Rants tag

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

SWTOR, a Rogues' Gallery

DATE: The Year of Our Dark Emperor, 1470, Day 247
To: Darth Jadus
From: Keeper

RE: Some Persons of Note

Dossier A927H54302: VERSTECKT
Little is truly known about the agent designated simply "Versteckt." He possesses cybernetic implants to improve his already formidable aim, and which also allow him to access a greater breadth of information about his environment and any social situation he finds himself in. He hails from a small moon called Revanth by its natives (actually a mixed group descended from Darth Revan's armies who settled there some three centuries ago). They have no love for the Republic, and therefore are of use to us. Despite a regular show of disrespect for authority, Versteckt can be counted on to carry out any orders from his handlers at Imperial Intelligence. As most operatives do, he may have his own agenda. As soon as it diverges too much from ours, he will have to be eliminated, regretfully.

Dossier W603D29581: BANYAN
Also hailing from the moon Revanth is a large brute of a Warrior, Banyan. He has shown both the cunning and the scruples of a true Sith, cutting down his own mentor at the Sith Academy on the orders of Darth Baras. Banyan is another cyborg, having lost his eyes as a child, in a decompression accident aboard a freighter. His prosthetics enhance his sight beyond human normal, and this is before his Force sensitivity is taken into account. Banyan adheres closely to the Sith code, cutting down all those who stand in his way. He has shown little political aspiration, relishing only the passion of battle.

Dossier B034K59210: WEIDEN
A young bounty hunter has come to our attention. He was working for Nemro the Hutt, whom our agent Versteckt was endeavoring to bring into the Imperial fold. Weiden has since arrived on Dromund Kaas and has had dealings with the Mandolorian Enclave, likely in connection with their Great Hunt. From reports we have received, Weiden is a crack shot and a relentless hunter. He could be of use apprehending certain enemies of the Empire outside our--legal--reach.


Dossier I946R80587: TOLLKIRSCHE
A former slave who has shown tremendous Force potential, Tollkirsche is currently apprenticed to Lord Zash. Though Pureblood, his origins are actually somewhat obscure, nothing is known of him prior to his appearance on the slave markets of Zygerria. Personality profile indicates an off-balance individual who sadistically delights in the suffering of others; though he shows compassion and a feral sense of justice on random occasions. Tollkisrche is another link to Revan; he was observed making several trips to the Revanite camp outside Kaas City, before departing the system on an errand for his master. It is debatable whether he can be trusted by the Dark Council. However, like a Kaas electrical storm, Tollkirsche is becoming a force to be reckoned with. It may be possible to harness that potential to our benefit.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gaming Genres: Evolutions or Revolutions

Axel Night left a comment on Thursday's post "SWTOR is Too-Much/Not-Enough Like WoW":
I think part of it is we've really narrowed ourselves into this situation. If we look back at games like Ultima Online and Phantasy Star Online, how much did they have in common? Now do the same with World of Warcraft and The Old Republic. The latter have much more in common. I see arguments of "it's a copy of WoW/no it's different, stop comparing them!" But they're all really running together, in terms of core mechanics.

Rather than create new games, we've established a formula. And as elements succeed, they become static aspects of that formula. Developers of new MMORPGs ask "what can I improve" or, if we're lucky, "what can I change," but that core template remains. I have multiple friends who say, "I won't play an MMO if my character can't jump." That has become a thing! One of countless things that, as new refinements and polishes are added to this not so mini sub-genre, bloat our expectations and narrow our gaming experiences until they're these mammoth, unmanageable projects all designed to be near identical.

And now I have a Boba Fett inspired bounty hunter protecting me by shooting me in the head with his healie-pistols, because the game has to have healers. But it's nothing to worry about. He can jump. 

I like healie-pistols. Actually I haven't seen that mechanic, so I don't know about the animations, but it makes as much, if not more, sense than mystical magical healers, a la . . . every other game I've played but STO. I wonder if the insistence on being able to jump stems not from WoW or any other MMO, but from Mario games (a genre unto itself).

Anyway, you make good points, Axel. SWTOR is part of an established genre, UO and PSO (never heard of it) were not. Much like in the 90s, when we had a bunch of "Doom-clones" (including Dark Forces), but no one talks about the fact that Doom is really the second FPS. Wolfenstein came out first. It was Doom that codified the genre though. And modern FPSs have evolved into MW3 and HALO. Who really knows what MMORPGs will look like in 10 or 15 years

We can argue whether or not MMOs are going in the right direction in their evolution. It's really a matter of taste and opinion. Perfect example: I've seen people express the opinion that these games should have "Perma-death." Easy resurrection cheapens the roleplaying experience or something. They even go so far as to say it's bad design. Now let me doubly digress.

