Interview: BioWare’s James Ohlen On SWTOR

By John Walker on January 12th, 2012 at 5:32 pm.

Pleeeeease fix the camera, he's saying.

James Ohlen is a senior creative director at BioWare, and has spent the last six years working on Star Wars: The Old Republic. We spoke to him to find out how he thinks the launch has gone, how the game is being received, and what we can expect to see in the first update, due next week.

RPS: How do you think the launch has gone?

James Ohlen: Really, really well. The servers have stood up, we’ve got a population spread across the entire game. The targets in terms of how fast players are running through the content, they’re hitting it at about the rate we want. Obviously we had a small percentage of players at the very beginning who were able to race through the content in record time, but we knew that going in, because those were the guys from the beta who had planned out a path from beginning to end, so they could be the first. In terms of subscribers, it keeps on growing every day. We’ve got very positive word of mouth. I’m confident in saying it’s going to be BioWare’s biggest game yet, in terms of how successful it’s going to be.

RPS: Have you personally worked on an MMO before?

Ohlen: Uh, no. This is my first. I can call myself experienced enough because I’ve been working on it for six years! It’s been quite the experience. Some of the designers that I hired during the course of the game do have experience on MMOs before. Guys who worked on Warhammer, and some guys like Damien Schubert who worked all the way back to Meridian 59.

RPS: It must be a weird experience, it’s such a different space than you usually work in.

Ohlen: Oh yeah. I think one of the strangest things is that the game never ends. It didn’t get less busy when we launched. I’m used to working on PC games, like the Baldur’s Gate series, Neverwinter Nights, or console games like Knights of the Old Republic or Dragon Age, where once the game is done, it’s done. You’re able to go on holiday, read the reviews, and not worry about the game any more. But with SWTOR, we’re busy working on all of the new game content we’re going to release over the course of this year. We have a game update coming in one week, and then we have another in March, and then more updates coming after that, as fast as we can pump them out. It’s really important to prove to our fans that we’re serious about supporting the game, that we continue to produce content on a regular basis, to show that we’re going to support the Star Wars universe. We have a team that’s quite big, bigger than the team that worked on the Mass Effect or Dragon Age franchise, and that team is entirely focused on continuing to produce new content. It’s a never ending battle!

RPS: Are there any regrets of having released the week before Christmas?

Ohlen: Well, it would have been preferable to release earlier than that, but the fact was we weren’t ready. EA was good about allowing us to push back the date until we were ready. It was obviously a lot of work to get it out before Christmas, but we managed to pull it off, and I’m happy that we were able to push back the date because it allowed us to have a much smoother launch than online games are known for.

RPS: Did anyone manage to get a holiday?

Ohlen: Some people did, yes. Most the team stayed within Austin and were available by phone. Obviously the people supporting the servers had to be working over Christmas, and some key individuals were too. We had the people who are working on the first game update, who are a bunch of heroes, who had to continue working over Christmas to make sure it was ready. We made sure people had a break, as it’s going to be a long slog.

RPS: You mentioned the smooth launch. I think, server queues aside, it’s been recognised as the smoothest MMO launch they’ve seen. What did you guys do to prepare for that?

Ohlen: Actually, we server queues, we knew we were going to have them, and we expected them at different points, because you don’t want to be in the situation where the population is spread across too many servers, because then they’ll feel empty. You have to have a critical mass of players on each server, which means that there’s going to be queues. But with the smooth launch, I think the main thing there was, it was in BioWare’s and EA’s best interest that if we’re going to be taken seriously, we had to come across as a AAA massive multiplayer. And the fact is, there really has been only one other AAA MMO in the last decade or so, and that was World Of Warcraft. I guess Rift was also a pretty good launch this year as well. You saw Rift do well because it had such a good launch. So it’s a lesson learned. If you have a good launch, players are going to trust you, and not screw up the world, and if you don’t do that you’re probably not going to succeed.

RPS: I’ve played the game a few times over the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed a progression in that time toward being more WoW like, to be more of a traditional MMO than it started. Can you talk about any compromises you had to make in order for it to work?

Ohlen: Our combat system has always been the same since we first developed it in 2007. We’ve just been adding levels to it. We’ve been adding more game systems that are specific to the MMO genre, but I don’t really feel we’ve made any compromises. It’s been a conscious choice – I don’t know why there’s this perception, but maybe it’s because in the MMO space there’s only ever been one big hit. But if you look at other genres, like the FPS, the RTS games, action, sports… Taking the FPS as an example, they’ve use the same interface, the same mechanics, for twenty years. You don’t throw that stuff away. When you have a new Call Of Duty, or Gears Of War, it’s going to take the interface, mechanics and controls, and refine and add to them. They’re not going to throw them out, but continue to refine them. That was our strategy. We wanted to make sure we took all the lessons learned from previous MMOs, and add our own innovations to it. In fact, if you look at SWTOR in terms of how many innovations and changes it adds to the genre, it’s quite significant when compared to other genres out there.

