For the past couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying the Winter Olympics both on television and in War Thunder, where the Russian developers celebrated the Sochi games by adding a couple of special events. First there was a Biathlon, each team having to race through a series of checkpoints, periodically engaging a number of targets (either tanks or barrage balloons), before finally having to land on an airfield to finish the match. If you’ve ever wondered what the biathlon might be like if the competitors decided not to shoot at the targets but take pot-shots at each other on their way around the course, the War Thunder event gave you some idea. In some matches teams would focus on the objectives, in others they just ignored the whole checkpoint business and instantly headed straight for the opposition forming a mass dogfight around the start line, finishing only when one team was wiped. The second event, Curling, was a little more tenuous, with each side having a number of AI tanks representing stones moving towards a central control point, teams having to “sweep” the way clear by eliminating artillery and pillboxes in their path. All good fun, and keeps things a bit fresher than playing the same old maps all the time; they also had a contest for players to submit Olympic-themed content, I was most impressed by the organisation of the team who created the Olympic rings using five Hurricanes and acrobatic smoke. The ground forces beta is also rumbling on, looking pretty good at the moment, so another heavy year of War Thunder seems quite feasible.
Planetside 2 is ticking along as well; server issues with our usual European home caused us to decamp to a new US server for an odd sort of holiday in identical surroundings (same three continents, same bases and everything) that nevertheless felt slightly different, starting out again with new characters. Also like a holiday it’s nice to get back to home comforts, such as heavily upgraded weapons and vehicles, but a change is a good as a rest and all that.
Star Wars: The Old Republic holds down another weekly spot for regular grouping, though it can be a little awkward with a fixed party size of four for Flashpoints and a requirement for a balance of classes (slightly alleviated by some reasonable hybrid options) at similar levels. The most recent patch sorted out some of those issues by introducing a “Tactical Flashpoint”, a randomised set of encounters where the group are automatically bolstered to the same level and clickable healing devices go some way to removing the need for a dedicated healer (though boss fights still go better with a balanced group). Even with the randomised elements it’s not something I’d fancy doing every night (and twice at weekends), but it’s a welcome way to allow a more diverse group to play together. Having been a full subscriber to get early access to the starfighter content I was playing quite a bit, alternating between two characters to stay in the same level range as everyone else, but the initial excitement has worn off slightly; this is where the free-to-play aspect is really helpful, no more agonising over whether to keep a full subscription going just for a night a week, I can cancel the sub and drop down to “Preferred” status. There’s a few days of subscription left, then it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any subscriber-only features I really miss, or whether it won’t make too much of a difference.
One of the reasons I haven’t been in SWTOR so much is that I’ve started dabbling elsewhere… An e-mail from Perfect World announced a new Arc client for accessing their games, including Star Trek Online and Champions Online. I’m not really bothered about Yet Another Steam Knock-off, but the e-mail also contained the magic words: Free Hats! I haven’t played Champions for ages, but could hardly spurn an offer of a “Hats and Heads” costume set, so grabbed the Arc client and associated bonus code. While there, a Khan costume set for STO? Well, it’d be rude not to… I fired up the game and it looks like it’s had a bit of an interface overhaul, all seemed quite swish, had a little jog around the starbase, checked out the new costume at the tailor, haven’t logged back in again since. It’s another Perfect World/Cryptic title that’s grabbed me, Neverwinter. Melmoth had mentioned a few times that he was rather enjoying both the main game and the web-based elements, as did Van Hemlock on the HTMT podcast, so I thought I’d take a proper look – I’d actually downloaded it back around open beta/launch (I seem to recall it was rather a fluid release) but was in such an MMO-funk at the time I didn’t make it out of the tutorial.
Neverwinter seems nicely done, if not exactly deep; it has “action combat”, a bit like Dungeons and Dragons Online, more focused on movement and positioning and a small number of abilities rather than three full hotbars of stuff to click. Plenty to do, between adventuring, skirmishes, PvP and the like. It’s really the Gateway that sets it apart so far, a web portal that allows you to review your character and their inventory, manage crafting, and take your companions off on Sword Coast Adventures that work a lot like many Facebook/web games, quite simple dice rolling encounters, but an engaging little mechanic. The Gateway works well via Android browser, so after working through both seasons of Doctor Who Legacy (with a fair bit of repeated level running to pick up additional companions), Sword Coast Adventures have taken over as my “five spare minutes” mobile game of the moment.
