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LucasArts / SOE Austin
MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 06/23/03)  | Pub:Sony Online Entertainment
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Some features postponed for release!

Posted by Brian Lau on Feb 05, 2003  | Comments

Some features postponed for release! - Star Wars Galaxies -

Haden Blackman, Producer, has posted at the SWG website that a few of the promised features will not be available at the release.  Some of these include Dark Jedi, player cities, and player owned vehicles.  Read on for the entire list!!!!

As many of you who have been part of our community since the outset probably realize by now, our feature set list is missing a few things. As with any game development process, we go through constant revisions on the design in order to both tighten the game by focusing on what turns out to be the most fun, and put together a quality game that actually sees the light of day. However, as BoShek noted in a previous post, Star Wars Galaxies is a living, growing game. While we have changed some aspects of the design and trimmed here or there, in general we were reluctant to permanently kill a design feature, especially if it had already been discussed here on the boards. But, we have decided to postpone a few features until after launch. Here, I want to try to explain why these decisions were made.

In general, our philosophy has always been that we wanted a polished, stable product at launch. Rather than attempt to do everything at once and have it all turn out mediocre, we wanted to focus on fewer features and do them all really well (Rather than 20 species, we only have 8, but each species is incredibly customizable - far more so than you'd get if we had pushed for 20).

As we moved forward and continually revised our schedule, it became apparent that the postponement of several significant systems would allow us to release the game sometime in mid-April. The most important of these systems were:

-Player Cities
-Player-Owned Vehicles
-Player-Generated Missions
-Dark Jedi (okay, this is really a "feature", but still…)

At that time, we also began work on our Live Team schedule, which provides a plan for implementing the postponed systems within the first seven or eight months after launch.

Postponement Criteria

When evaluating the systems and features, we used the following criteria to determine if a cut or postponement made sense (and we went through basically *every* system and feature):

-We’d wanted to cut or postpone entire systems. Although we continued to trim assets and small features from the game, this “nickel and dime” approach wasn't actually increasing our efficiency. In most cases, just implementing a system’s core functionality is 80% of the work, so trimming is only valuable to a point. It also does nothing to prevent the team from being spread too thin.

-We wanted to postpone rather than cut a system. In general, we only wanted to push out systems that can still be integrated post-launch.

-Systems were cut or postponed based largely on the programming and scripting time required. At the time we made these decisions, we were ahead of schedule on world development and on schedule with art assets. In contrast, programming and scripting resources were overburdened. Particularly problematic were the UI programming tasks for each game system.

-Cutting or postponing a system needed to free up team members that could aid us on more critical systems, or provide us with team member that could be used to polish the overall game (which includes creating "free time" for designers to playtest).

-If cutting or postponing a system resulted in additional tasks (to compensate for design dependencies), those tasks needed to fall to people already ahead of schedule (such as the world artists). Obviously, the number of additions needed to be reasonable.

Player Cities

What Are Player Cities?

The original design allows players to form their own cities. They can elect a mayor, build municipal structures (such as starports), establish a handful of laws, create militias, and alter the city layout as the city grows.

Rationale for Postponement

This system is extremely labor intensive for programmers and scripters. It requires attention from key people that would be better utilized on fine-tuning combat and other, more immediate systems. Although it requires a great deal of work, it’s one of the easiest systems to add post-launch, in part because the patch required would be extremely small (all of the art assets are already available because we’re building “fiction” cities that are not player-run). From a design standpoint, most players won’t be immediately interested in or capable of forming cities (or be able to afford building houses); it’s really one of our mechanisms for retention after the first few months of gameplay. And while cities are helpful in creating player communities, we have other mechanisms for this already in place (player associations, various chat channels, player venues, etc.). Postponing player cities automatically reduces the priority on some skills and professions, also "allowing" us to postpone Politician. Postponing the related skills gained us several man-days of scripting time.

Finally, it’s extremely important to note that postponing player cities does not postpone player housing. Players will still be able to own and place structures. What we’re really postponing is an official mechanism for a group of player houses to identify themselves as a city and start receiving benefits as a result. There are many on the team who believe that, given the ability to place houses, players will still form their own “unofficial” cities without our help.

Playing Devil’s Advocate…

As noted, player cities are one of our retention mechanisms. They’re also important to helping players create their own sense of community online. Player cities are innovative and would be a “new” system for MMO players. Player cities also contribute to the growth of the player-driven economy.

