I was invited to attend a press and influencers roundtable online with members of the Bioware team. After a presentation about the Star Fortresses (content available after you finish the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion storyline) they allowed us to ask non-spoiler questions. The team answering included:
Charles Boyd, Lead Writer
Michael Ammer, Senior Designer
Eric Musco, Community Manager
The Q&A below is not an exact translation of what was said but should well convey the passion and enthusiasm these three team members have for Star Wars, especially Knights of the Fallen Empire. I also reordered them to put the best answers first and added commentary in between.
Valkorion, Vaylin, Arcann and Thexan
Question [Swtorista]: With the trailer, we were introduced to a couple new very main, very memorable characters including Valkorion ‘The Immortal Emperor’, Vaylin his crazy daughter, and his two sons, Thexan and Arcann. What were some of your inspirations for those characters specifically, as well as their family ties?
Dev: It kind of just gets at what the heart of Star Wars is – it’s all family drama, and families struggling against each other. It asks ‘What does power do to people? What does it mean to have the power the Force grants you – the power that being in control grants you?’ The kinds of moral quandaries that you face… How does that affect how you would raise children, or how you would be as a parent, or as a child. It’s all those elements that are such a core part of Star Wars that we wanted to explore and look at how we could come at them in new and different ways.
Valkorion is the Emperor but he’s also this father figure, like Darth Vader, there’s an interesting blend there.
Arcann and Thexan, they’re twin brothers, but we play with the light and dark, they don’t quite end up the way you’d expect maybe from your first impression of them.
Vaylin is this… uhhhhch... there’s so much complexity there. Can’t even get into it! Her talents, her gifts, are also sort of her curse and part of what keeps her apart from others in interesting ways that have had a deep effect on her – and her relationship with the members of her family. We were really inspired to explore new types of character archetypes that still touch on those central themes of Star Wars storytelling.
Dev: Regardless of if it’s a Death Star, or a Star Destroyer, or whatever the ‘big threat’ is, Star Wars is made of personal stories and family is one of those big themes. Taking this family dichotomy and effectively imagining the problems they have with each other, but then turning them up to 11 and throwing in that they rule this huge Empire and are very, very powerful: ‘What does that magnification do to the relationship?’ But at the very core you are looking at a son who wants approval from his father, and a father whose motives aren’t necessarily pure… to me, that’s it at its core.
Question [Taylor from Gamefragger.com]: What would you tell players who haven’t yet tried out SW:TOR?
Dev: This is the best time there’s ever been.
Dev: KotFE is probably the best opportunity [to jump in]. We talk a lot about our passion for Star Wars – and if you guys know Bioware’s history with Knights of the Old Republic, this IP we’ve had ownership over – it’s hands down the best and only Star Wars RPG experience you can get out there, and we’re very proud of the one we’ve created.
I agree, it IS the best Star Wars RPG out there. If you are new/returning to SWTOR and visiting my blog, feel free to use my referral link http://www.swtor.com/r/lvbKCY (see the boxes on the top right of the blog for details). Have fun!! My biggest tip after you have decided if you like it is to find and join a guild of like-minded players.
Dev: We’ve made it accessible if you want to start from the beginning so you can level up faster, we’re also giving everyone a free level 60 character so they can just jump into Knights of the Fallen Empire if they just want to see the new stuff. I find a lot of players that I speak to like to play in the larger MMO world, but they like the story to be focused on them. Really, that’s what this is. Players get to play their way, but all of their friends, and all of these other people, are around them at the same time, when and if they want to group together. If you love Star Wars, ESPECIALLY if you love The Old Republic – it’s the BEST and ONLY game in town. Makes it easy!
Jokes about ‘can we get that whole thing transcribed?’ – best joke response – ‘Play it!’
Star Wars VII and SW:TOR
Question [Swtorista]: How much were you inspired by the Star Wars Episode VII that is coming out soon? We know that in the past you were not allowed to put certain content in the game because it was a potential spoiler for the movie – but – there is a lot of similarities in the expansion that show up in the trailers – so how much did you know before you started?
