SWTOR Video Documentary #3 shows gameplay and raises more questions

The 3rd Video Documentary is simply amazing. It shows the UI, Lightsaber combat, landscape, the scope of level design, and an immense (if not overkill) emphasis on the voice acting. Nothing being highlighted in the video, or explained in the video, has me worried. In fact, I’m now exponentially more excited for the game to come out. I’m already preparing to lose any life outside the walls of my gaming room that I thought I had and I’m beginning to stockpile sodas and salty snacks. However, I’m starting to feel more uneasy about what the videos and releases are not focusing on – something that could ruin the game for me altogether.

First, watch the video.

Looking at that level of exclusivity provided to the player, how can we not expect SWTOR to be massively instanced? The characters speaking appeared to be exclusive to the player and his party. The level we were shown appears to be tailored specifically for the party involved. Everything in this video looks like it would work out instanced far better than it would open-world. Anyone disagree? I don’t see how you possibly can, but I am eager to feel at ease.

I can understand the use of some instancing for parts of the game. Instancing is used to tell a better story than we can experience elsewhere. Yet at the same time, over use of this instancing technique can destroy any sense of contiguity in the world. I call them: MIMORPG’s, or Massively Instanced Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. They want us to feel like we’re playing this massively multiplayer game, when in reality we’re playing a smaller multiplayer game with a larger sample of people to play with via a lobby (space port/city/etc).

Questions, I have. Will we be able to walk outside outposts and begin hunting or will we have to take a ship to an instance to fight? Will there be any feeling of connection between locations in the world or will we fast travel to them like WAR? Will the content be exclusive or open to everyone at the same time?

Look at the screenshots below taken from Video Documentary #3.



In screenshot A, we see a character on a cliff overlooking an outpost. Assume for a minute that this outpost is where I arrived on the planet or where I was just recently visiting. Assuming other players not in my party were there with me, will they be able to walk outside of that port and begin exploring and hunting with me or am I alone out here because this is my own little mission?

In screenshot B, look at the world around. What are the barriers? Can I explore beyond that hill I circled or is this a pre-scripted mission for me to follow where I’m stuck on rails? Can I set off in one direction and explore or am I confined by the world and mechanics? Will I see other players doing their thing out in the world?

I want this to feel like “an immersive, living, breathing, environment that players have never seen before”, but that will not happen for me if this is one big chopped up and instanced world.

  • All valid questions.

    Here is my hope: MMPhG (Massively Multiplayer Phased Game).

    The basic idea is that there is NO servers, just the game world. Your decisions directly affect what you see in the game world. Players that have made similar decisions are in the same “phase” of an area as you.

    Yes, this breaks down logically very quickly. Will players just go poof? Will friends be able to play together if they make different choices? What happens when I’ve made decisions that are different than everyone else and I get phased into my own space?

    Of course, I’m not a game designer, so I don’t have to solve those right now 😛 Its a neat concept the more I think about it. Its World of Warcraft’s phasing applied to an entire gameworld.

  • What I did not like in that video was that the lightsaber was not immediately cutting down that trooper with the sword. Small nip-pick, I know, but details like that are reinforced in the movies and stories but it seems not here.

    As for those cut scenes I imagine, somewhat like in AION, they can play for you or your party while not in an instance – much like animated quest dialog.

  • @heartless_: A friend of mine and I were talking about the phasing technology and thought it would work well too, but we arrived at the conclusion that eventually you would phase yourself out of being with anyone else that didn’t make the same decisions as you. I like the possibilities that phasing provides.

    @Lonewind: I’m not as brushed up on my Star Wars info as I should be, but I believe there is armor and weaponry resistant to lightsabers. Vibro-blades and stuff.

  • Isn’t all that voice audio going to have to be instanced? You can’t have NPC’s talking to different players/groups without each “speech” being instanced.

  • I imagine the game to a MMO version of Mass Effect. I think to some extent its going to be what you fear, i mean they are focuing on story line which requires instanced and scripted events

  • I really dislike the focus on marketing terms by gamers in general. MMO, MMORPG, etc. They are just marketing terms. Nothing more. They don’t mean anything. But that’s just a minor point.

    Indeed, instancing is the only way they can really get a good story going, and I don’t see a problem with strongly instance based games. If anything, they are the only way to make sure people have fair access to content as well as giving developers a clear way to tell a story.

