Friday Feature: Schisms of the Force Dev Q&A!

Schisms of the Force: Dev Q&A

Schisms of the Force was the highly anticipated update many moons in the making that debuted on May 4th, 2021, and brought the long-awaited Jedi profession to Empire in Flames. Since then, players – both new and returning – have had the opportunity to embark on the journey to becoming a Jedi and choose the path of light, dark, or somewhere in-between. As is the norm here on EiF however, the process to become a Jedi was new, different, and the profession itself differs from what someone might remember from Live. The secrets of the unlock and progression journey were also kept a complete secret to everyone but Lead Developer Halyn. After weeks of community trial and error, exploration, and crazy theory crafting, the first Master Jedi entered EiF on June 3rd but much of the intricacies of the profession, and what it took to being released, were as yet unknown. In this iteration of the Friday Feature, we got a more in-depth look behind the scenes with developers Halyn, Anishor, Abi, and Demiurge, and learned just what went into the making of Schisms of the Force, and what players can expect to see in the future. For those of you that have not completed the unlock process and want to maintain the mystery, be aware that there are significant spoilers ahead. If not, read on!

Initial Concept

What was the initial vision for Jedi on EiF? What did you want to do differently from Live? What did you want to improve upon?

Halyn: The original vision for Jedi wasn’t very focused beyond “not alpha.” We knew, from both experience and the retrospectives written by Raph Koster, that Jedi on live was broken because it needed to be rare, powerful, and player-acquirable – which inevitably ended poorly. We knew we couldn’t make Jedi less desirable – the fantasy will exist regardless of whatever we could do – so we set out to make them balanced and unlockable.

Anishor: Initial vision was a force-sensitive that could serve several roles. A tank (light side jedi), a dps ( dark Jedi) and eventually as skills were decided on what would go in a healer.  It would not be dependent on using a lightsaber

There were several versions of Jedi. We wanted it to first and foremost not be an alpha class, and it would only be a single profession tree.

What we wanted to improve upon was maintaining balance while still keeping Jedi having that intrinsic star wars feeling and have it be a fun class with some unique abilities.

Abi: I’m just here so I don’t get fined.


That sounds like a tall order. What challenges did you encounter during this process? How did you resolve them, or how did they cause you to change the initial design plan?

Halyn: The biggest challenge was keeping Jedi from becoming too good while still staying thematic. Even if their powers were relatively balanced, a “proper” Jedi implementation is very much an all-around class, able to do almost anything. We ended up toning down some original ideas quite a bit, because they were fine individually, but put together made Jedi the best solution for too many problems.

The Force alignment system was in the plan from early on, but even that ended up getting some toning down. The original implementation of it meant appropriately-aligned powers both cost less Force and were more effective, but testing showed that starting players were horribly gimped and full-alignment Jedi became unstoppable murder machines. Demi in particular did a lot of number-crunching to make things balance out.

Anishor: The first challenge was how to approach the vision without invalidating or over-stuffing the Jedi tree.  Also all the ‘mystic’ specials didn’t work (AI) and weren’t planned on working until the end. We got lucky and someone from ModTheGalaxy got the base emu versions working and we adapted them.

As to how to not overstuff and keep to the vision, it meant we had to keep the specials to a limited number, around 3-4 for each path essentially.  It also meant that because Jedi wasn’t meant to be just a melee class, the most memorable special from Live, Force Run, was the first thing that was a solid ‘no’. 

DemiOur biggest challenge (from my perspective), was balancing the profession so it wasn’t an Alpha class, yet still be competitive.  We still have a little more to do in order to more perfectly balance the appeal of the dark side’s toolset against the light side’s, but I feel we are on steady footing to start.


With all that in mind… What did you start working on first?

Halyn: Teasing the players, of course. No, I actually started Jedi work by delegating most of the parts of it out. When the actual code started being produced, I assigned the lightsaber crafting and handling to myself – which ended up being a re-write of almost all of SWGEmu’s lightsaber code. By the time we finished, I’d ended up at least touching almost every part of the design, though others did the majority of the work for their parts.

