Monthly Archives: January 2012

We make choices but are constantly foiled by happenstance

Like Melmoth I’ve been spinning the plates of MMOG hotbar combat in Star Wars: The Old Republic, though I’m not quite so tired of the whole business just yet. Doubtless burnout will kick in at some point, but for the moment I’m happy enough getting that crockery rotating. If character abilities are the “plates” in this analogy, though, my Welsh dresser is getting a bit crowded…

Maybe time to back away from the plate analogy. When I hit level 32 with my Imperial Agent and got a new skill, I didn’t have a space for it in any of the three hotbars on screen (plus a fourth with companion abilities). A bit of shunting and ditching a hotbarred consumable squeezed it in, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t really want too much more to think about during a fight.

I’m fine with the basics, the bread and butter stuff, or in a Sniper’s case the rifle and grenade stuff; bread and butter might be perfect specialisation options for a class centred around making sandwiches, but they’re not going to cut it against a horde of rakghouls. Unless you smear the floor with butter to make them fall over, then bludgeon them to death with an especially crusty baguette, that might work. Anyway, the basics are fine, get into cover, shoot enemy with gun, pew and indeed pew. It’s the assortment of situational skills that are more the issue. To return to the kitchenware, some abilities are a bit like a melon baller, fish kettle or set of specialist cheese knives; useful in quite specific circumstances but the rest of the time they clutter the place up, and when you really need them you either forget you have them entirely or spend half an hour rooting through cupboards shouting “Darling! Have you seen the Tête de Moine scraper? The Tête de Moine scraper! You know, the… No, no, it’s not in that draw, I’ve emptied it all over the floor already (by the way you might want to watch you don’t tread on a lobster pick when you come through)… Over the microwave? No, I’ve looked in… no, no, you’re thinking of the Parmesan frisker… yes, the thing behind the spinach shredder, definitely Parmesan… well I suppose I could just use a lemon zester, but… Oh, cock, I’ve been shot by a Smuggler.”

SWTOR is of course not alone in its plethora of skills, it’s something I posted about when playing WAR as a Bright Wizard for example. It avoids some issues of situational skills by blurring the boundaries between solo and group play through companions (as Tobold and others have noted), so you don’t have important group skills such as taunts or a “heal other” ability that are completely useless when solo. Spinks also has a fine post about the way the game ramps up the difficulty to introduce certain abilities and concepts; at the end of Chapter One I was having terrible trouble with a boss who marmalised me before I could even get him near half health. A quick glance at the forums revealed I wasn’t the only one, and that the key to the fight was interrupting incoming attacks using a skill that had been gathering dust next to the grapefruit spoons. It wasn’t the first encounter involving an opponent with a charge-up ability, there’d been previous fights where mobs had annoying wind-up attacks, but as it wasn’t essential to interrupt them I’d just been bulling through with the usual attack spam and recovering afterwards. As it turned out there was a Plan B for the boss, on returning to the game after checking strategy tips I noticed a colleague log on, who was kind enough to tag along for a hot Darth-on-Darth force-choke-off, but having been reminded of the interrupt skills I’ve actually been using them more in general play (when I remember).

Solo, or in a small friendly group, re-adjusting is usually quite straightforward; a group of us were in a Flashpoint and had wiped once or twice using the patent pending “use random attacks on random mobs!11!” technique so we paused, started marking targets and using crowd control (partially via the “Slice Droid” skill I’d been generally neglecting in favour of a potato ricer), and sailed through the rest of it. It’s PvP that’s most problematic, as warzones offer few opportunities for quiet contemplation of optimal skill use. I’ve been rather enjoying PvP for the most part, and doing well enough I think, but there’s often a nagging sensation (typically after respawning) that I overlooked something, like the 3 second Evasion boost “panic button” skill that I’m always panicking too much to find when I really need it.

