Saturday, December 3, 2011

Six Early Observations for SWTOR

Let me just say I am so frigging excited for release day. And I mean December 20, not early release. Yeah, I’m not going to be playing early. I’ve just got too much going on in my life. Actually, I might not even get to play until the 21st since I’ll have to load everything. Dammit, I’m bringing myself down… No. No. No. I’m excited! And here’s why.

I’m going to get to play a game from launch (hell, before launch if you count beta testing). And not just any game. Starwars: the Old Friggin’ Republic. It’s just going to be really cool to witness the growth of an MMO from launch. What will it be in a year? Two years? We’ll actually get to find out because we’ll be there. And, hopefully, our discussions on our blogs and Bioware’s boards will help shape what the game becomes. So, without further ado…

Wishful Crystal Ball Gazing (or Things I’d do differently):

1. You are the Chosen One: Remember when you were little and your parents told you that you could be anything you want to be when you grow up? Even President (if you’re from the U.S. If you’re from somewhere else, just insert your equivalent). Yeah, well, that’s not true. It’s a great thing for kids to hear though. But eventually, you realize that not everyone can be President because there’s only one job opening. Well, the same thing goes for being the Chosen One.

In Star Wars mythology, I can really only think of one big Chosen One/Child of Prophecy, and that, of course, is Anakin Skywalker. And there can only be one of him (which is probably good for Jedi everywhere). In SWTOR, however, it seems that every single player is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Yes, I didn’t get the impression at any point that players are supposed to all be on the level of Anakin, but REALLY. The Jedi counsel seems to see this massive potential in EVERYONE. (Either that, or they have really low standards.)

Here’s what I’m getting at: In real life, we’re all important. Each one of us is doing something in our lives that matters one way or another. Some of us do big, history changing things, but not the majority of us. Not even a small percentage of us. Really, it’s an infinitesimal percentage. What Bioware has put out with this “chosen one” storyline works great in single player games. I mean, you’re the only player so really, you’re the only one that can really have an effect on the world. In an MMO, everyone’s got an equal shot. Not everyone can be “the one”. But everyone can be great. It’s an age of war. We can be great warriors, great leaders. But we don’t have to be the guy that our faction has been waiting for in order to do that. It just seems too cheesy. I think you can draw players into a story without making them the center of EVERYONE’S attention.

2. Linear Questing: Each class follows their own storyline. But that’s just it. Everyone from the same class follows that same storyline. I see two problems here.

First, that means that everyone who is the same level from the same class will be attempting to do the same quests at pretty much the same time. This can kind of clog things up in an area if people have to gather the same items or kill the same mobs. Now, I understand that, at first, the game is a lot smaller. I’ll make the reasoned assumption that Bioware intends to add more planets in the future. I can only hope that some of these planets will give alternative places to quest at lower levels.

Second, who didn’t love choose your own adventure books? Different choices take you to different places. The linear questing model, more or less, forces you to follow a very specific path. You do the same quests, in the same order, going to the same planets, in the same order. While the story is very immersive, you have such limited choices. It doesn’t allow you to feel like you… well… have any choices. Sure, you can choose to be light or dark side, but you path is pretty much set. You have to do the storyline quest chain that leads you from one place to the next. There’s no skipping a portion you don’t like or coming back to it later.

I say the available areas on the planets need to be expanded (both geographically and by level) to include slightly lower level and higher level content with quests. This will let people have more options of where to go. And with the way instanced areas are set up, those portions could be tuned for the player’s level when they do them. So you could do the same portion of the storyline quests at level 20 or at level 30 and the relative difficulty could be the same. It would allow people to do the storyline portions of the quest in different order, if they so choose, which add a bit of diversity to the game.

3. Small Instances: I like the small instances… mostly. What I don’t like is that if you’re not at that point in your questing, the entrance to the area is red and you can’t enter. This just makes no sense, especially if the world is supposed to be immersive. Sometimes, you can’t even enter a one-room instance. You can see it, but you just can’t walk in it. Weird, right? Unfortunately, it seems like Bioware tried to implement what WoW has with phasing, but they failed. And I’m not saying that Blizzard always has the right of it, because they don’t, but phasing was a great upgrade with their last expansion. I’m all for trying new solutions to old problems, but this was kind of a stinker. Sorry, guys. Maybe the simple answer is getting rid of the red. Why block someone from being able to enter an area?

