Space is big. Really big. And, at least in the Star Wars: Galaxies universe, it just got a bit bigger.
Fresh on the heels of one of the largest updates since the NGE, the SWG development team is in the final testing stages on Chapter 8, which was scheduled to be added to the Test Center servers today.
"It's been a crazy, busy period," said SWG Lead Designer Thomas "Blixtev" Blair. "As one (update) is ending, we start spooling up for the next one."
In Chapter 7, SWG players were presented with a laundry list of new content, including revitalized areas, new epic quests and an entirely integrated collection system that lets players earn badges for various accomplishments from ridding Tatooine of womp rats to building a weapons collection to rival any museum. Chapter 8 is centered around the space game.
"We haven't seen any major issues with 7," Blair said, "so we've been able to concentrate more on 8."
That bit of extra attention turned out to be almost necessary. The Jump to Lightspeed expansion, which introduced the space game, was released three years ago. Since that time, it's remained mostly untouched. Additionally, changes to the development team also posed problems.
"No one here really worked on space," Blair said, "so we had to go talk to the pilots. The pilot community has been great, a big help."
Of course, once the team learned what needed to be fixed and what the players would like to see, they then had to figure out how to make changes. Blair likened the update to working on a European car without any metric tools.
"On top of that, no one's tried to start the car in a couple years," Blair said. "I'd have to guess (Chapter 8) has been one of our most difficult updates. A lot of our tools didn't work."
Once the team adapted, adjusted or created new tools, the work came easier.
"We've added a bunch of things and a lot of long-standing bugs have been knocked out," Blair said.
At the top is the list is the expansion of the collections system into space, opening new avenues for players to earn badges.
"We also added a new space zone," Blair said. "Ord Mantell comes with a new, landable space station, Nova Orion, where players can land their ships and hang out. We also made it a quest hub for some very difficult, master-level quests."
Along that line, the team added a new Heroic Encounter players can access in Aurilia. Like the others, groups of players will face a series of challenges leading to a final epic battle with a powerful enemy. Unlike the others, players may have to find their own transport. This encounter takes place on an Imperial Star Destroyer.
According to Blair, while the Heroic Encounter itself is based on the ground-game, players may have to hire a pilot, or make sure their group includes one, to "smuggle" them to the Star Destroyer.
"We're hoping the way we've incentivized everything, we'll get a lot of people who haven't been up to give it a try," Blair said.
One of those incentives will be the chapter gift. While Blair declined to describe it, he did say that like Chapter 7's commlink, it will give players a reason to check out the new content.
"We think the chapter gift is pretty nice," Blair said. "It's based around the space game.
"That's something we decided to do, give players something that brings you into the new content rather than just some random item we throw in your inventory."
Aside from expanding collections, adding new territory and quests, the development team has also been enjoying themselves, experimenting with the new gunboat POB ships - one for each of the three pilot factions, Rebel Neutral and Imperial, along with a new single-seat fighter.
"We've spent a lot of time playing around in the new gunboats," Blair said. "These thing are huge. My favorite is the neutral one, by far."
Being gunboats, the new ships have more weapon stations, prompting the team to take a closer look at turret controls.
"We've adjusted the gimballing in the turrets, making them easier to use," Blair said. "Fighting in a turret is a much more pleasurable experience."
And these ships won't have the troublesome blind spots that are the bane of their NPC brethren.
"That's one of the major failings of the AI," Blair said. "You can get in a blind spot and stay there. You can't do that with these."
Players can log into the Test Center servers and check things out for themselves. Just remember to check the hyperdrive. It's a long walk back.