Last night in New York we got the chance to sit down and talk with Greg Zeschuk, Co-Founder of BioWare about Star Wars: The Old Republic. The great thing about the Good Doctors, as they are known throughout the industry, is that most execs you meet cannot talk in depth about the games their company is working on. Greg and Ray are very different. They will get right in there like the top devs and discuss level design, game mechanics, PvP, and all the goodies we love to hear about. I had some big questions for Greg about Star Wars, and more importantly about MMOs in general.
We started off tackling the question of whether or not Old Republic will be the last MMO of its kind. Many people are saying that it will be the last game to follow the classic style of the genre and after this everything will be some form of hybrid model. Greg said that this theory is not necessarily true. He definitely has developed a great respect for people who make MMOs and realizes now at the end the epic task the team at BioWare undertook in trying to build this game. He did say that there is still plenty of room in the market for MMOs to continue on into the next decade. He said that the key to future MMOs being successful is for devs to make awesome games with great execution. These two factors are important when building such epic worlds with large designs in them. It all comes down to execution on the game and, from what we have seen of Star Wars, they definitely executed it well.
We also blended this topic into the free to play area which is always at the forefront of the MMO industry in recent years. Greg explained that the free to play arena is a different market in many ways and there is still a lot of room for subscription games. If people want the experience they are willing to pay a subscription. He said that as the game market continues to grow and become global it can support multiple types of subscription models. He tied this in with the idea that the game market continues to grow and players from all around the world are joining in online games. This growth will also support multiple big titles on the market.
I asked him about the queues that many of us have been experiencing lately to get into the game. He said that queues are something they are keeping a careful eye on. They want to keep a very close watch on the populations of each server. Balance is very important to them and they want to make sure that players have a solid population to play with on each server. So at the beginning keeping density at the perfect pitch is important and they are tracking everything very closely.
I asked Greg what it was like from a BioWare RPG standpoint to finally make the leap into MMOs. He said that many of the BioWare folks were huge MMO fans in the past so when they decided to make the game as an MMO it was important that they got the technical side right. They started the team with two veterans, Gordon Walton and Rich Vogel, to avoid a lot of the pitfalls in the past that MMOs had suffered from. It was very important that they did not make a mistake. They also took about a year and worked very hard on the story. They wanted to have a strong prototype of what the story was going to be as they started to ramp up development. The voice work took a long time so they made sure all of the pieces were in place for it to go smoothly. One area they focused on heavily was the group dialogue to make sure that it went well for all players. Greg explained that the multi-player conversation was something they checked many, many times before it was ready.
Another area Greg talked about was the level of polish the game received prior to launch. He said even in the final beta days, the game client and artistic touches were still being added in. This made the leap from beta to launch an even better experience with the extra polish that was added. This was really important in the facial close ups and effects in the game world: two areas that get overlooked but were enhanced for the launch build to get the full effect.
The next topic we discussed was the pace of the game. This is always very important in my book as I have said in the past that MMOs suffer from a slower pace than console games and this is an area where they needed improvement. Greg agreed and said that the pace was very important to the design team. The game was purposely sped up to a faster gameplay pace with some of the Bioware console developers working on those aspects. It was crucial to the team right from the start that players could fight multiple enemies at once. In typical MMOs of the past, if three mobs attacked you were likely done. They wanted to get away from the 1v1 style of MMOs and make the combat closer to the movies. Fighting against multiple opponents at one time really adds to the gameplay and speeds the pace up. This was critical when they were building PvE combat with aspects like larger group pulls and more powerful AOE effects added into the single player side of the game.
The last topic we went over was the all important topic of PvP. Greg said he played a lot of Warhammer Online and spent plenty of time in their PvP zones. When it came to Star Wars they wanted to make sure all their bases were covered on the PvP front. They knew they needed instanced PvP and also wanted to make sure they had a solid design for world PvP. He did say that PvP is an area they hope to continue to expand on in the game with lots of updates in the future. He also said that Huttball has grown quickly in popularity and he hopes to see tournament ladders and leader boards at some point.
That covers all of the topics we discussed. The great thing about the doctors is that they are such hardcore gamers themselves. They really do think about every aspect of the games they produce and work hard to make sure fans get the full experience. Star Wars continues to deliver even at launch day and it seems like the good doctors have lots of plans for the game in the coming months. For now, log in and get playing!