RPS: One of those additions is obviously story. I don’t know if you’d agree, but I’d say that’s BioWare’s speciality. Can you remember any times when you struggled or had breakthroughs with how to fit a more narrative-led adventure into an MMO?

Ohlen: One of the initial things we had to get over – this is something that a lot of fans and critics said – was that you can’t do personal stories in an online game. Because everyone has the same personal story, and how is that going to work? And we were like, as long as people are having a personal story, it’s personal to them, and they’re not going to mind that other players have a similar experience. We got over that hump and decided it wasn’t going to be a big issue, and it turned out not to be. That was very early on, back in 2006, because if we wanted to do a BioWare-style personal story, with companion characters that refer to your actions and change according to your choices, it was something we’d have to do. There were people who doubted it, even within BioWare, there were people who didn’t think it would fit. But it’s been very well received. And it wasn’t surprising to me, because when you look at the “MMORPG” genre, you have the letters “RPG” in there, and roleplaying games have always had story in them. I’ve always thought it was something that was missing, and if you put it in there, people would really gravitate toward it. You can’t have an RPG without story elements. Even an open world game like Skyrim has a lot of story. Even Diablo III, from what I’ve seen, they’re adding more story elements to that game as well.

RPS: Why do you think that is? Why do you think as these things progress, people crave more story?

Ohlen: I think it’s because story is timeless – people love to live through story. So many different entertainment mediums revolve around story – books, movies, plays, musicals, television. All these different entertainment forms are focused around story, so I think having more story come to videogames is a natural progression. I think maybe there’s two styles of videogames. There are videogames that are very much entirely focused on gameplay mechanics – and are just essentially games. But then most AAA big games have that story element to them. So for all the big games in the future, you’re going to see stories.

RPS: The other big change that’s immediately obvious are the companions. How have they been received?

Ohlen: Yes. People have reacted very well to them. It’s funny, we do market research on our games even after launch, on what players like, what they’re not enjoying. The top three things that people constantly list as the things they enjoy the most about SWTOR are the things that BioWare is famous for. So story, choice, and companions are always the top three. We knew the companion characters were a little bit risky, because MMO players often don’t like to have pets. And with SWTOR we were giving everyone a much more advanced, personable character, who also act like pets. So there was a risk there, but there’s no backlash there. Entirely the opposite, people love it.

RPS: I think something we were surprised not to see in the game was an idea Warhammer brought, in the social quests. Do you have any plans to bring something like that in?

Ohlen: I can say that is definitely something we’re looking at, and when we talk more about our event system, we may talk more about things like that.

RPS: During development the game was often described as KOTOR 3 – 10. Does that mean that BioWare has no plans to do another single player game in this universe? Are all the efforts focused on the MMO?

Ohlen: Right now for Star Wars all the effort is focused on SWTOR. We want to support the game in a major way, so we don’t have any other projects in the Austin studio – we’re entirely focused on supporting SWTOR for the foreseeable future. To tell you the truth though, I’ve been working on this project for six years, so at some point I’m going to want to move on!

RPS: So what can we expect to see in next week’s update?

Ohlen: With our first update we have a flashpoint, Rise of the Rakghouls, which is in the vein of the story-heavy flashpoints that you’ve seen in SWTOR. We also are expanding Karagga’s Palace, the second operation you can play through. It only had one boss on release. It’s going to have five bosses. Karagga’s Palace is very much based off of Jabba The Hutt’s, there’s a rancour in it, and over very cool things. We also have a lot of bug fixes and modifications. One thing we’re very conscious about is we need to get rid of anything detracting from player experiences. It’s a massive game, so we’re going to have problems, and we’re getting them fixed.

We then have a second update coming in March, and that’s going to be a much bigger update, another flashpoint – part two of Rise of the Rakghouls – and we’re going to have a whole new planet, with a brand new operation and warzone. We’re going to have the second part of the Legacy system, which is the real meat of it. We’re going to have guild banks, PVP ranking systems, and a lot of smaller additions and bug fixes. And we’re already working on the third update. The story’s already written out and being recorded for the fourth, fifth… and I can’t say how many updates we have, but we have a lot. Just to give you an idea of how far we’re planning ahead, we’ve already got voiceover being recorded for content you won’t see for a year or more. We’re really making sure we deliver new content. We also want to make sure that the Star Wars galaxy feels alive, so we’re working on an event system, which we’ll be giving more details about in the new future.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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72 Comments »

  1. Kaiji says:

    It’s amazing what a popular IP and big name developer can do for an MMO’s launch sales. If this game had exactly the same gameplay and production quality without “Star Wars” or “Bioware” to hold it up, it would be an average F2P-quality game with the added novelty of voiceovers.

