May the Fourth Be….Delayed

I am enjoying my second run through SWTOR, now entering its third month. But one thing I don’t like is when I start up the launcher and I see this screen:

worst updates 21m

I don’t know what “reorganizing data” means from Bioware’s perspective, or from a coding perspective. I know what it means for me as a player though.

It means I will be waiting at least thirty minutes to play this game, and that while I am waiting, my computer’s CPU power will be so enslaved to the process that I will be able to do virtually nothing else with it.

#swtor, #2015

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

A Few Random Thoughts on The Return To SWTOR

s7

~ 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.

s1

s5

s4

~ 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

Cult of Personality

Syp has a great post about the personality of games, and I would like to say I agree 100%. My Wildstar title was chosen with great care – “things that turned me off” – and not just off the cuff. I don’t think its a bad game. I’m just a getting a bit of an eyebrow raise at the terms some people are using to describe it – innovative being the main one.

Which leads me to the one way I can see a game as being bad. And that is when it misrepresents itself to the wider audience. SWTOR got absolutely pummeled post launch, and gamewise, mechanically, its not a bad game. Its quite solid. But when it is not playing itself out the way you promised people it would, its gonna take a beating in social media and in sales and subs as well.

By the same token, this has been the concern with TESO as well – you are advertizing Multiplayer Elder Scrolls – that had better be what you deliver!

But if you can show people what your game is in a realistic manner, keep the expectations in check as a result of that, and then launch without too many bumps, things will be just fine for you and your game. And as you might have guessed, the expectations part of that is the difficult one. Games that are greatly hyped had to deal with frothing masses and their exponential growth of expectations (one of the things that makes me worry about Star Citizen). In other words, you have to be careful when you develop a cult of personality around your game. It might not be a bad thing for business. But if the crowds discover upon launch that the personality they have been worshipping is not the one they got, well…

frankenstein_villagers

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?

2013 Crystal Ball Review

So I pondered what I was going to do last January about predictions. I decided that instead I would look at what I was looking forward to the most and least, and ask some questions that could only be answered a year later. That way I could come back a year later “with some wisdom and hindsight and laugh and make obscene hand gestures at myself for how dumb or idealistic I was.” It worked out way better than I could have thought. If you are still missing the point here, think of it this way. I buried a time capsule for my future self with a bunch of questions about the coming year, and now I get to reflect and pontificate on them. It is glorious.

So in the “looking forward to” section I had a couple of entries:

Hearing More About ArcheAge Online and Possible Release Dates

Sadly, we haven’t really heard anything more. An enterprising EU team (of Germans if I understand correctly) from Impact Community have made and kept up to date a skill calculator for the game in English, which is fantastic. You can use it here to build your class from the 120 possible combinations. Keep in mind that even if you have the same combination of skill trees as me, your picks will be different. For the curious, I plan on utilizing Devotion (healing), Finesse (Rogue-ish abilities), and Necromancy (pretty self-explanatory…). Which is the class known as…wait for it…the Writer.

The lack of news was a result of Trion finding its balance I think. Scott Hartsman leaving and then returning as the new head honcho bodes well for the company, but despite his protests to the contrary, I’m sure those waves within the company had a push-back effect on the game. I still hope for a 2014 launch, and I am of course signed up for Beta. I simply can’t wait to get my hands on this title, and I’m all but begging for more information. So if you are out there…pretty please.

Expanding My Tier 10 Garage

And expand I did. I collected all the tanks I originally set out to, except for the IS-7. The arrival of the Chinese line and the pressing needs of my previous clan for certain tier 10 tanks caused a shift in that final drive. Right now I am sitting about 50k from the Object 140, 150k from the IS-7, and 225k from the E-100. However, with Warplanes occupying almost all my PvP time these days, I’m just not sure how active I’m going to be over that way. We will see. I have to think that, in part, getting kicked to the curb by my former clan is at least part of my decline in tanks interest. I can say for sure that while I still enjoy the game, I am done with Clan Wars for the forseeable future.

Nostalgia: Vanguard

Here we come to the first bust of the year. I was really really looking forward to getting into Vanguard. I love the setting, and I love my character. I loved playing the game. I even went out and bought a card for a month’s sub. But the progression is just too damn slow. Its a snail’s pace and that is really discouraging. And beyond that, I died. A lot. Against even level or +1 content. Which forced me into lower level quests, which then lowered my progression that much more. My only hope now is that the max level character program is successful in EQ2 and is ported over to Vanguard. That’s a setting where I really don’t care what quests I’m doing, I just want to roam the world and explore. And I can’t do that with a 20 something character that keeps getting his ass handed to him by random wolves. And I’m a healer to boot.

