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SWG State of the Game Exclusive, May 2007

Today we have another update in our Star Wars Galaxies State of the Game series. This month, Jake Neri, a Producer with LucasArts, and Thomas Blair, the Lead Designer with SOE, team up to elt us know where they're at in the wake of the game's most recent update.

Star Wars Galaxies State of the Game: May 2007
Article by Jake Neri (Producer, LEC) and Thomas Blair (Lead Designer, SOE)

Beast Master Expertise
Beast Master Expertise

With the release of Star Wars Galaxies: Chapter 6: Masters of the Wild, we are introducing a whole new tree in the Profession Expertise System - Beast Master. The Beast Master expertise is essentially a very cool pet system that brings unparalleled depth to the idea of mastering and fighting alongside creatures. We began discussing the idea of a Beast Master system as early as 2006, but the initial designs proposed were incredibly complex and provided for a major system that would be a lot more involved than the average pet mechanic in other MMOs. So, we held off a bit until we could implement the design that we really wanted and that we felt the game (and our players) deserved.

We also had to deal with the "creature handler" factor in our designs for the system. Creature handler was one of SWG's initial professions, and was removed from the game because of a number of factors. However, it turned out to be one of those beloved features that we heard about time and time again in our dev chats and at our community summits. Although there weren't many creature handlers in game, those who did have that profession were very loyal. This put some pressure on the design team, but more than anything it challenged us to go back and review exactly what worked and what didn't in the old system, with the goal of bringing back the best elements and have them make sense in the current expertise system. With that in mind, we set out to achieve a homerun with our players and to make the system appealing for both hardcore beast masters and casual players that just wanted to dabble in pet ownership. As we entered 2007 and began laying out the development plan for the year, we felt that the time was right to implement the Beast Master system. We had just finished adding the expertise system for all of our professions in Chapter 5, so we felt that this was the best time to tackle this major initiative.

Developing Beast Master has been a very challenging process. The system is built on a complex design and requires a lot of tuning, which means that we have been tweaking it nearly everyday. We can't say enough about the fantastic job the QA guys at SOE and LucasArts have done for us on Chapter 6, as the development cycle has been intense. Our initial implementation was centered on getting the incubation system to work; this is the system that allows players to create custom pets. Players extract creature DNA and enzymes from creatures around the galaxy, combine them in the incubator, then run a variety of experiments to create a customized creature egg that any player can hatch and grow to a pet. The incubation system is the baseline for Beast Master, so a lot of time was spent on getting it right. There are many knobs that players can tweak to make different creatures; possibly even highly rare, mutated creatures. Once the incubation system was solid, we began working on the hatching process, and the system of growing and nurturing pets.

Our process is such that once we get far enough along in the development cycle of any given feature, we put our work up on the game's Test Center for our players to give it a spin. The Test Center becomes a vital part of the process, particularly as we get close to the final stages of development, as it enables us to get a lot of feedback on the Chapter before it goes live. It also gives us a glimpse at how the Chapter will be received, and, in Chapter 6, it has been very rewarding to see our players really enjoying the Beast Master system. We have had so much positive support for the system. It's definitely cool to see the players working together to figure things out. In fact, the forums are full of player-created diagrams and charts for creating pets, such as on [this forum post].

Creating the pet is only the beginning of the process in our Beast Master system. Once the pet is hatched, the player must nurture their companion and engage in the advancement of their pet. We added in a variety of personalities for the pets to truly make the behavior of each one unique. Each pet has certain activities that it likes (and doesn't like) to do, such as eating certain foods, attacking other creatures, doing tricks, visiting certain planets, or event watching entertainers perform. Another facet of the growth process is the discovery of special attacks and teaching them to the pet. Players must seek out other similar creatures and observe them in combat to learn more about the abilities they can then teach to their pets. We also put in some non-combat pet actions for players such as a pig ability, "Truffle Pig," that assists with foraging and a monkey ability, "Helper Monkey," that increases the character's crafting skill.

While Beast Master has been the primary focus for Chapter 6, we have also been hard at work on a Storyteller system that allows players to set up their own Star Wars events in game, using props and other set pieces that in the past have been only available through a more cumbersome process, or through a request to our community manager. We have a strong role-playing community in SWG, and we feel that this feature is a great way to support them and the passion they bring to our community. With this tool, players can create their own stories by purchasing tokens from a Storyteller NPC, and then placing them in the world. All manner of tokens exist, such as buildings, space ships, NPC's on which you can place loot, and even particle effects you can trigger as you tell your story. The great part about Storyteller is we can add set pieces and items to the system very easily in future Chapters, extending the life of the system and enabling our community to continue to add events and stories to the game.

Even with a huge system like Beast Master has taken center stage in Chapter 6, we also found time to sneak in a few other features. This Chapter introduces the Azure Cabal quest series for high-level players, along with some retrofitting of our Rebel Theme Park, where players can take quests from the likes of C-3PO, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and others. We even found time to squeeze in a Treasure map system that leads you across the galaxy in search of all new exciting rewards.

Chapter 6 is packed with good stuff and the community seems to be pleased with how it is turning out. The development team feels the same way as well and I think the designers go home at night (when they actually go home) and smile knowing that the game is evolving in new and exciting directions. Combat will have new features, both PVE and PVP will be enhanced by the Beast Master, and groups will now have a new class of player that they can include and use to their advantage. We are looking forward to seeing the system grow over time and we will look for ways to leverage it later on in development. With Heroic Mobs being on the drawing board for sometime this year, perhaps we'll even see some new creatures introduced to the game that we will bring into the system. As always, we'll be watching our players to see just what we can do to make sure people are having a great time in-game.

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