GDC 2012: "Death Star" Meetings Killed Many Features in The Old Republic

GDC 2012: "Death Star" Meetings Killed Many Features in The Old Republic

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BioWare's TOR team could only compete with WoW by planning, and not being afraid to throw out the plan if it wasn't working.

To make Star Wars: The Old Republic, the staff included 30 people in production, 75 designers, 80 engineers, 40 platform experts, 10 people to localize the game, 10 composers, 140 artists, and 280 people in quality assurance. That's a huge team, conjuring images of hundreds of Ewoks trying to take down an AT-ST. Richard Vogel, executive producer and VP of production at Bioware, and Dallas Dickinson, director of production at Bioware, spilled the team's secrets on how SW:TOR became a genre leader and a true competitor in the AAA MMO space at a panel called "There Is Another ..." at GDC 2012. Dickinson learned early on that with such a huge team making such an extensive game, there were going to be a few casualties.

Early on, the goals of SW:TOR were lofty. In order to compete in the MMO marrket, Dickinson knew you had to broaden the market (the "other three-letter game that shall not be mentioned" did this well), differentiate yourself, build enough content, and update consistently. In essence, you need a plan. The Star Wars license alone doesn't guarantee success.

Part of that big plan is to innovate, scale, and triage - but in a smart way. One example is the way Bioware chose to innovate. They wanted to revolutionize storytelling, have a sidekick always present, and make sure the combat was cinematic and have a true range combat system. Why these three innovations? All three of them fit the Star Wars theme.

"You could live your dreams in the Star Wars universe. That is the key goal that drove every design decision," said Vogel.

One area where they initially failed was with scaling. There are over 240k lines of dialogue in SW:TOR. Over 4,094 characters. Over 321 actors used to create these characters and dialogue. They're in the Guinness Book of World Records now for this gigantic effort. There's more voiceover work in SW:TOR than all previous Bioware games combined. The end goal for the game was 20 full planets, over 90 unique areas, and more than 200 hours of gameplay per class (with eight classes).

"This is a ridiculous amount of content," said Dickinson.

So how can you manage a team like this with very diverse craftsmen? "Very badly, at first, is actually the answer," said Dickinson. The team failed at first with scaling up and hiring. They began to realize that it was important to find skillsets but also to find a fit for each team. Production methodologies and processes had to be changed as development went along.

"There are probably dolls of me in the studio with needles through the eye," said Dickinson after discussing the need for change. Iterative development also means iterative development of processes. That's healthy, and people need to embrace the change. Dickinson said that wasn't always the case, however, and that the mentality was somewhere along the lines of: "Every time we change a process Jesus kills a baby." Managing people and dealing with change was a challenge for the SW:TOR, especially because it was the biggest BioWare has had to deal with..

There were six weeks per milestone (with one week after for fixing bugs). The teams regularly had a "Death Star" meeting, sometimes once a day, with leads of the disciplines meeting to cut features. They had to triage often to make goals - triage is when you lose your "nice-to-have" features (which makes a team sad) but has to happen.

"We made people cry in the 'Death Star' many times," said Vogel.

Ultimately, to make a massive project like this a success, it comes down to balancing the project fulcrum - scope and quality versus resources and time. It's about the plan, the trade-offs, and effectively managing all of the people involved. And having the world's most popular IP certainly doesn't hurt.

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megancarriker:

"We made people cry in the 'Death Star' many times," said Vogel.

Yeah, sounds like people got all choked up.

Scars Unseen:

megancarriker:

"We made people cry in the 'Death Star' many times," said Vogel.

Yeah, sounds like people got all choked up.

Bravo!

Sounds like Bioware had some serious growing pains going into an agile (or semi agile) development method. I am glad it all worked out.... I have been loving the crap out of TOR and it makes me wish for more hours in the day.

Bioware, spilled the team's secrets on how SW:TOR became a genre leader and a true competitor

that's hilarious

Anybody else picturing a giant black conference table with some exhibiting a "disturbing lack of faith"?

Gasaraki:

Bioware, spilled the team's secrets on how SW:TOR became a genre leader and a true competitor

that's hilarious

I'm getting the impression The Escapist likes BioWare very, very much.

Marik Bentusi:

Gasaraki:

Bioware, spilled the team's secrets on how SW:TOR became a genre leader and a true competitor

that's hilarious

I'm getting the impression The Escapist likes BioWare very, very much.

You can crap on TOR all you want, but as of now it is likely second in MMO subs in NA. That puts it as "A leader". WAR, Rift, and what seems like a hundred others were in the position even if for but a precious moments. It is now theirs to lose (or keep).

What a load of complete fabrications.