Devs: I would love to give a really cheeky.. hinty.. remark to this, but the truth is we know absolute nothing about the movies. They don’t want to risk anyone spoiling anything and rightly so because it looks AMAZING. So if there are similarities, it’s a happy coincidence. We really didn’t have any kind of insight into what they were doing. I wish I could tell you we’ve already seen the movie!
Apparently two of the devs ran into each other in the ticket line on ticket release day!
Eight Unique Stories vs One Streamlined Story
Question: One of the things that sets SW:TOR apart is the eight class stories in the base game. It gives a variety of stories and tropes in the Star Wars universe to play. Obviously the later expansions do not have this and were simplified into one streamlined story. What are some of the difficulties you guys have had trying to craft a story for all these varying archetypes?
Dev: I worked on the class stories to begin with – the trooper – back in the day, and it was something we were all very passionate about. At some point you need to move on – it can’t just be a story about your job. That’s not the only way to make a personal story. And we really wanted to show that your character was growing and changing over time. As you become this veteran of this galactic war and as you move into these new challenges, these new struggles, the galaxy changes and your character changes, and you go through different things. We always want to be true to where your character came from; we always want to remember that a trooper is going to think about things differently than a Sith Warrior, and also be responded to in different ways by people who know that history, that background. At the same time we really want to move the story forward and move our player characters forward – let you feel like you can develop your character in interesting new ways.
It’s a challenge to think about it – “Why would a Smuggler do the same thing as a Jedi?” – but I think when you play through the story, I like to think we did a pretty cool way of getting you into that.
I have just started the expansion… at times this can be clunky. For example, I play as a Trooper, member of the Republic Army… sometimes it feels as if a Jedi might have been better in my place.
Dev: To add to that, if we wanted to make choices that had an impact – that mattered to you – it’s far easier for us to do that with a singular story line. The amount of writing and time to create all that content exponentially grows [for eight distinct stories]. So now we can do a better, more focused experience that has that breadth.
Favorite Star Wars Element
Question: What is your favorite thing about the Star Wars franchise as a whole? A plot, archetype, whatever.. and how do you bring that into the world of SW:TOR?
Dev: Mine ultimately is pivotal to where I am in my career, and the fact that I chose to do something creative. It was Empire Strikes Back, and it’s the scene where Luke is going through Bespin, and he’s looking for Vader, and he walks into the Carbonite Freezing Chamber… as he goes from the white sterile Bespin into a dark, really dramatic lighting… and there’s Vader. Just waiting for him. That was the day I realized I want to create characters that people dress up as for Halloween. I want to create stories where people just lose their minds about. That entire scene in Bespin with Luke vs Vader – that changed my entire world. I’d already loved Star Wars, but that to me was just a different level. It’s the personal story – here’s this young Jedi here to save his friends and he’s not ready… but he’s facing this greater evil… Here’s this incredible bad guy that no one [in the world] has ever matched up to – Darth Vader – and he’s just like ‘I got this covered.’ The entire fight, all of it, resounded with me.
Dev: The Force, its Jedi, its lightsabers, its Sith; all the mysteries, and temptations, and moralities that come with that.
The interactions of this supernatural thing with characters that have absolutely no knowledge of it, or access to it, or anything. Han Solo doesn’t know the first thing about the Force, and even Leia until she learns her background, and yet they are still central figures to the story, they’re still doing their jobs, they’re still trying to change the galaxy. Even if they don’t have this mystical power their friends do. I love that intersection between the mystical and the down-to-earth kind of universe that Star Wars is. It’s one of the big reasons I chose to do the trooper originally; it’s one of the coolest parts in any story that we tell, seeing what results in a world with the Force and every-day interactions.
This is one of the reasons I chose to play a trooper as well – I have really enjoyed the role of the character in the Star Wars universe that is NOT the all-powerful Yoda or Darth Vader, but can still make a big impact in the galaxy.