As with so many things it’s an impossible balance for developers. Players want sufficient options to make combat challenging and interesting but for each player that’s a slightly different point on the continuum with the two-button phase at one end, and at the other 17 hotbars packed with skills like “Rotating Thrust-o-matic: does 363 damage over X seconds, where X is the inverse square of the range from the player to target, to a non-human target with more than 17% but less than 64% health whose name includes an equal number of vowels and consonants”. There’s also the development and reward aspect of gaining new abilities, always a cornerstone of RPGs; even with hotbars are stuffed to bursting it’s a bit disappointing to turn up to a trainer after levelling and only getting a new rank of an existing ability. A new skill rank is the level-up equivalent of socks for Christmas; you bound downstairs to the tree, grab a present, what could it be? A new bike? A football? An attack that does massive AoE damage and incapacitates all targets for ten minutes that’s also a self-heal? That AT-AT toy with motorised walking action you’d been dropping subtle hints about (“THAT ONE! I WANT THAT ONE! I’VE DRAWN A BIG CIRCLE AROUND IT IN THE ARGOS CATALOGUE WITH A FELT-TIP!”)? In hindsight the fact that the parcel was sock-sized and squishy should’ve ruled out the more ambitious guesses, but nevertheless it’s hard to muster fake enthusiasm when tearing off the paper reveals a grey nylon pair of “Shoot Enemy With Gun: Rank 3”.

If you’ve had your character planned down to the last detail since pre-launch, I guess that’s the equivalent of knowing what you’ll be getting for the next 50 Christmases, quite appropriate for a Sith (insert obligatory “felt your presents” gag…)

At the end of the day I suppose you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and then beating the eggs with a guive-guive-guisarme-eggwhisk. I’m sure I had one around here somewhere…


Just a quick message to say that we here at KiaSA would like to express our full support today for our fellow Internet comrades in wanting to stop SOAP. SOAP has been around in the world for far too long, oppressing and restricting the olfactory freedom of the populace. Gamers, especially, have long bucked the trend against SOAP, and it’s about time that the rest of the world woke up and smelt the ro…

Do what now?


Well what the hell is SOPA?!

I can’t even look it up on Wikipeda today because of SOP… oh, there’s probably some irony in there somewhere.

Sorry everyone, as you were.

We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.

So my time with Star Wars: The Old Republic is coming to an end. There’s no real surprise in this for me: I wasn’t going to buy SWTOR initially, but the breathless blog banter lauding its already much vaunted fourth pillar of storytelling had convinced me that, for the price of the box, it’d be worth a look whether I chose to subscribe to the game afterwards or not. The fact that m’colleague and other friends were also intending to play, however, added much needed girders of reinforcement to the somewhat shaky foundations of my decision, and thus I quickly cemented the whole deal with an order, before the building inspector of common sense could review the plan and tell me that it would never stand the test of time.

Based upon the standard indicators of ‘time played’ and ‘entertainment had’, I certainly got enough out of the game to justify the box price; compared to many games I’ve bought recently, I’d say that SWTOR settled towards the happy end of the value for money scale. Only games such as Dragon Age (89 hours played) and Skyrim (128 hours played, and counting…) can make any sort of impact on the ‘value for money’ assessment, and really those two should be treated as freakish outliers of my recent game time investment.

I have enjoyed my time in SWTOR, but while the story element is certainly entertaining, in wrestling for my continued commitment to the game, it simply wasn’t differentiating enough to be able to overpower and suplex the plodding linear progression and constricting nature which is typical of this type of MMO. This is not a failing of SWTOR – for many this is still as perfectly enjoyable and entertaining as it always was, and for those people SWTOR is surely a fast flowing stream of fresh IP into the rather stagnant pond of fantasy MMOs. My tastes have definitely changed, however; be it through burnout, or having discovered pastures which are richer grazing, better suited to my game-play appetite, I struggle now to find any pleasure in on-rails grind, as well as the hotbar combat, common to MMOs of this sort.

The simple fact is that I like to look into the world when I play a game of this sort, for if it is not –to a greater extent– about the world in which our characters inhabit, why have the world at all? We could easily write games where the player is required to stare at a number of little coloured icons, and press them in optimal order based upon the variable cooldown counters which tick above them, and simulate pretty much everything there is to MMO combat, without the need for a game world. Even UI addons which move these elements of buffs, debuffs and hotbar abilities into the middle of the screen do not alleviate the simple fact that the player’s attention must be, for a disproportionate amount of play time, concentrated on these tiny little UI elements, rather than the world around them. The perceived increase in difficulty of tanking, and to a lesser extent healing, in these games stems from the fact that the situational awareness and positioning that these roles require runs counter to the entire rest of the combat design – to stare at tiny little icons and press them when cooldowns allow, when debuffs require, or when priority demands. The entire combat design of these games, which has barely changed from generation to generation, is akin to a person in a pit spinning a comfortable number of plates on the end of broom handles, and where every now and again an angry wolverine is thrown in such that the plate spinner has to try to frantically beat it away with a spare broom handle while still trying to keep the plates spinning.

