I would like to think that developers would re-evaluate the scope of the project if enough people complained, but in truth, that level of reconstruction is expensive. For a game that is already as expensive as SWTOR, I just don't see it happening. The few things that have been changed, like the size of the lightsaber hilts and the Wizard title, are really small things. However, things like taking space combat out of the tunnel are a bit more time-consuming, not to mention costly, and so they are less likely to be changed. But as Bree suggested to me, what other avenue do players have?
What I'd like to talk about this week are a few of the top desires of the community, desires that push the scope of SWTOR. I will give the reasons I believe they are pushing the scope of the game, but I would really like to have your involvement. Why do you think these things were implemented the way they were, or why will they not be implemented? Step beyond the break to see my thoughts.
I have not made much mention of space because its proposed implementation is disappointing to me. I really, really don't like BioWare's decisions about space combat. I have defended it in the past, but then I saw other games, like Halo Reach, implement a similar style of space combat without the tunnel. I know SWTOR is primarily a ground-pounder game, but that does not mean a good space game is out of the question.
I will not say that the tunnel-shooter BioWare plans to release will not be fun. I believe it will be fun. I believe it will propel the story. I believe BioWare has very good intentions when it comes to its particular development of space combat. When a storytelling group like BioWare is presented with a dilemma like "how do we create a space game that also supports our fourth pillar?" it is quite a challenge -- and not one I'd like to personally undertake. A tunnel-shooter is a viable solution. Why? Because it allows the designers a large amount of control. When the focus is on storytelling, you want as much environmental control as possible. That way you are sure the story is told the way you envisioned it. Who can really argue that games like StarFox were not fun?
On the flipside, MMOs are really about chaos -- or controlled chaos, at least -- and about the idea that this is your story, so you should be able to guide the direction of your character the way you see fit, right? It's interesting that BioWare has done its best to give us the feeling of choice in the ground game yet has stripped it from us in the space game. I don't think what BioWare has is bad, but I do believe there are far better ways the team could have implemented it, especially for an MMO.
In my years in Star Wars Galaxies and playing the Star Wars PnP RPGs, I have witnessed some incredible storytelling revolving around non-human species. My favorite story centered on a Sullustan Engineer. The story was great because it allowed me to explore my personal self-doubts. (The character was an extreme introvert -- quite the opposite of me.) I felt really connected to the character and her story. She was a lot of fun despite being extremely not-human.
I was disappointed in BioWare's decision to keep all player characters human-ish, but I understand the reason behind it. Nearly every science fiction television show or movie has set a human or a very human-like character as the protagonist. It makes sense. Most people cannot relate to something un-human. The facial expressions are different. They can be gross -- not to mention, sometimes they lack sex-appeal. However, some of us want to step into the tentacles of a completely different creature, and many of us believe that is the point of MMOs.
Jef Reahard took some time a couple of weeks back to voice his concerns about SWTOR, and one of the major things he mentioned was player-generated content (PGC). Despite my saying most PGC is crap, the small percentage that isn't a waste of player time is usually RPG gold. Over a year ago at Fan Faire, SWG announced "the next big thing." The Chronicle system wasn't the first source of PGC for SWG, but it was the first time the development team took a long look at creating a system in which the players created their own stories with GM-type tools. I was very involved in the implementation of this mechanic (literally, as much as a player could be).
As much as I would like to see something similar in SWTOR, I know it's just not going to happen. Much of SWTOR, and of all recent BioWare games for that matter, revolves around BioWare's being the gamemaster. And handing out GM tools to players just seems way beyond the vision of the game. I'm not saying this will not happen. It was out of SWG's scope for five years, and SOE ended up doing it. Maybe we still have some hope.
I will admit that my first inclination is to say, "No, it's not worth it. Go play another game if you don't like what this one has to offer." But after some thought and talking to Bree, I believe I may be wrong. AAA games should be appealing to a great number of people, and I don't know how much these large companies actually pay attention to what MMO players in other games are doing. The best way to let them know is to actually tell them -- give them a chance to dissuade your fears. I don't encourage flaming or name-calling, but if you can succinctly explain why you dislike a certain implementation, then do it. Maybe you have an idea that will stretch the scope of an MMO? Write the developers a private message. I wrote a PM to one of the developers of Star Wars Galaxies, and a year later, we saw the Chronicles system. They do listen, but unfortunately, it takes time.
What are your thoughts? Do you think it is worth it to appeal to a company like BioWare? Do you believe any of the items mentioned above will make it in the game? Why or why not?
The Hyperspace Beacon by Larry Everett is your weekly guide to the vast galaxy of Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently in production by BioWare. If you have comments or suggestions for the column, send a transmission to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!