Interview: BioWare’s Cory Butler and the Future of Star Wars: The Old Republic
Yesterday I had a chance to ask a few questions to Cory Butler, Live Producer of Star Wars: The Old Republic. We discussed his impressions of the first month of live service, the future of the game, and specific features the fans would like to see included.
If you’re curious about what’s coming next to the Galaxy far far away, or you simply want to read about the adventurers of one of the prominent figures behind SWTOR, jump to light speed past the cut.
Giuseppe: As you may have seen from my review, I definitely enjoyed the game, and so do many others. I gather that the launch was a success, but what are your personal impressions about this first month of The Old Republic?
Cory: It’s gone really really well. We’ve been preparing for this for a lot of time, running fire drills, planning for the worst and working for the best. We were pleasantly surprised with the server stability and just how smooth the launch went, knock on wood.
G: Star Wars: The Old Republic is a direct sequel to Knights of The Old Republic, but it’s obviously an entirely different game and an entirely different challenge to develop. What determined the choice to go the MMORPG route? Is there any chance, in the future, to see another single player Knights of The Old Republic game?
C: I don’t know about that. Star Wars: The Old Republic is actually multiple sequels to the original Knights of the Old Republic. It’s really not something we’ve talked about here at BioWare Austin, but you know, I certainly learned to never say never.
G: Do you have some time to play the game yourself? If yes, what do you play, and what is your favorite activity?
C: I do make time to play the game myself. I obviously check it up on our development servers, to see what’s coming up the pipe and then i definitely spend some time on the live servers. I have a level 45 Sith Sorcrerer that I’m playing right now and I’m really enjoying it. My favorite activities in the game, besides progressing my story, are Flashpoints… they are a big draw for me. I love that sort of short and focused group content. I also like Warzones and space combat. I do my space dailies almost every day. It’s something I can do quickly and hop out if i need to do a call or get into a meeting.
Anyway I’d say that my top right now are the Flashpoints, especially the new one that I haven’t checked online because I’m not level 50 yet (but hopefully I will be there by the end of the week). You know, the Rise of the Rakghouls is amazing. I think it’s probably some of the best content we’ve put out so far. It’s a lot of fun and I can’t wait to play it for real on the live servers.
G: Did George Lucas personally try the game?
C: George is a filmmaker first and foremost. We work very closely with LucasFilm and LucasArts but I can’t really say if he’s played the game or not, but I can definitely confirm that he has seen the game, he has seen presentations. He is very involved in the development process through his team. We are very close with those guys. I work as a liaison between LucasArts and BioWare on the development side of things and I know that they are very involved in all the content we create and the direction of the game.
G: I read that BioWare is already hard at work on content that won’t see the light until 2013. What are the challenges of working with this kind of long head start?
C: That’s a good question, you know. There are some challenges with that kind of lead time but the game was in development for a little while, as you may know, so we had some lead time on that as well and that seemed to work out pretty well for us. Some of the challenges are in prioritizing between things that we need to be reactive on and things that we’re being proactive on. What I mean by that we have to listen to the community and to the the feedback, maybe on something that we had farther out in the development process, but we gather is really important to the community, so we may have to shift schedules and priorities and move that into an earlier update.
G: There are a few secrets in the game that players already discovered, the pink lightsaber crystal is an example. Do you know if there’s any that the playerbase still didn’t manage to find? Do you plan on implementing more in the future?
C: Technically it’s magenta… I’m not sure what else has been discovered, but I think it’s safe to say that we’ll continue to implement Easter eggs into the game.
G: Do you remember any particular instance during the development of SWTOR in which the discussion got really fierce?
C: You know, the initial Star Trek vs Star Wars discussion… I’m totally kidding. Honestly it’s not really like that. The atmosphere here at BioWare and the climate the company has is not geared towards yelling matches and huge egos. We really do work well together and everybody comes in with a very humble approach to making the game and servicing the game, so even when there are some sticky situations and people chose a side we really work through it in a professional and civil manner.
You know, in some of the places I’ve worked at there was more of a cage match atmosphere in the conference rooms, but it’s really not like that at all here at BioWare.
G: What is the future feature you think your players will appreciate the most?