    Most expensive game ever made……… Unbelievable.

    • Premium User Badge

      Durkonkell says:

      Except that TOR is in better condition at launch than most MMOs are two years later, and… have you any idea how expensive it must have been to fully voice act every quest and player character for a game this length? They haven’t recruited their talent from Budget Voiceovers R us either, this is good quality stuff for the most part.

      Compare and contrast with – for example – STO’s launch. TOR’s mechanics are very conventional and their systems design isn’t very innovative at all, but the polish and quality level is extremely high. STO was a lot more innovative in its game systems, but you could tell it was put together rather quickly on a budget of £2.50.

      I’m not disagreeing with the importance of the Star Wars brand to TOR’s success, but this is very clearly a high budget high quality game.

    • djim says:

      people commenting on games they have never played are worse imo

    • Commisar says:

      wow Kaiji , haters gonna hate I guess. Also it’s “commenting” not “commending”

    • Kaiji says:

      @djim

      Are you saying I’m “commending” on a game I’ve never played? If so, you’re wrong.

      @Commisar

      Don’t confuse criticism with hatred. We’re talking about a video game here. No hate involved.

      I definitely think it’s a shame that the most expensive video game ever made is so soulless and mediocre, though.

    • Tei says:

      Not really. The game is huge. Some planet are enormeous and have a lot of quest and almost all are voiced. Then theres a lot of planets. The game is giganteous but sparce.

    • djim says:

      @Kaiji Good trolling. I give you that.

    • ExplosiveCoot says:

      Exploration and combat in TOR feel a lot like City of Heroes to me: The zones are quite large (yet disappointingly linear) and empty but for static enemy spawns, and everything related to fighting feels quite stiff. Also I was probably more excited about the powers and abilities City of Heroes offered my character, with TOR I never saw an ability I couldn’t wait to level up and get (with the exception of sprint and a mount, I suppose) and minute-to-minute combat felt like I was moving in molasses.

      Certainly the story and voice acting in TOR is fantastic, it is just a shame that it is wasted on such a mediocre and uninteresting combat system. Hopefully Bioware can get that sorted and will make TOR be terrific all-round.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      My biggest gripe with the entire game is that so far, at level 18, almost every enemy encounter is the same. A handful of blaster wielding soldiers with a couple melee guys with a staff or saber. That is extremely monotonous.

      If they had put a big more imagination into that I’d be enjoying it a lot more. Story can be great (though at times kind of long winded and meandering when you are doing stuff not related to your story line), but gameplay is just as important. Most of what you do is running around questing and it’s kind of copy paste.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      Also, the enemies are pretty much planted in a pocket sitting there for you to stumble on. Very few roaming enemies.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Someone: This game is mediocre.
      Someone else: Stupid troll !

    • nrvsNRG says:

      “Someone: This game is mediocre.
      Someone else: Stupid troll !”

      lol,yeah welcome to the internet

    • Yosharian says:

      I have played the game and I agree with Kaiji.

    • nizzie says:

      I’ve played the beta until ~20, and during preorder phase up until 25 (trooper). At that point I got extremely bored. Why did I even play? The singleplayer aspect (questing) is worse than in real singleplayer rpgs, the pvp wasn’t fun and the flashpoints after The Esseles were awful (next to no story, no dialogues). So I let a friend reactivate my WoW account (yes, I was THAT bored).

      Imo the release of TOR was what we experienced countless times before. Lots of hype, huge disappointment, most people who were super-eager to get into the new mmorpg eventually went back to WoW. I’d like to see some numbers soon.

    • Yosharian says:

      It’s going to crash and burn for sure, but it will be a slow decline due to the SW fanboys.

    • Rive says:

      Ah, so refreshing those internet arguments. Its amazing how in only a few years cherished values and principles turned into trollfleshlights. “The real Alanis Morisette” Award goes out to the poor victims of American Scriptwriting who feel so witty and smart when they hack away at their keyboards with those bursts of morality that are, ironically, the flaweless example of ignorance.

      Maybe for the guys who marvel at software like Wunderlist, an MMORPG is a seven sealed treasure of wonder and surprise, but ill say, without even wasting my time wit ha trailer, that i know EVERYTHING about it that there is to know.

