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Exclusive interview with Bioware's Blaine Christine

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SWTOR_logoThe March/April issue of Massive Online Gamer (issue #23) features the classes of the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG from Bioware and LucasArts. In addition to this great introduction to the eight classes in the game, we were also able to secure some time with Bioware Producer Blaine Christine to talk about the classes and the thought processes that went into creating them.

MOG: Why did you decide on four classes per side (Republic and Sith)? How will the relaSith_Inquisitortively small number of available classes per side affect group dynamics?

BC: To define which classes we wanted in SW:TOR, we started with the movies themselves. We generated a list of the iconic characters and moments from the films that we wanted to capture, and then evolved those ideas into the eight classes we’ve announced. See the question below for more detail, but within the eight classes, there will be a great amount of diversity that we’ll give detailed info on at a later date.

MOG: How do the classes match up with the “usual” MMO roles (tank, healer, DPS, buffs, etc.)? Is it as simple as saying “Jedi Knights are melee DPS, Troopers are ranged DPS” or did you try to break them out of these roles more?

BC: In this regard, we really went about the whole process a bit differently than most people would expect. The key here is starting with Star Wars, not pre-defined notions of what an MMO should be. What we really want to do is help players have a fun, engaging experience by giving them the proper tools. There are a number of tough nuts to crack, of course – how does grouping work, how does healing work, etc. We’ve got some innovative answers to those questions, but you’ll have to wait for the specifics. (One tidbit we recently revealed was the idea that a Smuggler can have underworld knowledge of healing as part of his character development, should the player so desire.)

jedi_no_hoodMOG: It must have been a challenge to try and make the non-Force-using classes on par with the Force-users, lore-wise. How did you overcome that challenge?

BC: Yes, this definitely presents a difficult challenge and it’s one we were acutely aware of since the inception of the project. We’re tackling this on two fronts. First of all, story is a very important part of our game, and all of our class stories are very compelling. The experience of playing through the Smuggler or Imperial Agent storylines is vastly different, as you can imagine, and we expect that these stories will lure players who desire an alternate path through the world of Star Wars. Second, it is our job to ensure that the combat experience with the non-Force classes is just as compelling as that of the lightsaber users. From my standpoint, we are already finding that balance. The reaction to the Smuggler’s “Dirty Kick” ability seems to be strong evidence on that front. J

MOG: On a similar note, which aspect of development presented the greatest design challenge?

BC: Ranged cover. Ranged combat in an MMO is already challenging, but by choosing to add in the cover system, we really upped the level of difficulty on the development team. Fortunately, our team came up with some brilliant solutions both on the behind-the-scenes tools and from the design side. It was definitely the right decision – it makes the classes that use this system incredibly fun to play.

MOG: Did any of the classes surprise you with how powerful, interesting, or just plain fun they turned out to be?

BC: It may sound crazy, but actually all of them. It’s not that I don’t have faith in the ability of our team to deliver great things (I do), but I have continually been surprised and delighted by exactly how fun they turned out to be. A great example is the “Shiv” ability that the recently announced Imperial Agent uses to good effect. When you sneak upsmuggler behind an opponent, using Shiv is not only a great way to start off a fight but it also feels great. Everything from the animation to the effect to the design behind it is top notch and designed for fun.

MOG: What’s the deal with non-human races? We haven’t seen any yet.

BC: Actually, we are including non-humans! We have non-human Companion Characters and NPCs all over the place (lovingly known as “rubber heads” around here). I’m sure you’re asking about playable characters, so let me address that as well. We have announced that there are playable species in the game, but we have not yet announced exactly which ones.

MOG: Finally, what’s your favorite class to play, and why?

BC: If I had to pick one class to take with me to a desert island it would be the Trooper. From the story centered around his role as an elite member of the Republic’s Havoc Squad to his ability to deal ridiculously powerful damage from incredibly Big Freakin’ Guns, this class is no-holds-barred roller-coaster ride of awesome!

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