Star Tour

Our Exclusive Interview With SWTOR's Gabe Amatangelo

At PAX, we got the chance to sit down with Star Wars: The Old Republic Principal Lead PvP Designer Gabe Amatangelo for an exclusive interview. We covered a wide range of topics, getting an insightful look into the inner workings of BioWare‘s controversial MMO.

On future content releases:

We’re going to be having a faster cadence of delivering content and features. There’s going to be around a six-week cycle where you’ll see something new, like there’s going to be the new operation, the new warzone, the new HK-51 Belsavis area, things of that nature.

On layoffs:

You have different needs in development when you’re going to launch as opposed to after launch. A lot of it lies in the formation of the tools. You put a lot of work and effort toward getting the tools and you get more efficient with them. It’s kind of this sliding scale – you need more people when you’re not as efficient, but as the technology and tools develop, you become efficient.

That’s just the nature of the beast. After World of Warcraft released back in 2004, Blizzard had layoffs. It’s sort of a sad situation, but that’s how it is.

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On free-to-play:

We’ve got the tech in and we’re fine-tuning it. But ultimately it comes down to is putting the variables into a data table and we can do that at the eleventh hour. Internally, we’re discussing things like, “Is it X per day, X per week?” Or do we limit it at all? Or do we do something like the rewards are limited instead of the content?

There are different points of view at the office – and we debate in a friendly way – but we’re far enough along with the tech to get that feature enabled. We’d love to hear from the players what their point of view is on it. Personally, when I’m developing stuff, I leverage what the community speaks up about, and I use that to influence some of those debates.

Free-to-play is something EA‘s been talking about forever. Even before we launched, we were talking about it internally. Obviously we couldn’t do something like League of Legends does, rotating what advanced class you could play each week [whew!], but it’s the future of online games. It’s just what it is.

On the type of player they’re trying to attract:

Leading up to the launch, we always talked about SWTOR as being a fully featured MMO. That means a broad player base. It’s like we’ve talked about, we’ve got a new raid coming out, a new warzone, and there’s crossover with the players there, but they are different types of players.

We also talked (back at E3) about how we’ve got a new planet, Makeb, with new story, so we’re kind of rotating between the player types, if you will. But we do incentivise a lot of cross-play, and that’s where the accessibility of the different features come into play.

Like, we see people playing warzones, a lot of people who aren’t necessarily “PvP players,” as our stats define them. But a lot of people get into them because they’re really accessible, especially as people are leveling up.

So we’re focusing on all fronts. On the PvP front, we’re focusing on trying to get a better cadence with the new power progression so there’s not as much of a gap, and the ranked warzones, tournaments, things of that nature.

With the operations, we’re always trying to do new mechanics, new exciting, thrilling encounters that are wrapped in story but really focus on the gameplay features. We’re continuing to go on with that puzzle kind of staple that we established in Eternity Vault, trying to continue that style of gameplay as well.

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On the PvP gap at max level:

I talked about before launch how I wanted a 20% gap [between a “new” level 50 and a top-geared player], and we did not hit that for a number of development reasons; I could get into the boring details, but the goal and the intent is still a 20% gap.

One way we’re going to handle that in the future will be a level 50 bolster. We’re going to introduce a recruit gear, mark II in the next patch, but a level 50 bolster will also bring things closer to that 20% gap.

On ranked warzones:

We’re making good strides on that. We’ve got a lot of exciting developments going on, but I’m not allowed to give details at this point. It’s something everyone at the studio is really amped about, and we hope to start dropping hints and teasers about that soon.

We want to do more than simply “turn on” ranked warzones for season one. We’re looking into other PvP modes, as well. I can’t give exact dates, but it’s likely that free-to-play will come online slightly before ranked warzones.

On Ilum:

It was one of those last features we tried to tackle before launch, and when you’re launching a major MMO, emergent issues arise and resources had to be pulled from it. It was unfortunate, and we were never able to get Ilum to the design spec that we wanted.

