[SWTOR] How classes get designed these days

Anyone remember playing old MMOs where balance was an afterthought, and classes were designed based on what someone thought looked cool? And then of course the rapid nerfs after players figured out smart ways to game the system?

Times have changed, as SWTOR’s developer blog on class design shows. Georg Zoeller discusses how characters will gain skills in the game (which is a mixture of buying base skills from trainers and assigning talent points) and then goes through every class to discuss how player feedback from beta changed the design.

There’s also a super little map showing locations where members of one testing group moved and died in one sub area. This reminds me powerfully of techniques used by a friend of mine who helps plan out passenger terminals and train stations – they also model movement and behaviour before they throw a few million pounds into bricks and mortar.

My explorers heart also beats a little faster on reading:

We also use these heatmaps to <…> identify potential locations for special content such as datacrons or unique enemies, which are specifically designed to reward explorers that go off the beaten path.

But really, the big question is going to be whether a game that’s been so carefully, scientifically tuned is going to lose any of the fun factor. Or in other words, will it feel too slick? In a world where polish is so revered, is it the unpolished rough edges that prove the most memorable?

Only one way to find out and that’s to play the thing. I don’t think anyone really enjoys playing underpowered classes, especially if other classes can fill all the same roles, and it’s an interesting insight to how designers can try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

If you want to play around with the advanced classes, Bioware are also showing off parts of the skill trees and individual talents that will be available. A lot of the abilities shown seem to be passive, make of that what you will. Also, anyone want to see their E3 trailer for SWTOR? Of course you do.

Personally, I worry that after Cataclysm (which still has big issues with melee vs ranged balance) I’ve just been put off playing melee characters. Why pick a melee healer or dps if you could pick a ranged one instead? The smuggler/ scrapper reminds me a lot of the burglar in LOTRO which is good because melee utility classes are fun, and bad because omg the burglar is so incredibly disappointing in raids. (Still, a healer with stealth has always been one of my dream combos.)

I don’t think it’s really a good thing to be so influenced in class choice by how other games in the past have been balanced. Does anyone else find that they do that?

And ultimately, the biggest sell for SWTOR is going to be the storytelling for each class. No amount of advanced skill talent trees is going to give much information on that.

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8 thoughts on “[SWTOR] How classes get designed these days

  1. I’ve never been able to play a ranged character for very long, they seem un-engaging and too far away from combat to keep me excited for very long. Overpowered or not.

    In regards to whether or not the game will be spoiled if they overthink it too much, Im not worried, only way that could happen is if they *reveal* too much of how they science our behavior out. What I mean is that if I feel like everything has been planned out, that I will go from that point to this, chose this spec, go exploring there and find “secret spot” all on my own over on pre-set loaction 5, THEN I’ll have a problem. It was kind of that feeling I personally got from leveling in Cata.

  2. Regarding the story arcs I think character class will have a strong influence and I think it’s likely that some kind of psychometrics will be used in planning the stories. Bounty Hunters will likely get a macho tough guy story that gives you opportunities to be badass and corny one-liners. Jedi will get the hero’s journey, a story similar to Luke Skywalker’s, a story that takes itself seriously. Smugglers should get a tongue-in-cheek storyline with plenty of opportunities for corny gags or thinking outside the box style solutions.

    I would be amazed if they aren’t doing something like this. The other equally likely possibility is that everyone gets the same story with small cosmetic differences because they’re scared of getting whined at because “she got something cooler than me – it’s not fair.”

  3. Looking through those class roles and advanced skills got me excited again for the game. The Sith Inquisitor and Imperial Agent look very interesting, sure it might not be original in terms of mechanics but the flavour of those classes is very attractive.

    I see a lot of tension though, people are going to play through the storyline because they like the class and are picking the options that look fun, then finding out later that the class are not desired in groups or not good in terms of balance. It’s going to be hard to ignore the whole balance thing, but Bioware could be smarter about it and go with a ‘softer’ trinity, where tanks are not required but 1 or 2 heavies could be used instead.

    Nevermind the content/polish, I suspect a lot of WoW players go in with balance as a top concern, but any new game just out the doors is going to struggle under those expectations.

  4. ”don’t think anyone really enjoys playing underpowered classes, especially if other classes can fill all the same roles, and it’s an interesting insight to how designers can try to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

    I actually have a few friends that purposefully like underpowered combos. So I wouldn’t say ”anyone”, I’d say ”only a select few may.” Just to point out. :)

    While I play melee often-it honestly DOES depend fully on the game. Back in Vanilla and the first half of TBC I played a mage, because I preferred the mage over all the other classes(though I almost was a Warlock and still wonder if I had ran with that what it would have been like.) In ToR, I think I want to try it-after eleventy billion dollars dropped into it I have to-but I honestly think a ranged looks more appealing here(In Space Games(tm) I often tend toward ranged offering for some reason.) in WAR I was a DoK, which meant I had both melee and healing-at the same time, so melee support there. Aion I’m a melee, though the most powerful classes *far and wide* are ranged, bar none, hands down, no contest-melee are just sorta sidekicks.

    LotRO I’m not sure what I’d play, but I’d likely try out a few classes.

    Stealth Healer sounds quite fun though I admit, and different.

    I really don’t know what the ideal way to design classes is. I mean, I think about and write ”if I made an MMO…” I will say while i sometimes joke about how ranged end up favored often, I imagine the balance *is* difficult.

    The more I think about it, though, I blame when the encounters are super-tightly tuned. I think a game with encounters which are tuned a little more on the wing allows for a bigger range of people. If theres a spec of rogue that say, specializes in debuffs, planting bombs around the enemy and such-not the highest DPS but has a lot of overall utility(maybe even some first aid kit stuff), a super-tightly tuned encounter might not care about them much, but a more fast and loose one can allow them to have fun.

  5. “We also use these heatmaps to identify potential locations for special content such as datacrons or unique enemies, which are specifically designed to reward explorers that go off the beaten path”

    Of course, those locations will very quickly be detailed all over the internet, and the beaten path will go straight to them… unless he means that this content is dynamically placed wherever players aren’t going very much currently (which would be a cool idea, but not what I think he’s getting at).

      • Oh my… I’m imagining a game with raids based on the Angband/Nethack model. Your raid group enters the Dungeon Of Ultimate Evil and gets a randomly generated layout, trash and bosses. Instead of raid locks expiring on a set schedule, you can keep dipping into this dungeon as long as you like, unless you wipe. When you wipe the dungeon resets and you’re locked out for a few days (to discourage people farming the first boss or two).

        Obviously, the encounters have to be designed so that a competent raid group can down them first time – they need to give clues as to their special abilities and how to respond to them. It would certainly separate the players who know their classes and can think on their feet from the robots who just follow other people’s strategies from the net though :)

  6. “(Still, a healer with stealth has always been one of my dream combos.)”
    I had that in Vanguard (Peace Affinity Cleric)… it was silly powerful though mainly from other abilities. Still, combined with the ability to summon party members to you? You could easily bypass lots of needless trash content. hehe

    I’m both looking forward to ToR and somewhat dreading it.

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