4. Companion Customization: This is just something that is sorely lacking. Sure, there’s the customization slot. OOOOOOOOOOh. I just change my companion’s hair or skin color or whatever. That’s not customization, that’s a cop out. One of the earliest things I remember Bioware saying was how every character was unique… but at the same time, every character got the same companions based upon their class. (Every smuggler gets a wookie? C’mon! What if you’re allergic?) That’s not very unique. Not only that, every companion is named the same and looks the same. Even less unique.

Solution – real customization. I know the voice acting is a little dependent upon companions having a set name. And I love the voice acting. Who doesn’t? But I would rather have a companion that felt like mine rather than hear their name spoken by a voice actor. Random name generation might be a way to go. Also, randomizing a few things like size, face, skin color, species, whatever.

Now, the ship may have sailed on the current companion choices, but adding one or two new companions might work. Make them as random in appearance and customizable as possible. And make it a requirement of a quest chain. If you really want to get bold, make it so that your decisions throughout the chain influence how you companion behaves (heal, dps, tank). Or make a highly customizable droid companion that has a random designation and one of a set number of initial appearances, but you can spend money to modify and each mod changes the appearance. And make the mods cost some serious credits.

5. Ship Customization:  Add some upgrades to ships (and not the ones you get from space combat), that adjust the look inside and out. Make them cost a lot of money too. (or only able to get from a quest chain) Now, many people won’t pay for purely cosmetic upgrades. Well, how about cosmetic upgrades, that when combined together, produce unique results. Let’s say there’s 5 spots on the outside of the ship and 3 spots on the inside. Add 2 upgrades to the outside and 1 to the inside, you get upgrade 1. Another 2 out and 1 in gives upgrade 2. And one more outside, one more inside, upgrade 3. And depending upon what you put in each slot, you get a different upgrade based upon the combination. Speed boost. Extra guns. Stronger shields. Repair droid. Faster targeting computer. And different combinations increase the effectiveness of the upgrades.

6. Four Classes: But there are 8 classes? Right? Eh, not really. It's what is not-so-affectionately called "Mirrored Classes". And yes, they're not EXACTLY the same, but the differences are so minor they're not worth thinking about. This works great when you're trying to balance factions for PvP, but it can get kind of boring when you want to do a cross-faction alt.

So far, there only way anyone has discussed fixing this is by expanding the number of classes. Great! I can't wait. And this probably will happen. But then instead of having 4 mirrored classes, we'll have 5, 6, 7, etc. How about making minor additions to classes? Add a skill here or there that makes that class unique. And not something minor or superficial. A real skill that players will actually use. Of course this will be difficult to balance. Well, that's the name of the game and why game designers make the big bucks, right? No one said this would be easy.

I’m not suggesting that SWTOR be a WoW clone. There’s a long list of reasons I don’t play WoW anymore (just look at my old posts). I’m not saying my ideas are the best or Bioware’s are the worst or anything in between. I just think that these are topics worth discussion. And I’m sure there’s plenty more. And Bioware has been responsive to player criticism in the past (see Jedi Wizard). So, if any of you have ideas, be sure to share them. And don’t just complain about things you don’t like, offer suggestions. Anyone can throw rocks. Try building a house.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stress Test? You Got That Right!

Beta test weekend #2 done. Not nearly as enjoyable as the first weekend. When they said stress test, they meant it.

The first weekend wasn’t too bad when it came to the lag. (And I’m calling it lag whether it was server lag or fps issues. My toon was lagging one way or the other.) This weekend was downright unplayable at points. There are quite a few threads with complaints about the same, so I know I’m not the only one. Here’s one that had a solution of sorts. I tried it, and it helped. It did not fix the problem, however. The game went from unplayable to barely tolerable.