"not needed" features I guess included a duel spec or respec credit cap, loot drops on the max level normal flashpoints(green vendor gear doesn't count), a global LFG channel or system, and you know the list goes on.

Thankfully, they managed to get all those servers who now sit mostly empty to a point it forces players to reroll to one of the few high level ones.

I feel the priorities of "not needed" and "highly important" are alittle out of wack.

thethain:

Marik Bentusi:

Gasaraki:

that's hilarious

I'm getting the impression The Escapist likes BioWare very, very much.

You can crap on TOR all you want, but as of now it is likely second in MMO subs in NA. That puts it as "A leader". WAR, Rift, and what seems like a hundred others were in the position even if for but a precious moments. It is now theirs to lose (or keep).

People should also keep in mind that only half of WoW's playerbase is in NA and EU, so thats about 5 million players, and TOR has 1.7 currently. TOR is just now releasing worldwide, so expect that number to go up, and with 1.2 setting up to be a huge content update, i wouldn't be surprised to see the NA and EU numbers growing as well.

Parnage:
"not needed" features I guess included a duel spec or respec credit cap, loot drops on the max level normal flashpoints(green vendor gear doesn't count), a global LFG channel or system, and you know the list goes on.

Thankfully, they managed to get all those servers who now sit mostly empty to a point it forces players to reroll to one of the few high level ones.

I feel the priorities of "not needed" and "highly important" are alittle out of wack.

All but the loot table balancing are things that WoW added only after it had been around for a good few years.(loot table balance has always been an issue with WoW) Hell I don't even think it has a gold cap on respec prices, opting instead so that the price goes down after you haven't respec'd for a few weeks. Frankly they have bigger fish in the game than conveniences most MMO players are spoiled on from WoW. Believe me, I miss dual specs and the lfg system.(the global lfg channel was a disaster when they implemented it in WoW) They're minor inconveniences I'm willing to put up with though until larger mechanic, graphics, and sound issues are dealt with.

Yes, I'm assuming you played WoW before SWTOR because many if not all of the people I hear with those complaints are former WoW players.

So I guess character creation blocks and underdog bonuses in case of a fraction imbalance or the widely accepted only one fraction per server rule were deemed unworthy being implemented?
Well we all know how the real Death Star meeting turned the tide of the war...

Ah well have fun in Sorcball, I gave up on it. The next "revolutionary" MMO is always around the corner...

KeyMaster45:

All but the loot table balancing are things that WoW added only after it had been around for a good few years.(loot table balance has always been an issue with WoW) Hell I don't even think it has a gold cap on respec prices, opting instead so that the price goes down after you haven't respec'd for a few weeks.

Actually as far as I know from when I played WoW, there was a respec cap at 50 gold. Once you hit that it never cost more than that to respec. As you said though if you respec'd regularly it would remain there and only would drop in price if you stopped respecing for a certain period of time.

On topic, I'm glad they did what they could to make the game what it is. Sure its not perfect and could definitely use improvement in a lot of places, I'm still having a ton of fun with it and will plan to play it for a long time coming, and for me that's all that matters.

thethain:

Marik Bentusi:

Gasaraki:

that's hilarious

I'm getting the impression The Escapist likes BioWare very, very much.

You can crap on TOR all you want, but as of now it is likely second in MMO subs in NA. That puts it as "A leader". WAR, Rift, and what seems like a hundred others were in the position even if for but a precious moments. It is now theirs to lose (or keep).

I didn't crap on it.

KeyMaster45:

Parnage:
"not needed" features I guess included a duel spec or respec credit cap, loot drops on the max level normal flashpoints(green vendor gear doesn't count), a global LFG channel or system, and you know the list goes on.

Thankfully, they managed to get all those servers who now sit mostly empty to a point it forces players to reroll to one of the few high level ones.

I feel the priorities of "not needed" and "highly important" are alittle out of wack.

All but the loot table balancing are things that WoW added only after it had been around for a good few years.(loot table balance has always been an issue with WoW) Hell I don't even think it has a gold cap on respec prices, opting instead so that the price goes down after you haven't respec'd for a few weeks. Frankly they have bigger fish in the game than conveniences most MMO players are spoiled on from WoW. Believe me, I miss dual specs and the lfg system.(the global lfg channel was a disaster when they implemented it in WoW) They're minor inconveniences I'm willing to put up with though until larger mechanic, graphics, and sound issues are dealt with.

Yes, I'm assuming you played WoW before SWTOR because many if not all of the people I hear with those complaints are former WoW players.

His complaint about the gold capping on respecs is odd, mostly because the cost for a respec resets to 0 every week.

 

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