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Interviews: PAX Interview - PVP, Voidstar, and Replayability

By William Murphy on September 02, 2011

PAX Interview - PVP, Voidstar, and Replayability

During PAX Prime, I dashed over to BioWare’s Star Wars booth and had the chance to catch up with James Ohlen (Game Director) and Gabe Amantangelo (Elder Game Designer for PVP and Flashpoints). The guys were pretty busy demoing Huttball for the masses, but were kind enough to stop and chat with Carolyn Koh and I on a bevy of subjects. Some of this was covered in our panel recap, but it’s all good stuff so without further ado, let’s dig in.

I got to play some of the PVP on the floor and I have to say it’s pretty damned fun. The Juggernaut is a beast. But I was hoping that maybe, this being PAX and all, you could give us some hints and nuggets on the World PVP?

Gabe Amantangelo:

Well, yeah we can give hints and nuggets. We’ll be showing more during our panel, and telling folks a lot more about it, but basically we’ll have designated areas where there will be PVP objectives. Philosophically we want to focus on making it like strike teams in an open world PVP environment as opposed to just zergs rushing all over. We want to capture those massive and even smaller battle moments from the movies.

We also want to expand it, and see how much we can get in before launch. But we want to expand it to territorial, staking your claim in an area sort of stuff.

James Ohlen:

But all the really cool stuff we’ll show off at the panel and into the next few weeks too. I think people will be really pleased with world PVP in TOR.


Speaking on the regular PVP, I want to call them Scenarios, but I won’t. Speaking on Warzones, how many can we expect to see when the game goes live?

Gabe Amantangelo:

Huttball is the 3rd one we’ve announced, and we’ve got a big team working on the world stuff, but it’s really about quality over quantity, so we want to make sure that whatever we ship is ready to ship. So… in short, I can’t really say or James will stab me.

James Ohlen:

I will.

Warzones are the more structured form of PVP, so will you guys be doing anything with ranking systems, tournaments and the like? Will SW:TOR dig into the whole eSports side of things?

Gabe Amantangelo:

Yeah, yeah, well we have our Valor Ranking System which is tied to titles and awards and all that good achievement stuff players want. But we are interested in ladders, spectator modes, and all that stuff. I mean, that’s kind of my job, and the PVP community to me is just as important as the raiders and role-players.

James Ohlen:

To give you an idea, what makes it into the game depends on just how fast we’re able to work it and do it in a feasible and quality manner. Originally we were only going to have one Warzone, but Gabe and his team have managed to pump them out and now we have three. So it really has expanded from what we thought we’d be able to do before launch.

The guys from Warhammer, you know we’ve really got a lot of experience from that team and we think we’ve learned what to do and what not to do from the depth those guys bring. It’s really enabled us to do a lot more than we thought we were going to be able to do.

Originally we didn’t think PVP was going to be a big part of the game, but now where here at PAX and it’s all we’re talking about… so yeah.

I got to play some of it, as I said, and I was Juggernaut on the Empire side. And we won… handily. Part of that is because I’m pretty sure it was MMO-games press like myself and Massively versus folks from MTV, but still. How are you going to deal with class-balance and making sure everything’s tweaked just so?

Gabe Amantangelo:

Sure, I mean, everyone has a role to play in PVP.

I want to point out on the recording that Gabe’s smiling right now at me, like: “I hate you, thanks for asking this again.”

Gabe Amantangelo:

(Laughing) Sure, I mean it’s perfectly balanced, Bill. Seriously though, we do track it all. We work very closely with all the other teams, and we have months of testing feedback too. So we’re aware of when things don’t seem to pan out as they should, but really our focus is the theme: storyline, the war between two sides, and the combat as well. So really we just want to make sure that each class feels useful in PVP, and that they serve their roles. If we can do that first, we can worry about tweaking skills down the road.

You can approach it one of two ways. It can be all about one on one, or it can be the team co-op. For us, it’s all about the team experience. So we feel like the game’s pretty well set to for team combat, but definitely, you’ll run into cases where one class simply outdoes another. And it’s kind of designed that way. But with a team that works together against a team that doesn’t? No contest.

I was actually worried that the PVP would sort of take away from the stylized story and movie feel of the game, when I heard you were going to focus on it. Like it would be two separate games that didn’t feel part of the same presentation. But the match begins and you start on a land-speeder down to the fighting area. Then you spend the fight enabling and disabling these turrets and you can watch them shoot lasers at this massive ship in the background until hopefully it blows up all in real-time. It’s still very cinematic.

Gabe Amantangelo:

Yeah, we really tried to capture the same movie-like quality in PVP mechanics. You might see this one time, and you might see this another time, but it’s all still story-driven… even for PVP we think that’s necessary that you have a reason to fight and that you feel a part of something bigger.

James Ohlen:

Just wait until you see the Voidstar.

Gabe Amantangelo:

Oh yeah, the Voidstar. That really is the bridge between the cinematic and PVP. It’s like a boarding party type warzone, where you go into attack and defense a bit more and in a bit more original way than other fights. It’s a derelict starship, and it has tech that both sides want. One side gets there before the other and the other side’s trying to take it, boarding the ship and charging the hold. You have to defend from room to room to room, open doors, get across bridges to eventually get to the data core. We really try to pull from the original trilogy and the canon in how the fights play out.

I want to talk a bit about the personal story and replayability. I think a lot folks might be worried that with the way the story’s set up, replaying it all might not really be that fun in the long run. Is there something you can towards that to assure people that Alts will be just as viable in SWTOR?

James Ohlen:

Sure, absolutely. Well there are the two different sides to begin with. I feel absolutely comfortable saying that if you play on both sides, you will never repeat content. Meaning if you play through as the Empire and then the Republic, there’s no shared content there. However if you decide to play a Bounty Hunter and then play a Sith Warrior, your origin worlds will be completely different, and then once you get to the capital world the content sort of “blends” together. Your class content is going to be completely different, but the smaller side quests will be shared by all.

By and large, a lot of the content for each class is different, even if some of it runs through the same areas. The Sith Warrior quests are different from the Bounty Hunter quests, and then there are tons of other world quests to do or to skip completely, as you don’t have to do all of the content in our game to progress. You won’t be struggling to level up. Especially with the later content. We’re trying to build the game so that everything you do works towards your class’ level. You have plenty of options to go through the game, and we’re feeling pretty good about the replayability level. That will also only change as we add more to the game too. Plus there’s the different choices: light-side and dark-side, even gender. Each makes a difference in the quests and how you interact with people.

You may go through once as a nice guy, and experience completely different outcomes going through the same class and same quests as a badass woman. So yeah, there really are a lot of options.

Thanks so much guys, for taking the time out of PAX to answer our questions. Launch is when again?

James Ohlen:

(Laughing) Soon, we promise!

Gabe Amantangelo:

It's not tomorrow, that's for sure. Thanks guys!

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.