Tag Archives: swtor

Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell.

There’s something about Mass Effect 2 not having an obvious key bind for screenshots that is nagging at me. Silly, I know, but it does. It’s like a small dog, yip yip yipping away in the back yard of my mind, bouncing up and down at the fence of my reason and trying to get my attention. The problem is that it sets off all the other dogs of deliberation in my mind. Now I have cause to think about the fact that Bioware have streamlined the inventory system to almost non-existence, something which veers very much towards the console end of the Console – Normal – Fiddly – Needs A PC With Seven Input Peripherals end of the HCI spectrum; that’s a big shaggy dog, hoof hoof hoofing while standing on its hind legs with two huge paws pulling at the fence of reason. Then there’s the general lack of micromanagement required of your team members when in combat: simply point and assign one key or, more importantly, one scarce button resource, for each of the two companions; a scrawny mutt, howling and trying to dig its way under the fence. There’s also the combat, which flatters the fast action of Gears of War with its imitation whilst paying only token respect to the tactical deliberations of Knights of the Old Republic; a sleek dog that spends its time running in ever faster circles around the fence line, barking all the while.

This canine cacophony is driving me to distraction, and so I have to feed the dogs of deliberation, in order to silence them, if only for a little while. So excuse me while I publicly deliver them their food for thought: Bioware are going to bring Star Wars: The Old Republic to the consoles. I know. I know. There’s no evidence for it, and what little evidence there is points against the fact – for example, HeroEngine offers no support for anything other than the Windows platform, as far as we know – and yet the thought persists. Blizzard have always supported the Mac platform with their games wherever they could, and World of Warcraft was faithfully released for that platform, and a fine implementation it was too. Bioware are consistently getting their RPGs onto the console platform with considerable success; wouldn’t it make sense for them to release their biggest undertaking yet on those platforms too, and thus reap the benefits of a wider audience?

Bioware could take MMO popularity to even greater heights, as Blizzard did before them, if they can deliver a top tier MMO to both the PC and the console market.

Ah, peace: the dogs of deliberation are muzzled once more.

Until the next foolish notion lets them out.

Skip to the end.

One of the earliest and most popular AddOns for World of Warcraft was a simple little LUA script that made the quest text appear instantaneously instead of scrawling its way line-by-line across the screen in an achingly slow fashion, as though being received in real time from a Morse code operator on the other side of the world and then translated behind your screen by an arthritic octogenarian who was two-finger tapping it into a teletype interface. This AddOn was simple enough on the face of it, but it instantly broke a part of World of Warcraft’s quest system; any pacing of content that the Blizzard team had planned based around the fact that players would have to wait for, and therefore probably read, the quest text was nullified as the majority of players voted with their AddOn folders and chose to be able to click ‘Accept’ before the NPC had even had the chance to inhale a breath in order to speak. The standard motto for MMO questing became ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’. Later this evolved into ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. Stick the objectives in my tracker’, and later still — ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. Stick the objectives in my tracker and mark where I need to go on my map’.

One assumes that, given a few more years, it will eventually become ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever. Why don’t you go and kill the ten rats and bring them back here to me, and then you can just give me the reward’. It seems to me that there’s a perverse trend in the evolution of the genre, where we’re slowly and inexorably taking on the role of the NPCs. Next we’ll be running around desperately trying to give quests to any NPC that we can find, watching them run off and come running back to us, whereupon we hand them a reward; even that will be too much like hard work though, so we’ll eventually get to the point where we simply log-in to our character who stands stationary and waits for an NPC to come running up and ask for a quest. Groups of players will gather together and form camps or villages or towns, and our game will simply consist of logging-in, standing around and doing nothing while NPCs speak to our characters to gather quests and collect the subsequent rewards. We’ll have optimised our game-play time into the absolute purest essence of effortlessness.

True story.

The thrusting point of all of this, if you could call it such, it’s more like being poked gently with the blunt end of a large marrow, is with regards to Bioware’s fully voiced MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic. I imagine the point has hit home, probably because I’ve not so much poked its soft marrowy hide gently at you so much as clubbed you brutally around the head with it. Alas, marrows never were a subtle instrument of enforced learning.

