Tag Archives: swtor

An opening crawl for a crawling opening.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….


Episode IX


It is a period of civil delay. Rebel spaceships,
queueing in their hidden base, threaten to win their
first victory against the evil Galactic Empire, just as
soon as they can get out the door. During the planned
battle, Rebel spies intend to form an orderly line to
steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the
DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power
to destroy an entire planet but very long delays at its
toilets. Not pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents,
because they’re all a bit held up trying to get to their
ships, Princess Leia casually saunters home aboard her
starship; custodian of [item not found] that can save
her people and restore freedom to the galaxy, she phones
ahead to let them know that she might be slightly delayed…

One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.

Christmas is almost upon us once again, and as this luminescent blue-white pearl which we call Earth continues its ageless pirouette against that infinite star-glittered backdrop of black satin, people across its circumference take time out of the hectic schedule of existence to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ; which, in this modern age, seems to consist of taking a list of the Seven Deadly Sins and seeing how many one can tick off in a single day.

An MMO launch should fit right in.

Star Wars: The Old Republic has begun its early access event. You may even have chanced upon this news already from some obscure remote corner of your social network, perhaps old Mrs Crumblejowls down at the corner shop, or in the pained synchronised barking of every dog around your neighbourhood. If you hadn’t heard about the launch of SWTOR, then you may want to consider the case that you are, in fact, deceased – confirm this by checking for your pulse, or seeing whether you can walk through doors without having to open them, that sort of thing. If you are indeed no longer of this mortal coil, you may need to recruit the aid of a small boy who can see dead people to sort out your terrible predicament, although be warned: he may actually be too young to successfully complete the registration of your SWTOR subscription.

Many have wondered at the timing of BioWare’s release of SWTOR so close to Christmas, but we must consider that for many this is also a time of remembrance of Lord Jesus Christ. Or Darth Christ as he is in the Old Testament. Strong in the ways of the Force: able to Force heal, move impossibly large objects with his will –such as the stone doors to tombs–, and return as a Force Ghost upon his death, he was a powerful Sith Sorcerer. He was also prone to acts of rage, such as destroying temples (Anakin Skywalker’s later tribute being considered tasteless and excessive). Lord Christ was also unusual in taking on many apprentices at once –up to twelve at one point– rather than the single Master-Apprentice relationship which is more common among the Sith Lords. Opinion is divided as to why he did this, but the most common assessment is that it was perhaps a show of strength on his part, demonstrating his complete belief in his mastery of the Force. Alas, as is always the way with the Sith, one of his apprentices betrayed him in the end. Of course in many of the depictions of him, Lord Christ is seen to be wearing a beard style more common to the Jedi than the Sith. Not only this, but he enacted numerous good deeds during his time, leading many scholars to question his true nature, and whether he may have in fact been a Jedi double agent.

Back to the seven sins. I think Gluttony is a fairly easy score, and thus isn’t a terribly high value on the Sin-o-Meter. Much like Christmas, the MMO family sits itself around the feast of new content and gorges itself to the point of bursting. And as with Boxing Day, there comes a point where the overindulgence strikes back, with players unable to hear mention of the recently released MMO without grabbing their mouth with both hands, cheeks bulging, and making a dash for the nearest bathroom.

Wrath is also in evidence, as people find themselves excluded from the early access, be it due to a lack of invitation, failing Internet service, or the inconsideration of Real Life, getting in the way as it does, like the cat underfoot that wants feeding as you’re trying to juggle pans of boiling water and molten fat as you serve the Christmas dinner. Envy goes hand in hand, with outsiders watching with green eyes those people who have spent months preparing themselves, and now put their entire life on hold for a day or more, so that they can play the game seventeen picoseconds after the servers have opened. It’s common knowledge in the MMO community, of course, that the experience is so much better when consumed fresh, and that most MMO servers go stale quickly a day or two after launch, whereupon the whole thing becomes pointless. Anyone coming late to the party will have to pick through the messy bubble and squeak of content which is left over. Of course it’s all about community at the start, being there at the beginning, sharing the experience; very much like the crowd at the January Sales is all about community, understanding and sharing with your fellow man.