Away from the online stuff, I did manage a few levels of Tomb Raider after picking it up in Steam’s Christmas sale, all quite enjoyable but I haven’t felt compelled to finish it off (or Dishonored, or any number of other games kicking around my “must get back to sometime” list). I can’t really remember the last single player games I got properly engrossed in, probably Bioshock Infinite and Saints Row IV (half the reason I keep blogging is so I can go back and check on stuff like that…) I also grabbed the Sid Meier Humble Bundle, partially for the Civ V DLC on the (very) off chance I manage to get back for another playthough, but mostly for the two Ace Patrol games. They’d been on my radar (as much as canvas biplanes can show up on radar) since featuring in Tim Stone’s always-splendid Flare Path, and are indeed a quite delightful bit of drop-in tactical dogfighting fun, the turn-based nature and AI opposition allowing for a slightly more relaxed approach when the frantic furballs of War Thunder get a bit much.
Towards the end of last year I completed a bunch of challenges in War Thunder that gave a chance of participating in the ground forces closed beta, and the other week the Hand of Fate had a good old rummage in the Metaphorical Top Hat of Beta Entry Raffle Tickets and drew out beige 172, that’s number 172 on a sort-of-beige, sort-of-light-brown ticket, corresponding to my account, so I get to play with tanks, hurrah!
I haven’t had much of a chance so far, the beta server isn’t up all the time, but I did get to bimble around a bit this weekend. The Ground Forces NDA has been partially lifted, participants can talk about the beta and post content as long as they don’t focus on bugs and negative aspects. Some people seized on “don’t publish negative remarks” as a totalitarian attempt to whitewash opinion, “All War Thunder doubleplusgood. Ground forces beta ungood? Crimethink! Send to joycamp.” To me, though, it seems a reasonable enough approach, acknowledging the voracious appetite for information from some quarters that would be fed by leaks anyway, while trying to balance the actual testing aspects of a genuine beta with consequent rough edges.
So the first thing that strikes you is that it’s terribly pretty. There’ve been plenty of screenshots and videos showcasing how good the tanks look, and they don’t disappoint when you open up your garage. Here’s a King Tiger, complete with Zimmerit coating:
If the tanks seem a little plain, you have access to the same decal system that aircraft have, allowing for further decorations such as kill markings, unit insignia, or a spot of anthropomorphising. This is Gerald the ISU122, he’s a little bit grumpy:
General gameplay is broadly similar tank combat in other games: drive around with WASD, point turret at things with mouse, click button to fire gun. Initial matches were mostly spent getting to grips with controls and such, it’s far too early for a definitive opinion, but it all seems fun enough so far. I saw a couple of maps during my beta sessions, both Domination-style with three control points. With both sides having a plentiful supply of respawning reinforcements in Arcade mode, the few battles I was in all ended via points being captured rather than one side being wiped out.
As with aircraft, damage is based on hit location and equipment modules rather than hitpoints. I managed to get a flanking shot on a Tiger II, the red text on the right shows the damage caused:
One of the things I’m particularly interested in is the interaction between aircraft and tanks when the two can play together. One of the maps I saw was tank-only, but the other also featured airfields for combined arms gameplay, so I took a few planes out for a spin:
The only aircraft available were the reserve biplanes with an armament consisting of a couple of light machine guns and (if sufficiently upgraded) two very small bombs, not a threat to the high-tier tanks being tested, more of a novelty than a serious attack option. It did give an idea of how combined forces might play, though. One challenge is finding a target; the tanks on your own team helpfully have name labels to avoid friendly fire incidents, but there’s no highlighting of enemy tanks, you need to get right down at low altitude to spot them yourself. It’s rather fun swooping around, looking for movement, knowing the tanks down below are other players rather than AI targets, but in doing that you open yourself up to a number of hazards. Enemy aircraft are always a danger, if you get too focused on ground targets then you’re easy prey for opposition fighters. There are also AI anti-aircraft units dotted around the map, though friendly tanks can sort those out:
Tanks aren’t defenceless against aircraft, in Arcade mode you get a lead indicator to help with targeting enemy air units:
By all accounts air kills are possible with large calibre guns if the shooter is lucky/skilled enough, I lofted a couple of 88mm shells in the general direction of enemy planes, but the Elefant tank destroyer isn’t really designed for anti-air work. There weren’t any dedicated AA vehicles available during this particular test, I figured the 20mm autocannon of the Panzer II might be quite effective against aircraft:
Needless to say, though, every time I took it out for a drive the skies suddenly cleared, so I didn’t bring any aircraft down with it.
