Star Wars: The Old Republic – Q&A with James Ohlen

Inside a seedy cantina at E3 2010, Ten Ton Hammer came across James Ohlen, Creative Director for BioWare Austin and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Inside a seedy cantina at E3 2010, Ten Ton Hammer came across James Ohlen, Creative Director for BioWare Austin and Star Wars: The Old Republic. After a few drinks, James answered some questions posed by Ten Ton Hammer premium members. Was your question answered? Read on!

Ten Ton Hammer: Good afternoon. We’re here at E3 2010 and with me is James Ohlen, creative director for BioWare and lead designer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is what you guys want to hear about. We have some questions from our premium members and we’re going to talk to James today who is willing to answer our premium members’ questions. Ten Ton Hammer, this is the reason to go premium: you get your questions answered at E3. James, thanks for joining us.

James Ohlen: Good to be here. I’m looking forward to answering some questions.

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TTH: First question is about PC housing. PC housing, alongside personal space, and guild systems seem to be a big focal point of an MMOG community. Is TOR bringing any of these to the game?

James: Well, at E3, we’ve announced that each player will get their own personal starship, and basically that starship is a place he can go back to and do a lot of different activities and his companion characters stay there. There are a lot of other things you can do on a starship, but we’re currently not at liberty to talk about, but we will be revealing in the future.

TTH: How’s that for a teaser? Yeah, we got to see the starships in the demo here today and they look pretty cool. They’re pretty big and something to look forward to.

Next question from a reader is will I be ushered along a storyline and have very little room to sway or can I sway off and go in a different direction?

James: Our game is very open. We’ve developed several worlds, and each of those worlds is wide open, huge worlds with many square kilometers and you’re able to explore those worlds any way you want, just like your standard MMOG. We do have a class story that drives you through the world and that class story is personal to you and it takes you from the beginning of the game to the end of the game. If you want to take a break from your class story and want to do some world quests that are not a part of your class, you can definitely do that. In fact, the majority of the content is that in the game. So, it’s not like you’re just going along you class quest like a solo quest throughout the entire game, there’s a lot of room to go off and do whatever you want whenever you want. Also, within your own class quest, you can make choices and those choices impact on how your class quest unfolds. There’s a lot of room for choice; it’s not a linear game by any measure.

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TTH: Will the worlds be instanced, where only myself and my party can enter or will it be an open range for everybody on the planet?

James: Just like I was talking about earlier, these worlds are huge public spaces. When you go to the world of Coruscant or Tatooine, you’re going to have a huge world to explore with many square kilometers and it is all public space. You’re going to see all the other players that are part of your shard running around doing their thing, and there are phases within a world and those phases are often where class events take place, but that’s a very small percentage of the space. It’s not a heavily instanced game. We are using instances, which we’re calling phasing, to do a lot of our storytelling, but it’s a massively multiplayer game. That’s what people are signing up for and that’s what we’re giving them.

TTH: Will there be content for hard-core gamers or is there only going to be content for casual gamers?

James: Well, you need to make a game for both and that’s a lesson we’ve learned over the years. You have to make a game that appeal to the hard-core as they’re your most important fans; those are your evangelizers. Those are the guys you don’t want to get pissed off, so you have to make sure that those guys get what they’re expecting. I’m sure that the hard-core MMOG fans, the hard-core Star Wars fans, and the hard-core BioWare fans are all going to have something for them. We’re also going to make sure that the casual guys who haven’t tried a BioWare game or an MMOG are able to get in as well. But that’s not our focus. We want to make sure our fans are satisfies with what they get.

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TTH: Fans have heard a lot of thought behind making non-jedi a popular choice and powerful characters. Is there a ratio of jedi to non-jedi that the team prefers to see among the player base?

James: We’d love to see an equal breakdown of 50/50 or 25/25/25/25 with the four classes. It’s hard to predict what it’s going to be. We’ve seen surveys done on our message boards and the breakdown is pretty even, despite the jedi and sith getting a bigger percentage than the other classes. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we think that the non-jedi classes are very exciting, very interesting, and have a lot of appeal to them. Who doesn’t want to be Boba Fett? There are a lot of people who want to be Boba Fett or a trooper or Han Solo or the class that’s our own addition to the canon which is the Imperial Agent, and that’s a very cool class. A lot of people when they first play him are surprised because he plays so differently due to the fact that he’s a sniper.

TTH: What kind of thought goes into creating encounters? We did get to see the first revealed group footage. We saw people playing as a group live here at the demo. We got me was that every class in that team had a specific role and they were playing it well. What kind of thought do you have to put into designing these kinds of encounters?

James: There’s a lot of work that goes into designing all of our encounters. We have a huge design team and we first had to figure out what each class’ role was going to be in the game, and we had to balance that. We also had the fact that we have advanced classes and when you choose an advanced class, which can change your class’ role. Then the designers who were responsible for spawning the game were putting encounters in, they had to make sure that when spawning the game, they had to take in multiple factors into account. How you spawn the game differs on what you’re spawning for. If you’re spawning in a public area where anybody could play in at any time, you have to spawn in a particular way. It needs to be soloable, but at the same time, there has to be an advantage for a group to go through that. We also have group only content, which is content that if you’re trying to do it solo, you’re going to get your butt kicked. That’s to encourage people to link up to see content that they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

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In the terms of boss monster fights, our big huge fights at the end of some our flashpoints, those we’ve put a lot of thought and effort into to make sure that it’s balanced, so we encourage players. The first few times, they’re going to die, but they’re going to have to figure out, “how do we beat this? Is our party working together making sure that we’re going to win? We have to make sure that the bounty hunter plays his role, that the sith warrior plays his role.”

TTH:  You heard it here. There’s definitely going to be multiplayer and there’s definitely going to be solo play. I think everybody is going to be happy to hear that. James, I really appreciate your time today as I’m sure the Ten Ton Hammer viewers do. Best of luck with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

James: Thanks. This was great. We all love the Ten Ton Hammer readers and we can’t wait until they’re able to play our game.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Star Wars: The Old Republic Game Page.

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