I also imagine Lust is well covered in certain quarters, and that there are some keyboards out there that could really do with a quick run through a dishwasher to loosen the keys again, but thus far we’ve thankfully been spared the twitpic evidence of this.

Regardless of my cynical musings on the launch of a new MMO, congratulations must be made to BioWare for one of the smoothest launches I think I’ve ever experienced. It may have been a regimented and cordoned and corralled crush, like the queue to see Santa in a major shopping centre, but in combination with an incredibly strong server system, it seems to have worked like a charm. I can still remember fully half of World of Warcraft’s subscribers being unable to play the game for a day or two after launch because they couldn’t register their credit card details on Blizzard’s failing website; I should know – I was one of them. BioWare have learned from and improved upon that debacle by several orders of magnitude, and so I’m left wondering what it will do for MMOs if the actual game can do the same with respect to the current market leader’s efforts.

Thought for the day.

M’colleague and I were discussing his intention to order the Digial Deluxe Edition of the forthcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic. His comment “And an in-game flare gun that serves no purpose has to be worth [an extra] £20, right?” had us looking at exactly what you get for your intergalactic space bucks.

The item that stood out for me was the HoloCam: ‘Keep visual records of in-game adventures.’ To which my immediate response was “Wow, they’re going to make screenshots a feature that’s purchasable from the in-game store”.

But then I realised that they aren’t going to have an in-game store. (Or are they? Ahhhhhhh!)

But then I considered all the trouble people reported having with taking screenshots in the recent stress test, as though the functionality was deliberately absent or hobbled, perhaps because the feature might be something which could be enabled by, say, an in-game HoloCam (free with the Digital Deluxe Edition or purchasable from the in-game store that doesn’t exist or does it ahhhhhhhhhh).

But then I thought that that was an incredibly unlikely and cynical supposition: that enabling screenshot (and video recording) functionality only when the player possessed an RMT-purchasable in-game item would open the floodgates to all sorts of the worst kind of micro-transaction-based shenanigans.

But then I observed that I had a cup of tea and a chocolate HobNob on the desk in front of me. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

Why I should stick my neck out for you is far beyond my capacity!

“Luke: Well, more wealth than you can imagine!
Han Solo: I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit.”

Deliberately inflammatory rhetoric aside, I do find myself somewhat aligned with the less than popular opinion that I’d rather wait for a while after Star Wars: The Old Republic’s release, before dropping out of hyperspace and diving flame-licked into the atmosphere of the virtual world that it represents.

The reasons are many and minor, but their cumulative effect is that of grains of sand, piled one upon the other until they dam rivers and ground ships; doubt upon uncertainty upon cynicism, until the flow of enthusiasm is strangled to a trickle. The enthusiasm is there, pooled, churning and thundering raw, a bear trapped in a collapsed tent, without focus or reason, and in danger of harming itself, or anyone who tries to guide it in the right direction; wisdom says that it’s best left alone to sort itself out, as it will inevitably do. Therefore I’ve avoided ordering a copy of the game straight away, and will watch from the sidelines as the vanguard of players takes to that infamous galactic stage far far away.

The pricing option has been debated elsewhere, and I imagine even the monocles of EVE players were in danger of popping out at the initial reveal of the collector’s edition price. Consider, though, that if you’d been in the right place at the right time, you could have gathered a couple of those ejected eyeglasses and bought yourself a TOR collector’s edition. If we call it ten Sparkle Ponies instead of $200, it would be a cynical marketing sleight of hand, but it certainly doesn’t seem quite so offensive when you balance the content of SW:TOR against ten translucent steeds, let alone the additional sundries that come with the Collector’s Edition. So it seems to have been aimed at the right level, too steep for some and a compulsory purchase for others, but for me it simply helped to reinforce my decision to wait until after release.