To wit: Bioware is spending quite a lot of money and effort on voice acting talent, these are resources that could be spent on other things, say, for example, game-play content, and all evidence points to the fact that the majority of players in MMOs want to ‘skip to the adventure please’. Case in point: the reason for my thinking about this was due to my recent play through of Dragon Age: Origins; this is a game where all the dialogue has voice-over, but at the end of each segment of speech, when you inevitably have to respond with a dialogue choice, Bioware sensibly places on the screen a text version of the sentence the NPC has directed at you so that, should you miss the spoken question, you can read back over what was said and answer appropriately. I would assume that Bioware will do something similar for TOR, and of course what this means is that you have instantly created a way for players to ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’ their way out of it. The problem with voice dialogue is that it is easily as ponderously slow as the tip-tapping octogenarian of Blizzard’s original quest text interface, because to provide any sort of immersion with voice acting you need to have dramatic pauses and drawn-out inflections and character defining twists and turns to the speech, otherwise you end up with a bunch of robotic NPCs all alike, as though every quest hub was a franchise of some quest awarding super-conglomerate, “Hi, welcome to Questbucks! What can I get you?”, “Thank you for buying from McQuestalds. Have a nice day!”.

I think the Esc key (oft used to skip dialogue in Bioware games) will become the most overused button in an MMO. Even in Dragon Age, where I don’t have the peer pressure of a party of several other players all waiting for me to get through the dialogue so that they can “GO GO GO!!1” and get on with their game, and where I want to immerse myself in the world that Dragon Age presents, I find myself yawning every now and again and, as Zoso said to me when we were discussing it last week, “sometimes I find myself thinking ‘Summarise, man, summarise!”. Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting in Bioware games is always most excellent, and fantastically immersive in most cases, but it is a thing that is utterly at odds with the direction that the general MMO play-style has developed. Perhaps Bioware’s game will be the next jump in that evolution, something so at odds with what is currently taken to be the norm that it takes the genre in an entirely new direction, or perhaps it will be a lot of wasted effort on the part of Bioware, effort that could have gone in to making a better and more expansive game. The pacing of voice-over in a game can sometimes appear ponderous even to a player invested in the world of a single player RPG, I just hope that Bioware have taken in to account the inbred impatience of the itinerant MMO player.

In summary: do you think that mice would evolve the ability to wear lederhosen if they were slapped on the thighs on a daily basis?[1]

1. Yes, I think they probably would. Shall I go and slap ten mice for you?
2. Are you mad? You can’t slap mice, it’s against the religion of the land!
3. Ah ha! I’m working for the Mouse King, and now your plan is revealed. Prepare to die!
4. I like cheese. Do you like cheese? Mmmmm, cheese.

[1] This is here just to freak out all those people who skipped the main post text to get to the dialogue question at the end.

It is your destiny.

My primary problem with Dragon Age:Origins is the same as it has always been with Bioware RPGs, and it is currently my primary concern for their Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. Dragon Age comprises a world which is ruled by old and powerful Gods who control the fate of all existence, which they bend to their will and whim.

We call these Gods developers.

And they are fickle.

A small spoiler now follows for Dragon Age, you have been warned.

One of the early objectives of the game is to enlist the help of the Arl of Redcliffe. When you reach Redcliffe village you find it under attack from the undead, and after defending it from attack you make your way into Redcliffe Keep to find the source of the evil and rescue the Arl. The source of the evil turns out to be the Arl’s child who has been possessed by a demon. When you confront the boy and his mother she pleads for you not to harm him and to find another way to defeat the demon, with the more immediate option being the death of the child by your hand. At this point you are presented with a choice: kill the boy and thus the demon, or travel to the Tower of the Circle of Magi and try to get the help of someone there to exorcise the boy. My offer to go and get Jane Fonda and exercise the boy was met with quiet contempt.

Now I already knew that the Tower of the Circle of Magi was in some sort of trouble, so getting there and back was going to be tricky and possibly involve epic quests. For a change. Since the boy was possessed by a demon that was bent on slaughtering all the local population (which had been reinforced by my having to defend the village first before entering the keep) I took what I thought was the hard decision to kill the boy, sacrificing one innocent life for the many. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that his mother was an annoying whining bint who had caused the whole problem in the first place, honest. Of course the game let me know through various lengthy patronising conversations what a monster I was for doing such a deed, and yet I imagined the situation if I had gone to the Magi to have been worse: coming back to find everyone who lived in Redcliffe to have been slaughtered in the intervening period. Zoso happened to choose that route, and so happily informed me that, no, you can take as long as you want to go and get the help; the demon seems to be distracted from its previous plans to destroy all life in Redcliffe for the entire time you are away. Perhaps a really good episode of MacGyver was on Fade TV, who knows?

