A few years ago during the 2007 Austin GDC, Gamastura covered a speech by Gordon Walton, the co-studio director at BioWare Austin. It focused on how developers should approach making MMOs in a post World of Warcraft market, and towards the end of the presentation, Walton made the following comments to the crowd:
"The places to innovate are endless, but what do players want? Innovations have to be substantially better to be noticeable. Their game has eight classes, my game has 16. Who cares about classes? Do something Ive never done before. If nine out of 10 people cant tell its an innovation, its not an innovation."
In retrospect, this quote reveals a great deal about Star Wars: The Old Republic in light of what we recently learned about class skills. Given the fact that we know there are eight classes, and we speculated each class has two distinct paths of damage and support, we can now see why Walton mentioned the number 16 in 2007. BioWare is supplying many more classes then we previously believed.
Additionally, the focus on recognizable innovations by making them substantial allows us to speculate that the depth within these 16 classes will be far beyond what many MMO players are accustomed to. We should remember that this speech was based around developing games in a WoW-dominated world. In order to stand out, Dalton states a game would need to do more than just supply a little more of the same. We believe this means you will see far more customization within each TOR path then what we currently see in a single set of WoW class trees.
Using this hypothesis, we created a possible class progression chart based on what we knew of the Smuggler's paths:
We believe the class customization options will be extremely deep once a player chooses their particular path. So deep, in fact, a single specialty could contain the same relative complexity as an entire World of Warcraft class. Instead of three talent trees, you may have as many as nine talent trees to quickly move between when you want to adjust your play style. Such an intricate level of customization would fit with Gordon Walton's desire to stand out in the eyes of the MMO community, and fulfill BioWare's promise to give gamers a different, defined play experience.
This is how we arrived at nine talent trees per path: first, we looked at what we already knew about the two Smuggler paths, noting the Scoundrel had both a focus on Stealth and Medicine. With all the developer talk about not forcing you to do something, such as solely specializing in healing to be viable for group play, we arrived at the conclusion that there had to be a third specialty that enhanced the Scoundrel's ability to do damage.
We then went back to the trusty Holonet and noticed something in one of the Combat Tactics videos: a Smuggler quickly moves to get into closer range and wields a single weapon. Since we already said the Gunslinger was longer ranged, utilized Cover, and duel wields blasters, we hypothesized the third specialty in the Scoundrel path would focus on single weapon damage.
Referring back to Walton's quote again, we concluded only developing three talent trees would be much too limiting for the level of character customization BioWare was aiming for. To account for this, we gave each specialty the same multiple of three to get to nine talent trees. The result is an array of so much variety, depth, and versatility that we could imagine quickly re-arranging talent points for a particular situation, and then with equal speed, do the same for a different one.
We then added a possible alignment focused skill for each specialty. We were told previously that characters would have specific abilities linked to whether they are light, neutral/grey, or dark. A single skill for each specialty would fit, and allows each character to access three possible skills based on their class, path, and alignment.
While this is extremely speculative, we believe the information received from BioWare and LucasArts strongly points to such complexity. This elaborate customization would be a significant undertaking for any development studio, but the response would be amazing from players tired of limited options. If this is similar to the class design of Star Wars: The Old Republic, we could be looking forward to a future of astonishing theorycraft.
Update: Ginnel, a member of the official forums, created a thread earlier today that contains an interesting quote from the latest issue of Edge. The quote, shown below, further endorses the conclusions contained in this article. The emphasis on deep character development is seen in this excerpt, as well as restating how dramatic the choice between the Gunslinger damage path and the Scoundrel support path will be.
There's a dramatic amount of variation within classes. Using the example of the Smuggler, BioWare guided us through three or four paths of character development; every couple of levels brings with it a specialization path. Smugglers, for instance can specialize early on as Gunslingers with dual-wielding and coercion abilities, or Scoundrels with stealth and healing aptitude. Class choice affects the story arc far more than the actual gameplay it reflects who you want to be within The Old Republic's universe, not what you wish to do.