 Actors love death scenes. Why? They're memorable, they tug at the heartstrings of the audience. They make people cry. They're great. Audiences? Hate them. They're not thinking about the great acting job; they're thinking that their beloved character just went to way of all life and they're sad, or mad, or both. Maybe it brings our own mortality into sharp relief, and we're uncomfortable with that. It may be great Art, but often it is horrible movie making.

But we keep coming back for more, well some of us. In Star Trek Generations, the android Data installs an emotion chip into his neural matrix, leading to a series of funny and scary incidents. One occurs in Ten Forward where he a has a startling reaction to a drink Guinan serves him.
Even though he hates the stuff,  he wants more. In a contained story, we can accept the death of a character, sometimes.

In our own story, not so much. We become very invested in the character. Let me reassure you, Dear Reader, World of Warcraft would not be nearly as popular if people's characters died as easily as they do and never came back. After all, we have that dynamic in real life. How many people are actually willing to risk their own necks for a real adventure? Not many. That's part of the fun and appeal of these online games, they give us the illusion of adventure with real no danger, other than bad posture and carpal tunnel syndrome. With perma-death in the game, players would grow as cautious with their characters as they level up as they are with their own bodies as they age in real life.

Now, you could make the argument that it should be harder to kill a character, and then you can make death permanent. OK, but you still have to figure out how to convince the player that maybe fighting that dragon isn't such a great idea right now. So the character has to be defeated and removed from the situation without killing it. LOTRO does this with "Morale." SWTOR doesn't call it Death; the character is "Defeated." Cryptic compromised with players who wanted death penalties in STO by creating "Veteran" and "Expert" modes with greater penalties and rewards, but leaving the basic mode without a death penalty. But these are evolutions of the concept. Not revolutions.

These evolutions have come to define the genre. And despite the doomsayers and self-appointed erudites who say that this or that element of the MMO genre is "bad design"; Blizzard, BioWare, and several other games developers have several million little green reasons to argue otherwise. You can call it dumbing down the genre if you want. But sometimes designing what the people want, as opposed to producing what you think is best, is the difference between producing a Mustang, and producing an Edsel.

The beauty of "running together, in terms of core mechanics" is that the learning curve on each new game is not so steep that it becomes a barrier to entry for the player--or the game into the market. There will be some who say about a new game, "It's not different enough from the game I've been playing to warrant shifting my time and money." Others--who are tired of the story/end-game/whatever of the old game--will be able to jump to the new with a minimum of pain. This is good for new games and bored players. Some will say flaws in the genre are propagated across multiple games, but I think many of the stated "flaws" really just reflect the personal preferences and desires of the gaming "elites."
A lot of players want some kind of revolution in the MMO genre, but not most players. The problem with revolutions is that what you have after the revolution--almost by definition--can no longer be in the same category as what went before. Ultima Online was a Revolution, SWTOR is part of an Evolution. And by the way, Revolutionaries often suffer perma-death.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

SWTOR is Too-Much/Not-Enough Like WoW

This is a follow up to yesterday's post. Someone I was talking to made a comment that made me think a thought I hadn't thought about before. A lot of people have been complaining that SWTOR is missing features that games that have been out longer already include. I've seen this occur with every new game I've played after World of Warcraft, starting with Star Trek Online almost 2 years ago. They say something like this:
"It doesn't have such-and-such a feature that another game has. C'mon Devs, this is 2011, these are basic features of an MMO."
Are they? One thing that we, as gamers, sometimes forget is that it takes lots of money and man-power to develop and publish an MMO. Every feature that is included before the game actually launches is another uncompensated investment. Blizzard has developed three expansions to WoW since it launched in 2004, each costing the same price as the original game. In between, they have introduced new dungeon content, numerous battlegrounds, and new questing areas for no more than cost of your monthly subscription. How did they pay for that updated content? Through subscription and box revenues, from millions of people, over seven years.

Then we expect a new game, SWTOR, to have a multitude of features that we haven't really paid for. Sure we've paid the initial box price. But that was only a couple of days ago. Prior to that, BioWare and EA had sunk millions into the game based essentially on faith.

