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Ask John Smedley About Star Wars Galaxies 383

Late last week, Sony Online Entertainment announced a fundamental revamp in the way that the Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG will be played. The Everquest-like autoattacking gameplay and multitudes of player classes are being removed. This marks the most dramatic change ever made to a MMOG already live, and Sony Online President John Smedley is willing to take questions from the Slashdot community about the changes. One question per comment, and we'll send the ten best questions on to Mr. Smedley. We'll post his answers as soon as they're returned. More details are available below, as are some preliminary responses from Mr. Smedley about the broad picture they're aiming for.
For some background, Gamespy has a look at what the changes will be. Players are already checking out the new content on the test servers. f13 has an entire feature on the new systems. SWG Game Designer Jeff Freeman fills us in on the decision-making process used to decide to make the changes. As a note, Mr. Smedley and the folks at SOE are well aware of the sometimes critical nature of our discussions here, and they specifically want the chance to answer any concerns we might have about the new systems. Feel free to be as harsh or as hopeful as you are inclined to be: Mr. Smedley has promised to answer the questions come what may.

John Smedley: I was going to send you a Word doc, then remembered this was going to /. Including the text here.

Q: In your own words, would you like to lay out exactly what the scope of this overhaul will involve?

John Smedley:
There are two primary elements at the heart of this redesign: the re-focusing of Star Wars Galaxies's profession system and the introduction of what we're calling "Fast-Action Combat."

We are taking the 30+ professions and focusing them down to 9 "Iconic Professions." After the changes go live, when a player goes to start a new character in the game, they will see 9 boxes in the profession field. Those boxes will read Bounty Hunter, Commando, Entertainer, Jedi, Medic, Officer, Smuggler, Spy and Trader. Each descriptor will also have an image of an iconic Star Wars character, such as Han with Smuggler, Boba Fett with Bounty Hunter, Luke with Jedi, etc. These Iconic Professions will make it much easier for players to understand which type of character they're going to play and the type of activities and actions they should expect to find with their new profession.

Existing SWG players will be given a special item after the transition. This item will allow them to re-specialize ("re-spec") their character up to nine times. This will allow vets to try out each of the new Iconic Professions to determine which type they want to play.

The second major portion is the implementation of "Fast Action Combat." We're going to strip out the current SWG "select target, start macros, wait for combat to end" gameplay and replace it with a much more engrossing, entertaining control scheme. "Fast Action combat" controls will be similar to action games that our playerbase is intimately familiar with (Diablo certainly comes to mind, as well as our own Untold Legends game for the PSP). Now, every time a player clicks on their mouse button, they will fire their blaster, swing their lightsaber, shoot lightning bolts from their fingertips, etc. The pacing of combat has come way, way up, making the game faster and much more fun.

Fast Action really goes a long way towards making you feel like you're living the Star Wars experience, which is the primary goal behind all the enhancements we've been making to the game over the last few months. Instead of a passive, wait-and-see style of combat, you're now going to be much more involved with the action happening on-screen, which is even reflected in the music that you'll hear while fighting. Additionally, we've boosted the rate player's health regenerates, putting them back into the thick of things right away.

Q: Was there a single game element, piece of feedback, or event that prompted this re-envisioning? This is a very dramatic decision, and the reasons behind the changes seem almost as important as the changes themselves. What prompted you to give this plan the go-ahead?

John Smedley:
There are millions of Star Wars fans out there. SWG should be the game those players have always hoped for, a game that finally allows them to live inside the worlds and settings they know so well from the movies, the books, the comics.

Our main goal with SWG for the last nine months has been to make the game more "Star Wars-y," for lack of a better term. Our two latest expansions, Rage of the Wookiees and the new Trials of Obi-Wan have delivered players the kind of directed, hand-crafted content that they would find in our other titles, as opposed to just having open-ended "sandbox" style of gameplay.

The redesign comes about after hearing desires from our own players on forums and in person at the SWG Fan Fests, multiple focus groups, and our own design team's desire to create something much more grand and sweeping with the game. We have big plans for SWG in the months and years ahead, and we needed this new platform to use as a foundation for creating the vast Galactic Civil War that our players want.

Q: The immediacy of real-time combat certainly seems more 'Star Warsy' than the current system. What is being done to specifically ensure that combat recaptures the energy of the battles we see in the movies? How is this overhaul going to affect the space experience, if at all?

John Smedley:
Simple: by engaging the player, instead of having them watch combat from a distance. Fast Action is just what it sounds like. Players will find themselves jumping in and really applying themselves, interacting with the game like never before. Everything has been sped up in combat, including attacking, reloading, using special abilities, items and powers, even the speed with which health is regenerated. This allows players to fight with large numbers of enemies without having to take constant time outs to regen. This isn't like any other MMO out there.

