Archive for February 4th, 2011

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LFG Death Star, Must Have Fast Ship

February 4, 2011

LF2M then G2G

Today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic update is a dev blog about Flashpoints which I think would have been much better off and more informative bundled with last week’s update, but it is still no less full of win.

From World Designer Jesse Sky, a Flashpoint in a nutshell:

The Death Star was a Flashpoint. Luke and Obi-wan spent a few minutes LFG in the Mos Eisley Cantina where they enlisted the aid of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Together, they infiltrated a moon-sized battle station to rescue Princess Leia.

They had a plan: rescue the princess, deactivate the tractor beam, and escape in the Millennium Falcon. Of course, things didn’t go quite as planned. They had to deal with a legion of Stormtroopers and a dianoga in the garbage compactor. Before they could escape, Obi-Wan was killed in a confrontation with Vader. Maybe next time you won’t split the party, Kenobi.

I love the analogy! It’s also good to see devs with a sense of humor, and by the way, how awesome it must be to have “World Designer” as your job title. I would go around at dinner parties telling everybody.

However funny it may be, I think the example from the movie does do a good job of illustrating Bioware’s vision for Flashpoints. Sometimes, even a big damn hero needs a little bit of help for those missions one can’t handle alone. Each will comprise of a string of objectives, all centered around a narrative. There will be a purpose to all of it, as like Jesse Sky pointed out, Luke et al. didn’t just go charging in through the blast doors aimlessly shooting at every Imperial in sight.

At the same time, he assures us that not every mission will be linear. The decisions that a group makes can change the outcome of the Flashpoint, affecting the course of the experience or opening up new possibilities for your character. Imagine if Han Solo had been like, “Screw the princess, my ass is staying right here!” when Luke beseeches him to save her. Things would have turned out a lot differently, and it makes you appreciate all the more that deep down our favorite smuggler is a chivalrous romantic at heart, even if he was in it for the money at the time.

Here’s another quote from the blog that I pounced on right away:

As much as possible, we try to move you between large, open spaces and smaller, claustrophobic spaces. Every now and then we throw in something crazy. We know we’ve done our job right when the artists react with a mixture of enthusiasm and annoyance.

That last bit again gave me a little chuckle, but I also like the idea of varying the environment within a Flashpoint. “Claustrophobic” is an interesting choice of words, but also accurate, I think, for how I’ve often felt in instances that confine you to one environment, or even just one room (Violet Hold, I’m looking at you). I predict having some visual diversity definitely will help in “opening up” the Flashpoint, making it less painfully obvious that you are in fact confined in a self-contained instance.

One thing I have been wary about when it comes to Flashpoints is the combat, and I have to say I remain so even with what has been said in this dev blog. I’m all for finding alternatives to the concept of “the MMO trinity,” but until a viable solution presents itself, I’m willing to settle for a more dynamic sort of trinity. I don’t mind having to take on a main role in an encounter, but I would like other skills that make me useful beyond simply being pigeonholed as a meat shield, nuker or healbot.

For example, one thing I loved about playing a feral druid in World of Warcraft was my ability to shift into different forms — DPSing as a cat when it was required, transforming to off-tank as a bear to save a clothie being pummeled by a loose mob, quickly throwing heals-over-time on the main tank to keep him up while I battle-rez the healer who had gotten herself killed — all in a single fight. Encounters like that require split-second decisions and the utilization of a player’s full repertoire of abilities, which is what I’m ideally looking for, though I admit this might be too much to expect from any game. However, I have to say that some of the combat I’ve seen in SWTOR group play footage makes me think that Bioware may be attempting this. I’m a bit dismayed that the little blurb from Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller did not offer much more in terms of information about that, but I guess that’s a dev blog for another day.

In any case, unique AI behavior and scenarios making combat in Flashpoints different than combat in the open world should be enough to bring about a sense of unpredictability and the excitement that goes along with it. I also liked that Zoeller’s example illustrated how the environment can play a part in creating that experience.

At the end of the day, I liked this quote most of all:

At the end of a Flashpoint, you’ll have more than just shiny new items – you’ll have developed your character. You’ll have the satisfaction of righting wrongs (or wronging rights). And to top it off, you’ll have learned something about your friends (“You seem more evil today. Are you evil?”).

Evil? Who, me? Ha ha, I’m starting to really like this Jesse Sky guy. But I think right there, that’s Bioware’s mission statement. You’re here to develop your character’s story and have fun with it, not play a “glorified slot machine” or crunch numbers all day (though no matter what, there’s just no stopping some people). Here’s hoping that works out for SWTOR, we’ll just have to see.

Finally, Sky’s comment about playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and imagining how cool it would be to join forces with his roommate to take it on together also made me smile because that thought absolutely crossed my mind when I played that game as well. Did it for you?

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