The Interview: Battlestar Galactica Online

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Battlestar Galactica Online

Remember when browser based games were barely a little more advanced than Pac-Man? Then we were introduced to flash games and from there skies were the limit. BattleStar Galactica online has flown past the skies into space bringing us their free-to-play massive multiplayer game based on the SyFy series. Obsolete Gamer had a chance to talk with Sarah Levantine, Producer for Battlestar Galactica Online about the game and its upcoming changes.

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Can you give us an overview of Battlestar Galactica Online?

Battlestar Galactica Online is a free-to-play, browser-based space combat MMOG that combines high-quality, 3D graphics with intense gameplay. The game is based on the acclaimed Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television series “Battlestar Galactica,” which aired for four seasons on Syfy. In the game, humans and Cylons are in a constant struggle to control the universe, which players accomplish through a mixture of tactical space combat, exploration, and mission-based gameplay.

Can you tell us a little about the process of creating this game from the idea stage to the beta and post release?

In terms of visual fidelity and design, Battlestar Galactica Online represents a new breed of online, free-to-play games. Prior to its launch, BSGO was been met with some disbelief that a browser-based game could look and feel good. We knew we had to get it right, so we made sure we didn’t launch until we were all quite confident that we had a hit on our hands. Thanks to Unity 3D, the platform on which BSGO was built, we’re able to deliver an extremely high-quality gaming experience. When seeing it for the first time, people often forget it’s played through a standard web browser. Core to all development is our desire to be authentic to the IP, yet flexible enough to introduce new content; after all, our game must live beyond four seasons. Recently, BSGO’s post-launch development has fully transitioned to our San Francisco office. Here we’re focused on short- and long-term content additions, and of course continued optimization and polish.

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Would you say you would need to know BSG or be a fan to enjoy this game?

No, it’s as easy for players who aren’t familiar with Battlestar Galactica as it is for those who are fans of the show. Battlestar Galactica has an enormously loyal and passionate following, and we wanted to give fans the opportunity to experience it through an engaging online experience

Now it being free to play can you have fun and do everything in the game without having to buy anything additionally?

Players can earn Cubits (premium in-game currency) through PvP, although much more slowly than by purchasing them outright with real money. While most ships and items in the game can be purchased with Cubits, there are some that you can only buy or upgrade with Merits – a type of currency that is earned solely through gameplay. Generally, we’ve found that players who earn their achievements through gameplay are better than players who spend money to reach new levels or unlock items faster, and even find “grinding” to be the most fun part of the experience. At Bigpoint, we take the issue of player balance very seriously. We have a design requirement that everything can be achieved for free. However, because we need to pay for developers and servers, we have to allow players to spend money in-game…not doing so would mean we simply couldn’t build, launch, and support any game.

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What can you purchase if you wish and what benefits would you gain if you do so?

There are many items available for purchase in the game, including things likes weapons, engines, computer systems, ammo, and even complete ships. The benefit of buying an item comes down to time…some players would like to experience new ships, for example, but they simply can’t dedicate enough time to earn it through basic gameplay. Like most F2P titles, however, the number of paying players is dwarfed by those who play 100% for free. This is top of mind with us at every step of development.

Since it will be humans versus Cylons PVP will be a big part of this game, can you tell us more about that aspect?

BSGO is primarily an MMO that pits humans against Cylons; you can play as either side. One of the newest features that we’ve added to the game is a “Top Gun” match system, which pairs players based on level in 1v1 or 3v3 battles. Players can challenge other players to private, instanced PvP ranked battles to determine who is the “Top Gun” and Top 100 on each server. Alternatively, players who wish to compete against other pilots of any faction (including their own), rating, ship size, or class can engage in “duel” PvP matches, where no rewards or changes in rating will occur after winning/losing a match. PvP is a core element of Battlestar Galactica Online, but we also have plans to expand the PvE space combat, missions, mining operations, and exploration of capital ships, outposts, and bases.

As far as adding to the game meaning content or additional features how will those come about?

Our games live online for many years, so there are a lot of opportunities to introduce new content and features. Working with the acclaimed IP provides us with a direction where we can take the game, but we also carve out opportunities where we can intertwine new concepts into show’s storyline. Since BSGO has transitioned out of beta, the dev team has been able to shift away from making patches and optimizing performance to adding new content and features. We have our own (very big) list, and pay close attention to what the community wants – we’re building this game for them.

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Currently are you working on a release that will address issues and add more content and if so when might we see that?

Our development team continues to work on performance optimization and new content features on a daily basis. Every couple weeks a new release is sent out to include information on bug fixes, UI improvements, patches, new ships, gameplay features, etc. The next big content update and announcement on Battlestar Galactica Online is expected this fall.

Some players have experienced lag even with high-speed internet, can you address that?

What players describe as lag in any online game can actually be caused by several different issues. First, their Internet connection may be slow or intermittent. Second, older or slower machines may not be able to render all of the ships and effects in heavy combat situations at the target frame rate. Finally, during peak hours game servers under heavy load may have trouble sending out the volume of network messages that they need to – this is a network issue on the game server side, as opposed to the user’s side. Our development plan definitely includes paying attention to performance on both the client and server sides of the game.

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Do you plan to add a marketplace or trade area for the game?

A marketplace or trade area is definitely a feature we have discussed, but don’t plan to implement in the near future.

Do you plan to make changes/advancements to the current chat system?

The chat system has had a number of changes made to it since the game’s launch. It now has the ability to send specific messages to the entire system, squad, or wing, and also send private messages to individuals or to your own fleet.

Will players ever be able to switch between servers but keep their character?

At the moment, players are not able to transfer their characters over to another server. It is something that we have also considered, but is not possible to achieve quickly. Our current focus is to expand the game in various directions, pumping out new content and ships for existing players to look forward to. The dev team is also very open to receiving feedback and suggestions from the community, as they are incorporated in many of the decisions made about the game and how BSGO will evolve.

There have been issues of balance on servers do you have a plan to address that?

The balance between the different classes of ship – strike, escort and line – was very carefully planned out in a rock-paper-scissors design. Each class has unique strengths and weaknesses. The balance between the two factions is a trickier question. Players will always choose Colonial characters at a higher rate than Cylon, simply because they identify with the protagonists of the show. What you end up with is a larger number of Colonial players at a lower level, and more hard-core, high level players on the Cylon side. It’s an interesting thing to try and balance, and we are definitely working on a plan to weight the two factions in a more organic manner than occasionally offering a faction switch token.

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How many people over at Bigpoint are fans of BSG?

Most of us at Bigpoint very familiar with BSG, and we have around 800 employees. Members of the Battlestar Galactica Online development team are of course diehard fans (a solid group of developers and artists, plus additional colleagues from the community management, QA, web development, marketing, and PR departments). There are a few people who follow the show closely and can’t wait until the prequel of the series “Blood & Chrome” airs. Many of us also play Battlestar Galactica Online in our spare time as either a Colonial or Cylon – and we have a bit of an internal rivalry – all in good fun. Often times, we even have company-wide playtests to show off our dog-fighting skills.

 There is quite a legacy of space based games, can you tell us what some of your favorites were and did any inspire you for BSGO?

While I played some X-Wing back in the day, I find most of my inspiration for BSGO from the show itself, and trying to bring as many cinematic moments into the game as possible. We want to allow the players to create stories to add to the already rich Battlestar Galactica universe. At the end of the day, who wouldn’t want to be a Cylon in tactical space combat? 😉

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You can play Battlestar Galactica Online free by heading over to their website.