Anishor: The alignment system and adding alignment to the character luas was the first change to the code base, but I spent a lot of time designing the class / tree and feel of it. These were followed by the defensive specials, followed by the heals.  For what would go into the ‘offensive’ tree. We tried to boil them down to some pure DPS that was a distillation of dark side dps.  Intercede was an idea of Halyn’s that was pretty much there from the get-go.

Demi: I became attached to the effort after most of the design had been completed.  My primary role with the Jedi project involved force power balancing and overall testing of the system.


Combat

EiF has always prided itself on a more approachable take on combat than on Live. How did you want to apply this to Jedi?

Halyn: For me, this was very much in the unlock. We knew that we weren’t going to make Jedi an alpha class but still had it unlockable – so the unlock needed to be attainable without turning into a thousand-hour grind. Eventually, I settled on an approach of “Players need to try all the things before unlocking Jedi”, which translated into a set of accomplishments that cover both original gameplay and EiF’s additions.

Anishor: By making the class and its specials fun without being overpowered, for example, Avoid Incap. On Live this was a crazy powerful ability that was pretty much standard for people to grab, so here instead of just preventing you from incap it uses your force bar as an extra health bar. Powerful but prevents from using other specials.

Demi: Our approach to combat here centers on the concept of being able to mix and match skills more fluidly than on Live.  As a result, different professions (such as Bounty Hunter) can use their specials with melee weapons if they wish.  While the very nature of these changes introduces certain limitations (for example, you can’t be a BH and have smuggler abilities too), it offers more flexibility than it concedes.  Pertaining to Jedi, this allows a Jedi to truly play with any of the 7 combat skills they wish.  You can be a 100% ranged Jedi if you wish; no need to even craft a lightsaber, etc.  By putting it on par with other professions like Commando and Bounty Hunter, Jedi enters the server having the same flexibility as everything else.


What did you personally want to see out of the combat side of Jedi?

Halyn: A class that still relies on other classes and can’t do it all itself. It should still need docs, squad leaders, etc to function – it shouldn’t be independent.

Anishor: A balanced class that is fun, engaging and provides more counter play opportunities for all combat professions and builds. Whether you wanted to use a lightsaber, be a Lightside Jedi, Darkside Jedi or something between.

Demi: I’m going to have to say the ultra-wide variety of sabers and color crystals EIF is mobilizing.  Halyn has put together over 30 named color crystals, and he, Abi, and Wefi have enabled a ton of new hilts that were never a part of Live.  So the ability to customize is unmatched compared to anywhere else.  Of course, I would have LOVED to see Force Cloak or Force Run…. but that would have broken the balancing aspect.


What was the first part of the combat that you tackled? What issues did you encounter on the way?

Halyn: Lightsabers. Oh, lord, lightsabers. One of the problems with live Jedi was their independence – between Jedi robes, ADKs, and very basic lightsaber crafting, Jedi never needed to talk to an armorsmith or weaponsmith. We decided to take an approach that involved weaponsmith subcomponents to construct lightsabers, and while I’m very happy with the final result, the code refactors required made me question my life decisions.

Anishor: After getting the design in place, the defensive tree specials were first because they needed the most changes in the C++. Intercede and Avoid Incap were a pain to get working right.


One of the more unique additions to EiF is the reverse-grip style for TKM users. How did the reverse-grip style come to be? What was involved in implementing it?

Halyn: We had long ago decided that lightsabers were going to depend on a player’s combat skills – i.e. to use a one-handed lightsaber, you’ll want fencer, etc, etc. The big question mark, though, was Teras Kasi Artist – we certainly didn’t want to do a lightsaber knuckler.

Reverse-grip has been a “thing” for quite a while, with both Ahsoka in Clone Wars and Starkiller in The Force Unleashed utilizing it way back when SWG was still run by SOE. We didn’t have the ability to edit or create new animations at the time, but on a whim I started going through the animations to see if there’d be enough we could adapt to our use to make it viable. 

