Mar 31, 2011

Posted by in Lethal Injection, News | 15 Comments

Lethal Injection: Companions Find Their Place

Lethal Injection is a regular opinion column here at Ask A Jedi. If you know Lethality, whom you may be familiar with from over on the official Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ forums, you know that he’s not afraid to share an opinion or two. Even more than that, he enjoys backing it up in the discussion that invariably follows. You can look for the same approach here in each installment of Lethal Injection, and we can’t wait to hear YOUR opinion of his opinions!


If you’ve been following Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ for any length of time, you’re aware that companion characters have been heralded as one of the key features of the game. As a matter of fact, they were first talked about way back on October 21, 2008 – the day The Old Republic was formally announced.

And It made sense. Companion characters had always been a big part of BioWare single player games. However, earlier this month at PAX East, a bit of news emerged that put may put a small footnote on the idea.

During the Developer Meet & Greet held at the Westin Hotel, Game Director James Ohlen revealed that they are currently intending to disallow companions inside of raids or Warzones – basically any area where player skill should be the determining factor:

“Right now, we’re aiming to not allow companions into end game raids and Flashpoints. We’re also currently not allowing them into Warzones. One of the big reasons is that these kinds of activities, raids, Flashpoints and Warzones, they’re all very much about player skill. And the difference between losing and victory is so slim that when something goes wrong you want it to be the player’s fault, not the fact that the companion character’s AI is two seconds too slow.”

It sounds like companions have found their place. And I couldn’t be happier.

Don’t get me wrong – I think companions in an MMO are a great idea for extending the solo portions of the game. Having a companion along while you’re out questing can add adventure, drama, comedy relief and even romance to your experience – all of the things that make BioWare stories great.

But when it comes to the bread-and-butter of MMORPG’s – multi-player gameplay – companions just don’t make sense. There are other real, live players available to fill the role of complementing your character in a group.

And it really does come down to letting those players pass or fail, as James Ohlen mentioned. Group content is not only about the individual fulfilling their role, but also about the group coming together and executing at a high level of coordination. Sure… BioWare could certainly create artificial intelligence (AI) that beats their own content every time… but why? It’s much more interesting when you introduce the human factor into the mix. It’s the unique selling point of the genre.

Be it cooperative, competitive or anywhere in between, the future of MMO gameplay will be in the evolution of multiplayer content between real players. That’s where the opportunity for innovation is. The focus should be on ideas that bring people together and work to break down whatever barriers might be preventing folks from participating in group content.

Damion Schubert, BioWare Lead Systems Designer on Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ may have said it best during his recent GDC talk about solo players in MMOs (PowerPoint download):

“One of the things we have to acknowledge as MMO designers is that our magic — our secret sauce, this stuff, the raids — this is hardcore stuff. This is hardcore gameplay. Even a basic raid is incredibly hard for players to grasp and get comfortable with. This is hardcore gameplay, and we have to figure out how to get the solo player in a position where they want to take part in this, where they feel comfortable with the social circles, where they feel like they can be contributors.”

So, if you’re really looking for a group of computer controlled buddies who show up on time and don’t stand in the fire, I heard Dragon Age 2 just came out.

Do you disagree? Is your perspective on the topic a little different? I’d love to hear about it below!

No Companions

  1. The best part of companions in flashpoints was the potential to fill missing group roles. Conceivably, any four characters could play a flashpoint together, without wasting time worrying about getting a balanced group to satisfy the unholy trinity of tank, healer, damage.

    Now, we’re right back to LFG, which strikes me as a giant step backwards. To one degree or another, trinity roles will always exist. The companions in SWTOR seemed to hold out the promise of liberating certain levels of game-play from the trinity’s stifling grasp, and it is a shame to see them marginalized because the potential player base seems to lack the ability to think outside the box of established MMO routines.

    It seems as if the most difficult thing in the world is to get a group of self-identified experts to try anything new with an open mind.

    • Lethality says:

      Hey Richard, thanks for the comment… !

      That certainly is one of the potential “setbacks” as a result the companion decision. But I think they’re taking that into account with some other apparent changes…

      For example, we did an interview with Blain Christine back at PAX Prime in September where, although still in development, he indicated that Advanced Classes were intended to be the actual combat roles. Now, we see of course that there will be multiple combat roles available within each Advanced Class. So that helps assure that there will always be a required role within the group of players one way or another.

      And taking that even further, if they allow the “swapping” of Advanced Classes that adds even more flexibility, basically guaranteeing you’ll always have the roles you need available.

      Those things seem to make up for the potential lack of companions in end-game group content by allowing more flexibility to the players themselves.

    • Richard the problem with allowing companions in flash-points all leads back to the same problem, designing AI that will not hinder the group but at the same time will help the group as well as to not deter players from bringing ACTUAL players into an MMO game.

      If you let the companions fully fill the role of an actual player character who wants to do a flash-point who is to say that you shouldn’t be able to “solo” the instance without bringing along any other actual people but to just have with you your companions.

      Then you have to remember, they would have to make the companions not be the reason you would fail the flash-point therefore taking out all player accountability and making the complexity the whole issue of group composition a non-issue.

      I just am afraid if the companions are let into flash-points and raids and war zones. That it will turn into everyone bringing their AI healer because they are perfect and do not wrong.

      This isn’t KOTOR or Mass Effect, I think companions are a great idea for the solo aspect. I just don’t want the solo aspect to include the flash-points and raids.

    • LogunOne says:

      Another Change to companions – in testing.

      Up to now we were told Companion Characters would not count as a party member, which seems to have been reversed. This kills the idea that CC would be a modular part of your character and instead act more as a player replacement mechanic or supplement a solo player.