    I understand the pros to instancing but I think they are outweigh by the cons of spawn farming/griefing and how small areas tend to be for players. You fight for mobs and than run around for hours to find the ones you need. I like clear access, and streamlined design.

    And it’s not like my idea is all that unique. Look what people want more in their MMO’s. Instanced Dungeons for Set sized teams. 5 man, 10 man, 25 man dungeons. They offer clear goals and rewards, and give players a nice progression. People race to max level because That’s where the entertaining and fun content is. You have to group together, and you have fun doing it because you’re doing interesting encounters, not just fighting a bunch of loitering mobs.

    So in general, yah instancing.

  • It does not necessarily require instancing. In Lotro the npcs can say different things to you that others just don’t see. For example some npcs greet me as I walk by, because I’ve done quests for them. Other players don’t usually see those greetings, just me. When I talk to a vendor, the vendor sometimes uses voice to say something like ‘What do you have to sell then?’ when I active it, but nobody else around me hears that. Another example, during a quest the mob might say ‘Now you die Essi’, while the other people in my group see ‘Now you die BoB’, ‘Now you die Jane’, while people who are not on that quest don’t hear a thing etc.

    Another example, that I don’t think is used right now but was previously, was that some npcs were only visible to certain people who were still doing the quest chain. If you completed the quest chain and in it the npc leaves, then you didn’t see it anymore. You could see players standing around there and you knew they were interacting with that npc, but it just wasn’t there anymore for you.

    It’s all a matter of coding specific rules about what information the server will send to you and to nobody else.

  • The video featured part of the behind-closed-doors E3 demo, in which the developers ran through a “flashpoint” aboard a ship. The voiced sequences in the video are from this instanced encounter, one of many such instanced encounters in the game. However, according to the developers (via E3 previews and past descriptions) the game is truly massive and persistent. If I had to guess, I would put it somewhere between Guild Wars and LotrO in terms of instancing, which for the type of experience they’re going for seems perfect.

  • hmm i was impressed with the game until i saw this vid.

    Looking at it if i didnt see the lightsaber i would have never guessed Star wars game. It looked more like Halo or Mass Effect than SW.

    And Keen I think you will be disappointed with this game for what you listed. It will be heavily instanced. My expectation is it will be very close to Guild Wars in terms of overall world setup with better major cities/trading/commerce hubs.

  • LOTRO’s level of instancing = A+ okay with me. If they can do that, then I’m happy. That’s the contiguous world that I want. You can run from one town to the next, feel like you’re in a world, and jump into very short instances to get your dose of the story or run a dungeon.

    Guild Wars level of instancing = Fail boat

  • Instancing should never be required it should only be a option in dungeons and epic quests that everyone wants to do.

    I want dungeons again like spindelhalla that was so much fun lol it was just grinding mobs but i had fun.

  • Looks boring and I’m not sure why. Really I don’t want to get wrapped up (or strangled) in a big immersive story. I want a big world, one that I can explore, hunt, do things.

    I think what makes my eyes glaze over is the lock into the story. That’s not what I’m looking for in an MMO.

  • I don’t know how you possibly expect a story-focused game not to be instanced. If you think about it, you’ll realise that a believable scenario does not involve a bunch of chat spamming, bunny hopping tards clustering around the NPC you’re trying to have a dramatic confrontation with.

    Good story telling and non-instancing do not go together in an MMO.

    If you don’t like it, maybe stick to Aion, I hear it’s more like WoW.

  • I don’t see anything in this sequence that leads me to believe it is an instance. In any game more than one person can usually interact with an npc and they hear and see the lines of dialogue separately from the person next to them. I just see them demonstrating in the clip the immersiveness the voice acting and character animation bring to the game.

  • That’s a nice looking movie. I have sort of been expecting this to be KOTOR 3, with mass effect dialogue/cutscenes and some group matchmaking. It’s still easily worth the purchase price to me if that’s all we get since I’m a big fan of Mass Effect, but it will keep the game from being a huge hit.

    It’s really the biggest concern with the game because Bioware hasn’t done an MMO before; so open world and developing a balanced, involving endgame are going to be the toughest spots (PVP frontier worlds and PVE missions for top gear?) Combat etc. easily clears the bar so far.

    I did think there were a few outdoor scenes in that movie that suggested a much bigger area.