After I compiled a list of what I thought would work, I turned the info over to Wefi. We made a couple of design decisions together, but then he did the majority of the work editing the client files to put together those selected animations as a “new” weapon style. While it’s certainly not flawless, the end result is plenty passable and definitely unique.


How did you seek to balance the different powers against each other? What did you do to test it?

Halyn: I delegated.

Anishor: I wanted each power to feel important and different, and another consideration for balance was cooldowns. I didn’t want it to end up like CoB where people just macro it, on the offensive side I had ideas for how the specials were to feel and the numbers were tweaked to meet that.. Tested it in PvE and PvP. I laid out a vision for how I wanted each of the damage specials to feel or the role I wanted it to have and then asked Demi to figure and test the numbers.  After each update I would test it against various NPCs and then see how quickly I could nuke myself in a duel.  Then we started testing against each other (the dev team) in the final phases.

Demi: Back on Live, light siders tended to be the tanks and healers, while dark siders were all about being glass cannons (usually, but not always of course).  We intended to make the light side appealing by giving them strong defensive and healing abilities, even if a significant investment in medic is required for the healing gains (again… due to balance against other professions).  Dark side was meant to have the usual collection of choke and lightning, but with them being stronger in potency as your alignment shifts farther dark by using the abilities.  Both sides get the ability to intercede, avoid incapacitation… so it really comes down to defense and healing vs offensive powers.  As mentioned previously, we feel there is some work to be done in order to make each truly on par with one another.  I tested it by throwing everything I could think of at it.  But as any EIF player will attest (or anyone who works in IT) issues always make it through… players will always think of things you don’t.  So it’s a continuous process of improvement.


Did the combat change at any point throughout the process, compared to what we see in-game now?

Anishor: Took a while to figure out how to balance out Shield, Absorb, and Feedback(reflect). My initial design also considered giving Dark Jedi a heal like force drain (% of damage returned to jed as health) but after consideration was not added due to the fine line it would be of overpowered or useless.  Also before the more light or dark affected the cost of your specials but during testing but that was removed as it made alignment too strong.

Demi: Of course!  It took years for Jedi to go from conception to release.  Various decisions were made and then changed as development proceeded or testing uncovered unexpected issues.  That process is still ongoing now, even after Jedi’s been released.


Lightsabers and Crafting

Lightsabers are the most iconic representation of Jedi. What was your initial concept of how the crafting of them would be?

Halyn: We toyed with several ideas for our plan for lightsabers, including a system where players could select their grip, emitter, and pommel for their weapon. Ultimately we scrapped it, though, because we couldn’t handle the art requirements to make it practical.

We also knew from the beginning we wanted to make weaponsmith subcomponents a critical part of building a lightsaber. Original designs used the same subcomponents we use in the final design to build a core, but there was no “core” – they were individually put into the hilt. Eventually, we changed it to a single core to make it more manageable from the server end.


How did the various customizations come to be? What was involved in not only getting new hilts but adding all the color customization options to them?

Halyn: We recolor all the things. Abi got the bug and went to town on it. I had to do some odds and ends changes on the server end to make things work – our very first implementation allowed you to select your lightsaber blade’s color on the crafting screen, which we obviously didn’t want for the final product.

New hilts are acquired from a variety of sources – basically, anywhere we can get appropriately licensed and appropriately detailed 3D art. We’ve been careful not to rip off art from other Star Wars fan projects. As a whole, we’ve had plenty of both “Go ahead and use my stuff” and “Nope, I’m not giving you permission” responses – and when we’re told no, we let it go.

Abi: Saber customization was totally my baby – Halyn and I were kicking around a couple of different saber designs we wanted to add on top of what was available on Live and I made an offhand comment about how it bothered me that everyone ran around with exactly the same lightsaber. One thing led to another and I made a couple of the sabers recolorable – and then a couple more, and then a couple more – and now it feels like we have more lightsabers than we do any other weapon type.