A wider range of aircraft will mix things up a bit more, obviously heavier bombs, rockets and cannons will pose far more of a threat to ground vehicles, but I don’t think planes will have things all their own way. It’s going to be rather interesting to see how it all develops.
There are many opportunities at the moment for MMOG players to get involved in game development prior to official release, from the very earliest stage of a Kickstarter like Brad McQuaid’s Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen through providing game-shaping feedback in the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha to slightly more traditional beta testing of The Elder Scrolls Online. In fact the very idea of an official release seems to be becoming increasingly unfashionable, or at least difficult to pin down, as early access, soft launches, headstarts and seemingly perpetual betas blur the lines, particularly for online games that evolve throughout their lifespan.
Aerial combat in War Thunder, for example, is technically in “Open Beta”, but with a fully functioning cash shop and no prospect of a progress wipe. A widely held position, mentioned on the most recent episode of How To Murder Time during a splendid rummage through the difficulties of MMO funding, is that once a game is taking money it can’t rightfully be called a beta any more, which I certainly don’t think is unreasonable, but with “beta” covering such a multitude of sins we really need some better terminology or debates just get bogged down in semantics: “LOL this game is rubbish, the flight model of this plane is inaccurate!”; “LOLOL it’s a beta it’ll get fixed”; “LOLOLOL it’s not a beta they’re taking money”; “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL it is a beta because it says ‘beta’ right there on the screen and when they use a word it means just what they choose it to mean — neither more nor less”. This is A Bad Thing, because debates should of course be getting bogged down in wild tangents and personal insults instead.
Rather unimaginatively, nobody seems to have pushed on with the greek alphabet theme by following beta testing with gamma, delta and epsilon testing, possibly because that would encourage teams to skip through as fast as possible to get to Omicron Testing just because it sounds cool (imagine Matt Berry announcing “Engage Omicron Testing!”), or possibly because of potential difficulties with Scientology upon reaching Theta Testing. We have the solution, though: when clear, unambiguous terminology is needed, that’s clearly a job for SI units, so we present the SI scale of development centred around the base unit of The Beta (yes, yes, SI units don’t work like this, ssshhhh):
|SI Beta Unit||Previous Terminology||Notes|
|Picobeta||A Vague Idea||“Hey, chief, we should make a game or something…”|
|Nanobeta||A Vague Idea written down on the back of a fag packet||“… and it would have adventures in it and stuff…”|
|Microbeta||Tech Demo||“… you’ll just have to imagine the sky. And grass. And other players. You control your movement with these two knobs on the side, and… oh, hang on, just need to reboot the system…”|
|Millibeta||Crowdfunding||An idea sufficiently fleshed out to be a viable prospect on Kickstarter or similar; may feature a Microbeta|
|Centibeta||Alpha||A partially complete version of some elements of the game|
|Beta||Closed Beta||A feature complete version of the game released to a limited number of people for the purpose of testing|
|Kilobeta||Open Beta||A feature complete version of the game released to everyone and their dog for gathering metrics and enfrothening the hype-vortex|
|Megabeta||Stress Test||A feature complete version of the game released to everyone and their dog, but only for a limited period of time depending on the temperature you want the login servers to reach (two hours should be sufficient to fry a few rashers of bacon and a couple of eggs, two days for a nice slow-cooked casserole)|
|Gigabeta||Open “Beta”||A game for sale, or with a cash shop, with no character/item wipe in prospect if it’s multiplayer, but still under development. Or “a game”, according to current terminology.|
|Terabeta||Finished Product||Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you about a time, long, long ago, when you went into a place they called a “shop”, and you bought a “game” on a bunch of “disks”, and then you “installed” and “played” it, and if it needed updating the game company would have to send you the patch in what we called “the post”…|
|Petabeta||Do dooo do do do||A beta run by a bunch of muppets|
|Exabeta||Finished Product (Italian)||This-a beta, ees a no more-a, bereft of life it rests in Pisa. (Deprecated; slightly racist)|
Star Wars Galaxies was renowned for looking past the central characters of the films into the deeper world behind them. Of the many and myriad computer games set in the Star Wars universe any number let you pilot an X-Wing, swing a lightsaber or wield a blaster, but if, while watching the cantina scene in Star Wars, you thought “what a fascinating glimpse into an alien culture; I bet the band confer some sort of buff, I wonder if they’re directly employed by the cantina owner who makes money from selling goods or if they play for tips from the patrons? I hope there’s somewhere you can go fishing nearby…”, Galaxies was for you. Luk3_Skyw4lk3r may have been disappointed that he couldn’t start out as a Jedi, but mastery of random professions would eventually unlock a force sensitive character slot, a slightly odd system with the potential to unbalance markets; then there was the Combat Upgrade, and the New Game Enhancements with simplified professions including Jedi, and L\/k3_5kyw4l3rrrrr34s in abundance, and this was obviously A Bad Thing, and then The Game came to a .
