Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling reports from the front lines* of the Massively Multiplayer Multiverse.

Friday, November 25, 2011

“A Good Companion Shortens the Longest Road.”

~~Turkish proverb

When I started playing World of Warcraft in June of 2006, the first character I created was a Dwarf Hunter named Oakheart. Back then, you first learned how to tame creatures at level 10. I picked an Ice Claw Bear--much like the bear and hunter in the Vanilla Cinematic--tamed him (notice, not "it") and named him Arcturus, "Bear Guard," because he fought and guarded me from hostiles.

When I started playing Star Trek Online, I had a whole bridge crew to command and befriend. Even though I increased in rank (level) and gained access to "Epic" crew members, I held on to my original officers. They had backstories at least as detailed as my actual characters, Rowan and Locke. Before I unsubbed, I was even looking in the exchange (auction house) for epic officers of the same races that I could transfer my Bridge Officers' identities to.

Now imagine my delight when I found that Star Wars, the Old Republic, is going to have fully interactive companions that I could talk to, not just envision talking to. It's been said by others, but I do believe that, coupled with the storylines, companions will bring a added sense of immersion that even playing with other players cannot bring. Syp enthused about the subject a month or two ago, when the accompanying video was first published on the SWTOR site.


The developers at BioWare seem to be fully cognizant of the reservations people may have about playing with the companion characters in a massively multi-player environment. William Wallace, Senior Game Designer:
  • How do you make each player’s companions unique in a world where other people are experiencing the same story with the same companions?
  • How do you make companions a critical part of the player’s combat without stepping on the usefulness of other players?
  • How can you make a companion character that is easy to control for players who don’t want to micromanage abilities, while also offering complex options for players who enjoy that style of gameplay?
While I'm not completely sure the toggling of companion abilities in the UI is innovative (actually I'm sure it's not), I welcome the companions having a similar range of abilities to my character. That they are strong enough to round out a group if we're short a player is wonderful.

Scarybooster tried to flirt with his companion right off the bat, but got shot down. As was mentioned in the video, romancing some of your companions is possible, but you will need to woo them for a while, Scary. Some people might find it creepy to romance or develop an emotional attachment to a computer character, but Geordi LaForge did it. [EDIT: Hunter just posted his impressions of companions, as well.] I look forward to the inevitable attachment I will feel toward my characters and my companions. I will care about their fates, develop backstories for them that may or may not completely match up with the lore of the game, and have fond memories of our adventures together.

Some players have said they want to make their own stories, they don't want stories made for them by BioWare or any other developer. I don't think they appreciate the quality of this storytelling. I guess they're entitled to their feelings on the subject. As for me, I like writing my own stories, I also like reading the stories of other authors, and watching movies or going to a play. SWTOR is not a sandbox, but neither is it passive entertainment. Sandboxes can be fun, but so can themeparks and story-driven games.

Do I think this dependence on companions will hurt SWTOR's community? I honestly don't, for people will get a chance to group not because they have to, but because they want to.

7 comments:

  1. I love bioware companions. Japanese dating simulators rule!

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  2. I got sold on the game because of my companion. I played a smuggler during my beta weekend and at the end of chapter 1 Corso Riggs joined me as a companion. He reminded me a lot of Alistair from DA. Which I'm perfectly cool with cause I loved Alistair. I can't wait till I get to play full time just so I can see the character grow and change.

    The one thing about stories that I want to touch on is that sure you might play a smuggler and I might play a smuggler but how the story plays out at least in terms of dialogue and what have you will be different. My story's theme might be the same as yours but the choices I make are going to make my story different. So to me at the end of the day its still my story I just had an awesome writer help it along.

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  3. @Hunter, I was gonna mention Japanese dating simulators, but I have not direct experiance with them , or BioWare previous to SWTOR, for that matter. Thanks for bringing them up.

    @Jazz, I kinda think of the SWTOR stories as choose-your-own-adventure. In a good way. They are entertaining, and the story is affected by my decisions. :)

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  4. Nice post. I'm actually thinking of writing a future post of my own on companions, sort of inspired by what we'd talked about when you visited, ie. the discussion about STO companions vs. SWTOR companions.

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  5. @GeeCee, ja This post was more elaborate in my head, when I first inspired to write it when Syp posted about them. I though my experience with the STO Bridge officers gave me some insight. I don't think that insight or emotion actually came out as prominently as I wish it had.

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  6. Coming late to the party, but after my weekend I consider this post spot on. Companions add a hell of a lot more depth to the game than pets ever could.

    For example: When choosing a pet you mainly need to decide if it has stats you like. You certainly don't have to consider whether it will approve of your lifestyle choices. In SWTOR you will never learn the entire back story of a given companion, and/ or be able to make out with them if their personality conflicts too strongly with what you have chosen for your character.

    Mechanically you can still pick whoever you like (Jake is a good healer, I'll bring him). But that does affect the narrative arc you experience both in terms of random comments from your companion (or the lack), and whether you feel validated or alone in decisions you make as you adventure. I think companions are an effective interactive narrative device.

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  7. @Yeebo, agreed. I was just talking to a work buddy about your comment, and some of my experiences with companions in the game, i.e., how Kaliyo liked my snarky Agent. She didn't didn't like it when I was more respectful toward Keeper.

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