I became a bit fed-up at this point because I was being made to feel like I had done the wrong thing, when in fact I felt that I had taken the harder choice with every good intent in mind; but my good intent was negated by the fact that the developers had decided that the seemingly obvious thing that would happen if you went away – demon enjoys its temporary reprise by slaughtering everything with a pulse and then raising them as an army of undead slaves in an attempt at world domination – doesn’t happen at all, instead the demon suddenly has a pang of existential crisis long enough for you to conveniently fetch help. There are villains in the 60’s TV series of Batman that feel less contrived. I couldn’t help but feel that the developers were laughing behind their hands “Oh ho ho, you thought *that*? Ha, surprise!”.

I’d put this all down to my unreasoning belief that all game developers are out to get me, but I have another brief example from a different Bioware RPG.

You’ll have to excuse any inaccuracies because I’m recalling this from old, worn sections of my brain. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you encounter, at some point, a beggar in the street asking for credits. When you ask them how much they want you can choose to give them nothing, the amount they ask for, or more than they ask for. Being a noble Jedi Knight of the Shining Order of Smug Superiority I gave them more than they asked for, since I could spare it, it felt like the right thing for a Jedi to do, and because you never know – help someone out now and you may run across them later on and gain something in return. Now altruism like that, as opposed to genuine generosity, is possibly a learned perversity that these games encourage, but regardless of the fact, I thought I was doing a Good Thing. You do indeed meet the chap again later on, dead in an alley, mugged because of all the credits he had on him. Credits that you gave to him.

“Oh ho ho, you thought *that*? Ha, surprise!” say the developers in my mind.

And that’s what annoys me about these dialogue choices in Bioware RPGs, and why I really worry for Star Wars: The Old Republic at the moment. The result of your actions is based on the fickle whim of the developer writing the story, and it is entirely too easy for them to set things up in a way that appear very obviously to suggest one thing, whilst actually delivering something entirely the opposite. This, when used very carefully can make for an excellent plot twist and following dramatic dĂ©nouement, but Bioware seem to use the trick far too often in their games for no better reason than to keep players second guessing what the actual outcome may be.

It’s a tricky problem to solve because the opposite end of the scale is a game like Mass Effect where there were generally always three options, one piously good, one tediously neutral and one blatantly moustache-twiddlingly villainous, and whichever option you chose, you got the reaction and plot progression that you’d expect. It allowed you to build the kind of character you wanted but at the expense of any real surprises.

I still feel that Bioware are trying to experiment with telling an interactive story in their RPGs; they have a strong foundation for telling a good tale, but it seems that how the player interacts with and affects the plot is still very much being explored and trialled with each new game. I don’t know which route Star Wars: The Old Republic will follow with respect to story choice, or perhaps it will beat a new path all of its own, but the problem comes from it being an MMO. Without the chance to save and reload as you would get in a single player RPG, you will have to be very careful of any choices that you make because they may affect your character for the rest of its career. In fact, I plan to setup ChottBot right after I finish posting this, it will be an Internet database filled with every conversation choice you can make in the game and thus allow players to pick whichever options will build the ultimate munchkin character, or open all the contacts with the best loot rewards; plot, motivation or immersion be damned, because frankly the outcome of your choices are a lottery anyway.

My concern is that where conversation options in Star Wars: The Old Republic are concerned, ‘It’s a trap!’ may become a fitting mantra.

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me.

After the announcement of the final two classes to be included with Star Wars: The Old Republic, it has become clear that there will be an abundance of force sensitive characters in the game. As such Bioware have had the foresight to come forth early with a list of juicy looking items that these overly popular classes can look forward to looting from the game’s raid instances; a good idea considering that most raids will consist of 99% force sensitive characters and one scout class who is only there because he can pick electro-magnetic locks and thus open loot canisters and dungeon doors.

Bearing in mind that you have four force sensitive classes, two Sith and two Jedi, Bioware have their work cut out for them creating the sort of end-game rewards that MMO players have come to expect from games such as World of Warcraft, but I think they’ve stepped up to the plate and really delivered.

Tier 1

Brown Robe
Black Robe

Tier 2

Brown Robe +1
Black Robe +1

Tier 3

Brown Robe +2
Black Robe +2

Tier 4

Brown and Cream Robe
Black and Red Robe

Tier 5

Brown and Cream Robe +1
Black and Red Robe +1

Tier 6

Brownest Brown Robe of Brown
Dark-Black Black Robe of Black Darkness

Tier 7

Velour Brown Robe with Corduroy Elbow Patches
Satin Black Robe with Tiger Fur Lined Inner

I love the idea behind the black robe, but I have to say that the surprise design of the brown robe has really captured my imagination. I can’t wait!