At this point, what we’re wanting to do is an event that revitalizes it. It’ll have something to do with an alien race crash-landing into it, and we’re targeting a January timeframe, which is when update 1.1 happened this last January.

In addition to revitalizing the open-world PvP, we’re also looking at the obvious issues like faction imbalance and things of that nature, though I can’t get into the details of our approach right now.

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On Nightmare modes:

We have them done on our development charts. It’s the near future, very SoonTM. We’ve got the Terror From Beyond and then Nightmare mode for Explosive Conflict, and we’ll have a new set of gear for PvE split between those two modes. So you’ll have two operations for that tier of gear, as opposed to all of it crammed into one operation.

On his greatest challenge:

As we’re moving into this faster cadence and the new development structure and tools we have, you’ve got to get your ducks in a row, so to speak. How long is it going to be on public test, when is there sufficient QA for the release, things like that. It’s lining all those things up to have the assembly line going with that process. Shifting process around is a big challenge.

On revisiting old planets:

It’s something we want. I mean, that’s part of the Star Wars fantasy. Even at max level, you want to go to Tatooine or Voss for something – and we’ve been speccing out some other systems internally to make use of those other planets, like bounty-hunting missions or other events.

 

Jason Winter has held several positions in the tabletop and video-gaming industry since 1996, including writer, editor, marketing coordinator, and game designer. He's the former editor of Beckett Massive Online Gamer and almost considers himself competent in PvP. In addition to his work with Gamebreaker.tv, he also blogs about video games at http://jasonwinter.wordpress.com.
  • http://www.facebook.com/davidallmighty David Cohen

    Was kinda sad as this week officially everyone I know, the top 3 guilds from my server and another premerge, and we were of course at least tied post merge have all quit the game. Most are in GW and some are either eyeballing MOP or Rift as another more traditional MMO to join later. Will keep tabs on it and maybe check out the F2P if it means I can do some content that is worth my time. And as far as needing gear with stats as a carrot on a stick, I think it works, but I think playing with friends or at least with a community of people who you like to play with makes a game last long. LOL is easy to pick up and play, so lots of people can play it and have fun. WoW is well WoW. I think some of the recent blunders is not the fault of the developers as much as the players not sticking to things and bouncing around to the flavor of the month. Maybe if more MMOs go free to play it will allow people to chill more and stick to a game longer.

    • Josh Rosenvelt

      If you want true endgame raiding experience then Rift is the only game that caters for it, games with a monkey mode like SWTOR and wow since 4.3 kills the prestige raiding once had and you lose respect for the content.

      • http://twitter.com/dularr Dularr

        I always feel so bad for Rift, I do hope the expansion bring back players to the game. Sadly, I just remember Rifts end game as being a buggy mess.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/Z36GPOU3Q2QIQYBIDVNQAVGNGE Raul

    Great info guys.
    Haven’t played for awhile, are they still making You level up, 
    or are there finally max lvl premades on the PTR?

  • Josh Osmer

    SWG had zero PvP rewards aside of Force Rank (if you were a jedi) and Faction Rep (imp or reb)(preNGE)…and guess what…that was the most fun I’ve ever had in PVP in an mmo. I think developers need to start shying away from the “theme park” and go back to being more sandbox style. World PvP? It was ALWAYS happening in SWG. In SWTOR, there is nearly zero interaction with the opposing faction outside of Warzones. Instanced planets with limited overlap, completely shut off planets to the other faction, and completely shut off homeworlds and fleets…has lead to a lack of faction interactions. 

