New Combat Styles information from interview by The Escape Pod Cast and SWTOR’s Game Design Director!

The Escape Pod Cast has interviewed the Game Design Director for Star Wars: The Old Republic, Chris Schmidt, and has gotten us some great information about combat styles!

Here’s my biggest takeaways and new points from the interview:

  • Subscribers are going to have two combat styles at any time, and you can switch between the two via Loadouts
  • The gate for opening up the second combat style is your “act three story legacy unlock”, so new players will need to first reach that point in the story before they can have a second combat style.
  • Veteran players will already have combat styles unlock, and will choose their first combat style at character creation, and can choose their second one as soon as the jump in game, so they can level right away with their second combat style.
  • Your Combat Style choices are permanent, as in you can not drop one later, with one small exception in terms of Jedi/Sith.
  • Jedi will be initially locked to light-side combat styles, and Sith will be initially locked to dark-side combat styles. However, once a player unlocks the Dark 5 Legacy Unlock or Light 5 Legacy Unlock, you’ll have access to all of them. So Veteran players will be able to create a dark-power-using Jedi form level 1, as if there was no restriction. I assume a new player will be able to make a switch once they reach that alignment threshold, which is the one exception.
  • Switching between combat styles will not be available in a phase (example in a flashpoint, in an operation, in a warzone.) But if you are in say a Flashpoint or Operation, you could exit it, switch, and re-enter, if say you lost a tank and needed to switch your character to one. You won’t be able to switch during warzones.
  • Apart from that phase restriction, there are currently not any plans when it comes to restricting when you can change combat styles. It has not been decided if there will be a cost yet or not.
  • Your current set bonuses won’t work at level eighty. There will be a new gear tiers for the expansion.
  • Tacticals are a bit different, some may still work, others will not.
  • Utilities will go away completely, some will be rolled into the new tree system or straight into the updated abilities themselves.
  • Loadouts will allow you to save and switch between: allowing you to key bind your your Loadouts, save your equipment, save your outfitter preset, save your ability position on every ability bar. You can customize that for each combat style and and switch between the two.

You can also see the podcast’s summary slides they created after the interview! Slideshow

You can contact the shows hosts at @MaxTheGrey and @AIESema and listen to their podcast on newoverlords.com

UPDATE: Here is some additional clarification from Chris via Max.

Interview

[Swtorista: This is a text version of the very long and detailed interview on the Escape Pod Cast. I recommend to listen to the audio version if you are able to as it will be more accurate. I did my best to translate it to text but it is not perfect.]

Max: Welcome Chris Schmidt! So you’ve been with Bioware for over twelve years you are currently the Game Design Director for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I wanted to kick it off by just letting you do a little bit of an introduction of yourself. How have the last twelve years been, how has the last ten years of SWTOR been, and what’s that been like for you?

Chris Schmidt: It’s been great. SWTOR is deeply personal to me. I moved to Austin to work on this game. I’ve met my wife in Austin. My career has given me the opportunity to do lots of different things on SWTOR. I started out building content, some of the launch Jedi Knight stuff I did, lots of different parts of the game. Then I got to try out lots of different things while on the game and really find my passion. The last ten years of the game being live, the last twelve years of being a Bioware, have been really great for me. I’ve met tons of lifelong friends and work with so many great people. It’s been very personal ,and it’s been a great journey.

Max: I really liked the beginning of the last live stream when they had sort of those little sixty second segments and I wanted one from you as well. It just seems like such a great place, such great people – every single person that that was talking there and just talking about their experience just seems really interesting and fun and professional and with so many of you that have been there for so long – it’s inspiring.

Game Design Director – you’ve designed systems for for years and years now – one of the big things that’s coming up in the tenth anniversary there’s gonna be this combat styles and everything that wraps around it. We’re excited about all of it. I think I’m most excited about Malgus coming back. I’m Team Malgus, I think he’s got really good ideas. Inclusion, balance, sure, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs!

