Epic (purple) drops from operations are only partially moddable (some slots are locked)
It seems they are going ahead with their goal of using moddable gear as a way to hang onto items that you prefer the appearance of; once you find something you like, you simply keep upgrading it with more powerful mods over time. This is certainly a lore-friendly way of doing cosmetic armor, and is actually kind of cool, too.
I look like a clown
Emmanuel Lusinchi also went into detail about why the “Unify Color to Chest Piece” option was noticed to be missing from the final builds of the game being tested. It turns out that its omission was deliberate, and it’s not coming back for launch. Or ever, as it’s being replaced with something even more awesome, though it’ll be a few months before we discover what that is. You can read all about it over on the community blog.
What if I don’t like people?
Georg Zoeller went into some detail on the effect of grouping on levelling speed:
A few factors at work here:
– You get somewhat less XP for killing a creature when you are in a group, but you kill faster, resulting in a net gain of XP for content that has enough creature to sustain group gameplay.
This means that normal class content is probably not going to be much more efficient when in a group, but once you go into Heroic Quest territory, you’re going to see a significant benefit from grouping, especially since you’re fighting more powerful enemies that yield more XP.
– You get ‘splash’ XP from group bonus quests. That means that when people finish a bonus quest while in your group and vicinity, you get bonus XP that is not deducted from your group member. Since the bonus is per group member, finishing bonus quests in a group of 4 becomes very XP efficient.
Summary: When doing content designed for groups, groups level faster. When doing class content content or content designed to be soloable, it’s not that simple. Grouping will likely be more efficient, especially when bonus quests are involved, but not by a large margin.
There are some additional benefits to grouping, of course, such as having good company, increasing your social rank and taking on more risky and more rewarding content such as Flashpoints and Heroics, but the game definitely has enough more than enough soloable content to get you to endgame without having to resort to repetitive grinding.
I personally plan to level at least one character with my friends, keeping him at the same level as them, and tackling the content as a group for the most part. It remains to be seen whether we’ll stay grouped the whole time, though; we may just group up for heroic quests. However, I also plan to have some solo toons to play when no one else is around, and so it’s good to know that I can still progress solo without running out of content. During game testing, I got a Sith Juggernaut to level 38 without doing any group content at all, so it’s certainly possible (assuming nothing changes at launch) and was really no problem.
I found that you are obliged to do the bonus quest series on each world before moving on, though. I suspect you can probably skip that if also doing group content, especially if you’re also running Flashpoints at level.
Companions provide more than just romance opportunities
Georg provided some insight into why there are some abilities that can only be activated if you have your companion present:
Here’s why: We have a number of abilities that we only want accessible when you are 1-2 people group situation. Call on the Force (and it’s equivalent) are a good example.
Our way of gating those abilities out of large scale group content is to have them require a companion. That not only reinforces that we really want you to use your companion (as the game is balanced for it), it is also just a slick technical condition that excludes any kind of group content where those abilities would not scale (nobody wants people to use Call on the Force).
The specific Sorc/Sage ability mentioned here is a ‘bonus’ ability meant to support solo play as well as 2 player heroic gameplay. It helps overcoming encounters that are particularly tough on light armored characters like the Sage.
In short: All classes have abilities with these restrictions, the Sage/Sorcerer just have one more.
I was somewhat surprised to discover that when in a party in the open world, a group cannot be greater than four players and/or companions. This means that two players can both have their companions out, but three players in a party means only one of them can have their companion with them. A full four-player party won’t allow anyone to have their companions out. I had previously thought this limitation only applied when in a Flashpoint—but apparently not! Something to be aware of, as a consequence of a 3-4 player group means you may lose access to your companion-requiring abilities.