SWTOR: Product Of Your Environment

April 15, 2011

It’s that time of the month again for another Star Wars: The Old Republic Fan Friday and its complement feature Studio Insider. The topic of the latter is of particular interest to me — Environment Polish.

I couldn’t help but give a little chuckle when I read the quote from Senior Environment Artist Robby Lamb that said “Environment art often goes unnoticed in a game, as it’s the creation of the world around your character.” Well, maybe some people overlook it, but yours truly has been known to take screenshots of in-game wall paintings and even of the patterns of cobblestones beneath my character’s feet if I think they look interesting.

The environment artists of SWTOR ensure the game will still be playable at a decent framerate even after they add touches like lighting and props. So much of the look and feel of SWTOR appears to be involved in this process, which also made me think about the game’s art style. I’ve seen words like “cartoony” and “unrealistic” used to describe the graphics, but I really don’t think they’re that bad. Keeping the minimum system requirements at a reasonable level may be one of their main priorities, but at least to my eyes, there is also a certain timelessness to the stylized look. And quite honestly, nitpicking the graphics is the furthest thing on my mind when I see a purdy screenshot like this.

I know one thing for certain — this game is going to look fantastic on the highest settings.

Onto the Community Q&A, I thought this month’s was one of the best so far. I wouldn’t mind if they did more of their future updates in this format, not just for their Studio Insider. Every month, information delivered this way always seems so much more detailed and specific — and more relevant to what the average player or fan would want to know, in my opinion.

The two things that piqued my interest in the Q&A; first:

Furthermore, you can customize your companions with kits that add extra abilities such as Grenade Launchers, Flame Throwers, etc. Regardless of which companion you choose to travel with, they will shape how your character approaches combat and will complement your strengths or help make up for your weaknesses.

I found out a lot about these “kits” while I was at PAX East, chilling and chatting with a bunch of other gamers while we were all waiting in line. While each companion will belong to an archetype and have their own ability set, you are also allowed a bit of flexibility to customize them. One person gave me an example to illustrate this: say, you have a companion you really like (or maybe want to romance!) and you want to bring them with you everywhere you go. But what if you’re a healing class and they are of a healer archetype too? Will this be redundant? As I was made to understand it, no, you can still bring your companion-of-choice along regardless, because you’d be able to equip them with a kit that would give them other useful abilities that help supplement your playstyle. Indeed, it sounds good if this is the case.


If changing skill distribution also involves a role change for the character (such as from damage focused to medic), chances are you will need to obtain a new set of equipment to go along with the change in gameplay experience. If no role change is involved (e.g. changing skills within the Gunslinger Advanced Class), you are likely able to reuse most if not all of your equipment.

D’oh. One thing I’m loving about Rift right now is the way I can juggle multiple roles on a single character and still keep my equipment sets to a minimum — unlike my “Swiss-Army knife” druid that carried around no less than four different sets of armor, 10 rings, and like half a dozen trinkets at all times. I doubt it would be so bad in SWTOR, but still…I’m a big fan of having inventory space.


  1. I do like that about Rift. My favorite incidental ability? Faith in Action on melee clerics, which converts spell power, crit etc., into attack power crit, etc. Makes so much more sense than lugging around all that gear. Of course, the characters are designed for maximum versatility.

    • Yeah, simply by tweaking my point allocation in my different souls, I was able to get a lot out of my armor. I use pretty much the same gear for dps and healing, but in my healing role, for example, I get much much much more out of my mana.

  2. That very last part reminds me of something I posted over at Anjin’s blog that I have yet to follow up on, it almost became a full on blog post (and likely would have gotten me a lot more hit’s than my anal review of how Volume II relates to Tolkien’s original writings!) To me, being unable to change class roles on the fly without swapping out all your gear is not really being able to change class roles “on the fly” at all.

    I can also relate to your obsession with environments. Those can absolutely make or break an MMO for me. It’s also one of the reasons I love LoTRO so much.

    • Many games haven a equipment change function or mods that allow quick swapping of your gear now, but I agree that extra step sort of pulls you out of that feeling.

      And yes, LOTRO is gorgeous! When I talked about taking pics of the cobblestones in game, it was LOTRO actually 😛 In Bree!

  3. interesting that you’d comment on environment art as I’ve been thinking about it in relation to guild wars 2 and rift lately. Rift and SWTOR environment art remind me of each other actually.

    • Really? They feel completely different to me, texture and style. The environment in Rift seems more focused on detail, where as in SWTOR everything seems more muted somehow. Both are good though.

  4. I think it all comes down to gearing, in the last part of the article. In the same relation to “Who does what in the holy trinity” it comes down to, “Which shiny pertains to you, and who gets what.” A grand scheme i shudder to think about, only because i can already see myself, a BH who both tanks, and dpses, and on occassion, will heal, lugging equipment reminds me of my pally does it all days 😦 yuck…

    It’d be nice if skill points related to that, as opposed to the gear itself, it should just be about basic stats, and varied mods such as “a poison dot pistol” or weapons with a variety of effects aside from just pure str agi and stam. But that’s just me.

    • I know what you mean — stick with a most important stat, but have it affect your abilities in different ways depending on the role you are specced into. I love the idea of enhancements beyond stats that you can add or subtract to your gear. Beats hunting for a whole different armor set and lugging a bunch of them around.

  5. Environment detail might not be as important to everyone, but it is very important to someone.

    It is for me; judging by this article, it is for you, too.

    I love what I’ve seen of the environments in SWTOR to this point. The screenshots included in the update were drool worthy. That pic you linked above was one of my favorites, along with that shot of an underground terminal in Nar Shaddaa. Add in the new Facebook screenshot of the week, and you have a pretty diverse assortment of environments to explore.

    Now, consider that we still have no idea what the full scope of these worlds will be in game, and it is a bit staggering.

    That last comment about not having homogenous gear for all specs and playstyles doesn’t surprise me, at all. It is a little disappointing (my Warrior was always having some bag space issues, carrying around a PvP set, a DPS set, and a Prot set), but it is expected.

    With the amount of gear BioWare looks to have created for each class in this game, it would be a little hard to make them all relevant if there was one set that fit all specs. With such a large assortment of gear available, it seems more fitting that you, as a player, will want to obtain many pieces of gear, and not just the “one-gear’s-stats-fits-all” pieces.

    I just hope that maybe our companions can serve as portable banks or something—like, “Vette, I don’t need this PvP helm that just dropped mucking up my bags, so hurry up back to the ship and put it in the storage bay.”

    • That screenshot above is my favorite too 😀 What is it that I love so much about cityscapes? Probably because I don’t often get a chance to see them in games.

      I wasn’t surprised by the news of not having homogenous gear for all specs either, but you still brought up a good point that I should have considered — the different looks and styles created for each class. No doubt Bioware is big on being on iconic and “looking the part”, so different gear for different roles makes sense.

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