Which ones did you have the most fun with customizing? Were some easier to set up than others?

Halyn: The Old Republic polearm hilt. Abi did all the recolor work, of course, but I was the one who put the thing together out of pieces of the original curved-hilt Old Republic saber. I am not a 3D artist by any stretch of the imagination, so it was a challenge, but I really liked the final project.

Abi: I probably had the most ‘fun’ customizing the Old-Republic Hilt – simply because it was the one I knew I wanted to end up using. Not a selfish reason at all, no sir. Some were quite a bit easier to set up than others, it’s the reason a lot of the two handers just have a single area of recolor. The texture mapping on them is so weird that it was easier to not make it two color.


Color Crystals are another great facet of lightsaber customization. What colors “needed” to be available right away?

Halyn: We decided, right out the gate, that we’d start with the “basics” – blue and green with red opposite them both. We discussed also doing a basic yellow and purple as well since everything else was going to be named.


What were your favorite crystal colors from Live? What colors would you like to see, or are already excited to see, implemented in EiF?

Halyn: Sunrider’s Destiny was my favorite on Live – mostly because it made me millions of credits in the long period between the NGE launch and it finally being returned with the rare loot system.

Demi: Back on Live, I loved Sunrider’s Destiny, Windu’s Guile, and Kenobi’s Legacy. I am already aware of everything already planned to be added to EiF (aside from anything new Halyn dreams up). And while I will not say what is coming, I am completely satisfied already with the knowledge I have (being already available and soon to be available). I am particularly pleased with the orange crystal I already use….


How many colors have been added already?

Halyn: Something like a dozen crystals are available right now (which doubles the color count, since every crystal is really *two* colors). We have plans for plenty more drops in near-future content.


What are some of the unique colors players can expect to see in EiF?

Halyn: There are a number of uniques coming. Depending on the order some content gets done, the most likely next crystal will involve a certain Jedi from an eighteen-year-old game…


The Unlock

Despite various members of the team working on the other facets of the Jedi release, only one person knew all the secrets behind what would be required for players to unlock the ability to become a Jedi. Halyn, what ultimately inspired you for the path the unlock took? What did you want to do differently from Live?  What did you specifically want to avoid from Live?

Halyn: Ultimately, I wanted to make Jedi accessible, mysterious, but sans grinding. We’d long since determined that Jedi was not going to be alpha-class, which makes a massive grind unappealing – and wouldn’t do anything to stop the people that were determined to get Jedi anyway.

In the spirit of Raph Koster’s original design for Jedi, I decided unlocking should reflect a variety of play styles without turning it into a giant grind. A light touch in a profession or skill is enough to move along the progress.


Luthrik, Drakka, and the Old Man are known NPCs from the original Jedi quests and unlock process that also show up in EiF. Were you always going to implement these characters somehow, and/or how did their inclusion change over time?

Halyn: Luthik and Drakka were always in the design process. At one point they were going to be the actual trainers for Jedi (while still moving around – meaning advancing as a Jedi required finding them, too), though before that they were going to be used the way they ultimately made it to the live server – to point the players in a direction to go.

I wanted to use the old man, but put a new twist on him. He lingered on the edge of the Jedi system for a long time until I realized slotting him into a vision was a perfect way to include that nod to pre-CU/CU Jedi while also telling a story I wanted told – i.e. the story of Aurillia (with the usual EiF twist.)


How many iterations of the unlock did you come up with? Did the process change at any point during development and if so, why?

Halyn: Hard to count exactly – unlock was a moving target right up until a week or two before it went live. I made additions, cut a few things, and moved unlock components around so that hints would be given in different orders.

Force visions as milestones were something we came up with late in the process, inspired by Jedi: Fallen Order, though the final implementation is unique and required some entirely new client modification to achieve.


Let’s talk about one of the more surprising elements of the unlock – a series of visions taking place in the World Between Worlds. How did this come to be? What made you decide on using it? How did you manage to get it implemented on EiF?