Postponing player cities has also created no small amount of additional work for our world builders. Cities are necessary for players because they contain a number of vital resources, such as banks and cloning facilities. On Tatooine, we had already planned for several cities, but other worlds were designed specifically as real estate for player-run cities. As a result, we've needed to build additional cities, which is time-consuming.

Final Analysis

Postponing this system provided us with a huge savings in programming time, but created several man-days of world building tasks. Fortunately, at the time world builders were ahead of schedule and fiction city building was running smoothly, so we saw the new world building tasks as very low risk. To us, player cities seem like an important part of the overall design, but definitely something we could add after launch.

Player Vehicles

What Is the Player Vehicle System?

The system would allow players to own, operate, repair, and craft single-passenger vehicles, like landspeeders and speeder bikes. It does NOT include game-controlled vehicles, like public transports, which are still necessary for launch.

Rationale for Postponement

Of all the systems we considered postponing, this is the single largest time sink. The basic control scheme for vehicle movement is already established (through our the Space Expansion prototype), but the system still needs a great deal of work in order to function within the game. We have to script repair and crafting skills (since all items decay, even vehicles need to be maintained), create garages (because we don’t want vehicles driving through cities), attach the player to the vehicle, script vehicle use rules per planet, debug the control scheme, and add special cases to the camera. Many of these tasks fall to our scripters, with ample programming support required as well.

We were comfortable postponing this system because of its strong relationship to the Space Expansion; the Vehicles System would actually be part of the early Space Expansion work. In fact, one could argue that we don’t want to rush into any technology or design decisions in order to realize ground vehicles until we’ve had a chance to better evaluate the goals and needs of the space expansion.

As with Player Cities, postponing Player Vehicles allows us to reprioritize some skills, freeing scripters. Finally, from a design standpoint, vehicles will be expensive, so players wouldn’t be able to afford them immediately.

Playing Devil’s Advocate…

Tooling around in a landspeeder is part of the Star Wars fantasy. In addition, our worlds are really large, and traveling them on foot could be tiresome and dangerous. The vehicle system also adds another branch to our crafting professions, giving that system greater depth.

Postponing player vehicles did create some small amount of work for us as well. Because our worlds are so large, players will need fast and efficient means for travel. We’ve always planned to include public transports that automatically take players between various cities on a planet; however, without player-owned vehicles, we needed to add a few more hubs (large cities) for this type of travel. Fortunately, this addition synchs nicely to the need for more fictional cities as mentioned above.

Finally, it’s important to note that we can’t have “mounts” (creatures that players can ride) without some of the core functionality introduced by the vehicle system. This means that mounts are also postponed.

Final Analysis

Postponing vehicles is the most painful decision for virtually everyone on the team. It is not one that we made lightly, nor have we underestimated the impact that this will have on the overall Star Wars experience. Even the genuine commitment to include the vehicle system after launch does not negate the loss of a key Star Wars element at launch. We also understand that there will be an expectation for player-owned and operated vehicles, which will put tremendous pressure on the Live Team to deliver.

With all that said, the relief to programmer and scripter bandwidth is too great to ignore. And, in the long run, we're confident that the vehicle system will benefit from being postponed because it will be able to leverage the work being done on the space expansion.

It's also important to note that vehicles are one of our top priorities. We want to get ground-based vehicles into the game as soon as possible (so, don't assume just because they share some design and technology concerns that vehicles won't be in until close to the Space Expansion release - we really hope that isn't the case).

Player-Generated Missions

What Are Player-Generated Missions?

The ability to for players to create and post missions through the mission system.

Rationale for Postponement

This is one area where, perhaps, our design was more fun on paper than it would have been in the game. When we really distilled player-generated missions, we realized that these are basically delivery missions. The fun part is that they are delivery missions for other players, but we couldn't think of any other ways that players would use the system. On top of that, adding this functionality would have been a major time sink for both programmers and designers. UI would also need to be implemented. In fact, the system would burden just about every area of development that needed relief…

Playing Devil’s Advocate…

The system fosters greater player interaction and may generate revenue for artisans and other crafters. It also allowed yet another way to earn some credits and have fun without necessarily getting involved in combat. Finally, it's one more way that we can add content without actually building content in-house: conceivably, including player-generated missions could result in many times the number of available missions.

