Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

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. Scooter 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. Scooter 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 Scooter 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!

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.


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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

QOTD: SWTOR's Legacy System

The discussion is heating up over at BioBreak regarding SWTOR's Legacy System. Syp brings up some excellent points. For example:
Because surnames are unique on a server, it’s going to be a race to get to them first (and if you come late to the game?  Good luck!).
Warsyde commented on Syp's post:
Whether the name is reserved at character creation or reserved at level 20 (or whenever) doesn’t make much difference, either way it’s a race to get there first, the only difference is the length of the race. They need to make them non-unique.
I think the difference between someone beating you to a name at character creation and the same thing happening 30 levels later is significant. In the first case, you'd lost before you even started running. The second affects gameplay style and possibly enjoyment, if you feel you need to rush through the story to snag that name.

Scarybooster thinks BioWare should stop calling it a surname and just refer to it as a Legacy name:
Everybody can be Skywalker if they want. If you want to be original BW should make a check system that says, “Skywalker”- taken are you sure you want to proceed? Yes/no. “Skywalker” -Name has not been used on this server. Do you want to proceed, Yes/No
I like STO's approach to names and roleplaying. Along with @handles that only appear in chat (I don't count chat when thinking about immersion, it's part of the UI.), STO has "short names" and "full names" along with an in-game RP backstory section as part of the character window. This allowed me to roleplay Donovan Locke as Locke, a militaristic character, and Rowan Starblanket as Rowan, a much more informal character. It also meant that there could be many players with the same character name (Just like my meatspace name is hardly unique) because our @handles were unique. The printed mission dialogue sometimes used the designated surname and sometimes the short name, depending on the context of the conversation. It worked great, and made me feel part of the story.

Scary's suggestion that being original could be optional is great for the first user of the name, until there are two hundred other "Skywalkers" running around. Then they are not so unique. On the other hand, meatspace couples and families could share the surname as they play together. Of course, if it's not a surname, then the option to make it a surname should be removed. I agree the surnames should be either non-unique and/or not part of the Legacy system at all. We could still have the Legacy title and it wouldn't have to be a surname at all, could be an object (i.e., The Frostmourne Legacy, to borrow from WoW). Of course, now that I think about it, there's nothing stopping people from doing that now. Also, if I understand correctly, the players automatically enter the Legacy sytem and start earning Legacy points, regardless of whether they choose a Legacy name immediately or not. So no worries about missing out on whatever rewards are in store.

[EDIT]Another quote from Syp's comments, this time from Buhallin:
While I agree with the concerns over how Bioware implemented this, I’m continually amazed at the MMO community’s ability to take even the most minor things and turn it into an epic catastrophe if they don’t get exactly what they want.
In short, the Legacy system as currently explained is flawed, but I believe there are work-arounds. BioWare could maybe heed some of the suggestions, but people shouldn't sweat it so much. It's just a game . . .

Just the Two (Four) of Us: Observations and Suggestions for Duoing in SWTOR

So I (and everyone else and their brother) got in to the "stress test" beta of SWTOR this Thanksgiving weekend. Reams have been written about the quality of the game and the story. But I think most people have already made up their minds about whether they are going to play, and we bloggers are all simply preaching to our respective choirs. I want to talk a little about partnering up with a single fellow player, say a spouse, for long term duo play. Chris over at Levelcapped beat me to the punch on one aspect of grouping:
Playing with two people is great; playing with two people who each have a companion is awesome. It’s like a wrecking ball swinging through content. To some, that may sound like the End Of The World As We Know It, but as I’ve said before, I’m all about the progress and, in this case, the story.
So I intend to play at least one pair of characters with my lovely bride, Sctrz. (An Aside: I want to point out that, much like others have mentioned doing, I played classes I wasn't sure about or flat out had not intended to play when the game goes live: Trooper, Agent, Knight, Consular. Their stories have me completely hooked; I now want to find out what happens to each one.) Anyway, we both roled the Imperial Agent on Saturday and Sunday. Now grouping with others allows you to earn social points, which are somewhat like faction points, unlocking titles and gear that you would not otherwise have access to. If you have a Significant Other Leveling Contract (SLC), this aspect of the game becomes pure icing on the cake for characters under the SLC.

