Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If I could make SWTOR

With all this talk about SWTOR lately I've been spending a lot of time considering just what I would like to see in it. As virtually no real information has been released yet it serves as an interesting topic to consider. Right now I'm building SWTOR in my mind!

Overall I'd like to see SWTOR function as a "theme-park" with a traditional “end-game”, although with some sand-box elements as well. I wouldn't be looking to develop my SWTOR as a breakout MMO, but rather would seek to stay within the traditional space. I think the selling point of SWTOR should be the IP itself and good game design. Fun. In my SWTOR the central theme would be about character development, which I would express in terms of "progression" and the "moral decision making" I've mentioned previously I was intrigued with. In my version however I'd choose to construct a passive system that tracked my morale decisions in some way creating an "alignment" for the character over time. The alignment would affect my character in game in various ways but I'd want to make sure that the system was thought out sufficiently and that it reflected as best as possible, the true play style of the player. I wouldn't want an alignment system that caused players to play in artificial ways as that would be counter-productive and serve as a brake on progression and long term gamer satisfaction.

I'd also stick with the class-based game design, though I'd probably tie the alignment system into it in some way so that alignment affected classes, faction, and perhaps even class bonuses. I don’t like the traditional system of class usage that limits healing to a specific set of classes, creating a symbiotic relationship between the “tanking” and “damage dealing” classes and the “healing” classes. This lack of healing has been the bane of many DPS classes in that they have “down time” in between fights while they regenerate. And on the opposite side of the spectrum are healers who can heal but typically have limited damage capabilities. Instead I like the idea of all the classes having an ability to heal themselves to one extent or another and having damage abilities to one extent or another as well. In group content this would mean that each player could heal themselves, but could also be healed by others. And it would mean that all players could contribute to the successful completion of the content in a direct way instead of the more traditional way of the “tank” holding agro, while the DPS players kill it and the “healer” keeping everyone alive. In my SWTOR all characters would potentially be a “tank”, “DPS” or “healer”, though I think there are obvious factors that need to be taken into account. A ranged class like the Imperial Scout would not, in my view, make for a good “tank” in a melee centric fight but could possibly be a good “tank” in a ranged-centric fight. This would tend to encourage a broad group composition. Otherwise I think we’d only see Sith Warriors/Inquistors and Jedi/Counselors.

I like the idea of the game having a solid questing system with regularly updated content as I think WoW has shown fairly convincingly that games constructed thus can have wide appeal. I am not opposed to the "fourth leg" that Bioware has focused on as the selling point to SWTOR, though I would choose to keep it in its traditional sphere in that it would be used as a means to level to end-game. And at the end-game would be used to further develop the character. Again, I like very much the though of the alignment system, and I can see a vast sea of ways to tap into that at the highest levels in the game. Including epic (and I mean truly epic, as in requiring months to complete) story-arcs – both character and class specific, but also factional specific quest chains that also earn the character something tangible in-game.

I think the "phasing" technology that Blizzard began using in WotLK could be used to great effect in SWTOR as well. Think of how many “mini-games” could be had by leveraging phasing technology. Everything from love interests to vendettas and everything in-between could be created and tapped through the use of phasing.

At the “end-game” I would implement a diverse array of content. My SWTOR would encourage far-reaching world PVP. I like the idea of players being able to plop down factional assets (bases, etc) and those becoming central elements in world PVP. I' definitely thinking Star Wars Galaxies, though long term readers will know I stopped playing SWG the day CU was unleashed on the game in March 2005. So however factional warfare changed post-CU is unknown to me. But in my day bases were the focus of PVP and factional warfare and I would very much like to see something akin to that in my SWTOR, even if it were not exactly identical. World-PVP would have to encourage hard-core and casual alike, as healthy world PVP relies on high population. But I would also likely institute a series of "pvp zones" like Wintergrasp in WoW right now. Perhaps a single zone on each planet, or a small number of planets, with the zone becoming active on a rolling basis. Winning the battle would grant some faction-wide bonus and also grant a more specific bonus of some kind to that planet. Tie that into the world PVP and I think you'd have a terrific basis for sustained world PVP.

Lastly I'd love to see the ultimate in world PVP being factional raiding. Make the Jedi Master and Sith Emperor targets. Killing either should grant bonuses to the opposite faction and simultaneously grant debuffs to the other. Obviously world PVP and especially factional raiding would be affected by factional population balance/imbalance so either scaling would have to be carefully implemented along with the system, or some other means to enforce equalization would have to be put into place.

In addition to the world PVP I would want to see a deep system of raiding. Perhaps not in the 10 or 25-man level variety, but 5 or 10-man group content would be great. Perhaps even enable content scaling so that it could accommodate those 25-man groups. The imagination is the limit for this type of small-scale group content, ranging from space-based fights, to ship boardings, base defense, and chance encounters. Integrate these "raids" with the epic quest chains and character develop I spoke about earlier and I can't but see this as anything but a huge hit.

Overall I'd want combat to be fluid and fast paced but afford players opportunity to be able to counter attacks in some regard. I'd want to see players able to unleash devastating attacks but certainly wouldn't want individual fights to be over in mere seconds. If all things are equal I'd envision individual combat taking something like 30 seconds and more to occur. And above all, balanced. I'd make it a point to ensure that no class has a clear cut advantage over others, though that is something all together difficult to do. After all, how many MMOs have said this and failed? Too often we see melee classes being able to dominate ranged classes because ranged classes have limited melee abilities. And vice versa, we see ranged classes dominating at time as they're given buffs to counteract those melee classes. The key is to give all classes a little of both worlds. There wouldn't be a strict ranged class or a strict melee class in my SWTOR. In my SWTOR every class would favor one or the other type of combat, but would have some array of the other as well. Ranged would not be able to kite melee classes forever, and melee would not be able to close and pummel ranged classes completely either. All classes should be tailored and expected to have to fight at disadvantage some times.

I spoke about wanting to see sand-box elements included earlier. Those elements would include a player controlled economy and crafting system. Craftable items should include weapon and armor upgrades and replaceable modules that degrade over time, as well as consumables (food, stimulants, etc). I wouldn't want to see strictly crafting or business classes, however I'd institute professions and professional capabilities through skill points. And as with the previous topics I've already mentioned, I'd very much would like to tie acquisition of skill points and capabilities into story-arcs/questing/character development. Everyone should start with an ability to use the auction facilities for instance, but you should be able to increase your capabilities over time. Like-wise everyone should start with some limited ability to create some basic consumables and should have some limited gathering ability but those should abilities that can be increased over time as well.

Bring the war in Star Wars to the MMO, and enable deep character development that isn't solely based on questing alone and that is a game I would love to play.