The game has a few Warzones, a few Flashpoints. The crafting system is different and seems less tedious than others I've seen. The questing makes sense so far, and fits my characters' stature in the universe from a roleplaying perspective. The space battles are an interesting side game and in-line with both other SW games and the movies.

Sure, make suggestions for development. Constructive criticism is welcome at BioWare, I am sure. But there is a big difference between, "Hey, you know what would be cool? A guild bank system," and "Waaaah! Why no guild bank!?! This game SUCKS!" If I sound sarcastic or condescending, it's because I thought I was done having to listen to whiny children when my daughters got out of elementary school.
More Warzones, more Flashpoints will come. Quality-of-life features like guild banks will come. Let BioWare get this game off the ground, and enjoy it for what it is and what it has. Don't compare it to a game that is years into its redevelopment cycle.

And don't even get me started on the whiners who didn't follow instructions regarding the product keys and subscription plans . . . [EDIT] I'll leave that to AFK.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Early Access and Launch Queues, or Stop Whining, You Little Brat.

The following is pretty much an  unedited copy of a comment I made on GeeCee's blog post about the SWTOR launch, also of merit is Scarybooster's comparison of the SWTOR launch vs. WoW's launch seven years ago.


I got in "before lunch" on the second day, having preordered in September, the day they announced the 20 December release. Being at work, and unable to take the day off, it didn't matter to me what time of day I got the email.

People seem to forget that their preorder purchase--a whole 5 bucks for basic and DD editions--"guaranteed" only that they would have a copy of the game on the day of release. Any early access, whether one day or seven, is free gravy. The EARLIER access was a reward for preordering EARLIER. Those who ordered later, like me, got what they deserved and have "no standing," to borrow legal jargon.

As for queues, I encountered minor ones early yesterday morning before work, but was pleasantly surprised to waltz onto Sanctum of the Exalted during primetime. I have a friend on Mask of Nihilus (sp?) with 25-30 minute queues, nothing a few minutes doing dishes or reading a story to your kids can't cover.

Here's a nickel's worth of free advice: When your chosen server is full and the queue is intolerable, role a minor alt on an open server. Sure, you want to play with friends and guildmates. But having a back-up plan and having fun at it is way better than getting your blood pressure up and nerdraging on the SWTOR forums. Besides, you never know when your server might crash in the future and you'll be ready with a little side character.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Saga Began in South Austin

So after much debate, both in my head and with my lovely bride, I headed down to Austin last night to attend the official BioWare launch party of Star Wars: The Old Republic. (There was another shindig in some other place, but we all know the important event with the actual rockstars was in TEXAS.) I honestly will not be able to convey the excitement at this event--and the excitement I felt. I'll admit it was somewhat muted by the fact that I've been playing for a few days. But the the lead devs were in attendance, and it was an awesome opportunity to meet them even if only briefly as they signed my swag. Sctrz wanted to go, but didn't feel she could because she had to get up for work very early. So I took my older daughter, who has expressed significant interest in the game.

We arrived just before 10 p.m., when the party was set to officially kick off. Obviously, there was a crowd of people milling about, and an announcer directing people where to stand for different purposes.


Members of the 501st Legion: Vader's First were there, posing for pics and playing with the gadgets.


We got photos with Boba Fett, and then moved to find the end of the autograph line.



I chatted with the folks around me. The guy just ahead of me was the only one from his guild in attendance, as far as he knew, but there were others who were there together with their guildmates.


I quickly became about the middle of the line as it extended in a "U" toward the front of Best Buy. Members of the the TOR team team and (I think) Torocast were passing out large posters, and a few copies of the Journal of Master Gnost-Dural. I got two posters (pic below) but had no luck on the Journal.



The announcer was not idle. Up in the front of the store, the devs were signing things already, and the M.C. was working the crowd into a frenzy with trivia questions and prizes. I missed a lot of it, between chatting with my line mates and being near the back of the store for a while. Eventually I got close enough to pay attention to the questions. They were asking, "Who is credited with playing Jabba the Hutt in "The Phantom Menace"?" After several people had failed to answer correctly, I turned to my daughter and said, "He played 'himself.'" Sure enough, a second later someone was picked who gave that answer. He won a regular copy of the game. My daughter told me I should have raised my hand; she was right.


The next question they asked was, "Who was Boba Fett's mother?" I promptly raised my hand, and @FemSteph, a BioWare PR person, chose me and put a microphone in my face, asking me to say my name and where I am from. I answered, and she repeated the trivia question. "He didn't have a mother." Why? "Because he was an unaltered CLONE!" :D Step right up and get your free copy of Star Wars The Old Republic! W00T!