Now, I don’t have a top notch gaming rig by any means, but I figure that if I can play WoW, Rift, DCUO, Skyrim, etc with the graphics settings all the way up and have no issues, then I should be able to run SWTOR on the lowest settings with no problems. That’s just simply not the case. (And btw, on the absolute lowest settings, all players and npcs changed to polygons… yeah, fun)

And I get that this was a “stress test” weekend. They were intentionally running high populations on the servers to see if they could handle it. Well, test failed, my friends. When the server instance was only showing around 100 people, I mostly had no issues. Of course, if I entered a cantina, forget about it. Everything slowed down. The same was true if I entered a fight with more than 3 mobs. Too much movement on the screen made everything slow down/skip. I guess it just makes things more challenging, right? Now, when the population reached 300... let's just say UGH! 

Right now, I’m hoping that BioWare takes all of this into consideration before the launch. I’m sure they’re interested in keeping the game playable for as many people as possible. (Unlike the people on general chat and the forums who keep saying things like “LOL, you teh sux! get a better computer n00b!!11!”) Heck, they even make the last questions you answer before logging out about how much lag and fps issues you have. I think this shows that they give a damn.

So, here’s to December 20. You can’t come soon enough.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

An Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age

I figure I'll hop in on the whole lightsaber color discussion. I mean it's such an important topic that could totally alter the game and how we... No seriously. Color?

Ok, ok. I get it. For some people (read: Star Wars Nerds) you don't mess with the holy trilogy. I count myself among those people. George Lucas made three movies that were the yardstick by which I measured all other movies throughout my childhood. You don't F with that. But remember this: George Lucas F'd with that.

Does he have the right? Sure. His movies. Do I have to like it? Hell, no! I don't like the new trilogy. I don't like the changes he made to the original trilogy (Greedo shoots first????) but guess what? It happened. I can't change that. And if you go into the EU, there's plenty of inconsistencies and changes. That's why there's retcon. That's why there are "canon" and "non-canon" stories.

Back to lightsabers... You know, the point. Sometimes I forget.

There was a progression for color. First, it was red for Sith and blue for Jedi. Then, when the special effects department for Return of the Jedi said "hey, having trouble seeing Luke's lightsaber in the blue Tunisian sky," someone said "uhm, how's green sound?" Bingo! Two Jedi colors. The EU added yellow, cyan, gold, black, copper, blah blah blah. I'm pretty sure there is even a pink one in there somewhere. All this time, though, only Sith get red and red is the only color Sith get. And then Lucas added purple because Sam Jackson is a bad muther f'er.

Is there really any rhyme or reason to any of it? I mean, if you're a Sith during the age of the Rule of Two, I'm sure the best way to hide your existence is to wave around a red beacon rather than blend in. And yes, I know that SWTOR doesn't take place during the Rule of Two. But with lightsaber crystals being somewhat rare, don't you think that Sith, with their belief in survival, would sorta take what they can get rather than make a fahion statement?

For the people that say a lightsaber defines the user, why put all Sith into the same box (color-wise at least). And the really epic thing about SWTOR is that we, the players, get to define the universe. And yes, it would be alot easier to tell Jedi and Sith apart in PvP, but that distinction doesn't exist for other classes. Be happy with the red nameplates for opponents.

George Lucas made changes and added things that we don't like (JarJar, Jake Lloyd's acting, etc.) Well, let's get him back by changing his whole lightsaber color scheme to something that makes sense: we choose. Us. The players. The fans. The Jedi. The Sith. The one that really matter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

No More NDA? Well then... First Impressions

Now that the NDA has been lifted, it’s time to actually talk about SWTOR.

Since I have an 18 month old, I can only really play after she goes to bed (usually around 8pm). That means over the playtest weekend, I really only logged on in the evenings and during her Sunday nap. I learned something important about myself too… I can’t game until 3am anymore. God, I’m old.

Well, onto the game. I’ll hurry up and get the only complaint out of the way. A little laggy at times. This was a common complaint that I heard from, well, a lot of people. Ok, now with that out of the way…

SWTOR is friggin’ awesome. EPIC even.

I started out with a Jedi Consular. I wanted to try out a Jedi/Sith class and from what it looked like on the server I was on, so did about 75% of everyone else. I mean, who didn’t want to be a Jedi after watching Star Wars when they were a kid? Ok, so some of us wanted to be Han Solo, but really, none of us are ever gonna be that cool. I also started a Sith Warrior, but I didn’t play it past level 4. Of course, I only got to level 10 with the Consular too, but like I said, I have an 18 month old.

