• MMOs

    SWTOR: Playing a Dead Game

    The title is a bit provocative as the game has just received a fresh influx of players and is quite busy, especially in lower levels – but I will explain.

    Yesterday I resubbed to the game. As I wrote about previously, the free to play experience seems to be designed to punish the player, EA obviously having the opinion that if you make the game unpleasant enough, players will resub rather than be beaten down all the time with unavailable quest rewards (hidden by that snotty Cartel sign), 25-30% xp reduction, limits on everything except for questing, etc. In my case, it worked, but not for the reason that they seemed to have anticipated it would.

    At this point it seems obvious that there will be no further story-driven development on the game. Sure, they’ll add new space missions (still on rails, yawn) and warzones, but I could care less about pvp in this game. I mildly enjoy pvp in some games, and this ain’t one of them. What I love is story and immersion and this is where the original game did a superb job, backed by stellar voice actors and character-driven cutscenes that shine above any other game out there. (Guild Wars 2, I’m looking at you with your stiff, badly acted cutscenes.)

    Whenever I play a RPG that I really enjoy, I can’t help thinking “It’s too bad this isn’t an MMO – I would play the hell out of this.” Bioware make superb single-player games and that love of story and character translated to SWTOR perfectly. Some storylines are better than others, but they are all good. I played a Sith Inquisitor to 50 as my first character and even though it is one of the classes with the least popular storylines, I still logged in just because I had to see what happens next.

    Although I didn’t want to reward EA/Bioware by actually resubbing, in the end it was worth it just to experience the class stories…especially since there won’t be any more added to the game. I think eventually the game will fail to the point where EA finally pulls the plug because the game outside of the story just isn’t that great. There are too many MMOs out there who are doing raiding/gear treadmills right (Warcraft) and pvp (LoL? No idea, as I am not a pvp’er). There are games which do pve content much better and are better games overall (Rift, made by the wondeful Trion, and The Secret World, made by the not-so-wonderful Funcom) – if you don’t care about sweeping storylines. Story and immersion is the only thing that I think SWTOR does right.

    So here I am…loving the hell out of a dying game. For a few months, that level of storytelling will make my sub worthwhile.

  • MMOs

    MMOs: The Stupid Hat Edition

    Perhaps I’m getting old. Perhaps I’ve just played MMOs for too many years. Perhaps I’m just overly cranky after the horrific headaches which have sidelined me during much of this month. I find myself firmly in that “You kids get the hell off my lawn” state of shaky belligerence and ire when it comes to gaming. ArenaNet, Bioware? Y’all can both kiss my butt, to be honest. Trion is the only one who gets a pass, because they make good games and take care of their players. You can stay, come up here on the porch and have a glass of tea.

    The Guild Wars 2 forums have melted down with anger and concern about the announcement that ArenaNet had, contrary to their original manifesto, actually created a gear treadmill game. There have been innumerable threads and posts deleted and locked in true ArenaNet style, but what was allowed to remain is a 190 page, 9484 post (and still growing by the minute) thread. I’ve been watching it with popcorn in hand, rather enjoying it all because I haven’t played GW2 in a while. Prior to this major misstep, they’d already pissed me off by almost totally ignoring bots and deleting posts on the forums which complained about them, so I really have nothing at stake here.

    I was looking forward to going back to Star Wars after it went free to play, since they were going to leave access to story questlines and limit everything else, which was fine with me. I could care less about access to Huttball or being able to run the same instances over and over again. I have to say, though, that this is the cheapest, shoddiest f2p conversion ever. Not giving you bank access is a bit unpleasant, but I can see that as a legitimate perk to sell in the shop. Inability to customise your UI and add additional action bars is pretty ridiculous, as is the fact that non-preferred players don’t have access to sprint. But the real kicker for me? The inability to hide the headgear slot. This from a game which is famous for having the ugliest headgear ever. Remember, I want to come back for the story, which was superb. I loved the way that they handled cutscenes, and seeing my character acting out the choices that I had made for her. And, shallow though it may be, I simply cannot do that if I have to wear a stupid hat.

     

    There she is, my beautiful, snarky Sith Lord wearing a hat that looks like a prop from a really bad 1950s sci fi movie. “I am Electra, from the planet Electronikos. Take me to your leader, Earthling, or I will kill you with my amplified brainwaves!” I just can’t do it. And I refuse to pay to remove it because it would be rewarding them for a really, really petty choice.

    So that game, as well, can just get offa my freakin’ lawn.

    And like the cranky old fart in the yellowing undershirt scaring kids away from his yard, I don’t have a lot of people left to talk to, and it’s a bit lonely. I still have a Rift sub, and will keep that up for a bit. But aside from that? Not exactly a wide range of choices for escapist fare. I miss being able to lose myself in a game. There was a time when I could lose hours and hours and love every minute of it. And now? Too cranky. Too disappointed. Too much of an old fart. And that makes me sad.