It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.

The recent reveal of the latest offering from the Ravenous Hypechatter Beast of TOR, a video clip containing a lot of people talking about the vast number of people talking in Star Wars the Old Republic, showed many interesting snippets of game-play footage, albeit nothing that can be taken as a sworn contract of provision by Bioware yet, and this being the Internet, I’m fairly sure there won’t be any fans out there who have assumed that everything they saw in the video is now gospel and will be in the final release of the game some two years or more hence.

Oh ho ho ha ha ha. Ho.

One of the features that was fairly prominent, it being a video all about the splendid conversational phrases to be had in Star Wars such as “Hello”, “How are you?” and “Is that an Ewok in your pocket, or did you just forget to shave this month?”, was the fact that the Super Happy Mass Effect Conversation Wheel of Alignment Sparkle Time Fun was in full, uh, effect. As we all know, this is the central device in the game by which one navigates line after line of conversation for many, many hours of game-play in an attempt to get a blue alien chick into bed with your female starship captain. It also allows one to interact with other characters in the game too. Apparently. Essentially you get several choices of which way you can take the dialogue, and a lot of the time they will affect your alignment, thus you are often presented with three choices “Kill the kitten”, “Save the kitten” or “I am morally ambivalent to the situation the kitten finds itself in, but not so much that people will find me evil. However, certainly one couldn’t assume that I was good either. I will, therefore, neither harm, nor through an indirect act cause harm to come to the kitten. Unless it is during the process of saving a much prettier kitten”. In essence what you have in many situations is a voice actor trying to land a TV role by over-egging the ol’ thespianism, which you can skip by quickly clicking on the dialogue choice that most represents the way you want your character to turn out. Conveniently, in most cases, this is the top right option for Good, bottom right option for Bad, and the middle one for Oh Grow A Bloody Spine Already.

So what does the fact that the SHMECWoASTF was evident in the TOR video mean? Those of you who said ‘nothing at all, it’s an early release video, things could change a lot in the coming years before release’, well done for listening, have a glass of port. The rest of you, see me in my office after school. But what could it mean, if it were to remain? Well, for one thing, groups could be interesting. And when I say interesting, I mean the sort of painful hideous tedium one would imagine from not only having to wade through hours of hammed-up dialogue to finally get a quest objective put in one’s tracker, but having to watch someone else do it. One can only assume that the player whose quest it is will do the interacting with any NPCs, because otherwise you’d get:

Captain: “Ah thank the heavens, you’re finally here Jedi Master Ewokhumper77! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will you help?”


Captain: “You will? Thank you! Thank you! Go, go now and maybe you can stop them in time!”


Captain: “… Um, was there anything else?”

<Ewokhumper77 points to his party>

Captain: “Ah. Right. Very well.”

Captain: “Ah thank heavens, you’re finally here Shagbacca! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will you help me?”


Captain: “What do you mean you’re entirely ambivalent to my situation? Get out of my sight!”

Captain: “Ah thank heavens, you’re finally here Boobie Fett20639! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will you help me?”


Captain: “No I don’t want to go to bed with you! I don’t care if you *do* have a really big blaster! Now get off my bridge. Yes that means getting off my lap!”

Captain: “Ah thank heavens, you’re finally here HanShotFirst! The enemy are almost through the bulkhead, if you can get there in time maybe you can stop them! Will… I hesitate to ask but, will you help me?”

Captain: “What? What kitten?! How would I know if I’m prettier than a kitten?! Go away! “

So you see in all likelihood there will be one person choosing the dialogue options. But what if the other party members don’t want to follow their choices? What if the Bounty Hunter is being a bit too ambivalent for the Sith Lord’s liking? Perhaps the best solution would be to have a vote on it, majority wins. Of course each candidate would want to be able to put their case forward for why their choice is the right one, canvass their target group, maybe a leaflet campaign. Sponsored messages could be posted on the Holonet on behalf of the Liberal Ambivalent Party, or the slightly more right-wing Sith Lords for the Destruction of All Kittens. Then everyone in the group makes their choice for which choice to choose, the votes are counted and then that choice is picked by the Leader of the House of Players. Everyone is happy!