SW:TOR seems to all intents and purposes a traditional single player Bioware RPG but with the option to bring friends along. The voice acting will give a pace to questing that I believe will cause more friction in groups, especially PuGs, than we are already witness to. As such, the game appears to encourage a single player approach. Companion NPCs only seem to advance this theory. What I want to know, and what I can’t know until the game is released, is whether this bucking bronco of game design will throw most MMO riders, or whether the ropes, chaps and gloves of TOR’s various ancillary game systems will give players enough purchase to keep riding. I certainly can’t justify a monthly subscription for a single player RPG, even a Bioware one… especially a Bioware one, seeing as Dragon Age and Mass Effect cater perfectly well to that requirement.

In addition, I’ve come to equate, perhaps unfairly, the charge to get ahead during the early access of a game with that overarching madness in MMO society for rushing through content, getting afore the hoi polloi, and to pound out character levels as if in time with the sonorous rhythm of hammers in a village smithy. In some quarters there’s almost a January Sales mentality to it, where the crowds seems to beat at each other, striving not for bargains, but the boredom and bitter disillusion of end-game. Unfortunately I don’t look back with fondness on the many MMO head-starts of which I’ve partaken. I still remember World of Warcraft’s early days as being a time of server instability, incredible lag, and massively oversubscribed resources. I couldn’t get into Warhammer Online for days. I was in at the start of City of Heroes, and although it had a smooth release as far as the warped and battered platters of my memory can recall, I also don’t remember anything outstanding that occurred in those early days that made the unavoidable overcrowding worthwhile. I honestly can’t remember an MMO where getting in from the very beginning has made any difference to my experience; indeed, I became properly invested in LotRO only years after its release –and only then I suspect because I found a good group of friends to play with– and yet it is an MMO for which I will always have the fondest memories and no regrets, despite not being there from the very beginning.

There are other grains of concern I have for TOR, subjective ones such as the graphics, which don’t appeal to me to the point that I still harbour a secret hope that Bioware will surprise us all by dropping the faux Clone Wars style, and revealing that the game actually looks more like something birthed from the union of Force Unleashed and Mass Effect. Group issues again come to the fore with the game-play: videos of players standing statically around a boss mob and going through the Usual MMO Combat Routine[TM], do not entirely inspire a new hope. Rail-based starship combat didn’t take off in Clone Wars Adventures, so let’s do it again in this game! The list goes on. The grains of sand form a bank. The wash of enthusiasm is arrested.

So I’m not ordering Star Wars: The Old Republic, although I don’t think the price is the real issue here. It’s a personal thing: partly because, for better or worse, I’m over that stage of MMO fandom where I need to be involved in an MMO from the start; partly because there are other contenders which I feel offer me a better chance at finding my MMO mojo once again; and partly because I’m not convinced that SW:TOR is a game for which I want to pay a monthly subscription, something which other contenders –and a large part of the MMO market– have already moved away from.

Deep down I still hope that The Force is strong with this one, and if it is then I’ll probably visit that galaxy far far away, but for the time being… I still have a bad feeling about this.

A player’s role is certain, rigidly defined, and perhaps unnecessary.

One thing that always stuck with me from my experiences with World of Warcraft pick-up groups was that in the vast majority of cases people referred to one another by their role or class, not by character name. ‘Healer you suck’. ‘Tank can’t hold aggro’. ‘Weak DPS’. In WoW, and many MMOs of the traditional form, the players pick The Rogue, The Priest, The Warrior, which are further generalised into The DPS, The Healer, The Tank. It’s akin to games such as League of Legends, where players pick a character type to play which primarily defines the player’s role in the group, the abilities they will have to available to them, and the general strategy they will need to follow; nobody in LoL picks Irelia, the Will of the Blades in order to expand on the story of her spiritual companionship with Soraka, the Starchild.

