The Old Republic is one of the most highly anticipated games this year, possibly because it's a massively multiplayer game that takes place in the Star Wars universe first explored in BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic. The game will let you play as a Jedi, a Sith, a bounty hunter, a smuggler, or one of many other types of characters, and explore the conflict between the Republic and the Sith Empire. Over the course of your travels, you will most likely find yourself exploring a flashpoint--the game's cooperative adventures that are perhaps analogous to the dungeons you may have explored in other games. But different. The first flashpoint to be revealed is Taral V, an adventure area in Republic territory. World designer Jesse Sky discusses this new area and how flashpoints will work in general.
GameSpot: Give us an overview of the Taral V flashpoint. What's the purpose of this area in the game's story, and how will successfully conquering it change the outcome of a character's adventures?
Jesse Sky: The emperor is holding a powerful Jedi captive in his personal prison--a massive space station at the heart of the Maelstrom Nebula. Only a Gree computer is capable of navigating the treacherous cosmic storms that surround the prison. Fortunately, the Republic has learned that the Empire guards just such a device on the remote jungle world of Taral V.
Your mission is to infiltrate the hidden Imperial fortress on Taral V and recover this computer. Success will mean that the Republic fleet can launch an assault on the prison where you can, perhaps, rescue the Jedi prisoner.
GS: Without spoiling anything, can you give us a quick run-through of what it will be like to try to conquer this flashpoint? What kinds of enemies will players be up against? What kinds of player skills and tactics will be important? How many hours is the flashpoint intended to take?
JS: You and your friends will form a covert strike team and land a shuttle in the jungle beyond the walls of the fortress. You'll face vicious beasts, battle an entire legion of Imperial soldiers, and confront the ruthless Sith who oversee operations on the planet. The fortress on Taral V doubles as a research facility, so you should come prepared to deal with some advanced weapons technology.
Taral V can be played in roughly 90 minutes, which is about the average length for a flashpoint. A completionist play-through would probably take more than two hours. If you have any stealthy friends, you might find them particularly useful on this mission.
GS: How does Taral V fit into The Old Republic in a larger sense? Approximately what level should characters be when they try to tackle it? Will it require large groups of players to conquer?
JS: Taral V is intended for players at level 32 or above, and it's balanced for a full group of four players.
GS: Let's talk about flashpoints in general. How many are intended to be in the game at launch? How will the game guide players toward them, and how important will they be to a player's overall experience? For instance, we understand that player-versus-player (PVP) battles are intended to let players play them continuously, gaining all their levels and loot through them--can we say the same for flashpoints?
JS: I won't get into our launch numbers, but flashpoints are a core part of the game experience and will challenge you from a relatively early level all the way to endgame. You could spend a large chunk of your time playing them, for sure, and there are plenty of incentives to do so.
GS: In many massively multiplayer games with different types of content, you often see certain players gravitating toward one specific way to play over others--some people are crafters, others only want to do quests, and some people only want PVP. Is there a specific kind of player that you're targeting for flashpoints?
JS: Flashpoints are designed to be enjoyed by everyone, but they will hold the most appeal for players who like cooperative gameplay. I would also say we're sympathetic to players who are a little bored with the "traditional" dungeon experience. My team loves playing dungeons, but we want flashpoints to be an evolutionary step toward something more engaging. My hope is that even players who traditionally solo will be attracted to them and seek out groups.
On a personal level, I'm targeting my friends. I ran a Star Wars pen-and-paper campaign in college, so building cooperative, story-driven missions in this universe is very exciting to me. It's like sitting behind the game master screen again, except I'm joined by a host of talented people, and we have powerful tools at our disposal.
GS: While flashpoints are clearly intended to be challenging experiences, once you've completed one, are you finished with it forever? What incentives are planned to get players to run a certain flashpoint multiple times? Alternate difficulty levels? Randomized loot? Some kind of points system that earns you prestige for successfully completing these areas?
JS: Flashpoints are repeatable by design, and we strive to include elements that keep them fresh for multiple play-throughs. The gameplay focus in a flashpoint is very tight, which contrasts a bit with adventuring in the open world, but it lets us empower players in some really interesting ways. For example, you might explore the area and discover a secret that changes the mechanics of a boss fight. Or you might make a story decision that alters the course of the gameplay.
Naturally, you'll find some of the best equipment in flashpoints. There will be other reward structures in place as well, but our main focus is making them fun. Fun is my favorite incentive.
GS: Could you give us a general update on the game's development? Which aspects of the game is the team focusing on?
JS: Development is going very well, and we're all happy to be heading into our home stretch. We've been receiving some incredibly positive feedback from our ongoing game testing program, which has let us better balance combat, item drops, and quest flow, plus plenty more. It's been a huge morale booster to get feedback from real players that we can use to improve the game. As for my team, we're still hard at work building more flashpoints. The whole studio is very busy.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about flashpoints, or the game in general?
JS: Many of us play the game in our free time for as many hours as we work on it during the week. It's very exciting. I have a difficult time pulling myself away to play other online games lately, and that speaks volumes.
GS: Thank you.