Lead Designer Daniel Erickson on the Past and Future of SWTOR
GF: And how do they surprise you? Is it with reaction time? Is it with coordination?
DE: It is very often a much faster ability to analyze a fight than we would have expected. There are people who will go through, play it, record the whole thing, play it back in slow motion, and be running their own numbers, figuring out stuff. It’s important to their fights, but then they have crack coordination. There’s nothing that’s more elegant than actually sitting in on these people who are talking on headphones and as the group leader is telling them what to do, are doing things like a military organization. You really can’t make something that’s too hard for those people to do, because at that point, it’s probably impossible.
GF: Switching to regular PVE –- I was a big KOTOR fan, and I loved HK-47. What were your priorities in bringing him back?
DE: Well it’s HK-51 -– it’s not 47. One of things we wanted to make sure was not to just say “Hey, it’s HK-47.” It’s been a long time, he’s had his glory days, we all love him, but he had a big part in the Old Republic’s lore, and we already know where he is. Even though HK-47 is theoretically a line of droids, we don’t see him that way, so we didn’t want every player to be running around with it.
HK-51 is a line of droids that came out during the military times, during the war, but a shipment was lost. We wanted to bring that spirit [of HK-47], but he’s actually got a different character to him. He’s got a lot of very similar ways of delivering things, but he’s got different motivations. It’s a completely different experience if you get him on the Republic or the Empire side.
We wanted to make the rollout huge, so it is a galaxy-spanning quest. You’re going to need characters on both sides, on the Republic and the Empire, in order to get him. It is the biggest single quest in the game by leaps and bounds.
GF: Switching to Makeb. You guys have said that the narrative is very story-focused. Story is generally regarded as SWTOR’s overweening strength, but what are the challenges involved in writing a never-ending story -– a story that always has to be extended?
DE: One of them is that we have to be way ahead of the production, when you’re doing full video, when you’re doing cinematics and all that stuff. Makeb went into production before we launched. They were already writing it, they were already doing concept art for it.
The other thing is, you need to make sure you have a long-term vision. We sat down very early and said, “OK, what do the next five years of this story look like? Where are we going? What are we doing?” Some people were really surprised –- they’d finish off their trooper and say, “Why am I not a general!?” I’m like, “a. If you were a general, you’d be in an office, and b. you still have to go somewhere!” We can’t finish up all the stories. Having a piece that goes on forever is great because we get characters, we get stuff, we don’t have the challenges of a Mass Effect 3, where we don’t know if you’ve played Mass Effect 2 and we have to bring you up to speed. At the same time, we’ve gotta plan way ahead so we don’t paint ourselves into a corner.
GF: Is it uncanny knowing that there are hundreds of thousands people who are obsessed with what is effectively the middle chapter, and not being able to talk about it?
DE: Yes! There’re a lot of times when I’ll want to be able to talk about something or there’ll be backstory that was written. I’d actually written the entire backstory for the Emperor and who he was –- and the first time we ever allowed any of that out was in Drew Karpyshyn’s book. Once we started to write the Revan book I slid him –- it wasn’t even on the communal drive -– the secrets of what’s actually happening.
There are so many little pieces that are hinted at in the game, and you really have to play several of the storylines to sort of connect the dots and say “Oh, OK. This is what’s going on in the wider galaxy.”
GF: Do you see people who are sort of lorecrafting, who are connecting those dots very effectively?
DE: Definitely. And in fact, we knew that that was going to happen. We knew that at the very least, the Wookieepedia crowd is going to come in hardcore. In fact, very often we would think about it and think “those poor guys.” We are now the single largest piece of extended universe content. By leaps and bounds.
GF: Getting back to Makeb itself -– I saw a wide shot of it, I saw some bits of it. Can you talk at all about the climate or the culture?
DE: Makeb is a 100-percent new planet. It is definitely our most ambitious planet, artwise. It is built on a series of giant mesas that are basically hundreds and hundreds of feet tall, with clouds behind them. They were a resort and mining community originally.
Basically, the Hutts are making their first big power move, and the Empire and the Republic are going in there to stop them becoming a power. If you’ve played through Chapter 3, you realize that things have really changed. The Empire’s kind of back on its heels. The Republic is getting a little more ascendent, a little more aggressive. Not only are we extending the level cap, so you’ve got new powers, and new stuff, but you also get to go play and get a very new feel for the Old Republic on both sides.