  • @Salaryn: The way NPC’s interact with the player and how the entire scope of the fight was catered specifically towards the people who were there. When the voice said “the shuttle is going to fire” (or whatever) it was clear that the place was instanced. The way in which they’re building the game, and now showing it, has me worried that they can not possible do it any other way than instanced.

    @Melf_Himself: Simply not true. Good story telling CAN take place outside of instances. To think otherwise is ignorant to the plethora of good stories done without the use of instances. Ironically, the “WoW crowd” is why we need instances in the first place. Additionally, I am not against the idea of instances – I’m against the idea of them being over used. Instances like LOTRO uses = Okay. Instances like Guild Wars = Not okay. One is a MMORPG, the other is a MIMORPG or “MOG”.

  • @openedge:Ouch at the shot

    Keen I agree with you Guild Wars type will be a fail to me as well but looking at Bioware’s history they have always done games on rails. The difference with them is they offer a story with choices of the rails you take.

    I hope they can break the mold and offer some sort of compromise between WoW type world/instancing and DAOC. However I am not expecting it.

  • @Keen: Notice that Melf_Himself wrote “story-focused game”, not that you can’t have a story at all outside of an instance.

    On the other hand, I love the stories in EVE. You know, the ones the players create all the time.

  • I can’t give you a specific link to where it was said, but from the E3 demos some of them got to see part of Hutta as a Bounty Hunter, and the server the E3 demo ran on, the BioWare employees also played on. They said while in Hutta, they saw other people (not in their group) running around. I believe for the most part things will be open world, but certain quests will be instanced (the one in the E3 demo for example, which you can still bring friends into)

    Also,(and again I can’t remember the exact source) in an interview somewhere they said they have some technology so when you’re talking to an NPC going through dialogue options, everyone outside of your party phases out so you don’t see a bunch of people jumping around your face while you’re going through a dramatic story moment. But anyways, that is how they’ll handle story in the open world areas.

    That however does make me worry about what will happen to PvP, if say I’m getting attacked can I just talk to an NPC to disappear, and so on.

  • Instanced or not, based on Bioware’s history, I wouldn’t expect to be able to walk to all the beautiful panoramas in the backgrounds.

    Baldur’s Gate I is the only game I can think of theirs that ever really got into the exploration angle. Not that they couldn’t do it again, but everyone complained that time, and they haven’t since. They seem to trim things to very efficient cores of entertainment and usefulness, but building big, open worlds has not shown up much in their history.

    Wait, ok. Mass Effect had lots of exploration, but to be honest, it wasn’t really that well done. Very auto-generated and bland. (and don’t get me wrong, I loved Mass Effect, played it through 3 times and explored all the pointless planets each time.) So … not really encouraging there either.

  • Well, I think that in the ancient conflict of Game vs World Bioware will definitely concentrate on the gaming aspects. SWTOR might become a set of instanced planet-hubs connected via transportation system like WoW flight masters.

    They don’t want people to experience Star Wars world immersion, they want players to experience Bioware’s story immersion.

    I am still waiting for this game and will definitely try it at some point (after being WAR-burnt I might even wait couple of months after its release), but Bioware’s constant repeating of how they want to add ‘another pillar’ to MMOs and this recent video have made me very cautious about SWTOR.

    I think they are aiming to make KoTOR fans stay and play this game and thus they might decide to drop or reduce elements typical for a MMO.

    Sure, they hardly ever fail, they are a sort of ‘game developer gods’, and when I watched the video about voiceovers I thought to myself ‘Look at the size of that thing!”.

    However, there’s still something inside me that wants to tell them: “You want to make a MMO by concentrating on interactive movies? You’re braver than I thought…”

  • @Akjosch

    I’m sure there will be lots of player driven stories in this MMO too.It’s definitely a gold mine for RPers.

  • Hard to say anything about SW:TOR at the moment. I agree, though, it’s likely to be heavily instanced which, IMO, would be a shame. I really don’t like this trend in MMOs.

    Still, I will be delighted if Bioware successfully manage to incorporate the story of their single player games into a MMORPG. I really liked the video scenes of the characters being evil.

    Any ideas of release dates for the game? I’m reckoning 2011.