The space elements of the game are going to remain as they are, since this action philosophy was already part of that experience. With this redesign, we're attempting to make the ground portion of the game as exciting and adrenaline-pumping as the space portion.

Q: For all of the Star Wars Galaxies players who already have time invested into characters, what plans do you have to transfer their existing characters to the new system?

John Smedley:
When the redesign comes to the live game, there will be rewards for our veteran players (they should be announced later in the week). As I mentioned before, all vets will receive an item that allows them to respect their character up to nine times, allowing them to dive into the new Iconic Professions and try them all out. Current Jedis will receive two enhanced items, a special robe and a lightsaber.

Additionally, anything non-combat related attached to the player's character will remain unaffected after the transition, including vehicles, property, collectibles, etc...

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask John Smedley About Star Wars Galaxies

Comments Filter:
  • by Yerase ( 636636 ) <randall...hand@@@gmail...com> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:32PM (#13999814) Homepage
    You've recently announced that you plan to give Jump To Lightspeed to previous subscribers who had not purchased it for Free, since it is required for the new intro Tutorial. This is similar to the decision to release the "Total Experience" pack for $30 that included the original game, JTL, and the second expansion "Rage of the Wookies", with an additional item (The Barc Speeder).

    Do you feel you have any obligation to reimburse the veteran players who payed the premium prices ($30) for each of these expansions when they were first announced (many times before they were even released)? Either monetarily or through in-game items?

  • OS X client? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dark Paladin ( 116525 ) * <[ten.lemmuhnhoj] [ta] [lemmuhj]> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:32PM (#13999817) Homepage
    I realize that this is a long shot, but with the rise of Mac sales and the upcoming change of Macs from PPC to X86, is there a chance if an OS X client? One of the reasons I believe that Blizzards WoW has done so well is because it allows both major desktop OS's to play together, rather than trying to partition on group on a separate server (or predenting they don't even exist, with all of those dollars itching to be spent).

    And please - no wishy washy "Sony is committed to evaluating blah, blah, blah" - if there's no intention, just say so, please.

    Thanks for your time.
  • combat update #2 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jt418-93 ( 450715 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:32PM (#13999824)
    swg is rotating at increased velocity around the water disposal oriface...
    my question for smed-head:

    why are existing players being shortchanged in the Next Great Experiment? no level based rewards unless you regrind your template. swg has always been one of the grind = content games. why is this hated model being pushed again.

    and do you think it is acceptable that jedi are only viable if they discard the saber and use a ranged weapon? is master jedi rifleman your vision? because that's what will happen..
  • by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:33PM (#13999840)
    ...and start over completely with Star Wars Galaxies 2?
  • hmm (Score:1, Interesting)

    by kevin.fowler ( 915964 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:36PM (#13999880) Homepage
    If the focus is on getting players back into the game, would a price level change be in order? Less money per month/deals for longer-term plans?
  • Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KingVance ( 815011 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:39PM (#13999914)
    Are you implementing all these changes because WoW is kicking your asses in terms of marketshare?

    After reading TFA, it seems like you are basically implementing all of the rules that makes WoW a much better game, and slapping a Star Wars wrapper around it all.

    Also, didnt your focus groups tell you that all of these features is what people wanted before now? Or has peoples perceptions of online gaming changed since your release?

  • responsibility (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EddieBurkett ( 614927 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:42PM (#13999946)
    Can we have the name and contact information of the person who was responsible for the decision to withhold the release of information about the NGE until after the release of the Trials of Obi Wan expansion pack? I'm not saying I care what excuse that person will provide, but someone had to make that decision and I'd like to know who was accountable.
  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:42PM (#13999950) Homepage
    Mr. Smedley, I have been told that the game was going to be shut down in January, yet your inverview stated that SWG didn't lose subscriptions over the first CU, and that it was growing faster than other SOE titles.

    I have heard from multiple sources that the subscriber base was collapsing rapidly, which is why the game was to be shut down, and that NGE is a desperate last gasp attempt to save it.

    Why, then, did you decide to do something very very radical, take away ALL our ability to customize our characters and abilities, delete whole professions, and worst of all, make the MOST sought after (took me many months) and iconic Star Wars character, Jedi, the weakest combat class in the new game (you say you play the game, go play a Jedi on TC), the ONLY one that has: No armor, no defenses, no rooting ability, that attacks at HALF the rate of ranged professions?

