Boston Cantina Tour and Jack Wood Interview
This past Friday, BioWare sent a team from Star Wars: the Old Republic to Boston to meet with players, answer questions, and give out swag. As is standard procedure these days, while the event was held during the same weekend as a major convention (in this case, PAX East), it wasn't a formal part of the convention and held off-site. In attendance from Austin were Community Manager Eric Musco, Community Specialist Courtney Woods, Producer Jack Wood, and Development Director Matt Hemby, with a surprise appearance by Lead Writer Charles Boyd and Senior Director of Marketing DebySue Wolfcale.
As is standard, there was a question and answer period, and when Eric Musco started going through the disclaimers about the kinds of questions they wouldn't be able to answer, I had to interject, “Like guild ships, Eric?”, thus maintaining the streak of someone asking about them at every single Cantina Tour so far. The first question I caught of the night was whether they were going to raise the Legacy level cap beyond 50, and the answer was that there were no plans at this time. The next question was about guild ships, but the questioner wanted to know the price. Eric's response of “Not cheap!” elicited a laugh from the room, which continued when he added, “How much does your guild have?” One of the other devs gave further details, stating it was elective, but it would be a great thing to work with your guild to achieve. Next, we heard about PVP and Ranked changes, and Musco referred to the now-published blog from Associate Designer Alex Modny that gave some details into what to expect. The news that there would be quests to incentivize PVP further met with applause from the room.
Next, a player wanted to know which chat players would see when they were in their Stronghold, whether it would be planetary chat or something new. We were told that there would be chat tabs which they were still working on that would allow players to filter the kinds of chat they would see within their Stronghold. From the back of the room, a trio of players wanted to know why there was a clickable sabacc table in the Esseles Flashpoint but it didn't do anything. Eric answered that it's obvious that sabacc isn't in the game but that it was a damned good question. Another good question came from the audience when a player wanted to know if there would be any additional flexibility in terms of font sizes and colors to help make things such as quest text more readable. Musco said he was going to take that one back to the team.
We then found out the reasoning why the Operative and Scoundrel's knockdown skill was changed to a root, the ones that had the playerbase up in arms. Eric said that the mirrored skills were the only CCs in the game that were unavoidable due to the animation, that even the most skilled player would get knocked down for a full second, regardless whether they hit their CC-break ability 0.1 second after the Operative or Scoundrel hit their CC skill.
The team was then asked whether there would be any Galactic Starfighter content in the future or even on the wall of crazy that was PVE. While nothing was confirmed despite the crowd thinking so and letting up a cheer, we were told that 'anything's possible'. The next questioner wanted to know about raising the bar for the PVP ratings, perhaps lifting the Season One high bar from 1500 to 1800. Eric pointed out that the bar is set based on a percentage of players who have exceeded that bar. He added that the 1500 bar used for Season One was based on a figure of 5% of players that equaled or exceeded that rating, and the actual percentage might change, but the rating limit for prizes would be based on that percentage, not an arbitrarily-chosen number.
The next question was about why in PVE, Guardians/Juggernauts lost their AOE taunt, but Eric Musco gave an honest answer and said he didn't know, because he knew the taunt still worked in PVP. He was also asked whether there were more changes in store for Powertechs/Vanguards, and he replied that if something's on the combat team's radar by now, then it might be in Game Update 2.8 because they're not working that crazy-far out right now. The next question related to people being silly and doing things like /dance or other emotes and basically trying to wreck others' Ranked PVP games. Musco pointed that that some accidental in-match activity (such as being stuck after being killed) looked like some deliberate shenanigans, so there wasn't likely going to be a systematic fix, but it was something the team was very aware of and were looking into ways to stifle.
Turning to lore and roleplaying and questing, the next audience member asked whether there would be any additional same-gender romance arcs coming in future content with your companions. Courtney Woods fielded the question and stated that there were no plans to retcon elder content to allow for it, but confirmed that there would be more in the future along the lines of Lana on Makeb. Charles Boyd stepped up and stated that in retrospect, there were many unwise ways in which the previous romance content had been implemented. He added that going back and revising old content would just as likely wind up breaking it for everyone who ran it the current way as it would be to fix it for the folks who wanted SGRs from day one. There were a couple of jokes in the audience about reversing current romance decisions, and Boyd said, “You are no longer dating Vette,” which earned him a laugh from the crowd. However, he was very firm on the studio's intentions to keep adding same-gender romance content to the game.