Dev: I’ve been a Star Wars fan supernerd since I was a kid, and I think one of those reasons is how the story focuses on a small cast of characters in a large galaxy. In every scene, you get these little glimpses of this grandiose universe full of lives and stories and characters. When I was a kid I dove into the Expanded Universe, all the toys, I was the guy who won all the Star Wars trivia contests because I know the name of that character in the background of shot three. And now, I actually get to fill out those spaces and be a part of making that universe… it really is a dream come true.
This is my favourite part of the Star Wars universe as well, and why I am a big fan of the Star Wars games from Kyle Katarn to Revan – even though I am playing a story someone else created, I feel like I am ‘filling in’ those spaces that I daydreamed about as a kid.
Favorite KotFE Character
Question [Taylor from Gamefragger.com]: Of the characters you can talk about, who would your favorite characters be?
Dev: Senya. Senya is my favorite both from a design standpoint, but also strength of character and personality.
Senya is a guardian of the planet Emperor Valkorion presides over. You will meet her later in the KotFE story.
Dev: Senya plays a very key role in the story. So when you dig in, you’ll kinda see what we are talking about.
Lana I really like. She seems very reasonable… she’s very down-to-earth… she’s very practical… she’s goal-oriented… but she’s dark side. She’s ruthless! People forget that sometimes because when you talk to her she seems perfectly amenable – and then you realize what she’s really willing to do to win this war or to achieve her goals, and I love that interaction between what you expect and reality.
Dev: And then there’s Koth, this down-to-earth regular guy swept up in these huge galactic events, and he still manages to shine; still keeps a great sense of humor, great personality, and then HK-55 – HK is traditionally one of the most popular Old Republic characters – so finding a way to explore that HK character and find a new take on it – because HK-55 is very similar but has a different role, a different job that he pursues, but might seem at odds with the traditional HK.
Dev: T7. There is nothing more ‘Star Wars’ than the plucky Swiss army droid who always comes through in a pinch. He fills the Swiss army role, the puppy, and, uhchh, I love T7.
Dev: The joke I have been making for 7 years is that the game is actually about T7 – we’re really only all on his adventure, because if you’ve noticed, he’s pivotal everywhere. Without him, there is no adventure. We’re just helping him get to some final goal, and I just don’t know what that is yet.
Question [Swtorista]: Companions in SW:TOR are one of the things players seem to get really attached. They nickname their companions, they spend a lot of time with them, they pick their favourites. With KotFE, you’ve introduced a feature you haven’t even entertained since before the game came out. How did your team approach the idea that you could possibly lose a companion from your team… or lose them forever?
Dev: Making your choices matter has always been a goal here a Bioware. It’s key to telling a good story. One of the challenges we faced back in the day was that your companions had very set roles in the gameplay, outside of the storyline. For example if a character was a healer, that was their role… if you drove them away, you would lose your healer, and then you would be at a huge disadvantage in the game. We found that was not very rewarding for players ultimately, and that’s why in Fallen Empire we made all the companions role neutral – they can switch to play any role that you need. Any companion can be a healer, any companion can be a tank. That opened us up to be able to do what we always wanted to do, which was to make the decisions around the companions more meaningful, more impactful, and lets you see real consequences from your decisions. See companions get killed, see companions get driven away, based on your decisions. There’s a lot of that in Fallen Empire, and there’s some really huge ones coming in the future chapters after “that certain movie” comes out. In the beginning of next year, there’s some huge ones coming that I can’t wait for people to see.
Mandatory Level Sync
Question [Larry from Hyperspace Beacon]: Why was level sync mandatory vs given as a choice?
Dev: A big part of KotFE is that it is a reforging of our foundation. It’s about “let’s set ourselves up for success going forward.” From a straight practical standpoint, we have some amazing planets and some amazing locations that we wanted to make sure we were constantly sending people to, and we wanted that content to always be relevant to them.
