Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Personal Monumental MMO Week

This week has been a monumental MMO week for me.

I’ve been playing MMOs for years (for about six-and-a-half years now if my calculations are correct). But last Sunday was the first time ever that I reached the level cap in an MMO* when I got to level 80 in Age of Conan. Thanks so much to my wonderful Sisters in the Dark Desires guild for helping me bridge that last gap (by tackling the Onyx Chambers together).

The last Monday I finished my Destiny quest line in Age of Conan. This quest line starts when you first create a character (and wash up on the beach of Tortage) and ends with this quest you can get at level 80. The first twenty levels are spent almost completely on this quest line (particularly Night Time Tortage) and probably one of the most enjoyable quests in an MMO, giving some glimpse what BioWare’s fourth pillar of story could do in an MMO. After you leave Tortage you get a few more Destiny quests at certain levels (at levels 30, 50, 60 and 80); the level 60 one in particular allows you to finally get rid of that tattoo you’ve got since the start.

And then last Monday the finale of that in the last quest, defeating the Grim Grey God, which is by no means easy (more difficult for some classes than others; as a Bear Shaman I’ve actually got it quite easy). After some minor quests you end up in the Soul Chamber which acts as sort of a giant ‘puzzle’ mixed with tough combat. And I admit I looked up what to do beforehand, and got lots of advice from my wonderful Sisters, or it would’ve taken forever. You need to know pretty much what to do when to have a chance to win, and even then it can be tough.

But I did it, meaning I’m pretty much done with levelling.

Of course it doesn’t quite end there, as the story does go on. After defeating the GGG you still have to take care of the sorcerer behind it all. But that’s done in the form of end level raids, which leads me neatly into my next personal MMO landmark.

Because last Tuesday was the first time I ever raided in an MMO. I’d signed up for a raiding alliance a week or two before, seeing the end in sight and wanting to be ready. Though I admit that it’s mostly because several of my guild’s members are in it as well (our guild is too small to do raiding ourselves). We actually did three raids in sequence (three different Tier 1 raids). And I was extremely lucky since I got not one, but two epic drops for my class. Or rather there were two drops for my class and the only other, more senior, player in the raid already had both items so he let me have them. Now I’ll have to do a lot of raiding just to get the points to pay for them.

For the rest the raiding was quite enjoyable; at least far more enjoyable than PvP (which I very strongly dislike for various reasons). Though it felt a bit like “repeatedly beating on the same target(s) over and over again until it does” it actually helped that there were lots of other spawns around the boss as well as well as other things happening that requires everyone to adjust what they’re doing. Though I can see it as being extremely frustrating to wipe as well and the whole things of synchronising your schedule with 23 other people, “planning your life around the raid” as one might say, is a big problem. I definitely wouldn’t want it to be the only thing to do and would love to have some small group and even single-player ‘raids’.

Because I’ve noticed that the main difference, besides the large group of people and epic drops, with normal repeatable dungeons is that you have to dynamically adjust your behaviour based on what happens. If spawns appear you have to fight those before returning to the boss, and the boss might do things that have you reacting. This would go well with single-player (and small group) ‘raids’ as well. But I think that instead of having one big boss to beat, better would be a dynamic situation with continual streams of enemies, keeping you on your toes. In fact, something along the lines of the final Destiny Quest would work quite well. I’m curious to see what, if anything, Star Wars: The Old Republic might be doing there.

In the end though it’s not really the raids themselves, or even the epic loot, but rather the people you play with that make the raids enjoyable. And I’m not altogether convinced that such a large group is truly the best for that. It’s generally easier to connect and have fun with a smaller group of people as you tend to be more personally involved with each of them. And it’s a lot easier to schedule time together with a small group (while I enjoyed the raid, I enjoyed last Sunday in the Onyx Chambers with my Sisters a whole lot more).

For the rest my MMO life has been fairly busy last week. Been trying some Free Realms beta (though it’s released now) which is surprisingly enjoyable for a free game. You just run into the “must pay money to get more” limit rather quickly and a lot of the mini-games are very simplistic (there’s combat, but don’t expect too much depth) or just annoying (trying to find a number of items in the world at a set, and quite tight, time limit with no indication of where to look is annoying, particularly if after running down the area a dozens of times you still haven’t even found one). Also got into another closed beta for an MMO that I’m not supposed to talk about; have only had time to try that one once. But this coming weekend should be better.

