Tag Archives: swtor

You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.

Due to quests in TERA being such a general irrelevance, I find myself filtering the order of quests I undertake by giving preference to those which offer equipment upgrades; although, I’m still not sure about the technical accuracy of ‘upgrade’ in the context of a game where your character wears less armour the more they grow in power. It was always something which intrigued me about Star Wars: The Old Republic, the fact that the quests never showed a preview of the reward you’d be getting, and –perhaps due to the generally excellent storytelling– I never cared to know.

It’s a simple distinction, but an interesting one. By having the carrot waved around in front of their nose, the player rarely cares about the path they take while pulling the developer’s cart of flow. The developer, guiding the player in this way, gains a great deal of control and can instil motivation in the player, all without the need for world building or story. In fact, the reward will detract from the story in most instances, and I think it’s another area where BioWare were clever and alert to the pitfalls of the genre they were entering. The last thing you need in the Regency era ballroom of storytelling, where players are invited to twirl elegantly through the carefully choreographed steps of the plot, is a DJ in the corner with the glitter ball of phat loot, spinning to the thumping rhythm of tracks from Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward.

TERA is a curious beast in terms of how players are directed in their questing. There is a strong World-of-Warcraft-like impetus to click through the quest text and get on with adventuring, especially considering that the combat is the stronger pillar of the game’s foundation, along with the aforementioned carrot of the rewards being presented up-front. What’s more, clicking on any highlighted name in the quest text will place a marker on the player’s map as to where that mob can be found. In essence, the game seems to be using quests as an enabler to drive the players into combat, as per the standard MMO model. However, the game also marks any mobs for which the player currently has a quest by placing an exclamation mark above their head. Here we find the ubiquitous ‘quest marker’ being employed not only as a way for players to easily find quests, but the quest mobs themselves. What I find strange is that this would be a perfectly excellent way to remove some of the production line feel from an MMO, that of grabbing quests in an area and then slaughtering all the wildlife in the vicinity until the quest tracker was full of green ticks. Being able to wander freely, and have any Mobs of Interest highlighted to the player as they explore, seems a far more natural and immersive system than the current MMO standard – Lord of the Geocachings. I really like the idea, but it’s bizarrely extraneous in a game such as TERA, where there is no discernible reason to explore the world –outside of the potential for a screenshot opportunity (of which there is an opportunity roughly every four yards in this painfully pretty game)– and every quest mob can be found with pinpoint precision, each player a laser-guided bomb of mob obliteration.

It’s interesting how small adjustments in the presentation of quests, their rewards, and their objectives, can quite dramatically change the perspective from which a player approaches them. In a game where combat is its own reward, is the loot carrot really necessary? If a game wishes to encourage exploration and adventure, should it perhaps spend time finding ways to remove the unnatural geocaching of quests, rather than inventing new game-play mechanisms? Mechanisms which are layered on top of the already proven questing system, and thus often feel forced.

As the fundamental enabler of flow in MMOs for many years, it’s curious to see how little has changed in the design of quest presentation over the years, and fascinating to see just how little change is required to transform the way a player views the world through the questing lens, where slight adjustments to structure can alter the focus of a player’s attentions, blurring the boundary between mechanisms and mind-set, while throwing the game’s world into sharper relief.

A noble craft, and also a most lively!

One of the nifty![TM] features I’ve experienced in a couple of recent MMOs is the inclusion of crafting in other aspects of the game, outside of merely producing five million worthless trinkets to be sold to a vendor, before being able to finally produce the epic quality Toe Ring of Time, which gives your character a best-in-slot 0.01% boost in DPS over anything you can acquire in the levelling game, which nobody will ever be aware of, and which will be replaced by the first piece of end-game dungeon loot that drops.

The first of these is within Star Wars: The Old Republic. Crafting skills in SWTOR can be used to bypass areas of the game’s instanced dungeons – flashpoints. I love the idea of this, the fact that being a crafter of a certain type actually means something. What I particularly liked was that access to a shortcut or bonus area was themed towards the type of crafter who could negotiate that access. A set of tunnels which take the players around several corridors of heavily armed guards might be filled with a poisonous gas, and thus a Biochem specialist would be required to repair the filtration system which would neutralise the obstacle; someone versed in Cybertech might be able to reactivate a facility’s sentry droids, turning them against the mobstacles that litter the paths through the instance. It’s not essential to have a crafter of a certain type along, all the crafting activated events are usually bonuses and shortcuts which make the job easier, and not requisites for successfully completing the instance. I think BioWare struck a nice balance between players getting a bonus for having a certain crafting class, without it being compulsory to ‘bring along a crafter’. M’colleague informs me that, alas, this design featured less heavily in the later flashpoints he experienced.

