Sometimes Bad Is Good: Developer Edition

This will be a two parter, so venture back here tomorrow for the Player’s Edition.  But for now…

 

Its pretty clear that I’m not a big fan of Bioware at this point in my life.  And they have reeled drunkenly from failure to failure in a way that is almost gawkworthy.   The latest example I can give you is when I went to rename my characters for this past weekend.  I lost out on my first choice because, when you click a character to play that doesn’t have a name and it prompts you to rename, you’d think that you were being prompted to rename *that* character.  The one you just hit the big PLAY button for.  And you’d be wrong.

 

Again

 

What I finally figured out I think was that it prompted a renaming process, in reverse order of character creation – in other words, starting with your newest creation and proceeding to your oldest.   In any case, my Jedi Knight ended up with my Sith’s name, and my Sith ended up with…well, about my 8th choice, because everything else was taken.

 

But when you are that bad, making sloppy mistakes left and right, sometimes, the mistakes actually work in the opposite direction.   Some of them can be hilarious, like when players realized with the new Bolster system in PVP taking into account gear scores, that it was actually better for them, statwise, to fight naked (for even more hilarity, that link is to the French players complaining/rejoicing).   Soon Nude PVP will be the wave of the future.  You can combine it with a dedicated Singles server for even more fun.  The creative side of me desperately wants to shoot a a cover video of Methods of Mayhem’s Get Naked video with Darth Vader taking Tommy Lee’s place, and perhaps the Emperor covering George Clinton’s part with a “Doin’ it Sith style” voiceover.

 

George knows whats up.

 

If you have no idea what I’m talking about – be glad.  I wouldn’t either, but working with teenagers sometimes introduces you to parts of live you would never have otherwise known about, lol!

 

Anyways, to get to the point – there are also times when messing up has an unintended positive consequence for the players – sometimes being bad is good.    Wargaming made a goof in the last update on the Russian servers with a shell price, and the end result was that some players ended up selling off a load of shells for ten times more than they had bought them for.  Instant profit!  But Bioware has to do everything better, so they messed up in real world econ, and I profited.   You are supposed to get 100 Cartel Coins a month for having a security key, right?   Check my ledger…

 

Again 2

 

Needless to say, those coins weren’t on my ledger for long.  I burned plenty this weekend, while I could.  Did it make up for all the Bioware fails to get a few extra Legacy perks and an account wide Unify Colors unlock?   Not really.  But it did make the weekend and the playtime more palatable.   I’d like to think it wasn’t a mistake, but rather some nice developer down in the vaults that read one of my posts and had a little “oops” with my account balance, but that’s just my glass-half-full side talking.  It only lasts until I unified the colors on my agent and found that my green chestplate produced some brown pants and a matching brown helmet.   I’d be mad, but since I got it for free…close enough, Bioware.  Close enough.

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Saying Goodbye

I have to get this off my chest, because it hit me harder than I thought it would.  Six weeks ago, I lost a gaming buddy that I met back in Beskar.   And while the guild leader of Beskar, these days leading a crew in Guild Wars 2, has already written a fantastic memorial to him, I guess there was a part of me that wanted something for myself as a matter of celebration, reflection, and closure.   Though he was an “online friend,” those friendships can be as meanginful as our face to face ones, as Flosch has pointed out before.  And that is the reason why I picked TOR back up, and that is the reason I logged in and played all weekend, despite being mad as hell at Bioware.  TOR was the last place I “saw” him, and so that is where I wanted to go.

 

While his name was Mike, we often referred to him by his gaming handle of LP – short for Little Powell, a nod to his favorite Civil War leader (he was something of a history buff).  Without going into too many details, LP had a medical condition that meant, basically, that he was going to die within a few years of that diagnosis, and that it would be unpredictable.  His health was never good, and there was always the sense that each day could be the last.  His handling of that was, to me, the single greatest example of courage I have personally witnessed in life.

 

Because of this, he was often stuck at home, and so was light year’s ahead of me in the leveling game.  I still don’t have a character to 50 in TOR, I know at the time we disbanded he had at least 2, maybe more.  He loved crafting, and he loved PVP – the bigger, the more open, the messier, the better.  So while I talked to him every day for over a year and a half, I rarely saw him in game.  Maybe that’s why I needed to go looking for him there – at least in some spiritual fashion.   So I spent the weekend on Tattooine on my newly christened Sith, the name a hat tip to him, though he was a Mando to the core.  When I got to the Dune Sea, I remembered him talking about the balloon that flies over the zone and I thought maybe that would be nice, a chance to do something he had done and reflect and remember.   So I started my questing in the zone, figuring I’d run across the landing dock sooner or later.   And I quickly remembered something about the zone.