Admittedly there are many players for whom that is the desired system. But I also get the feeling, however, that an equally large portion of the traditional MMO player base desire not to be classified as a character type, but as a character; they want to be a Shepard, a Geralt, or an Altaïr. They wish to be a character, but in an environment where they can share adventures with other players.

It comes back to the thorny issue of defining what is meant when we say RPG. For some this is categorically defined by the role you play in a group, it is a system forged by levels and stats which enables you to fight dungeon monsters. For others, however, that is only one part of the definition, the other being about storytelling and playing a character.

In the case of role-playing, some people like to play the function, other people like to play the part. Role-function, and role-part.

I’m beginning to wonder if Star Wars: The Old Republic is meant to appeal to the latter audience. At the moment it seems to want to bridge the two, carrying with it much of the role-function baggage from the more traditional MMOs, while also trying to introduce the more character-focussed style of the role-part, more often encountered in single player MMOs. My concern is that, in trying to appeal to the general market of MMO players, Bioware have given up the chance to break the traditional mould and bring a truly innovative character-based RPG to the massively multiplayer genre. The danger is that TOR will frustrate traditional role-function players because it focuses too much on character and story and not enough on the optimisation of stats and abilities, while at the same time leaving enough of the relics of the role-function system in place to leave cold those players who want to play a part in a story and not concern themselves so much with increasing arbitrary stats in order to be able to defeat a dice roll. In trying to take a bold new direction, I wonder if Bioware didn’t free themselves enough from the shackles of the traditional MMO form, and will thus end-up pleasing nobody. At best they may have come up with the most expensive way yet for players to play alone, together.

For a pioneering role-part MMO for the mainstream market, we should perhaps instead look to the studio best known for bringing a successful MMO to the market which breaks many of the traditional MMO rules; CCP’s World of Darkness MMO will hopefully be influenced more by EVE Online and White Wolf’s Storyteller system than by World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragon’s munchkinised dungeon crawling, and as such will stand a better chance of appealing to that different but significant market within the MMO genre that Bioware were perhaps intending to target with TOR.

Skip to the end.

The Esc key has a magical meaning in Dragon Age II on the PC; it holds the same transcendent power that the fast-forward button on VCRs used to hold for dry-mouthed pimply youths, jumping and glancing nervously around at every noise – wondering if Mum or Dad had returned home – while they desperately skipped the tedious and seemingly pointless introductory discourse between the impossibly buxom and underdressed housewife and the plumber, so as to get to the bit where an entirely different set of plumbing gets a good seeing to. T’ch, I don’t know, kids these days with their ‘internets’, and ‘digital players’ which can skip straight to the action: there’s just no adventure and peril in perusing porn in the modern era.

At least, that’s what it felt like on my second play through. Having played my perennial RPG favourite of the heavily armoured do-gooding warrior woman the first time through, and having enjoyed the game to such an extent that the nature of the ending had left me wanting more, I decided to have another go on the Kirkwall carousel but this time as a mage. My choice was made primarily because I found the mage class in the game to be really quite groovy, with them having rather a flair for the dramatic when casting spells by whipping their staff around in a curious amalgam of Bruce Lee and Gandalf, and the fact that they didn’t necessarily have to be dressed entirely in bath robes (as evidenced by my post from last week), as though they were about to open the door to a rather burley plumber with a dangerously-bristled horseshoe moustache. In addition, what with mages being generally reviled and untrusted in the world of Dragon Age, it seemed a prime opportunity to test the age-old proverb ‘before denouncing a mage you should walk a hundred miles in their shoes’. Possibly because then, as the punchline goes, I’d be a hundred miles away from them, out of fireball range, with a nice pair of mage’s shoes.

