Sep 1, 2011

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PAX 2011: A Conversation With Gabe Amatangelo

One of the highlights of running a fan site is going to all of these conventions and having the privilege to be able to interview some of the developers, designers, writers and artists that are working on our favorite upcoming game.

During PAX last weekend, I was excited to have a chance to speak with Lead End-game Designer Gabe Amatangelo. While I first met Gabe at the Fan Site Summit in April, we never had a chance to do a one-on-one interview with him.

I sat down with Gabe to talk about some end-game Operation topics, as well as some reader-submitted questions. The interview went great, Gabe was able to provide some answers, and I left the booth happy, headed off to the hotel room to edit some video!

And then it happened.

I discovered that I had not one but TWO equipment malfunctions! Not only did the video camera shut off about halfway through, the lapel mic that Gabe was using wasn’t ever turned on! So, without any of that backup, I can only recall parts of our conversation from memory.

But that’s ok, because some of them really stick out, and I feel are some important points of clarification! Read on for a quick recap of my conversation with Gabe…

On MMO Experience As A Player

I really wanted to know about his experiences as an MMO gamer. His title and his role are pretty critical in the overall scheme of things, and I thought other players would like to know what makes him qualified to wear so many important hats.

Well, rest assured. Gabe described his experiences going all the way back to Ultima Online and continued to run the gamut through World of Warcraft and beyond. It’s safe to say Gabe was in the shoes that most players find themselves in, and that should be a real comfort to them.

On Operation Hard Modes

I asked bit about the hard modes in operations, and if there are any theoretical or physical “gating” to prevent players from entering them as opposed to normal mode, and he said no. It would obviously help to have geared up from Flashpoints and even normal mode Operations, but nothing will stand in your way if you feel you can accomplish it.

We also wondered if there were any additional encounters for hard modes, but it appears to be the same number as the normal mode. He did say however you might see different mechanics and certainly stronger enemies in hard mode fights.

On Operation and Flashpoints In The World

One question I had ever since seeing the Eternity Vault trailer at E3 was, why do players have to take escape pods to Belsavis when it’s already a planet we can travel to in our starship?

So I asked, if players travel to Belasavis normally via their starship, can they find and enter the Eternity Vault through the planet’s surface? The answer, sadly, was no. It was explained that “planets are big” and the Eternity Vault is way on the other side, so you won’t even be able to see it when you’re on the planet, much less enter. Now in fairness, part of the first encounter revolves around the crash landing, but this is a bit of an immersion breaker for me none the less. Which leads to the next topic – spaceports.

On How The Spaceport Works

The spaceports function as part of the social hub designed to get and keep players together and also give them an easy way to get to their destinations. I asked Gabe if you’re forming a party and one of your group members isn’t physically there, but rather participated in the mission briefing via Holocom, does that person get transported to the instance automatically? And what about after you’re done? He said they are still iterating and testing on both counts.

Personally I don’t want to see this turn into a lobby game, ala Dalaran in World of Wacraft and would prefer to see physical travel required wherever possible by players to their destinations. Otherwise, some people will never leave these hubs, leaving the galaxy feeling more empty.

On Loot Containers

For this topic, I asked if much has changed since the last time they talked about them, and it turns out not much has. Gabe did re-iterate their stance that right now, the loot containers are in the normal mode Operations only, and they are still testing the loot distribution systems in the hard modes, and may not see loot containers there. We also asked if loot containers would be tradable, and he said no.

On Reputations/Factions

This is something that has, at least for me, never showed up on the radar in any interview or fan site, so I figured it was time to ask! Reputations/Factions have been a long-standing MMO feature which allow you to gain/lose favor with certain in-game groups of NPCs to unlock content, rewards, and so forth.

When I asked Gabe about systems for this in The Old Republic, I was somewhat shocked to hear him say that “That system is not in the game.” I suppose that this type of system has gotten a reputation for feeling a little “grindy” over time, but still, with a little work I feel it could add quite a bit of immersion and alternate gameplay, especially given the importance of politics in the Star Wars galaxy.

Later on that evening I was able to have a conversation with Game Director James Ohlen and he was able to confirm that this was in fact not in the game.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any more rationale for the decision, so it might be a discussion for another day!

