Chapter 7 has launched and now we do our usual post-chapter State of the Game update. Lead Designer Thomas Blair and Producer Jake Neri drop in to pen a complete update on where Star Wars Galaxies sits today and where it’s headed.
Article by Producer Jake Neri and Lead Designer Thomas Blair
We just released our latest piece of content, Chapter 7: A Collection of Heroes and we’re feeling very good about the release. We haven’t delivered a piece of content this big since the Trials of Obi-Wan expansion pack, and it was no simple task pulling the Chapter together. The Chapter is focused around two new major systems, the Collections System and the Heroic Encounter System, which presented a great challenge, but the team definitely succeeded in pulling it off. Now that the players are engaged in the content we’re hearing good things about the release and it’s always nice to get that positive feedback. The Chapter spent many weeks on our test center and we were very fortunate to get our players involved in the development to help us sort out some of the more complicated issues and bugs, particularly the balancing issues with our Heroic Encounters.
Looking back on Summer
Before getting into the full details of Chapter 7, I want to talk a bit about last summer, and all the activity around SWG. At the end of May we released Chapter 6 which introduced the Beast Master system to the game. This system allowed all players to grow and train pets, or “beasts,” that they could use in a variety of ways, including combat. This is really the most robust pet system in an MMO today and we have still yet to see any server uncover all of the possible beast mutations. On the heels of that, the dev team had a major bug bash which was pretty much about the size of a Chapter in terms of fixes, content additions, and tweaks, all of which our players and senators had been asking us to fix for sometime. We are always trying to improve SWG and this was a true example of that dedication.
One of the other cool events we ran was the home pack up event. SWG is one of the first MMOs to allow players to create and decorate homes. Not only that, but they can build their homes nearly anywhere they want. We had a number of key locations on many servers with homes that were no longer populated, so we ran an event that allowed current players to flag those homes for destruction. Once flagged, an Imperial bomber flew in and destroyed the homes in real time. The players were then allowed to claim this newly freed up land for themselves. We really rallied the player base around this event and we saw a number of former players come back to participate and to save their homes. While perhaps this sounds simple, the home pack up was a huge development challenge, but the results were really beneficial for SWG players.
During all this, the dev team was able to attend a variety of events, from Star Wars Celebration in Los Angeles to SOE Fan Faire in Las Vegas. Meeting face to face with our fans is really motivating, and we generally leave the events fired up with a ton of good ideas and feedback.
Chapter 7 Details
The Collection Journal and the Heroic Encounters are two very robust systems that we’ve added to SWG in Chapter 7, and it’s likely that we will continue to add to them in future Chapters. Relatively speaking, it will be pretty easy for the dev team to add more collections and more heroic encounters now that we have done the heavy lifting on building out the systems.
The Collections system allows players to get three primary kinds of collections: click collections, inventory collections, and kill collections. Click collections involve clicking an object in the world to “collect” it. Inventory collections are something you loot from the corpse of a creature. And kill collections involve killing a specific creature. Each kill collection will have a counter, with some requiring that you kill hundreds of creatures. Even more challenging is when we make collections out of other collections. There are multiple ways to find a collection, and we even built a system so players can track who was the first on each server to finish a collection. . “Server firsts,” or the person on each server to finish a collection, are not only tracked on the SWG website, but also in the collection journal interface. Any player can open their journal, mouse over a particular collection, and see who finished it first.
The other big draw for Chapter 7 is the combination of the Township of Aurilia and the multiple Heroic Encounters we implemented, which are started in the Township. Aurilia is our nexus gathering point on the planet of Dathomir. All the amenities of a major city are available there, and it provides a central point for players to form a group and launch off to the various Heroic Encounters. In the past, Aurilia was a village of outcasts struggling to create a foothold on Dathomir. We’ve moved the story of these outcasts forward; they’ve survived all the hardships, and have turned village into a thriving township. A large portion of the player base remembers Aurilia as an exciting place and are glad to see it return in a new form. Also, it’s pretty rare and definitely exciting to see an MMO moving its story forward. Players remember the old NPCs in the village and the roles they had, and they are excited to interact with them again. Usually in an MMO, the NPCs you see at the launch of the game usually rarely change, but we have actually thrown this convention out the window and made their place in time shift forward.
For the launch of the Heroic system, we added three encounters: one deals with the Nightsisters of Dathomir, one with the rogue assassin droid IG-88, and the third places your team in the hot seat defending the city of Mos Espa against a Tusken invasion. Players learn the details of these encounters through a series of quests that come from the Township of Aurilia, which is also where you go to spend some of the rewards they gain through the successful completion of the encounters. In general, we see groups of seven to eight people successfully completing these encounters and walking away with some killer loot. In fact, there are several types of rewards from the heroics. One is the tried-and-true loot from the mob. Also, players are rewarded with a token of heroism for defeating the encounter, which can be spent on fabulous items in Aurilia. Finally, there is a kill collection for each heroic boss which increments every time the player completes the encounter. A key learning for us in Chapter 7 was in our methodology for creating the heroic encounters. Once we had the rough outlines of the encounter implemented, the SOE design team would play the encounters in the afternoon. Then we all huddle in someone’s office and talk about how it went. Tweaks would be completed and checked in to the next day’s build for even more play testing. This way we were able to quickly identify mechanics that didn’t work. So while the team ended up spending a large chunk of dev time play testing, the encounters ended up in a much better place because of it. It also showed us other areas we should work on and various game systems received dev time because of it. For example, the ability to /invite a person to your group anywhere in the galaxy was implemented because of frustrations the dev team felt in easily forming our groups.
Early in the year we polled players to see what they wanted in the game, and space-based content came in very high. Without giving too much detail right now, our broad goal is to provide content to SWG’s space game, which really hasn’t been touched much over the past two years. The Chapter gives us an opportunity to link the Collections and Heroic Systems to space content. We are already working on a new heroic encounter for Chapter 8, as well as additions to Aurilia to reflect the new heroic story. We have always been really proud of the way our space game looks; it’s some of the more gorgeous scenery there has ever been in a video game so we are looking forward to getting players up there to experience it. We are also looking to add some additional space ships to Chapter 8, and there will be some unique ways in which players obtain them. We are looking forward to closing out the year with a bang and then quickly ramping up for 2008. SWG never sleeps and we are coming up on some players 54 month anniversary! Hats off to all of our players!