E3 2012: Interview with Daniel Erickson of BioWare and the Future of Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic has been out since December of 2011 and has already had one major patch implemented with the 1.2 Legacy update. Coming soon to the title will be the 1.3 patch called Allies, whose shining feature is the group finder tool. Also included in the update will be extensions to the Legacy system that will add new unlockable perks, adaptive social gear such as the ability to change out your PVP modifications to a Sand People Outfit, new augments, and even a new tutorial system.

We’re also in for free character transfers, enhanced nightmare modes featuring new content and in-game mechanics, new areas like Terror From Beyond with the Dread Masters as the main villains, new Heroics in Belsavis, and a new 8-vs-8 warzone called Ancient Hypergates. Still, the biggest announcements were the addition of a new companion, the famous HK-51, and a brand new planet for both the Republic and Empire called Makeb.

Makeb will be under Hutt rule, offering new gear to go along with an increase to the level cap. With the level cap comes new additions to the player’s storylines, new companion quests, and of course, new abilities. While we won’t see most of the new content that has been announced until later this year at the very least, there will be free trails for new accounts starting in July that will allow player to create characters up to level 15 without a time restriction.

To clear up some of these announcements made, I sat down and spoke to the lead game designer, Daniel Erickson of BioWare Austin. He spoke fondly on what it was like to create such a massive MMORPG for the Star Wars Universe. I brought up several creation topics, such as asking about copying common game mechanics and implementing them into the game, such as the group finding tool and the combat log. With a smile, he stated that he didn’t want Star Wars: The Old Republic to be lost in the crowd.

The title has a very unique in-depth RPG storyline that is not found in other MMOs. It gives it a unique identity.  Currently, there’s talk and work on adding more features in the future which will try to include ridable creature mounts like Tauntauns and new pets, including familiar faces from Knights of the Old Republic. Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t be able to ride on the shoulders of Sand People through. Well, maybe something can be worked out. Also, there might be a possibility of fixing the age-old question, “Why can’t someone ride in the seat next to me on the taxi?” Erickson stated that it was due to the droid companions, so I suggested that we fold them up in a suitcase like the Jetsons car.

For those of you concerned about transfers and keeping or changing your Legacy names, I have some good news. According to Erickson, there isn’t any ‘rule’ in place in the programming which states that Legacy names can’t be repeatable. Currently, the BioWare crew is working on making transfers as painless as possible, including the possibility of having multiple players with the same Legacy names if necessary since characters are usually just known by their first names anyway.

Unfortunately, Erickson could not give any specific details on the changes in Nightmare mode, as they are constantly being changed and tweaked. There is a silver lining, as he mentioned the possibility of giving extra rewards outside of titles for these new modes. Some possibilities were discussed about new and exclusive mounts. There will be, however, a new set of tier gear in these Operations. There was also some discussion for extra rewards outside of titles for timed runs as well.

For all of the guilds out there, there is an entire team working on new guild features. These might include guild logos and rewards for guild alliances, even cross-faction guilds. The Legacy system also has some great things in store, as HK-51 being an unlockable Legacy companion.  While he won’t go back and retroactively interact with your other companions, there are a few scenes that will be implemented when he does speak to them in some quest lines.

With companions in mind, I had to carefully ask for any hope or news on making the companions romanceable for the same-sex. With a soft laugh, Erickson smiled before gently breaking the news that it wasn’t as simple as flipping the gender switch to neutral. He explained it might be a bit insulting to change the nature of a character for the sake of adding such a feature at this point.

Ending the interview, I threw in my final few questions regarding some role-playing customization and raid sizes. I brought up that there are role-players out there who would love some open text space to type up their own personal biographies for their characters that could be visible to anyone who right-clicked and wanted to read it.

While agreeing, Erickson said that at this point with the current system, adding an empty box for free text would be very difficult to do with the new Legacy updates already planned. Though, there’s a possibility for it later down the line, as well as a type of barbershop for hair, skin tone, and physical features such as markings, scars, and tattoos. Race and gender changes are a possibility, but would have to be worked out more in order not to ‘break’ the storyline.

Finally, I questioned on whether or not there will ever be an incentive to do 16-man over 8-man raiding, such as special rewards or exclusive loot. The answer was promptly no as Erickson stated that he wouldn’t want the players to feel left out if they couldn’t find 16 members. I had to inform him that there were plenty of large guilds at launch, who then broke up due to the fact that there wasn’t a reason to stay together. Surprised, he nodded, hopefully taking that into consideration.

Also, the prospects for an in-game combat log and working DPS or healing meters in-game are out the window. The feeling still remains that access to such logs and meters would make players who aren’t playing quite as well or as much as others feel isolated from the community. While I might not agree, being a raider myself, I can see both sides of the argument. For now, we’ll have to make do with our out-of-game parsers and small raiding groups.

Outside of the interview, I was able to play a 4-man heroic in the new Belsavis area. With new gear, new skills, and cleaner gameplay, I must I admit that that I thoroughly impressed. My only disapproval was that now the heroics are playing better than most of our flashpoints, so hopefully those get the same VIP treatment and once over as well.  The Public Test Server is now open, so I encourage all the fans to get a character in there and submit tons of feedback into the community.

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Megan Smith

A gamer from the Midwest, Megan has loved video games since feeling the rush of beating a final boss for the first time. When not writing for Dualshockers, she can be found thinking up crazy amounts of fanfiction or buried in any random MMORPG. Her favorite games include Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Phantasy Star, Star Ocean, Guilty Gear, and almost anything out of the ‘Tales’ series.

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