Join the two developers as they walk through the challenges of fully exploring the Empire Strikes Back movie, the thorny issue of one side being guaranteed to lose, and the critical need for detail and finesse in this difficult development challenge.
"I got really excited because I knew we would be able to pull off the intensity and action of the movie. It was one of those moments when you can see the potential of what you are building through early prototyping."
Getting Started on Hoth
Thomas "Blixtev" Blair (former Lead Designer of Star Wars Galaxies): We wanted to introduce a big battle like Hoth into the game for a long time but, for a variety of reasons, we couldn't work it into the plan. It wasn't feasible to go through the entire game and move all existing iconic characters and content around to fictionally make this one battle fit in the timeline. LucasArts approved our idea of doing it as a "Star Wars Moment," giving us the flexibility to work around the timeline in order to bring this epic battle into the Star Wars Galaxies game.
Once we were able to resolve the contextual fit we realized that we had some existing tools based on other recent updates that we could leverage to create an epic battle sequence and allow the player to experience everything from flying a snowspeeder against the Empire to driving an AT-ST to crush Rebel troops."
When Shadowbrak demoed the prototype snowspeeder code working on a regular speeder bike, I got really excited because I knew we would be able to pull off the intensity and action of the movie. It was one of those moments when you can see the potential of what you are building through early prototyping. The rest of the work is about integrating the finer details and implementation. The devil is always in the details though...
Capturing The Empire Strikes Back
Thomas: I think the Star Wars Galaxies design team watched the entire Hoth sequence about 300 times to make sure we had captured all the nuances of the battle. We worked hard to bring our version in alignment with the movie experience – that goal definitely shaped the way we built the elements of the Hoth encounter.
"The sheer number of NPCs (non-player characters) in the instance at one time presented some real challenges with server performance; we just had way too many activities happening at once."
Implementing Echo Base
Jesse: Our first real challenge when creating the instance was the fact that the Echo Base itself was enormous. It is bigger than some of our cities! Decorating and filling out the base was a total team effort that lasted right up to the launch of Hoth on our test servers.
Another challenge was filling this massive area. The sheer number of NPCs (non-player characters) in the instance at one time presented some real challenges with server performance; we just had way too many activities happening at once. So a large portion of our time was dedicated to optimizing our instancing scripts. Again, our primary goal was polish and stability – we wanted the encounter to be fun and playable! Eventually all the kinks were worked out, and the actual Hoth FUN could begin.
We started with recreating the North Battlefield. James "Millbarge" Michener volunteered for this enormous task. Between our artists working on improving the terrain effects, down to the light fog, I really feel he nailed it. It is a really strange and awesome feeling to be a Rebel standing next to a turret and seeing those BIG AT-AT Imperial Walkers coming out of the fog right at you.
The designers, QA, production folks, and programmers began play-testing every other day. We would all head over to our "playpen" and sit at a row of computers and play. It was very much like playing as true players do in order to experience the instance from the player's point of view -- even down to yelling at each other things like, "Suck less, noob!" or "How about a heal, Millbarge!?"
"The snowspeeders are a completely new vehicle mechanic. Snowspeeders are a very fast vehicle with some specific mechanics including constant forward motion, slow arch turning and height adjustment."
Refining the Encounter
Jesse: Our first implementation was playable, but not nearly as fun as it could be. I sat down with Shadowbrak and Steve "CancelAutoRun" Wyckoff and brainstormed solutions. We decided to start with AT-ST's. We reviewed the movie some more and I also watched Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi as well (it has AT-ST scenes in it). We determined that the AT-ST fires like a ground targeting attack, and anyone near it should get blasted.
Next we wanted to enhance the co-pilot's experience. We decided to give the co-pilot two attacks to use. The Ear-Gun is a near must have, as it is a standard direct target attack. Without a co-pilot using that attack you have to be very good at leading the snowspeeders to shoot them down. The other attack is a slower, hard-hitting, rocket launcher to assist the pilot with clearing out all those annoying Rebel troopers and turrets.
Next we decided to tackle snowspeeders. These were a completely different beast. The snowspeeders are a completely new vehicle mechanic. Snowspeeders are a very fast vehicle with some specific mechanics including constant forward motion, slow arch turning and height adjustment. After reviewing the movie, I felt it was important that speeders could free fire as close as possible to our space engine.