There is hope, though! A New Hope, you could say (LIKE THE SUBTITLE OF THE FIRST FILM, DO YOU SEE?), for in his recent AmA, John Smedley said “SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now.” All terribly exciting! What could that next game be? Where might it be set? Personally I’m hoping they pick up another big IP for the setting; Alien, for example: you could have professions like miner, spaceship pilot, trader and cook, and cart millions of tons of ore around the galaxy, and then if you master five random professions you pick up a distress signal and get eaten by an Alien. Or The Terminator; a virtual Los Angeles with extensive waiter/waitressing opportunities and nightclubs for entertainment, and then if you master five random professions it turns out that either one of your descendants is the leader of the resistance against the machines in the future, or you’re a Terminator who’d been programmed with a human personality and you get activation orders to hunt down a regrettably non-specific target.
Actually… that could work…
Ah, the zany world of intellectual property law. As you’ve doubtless seen in the news, Candy Crush Saga developer King (I’m not sure which King, websites aren’t very clear on the matter; I reckon it might be King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, but that’s just a guess) are getting into a bunch of legal tussles over “Candy” and “Sagas”. No word on “Crush” yet, I think it’s still safe to be romantically infatuated with someone, but you might want to double check with an IP lawyer to be sure.
King have opposed an attempt to trademark the name of the recently released Kickstarter success The Banner Saga, possibly because they believe Stoic’s game is deceptively similar to their own, or possibly because they don’t believe that at all but have to say they do in case someone else makes a game that really is deceptively similar and they’re not allowed to say so because they hadn’t previously even though it wasn’t. Or something. It’s all frightfully confusing.
The Banner Saga, being a Nordic tale, seems rather more of an actual saga than Candy Crush Saga, but there was an episode of the frequently excellent In Our Time on Radio 4 all about Icelandic Sagas, and what really stood out for me was the section where a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Árni Magnússon Manuscripts Institute in Reykjavík described the common theme across all sagas of the protagonist, faced with a sea of brightly coloured confectionery, being forced to swap sweets until they exploded.
Also feeling The Wrath of the not-Lich King is a poor innocent developer who just wanted to make a nice little game with candy in it, and “never thought [his] app would be confused with Candy Crush in the least bit”. Perhaps I’m being appallingly cynical, but in my eyes that position is every so slightly undermined by the full title of the game: All Candy Casino Slots – Jewels Craze Connect: Big Blast Mania Land. I thought Temere: Path of the Fall of the Exile of the Rise of the Time of the Shadow of the World of the Quest of the Hero was about the stupidest game title I could come up with by tacking a bunch of generic fantasy words to each other, but maybe it just wasn’t ambitious enough and the next Kickstarter should be for Definitely Not Key Words From the List of Best-Selling Video Games Article on Wikipedia Assembled in a Random Order (formerly Grand Call of Super Theft Sport Elder Brothers Auto the Pac-Hedgehog Kart Scrolls Duty)…
Temere: Path of the Fall of the Exile of the Rise of the Time of the Shadow of the World of the Quest of the Herokickstarter, melmoth, waffle, zoso 2 Comments »
Our last not-Kickstarter project didn’t really take off, and after an extensive post mortem we decided it was almost certainly the poor rewards for potential backers that were the problem, so welcome to the not-Kickstarter for Temere: Path of the Fall of the Exile of the Rise of the Time of the Shadow of the World of the Quest of the Hero, a completely not-generic fantasy game with amazing features including:
- Fighting against things!