Combat styles t- hat’s one of those games systems and it’s kind of one of those things that I think a lot of people are not misunderstanding – but aren’t used to this kind of thing happening in the game. You already put out a statement [about combat styles] and it’s been clarified in the blog – part of the point of the brief format of some of the abilities within the concept of combat styles and the changing around some of the builds is to make the classes fell less encumbered and customized and make customization more concise and reduce the quantity of abilities but ensuring the class remains distinct, and feels like your class. Even though everybody’s focusing on things like “don’t take away ‘Blade Blitz’ or whatever” – what’s the interesting / fun part of this?

Chris Schmidt: What this really gave us the opportunity to do is take a look and zoom out a little bit, and take a look at the state of all the classes and of the game over the past several years and give us an opportunity to address some of things we always wanted to address.

One example is the way we balanced classes and the way we develop new abilities. A lot of times we would address one or two classes at a time, so we would add a new defensive cool down to this class and then we would look back and say ‘oh no now we need to add more to this other class’ and ‘now we need to add more to this other -‘ you know things like that, and one of our developers described it, it was kind of like an ‘arms race’ against other classes, pitted against each other. We never really took a step back and said well you know, what if we sort of reset the baseline meta for all classes, and what could that look like and what could that let us do?

I think what this lets us do is gets us on even footing / even ground for all the classes. It allows us to not only balance a little better / a little faster I should say but it also opens some doors for us to do more interesting things with classes. It opens the door for us in the future to do lots of crazy things. We could add new combat styles in the future which we haven’t ever done! This really puts us on that kind of footing where we put everything to this new baseline – we balance it all – we understand where all the classes are and how that relates to the content that various types of players are defeating, and then from there we can spend our energies less kind of fighting the balance or the ‘sins of the past’ if you will and more looking forward and doing more interesting things.

Max: Yeah that’s interesting. I think that the whole idea of even new combat styles that that sounds really exciting. [Max explains how refreshing it can be to refactor code in software – Sema says she likes refactoring in every day life too.] I think what players need to do is to look at each ability and say does ‘this spark joy?’ If it does not then we can get rid of it. [Jokes about which abilities spark joy.] All right so let’s let’s talk about the details of combat styles.

We know we’ll be able to have Loadouts which will have this ability to switch between some of the combat style. We’ll get this simplified, or this refined combat style. Loadouts is something that people have a lot of questions on because we’re seeing the combat styles starting show up. Are we gonna be able to sort of set up our own keybinds, are the keybinds gonna stick? Or will they they come flooding down like they do initially, scattered across your bar when you switch ? What’s the goal?

Chris Schmidt: We try to find a balance in combat styles. There’s been a lot of speculation over which which direction we’re going, and we’ve been trying to work out every detail so we can share what our thoughts are there.

One of the challenges we had is that between ultimate flexibility and a little more restriction meaning….

“Should I be able to switch to any class in the game kinda like FFXIV at a click?” and we thought for our game, we have a whole lot of systems, like our legacy system, which is really unique to our game which encourages you to build your legacy, roll different characters, alternate characters that kind of thing, so we wanted to find the balance. I think the first thing that we landed on was for subscribers we’re gonna give you two combat styles but you can have on your character at anytime and you can switch between the two via Loadouts.

Loadouts is one of those features that really needs to make it easy to switch between my different combat styles because my Powertech plays very differently from my Sentinel, for example.

We intend on allowing you to keybind your your Loadouts. It would save between sessions.

We intend on Loadout saving not only your equipment, but what are your outfitter preset so you can say this Loadout I want to be outfitter preset two, this loadout outfitter preset four [Outfit Designer tabs].

Your ability position on every ability bar.

You can customize that for each combat style and and switch between the two.

There’s obviously some some details and restrictions around switching that we can get into in a second, but that’s the vision is to allow you that flexibility and make it easy to use and very versatile.

Max: [Max asks, with unlimited loadouts, is everyone going to be expected to almost have every Loadout – am I going to be asked/expected to switch to stealth? A little bit of constraint there makes a little bit more sense to me.

Sema: [Sema agrees, she played another game that had high expectations for healing/tanking because she was on a certain class. She wants 3 though.]

Chris Schmidt: A lot of these things we’ve solved internally. One of our jobs as designers, which I say over and over again, is our job is to ‘find the best solution’ to solve with all kinds of different inputs to solve for the output.

