[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.