C: The feature i think players will appreciate the most coming down the pipeline… That’s a tough one… It depends a lot on the play style. I think UI customization is going to be a huge hit. Players want to have the game set up the way they want on their screen. As far as in game content guild banks are gonna be great. I know I’m personally looking forward to tap into some of the shared wealth of my guild. Legacies are the big one for me. It’s a really exciting and very innovative system and I think it’s going to be the one that will blow people away.
G: Between the features that get asked the most in the forums I noticed combat logs and chat bubbles. What are the plans on that front?
C: We always listen to our community and we take the feedback very seriously. I can confirm that combat logs will be coming in the relatively near future. I can’t really go into the specifics about chat bubbles just yet.
G: Will Space Combat ever entail a multiplayer component? Or your plans include only single player missions for now?
C: We’re working on adding new single player missions to the space game, and we’re actually working right now on another project with space that will expand the game significantly. Unfortunately I can’t go into details about that at the moment.
G: Well, you did tell us the project exists, that’s quite a lot already. I wonder what it is about. In the star wars saga the borders between the Empire and the Republic is often a bit blurred. Often characters from the two factions are forced to collaborate, and undercover infiltration missions are a daily occurrence. Are there any plans to consider cross-faction collaborative gameplay? Maybe a quest line to infiltrate the enemy capital planet in disguise?
C: You know, those are both really cool ideas, but there’s nothing we’re ready to announce about that currently.
G: The Old Republic already has Housing, but there’s no way to customize one’s space turf visually. Will we ever be able to add a personal touch to our Spaceship?
C: We understand that our players love customization. The game is about choices after all. We want our players to be able to make choices as often as possible and those choices to have consequences. Part of that is being able to chose how things look. It’s going to be the focus of some of our future updates but there are no specifics yet.
G: Some servers have a faction balance that seems quite skewed one side or another. Is there any future plan to give local advantages to the outnumbered faction in order to encourage them to come out and fight against the odds?
C: We are hyper aware of server populations and faction balances on the servers. As far as what we’re going to do about that, it’s something we’re keeping up our sleeve right now, but I can tell you for sure that we are looking at that very seriously and we’re coming up with a plan of action there.
G: A couple weeks ago you teased us by naming a new planet that will come with the March update: Denova. I did some research, and I couldn’t find anything about it anywhere. Is BioWare creating Denova from the ground up? If yes, what kind of involvement does LucasArts have in the process?
C: We are creating that planet ourselves. There have been a couple of instances where there are planets that haven’t shown up in previous lore: Kaon for example. LucasArts is very involved in the process and we go through them to make sure everything is in canon and following the overall lore and they have been in from the conceptual stage all the way through implementation.
G: Will there be more character customization options in the future? Are there any plans to implement some sort of barber shop or plastic surgeon that will allow players to change their appearance in game? Maybe a toggle for the hoods?
C: Do you want to be able to drop your hood and put it back up?
G: Yeah I’d like to drop my hood, because I play a Guardian and basically all our armor has hoods.
C: That’s definitely stuff we talk about often. We haven’t really announced any formal plans, but it’s very important to us to allow players to fullfill their own personal Star Wars fantasy and along with that we want them to be able to customize their character the way they want, so it’s something we’re currently taking feedback on and we’re making plans on how to address in the future.
G: The Old Republic is probably the MMORPG with the most locations in which you can just walk off a ledge and fall to your death, even in completely safe areas. What gives?
C: I think it’s just part of the vastness of the universe. The worlds are big and open for exploration and it doesn’t make much sense to have a safety rail around a plateau or a mountain that hasn’t been visited in hundreds of years…
G: But it’s the same even in cities…
C: We want you to be careful! (laughs)
G: Thanks a lot for your time and your answers. Is there anything else you’d like to say to your fans? You know, this is the final “Do my job for me” moment. You can go wild.
B: When you hit max level with your character definitely reroll and try another one. The stories are unique for each class and I can guarantee that you’re going to find something you’ll love in a class that you didn’t anticipate playing. When I went into it myself Trooper was probably my last choice, but once I checked it out and played through some of the story, it became one of my top three favorite classes, so there’s definitely something to be said for exploring things you wouldn’t normally think to check out in our game.
Editor’s note: the final question about death plunges was intended as a closing joke. We sincerely apologize to those offended by it. DualShockers does not endorse the indiscriminate abuse of railings and safety nets in MMORPGs.