Halyn: I had decided early in the writing process that we needed “milestones” of sorts – indicators to players they were on the right path. With our specialty toward doing new and unusual things, it started as a “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” thought.

Our first version of the “Force” zone (as it is named internally) was inspired very much by Jedi Fallen Order, with an almost-black, rocky landscape, a rising sun that never moved, and a heavy starfield. What I really wanted, though, was to make the landscape “glow” with lines – something the terrain in the pre-CU client doesn’t support. (It was a feature later added by SOE for the release of Mustafar so they could do glowing lava.)

However, Sytner over on Mod the Galaxy is a genius and wrote us a new set of terrain shaders that not only supported glow but also supported “punchout” – i.e. there being no texture on the ground at all! With both of those new capabilities available to us, Abi and I worked together to craft that very fun, very eerie world.


Physical manifestations of Ashla and Bogan appear during the first vision and set players down the path to becoming Jedi. How did they fit into the process, and what brought you to use them as players see them?

Halyn: Ashla and Bogan are homebrew characters – originally inspired by the Bendu on Star Wars Rebels. He calls himself an aspect of the Force and refers to the light and dark sides in the same way he refers to himself, so it became a “What if…?” that goes all the way back to the months after launch.

Some long-time players on EiF have encountered those characters long before the Jedi system – usually bringing very cryptic pronouncements and encouragement to follow the Force, whether that is light or dark.

When the time came to actually write the milestone visions, they fit in very neatly – and their portrayal in the visions is very consistent with how players have encountered them in the past.


Another surprising ‘character’ was The Bendu. What inspired the use of this entity? How did you want to incorporate them into the server?

Halyn: He sort of inspired himself indirectly. As I mentioned before, he inspired the creation of Ashla and Bogan, who slot into the writing process for the milestone visions early. And while we didn’t have a model for the Bendu that matched his appearance in Rebels, that particular incarnation was destroyed by Thrawn, so why couldn’t he look different now?

He was such a fun character on Rebels – assisting Kanan and Ezra at some points, being very nonchalant about whether they lived or died later, and finally attempting to kill them – that he seemed like a great fit for players to interact with. After all, player characters could be light, dark, or somewhere in between.


A lot of players were excited by and greatly enjoyed their inclusion. Can we expect to see any of these characters or entities in the future? How might they be involved later on down the line?

Halyn: While I don’t currently have anything on the drawing table that involves Ashla, Bogan, or Bendu, never say never. It’s easier to re-use characters than create new ones. If they do come into play again, you can expect them to maintain an air of detachment and mystery about them – they’re no mundane quest givers.


We now know that there are a couple of different phases to complete before characters could even qualify to become Jedi. What phase did you think would trip people up the most? Was there anything that the community figured out quicker than you thought they would?

Halyn: I honestly thought people would hesitate to drop their professions to talk to Luthik and Drakka. Boy, was I wrong about that!

Ultimately, players burned through the hints way faster than I thought they would, given the small player base. So really, players figured out virtually everything faster than I gave them credit for in the design. Clearly, we gave too many hints!


With all the various conspiracy theories flying around to what was needed, which one was the most amusing for you? 

Halyn: the funniest, to me, was the theory that there was another set of NPCs like Drakka and Luthik that were randomly moving around. Players put a very unhealthy amount of time into combing planets to find these mystery NPCs!

Demi: We’re looking at you, Phoenix.


After a lot of trial and error, and banging heads against walls, the community has since put together an unofficial “guide” to the unlock process. Can you reveal something about the Unlock process that the players haven’t actually figured out, or something that they didn’t need to do to qualify?  

Halyn: I’ve yet to see anyone get the badges thing right. Everyone does far, far more work on badges than is necessary.


For the other Dev team members – which crazy thing did you do while trying to figure out the mystery of the unlock?

Demi: I’m that idiot who felt the need to “hologrind” (without the holos). Even though I knew it wasn’t part of the process, I didn’t know what would exactly be needed. So even though the number of professions mastered may or may not have mattered, I also wagered there’d be some that would. I made some assumptions with the overall unlock process; some were right… most were wrong.