Next up was the actual autograph table, with the rockstars beaming about their hard work and the appreciative fans.


I was able to have each developer sign both posters and the game package I had just won. My daughter got pics of each with her (better-than-my-phone) camera, I'll post them later. But I may need help remembering their names. I apparently am one of the few people who has properly pronounced Georg Zoeller's first name here in the States. (like "Geh-Org," not "George") Cool points! :) I then geeked out and told him it was because "The Sound of Music" is one of my favorite movies, and Captain Von Trapp's first name is also Georg. Cool points gone! :( But maybe he'll remember me again sometime this week. :P

I thanked each one for their time and efforts, but I HAD to get a pic with @Rockjaw himself, Stephen Reid.


Once all my swag was signed, I was almost ready to go. Sctrz had wanted me to get Boba Fett's autograph, so we hunted him down and my daughter swooped in for the ki--I mean signature--on a 501st Legion pamphlet. We had everything we'd come for--and then some--and I had work this morning, so we popped smoke about an hour after arriving. I felt kinda bad because Sctrz didn't actually get to sleep until after we got home. She probably could have come. 20/20 hindsight.

I saw an old buddy who used to play Star Wars Galaxies (I never did). That was cool. I also met a guildmate, @g1_Atma, who drove all the way from Dallas to attend the party. Way more dedication than I have. It was cool, as always, to meet an online friend in person.

So here's all the awesome swag I got. I'm really glad I decided to go, especially since I won that game that I can give to my daughter for an early Christmas. Since so many weren't able to attend, I felt that, as I was privileged to live close enough, I would represent The Republic Mercy Corps/Imperial Mercenary Corps. LONG LIVE THE CORPS!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gamer Santa Strikes Again!

So Stargrace once again organized a Gamer Secret Santa--a tremendous undertaking, I am sure--and I decided to participate this year after sitting it out last year. It was fun to read a little bit about the person I needed to get a gift for, and think of an appropriate item. My SS package arrived today, and I love my new Bobble Heads. Gamo and Little Mauly will accompany me on all my SWTOR adventures!
THANK YOU, SANTA!!

p.s. I have a SWTOR character post brewing, if I can ever stop playing long enough. :P

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A few hours ago in a galaxy very very nearby. . .

I had to get this pic out for for those of us who will be consistently playing both sides of the Galactic Cold War. (Thanks to Jac Thomas of BioWare for posting it to G+) I am so excited to start playing SWTOR. For Realz. I'm pretty sure I won't get in today. But I can wait. Sctrz has RL stuff keeping her busy this week, so I don't want to distract her. I just hope I can go with most if not all of my planned names. More to come when I get in myself.

So what side are you on?

For all those who are in the fight already: May the Force be with you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dear Mrs. Santa


Dear Mrs. Clause,

So River tells me you have some special goodies for me, all I have to do is ask. I've been reeaaallly good this year; but when I'm bad I'm better, just ask Sctrz. Some of this is pretty "World Peace" level stuff, IYKWIM, but some of it is doable. Much like you, if River is to be believed. ;)

  1. Stop people from whinging over SWTOR. It is what it is. Enjoy it or GTFO.
  2. I wants me some GW2, ASAP. I am so looking forward to the end of the unholy trinity, and trying some real online roleplaying.
  3. Speaking of Roleplaying, are we ever going to get a Firefly MMO? I so wanna be Malcolm Reynolds. He's the big reason I plan to role a Gunslinging Smuggler in SWTOR. (I promise not to cross IPs, though.)
  4. When is someone going to invent the Holodeck? We'd all be in better shape if we were actually jumping around killing imaginary dragons, instead of pushing buttons on a keyboard or gamepad.
  5. As long as we're in pure fantasy territory, can you get me a (well-paying) job spewing my worthless opinion in the internet? My day-job is not fulfilling, though I am grateful for it.
Thanks in advance. I hear MMOGC, Stargrace, Scopique, and Syp might have some items on their lists, as well.

Sincerely,
Rowan

Gaming in Bed (Sometimes with Pants)

Yesterday Scarybooster posted the ultimate SWTOR-fan gaming accessories. That's a lot of crap for a lot of dough. In case anyone is curious, this is my gaming set-up:

Asus GG73Jh - It's not the ultimate gaming rig, I suppose, and Asus has put out the G74 now. But it handles everything I need it to on some fairly high settings. (I usually turn down ground-clutter and shadows.) And I love the fact that I can easily slip the battery in and out the back, without turning the laptop over.

