If there's one thing I've learned in my personal, professional and virtual life, it is that feet can only take a man so far. There comes a point in one's life in which the assistance of a third party, typically either beast or machine, is required to reach one's desired destination. Unfortunately in the real world, and much to my dismay, function generally usurps form. Am I riding this horse because I want to, or because domesticated bears aren't available in my area? Am I driving this 1995 Chevy Corsica with a calico paint job out of necessity, or because my Harley is in the shop? Regardless of real life applications, MMORPGs can take many different approaches when it comes to vehicles, their aesthetics and their performance.
BioWare first showcased vehicles in the E3 2011 Tattooine walkthrough, and although the community was pleased with the reveal in general, we weren't all that excited about what was specifically being showcased.
Hover scooter? Really?
At SDCC 2011, Dallas Dickinson and crew came back with what most of the community was actually hoping for: speeder bikes and land speeders. All it cost him was a beard that served as an open challenge to Chuck Norris. Beyond just new mount types, another complaint issued about the Tattooine walkthrough was the speed of the mount showcased. As is typical in most MMORPGs, mount evolution generally consists of an entry level model that is significantly faster than foot travel, yet visually simplistic. It then moves on to a more visually appealing entry that is significantly faster than its predecessor. From there, endgame mounts usually come into play, providing exclusive speed boosts, unique visual elements and a wide variety of available models. This trend continues in subsequent expansions and patches.
In SWTOR, the developers stated that they've significantly increased the speed of the starter mounts obtained at level 25 in response to community feedback. They also revealed at SDCC 2011 that their artists have been feverishly adding new mount models to the game in-line with community suggestions and expectations, and that these mounts should be available at launch. Let's take a look at some of the newly commissioned vehicles below.
Revealed during the Tattooine walkthrough at E3 2011, we were informed by Daniel Erickson during the video that the development team was concerned about potential clipping issues in heavily congested areas, but between then and SDCC 2011, something wonderful and mysterious must have happened that seemingly changed their minds. Still, this Star Wars-esque mobility scooter will likely remain in the game. The only person who could rock this thing is Wilford Brimley, and that's pushing it. The developers cited inspiration from Darth Maul's FC-20 speeder bike; however, the FC-20 includes a seat--a feature highly sought after in most conventional vehicles. I'm perfectly fine with this being the entry level mount, but I would be lying if I said the sleeker looking STAP didn't draw me to pre-order the digital deluxe edition of the game.
During the SWTOR panel at SDCC 2011, Rich Vogel revealed new vehicles developed in response to the community backlash surrounding the E3 2011 mount. The crowd at SDCC 2011 popped when the first of many new speeders made its way onto the screen. Closely resembling the famous 74-Z speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi, this bike evokes feelings of nostalgia, and is perfectly suited for players who want to keep their characters looking as iconic as possible.
For those not into traditional offerings, the second bike revealed at SDCC 2011 brings a sleeker, more contemporary look to the roster of available speeder bikes. If Ferrari made a speeder bike, this would be it. Hot rod orange paint, chrome forks and an aerodynamic design may seem gaudy at first, but the bike's minimalist aesthetic leaves us with something tasteful.
Look at that thing. It exudes awesome from every exudable area. This bike received the largest reaction from the crowd at SDCC 2011 by far, and for good reason. It's huge, it's unique and it's got engines twice the size of its rider. What more could a man ask for in a giant hovering motorcylce of war? (I mean, other than rocket launchers.) I sincerely hope BioWare and their art team take heed of the SDCC crowd's reaction and build on this vehicle design moving forward.
I'm sure there are plenty of community members hoping for a traditional land speeder, and to me, this is as vanilla as it gets. I'm hoping these speeders, again revealed at SDCC 2011, are simply a placeholder for more inspired designs. Rich Vogel assured us there would be many more available, and that these are only a few examples. We were also informed that although two seats are available on these models, it is likely that support for passengers would not be available at launch. Rich also mentioned that the development team intends to make land speeders of this type an aspiration reserved specifically for level capped characters.
It has been confirmed that bestial mounts won't be available at launch, if at all. There is a demand from the community for animal mounts such as Banthas and Taun Tauns, but it is hard to gauge whether this demand is from the majority or the minority. Personally, I'm indifferent toward bestial mounts, and until I can saddle up a rancor equipped with laser turrets, that's unlikely to change.
Some players also have issue with the mount summoning system. At E3 2011, we saw that mounts will be castable; seemingly teleporting in from nowhere and causing the player's companion to disappear. While such a mechanic may break immersion, the alternative--having to maintain a static and persistent mount--would become more of an annoying time sink than anything else. Beyond that, the logistics of supporting persistent models would put an additional burden on servers and potentially cause issues with other facets of gameplay.
I'm quite pleased with what has been revealed so far, and the fact that BioWare's development team has been able to overhaul their mount system between E3 2011 and SDCC 2011 is promising; especially in terms of quickly adding post launch mounts down the road. One hope I have regarding SWTOR's available mounts is their accessibility. Some MMORPGS, namely World of Warcraft, have plenty of unique and interesting mounts available, but many are nearly impossible to obtain without a substantial time or money investment. I sincerely hope this will not be the case with SWTOR, and that players can easily get their hands on a vehicle that is aesthetically pleasing to them, not only at endgame, but throughout the leveling experience as well.