In all, it was like playing KOTOR, but with hundreds of other people (dammit, I said that in my last post). You know what? It bears saying again, because KOTOR was a great game. This is just the next step, and what a step! The quests follow a personal storyline that lets you flesh out who your character is and what effect they have on the galaxy. It doesn’t feel like you’re just doing the same old “go gather # of this” or “go kill # of that” and run back and forth like a simple errand boy. The quests are basically one long chain of events that comprise your early Jedi training. Cool, right?

Now, I said before I only had one complaint, and it is only one. What follows isn’t complaints, just observations and such.

I would love to see a few more non-storyline quests thrown in to give you a little more to do while you’re traveling from point A –  point B. Yeah, these may be the gather/kill quests that I just knocked, but I’m talking about just some extras to throw in around the storyline ones. The difference is that in games like WoW, DCUO, Rift, FFIX (which are my MMO experiences), the gather/kill quests are the norm with a few chain/storyline quests thrown in here and there. So, kudos to the storyline quests, but I like to be kept busy too.

I will say that anything else that I found a little off was so minor that I didn’t notice it unless someone pointed it out. But then, after they did point it out, it was like it was screaming at me. For instance, the map seems like a series of tubes connecting hubs. You go to one spot on the map, then follow a path to the next spot on the map. It doesn’t leave much to exploring a world (At least this is the way it was on Tython, so if it’s different on other worlds, don’t jump down my throat. I told you I only got to level 10.)

I’m looking forward to the next beta weekend. Even more, I’m looking forward to the launch. But I’ll hang with beta for now. Looking forward to my first flashpoint. I decided to go with the Sage for heals which hopefully will make it easier to get into that flashpoint. I’ll have my thoughts on healing after that.

Love and chowMein,


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Out With The Old - In With The New

So, I quit playing WoW a few months back. (See a lot of my old posts for why. I thought Cata had changed things, but I was wrong.)

Then I heard that BioWare was working on Star Wars: The Old Republic. I have played their previous offerings, which were quite honestly AWESOME. The KOTOR games were great. I played both of them multiple times through. So, when I heard they were making an MMO... yeah, I had to change my pants.

Then I got my playtesting invite. Damn... another pair of pants.

I don't want to violate any part of the confidentiality agreement, so I won't say much other than EPIC. It's like playing KOTOR with hundreds of other people. No idea if I'll be playing Republic or Empire when it goes live, but I've got another PT weekend or so to decide.

December 20 (or sooner if I get early game access) can't come soon enough.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to Heal in Cata

So, I've been back about a week now. I'm enjoying playing again, especially since I dinged 84 and switched back to healing (leveled as kitty, but I need to get my tanking geer and skeelz up to snuff). And I must say, healing is WAY better.

It was so BORING in WotLK to heal. Spam a bunch of HoTs on everyone and relax. Don't worry, you'll never run out of mana. No cares about overhealing, mana consumption or anything else. Faceroll haelz! I love that I can actually run out of mana. So, I've developed two rules for healing in Cataclysm. So simple.

1) THINK before you cast!

Sounds simple enough. This means actually knowing which spells do how much healing and take how long to cast. Actually, this can be tough for some people, but I guess if you don't want to take the time to read a tool tip, you probably aren't taking the time to read this post either, so I'm not talking to you people. I don't want to go into any class specifics because if I did that, there would be more than two rules, so you're all gonna have to do the thinking for yourselves. *GASP*

2) If you do run out of mana, BLAME THE TANK for not having enough mitigation/avoidance!

I cannot stress this enough. It is NEVER your fault! Healers are just too f-ing awesome to be blamed for anything. And remember, tanks can take abuse... especially the bears because they tank with their faces. No one likes tanks. They're the bass players of MMORPGs.


P.S. If you're a tank and you're reading this... I'm just kidding guy! All in fun right?  Love you! You can stop reading here......

Everyone else: seriously, tank's are sooooooo dumb.

Friday, January 14, 2011

God Help Me!

I'm back...
Dear God, help me... I'm back

I'm a fan of the talent tree specializations. Pick a tree dammit!
I love that tree form isn't so silly looking anymore. I'm a giant!
I miss group quests to kill elites. Can't have everything.

Well, 2 days down. Level 83. Gotta get my bear tank set up proper like and start my non-tree haelz!!!11!1