In Skyrim I have to watch where my enemy is in the world. If the enemy is close, I try to hit him with a big sword. Sometimes the enemy will try to hit me with a big sword, and in this case I have to watch for him swinging at me, at which point I block the attack. After one hundred and twenty eight hours or so of playing, this is still fantastically entertaining to me. I do not have to look down at a UI element and see if my sword is off global cooldown. I do not have to look at another, different, UI element to see if my shield is off its five minute emergency cooldown. I do not have to juggle a number of short duration buffs which, if they drop, will mean the almost guaranteed defeat of my character. The cooldown on weapons is, to some extent, reflected in the length of time it takes to swing them: two-handers feel slow and ponderous compared to their one-hander cousins, but this simply serves to add solidity and texture to the combat, while building in a suitable restraining mechanic to the more potent damage range of the various two-handed weapons. There are no plates to juggle in Skyrim’s game-play, just one big plate, which I must smash over the head of my enemy; this is what I need in a fantasy game, not taking a sixty second ‘day’ and organising my hotbar meeting schedules into this time period.

“Well I’ve got an armour buff telecon in fifteen seconds, maybe we could reconvene the channelled ranged attack best practise seminar until after then; hmmm, but that does leave me with a short window where we could probably leverage a quick value-added primary attack GCD, which would be win-win if we can then schedule for the thirty second self-heal strategic planning afterwards. Of course, we’ll have to be proactive if an off-GCD defeat response occurs in the meantime – we’ll fast track it and bump the rest of the day’s schedule if that happens. I’ll get my people to macro your people. Okay, ciao.”

I could not program an Excel spreadsheet to play my Skyrim character effectively.

That’s the feeling I can’t shake with many of these hotbar-based MMOs – that an Excel spreadsheet could probably be doing it better. The realisation hits that a spreadsheet program should be my gaming idol, that at the next PAX I may well witness an Excel box surrounded by the flickering flashlight of photographers while two scantily clad women lean in from each side, one leg kicked out saucily behind each of them, planting kisses on the sides of this perfect specimen of hardcore MMO player. And then there’ll be the stupid puns in magazine articles, such as How to Excel at MMO Gaming.

Again, I have nothing against SWTOR as a game, I’ve just come to an even more firm conclusion that MMOs “where you play combat primarily in the user interface rather than the game world” are not for me. Which is rather a shame, because that’s most of them, by my current calculations. I’ll be interested to see if games such as TERA have actually made an action-orientated MMO, or whether it’s the same old concession to hotbar plate juggling, only now the rabid wolverine is a permanent fixture; in which case I can’t imagine it will fair terribly well (the game that is, not the wolverine, who I’m sure will have a whale of a time). I’m also somewhat less sure about Guild Wars 2, because on the one hand the game has a vastly restricted hotbar space, such that there are far fewer plates to keep spinning, but on the other hand the hotbar is still there, and I’m just not sure that you can realistically expect to have a hotbar and a true action RPG occupying the same game client.

In the meantime I’ve rolled a new character in Skyrim; having finished the main story and vast swathes of the game, I now want to go exploring with a slightly less accomplished (read: overpowered) character, and discover all the places that my boss keeps telling me about from his play through, but which I’ve yet to discover. I went for my favourite character type the first time around, a female paladin sort, wearing heavy armour, wielding a sword and shield, and well versed in the arts of healing magic. It was tremendous fun, but now I’m going to play an orc barbarian, with a big two-handed axe, and wearing only light armour; I’m going to see if it’s possible to play an in-your-face melee character without relying on heavy armour or healing magic. I’m also happily taking a leaf out of SWTOR’s book and eschewing the quick save option in all but the most game-breaking cases. This has already lead to interesting developments, where, in the first town at which I arrived, my character accidentally (no, really!) stole something from the bar of an inn and –in self defence, Your Honour– killed the innkeeper when he attacked over the inadvertent indiscretion. As a result of which I quickly fled the town, with the grubby wooden plate I had stolen as a somewhat disappointing trophy of this early exploit in my adventuring career. An intriguing, if ignominious, beginning.

