These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: DAW15 Part 1

In response to encouragement from Rowan, I am going to do some developer thank yous. And I thought I would do that through the lens of a few of my favorite features in games. Things the developers conjured up and made reality for me, often as if reading my mind. Its a busy week for me, being Holy Week, so these will be short and sweet, but I will try to get three (3) of them in this week.

So, my first thank you goes to SWTOR’s developers for an underappreciated element of the game: Starship Battles.

No, not Galactic Space Fail, the original space battles tunnel shooter than shipped with the game at launch.

The developers realized that they did not have the time or money to create the free-flying space sim / X-Wing clone that Star Wars Galaxies (may it rest in peace) was able to pull off. But they did not want to not do anything. And so they reached back into the history and lore of the franchise and pulled out a piece of nostalgia – the arcade game tunnel shooters that many of us played growing up, and that were also a cornerstone of the Rebel Assault franchise.

It was a compromise, a chance for players to actually use their cool ships and put some time and effort into them, and something that could be created within the framework of the original game. And while it was panned widely when announced because it was not what SWG gave us, it was a nice peace offering and one that was actually a nice, entertaining diversion within the greater game.

So, thank you SWTOR developers, for giving us something when we might have otherwise had nothing, and for giving us something that fit within the franchise, lore, and nostalgia of Star Wars. Critics and anonymous posters may have banged on you hard for it, but I thought it was a good move from the beginning, and I still enjoy it today.

THANK YOU!

#daw2015, #swtor, #2015, #mmo

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A Few Random Thoughts on The Return To SWTOR

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~ Its the little things that I appreciate in the game. That big knife sticking in the torso of the defeated barbarian master belongs to me. Most games that animation would disappear on death, but not here. The adaptive armor that allows you to achieve almost any look for any character without sacrificing stats or gameplay advantage. Are you a Sith Inquisitor using dark side heals but want to look like Cade Skywalker, rocking the trench coat vibe? No problem. Elite Republic Commando but you can’t enough of Leia in that bikini? Done. Have particular or conversation choices in mind but you don’t like the companion affection or dark side/light side changes? There’s an app a crew skill for that. Want to know where your apartment is on Dromund Kass? Well, they actually coded the building into the landscape.

The one with the docking garage, just above the tail end of the speeder.
The one with the docking garage, just above the tail end of the speeder.

~ Its also the little things that are frustrating. My Agent has a blaster pistol in every cut scene (and uses it in more than one), but I can’t equip or use one at all in the game. My companions are interesting, but my use in them is limited because I have to trade them out based on my in game need. Doctor Lockin (pictured above) can only come out when I’m in a group. Vector Hyllis, a fascinating character, never travels with me at all because he is locked into two different DPS stances. The word was that early on, you could give companion’s “kits” that changed their available gear and skill loadouts. I really wish we still had that. I would love it if I could make 2V-R8 tank for me, while he complains that he is not programmed for disintegration (a la C3PO in Clone Wars). Speaking of which, the ship droids need to be fully fleshed out. We need customization and conversations options for them, if you ask me. Though I suppose that might cut into Bioware’s profits from selling HK clones at however many $$$ a pop. And those giant, beautiful worlds? Well the game gets you running from place to place so fast because of its slow leveling curve (downright abyssmal if you are F2P) that you end up missing all the cool little tidbits they programmed in, like this conversation I overheard in a seedier section of Coruscant (you may have to enlarge to read it):

s3

~ Some things Bioware has done have improved the game. The one that nearly made me weep with joy was the removal of people shooting each other to heal them. It was not only not canonical in any way, it was just plain stupid. Just think of all the friendly fire accidents from forgetting to change to the right cylinder. Shooting darts at someone still remains, but that I can sort of see. It was unloading your gatling cannon on a buddy to heal them that made me cringe. Also the credit drop rate is now reasonable rather than deeply stingy (I remember when paying 100 creds for a jukebox token was the pinnacle of luxury spending). The game has been nicely optimized (it runs nicely on my son’s computer, which does not have dedicated graphics). Strongholds are a nice touch, and they also gave a way to cut down on load screen hopping as you try to group up around the galaxy – you can always travel directly to the stronghold and from the stronghold you can (without expending a precious travel cooldown) head to the fleet, the city the stronghold is located in, or your previous location. It still takes a bit to get to a new place, but settling your character in for the night got a hell of a lot easier. And the decoration “hook” system is nice for those of us who want a nice looking home but stink at decorating (or just don’t have a lot of time to put into it).

s6

~ That system does take a while to learn though. I burned my free prefab and some Cartel Coins for stuff that I could have gotten for free if I had known a little more about what I was doing. Which brings me to some of the things that haven’t changed that are hilariously irritating. SWTOR is the king of awkward animations, with nobody even close to second place.

