Monday 9 January 2012

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.”

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