      My wild and outrageously moronic guess would be that people will slave away at boring, mindnumbing and not in the slightest engaging tasks. Every once in a while the finely animated wallpaper around them will change color palette and shape, and they will get a minimum of variety as a reward for their lifewasting endevours. Oh, and the tools will also change, like the color of pen cases in a pen factory. It will still be a fruitless, and ultimately unrewarding experience, because an MMORPG never rewards skill or creativity. Only the amount of time invested.

      Probably a very attractive prospect for fellow bloodbags that cant even get their Jim Morrison quotes right to fill their facebook profiles wirh a couple of other soulless loser peers. Unfortunately that “Argument” could not be further from the truth. Because, in the real world, you dont feel repercussions for being smart or creative. Imagine finding out a way to get paint to dry 34 times quicker than anyone else. Youll probably move right up to the higher echelons of the food chain, never having to look back at the schmocks that take pride in being boring, gullible and outright boring.

      Since the beginning of the MMORPG, almost every single one has felt, played and in essence been the same. Even the guy who has worked on it is sick of it shorty after release. And after doing gems like Baldurs Gate and the immortal King of Video Game RPG Storytelling Planescape Torment, who can blame him.

      Which reminds me that i should get another beer and play a bit more minecraft. Just yesterday my 17 year old nephew finished a project where you ride a train through a chasm over and over again that is remarkably reminiscent of Stoyas private parts. Something ill probably never be able to do in the genre defining 6 year in the making masterpiece that is swtfsomeshit. At least you guys can hack away at Wombats with your Lightsabers, surrounded by dozens of fellow jedi, all of them on the way to the unique adventure of their life that will save the galaxy by having entered 12-45 different 1-20 digit long strings on their forceinfused keyboards. Over and Over, and a Thousand times over again.

      But what the hell, gotta train to catch, and this place was fun a loooooooong time ago and nowadays i cant be more far away.

      P.S.: At least its got the mindblowing narrative right, almost as enchanting and magical as the movies. But dont forget that the guy in the bar has a minimum 50+ long waiting list of boring and derivative names, all waiting to save his tragically enslaved wife. The poor guy. Can anyone help him? Thats right. YOUR HIS ONLY HOPE!

    • John P says:

      Kaiji’s totally right. There’s no way people would be playing this game, and no way RPS would be posting about it more than once, if it wasn’t 1) Star Wars and 2) Bioware. It’s a traditional MMO and therefore awful.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Erm…

      …where can I hop on that Stoya’s privates tunnel train?

      In the pale white mountain I hope, with light shades of pink near the gate and a blackdark strip above?

    • Timmytoby says:

      My wild and outrageously moronic guess would be that people will slave away at boring, mindnumbing and not in the slightest engaging tasks. Every once in a while the finely animated wallpaper around them will change color palette and shape, and they will get a minimum of variety as a reward for their lifewasting endevours. Oh, and the tools will also change, like the color of pen cases in a pen factory.

      You sir, just described every videogame in existence: You sit in front of a screen with nice pictures and press buttons to make the pictures change into something nicer.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Durkonkell says:

    “console games like Knights of the Old Republic or Dragon Age”

    I… do believe he may have made a mistake saying that.

    Actually, I’m really surprised about what he said in that paragraph. Most major game studios don’t push a game out of the door and then go on holiday and never think about that game again – Dragon Age in particular got quite a few patches, a ton of DLC and a proper expansion. Development continues, although admittedly probably not at the pace of a post-release MMO.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phinor says:

      Technically Dragon Age is still a horrible terrible mess if you happen to own it or it’s expansion on Origin. My friend just spent a better part of the week trying to install the game but after going through hundreds of threads with thousands of different fixes, he still simply couldn’t install Awakening through Origin. The closest he got to installing it was the installer saying “Installation failed”.

      I had a similar problem while trying to install the Ultimate Edition through Origin last summer. It took me couple of days and few dozen different fixes to get the game up and running and few more fixes for it to recognize my Ultimate Edition DLC. Dragon Age has been one of the most broken games I’ve seen in the past few years but the problems are not in-game problems but just technical issues to get the game up and running properly.

      Maybe I should concentrate my hatred on Origin (which I do) but I just needed to rant a bit.

    • briktal says:

      Sometimes people, especially PC gamers, talk about how EA ruined Bioware, changed them from making Baldur’s Gate to dumbed down console games. But the two games Bioware released before being bought by EA, as well as Mass Effect, which was probably too far along to be significantly altered by EA when they were bought, all came out on consoles well before they came out on PC.

