Rants tag

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

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.