  • MMOs

    Another One Bites the Dust: SWTOR Goes F2P

    I was saddened to read the news about SWTOR going F2p by the end of the year. I actually stayed away from the comment section on articles that covered it, not wanting to read a bunch of people crowing in triumph over the perceived fail of a game that they hated. In my opinion, The Old Republic was a very good game; for me, there just wasn’t enough to justify an additional sub fee once I’d reached level cap. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good game. I consider Warcraft to be one of the best MMOs that I’ve played, and I’m not subbed to that, either – for very much the same reason.

    (That’s kind of a lie. I do have a sub, since I signed up for the Annual Pass. Were I not forced to keep it, I wouldn’t be paying a monthly sub.)

    This whole thing irritates me because I get the feeling that most of the people who had been predicting the game’s demise were those who hate story in their games, and resent development time and money being spent on it. If you are a spacebar-skipping “I refuse to read quest text” type of person, then you probably didn’t care for it, I get that. I understand that there are gamers with the attention span of a gnat, who have never read a book, who care nothing about what their character looks like or what their place in the world is…onwards to pvp! I understand, but I just don’t respect you.

    For me MMOs are all about story, from the creation of my character to the way that their story unfolds against a unique world. Star Wars did an excellent job at making me want to find out what happened next. I loved the cutscenes, and the interplay between myself and the other people that I was grouped with. Although I’d said that The Secret World is hands-down best at telling a world’s story, SWTOR was best at telling a story at a personal level, and it makes me sad that there probably won’t be many content updates going forward. Oh, there will be some…but I would be surprised if they invested that level of resources into the personal story. And that is a shame.

    So yes, once it goes free to play I will undoubtedly start re-levelling some of those alts that I was working on. But I am saddened by this decision, because I still have some genuine love there for the game.

  • MMOs

    Personal Story: Cutscenes in MMOs

    I’ve really been enjoying The Secret World. As you get farther into the game, the story becomes deeper and deeper. The writing and voice acting are some of the best that I have ever seen, although the character animations let it down a bit. If you’re one of those “rush to end game, skip quest text, skip cutscene” type of gamers, you will really be missing a wealth of stunning material.

    So far, the early access and launch have been silk-smooth. There were some initial problems with loading screens (one of the usual culprits) and quests, but those bugs seem to have been smoothed out. I would have let Funcom DIAF without bothering to piss on them after the Conan launch, but they have almost entirely redeemed themselves with The Secret World. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. If you have an interest in writing or story you definitely should.

    When you look at three recent MMOs that have featured cutscenes as a method of telling story, you see some interesting differences. (Warning – these videos will contain spoilers if you haven’t played through these bits before.)

    Star Wars The Old Republic:

    In SWTOR the story was focussed on your character, and I would rate it the highest due to the immersion of watching your character act out their part. Smooth, well-written, and voiced by some of the best voice actors in the business Steve Blum and Xanthe Elbrick are two of my favourites. It was fun seeing the same scenes playing out differently depending on the choices that your group makes. All in all, this is my favourite treatment of cutscene video used in storytelling. Below is an excerpt from the series I did on Andronikos Revel (such a sexy pirate).

     

     

    Guild Wars 2:

    Guild Wars 2, in contrast, feels stiff and artificial to me. I confess that I do skip many of the cutscenes not involved with personal story in GW2, as they aren’t immersive or involving. I know that the art team made some possibly controversial choices in order to keep them in line with the “hand painted” look of the game, but the characters stand stiffly and never look at each other. It’s a shame, as this is an amazing game.

     

     

    The Secret World:

    And now we come to my current love, The Secret World. The scene below shows my character in a conversation with the guy in the junk yard. It’s profane, very funny, and features tons of spitting. He’s one of my favourites, although to be honest it’s quite difficult to choose just one – they’re all well done, smart, occasionally hilarious, and very well acted.

     

    The Secret World (at least at this point, not having seen the entire game) is more about the world story than your personal story. Star Wars was very heavily about your own personal story. Both approaches are done well, and both are enjoyable to play through. Guild Wars 2? Well, unfortunately for one of the games that I am most looking forward to, it doesn’t work well for either. Perhaps that isn’t meant to be a strong point of the game.

    “Shut your pie holes, boys!” I’m still laughing over Edgar in the video above. Isn’t that one of the best game characters ever?