One of the newer (for beta) opportunities for partnered characters is the ability to spectate the NPC conversations for the your partner's stories. This is great if you are different classes and and don't care too much about spoilers; it gives the player whose story is being shown a bunch of "free" social points (normally distributed by roll on the conversation wheel). The problem with roling the same class is that you can only ever be a spectator in your partner's story, even if you are at the same point in the story. Then they have to watch you. This might be good for those who want to see how different conversation choices play out. You can split off into your own story rooms if you want, but then you lose those few social points because no one is with you.

During the non-story quests (Are they quests or missions? Even BioWare isn't sure.) you "compete" for responses to the NPCs and this can be amusing if one of you is playing Light Side and the other is playing Dark Side. Everyone gets Light/Dark credit for their choice, but the player who wins gets to slaughter or set free, much to the dismay of the other (usually Sctrz, in our case, since I often chose the Dark Side.)

Another issue with playing the same class for your SLC is that, at least initially, you end up with the same companions. They can be customized, but not to the point where they don't both look like the same character. This didn't cause confusion, but was odd. At higher levels with more companions to choose from, this would not be as big a deal.

One last issue: if you play the same class, you will be competing for armor rolls. Different classes, even those with the same level of armor (light/medium/heavy) will still be looking for different stats.

So on Sunday and Monday evenings, Sctrz and I decided to play Jedi. She roled a Knight and I roled Consular. (The picture is actually one I had taken on another prior consular. [EDIT: I just realized all the screenshots I took automagically appeared in a new folder in My Documents!] Meanwhile, if you have Google's Picasa downloaded and running, it will make pictures everytime you hit Print Screen.) This went a little better for a few reasons, some game related, some interpersonal. Because I have a well-above-average sense of spatial relationships and map reading ability (Yes, I've been tested. Go Army!), and because I have soloed my way through countless hours of WoW, STO, and other games, I have a tendency to make my own way through the game world and expect Sctrz to follow. She, in turn, often feels like I am still soloing and she is just tagging along. So I made a conscious effort to discuss with her the questing options, what to do next, etc. I did say to her at one point, "You decide where we will go, and then trust me to get us there." From my perspective, at least, this worked better and we had less friction. I invite her to comment and you, Dear Reader, can get her side of it.

Anyway, having the two different classes on the same starting planet meant that we saw both stories (for the most part). If you're not interested in spoilers for the other class, jump into the story area with your partner, so they can get the social points, and take a biobreak or you can help with fights and such, and ignore the "cutscenes."

We play next to each other, within easy earshot of the two computers, and the SWTOR conversations tended not to sync up for various reasons. This was distracting, so we each put one earbud in and then could hear each other without our computer sounds getting in the way. I'd kinda like stereo, and we could use headphones with Ventrilo I suppose, though that would be odd: sitting in the same room, but communicating over VOIP.

The two classes complemented each other very well, even though before level 10 and the Advanced Classes, basically every class in the game is DPS only. She would jump in, vibroblade swinging, and I would stand off just a bit, force-throwing objects at the target and only occasionally swinging my blade. As Chris said above, the content is not difficult to solo, but running through it with a partner is great. Once we got our companions, around level 7 or 8, it was even better.

When we hit level 10 and finished in the starting area, we headed to the space fleet to choose our Advanced Classes and crew skills. It only makes sense to pick complementary ACs when you're partnering with someone, so I went Sage and dumped points into healing, while Sctrz chose the dual-wielding Sentinel, figuring we could depend on our companions to tank. We accepted a quest to the first Republic Flashpoint, "The Esseles." We thought we'd try it even though there were only two of us, with our companions. I was gratified to see a notice pop up that recommended "2+" players for the flashpoint. We got all the way through to the last boss without any real problems, but just couldn't quite get him down. I would've liked to go back at level 12 to see if we could down him, we were that close at 11.

[EDIT, thanks to Chris] One last thing about duoing with different classes: Unless you choose classes that are on the same starting world, you will be at least level 10 before you can partner up on the second world. There isn't really anything for the Sith to do on Nal Hutta, for example. We are only talking about 1½ evenings of solid play at the very beginning, however, so take it for what it's worth.