The next questioner wanted to know about the possibility of a lifetime membership, and as in every other time someone has asked since before the game launched, the answer was 'no', that the decision had been made before launch and it was highly unlikely to change. We then turned back to lore when the team was asked whether we could revisit the Revanites on Dromund Kaas, and the room was pretty firmly in the camp of wanting to find out what happened to them. The next petitioner asked about the possibility of doing a cross-faction transfer. Eric replied that because of the deep story hooks on either side, switching from, say, a Sith Warrior to a Jedi Knight is far more intensive than switching factions in other less story-heavy games. He joked that the world would explode if you did that.
We next heard a little bit about new content when a player asked about adding things to ships such as decorating them or customizing them beyond what's currently available, and the devs stated that they didn't want to 'deplete the fleet' or wind up having folks use their ships for the stuff that is intended for Galactic Strongholds. However, Matt Hemby made a point of putting off answering specifics about the expansion and its features beyond advising that one's friends would be able to stop by to view the cool trophies that a player had parked in their Stronghold. Hemby made a point of adding that BioWare wanted this to be a social system for the game.
The next question from the crowd wasn't really a question, but Eric rephrased it as 'are we adding more guild support?' He answered it with his usual 'I have no information at this time', but added that they were very aware of the need and talked about it a great deal internally. He was then asked why premium ships were not cosmetically customizable in Galactic Starfighter like regular ships. Musco said that it boiled down to making sure that everyone could see that it was a premium ship and also to ensure that a player was purchasing exactly the ship they saw in the advertisement. The next question was for Charles Boyd, with the asker wondering how the Clone Wars' retcon of the name Korriban to Moraband affected things, and after a joke about shutting the entire game down for awhile, he replied that it doesn't affect the game, it's still Korriban in SWTOR. The final question for the evening was whether the Chevin event could come back. Eric turned the question around and asked the room if it was something players would want and nearly got bowled over by the affirmative response.
After the Q&A while everyone else mingled, I was approached by DebySue Wolfcale, who arranged for a brief interview with Producer Jack Wood to talk about Galactic Strongholds. In our interview, I pretty much cribbed off my previous SWTOR article and took my questions from it. Naturally, many of the things we all want to know about the new update and systems he couldn't answer, but he did reveal a few tidbits to tide us over until then. One of my biggest concerns with the new housing system was that I didn't want it to be a retread of Lord of the Rings Online's limited options, especially now that LotRO just announced this week that they were delaying their housing update. Wood did confirm that SWTOR's version of housing was not going to be the same or as limited as what LotRO currently has and added that they hope to have a better reveal turnaround time than they had for Galactic Starfighter, but they had to be deliberate about how to deliver the message. Expect to hear more about it before it launches this time around.
Next, Wood answered another of the big obvious questions, and that was yes, there would be housing on planets other than Nar Shaddaa, Coruscant, and Dromund Kaas, although he declined to name any names. Sadly, when I pointed out that one figure in the teaser video who appeared to be sitting on a couch, he said he had no information at that time whether that meant there would be proper click-to-sit options. We also discussed the name Strongholds and I questioned whether there should be any implication of PVP action. So far, he indicated it was just a name and that there was no PVP on the books for it at this time. Since we didn't see the Dromund Kaas housing in the video, I asked whether we could have estates on the Imperial capital planet, because it's more thematic for Sith Lords and rich Bounty Hunters and high-ranking Agents to have sprawling estates like Lord Grathan. Wood said that estates would be fun to do, but they're not on the books for now.
Two final things were discussed during the interview. Firstly, I pointed out the 200k credit limit for free-to-play accounts versus the announced 250k asking price for the Nar Shaddaa Sky Palace, and Wood confirmed that the escrow system would come into play for those players if they wanted to buy one. He also pointed out that the Sky Palace was the most expensive housing in the game, equivalent to buying a large apartment in Vegas versus buying a small house out in the boonies. There will be less-expensive housing on other planets, but again he didn't name which ones or what those prices might be. The other and final topic I broached was legacy storage, pointing out how many players are hopeful for the notion of crafting from legacy storage and that bays would unlock much like personal cargo bays. Again, he declined to give a firm answer, but tried to be reassuring by stating that the system will be great. Personally, I would be highly shocked to see something as flexible as sandbox building as we've seen in recent games such as Landmark or even the older EverQuest II, but the fact that it won't be the same as we've had in LotRO since late 2007 is definitely promising.
We'll just have to wait and see what new releases BioWare has up their sleeves.