It was whilst playing TERA that I was reminded of SWTOR’s subtle mechanic for craftily encouraging crafting. In TERA, each crafting node will grant a modest buff when harvested. It seems that these buffs are random, or perhaps tied to the type of node harvested, but by gathering from a number of nodes you can quickly find yourself with a considerable stack of buffs, which although modest in their own right, can result in quite a boost to your combat prowess when their effects are combined. I like this system better than that provided in World of Warcraft, where the gathering profession itself gives you a permanent boost to a stat, or a utility ability, because WoW’s system just becomes another item on the Great Min-Max List (‘Has optimal gathering profession to boost combat prowess?’), whereas TERA’s system temporarily rewards you for the act of gathering itself; for crafters or auction house wranglers this is a non-issue, but for everyone else there’s now a reason to get involved in gathering, and hey, if you have all those crafting materials in your inventory, why not try putting something together? Incidental crafting –which may in turn lead a player to discover a deeper love of crafting than they would have otherwise imagined– is a nice side benefit of such a system.

I really like this blending of boundaries, where consideration is given to the fact that gathering from crafting nodes doesn’t have to exclusively produce materials for crafting, and where crafting doesn’t have to correspond purely to churning out equipment. It draws those mechanics into the main combat-driven system, smudges the edges, blurs the demarcations, but does so by giving modest bonuses to those players who gave it a try, not by punishing those who didn’t.

I’d certainly like to see more features like these in future MMOs, because I feel that it’s very much this sort of parallel design that helps to make a game feel like a world, rather than a series of independent mechanical systems.

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.

You have to wonder if the team behind Star Wars: The Old Republic is getting a bit desperate.

First the controversial-to-some promotion of gifting players with level capped characters free subscription time.

Now there’s a live event which, to this outsider, seems suspiciously similar to a well-known bugged event in World of Warcraft. I mean, I know that BioWare seem to be throwing story to the wind and pasting in more end game raid content, but do they really need to copy World of Warcraft’s bugs too? Or maybe they consider this one to be a feature.

In all fairness (and slightly more seriousness), the event seems to be quite the hit with many SWTOR players, so I guess it’s not entirely a bad move to replicate some of the more notorious events from the Disney of theme park MMOs, while placing them in a more controlled environment.

What I want to know is, are they trying to respond to the Mists of Pandaria beta by appealing to World of Warcraft players, or the ‘pre-players’ of Guild Wars 2’s rather successful recent pre-post-pre-order-purchase activation, or both?

Certainly, to my mind, they seem to be desperately scrambling to respond to something, I’m just curious as to what that something is, and why they feel the need to respond so soon in their game’s life.

For the loot, honey, for the loot.

I mentioned in a previous post how pleased I was to see that I could instruct my companion in SWTOR to toddle off and sell all my junk loot in order to keep my limited inventory space clear for more important items, such as my fifteenth cosmetic neckerchief – this one will look simply darling in any medium-to-long range combat situation. Of course I imagine that Force users don’t instruct so much as persuade, in what is apparently the Jedi/Sith equivalent of sudo make me a sandwich. I mean, I’d make a rubbish Jedi, because the potential for Force abuse would be far too tempting to resist:

Companion: “But my favourite is green!”
Jedi [making a hand movement]: “Your favourite is yellow.”
Companion: “But my favourite is yellow!”
Jedi: “Well gosh, that *is* most conveniently handy, because that means you can have the yellow wine gums, and I’ll have all the green ones – which are my favourite.”
Companion: “Yay!”
Jedi [makes a subtle hand movement]
Companion: “Ow! Damnit!”
Jedi: “The phantom knicker-elastic snapper again?”
Companion: “It’s, like, every time we’re on the ship.”
Jedi: “It really is most perplexing.”
Companion: “And then there are all those draughts that keep lifting my dress. But we’re on a ship, Jedi! In the vacuum of space! IT’S A VACUUM!”
Jedi: “It is a *terrible* mystery. Truly it is. *monch* *monch* Mmmm, these green wine gums really are delicious.”

In my fresh play through of Skyrim as well, I quickly decided that I will skip the insane levels of inventory juggling and trips to the shops to sell my leftover loot, and instead I would only collect items which would really improve my character immediately, along with any gold coins I stumbled upon.