I’ll see you all in another hundred and twenty eight hours.

Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with a vibroblade

According to a developer blog, in Star Wars: The Old Republic “The Imperial Agent is an expert at infiltration, seduction and assassination”; a bit of a Space James Bond. In fact playing an Agent reminds me somewhat of Alpha Protocol where dialogue trees typically had three choices: Aggressive, Suave or Professional, broadly equated to Jack Bauer, James Bond or Jason Bourne. SWTOR doesn’t explicitly tag things that way, but there are certainly elements of those three in the choices you can make, from extreme ruthlessness to raised eyebrow insouciance. For the “seduction” part of your brief sometimes there are conversation options specifically labelled “[FLIRT]”, and if one turns up I can’t help but select it to see the result, regardless of who I’m talking to; other members of Imperial Intelligence, Sith Lords, defecting rebel fighters, nobles, Hutts, Jawas, attractive looking vegetation, I’ll flirt with anything. At the risk of delving into deep psychoanalysis and uncovering mother issues, I think there are both in-game and meta-game reasons.

Character-wise, as a representative of the Sith Empire there’s a fairly relaxed moral code. I don’t know if Imperial Intelligence hold Sexual Harassment in the Workplace seminars, but if they do they’re probably a bit different to contemporary versions. “Hey, Darth Corporate-Video-Actor! Are you about to use your Force powers to abuse a slave? STOP! Think about it. There’s something wrong, isn’t there? That’s right, you haven’t set up a HoloCam to record the incident to upload to Sith Lords Do The Funniest Things.” I generally pick light side options when confronted with major moral choices, but for the most part gallivant around the place as an irreverent space womaniser.

In game mechanic terms, conversation choices don’t tend to have deep or long term implications. I could be entirely mistaken, but I haven’t seen any opportunities to deviate from the linear story quests so far; I can detour via space combat, PvP, crafting or what-not, even ignore the story altogether, but if I want to take part I go where I’m sent, and do what I’m told. Course single player story-driven games also tend to railroad you in something of an inverse butterfly effect, but MMOGs have additional issues, such as the absence of a save game. Melmoth linked to the Penny Arcade quote about reaching for the quick save button leading to some contemplation in the comments of irreversible consequences, something Pirates of the Burning Sea made me think about last year. Moridir points out in previous comments that you can reset a conversation using the Escape key to remake lightside/darkside/affection choices, a sort of pseudo-quickload, worth bearing in mind if you really don’t like the way something turns out, but possibly not entirely reliable. In a single player game I might try my luck with a Sith Lord safe in the knowledge that I have a save game to fall back on should she reject my advances (with hilarious, or fatal, or indeed hilariously fatal consequences); in SWTOR I rely on Bioware not wanting to face the wrath of a million forum posts that would doubtless result if your future was seriously effected by a conversation option not clearly labelled “[FLIRT] [ALSO GET FORCE-CHOKED TO DEATH DUE TO A SERIOUSLY MISJUDGED CHAT-UP LINE]”.

That’s not to say my amorous attempts have been universally positive. There was one minor incident of ill-advised flirting involving a fanatical assassin, a top of the line holo-disguise and a dagger to the kidneys that would’ve definitely needed a quickload in a single player game, but an Imperial Med-Bot got me through it. I was a bit disappointed not to have got in a snappy Space James Bond zinger before the combat started, though, something like “Argh! That’s not quite what I meant when I suggested a game of ‘hide the vibro-knife’…”

Thought for the day.

You know you’ve been playing a certain MMO too much when you walk past a door labelled ‘Project Room’ at work first thing in the morning, and your fuzzy mind interprets it as a project room.

I wonder if the Jedi have project rooms? Huge rooms with padded walls, full of oversize bean bags, enormous soft toys, and giant cushions, which the warrior monks can fling at one another with impunity. I always wondered why the Jedi Council looked so ruffled and out of breath every time they spoke to Anakin and Obi-Wan. If you watch closely during The Phantom Menace you can even see Mace Windu trying to discreetly hide a teddy bear that got lodged in the hood of his robes.

And pillow fights at Jedi pyjama parties suddenly take on a new and exciting outlook.

That’s okay. I’m never coming back to this planet again.

I’ve finally reached the halfway mark of the Old Republic marathon, where professional MMO athletes long ago reached the end, and have since received their silver foil blanket, had a drink and a biscuit, gotten changed, gone home, had a bath, flumped themselves down onto the sofa and are happily watching television with a glass of red in hand. Yet I’m still running plod-footed and heaving breathlessly around the track. Indeed, I’m not even one of your average MMO athletes: most people in the casual guild I joined having put twenty levels on me before I’d even had a chance to log in for the first time. I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be, somewhat appropriately, one of those comedy MMO runners who undertakes the trial with a wry sense of occasion, light of heart and purpose, and running the whole thing backwards while dressed in a giant chicken suit.

Like the marathon runners, we race along these paths, through landscapes and cityscapes of majesty and beauty, but always staying true to the well trod, well defined path. Barriers line the runners’ route, broken infrequently by refreshment stations where NCPs stand and offer bottles of XP to revitalise and give energy to our enthusiasm as we trudge ever onward. The goal is clear, the path is planned and set, the location is irrelevant – merely a change of scenery. The scenery in Star Wars: The Old Republic is both stunning and heartbreaking, because I look upon it and marvel, the bright sun of stupefaction shining from my wide eyes and smile. Yet how quickly the sunset of realisation falls across my face, my features dark as I realise that most of what I observe I can never explore. We players are still funnelled, as though running on a treadmill while an artificial world is rotated past, in order to give the illusion of movement and progress.

To cheer myself up, I went and bought my Bounty Hunter her mobility scooter which is available to characters from level twenty five. I think they have fancier names for them in the Star Wars universe, hoverbike I believe to be the formal term, with imposing monikers such as the Gurian Hammer or the Rendili Fireball, but I can’t help but see them as a sort of floating Zimmer frame for the infirm, or a slowly sliding Segway which I expect players to have about an equal amount of success in controlling. They are faster than running –I know this because Torhead knows this; for SWTOR is an MMO, and thus statistical proof trumps all– but the basic ones bumble along in such a manner that there must be a serious temptation to get off and push. Indeed, I still fully expect to see some more adventurous sort overtake me on an untethered Mandalorian washing machine at full spin cycle, vibrating it’s way along in a random path which still somehow manages to run circles around my hovering industrial floor scrubber. Still, my character has reached middle age, and as such it’s nice to get a mobility boost; I might pick up one of those nice Corellian cybernetic hearing aids for my character’s ear slot at some point too, they seem all the rage with dark lords of the Sith this season.

I do have trouble picturing some of these vehicles being used in the Star Wars films, and indeed perhaps we don’t see them because in the intervening time period the companies who produce them have gone out of business, and for good reason. Try picturing Han Solo and Chewbacca thrumming down the corridors of the Death Star on one of these, as they try to escape from an angry flock of storm troopers, and it doesn’t quite work; consider if the storm troopers were all stacked onto one themselves in Keystone Kops fashion, flailing around trying to maintain their balance as they race down the corridor at some frightening speed approaching that of a brisk walk; the corridors of the Death Star weren’t as wide as they were in the space stations of The Old Republic, and I expect the chase scene would end with them very gradually negotiating a corner before slowly and inexorably losing control and bumping into a wall. At somewhere around walking pace. Over a period of several minutes. After which everyone disembarks and carries the chase onwards on foot; several minutes later, we cut back to the abandoned hoverbike, where it finally decides the impact was too much and explodes in a huge fireball.

Of course being on the side of the ‘evil’ Empire it costs a player some forty thousand credits to obtain one of these hobbled jet skis, or hover pedalos, an amount which is the majority of savings for a level twenty five character who has spent frugally and chosen not to exploit the lucrative joys of Splicing. I expect the Republic have a much better health care system, and thus their war veterans get a mobility scooter for free. In contrast I stole my starship, and it only costs me seventy five credits to fly the thing from one sector of the galaxy to another, so I’m half tempted just to take that instead, crashing it into the living rooms of unsuspecting NPCs, then leaning out of the cockpit window and asking through the haze of smoke and sprinkler spray if they have any mundane life issues that they’d like a complete stranger to solve for them. Lost your cat, you say? I’ll get right onto that! Now when did you last see it? About two minutes ago, I see. And where did you last see it? Somewhere in the vicinity of the fiery rubble where my smoking sparking starship is now resting? I… seeeee… LOOK, OVER THERE! [activates jump to light speed]

I have to wonder what they use to power these hoverbikes too. I looked at the mini jet turbines attached to the sides and concluded that they were merely for show, that a vehicle this slow cannot possibly be jet-powered, and that they are, in fact, the Star Wars equivalent of Pimp My Ride’s car bling. It’s like the common ritual of young men in developed nations the world over, who at the coming of age, buy a really cheap old wreck of a car, and then stick glowing lights, stripes and bits of tinsel to it, in order to attract a mate, much like those birds who build a fancy nest out of the feathers and fur of other animals. Thinking about it, I’ve yet to see a Vauxhall Nova with feathers and a bearskin rug taped to the outside, perhaps that’s why these pimply youths struggle so much to find a partner?

Anyway! The thought of a cybernetically enhanced Sith, with bionic legs and superhuman speed on tap via The Force, pootling around on one of these scooters is, while terribly amusing, somewhat out of sorts with what I perceive as the Star Wars ethos. So I had to come up with another reason to justify it to my constantly questioning and insatiable mind, and the power source became the focus of my attentions. With jet power ruled out (through the medium of a harsh sharp laugh and a best-of-British disbelieving raised eyebrow) I considered what the power source might be. At first I imagined battery power was most likely, with the scooter doubling-up as a convenient charging station for the life-preserving functions of the Sith’s cybernetic battlesuit, as well as their iPod. However, on considering the bizarre shape and size of these hovering hand barrows, I realised that there was probably enough room within the extensive bodywork to house a small being. It soon dawned on me that these things are most likely pedal-powered. It made so much sense: the asthmatic speed; the slightly bumbling doddery nature of locomotion; the wheezing and panting and squeaking of cogs that they emit as they glide by. But who? Who could the Sith get to power such a device? For surely the life of such a being would be unforgiving and short and full of suffering – which would certainly explain why a Sith would deign to use one, enjoy it, in fact. I investigated further, dug into the depths of the Sith archives and found nothing; took a look in the user manual, whereupon I discovered the sickening disclaimer on page 147 in the section titled How To Replace Your Hoverbike’s Power Source:

“Many Bothans die to bring you this transportation.”

A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon

World of Tanks has had a couple of big updates recently. 7.0, just before Christmas, introduced a couple of new maps, cosmetic camouflage and a host of tweaks. The main addition in 7.1, released yesterday, is French tanks to fight alongside the existing German, Russian and US vehicles.

Now I’m not some sort of ultra-grognard demanding a completely realistic recreation of World War II down to the rivet, there were already plenty of experimental, prototype, theoretical and/or post-war AFVs in World of Tanks especially in the latter tiers, but the ever-so-slight problem with French tanks is there was a bit of an unscheduled interruption in development and production from 1940 to 1945, so almost everything in the game past Tier II is especially experimental, theoretical and/or post-war, which doesn’t quite feel right. Course there’s a slight element of nationalism here, as for some reason the French tanks have gone in before a full British (or Commonwealth) tree; granted the UK turned out some pretty poor tanks (and some obsolescent tanks that might have been quite good had they gone into service a couple of years earlier, which World of Tanks should make up for with its tiered battles), but at least they existed…

As if to mollify me, the WoT team have given everyone a British tank as a present; apply the code “NEWYEAREU” to your account for a free Tetrarch (“NEWYEARNA” for US players). Like the Valentine, Matilda and Churchill it’s flagged as Russian due to lend-lease, but I’ll take it. It’s a bit of a comedy tank, the real thing notable mostly for being landed by glider during the invasion of Normandy despite being obsolete, but as it’s classed as a Tier II vehicle in WoT it gets to frolic with other early war light tanks instead of late model PzKpfw IVs and StuGs.

I’ve been playing quite a lot of low tier battles in over the past months. Since my last update I’ve been hopping on a few times a week, but fun as the average fight is, they’re not terribly blogworthy (“Dear diary, today I shot an enemy tank with my gun. Then I shot another enemy tank with my gun. Then an enemy tank shot me with its gun. I exploded. The end.”) I haven’t bought any more gold since that post, and upgraded to Tier VIII vehicles in both my lines of choice (the IS-3 and ISU-152), which took a few million credits. It’s an expensive business, fighting at Tier VIII; repair costs are hefty, often more than your winnings, and even stocking up on ammunition puts a hefty dent in the wallet. I’m trying to figure out a way of converting the ISU-152 to use some form of trebuchet to fling light tanks, as I reckon they’re cheaper to buy than 152mm shells… There are several ways to fund yourself; lower tier tanks almost always make a profit, so can be worth keeping around even after you upgrade. Gold can be converted to credits for an instant hit, or used to buy Premium status that boosts credit and XP earnings for each match. Premium tanks can be also purchased with gold and offer good credit-earning potential, especially the Tier VIII vehicles. Gankalicious was splendid enough to pass on a code for a T-127, a Premium Tier III light tank, which doesn’t rack up massive cash but gives a nice boost, and I’ve got the Tier II Tetrarch as well now.

As well as turning a profit, low tier fights are generally a bit more relaxed and fast-paced. Tense battles of careful positioning and manoeuvre are great, but after a couple it’s nice just to tear across a map at high speed, possibly exclaiming “woot!” or sounding a novelty tank horn on the way (oddly enough, horns were included in the 7.0 testing as gold-purchasable “cosmetic” items… I’m not sure if any played Dixie or La Cucuracha, but for some reason they didn’t seem to go down too well and weren’t pushed live…) Though there’s always action of some sort across all the tiers the introduction of new tanks unleashes an impressive horde of starter vehicles, so if you were thinking of having another look at the game, or starting from scratch, it’s a particularly good time to hop in and join the low-tier French madness.

The tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime

There was an article on CNN last year, “Why most people don’t finish video games”, highlighting a stat from Raptr that only 10% of tracked gamers had completed the final mission of Red Dead Redemption (a game taking upwards of 30 hours to finish). The conclusion for single player games was the future being shorter, campaigns of around 10 hours, with further content in expansion packs.

Update: UnSubject has done some sterling work digging in to the numbers and 10% is at the low end, but the stats seem to confirm the shorter single player campaign, more than half the titles taking on average less than 10 hours.

For an MMO player[1], of course, 10 hours is “not a bad first session”. 30 hours is “a decent headstart weekend (with 18 hours of queuing and server maintenance)”. 100 hours will do for launch week (I seem to recall Raptr reporting one user with 149 hours logged in the opening week of Cataclysm, though that’s just the game client running as opposed to active play), but there’d better be more than that to warrant a subscription.

I don’t envy a company trying to keep both camps happy…

[1] OK, obviously it’s a certain subset of MMO players. Or a certain subset of all game players, there are probably 100 hour-per-week Spider Solitaire fiends, engaging in flamewars of eye-popping obscenity with those Freecell noobs between hands.

Quoted forsooth.

“I will tell you something strange that happens though, and has never happened for me before anywhere in the genre; whenever I enter a tough room I always reach up to quicksave. That’s weird, right? The game is filed mentally as “single player,” despite all the evidence to the contrary.

That’s quite a trick.”

                          — Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade on Star Wars: The Old Republic

There’s not much that I can add, except that I’ve also done exactly the same thing several times in Star Wars: The Old Republic. And found myself somewhat sad each time that I couldn’t save.

I had put it down to playing Skyrim non-stop for weeks (that’s game time) beforehand, an RPG where one generally has at least one finger surgically connected to the quick save key (preferably a second for backup in case you need to save while the first save is still going through) and fast save-reloads have evolved beyond simple muscle memory into something programmed into the player’s genetic code.

But now that someone else has put voice to the curiosity, I’m no longer so sure of the Skyrim connection. It’s an interesting phenomenon nevertheless, and it’s never happened to me in an MMO before, as far as I can recall; I wonder how many other players have experienced this effect in SWTOR.

Skip to the end.

The conversation system in Star Wars: The Old Republic is always going to be a big talking point. Do you see what I did there?! Never mind. It’s clearly a much better way to immerse the player in the game world than walls of text which, no matter how well written, are always going to be a distraction from the game world proper. I’ve read on numerous blogs now how (brown cow) players have found themselves identifying with their character to the point of wanting to find out more about the story, and having trouble when choosing between the light or dark side options because they want to be true to the character their experience has created. Indeed, m’colleague mentioned in passing how other characters of the same class are slightly jarring because they also speak with ‘your character’s voice’.