Final Analysis

While we've constantly second-guessed our other postponements, I think everyone is fairly comfortable with removing player-generated missions from launch. I'm sure this postponement will upset some in the community, and for that we're truly sorry, but overall, the net effect has been positive. The number of things that would have dropped out of the design in order to get player-generated missions in would have made you all a lot less happy.

Also, it's key to note that this doesn't negatively impact Bounty Hunter or Smuggler professions, from a player's perspective. We've compensated by creating a whole system of game-generated bounty hunting opportunities, and the current Smuggler design doesn't rely on player-generated missions at all.

Dark Jedi

What Are Dark Jedi?

The evil counterparts to regular Jedi. As designed, the Jedi system should allow players to become both Jedi and Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi would have access to different Force powers.

Rational for Postponement

Because Jedi aren't going to be immediately attainable (i.e., you'll have to work at it), there's not as much urgency with this system (although we do need to balance it). Before you can become a Dark Jedi, you need to first work your way up to a certain place in the "regular Jedi" ranks, so it should be some time before the first players are even eligible for this dubious honor (and, I'm not going to try to estimate how long that will take; whatever I said, some player would just come along and prove me wrong ). As with everything else, Dark Jedi require some additional work, especially for scripters. We'd rather have our designers working on balancing the existing professions and making those as fun as possible than dedicated too much time to a path that only a small percentage of players will ever experience. As with the previously postponed Hutt Faction, I'd argue that when we do include Dark Jedi, we want to do it right.

Playing Devil's Advocate

Dark Jedi are really cool. There are many community members who want to be Dark Jedi and will be extremely upset by this news. Dark Jedi are also strong counterparts to the normal Jedi and would help us balance and control the population (and who doesn't want to see two Jedi fighting?).

Final Analysis

I don't think there's any concern that Dark Jedi won't eventually make it into the game. They won't be there at launch, but truthfully, we'll likely still be testing the Jedi system at launch.

What we Saved…

Just so we're clear, our efforts over the past many months haven't been all about postponing stuff. In fact, we have managed to "save" various systems and features, and even found new things that we wanted to add that were fairly easy to implement. As we discover what's fun about the game, we devise new ways to make the game even more fun, which results in new additions. Some highlight:

-Pets/Droids: This was actually on the "postponement block" for quite some time, but the team felt so strongly about having pets in the game that we managed to get it working well ahead of schedule. It's proved very useful because we can use the same system for droids and even NPCs that you can command on battlefields.

-Weather Affecting Combat: This is back in, and working well on the QA server.

-We increased the number of professions, and added features (new special moves, for example) to each profession that are outside the original design, all in the interest of making the professions more fun.

-Much more content than we originally intended. We're creating more POIs, more static quests, more random missions, even more cities than we originally planned.

-Badges: These rewards for players were also an easy thing to postpone, but we decided to keep them, despite the UI work necessary. We just wanted another cool reward in the game.

Our Post-Launch Plan

Obviously, determining whether we can postpone systems and still create a viable experience in the long-term was dependent on a post-launch schedule. Our first priority after the game goes live is fixing any bugs that ruin the experience for players. Bug-fixing and, to some degree, balancing must be our focus for at least a few weeks. However, we are also committed to including the postponed features and systems.

Of the postponed systems, player-owned and operated vehicles are first on our list to complete. This will take some time, and rigorous testing on the Test Server, but we'll be devoting a large portion of our energies to the system.

Player cities come next in terms of priority (although, depending upon the complexity of both systems, player cities could actually appear first - different people will be working on them, so the work may be progressing simultaneously). As the community grows, the need for player cities will increase as well.

Dark Jedi will likely be next on our slate. How quickly players are able to attain Jedi status may increase or decrease the urgency of this feature, but it's something we definitely want, especially as the number of potential Jedi grows.

Player-generated missions are last on the list (among these items, at least - we have dozens of other things we want to get into the game throughout the months after launch).

Final Comments…

Again, we apologize if your "pet feature" or system was postponement. The only thing I can say to ease the pain is that many of us on the development side also had to endure the loss of our pet features as well. I can also assure you that we're going to do everything we can to continue to grow the game over time, and that includes adding the new features described above.

Let us know if you have any questions.

Haden Blackman
LucasArts Producer