On Item Mods

With all of the recent talk about the item mod system, but without having any details, I wanted to know more. Specifically, I wondered if the “mods” for these items are removable and reusable, and he said “maybe”. Gabe said they are still in testing and time will tell.

On Companions

We asked if it was possible to ever “miss” getting a companion and Gabe said yes it is… but you could always go back and get him. Just thought this was an interesting tidbit to share.

On Crew Skill Leveling

We asked if you could level Crew Skills beyond your character level, and Gabe again iterated that that is something currently being tested. So for all of you economists out there, stay tuned to find out if you can have fully powered Crew Skills on your low-level alt :)

On the User Interface

There are currently no special user interface modules for healers or tanks at the moment. This was a reader-submitted question which, since there apparently won’t be any add-ons or user mods at launch, was a great question.

Apologies once again for not being able to bring this discussion to you directly in audio or video form, but hopefully you gained some knowledge and entertainment of it.

  1. Thanks for doing the interview. It’s always interesting to hear from the developers. As kind of an addon to the spaceport question, did Gabe talk at all about how the “hearthstones” will work in TOR? For instance, if my bind point is on Illum and I am on Tattooine, when I use my “hearthstone” or recall ability, will it take me back to Illum? Or do I have to bind to a new place every time I go to a new planet.

    • I imagine the “hearthstone” function will revolve around your ship. Since you can go anywhere with your ship almost instantaneously, what sense would it make to hearth back to another planet?

  2. Too bad about the technical issues, but good information nonetheless.

    The possibility of crew members out leveling you is an interesting concept.




    There is no Normal mode, only Easy & Hard for ops.

    Which means loot containers for only easy mode? WTF. AT LEAST GIVE US THE OPTION TO CHOOSE IT FOR HARD!!!

  4. Darthmalus says:

    Whenever Gabe says “it’s in testing” read (i don’t know). Cuz it has been said before by the devs that following your normal questing you shouldn’t miss out on any companion. The devs that answered that even said that it’s not like Kotor where you could miss a companion.

    Regarding crew leveling skills it was said at pax that, yes you could lvl max skill without going over like 15. First a dev even said that lvl one but then another dev said “uhh maybe 15 cuz you have to unlock the flight paths”

  5. It’s these mistakes that are both heartbreaking and embarrassing that are the best teachers. I’m sure you won’t make these mistakes again!

    I must admit that I am confused by this interview. When I read that there was a conversation with the game’s lead end-game designer I expect to read something about their end-game and, more importantly, their philosophy regarding the game’s end-game content. I do not expect to read about companions, item mods, or the UI.

    I grant I’m late to this party but I’m new to and the article was one of the three prominently displayed across the top of the page, so presumably it still has considerable significance for this site.

    • It’s always a tossup during interviews, no matter who we talk to, what we get to talk about. If it had solely been an end-game interview, it would have lasted all of about 30 seconds because there’s nothing more they could talk about then they had shown.

      But, I appreciate the feedback and believe me, we want to do better and more in-depth dev interviews when we get the opportunity :)

      • I hear ya, and thanks for the reply.

        I wish there’d at least have been something about the end-game philosophy, even if he didn’t go into details or mechanics. But wishful thinking doesn’t carry much weight. Nonetheless, my best wishes for getting some real meat when you interview him again!

        If it’s a case that he didn’t want to or couldn’t talk about it (insert picture of marketing or PR boogeymen carrying straight jackets) then that’s a bummer. I will admit that my initial frustration was due to may failure to notice when this article was published. Also, when I enter fanboy mode I tend to forget that even devs and executives have rules and guidelines governing what they can say.

        Lastly, a pair of suggestions-cum-requests:

        In future articles you could perhaps put in a little “I wanted to ask but they couldn’t talk about Subject X” clause?

        It’d also be great if you guys could put up a list of questions you wanted to ask versus questions you did or did not ask, be it due to lack of time or other circumstance. That would give us more insight into the way you guys think and if lots of people weigh in on a question that ended up in the “did not ask” column you’ll know to include it next time.

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