PAX East 2012: SWTOR Interview with James Ohlen

Ten Ton Hammer in conjunction with Swtorhub is out to ask the questions the fans want to hear and we’re on the scene at PAX to do just that. We’ve got all of the questions you’ve been dying to ask with their corresponding answers straight from the game developers themselves. Below you’ll find a transcript of our live interview with James Ohlen, Senior Creative Director at BioWare and head of SWTOR’s design team. So fasten your seatbelts and get ready to the jump to light speed with this tantalizing peek into the mind of SWTOR’s game development team.

Ten Ton Hammer: With the building blocks of the Legacy system coming into place, is the plan currently to build on it and keep expanding it into its own system?

James Ohlen: That's the plan. The legacy system is going to be a big part of the game. We even have a whole team devoted to build new features for it. Our game update 3 has a whole bunch of new features and our game update 4 has a special legacy system surprise. After that, we're going to gauge fan's reaction to the legacy system. So if the legacy system really takes off, we'll pour more resources into it, but it if doesn't do as well as we thought, we might not put so much of a focus on it. Our strategies are based on how our fans react; we have a plan all the way through to the end of the year, and we can make adjustments depending on feedback.

Ten Ton Hammer: Has there been many cases since launch or in the past few months where you really expected the playerbase to really latch on to a certain part of the game, but instead they're playing warzones?

James Ohlen: Yes, PvP was a big surprise; we thought we would get a PvP community but we got a huge PvP community instead. It has really grown and I think a lot of the reason for that is the warzones are really easy to get into, they give you experience, are a lot of fun, and they really are very easy and accessible for all levels, but people have gotten really into PvP to a much bigger degree than we thought they would. So we definitely had to bolster our PvP team significantly after launch.

Curious about the upcoming warzone, Novare Coast? Take a look at our preview.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there any plans for adding new warzones or adding to that aspect of the game like adding a reward system or more PvP gear?

James Ohlen: We're planning to have a new warzone ready in update 2 and more more planned in future updates. We also have some more PvP features we'd like to place into the game, cross-server warzones being the biggest one. 

One of the reasons that cross-server warzones are so important is that it expands on the population you draw on. For instance, there may only be 2,000 people online on a player's shard, so you can't let them pick a warzone that they want to play because queue times would be so high. If 200,000 players were online, then you can start customizing the experience a lot more.

Ten Ton Hammer: The ability to choose your own warzone has been one of the most requested features since day one, if that’s going to be a feature at some point, what will it take to facilitate that? Is there any support for population balance?

James Ohlen: That’s a big thing; we don’t want to have to choose between how fast warzones pop and how much we allow our players to customize their experience. We felt that warzones popping was more important than players being able to customize their experience.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you going look into adding more activities to the fleet stations and social hubs?

James Ohlen: We have plans for that, but nothing coming in update 2. We have a whole bunch of different ideas about what to do, since Star Wars has a lot to draw from like Sabacc, the card game that Han Solo talked about in The Empire Strikes Back, which, by the way, that’s how Han won the Millennium Falcon, and Star Wars chess from the very first Star Wars movie. We also have Pazaak from The Old Republic.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you looking to add any mini-games?

James Ohlen: Oh yeah, we have a big interest in mini-games. However, we want to focus on areas that are more high risk, like the group finder, which isn’t coming in update 2. We have lots of players who are level 50 who feel that it takes too long to find a flashpoint or operation. Group finder should help with that, also character transfers, especially with Legacy, which is another high priority feature. We need to prioritize features, while I want to get Star Wars Chess in the game, it’s not as important as our other priorities.

Ten Ton Hammer: Are you going to be expanding on Space Combat system further?

James Ohlen: We have a full team devoted to the space game experience, I can’t talk about what they’re working on, but they are working on space combat.

Ten Ton Hammer: Have you been seeing a trend towards more Empire than Republic than you expected? Have you seen any overarching trends?

James Ohlen: Overall, the faction balance across all of the shards is very close; the Empire is a little bit higher than Republic. The problem is that in certain shards, the faction imbalance is much more pronounced and that caused issues. That was a little surprising to us. We thought that maybe some of the names we were calling the shards were empire and republic biased, and we were thinking about going through and naming all of the shards faction neutral and I think we should have done that. If you notice, any shard with Sith in the name immediately has that Empire bias. If I could go back in time, I would change all of the names on the servers.

Ten Ton Hammer: You’ve mentioned the cross-realm warzones, was something like being able to get into flashpoints with players from another realm in the works?

James Ohlen: That’s something we might do in the far future. Whenever you have groups of players working together on a flashpoint or operation, you want them to feel a little bit of social pressure to avoid bad manners. Whenever you have cross-server functionality, you become anonymous, players can go “I can just quit and you’ll never see me again.”

Ten Ton Hammer: There are ways to add accountability into a cross-server group finder, though.

James Ohlen: Right now, we’re focused on our priorities. If group finder and server transfers don’t work out enough, then we’ll reexamine how our fan base reacts.

Looking for more exclusive details? Check out our interview on game update 2 here at Swtorhub!

Ten Ton Hammer: 1.2 seems like a really great point in the game, it is adding in a lot of good features. What would you say about 1.3? Is it a purely content oriented update compared to 1.2 which is more of a quality of life patch?

James Ohlen: 1.3 is the last quality of life updates; I really feel that we’ve caught up and given the community what they need to really enjoy the game. Then we’ve been shifting our focus to more innovative features, things that players have wanted to see. That’s kind of where we’re changing our focus, moving from things to that help our player population socialize to more innovative features.

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