So DL:TR version:
  • Duoing with a partner/significant other is not only viable in SWTOR, but fun.
  • I recommend choosing different classes, but this is not absolutely necessary.
  • Even when you do choose different classes, it shouldn't be too difficult to stay close in XP, assuming you have an SLC.
  • At least some of the Flashpoints are perfectly doable as a duo with companions, but you may want to be a level or two higher than if you were in a full group of four players.
This wall of words became quite expository, even though I strove not to spoil anything. Once again, I was thrilled with the opportunity to participate in the SWTOR beta, and look forward to playing solo and with my lovely bride when the game launches.

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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

QoTD: My Dream MMO?

In the midst of all this SWTOR mania, I came across this tidbit in an article on the evolution of the MMORPG genre from Darth Hater:
Guild Wars 2 is also scrapping the traditional and familiar trinity class system; in Guild Wars 2, all classes can take or deal damage and all classes have the ability to heal others. Guild Wars 2 will also take a page from BioWare’s playbook and focus on story
This should sound familiar to long-time readers of this blog. I had planned to check out GW2 when it comes out eventually, but now I am more eagerly waiting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Shhh! I Got Into the Beta This Weekend.

I would have had this post out earlier, but I've interspersed writing it with a conversation I'm carrying on with a fellow gamer/work-buddy.

So I got into the SWTOR beta this past weekend. I just want to leave my general impressions on things I saw and did. I only got up to level 11 or 12 on one character and played another one just to get a feeling for the different classes. I also let my lovely bride play, because SWTOR's NDA has nothing on my marriage contract to keep her happy. When Momma ain't happeh, ain't nobody happeh. (Lub you, sweetums.) I did watch as she played, and she watched me. I don't think any spoilers are below, I want to discover as much as I can about the game from actually playing it. If you're looking for story spoilers, this is not the blog for you.

So how was it? In a word, engrossing. I am still thinking of the Trooper story that I only played myself to about level 5 for an hour and a half before the event ended at almost midnight local time. My hunny played her Trooper to level 10. I totally want to continue my Trooper's story now, despite the fact that it was probably the least appealing class to me prior to this event. It's really the main reason I played one, because I figured it would be the last one I'd play after launch. I am very interested in playing one now. That's how well-crafted the story is.

I also played a Jedi Knight, another class low on my post-launch priority list. I found out that the "rage" mechanic for the Knight is called focus, which makes sense. It functions much like rage for a warrior in WoW: certain abilities build focus, and other abilities spend it. (The trooper mechanic is "ammo," a little like mana, but more discreet amounts.) I made Light side choices with the Knight I took to 11, and Dark side choices for another one to about 7, just to see the differences in story. Some differences are subtle; other times choices open or close quest lines. I'll have to see if and how that develops further along in the story, meaning I may have to play the same class twice, if the stories diverge tremendously. (Yes it would be worth it.) I am one of the people Scarybooster mentioned who would like to be able to be chaotic in my moral choices in the game without having to worry about the meta-game of racking up Light or Dark points. If what he says is true and BioWare is endeavoring to keep the middle road as rewarding as the extremes, this player at least will be very happy.

Were there issues with the game? Yes: some graphics glitches; one time when the conversation wheel screwed up and gave me an invalid choice that stalled out the conversation and I had to start it over, this time with different, valid choices on the wheel. Some gameplay aspects were just the other side of the handholding-vs-learning-curve spectrum from where I would like to be. But again, they're trying to strike a balance. Suffice it to say you have to pay attention to the story. This is not going to be a game where you can pick up ten quests at a hub without reading anything and successfully complete them. The biggest single issue I don't think I can talk about, between the NDA and my own reticence about spoilers. I don't think it can be fixed in the way I think it should, certainly not before launch. Was it a show stopper, though? No. I will still play.

I didn't get much chance to see the companion relationships develop. I will save my thoughts on that for another post I have researched but have yet to write.

I won't compare my experience to other games I've played. Plenty of others will draw those comparisons, both positive and negative. Let me just say this, the fourth pillar is alive and well in Star Wars: The Old Republic. [EDIT: The Story is good enough in this game that Chris over at Levelcapped, who only a week ago declared he didn't like story, got sucked into his character story.] If you have read this blog for any length of time, Dear Reader, you know that I place Story and Characterization pretty much at the top of my list of reasons to continue playing a game (beyond an ineffable "absorption" factor--does the game make me want to continue playing?) This SWTOR beta did just that, I want to keep playing. Story, story, and story will keep me coming back for more in this game.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fatal Alliance, a Review

Fatal Alliance (Star Wars The Old Republic, #1)Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beware: possible MINOR SPOILERS.