It’s not our job to have the best idea, it’s our job to find the best idea, wherever that comes from, to solve for all the things we are trying to solve for.

It crossed our minds that “everyone’s required to have a stealth class and everyone switch to your stealth clasd” so we we came up with with what we thought were some reasonable restrictions and then of course there’s just aa limit to everything right – so we tried to see what was a reasonable restriction we can make on the number of combat styles for example that wouldn’t increase the size of our kind of data stamp on servers and things like that to keep the game performance. You always have to keep those things in mind.

I wouldn’t say that two is set in stone, and super final, but we’re pretty happy with it for subscribers.

Could we open up more in the future? Absolutely. I also love leaving that possibility because we can always talk about expanding but we can never really talk about-

Sema: I wouldn’t be a player if I didn’t ask for more. [laughing]

Max: When and where can we change our combat styles? [Max asks about middle of pvp match? constraints? costs?]

Chris Schmidt: We don’t want to allow you to switch combat styles while in a phase.

And that takes care of a lot of those potential issues so that would be in the middle of an operation in the middle of a flash point in the middle of a war zone things like that.

When you are queuing for a flashpoint in group finder or you’re queuing for PvP, you’re declaring your intent for the role you’re going to play.

What we don’t want to happen is… “I’m going to keep you as a tank to make it pop quicker and then I’m just gonna switch to DPS” and now our group has no tank and the other three people in the group are unhappy and there’s more friction.

We thought that was a reasonable restriction. If you’re in an operation and you know you lose a tank and you can’t find another one and someone wants to switch to tank… it’s kind of no different than today. Today you would have to kind of log out log back into your alt, run back. In this world you would leave a phase, switch, and then jump right back in. We thought that was a reasonable kind of middle ground there.

Also kind of some of the same rules that we have today around utility switching. We’re not gonna let you doing these things in combat, which is a pretty standard expectation I think, but we’re still kind of finalizing our plans around things like field respec.

In this world, our current kind of thinking is with this new ability tree where you’re not actually spending points… you’re just switching between some of the choices freely, there’s always something selected, we’re thinking about you can do that outside of combat however you like, but some of the field respec restrictions would be around, switching your discipline, which would be effectively switching your role which is kind of similar to combat styles, you know philosophically, so same thing there – that you know perhaps we restrict that too you know between rounds like it is currently in war zones or or outside of the phase or things like that.

We’re not quite firm on on all the details but that’s generally our thinking. We are pretty sure about things like combat styles and ability mods / ability tree switching things like that.

Max: And is it is it cost free – is it you just switch switch many times in a day is is you need to – within those constraints?

Chris Schmidt: So far we haven’t really attached a cost internally as we’re kind of thinking through things to switching combat styles… and we don’t really have limitations outside of the phase. We are thinking about though, to support the current system, so for example field respec. We don’t know quite yet if we would charge you anything to switch your discipline which is kind of how it works today – right you have to go to the vendor talk to the vendor and and there’s a sunken time costs, there’s a convenience cost, you know things like that. We haven’t quite worked through the whole thing but we’re definitely not going to restrict your ability to switch between the combat styles, outside of phases, things like that.

Max: [Max asks about switching combat styles at a lower level.]

Chris Schmidt: Depends. If you are a player that has unlocked your act three story legacy unlock, that is currently our gate for opening up the second combat style for a brand new player.

Once you’ve done that, then you could create a brand new character and you would have the choice – you would pick your primary combat style and once you make it into the game you could go and pick your second combat style. So you could from the beginning play that way.

For a brand new player though, our thinking is, we don’t really want to overwhelm them with lots of change in lots of different gameplay styles right off the bat. We do want them to experience that that classic experience of leveling up , playing through the story, really trying to learn your class, and then we unlock that at the end of act three and then they would have the opportunity to choose the second one.

Sema: [Sema asks, you started with a combat style, can you remove it later and pick two new combat styles?]

Chris Schmidt: It’s much cleaner for us to make those choices permanent with couple of small exceptions.

Once I pick my combat style, it’s akin to an advanced class today. Once I get my first one at character creation that’s the one I’m going to have, and then when I pick my second one I have the choice between whatever I’m eligible for – so if I’m a tech class, the tech combat styles, then I can pick from any of them, and that’s my choice. I don’t really have a an option to switch that.

