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Massively interviews BioWare on SWTOR's crafting and PvP


This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to head down to LucasArts in San Francisco to check out the current build of Star Wars: The Old Republic and chat with some of the BioWare developers. While my hands-on with the game won't be out until next month, we can deliver a couple of smaller interviews on two of the recently revealed systems in the game. And I think you'll want to hear what the interviewees have to say!

Join me past the cut as I ask lead writer Daniel Erickson and lead PvP designer Gabe Amatangelo all about the Alderaan Warzone, the PvP reward system, avoiding battleground design pitfalls, companion tradeskilling, player-made gear, and hardcore crafting in SWTOR.

Massively: We're curious about how crafting will work in SWTOR -- how will the player participate? What will the player be doing in terms of crafting compared to his companions?

Daniel Erickson: I was always a huge crafting fan in all the different games. There were games that I was just a full-time crafter in; that was all I did. And what's great about crafting? The prestige is great, saying like, "Look, I can make these amazing things." The social aspect is amazing. I want people coming to me and saying, "Hey I heard you're the guy to do this." I want to be able to support my friends; I want to be able to do all this. The exploration and the complexity and learning the system is really fun -- I want to get deep into crafting, I want to learn how to do recipes that nobody else can do, I want to sort of master my system. The financial output, if it works well, is nice, right? Saying, "Hey, I'm actually good enough that I can make some money at this. I can do this piece."

The part that is not terribly exciting is standing in one spot and watching a progress bar over and over and over again. And that's literally all that we removed. By taking [crafting] and putting it onto the crew, what we said is, OK, crafting has a real cost. So you can't keep doing it constantly -- it has a time cost. So instead of watching a progress bar for 30 seconds, you actually know, "OK, I put my companion on this, and this is going to take six hours."

So kind of like a factory in Star Wars Galaxies, only it's a character?

Yes. If you wanted to play the old-style crafting game, and you wanted to watch that progress bar for 20 hours, I mean, you could. You could just stand there. But this is always the part that seems monotonous. So [in SWTOR], I'm the crew boss. I decide what we make. I'm the guy that knows all the recipes. I'm the guy that knows how to do everything. And then I'm putting all of these people to work as my whole crew, into one unit -- your companion characters are all a unit with you. And so, one, it makes all of your companion characters useful, which is nice. Two, it puts in skills for people who aren't ever going to be real crafters. People who are not really into crafting are going to take mission skills, so their people are still going to be useful, but they're going to run them on missions all the time. But serious crafters say that it's a super deep system.

[I] can't talk too much about it, but you are going to be able to make stuff that is among the top stuff on the entire servers. And there are going to be people who know things that almost nobody else on the server knows how to do.

So we would get recipes that are super rare?

Yes. There are elite, rare recipes. People who want to dabble in crafting, can, and can be successful in it and make themselves a little bit better. People who are not terribly interested in crafting can do the mission system and still get some cool stuff out of their companion characters. People who are really into crafting have a huge, complex system that they're going to be able to go into and become masters at.

So if a player hates crafting (as opposed to just being ambivalent about it), can he really get away with playing that way? Would you be crippling yourself if you don't craft or play that part of the game?

Absolutely not, because what you're going to do is go take your mission skills, you're going to build up loot and build up stuff from your mission skills, and then you're going to go buy stuff from your local crafter.

What about the flipside of that -- is it possible to focus so much on crafting that you neglect everything else, and can you actually pull that off (if you wanted to)?

You probably could. One of the interesting things is that mission skills are, at the aggregate, a positive. Crafting can sometimes be [the same], sometimes not, depending, right? Opening your own business can be risky. But by cleverly balancing the two, you could in fact set up shop, and you should be able to if you've got somebody who can get you supplies, or if you're auctioning your supplies.

The best stuff is always going to come from other players, and then be made by other players. There will be stuff that you can craft that is among the best stuff in the entire game. So very close to the top tier that you could get for anything.

Will that stuff be accessible to, say, people who aren't in gigantic PvE raiding guilds? If you just solo play, could you actually take over the economy on the server, if you're really dedicated?

We're not getting into how you get the very rare stuff yet, but if you were a very dedicated crafter, and your life and your thing was about that... but obviously the other dedicated crafter who has 200 people who are assisting him -- he might have an edge.

Switching gears, we next sat down with Gabe Amatangelo, SWTOR's lead PvP designer.

Massively: Give us a brief introduction on the way objectives in the Alderaan Warzone will work. Will there be a series of objectives as in other games?

Gabe Amatangelo: In the Alderaan Warzone, we took the angle of making it sort of all in-game objectives as opposed to arbitrary banners, flags, that kind of stuff. There's three different guns, like anti-aircraft guns, and you have your Empire and Republic drop-ship from which you as players are deploying, and the objective is to get those guns and aim it at the enemy ship to drive them out. So all those are available when the match starts, and they're available all up until the match ends. So it's not a series of objectives... they're all active at the same time. And ultimately the storyline plot there is it's a planetary defense cannon, which you saw in some of the videos, overarching the whole base. Both sides are on a ship, and they arrive at the base, and then players will take vehicles from the ships onto the base below.

So is there a point during the fight at which there's no point to continuing? You said one side will be hearing klaxons as things are going badly, and the other side will be winning and seeing the hitpoint bar go down?

You're going to be fighting over the guns and re-aiming them and slicing (hacking) the targeting controls to re-aim them at your enemy. Once the ship is destroyed, you're going to see damage progress -- you'll see debris, smoke, fires on the ship, and even when you respawn inside your ship, you'll see fires in there and stuff, and you'll hear your commander say, "Our engines are damaged beyond repair!" This is a game of chicken, so to speak. But the match continues until one side is destroyed, till one ship is destroyed. Then the match ends.

So it's not like it's a give-and-take or see-saw, but rather whoever dies first loses? Everyone's going down no matter what, so you can't repair your ship mid-fight?

No, you can't heal your ship back up. It's an effective timer. Those guns start firing and you just want to make sure they're firing the right direction most of the time for your side to win.

I had in mind the dreaded endless Warsong Gulch matches.

[SWTOR's Warzones are] finite, and the goal is that it's immersive along the way. You want to feel the tension of the combat, and so there's a lot of visceral elements that elevate that tension as it goes on. In the months to come we'll be talking about some other PvP features including some more specifics about features inside Warzones that kind of go hand in hand with that sort of elevation of gameplay tension.

So all of the other [Warzones] will be different -- a different location, a different plot point?

A different mechanic, yeah. But there are systems that go across all of them like, for example, the reward system.

So how does that reward system work? One of the criticisms of World of Warcraft way back in the day was that [battlegrounds were] an all-or-nothing thing -- if you lost, well, you may as well have not even wasted your half an hour.

My team and I are veteran PvP developers, so we took those things into consideration, and basically (long story short) once you're invested in the match, if you're trying to min-max your rewards (like what you were saying there), you're not going to want to leave. You want to finish the match and then start another match. Now, it's a fine line, because you don't want to not have the incentive to win. So it's not like everyone gets equal rewards, not at all. But if you do the math -- and of course, players will -- it's going to be better for you to finish that match, and then go into the next one and try to win the next one.

Thanks so much to Daniel Erickson and Gabe Amatangelo for answering our questions! Be on the lookout for a final interview on Monday!

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