Star Wars: The Old Republic Studio Insider #3 and Community Q&A

In addition to another Fan Friday entry (that includes an updated fansite kit), the official Star Wars: The Old Republic website is sporting a brand new Studio Insider feature on "environment polish" penned by senior environment artist Robby Lamb and a thirteen-question community Q&A. First, a sampling from the Studio Insider:
As an Environment Artist, I love having time to polish the work that our team has put into the game. Quite often, assets and lighting may be completed months or years prior to the game's release, so when we have time to polish this allows us to update and unify the game to the ever changing, growing, and evolving demands of development. This is especially true on an MMO like The Old Republic, where hundreds of different elements are interacting to make the multiplayer experience work correctly. When one element of the game changes, it can impact many others, so we may be required to polish the art in a certain part of the game, so that the story still works and the performance of the game is still optimal.

I wanted to give you an example of polish in my area of development, the creation of environment art. Environment art often goes unnoticed in a game, as it's the creation of the world around your character. While you're often focused on the creatures and characters you're interacting with, the walls, doors and floors around you have also been created by a team of artists. You might not think this sort of art is that important to the game, but trust me when the floor doesn't look right or a wall texture is wrong, you'd notice!

And a snip from the Q&A:
Q: Will there be different important skills within a skill tree to choose between, or will there be an "ideal" way for each skill tree? Livorde

A: Our design philosophy on skill trees is to offer several different paths through each skill tree for gameplay variety. We also try to make sure that the early skills in a tree have broad appeal. This way, you can make intelligent choices about which other trees you'd like to spend your leftover points to create several viable hybrid options.

Some skills will likely be integral to any character build - for example, core damage increases, stat increases, and other broad appeal skills. Where you branch from that depends on how you intend to play the class---you might be offered PvP utility skills, power-ups or functionality changes to specific abilities, or other more situational skills.

As a practical example, a Sniper going up the Marksmanship tree will probably want a boost to his stat that increases ranged damage, but might have to decide if he wants to spend points to increase his capability to slow enemy targets or reduce the threat he generates while using his high damage abilities. The threat reducing skill would be a smart choice for players who primarily consume PvE content in groups while slowing a target would certainly have great utility in PvP combat. Or he could just get both skills and sacrifice some early skills from other skill trees.

Q: Can you play the Inquisitor as a melee class as effectively as the Sith Warrior? Sanathor

A: The Inquisitor can branch into two Advanced Classes. He can either become a Sith Sorcerer, striking with lightning and devastating dark side Force powers at their targets from afar or train to become a Sith Assassin, a deadly melee class that specializes in double-bladed Lightsaber combat.

The Sith Assassin can, if skilled appropriately, be just as effective in a melee combat as a Sith Warrior, but both have their own set of gameplay mechanics and abilities that set them apart:

The Sith Assassin may use the Force to approach unseen, wield a double-bladed Lightsaber, chain Force attacks and strong melee finishing moves for burst damage and gain access to powerful positional attacks that require the player to plan their movement carefully.

A Sith Warrior, on the other hand, is more direct in the way he approaches combat. He may learn to dual wield (as a Marauder Advanced Class), use Force Charge to quickly bridge large distances on the battlefield, and/or specialize in devastating single target and area attacks with his Lightsaber.