Interview: Daniel Erickson

Interview: Daniel Erickson

Work is gearing up fast for the developers producing BioWare’s first MMOG. As the game finally begins to start revealing itself properly to the public, we spoke to lead writer Daniel Erickson about the pleasure – and the pain – of seeing all the complex strings of such a large endeavour coming together, and what it’s taken to scale up into a force that can get it out of the door in time for next spring.

The Old Republic is in a pretty advanced state now – is this a satisfying stage in development?
All the major systems are in place now, which means art is going up by amazing milestones every time we hit a new build. All the art’s coming in – this is a huge content game. It takes a tonne of time. We have more outfits, more species, more stuff than any other game would ever attempt. We’re also starting to get the loot in, the gear and the equipment. We’ve got eight classes with all their different class stories, so it’s not OK if by level 20 your trooper doesn’t look like a trooper or your bounty hunter doesn’t look like a bounty hunter, and instead it looks like everybody got drunk and went to the thrift store. That means we had to do more class specific art just for one class than many games would attempt in their entirety.

I love production. You come in and every day, or every week, something amazing came into the game. I am so excited for people to see the E3 build that it hurts me.

It seems to have been difficult to convince people that The Old Republic is going to be more than an absolutely huge single-player game. Do you feel it’s looking more like an MMOG now?
Absolutely – it also looks more like an RPG. What we had before was the bare bones, getting levels down, the physical states, and we had to do a lot of experimenting with that. One of the differences with our world design is that our environments are not undulating repeated planes. We decided at one point – because we’re insane, apparently – that we were going to do hand-crafted, real stuff with small placeables, the same way we would design an area for Dragon Age or Mass Effect. But that meant that we had to be sure it was right. Once we had the world, we knew what we were doing and all the other teams started to layer in. We’ve got the loot team, we’ve got the spawning team – originally all of our spawns were placeholders, now they’re actually going through the areas and thinking, what makes fun combat? Who should be here? This is going to be the bounty hunter and the agent, so what kind of encounters are going to challenge these two? What if they’re working together?

Are the new teams also throwing up new problems?
This kind of testing always throws up new problems. The huge problem that comes in now is scale. Great, this area works awesome with six people – what about eight? What about 35? And that’s true for every single problem. It’s tricky because BioWare has some of the most complicated game design I’ve ever seen in my career – because of the non-linear split quests, you have to let players make a decision and then trace iT 100 hours later, and taking that to a MMOG scale brings all of the problems to life.