    Why did you do this rather than do what the community has consistently asked and BEGGED you do do, FIX the bugs, and BALANCE what we have?

  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:46PM (#13999978) Homepage
    Our community relations director, Tiggs, was fired yesterday. She has been the ONLY person who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to communicate with the community (staying up to 4AM and still showing up at work after little sleep).

    Why did you fire her?
  • SWG NGE (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:48PM (#14000004)
    In interviews you have stated that everyone who tested the new NGE is very happy about it and your are recieving very positive feed back. Me and about 20 other friends I have have tested the changes on the test servers. NONE of us prefer it to the old system. 16 of us have canceled our accounts.

    Why are you ignoring what your current community wants? Is your community not worth listening to? Are you planning to replace us with a new community? Are you aware that people are getting bored of the NGE very fast due to lack of depth and while you may recieve many subsciptions at the beginning many will quicky leave?

    Why havent you talked to your community personally via the forums?

    Do you care at all?
  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:48PM (#14000009) Homepage
    NGE was dropped on us on 11/2, the day AFTER we were charged for the Trials of Obiwan expansion. Why did you deliberately withold this announcement until it was too late for veteran players to cancel their pre-orders so they could play on Test Center to see if they liked the changes?
  • by fleck_99_99 ( 223900 ) <<moc.rr.eniam> <ta> <aleb>> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:52PM (#14000056) Homepage
    I will preface the question with a little background. I played SWG quite heavily for the first 2 years of availability. I finally cancelled my original account in September, having played consistently since launch, built a guild and succesful player city, unlocked Jedi status, mastered piloting, run a successful crafting business, participated in player and roleplay events, and even earned an accolade badge from and talked briefly with the Events coordinator. (Suffice it to say, I've seen almost everything in SWG from launch through CURB, and have done my best to improve the SWG community.)

    The quality of the software released in SWG has been lackluster. This eventually led to the disinterest of most of my guildmates; once my play group fell apart, I slowly drifted away. But, some concrete examples:

    - Architect "Master Armoire" schematics were broken for quite some time after launch. The graphic was incorrectly the "furniture 2" image. Then this was "fixed" according to the patch notes, after many months. Oh wait, it wasn't! Now, the "Furniture 3" armoire was also set to use incorrect art (the "factional/tech" armoire), and the Master Armoire was STILL broken. Several months later, this was finally fixed...
    - Architects were unable to craft a vital component (I believe it was the "Harvesting Mechanism") for, again, several months after launch. This bug was not even acknowledged until well after launch.
    - City Management Terminals were broken for many months (and still broken when I retired from the game). A player could view the terminal menu once per access -- so, if I logged in during my semi-precious free hour at night, and checked the city's treasury balance, I was unable to make a deposit until the next day. Assuming I remembered....

    The list goes on. As a professional software developer myself, I understand the difficulty of making upgrades and bugfixes in a complex system. But, this level of bugginess was a constant -- and, in fact, bugs were frequently reintroduced after resolution (as in the case of Recycler crafting). The constant stream of bugs -- and, in particular, bugs that rendered significant game features completely nonworking -- is what led to most of my fellow players' exit from the game. What obstacles are there in the QA process at SOE that cause this to be such an ongoing issue? Is there an expectation that reducing the overall level of complexity (~30 -> 9 classes, etc) will improve this problem?
  • Popularity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperRob ( 31516 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:53PM (#14000067) Homepage
    Star Wars is one of the most popular licenses in the world, and yet, Blizzard comes out of nowhere with World of Warcraft and takes ownership of the MMO realm.

    How do you feel about Galaxies failure to reach a mainstream audience, and has WOW influenced any of the recent changes made to the structure of Galaxies?
  • Re:OS X client? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Golias ( 176380 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:57PM (#14000120)
    Also, if you are going to make it Available to OS X, will Apple owners be forced to play in a segregated "Mac Ghetto", as they were in the Macintosh port of EverQuest, or will you do it right this time, and let PC and Mac owners game together on the same servers?
  • by hsoft ( 742011 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:58PM (#14000124) Homepage
    I played UO for 2.5 years (from the year it was released), Daoc for 1 month, AC2 for 3 days, SWG for 2 months (I say this because I like to point out relative MMORPG mediocrity :) ). I can remember that ping times in UO was a huge factor in PvP. Because everybody was 7X GMs, the guy with the best ping usually won (of course, in faction wars (ohh, these were nice!), it was something else).

    How will you make sure that your new "Fast Action" change will not turn SWG PvP into a ping war?
  • In retrospect... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @02:58PM (#14000130) Journal
    In retrospect, do you think it was a mistake to hire Raph Koster as lead designer for SWG? He has a lot of great ideas about virtual world design, but SWG at launch was much more of an economic simulator with a Star Wars skin than it was a game.