 

We know this is the deep desert and all, but if you could just make two trips instead of one, that would be great.  Mmmm'kay?
We know this is the deep desert and all, but if you could just make two trips instead of one, that would be great. Mmmm’kay?

 

The class quests will lead you around the zone in a counterclockwise fashion, while the world quest, common to all classes…leads you in a counterclockwise swing.   Genius.  In any case, after a full time of questing and wandering, both clock and counter-clock wise, I had seen the balloon…but never found its landing spot.   I could have kept looking, or wiki’d it I’m sure, but it was getting late, and somehow – it seemed fitting that I couldn’t catch up to the balloon, much in the same way that I just can’t catch up to LP right now.

 

So, I settled for returning to the wrecked space cruiser deep in the Dune Sea, and much as Luke would do, several millennium afterwards, gazing at the twin suns setting and wondering what the future will hold.

 

The lone Sith ponders the universe.
The lone Sith ponders the universe.

 

LP, you were a good friend.  Full of great advice.   If blur was the platoon leader, you were one of the veteran sergeants, equal parts gruff toughskin and kind denmother.   I’ve always wondered if you admired General Hill not only for his tactics and for the parts of his personality that he shared with yours, but for the ironic name he gave to his troops – the Light Division.   It didn’t actually fit, as big as they were, but one of his soldiers after the war, commented that it was a fitting name, “for we often marched without coats, blankets, knapsacks, or any other burdens except our arms and haversacks, which were never heavy and sometimes empty.”   You marched everyday with so little in your packs, and yet you made it work with what you had – and still had some to share with others.  Your stories, your film reviews, your outrageous avatars on the forums, the wisdom you shared in our emails – thank you for those.

 

I hope that one day I do catch up to you, in levels and in life.  For for right now, you marched too far ner vod, and you outpaced me.  And I miss you.

 

Ni su’cuyi, gar kyr’adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum.

 

“I’m still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal.”

Counting My Cartel Coins

So, I have 100 of them.  I was fairly interested when TOR released the calculations for initials amounts of coins.  Being a Collector’s Edition person and a Six Month Subscriber mean I was going to get a slew of them.  Turns out the 1900 I was promised I only get if I subscribe again.

 

Still…I could sub up for $15, which would net me those 1900, plus 500 more complimentary with the sub.  Which is a nice bonus – 2400 coins normally costs $20, not $15.  So that’s not too bad, basically that boils down to in my case is: if you buy coins you get a one time disctount and a complimentary sub for a month as a thank you for being with us in the beginning.  I can live with that.  I also have 100 coins for my security fob – which I won’t complain about any more apparently…

 

Yet, this is TOR we are talking about here.  Bioware.  EA.  You know they have to have screwed it up somehow right?  I quickly realized there was no price list.  What am I going to get for my money?  Fortunately for Bioware, others have done the dirty work for them.   Assuming those prices are correct (the list is, what, six weeks old at this point)…I tried to figure out what would be on my shopping list:

 

Authorization: Crew Member Appearance – 325 Coins
Unlock: Additional Quickbar – 250 Coins
Unlock: Additional Quickbar – 250 Coins  (maxes my quickbars)
Customization Control: Hide Head Slot – 350 Coins
Customization Control: Unify Colors – 350 Coins
Customization Control: Display Legacy Name – 100 Coins

 

For those of you who aren’t math junkies, that comes to 1,625 Cartel Coins.  Not bad.  Especially since those Customization unlocks are one-time deals.  I assume that’s because of coding problems, or any sane F2P program would have made those per character and not per account.  Oh the irony, that the same hackneyed coding that caused this games downfall may also force choke its ability to generate F2P revenue!

 

Anyway, that would leave me 875 coins.   So then I look at my list of wants but don’t needs:

Major Experience Boost – 120 Coins for 1, 480 Coins for 5
Armor Pieces – 150 Coins each (Level 15), 325 Coins each (level 43)
Authorization: Artifact Equipment – 1200 Coins

 

The last one may not be necessary, I’d have to log in and check.  And then of course, I have to decide which two characters I’ll be using.  And in yet another fail, I don’t see that you can buy character slots yet.  That would be next on the agenda.

 

And then there are the things that I have no idea why you would buy:

 

Customization Control: Display Titles – 100 Coins
Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting – I/475, II/225, III/225
Weekly Pass: Warzone/Flashpoints/SpaceMissions/Operations – 240 Coins
Authorization: Event Equipment Requisition

 

The titles in the game were supbar, and since you could only get them by completing missions that everyone was completing – they weren’t really all that rare or unique.  The speeder thing is funny in that its a trap – sure it lets you unlock the speeder earlier – but do you have enough money for that?  I zeroed my cash balance out when I was finally high enough level to buy Piloting I, and I knew I would not hit the cash requirement for II by the required level.  Unless you have ways of making cash hand over fist….waste of money.  Same with the event equipment.  The one and only event I remember took so much pain and effort and awarded you only one piece of armor, which you may or may not have been able to use.  Gee thanks.  And the passes…well, if you want to do those on an unlimited basis, the sub is your ticket, and if not, you probably aren’t running dungeons five nights a week.

