Exclusive: SOE talks Clone Wars Adventures

Last Tuesday, we gleefully reported on Sony Online Entertainment's brand-new, upcoming Star Wars game: Clone Wars Adventures. We'd heard the rumors, but confirmation sent us into pure fan-frenzy! This kid-friendly virtual world promises a free-to-play romp through the Clone Wars era, allowing players to jump into Star Wars minigames and join the storied heroes of the Republic in the fight against the Separatist armies. That's what we could dig up on the official site, anyway -- but don't you want to know more?

Well, Star Wars fans, you're in luck, because we've landed a juicy interview with the Lead Designer of CWA, Matt Higby. Join us after the break as Matt graciously answers all our eager questions about purple lightsabers and parental tools, cartoons and cash shops, and why adult fans (not just kids) will want to check it out!

Massively: Everyone is drawing the obvious comparisons between Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and SOE's other game of this type: Free Realms. What are some of the basic differences between the two games -- other than the genre?

Matt Higby, Lead Designer, Clone Wars Adventures, SOE: Well, first of all, many of us on the Clone Wars Adventures team also worked on Free Realms, so we started this project with an enormous head-start in terms of knowing what would work and wouldn't work for the type of game we are making. This built-in knowledge allowed us to make a lot of fundamental changes to the way the basic game is setup. The biggest difference right off the bat is that CWA isn't an MMORPG like Free Realms, it is a virtual world. This means that we don't have character levels, stats, classes (or Jobs in the case of Free Realms) or any of the other trappings of a typical MMORPG. Instead, Clone Wars Adventures is all about socialization, competition with friends, playing a variety of skill-based games, earning trophies and unlocking and collecting from a massive catalog of items ranging from super-iconic Lightsabers to battle-worn Clone Trooper armor and everything in-between.

Another huge difference people will immediately notice is in our world design. Rather than having exploration and a large world as core features, we made the decision early on to go with a more hub-based approach. Areas in CWA are very close together and strongly thematically linked to the games that are launched there in order to make everything in the game as accessible and streamlined as possible.

CWA is aimed at a kid-friendly family audience -- what sorts of tools will SOE employ to make the game a safe environment for youngsters, other than the mentioned chat settings?

Online safety for kids is something we take extremely seriously. Our parental controls allow parents to tailor their child's playtime schedule, set weekly limits on play sessions and more. Our chat filtration is extremely robust, not only blocking anything that could be construed as profane but also preventing kids from being able to share sensitive information such as phone numbers or addresses. In addition, we have a full staff of in-game customer service reps that are monitoring in-game 24/7 to deal with any issues that could occur. With Free Realms, SOE raised the bar in terms of online safety for younger gamers, and with Clone Wars Adventures we are definitely going to continue in that tradition.

Will there be any content to entice older fans of the series? How will the embedded card game be accessible to young players while providing challenge for adults?

It's definitely our goal to make CWA an awesome experience for Clone Wars fans of all ages. Even though the game is primarily targeted at kids 6-14, most of the games we're creating have a good level of depth; through challenge modes, earning trophies, and competing with friends, there should be plenty for gamers of all skill levels to enjoy. The card game is a great example of the basic design premise at work throughout CWA: that games don't need to be overly complex in order to be a lot of fun. We're not ready to reveal too much about the embedded card game just yet, but the basic premise is that it will be action-packed, quick to pick-up and it will layer on a lot of fun and unique mechanics to keep it exciting.

The press release suggested that the client will be available online as well as boxed in brick and mortar stores. Does this mean it's more of a stand-alone client, and not a "browser" game? Can we expect low system requirements, similarly to Free Realms?

Just as with Free Realms, players will be able to create a character, register an account and play straight from the website. The retail component adds an extra layer of accessibility for gamers who are used to purchasing games at their favorite retail store or to help parents who are looking for the perfect holiday gift. As an added bonus the retail box will have some exclusive content offers which we'll be talking more about in the next couple months. As for system requirements, we're planning for the same low system specs that we had with Free Realms.