    (For reference, I was in SWG starting in early Beta 1 -- Shuttle 3, specifically -- and played for about six months after launch.)
  • by planetoid ( 719535 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:00PM (#14000150)
    Not being a Sony employee I can't answer why, but having played almost 3 years worth of another SOE product, Everquest Online Adventures -- probably THE most NEGLECTED MMORPG in the history of gaming -- I can tell you that you shouldn't have been surprised. For the first year of that game, it had frequent updates and it even had an expansion pack, EQOA Frontiers. After the Frontiers-specific quests were tweaked and bugs fixed, the quality of the game declined; a couple of corrupt GMs were caught giving rare items to certain players (not from events or quests, but just because they were close buddies), some of the programming team was relocated to work on -- you guessed it -- SWG and EQ2, and updates were few and far in-between. They seem to be trying to pick themselves up yet again with new epic quests, but it took them way too long to do something like this, and there's still unlocked content on the Frontiers CD they're taking FOREVER to get live; also most of the recent updates are targeted to those who are in large guilds who are capable of downing uber-tough bosses -- even though EQOA was originally touted as "Everquest for the casual gamer" it seems to no longer live up to that qualification. That, combined with the fact that this was by a company whose affiliate publishes music CDs that root peoples' computers against their consent, I don't think I'll ever spend any more money on Sony game titles (or any Sony media for that matter).

    Don't be surprised to see the quality in SWG decrease now that it seems to have lived through and past its first year, and the best they'll do is keep it on life support once they, like they seemed to have done with EQOA, make the software itself out-of-print.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:03PM (#14000191)
    Mr. Smedley,

    Day 1 customer here. Love Star Wars, love SWG.

    This NGE revamp has to have been in the works, under design and development, for quite some time now. Yet, you failed to announce it until literally 48 hours after selling the latest expansion pack, "The Trials of ObiWan". Many of the selling points of this expansion pack (i.e. loot items for Creature Handler) are for professions that are about to be DELETED from the game.

    How do you respond to your loyal customers, those who have paid their monthly dues for 2.5 years and bought your expansions, who feel they were misled into buying an expansion with loads of features & items you knew were about to be scrapped? Why the secrecy around this NGE? The previous combat upgrade was announced long before its release.

  • by Arkan ( 24212 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:04PM (#14000209)
    Hi John,

    Let me start by writing that I'm a player from the early hour: my account has been activated 2 days after the servers were put in operation - this delay being the consequence of my Frenchness.

    I lived through all the changes you put on SWG, being the Combat Upgrade, the many balancing changes of the skill trees, the Jump to Lightspeed space extention, etc, etc...

    What I'm currently wondering is how you would caracterize the NGE, considering the following facts:
      - pre-NGE, the character you had on a server was free to be whatever the player wanted. The player could pick a little bit of everything, or choose THE one destiny for his character. Post-NGE, the "class" of the character will be fixed for the life of the character
      - pre-NGE, and I'd even say pre-Combat Upgrade, the combat system was in line the RPG expectations of the players: a good slice of strategy, another good slice of knowledge of your character's strong points and weaknesses, a bit of luck and nice equipment. Post-NGE, it will be more like a good aiming, and a very, very low ping
      - pre-NGE, crafting was something... crafty. An item could (and in the beginning of the tree, often did) failed to be crafted, and each and every item could be customized in a few specific attributes: fast or powerfull weapons, strong or long-lasting armors, etc... Post-NGE, only 4 trades are still available, with the aim of simplifying the game, I'm sure.

    So, the MMO part of the game is definitly apropriate, but I doubt about the RPG part. The post-NGE Starwars Galaxies looks not completely unlike a themed Planetside (for the combat), with some chunks of World of Warcraft (for the classes).

    Now, my question is: do you think that your current customers will be following you in this adventure, as it really looks like a dumbing-down of the game, making it more like the mainstream online games, and removing from it the parts that were making it unique?


  • SWG do over? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by portwojc ( 201398 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:05PM (#14000218) Homepage
    The biggest problem with this game besides the constant "do overs" with the game play is it's failure to make Star Wars it's own without upsetting the masses or breaking Star Wars. Have you ever thought coinsidered wiping the universe and starting over after RoTJ? That side of it is more open to change and wouldn't limit you as much nor have people as upset when you fiddle with Star Wars.

