Weighing In On SWTOR Space Combat Rumors

August 9, 2010

Here’s generally my rule regarding rumors and hearsay when it comes to high profile games — take everything with a grain of salt. Unless it is information that has come through official channels or has been talked about or confirmed by a dev or the company, I don’t usually write about it until more has been substantiated. That said, there has been rumors over the last few days about the state of space combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it all started from a write-up about an upcoming article on PC Action, a German magazine (Google translation of it can be found here).

The story has led to an explosion of speculation and interpretation, people claiming SWTOR space combat will be “on rails” or nothing more than a “tunnel shooter.” While devs have not made anything official yet, what they have done is acknowledge the discussions and encourage feedback on the forums. That’s not a confirmation by any means, but it does give me the impression that there might be something to this story. That’s part of the reason I’ve decided to write about this, but the main motivation has been of course Hunter’s post on his take on the topic.

Back in June, Hunter and I made a friendly bet with each other about whether or not there will be space combat in SWTOR. A few weeks ago, it appeared victory was mine! But little did I know that our simple little wager would become so much more complicated. The crux of the issue, of course, is defining what space combat actually is. And for the most part, I agree with him — there has to be a line drawn somewhere. For example, I think we would both agree that a turret based shooter, space combat is not. That’s why I was a bit concerned when I heard the first murmurings of “on rails”‘ and “tunnel shooter”, because I started wondering what this might mean for our bet. Hey, on the bright side, at least I’m not QQing about the actual game! I’ve got 10 credits and my pride riding on this, people!

Okay, all joking aside though, Hunter and I can at least rest assured space combat will not play out like, in his words, a “duck hunt.” From the community manager’s post on the official forums:

UPDATE [1]: To clarify, Space Combat is not a Turret Shooter (this is probably obvious after seeing the screenshot but some people were mentioning it in the other thread).

That’s great news for both of us. And my own prediction for space combat remains the same — most likely scripted and instanced, possibly including cinematics, at these designated “hot spots” that players can travel to in order to initiate the action. The information in the PC Action write-up hasn’t really refuted that. To be honest, I think most people expected a polished and worthwhile space experience, but nothing overly elaborate. After all, SWTOR is first and foremost an MMO, not a flight simulator. The main game is driven by the individual class stories; space combat is and has always been a “side game” in my mind, perhaps even optional. Predefined paths, limited weapons, or repeatable quests be damned, I think as long as the gameplay doesn’t feel trivial, or that it’s thrown in as an afterthought, I would consider it space combat.

The problem is that it’s just so subjective. Realistically, Hunter and I might not even be able to settle our bet until the game launches and we get to try out the space content for ourselves. But I think that’s okay though. The most important thing is, I consider Hunter a good blog friend, and what has come out of our friendly wager is an opportunity for me to discuss news about SWTOR with someone else who seems just as passionate about the game as I am. That’s always a good thing in my mind, because God knows the blogosphere is the only place I can find others with whom to share my enthusiasm and love for SWTOR. No doubt we’ll both be keeping our eyes out for more information on this subject. I for one am not giving up convincing him that I’m owed my 10 credits!

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take some time to think about the PC Action write-up. Even if it all turns out to be true, is space combat being on rails and pushed along from behind really that bad? Jaramukhti, a commenter on this blog, has likened this style of gameplay to Star Fox, which like he pointed out was an awesome game with some pretty fun flight mechanics.

Like I said, and like what Hunter has already alluded to, if you were looking for game with a huge emphasis on space combat and free flight, an MMO probably isn’t what you should have been looking for in the first place. Bioware has never claimed SWTOR would be a game centered around space combat, so why demand it to be? On the contrary, what they’ve always emphasized is story and we should expect all development to be built upon that. Personally, I’m happy enough with the fact that space content is even included. Hence I’m neither excited nor disappointed about the article.

It’s truly perplexing to see words like “ruined” and “deal-breaker” when it comes to the discussions I’ve seen pop up in the last couple of days about this topic. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I can’t help but wonder how people can be so affected (read: freaked out) by the new information that’s come out about space combat, authentic or not. In my view, misgivings should be reserved for bigger things instead of wasting energy complaining about something that’s an “extra” and that has never been touted as a main feature. A few weeks ago, we didn’t even know for sure if there was going to be any content based in space, let alone space combat. If the game excited you before then, why should these new rumors change anything?

For what it’s worth, I am looking forward to seeing the upcoming issue of PC Gamer that’s due on newsstands in another week or so, now more than ever. Hopefully, some answers about space combat will be provided there.


  1. There is probably a lot more to the space play than we’ve seen, but I’m not a fan of starfox style gameplay, its a little outdated and simplistic for my tastes.

    I’m not thrilled that its on an on rails experience, but I’ll also admit that its not a disaster. Combat in space will most likely add a layer of depth most mmos don’t have, aside from the obvious competitors.

    Anyway it doesn’t matter. There will be more than 24 sizable planets, so I’ll win back my 10 credits.

    • I have a feeling you and I aren’t anywhere close to finished when it comes to these little bets. With about 9-10 months more to go, I wonder how many more topics we can wager on. Guess this means we’ll have to work on rolling on the same server and all that to pay off whatever we owe to each other when the game launches?

      • Our next bet will involve playable species? We’ll see.

  2. I think something like “deal breaker” gets tossed around for this because we’re talking about an MMOG and the last thing any MMOG needs is some sort of huge “game within a game”. Those tend to get annoying quick.

    • I don’t think space combat is going to turn out as a huge game within a game. Total guesswork here, but I think at most, maybe an activity or quest or two that involves visiting an instanced area. I know there are people out there who believe Bioware’s focus should be the main game, that space combat really shouldn’t even belong. I can certainly see the wisdom behind that and I agree to a certain extent, but what’s done is done and at the end of the day I’m not at all unhappy about the announcement of space combat. It’s not a feature that has been touted as a main part of the game, so it should be viewed as such; at the same time, if it’s going to be in the game it should be done well, I would expect nothing less from Bioware. As long as it’s something that won’t affect the overall rest of the game, and this goes for any feature really, I don’t really consider it a deal breaker.

  3. Whoa, I made it into a blog post. I have this strange feeling deep in my soul — like I have arrived, in an internet sort of way.:P

    I can definitely see why it is underwhelming for some. There are many people who, I am convinced after reading their posts, expected a full-fledged space sim. Basically, 2 MMOs in one, so to speak; that is just absurd.

    First of all, the funding needed, programming required, and the writing that must be done for a true space sim would be a mammoth undertaking, in and of itself, let alone for a game with an already massive amount of content to moderate and develop. Second, considering we have 14 planets worth of fully-voiced content (story AND world quests), not to mention the crafting system that has yet to be unveiled, the economic structure ingame that hasn’t been revealed, and more, it is absolutely ridiculous to expect a complicated space combat system on top of that pile. Last but not least, BioWare haven’t made any statements declaring that space combat would be the main focus of the game.

    Add all that up, and this is about what one would logically expect to see — something simple, fun, and accessible.

    I agree with Hunter, in that Star Fox was definitely a simplistic game with a fairly easy-to-learn system. But that was merely an example of the first thing to come to my mind. Once you have that thought in your mind, compare that screenshot above with this one — http://i848.photobucket.com/albums/ab44/EGMforever1989/star-fox-64.jpg — and SWTOR’s space combat system looks like Star Fox’s if it consumed steroids laced with angel dust. As much as I loved Star Fox when I played it (except for Slippy because he seemed to have an extraordinary talent for getting himself killed despite my intervention), SWTOR’s presentation looks like its going to do a 187 on it.