I enjoyed reading Fatal Alliance. As has been said, it is a bit of a showcase for the world and classes of the upcoming BioWare MMO, Star Wars: the Old Republic. However, given what I know about the behavior and personalities of the in-game characters, I felt that FA was a good departure from that template. Ula Vii, the Imperial "Agent" in particular, was not the cool James-Bondish Agent we've seen in videos of the game. I saw someone else's review, critical of the smuggler's name, "Jet Nebula." That it was unrealistic. The person obviously did not pay attention, as it was clearly not his real name from the first mention of it. The book is what it is, a StarWars-based game tie-in. Anyone looking for more will be sorely disappointed.

I am generally fond of game tie-in novels, though I wouldn't consider any to be among my favorite books. This one satisfied my itch for a TOR era book and I look forward to reading Deceived and Revan.

I feel I should mention this is my first Kindle e-book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it through the Kindle app on my new Android phone.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So It Begins . . .

Just a quick post because I don't know when I'll be posting again. I'm participating in the lunacy that is NaNoWriMo2011. If you don't know what that is I suggest you head on over to the site. If you are participating, feel free to add me as a writing buddy. I'm there as Rowanblaze, same as Twitter.

Good luck, and God help us.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Starblanket: In the Belly of the Beast

I rediscovered this passage while digging through NaNoWriMo stuff from last year. I never posted it, so here it is. This is a continuation of the STO story "Do the Borg Believe in God?" and "Do the Borg have an Afterlife?" Catchy titles, but not exactly what the stories were actually about. In any event, read those first. Enjoy:

Rowan became aware of an insistent chirping. Trying to stir, she felt a tremendous pain in her side and realized that some of her ribs were broken. Groaning, she pushed herself up into a sitting position. Scanning the chamber. She made out the still forms of the other three members of the away team. The chirping continued, it was her communicator pin. Tapping the badge sent a fresh twinge along her ribs.

“Starblanket here,” she grunted.

Tarah’s voice sounded tinny in the thinning air. “Captain, the Borg wreckage you occupy is on the verge of collapse. We anticipate a hull breech at any moment.”

“Can you lock on to our signals?”

“Negative, Captain. The interference from radiation is too strong at your present location.”

“We’ll move to the other chamber. Keep this channel open.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Corporal Graavel, the Tellarite MACO, was closest to her. She crawled closer to him to assess his condition. Realizing her tricorder had flown out of her hand in the tumble, she gently shook his shoulder. He stirred, groaning.

“Corporal, are you hurt?” Rowan asked, visually examining the MACO.

“I’m alright, Ma’am,” Graavel said with a grunt. He sat up.

“Check on Commander Brasseux. While I check the Major.”

They moved off towards their separate charges. Major Gasira’s left lower leg was bent an unnatural angle, her foot caught under some debris. Rowan cast about for something to split the Major’s leg. Finding a short piece of wreckage, she began ripping the bottom of her own uniform top into strips. Gasira moaned and her eyes fluttered open. Rowan paused to put a hand on her shoulder.

“Shh, hold still, Major. Your leg is broken. I need to set on splint it.”

Gasira just groaned her acknowledgement. The chamber shuddered again as the remaining gravity generator began to fail. The stressed metal structure groaned louder than the Major. Thierry and Graavel made their way over to Rowan and Gasira. Having hit the bulkhead face first, Thierry’s ocular scanner was broken and he was bleeding from his temple where the device had cut him. He had abrasions across his cheek on that side and his nose had swollen, perhaps broken.

“Corporal, help me move this,” Rowan indicated the twisted metal trapping Gasira’s foot. The two tossed the debris aside, freeing the MACO commander’s leg, and Rowan spoke to her.

“Major, I need to set this, then I will split it. Without my medkit I cannot give you a painkiller.”

“I understand, Captain,” Gasira gasped and gritted her teeth. Rowan grasped the broken limb pulled as gently as she could, straightening it and trying to set the bones by feel. The Major cried out in pain.

“There. Corporal, position these strips under her leg above and below the break, here and here, while I lift it.” The MACO did as she asked. Rowan placed the splint along the Major’s leg and tied it in place.

“OK, we need to move out of this chamber or La Gitana cannot beam us out. Thierry, how are you doing?”

“I’ll be alright, sheh.”