Abi: I spoke to every single NPC in every single NPC city in the game. None of them were forthcoming with the information I wanted. I know this tickled Halyn to no end.

Anishor: I died like 15 times trying to get the stupid Tusken Pool POI. *Stares long at self in the mirror for making the executioner NPC*


The Jedi Path

The Unlock was only the first step to a greater adventure. In planning out how players would actually get experience and progress in their new profession, what was your original concept for “leveling” the trees?

Halyn: Originally, I’d planned on an XP conversion system like the old village grind – you’d take, say, your swordsman XP and convert it to Jedi XP to level it. It would allow all sorts of types to level Jedi – but ultimately, it felt really flat to me and I scrapped the concept.


Instead, and once players obtained their first holocron, they were able to interact with their real trainers and learn the ways of the Force. Both Yoda and Darth Vader are pretty Star Wars-y and iconic, but what brought you to the decision to use these two in the holocrons rather than other potential teachers, living or dead?

Halyn: Ultimately, it boiled down to iconic teachers. While we certainly could’ve used a live Luke Skywalker to mentor students of the light, there really wasn’t someone comparable for the dark side given that the Emperor and Vader have both perished.

For quite a while, I had actually planned on – and written – there being a “light” and “dark” enclave of sorts with various NPCs, both Legends and Disney characters, who would be available to talk to and take quests from, with the heart of both sides’ enclaves being a special holocron.

When we finally had developed the holocomm system, using holocrons on the player character itself was suddenly a very real possibility. I made the choice to make it a more personal journey with some very familiar characters.


With a quest available for each skill box, which did you have the most fun with writing? Which was the most challenging to come up with?

Halyn: The single most fun quest was Mysticism I. It involved no combat, but I enjoy incorporating lore – and Allya is a character we’ve never gotten to see, though her impact on the witches of Dathomir is immeasurable. Plus, the dialogue was a bit different if your character was a daughter of Dathomir herself – something I was very proud of, even if only a few people ever see it.

The most challenging, though, was figuring out thematic “defense” quests for dark siders. While the quests are mostly the same between light and dark (with one or two twists along the way), I think the widow quest was the most challenging. Ultimately, it was less extensive than I wanted it to be, but the effect was pretty good.

An honorable mention goes to the master box quest. Making a decision on what that quest would entail was some of the hardest story-writing I’ve done on EiF.


For the other Devs, which tree or specific quest did you find most memorable? Why?

Abi: Mysticism I gave me goosebumps – it was absolutely perfect since my Jedi is Dathomiri.

Anishor: Defeating the Inquisitor

Demi: Lightsaber 4 and the entire Mysticism tree for good reasons (because these were very much fun and enjoyably immersive)…. and most of the Defender tree for the wrong reasons. Just speaking from personal experiences only. But even the defender missions I didn’t care for were memorable.


For those that have Jedi characters… Lightside, or Darkside?

Halyn: Light.

Abi: Dark.

Demi: Yes (Currently Lightside… will likely end up Darkside when the dust settles).

Anishor: Both?

Abi: Why not Zoidberg?


The Future

While Schisms of the Force has been live since May 4th, that’s not the end of the story. What can players expect to see on the horizon for Force-users? What can you reveal that hasn’t been teased already?

Halyn: Aside from combat tweaks, there’s a metric ton of lightsaber hilts and crystals we haven’t dropped yet. I’d also expect both the Imperial Inquisition and the Vortex to make an appearance at some point in the future…

Anishor: I’m working on something cool for Darkside burst DPS.

Abi: I have about a dozen lightsaber hilts that aren’t available, five or six I’m still working on, and who knows how many more after that.


Thank you to Halyn, Anishor, Abi, and Demiurge for taking the time to answer questions related to this update!  And of course, a big thank you to the team and everyone else that worked on and made Schisms of the Force and Jedi a reality on Empire in Flames!

 

— Mina


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