    • Wizardry says:

      Told you so. It’s quite obvious that BioWare turned into a console developer after Neverwinter Nights. I do believe that Dragon Age was at one time genuinely going to be a PC game, as evidenced by the overall style of control and the differences between versions of the end product. But you could still see the console influence throughout, even if they only crept in after the EA acquisition.

    • KaMy says:

      Well Dragon Age is consolish and Mass Effect 1 is consolish too. As for KOTOR it was still more a PC game than a console game.

      The problem with Bioware is that instead of giving those games more depth and working on what could be improved they just changed the 2 game to make it like Gears of War for ME 2 ( and i’m really affraid of ME 3 after all those action trailers ) and DA 2 is a mix between Dragon Age and Baldur’s Gate : Dark Alliance with a shamefull finish.

      As for DAO it as had quite a few patchs, DLCs and an “expansion” but it was all crap. The patch messed up a lot of stuff, the DLCs are no better than MW # mappacks and the “expansion” barely deserve to be played.

    • Wizardry says:

      I’d say that Knights of the Old Republic was very much a console game. There’s one stand out thing in it that makes it clear in my mind, and that is the way you move your characters. Try moving two characters to two different positions in combat at the same time. Try it. You can’t. You have to actually move characters manually yourself, meaning you can’t move multiple characters simultaneously. In Baldur’s Gate you could just pause, click around on the screen, and then unpause it. In Knights of the Old Republic you have to manually move one character while the game is unpaused, then manually move the second character, and then manually move the third. This means positioning three characters at the same time takes 3x as long as it should do.

    • Premium User Badge

      ffordesoon says:

      I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned that KOTOR came out on Xbox like six months to a year before the PC version came out. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with it being a console port, but it absolutely is a console port.

      And Dragon Age: Origins is a PC game at heart. I mean, it’s not like it has a great interface at all, because it really doesn’t, but the fact of the matter is that it was designed for PC. You can tell that’s the case, because the console versions are almost unplayable and run like shit. DA2, though? There’s your classic example of a game design compromised for consoles. And I do mean compromised, because it didn’t work as well on consoles as it could have if it were just a console release, and it didn’t work as well as it could have on PC for the same reason.

      That’s the interesting thing about so-called “consolized” design; all the console gamers I know hate it just as much as all the PC gamers I know. I understand that control schemes on consoles need to be simplified/streamlined somewhat; that comes down to a lack of available buttons. And, if I may blaspheme a bit, a lot of PC-only games have a lot of buttons that do nothing of value and that pretty much nobody ever uses, so I’d actually argue that having to design for a gamepad as well as K&M is often to a game’s benefit. But I know plenty of console gamers, and not one of them likes it when systems are unnecessarily simplified. That’s why I balk at PC elitists who act as though “the console kiddies” are a race of subhuman mongoloids who don’t understand what “quicksave” means; the demonstrable difference between PC gamers and console gamers is actually pretty negligible. It’s really only game developers who cling to this odd belief that “console gamers” want a stripped-down, simplified experience. I’m not saying there isn’t a little bit of a dichotomy between console and PC gamers, but it’s bizarre to me that nobody’s told the people working on these games that they’re not actually simpletons who need to be repeatedly reminded that the X button attacks. A lot of people come to my house to play games, and I’ve never heard even the most casual of casual gamers go, “I wish I couldn’t do [such and such].” It’s always – always – a complaint that they can’t do something they want to do in the game.

      Just saying.

  3. Tuskin38 says:

    Awesome! I can’t wait until march, I really want to see what they’re doing with this Legacy system.

    • Commisar says:

      If I can hold off on buying it until then.. Why does SWTOR have to be SO appealing???

    • rayne117 says:

      “Why does SWTOR have to be SO appealing???”

      Shouldn’t say that about a game you’ve never played. No criticism, good or bad, statements, positive or negative, are allowed unless you’ve beaten the game 3 times (minimum) and played for over 1000 hours.

    • Alceste007 says:

      I am wondering what they are doing with the legacy system as well. Still, the game is a lot of fun atm. I do want them to fix some of the bugs thou as well.

  4. Fiwer says:

    Here’s a question, when’s the god damn group finder going to be patched in? Grouping for flash points in this game is a massive pain in the ass, to the point that I’ve only been able to do one or two. Hanging out in one place and spamming a chat channel for hours on end to find a group is not acceptable anymore.

    • Serge says:

      Some people prefer this time consuming aproach instead of “Random LFG” with players you never met and never going to meet again stealing your “phat lewts”.

      Just saying.

      P.S. I prefer playing In a fixed group of friends, but dont mind LFG at all.

    • ExplosiveCoot says:

      The thing is, people could still spam LFG and look for groups that way if they’re so inclined, a “dungeon finder” system simply streamlines the process for those of us with but an hour or two to play each night.