  • So take this with a huge grain of salt. Its from the forums of a pre-launch SWTOR guild website, and is basically what that poster gleaned from reading gaming blogs of those who attended the bioware SWTOR presentation at E3:

    “..fter the demo the BioWare folks explained that Star Wars: The Old Republic is being made with all the trimmings of an MMO. Full PvP, groups, raids, guilds, auctions, and crafting will play major parts in the game design and have players building up their resources to battle it out across the galaxy. More great news IMO

    He also briefly mentioned an intriguing multiplayer conversation system, in which players in the same party will be able to take turns responding and initiating conversations with NPCs. It’s a concept that could add a new dimension to MMOs, but Dickenson said that BioWare is still keeping details of the feature under wraps. Not to sure how I feel about this one I don’t wanna watch my entire party’s conversation with an npc. Guess if it all plays out as one conversation and not 4 copies of the same conversation I’m okay with it.”

    Like I said, huge grain of salt. But it will be easy to confirm if you do some research. I have to build a 120ft of fence so can’t look any deeper right now.

  • One thing just crossed my mind,I wonder how they will handle the localised(if there are localised versions) versions with patches and new added quests.

    Will they wait for the different EU versions to be ready before releasing the patch?

  • The more I read and watch about SWTOR, the more it reminds me of an instanced multiplayer KOTOR/Mass Effect. I think your concerns are entirely valid, Keen.

    My biggest question is “What’s the endgame?” Will the entire leveling/skill-building/story game be like Tortage and then jettison players into a wide open and unfamiliar experience at the end?

  • I don’t even want to begin to think about the end-game. 😛 Absolutely legitimate to start though… what will the “end-game” be? Technically, all stories have an ending. I imagine it being perhaps like LOTRO’s story quests eventually leading you to dungeons and raids. Perhaps we’ll get to kill a Rancor who summons more Rancors when he reaches 75, 50, and 25% hp! /rolleyes.

  • This is the first video I have watched of it, and if I didn’t know it was an MMO I would have thought it was a new KOTOR offline game.

    I understand the focus is the voice acting, but they show no real shots of multiplayer action at all. While you have a second person in the party bar in some scenes, most of it looks like single player work. I know it’s really incidental and limited, but would it have killed them to show 4 people, or the party limit, go through that ship section of gameplay?

    Also, the story aspect makes me wonder. Assuming that bridge sequence is a party of two people, how can you do it without not instancing two separate conversations? FFXI did so for its quest scenes, but they don’t have dialogue trees or different choices, you all see the same thing.

    Either the party leader only has control of the conversation, and the other players act like the mooks in KOTOR either silent or speaking pre-programmed according to class or the conversation is unique to everyone but meaningless in terms of result. If the sith guy kills the captain, and my bounty hunter needs to wrangle cash from him, you can’t really do both at once, especially if you need to follow a specific reply tree to activate class-specific quests or miniquests.

    Its hard to see the MMO part, especially since those quests would be split across light and dark sides.

  • My personal opinion here is too many people are thinking in a current MMO mindset and not realizing Bioware is attempting to redefine the MMO experience as we know it. When you think end game, you think of raids and PVP. Why would Bioware settle for just that when they could go with something far more compelling or interesting?

    Sure, you’ve got your raids and PVP, but I believe in Bioware enough to think they can come up with something beyond the boring formula we’re used to.

  • From that video I’m envisaging something along the lines of AoC’s Tortage on a game-wide scale. City hubs and open fields with generic fetch/kill quests all non-instanced, but if you want to progress the story it’s off to a private instance for you and your group.

    The whole companion character thing sounds wierd as well; since they’re included in the story elements I’m assuming there’s only going to be a limited selection of ones you can have, so will you be running around the non-instanced areas seeing several hundred copies of the same female twi’lek smuggler, or will they only come out in the instanced story areas?

  • I find the nitpicking over whether it’s an MMORPG or an MIMORPG or a MOG rather amusing, since IMHO no MMO yet has actually deserved the “RPG” part in anything but the most superficial of terms.

    RP stands for ROLEPLAYING. Instanced or otherwise, what Bioware is trying to do will put players into the ROLE of their character far more than anything WoW or EQ or WAR ever did.

  • Hmm the characters in this game all seem to have striking resemblances to XBOX 360 Avatars.

  • I fear it could become an interactive movie on rails, with some action sequences between the babbling. And honestly, who really gives a damn about dialogue and voice acting and story if he wants to play. I like good fantasy and scifi movies and novels a lot, but I fear this is a wrong approach to MMO gaming.

