Today we have the pleasure of offering up a brand-new developer diary from SOE designer Stephen Wyckoff, all about the "engineering support" required to put players in massive Imperial vehicles! Join Stephen below the cut as he talks AT-STs, design, development, and tuning encounters to meet high player expectations. We also have a fantastic new video from the developers that will give you just a taste of what it's like to experience the frozen fury of the Hoth battle. All that and more is beyond the cut.
Steven "CancelAutoRun" Wyckoff here to tell you about life as "Engineering Support" for our new Chapter: "Hoth: The Battle of Echo Base." The role of Engineering Support is about as general and vague as the name suggests; it's everything from adding features to fixing bugs to answering questions that artists or designers might have, and dealing with these changes as we move from planning to implementation to polishing the chapter.
For Echo Base, one of the major feature- design requests was to create a system that would allow players to attack from a vehicle. To address this issue, Matt "AdeptStrain" Boudreaux created, and I added to, a system that allows our designers to override the primary action of a player. This allows designers to change the left-click action from attack to any action they want - in this case, firing the weapon of a vehicle. When we put a system like this in place, we have to design it to be as useful as possible both for the current task (Echo Base) and future tasks (hopefully, it will come in handy for the Droid Commander).
Although we can plan for most of the major systems, a lot of what Engineering Support does is address issues that come up as the project moves forward. For example, in early play tests, we found that it was very hard to tell which NPCs were vital to the evacuation. The solution was to mark the mission-critical NPCs with a different color on the radar and overhead map: orange. My job, at this point, was to first assess if such a thing could be done in a reasonable amount of time and then to actually implement it. The final result is a quick distinction between normal allied NPCs and the mission-critical ones.
In addition to adding features, acting as Engineering Support means, well, generally supporting the artists and designers by answering questions and doing research. It is a very rare day that I don't have someone come in and ask something along the lines of, "Can you tell me why ___ isn't doing what I want it to?" I call this part of my job "archaeology," and given the long and dynamic history of SWG, it is a challenging and vital job. If the planets are aligned properly, I find things in a good condition and can easily tell the designer how they can get what they want out of it. Sometimes, I'm not so lucky, and the discussion turns into, "How long would it take you to make it do ____?" which takes us back up to new features!
When we get to the polish phase, we switch to a cycle of play testing and fixing. As part of my role to make sure everything is working properly, I participate in the play testing. For play tests, we get a group (mostly designers) and play through the battle. Afterward, we have a meeting to discuss changes that should be made to improve it. My job in those meetings is largely to answer questions and keep us in the realm of the possible. Yes, I get the job of raining on designers' parades sometimes, but I make up for it by adding new features for them!
It is a little hectic acting as Engineering Support, but it is a lot of fun getting to take on so many different kinds of tasks and be a part of creating a fun player experience.