All eyes are on Star Wars: The Old Republic. The massively multiplayer online game from Dragon Age and Mass Effect developer BioWare will attempt to offer a fully story-driven experience on a massively multiplayer scale, and at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, more details will be revealed than any other previous year. We sat down with writing director Daniel Erickson, lead flashpoint/raids/player-versus-player designer Gabe Amantangelo, and lead systems designer Damion Schubert to discuss what's planned for E3. We also discussed what's planned for after E3, including topics like high-level content, mounts, crafting, in-game economy, differences between player-versus-player and player-versus-environment conflicts, and space gameplay.
GameSpot: Give us an in-depth overview of what's planned for Star Wars: The Old Republic at E3 2011. What new content will be shown?
Daniel Erickson: We have a ton of new content at E3. We will have stations on the show floor for the first time, giving everyone hands-on [time] with Tatooine, a planet we've never shown. We'll have a first look at some boss fights and will be taking the wraps off our end-game content. We are also going to be debuting the grand conclusion to Blur's amazing CG trilogy and will have a few more surprises thrown in as well. It's going to be a big show!
GS: So, Tatooine will be shown at E3. What will this planet have to offer players of either faction?
DE: We're just going to set players in front of the game on Tatooine, give them a speeder, and let them run around and see our take on Star Wars' most iconic world. All stations will be on the Imperial side, with all four classes available--Sith warrior, Sith inquisitor, bounty hunter, and Imperial agent.
GS: We also understand that high-level content is something we'll start to see revealed. Give us an overview of the kinds of things you expect high-level characters will be doing in Star Wars: The Old Republic.
DE: Everything you'd expect in a AAA MMO but all with the BioWare dedication to storytelling, context, and immersion. If you've seen how different our flashpoints are from a typical dungeon or [how different] our war zones are from a normal PVP area, you'll have a good idea of what we're going to bring to the elder game.
GS: One of the most popular activities for high-level players in online games these days is to go on high-end raids in search of powerful loot and other rewards. Tell us about the raiding game in Star Wars: The Old Republic. How will it improve on the kinds of raid gameplay we've seen in other games?
Gabe Amantangelo: What you'd know as raids in other MMOs, we're calling "operations" in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Operations will be epic, multi-group events with settings and immersive gameplay inspired by scenes in the Star Wars movies. For examples, players will have to navigate the environment as a powerful Force wielder brings down the room around them; they'll have to work together to solve a code and fend off enemies while they're cornered, and so on.
Additionally, players will be able to enjoy operations as soon as they hit level 50. There will be varying difficulty modes, much like what is found in other BioWare games. The challenge, mechanics, and rewards will vary with the modes. So both the casual and hardcore player will be able to enjoy epic content alongside multiple groups of friends.
GS: We also understand that the team is ready to talk about personal mounts. What kind of mounts will players be able to commission? Any iconic Star Wars animal mounts, such as tauntauns or banthas? Any iconic vehicles like the speeder bikes we've already seen used for fast travel? Give us some specific examples. What purpose will mounts serve other than looking cool and helping players travel more quickly? Will some mounts have combat applications or provide specific bonuses, for instance?
Damion Schubert: Initially, we're just going with vehicles instead of animal mounts, although we definitely hope to get to the animals post-launch. We felt that, given a choice between the two, being on a vehicle felt more like Star Wars. The vehicles tend to be reminiscent of vehicles you've seen in the films, although it's a balancing act. As a designer, you want to be sure that the vehicles graduate in speed but also that the vehicles look appropriate for the speed at which they're travelling.
GS: BioWare has already experimented with "world arcs" in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, where the events that took place in one story affect the situation in the next. How will world arc stories come into play in Star Wars: The Old Republic? How will the game let players change the situations of key characters or worlds while still remaining a massively multiplayer game in which other players may choose differently? Will instancing play a significant role here, for instance, generating one version of the universe for a player who chooses to spare Alderaan and another version for a player who chooses to destroy it? Give us a specific example.
DE: World arc events and choices will absolutely be reflected in later stories as the player goes forward, and instancing helps us achieve those classic role-playing game moments. That said, it's important to us that we never disconnect the players from each other. So you'll never have a point where you're standing in the same place as your friend but can't see each other or discover you're seeing the world two radically different ways.
GS: More specifically, how will the changing world of Star Wars: The Old Republic accommodate players from both factions who just happen to end up in the same area? How will the game treat areas that are currently inhabited by players of both factions? Will players of the opposing faction get some sort of alert? Will they be prompted to initiate an optional player-versus-player battle? How will players of different factions otherwise interact with each other?
GA: Players of opposing factions can almost always fight each other out in the open world, so long as they toggle their PVP flag. This flag will automatically be toggled "on" in designated PVP areas on a PVE server and in most areas on a PVP server. Players of opposing factions can also always queue up and find each other inside of matched team-versus-team war zones.
GS: We've seen a glimpse of the game's crafting in action in our most recent play-through and have even had a chance to send companions off on low-level crafting missions. But we're even more interested in the longer-term impact of crafting on the game and its economy. It just so happens that many players of a certain other Star Wars-themed MMO game who enjoyed that game's original economy are also highly curious. How is crafting planned to affect the economy in the game? Will it primarily serve as a money sink to curb inflation? How will crafted armor, weapons, and consumable items compare with those that players purchase from vendors or find as loot from either player-versus-environment encounters or ranked items from battlegrounds? Is the plan to have the best items in the game be crafted?
DS: There are two ways to think about crafting: One is the delivery mechanism of the crafting system, and the second is the reward schedule. That is, how you do it, what you get from it, and for what cost. Much has been written about how you do it: Our crew skills system makes our companions the focal point of the crafting system--an area that we feel is pretty fun and unique. However, being sure that the rewards schedule is right is much more important to ensuring that crafting is a useful and important part of the economy.
Looking at this, we approached crafting as serving two audiences. One audience is the casual crafter--the guy who crafts for himself and who doesn't want to devote a lot of time or energy to crafting. This guy is going to find that for expending a reasonable amount of time and resources on doing so, he can generally get gear that is above par for his level. He can't make full sets of gear that are better--that would make every other way to get gear in the game obsolete--but he definitely has some "best in slot" gear throughout the leveling-up process and should be pleased by the results.
We wanted to give the dedicated crafter more than that. We have a lot of people who worked on crafting-centric MMO games and feel that dedicated crafters add a lot to the community as a whole. When looking at the problem, a good economy is about supply and demand, and therefore, for a dedicated crafter to have strong demand, he has to be able to supply schematics that are both rare and comparable or better in power than those provided by other item sources. We do this with a research system, where crafters can input a lot of time, energy, and resources in hopes of filling a hole in the market that they can service. In theory, it will drain a fair chunk of resources from the economy as a whole, but skilled social crafters should be able to turn a profit if they can generate that demand and set prices appropriately.
GS: While we know that space gameplay is currently planned to be a simple minigame at launch, we know that players will treat their individual ships as long-term housing and will likely be willing to sink large numbers of credits into sprucing up the insides (or outsides) of their ships. How much high-end customization of their ships will players be able to do? What kind of spaceship and space-related gameplay is planned for high-level characters?
DS: We have plans for ship customization, but we're not prepared to talk about it at this time.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Star Wars: The Old Republic at E3 or about the game in general?
DE: We're not just stuck behind closed doors; we're on the show floor for the first time at E3, so come by and play Tatooine! We'll also be releasing new videos each day of the show and will be doing a live demo on GameSpot on Tuesday, so stay tuned!
GS: Thank you for your time.