I think the issue came from my immediately launching into the second play-through with the first still being fresh in my mind. As such, and despite my generally accepted poor memory, I could remember the nature of most of the conversations in the game. Therefore, although I genuinely did enjoy the talking more than the fighting the first time through, the second time around I found myself reaching for the Esc key and desperately trying to get the conversation over with so that I could be paid or otherwise rewarded – I was skipping to the money shot, if you will. I went with the sarcastic/humorous option in most instances, and was pleased to find that my character’s uncontrolled scripted responses also gradually changed to a more sarcastic tone compared to the blandly diplomatic responses that my angelic warrior delivered in the same situation, but at the same time I was disappointed to find out that it didn’t really make much more than a cosmetic difference in the vast majority of situations.

I’m caused to wonder again what impact these sorts of issues will have on Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO which as we all know is trying to introduce the ‘fourth pillar’ of entertainment, story, into the genre. In part, they intend to do this through the use of the conversation tree system for which they have become well known (famously or infamously depending on your view of such things) in games such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Even there, some players just want to skip to the money shot; other players are happy to allow the conversation to develop, perhaps feeling that the anticipation and delay helps build to a better climax when the conversation’s conclusion is reached; and yet other players really do enjoy the game for its immersive story, and truly appreciate the effort that goes into scripting and voicing multiple classes, sexes and ‘moods’ for the player character. The problem with the MMO, as it is with many of the genre’s technical and game-play issues, is what happens when you bring these disparate desires into contact with one another in an attempt to provide a shared experience.

Not only could the shared conversation experience be akin to trying to watch porn with friends and strangers, all of whom want to get the same thing out of it but at different levels of urgency, it’ll also have the obvious shared awkwardness factor that you’re a bunch of people trying to do something together which is usually performed solo, as a general rule. It’s a strangely compelling analogy, because in The Old Republic you’ll still be doing something that is inherently thought of as a solo activity, and you’ll still be doing it solo, it’s just that there will be other people in the room at the same time, all doing their own solo thing too; some will be trying to finish things off as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there, others will be trying to take their time and enjoy the experience, and yet others with no sense of decorum will be doing their best to ruin the experience for others by jumping up and down and waving their unfailing unimpressive epic purple equipment in the faces of those who are trying to concentrate on their own activities. Then there’s the fact that other people will be able to see how you do things: you’ll make a conversation option and then catch someone giving you a look, and you’ll be all ‘What?!’ in a defensive tone, and they’ll be all ‘Oh. Nothing’, and you’ll arch your neck and peer over to look at their conversation option out of the corner of your eye, see that they’re doing it a totally different way, and wonder whether you’ve been picking the wrong conversation options all this time. The next time you’ll try to hide your conversation away from the others, which just makes them all the more curious as to what you’re trying to hide, until you become so paranoid that you find you’re having trouble finishing your conversations, and eventually you can’t even manage to start a conversation with other people present.

Bioware have invested a huge amount of time and effort into the voiced conversations in The Old Republic, and I have to wonder just how wise that was as an entry into the MMO market, a genre whose fans are well known, trained almost, to skip to the money shot, while ignoring the story. The sad thing is that this may be what the majority of MMO players actually want now because they have become accustomed to the fact that the story is superfluous to the action, and as such it is quite often of a quality that is laughable at best. Just as there is a market for adult entertainment with a real story and quality acting, there is also a market for MMOs of the same sort, but it is a comparatively small market compared to the mainstream way of doing things. At the end of the day it’s quite possible that the vast majority people really are there for the action alone, and any pretence at story is just a compulsory framing device which is to be skipped past with all haste in order to reach the action before Mum or Dad gets home and finds you hunched red-faced over your computer screen with your keyboard in a sock.

A distinguished diplomat could hold his tongue in ten languages.