    • Fiwer says:

      Then those people can sit in the fleet and spam chat for hours at a time while doing nothing else, and the rest of us will use the LFG system. It’s win-win.

    • Edradour says:

      No its not win-win, everyone would use the “dungeon finder” if one was available because its the easiest way to grind your points/gear.
      Problem is it detaches the community, almost all friends ive made in wow came from random encounters with people i grouped up for dungeons just by finding them likeable while trash-talking with them because the group leader was still trying to find a tank or whatever or because someone wanted to get everyone on voice…
      Nowadays you click the button get teleported into the instance smash through the easy content and almost never speak a word with those guys in your group.
      And why would you speak? There is no downtime and its kinda hard to chat while mashing buttons…and since the content is so easy theres never a need to join a voicechat, nobody asks for that nowadays.
      The last time i got on voice with strangers was in the cataclysm beta and that was the best time i spent with wow in the last 3 years, its imo the main reason ppl play mmos anyways ( atleast for me it is ) to meet new ppl and do stuff together with them.
      In rl life its way harder/awkward to accomplish that as is in any other type of multiplayer game.

      Its like joining a sports club/moving to a new town just that you can pick with whom you want to stay in contact/who you dont want to see again after you first met, try to ignore an annoying person you dont like if hes in the same auditorium you are every day…

      But for that to work you have to be forced to interact with each other and that happens neither in pvp nor in a dungeon finder environment, maybe joining a new guild but a new guild will always have people you dont like who are integrated into the big group and you cant get rid of them

  5. TormDK says:

    A good read, but we have to wait till March to get GuildBanks? QQQQQQQ!

  6. ExplosiveCoot says:

    “if you look at SWTOR in terms of how many innovations and changes it adds to the genre, it’s quite significant when compared to other genres out there.”

    I just don’t see this at all, at least not concerning what players are doing for the majority of the game – combat controls like a clunky version of WoW, and PvE “endgame” looks like it’ll just be going through raids and dungeons. I was really hoping we’d see movement away from the “tank / healer / DPS” trifecta (and the Star Wars license would be the perfect place to do it.) Overall in terms of gameplay, I don’t see TOR offering much new. Certainly the framework supporting gameplay (i.e. fully voiced quests and dialogue options even in dungeons) is nice, but it is wasted on unresponsive and uninteresting combat.

    If they managed to tighten up the combat the legacy system might offer something interesting, but I think I’ll have a damn hard time running through all the non-”class specific” quests more than once (primarily because of the amount of running involved – although I predict within the year it will be changed so players get sprint at level 10 and a speeder at 15.)

    Also I think Damion Schubert’s name is spelled with an ‘o’ not an ‘e’.

    • Brun says:

      I agree with this. For reasons that I cannot fathom, there are SO many people on SWTOR who absolutely refuse to see it for what it really is – WoW, in space, with voice acted quests and decision wheels. There is very little new and revolutionary about it in the big picture of the gaming industry. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game (far from it) but to pretend that it is some great and innovative creature is simply delusion.

    • Chiller says:

      +1.

      Also, for the love of any available gods, when I log in to RPS to answer in comments can you PLEASE make it so I’m immediately redirected back to the place where I pressed the button?

    • Timmytoby says:

      I actually do think it’s WoW in Space. And if you go in it with that in mind it’s quite enjoyable.
      Bioware did a lot of things right that WoW did right at launch. It’s a highly polished experience and easily learned so even my grandmother could jump in and play (well, if she knew how to handle a mouse, knew what Star Wars is and wasn’t dead, that is).
      And there are a few things that are quite novel for a MMORPG. Not groundbreaking stuff but things that future MMOs will probably include without thinking about it. Kinda like the way WoW did not a lot of really new things but brought everything together in one game.

      Sure, it’s the equivalent of a Summer Blockbuster Action movie: Lot’s of explosions, not much artsy appeal.
      But then that’s exactly what Star Wars is: A bunch of action movies with a modicum of story and kinda cheesy dialogues. And that’s fine. Did anyone really expect a groundbreaking game experience from a Lucasfilms license?

  7. akeso says:

    The strange thing about this game is that I knew lots of people who were super excited at launch to play this game and are now either back playing wow before their free subscription finished or simply stopped playing.

    I know this isn’t a large enough sample to make any statement but I wonder how many other people are having similar experiences.