This is no revelation, just a simple hop skip and a jump along the natural progression of ‘loot leaving’ in an RPG. At first you leave no item unyoinked, twigs, bits of frayed string, fish bones, odd socks, cabbage leaves, cat hairballs, those waffle makers that everyone buys and only ever use once. Heck, it takes half an hour to progress a yard down the first path you encounter while you collect every piece of gravel along the way. After a while you make some money –because in EVERY RPG you start out with no money whatsoever– and you start to feel a little more flush, so that you only feel the need to, say, pick up every other Marmite jar. And you manage to pretty much leave the empty ones alone entirely! A little further in your progress down the Road of Single Player RPG, you find that the weapons and armour your opponents drop are hardly worth enough to warrant collecting, and you barely even look twice at old toenail clippings any more. Yet more time invested sees you leaving even some magical items, recoiling at the thought of having to break off from adventuring in order to traipse all the way back to town to sell them. And it’s not like you’re desperate for the gold now – a little more gold and you can probably buy that really nice castle down by the lake, with the hot tub and the billiard room. You know you’re over the hill of progression and coasting down the other side towards the retirement village of Dunitallnow upon Sea when you start to leave any item that isn’t a legendary artefact, and even then you have to think twice before popping the Holy Invincible Fist of the Almighty into you backpack in order to see if someone will give you some money for it; possibly enough to buy a new gold and diamond pull-chain for your en suite toilet back at the castle. In the end you reach the point where you’re so rich you just abandon cavernous rooms full of wondrous treasure, and when kings offer you dominion over entire regions of their kingdom, you sniff haughtily and give them such a look, as though they’d just rubbed themselves all over with dog poo and asked for a hug.

And yet, despite being so rich that I could buy the moon and still not have enough real estate to store all my worldly (and moonly) possessions, I *still* can’t walk past a blarmed wardrobe and dresser without having a peak inside, just in case. Just in case?! Just in case what? Just in case this mangled camphor box –inside a decrepit old woman’s rundown house– has, amongst the mouldy long knickers, scarves and the top half of a set of false teeth, the Inevitable Sword of Impossible Greatness? A weapon which could cleave the planet in twain and complete my dominion of time and space! Unlikely as that is, it might be hidden there, I’ll just have a peak… “ah no, it’s just some mouldy long knickers and a dusty long pink rubbery… is that a… ?! A…?! Aaaa…aaahhh! Oh, ugh, I think it is! Ewww! Ewww! I think I touched it!” And then I have to spend the next five minutes flapping around the place, holding my hands as far away from the rest of me as possible, while looking for some soap and running water. Such are the hazards of the ever-looting RPG adventurer.

But why this compulsion to look for that next improbably powerful item on the Fantasy Top 100 Items That Could Destroy A World? I mean, if it can cleave a world in twain, is that good? Can you cleave too much? Can you have too much cleavage? If it has a thirty six times direct damage modifier when cleaving, do I really need that? In RPG terms that would be 36DD Cleavage, and I’ve just no idea if I could even handle something of that magnitude.

In the end, I know who to blame: for, every time I get the urge to search for loot, the devil of temptation and the angel of abstinence are to be found, sat upon either shoulder, giving me advice. The devil whispers in my ear “Go on, loot it, looooot it; you know you want to”. A sweat breaks out on my brow, my hand hovers over the loot key, but with a wince I draw my hand sharply back as though the keys were brands which would burn ‘inveterate looter’ onto my finertips for all to see. I turn with great effort to the angel of abstinence who looks upon me with kind eyes full of understanding. Steepling her hands in front of her mouth, she looks thoughtful for a brief moment, and then shouts “For God’s sake man, what are you waiting for?! Loot the damn handbag, there could be some amazing treasure in there!”

Stupid angel of abstinence.

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.

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.”

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.

And all for love, and nothing for reward.

I recently completed the story arc for my Bounty Hunter on the planet of Balmorra, wherein I’d single handedly overthrown a rebellion by fighting my way through countless resistance minions, performing various acts of Empire sponsored counter-insurgency, and battling through a heavily guarded fortress complex to finally reach their leader. Not only that, but I’d managed to coerce this veteran –in exchange for his life– into revealing on a public broadcast that his group were being clandestinely sponsored by none other than, dun dun dun, The Republic!

As a result of this I’d paved the way for the reinstatement of a new Sith governess of the planet, an evil heartless witch by the name of Darth Lachris, and, if reports were to be believed, I’d shifted the balance of power not just on Balmorra but across the entire galactic sector. As the shock wave of news swept through the Senate regarding the Republic being caught –pants down– thoroughly abusing the Peace Treaty pie, my character received a grateful intergalactic mail message from the new malevolent ruler of Balmorra. In it she praised my character for her efforts – for single handedly changing the political balance across the galaxy in favour of the Empire, and in light of such, the governess went on to say, she had attached a bonus payment from the Empire to show its gratitude.

Two hundred WHOLE credits. Enough to buy one, maybe even two, basic medikits! One twentieth of a single skill training upgrade at my character’s current level. Two hundredth the cost of learning to ride a speeder bike.

Although it’s already been noted that SWTOR’s conversation wheel is somewhat lacking in appropriate MMO options, I’d also like to point out the similar lack of provision for returning quest reward mail to its sender, along with a suitable response.

Such as two primed thermal detonators, painted to look like testicles.