Lead Designer Daniel Erickson on the Past and Future of SWTOR


Star Wars: The Old Republic arrived at E3 2012 with plenty of news, which developers ran down in a slick, behind-closed-doors presentation. The list below offers some brief, broad strokes:

  • Legacy Perks
  • New Social Adaptive Gear System
  • Augmentation System — add more augmentation slots to your gear.
  • Revamped Tutorial System
  • Group Finder
  • Ranked Warzones
  • New Operation: Terror From Beyond — on Asation, the Dread Masters have opened a Hypergate, and giant unspeakable nasties come pouring through.
  • More Server Transfers
  • Enhanced & Revamping Nightmare Mode Operations — both mechanics and content have been redesigned.
  • Free Trial up to level 15 coming in July
  • Raised level cap
  • New 8v8 Warzone: Ancient Hypergates — on Celine
  • New Companion for all classes: HK-51
  • New Planet: Makeb
  • Belsavis Heroic Area — this was playable at E3, and I watched other attendees struggle to adapt to unfamiliar characters as they sought to contain the threat of the Dread Masters as they ravage a prison area.

To cover some specifics, I was fortunate enough to sit down with SWTOR Lead Designer Daniel Erickson. Our wide-ranging talk touched on both the old and the new, particularly the new Warzone, the new planet, the new companion (HK-51), and the new level cap raise. Here’s what he had to say:

Game Front: If you could launch SWTOR again tomorrow, what would you do differently?

Daniel Erickson: Include all the stuff we’ve done up til now afterward (laughs). Probably with Group Finder as the No. 1 thing with a bullet. We used the numbers based on other MMO’s trajectories, so we massively underestimated how fast people would go through. We ended up with playtimes that were in excess of 6 hours on average.

The down-side of saying “Let’s make levelling actually fun” is that everyone said, “Oh, well, I can just sit here and do this all day.”

GF: Does that extend to end-game content? Would you have shipped with more of it, do you think?

DE: End-game content is an interesting point. I might actually say that we would have shipped with less of it, and spent a little bit more time making sure the tech was rounded out and secure. In the last update we did, in 1.2, we released Denova, and it was the first real end-game content that we’ve done that was bug-free, and went out like it should. We’ve got everything now working, we’ve really seen where the problems were. Having the choice, I would have done less, cleaner.

GF: You guys were talking in the demo downstairs about changes to Nightmare mode content. When reading about it, I was reminded of an article our site did about Diablo 3, and about how Blizzard balanced Inferno to be twice as hard as their testers wanted, and about how it’s this incredible design challenge, to predict how good the best players are going to be. How do you approach that? What are the inherent challenges? What do you keep in mind when you’re trying to create content for the elite players?

DE: Well one thing is we have to keep it within mathematic probability, and we have a incredibly good system for figuring that out. Then, it comes down to “How fast can you do this?” What are reactions times like? What are these things like?

We actually bring in core groups of people that we know. You basically have to already have all your Nightmare titles. You have to beat everything in our game to come in and be a tester and try and take a look at it. At that point, if nobody gets through it at all, in the amount of time we give them, then we probably crank it up a little bit further than that. And some guild’s still going to blow you out of the water.

It’s a continual arms race. We think we know where the most difficult challenges are, but if our guys can do it internally, then somebody externally is going to be able to do it. There are some crack guilds out there now.

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