Developer Blogs

02.04.2011

Building Flashpoints

Introduction

Hi, my name is Jesse Sky, and I'm a World Designer for Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. My team builds Flashpoints. And in our spare time? We build more Flashpoints. Our job is to test the mettle of you would-be heroes. We work alongside some of the best creative talent in the galaxy to deliver unparalleled multiplayer story experiences.

What is a Flashpoint?

A Flashpoint is a galactic crisis, something so threatening that even the most stalwart heroes must bring allies. The Death Star was a Flashpoint. Luke and Obi-wan spent a few minutes LFG in the Mos Eisley Cantina where they enlisted the aid of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Together, they infiltrated a moon-sized battle station to rescue Princess Leia. Things didn't go quite as they expected; difficult choices were made along the way. That's a Flashpoint in a nutshell.

In game terms, a Flashpoint is a challenging, cooperative mission that takes place entirely within an instance, which only your group can enter. While adventuring, you’ll be alerted to a crisis developing somewhere in the galaxy. That’s when you know it’s time to contact some friends and buckle up for an epic battle.

Designing a Flashpoint

Every Flashpoint starts with an idea – usually something along the lines of “What if...?” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if...?” Our writers take this idea and run it through a grueling process of peer review and painstaking revision until they’ve shaped it into something formidable. When it’s complete, they present us with a document that outlines the essentials of the story and setting. Once we’re all on the same page, they start writing the dialogue, and we start planning the mission.

Planning usually starts on a dry-erase board. Let’s say this Flashpoint takes place on a space station. Well, what kind of space station is it? How do you get aboard? Can we divide it into sections? What can we do to make each section unique and interesting? Is there room for a sandcrawler? We experiment with a lot of different layouts, but we always try to keep the player moving forward.

A key part of planning is building action around the narrative. The mission can usually be broken down into sequences of connected events – conversations, boss battles, and other objectives. To get the player from one objective to the next, we try to infuse each section with as much action as the story allows. That means enemy movement, changes in the environment, and explosions. Lots of explosions.

Think of the Death Star – Luke and his friends didn’t wander around aimlessly shooting Imperials. They had a plan: rescue the princess, deactivate the tractor beam, and escape in the Millennium Falcon. Of course, things didn’t go quite as planned. They had to deal with a legion of Stormtroopers and a dianoga in the garbage compactor. Before they could escape, Obi-Wan was killed in a confrontation with Vader. Maybe next time you won’t split the party, Kenobi.

Of course, not every mission is linear. Instancing buys us a lot of flexibility to change the course of your experience based on decisions you make. You may find that moral choices come with more consequences than an alignment shift. You may also find that completing bonus objectives opens secret doors for you – or new avenues to victory.

Building a Flashpoint

Once we’ve decided on the structure of the mission, we start building. At this point, we become concerned with your visual experience. It would be a shame if the whole mission took place in a series of identical hallways, right? We strive for a lot of visual diversity in the environments. For example, the Taral V Flashpoint takes you through a jungle, an exterior outpost, and then deep into an Imperial research facility.

We build set pieces for both boss battles and multiplayer conversations. As much as possible, we try to move you between large, open spaces and smaller, claustrophobic spaces. Every now and then we throw in something crazy. We know we’ve done our job right when the artists react with a mixture of enthusiasm and annoyance.

Combat is of course a key part of what makes Flashpoints exciting. Naturally we include a number of challenging bosses, but we also work hard to make the spaces between them interesting. We try to avoid the design pitfall of filling areas with ‘yard trash.’ Fighting through legions of enemies is part of what makes the cooperative gameplay feel heroic, but we find it helps if your enemies do more than just stand around waiting to be attacked.

The real challenge of building a Flashpoint is balancing momentum with storytelling. We want you to feel like you are the heroes in a Star Wars action sequence, but we also want to give you opportunities to roleplay with your friends. The combat is made meaningful because we place it in the context of an epic struggle with cinematic storytelling. At the heart of every Flashpoint is a conflict that you have some personal stake in. We never want you to lose sight of that.

Combat in Flashpoints

For more of an insight into combat in Flashpoints, I asked Georg Zoeller, our Lead Combat Designer for a few more details. Here’s Georg:

The combat experience in Flashpoints can differ radically from combat in the open world. We aim to tightly integrate the story with the types of enemies the Flashpoint calls for, their AI behavior and their abilities, creating unique scenarios seen nowhere else in the game.
For example, when defending a Republic vessel from being boarded by Imperial forces as part of the Esseles Flashpoint in the early game, players will have to deal with breach pods full of commando forces cutting through the hull while trying to reach the bridge – all while the ship is being rocked by explosions from heavy laser fire. Here, we’re trying to create the unpredictable sense of excitement you get when playing a game like the original Star Wars™: Knights of the Old Republic™.
Flashpoints also feature some of the toughest combat challenges in the game. Flashpoints in The Old Republic will require a full group of players to succeed.
Numbers alone won’t be enough either - with a cast of adversaries among the most memorable and powerful in the game and scenarios that often leave the party with impossible choices, players are expected to show superior coordination and skill in order to overcome the challenges ahead.
The combat team is hard at work to ensure that each of the pivotal Flashpoint battles provides its own set of challenges to a group of experienced players, and we certainly hope you enjoy them.

What sets Flashpoints apart?

If you're familiar with other massively-multiplayer games, you've probably run a ‘dungeon’ or two. Ever found yourself wondering, “What am I doing here?” or “Why the blazes am I fighting these green guys?” Has it ever felt like a glorified slot machine? Is your screen filled with so many numbers that you forget you’re supposed to be having fun? Our goal is to make sure that never happens.

We also have to contend with your incredible class story. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, you come to closely identify with your character. You should never feel like a cog in a loot-generation machine – you’re a champion of the Sith or a hero of the Republic. You’ve got a number of very urgent missions, and we want Flashpoints to be worthy of your time and attention.

At the end of a Flashpoint, you’ll have more than just shiny new items – you’ll have developed your character. You’ll have the satisfaction of righting wrongs (or wronging rights). And to top it off, you’ll have learned something about your friends (“You seem more evil today. Are you evil?”).

I played the original Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic alongside my roommate in college. We tried to imagine how cool it would be to join forces and take on greater challenges together. I never dreamed it would actually happen, much less that I’d be working on it. It’s called a Flashpoint, and it’s gonna be great.

Jesse Sky
World Designer