    Also, one fact that seems to get overlooked by most on the official forums, is that BioWare has stated this method of space combat makes it easier for them to craft “cinematic” events for the player to run through. In my book, anything that gives BioWare a chance to weave even more of their immersive stories gets a thumbs up from me.

    As one of the more sensible posters over there said “Star Wars has always been more about the emotions of the characters in these situations, and not just the pewpew.”

    • I had never heard the phrase “do a 187 on it” till this comment. Urban dictionary was only so helpful – I think you meant it in a positive way, as in SWTOR is going to be better than Star Fox.

      Also, just so you don’t think I’m totally missing the point: really good thoughts and response to a well-thought out original post.

      • LOL I’ve never heard the term either…I learned something today I guess 😛

    • Two games within a game, ground and space, sounds like Star Trek Online, to be honest. There you go, peeps, if you want fun space combat, play STO! No really, I actually do think space combat in that game is highly entertaining and addictive. 😛

      You’re right about SWTOR though; that’s not what the main focus of the game is about. It’s great that space content has been revealed, but I personally don’t think SWTOR really needs the space combat to be great. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind having it as an extra though, a bonus feature in a game that I’m already very excited for, so to speak.

      I don’t know about you or Hunter, but I had an absolute blast playing Star Fox 64 back in the day! My brother and I would also do the multiplayer for hours and hours, God those were good times. And I actually liked Slippy! Sure, he got himself killed a lot in my games too, but in some ways I sorta liked protecting that little guy 😛 Now, Falco on the other hand, that asshole I just let him die if I could help it. Regardless, SF was a great game…and yes, I realize it could be nostalgia talking here. I was like 13 when I played that game though, so obviously I would expect the technology, gameplay and graphics etc to be much improved even if that’s the style Bioware is going for.

      • I think I liked Slippy too, at one time – then he got swiss-cheesed up by Star Wolf and his cronies one too many times. After that, he was dead to me… Literally, and figuratively. I had no particular love or hate for Falco, but I always did love hearing him say “Hey Einstein, I’m on YOUR side!” after I blasted him with my lasers. That game had so many great moments, but this was my favorite, by far: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGOgoyyUPII

        If SWTOR can recreate something like that battle in this game, I will probably die from overexposure to awesomeness.

        I’ve never played STO, but I have seen gameplay videos. How is the “ground game” in it, in the opinion of someone who has played the game? I envision the devs at Cryptic were in the same situation during STO’s development that BioWare is in now with SWTOR (creating a side game to complement the main game) – except in reverse (creating a “ground game” for an MMO that looks to be space anchored). Is that a fairly accurate assessment based on your experience?

  4. As always, an excellent post with quality, higher-level analysis; I’m very jealous of your ability to post well on seemingly everything! I’ve recently made a resolution to try to respond to such good posts with my own serious responses (as a way of thanking and engaging with the writer), so here goes:

    In your first post on this subject, I pointed out that KOTOR and KOTORII have a space-oriented minigame, but I’m not certain if that counts as space combat. It seems like the same problem is at work here – just like you said in your post, how much do you need to count as having ‘space combat’, and how is that term even defined?

    I think everyone would agree that EVE Online is the space combat MMO, and that STO is the obvious contender for a solid second place. I think what this new information has revealed is the fact that many fans wanted SWTOR to be able to go up against, if not EVE, then at least STO’s more ‘family-friendly’ space combat. This most recent reveal is drawing those expectations back down to earth – space combat isn’t going to be as central to SWTOR as it is to the other two mentioned games.

    And I’m alright with that. If SWTOR had fully developed space combat on par with STO, then I’d feel really torn in the coming months, and would probably eventually come to resent the lifetime membership I paid for STO. As it is, at least STO will always have something going for it.

    • You’re pretty good with words, yourself, AyAitch, as evidenced with your comment. Don’t sell yourself short!