The only big argument I ever heard about making it a choice was from people who really wanted to feel like they were super powerful compared to the content and they could just walk through it. In the grand scheme of things, trying to keep those players in mind, when we took a step back and we looked at it we said, “Well we’re going to level sync you, but we’re not going to take anything away.” You’re still going to keep all the things you’ve earned through leveling up, all of your passives, all of your utilities, as well as your gear.
You will still be very powerful if you have your gear and all your abilities.
It allowed us to still be able to reach our goal, what was “Let’s create content that anyone can enjoy, they can play with their friends no matter what, they can go back and re-do content at a later point, and we can even introduce new content to the game and put it on any planet we want. And any level player can go back and enjoy that and still feel like there was some sort of challenge.
Question: What planets war affected in that trailer? Obviously we know Korriban as affected.. we also see Republic troopers going down.. who exactly was hit?
Dev: We don’t have a list we could give you directly. When we find we need to develop that more in detail, we’ll give that to you. When you jump into the story, you’ll see which aspects are key.
Planetary Comm Equipment
Question [Exile, TORfashion]: What was the reasoning behind getting rid of all the equipment vendors on the fleet (planetary vendors)?
Dev: It’s funny that you phrase it that way. We looked at it as though we had too many vendors and they were all over everyone’s minimaps and all over the place. So we thought we would just simplify the experience so you could more easily find what you were looking for. We also took a look before we did it and we made a big list of everyone we had out there in all the different locations and it’s not just the fleet – it’s even the camps and the planets. And we looked at what players were actually using the vendors for – what were they buying, what were they not buying, where were they using them? We found one or two inconsistencies about some camps; some camps didn’t have the same vendors. We wanted to make it more uniform across the different locations. So really it was just an opportunity to clean up and streamline because we just added vendor, vendor, vendor and the solution was often to add another vendor and it wasn’t really necessary.
Exile really wanted to know if everything was still available, because she hadn’t found them yet. In response, they said they were ‘out there’ somewhere, used in different ways, either in repeatable quests or other sources in the game. ‘Those outfits are still out there.’ One great example of returning gear I found was in the new crafting schematics; you can get shells of the gear that was only available at endgame of the game’s launch and has been unavailable for years.
Update: Players have expressed a lot of dislike about the removal of these armors. Here is an official response from Eric Musco:
For the question at hand about why equipment was removed from various vendors, this is primarily due to stat changes. With the release of Fallen Empire, we essentially made that gear obsolete due to the new stat configurations and formulas. This meant the best option was to remove those items. Obviously, this raises the main concern of the support call which is the appearances of those armor sets.
The dev team informs us that virtually all of the core armor appearances sold on those vendors previously can still be located throughout the game. The majority of the old armor sets can be found via Crafting rewards, Missions, and Heroic Mission rewards. Now, there may be some variants of these core armor sets which are no longer available, but we’ll adjust that over time and slowly re-add pieces. If there are specific armor sets that can no longer be found, send the information to the Community Team, and we’ll pass it along.
Between Ziost and KotFE Chapter 1
THE LAST QUESTION HAS SPOILERS ABOUT ZIOST, A LEVEL 60 PLANET RIGHT BEFORE KOTFE.
Question [Swtorista]: The last piece of content that the player sees (if they are playing every piece of content in the game) is the Emperor destroying an entire planet in some type of ‘dark ritual.’ When we pick up KotFE you are talking to a prominent character. But what happens between those two points in time?
Dev: That’s literally chapter one. There’s some time in there that we kind of explore in the beginning of the story where the characters are hunting for the Emperor on Ziost, he does some pretty nefarious stuff there… there’s supposed to be some time passage as they’re trying to track him down, where he disappeared to after he did that. A large event of that time is from the Sacrifice trailer [the one with the two twins]. When you jump into Fallen Empire that largely takes place in the gap between Ziost and the Fallen Empire, it’s almost Chapter Zero – that’s kind of how we’ve been talking about it internally.
This is the one question I felt was not answered well. I hope in the future they address this gap in time/story better!