  • MMOs

    Level 50 Blues

    I’ve felt a bit meh in SWTOR after my Sith Inquisitor reached 50. To be honest, I was feeling a bit meh prior to that, but since she hit level cap I can’t escape the feeling that she’s “done”. I have alts of almost every other class, but don’t have the energy to start seriously levelling one. Part of the fact is that I know I’ll be playing alone for the most part. I think that Phil has become a bit bore with Star Wars, and since we rolled on a US server there aren’t a lot of guildies online when we play. There also won’t be a hope of doing ops with the guild due to the time difference. And being the antisocial bugger that I am, with the absolute worst luck in getting pugs filled with people who are knobs and asshats, or outright insane, I won’t be looking for groups. Meh.

    SWTOR was worth the price of the box and the subscription fee for the storylines. In that sense, it’s probably one of the best MMOs that I’ve ever played; we devoured huge chunks of content just because we had to see what happened and how everything turned out. I’ve never done that in an MMO before. Aside from the story, it’s a solid game but it doesn’t have enough to differentiate itself from other MMOs to justify the sub. Story is all. I liked it, and it is a solid game, but so was Rift, Warcraft and many others that I’ve played.

    The main irritation with Star Wars is Bioware’s inability to fix even small bugs. They do fix some, to be fair, but longstanding issues remain such as the inability to drop outlevelled quests. At 50 Ravven has 21/25 quests, and no room for the new dailies. These are all grey quests from earlier planets that I outlevelled (levelling is too fast), but was unable to drop. That’s a very basic thing. It is something that should have been fixed in beta, let alone having it still be a major issue. There are a metric ton of other smaller glitches and bugs, but that is the main one for me.

    I still have an active subscription. I’ll give it another couple of weeks to see if I get excited about playing again. If not, I’ll need to cancel, and I’ll view it pretty much the same way that I do Rift: I loved the game, and I’ll no doubt get nostalgic for it, but it just isn’t enough to justify a sub when times are as hard as they are now. And that makes me a bit sad.

  • MMOs

    SWTOR Companions: Andronikos Revel, Part 2

    Part One is located here.

    The following two videos are what I assume is the conclusion of the Sith Inquisitor Andronikos Revel storyline. (According to the forums, once you get married that’s pretty much it. Your companion won’t talk to you anymore, rather like some real-life scenarios.) The romance-novel relationship continues, with Andronikos being very romantic…beware, if you have diabetes, you may want to avoid these videos. :)

    Unfortunately, both characters had hoods on in the first video – by the time I realised, I was afraid to back out of the conversation.

    Spoilers after the cut.

  • MMOs

    SWTOR Companions: Andronikos Revel, Part 1

    WARNING: This is a long, video-heavy, spoiler-laden post. Videos and major spoilers beyond the cut.

    Andronikos Revel is without doubt one of my favourite companions. The storyline is pure romance-novel stuff, wherein the heroine meets the bad-boy pirate, they fall in love, and she manages to rehabilitate him and turn him into a loving, faithful lifemate. Because, you know, that totally happens in real life. My Sith Inquisitor is almost level 40 (I’ve been taking my time) and is almost capped on affection for Andronikos, so I’ve had to put him away for a bit because I don’t want his storyline to end.

    This is Andronikos:

    For five notorious years, the pirate Andronikos Revel terrorized Republic and Imperial space alike as the captain of the Sky Princess. Known for his sharp temper and sharper flying skills, Revel was one of the few pirate captains to serve as his own pilot.

    His piracy career was cut short by a strange mutiny, however, and he was abandoned to the Imperials who had been hunting him since he’d raided a ship carrying valuable artifacts. After a year in Imperial prison, Andronikos Revel was let loose. He has been meticulously hunting and killing the mutineers who betrayed him ever since.

    Likes: Action, keeping promises, complications
    Dislikes: Authority, betrayal, backing down from a fight

    His character is voiced by Steve Blum, veteran of many game and movie voiceovers, and a great actor. I luuuuurve his voice. When I send this companion off on a crafting or gathering mission he growls “You’re going to miss me” and I admit that it gives me shivers. Sad perhaps…but a testament to how well done companions are.

    Overall (from the limited experience that I have had so far) I think the game handles romance options very well. This is a new dimension that I haven’t seen in an MMO yet – single player games, yes, but not an MMO. You feel a genuine sense of attachment when a companion starts warming up to you, and the storyline arcs are written quite well. Evidently one class has a very tense storyline involving first romance and then a vicious betrayal – it’s not a class that I wanted to play, but I may have to just for that companion story.

    I need more from an MMO than just killing things. As I said to someone recently, I find SWTOR to be addictive in that I can’t wait to see how the story plays out – I have to see the next scene, the next twist. Very nicely done.

    And now for the spoilers:

  • Personal

    Happy 2012

    Welcome to a bright shiny new year. I have high hopes for 2012, since I am determined to operate under the naive assumption that it can’t rain all the time…surely some years have to have good weather? In any event, I’m being positive.