    It looks like a cross of Mass Effect meets KOTOR. Both are very cool single player games, but I do not see much potential for a multiplayer game there. Once you did the story, it is done. Again, I fear they make a great singleplayer and turn it into a pseudo online game. 🙁

    Darth Hater expertly dissected the video, very interesting read: http://darthhater.com/2009/07/18/dissected-videodoc3/

  • When it comes to looking at footage, stuff I can’t go hands on with, I have to say I’m struggling to get past the engine. Watching dialogue sequences with character faces that look awful is hard work. It looks like the Mass Effect system dropped on a worse looking engine. The engine may be easy for them to build an mmo with, and they’ve talked about the art style and are clearly very happy with it, but as a player I’m not!

    With regards to instancing/mmo… if I’m not in the same world as my friends it is clearly game over. I love the idea of playing an mmo where I have my own story, my decisions matter, they have consequences .etc. but I still can’t see how that could possibly be delivered in other than the most inconseuqential of ways (although I’m sure Bioware would try to suggest otherwise).

    But I’d happily be proven wrong on that point.

  • I still LOL at the idea that developer-created stories have any place in the MMORPG genre. The everyone-is-the-hero problem completely destroys any “story” they may attempt to create, no matter how instanced the game is.

  • @Alex Taldren: That’s a good point. Story telling would be so much easier if the player could take a less active role in it. Let the story be reflected in the world around the player and instancing is not even needed.

  • Reading over the comments here and elsewhere, it’s kind of hilarious how resistant mmo players are to any form of change. Everyone is bored with the current games, but any time a current game puts in changes or a new game seeks to do something new, they get up in arms!

    Honestly, KOTOR was probably one of the best console RPGs ever done, and if this is that game + the ability to play with friends, it will be awesome.

    WoW introduced instanced areas to some success (ie icecrown), but in the end there are just a bunch of mobs patting back and forth waiting for you to come kill them. NO current MMO is immersive.

    PS – what is interesting in the screenshot is that I don’t see a chat window?

  • @Chris: I’m not resistant to change. I’m resisting change to something I do not like.

    Probably no chat window because it faded (having no one to talk to does that).

  • It looks polished and the voice-over is great and stuff but it also looks very much like a solo game, and that is not what interests me.

  • question. if you’re doing instanced/dungeon quests with npc interaction, what’s going to happen when one member of your pug party goes afk for 5 min? do you get stuck in mid conversation, waiting for the pug’s input to trigger the continuation of the mission/dungeon/quest. Or what if half of your party wants to kill the captain of the starship(or insert any other ) and the other half doesn’t?

    But the most important question… Will you get your own ship? and will you be able to fly it?

    I don’t need Xwing vs Tie fighter sim combat (although that would would be fanatistic), but if you can’t own you own Millennium falcon’esc ship and fly to different solar systems, then you’re one step closer to WorldofStarWarscraft, with lightsabers instead of swords. I don’t care about player built cities, I don’t care about player houses with wookie skin rugs, but this game has to have player owned space ships.

    It’s going to be extremely fail if traveling to different solar systems is like hopping on a wowcrack zepplin and getting the Tatoonine loading screen.

  • @Keen My apologies – I was referring to some commenters and what you generally hear while playing a MMO and some upcoming patch makes some changes. I find it interesting that the larger MMO community has so many gripes about the current set of games, but are hugely resistant to any form of change.

    I think SWTOR will be a nice, immersive game, but probably won’t be considered a true mmo by a lot of traditionalists.

  • im still not sure of the decision of “stylized realism”… from far it looks not too bad, but when they zoom as they talk, it almost looks like Lego Star Wars, the soldiers look like big babies.. There’s one with a deep voice and says like “im here to kill people” or something but he looks like a cartoon from disney… not too scary… anyways i hope they can put a bit more texture to it so it doesnt feel like a little kids game

  • I’m pretty sure that developers have stated that this depicts a “Flash Point” or instanced part of the game. It would be unfair to draw theories and generalizations of the entire game based off of a WoW instance, wouldn’t it? Well, this is the same story. Although I’m sure there will be many “Flash Points,” we have to have faith that they at least somewhat know what they’re doing, and will pull through with an immersive world. In other videos they’ve already said they’re creating a massive world that CAN be explored, that you CAN go off the beaten path and trailblaze through planets