Chris Schmidt: Another reason for that is, like I mentioned earlier, we do have a lot of systems pointing into and feeding the legacy system, so we still want there to be a good reason and to courage folks to roll different alts if they want, but I don’t want to Force anyone into that. We kind of felt like landing on letting you have that decision up front, and then you know you do have a choice to kind of re roll if you want to a completely different experience or if you want to try some other ones out.

Max: [Mas explains he was expecting the combat styles to be less of a permanent choice.]

Chris Schmidt: And that’s not to say we couldn’t open that up later – it’s not something we’re saying could never happen.

The way we think about it is it’s actually a really high cost as a player to change – think about if you are at level seventy five and you switch your combat style – you have all new abilities, all new icons, there’s a high kind of cognitive cost, to switching and so we don’t want to make it to make that the primary take away, is that we’re pulling the rug out from under you if you want to try something different. There’s so much information to try to glean, you didn’t have that experience of leveling up as those new combat styles. You’re just getting everything all at once at level seventy five. That’s kind of the line we were trying to walk.

But, there’s opportunity there, it would be a great quality of life feature in the future to potentially allow you to switch one.

Sema: [Sema still wants 3 combat styles because she plays varied content – example open world stealth vs group content dps/heals.]

Max: [Max asks about gear at level 80.]

Chris Schmidt: I can share a couple of tidbits there. We’re not quite ready to share the whole plan, but we definitely will have some some changes to gearing up for level eighty.

Your current set bonuses won’t work at level eighty.

There will be a new gear tier, server new tiers in fact.

We’re taking the long view here – we’re planning for a year plus of of gearing – budgeting all of what we might need now to give us the flexibility to constantly update. and so like I said we’ll have more details there but it’s pretty exciting and and some of that will show up on PTS [test server] at some point.

Max: [Max asks about Tacticals.]

Chris Schmidt: That’s absolutely right – I think some of those cosmetic ones as used as your call them – which is fair a lot of those with I wouldn’t expect to change. But as people may or may not have noticed yet some tacticals, some current set bonuses, are being rolled into some of the class changes, some of the more popular ones or some things that have turned rotational, we will put those and combine those oryou know add them as utility mods [ability choices]. What that means is we can’t have a tactical and that built into the class at the same time. I would expect some changes related to that. I wouldn’t say across the board tons of those would change, someone characterized me as maybe ten percent of the combat tacticals, but yeah definitely something we have to account for.

Max: [Max asks about utilities / utility tab.]

Chris Schmidt: Yeah utilities as they exist today like points that you spend – that kind of thing – are going to be gone. They’re replaced by this kind of tree structure. The tree, there’s a couple of advantages there. Not only can you kind of freely switch between things in the tree – those choices – but that enables us to actually roll utilities now into: not only some of the base abilities, but into some of those other choices.

Another really cool thing I like is if you’re brand new to the game, you’re playing, you’re leveling up, you don’t really understand the utility system, you can get yourself in a situation where you never set utilities, you have all these unspent points.

It’s hapened to me a few times a new boosted character and I just forget. In this system, we’re always gonna pick something for you by default, and you’re never really in a bad situation. We’re just gonna give you a default choice immediately when you earn it, and then you can change it to suit either your needs or your playstyle.

Max: [Max asks about Dark and Light alignment to allow a Jedi to shoot lighting, and being a ‘Jedi with Blasters’, tech vs Force.] [Swtorista, taking notes: I think Chris starts by answering a question Max didn’t ask, which is, “Will I be able to be a ‘Sage’ or ‘Marauder’ with blasters?”, as many players have been asking about mixing weapon types and advanced classes.]

Chris Schmidt: I can address the tech vs Force first. That one is more of a technical limitation at the time. It’s something that we could certainly explore in the future, and some folks picked up on it, but a lot of it has to do with the way our animations are structured, and the weapon doesn’t really define the animations. So if I put a lightsaber in your hand, you might be shooting it like a gun, unless we do a whole lot of a new animations. It’s just a time and technical constraint, but we thought this was a great first step towards something like that – we could potentially do in the future.