Logitech M570 - I fell in love with trackball mice while deployed to a very dusty part of the world, playing RTS games like Rise of Nations. They make steering very easy in every MMO I've played, though it takes my friends a while to get used to before they are comfortable with it. There are gaming mice with more buttons out there for the fast twitch crowd. But I wouldn't trade my 570 for anything that didn't have a trackball for my thumb.
Yep that's it. I use earbuds sometimes, but gave up on other headsets. An operator-style earpiece/mic might be nice for vent.

I've thought about a left hand gaming device like Scopique's, but I'm not sure. I have the Zboard Fang (didn't pay that much for it) but never found it as useful as I thought I would. I hardly ever sit at a desk or table anymore when I game. It's either the bed or the couch, usually.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Criticism of MMOs

So there have been a lot of "arguments" on either side of the fence regarding whether SWTOR is worth playing or not. The funny thing is that much of the same evidence is portrayed as either positive or negative, revealing more about the writer than it does about the game. This happens with every newly released MMO and probably every single-player game as well.

One criticism is the lack of true aliens as Player Character choices. BioWare apparently said a few months ago they felt that an alien's story would be too different from the human centered stories they had developed. This is true. There is a ton of prejudice in the SW universe against even "near humans," much less other aliens. So their story would not be the same. However, as I recall, BioWare went a step further and said they didn't think people would be able to relate to an alien protagonist. I was thinking the other night that it had to do with audio dialogue more than graphics issues. As HarbingrZero pointed out, they have most of the aliens that people would want to play already modeled and rendered as NPCs. I do think it's short-sighted. Plenty of people have played some pretty bizarre creatures in other games. WoW has Space Goats, Walking Cows and Self-Willed Zombies, for cryin' out loud. Cryptic's STO is the king of aliens, thanks to their extremely customizable characters. After going through the various models in the creation screen during the SWTOR beta, I can pretty much guarantee most of my alts will be human or cyborg (which is human). The other options were kinda lame, IMHO. A Rodian or Trandoshan would have been cool.

The Legacy System has also come under fire. I have issues with it myself, but it won't stop me from playing the game or adapting to the Legacy System in my roleplaying.

A commenter named "gahgoots" on Scarybooster's SWTOR Beta Review/Impressions Part 1: The Bad left a well articulated comment regarding his impressions of the game after a few months of beta testing. Basically he said the replayability of the game is limited, it is too linear. There is not enough to do besides quest.
I understand the liner/nonlinear argument, both within a zone and through multiple zones. WoW gave several options for questing in different zones any any given level, but I often found I had to visit several zones just to level up to the next tier of questing, the next set of zones. Within each zone, there were places you didn't want to go when you first qualified to enter the zone, because you would get your ass handed to you.

Rift has a similar problem; there were several times that my bride and I had to go to another zone to quest because we had progressed in the story farther than we had progressed in levels. The quests became too difficult to complete without leveling up first. Also, Rift suffers from the one-time-through-for-each-faction issue. More so than SWTOR, I believe.

Gahgoots also said the mirrored classes meant that there are really only four classes to play. I disagree with this, because of the advanced classes. even if the ACs are mirrored (they are), that's still 8 classes after the intro planets. Some ACs may be very similar, Shadow (rogue) and Sage (mage/priest) have completely different roles and many different abilities. The same with goes for Sniper versus Operative: A long-range cover-loving killer as opposed to an in-your-face melee fighter or healer. WoW had only about that many classes to start, and didn't even bother to change their names or ability effects. STO only has three "branches."

The linearity can be enjoyable. I see the SWTOR story as a choose-your-own adventure. Many of the things that have been brought up are not problems to me. I am not an idiot, I am not lazy (well maybe a little), I prefer that a game be relaxing, not frustrating. I have enough stress at work, I don't want to come home to more stress. If you do, Dear Reader, maybe this game is not for you. I don't enjoy FPS games like Halo or CoD, or EA Sports games like Madden or NBA Elite, but I don't come on here and rant about how they suck.

I've played a few other MMOs, and they all have the same features/problems to some degree. The question is, is the journey enjoyable? Most people who will play Skyrim all the way through have already done so, and loved it. It's been less than a month since it came out. For the same price as Skyrim ($60), you can get the basic edition of SWTOR and play for a month. Of course, BioWare and EA would like you to keep playing and paying the monthly subscription. Play the game for as long as you enjoy it, then cancel your subscription. Easy as pie.