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s5

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~ That last one just sums it all up. My gun magically moves itself to its invisible back holster while my kolto droid is shooting snot colored healing dust in my companions face. And I didn’t even put up any from the conversations because…surprise(!), they still have fixed the bug they introduced in beta(!!) that disables the screenshot key when you are in dialogue mode (!!!). MMO gods help us Bioware, you are reaching Sony Daybreak levels of cluelessness.

Still, we are enjoying our return to the game. So long as I play the stories with a bit of camp and frivolity, they are bearable, almost like an MMO version of Galavant. The subscription seems to offer a turbo boost to leveling, which puts it just this side of glacial (two nights on Alderaan = half a level of 30). If you are playing every night, that’s probably not bad. But for those of us playing once or twice a week, I should finish up my main character sometime this summer, and my alt somewhere in 2016. Meanwhile I will start a new character in STO next month and it will probably be my fourth to cap, which will happen probably in 4-6 weeks on a similar play schedule.

And I will say that the player base seems to have bled off a lot of the undesirables, perhaps because of how harsh the F2P climate is. My son rescued a fellow player from a bad pull the other night on Coruscant and got a big thank you in general chat and a gift of 200,000 credits – maybe more, since that’s the escrow cap on his account! And my interactions with other players have been constant and pleasent. Helping hands and patient waits for pulls have been the norm since my return.

To that end, I’m seriously contemplating something I haven’t done with any MMORPG since December of 2011, when SWTOR launched: buy a six month subscription. While I subbed to TESO for seven months in total, I never had the courage to run a multi-month sub like I have done with WoT/WoWp and WarThunder. The game still has its flaws, but the ability to play with my son seems to have helped me hit the reset button on the game. And that has been the biggest surprise, so far, of 2015.

Screenshot_2015-03-03_23_13_06_033624

#swtor, #mmo, #2015, #surprise

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Play A Game

So my son has really enjoyed Marvel Heroes Online. And I play a good bit with him. A fun diversion and his first real introduction to an MMO of sorts. But while watching the new Star Wars cartoon (Rebels!) on Disney last week, he looked over at me and his memory had clearly been jogged.

“Dad, didn’t you used to play a game like Marvel, but with Star Wars?”

Yes son, yes I did. He requested a download of SWTOR to his computer, and in this day and age of Free To Play, it was a done deal. He asked me about playing with him, and I told him sure, as any good dad would, but I wasn’t really sure, if you know what I mean. The game and I obviously have a very troubled history together. I did update the game, but…

So a couple of nights ago, I was playing some War Thunder with my brother and my son wanders over and says…”oh” – putting a dozen levels of regret in his voice as only kids can do. And went over to fire up SWTOR. And I knew it was time for an epic dad moment. Through WT text chat, the deal was arranged.

My brother and I stealthily logged off War Thunder and into SWTOR. I casually made a drink run to figure out his character’s name and where he was. We pulled a couple of similar level toons, and just like that, history was made.

history

So this post is to commemorate the first time that my brother, my son (his godson), and I all played an MMO together. The first time we all did Star Wars together.

And perhaps because of my son’s enthusiasm for all things Star Wars, and the game in particular, and perhaps because my brother didn’t have quite the experience I did and continued to play even after I stopped, I have found myself back in a game I never thought I would be in, and yes, even having fun in it.

And since TESO has decided that they will no longer require a sub, it looks like this will takes its place, for a while anyway (my son can’t afford the sub, but did spend the last of his Christmas money on Cartel Coins for unlocks and a Preferred account status). This bears more exploration and posting about, but as I said, this one is mostly to mark history, and to help me remember the way my son’s face lit up when a couple of familiar faces showed up to help him out with his questing on Coruscant.

People, this is why I do Time Capsule posts. Never would have guessed…

#mmo, #swtor, #2015

Opening the 2014 Time Capsule

So, according to my notes, this is my second year doing this. Instead of predictions at the end of the year, at the beginning of the year I try to capture my hopes, dreams, and thoughts for the year in one space, and then go back and look at them the next year. This change was inspired by SWTOR after I realized how I went from gung-ho-on-fire for it to hating it in the course of a year. How quickly things change in the world of online gaming, right? So here is where I was 12 months ago, and my reflections now.

I Was Looking Forward To Four Things:

    World of Warplanes: Vought F7U Cutless

The Cutless was my favorite tier 10 at launch, and was supposed to be my first end game plane. Its defensive handling and speed made it a great choice. But I ran into two problems. One is that the Corsair line has been perpetually underpowered in the game. It is unrealistically nerfed in its speed and handling, and tends to be one of the worst choices to fly at tiers 7-8 (where the grind kicks in). So while I unlocked the tier 7, I never went beyond that. It sits in the hanger, gathering dust. The more serious problem though, was Warplanes population struggles. While things are better now, its still hard to find any sort of decent size match above tier 7, and anytime they do a special (like the one that has been going on the last month) its impossible to play anything other than the tiers directed (in this case, tier 4) because that is where everyone congregates. Its good for the overall health of the game to get people together, and there is no real need for a tier 10 yet, but still, it is frustrating. I have used free XP to unlock and upgrade the FJ-1 Fury, at tier 9, and one that is probably better suited for my play style than the Corsairs were.

    Elder Scrolls Mania

I think I spent just about half the year on subscription for Elder Scrolls Online. I continue to believe it to be a great MMO. But it is almost exclusively used by me for playtime with my brother, and the last two months have been nuts for both of us. We talked this week and are anxious to make a return to the game in the coming weeks. Part of my joy is the flexibility in playstyles. Its not unusual for me to have a different weapon and skill set equipped each night. Oh and the crafting…my word the crafting. I collect crafting styles like some people collect stamps. Or pets. Or achievements. Yeah, lets go with those.

    Playing Old RPG Franchises

I tried Wizardry 7. Oi. Character creation alone was crazy frustrating to me. So I figured maybe I went toooo far back in time, ya know? So I picked up Might and Magic 10 on sale, and it was a bust too. So I tried M&M7 again. Also a bust. The magic just wasn’t there. And that’s when I realized the problem wasn’t that I had gone too far back, but that I hadn’t gone far enough. So, I busted out some Might and Magic 2. Its still hard as hell, but at least my expectations are in line with reality. And I don’t have to deal with an inventory system from hell – Might and Magic 2 restricts every character to 12 items – six equipped and six in the backpack.

MM2

And character creation evokes the feeling of classic tabletop dice rolling for some reason.

...can't quite put my finger on why.
…can’t quite put my finger on why.

So, nostalgia enjoyed, thanks again NWC and Van Canegham for making a timeless classic!

    The Return of WoW

Yeah, not so much. Not sure why, but by the time release rolled around, any enthusiasm I felt was completely nonexistent. I couldn’t tell you why, as I’ve said before, I think WoW today is much improved from when I last played regularly (2007-2008), but apparently, for me, that ship has sailed.

I Had Three Burning Questions:

    What Will Come of Wildstar?

It came, it saw, it had some success. But I wondered if it would have some impact on the MMO landscape. And quite frankly, I don’t think it did. It certainly did not aim to be groundbreaking in style, graphics, or gameplay, but I think they did want to bring back some of that old subscription magic. And for me at least, they did not (though I would argue that, again *for me*, ESO did manage to do just that)

    Will ArchAge Be Arriving in 2014

This was bizarre. After months and months of dragging feet, Trion finally put their full wait behind this thing and shoved it right out the door, along with a hefty preorder price tag. The long wait time, sudden ramp up, and ridiculous pricing levels muted my enthusiasm. I had hoped that this would be the next big thing, but the mindless development enslavement to PvP and propensity for people to be jackasses (ie, gank helpless players), doomed this game to a dark corner. Oh, sorry, “niche market”, that’s the spin we want to put on it. Sad.

