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May 30, 2007

SWG Dev Diary: Thomas "Hanse" Eidson #1

Howdy, folks!  I’m Thomas "Hanse" Eidson, a designer on the Star Wars Galaxies team.

It’s been slightly over a year since I started working on Star Wars Galaxies.  I’ve been keeping an eye on the boards and posting on topics that I was working on, at the time.  So, if you kept an eye on developer posts on the boards, you’ve probably seen one of my posts.  If you haven’t, then this and following diaries should bring you up to speed on what I’ve been working on over the past year.  I’ll also include insight into the publish contributions I’ve made.

To bring you up to speed on who I am, I am a System Designer on Star Wars Galaxies for Sony Online Entertainment.  I’ve been a professional game designer for the past eight years.  The majority of that time has been designing massively multiplayer games (MMO’s).  I’ve been playing MMO’s (I consider 100’s of players online at the same time enough to technically qualify as requiring “massive” game mechanics) since text games in the 1980’s (Multi-User Dungeons).  I began developing games as a hobby after I was first introduced to computers in the 1970’s (TRS-80’s, Coco, Apple //, etc).  So, I’ve been on the fringe and in the thick of the gaming industry for over 20 years (almost 30!  Yikes!).

A System Designer on SWG has many responsibilities.  The tasks I’ve performed for the past year have been balance, maintenance, modification, and addition of systems.  These ranged from small tasks of simple data changes to larger data change overhauls to adding an entirely new system.  We make changes to the game through many different ways such as programming, spreadsheets, text files, and proprietary tools.  All of the designers on the team make some sort of systems change at one time or another.  However, System Designers usually do not make additions of content (such as quest, storyline, world building, etc).

Our publishes follow a development cycle of brainstorming, design documentation, peer approval, development, bug fixing, release, and post release fixes.  Over that cycle, we also have a list of bugs to fix.  A previous “bug bash” publish would consist of trying to fix as many bugs as possible.  I typically try to fix eight or more bugs per day, when I’m tasked with doing bug fixes.  Many of those are not discussed on the boards, due to them being possible exploits, irrelevant, oversights, etc.  However, I’m not averse to asking for opinions on the boards, when a bug fix may affect you adversely.  Sometimes I get stumped for a day, but I try to solve all issues before going home so they do not nag at me overnight or (heaven forbid) over the weekend.  My favorite bug fix is a bug that I can turn into a fun feature in the game.

I’ve worked on seven major publishes to the game.  The first publish I worked on NPC balance issues.  After that, I worked on the Jedi expertise.  My third publish I added the Smuggler expertise system.  Once that publish was released, I implemented the Commando expertise system.  Over the holiday season, I worked on the Trader expertise systems.  When the expertise systems were completed, I worked on a bug fixing publish.  Your latest publish included the Beast system and I was one of five designers that worked on Beasts.  In a future dairy (or diaries), I will discuss the steps I took to implement each system.

Thanks for reading and look forward to future diaries!