Then there’s some roleplaying events that are being planned (another Derketo Gathering, want to do another Acceptance Ceremony to officially accept some members into the guild, got some Sisters at Battle events coming, want to do some more of these high-level dungeon runs with the guild, etc). And I haven’t even finished Fallout 3 or Prince of Persia (which I got at a 50% discount during GDC from Steam) yet next to having a number of television shows to catch up on. All of which is a luxury problem, of course. Then there are a couple of very close friends that I want to spend time with more than any of all of the above.

So I’ve been fairly busy and it looks like I’ll continue to be for quite some time. But I wanted to make this post to mark the monumental MMO week I’ve had. And if you scoff and laugh because these things have become so mundane to you, then try to remember the first time that you reached maximum level, or the first time you went raiding. Or maybe even just the first time you played an MMO.

Perhaps then you’ll understand why I indulged myself a little with this blog post.

* Not counting reaching level 20 in Guild Wars since it uses a slightly different system where the first twenty levels are done in a few weeks and pretty much just one big tutorial for the main game after. Besides, I never did finish (or even start for that matter) the Ascension quest (which officially marks you ‘graduating’).

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

No Homosexuals in The Old Republic?

Or are there?

Kotaku reports the following:
BioWare take their Star Wars role-playing seriously. So seriously that the developers are shutting down talk on Old Republic's message boards about homosexuality, because it's a term that does "not exist in Star Wars".

Yes, if you care to trawl around the site, there are a few threads that either began as, or devolved into, discussion of how the game - or the game's future player base - would handle gay relationships. And those threads are now locked. A thread complaining about those threads being locked (along with the words "homosexual", "lesbian" and "gay" being censored on the boards) has now also been locked, with BioWare's community manager Sean Dahlberg posting succinctly:
As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.

Thread closed.
OK, but...they do, uh, realise that the people actually playing the game do not exist in Star Wars either, right? They're real people?

GLBT discrimination in forums? [SWTOR]
NOw, I was ready to get all up-in-arms about this and start a big rant (here on my blog) about the wrongness of this. And I still disagree with Sean's quoted comment above, because they do. But then I checked the filter myself and noticed that the words "gay", "lesbian" and "homosexual" at least aren't filtered anymore. And when I checked the thread (again) I noticed that Sean has re-opened it.

So crisis averted before it really had a change to talk hold? I hope so.

Also, I just have to post some of durasteel's comments from that thread because I was quite impressed with them and agree completely:
Maybe one of the reason that an overwhelming majority of the usage of words like g-a-y and l-e-s-b-i-a-n are negative has everything to do with circumstances like 'language filters' blocking positive, or even neutral, use.

This is a public message board for an MMO game, meaning that it is inevitable and very desirable for groups of like-minded individuals to align themselves based upon their common interests and experiences within the community as a whole. I have, from time to time, been an active member of a meta-guild called "The Older Gamers" which is exactly what it sounds like. Our age is completely unrelated to any of the games I've played with these guys, but it is a distinguishing characteristic that we all have in common, and it is relevant within a certain context.

We have a mechanism to report offensive posts and forum moderators quite capable of responding. If I want to insult people of a particular sexual orientation, you may be certain that I can do so without using any of the words on the prohibited list.

It is sadly the case that, at various times within the past decade, words like 'French' and 'Moslem' have been used in predominantly derogatory ways in the USA. Banning those words would be foolish and ignorant, and I think the same standard should apply to the words by which same-sex couples are described in polite society.

Our melanin enriched chief executive's Attorney General, Eric Holder, commented that, with regard to race issues, we are a nation of cowards because we prefer to act like racial divides do not exist. I agree with this statement, and with your call to become unified under the banner of humanity. I think your goal requires frank, honest, and open discussion of the things that set groups apart, so that we can get past them.

From my perspective, prohibiting the use of the word g-a-y because it might be used offensively is walking on eggshells. It is a policy created, with good intentions, in an effort to keep someone from being offended by someone else.

I say we should quit treating the "GLBT" crowd like delicate flowers, and start treating them like everyone else.
Now, of course, the only question left is: will there be homosexual romances in Star Wars: The Old Republic?

[EDIT 20090429]

As reported by Kotaku as well BioWare has removed the filter (as I mentioned above) and Sean has issued an apology. To quote the apology:
I would like to personally apologize to “Elikal” and anyone I may have offended. My intention was not to demean anyone but simply to help promote a community that could discuss topics in a mature fashion. When I first built the word filter list, I added a variety of terms to the word filter that have been used numerous times in derogatory messaging. There were some words added to the filter that should not have been – we corrected this today.

