ZAM Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom spoke to SWTOR Game Director James Ohlen about launch day preparations, legacy system updates, SWTOR's short-term development plans, and much more!
SWTOR fans are all on edge these days as we get closer and closer to the beginning of Early Game Access (tomorrow!). Of course, given BioWare's plans to stagger Early Game Access until the 20th, there are hundreds of thousands of players puttering around Torhead, starving for any new information to tide them over until next week. Luckily, ZAM's got you covered, and Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom got the chance to speak to SWTOR Game Director James Ohlen about SWTOR's ambitious post-launch development plans, legacy system, official game canon, and much, much more. There's a lot to read here, so let's get started!
ZAM: Thanks for taking the time to talk about launch and what's going on in SWTOR. How's it feel?
James Ohlen: I'm just really excited about Tuesday of next week!
Ohlen: Not at all! It's been six years of working on MMORPGs down here in Austin, so it's been a big part of my life. Biggest I've ever worked on! SWTOR is definitely BioWare's most epic and ambitious game. If you think about it, it's kind of a throwback to Baldur's Gate II when BioWare was just building ridiculously huge games. This is just… a ridiculously huge game! [laughs]
ZAM: Is this launch just a matter of execution, with the team being fully prepared for what's to come, or have there been a few surprises through the closed beta tests and stress tests that have pushed you into overdrive?
Ohlen: Well, we've obviously found a lot of bugs that we wouldn't have found otherwise but surprisingly, everything has been going according to plan so far. The big weekend test, where we had 750,000 unique people playing and, I think it was upwards of 250,000 people online at the same time, that weekend test we had more people coming into the game at once then we planned to have at launch. So the test was actually more difficult than what launch should be. But I'm knocking on wood when I say that.
ZAM: Could those numbers have just been the harbinger of some monumental player influx? I know you're spacing out access across the 13th to the 20th (the official launch date), but still…
Ohlen: Because things are getting spaced out, we won't get the same numbers we got on the weekend test because we're limiting access; by limiting, of course, I mean several hundred thousand per day! Regardless, that's still less than what we got hit with on the first day of the test. We're pretty confident that we'll be able to hold up. Unless, for some reason, we get millions more people than we expect. That would be a good problem to have.
ZAM: Going into the preorder, there are obviously a lot of players discussing the issue of "who gets access first" for that all-important early game advantage, but since there's not much else to say beyond what's already been said on the forums, I won't dwell on this too much. My only concern here would be about name reservation. Are there any plans to help or assist players who didn't make it into early access with name reservations? Perhaps something like a launch day server that opens on the 20th so that everyone can have equal opportunity to grab names?
Ohlen: I don't know if I can answer that right now, but I'll try. Not all the servers are going to be live on early access launch day, so we will be having new servers coming online past launch, which will give people the opportunity to join a new server to name a character how they want. Unfortunately, I can't go into too much detail on our strategy with that one, sorry!
ZAM: All right, let's switch our focus. One thing that has players - and me - concerned is endgame content and just how robust or deep it will be. Hand in hand with this concern is the fact that, currently speaking, the content quality of SWTOR is very high and it obviously demands a lot of work to complete. Players are worried that if BioWare wants to hit a certain development cycle to keep players interested, something might be negatively affected in the process. Are you confident that you can deliver enough content on time without skimping on quality?
Ohlen: I think so. Right now, we have a legacy system in place to encourage and reward players for trying out new classes and seeing new storylines. So there's a lot of content there to entertain those players who like to play the "level-up game." On the other hand, there are high-level players who are focused on bringing one character to level 50, and those guys are going to be our main focus for new content. We're going to be producing new flashpoints, new operations, new warzones, and even new single-player content for our highest leveled characters. We already have multiple teams working on that as we speak, and they've got a bunch of flashpoints and operations in the can.
We're also not shrinking the content team at all, and we have a huge content team. Our content team is essentially bigger than… well… I'll just say we have a big content team, how about that! [laughs] We have a very big content team and those guys will continue to work on delivering a regular cadence of high-level content. I can't talk exactly about our delivery schedule, but I can say that within a month of shipping the game, we want to have more high-level content being delivered into the game. We're going to continue to deliver high-level content after that and for the foreseeable future, basically. It's obviously important to us. We want to keep people playing the game, so it's in our best interest to keep doing that.
ZAM: It's common knowledge that game development teams have huge teams up to launch, and then post-launch people get segmented off to other projects. You're saying that you're not doing that at all? You just have this massive team of people creating content, and post-launch they're going to continue working at it?
Ohlen: To tell you the truth, for example, usually at this stage of a project, when I was finishing up Baldur's Gate II, I was already working on Neverwinter Nights. When I was finishing Neverwinter Nights, I was already working on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I don't even have a one page document on a new project at this point! There's nothing! There's nothing in my future! [laughs] It's a little bit sad - I'd like to have something to look forward to! But right now, it's Star Wars all the time. That will be my life for the next several years.
ZAM: I don't know whether to offer my condolences or if I should point out that this isn't exactly a terrible situation.
Ohlen: It's a good problem to have! I don't think anyone is feeling sorry for me.