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PAX 2010: Your questions answered by SWTOR's Blaine Christine


A little over a week ago, I asked you all what questions I should ask SWTOR developers at PAX. Well, wait no longer -- the answers are here! Blaine Christine, the Senior Producer for BioWare, took some time specifically to answer some of Massively's readers' questions. There were five main categories I wanted to hit on when approaching BioWare about the content of Star Wars: The Old Republic: playable species, classes, space combat, starting zones, and endgame. I did focus heavily on endgame in the interview -- including crafting -- but I did not neglect the other portions.

Player species are not that complicated at this point. BioWare hasn't really announced anything new regarding species for a couple of weeks. However, if Zabrak is not a playable species for the trooper, then the devs will have to build the species out of the game I played this weekend, because the trooper I played was definitely a Zabrak! I will dig into starting zones a bit more in depth when I do my version of a hands-on for SWTOR. That will probably end up being next week's Hyperspace Beacon.

Lastly, before I begin the interview, I did not ask Blaine Christine anything about space combat because the night before the interview, Daniel Erickson, the Lead Writer for BioWare, brought it up in the official presentation, saying: "You remember that part where Han Solo and Chewbacca are in the Millennium Falcon? Han's like, 'Hey, Chewie, let's go into space, and let's just dick around. Let's go off in that direction and see if there is anything interesting'? Remember how they went off and there was this asteroid, and they mined the asteroid? Yeah, we couldn't find that either. Two things happened when you went to space. One: You took off to space when you wanted to go somewhere. You took off into hyperspace -- BAM! -- and got there. Two: You wanted to go to a battle or you were trying to go somewhere and someone stopped you. Uh oh! Giant exciting combat! ... That is why we did space combat the way we did."

After the break, your other questions are answered by Blaine Christine. What's in there? Only what you take with you.

Massively: What can players expect from the endgame?

Blaine Christine: Let me preface it by saying that we know endgame content is very important for folks, so it is something we are definitely going to focus on. We have not released a lot of details yet, but what we have said is that we will indeed have raids. We haven't announced specifics around what will definitely be endgame content. Additionally, we have mentioned our player vs. player Warzones. We will have multiple Warzones. Those will mostly be higher-level content, where players participate in larger player vs. player battles, where they experience epic Star Wars ground combat on kind of a grand scale. Then beyond that, we expect -- because it's a BioWare game with BioWare storytelling and multiple branches through the stories -- part of our endgame is players playing through classes that they haven't played or replaying through certain classes to see how certain companion characters or certain branches can affect the outcome of that particular storyline. Additionally, we will have the auction house, crafting and harvesting, guild play, and all the things people are expecting out of an MMO.

I know you have said much about crafting, but what can you tell me at this point?

We haven't announced details, yet. What I can say is we are hammering out the details of that design right now, and it is going to be different from what people expect. And from what we've tested internally right now, it's very cool, very exciting. I think it's a different take on crafting than what people will be expecting. It's not the standard implementation. It's going to be a treat.

We know you are looking to be able to have higher-level players recognizable from lower-level characters. So, the question I have is how much of a "unique snowflake" will one be at a higher level?

I can't give any specific numbers, but I can tell you that what I've seen -- like the little bit that we showed at the stage show at PAX, which was some pretty cool wicked armor -- for the higher-level folks there's going to be a pretty wide array of that stuff. Are you going to see someone out there with the exact same thing as you? Yeah, if you're wondering around enough, or if you play the game a lot, sure. Certainly our goal with players -- particularly if they are spending a lot of time in the game -- have the opportunity to get gear that is unique, so that they do feel very powerful. It's an aspirational goal, too. So that, when other players see them, they go, "Oh my gosh, how do I do that." They're not sure whether they can achieve whatever it is that person did to achieve [the gear], whether it's a PvP-type reward, really rare drop, something from a particular flashpoint, etc.

So will we see different types of rewards from say, PvP, flashpoints, etc.?

I think it's safe to say that.

Will you know someone is a PvPer by looking at the gear?

Most likely, yeah. Most of that is still in development. The bottom line is I think that stuff's important, and the team thinks that's important. We want people to identify [with the gear]. How did you get that? Oh, you got that because you were a PvPer or because you ran particular flashpoint.

Bonus questions
What is going to entice someone (who maybe hasn't played an MMO before) to play Star Wars: The Old Republic?

That is a great question and something we've put a lot of thought into. You always have to walk this line where MMO players of all types -- and there are multiple types -- are going to be satisfied in the game and not be turned off. Then, on the other hand, we make sure we're drawing in the larger Star Wars crowd. People who may have played Force Unleashed but may have been, "Oh, I'm scared to play an MMO." We have to make sure it's a nice, inviting environment for them. For the new players what we've done is make sure that the UI is simple. You start out with a relatively simple set of powers, [and we] make sure we have good tutorials [and a] good introduction to the game, but ultimately we are hopeful that the element of storytelling will draw people in. The first thing you do is you get an introductory quest; [the game explains] in a very cinematic way what you're supposed to be doing. It's action-packed because the quests are heroic, and it's not just kill and go gather this stuff. People are hopefully going to be engaged and go, "I want to do that. I know what my motivation is for it. Therefore, I I want to learn how to play this game."

What role do you see the community playing in this game?

I think people have seen already that community engagement is very important to us. That is why we got the website up and running as early as we did when we made the game announcement. It was very important for us to allow the community to start to build from the beginning. The reason that's important is because we pay attention. We pay attention now. We are already making changes to the game -- players have seen -- based on community feedback from day one. Some of the earliest screenshots we released people were like, "Woah! Look at the size of those lightsaber hilts!" What did we see? Well, we saw the size of the lightsaber hilts got reduced. The next time we were at a show, people saw and were like, "Wow, cool, they pay attention." That's the way we want to be. There's always fine balance of how you respond to that player feedback. We have to take into consideration a lot of elements, of design, of overall balance, and even elements that the players may not know about the game yet that (of course) we know about, which may be a reason we made a particular decision. Ultimately, yes, the community is important. We want the community to flourish [and] build, and we want to always be actively engaged with our community.

Thank you very much for talking to us, Blaine. I had a great time talking to you!

If you have not ever spoken to Blaine, he is a great person to talk to, as are all the SWTOR staff members I met this weekend, so don't be afraid to approach any of them at future conventions. As for more information regarding SWTOR, be sure to stay tuned here to Massively and the Hyperspace Beacon.

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