Hyperspace Beacon: Nuna bites

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Hyperspace Beacon: Nuna bites
If you happened to be in San Diego this weekend then you may have noticed a large gathering of geekery known as Comic-Con. Usually, this mecca of nerdom focuses on comic book related publications. Although Star Wars: The Old Republic isn't exactly comic book gold, Dark Horse comics rose through the ranks of pulp royalty because of its vast library of Star Wars-related publications. It only seems right that TOR presents itself to this audience.

Besides the panel in Comic-Con proper, BioWare developers hosted three separate question and answer sessions focusing on Star Wars: The Old Republic. As with most Q&As, the majority of questions asked have been answered already in the past. If you were hanging out in Darth Hater's Ventrilo server like I was during the live broadcasts, then you heard a lot of "We knew that already." That being said, there were some pieces of juicy meat tossed to the crowd that we had not heard before. I will call them nuna bites, and you can find your slice after the break.

At the panel named Join Us, It's Your Destiny, Director of Production Dallas Dickinson introduced us to a new companion for the Jedi Consular: Nadia. Nadia appeared in Jedi Knight garb, so I assume she is either your Padawan or at very least a fellow Jedi. Dickinson did express to the audience that Nadia will be a character you will have the possibly to romance. A few moments later, he introduced the actress providing the voice for Nadia, Holly Field, who described her character by saying, "It's an amazing character and I'm so thrilled to be a part of it. And it's a hot character, she's very sexy."

Creative Director James Ohlen stood up shortly after Dickinson introduced us to Nadia and spoke to us about the next major feature to hit the companion: customization. We knew already that you will be able to gear your companion the way you'd like. Fans often asked if this would be enough to distinguish your Vette from every other Vette. Most players believed that it would look very silly to see multiples of the same character trailing different players. I agree. Ohlen said that the designers listened to the fans and are allowing you customize your character's look -- in general. In the Q&A the next day, Ohlen clarified that you will not be able to change the gender or species of the companion. (Sorry, you cannot have the all-Twi'lek brothel you were hoping for.)

The last major addition to companions was also hinted at by Mr. Ohlen when he said, "We've been taking feedback from our fans and some of the players that have said that they really want to be able to have the ability to customize and adjust the AI of their companion characters in the same way that they've been able to do in other games that BioWare has made, such as DragonAge." I nearly jumped and screamed in wild excitement when I heard this. OK, I actually did stand up with a "Woo hoo!" and fist thrown in the air. I am not a huge fan of DragonAge, but I love the AI tactics built into that game, and it will work out perfectly in a game like SWTOR. I love pet classes in MMOs, and if they can pull this off it will be the next level of pet class. (BioWare, if you are reading, I would love to test this system for you.)

On day two of Q&As, an audience member asked if there would be companion death. Ohlen said that originally, they wanted to have hard choices like what you found in Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, but "we found through testing was that players would make that choice just to see what happens and they would get really mad that their companion character is gone forever -- you can't reload the game," he explained. Personally, I'm disappointed because of the emphasis on story, but on the official forum Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller explained it farther by posting, "Companions, since that feature was created, have become even more integral to the game: They run your crafting missions. They are vital to your PVE combat performance. They allow you to substitute for missing roles in flashpoints. They are at your side are in Open World PvP. All these functions are on top of their function within the story and losing a companion puts you at a permanent competitive disadvantage in the game."

Vehicles were not well received at E3; the space segway -- as I like to call it -- was not the fastest nor an iconic Star Wars vehicle. However, the developers listened and set the art department to work on some new vehicles for the fans. At the Comic-Con panel, Producer Rich Vogel introduced us to four new vehicles that -- in my opinion -- matched more closely to what a character should ride in the TOR. Three of the vehicles were bikes resembling the speeders in Return of the Jedi or the BARC from the prequels. The final vehicle sported a couple of different paint jobs and looked like something Bail Organa would drive. This speeder was equipped with a passenger seat, which begs the question "Can another player sit there?" Ohlen answered this question in the Q&A the next day: "Not for ship but it is definitely something we have discussed so currently you are going to be a little bit lonely in the land-speeder."

Many of the visitors to San Diego Comic-Con were able to play the PvP demo of Star Wars: The Old Republic, but did we learn anything new about PvP in the game itself? Unfortunately, the answer is "very little." For those who roll on a PvE server but need a PvP fix, we know there will be one entire planet devoted to PvP. However, we do not know for sure which planet that will be. Community Manager Stephen Reid promised that we will learn more about PvP before the summer is over.

Speaking of entire planets devoted to on gameplay aspect, Darth Hater interviewed Dallas Dickinson and asked about his statement he made at panel. He'd mentioned a planet devoted to solo content. Although he did not mention what would be gained nor what the missions were on this planet, he did say, "You can play it as a group, but you can have something that is fun to do as a solo player," and, "Ilum is the the name of the planet."

Within the last year, Flashpoints turned from a one-shot instance to a repeatable quest line, but now the developers are taking Flashpoints to a level that many fans have been begging for. We know raiders and endgame PvEers are looking for more to do than Operations that take a huge group of people, but they are still looking for a challenge for their high level characters. James Ohlen said on the third day of Q&As, "We're right now considering doing a hard mode, there will be one to do at a much higher level," and PvEers world wide cheered!

At level 10, each class splits into two advanced classes, and players have to narrow down which group role they would like to play. For instance, the Sith Warrior class splits into the tank Juggernaut advanced class or the DPS Marauder advanced class. The fans debated back and forth on if they wanted to be able to respec out of an AC to the other AC. Developers argued with each on which position they should side with. At the fans site summit, Georg Zoeller said that you will be able to change your AC, but they weren't sure exactly how they would go about implementing it.

James Ohlen finally let fans know that "the very first time you decide to respec your advanced class, it's not going to be super expensive. We're going to make it relatively affordable, and then after that it will become a lot more difficult." Most respec mechanics work this way in MMOs. However, many players believe this will lead to a flavor-of-the-month class system. If one AC is tweaked to perform better, all the players of that base class will instantly respec to that AC. On the official forums, Zoeller clarified how the mechanic will work in TOR: "So, the current design is that changing your advanced class initially is cheap (e.g. changing it right at level 10 is almost free). As you gain levels, the price increases dramatically, and quickly. At level 20, it might just be out of reach for almost everyone. The exact pricing curve is still being tweaked based on testing, of course." Perhaps, that's the best of both worlds.

I had the privilege of hanging out in Ventrilo with the staff of Darth Hater, and if you are looking for the complete transcripts for this weekend, be sure to visit that site. It absolutely has the best coverage of the event.

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!
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