- A story of some sort!
- Words and perhaps even pictures!
Who wouldn’t want to play that game? Just select your backer level to get in on the action:
Pledge $1 or more: Grudging Thanks – Mrrrmmphthnksiguess
Pledge $10 or more: Whoops, I Clicked The Wrong Thing – No rewards whatsoever, but we’ll stick this in just in case people don’t read very carefully
Pledge $15 or more: Schadenfraude – Zero copies of the game, but a daily update from a random backer as their hopes, dreams and fondly nostalgic memories are slowly crushed by the reality of a game that can never quite live up to expectations
Pledge $16 or more: The Drama Llama – As above, but with a really angry backer who becomes progressively more furious, threatening to sue the developer, Kickstarter and the entire concept of “a game”
Pledge $20 or more: The Massive Game Backlog – A digital copy of the game if you ever really want it, but we won’t actually tell you when it’s available or keep pestering you with updates so you don’t feel guilty that you have no time to actually play it
Pledge $25 or more: The Should’ve Thought About This Before We Launched The Kickstarter Really – A digital copy of the game, and as soon as we can think of something cool then $5-worth of it
Pledge $25 or more: (New option!) Oh, Hang On, There’s Some Stuff In This Draw Here – A digital copy of the game, two biros (one with lid, one without), a stapler (no staples), some bits of string and… erm… I think it’s a plastic bit that came off a torch or something but I’m not quite sure
Pledge $500 or more: Hey Good Lookin’! – Using our finest 3D laser scanning system, YOUR face will be used as the model for an NPC in the game!
Pledge $5,000 or more: The Malkovich – Using our finest 3D laser scanning system, your face will be used as the model for EVERY SINGLE NPC in the game!
Pledge $5,000,000 or more: The Ultimate Package – YOU can design a quest for the game, and an NPC group for the game, and an NPC companion for the game, and write the backstory of the game, and in fact all the other quests and NPCs and companions and monsters, and the class system, and the world and… well, basically, you’re making the game now. Let us know when you’ve finished, will you? Can’t wait to see how it turns out!
Happy New Year, one and all! So, 2013 in review: stuff happened. Predictions for 2014 (and slightly beyond): more stuff will happen, but will eventually stop. That’s entropy, man. I ought to be a futurologist… Nothing terribly new and exciting to report on the gaming front, really. War Thunder is still going strong – another week or two and I’ll have been playing for a year, not a bad stretch at all. The most recent update has stirred up a bit of community outrage (Game Update Causes Community Outrage Shocker!), with planes being researched individually instead of unlocked in batches, slowing things down especially in higher tiers; it does seem to be a touch on the harsh side, but not worth getting too worked up over.
Most of my recent flying has been quite task-oriented, with a series of challenges starting in November offering a chance of a closed beta slot for ground forces testing followed by the current “Winter Magic” event, with two new planes up for grabs for completing various tasks. It’s a fun way of mixing things up, changing the type of aircraft you fly and the targets you go for; I haven’t got into the ground forces beta yet, fingers crossed as they add more testers, some nifty videos are starting to come out such as this fine biplane/flakpanzer teamwork.
Various holiday incentives such as bonus experience and plane discounts have been luring me into World of Warplanes as well, enough to get up to the Tier V Spitfire I; I even got World of Tanks patched up for the sake of a free tank, but couldn’t really adjust to driving again after all the flying.