“Alright, let’s move. Come on, Major.” Rowan hooked Gasira’s left arm around her own shoulders and lifted the other woman off the deck. The Major stood on her good leg, leaning into the Captain.

“Ready, Captain” she grunted.

“Tarah, monitor our signal. Beam us out as soon as you can.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Thierry leaned on the Tellarite as the chamber lurched again. The deck was now apparently at a steep angle, the exit to the corridor above the debris pile by about a meter and a half. Rowan stepped gingerly over the pile, careful of her footing and her charge. Gasira helped as best she could on her good leg. Thierry and Graavel followed behind. Coming to the bulkhead the passageway was on, Rowan propped up the Major.

“Corporal, can you get up into the corridor?” she asked turning to the Tellarite.

“Heh, of course, Ma’am.” The MACO scrambled up the bulkhead and deck into the opening, poking his head back out.

“OK. Thierry, help me get the major up there.” Rowan said. Gasira leaned on the engineer, as Rowan interlaced her fingers into a stirrup. Lifting her foot into The Captain’s hands, Gasira, heaved herself up and reached for the Corporal’s outstretched hands. Together they lifted her in to the corridor.

“OK, you’re next, Thierry.” Rowan put her hands back down to the engineer’s foot to boost him up, grunting in pain as she hoisted him into the corridor. Following the other away team members into the corridor, Rowan reassessed the situation. The tilted bulkheads and deck would make progress hazardous. The groans of the wreckage had not died down.

“OK, move carefully, but quickly. Corporal, you take the lead. Thierry, you follow. I’ll bring up the rear with the Major.” Rowan clutched her side where her broken ribs ground against each other.

“Sheh, are you alright? Can you support her?” the engineer asked.

“Yes, just get moving.”

The Tellarite moved up the corridor, tremors in the craft making him stumble. Thierry stumbled after, holding onto the bulkheads. Rowan realized that the gravity generator was causing the corridor to tilt uphill, slowing their progress.

“Tarah, are we out of the interference yet?”

“Negative, Captain.” Came the voice of her First Officer. “Another 15 meters, maybe.”

They came upon the animated but brain-dead drone, blocking their path. Corporal Graavel turned back to Rowan. “Orders, Ma’am?”

Rowan sighed, “Shoot it.” The MACO pulled out a hand phaser. Adjusting the settings, he took aim and fired on the drone, disintegrating it. Alarms went off echoing down the passageway.

“Damnit!” Rowan cursed. “Get going!”

Thierry and Graavel scrambled up the corridor with Rowan following as best she could with Gasira in tow. Between the groaning structure and the screaming alarms, Rowan barely heard Tarah’s voice.

“Captain, the structure is beginning to break-up, with multiple stress fractures in the hull.”

“We’re moving as fast as we can. Can you reposition to get us out of here?”

“We are already in the prime position relative to the interference, Captain.”

The deck heaved and they were all lifted off their feet. The horrible sound of metal ripping came up the passageway from the cargo bay. Closely followed by the boom of an explosion. Hot gases rushed past the away team, then suddenly reversed themselves.

“Hull breech! Get going!”

They all crawled the last few meters, Thierry dropping back to help Rowan with Gasira. The rushing wind was deafening, but they still had air for now.

“Tarah, beam out Corporal Graavel as soon as you have a lock on him!” Rowan shouted over the wind.

Tarah’s response was lost to the roar. The plasma fire behind was consuming the air. Soon enough, Rowan saw the telltale glow of the transporter rescuing the MACO about three meters ahead of them.

“Thierry! Go!”

“Not without you and the Major, sheh!”

They made it the last small distance when the wreckage rocked again from the force of another explosion. But the transporter effect had already embraced the three last members of the away team, pulling them to safety as the passageway collapsed around them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Consumers and Producers

So Tobold ordered a Kindle. His remarks about about tablets vs. PCs struck a chord for me:
Most people on the internet are mainly consumers of content. They contribute very little beyond the occasional link or comment, but they read and listen and watch a lot. I attribute it to the genius of the late Steve Jobs that he realized that existing personal computer were built by content creators for content creators, enabling him to start a revolution of devices built for content consumption instead, which was closer to what the public wanted. This included the iPad, which instead of earlier, failed, attempts at making tablet computers did away with content creation features like handwriting recognition, concentrated on features to consume content.