One of the concerns voiced by players about Free Realms is the prevalence of cash shop references within the game, and the perceived difficulty of playing the game without making purchases or paying for membership. Does SOE plan to address these potential issues in CWA? How will players be made to want to make purchases rather than made to feel as if they must make purchases?

Well, first of all, no items are "required" in the game. In fact, no items in the game affect actual gameplay in any way. As I mentioned above, due to our nature as a virtual world as opposed to an MMORPG, we don't have item "stats" and no item in CWA will give you any sort of advantage to gameplay since all of our games are 100% player skill based. Items in CWA are all about customization, personalization and self-expression, things like clothing, armor, furniture, pets and weapons. If you want to roll around the Jedi Temple rocking Mace Windu's iconic purple Lightsaber, that might cost you some StationCash, but you can totally play the Lightsaber Dueling game without it.

Membership in CWA is going to offer access to a huge amount of extra in-game content, more minigames, more stages, exclusive members-only areas of the world, extra items, as well as additional customization, pet and housing options.

Will the storyline of the game directly follow the plot of the cartoon? We know we can expect to play alongside lead Clone Wars characters like Anakin and Ahsoka -- but the characters we actually play will be our own creations, correct?

You'll definitely be creating and playing your own heroic character. Almost all of the game content is informed and inspired by the show. We take some of the most exciting moments of the show and build entire battles around them. A couple examples: we'll have you flying a Starfighter mission to break through the blockade of Felucia that you saw in the "Holocron Heist" episode from Season II, or playing a Republic Defender stage that pits you directly against Lok Durd's ultimate weapon on the grassy plains of Maridun as seen in the Season I episode "Defenders of Peace."

Will SOE add additional iconic "class" types down the road, beyond Jedi, Padawans, and Clone Troopers -- such as senators, smugglers, or even bad guys like sith masters or separatists? We can own droids, but will we ever play as a droid?

We don't really have the concept of Classes. You'll be able to collect and mix-and-match iconic looks for Clone Troopers, Bounty Hunters, Jedi even Senators and maybe even Sith, but we don't restrict what you can wear or what games you can play based on any concept of "classes"; everyone can do everything. Droids are pets in CWA; you can play as a droid in a couple different games, but your actual avatar will always be one of the several humanoid species.

SOE is showing originality in stripping away the standard grindy leveling system and replacing it with encounters and puzzles that are entertaining in their own right. Does this mean all players can access all content at all times, or is there still a process or progression to unlock content? Will players be able to group with their friends to access multiplayer content? We know we'll see housing -- will we also gain Free Realms-style crafting, beyond the ability to create our own lightsabers?

Many of our games will require you to beat a stage to progress to the next one; this of course allows us to gradually introduce gameplay concepts and reveal new stages as part of the reward for winning. Since a lot of the enjoyment of the games comes from mastery, besting challenge modes and chasing trophies, we hope that people will want to spend a bit of time on one stage even after they beat it before moving straight down the path to the end.

We will have multiplayer for some of the games; you'll definitely be able to Speederbike race or lightsaber duel your friends, for example. There is also a really extensive social back-end to the game that tracks your friends' scores and achievements, notifies you when your friends beat your high score, and allows you to post score challenges, among other things. These features give us a lot of asynchronous multiplayer opportunities.

Right now we don't have any crafting per-se; all of the games earn you credits which you can then spend to buy most items in the game, that way the path to acquisition for any particular item is really easy to understand. If I love playing Lightsaber Dueling, but I really want Anakin Skywalker's flight suit, well, I'm in luck because I can get it by playing Lightsaber Dueling, I'm not forced to play Starfighter if it's not my favorite game.

Thanks very much to Lead Designer Matt Higby from SOE for giving us the scoop. Clear skies!