    How Will WarThunder’s Ground Game Hold Up Against World of Tanks?

Boy is this one the opposite of my other questions. Ground Forces is, for me, an unqualified success. I have all but abandoned World of Tanks in favor of what I see as superior graphics, superior gameplay, and superior dedication to historical sensibility. I had no idea this was coming but I’m the happier for it. And while the game still has its struggles at times, the plane/tank crossover in one client has actually siphoned flying time away from WoWp as well. This is a case in point for why I do these articles. I had no idea 12 months ago I would be this deep in WT.

I Had Two Places I Wanted To Return To:

    EVE Online

I played again, I loved the visuals all over again. And once again, I quit after a month, because…well, I was bored again. There has never been a prettier game with less to do for those who came looking for an MMORPG. I think EVE is probably best classified as an MMOPBG – massively multiplayer online persistent battle ground. Because for all its wonderful variety, at its heart its a one trick pony. Still – what is it that GMC says? Do one thing and do it well? Well that is EVE – they do one thing, and they do it so well that a decade later, nobody else has even come close.

    SWTOR

I’m glad I went back, because I learned something. I learned that the problem I had with TOR was not all the random side quests. It was the story quests themselves. The terrible face choices and the arbitrary light side/ dark side assignation drove me away more than the slow gameplay and group advancement did. So when the 12x XP event happened last December, I literally laughed. I can’t think of anything less enticing to me than to say “just come and play for the story.” I probably have a stash of cash now, and who knows, maybe one day I will go back and putz around again, but right now, I have lost any latent desire or nostalgia that was present.

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So there ya go. I’m in a different place on War Thunder, Eve Online, ArchAge, and SWTOR than I was a year ago. Stay tuned for the 2015 time capsule coming in the next couple of days to a blog near you (ie, this one!)

Time Capsule 2014

I really liked the format last year and enjoyed coming back to it. So the concept will go on for another year, but with a new name to better reflect what I’m looking to do.

The truth is, this post is a time capsule. I mark this place to show where I was at in my thoughts, hopes, dreams, desires, and questions at the beginning of the year. That is what is fun for me. So there are basically three sections below. The first deals with my hopes and desires for the coming year – what I want to accomplish or would like to see come to pass. The second is staking out, in the grand blogging tradition, what games I will return to to try again or just to enjoy again. And the third is my list of burning questions – my musings and ponderings about what 2014 might hold.

The Crypt of Civilization, the world’s most ambitious time capsule, and one of the inspirations of this post.

What I Am Looking Forward To

The Vought F7U Cutless. I’ve played around on the WoWp test server with enough of the high tier aircraft to know that I was made for this plane. Originally the fastest of the tier 10 jets, that has been eclipsed by the new British line. But, unlike its real world counterpart, this plane handles like a dream. I have led a two plane chase column from one end of a high tier map to the other without getting shot down, because of its incredible pitch and roll rates. It also has decent firepower and a great climb rate, making it the perfect ending to a line that already has those traits going for it. I’m finishing up the F4F Wildcat right now, and then its on to the Corsair for a couple of tiers, before transitiong to the F6U Pirate, the only hiccup in the line. It follows a bit too closely to its real world counterpart. And quite frankly, its an odd choice – the line would more logically go through the F2H Banshee, a production aircraft, rather than the Pirate.

In any case, this is probably my first planned foray up the tech tree in WoWp, along with the Messerschmitt line culminating in the severely OP Me 262 mark 3. Because you can’t ignore the OP stuff in the world of PvP. You could also include in this that I am overall looking forward to a growing player base for WoWp.

Elder Scrolls Mania. I got Skyrim for Christmas and have been enjoying it – except for the random murders of important townsfolk that I have no power to stop, which apparently happens at random. And I got to try my hand at the ESO Beta, and while its under NDA, I think it would be okay for me to tell you that I went from being “meh” on it to being very excited for it. I am not excited about a subscription fee, but I honestly don’t see that lasting more than about six months time. How about you?