      I think you made some excellent points, and I can’t agree more. I don’t think SWTOR’s space combat will be anywhere near as elaborate as EVE’s or even STO’s but I doubt it would be as simplistic as what we got in the KOTOR games either (like you said, if you even count that as space combat). I really do think it’s going to turn out falling somewhere in between. Does that mean SWTOR is immediately a crappy game? I don’t think so, because Bioware has never stated space combat is going to be central to the game, like you pointed out. Obviously, we’ll have to see what other information will come out on this, but so far it doesn’t seem the decision to add space combat was one that was made lightly. I do get the feeling that the main motivation for including space combat was to make it a special treat for SW fans, but if it is treated with as much care and thought as the rest of the game, I’ll be happy.

  5. The level of rhetoric in the discussion of upcoming games (i.e. the “dealbreaker” thing) is incredibly depressing. Considering the type of games Bioware makes, I don’t think that space combat fits into the type of storytelling they like to do anyway. I hope everyone just enjoys the game they get rather than freak out about the game they’re not getting.

    • Depressing, and to be honest, I don’t really understand. A comment like “I’d been excited about this game until I found out that space combat might be on rails. Now TOR has nothing going for it” makes me want to bash my head against a wall repeatedly. If you were excited about the game even before space combat was confirmed, what are you really losing now even if it’s not as you expected?

  6. I think part of the reason is that so many people are expecting SW:TOR to be EVE Online: Star Wars Edition and I think they are going to be sorely disappointed.

  7. Let’s face it, as much “space combat” was involved in the Star Wars movies, it was not the essential part of the story. As Jaramukhti said above, the emotions of the characters are far more important. “Use the Force, Luke.”

    In Star Wars, the space combat was more like a high speed car chase, leading to a much more “on-rails” style of gameplay. Is that bad, I don’t think so. WoW has both fully on-rails bombing and air combat runs and more free-style air combat. I like both, when they are executed well. Ironically, I’d say STO overdoes it relative to the onscreen space action. Not that that is a bad thing in STO’s case.

    • You’re completely right! The large space battles of Star Wars – in particular, I’m thinking about Episode 6 here, when real models were still used – are really top notch, but the small-scale fights sprinkled throughout the series really come across as arcade battles. Maybe ‘on-rail’ fighting would actually be truer to Star Wars than proponents might want to think!

      • That is a great point. The space combat we see in Ep I, II, III, IV, and V, and part of VI (the run in and out of the death star) could all easily be represented on rails. There is really only one free-form naval battle I can think of off the top of my head.

  8. The community manager clarified nothing with this statement actually.

    He said “turret shooter” and maybe or maybe not meant “tunnel shooter”. And a screenshot of a wide open field / space does not mean the game is not a tunnel shooter following a predefined path, but this is very much what they stated and explained in their interview.

    The whole article uses the very same screenshot that the CM used to show that it is no tunnel shooter to say it is like Rebel Assault, which actually is a tunnel shooter.

    No PvP in space at release – no wonder why, because a tunnel shooter is single player does not allow spaceship combat of the pvp kind.

    • Actually, in the context of the post that quote confirms everything relevant to the wager and was exactly what I was looking for, since “turret shooter” was exactly what Hunter and I were debating. The terms rested on what constitutes as space combat. He doesn’t think a mini game turret shooter, like a duck hunt, would constitute as space combat, and I would have to agree. But Since the quote confirmed it would not be a “turret shooter” so the way I see it I haven’t lost the bet yet, does that make sense?

      Tunnel shooter is something completely different…but unlike a turret shooter, i think it can still be considered space combat depending on how it’s handled.

  9. Space combat isn’t a deal breaker for me with SW:TOR. In fact, I’m not really acknowledging it much at all. Hopefully it will be a nice distraction but for me the planet stuff with the main game. I’m not a fan of mixing gameplay mechanics 🙂 Plus, if I’m gonna fly a ship in Star Wars, I want to fly a frigging Star Destroyer!! ;D

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