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BioWare, LucasArts Talk Design, Chastise MMO Genre In  Old Republic  Session
BioWare, LucasArts Talk Design, Chastise MMO Genre In Old Republic Session
October 22, 2008 | By Chris Remo, Christian Nutt

October 22, 2008 | By Chris Remo, Christian Nutt

In a Gamasutra-attended Q&A session after the announcement of BioWare and LucasArts' Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO, BioWare developers -- including lead designer James Ohlen, BioWare Austin VP Rich Vogel, and studio co-founder Gordon Walton -- fielded questions from journalists alongside LucasArts producer Jake Neri.

Calling the product "BioWare's biggest game" and "probably one of EA's biggest games," Ohlen discussed the game's design in broad terms for the largely consumer-oriented crowd of journalists, talking at the reveal event held in San Francisco's Presidio at LucasArts' sumptuous offices.

Though the specifics of the game are not being revealed, Ohlen revealed some insight into the game's class design -- "If you want to be a Han Solo, that should have a very different story feel from a Luke Skywalker."

This implies both adherence to the films' character archetypes and tight integration with the story-based design of the game, as is being promised.

Ohlen described the size of the writing team as "three to four times the size" of a typical BioWare product, under lead writer Daniel Erickson. PVP play will be "a big part" of the game, he said.

A "big challenge" in development is finding a way to make other classes as powerful as the Jedi and Sith, who obviously wield nearly god-like powers in the films and other fiction in the Star Wars universe.

In particular relation to this, Ohlen noted in-fiction examples of Jedi being killed by non-Jedi; he said, "If you're a non-Jedi class, you'll be a very powerful version of that class."

Ohlen also hinted that the game will be able to be nearly completely soloed -- "If you want to play through your epic story on your own, you can do that" -- but that the developers are going to "encourage" multiplayer.

LucasArts' Neri continued this thread, in an understated way -- "Like any other MMO, we want to encourage social play." In slight contrast, Walton used the event as an opportunity to implicitly criticize the MMO market.

While saying that all of the games in the genre that the team has played have "taught us something", he suggested that the MMO market is "crying out for novelty, for something new you can't get anywhere else," calling it a "medium that isn't really developed yet."

While a lot of salient info -- such as the battle system, space travel, and the nature of the gameplay involving the companion characters each player will play alongside -- is being held back, Walton explained why.

"If there's anything MMOs suffer from, it's blab-itis," said Walton, and he believes that over-revealing initial MMO announcements then underdeliver on these early promises, a strategy the BioWare team is clearly unwilling to take.

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William Armstrong
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I find myself reluctantly agreeing with Walton's comments; despite being a long time MMO-player, I have to agree that the genre hasn't evolved much since Everquest; you're still running around killing monsters to get loot and level up so you can tag along with other players for a chance to kill bigger monsters and better loot.

Despite that, I still enjoy playing WoW and Warhammer, but I think that MMOs are pretty stagnant and anybody who does something different (and has the production budget to make it stable) is going to shake things up.

Hopefully, this is that game. I wanted to get sucked into Sony's Star Wars Galaxies, but the utter unplayability and instability of it drove me away at lightspeed. Now all we have to do is make sure there aren't 6 million Jedis running around.

Tom Kammerer
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I agree with your thoughts William, But the elements you stated of Everquest are the key elements of any rpg.

People love RPG's. People Love getting stronger in a game, leveling up. and getting epic gear. It is the addiction of seeing your character grow. It is the key elements of every RPG.

I feel it is more specific than that. It is the turn based combat system, the highlight and click the toolbar style that has never evolved.

The genre needs to evolve those elements. In such a way that Oblivion did.

We need to see more single player rpg mechanics in MMO rpg games. Everyone is dieing to play oblivion with thousands of people in the same world. Or a real time First person shooter that huxley is claiming it is. We want more twitch, more skill base. People are getting better at MMO's not worst. Give us a challenge. They keep rolling out turn based combat where we suck our thumbs and click a single mouse button.

Lets hope the oblivion MMO being developed feeds our hunger.

you can never get away from the level up and better gear element, that will be immortal.

Jake Romigh
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I have to say that I disagree with the assumption that leveling up and getting better gear is the key to MMOs.

For one example on the fact that leveling up is not a key ingredient to the MMO experience, take Guild Wars. The maximum character level is 20 (though, I do not know if this has been increased in the expansions), which is extremely low for MMOs. This means that players can reach the end game relatively quickly, and the game focuses on the player's skill and skill point allocation. In this way, Guild Wars is not about the grind as much as it is about intelligently build characters to face challenges.