Playing Old RPG Franchises. I picked up Wizardry 6-8 from Steam over the holidays. I was a Might and Magic fan growing up and just didn’t have the money to follow both series. So I’ve always wanted to go back and try it out, and that is exactly what I intend to do – at the bargain basement price of $2.75, which I could have afforded even back then, had they been on sale that low! Speaking of Might and Magic, UBI continues to develop MMX: Legacy, and I will continue to watch and wait eagerly, thought I have not been ready yet to drop the $30 they want for early access and testing on Steam. I may not be able to contain myself much longer though. Speaking of which, my other holiday Steam purchase was Conquest of Elysium 3, by the same people that created Dominions 3 and most recently just released Dominions 4. It takes more of an RPG flavor than the grand strategic scale of Dominions, but there is no denying the connections between the two. Speaking of which, you can now also get Dom 3 for a mere $20 on Steam. I absolutely guarantee that this game is worth its original asking price of 3x that amount. I can also include the Agarest series on here, as hopefully Ghostlight makes more of them available on Steam. The game got a terrible rap for confusing combat and its supposedly heavy fan service. So far I’ve seen less fan service than your typical Bong movie, and the combat is quite excellent – thought if you jumped the tutorial because the game looked a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, I can imagine you got your butt handed to you more than once. The game looks the same but the system is very, very different.

I could have included this in my “Return To” section below, but I tend to think of that as more in the realm of MMO’s.

The Return of WoW. I am excited about the possibilities of the new expansion (especially the base/home), and the inclusion of a max level character. I have actually been playing around on my free WoW account some over the holidays. It seems strange to say it in some ways, but I firmly believe that WoW is a better game now than it was when I left it 5 years ago. At this point, unless ESO just absolutely grabs me by the head and won’t let go, I intend to spend a few months in Azeroth towards the end of the year (assuming that is inded when it drops).

Burning Questions for 2014

What Will Come of Wildstar? I’m not sure it can be said loudly or clearly enough, but Wildstar wants to be the WoW killer. From the art style to the considered goals, to the planning of races and classes, the goal can’t be seen as anything other than an attempt to invade the fertile subscription lands that WoW occupies. Maybe its just me, but when I hear ESO talk subs, I think its just a placeholder to recoup costs. When I hear Wildstar say it (perhaps because of the announcement of its version of Plex/Kronos), I think they intend to stick with it. I can’t help but think they will fail. I have no ill will to the game really, though I do think its a major step backwards to limit your race/class combos, so I’m not looking to be right here in the vindictive sense, but I just can’t imagine what it is about this game that will make it a lasting presence on the MMO landscape. On the other hand, I felt the same way about Guild Wars 2…

Will ArcheAge Be Arriving in 2014? Its been out for a year over in Korea. Its in testing with players over in RU as we speak. Yet we have nothing more than a basic placeholder site and zero information about release dates or just about anything else with regards to a timeline here. I submitted a question for the Game On Podcast (about the PR machine) and Victor Barreiro seems to think that Hartman was encouraging, but I was disappointed with the overall lack of response, not just on my question but on the game overall. One the one hand, the game is ready – just translation issues remain. On the other hand, we can’t give any further information or dates or even a range of dates. If we can’t give a range of dates even on a PR buildup, I have to think the game is really far off. Any yet I can’t imagine that if all that is remaining is the final stage of localization, that it would be on hold for another full year. The bottom line here is that this is my next big game that I have great hopes for, and the sooner it gets here, whether that be to fulfill my expectations or dash them, the better I will be.

How Will WarThunder’s Gound Game Hold Up Against World of Tanks? WarThunder’s vision is ambitious. Put planes and tanks together on the same battlefield. I can’t think that this will be easy to implement or balance, let along do those two things while making it fun to play. So I’m curious to see how it plays out. WarThunder and WoWp are different enough that they draw their own individual crowds, but there is something about the ground game that will be interesting to watch play out. Maybe just because Wargaming has more to lose than Gaijin does. Then again, WoT is the WoW of the military battleground world. Their position is going to be tough enough to assail without the added design complications that Gaijin is imposing on itself.