    What I find odd is that this experience seems to fly right in the face of this interviews opening statements; I wonder if this is just marketing bravado or if they have data which is showing a stronger health than I know I have seen.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      akeso,

      I think you can say this about most MMOs released since WoW. From my experience, most MMOs during “open” BETA /at launch have general chat filled by people saying how MMO ‘X’ is inferior to WoW, along with people responding ‘Then go back to WoW” or “STFU”. While this is less prevalent than it was in 2007, it still happens. Not surprisingly, player numbers drop dramatically during, or just after, the ‘free’ 30 days. Which leads to my theory that many, if not most, players of new MMOs are WoW players who want to see if there is something new, different, or better available. And until there is, we will continue to see plummeting numbers of players in new MMOs post-launch.

    • Verio says:

      This is an interesting point. In my personal opinion, this has not been “the smoothest launch ever!” like everyone keeps saying. Sure the servers were up, but it’s been a hell of a lot more buggy then any of the MMO launches I’ve participated in over the last 5-7 years. This is just based on my experience, but I don’t remember WoW, Warhammer Online, or Guild Wars being this buggy.

      Yet nevertheless, it seems like the only metric anyone cares about for “smooth launches” is “are the servers up?”

      For me, this has lead to a lot of apathy very quickly in regards to what I “want to play”. It amazed me how quickly I sat down at my machine and wondered if I should go back to Skyrim or play this. I am still playing this, and still having fun, but I already have a character I’ve entirely abandoned because bugs with the companion make it an exercise in frustration trying to play with him.

    • Baines says:

      There is enough demand that anyone who returns to a different MMO will be quickly replaced.

      Even if SWTOR was full of people who were just staying long enough to get their “KOTOR 3″ fix, how many people are there that *want* that fix? Not all of them bought the game at launch. Some would wait for word of mouth. Some will wait further to hear that any problems have been fixed. Some will wait to get the game for a bit less. Expansions will draw in fence sitters as well as returns of previous players. SWTOR could support fair weather players for quite a while. And that is assuming that a sizable number of players only wanted a brief fling, and didn’t stick with the game.

    • Brun says:

      @Verio:

      You happened to play three of the smoother MMO launches in recent memory (although all of them were fairly buggy at release). Other supposed “WoW-Killers” that you did not mention that were much worse: Age of Conan, Vanguard.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Verio,

      We must have been playing a different version of WAR, then. It was one of the worst experiences I, or my guildmates, have had with a MMO at launch, Hell, it wasn’t until 6 months post-launch that most of the CTD/BSoD bugs were patched out. AoC was also a nightmare for far too long post-launch.

      By the way, I am very much enjoying TOR. So my previous post was my opinion as to why MMOs post-WoW have seen precipitous drop in players with-in 30-90 days. While I do see why some(many?) people are disappointed with various things, I find its charms far out weight its short-comings.

  8. Verio says:

    Those are interesting promotional stills in the article.. I don’ t remember any places in the game having such attractive lighting and looking so good. Surely I just haven’t reached those locations yet….

    • Brun says:

      Methinks they took some liberties with post-processing of those pictures.

    • TheWhippetLord says:

      Maybe they have a special build of the game where fancy cutting-edge graphics options like anti-aliasing actually bloody work. :)

  9. drcancerman says:

    I wish they could work on the space, like X-wing vs Tie-fighter or anything like STO.

    We know the engine can handle, but since SW is 50% space… I wish I could experience that too!

    • Brun says:

      This, plus when they add guild capital ships they can add GvG Battlefront-style boarding action / space combat.

    • drcancerman says:

      @Brun

      OOhhh that would be fun!

    • phylum sinter says:

      That’s the update i’m hoping for (and one of the only things i can think of that would make me renew my subscription). Right now i’m level 30, and sick of grinding, LFG for the flashpoints and waiting to play the PVE. What space battles there are just barely hint at what could be.

      I figure i’ll make it to level 50, enjoyed the story more than anything and have exhausted my desire to play this game, unless they can make the fights way more interesting (without timers/WoW-ness… i know, unlikely) or start hinting that true, non-rails space battles might one day arrive.

      For the record, i’ve played WoW during several of the updates to see how it was, and never subscribed because i hated the timers. I got SWTOR because i thought it was going to completely break that mold, and be more like the other Bioware developed SW games.

  10. Kal says:

    I don’t know how you did this interview, so I don’t know if the typo is from Ohlen or RPS editing, but in the first paragraph of Ohlen’s answer to your last question, “Karagga’s Palace is very much based off of Jabba The Hutt’s, there’s a rancour in it, and over very cool things.”

    That’s a Rancor, and other very cool things.

  11. aircool says:

    I thought Rift was great, and still enjoy playing it. SWTOR doesn’t veer to far from the standard model, but it’s one that works and the character storylines are really quite interesting. It’s great when the character threads cross as well, seeing a single event from different perspectives.