I apologize for the confusion that this has created but I would like to be clear that there was never any intent to limit discussion. That said, I have overstepped my boundaries in my original statement and I sincerely apologize for doing so.

So again BioWare continues to impress me. Not because of the mistake they made as anyone can make mistakes. But because admitting and quickly correcting it. Not everyone is capable, or willing, to do that. Very good of you BioWare, and Sean in particular.

On a side-note, I think that the "gay pride lightsaber" modified picture that Kotaku posted is quite amusing:

Saturday, 25 April 2009

BioWare Blog: Creating Ord Mantell

Friday again and after having skipped last week BioWare is back on track. Though not quite as exciting as some might have expected (to make up for missing last week), it's decent after all.

First there's another three pages for the Threat of Peace comic, showing a new location (Dantooine, which might or might not be in the game) and some new characters. Here's the announcement:
The fifth issue of Threat of Peace™ takes us to the Outer Rim just after the Treaty of Coruscant has been signed. The maverick bounty hunter Braden prepares to capture a high-profile target on Dantooine even as the transmission ordering a comprehensive Republic withdrawal arrives. Though not the only one who hesitates to comply with the treaty, Braden sets himself on a dangerous path because of the way he reacts to the orders from the Republic commander who hired him.

Check out the latest issue of Threat of Peace now.
Next to the comic they've also posted another BioWare Blog, this time talking about the creation of Ord Mantell. Here's an excerpt:
Once we’d settled on our vision for Ord Mantell, it was time to flesh out the world. We brainstormed people and places we’d like to see, stories we’d like to explore and choices we’d like to make on the planet. These brainstorm sessions happen with all our worlds, and they tend to be good indicators of whether the world’s backstory has enough meat to it. If the writers can’t get excited about writing it, then the Players certainly aren’t going to get excited about playing it.

Ord Mantell was rife with compelling ideas: a Republic military at the point of exhaustion, just ready to be done with the war; underhanded crime lords attempting to make a quick credit selling weapons and hoarding the all-too rare, all-too precious supplies; refugees driven from their homes and hoping desperately to catch one of the infrequent shuttles off the planet; local governments trying to stay in power and maintain some peace; corrupt officers, sleazy pirates, zealous separatists—the list goes on and on.
Sounds like an interesting planet to visit (much more so than Nal Hutta, in my personal opinion). Head over to the article to read the rest of it.

On an unrelated note; I'm also going to retroactively change the post tags so that the posts relating to the BioWare blog use the "blog" tag instead of the "links" tag.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Old Republic pricing will depend on MMO “standard,” says BioWare

No update on Star Wars: The Old Republic last Friday (except a couple of new forum avatars), but there's a bit of news now. Videogaming247 has the following to report:
Star Wars: The Old Republic’s business model will depend on what’s considered to be the norm on other MMOs, BioWare’s told VG247, likely meaning the game will carry a subs model in the West.

“The way we look at these things is, ‘What’s the standard at the time?’ Obviously we’re not quite done yet. We’ve got a lot of work left to do. But we’ll be very conscious of how the market looks,” company head Greg Zeschuk said, speaking at GDC.

Both Zeschuk and BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka were at pains to stress the game’s business model has yet to be announced.

EA has previously said that the MMO, which as yet has no released date, will be a worldwide affair.
Looks like it'll be the standard monthly subscription model for SW:TOR after all. Which is... disappointing. I would've hoped BioWare would come with something more original. Now they'll be directly competing with WoW, which is a battle they can really only lose (unless SW:TOR turns out to be another freak case like WoW). Ah well, guess I'll have to abandon SW:TOR as soon as something else comes around (as I'm not paying for two MMOs at once).

Monday, 13 April 2009

Clone Wars: Diathim

For a while now I've set my heart on playing a force-sensitive twi'lek, once Star Wars: The Old Republic is released. But thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon (that I just watched another episode of) I think I might change my mind on that. One thing I'd like even more would be to play a Diathim. Maybe as a force users or, if BioWare includes some kind of Republic Senator class, as one of those.

So yeah, I'd like to play an angel. So sue me.

Of course, the chance that they'll actually include the alien species at all (let alone as a player species) is quite small. They're a very minor species that only appeared once (in the cartoons) and for the rest is only mentioned a couple of times. But one can dream, right?

I'd still be very happy to play a twi'lek.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Discover Ord Mantell

Friday again, and a Good Friday at that, as we've got another BioWare update on Star Wars: The Old Republic.

