More SWTOR info from GDC

I’d blogged about my single greatest fear in regard to SWTOR — that being it is really only an RPG in MMO guise. This week’s Bioware’s Friday special includes links to several articles about SWTOR from the GDC including several that have some very insightful comments about the fabled story-driven aspect Bioware has been talking up. First, I really can not say enough how I loathe buzzwords. And Bioware is trying to create their own with this “story-driven” “fourth leg” non-sense. “Story-driven” is nothing more than questing and I wish they’d just stick with that. Compare apples to apples, and don’t try and make people think what you are really doing is comparing your Orange to Blizzard’s Apple. But then again if I were under the gun and had to ensure I was drawing in and keeping 2 million subscribers, perhaps I’d feel compelled to cheat the language a bit too.

Don’t get me wrong, I like PVE as much as the next person does. But I’m not sure that a game that has it’s very back-bone built upon such an in-depth PVE questing system with interactive discussions and voice-overs, will feel as much like an MMO as people expect their MMOs to feel. I don’t want to be constrained within a questing system when Bioware knows well that what I really want is the end-game. Lets face it, despite what anyone says to the contrary, we all want the “end-game”. I don’t want to have to spend weeks of questing and desiring nothing more than to wring some NPCs neck while he forces me to entertain his interactive chat. Instead I’d prefer a more traditional questing system with clear-cut objectives. I’m intrigued by the “moral decision making”, but then again I’d be just as happy with that if that were a passive part of the game that tracked the things I did while I traipse through it. Such as killing critters making me darker, or stopping to help vagabonds making me not so dark. I very much like the idea of my “alignment” being determined over time but Bioware has that wrapped up in the interactive chat system and I already know I’m not going to like it.

How do I know I’m not going to like something before I try it? I guess I’m just that good. I guess I just know my gaming interests and what I typically find to be fun, and what I typically find to not be so fun. And I already know from all the MMOs I’ve already played that I haven’t the slightest interest in having to read quests that are books. And having to sit and listen to a discussion that I can’t even skim is going to annoy me to all ends. Many MMOs have proven they can implement immersive story-telling without going to the lengths Bioware is and I see no reason to fix something that simply isn’t broken.

So where’s the beef? Here’s where I think it becomes most telling and explains why we haven’t seen more information about the MMO in this MMO.

Like the Inquisitor demo, it’s a strictly single-player experience. We all play offline in separate instances of the same mission. As RPG gameplay goes, it’s slick, accessible, pacey and enjoyable – but in common with everything LucasArts, EA and BioWare have shown of The Old Republic so far, there’s nothing massively-multiplayer about it. They’ve shown an appealing and obviously high-quality game, but they simply haven’t shown us an MMO yet.

I quiz Neri about it. What does LucasArts – which has already had its fingers burned in this genre with the under-performing, U-turning Star Wars Galaxies – want from an MMO using its most precious intellectual property?

“I think what we wanted to do was create an amazing story-driven experience,” he answers. “We believe, as a company, in story. We had great success with BioWare in the past with KOTOR [Knights of the Old Republic] and we wanted to continue that. We wanted to deliver a smash in the space, for sure.

“I think, first off, in order to enter the space in any sort of serious manner I think you need to be different than what everyone else has done. I think that’s probably the reason why we believe so much in story.”

They made the decision to intentionally differentiate themselves in the market by focusing on “story” rather than using tried-and-true developmental strategies and letting the IP differentiate. When I read stuff like this it makes me want to pull hair out. It’s the sort of thing Lum talks about in his blog from time to time, as he regales us with what passes for judgment in the gaming industry.

All that’s bad enough, but once you understand that they haven’t released any details on the MMO parts of the MMO are because they haven’t made them, it makes you want to scream while pulling that hair out.

“We haven’t talked a ton of details on in-between activities,” Neri says, truthfully. “We’ve just said that we do understand that in this type of game you do need to have that type of secondary behaviour, things like crafting, harvesting systems, things like that: mechanics that players can draw themselves into when they’re not fighting. So, not too much detail on that right now, but we understand the expectation and we’re going to make sure that the game supports that type of behaviour as well.”

Get that.. the things that make an MMO, an MMO — like:

a structure for player-versus-player combat, a broad spread of challenging content for groups, social areas, trading, crafting and the wide spread of relaxing ancillary activities best described as “downtime”

are secondary activities. Trivial even. Unbelievable.

I want this game to to happen. I want it to be fantastic because not only am I a super Star Wars fan, but also because I love Bioware. I just want an MMO, not an RPG with coop play. I might feel better if they’d actually release real, in-depth information on what would make this an MMO but I’m beginning to see the bridge down at the end of the road… and you know… I’m not sure if I can see the other side!

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