    Of course, the game is much better when you’re in a guild, but that’s always been the way…

  12. John P says:

    There are videogames that are very much entirely focused on gameplay mechanics – and are just essentially games. But then most AAA big games have that story element to them. So for all the big games in the future, you’re going to see stories.

    Isn’t it telling how Bioware dismisses gameplay like that. Mechanics = ‘just games‘, while the addition of more and more story is a ‘natural progression’. The game designer must be an endangered species at Bioware. Actually given their recent output, the designers must have been replaced by story monkeys a few years ago.

    • Gira says:

      It’s amazing this stuff is tolerated by gamers and games journalists alike. Just games. This shouldn’t be too surprising, though – BioWare realised a long time ago that gameplay got in the way of their embarrassing, sub-Twilight Cinematic Emotional Narratives, and readily disposed of it.

    • MCM says:

      It’s an amazing misunderstanding of what makes videogames different, what a good game is versus a bad game, why people play games, et cetera.

      We used to bullseye guys like this in our T-16s back home – he’s probably not much bigger than 2 meters.

    • Quine says:

      It can’t be long until they ditch the limited narrative vehicles that are just computer games and move into the fertile grounds of Choose Your Own Adventure books, with extra good / neutral / renegade_dick options to add more character to the thing. Then they don’t need to worry about fiddly stuff like gameplay, UI design or PVP balance.

      I’m hoping they have a go at the chess franchise next…

  13. Feriluce says:

    Well now we know why TOR is wow in space. They somehow think WoW is the only AAA mmo thats come out in the last decade. You’d obviously need to copy it if that was the case.

  14. skyturnedred says:

    I only played SWTOR during beta, but already it became clear how it played – once combat starts, you could just smash keys 1-5 randomly and wait for the fight to be over. I’m not saying they haven’t done something to improve the genre, they surely have. But the thing you do most in any given MMO is combat, and seeing as that isn’t any different to any other MMO, i just see no point for the whole ordeal. I don’t care how good their “personal story” is (and c’mon, it’s Bioware’s basic white/beige/black stuff), the game is what it is – just another hotkey MMO with the added “bonus” of voice acting.

  15. MCM says:

    Man says he’s never worked on an MMO before, huh.

    NEVER. WOULD. HAVE. GUESSED.

  16. DogKiller says:

    The problem for Bioware with emphasising story above all else, is that their writing isn’t actually any good. Not only that, it gets worse with each game. If I want story without good gameplay, I can go and watch a film or read a book. The story in those will also actually be good.

    Their stories are beginning to reach the level of fan fiction written by teenage girls. Which leads me to my theory that writing for video games is what people do when they can’t cut it as a writer in the film or fiction industry, exceptions like Chris Avellone aside.

  17. f1x says:

    After playing most of the mmos that launched this last 2 or 3 years, after playing SWTOR and after reading this interview, I just realized this is game is the oppositve of every other failed MMO
    I mean, this game has not many bugs, its quite polished, but actually has nothing interesting, it will take them a year to actually add interesting stuff to the game
    on the other hand, previous MMOs, had interesting stuff but it took a year (too late for most) to fix the things that broke the game (Age of Conan comes to my mind..)

    anyway, just a rant

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  19. Matt says:

    there must be something wrong with me because RPS cover loads of PC games i’m not interested in, or didn’t get on with yet for some reason i don’t feel the need to comment on how goddamn awful and evil and soul-crunchingly horrible they are.

    guys, if you don’t like Bioware, or EA or SWTOR (Or Valve, or Blizzard, or whoever its cool to be hating on this week) then really just don’t read the articles. It’s not like the game came around and raped your cat or anything.

  20. Premium User Badge

    sendmark says:

    Managed to get up to level 43 before quitting. Can’t see myself ever going back to it, especially as all this new content just seems like yet more iteration on the same tired old tropes (which to be fair is pretty much all that can be expected).

    Roll on Guild Wars 2, I need you more than ever.

  21. cassus says:

    This game was somewhat like DCUO for me. 30-50 hours of game until I got to a point where there was no “new” thing on the horizon. Once I had my ship and companions and whatnot.. The world just died. You’re basically running around alone in there doing story missions. That’s fine, if you wanted another KTOR and you’re okay with a really fundamental and mediocre combat system just to peddle through the (in my case) dull story. I played the bounty hunter in the end, and bleh.. It’s kinda sad to see what could potentially have been really cool turn into something this mediocre. Once the novelty of voice acting and quests wear off, it’s just.. yeah.. And it seems people are now noticing the same, cause people are fleeing that game like crazy these days.