Unfortunately I am more of a content creator than a content consumer. I don't listen to music much, nor do I spend a lot of time watching videos on the internet. Instead I spend a lot of time writing, mostly in the form of this blog. As a result I don't own a tablet computer (nor a smart phone), as these devices simply aren't all that suitable for content creation. You *can* send an e-mail from an iPhone, or write a blog entry on an iPad, but given the choice you'd rather do it on a regular PC.
While not as prolific as Tobold, I also consider myself a content creator. I use my PC for two things, generally; Blogging (Tweeting, etc.); and Gaming. Tobold helped me put a finger on why I don't see a need for a tablet for me. The basic interface of a tablet computer does not lend itself to the types of games I play, much less the stuff "under the hood." Right this minute, I am producing content. Much of it is crap, and I suspect very few consume it. Thank you, Dear Reader, for consuming it; though my guess is you probably produce some of your own.

I want to interact with the web, not just consume it. A few years ago a work-mate was teasing me and another colleague over our gaming. How much time we wasted. My response to this guy--a Red Sox fan-- was, "How much time do you spend watching baseball or football on TV? The only difference between that and my gaming is that I have an effect on the outcome of the game I am watching." He was a consumer of product, I at least interact with product in a constructive way.

Another thing is that the social (i.e. chat) aspects of the game are hampered by the interface. Unless you are using a VOIP system like Ventrilo, you have to find a way to interact with your fellow players. You could add a keyboard and mouse, but then you are looking at something resembling my laptop anyway. I am not being critical of tablets or people use them. But I don't think I need one at this point in my life.

I know people have tethered their tablets to their PCs and finagled their way through a remote desktop to play MMOs, but really? It's a proof of concept, not a way I want to play the game. Maybe someday soon, MMORPGs will be designed around a touchscreen interface. But until they do, I'll stick with my laptop.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Help Wanted. Must Supply Own Armor, Weapons

Wow, this week just flew by! I didn't realize 'til just now that my last post was last Sunday.

So MMOGC commented on a post Hunters Insight made regarding guild applications. Much of the following is from my comment on GeeCee's post. Hunter flat out doesn't like applications. GeeCee gives them a reserved thumbs-up.
I'm of two minds on this, as are many who commented on Hunter's post. I recently filled out a guild application for the first time in a long time--if ever. And some of the questions there were a little personal, in the way that Hunter objects to. GeeCee's ultimate question, "Why us?" can usually be answered by me with "a friend is in the guild and says you guys are fun to play with." I would neither apply to nor join a guild of total strangers. So I guess it depends on how serious a guild is about some aspect of the game whether they really need an application or not. The application I filled out recently was for a "casual" roleplaying guild. I'd been invited to join by a friend, and actually questioned her about the formality of the process. Ultimately, I shrugged off my misgivings and filled it out. The guild seems nice, though I haven't had the opportunity to play with any of them in-game.

The two guilds in WoW that I have been a part of that were/are arguably progression-oriented raiding guilds did not have an application process other than friends recruiting friends. None of them ever knew my real name, until we became Facebook friends. And that was long after I'd joined. I normally have little use for external guild websites, either, spending much of my non-game leisure time on Twitter, G+, and blogs. The time I have to be on the guild website is usually the same time I have to be actually playing the game itself. The MMO I have been in that required coordination for raids I was interested in joining had a built-in calendar, with raid sign-ups.

On the other hand, I was once in a supposedly casual guild that was insisting that people already in the guild sign up/participate in the external website. They had grown too large too fast to know everyone in the guild. But the way they went about it, threatening to kick people who had not registered on the site in guild-chat--and through /tells--was a huge turn-off. My lovely bride and I almost rage-quit on the spot. The guild itself later imploded and folded into another guild, for various reasons. We did not follow our former guildmates and are still guildless on those toons.

Identifying players and alts in-game is not usually too hard if the leadership uses the in-game guild interface, in my humble opinion. There are usually public notes and officer notes that can be used to identify people, if it is necessary. Plus, any guild doing "srs bsns" probably has a Vent server where people will become known by voice and name, even if that name is an alias. I am almost always Rowan in voice chat, and I knew a guy whom everyone called Joan, because his paladin was Joanofarc and all his alts were variants thereof.

So I guess I'd say guild applications have a place, but too often ask the wrong things or get too personal for something that--from my perspective, at least--is far too casual an activity.