Also coming up to a year played is PlanetSide 2, though I haven’t been playing an awful lot recently; I’d let my membership lapse before the recent announcement about changes, I was happy enough with the weapons and certifications I’d acquired, and though there’s always scope for player-created hat-type fun, as a first-person game you only really get to appreciate the millinery when changing classes. It’s still (usually) a blast, slipping slightly down the pecking order of Stuff To Play, but at least without a subscription the option’s still there every week or two.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Steam Sale, or at least Christmas wouldn’t be Steam Sale Season without a Steam Sale, and holiday trading cards added a bit of excitement this time around. Combining them into a badge also resulted in a cosmetic item for one of a variety of free-to-play games that could be traded or sold on the community market, so for a few pence you can pick up the more common snowflake decals for War Thunder aircraft, though that price may sharply rocket now that the holiday cards have melted away. I even bought a couple of those actual game-things during flash sales. Lots of people rave about Kerbal Space Program; I’ve only really run through the tutorial and it hasn’t completely grabbed me yet, but it certainly seems interesting, and Melmoth spoke highly of the new Tomb Raider game, so I picked that up and have got as far as downloading it, but not actually starting it up. I just about made it to the second level of Dishonoured, bought during a previous sale, before getting completely distracted by other stuff so I’m not sure when I’ll manage to actually buckle down and play it, but still…
On the mobile front, Doctor Who: Legacy is a neat little puzzle-type-RPG-sort-of-thing available for both Android and iOS, chock-full of companions and characters from the recent series plus a few classics with nice artwork, kills the odd ten minutes here and there quite effectively.
Finally, over in The Old Republic the newly added starfighter combat still hasn’t really clicked for me, but I’ve really been getting back in to the rest of the game, flashpoints, regular PvP battlegrounds and the class stories. I hadn’t been particularly hankering for good old hotbar style combat, it just sort of crept up; I’ve no idea if it’ll last long enough to properly pique my interest in WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online or EverQuest Next, or whether I’ll have burnt back out again by the time they launch.
Father Christmas arrives a week early for keen War Thunderers, with Patch 1.37 today bringing a veritable sack-load of new goodies: new planes, new maps, new flight models, DirectX 11 support, and perhaps most noticeably a major change in the research system. Previously you had a rank for each country, each plane had a rank, and achieving a new rank in an air force unlocked all the planes of that rank. This system had several good points, but a few disadvantages; progression could be a bit uneven as a new rank might not unlock planes of your preferred type (the US tree had a particularly bad Fighter Gap pre-v1.33 between the rank 13 P-51 Mustang and rank 18 F-80 Shooting Star, only partially filled by a couple of F8F Bearcat variants at ranks 15 and 16), or even any planes at all. In 1.37 you pick one aircraft at a time to research per country, a little more like World of Tanks, but with some key differences.
Aircraft are now grouped into five Eras instead of twenty Ranks, broadly chronologically but with a few tweaks to reflect their performance. These eras are also used for matchmaking, but with slightly fuzzy edges and player performance factored in, so a mid-late Era II plane with a good pilot might well be grouped with an early Era III plane with a poorer pilot. Here’s the first four Eras of the new British tree:
You can see the Beaufighter Mk VIc in Era II is “in research”; every match played with Britain will contribute towards unlocking the Beaufighter, even flying biplanes will contribute towards jet research (though not very much…)
To unlock a new Era, you have to research a number of planes of the previous era. At the very left of the screen you can see “2/4″ under the “II”: I’ve researched two Era II planes (the Hurricane Mk II and Spitfire Mk I), and need to research two more to move on to Era III, so I couldn’t immediately research the Era III Beaufighter Mk X after the Mk VIc. Premium planes count towards this number, though, so if I finish researching the Beaufighter VIc and buy a Boomerang Mk I or D.520, that will allow me to move on.
To unlock a specific plane, you’ll need to have researched the previous plane in its line (connected via an arrow). In this example I haven’t started on the Wellington bombers yet, to research the Mk Ic/L, I’ll have to first research the Mk Ic. Some planes are “stacked”, like the Spitfire Mk II (clicking on it will reveal two variants, the Mk IIa and Mk IIb). You need to research them separately, but you don’t need to unlock them all to progress to the next aircraft in the line (the Spitfire Mk V in this case).
