BioWare’s strategy for SW:TOR (or simply TOR) is to reach as many gamers as they possibly can. “Star Wars is beloved in the US as well as many other parts of the world,” said Producer Rich Vogel, citing the low system specs required for the game, “and that said, we want to make sure that the game is accessible to as many people as possible.”
The game will look as good as it possibly can, but the voice-acting will make the most impact. It is costly, but effective and used mostly in other MMOs as for special flavor perhaps, for important quests. One of the questions often asked of BioWare is how difficult the voice-acting and files was to manage, but for a company that’s used to the process, the voice-acting, we are told, is the simplest part of the game. It is scripted first in text of course, but with games like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Dragon Age behind them, piece of cake!
Gamers who enjoy the Star Wars movies and world but aren’t necessarily avid fans need not fear that their lack of knowledge of all things Star Wars will hinder them in the game. TOR is set about 3,000 years before the movies or Clone Wars. It’s not that the Sith Empire is based on the movies, Palpatine’s empire was based on the ancient Sith Empire! “Just watching the trailers will get you up to speed,” said Lead Designer James Ohlen, “But there will be Easter eggs for fans of KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic) to find in the game.”
The game is galloping towards the finish line at this point in time, and James was happy to let me know how they were progressing.
“We are deep into play testing, gathering feedback and iterating right now,” he said, as he listed various parts of the game they were improving.
The map system is being revamped to make it more intuitive and to make it a better experience for players. It is currently a little complicated and there are a few bugs they are chasing down.
Item progression is being reviewed and they are tweaking and changing how some item progression work. “Getting enough looks” was how Rich termed the change of how armor and equipment look as players level from one to 50. They are currently also streamlining the mod system to make it easier to understand. Mods will be their own class of items. On the one hand, there’s the diversity of looks so achievement is visible, on the other, the mod system will allow players who wish to, adhere to an iconic look from level one to 50. Yes, you can totally look like Obiwan Kenobi, with the humble un-dyed linen garb and brown wool cloak look. Crafting will also allow players to change the color of their blaster blasts and light sabers.
The social point system for participation in multiplayer dialogue and group activities such as quests and flash points is also getting another look right now, with more social / role-play items being put in for purchase, such as cosmetic clothing, for example, wedding dresses, and also more group based items. This system encourages grouping and provides players with yet another method of attaining equipment.
The space game is a real-time tactical shooter and the team is working on better integration into the world story as well as making it more complex yet intuitive. It’s not a part of the game that’s equivalent in scope to the planet based game and will remain that way at launch, in short, it is a mini-game. “A very advanced mini-game,” Rich noted. But when I asked if a full-featured space game was something they have on their long term, future plans for TOR, I was told it wasn’t off the table.
I asked about the Lightside / Darkside points, since progression and equipment was tied to it. Whether you go light or dark is a personal decision. It is not visible by players or NPCs. No one will sense that you are a goody-two-shoes Sith and attack you. Any path you decide to go is viable. A total scum-bag Sith won’t get you any better equipment than a neutral or light-side one, just different equipment. And no, it was reiterated, you cannot switch sides. You can be the most evil scum-bag Jedi with the highest dark-side points on the server and you’ll still be Republic.
The Companion system is all that one can expect from BioWare games but different in that TOR is an MMO. You can’t load up a previous save, nor can you easily reverse a decision made. However, companion affection is not as important to character progression as the Lightside / Darkside point system. “You see,” Rich smiled, “just like in real life, you can buy gifts to make up for something you did that they didn’t like.”
A player can have up to five companions that they can earn, and they can be customized in their looks with various kits that can be applied. Their names can’t be changed but their facial features can also be changed. This is so there won’t be hundreds of identical companion characters running around at the same time, and to provide a little more immersion.
“Companion characters will not be able to die,” said Rich, “we try not to let players do things that will hurt themselves. Companions can, however, be hurt, be captured, and not be able to adventure with your for a while.”
There was more to the Companion system that I asked about, but they were saving it for a big reveal at PAX Prime in a couple of weeks. Will you be there?