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Columns: Work in Progress

By Michael Bitton on February 23, 2011

Work in Progress

Despite being the triple AAA MMO from beloved RPG developer Bioware, Star Wars: The Old Republic Is still a work-in-progress. The game is still in development people, and I think with all the hype surrounding it fans are certainly scrutinizing every bit they see of the game probably more than any other MMO I’ve seen followed throughout development.


Whether you’ve personally been doing this or not (I’ve even been guilty of it), a lot of fans (and even press) following the game have been overly critical about various aesthetic aspects of the game, such as the UI or specific elements of the UI. Bioware has responded numerous times by stating that the UI seen is placeholder, and I think a lot of us kind of forget that when they show the game in public there are still many elements that are not final as a result of the way most development processes work.

Bioware’s Georg Zoeller took the official SW:TOR forums last week to explain the “rough in, refine later” process they (and likely most developers) utilize when creating their games. The gist of it is this, development is an iterative process, and in order to get a number of things working they need to use placeholder animation, UI, sounds, etc. so that they can get the game actually running. The “refined” versions of these elements are put in much later. Georg used movement animations as one example:

“For example, you need a movement animation in the game as a prerequisite for pretty much anything else involving a character.

These kind of high-dependency assets get roughed in or prototyped as quickly as possible early on to minimize bottlenecks - e.g. once you have basic character movement, you can start doing more specialized work. If you don't, you can't start on that, so they block the rest of development if they're not there.”

The complaints aren’t all bad though, it’s just important to keep things in perspective when voicing your concerns. Most of what you see is probably not final, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a constructive opinion on what you’d actually like to see. Sure, you can base that off what you think they may or may not be going for with placeholder stuff, but what I really wanted to get at this week is that we could all stand to calm down a bit and realize that a lot the stuff we’re seeing probably won’t be there in the same form at launch. Whenever they show off the game it is a great opportunity to let your voice be heard and give Bioware feedback, however, going about it in an antagonistic way is probably a sure-fire way to ensure your take on things is ignored.

I want to close things out this week by pointing to a video one of our community members linked to right here on our forums. The fan-made video looks back at some of the rougher art we’ve seen in previous showings of the game and compares it to some of the later stuff where it is quite obvious that there is a marked improvement. The video isn’t perfect by any means, but you’d be hard pressed to say the game isn’t looking better after viewing it.

And yes, I know at least most of us complain because we care and want the game to look and play great. My hope is that the next time we feel the urge to kneejerk react to something we’ve seen in a SW:TOR video or demo this article might remind a few of you (and even myself) to give pause and consider that everything is still a work-in-progress.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined as the site's Community Manager.