The KiaSA Guide to the Star Wars Galaxy has this to say on the subject of Nar Shaddaa:

When introducing oneself to high ranking members of the Hutt Cartel stationed on the sprawling black market city-planet, it is strongly advised that one not break out into a song version of Nar Shaddaa Shaddaa to the tune of the Mah Nà Mah Nà song. This is considered bad form among all indigenous life forms of the planet, and is generally punishable by the unfortunate hitchhiker being thrown to a sarlaac.

Or worse still, being forced to sing the song again.

Why hype is Austensibly out of the developer’s control.


“What we try to do is not talk about things that are not finalized yet because we don’t want to over-hype things. That’s kind of why people are frustrated because we haven’t revealed a lot. A lot of people hype things that just don’t come to fruition and get people very frustrated.”
                 ——Rich Vogel, executive producer for SW:TOR, in a Massively interview.

Versus sensibility:

“Here at Darth Hater, we are known for our painfully thorough dissections of the nuts and bolts that make up Star Wars: The Old Republic. During our hands on time this Tuesday, we furiously scrambled to record as many facts as possible. Our own personal impressions will be coming shortly, but first we wanted to make sure the theorycrafters could get some real facts to sink their teeth into. Here are some of the key facts we discovered with our hands on time.”
                 ——E3: Class Ability Fact Sheet, Darth Hater.

The Big Question.

Melmoth: “Good evening, I’m your host Melmoth Melmothson. Tonight on The Big Question, we’re asking ‘The Sith, are they really all bad?‘. So let’s ask our panel of guests to discuss, The Big Question. Zoso Zerberus…”

Zoso: “Yes.”

Melmoth: “Zombie Clement Attlee?”

Zombie Clement Attlee: “Yeeeeeeeesss.”

Melmoth: “Mmm. Mmm. Drunk Hobo Who Hasn’t Heard of Star Wars?”

Drunk Hobo Who Hasn’t Heard of Star Wars: “Yesh.”

Melmoth: “Good point. George Lucas?”

George Lucas: “No.”

Melmoth: “Ah, interesting, we have at least one dissenter it seems. George Lucas, tell us why you think the Sith aren’t entirely the evil fascist world-destroying group of megalomaniacs that were portrayed in the films.”

George Lucas: “I never said they weren’t evil.”

Melmoth: “Yes you did. Just then.”

George Lucas: “No I didn’t, I’ve always maintained that they’re evil. I haven’t changed my mind. You can ask the pointless comedy CGI robot that’s just been added to the show.”

Melmoth: “Pointless Comedy CGI robot, do you corroborate George Lucas’ opinion?”

<Pointless Comedy CGI Robot’s head falls off and a giant spring wobbles about on top of its neck>

Melmoth: “I’m sorry, we seem to be having technical difficulties with Pointless Comedy CGI Robot. Darth Vader, what do you have to say to these allegations, are the Sith evil?”

Darth Vader: “Well, Mel, as a representative of the Sith Empire, I can only say this: I tried to kill my own children, I destroyed planets, killed millions with my bare force powers, and planned to dominate the galaxy all at the behest of a pervy old wrinkly guy in a bath robe.”

Melmoth: “Interesting, I suppose that’s a yes. Darth Malak?”

Darth Malak: “No question, Melmoth, we’re all evil. I mean, I have a tattooed bald head.”

Melmoth: “They don’t come much more evil than that. Darth Sidious?”

Darth Sidious: “My name evokes the word ‘insidious’, what do you think?”

Melmoth: “A yes from Sidious. Darth Maul?”

Darth Maul: “Uh, hello? Bald spiked head? Red and black outfit? Yellow contact lenses?”

Melmoth: “Fair enough so. Darth Dick Cheney?”

Darth Dick Cheney: “I was vice president to George W. Bush you know.”

Melmoth: “Ok, ok. No need to show off, a simple ‘yes’ would have sufficed. So there we have it folks, I think we’ve shown conclusively what everyone already knew anyway. Next week on The Big Question – The Samaritans: Are They Actually Evil Vainglorious Bastards, From A Certain Point Of View?”