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Friday, October 07, 2011

SWTOR: Design philosophy and updates

Georg Zoeller, Principal Lead Designer on Star Wars The Old Republic made a very interesting post on the official forums this week that I wanted to highlight because it shows one of the subtle but important ways the game will differ from other MMOs.

I've copied his entire post below as it's a really interesting read and a good insight into the design philosophies behind the game, but to summarise he states that TOR class design is different because your class choice does not define your combat role.

In most MMOs you pick a class and that then defines the role that character will play in groups and raids. For example, in EQ2 if you pick a warden you are choosing to play the role of healer, pick a guardian and you are choosing to play the role of tank, and so on. TOR is different:
  • Class choice defines your storyline, your character's appearance, and your gameplay style.
  • Skill trees define the role your character will actually play.
Read on for the full explanation (as well as some other recent updates about the game).

Georg Zoeller wrote:
"Just to chime in about our class design philosophy here. We've explained this a number of times already during development, but now that we've been running large scale testing for a while and have solidified a lot of the design, I think it's time to explain what we're doing and why.

In regards to class roles, we do things differently than some other games which people might be used to. That creates some anxiety and questions, so let me explain.

Of Class, Advanced Class, Roles.

Unlike other games where you pick a class and that defines your role, class in Star Wars: The Old Republic defines your overall story, your possible roles and your visual style / gameplay style (e.g. Force user vs. Tech user).

Due to the nature of the Advanced Class system, every character starts out in a DPS role at the start of the game, and they're about equally good at it.

By the time you reach level 10, you get to make your choice for Advanced Class, which narrows down which roles you could play, and yes, some Advanced Classes (Gunslinger / Sniper / Marauder / Sentinel) only have damage type roles available, while other Advanced Classes have access to two roles (e.g damage or healing).

What actually defines your role in our game, in terms of traditional MMO gaming, is how you distribute points in your skill trees. Specialize in the 'Combat Medic' tree and become a healer, specialize in the 'Vengeance tree' and become a DPS character.

By spending that first skill point at level 10, you start developing your character into whatever role you want them to play in the long term. Since it's your skill choices that define your role, it is a gradual process. You don't become a healer at level 10 or 11, you're growing into becoming a healer over many levels.

Our content is designed around that. The first Flashpoint assumes the group has only DPS roles. Even if you bring a healer, he'll have only a single heal available at that level as he has just begun his journey into his role, so there isn't too much of a spread in balance.

Over time, the game becomes more firm in the roles it requires for content like Flashpoints, but additional tools like companions still make it more flexible than many other MMOs in regards to what group mix can run group content.

That progression is quite different from how your characters work in other games, and we've certainly seen our share of people being surprised by it in testing ("I just took the Sage Advanced Class, but I don't feel like I'm a great healer").


Ultimately we don't do hybrid roles. You can do them (by mixing different skill trees), but by design, all our classes are meant to be fully capable in the roles they fill. The 'hybrid' tax would be the fact that you won't be able to get the top tier talents in one skill tree if you spread yourself too thin into others.

At high level, all roles have the same capabilities, in our game all healers are 'main healers' provided they are specced accordingly, etc.

Common Questions

So, what's the point of playing an AC that has only DPS options available?

That is a question you have to answer for yourself.

In a traditional fantasy MMO, if you play a thief or a wizard, you're locked to one role as well, so it's the added role flexibility that SWTOR brings to the table that is giving you second thoughts. I would look at it like this:

    If you really like the flexibility of non DPS roles and feel comfortable with taking on other roles, you might want to play an AC that has that option available.
    If you know you only enjoy DPS roles in a game (and based on our research, a sizable faction of players falls under that umbrella), a DPS only AC means you will get a three different styles of dps gameplay to select from.

So why do we do this? Why not go for a 'this Advanced Class only can DPS and therefore they are the best at it' approach?
    Because we want people to pick the class they want to play and reduce the likelihood of them getting told 'sorry, can't participate in this group because we want only the best DPS in game - that is a Gunslinger'.
    Likewise, we don't want the fact that a specific tank or healer AC is not available at a time from becoming a stopping point for getting on with your group content.