I think those of us who are familiar with recent BioWare RPGs –such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect– don’t find the system to be anything out of the ordinary, where those players whose domain of experience extends primarily to MMOs will most likely find it to be a revelation. BioWare really have succeeded in taking their single player RPGs and extending them into the MMO space. I prefer to look at it that way: they haven’t made an MMO, they have taken the existing House of KOTOR and built a considerable MMO annex onto it, such that really you still live primarily in the House of KOTOR, but you can now have your friends over to stay, if you so want. I’m not sure how large the intersection is between the sets ‘People who play BioWare RPGs’ and ‘People who play MMOs’, undoubtedly it’s considerable in size, and yet there are still all those members of the two sets who remain outside this intersection, players who are now being encouraged towards it by SWTOR, much to BioWare’s profit, no doubt.

As much as I admire the conversation system, I do still find it a little ponderous in a world where you’re essentially being asked to kill ten womprats most of the time. I expect the idea is to give more meaning to killing those womprats by delivering grand exposition on the nature of womprats, and how they have ruined the life of Generic NPC 149. And that’s the problem in a nutshell for me. Outside of the class story, which is primarily a solo affair –very much ensconced in the comfortable living room of the House of KOTOR– even if you can bring friends along, all of these NPCs are still transitory. I know that when I speak to Henrietta Generic-damsel and get a whole great exposition about her life to this point, it’s all meaningless in the grand scheme of my adventures: I will do the quest, she will hand me a reward that I will probably sell to a vendor, and then I will never see that woman again unless I roll a new character. So why do I need to know about her at all? In all honesty I find it hard to care about her embarrassing knicker-elastic accident back in ’87, during a second year at university while she was dating Kevin from Lightsaber Comp. 101. Thus I quickly find myself returning to the standard MMO routine of wishing they’d just get on with it so that I could, in turn, get on with playing the game. Alas, once this mindset starts to take a hold, every conversation seems to be painfully padded out with unnecessary content, and every sentence seems to be spoken in an interminably slow manner…

“Hel……lo Boun……”

“Bounty Hunter”


“Bounty Hunter”


“Bounty Hunter!”

“ter. I…… would…… like…… it…… if…… you……”




“be…… my…… friend.”

“Oka– do what?!”

“For…… if…… we…… were…… friends…… I…… could…… give…… you…… a…… qu…………………………….”

“A ‘qu’?”


“Fine, let’s be friends.”

“Excellent! Boun…… ”

“Bounty Hunter”


“Bounty Hunter”


“Oh come *on*, hurry it up! Don’t you know I’m on paid time with my game subscription and all this exposition is slowing me down?!”

It’s dangerous to let that mindset take a hold of you however, because much like the quest text of other MMOs, it becomes far too easy to engage the ‘skip to the end’ device, which in the case of SWTOR is the Spacebar of Extreme Exposition Expedition (and not the Escape key, it turns out). Conversations go much quicker when you employ the SoEEE, but unlike skipping the quest text in other MMOs, while voice acting adds greatly to the immersion levels of the game, skipping over it does detract from the immersion levels in equal measure.

“He-burt Hun-it”

“Hi there.”

“La-but fn-it ha-bot?”

“Sure, I’ll look into a problem for you”

“Snor-bit sher-but?”

“The governor of the planet is going to meet with the Dark Sith lord of Dark Darkness, and you think that this might be a Bad Thing? And you want me to intercept him and go in his place, and I should use this disguise kit to fool the Sith into thinking I’m the governor?”

“Ye-zbt ha-yit bu-bit!”

“Oh stop fussing, I’m always discrete.”

“Fu-ou hm-ba rs-ole”

“Well there’s no need to be rude!”

“Pa-rpt fn-bar”

“That’s more like it; I’ll be back with your information in a bit.”

“Id-lo vo-u”

“I… uh, love you too? Sorry, that one didn’t make much sense; hang on, let me read the subtitles.”

And thus you’re so intent on skipping the voice acting that you end up reading all the quest text in order to find out how to answer a question appropriately…

Blarmed clever those BioWare folks. Blarmed clever.