Late last week, Sony Online Entertainment announced a fundamental revamp in the way that the Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG will be played. The Everquest-like autoattacking gameplay and multitudes of player classes are being removed. This marks the most dramatic change ever made to a MMOG already live, and Sony Online President John Smedley is willing to take questions from the Slashdot community about the changes. One question per comment, and we'll send the ten best questions on to Mr. Smedley. We'll post his answers as soon as they're returned. More details are available below, as are some preliminary responses from Mr. Smedley about the broad picture they're aiming for.For some background, Gamespy has a look at what the changes will be. Players are already checking out the new content on the test servers. f13 has an entire feature on the new systems. SWG Game Designer Jeff Freeman fills us in on the decision-making process used to decide to make the changes. As a note, Mr. Smedley and the folks at SOE are well aware of the sometimes critical nature of our discussions here, and they specifically want the chance to answer any concerns we might have about the new systems. Feel free to be as harsh or as hopeful as you are inclined to be: Mr. Smedley has promised to answer the questions come what may.
John Smedley: I was going to send you a Word doc, then remembered this was going to /. Including the text here.
Q: In your own words, would you like to lay out exactly what the scope of this overhaul will involve?
There are two primary elements at the heart of this redesign: the re-focusing of Star Wars Galaxies's profession system and the introduction of what we're calling "Fast-Action Combat."
We are taking the 30+ professions and focusing them down to 9 "Iconic Professions." After the changes go live, when a player goes to start a new character in the game, they will see 9 boxes in the profession field. Those boxes will read Bounty Hunter, Commando, Entertainer, Jedi, Medic, Officer, Smuggler, Spy and Trader. Each descriptor will also have an image of an iconic Star Wars character, such as Han with Smuggler, Boba Fett with Bounty Hunter, Luke with Jedi, etc. These Iconic Professions will make it much easier for players to understand which type of character they're going to play and the type of activities and actions they should expect to find with their new profession.
Existing SWG players will be given a special item after the transition. This item will allow them to re-specialize ("re-spec") their character up to nine times. This will allow vets to try out each of the new Iconic Professions to determine which type they want to play.
The second major portion is the implementation of "Fast Action Combat." We're going to strip out the current SWG "select target, start macros, wait for combat to end" gameplay and replace it with a much more engrossing, entertaining control scheme. "Fast Action combat" controls will be similar to action games that our playerbase is intimately familiar with (Diablo certainly comes to mind, as well as our own Untold Legends game for the PSP). Now, every time a player clicks on their mouse button, they will fire their blaster, swing their lightsaber, shoot lightning bolts from their fingertips, etc. The pacing of combat has come way, way up, making the game faster and much more fun.
Fast Action really goes a long way towards making you feel like you're living the Star Wars experience, which is the primary goal behind all the enhancements we've been making to the game over the last few months. Instead of a passive, wait-and-see style of combat, you're now going to be much more involved with the action happening on-screen, which is even reflected in the music that you'll hear while fighting. Additionally, we've boosted the rate player's health regenerates, putting them back into the thick of things right away.
Q: Was there a single game element, piece of feedback, or event that prompted this re-envisioning? This is a very dramatic decision, and the reasons behind the changes seem almost as important as the changes themselves. What prompted you to give this plan the go-ahead?
There are millions of Star Wars fans out there. SWG should be the game those players have always hoped for, a game that finally allows them to live inside the worlds and settings they know so well from the movies, the books, the comics.
Our main goal with SWG for the last nine months has been to make the game more "Star Wars-y," for lack of a better term. Our two latest expansions, Rage of the Wookiees and the new Trials of Obi-Wan have delivered players the kind of directed, hand-crafted content that they would find in our other titles, as opposed to just having open-ended "sandbox" style of gameplay.
The redesign comes about after hearing desires from our own players on forums and in person at the SWG Fan Fests, multiple focus groups, and our own design team's desire to create something much more grand and sweeping with the game. We have big plans for SWG in the months and years ahead, and we needed this new platform to use as a foundation for creating the vast Galactic Civil War that our players want.
Q: The immediacy of real-time combat certainly seems more 'Star Warsy' than the current system. What is being done to specifically ensure that combat recaptures the energy of the battles we see in the movies? How is this overhaul going to affect the space experience, if at all?
Simple: by engaging the player, instead of having them watch combat from a distance. Fast Action is just what it sounds like. Players will find themselves jumping in and really applying themselves, interacting with the game like never before. Everything has been sped up in combat, including attacking, reloading, using special abilities, items and powers, even the speed with which health is regenerated. This allows players to fight with large numbers of enemies without having to take constant time outs to regen. This isn't like any other MMO out there.
The space elements of the game are going to remain as they are, since this action philosophy was already part of that experience. With this redesign, we're attempting to make the ground portion of the game as exciting and adrenaline-pumping as the space portion.
Q: For all of the Star Wars Galaxies players who already have time invested into characters, what plans do you have to transfer their existing characters to the new system?
When the redesign comes to the live game, there will be rewards for our veteran players (they should be announced later in the week). As I mentioned before, all vets will receive an item that allows them to respect their character up to nine times, allowing them to dive into the new Iconic Professions and try them all out. Current Jedis will receive two enhanced items, a special robe and a lightsaber.
Additionally, anything non-combat related attached to the player's character will remain unaffected after the transition, including vehicles, property, collectibles, etc...