Last Friday, MMORPG was invited by BioWare to a press event showcasing their upcoming full launch of Galactic Starfighter, their latest digital expansion for Star Wars: the Old Republic. The event included a livestream with developers presenting content regarding the expansion and answering questions and also a followup Q&A conference call afterwards. The event was hosted by DebySue Wolfcale, Senior Director of Marketing, and featured Senior Producer Blaine Christine, Lead Designer Michael Backus, and Producer Jack Wood.
Blaine Christine was the first speaker. He addressed the vibrant SWTOR community and stated that the free-to-play conversion had boosted their player numbers beyond expectations. He added that there have been 'multiple millions' of new accounts since the conversion, with almost a million unique players logging in per month. He stressed that if anything, SWTOR is growing. The big news of the day was Galactic Starfighter, and he answered the question of why it exists. He said that the team felt that space combat was important to a Star Wars experience, that they always knew the on-rails missions were not enough. Blaine added that Lead Designer Michael Backus had begun in-depth work on GSF over a year ago, and that one of the key points to the project was to ensure that players could have as much flexibility for customizing their ships as possible.
We were then given an overview of the four ship roles that will be available with the launch on Tuesday: Scout, Gunship, Strike Fighter, and Bomber, with a total of twenty-four unique starfighters available. Players will get to start off with two distinct maps: Lost Shipyards and Kuat Mesas, and there will be two gameplay styles available: Domination and Team Deathmatch. Domination mode is two teams fighting over various objectives, while Deathmatch will be strictly ship versus ship. The maps won't be exactly the same for each setting to account for the lack of objectives in Team Deathmatch mode.
Blaine then brought up a new dynamic Flashpoint that has been referenced in previous releases and has been available on the Public Test Server, named Kuat Drive Yards. He also referred to it as a Tactical Flashpoint that would be the first in a new listing in the group finder. Available at level 15, the Flashpoint has dynamic events in it that change every time a player goes through it. It's supposed to scale with the level of the players involved and works even when a high-level player groups with a couple of low-level players. Another feature that BioWare hopes will reduce the queue times for DPS players is the fact that the Flashpoint is role-neutral, so it's apparently balanced for every possible combination of tank, DPS, and healer, whether it's all tanks or all DPS or even if your healer is an Ewok.
We were also told about a new area on Fleet where players can meet the pre-made NPCs who will crew a player's starfighter until and unless the regular ground game companions are slotted and learn a bit more about their history. They also reminded us that any player will be able to play Galactic Starfighter the second they log into the game as a level 1 character, and that even free-to-play accounts will get a pair of factional flight suits, orange moddable gear for each character.
The stream was then turned over to Lead Designer Michael Backus, who spoke at length about BioWare's intentions with GSF. He said they wanted to focus on two key aspects of the experience: to be as accessible as possible and also to be as immersive as possible. They wanted to have a roleplaying element to this portion of the game and also to ensure that player choices and customization were important. The various ship designs we were shown for all four roles were intended to harken back to various ships from the lore, such as the X-Wing fighters or the TIE Bombers, while remaining in-theme for The Old Republic. There were a great number of customizations for each style of ship available, whether it was in the paint jobs or even in the addition of nacelles and missile pods, and they said that customization was the keystone here, as many choices as they could cram into it.
We were taken through an overview of the new Bomber class, and Michael spoke about how the ship could drop various kinds of drones, such as a seeker drone that would actively hunt enemy ships, or the hyperspace beacon option, which could drop a spawn point anywhere on the map for your faction. He also said that ground game companions were available for unlocking on each faction, so it was possible for a Jedi character to use the abilities of a Trooper companion, for example. We were shown that companions have special abilities, and whoever is slotted as your co-pilot gets an active ability the player can fire off during gameplay.
Premium ships were also discussed, and these are intended to focus more on the Old Republic-era lore rather than movie-era lore, so we'll see designs inspired by previous Old Republic works, not surprising considering the number of sets of lore gear available via the Cartel Market that are homages to Knights of the Old Republic and the old Tales of the Sith comics.
Next up, Michael brought up some improvements that were being made to GSF specifically due to player feedback, the first of which were improvements to the Scoreboard. There will be a Battle Record available to players to be able to see how well he or she has done over time, with plans to allow players to share it amongst themselves in-game. Team Deathmatch was also discussed as an improvement, and Michael revealed that there will be limited-time power-ups available that players can fly through for an extra boost to one of their ship's stats. An auto-leveling feature for your ship to reorient on the 'horizon' and a mini-tutorial were both features added to the game as a direct result of player feedback.
After the presentation and a brief run through an internal Team Deathmatch session, the BioWare folks took questions from their audience. One of the first ones answered was simply how easy is it to get into Galactic Starfighter? The answer: download the game, create an account, log in, create a character, click 'H' or the starfighter icon on the minimap and off you go. The next couple of questions are things that Michael and Blaine said were on the infamous 'wall of crazy', one was whether the Battle Record could be shared outside of the game, the other was whether guild ships would be a facet of the game anytime soon. Later on, they added that joystick/controller support is also on the wall of crazy, but ruefully said it was also the bane of their existence.