Star Wars: The Old Republic Developer Blog

It's time for another blog entry from the Star Wars: The Old Republic development team, with this latest update featuring principal lead systems designer Damion Schubert discussing the importance of the game's mapping functionality and the design process that goes into creating the maps themselves.
Having good navigation is important for any game, but particularly so in any massively multiplayer game, where wanderlust is positively encouraged. For The Old Republic, we realized that we had some relatively unique problems early on.

First off, once your character leaves their Origin World, other planets tend to be significantly larger in terms of land mass than those you might find in other MMOs sometimes five or six times as large. While this is really cool for creating canonically expansive worlds in the Star Warsâ„¢ universe like Hoth or Tatooine, it also creates interesting design considerations. As the player is only adventuring in perhaps one-sixth of the map at any given time, having one world map would result in everything he cares about at a given time being compressed into a tiny corner of the map, making that map pretty much unusable.

The second problem is that Star Wars is a science fiction setting (well, perhaps science fantasy) at heart. As a result of this, a great deal of our content happens inside - inside buildings, compounds, space ships, space stations and so on. Nowhere is this truer than on the city worlds of Nar Shaddaa and Corellia which, from a map sense, are closer to a dungeon you might find in another MMO, than an open world zone. We decided fairly early on that we needed to find a map solution that would do indoor areas well.

The third issue is that our worlds and content flow were still in a lot of flux at the time that we needed maps. As we experimented with marrying BioWare-style content with MMO-style freedom and zones, we were frequently expanding and shrinking planets, adjusting flow, adding and removing missions and adventure areas. all of this happened as we got better feedback, and a better sense of what worked for our gameplay style. This created a unique problem for our maps being sure that players could navigate to their mission objectives was hugely important for us to validate our content and planet design flow. Practically, we could not wait for our artists to hand-paint maps every time the world builders made changes.