  • Re:combat update #2 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zzzilla ( 930126 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:14PM (#14000339)
    do you think left mouse clickclickclickclickclickclickclick is what the players wanted? and the fastest clicker wins? where did you get this info from???
  • by jenkin sear ( 28765 ) * on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:22PM (#14000429) Homepage Journal
    Why should we trust any software that Sony wants us to install on our computers, after the recent well-known rootkit incident?

    What are you going to do to get out from under this rock?
  • Re:In retrospect... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikaelhg ( 47691 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:25PM (#14000463)
    Crafting and the economy were the only things that actually rocked in SWG.

    I enjoyed playing a Master Chef even while most of the foods were bugged because the design was good even if the implementation was sub-optimal because the developers were focusing on combat.
  • 3 Strikes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dmcooper ( 899820 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:32PM (#14000529) Homepage
    I don't mind game changes whatsoever. Even though I am a huge Star Wars fan - I will be cancelling after what I consider the '3rd Strike' from Sony Online Entertainment.

    I will be cancelling because while I do not mind signifigant game altering changes - I do not appreciate being lied to. The 3rd Strike Lie (bait & switch on expansion purchasers) did not even affect my character.

    As a matter of fact - by all accounts I'll be able to respect into a full template Jedi under the new system.

    The prior two lies were a result of underhanded publish changes that were not even listed in the patch notes for Publish 22 & Publish 23. I recall the uproar that forced SOE to remove the changes after they went live.

    I sold my Playstation 2, and I sold all my games. I will not be purchasing another Sony product. Sony's DRM technology is now being used to cloak game hacks and Trojan programs. Sony is reportedly in the works on removing the ability to play Playstation 3 games on more than one console - so that everyone has to buy their own copy.

    Sony is about the dollah dollah bottomline. They believe they can reach this via underhanded tactics and deceptive business practices.

    Not off my wallet.

    Oh and my question:

    Why don't you and your company go fuck yourselves?

  • by Monkk ( 551177 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:51PM (#14000803) Homepage
    My question is: What are you doing to rekindle old player's interest in the game?

    I loved and played SWG for about a year. Unfortunately, despite the dazzling variety in the game, I couldn't stay interested. (Even in spite of my strong desire to stay interested.)

    The proverbial straw was the original Combat Upgrade. It finally killed the last bit of my joy in the game.
    If you can bring back the original wonder and excitement, I would leave WoW in a heartbeat.
  • by Anonymous Custard ( 587661 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:06PM (#14001002) Homepage Journal
    What is your plan to reach out to all those players who left before the combat revamp, doctor buff changes, and now this new revamp? Do you hope to draw them back somehow? Will there be any incentives for old veterans to return?
  • by Snaller ( 147050 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:12PM (#14001074) Journal
    Where you can get from level 1 to 60 in a month of play, instead of the usual no life games which require 12 hours (and 50 other people) every day for 3 years to get anywhere?
  • Re:Will my Jedi (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) <shadow,wrought&gmail,com> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:15PM (#14001114) Homepage Journal
    What's interesting is that it was down graded by editorial modding. Within a minute or two of being posted it as at -1. Or maybe its just habit to mod the first several posts down;-)
  • 14 millionth ps0t (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:22PM (#14001200) Homepage Journal
    D00d, you got 14,000,000th ps0t!

    -1, offtopic, but couldn't resist.
  • Handicapped Players (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Reksha ( 930172 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @05:16PM (#14001779)
    If you had been paying any attention to your forums, you would have noticed that you have a lot of people with physical handicaps that the new system of targeting, attacking, and no auto lock and auto attack are making it very difficult to play the game. We have tried it, the remapping does not work. We need an auto lock and an auto attack in order to play this game around or disabilities. We have been able to play for over 2 years now, and can no longer do so. Will you please do something about this?
  • by Solitude ( 30003 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @05:53PM (#14002161)
    I really wish they would go back to buttkicking Jedi and permadeath. And instead of a grind for Jedi, a certain random percentage of the active population would be force sensitive at any one time. Once you become force sensitive, you choose to pursue that path in which case your character is backed up or you refuse it. Once the Jedi dies or force sensitivity is refused, another player is randomly chosen. If the Jedi dies, his original character is restored from the backup.

    That way everybody gets a chance to be Jedi. The skilled ones longer than the unskilled ones.
  • Returning players (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Minupla ( 62455 ) <minupla@NoSPam.gmail.com> on Thursday November 10, 2005 @08:48PM (#14003810) Homepage Journal
    With the complete revamp of the game will there be a returning player incentive program? Something so that those of us who left earlier can come back with a minimum of pain and check out the rework and see if it's something that is compatible with our particular playstyles?

    Min (ex master doctor :) )

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken