Star Wars The Old Republic: Artless in Alderaan

 By Shamus Jul 16, 2012 110 comments

swtor_artless.jpg

People have been heaping shame on Star Wars: The Old Republic for months now. I can’t hope to add anything new, so the best I can manage is to just say everything again, only longer and with more digressions. You know how we do things around here.

The art, like everything else in SWTOR, is never truly awful. It’s just bland. Ordinary. Safe. Unremarkable. There are little flashes of brilliance in there if you’re willing to sift for them, but this game does not deliver an experience in keeping with the standards set by BioWare or the reported two hundred million that was spent on it. There is something unbearably sterile about The Old Republic.

Now, I am not an artist, as I’ve proven many times in the past. I don’t have an eye for it and so I don’t know how to really dig down and explain things when things go wrong. But I ask that you humor me while I try to grope around and figure this out. This is a really important failing of the game, and it’s worth dissecting.

OBVIOUSLY I am not talking about graphics. This should go without saying, but art and graphics are two different things. I’m not faulting the game because I want Crysis-level graphics or whatever. World of Warcraft is a great example of a game where primitive graphics and stellar art design makes for a world that is visually rich, varied, and filled with atmosphere. There are places in WoW that I look forward to, simply because of the mood they project. The creepy dread of Darkshire. The storybook warmth of Elwynn Forest. The quiet serenity of Ashenvale. I haven’t run into anywhere in SWTOR that feels like anything in particular. The world is just polygons under your feet.

BioWare generally does fantastic art, and for me one of the big things I love about their games is running around the world and looking at the sights. Jade Empire is an exquisitely crafted world, a visual feast. Mass Effect and Dragon Age managed to show off some really impressive set-piece areas. Remember the time on Eden Prime when you reached the top of the hill and saw Sovereign taking off in the distance? The contrast between the temple and the surrounding countryside in Dantooine? This is something they’re usually good at.

Here is the very start of the game as a Bounty Hunter:

swtor_welcome.jpg

Orange, brown, beige, tan, and taupe. That is a very narrow band of hues. Note how there aren’t even any rich, deep colors or any whites. There’s very little variance in saturation. Topping off the blandness is the complete lack of contrast. The light sources don’t seem to shed light, the dark corners of the room aren’t very dark. Heck, even the player character blends in with this soup of earth tones. Welcome to the game! Feast your eyes on our galactic meh!

This is supposedly from the area of the game ruled by the Hutts, and I’m sure the art team took their direction from Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi, with a bit of Tatooine slums thrown in. But if you watch Return of the Jedi, you’ll notice that Jabba’s palace was more than just a cavalcade of orange. It had tight, focused lights that provided a lot of contrast. A lot of the lights were very blue. The characters usually stood out from the background. This game doesn’t have any of that. Someone saw that the building was brown, and so they issued the decree to the art team: Thou shalt make it brown, yea, even unto the ends of the world.

Lest you accuse me of cherry-picking, here is a shot from a totally different planet.

swtor_contrast1.jpg

That’s the big reveal of your ship at the start of the game when you play as a smuggler. This is supposed to be a “Golly-wow!” moment, and it looks like a 30 year old Polaroid or something. The entire image is so muted and everything blends together that nothing really stands out. Here is the exact same shot, after I fiddled with some color and contrast controls in Photoshop.

swtor_contrast2.jpg

Again, I Am Not An Artist (IANAA) but you can see that with even my rudimentary understanding of image and color theory that we have a massive improvement here. You’ve still got the same distant, dreamy horizon, and you’ve still got blue light shining on the scene. But now the environment stands out from the background and the ship stands out from the environment. We’ve got contrasting oranges and blues instead of all pale blue, everywhere.

Just imagine how much of an improvement a REAL artist could make if they were messing with the in-game assets and not just fiddling with a screenshot.

And no, this problem is not limited to just one planet. In fact, the previous example might be one of the least horrible examples of this problem. The person responsible for the MAXIMUM ORANGE color filter on Hutta should be arrested and tried as an art criminal.

swtor_color.jpg

That’s an unaltered screenshot. It’s actually a magnificent arrangement of elements, but everything is about the same hue and occupies the same narrow range of the brightness spectrum. There’s so little contrast that nothing “pops”. I understand that this area of the world is supposed to be “polluted” but you shouldn’t need to kill the visuals for the entire zone to make that point. In general, your expensive set-piece assets should not blend with the backdrop.

On the other hand, I can point to a couple of other one-color areas in previous BioWare games that seemed to work really well. Plus, some of the tombs on Korriban have ultra-saturated lighting of reds, purples, and greens, and those areas still seemed sort of monotonous. Heck, games like Limbo have no color at all and can still evoke a powerful atmosphere. So while the narrow hue focus is problematic, I don’t think it’s the root of the artistic malaise.

swtor_empty2.jpg

On top of the homogeneous colors, a lot of areas in the game also have homogeneous architecture. It can be agonizing running around the Sith Academy where you’re charging down one long, techno-lit corridor after another. Everything looks the same and it’s easy to get turned around because the place feels like it’s made from prefab copy & pasted bits. The above corridor isn’t bad looking, but once you run down this long corridor, turn a corner, and run down another corridor just like it, you will begin to feel the boredom in your spine.

Jedi Knight was drawing from the exact same architectural palette and it took a lot longer to become wearisome. Heck, Oblivion and Skyrim use prefab bits, but they still manage to have a lot of variety. Sure, you get bored after a dozen or so hours of tombs, but in SWTOR I was visually bored almost as soon as I arrived.

I think the difference here is that the spaces in SWTOR are too large by a factor of four. In Jedi Knight and Force Unleashed, you could move at ridiculous speeds and fought entire armies of guys at once, and once you cleared an area you never saw it again. You used that huge space and you had the means to cross it quickly. In SWTOR you’re usually traversing the same couple of corridors dozens of times as you go between the quest zone and the quest givers. There’s no gameplay here, and there’s nothing that demands all this space.

swtor_empty.jpg

Rooms are immense. Hallways are long. Open areas feel empty. I can think of a few places in KOTOR that felt like this, but almost everything in SWTOR suffers from this overabundance of empty space. Maybe they need to keep the floor wide and open because this is an MMO, but I can point to any inn they have in World of Warcraft. Those places are much, much smaller, are far more crowded, and seem to work just fine. Even if crowd control was a concern, that doesn’t explain why we have these huge, bare walls. Hang up some tapestries. Suspend some techno lights from the ceiling. Hang some quasi-fascist flags around the place. Stencil stuff on the walls. Add some decorative alcoves. You know, whatever. Just break up these bare walls. (To be fair, they do all of the above in various places, but the places where they don’t are an eyesore.)

This world seems too “clean”. One of the big surprises of Star Wars: A New Hope was this version of a high-tech world where everything looked used and lived-in. There was clutter and dirt around the edges. Machines showed signs of wear and tear. Most of the buildings and machinery in this game are too pristine. Even the slums seem to be fastidiously cleaned.

The art in this game is aimed at a really strange spot on the realism spectrum. The shapes are simple and clean, as if this was a stylized world like Fable, Beyond Good & Evil, or World of Warcraft. But SWTOR doesn’t seem to evoke the kind of whimsy you would expect from that sort of style. The textures are colored with an eye towards realism, not vibrancy. What we end up with is the worst of both worlds. It’s not detailed enough to give you the grit of photo-realism, but it’s not vibrant and colorful enough to create a sense of wonder.

swtor_dollhouse.jpg

What’s the deal with this room? The room feels much too big for the furniture, and the furniture feels to big for the people. You could excuse this as “alien” furniture, but since the room is inhabited exclusively by humanoids I don’t think that excuse works. This was a space made by someone who knew how to use their tools but hasn’t yet honed their craft. It’s big, empty, bland, flat, and everything feels a little off because the lack of a cohesive art style.

It doesn’t help that the game has almost nothing in the way of a soundscape. The swamps aren’t alive with croaking, chirping, droning wildlife. We don’t hear a chorus birds in the jungles. We don’t hear the roar of busy machinery in industrial areas. The echo of moving air in a cavernous tomb. The howling wind over desolate, sand-blasted ruins. The trickle of flowing water. Nothing. The only sound of note is the pervasive white-noise murmur of starship-type stuff, which shows up a lot and always sounds the same. Even the music in the cantinas feels like it’s coming out of your personal MP3 player, not like it’s booming out of the space-speakers and bouncing around inside a spacious room.

Compare this to World of Warcraft, where every zone seems to have its own voice. SWTOR feels mute in comparison.

swtor_tython.jpg

Above: Just to be fair, here’s a shot of one of the more visually interesting starting areas. They’re still using the color filter like a crutch, and it would be better with more saturation and contrast, but at least we have variety of colors and structures that stand out from the background.

I think this lackluster art is a big part of what people mean when they say that SWTOR feels like a free-to-play online game. The visuals lack the polish and splendor that you’d expect from a big-name studio. It all comes off as dull or amateurish. I suspect this is what happens when you try to solve a production problem by throwing money at it. Yes, you can hire out of the pool of artistic clone troopers that Game Developer Colleges are pumping out these days. Yes, you can pay those people $butt to work seventy hour weeks in order to to mass-produce game assets. But you aren’t going to have a lovingly crafted work of art when you’re done. You need people with both skill and experience, and then you need to give them time to do their jobs. If you don’t, then you’re going to have a sterile world with no heart.

World of Warcraft is more than just a giant skinner box of well-tuned mechanics. It’s a vibrant playground where the music, the architecture, the soundscape, and the lighting all combine to create an atmosphere and set a tone.

And don’t tell me SWTOR isn’t “trying to beat WoW”. They spent 200 million on this thing. It actually doesn’t matter if they want to beat WoW or not. They did not use their assets wisely, and we got a game that was much less than it could have been.


A Hundred!10110 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!


  1. X2Eliah says:

    Huh. Yeah, lots of those screengrabs really do look awful, you’re spot on about the overall “meh” tone they have.

    I wonder.. Maybe some part of the *feeling* that SWTOR is a people-less empty game devoid of players is because apparently everything is so huge in terms of areas that there is never even an opportunity for people to create any sort of a crowd?

    • I think there are a number of factors at work, but the bland environments don’t help any. It was pretty freakin’ crowded during the beta when I played, but by the time my housemate picked up a subscription about 2 months later, the place looked deserted, to the point where it was kind of a big deal when he’d run across somebody doing more or less what he was doing.

      I prefer the visuals in Dungeons and Dragons Online. The graphics quality is much, much lower, but the colors are bright and vibrant, they use the whole color wheel and just about every level of brightness and saturation, and the areas are ENORMOUS but they don’t WASTE SPACE. Nothing feels empty or over-large.

      • Kdansky says:

        Yes, DDO actually looks quite good. It’s just sad that they killed the game by slowing down character progress to a crawl, and you have to replay every mission five times until you finally get a new one, or shell out significant money to unlock more missions.

        I’d rather pay 50$ once, and level five times as fast, play through it once or twice and then be done with it, along the lines of GW. But that’s not exploitative enough, is it?

        • Muspel says:

          DDO also has the issue of a bizarre difficulty curve, and being very newbie unfriendly. Every build is heavily gear-reliant, and the gear that drops in quests is generally about four levels below where you’ll be. As a result, you’re forced to buy gear off the AH to keep up, but that stuff gets expensive very quickly.

          Also, monsters get increasingly ridiculous hit roll bonuses at mid-levels, and it only gets worse from there. If you’re not purely focused on tanking and raising your AC, then it’s useless because they’ll hit you 95% of the time anyways. And there’s no real way to meaningfully mitigate physical damage, because unlike WoW or other games, you can’t get any %based mitigation, only avoidance. And mobs tend to hit for insane amounts of damage on Elite.

          All of this is really too bad, because like DC Universe Online, I really wanted to like DDO. They have a lot of great ideas, like encouraging you to put a lot of utility in your build, and making each dungeon a war of attrition, but a lot of the other design decisions that surround that tend to ruin the whole experience for me.

          • In the latest patch they actually re-tuned gear drops so you can pick up decent gear as you go along. You won’t be soloing elite difficulty, but you can hold your own.

            They’ve also added epic levels as well as making the endgame content substantially easier because you don’t have to play it on “stupid difficulty” any more.

            Granted, some of the changes have been a little . . . odd. But almost all of them have been good.

          • Velkrin says:

            Actually with U14 Armor Class was rejiggered to an extreme.

            AC now provides a % based mitigation to physical damage. There’s also a change to dodge attacks (no physical damage) along with the other various forms of damage prevention/reduction, which I’ll list below.

            Physical:
            Physical Damage Reduction (%) (Class, AC, feats w/ equipment)
            Damage Reduction (#) (Racial, class, enhancement, equipment)
            Stoneskin (spell)
            Blur (Spell)
            Ghostly (Equipment)
            Displacement (Spell)

            Magical:
            Resist [element]
            Protection from [element]
            Shield/Nightshield (Protects against magic missile only)
            % based element reduction (equipment, epic destinies)
            Fireshield Hot/Cold (50% reduction on Cold/Fire spells)

            Many of the spells listed above can be either found in random loot or can be crafted (build your own) in order to receive the desired effects.

        • They’ve actually fixed this issue for the most part, although free-to-play still has limitations.

          Also $9.99 a month unlocks all content, all races, and all classes (er, except the Menace of the Underdark expansion, not sure exactly how that works with the paid subscription). I wouldn’t consider that a “significant amount” of money. It’s like buying 1 DLC pack a month.

      • Jeff says:

        DDO was gorgeous. They really did the city justice, and even repetitive sewers managed to be graphically interesting.

        I waffled between choosing Ranger or Wizard, and unfortunately choose Wizard. Unfortunate because I stopped for a while and then tried to pick it back up, and it’s ridiculously hard to relearn how to play a double-digit Wizard. A warrior class would have been much easier.

        Ah well, I’m on Star Trek Online now.

    • Eric says:

      I think the problem is more that they simply took the most cookie-cutter art direction imaginable. SWtoR has nothing unique about it. It is like one giant melting pot of every cliche in MMO artwork ever, exacerbated by its huge budget and team size.

      Character designs are not the result of some grand artistic vision, but an attempt to coldly, precisely compute an amalgam of styles in such a way as to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, cartoonish enough to be inviting and impressionistic, but realistic enough to not turn any of the “hardcore” fans off.

      Environments are at once majestic and have nothing to say. They are simply large, open spaces with no real level design logic, no attempt at creating any sort of emotional response. It’s simply a space for players to inhabit while they go about their dull fetch quests, intended to convey the impression of magnitude and scale without having anything in the gameplay at all to support it.

      Colours are heavily filtered and processed not in an attempt to enhance what is already there and bring out a bit more character, but to visually differentiate what are otherwise almost completely identical-looking locations. X and Y are “the green planet” or “the blue planet” because they have no real distinguishing features otherwise.

      Maybe that comes across as a bit cynical, but nothing about The Old Republic has even a hint of charisma behind it. It is a project of such scale that any enthusiasm on the part of the developers has been completely swallowed up. The reason everything looks like a copy-pasted, repetitive mess is because that is exactly what it is, and anything else would not suit the game’s production-line development. Nothing against those who worked on the game, but you just can’t make something as huge as this without cutting corners.

  2. Zombie says:

    The Jedi Knight Starting zone (The last picture he had) is one of the few places that has a lot of different colors in one zone. Almost every other zone is full of Orange, brown and gray (Balmora) or Grey and blue (Any planet with a major city, excluding The Sith home world, which is kinda cool with the whole Rainforest feel. The jungle and the feeling that it was always raining was fun). Hoth was different, it used *drumroll* WHITE and blue. Lets give the Bioware art team a round of applause, they used a different color in a zone. I never got farther than Hoth before I quit, so I have no idea about the other areas, but if their any different then the others, I will withdraw my complaint.

  3. Aldowyn says:

    I wish to point out that WoW seems to use color filters to a ludicrous degree, but I certainly can’t deny that it has more contrast than most of those pictures. Although I didn’t really notice while I was playing my trial…

    • Scerro says:

      If I have the correct idea of what a color filter is, WoW does it pretty horribly in a few places. The most noticeable is when you’re flying from the Storm Peaks in Northrend into Dalaran. You can see the colors of Dalaran from the Storm Peaks zone, and when you get into it, the colors of just the tips of the buildings become bright and brilliant instead of the dull blue of the Storm Peaks.

      However, they still provide good contrast, as well as making most zones feel properly colored when transitioning on the ground.

  4. Amarsir says:

    I don’t know if you can go there on your trial account (certainly you can’t do the content yet), but Alderaan is gorgeous. Which in no way contradicts anything you’ve said – in fact it probably stands out more because of that uniqueness.

    More interesting to me is that you touched on how games approach scale. Compare City of Heroes to Champions Online. In CoH the scale of play is much bigger: you shoot farther and move faster. You can jump over a small building just using combat-movement alone, let alone a travel power. So you go into an office and even a low ceiling is 5x the height of a doorway, but it feels (to me) natural because you occupy more space than your character literally takes up. CO is quite different: movement is a much more realistic speed compared to body size and you can’t just hop up on a balcony so I expect rooms there to feel more compact.

    (And interestingly enough, CoH has collisions so a tank can physically block a doorway to protect ranged / healers behind him. CO like WoW and most MMOs skips that check so you can run through a guy. Both have plusses and minuses though I respect the difficulty of the former. But my point is to consider how it works with the scale.)

    SWTOR has a scale that looks like it should have a longer reach than it does. Movement constantly feels slow even if there’s not a tremendous amount of travel time. And I frequently find I’m trying to attack from out of range, compared to a WoW or something where I more often found myself closer than needed. So when you talk about the immense space there, I don’t know if it was misplanned or just something they’d never considered. But you’re right, it doesn’t feel appropriate.

    • Zombie says:

      I felt Alderaan looked like any other planet with a city feel to it. Greys and blues, only this time they threw some snow in (right next to a wide open plain of grass, but whatever), some green, and some brown and orange for the caves and such. Nothing special, but it was a pain to get from one area to another, and it was at least twice as big as any previous zone in the game.

      • Kerin says:

        World of Warcraft’s color filters are generally less saturated*, and it’s important to stress that WoW’s filters are used in addition to, not instead of, art direction.

        *Except in half of Outland. Or the snowy parts of Northrend. Or anywhere any type of elf lives. Or Duskwood. Or the Badlands.

  5. Dave B says:

    Yes, you can hire out of the pool of artistic clone troopers that Game Developer Colleges are pumping out these days.

    It seems to me that these environments demonstrate a lack of an "artistic eye". Which raises the question: who is responsible for the artistic direction of this game? From a glance I might assume that the person (or people) who chose the colors, filters, etc. were not artists. The words "design by committee" spring to mind.

    What do you think? Am I being unfair to Bioware (and their art department)?

    • Naota says:

      It’s also possible that these areas were simply made by people who didn’t have the experience with art theory to craft a pleasing scene from the assets they were given. It’s not necessarily committee design – hell, I’m a 3D artist and I’ve made these same mistakes myself in past projects. The study of aesthetics is a maddeningly complex thing. It’s easy to shoot for “sandy and warm” and get “brown, flat, and dull”, turn everything monotone with overzealous colour correction, or completely wash out a scene by adding fog when you really wanted to add to the atmosphere.

      Unless you’re specifically planning out the colour palette, lighting, and mood of a scene before you make it, then making sure to stick to your choices, odds are good you’ll end up with this problem: good assets that could look great with a few simple edits, but turn out poorly for lack of understanding.

      • BenD says:

        I’d actually guess all of this was art-directed by a non-artist who said, ‘Make it feel gritty and modern, like that game Brown Stuff Shooting Brown Stuff 4,’ and the artists threw up their hands and did it. In fact, the fact that they’re leaning heavily on filters to make the environment more bland than it might probably be without them suggests it was a decision made by higher-ups and this was the plebe artists’ way of making it happen without ruining the assets completely… in case some day, people wake up and realize that most of real-life Planet Earth is not in fact covered in a dust cloud 24 hours a day. A… magically still, evenly distributed dust cloud.

  6. Svick says:

    I guess I didn’t notice any distinct sounds in TOR, but I certainly did notice the music. And I think that it was fantastic at times.

    And I don’t mean the cantina music, I mean for example when you’re traveling though the Tatooine desert.

    • Taellosse says:

      Agreed, much of the soundtrack is quite good. But he has a real point about the ambient sound. The enemies have some cycling sound sets, and there’ll be the sounds of fighting if anyone else is nearby, but the kind of background noise you’d expect in these places (rustling leaves and grass on Tython or Dromund Kaas, windblown sand or snow on Tatooine or Hoth) is surprisingly sparse. Even the noisy city planets, like Coruscant and Nar Shadaa, aren’t as raucous as you’d expect – they should have a constant dull roar of conversation, the hum of generators, the buzz of neon, dopplering speeders (there’s some of this, but not nearly enough). I didn’t realize it myself, really, until he pointed it out, but in my memory, yes, there’s absolutely not enough ambient noise pretty much everywhere.

  7. John Magnum says:

    It’s weird. Living spaces in video games tend to, by default, be built to a much larger scale than real ones. With no proprioception and no ability to twist your body into a slimmer profile to squeeze through spaces (Say, between rows of chairs at a theater) and with a giant rectangular hitbox, every area has to be oversized just so you aren’t constantly banging up against clutter.

    And then for MMOs they take that universal video game overscaled-rooms effect and magnify it a millionfold. Sometimes it works really well, if there’s contrast. For instance, in LOTRO, the Dwarven crafting hall back in their home region is massive, and indeed it’s far more massive than almost any other structure you’re in for a long time afterward. And then it actually feels like this vast center of their culture, rather than just “The designers don’t know how big living spaces actually are”.

    • Dave B says:

      Look at the starship interiors in Star Trek Online. I finally came to the (hilarious) conclusion that some cataclysmic event in the backstory of the game caused every living being to be shrunk to about 1/4 normal size. That’s the only way to explain the cavernous rooms, and monolithic reactor cores. Now I can’t un-see it.

  8. Cody211282 says:

    The game felt very much like it was trying to go for “gritty realism” with the color pallet and the game suffers for it. One of the big draws(at least for me)in a MMO is exploring and seeing everything I can. This kept me wondering an area in WoW much longer then I should have just so I could look and find everything. TOR on the other hand is really really boring to wonder around in and explore, thus taking away most my enjoyment in the game.

    • Zombie says:

      Whenever I got lost in WoW, I got a little frustrated, but I might find something I never would have, like a hut with a quest in it or something. In SW:TOR I got downright mad when I got lost, and I would skip quests just so I could get off planets. I always ignored those “Stay here for longer!” missions when you were done with the planet, because if im done with a zone, im not gong to stay there for any longer then I have to.

  9. Lalaland says:

    I picked up KOTOR again on the weekend (at €2.50 how could I not, damn you Newell!!) and even on the first world the walkways are busy with NPCs. Yes they’re obviously copy/pasted everywhere but this was an XBOX 1 game from 2003 and it can do open space better than a brand new MMO!?!

    I had been torn between trying SWTOR and picking up KOTOR and Force Unleashed but having played KOTOR until 3am last night I think I can say I made the right choice. I forgot how much fun those NPCs were and how much more KOTOR felt like Star Wars than any other game before or since (excepting Saint Tie of the Fighter of course). I’ll wait until SWTOR goes full F2P before I give it a go, in the mean time is there anywhere to buy KOTOR2?

    I really enjoyed KOTOR2 right up until the ‘huh why am I on a grey planet for 5 minutes prior to the final cutscene’ moment. I’d love to try it with some of the fan restored content, has anyone here done that and how much of it is fan fic. stuff versus actual cut content?

    • Lord of Rapture says:

      I don’t remember any of the fan-patches that had anything but cut-content.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      I’m pretty sure that the restored content mod has only dev made stuff. Huge (and mean HUGE) chunks of the game were made and then cut for time restraints. Some of it was practically playable and it’s original state and most of it was fully scripted and even voice acted. The mod simply puts it back into the game.

    • Irridium says:

      The restoration mod only restores cut content. And it restores quite a bit at that.

      As for buying it though, that’s a bit harder. Only place I can think of is Amazon.

    • Lalaland says:

      Excellent! I saw a comment somewhere in the past that suggested there were some quests that were only 50% complete and were restored by adding fan content.

      Now I just need to find some online store willing to sell it bloody IP disputes robbing me of my old games :(

      • Tse says:

        You can try to find a used copy on ebay.

        • Entropy says:

          Heh, well if you’re in the UK, I’ve seen KotOR II in GAME a few times in the 3 for £10 section.

          • Lalaland says:

            Oh really…. You mean there’s something other than copies of Stalker and Theme Hospital in those bins? I’m in Ireland so Game are gone but those lazy shelves are in a few local shops so that’s worth a look.

            I live in fear of EBay despite everyone I know having had nothing but good experiences, a childhood spent learning the antiques trade has left me naturally suspicious of strangers offering goods for sale in informal settings…..

  10. MatthewH says:

    IANAA either. I wonder, though, if they were trying to take a page from the original Star Wars. Tatooine and Hoth were pretty monochromatic locales. Somehow they worked in the film. Without putting much thought into it, my first guess is that while individual scenes may be a lot of brown and tan, those scenes are intercut with the grays and whites of Star Destroyers, the jungles of Yavin, the bright clothing of Bespin, and so forth.

    • Zombie says:

      Well. we were only on both Hoth and Tatooine for a short time, maybe 30 minutes each, while you’re there in the game for HOURS killing things. HOURS of looking at deserts and ice as far as the eye can see.

    • guy says:

      There was a good bit of contrast off the characters in both of those places. The greys and oranges of the opposing forces on Hoth stuck out vividly, while Tatooine was filled with exotic aliens of all shades.

      • SleepingDragon says:

        Also, in most movies you may get a panorama shot for a little while but you’ll be generally focused on the characters and events. In fact you don’t want stuff in the background drawing attention away so if you have some setting that is potentially too distracting (like a futuristic throneroom with all sorts of oddly shaped, oddly dressed alien courtiers) you tune it out with camera focus. In MMOs very often those background “to be tuned out” movie images is what the player will be watching quite often.

        • MatthewH says:

          I agree. Movies are not MMOs. And my recollection is that Tatooine in Star Wars Galaxies was actually a fairly interesting place. I distinctly remember climbing a mountain just to watch a herd of banthas wander the nearby valley. Of course, I remember it largely because 30 seconds after I stopped I got shish-kebobbed by a Tusken Raider – I don’t remember if I could actually see the banthas or not.

  11. I think a lot of these problems stem from the original art design being poorly conceived.

    In the Bioware studio where I worked, the halls were lined with the original art concepts for the ships and the environments. I remember walking down the hall one day with a coworker, who offhandedly remarked, “You know, NONE of these pictures really say ‘Star Wars’ to me. They all just look like generic spaceships in a generic universe.” Sadly, I agreed with him.

    Boring, homogeneous concepts beget a boring homogeneous game.

    • Kdansky says:

      I am interested to hear about your experiences creating that game, if you are allowed and inclined to tell about them. Also, your blog does not have enough updates to satiate my needs!

      • Thanks, Kdansky! Send me an email or connect with me on Facebook. I’d be happy to tell you everything you ever didn’t want to know about working at a game studio.

        As for my blog – I would like to post more often than I do, but I find it difficult to play bad MMO’s fast enough and simultaneously find something FUNNY enough to write about. It’s tougher than I imagined it would be!

    • Lalaland says:

      I think this is an example of expanded universe rot, as the books/comics/art has expanded beyond what was in the original three films the distinctive Ron Cobb/Ralph McQuarrie aesthetic was lost. I bought a lot of the “Illustrated Guides to ….” in the Star Wars universe and it was clear newer designers could not escape from the trap of trying to ‘clean up’ the older style by removing the ‘warts’ from the older designs. It led to bizarre scenarios where older cruder versions of Ep. IV-VI tech looked more advanced in timelines set thousands of years before them.

      This was for me cemented by the design of Padme’s Cruiser thing from Episode 1 which looked like it was ripped straight from a 1930s comic with it’s chrome finish and Art Deco lines. It was the focus on daft things such as warning labels, exhaust burns and wear patterns that made the original films feel ‘real’. Impossible shiny things that don’t get dirty are sure signs of fantasy just as much as dragons fighting knights in impossibly white robes. In fact the design aesthetics are reversed in the new films with the good guys getting shiny smooth toys and the bad guys getting knobbly lumpy kit.

      • I agree with this comment!

        Back in the late 90s I was reading an interview with one of the production designers over at Industrial Light and Magic and he was talking about the Special Edition of Episode 4. The expansion of Tatoonie to be more specific. In the interview he talked of new hires who had built some speeders to place in the Mos Eisley (sp?) sequence. The production designer said that the designs were “interesting” but not really what made up Star Wars. He then went and got a box full of stuff you’d find in any garage; old plumbing pipes, piece of electrical stuff, anything dirty, beat up and used. He poured it out on the table and said, “this is Star Wars.”

        Another interesting thing about the original movies is that the bad guys always had very precise and usually very angular ships and tech but the good guys always had organically shaped ships and tech that always looked like it had been patched together.

    • Falling says:

      Interesting, but I definitely agree. When I played the game, it felt first like a Bioware sci fi world and only second as a Star Wars world. It’s hard to explain, but a lot of building design looks like it could fit into the Mass Effect world just as easily if not more easily.

  12. Phill says:

    I’d have to agree with Amarsir above that Alderann was rather nice looking – it was the first zone since the jedi starter planet that I actually liked the feel of. The city planets were truly horrible experiences. But yew, SWTOR does suffer from a surfeit of vast empty spaces which makes it feel rather uninhabited. The other big hit on the feel of the world was that the great majority of the mobs are virtually static. While they are often ‘doing stuff’ (like repairing a crashed speeder) the net result is that they stay on one place and never move. Which means that each group of mobs is very much a clearly defined group of mobs. Compare this with the WoW open world areas – even the emptiest have a pretty high density of mobs, you can’t (except on roads) cruise for long periods without running in to something, and the mobs all randomly patrol areas with considerable overlap, giving you a fair bit of variation in fights because you have to be aware of what elose is going on around you – at least sometimes.

    Basically, SWTOR, for all the things it does well, ends up feeling over-scripted and rather sterile, and lacking the sense of life and activity that WoW had.

  13. Irridium says:

    The only planets I can remember that stood out for me were Tatooine and Voss.

    Tatooine because it actually had contrast. The sky was very blue, the sand was very bright tan, and the rocks were a lovely shade of dark orange. It doesn’t sound like much, but it actually looks rather nice. Voss because… well I just liked the look of it. Its look is basically autumn plains with some trees around. Probably not that interesting for most, but I really liked it.

  14. Lalaland says:

    Excellent! I saw a comment somewhere in the past that suggested there were some quests that were only 50% complete and were restored by adding fan content.

    Now I just need to find some online store willing to sell it bloody IP disputes robbing me of my old games :(

  15. PurePareidolia says:

    I feel like I should comment given my status as “guy who draws things that have at one point been deemed good enough to be featured on this site”. I haven’t played the game, so I’m mainly going by the posted screenshots.

    Everything’s plastic – There’s not a single visible specular map on anything meaning there are no bright highlights, no deep shadows, no reflections or bouncing colour. Now, you might not think this matters for a stylized game, but think of Team Fortress 2 – there’s actually a tonne of effort put into getting just the right lighting on each object so they properly emulate the style of old advertising posters. The way Valve gets them looking good but keeping them stylized is a combination of knowing where to draw attention, what to make stand out, and how colour and shading should contribute to the look of the object in question.

    Valve make heavy use of rim lighting, shading around clothing folds, specular and bump mapping, as well as the basic colour grading to make each character stand out and look visually interesting. In SWTOR you’re missing almost all of that – look at images 6 and 7 – the characters blend into the background, there’s no real gradient drawing your eye to the important parts of the characters – the chest, face, hands etc. There’s big patches of similar brightness all around the middle of the characters, which diffuse interest rather than directing it. Rim lighting would help make characters ‘pop’ out of samey environments because there’s really no situation in which you want them to blend in outside of stealth skills – the most important part of an MMO is the player characters after all.

    Similarly, the rooms are lit very uniformly – look at number 8, where lights are spaced at regular intervals along the walls for a very even brightness throughout the room. To create visual interest you want to highlight important areas – ie, where you’d find quest NPCs, and darken unimportant areas where the player doesn’t need to direct their attention to. Almost every location shown has a very even amount of lighting outside direct model shadows. Oh, and in #8 the light on the wall with the door doesn’t even look functional – they might as well not have it. In theory the doorway should be well lit, as well as the tables, with maybe a visual centerpiece that the room could be built around given it appears to be some sort of common room. Currently it’s just a brown box with a few chairs ant tables scattered for no apparent reason.

    Now the outdoor spaces – the spaceport is a lot of wasted potential – the ship should be the big focus – you want spotlights, landing lights, multicoloured shipping containers to make the entire area stand out. Those lampposts should be pointed towards the ship, the background should be bright blue or something so the grey spaceport contrasts against it, the ship istelf should have a metallic sheen to it – if The Old Republic setting is before this “used future” it should look it. Alternatively, give it some colour – some patchwork parts where impromptu repairs have been made or the previous owner gave it racing stripes. The major improvement Shamus made was giving it warm colours – the ship in a Bioware game is home – it’s a warm, safe place where you and your motley crew hang out – it should look inviting, not like a piece of scenery.

    The Millenium Falcon (on which the design is obviously based) has subtle colouring, areas of strong contrast around the cockpit, the radar and the gun, with the design making it obvious which the three most important parts of the ship were. In the cockpit windows you can see buttons and controls, and the piping going around the ship makes the parts look interconnected, rather than being a bunch of flat plate metal. – the level of detail remained consistent though, except around the important parts, drawing the eye to them.

    Basically, the design of the Old Republic has two major failings in direction – none of the designs draw the eye to the important parts of the scene/object, and there’s not enough contrast to make anything stand out. Valve puts a lot of time and effort to get even a limited palette to contrast, such as in TF2 or Left 4 Dead. The lack of specularity and rim lighting mean that a lot of materials look very similar and plasticey, and don’t stand out from the environment they’re in. While SWTOR does look to use some environmental normal mapping, you can get a lot of detail out of good speculars especially when your models are going through such limited, diffuse lighting conditions.

    Interesting visuals require contrast, and good grasp of visual storytelling. You need to understand the function of an area, and then design it to support that function – a waiting room should include plants or a fountain or something to break up the monotony, a spaceport should make the ships the star of the show, and detail should always be focused around areas of importance. SWTOR doesn’t seem to do any of this – it’s very function over form – flat, open, no detail or directed lighting, just a space big enough for a lot of people to move around in without having to draw too many extra polygons.

    You know what doesn’t screw up it’s art direction like this? Guild Wars 2.

    • Tuck says:

      Factions, Nightfall and Eye of the North are gorgeous too. I did all the 100% exploration achievements partly because I just loved exploring the beautiful environments.

      Prophecies (and to some extent Factions) really suffered by making its areas too homogeneous (Old Ascalon and the Crystal Desert especially, ugh), but even then there are some little-known beauties spotted about the place.

    • Thank you!

      As I read each of your paragraphs my head was nodding in ever more fervent agreement. You articulated exactly what I’d felt about the game’s art direction from the beginning, but didn’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to adequately express.

      I often remember as I was working on the game (I had NOTHING to do with art design or world building!) I would think to myself, “Why did they put the light source THERE? That makes no sense!”

      But, since I was not an artist, I’m pretty sure that my criticism would not have been well received.

      • X2Eliah says:

        This’ll sound horribly pretentious on my part, I’m sure, given that I only have the viewpoint from the consumer side, but..

        From what I’ve seen on interviews, forums, Bioware panels and so forth.. It seems like not receiving, ignoring, and fussing around criticism is a very huge Bioware problem…

        If I’m allowed to make an observation, then – “It really is telling that during the game’s development, the developers themselves saw dev problems and were unable to do anything about it.”

  16. HBOrrgg says:

    Yeah, color seems to be pretty important. I remember one of the things which stood out to me when I first got Empire at War was the back of the box showing Darth Vader marching his Stormtroopers across a lush, green, flowery meadow.

  17. Meredith says:

    I’m glad to see other people had trouble with this. I played SWTOR last winter on a free weekend and I just keep feeling like I couldn’t see anything, which is ridiculous considering I played on high graphics using a massive HDTV for a monitor. It almost hurt my eyes and I couldn’t pick out any sort of detail in the environments, it all just blurred together. I think it was a large part of the reason I found the game bland and empty (especially compared to KOTOR) and just didn’t want to play. Your point about the too big spaces probably contributed as well.

  18. Matt says:

    I’m pretty sure Quesh was the most orange area I’ve ever seen.

  19. MelTorefas says:

    The horrible color schemes and massively overlarge structures/world were two of the main three things that killed this game for me. Huge structures would work with lots of people/NPCs and the ability to move much much faster. Without them, having to run back and forth across the same landscape over and over became PHYSICALLY PAINFUL for me after awhile. Nothing interesting to look at or do, just auto run and wait (and hope you don’t get aggro from all the three person groups of enemies you have no method of escaping without fighting). Then you get back to the quest givers and have to either sit or skip through pages of dialogue just to get the next quest to go right back to where you were and kill the same group of 3 enemies you’ve been killing since world one.

  20. Phantos says:

    It’s not that you aren’t raising some good points, Shamus. It’s just silly to hear you complain about sterile, forgettable art/level design in one breath… and then praise Mass Effect 1 in the next.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s not silly at all. That’s the point.

      I praised Eden Prime. Sure, Mass Effect had some bad, bland stuff, but I’m comparing BioWare NOW with BioWare of several years ago You say Mass Effect 1 was bland. Okay, but it was still leagues better than SWTOR. Even with this massive buget, they can’t even hit the mark set by Mass Effect.

      • Cody211282 says:

        I think one of the best Bioware games to compare this to would be Jade Empire. The art direction in that game was fantastic and colorful and this one is very…. grey.

        But then again I could be remembering the game threw nostalgia glasses and be completely wrong about this.

        • lurkey says:

          Nah, I recently replayed it and it’s still exceptionally pretty. On the other hand, maybe connoisseurs of the brown (they must exist, right? Why else brown dominates games?) would mock me for liking those bright, loud, unsubtle purples and violets.

          • Cody211282 says:

            There can’t be anyone who honestly believes that the real world is as brown as video games though. Hell I live in Southern Utah were we only have shades of brown and rust and yet it’s not as brown as 90% of games that come out now. Are the budgets getting so tight that they couldn’t afford the entire color wheel?

          • Skyy_High says:

            I just had an argument with my sister and her boyfriend, who were both adamant that they could never play TF2 because it looked too “cartoony” and “childish”, and that they won’t play any game that doesn’t look like MW/CoD because that’s “realistic” and “immersive”. These people exist, particularly younger gamers (teens, maybe early 20s) who have really only started to be serious gamers in the past few years. Their perception of what is “real” in a game is informed by the games they’ve played, not by real life.

      • TheZooblord says:

        I think I have to agree with Phantos, Mass Effect 1 was not exactly a high standard for art direction, if it could be called a standard at all.

        I think this is the biggest problem I had with Dragon Age 1 (haven’t gotten around to 2) and Mass Effect 1/2 (haven’t gotten around to 3). The gameplay is fun enough and I’m curious to see what happens next in the story even if it is in the midst of the increasingly standard “Bioware-dumb” (as compared to Bioware-smart), but the visuals are god-awful. Not graphics-wise, no. Art wise.

        Mass Effect was always a progression of single-tone hallways that all felt exactly the same, and had little to no wow factor. Anywhere. Eden Prime even felt lackluster to me, something just did not sell the whole “dying planet” atmosphere to me, and instead it seemed just generically brownish. Reaper lift-off was interesting, and… Virmire, I believe? (the tropical planet where you get Kirihe and “Hold the Line!”) was very pretty. The fleet battle was kind of neat. But I felt that the entire world of Mass Effect was dull, muted, over-reliant on single-color hallways (the browns of Hutta, or the same issue with all blues, all grays, all reds, etc), and had some of the most awful character models/customization of all time. It just sucked.

        And Dragon Age 1 was just absolutely ugly in the art department. Everything in that game was brown and blood-spattered. While a grey, dead-grass dead-sky atmosphere makes sense as the Blight descends, there where some areas it hadn’t reached yet. I couldn’t for the life of me tell the visual difference between Blighted area and not-blighted. And the caves were dark grey or brown, and all the buildings, and all the open areas, and all the dungeons… it was horrible. The Fade, an otherworldly plane of dreams and magic, was an unnatural shade of orange/brown everywhere… which is kind of a boring choice of color given how its a realm of demons and pure will and magic, and thus could really go wild for visuals… but the unnatural orange/brown everything would have worked better to distinguish the Fade from the real world, if the real world wasn’t already unnaturally brown everywhere.

        I mean, I haven’t played Bioware’s older (and from many people’s accounts, better) games like KOTOR or Jade Empire, so I can’t attest to their old art direction, but honestly aside from one or two extremely brief moments PER GAME, Dragon Age and Mass Effect are some of the ugliest games I have ever played. Their graphics are fine, really. They just have no sense of art direction whatsoever.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Let’s see here… Looking at Mass Effect.

          Eden Prime: Already talked about that. Decent, at least, especially the skyline/background.
          Citadel: Looked good from the cinematic perspective, and I personally think the Presidium was pretty good from an art direction standpoint. The wards were a little bland most of the time.
          Noveria: Snow and hallways. Next.
          Feros: Dirt and hallways. Next.
          Therum: Dirt and hallways. Next.
          Virmire: THANK GOD ACTUAL GROUND. … more hallways. At least this one had a fairly distinct architectual style.

          I think I made my point there. And I actually liked ME1…

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            And what about random planets?Those were neat.

            • Taellosse says:

              Heh. You mean how they were all mono- (or, when they were feeling adventurous, bi-) chromatic, featured the same 3 building models everywhere, and the topography itself looked like someone had just tossed some noise into a height-map generator, slapped one of 4 quick textures onto it, and called it a day?

              • krellen says:

                Did you ever look at the sky? The skies on the random planets were almost universally completely amazing.

                • Cody211282 says:

                  The skyboxes of the game were firken amazing, sadly that can’t be said for the hundreds of tan buildings you run threw.

                  • thebigJ_A says:

                    Alright, I just ignored it the first time, because I try not to be a jerk, and mistakes happen, but now it’s twice so I’m wondering…. You do know it’s spelled “through“, don’t you? And hell, there’s even an acceptable misspelling of it you could use to shorten it if that’s your thing (“thru”, like on road signs). “Threw” is a completely different word, past tense of “throw”, like “I threw away my copy of Dragon Age 2″.

                    /pedant

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Yup,thats what Im talking about.This,and this,and this,and this,and this,and this.

          • Eärlindor says:

            I guess, for what it’s worth, I loved the tall Prothean towers on Feros. I dunno, I enjoyed the feel or the atmosphere.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          I suspect that Shamus is trying to say is not that Mass Effect is a brilliant example of art, but that it was four years ago with presumably a smaller budget, and this Star Wars art is not even AS GOOD.

          Which means, to me, either Bioware got less good at art with more money and time, or a deliberate choice to make it like this was made.

  21. Kdansky says:

    Tidbit of note: WoW contains many, many hours of music. I vaguely remember a piece about WotLK talking about 20 or 30 hours of music all together, and I’d fully believe that. There’s just a ton of work gone into the art design of WoW. For example, compare any screenshot in WoW with the *technically* superior Lineage 2 (at least twice the polygon count and texture sizes, if not ten times):

    http://lineage2.stratics.com/content/interviews/features/aleenaresron/aleena-l.jpg
    http://www.wired.com/images/article/full/2008/07/wow_630px.jpg

    Note how both shots are angled so you can actually see more than a few square meters, yet one of those two shows off a ton of interesting things, and the other is just bland brown flat. It’s even worse for typical play cameras, where in L2, you have seventy bajillion polygons cramped into a few pixels in the center of the screen, and a single repeating texture covering the completely flat ground, whereas in WoW, there is grass and mushrooms, and furniture, and light sources and all kinds of other crap.

    You could write something about why more polygons and higher texture resolution gets you worse fidelity on lower screen resolutions, because compression and aliasing-artifacts result in too much information for the pixels to handle. It’s something most people just don’t believe, yet it’s very true. Prime example would be the blood bowl game when you zoom far away: Too many too thin polygons with too detailed textures, resulting in a chaotic mess instead of a coherent appearance.

    Oh, and I dislike the new rounded boxes for comments with a passion! Apple should sue you for that. They are UGLY.

  22. Yar Kramer says:

    Now I’m trying to figure out how to pronounce “$butt.” “Dollarbutt,” maybe …?

    • Lame Duck says:

      Well I would figure it’s the same way you pronounce any amount of currency. $100 is “one hundred dollars”, so $butt would be “butt dollars”.

    • decius says:

      one buttload of dollars. A buttload is one twelfth of an ass-ton, or one tenth of a metric ass-ton.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Nah, a butt is 126 US gallons. Bundles of cash run about $50,000 per liter in large volumes (by back-of-envelope calculations made years ago for other reasons — let’s just say stealing more than a million dollars is REALLY IMPRACTICAL without help) So, a buttload of cash is about $24million. Ergo, the budget is about $8-10butt.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Hm. I for shome reason always see $ as a “sha” sound, so.. “Shabutt”. That kinda works, I guess?

  23. Eärlindor says:

    As I was reading this, it made me think of all the stuff LotRO does right. You have city sounds and wild-life sounds (for a forest, for a swamp, etc.); you have lush environments and so on. There is so much that it’s easy to miss, but when you do see it you think, “Oh wow, that’s amazing!”

    For all the complaints I have about the game, every little detail of the game world was carefully and lovingly crafted by Turbine. They wanted to bring Middle-earth to life–heck, they wanted it to be Middle-earth.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I do like LotRO, and for the most part it is a pretty faithful rendition of Middle Earth. I especially enjoyed the Old Forest, especially since it wasn’t too important in the films.

      One thing that seems remarkable about it is that I have tried… at least 4 classes, and quite enjoyed all but one (Loremaster. To be fair I only went to like… level 4, which I’m pretty sure is less than an hour) despite quite different playstyles. Champion, Hunter, Guardian (level 32 guardian. I don’t usually like tanks)

      Back to your regularly scheduled TOR conversation…

    • Hitch says:

      I don’t know if they’ve fixed these issues with patches since then, but a few years ago Shamus pointed out some less than spectacular use of textures in LotRO: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=6368

      • Eärlindor says:

        That’s a good question, I don’t know. I don’t remember that pillar in the Elf/Dwarf starting area looking that bad, and I haven’t been back there in a long time, but it’s possible stuff like that has been fixed. The game has gone through several updates and patches since then–even to the point of altering entire map-layouts and story segments.

        It’s also possible old glitches get fixed and are replaced with new ones elsewhere. ;)

  24. decius says:

    Nitpick: Shamus, you are an artist, in that you produce art. You are not a graphic artist, in that the art you produce is not graphical in nature.

    • Erm! Have you seen the graphical stuff he’s done through his coding?
      Shamus is definably a “graphical” artist. Just not the paintbrush kind of type.

    • X2Eliah says:

      The whole redudnant “is computer code art” thing aside, I hope you will admit that “art” is a very wide moniker covering an infinite spectrum of possibilities and numerous categories, each of which have very different prerequisites. You can’t expect a good painter be a pro artist on the piano, or make a super-cool sculpture. Likewise, there is a TON of difference between computer code creation and graphical asset creation – heck, creating meshes vs. texturing vs. scene setting alone are three pretty distinct aspects that require specialized knowledge!

      In short, saying “Hurr durr you are good at all art because you do art” is nonsense, please stop it.

  25. I agree Shamus, this does feel odd for BioWare.
    It’s almost like material shaders are missing or not working the way they should.

    Does metal actually look like metal when the light reflects on it? Does the light reflect at all?

    As to the size. Yeah it almost looks like somebody went “You know what we could do? Scale the characters down and things will seem a lot bigger.”
    The second to last image, everything in there (character included) could he made twice as large and still the room would be too damn huge.

    The only places in Star Wars that look like that are either storage rooms/hangars/palace halls.
    Unless that room is a giant storage room or hangar converted to a lounge it seems very odd to use a room like that.

    And you mentioned realism. Wat I’ve found in many games is that they lack “dirt”. I’m not talking film grain effect.
    It shouldn’t be that hard to add a dirt shader to objects. The ground and walls and rocks and such would benefit from this. carpets too. the sky should not, but the cloud might benefit from a variant of the same shader.

    Look at the textures in the first image. They look lowres and blurred/smudged/resized.
    There appears to be more than one light source, but there is only one shadow.
    Not all objects casts shadows. The beds do and the chair. But the “box” between the two beds on the left lacks a shadow.
    Character scale seems a little off, the beds are too large.
    The carper texture looks like a flat “carpet texture”. There is no edge, it just ends. It’s not fringed, nor creased. No indications of the fiber structure/threading one might expect.
    The character seems to lack ay shaders. Shouldn’t the boots reflect some light?

    Shamus, maybe that could be a future coding demo project. A simple “room” with a table some chairs, carpet and some wall decorations. But with proper lighting, material shaders, dirt shaders and size look.

    Not sure what went wrong with the design, but that room if you ignore (or hold your fingers over the character) looks just like the “room” in most of those “Find the hidden items in the image” puzzle games.

    I commend BioWare for trying to break new ground. But I think 3 BioWare singleplayer Star Wars RPG games with a tie in Star Wars MMO/multiplayer game would have worked way better. And possibly under the same budget.
    (similar to Mass Effect and the multiplayer stuff there).

    Here’s a image from Jedi Outcast http://www.gamerankings.com/pc/516547-star-wars-jedi-knight-ii-jedi-outcast/images/screen10.html
    Yeah! the old engine is starting to show it’s age but still holding up.

    And KoTOR is also still holding up pretty well.
    http://www.gamerankings.com/pc/516675-star-wars-knights-of-the-old-republic/images/screen92.html

    Now look at the first room (bountyhunter image in this article), yeah, something seems to be “off”, it lacks a certain “something”.

    And a major issue many games have is that they can never really make a room look “lived in” (those games are few and far between).

    Oh yeah! And the “area” sounds… Yeah. If those are missing that is just plain weird as KoTOR and Mass Effect and Dragon Age all have area sound ranging from passable to awesome. The issue in Mass effect I btw, was that the citadel sounded way more busy than it actually looked, something that was improved a little in ME2 and lot more in ME3. (something to keep in mind for SP).

  26. Steve C says:

    You’ve still got the same distant, dreamy horizon,”

    Lies! I didn’t notice the horizon at all in the first unaltered image. I did in your version.

    • Aldowyn says:

      That’s because of the contrast. The mountains aren’t the same color as the sky any more, so the sky/background actually stands out. As far as I can tell, the actual horizon is pretty much exactly the same.

  27. Tvtim says:

    I played SWTOR for a while…and I didn’t really notice the lack of colors and the way things really looked in general. I was too into noticing the characters and running around shooting anything that moved to pay attention. Kind of bad when the environment doesn’t even grab you in any way to get you to look around; outside of me noticing something minor that leads to a holocron, but that was about it.

  28. Xythe says:

    I must totally disagree. While the gameplay and story left me cold after hitting the level cap (had good fun with it up until that point), if there’s one big positive I can give SWTOR it’s that I think it looks utterly stunning. I’ll take those stylised graphics over ME3s uncanny valley visuals any day.

  29. Ninjariffic says:

    I nearly spit out my coffee from laughter at that second last picture. That room is breaking all the rules of architecture. Form follows function. Judging by the furniture it’s supposed to be some kind of lounging area, but the seating is spaced out far too much. There should be far more seating. The columns are a huge mistake. They emphasize verticality but the ceiling is already too high.

    There’s a similar problem with the floor. Those borders visually push the walls back.

    The problem doesn’t seem to be scale. It seems to be proportion. They’ve scaled things to be impressive, but the proportions make it ridiculous.

  30. X2Eliah says:

    Hmm. On another note – and I am working from memory here, so I could well be wrong – I kidna recall that most of the environments in the movies (very much so in the I-III, somewhat less but still so in IV-VI) also had this stupidly large & spacious look and feel to them, interior and exterior.

  31. ENC says:

    To be fair Shamus, in KotOR I don’t notice much in the way of sounds for the first 2 hours of the game besides a sountrack on the point of giving me an orgasm it is so magnificent.

  32. Alex says:

    Talking about all of the color variety in SWTOR made me think of Plinkett, immediately.

  33. thebigJ_A says:

    Funny how you went teal and orange with your “improved” image of the ship. It’s even infecting my favorite parts of the web!!

    • Shamus says:

      Note that I didn’t add color that wasn’t there. All I did was turn up the saturation and contrast. So the original image must have been teal and orange, only in a stupid, washed-out, low-contrast way.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        Looking at it again, I can tell you’re right (not that I doubt you or anything!). Well, at least this means I’m just disappointed in Bioware, not you ! ;)

        Aww, I AM disappointed in Bioware. What happened to the company that made Kotor, and Dragon Age (the 1st one, obviously)? They used to rank up with Bethesda in my Western RPG-loving heart. Sure, Bethesda never topped Morrowind, but at least they’ve not fallen too far. Bioware, though. What with this and destroying DA, and also ruining ME… Man, sad story.

  34. Dev Null says:

    Late to the party, I know, but I’ve been away and I’m catching up on old posts…

    Why do video games feel the need to use 100-foot ceilings in every room? It makes everything feel hollow and empty and unreal to me. Does it make camera angles easier for 3rd-person games or something?

    • John Dougan says:

      It makes 3rd person cameras possible without feeling cramped or immersion breaking. Take a game (or Second Life) and put the camera in the default 3rd person position….if the room designers are on the job they’ll have sized the room so it looks reasonable as the room will be scaled to a notional person who’s eyes are in the default 3rd person camera position. Typically this means the scale is 1.5 to 2 times larger than “realistic”. The other reason for odd scales has to do with camera behavior when it runs into a wall. Suppose you have a chair back against the wall and sit in it… the camera will bump into the wall and do whatever reorientation it needs to do, resulting in a jarring experience. So you make the room have a camera zone around the rim so people can do their thing without the camera moving erratically, or you design the room layout so all the NPCs/artifacts you have to interact with are on the rim and your avatar faces outward.

      SWTOR has overdone it to a huge degree…and I’d argue that in rooms like that they are working to 2 scales, the avatar’s and the camera’s, and have mixed the proportions badly. And the shading up at the roof fades to dark too quickly, overemphasizing the height.

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