Hyperspace Beacon: Expecting a living world

Sponsored Links

Hyperspace Beacon: Expecting a living world
The other day I was talking to some friends about Star Wars: The Old Republic, of course. As of late, it seems to be the only thing I'm talking about. My friend isn't a guy who follows the game that closely, but he is an MMO player and has certain expectations for the game. Specifically, we talked about Crew Skills and space combat. He is an EVE player. EVE Online has one of the most in-depth crafting systems in any MMO to date, not to mention the game is completely set in space, right? On the other side of the fence, I was talking to some roleplayers in Star Wars Galaxies, who also don't follow the game as closely as I do. These MMOers are expecting SWTOR to be filled with the best roleplay tools available in the gaming industry. It's BioWare; after all, that team created Never Winter Nights, the most customizable RPG ever. (Of course, this doesn't take into effect that latest games to come from the developer were pretty linear and not very sandboxy.)

As arm chair developers, we sometimes believe that implementing ideas in an MMO is a lot easier than reality. On the official forums last week, a player made this statement: "I, and 14 other guildmates, really want to plan on rolling on an rp-pvp server. It's such a trivial game feature to confirm for us, I don't understand why they wouldn't just mention it and be done with it." After saying that he would look into it, Community Manager Stephen Reid made the statement that "A good rule of thumb with MMO development is to never assume something is trivial."

What are some other "trivial" expectations players are placing on this game? Which ones can BioWare deliver on? Which ones aren't as trivial as suggested? Why can't Star Wars: The Old Republic give us everything we want? In this week's column, let's talk about setting.

Star Wars fans, by themselves, are a very diverse group of individuals. Creating a game for them alone would be an impossible task, but stack on top of that LucasArts fans, MMO raiders, MMO PvPers, and roleplayers, you've created a level of expectation that extends beyond anything one gaming developer could hope to do. From what I've seen, BioWare has performed tremendously well. I may speculate and complain about specific elements of the game, but most of them are not within the realm of game-breaking expectations. As I hope I've been clear, if The Old Republic turns out to be nothing more than Knight of the Old Republic with co-op, I will be happy and play the game over and over and over again. But we know that the game is much more than that...

Although we have not seen much of the open world in demonstrations, the Tatooine demo at E3 was our first real taste at how big the world actually is, even if the 20 minutes that we were able to play barely scratched the surface. Reports from beta testers tell us that every planet is very open, but does it live up to the expectations of others?

Worst case scenario is that SWTOR would be lobby with co-oped dungeons, similar to Guild Wars or Vindictus -- two games that I have a hard time classifying as MMOs. But the demonstration at E3 showed us that the game is definitely an open world. In private discussions I've had with people who have had longer play sessions, they have described the worlds not only as open but dense, meaning that the worlds are very alive and do not appear to be padded or a mirror image of the area that they just left.

However, the instanced story areas have some of the hardcore sandbox players concerned. Admittedly, this was a concern for me, too. How is a world going to feel open if every cave or room I walk into is going to be its own instance? The first thing to note is how these instances are handled. With no loading screens like you find in Guild Wars, there are only two indications that you have even stepped into an instance within the open world.

The first indication is a green barrier over the entryway. This field is sometimes subtle, and possibly after playing the game for quite sometime, you forget the barrier is even there, like Lead Writer Daniel Erickson did when he did his livestream at E3. The second indication is a system message that tells you who owns that instance as far as story is concerned. This does not necessarily prevent you from participating in the story inside the instance, but it does tell you whose story you will be affecting. For those who do not like these seamless instances, what would be the alternative? Phasing? Phasing presents its own set of problems and possibly prevents players from participating in each others stories. It could work for those of opposing factions, like DC Universe Online does with certain quest NPCs, but it really throws things for a loop when you and your friends see completely different things in the same world.

Nothing BioWare is going to do will appease everyone, but the developers have a very clear vision of what they want from this game. They are doing a good job of balancing between holding to that vision and providing the players what they want. For instance, it appears we have another example of BioWare listening to its players in regards to the vehicles. The players were looking for more iconic Star Wars speeder and not the ones that look like Segways. Although specifics have not been announced yet, our community liaison Stephen Reid had this to say on the official forums: "Here's the good news: the development team has been paying close attention to your feedback on vehicles. So thank you for those who said things that didn't involve rude words. Here's the better news: we have more things to say about vehicles. Can't elaborate yet, but there's more to come."

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 larry@massively.com. Now strap yourself in, kid -- we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Popular on Engadget