SWTOR Behind the Scenes Look at : System Design

Systems Designer on Star Wars: The Old Republic Bryant Wood wrote up an article on the games system design.

Systems Design on SWTOR is the connective tissue between the amazing parts of the game. We develop what are known as game loops. You can think of game loops as repeating tours through parts of the game; like a Daily Area, your Weekly Conquest, or the path to item rating 306. These loops allow players to create and complete goals, engage and interact with other members of the community, and experience the cool things the team has made! The Systems team works to ensure invested effort and time surrounding the player experience are appropriately balanced.

A key component of these loops are goals. When you log into SWTOR, there is something that players are hoping to accomplish. For some players it’s to experience an epic story, with them at the center. Others want to flex their creative muscles in decorating. Or they might want to show your skill against other players, testing how well you can compete. All of these are great player goals, and we try to accommodate as many goals as possible when making systems. 

To help with this process we often look at 3 kinds of goals; short, medium, and long term. Short term goals are things that will give players an immediate reward. They might be as quick as killing an enemy and getting a nice item or they may take you a few days. Either way, short term goals allow you to always have an accomplishment around the corner. Medium term goals give players something on the horizon, something that can be finished next week. These require commitment but bring a bigger sense of accomplishment. Long term goals are why you’ll be playing all month. They allow players to really invest in their character, hopefully for a reward they can be proud of! 

Using Galactic Seasons as an example, short term goals are driven by Priority Objectives, medium term goals are driven by Weekly POs and the ability to see your next few levels, and long term goals are driven by Level 100, the rewards surrounding it, and the Galactic Seasons Token Vendor. By using all 3 goal types, we can create experiences that players find fun and engaging for years to come.

A goal without a plan is just a wish, so how do we make sure players aren’t just dreamers? We use systems to guide their journey! Any goal we present should be visible and accessible, like a path through the forest. Let’s look at a current existing feature in SWTOR that we would like to improve in the future as an example of this journey philosophy. We have a large catalog of great looking items, but do you know where to get them all? If my goal is to get a specific decoration, how do I go about doing that? 

One step of the plan is to look at the Source on the item, which can be found in the description on its tooltip. The Source briefly tells you where the item comes from which is great, but there could be more details provided. Players could be asking the following questions: What mode do I play on? Does it come only from a certain boss? Do I have to do something special to get it? We don’t want to answer all the questions (solving puzzles can be fun!) but we never want to leave a player without the information they need. As SWTOR grows we want to turn our collection of items into a collection of achievable goals for our players, with solid paths on how to complete them.

When working towards a goal we want to do things that progress us the furthest. This collection of the best things to do is something we call the optimal path. This can bring players through various parts of a game and show off fresh and exciting content. It can also tell a player to do one activity over and over again. On the Systems team we review these optimal paths and work to adjust them to reduce negative player experiences such as boredom or burnout. We always want players to experience the fun of SWTOR without having to choose between fun and making good progress toward their goals.This is why examining optimal paths is essential. We can use these paths to guide players into different content and this level of player experience touches on one of our philosophies for our 10th anniversary. SWTOR has released a lot of content in its life and we want to encourage players to experience the full breadth of the game without taking them away from parts they love most. 

In full celebration of our 10th anniversary I’d like to step away from my role as a System Designer and speak as a Game Developer. I want to let you in on an industry secret, the best part of making games.

It’s you. Seriously.

Working in a creative medium like games, I believe game developers put a piece of our souls into our work. Players then take these souls and breathe their own life into it through play, transforming the game into something entirely different. There’s no better feeling than seeing the amazing things players create using our designs. The excitement when we announce a new expansion. The effort you put in to clear new content or achieve new rewards. The expression on your faces when you can’t believe we did that. These reactions are my goals being achieved and make the work even better than I could imagine.

You, the player, put the true life into SWTOR and make the game what it is and that motivates me to improve and build better systems for you to enjoy. I look forward to creating more memories with you all and experiencing the world of SWTOR!