 

Overall, the one impressive money sink they did have was the medical droid.  Rezzing on the spot is a huge time saver, particularly if you are a solo player and don’t have someone to revive you.  At 100 coins a pop though…well, let’s just say its probably the best incentive to not die since corpse and item recovery circa 1999.

 

The real question here though, for me is this:  do I really want to dump another $20 into this game?  On the one hand, that will pretty much ensure that I can do what I want to do in TOR forever as I please, remaining F2P from here on out.  On the other hand…it wasn’t really a great game for me to begin with.  Maybe I should just take the 100 free Coins a month from my fob and call it even.

 

 

Saying Goodbye to SWTOR

I have 5 days left on my sub at this point, and while I don’t have any regrets about my time in the game, or moving on to play The Secret World, I do have some disappointments.

When the game asked me for my reason for leaving, I could have given several:  playing another game, problems with running the game/graphics, dislike my character/game mechanics, etc.  But ultimately, I chose what was the last in a fairly long list:  game did not meet my expectations.

And ultimately, that’s all it is.  Its not a bad game.  But there’s a host of things that I was expecting or wanting that just aren’t there.  Things that ultimately have led, not to nerd-rage, but boredom and disappointment.

Basic Bugs –

There are still some pretty obvious bugs that just haven’t been addressed.  My characters in cut scenes still have no eyeballs.  That’s pretty telling on what is a key feature of a story driven game.   My agent’s best knife attack has a combat animation that is either incomplete or glitched, I’m not sure which.  The end result is that instead of driving a knife home two handed into the mob, it looks like he is doing a point blank hadouken.  Yes I know, I died a little inside when I realized there was a Wikipedia page for that as well.

Pacing and Story –

After my little interaction with the writer of the Agent storyline on the official forums, I thought I was getting an Iain Banks style spy novel.  A character equally comfortable going undercover with a knife as strapping on some body armor and using a gun.   As we’ve repeatedly joked about throughout the game though, I got precious little Cheradenine Zakalwe and a sad abundance of the cheesiest form of James Bond possible.

Of course I’m a Jedi, darling. Come over here and I’ll show you my lightsaber.

Space Combat  and Alternative Options-

I initially defended the tunnel shooter minigame – I thought it was a nice nod to the original arcade games and a fun little diversion.  Until I realized that it was static.  The attacks, the placement of the fighters and the shots they take – all programmed, with no randomness.   Add to that how few missions there really were and…well, its like playing on an Atari 2600, but without the nostalgia.  At least add some modern refinement to the old warhorse if you are going to trot it out.  And that’s pretty much your only option.  Since the game and worlds are so tied to the storyline, if I’m on in a night where my group isn’t…there’s just not a lot to do.  Unlike games like Rift, where I would just zone into the capital and spend a happy hour doing some dailies from the current festival or jumping into some Rifts.

So…The Secret World could not have a picked a better time to launch.  Nor could Guild Wars 2 for that matter.  I feel bad for SWTOR, I really do.  I honestly do not believe that Bioware will be running the show over there much longer.  EA has too much riding on this, and everything Bioware has done has either been too little/too late (see also, the “incentive” for staying on longer than six months – a non-combat pet, and less marks than you could get in a week of grinding), or radical and ultimately not worth the investment (dialogue options for *everything* – hell, I’m surprised you don’t have to have a conversation with the vendor just to spend some commendations).  I believe the EA will eventually move Bioware off the game and onto other things, and let a cobbled together veteran developer team remake the game in a way that is more friendly to a long term stay – or that at least gets them closer to that much touted 10 year lifespan remark.

The Apocalypse is Upon Us!

Yeah, I said it.  First it was Brad McQuaid re-emerging as a developer with Sony.

Now, this, from Dan Stahl, executive producer of Star Trek Online:

 

The key decision to move STO to F2P over the last year was crucial to our current success and while it was painful along the way, ultimately sets us up for the future. It really makes me wonder if other games such as SWTOR wished they would have launched F2P as well, because converting all the systems over to a new business is a huge challenge.

 

Yes, that’s right ladies and gents, you heard that right:  Cryptic (the studio that got sold off) and Star Trek Online (the MMO that flopped like the left ear of the Easter Bunny) are concerned about the long term survivability of Star Wars: The Old Republic.  If anyone had told me a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have believed it.  But today it not only sounds less than insane, it actually sounds right on the money.

 

Truly, this is 2012 kinda stuff happening around here lately.