As for the better gear element, does this really have to be the case? Is it all that impossible to imagine a massively multiplayer game that is competitive on more than a "I've put more end-game raid time in that you have" level? I believe that it is very possible to design a MMO which is more dependent on the player's skill rather than the integers associated with what the player's avatar is wearing...

Now, of course this would be very different than what is offered today, but people are looking for a change in MMO state. So why are these same people making MMO(RPG)s with the same principles as others?!

Corwyn Kalenda
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I agree with your sentiment for the most part, but so far, I'm not seeing any reason to be confident that this is the game that's going to change any of that.

My issue is that while they've said plenty on the topic of needing to innovate and needing to change the MMO landscape, and they've even spoken about some of how they plan to... I just don't see anything in any of the articles I've read thus far that sounds like it's actually going to accomplish that feat.

Sure, they're talking about story development on a scale quite a bit more ambitious and massive than currently exists in MMOs, but they haven't really given anything to suggest how this is really any different than every other directed-experience quest-driven MMO currently in existence. For that matter, with some of what we're hearing, I'm deeply concerned that this game isn't going to fall very far from being just like Bioware's existing titles with 'MMO' tacked on the side.

Mind, I love Bioware's games-- I own most of them and enjoy them regularly. But they DO tend to follow a similar formula, and I'd hope they're getting away from that in this case, because I don't think it translates into an MMO well.

As for the whole leveling/gear/etcetera thing... No, these do not have to be the keystone of an MMOG. An MMORPG, however, is different, because it's predicated on the RPG genre. Level/gear isn't necessarily the key of the RPG genre, but RPGs are based on character skill, not player skill. It's a fundamental tenant of the genre. You advance your character, not yourself, and skill in an RPG comes from skillful use of the character skills, gaming the stats systems, etcetera. So no, I don't expect an MMORPG to emphasize player skill over character stats/Level/gear/whatever. The changes I want to see lie elsewhere in that particular genre. But that isn't to say I don't want to see the MMOG market stray from the RPG subset, either.

Anyway, back to Bioware. It's too early to really pass judgement for sure, at this point. But so far, I have grave worries about how this game's actually going to turn out, and I'm skeptical of a lot of what Bioware's saying, cheifly because it seems like they're missing a lot of the forest for the trees, just going by what they've said so far.

Maurício Gomes
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People here are acting like if they knew true RPG, RPG to start with is not that bizarre genre that still needs a name that consists in tweaking the spreadsheet of variables of your character (not that this genre is bad, in fact I like it, but it clearly is not a RPG!)

The only "true" MMORPG that I ever saw was Ultima Online before the lastest EA expansions... Why?

It was particularly easy to reach the "endgame" that is, have the best gear (in fact the gear that you think that is the best gear, I miss games where you had a actual choice of gear instead of just cramming the real best ones, making any gear than the best one useless in fact), and then all the skills in a really short time (I know people that did it in 5 or 4 days).

Then the game turned into a true RPG, you talked around with other players, engaged in adventures togheter, you interacted with other people and created the story togheter, like thsoe table-top RPGs

Then even UO got victim of the trend that what players truly enjoy is killing, looting, killing, looting, and started to make expansions with ever better gear (that after everyone has, they make another expansion)

To me calling this a MMORPG is a insult to MMORPGs (like Ultima Online pre T2A, or OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro...)

The fact that they are makign this game a MMORPG make me sad, I hope that it turns to be a true MMORPG and not a kill, loot, kill, loot, game...

Btw: The best solution against Jedi spam (ie: all players being Jedi) is the one that I saw in the game RoE (Rise of the Empire), you are allowed to have a Jedi only after a good time playing with non-Jedi characters, then you could apply to have one (you needed to write a 6 page long biography to him) and if you get approved and another old player endorsed you, you could then start with a padawan (that means: weaker than the strongest han-solo like players around, but with potential to be a jedi or sith)

Jake Romigh
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While I can see your point about characters evolving skills instead of players, I can agree. The problem lies where developers place skill development: grinding. Where as fighting monsters to gain experience does fall in line with playing a role, most MMOs at this point make all the characters the same: "Bob, the Monster Genosider".

Killing the same monsters over and over does not make a good role to play as, if your focus is actual role-playing; especially if it makes no logical sense, like multiple raids on unique in-game characters, ex. WoW Raid Bosses.