[Swtorista: Chris then switches to answering Dark vs Light alignment for Force Users.]

On the Force side, there is a pretty compelling lore reason to have that restriction, but we do want to give that flexibility – but it needs to come with that kind of alignment change though.

If you’re brand new player and you want to play as a Jedi origin stor,y we’re only going to show you the four Jedi light-side alignment styles.

Now we will give you the opportunity though, again if you’re brand new – you want to grind up to dark, you’re like “I’m a dark side yet I this is what I want to be”, once you hit the threshold, once we hit dark five legacy unlock, we’ll give you the opportunity to flip your combat style to the dark fiend mirror, even if it’s your first combat style. That’s what I said earlier – with some a couple of small exceptions – on as a permanent choice well… we’ll give you the option… now you don’t have to… you can decline that and stick with your you know your light side choice…

But that’s a new player experience so once you unlock that dark five alignment for your legacy, or that light legacy unlock, when you create a new character you’ll have access to all of them.

So I would say, most existing players who have already unlocked those alignment and milestones, you you wouldn’t even see the restriction… you would kind of from day one be able to pick from all of them.

We felt again it was important for new players to go through and play it how they want to kind of experience it, and it’s still a journey to the dark side or to the light side.

Sema: [Sema asks about the fact that players individually choose their character’s alignment – Sith can be light, Jedi can be dark.]

Chris Schmidt: I don’t even want to say canonically tied, but we like to say ‘traditionally associated with’.

What we think would be odd if your first experience with Star Wars is.. you have a Jedi consular origin story and you’re shooting lighting at your fingers. It’s really for that new player experience and their introduction perhaps to even Star Wars at all, and so that’s kind of what we mean you’re 100% percent right though – I call it alignment – I don’t really want to tie it to a class, but we kind of state “traditionally referred in cannon to begin wit” but you do have that ultimate flexibility.

[Max and Sema makes jokes about having lightning storm right away, since they have already unlocked Dark Five via their legacy durng the old Light vs Dark event.]

Max: Is there anything else that you’re surprised people aren’t asking yet, or what are you excited bout as a designer and a player?

Chris Schmidt: We’ve only been able to to share some of the things that we’re we’re doing so far.

But what I’m super excited about is how all the pieces kind of fit together. We’re not quite ready to talk about item changes at level eighty, or how we are structuring the content, or how you experience the content or choose how to do content each week, but I think all of that kind of complements what we’re trying to do with combat styles and specificly with combat styles I think I think that’s really interesting is…

In a lot of ways you will have the ability to change the way you have your core rotation, or to alter some abilities which could really change how you play the class, in a kind of similar way philosophically to tacticals and we’re building a lot of that into this system which I think is interesting .

I know a lot of folks – I’ve seen a lot of feedback where… abilities are being compared to the same ability today, but in fact there could be a lot of changes to that ability, that would be coming. We’ll build in some more utility or a more powerful version of that ability, that you didn’t have to opt into, and then maybe there’s an interesting change in addition to that, that could really change when or how you use the ability.

Eager to share more, we’re looking forward to releasing more more on PTS as we have it ready to go.

I really think it’s interesting, I think folks will find that there’s quite a bit there, it’s one of those things we want to be easily approachable, easy to understand, but then there’s a a skill gap there, if you want to min-Max your combat style, that’s still built into the system too.

Max: [Max says they are looking forward to the tenth anniversary an irresponsible speculation. Max thanks Chris for coming on for the interview and invites him to come back in the future.]

Chris Schmidt: I think there will be [opportunities to talk in the future] and that’s one of the most rewarding parts of working on – not only a live service game – but this game – it’s a rare treat as a game designer to put something in the game and immediately see it out in the world, get feedback, and then have the ability to take that feedback and build that into the next thing you’re building.

That’s what makes this just incredibly rewarding is the community in this game is fantastic, and we’re always learning, and we’re always seeing new perspectives, and that’s what really makes working on Star Wars pretty great and especially when you have some big ambitious plans for your ten year anniversary. I mean how many games get to stay ten years! Not many!

[Max and Sema thank Chris for the interview.]

Chris Schmidt: Thanks Max, thanks Sema, it’s been a pleasure.