First of all is issue #4 of the Threat of Peace comic. Here's the official news post:
The fourth issue of Threat of Peace™ reveals the Sith Empire’s true motivation in the attack on Coruscant. Even as Master Orgus and Lieutenant Tavus realize there’s no hope of repelling the assault against the Republic’s capital planet, Lord Baras lays out the Empire’s terms for the agreement that will become known as the Treaty of Coruscant.

Check out the latest issue of Threat of Peace now!
Seems that things aren't going well for the Republic.

Next up, and likely a bit more exciting, is that they've revealed the next planet: Ord Mantell. Here's the official news post:
Get to know Ord Mantell, the latest planet revealed in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. Plagued with civil war between the Republic military and Separatist guerillas, Ord Mantell is a hazardous planet with a story riddled with battle and political conflict.

Read more about the history of Ord Mantell and how the former home to an advanced military depot and popular spaceport base turned to a breeding ground for rebellion.

Make sure to check out concept art and screenshots from the game depicting Ord Mantell’s war-torn scenery.

And don’t forget to outfit your desktop with a new downloadable Ord Mantell themed wallpaper!

As the post notes there's four new screenshots, four new concept art images and a new wallpaper, all of them embedded below. But before pasting them, what I think is particularly interesting with these images is when you hold some of the concept art images next to the screenshots as you can see how very similar they look. Good job, BioWare.


Republic Military Base

Seperatist Stronghold

Seperatist Landing Platform

Republic Military Base

Concept Art

Republic Military Base

Seperatist Stronghold

Cliffside Docking Bay

Network Operations Center


Ord Mantell

Phew, that's done. And I think that this post has more labels than any to date.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

BioWare Founders Talk Story in Games

Ripten has an interview up with Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, likely taken at GDC, talking about stories in games and narrative and such. It isn't specific to any one of BioWare's games, but it gives a general view of how they see story in all of their games, as well as the possibilities for narrative in other kinds of games and settings.

Here's a brief excerpt:
There’s a narrative of an explorer, too. Like in a game like Dragon Age or Mass Effect or The Old Republic, where you’re going from world to world or area to area and you’re unlocking new events or areas in the game, and you feel like you’re an explorer. So you get that sense of discovery and awe that you’re the first person in the world or the universe to be there representing humanity, or representing your Grey Wardens in Dragon Age, or whichever group.
It's quite an interesting read. For me most interesting seems how they're talking about taking other kinds of experiences and making them into a roleplaying game. I've been saying for years now that roleplaying games could move out of the combat arena and include other types of gameplay, such as a racing RPG, a sims RPG or a sports RPG as they discuss in the article.

As such it wouldn't surprise me if one of their unannounced products goes more in that direction and brings BioWare's brand of story to another kind of game.

Either way though it's nice to read such thoughts and help fire one's imagination towards what could be. Oddly enough, perhaps, it makes me most excited about the Dragon Age toolset as that will give us an opportunity to experiment and try some of these things perhaps.

Friday, 3 April 2009

BioWare Blog: Creating the Bounty Hunter

Ah, good ol' Friday again. Not only the start of the weekend, but also another update from BioWare on their game, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

After the very rich updates of the last few weeks they're taking it a bit slower this time with a BioWare blog entry detailing some of the choices behind the Bounty Hunter.

Here's an excerpt:
So what defines the Star Wars Bounty Hunter? Well, they work for the bad guys, but they’re not necessarily bad guys themselves. You get the distinct feeling they’re doing a job. Are some of them cruel lowlifes who enjoy hurting people? Sure, probably. Some of them are also remnants of warrior cultures who no longer have a place to practice their ancient arts, thrill-seekers out for the galaxy’s next challenge or just people with a knack for weaponry trying to make the most out of the gifts they were given in life. Whatever their story, they specialize in the hunt, the small scale assault, the personal touch. You don’t call the Bounty Hunter when you need to take out an army; you call the Bounty Hunter when there is a very particular person whose death or capture could mean the difference between large scale victory and defeat.
The blog answers a few things that some members of the community (on the official forums at least) have been questioning. Despite the Bounty Hunter class page very obviously placing the class in the Empire, people still questioned it. The blog not only answers that once and for all (Bounty Hunters are Empire only, for now at least) but also explains why.

Then it answers the question of whether this means that the Bounty Hunter has to be evil (seems people still don't get that "Empire" doesn't mean "evil") with some clear examples of how your morality is left up to you. And it answers whether you're playing a Mandelorian or not (you're not, but it looks likely that you might have the chance to become one over the course of the Bounty Hunter storyline; BioWare isn't likely to spill those story beans anytime soon).