Unless of course someone calls the vote into dispute, claims that the election was rigged, that many ballots were spoiled, and demands a recount. At which point the whole thing becomes a giant PvP bun-fight to determine the winner. In which case my advice would be, let the Wookie Party win.

Time gentlemen, please.

One of the interesting debates with respect to Star Wars: The Old Republic, or TOR as it’s supposed to be referred to, but then I have to add “blimey Mahwey Poppin’s” after it, and then I break out into the whole Chim Chimney routine, which gets a bit dull after a while, especially trying to get back down from the neighbour’s rooftop for the fourth time in a row. Anyway, one of the interesting morsels of information that Bioware has dangled tantalisingly above our heads and let us jump for with clamouring maws is the fact that TOR (blimey Mahwey etc.) is set approximately three thousand five hundred years before the original films.

I wonder if it’s not perhaps a little too far back?

I understand that they’ve done this to give themselves room to manoeuvre with respect to the Star Wars IP, but honestly, how much room do you really need? Think of the human race’s history, from today and reaching back three thousand five hundred or so years. Consider all the things that have been and gone in that time. If, for example, there are starship manufacturers from the original Star Wars films back in the time of TOR, it’s like having Mr Horus’s Olde Egyptian Pyramid Shoppe still building pyramids today; admittedly they’d look a bit different now, they’d be all futuristic and cube shaped. However, the Star Wars universe has always been a very futuristic setting, it’s a weird mix of technology, religion and tribal shamanism, and it may perhaps be a reflection of the enduring nature of a suitably advanced intergalactic society. We have no experience of this, as of yet, so perhaps such a thing is indeed possible.

It’s amazing, however, that in three thousand five hundred years no manufacturer has managed to come up with a voice synthesizer chip for an R series droid.

The Jedi and Sith I can sort of believe, however. Ok, I think that the ol’ lightsaber might have been adapted a little more in the three millennia that we’ve witnessed it, and that the Grand Master Jedi Tailor might have come up with something a little more inspiring than incontinence brown for the colour scheme of the greatest fighting order the galaxy has ever seen in the meantime, but perhaps it’s something that can be happily overlooked. One just has to look at our religions, some of which have been going for a thousand years or more, to see that they are one of those rare things that man has invented which can endure across vast spans of time.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Bioware approach this problem, to make the game feel both Star Warsy enough and at the same time alien enough that fans will not begin to wonder when exactly they’re going to get to meet Darth Vader or fly the Millennium Falcon. Although in the case of the latter, the clue is perhaps in the name.

Thought for the day.

So the announcement has apparently been made that the Star Wars based Bioware MMO is going to be Free To Play, But With Micro Transactions So Not Actually Entirely Free Really.

Or FTPBWMTSNAEFR if you want the short, catchy abbreviation.

I had a quick ponder on this over a coffee this morning – I always do my best thinking early in the day whilst hovering above a heavily caffeinated hot beverage – and I think I’ve come up with the perfect plan for Bioware/EA’s extreme money making scheme:

Bioware has stressed that the game will be about story, that your character will make choices and be able to affect how NPCs react to you. As we all know Bioware RPGs, we all know that this is most likely going to be done through conversation paths, where you hear the NPC say something and then you pick one of three or so options in response, usually the responses follow the lines of the I’m A Good Guy statement, I’m An Ambivalent Fop statement or I’m an Evil Bad Guy Grrrr statement.

And now, a micro-transaction charge will be made every time you make a dialogue decision.

This also ties-in nicely with the management bullshit bingo full house term mid-session game, because you now get nobbled for payment in the middle of each session of play.

Accept a quest? Payment!

Ask for a reward? Payment!

Tell a random passer-by that you don’t want to rescue their pet space <Star Wars animal> that’s stuck in a tall <Star Wars vegetation> because you’re an evil bad guy, grrr, grrr? Payment!

If anyone at Bioware or EA wants to discuss my fee for this idea, please contact me via moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney @ this domain. Thank you.

You want the impossible.

“Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different.”

Star Wars: The Old Republic will be similar to other MMOs but with several key innovations. Traditionally MMOs are built on three pillars; Exploration, Combat, and Progression. We at BioWare and LucasArts believe there is a fourth pillar: Story. Our mission is to create the best story-driven games in the world. We believe that the compelling, interactive storylines in Star Wars: The Old Republic are a significant innovation to MMOs and will offer an entertainment experience unlike any other.

“No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”