The truth is, not everyone is comfortable playing every role and shouldn't be expected to.

Players, as they get more familiar with the game, will no doubt find interesting ways of proving the superiority of a specific specialization in a specific situation, that's expected. With different gameplay styles and utility come different strength and weaknesses.

Should things outside our comfort zone be discovered in testing or after launch (e.g. Operations ending up requiring that one specific healer AC because they are deemed 'the absolute best and a must'), we will adjust the game accordingly. We want player skill to be deciding factor in your choices, not which class they picked hundreds of hours ago. That's pretty standard for MMOs.


Q: 'Why would I play a DPS only Advanced Class if I can play an Advanced Class that can respec to fill other roles?'
A: If that is your main concern, you shouldn't play that Advanced Class, because you are going to be unhappy about the fact that you cannot switch roles.

Q: Since I can only fill a DPS role, I should do the absolute best damage in the game!
A: Not in SWTOR. We give you get more variety in your DPS gameplay. We maintain balance between all ACs that can fill a role.

Q: What ever happened to being 5% better thing for pure DPS classes?
A: Given class utility and other considerations of why you might want to have someone in your group, 5% is not considered 'significant' for the purpose of this conversation.

I hope this clears things up a bit. I'm sure there'll be plenty of different and, of course, dissenting opinions on this topic, but at least everyone will be on the same page as what our design goals are in this situation and how we approach balancing classes."
As I said, an interesting discussion. I'm not sure how I feel about there being little scope for hybrids and whether it will mean most players have cookie-cutter specs, but I guess we shall see soon enough. I do like the idea that most classes can fulfil most roles equally, and this should hopefully cut down on groups having to wait for healers for example.

Some other updates about the game now.

First of all, if you haven't seen it already it is worth taking a look at the new 3D Galaxy Map that Bioware have created for the game. It allows you to zoom in and rotate the map and contains a wealth of information and videos about the playable planets.

Beta testing continues apace with the second large scale Testing Weekend taking place this week. Still no invite for your truly though! *sigh*

Following the recent revelations about improvements to the companion system the latest developer blog goes into more detail about companion AI and how it can be adjusted on the fly by the players. Each companion character now has their own full set of abilities that they learn as they level up. Each ability can be set to be used automatically by the AI, or only to be triggered manually by the player. this will allow you to let the AI control companions completely or for example, trigger certain stances or avoid the use of AoE abilities in particular circumstances.

The system also allows for more fluid group play. With each reveal it seems companions continue to grow into much more than just the normal MMO pets.

Finally, in a fun new feature Bioware have been pitting the developers against one another as they argue the case for their favourite classes. The first such article discusses the pros and cons of Jedi Knights and Bounty Hunters. Check the embedded video below.


  1. Very interesting stuff. I may have read it wrong though, but it seems like they are taking the Rift idea a bit further with how you apply your skills. Not so sure they are doing stuff that other MMOs haven't touched on though. For example, If you want a healer/dps, in EQ2 you can pick an Inquis or Fury..both with the right spec can dps quite efficiently (not awesomely though), but still have some heals as back up.

    I'm sure they way they approach it will seem more different than all that thhough when we get a chance to try them.

  2. It is a little different. For example, a Trooper can be a tank (as good as any tank in the game), a healer (as good as any healer in the game), or dps (as good as any dps in the game), depending on how you spec. It's not the class that defines your role but your spec points.

    Unlike Rift you won't be able to respec easily however.

    It's an interesting idea, hope it plays out as well :)

  3. Ahh, OK. That makes more sense. Kinda like 'class' is the new 'race', if ye know what I mean.

  4. Just to clarify, I know 'classes' will BE 'classes' not a race so to speak. I just meant in most MMOs the race does not determine which skill sets you have but more lends itself to the gameplay/RP side of things. Kinda. I know what I mean ;)

  5. Lol, I know what you mean... I think!


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