Return To…

I’ve pondered this one a lot over the past few weeks. Initial thoughts included Age of Conan, Dark Age of Camelot, or Neverwinter Nights. But NWN still doesn’t have a class that really drives me to want to play the game. Conan I got as far as downloaded and taking my old character out for a test drive, but an hour later I was done. So done. Dark Age is an old title, but with the coming of Camelot Unchained, I thought it might be fun to play for a bit and do a compare contrast as the year brings more information. Still, it is dated and we may still be a ways from Camelot Unchained. Plus, as a divided market now intends – it is still a subscription game, and that means there is a barrier to entry there that other options don’t have.

In the end, I thought about what I wanted out of the experience. I said to myself that these will be long term, but part time efforts. I have main, “every night” kind of games, but I want games I can “marathon” in – play one or two nights a week, draw the experience out for a year and really enjoy it and not feel like I have to log in every night to keep the world turning. With that in mind, I settled in on two:

EVE Online. On a whim, because I loved the idea and what was inside, and boosted by Wilhelm‘s glowing review of it, I placed the EVE Second Decade Collector’s Edition on my Christmas Wish List. I honestly didn’t think I would get it, but…what the hell, it was Christmas, right? Well my parents spoiled me, and I absolutely love it. The Rifter looks great on my desk, and I’m super excited about the board game, which looks like fun. And the soundtrack and history book are absolutely worth the price alone. And the game itself is perfect for the drop in/drop out mentality now that I think about it. I’ve always been desperate to fill time in EVE – but the long time EVE players like Kirith Kodachi and even Wilhelm, don’t seem to be people who play it every day. Maybe my pacing has just been off. If nothing else, I always enjoy just flying in space. While there is a subscription barrier here as well, but I think its worth it given my past experience with the game.

SWTOR. I have decided after long consideration to hit the reset button on SWTOR. I never did get past the starter planets on the side of the Republic. I would love to see the other half of the galaxy. And the idea of just following the storyline, and filling in the blanks with the minigame, ducking the sometimes irritating side missions – which also cuts down on the overly long leveling cycle, particularly towards the end. And, free to play, very good if I’m burning my two sub limit on ESO and EVE.

I don’t like that SWTOR under-reached for their Galactic Starfighter expansion, I think it was dumb and yet another let down, on top of being blatant plagiarism. But while I think that, I’m more interested in blogging about my experience in the game, than spending more time shredding them for the move. In other words, it sucks for the MMO world but it benefits me, so I’m gonna roll with it.

Galactic Star Conflict Fighter

So I finally got around to exploring a little more of the SWTOR Galactic Starfighter expansion while I was trying to find the information about Character Transfers that Shintar alluded to in my 2013 Crystal Ball Review.

And behold, I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And I wonder how long before the lawsuits kick in.

Here is a video of the Imperial gunship gameplay from Galactic Starfighter.

Got it? Now here is a video of the frigate gameplay from Star Conflict, Gaijin’s (the guys from Warthunder) game of space combat that is currently in Open Beta.

Whoops. Kinda similar huh? And that’s not all. TOR’s Galactic Starfighter has 3 classes of ship, with subclasses that have specific set abilities in each. Same as Star Conflict. And some of those special ablities and weapons? Well, the name is changed, but the effects are the same.

We might could wave it off as similarity…but really? I mean, Warthunder and Warplanes are different enough. These two though, hit so close to the mark in terms of HUD, weapons abilities, special systems, and so on, that its hard to pass it off as coincidence. So here is a small litmus test. Galactic Starfighter only has one class of frigate…er…gunship at the moment. Star Conflict has another. So if a new gunship class appears with player controlled smart missiles…well, that kinda seals the deal right?

I have played Star Conflict, but I have not yet had access to Galactic Starfighter. I will be interested to see how the two play out in a side by side comparison.

Copyright challenges aside, this does present a unique opportunity. With character transfers now enabled, I can move my Jedi to my main server (for free basically, I will have enough Cartel Coins amassed from my security fob allowance) around the time Galactic Starfighter drops for Preferred Users (January 14th). I can do the storyline, skip the side missions, and make up any XP gap with the Starfighter minigame, because quite honestly, if it is indeed like Star Conflict, which I really enjoy, then playing it as a break to the storyline would be…well, really nice actually.

Who knows, maybe 2014 will see a full time return to SWTOR for me? The real question is, if I do…what from my current play rotation gets the short end of the stick?