LucasArts and Bioware showed a live demo of Star Wars: The Old Republic at Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle both Saturday and Sunday, with slight variations on their demonstration each day. They showed cinematic trailers, some in-game footage as well as a live-demo of the game play. All four classes revealed thus far were shown to fans, including a demo of the female Bounty Hunter's voice effects.
They pulled a joke on Saturday, announcing a big reveal then flashing up "Darth Binks" to stunned silence and a smattering of laughter. "I think we failed on humor," said Bioware Producer, Jake Neri. "Wait, what did you think?" asked Lucas Arts Public Relations Manager, Adam Kahn. Well, I was laughing so hard, I forgot to take a picture of the "reveal." Darth Binks was not shown again on Sunday, but from my reaction and the bits of laughter they had heard from the crowd, they thought the joke a success. Yes, with this many dedicated Star Wars fans, canon humor is a little tough.
So far, Bioware has revealed four of the classes that will appear in Star Wars: The Old Republic, two from each of the game's factions. The Sith Imperial classes are: the Sith Warrior and the Bounty Hunter. The Republic classes are: the Republic Trooper and Smuggler. The Republic Trooper, which was shown on Sunday, is a ranged DPS and elite soldier class. The ranged classes will also have close melee capabilities such as the Bounty Hunter's flame thrower and the Smuggler's dirty fighting. We can surmise that the melee classes will have some ranged capabilities, and we know, at least from the movies, of the Sith Warrior's force lightning. We can also surmise that the fifth of the Republic classes will be Jedi Knight and also that another ranged class is in the works for the Imperial side to balance out the Republic Trooper. In casual conversations with developers, I have heard that there are eight classes in the works.
There will not be too much focus on non-combat classes, but there will be enough secondary game play, such as crafting and trading, to round out the content. "We are still trying to nail down the core of the game," said Jake, "and although we are working hard on all aspects of the game, you can appreciate we don't want to talk too much about them."
All the usual social aspects in an MMO are being developed and will be introduced to fans when the time is right. "There isn't a be-all / end-all handbook available on MMO design," said Neri. "And we don't want to build up expectations of aspects of the game that we ourselves haven't nailed down."
Bioware and LucasArts are firm on this aspect. They will not speak of things that still might change, such as informing players that X number of planets and Y number of classes will be available at launch, only to have to pull the number back. Developers always have the desire to put all this fantastic content into their game and in their excitement, they want to tell their fans about it prematurely. This is the path that Bioware has decided they will not go down. Information will only be revealed when the information is firm. Take the reveal of Coruscant as the third planet in SW:ToR, and even the Sith Warrior as examples. Previously, we were left guessing as to whether or not the iconic world would appear in game and whether Jedi and Sith would be class choices, or a state that players would advance to.
Bioware's game design philosophy is to find the fun early. Get the prototypes going so they can play and iterate on it. "We play it, gather the feedback, iterate, get outside play focus groups in, play, gather the feedback, iterate," said Neri. Rinse and repeat. For the classes, they plan to deliver on Fan expectation. For example, the Sith Warrior is based on the archetype from the movies. They use a force choke and they are more of a heavy melee character, based particularly on Darth Vader. The Bounty Hunter on Bobba Fett, and the Smuggler on Han Solo.
"Do you think the game will end up heavy in Jedi Knights and Sith Warriors?" I asked.
"We are very aware and challenged by the issue," Neri replied. "Our challenge is to make each one of our classes unique, to make each one fun to play, and to make them balanced against each other."
He intimated that much of the fine-tuning would really occur only when they are in beta. Players have very different play styles and although some may be lured at first by the glamor of the Jedi Knight, the player class population will balance out. At this stage of the game, Bioware is showing off the key differentiating features of TOR, the full voicing of the game and the story focus. There is nothing more to do but to talk about the game and wait, and here is a hint. Participate on their forums. They do want feedback.