      I’m not sure why they’re in the game now, other then representing an obsolete reptilian tail of a Bioware game.

      This Week Daniel Erickson posted ….. Note: CC = Companion Characters

      – “Party size in the game right now is four, which includes CCs. This is also true in Flashpoints. This does not mean having two people and their CCs is the same as having four people. CCs are powerful but they are not the same as having smart humans nor are they equal in power. So on a less difficult Flashpoint with amazing players or players that had a couple extra levels it’s likely possible to two man or three man them but I will say that when Alex and I tried to two-man the Heroics on Dromund Kaas with our CCs we got stomped flat. And, you know, I’ve been playing this game a while. Most important to remember: All of these rules can and likely will change in the future. And yes sometimes they’ll change week to week if there’s a new build during that time. This is what testing is about”

      Note: Daniel’s comment is also including OPEN WORLD party size and feels the need to qualify Flashpoints…. “Party size in the game right now is four, which includes CCs. This is also true in Flashpoints.”
      Don’t worry Leth, by the time this game launches companions wont be able to leave your ship. If you every wonder why game developers never give players innovation, wonder no more. I’m convinced gamers just what the same game over and over again with new scenery to look at,…. Star Wars Monopoly anyone?

      I have a feeling the longer this game is play tested the more the innovation will disappear,… and likely to resounding applauds.

      • Lethality says:

        Companions as top-level party members is definitely not going in the right direction, in my opinion…

        Companions seemed to be a major feature of the game when it was announced, so there had to be a specific design around them. Making this many sweeping changes in trying to fit them in somewhere I don’t think bodes well overall.

        So I’m definitely against companions taking a prominent role in multiplayer content, but I’m even more concerned about making what seem like knee-jerk changes based on a relatively small, presumably, set of playtesters.

  2. It seems like they’re reversing a pretty major design by changeing their minds about companions in groups…. I’m on the fence about this particular issue, but I do know that changing major designs late in the development process can be problematic.

  3. cdstephens says:

    I guess that makes companions more of a leveling tool. My only worry is that as the game goes on, the story your companions have could diminish until eventually just becoming random people on your ship with nothing to do.

    • cdstephens says:

      Sorry about the double post, but there’s no edit option XP. What this also means is that they are testing out raid and warzone content right now to figure this type of thing out; that’s a good sign.

      • Jaswars says:

        Ya, I agree, they must have been testing these areas for awhile for the Devs to “Pull” companions out of the raids and flashpoint zones of the game.

      • jaslvgas says:

        Ya great point, they pulled the companions because it was probably mayhem with the raid encounters and the companions “were not working as intended” im glad they did

  4. So basically companions are worthless at end game…pretty much trivializes them…..

    Oh instead of doing the crafting yourself you assign them to do it…you don’t have to watch a bar but the time remains the same….

    You can dress them up…oh joy!

    Oh and you can send them back to town to sell all your junk ala the dog\cat in torchlight….

    The problem here is Bioware stated they could serve the tank\healing role for groups…and now they backtracked on it…

    Furthermore, they state that companions are integral to the player and yet where most of the game will eventually be played at end\elder game they become irrelevant….

    Perhaps instead of trying to fit companions into endgame raid content, they should have looked at incorporating different types of endgame content other than raids?

    And Schubert is dead wrong, raid content isn’t the pinnacle of challenging content…not even close…it is frankly pigeon holing roles…spamming specific abilites and moving during certain phases…

    You want something hard? Master the guitar.

    • Lethality says:

      Well, in case it wasn’t clear, James Ohlen said this can still change, as they are in active development.

      But it’s also not entirely clear if they meant ALL Flashpoints, or strictly endgame… need more info. But in a raid, would you really even want bots with you helping defeat the encounter? To me, that’s the meat and potatoes of the genre… I want it to be me and my buds and our skill, planning and coordination!

      But yes, mastering the guitar is hard. I’m still working on it :)

  5. I guess what I am talking about is that if you don’t allow them in group content….then you really trivialize them. It is like a small step up from having a collectible pet in WoW. Kind of defeats the purpose.

    and I understand the need for group content at endgame, I guess what dissapoints me the most is that so far TOR seems to be ignoring dynamic content which has been pretty universally acclaimed by players and game reviewers as really groundbreaking content design for MMO’s….

    Why aren’t they looking that way? There is the type of endgame content that would allow the use of companions and IMO adds a lot more excitement\replayability to the gameworld. Not to mention encourgaes group play in a more organic way. I raided a lot in WoW, and I didn’t really care for it then either I never found it epic to be one of 10-25 people beating on a boss mob, nor did I like the fact that it took hours to get through the content (something which at my stage of life, family/job is just not possible) in the hopes of getting that 1pc of gear. It pigeonholes players into a specific archtype, trivializes skills and is just not compelling gameplay.

    best of luck on your guitar journey….

    • jaslvgas says:

      You raided alot in WOW and didnt like it?? why did you raid then. I went on the full 25 deal raids and loathed them, it was boring garbage, but the shorter 5 /10 man groups were way way way better

      • Only way to get top gear….unless I wanted to PvP heavily. Liked to PvP a little, not enough though to go for top gear.

        5-10 mans were ok, I agree they were better (and much shorter). I would just like to see some developer change the whole trash pull-mini-boss-boss concept of 5/10/25 man content to something more open-spaced and appealing.

        having to defend something…
        launch an assault on something..
        infiltrating an area, achieveing an objective and getting out before time runs out\you are overrun….
        escorting something…
        just to name a few ideas….

        It’s not like Han & Luke cleared the death star. They got in, achieved thier objective and fought thier way out, barely escaping. How about some group content like that?

        Anything other than pulling trash mobs or whacking the pinata (big boss) type encounters.
        There has to be a better way.

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