    People will play the game if it’s fun and engaging without the need for uber rewards. LoL is proof of that. What I wouldn’t give for an updated and polished preCU/preNGE SWG…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shawn-Hargrave/100003202374593 Shawn Hargrave

    how the hell does that guy have a job lmao. Man worst/clueless dev ever

  • http://www.facebook.com/stradus.woods Stradus Woods

    I did the grind gear out a few time in wow even hit glad a few times.  I have to say now though I differently enjoy GW2 more then that grind feast that you have to stay on top of to stay competitive.  I find myself playing with the specs and tools there more then anything and I have done a ton of pve 80 54% map cleared.  Game mite still be very new and still has some problem.  But with little updates going all the time I feel like there not going to be ignored.  Right now GW2 has my attention and money.  Right now I have to say I am most disappointing with dungeons and the lack of tools to help find groups for stuff.  I have a hard time SWTOR will be able to pull me from any of that just because from updates and the ignoring of the current problems in there game.  I just don’t think they know what they are doing anymore.   No focus or drive there floundering about.

    T M I Y W Y F F B O T S W U

  • tommythepower

    plis dont show baddie gameplay from taugrim from beta while talking, hard to consentrate ^^

  • scottsummer

    Out of everyone..it’s Gabe?
    Thanks Gabe for War Ilum and operations.

  • Fluffenstuffen

    With GW1 being the reference, if the PvP is actually fun and engaging, then players won’t be playing for the progression, they’ll be playing because it’s fun and engaging. The reward is that you had fun doing it, not the next new shiny that will let you be slightly better than before. And if you really think about it, you’re paying your subsciption to play the grinding game to get better gear to be better than everyone. Sounds like pay to win if you ask me. :P

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Bergevin-Jr/1393526370 Jim Bergevin Jr

      Taking this and the above comments by Corey and Dularr into account, GW1 had some very good PvP at the beginning, and the goal for GW2 was to make it like GW1′s. GW1 still has monthly tournaments and such, but those tourney’s with the big paycheck at the end haven’t been around since, what 2006 or 2007?

      The problem was not necessarily lack of a gear grind, but the fact that without a tangible reward except bragging rights there just wasn’t enough to keep a player’s interest in the format. Take that with the high barrier of entry for PvP in GW for noobs, and the fact that the games are based on the fallacy of skill>time principle (fact of the matter is, you have to put more time into the game to become skilled, so it is always a matter of time=skill), you don’t have a long term sustainable format to ensure a critical mass of players.

      Sure, there are a still a core group of players in GW1 PvP, but far from the mass needed to have a really enjoyable and viable format. Even with the addition of strongboxes and other such rewards over the years, the normalization format in GW1 just wasn’t enough to keep the highly competitive players in the game.

  • http://www.kaiketsu.enjin.com/ Corey “Crimzen”

    I’m completely in love with PvP normalization in GW2. I hated in other games how someone who was face rolling the keyboard could essentially 3 shot you, just because he had more gear then you did. It didn’t make sense. When I’m playing any PvP game,weather it be an FPS or an MMORPG I want my skill to be the deciding factor between weather I win or lose, not how big my shoulder armor is. Going back to GW2 I think they have enough in their system to keep players wanting to come back, with their tournament system, ranking system, and not to mention their awesome cosmetic gear rewards. We see people in League of Legends buy new skins all the time because they want to look like a bad ass and be able to differentiate themselves from another player. I’m not saying that normalization will completely out do the gear treadmill concept, but I think it has just as much longevity at the very minimum when done right.

    • http://twitter.com/dularr Dularr

      How has been the gameplay in sPvP?  I haven’t run any sPvP, but all I keep hearing is how terrible the players are and the videos seem to prove it out.   While I disagree with you about gear-based PvP (the premise you get facerolled by bad players), I am looking forward to some good GW2 video of some good matches.

  • http://twitter.com/MJBhurst Michael J Barnhurst

    1-49 PVP is great because of how normalized it is with the bolster system. They need to improve Recruit level gear so that when a fresh 50 jumps into Warzones he/she actually has a fighting chance. A 20% difference between a fully geared player and a War Hero player is a good start, but lowering it even more to around a 10% difference would be even better IMHO. You guys mentioned League of Legends as an example, and how in major tournaments every player is a Summoner Lv.30 with full runepages. IF SWTOR had tournaments, I doubt you’d see anyone participate in them in anything less than a full set of the best-in-slot PVP gear available. So essentially it would be the same thing. 

