05/11/2018

Insights From 2008

Considering for how many years I've been playing SWTOR now, it's still funny to me sometimes to think of how quickly and suddenly I got into it. A big part of why many people ended up being disappointed with the game at launch was apparently that there had been years of hype about how great it was going to be and that it didn't live up to, but for me, all of that went completely under my radar.

The very earliest mention of SWTOR that I can recall is Spinks making a post about it in November 2010, in which she mentioned that Bioware was holding a community poll about what to rename the Jedi Wizard class. The main reason that stuck with me was that I thought that Jedi Wizard sounded absolutely ridiculous and I couldn't fathom how anyone had ever thought that it was a good idea to give that name to anything (boy, am I glad that they went with consular in the end), but beyond that I didn't really take in that SWTOR was going to be a big, new MMO. That didn't happen until a few months before launch, and back then the impression I got was simply that it was going to be a game that combined Bioware storytelling with WoW-like MMO mechanics and an IP that I was very fond of - a combination that sounded great to me; and one of the reasons I'm still playing seven years later is probably that I got exactly what I thought I was going to get - and more.

So in a way, I'm really glad that I missed all the hype, but that doesn't mean that it's not interesting to my inner archivist to know what was said back then and what happened. Wilhelm from the Ancient Gaming Noob, who is always good for some nostalgia and general reminiscing, had a post up on Saturday about an old podcast episode dedicated solely to all the news surrounding the official announcement of SWTOR back in 2008, so of course I had to go and listen to that.

The most "so wrong now it's funny" thing in the show was probably Brent (the host)'s talk about how there was obviously no reason for Star Wars Galaxies to shut down just because of another Star Wars MMO entering the scene. Mind you, his logic was sound! They were/are two very different games. Too bad the higher-ups didn't see it the same way in the end.

Even more interesting to me personally were several quotes about SWTOR's game design.

The first one mentioned how all the quests in the game would have you doing truly heroic things and you would never just be accosted by a random NPC in a cantina or by the roadside to go and rescue their cat or something. This made me laugh because that's exactly what the side missions in the base game are like. In fact, there is even one on Republic Taris where two NPCs by the roadside literally ask you to free some felines.

At the same time, many people didn't find those quests very interesting, which is what I always figured was the main motivation for Bioware to make them optional and skippable with 4.0, as well as completely moving away from having any side quests whatsoever in new content from that point on (unless you count the Alliance alerts - but they follow quite a different format). Listening to the podcast though, this apparently wasn't just a reaction to player feedback but rather a throwback to older design goals they had.

With all that said, I've personally always liked the side quests, and I miss them. They add flavour to the world, and personally I don't see anything wrong with a Jedi taking a few moments out of their day to rescue someone's cat. The class story mission on Rishi even emphasises how important it is for a Jedi to not forget about the little things while also facing bigger threats.

The second design quote that caught my attention was about how they were planning to completely revolutionise MMO combat - hah! More specifically though, there was mention of how they didn't think that it feels good to have a bunch of people attack one giant boss, and that it should really be the other way round - for players to have an epic experience, they should always feel outnumbered and as if they are overcoming the odds. Now, obviously they went back on this as well, considering that the game launched with old-school style raids... but then I suddenly thought of the uprisings they added with KotET! I've wondered in the past what exactly the design intent was behind those, and wanting to create a feeling of being outnumbered makes perfect sense... on paper.

Of course, it turns out that most MMO players apparently prefer fighting a giant, epic boss to being outnumbered by mooks. As commenter Forztr put it in response to a recent post: uprisings feel as if Bioware took the basic dungeon design, removed the bosses that people actually get excited about and instead added more of the type of trash that players are always desperate to skip. In other words: in trying to finally deliver something they were apparently aiming for as early as 2008, Bioware created a type of content that most people consider inferior and less interesting than regular dungeons. The irony.

Finally, there was talk of them having plans to make it so that companions would evolve alongside your character and "become different people" so to speak, based on your decisions. This is something they obviously experimented with via the Sith warrior story and by having different versions of Jaesa, but I guess they decided that it was way too much hassle in the end. (Honestly, you can always tell that Sith warrior was the first story they worked on simply based on the amount of random crap it has going on that's not featured anywhere else.) One has to wonder if they had actually gone so far as to lay out plans for different versions of other companions. I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, that was a very interesting blast from the past, which - funnily enough - made me think that it's really a good thing that we didn't get everything they originally promised, because a lot of it probably isn't half as fun in practice as it sounded on paper. Were you following the game in those early stages?