Battlefield 3

This game really, really wound down for me this year. I still have a buddy who is hardcore into 4 right now, but I just can’t bring myself to it. I put the game on my Christmas list so I’m sure I will get in some time come the new year, but…the verve is gone, as I predicted. I think it was probably back around summer time when I last logged in, but I can’t remember for sure.

Star Trek Online

I finally got my Ambassador class! That was indeed the anniversary ship. I played my new Romulan to level 10, and then couldn’t decided which way to go. Most of the KDF content is unknown to me, but my gaming buddy I was leveling with wanted to go STO. So I did what anyone with indecision does…nothing. I quit playing. I come back occassionally and am always pleasently surprised with how good the game is. I play a storyline mission or two, and that satisfies me. And then of course, if there is a fun ship up for grabs or a new story to tackle, I’m in as well. But day to day play I am out. If I could find an active, friendly fleet that wasn’t comprised of 300 jerks, that would help, but other than starting my own fleet, which would be a pain to play catchup with at this point, I just don’t think I can find something that is a good fit for me.

And then there was my second category – questions I asked myself about the coming year. This is the best part. Are you ready?

Will the small indy developed sandboxes of Dawntide and Project Gorgon be revived?

No and yes, in that order. Dawntide lost funding and sometime last month or so, the website shut down completely. That one stings. Dawntide was *the* sandbox title in my book. It had lots of great things going for it, and I’m very discontent that the doors have closed for good. Project Gorgon, on the other hand, continues to poke and prod its way into development, which is about the best the team can hope for, given that its sort of a nights and weekends project while they put food on the table from elsewhere. If you’d like to log in and play around, feedback is appreciated. Just be aware that if the game warns you about something, its not kidding around. Turning yourself into a cow is a real possibility if you aren’t careful. And by cow, I mean cow. Literally.

Will some unexpected MMO suck me in this year, much as STO did last year?

Yep. TERA did that for me pretty hard. It wins the award here. I’m still playing and still having fun. You know why? Its the only MMO I can think of where I could turn off the UI and still play it. It wins the award for funnest combat and immersion in that sense. To a lesser extend, I enjoyed UWO, which has left the hands of NetMarble and ended up with…uh…OGPLanet. No, I have no idea who that is either. There is a good chance I go back and play that some more in the near future.

There are three others I played that did not suck me in though. The Old Republic was there when I needed an emotional crutch, and by all rights that should have launched me right back into the game. But the bad storylines for my main character were oppressive, and the content I was working through for a second time with my Sorcerer was boring. Which left me with an itch to go through on the light side as a Jedi. But I’m so sick of Tython that I was physically ill trying to play through it for what has to be the dozenth time. Until they allow character transfers and I can bring over my level 11 from another server (you know, before they announced that whole Legacy thing. Thanks again for that, jerkwards at Bioware), I’m not headed back.

I had a similar problem in The Secret World, where trying to get through the starting area for the umpteenth time just wore me out. If I can ever push through that starting map, I’ll be golden though, because there is nothing about the game I don’t like.

Last of the trifecta was LotRO. The summer home of my little group, once we all got stable internet again, it seemed like a good idea. I certainly had fun, and all three of us are fans of the IP. But between the crappy and buggy launcher that caused at least one of us problems *every week* when we logged in, and the fact that our healer was soloing the content while I as tank and our DPS person followed along behind them (Guitar Power in LotRO is OP!), it got old after awhile. So I played with the group, and enjoyed it, but it was far from sucking me in.

Will we finally see some information on Titan or Everquest 3?

Well, Titan, no, not really. But Everquest 3, or Everquest Next as we now know it, was all the rage. And my personal opinion was…meh. Basically, from what I have seen…its not Everquest. In fact, if you had given me the pictures and watermarked it with Blizzard or Titan, I wouldn’t have even batted an eyelash at the deception. So…looks like I’ll be passing on that one.

Is there any chance of me logging into TOR in 2013?

Yes, but it took the death of a friend to bring me to it. Think about that for a moment. That’s how strong the emotional rejection of a game that has failed you can be.

And don’t even get me started about that failure of an expansion….

Will Wildstar be the unmitigated failure I think it will be?

To its credit, Wildstar seems to be building steam as it goes along. I am still singularly unimpressed by what I see and read, and completely turned off by the graphics. The final nail in the coffin was learning that races and classes will be limited. Welcome back to MMO’s, a la 2004. Good job guys.