  • N Carrott

    I greatly dislike normalization for the upper tier/end game content because, you you all mentioned in the video, it takes away from the feeling of progression. I want to see my damage improve as I slot in better gear, tweaking the min/max to optimize my character. Take that away and it trivializes the leveling system and the loot system.

    I don’t understand the “fan boys/girls” of Guild Wars 2 placing that game’s philosophy on a pedestal and proclaiming it as the greatest evolution of MMO gaming, and that everyone else needs to follow that model or die in a fire. From my point of view, the developers may as well hand me a max level character with “best in slot armor” and say “go play the game” — and that’s it! I’d just play and play until I got bored seeing the same numbers on my screen. No sense of progression.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1260066056 Steven Diaz

      Perhaps you should ask your own community how they feel about it rather than paying mind to what a different game’s community feels is best.  SWTOR’s own community constantly point out how fun combat is through levels 1-49 due to the fact that it’s normalized.  Just read the comments on this same thread.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawn.morin2 Shawn Morin

    Nwahs Nirom of the Pot5 server here.  I have always enjoyed the gear-progression system, that feeling of reward for hard work put in, especially since I was a hardcore gamer.  I never knew there was a normalization system.  Now that I am getting more busy with real life, and finding less time to play, I can understand why other players, and even myself now, who still puts in a good 20 hours a week on SWTOR and has full War Hero gear, would want normalization.  It sounds like a great system.  20% between Full War Hero and recruit would be plenty, in my opinion, and you can still keep it engaging with commendations getting you a variety of different looking gear to still give a progression and “I’m better (or, more aptly put, I’m more experienced) than you” feel to the game.  Ranking systems, leaderboards, etc. are all things worth fighting for in the long run.  

    Guild War style fighting for world objectives would also make the WARS really pop in Star Wars as well.

  • DisgruntledPlayer

     “We’d love to hear from the players what their point of view is on it.” Getting suggestions for the free to play game from pay to play players? Riiiiight. Now tell me the joke about the Old Republic getting its credibility back again, I like that one a lot.

  • DisgruntledPlayer

     “Personally, when I’m developing stuff, I leverage what the community
    speaks up about, and I use that to influence some of those debates.” So basically YOU pick out what things from the audience YOU like and go with that? Way to listen to all of the players and not just the ones you agree with… oh wait…

  • DisgruntledPlayer

    “Free-to-play is something EA’s been talking about forever. Even before we launched, we were talking about it internally.”

    Apparently free-to-play never gets past the discussion phase at EA which is completely understandable coming from a company that sacrifices player enjoyment for profit.

    Also, “INTERNALLY” talking about making it free to play sounds like a bunch of douchebag marketing strategists just said “Let’s make all of our first round players pay as much as possible so when we go free to play in the future (which was the plan all along) we have excess financing to blow on really cool stuff like company parties and other things the paying players won’t get to enjoy.”

    Layoffs should have started from the TOP DOWN.

  • http://twitter.com/lifensoul Steven Whiting

    !5-20% there should be NO gap because it makes casual people just not bother with their 50s anymore, like me.  I just stick on 10-49.  But since GW2 has come out I haven’t been able to go back.  The GTN in SWTOR is just so bad compared to the Trading Post, it’s painful.  And now realise how painful crafting is in SWTOR that I’ve given it up and sold all the matts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kiran-Buenafe/49002853 Kiran Buenafe

    Why is Gabe Amatangelo even still here?  He’s obviously a terrible PvP designer.  WAR proved that.  The simple fact that he thinks a 20% gap is acceptable for PvP gear means he needs to be shot in the face.  I’d say 5%, or possibly 8% should be the very, very most.  Epicly disappointed sigh.