12 comments :

  1. I think that if you gave players the option of getting sweet sweet loot of the same iLevel from either a horde of trash or a big giant boss, they'd say "whichever is easier". Right now, the big giant boss is the winner because it's the tried and true method, but I remember the chaos surrounding the Tribunal of Ages event in Halls of Stone as being the hardest part of that 5-man instance, and really, that's the most memorable part of that instance. No boss, just wave after wave of trash trying to overwhelm you.

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    1. Good point that the ease of getting rewards matters. There was that time when the last boss of the Fractured uprising could be exploited into insta-killing himself, and saving three minutes of time was suddenly reason enough for people to farm it like crazy. All things being equal though...

      I don't recall anyone particularly liking Halls of Stone, even once we overgeared it. That might be my own bias speaking though.

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  2. This was the post I was hoping would appear when I wrote about that VW episode. I never got into SWTOR deep enough to really evaluate what was initially announced, so I am glad you went for it!

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  3. I was super into this game, all through the hype machine, into beta, and well into launch. I lasted up until the massive server merges (90%). I was also heavily invested in the community, including Dulfy. I wrote guides and DPS simulation tools (Sage and Trooper).

    The whole conversation of 10:1 or 10:20 was a fun one, and mostly restricted by the hero engine. Mass fights require significant coordination. The lack of useful data to make decisions, and the lack of tools to adequately execute on those decisions really put a stick in those wheels. Hard enough getting everyone to not stand in the fire, but have 4 fires, 4 people casting heals, 2 people backstabbing and it becomes insanity.

    Potential vs. execution. SWTOR is full of solid examples.

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    1. I didn't know you were that involved at launch!

      Do you really think that particular design decision was down to the hero engine though? I know the engine was an issue in PvP, but in PvE they seem to be quite capable of churning out content with lots of adds and such.

      The option to include raids with big bosses as endgame seemed more like the kind of thing that someone higher-up asked for near the end of the development cycle because hey, WoW has it and we need to have the same things as WoW.

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    2. Yeah, I do. The hero engine severely limited what the devs could make work, and took years to expand into a more comfortable flow. It was not made for what swtor tried to achieve.

      Pve with adds as meat fodder, sure. True large scale fights, that never worked. Rarely works anywhere but in rts games, where the data provided to the player is consice and useful.

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  4. Sadly my thoughts from pre-launch are mostly lost in time (except that one post a week earlier where I was super hyped: https://armagon.wordpress.com/2018/09/04/once-upon-a-time-at-launch/ ). I didn't take part in the beta, I also don't remember how soon I heard about it or how soon I was hyped at all. I know I wanted to play at launch and knew some people with who I coordinated which server and faction we'd play on. (Even some people on the same server and different faction, for alt invites). The only thing I remember that I was interested in the story-driven thing, and in the Star Wars IP. But interestingly I never had felt the urge to play SWG. But on the other hand I (a staunch Warcraft 2+3 fan, also a MMO player already in 2004) ignored WoW for at least a year, until I played it for 8-9 years straight...

    Also I'll add a big +1 to what Wilhelm said, because I didn't feel like listening to that old podcast - so thanks for the detailed analysis :)

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    1. I always think people overrate loyalty to IPs when it comes to MMOs. I had played zero Blizzard games before trying World of Warcraft and still got super into it, playing it for five and a half years straight. And I haven't played most other Star Wars games either.

      Then again, I have seen plenty of people say that they only play SWTOR because it's Star Wars, and I've never managed to stick with an MMO that didn't have a strong IP behind it for any length of time, so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  5. Regarding number of mobs, Bioware may not have implemented it in group content, but they did a pretty good job in solo content. The standard in SWTOR is several mobs in a linked group. In WoW, the default is one mob. (You can pull more, but that's your own choice.)

    The only thing about SWTOR's approach, though, is that it made AoE a little too powerful. I remember doing a entire sections of story just spamming Suppressive Fire.

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    1. That's a good point about the way mobs are often grouped up out in the world. I used to enjoy things like quickly AoEing down the weak one before going after the strong or elite of the pack. Too bad the changes to levelling have greatly diminished the impact of this system as pretty much everything can just be killed with AoE now.

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  6. I was vaguely aware of the MMO until about six or so months before the open beta. I'd played and loved Kotor 1 & 2, so I was open to trying it. My son and a good friend were both hyped for the game and their enthusiasm carried me along.

    I played the open beta and got to level 25/Tatooine/first speeder. That showed me that this was a game that I was going to enjoy. I wanted to keep playing and was sad the beta was over.

    I was able to start on the second day of prerelease (I hadn't pre-ordered quite early enough) and played on the Empire side with my son and friend. When they weren't on I played on the Republic side. It was engaging to see the reflections of each side in the Sith Warrior and Jedi Knight storylines.

    While my son and friend eventually faded away from the game due to the initial issues, I kept on.

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