***

So there ya go, that was my Crystal Ball for 2013. Its been a bit of a wild ride. I’m looking forward to what 2014 has in store, and I have more questions and answers to go to. But I’ll leave those for another post.

Quote of the Day: SWTOR Tackles Starfighters

MMORPG has a link to a piece talking about the second grand – expansion, content update – whatever, to SWTOR, entitled Galactic Starfighter.

The TL; DR version is that while 12v12 matches in space seems like it might be a fun little PvP minigame, its not up to snuff with SWG’s Jump To Lightspeed expansion, and that is, in the eyes of the author, and okay thing. So, a little shining star of an update right?

However, the opening comment on the article steals the thunder and takes the cake:

fail

Use of Failure: The Imperial Agent Storyline

So Syp has, in a post mostly about GW2, related his feelings that the Imperial Agent storyline was the best one for SWTOR.   My reaction was basically this:

 

 

And this being the internet, we can’t let anything go unchallenged like that.  So I stated my disagreement.  And he replied: “The general consensus is that the IA story is the best in the game.”   Now I was all like:

 

 

I can’t speak to the consensus.  I’m not sure anyone can to be honest, but I can tell you from my perspective, the IA story was a terrible bit of dime novel trash.  My brother put it best, its a really bad Bond knockoff (more on this later).

 

You may wonder about my qualifications on this matter.  Well, I played in a group that consisted of a Bounty Hunter, a Sith Warrior, and an Imperial Agent, and we all did one another’s storylines.  And none of us thought the IA story was worth anything.   Furthermore, I’m halfway through the Sorcerer storyline, and its better than the IA one as well.

 

But then, anyone can say “I like it better” also.   So let me give you a few concrete reasons why the IA storyline is crap.   Minor spoilers follow this point.  I say minor because in a story that literally has no twists, I’m not sure there is anything to spoil for you.

 

 

Exhibit A:  Monologuing

 

The Act 1 villain monologues his entire evil plan to you and then knocks you out.  Apparently he hits you so hard you forget everything.  Sadly, you the player do not forget.  And you are forced to spend the next twenty levels yelling at the screen as legions of NPC’s wonder “whodunnit.”  The crazy thing is that when you finally catch up to said villain and confront him – he freaking monologues you again.   I got it the first time chucklehead, can we get on with it?

 

Exhibit B:  Spying is for Losers

 

At one point, we are in a facility, supposedly sneaking around and doing agent-y things.  Stealth is of the essence!  Which is clearly why I am running through the halls grenading and shooting everything that moves.  My sister in law pointed out that only James Bond could fulfill “Make sure nobody knows it was you” type orders by killing every living being  even remotely connected with the location, further cementing my brother’s observations.

 

Exhibit C:  Random Sex

 

Yes, it happens.   And the weird thing is it happens for no good reason.   Like, you might think I would seduce somebody to get information from them or to get them to change sides.   Instead we did the nasty after all that went down.  Apparently I was rewarding her?  Or I was just bored.  I can’t be judgmental really, I was at least as bored as my character was.

 

Exhibit D:  Remember When You Had To Pretend You Didn’t Know?

 

Now you have to pretend you don’t have control over your character.   Because you were given some chemo/hypno programming to force you to do what the bad guys want you to.   Which…is fine, because that’s how you gain their trust anyway.  Only now I have to not play the character and my dialogue choices are randomly transformed into something else, because screw you, that’s why.

 

Exhibit E:  Surprise!  He’s A Jedi!

 

The Act 2 villain that is.  I think this is supposed to be a twist given the dialogue options, but, since he is dressed as a damn Jedi and hints strongly that he has Force powers, nobody is surprised but your character.  And he’s so bored at this point he can only muster a mild sense of “meh.”

 

 

Now, just to be fair, none of this may completely be Alex Freed’s fault.   Maybe they altered things to fit within the game or realized when crunch time came that they just couldn’t pull off his vision of an Iain Bank’s novel.    That link may be broken now that the forums have been redone, but what Freed said in that reply to me on the forums was that “Bank’s novels, and Use of Weapons in particular” were models and inspirations for the IA storyline.

 

Now compare all that, and what I have said with, say…the Trooper storyline.  Where you get a great twist from the jump to set up an ongoing storyline.  I can’t agree that the IA story is the best in any relative way, and I’m also not convinced its good in an absolute or self-referential manner as well.