MMORPG.com SWG Combat Upgrade Interview
Questions Answered by Julio Torres, Producer Lucas Arts
Recent weeks have seen one of the most controversial patches in the history of MMORPGs with the "Combat Upgrade" to Star Wars Galaxies. This upgrade dramatically changed the way the most basic aspect of the game (combat) functions. To answer some questions on the update and the unrest it has caused was Lucas Arts Producer Julio Torres.
Can you explain the combat upgrade and what you think it adds to Star Wars Galaxies?
The Combat Upgrade in SWG gives us the ability to offer players more engaging combat by increasing the pace of and combat better defining combat roles. To capture some of that “seat of your pants combat” excitement that provided one of the fundamental reasons we love Star Wars, we had to change the way our game is played.
We realized after about three series of design documents that bringing a better combat system to Galaxies would require significant changes to the basic way the game is played. What these changes are going to allow us to do is add much more excitement and consequence into adventuring, especially at the highest levels. Going forward, our new combat system will capture the intensity of the galactic struggle during the time frame of our game.
Why do you believe that there has been such a furor in some quarters of the community against this change to the game?
This is a fundamental change to the combat system and therefore to the way people have been playing Galaxies for almost two years. Any change this dramatic is going to elicit passionate responses, especially from some of our more accomplished players.
It’s important to realize that no one would ever undertake a publish this ambitious, knowing full well that there is risk of alienating many current subscribers unless we really honestly believed that it will greatly benefit the game overall.
The entire development team is encouraging our players to give the new combat system a thorough try by utilizing the skill migration (Respec) over the course of the next couple of weeks. We are confident that once people find their ideal skills and play through some of the new content, they’ll very much enjoy our new way of playing Star Wars Galaxies.
One unexpected consequence of the upgrade was an error that forced you to roll back the Bloodfin and Chimaera servers by three and six days respectively. How did you arrive at this decision and what do you have to say to those upset players who in some cases lost nearly a week of play? Will accounts on those servers be credited with that time?
Unfortunately, there was an error during a portion of the conversion process for those two servers that could not be safely fixed. The most secure way to do the CU conversion correctly for those two servers was to roll them back and re-convert. This was the only option left to us to ensure that the conversion process succeeded.
We are giving those players 4x XP for a week, so that they can more easily recover any progression they lost due to the rollback. Certain skill gains that were erased can also be recovered by our Customer Service team.
The new UI has been pointed at by many as a big reason for their displeasure with the combat upgrade. What solutions, if you any, will you offer to this problem?
We spend a lot of time considering all the UI changes made to the game. With the changes made to the combat system, we had to do some level of updating the user interface, the most obvious changes being the updated icons. The updated icons are more intuitive in both their look and function. It should immediately be more obvious to players what move/ability/item each icon corresponds to just by seeing the updated graphic. Veteran players were comfortable with the old icons, so to themthis represents something “new” to learn.
In addition, the new icons serve a dual purpose with the power up/cool off animations. Players will now be able to tell at a glance what special moves and abilities are immediate available to them and which they’ll need to wait slightly longer to use. This provides a far more immersive and natural flow to combat than seeing “You can not use that ability for X seconds” as before.
Again, we recognize that any change in the UI is going to take time to get used to, but we’re confident that the new UI look and feel is essential to achieving the immersive Star Wars-y combat everyone wants from Galaxies.
MMORPG.com readers cmcmaha and Erillion pointed out that some crafters in SWG have complained that the recent updates have unintentionally made dramatic changes to the way they operate. Can you comment on what happened here and what is being done to address it?
The crafting changes that were made are intentional and did change the game play for the crafters. Crafters still play a key function in supplying weapons and key items to the game; this has not changed, the difference now is that the weapons and items they make stay balanced within the new game parameters.
There have also been wide reports of players being unable to fight alone after the changes. To what do you attribute this?
There will of course be the ability to solo a large percentage of the content in Galaxies with the new combat system. There will however be an emphasis on grouping for the higher level content in the game.
In Star Wars, though individuals certainly have made quite an impact to the story line, it is the grouping of often unlikely characters fighting together for either side that really counted in the larger struggle. This is the feeling we are capturing.
Yes, it will be more difficult for some characters to act alone at higher levels, but we believe this change will strengthen the community and bring more of a sense of “Star Wars realism” to the game.
Now that the upgrade is live, could you give us a post-mortem on what went right, what went wrong and what you need to address in the future?
What went right… Overall we have been successful in redefining and distinguishing the roles of every combat profession. We’ve also added new highly differentiated faction and function-based armor that will add variety to the way players look and are protected while playing. We’ve also added incentives to completing every skill box in the skill trees. Progression means something each and every time now to the players and that’s an improvement. We’ve also successfully added a whole slew of new very “Star Wars” weapons that enhance the immersive player experience of our game.
What could have gone better… The obvious being the conversion of two of our servers could have been more smooth. We also would have like to have seen fewer balancing issues immediately following the publish.
Moving forward, we are placing maximum effort on continuing to balance this new system while keeping the informative feedback from our player base front of mind. We firmly believe that we’ve designed a greatly enhanced way to play Star Wars and are committed to continue delivering that experience to our players.
Thank you to Lucas Arts for answering these questions! Please, leave us your thoughts in the comment thread.