Individual module research on each aircraft has also been tweaked slightly so that you research a particular module, rather than modules automatically unlocking according to a predefined sequence previously. You can select the module to research in the usual Upgrade screen, if you complete that research in a battle, you’ll get a pop-up afterwards letting you know, and allowing you to select the next module to research:
The general consensus seems to be that the new system may be slightly quicker for advancing all the way through one specific line of planes, but quite a bit slower for researching everything; a lot depends on the rate at which Research Points (“RP”, the replacement for XP in the new system) are awarded, which could well be tweaked a few times as the system beds in. There’s a Developer Diary that goes into a bit more detail, it looks like victory for a team will be a major factor in the number of RP received, which could be a positive factor in encouraging good teamwork, or equally terribly frustrating if you perform magnificently but lose a match due to a team full of buffoons. So much the same as ever, really!
When it was announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would be getting free-flight PvP space combat, my interest was piqued; being a fan of the old X-Wing series, and having spent most of my brief Star Wars Galaxies tenure jumping to lightspeed, I thought I might as well resubscribe to be first in line for starfighter access. And for free hats. Mostly the hats, to tell the truth.
I’ve only dabbled a little in space fighting since the update arrived, and I’m not sure I’ll be throwing myself into it in a big way. It all seems nice enough, you have a variety of ships, can tinker with the crew and the fittings, level up various aspects of their abilities, but the actual flying-around-and-shooting side hasn’t really grabbed me. I think I’ve been spoiled by War Thunder, which uses a “virtual instructor” so all you have to do is point the mouse in the vague direction you want to fly, and the instructor accordingly adjusts the elevator, rudder, ailerons, elevons, upperons, downerons and any other control surfaces that happen to be kicking around; once you’re pointing the right way, the camera aligns, and you’re flying straight and level. It’s a brilliantly intuitive and easy system; I was showing the game to Van Hemlock, lined him up a Spitfire for a test flight, and with minimal instruction (“press shift to go fast!”) he took off, flew around, shot up a practise target and landed, without crashing. Galactic Starfighter, like a lot of other flying/space combat games, uses more of a mouse-as-joystick approach: move the mouse left and your ship goes left until you move the mouse back to the middle of the screen, a scheme that needs a bit more practise to get to grips with.
Needing practise, it would be a nice if you were thrown into battle with fellow novices so you could all bumble around together, with your wingman struggling to put his starfighter into gear while you accidentally turn on the windscreen wipers instead of firing your blasters. With a phased approach to release (subscribers having access now, ‘preferred’ players getting access on January 14th and completely free access from February 4th), it seems that the pool of potential pilots is too small for any matchmaking niceties like taking account of player performance or ship upgrades, and most rounds I’ve played so far have been dramatic mismatches differing only in whether the Imperial forces disconsolately hang around one of the three control points for an inevitable but prolonged loss, or just get camped on their spawn point.
At this point I could knuckle down and jolly well harden the ruddy heck up, keep on plugging away and gradually improving, or… not bother. And with War Thunder and World of Warplanes available to scratch the dogfighting itch, not to mention space games like Star Conflict if gravity and an atmosphere is too much of a drag, Option 2 looks rather tempting.
Though the space combat itself hasn’t been terribly inspiring so far, Galactic Starfighter has got me back into SWTOR more generally. I’ve been on an MMO-break for a fair while, but seeing as I’d subscribed again I thought I might as well have a look at the expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, that added a new planet and raised the level cap. It was rather fun to dust off my Imperial Agent and chat to the old crew again, but upon landing and actually getting into combat it was the familiar old problem of having four hotbars of random icons to get to grips with again. Fortuitously the FRR posse were just piling in, a fine opportunity to roll a new character and get back into the swing of things, and it’s been most splendid rampaging around the place and discussing the quantum state of Schrödinger’s Black Talon Captain with others.
I may still try the odd starfighter flight, then, as a bit of downtime between quests and flashpoints; perhaps once preferred players have access there’ll be a brief flurry of newcomers I might have half a chance against, while the even-more-seasoned-by-then veterans enjoy a Happy Time in a potentially extreme case of free(ish) players being content for subscribers, unless the matchmaking system keeps them apart. As part of the wider whole of SWTOR it’s nice to have options alongside the main story, the PvE on-rails flying the game launched with, conventional PvP battlegrounds, flashpoints, operations etc., but I’m not sure Galactic Starfighter is really strong enough to pull people into the game by itself, especially with dedicated projects like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen inching towards playability. Still, the beauty of free-to-play is that you give it a try yourself from February without any financial outlay.