    I’ve been working on Clockwork Bluebird edits and revisions, and have just finished today. The thing really needs a proper title but I am completely blank. WTB title plz.

    We have old friends coming to stay with us on Friday, which is very much looked forward to, and tomorrow our Christmas present from the in-laws is being installed. Since the kitchen is the only room which has the original 100-year-old windows still in place and is cold enough to keep ice cream frozen on the counter, double-glazing is very much appreciated. Now if we can just find the money to fix the leaking roof, or get the slowly-tilting Chimney of Doom replaced…

    Still playing way too much SWTOR, and very much enjoying the class storylines and character arcs. My Sith Inquisitor had some flirt options available for a very smarmy NPC, which I took, and all of a sudden he was leading her to a convenient bedroom where he promised wine and nibbles. They went into a clinch, and I was like “AAAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!” and covering my eyes. The next morning my pirate companion Andronikos Revel was quite snippy about it, and claimed to have had his own night of fun with a stable girl. I’ve been frapsing some of the interaction between Ravven and Andronikos, and will do a post on virtual relationships at some point. Even though the interaction is scripted and the other party is a character in a game, it’s still well-written enough that there is some fizz there as the relationship unfolds. Nicely done.

    Back to work. 2012 is going to be my year to realise some dreams, after all, and I am putting everything into making that happen.

    Fair warning about the video below: I quite liked it, but Phil came in the room and asked if someone was killing a cat. Your mileage may vary.

     

  • MMOs

    In SWTOR No One Can Hear You Scream

    We’re still enjoying Star Wars, although both Phil and I seem to have terminal alt-itis. Our highest characters are 23, and I think we’ve created alts in every class, most around the 10-15 level presently. Some we level together and some are played separately. The RP server I rolled on was taken over by Russians, so we rerolled on a Republic-side alts on a server which seems fine although I think it will be a ghost town in a month or two. Imperial-side characters are on a US PVE server, Juyo.

    The one thing I will say about SWTOR is that it feels like a single-player game. Due to the heavily sharded/instanced servers, you rarely see other players. There are usually a few people talking in general chat, but the cities seem almost empty, which feels odd. This feeling of deadness is compounded by the lack of animation of NPCs, and the lack of wildlife and critters. NPCs in cities stand still, and unless they are vendors or whatever, generally you can’t click on them. Some of them are animated as though they are having conversations, but you can’t hear anything. It feels extremely unfinished and odd, as though they are placeholders. There are no critters (squirrels, butterflies, birds, etc.) and the rare mobs you see just stand there waiting to be killed. There are no roving mobs as you see in other games.

    The static world is quite strange. This is a superb game in terms of storylines and plot. It’s a ton of fun to play. But in terms of immersiveness in the environment, and feeling as though you are in a real world, it is quite sterile and quiet. I’m hoping that this is something that will be improved when some of the launch bugs have been worked out, as it would add immeasurably to the immersiveness of the game. I seem to remember that critters were even added to Darkfall, which I picture as a game wherein you are mainly concerned with ganking people and taking their stuff…if it was important there, it surely is essential in a game like SWTOR.

    I don’t want to feel like a ghost drifting through a dead city.

  • MMOs

    *sigh*

    Grrr…yet another kick in the teeth for players from EA/Bioware. Although everyone gets a month of free gametime as part of the game, you have to provide credit card details in order to play. Fair enough, but warn people. Having worked hard all morning writing SEO copy, I was looking forward to playing…and found that I was locked out because of the credit card issue and the now-nonfunctioning site.

    I swear, this company is quickly becoming my Evil Overlord object of undying hatred due to the way that they have handled this launch. I mean, I was aware of EA’s horrible reputation – who isn’t? But I thought Bioware was ok.

    I’m your average avid gamer, I follow Twitter accounts for devs and community managers and so on for the game. I read news on the official site, and the forums (painful though that is). I haven’t seen anything that said we were going to be locked out of our accounts unless we gave them our credit card details early. Personally, given the level of disregard that most sites treat our personal details with, I wait until the last minute to enter my credit card details. If I don’t end up subscribing, then my credit card details aren’t stored for you to give up to the first script kiddie hacker that manages to wander into your database.

    Pro tip? Put that kind of thing on the loading screen. Tweet about it. Put it on the homepage of the site. Second pro tip? Have a working site.

    So back to work. And in the meantime all of the mindless fanboys on teh Internets are making me crazy. I get it – you love the game. I love the game. But hopefully that shouldn’t turn you into a self-righteous, obnoxious prig. Just because a company made a game that you like playing doesn’t mean that they walk on water and fart sparkling clouds of fairy glitter. Sometimes they fail, and the people who point out said failure are not personally insulting you. Just sayin’.

    /rant over.