TOR Force Chokes Server Merges

When the announcement came out last week that TOR was going to be doing server mergers, I was actually pretty happy.  After taking a look at some of the relevant stats and research, I figured that in the pool of six East Coast RP-PVE servers, we would be moving to two or three, depending on how crowded BW wanted the servers to be, and how many actual players were left on each of the servers.   And when what was arguably the number five or six server got merged with the most active one when transfers opened on Tuesday, this only server to bolster my conclusions.

But boy was I wrong.

Not three, not two, but one.  Six servers squished onto one.  You think people get mad about losing their name when two servers get squished together, think about jamming six of them together.  Its a wonder any of our names were not taken by the time we got in.  And in lovely EA/BW fashion,  the process was not based on any sort of fairness about time invested or anything like that – it was purely first come, first serve.  When I heard it, the first thing I posted on our guild forums was a question of how long it would be before we had to queue up to get into the game.  My guess was by the end of the week, but it turns out, it was by the end of the night…

But my Lord, we need more time…::cough, choke::

We’re still surveying the damage done.   Personally, because of the poor optimization of the client, it takes me an upwards of 7-8 minutes to log into a character.  I didn’t have that kind of time for 11 characters across 3 servers, so I lost any and all mail on my characters.  Including bonus credits for missions, and in several cases, Legacy and Collector’s Edition items for some of my alts.  I will have to rename all but one of my characters.   I haven’t heard how the rest of my leveling group did, but initial reports were not good their either.   The same can be said for my Republic characters.  You know, all the ones that I created and leveled before the Legacy announcements were made?  That I can’t transfer onto my server because these are one-way, limited mergers?  That BW couldn’t figure out the logistics of a full transfer system is mind-boggling.  Also mind-boggling is the realization that Legacy names, like character names, are unique.   Some people woke up this morning, on an RP server, with completely different characters than they went to bed with last night.

https://i2.wp.com/www.designartculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/burger-king-the-king.jpg

I’m not sure why there wasn’t a move to consolidate to two instead of one.  And I’m sure as hell not happy about having my legacy become something other than.  Quite honestly, it deflated what little energy I have left to play what has been, to my experienced MMO eye, a mediocre game.

I guess the only question left is: where do they go  from here?

They could start by fixing some bugs maybe. Like the one where you take a screen cap of a cinematic and get this instead.

How Did I End Up Here?

If you had jumped back in time (haha, if I had a nickel for everytime that happened in…well, you’ll see) to two weeks ago, and told me, HZero (some of my internet friends have a disconcerting habit of calling me Zero by the way 0-O ),  a few weeks from now, you will voluntarily give up a night of playing TOR to play some STO, I would have laughed at you.  And in fact, I did, literally “lol” at the person who asked me to play with them.  And then I felt bad, so I went and downloaded the game and logged in.  And went ahead and got my Akira (what the hell, that goal has only been on hold for like, 13 months, right?).

 

My Akira/Zephyr class. Yes, it is rather awesome looking, isn't it?

 

And along the way I realized that Cryptic and Perfect World have done a great job of improving the game.  Granted, some stuff is still just plain bad.  Ground combat, for example, continues to be unresponsive, boring, and at times, just plain odd (why is that AI alien armed with a plasma mini-gun trying desperately to get as close to me as possible?).    But there are a lot of things being done absolutely right.  Ground combat, bad as it is, is much improved over a year ago.  The Foundry delivers some excelling user-generated content.  The Duty Officer system is fantastic.  The Episodic story format, with its weekly story-driven missions, are great, almost like an interactive online comic book.   You can actually fail missions if you don’t read the text.  The opportunities for RP are so deep its hard to truly appreciate them all (it occurs to me that, despite the lack of true dialogue interaction with my bridge crew, I am far more attached to some of them than I am to any of my TOR companions…).  And perhaps best of all, the atrocious grind is gone, and replaced with a decent leveling curve.

 

But this might come at a good time.  I’ve about tapped out World of Tanks.  Or, more specifically, I’ve about opened up all the tank lines I wanted to, with the possible exception of some individual historical tanks, which can honestly wait until they put in actual historical matches.  So it may be time to step down from a premium account there, which has acted as a sort of “second sub” for me, and put the $5-10 a month I was spending there into STO instead.  I see no reason to sub up to STO, since a subscription offers me nothing of interest at this point.  But with 400-800 Cryptic points a month, I would be in heaven with a well stocked duty roster, fun uniforms and ships, and a regular XP boost.  Even if I do nothing more than log in on the weekend to play the new episode, and occasionally during the week to piddle around with duty assignments.

 

So, in summary, I’m not sure how I got here, but I’m glad I did.  And my friend is too, because those continuing missions are more fun with a second ship and captain at your disposal.