Part two of our interview with Star Wars: The Old Republic lead designer Daniel Erickson focuses specifically on the recent 1.2 game update. We delve into the goals BioWare were trying to achieve with it, how fan feedback was taken into account, future plans and more.
The first part of our chat with Erickson, in which he talks about the game’s balancing, testing and BioWare’s first MMO experience, can be found .
IncGamers: Talking about patch 1.2 specifically, then: what were your goals with this patch? What did you really want to do with it?
Daniel Erickson: The Legacy system was obviously the big one. The game had always been about intricate stories coming together and combining; an RPG where you could play lots of different characters and you would get to see things you never saw in the other classes. Each of the classes has their own storyline, the storylines all cross and connect, and you as a player could be working towards an overall goal.
Let’s say it’s not your Operation night; you’re actually on lockout. Well, now you can go over to your secondary character and you can do things that will actually help your primary character. That, combined with the sheer Star Wars beauty of “I’m Luke Skywalker, my father was a Jedi, I’m a Jedi, I’ve opened up these cool things.” Giving people really, really clear goals that combine everything together. That was something that was key to the early design.
Legacy had so many different systems that, when many of those systems came in right towards the end when we were about to ship, it wasn’t safe to try to connect them under one roof. So we had to postpone Legacy, and that was probably the biggest heartbreak back then, so it was great to get the big system out that we’ve been working on for so long.
And then, obviously, we wanted to bring a ton of content. So we brought a new Operation, we brought a new Warzone, we brought new areas to do daily quests, and a bunch of whole new fun stuff for players to run around and explore.
IG: Speaking of Legacy, then, why did you decide to add the family tree? Is that just for flavour, or are you planning on expanding on it as time goes on, or…?
DE: Both, but the family tree is definitely role-playing. That’s what it’s there for. The very first image we ever did when we talked about Legacy was… well, I with my terrible designer art, put together a little family tree that literally had Vader, and then Luke, and Leia, and Han, and then little Anakin and their other kids, and the whole Star Wars family that had gone on through the prequels, and the original movies, and then the books and everything later on. That was sort of the key thing for Legacy.
We’ve always been doing role-playing games, but BioWare’s role-playing games have always been run by the dungeon master, as it were. MMOs are a space where a lot of the players want to tell a lot of their own stories and they want to do more active role-playing. So, since Legacy was something that so clearly was as much about the fantasy of what you were doing as the way the features worked, we wanted to give players the tools to actually say “Here is who these people are and how they relate to each other.”
There are definitely more things we want to do with it in the future. I know one of the ones that didn’t make the first cut was your companion characters getting in there, which would make perfect sense. I got married to my companion character, so she should probably be in my family tree!
IG: I assume you had Patch 1.2 and most of the stuff in it planned out for a long time, but how does fan feedback affect that? How do you actually start planning and deciding what you’re going to include in this patch, and what you’re going to leave until later?
DE: We do a patch plan fairly far out, and then we’ve changed it pretty much entirely by the time they land. A lot of that is community feedback and statistical feedback. We’re constantly watching what the player base is doing, where they’re going, and what is working and what is not working. If it turns out that there is a key feature that is missing, that there is something that is drastically needed for it, or if there’s a balance thing… If there’s a particular way that we thought things were going to work, but they’re not, then we will re-arrange everything that’s going in the patches.
It’s not the same group of people working on all these different projects. They’re fairly discrete groups, so we can say “Hey, let’s pull this section in and let’s push that section out” without causing a whole lot of chaos. What it really does is change how many things you’re going to be able to fit in one place, how many things you’re going to be able to test, etc. Although, obviously, we still have to make those decisions pretty far out, because any feature worth having is probably something that’s going to take quite a bit of time to put together.
IG: Moving onto the Warzones, then – why did you decide to do Novare Coast for this patch? It’s another 3-point capture-and-hold map, albeit with very different mechanics to Alderaan Civil War, but why did you decide to go in that direction instead of doing a completely different gametype for the first post-launch Warzone?
DE: Well, the easy answer to that one is as you said. On the surface, when people first glance at it, they go “Oh, it’s just like Alderaan!” but like you said, if you play it, it’s actually drastically different to Alderaan.
There were a lot of pacing situations that we were trying to achieve. We really wanted something that would go down to nail-biters; we wanted something that would flip back and forth. We wanted to play a little bit more with terrain, and blocking terrain, and variety of landscapes with people trying to find their own little shortcuts and things – which they’re starting to do! One of the really nice things on Novare Coast is that you’ll see people filling up the passes, and not just staying and defending the points. It’s actually really effective to delay people, to do things like that, so…
We have ideas of what we want to do in our minute-to-minute gameplay that you might not be able to achieve if you were going just boldly experimental with what the goals and missions of the thing were. Having achieved that, and knowing our very ambitious PvP team, I assume that what you’ll see coming next will probably be a little bit crazier.
IG: You’ve actually pre-empted my next question. I was going to ask if you were planning on doing something similar and expanding on the other Warzone types, or if you were going to move towards different game-types a bit more in the future, with the PvP.
DE: I happen to be the world’s biggest Huttball fan, and I said “Can I have a new Huttball stadium?” and they said “Maybe later, old man. We’re going to do something different.” [Laughs].
IG: On that note, is the ability to choose which Warzone you want to queue for on the list of things to do soon-ish?
DE: Not until cross-server Warzones. Doing anything cross-server and connecting your entire server is a very hefty, complicated technical problem, so, well, it’s not coming in the next couple of weeks. When we have the population to support it, we absolutely want to give people the ability to choose their favourites, and what they want to do, and which order, and all of that. But until you’ve got such a large population, adding that option on a lower-population server could kill your Warzones popping entirely.
IG: Last thing, then: the Flashpoints and Operations. What sort of new things did you want to do with those in Patch 1.2, to challenge and surprise players?
DE: The Operation was really about getting some more complicated fights in there, and something that would ratchet up the level of difficulty. We definitely did not have the Operations tuned as tightly in the first couple as we would have liked to, and so we – as, I think, has traditionally happened for MMO designers! – underestimated the tenacity and the power, especially, of something of the leading guilds, and they came out, and they beat the hell out of our content.
So when we put Denova out on the Public Test, it was kind of interesting. We got it out there, and a whole bunch of people came in and they hit it really hard. We brought people in, and people were testing it, and nobody was getting past the first boss. I started getting feedback that said “Oh God, we’ve got a big problem with the boss! Nobody can beat the first boss!” And I’m like “No, no, no, no. That’s where we want it.”
That still means that there are people who’re going to come out and smash this stuff eventually, but the people who are at that cutting edge of Operations? Those guys want a serious challenge. They want to have to get together an incredibly good group who really practices and who really knows their stuff, because they want the pride and the esteem of saying “Hey, we beat something really, really tough.”