It does still leave a few questions open, like whether there will be player bounties or not (I'm personally hoping not as I'm hoping that the game will not have that level of focus on PvP and I certainly don't want to be forced into PvP because some idiot decides to put a bounty on me for whatever reason). It seems to me that the blog makes it clear that you'll be a bounty hunter because of the things you do in the story (hence, no need for player bounties to make one feel like a bounty hunter), but I'm sure others won't see it that way. Ah well.

Overall it's a nice update. Not as nice as the last few, but that was to be expected. Definitely worth a read.

Oh, and here's a link to those Morgukai he mentioned in case you're wondering what those are.

Shacknews Interview With BioWare Heads

A couple of days ago (not sure how I missed it) Shacknews posted an interview with Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka talking about Dragon Age, Mass Effect 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Here's the bit on SW:TOR:
Shack: Jumping quickly to The Old Republic.

Greg Zeschuk: That one's pretty good I hear.

Shack: [laughs] There was some noise about microtransactions a few months ago. Is that something you're still considering for inclusion in the game?

Ray Muzyka: Yeah, I mean it'd be intriguing. It'd have to be congruent with the game world. We haven't talked about the business models of TOR yet, so we're not confirming or denying anything on that front.

But you know, subscription models are something that the vast majority of fans in that space in North America and Europe prefer, and it's certainly something we see as an important business model. But you know, microtransactions, other forms of business models are intriguing too. We're looking at a variety of things, but we're not ready to confirm or deny any specifics yet.

Shack: It seems like certain types of microtransactions might fit well with the sort of single-player approach to an MMO that you're going for.

Ray Muzyka: We want something different from play sessions, where people can play through a story and feel like it's their own journey and story arc. But yeah, I mean, there are certainly ways to accommodate that within a subscription model too. And microtransactions don't always have to be game-changing elements. They can be things that add value, but are optional. So there's a variety of ways to pursue it.

Shack: There was also some noise about a console release, but all you've confirmed is PC right now. Are you ruling that out at this point?

Greg Zeschuk: We rule nothing out, but there's no comment. [laughs]

Ray Muzyka: The only version we've talked about is PC, and that's our focus.

Shack: Thanks guys.
As you can see they're talking a bit about micro-transactions, which seems to be causing some panic for a few people (who seem to be ignoring that they're clearly saying that they haven't decided anything yet). Personally I'm quite happy that they're willing to look at all possibilities to come to the hopefully best possible model in the end. If that includes micro-transactions of some kind then I have no problem with that.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

gamesTM confirms Smuggler

According to the German games magazine gamesTM seems to suggest that smuggler has been confirmed by the developers. Here's the English text swtor-station posted:
We've made a great discovery at our local magazine shop today. The current issue of gamesTM offers a four-page exlusive report on Star Wars: The Old Republic. So far not very remarkable, but the article contains some interesting statements, which should have been made by a leading BioWare developer. One of them confirms Smuggler as playable class!

We don't want to spread rumours without a basis, so here's the (translated) quote of BioWare's Creative Director James Ohlen as printed in gamesTM:
"... We want to change that with Old Republic and enable the player to take more choices. If you want to muddle through the game like Han Solo as smuggler or like Boba Fett as bounty hunter, you're free to do so."
This confirms what many assumed and hoped: There will be a smuggler class. If we believe this report it will only be a matter of time until the Smuggler is officially announced.

Another interesting quote by James Ohlen deals with the topic of "Good vs. Evil".
"Of course choices will have an impact, which will be most notable when looking at abilities like strength and stamina. Acquiring specific items and gaining further knowledge is also influenced by them. And of course the character's looks are determined by choices too: Your skin and your aura shall clearly depict the way you play. Even if you're not a Jedi or Sith, but choose one of the many other classes."
In addition, the nice article also features a new artwork of a female Jedi, which we scanned for you (right picture).
Not quite world-shattering perhaps (as we pretty much already knew the class was going to be in), but news nonetheless.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Massively Article on HeroEngine has a rather short article about HeroEngine up, the engine used to power BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic.

As I said it's short, but it gives a nice, general overview of the engine. More details of course on the HeroEngine website. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Developers have said that it feels like playing an MMO while building an MMO. Developers can take control of characters and actually move around the world in the exact way a player would, letting them experience the game first hand without inserting any guesswork. A developer can even switch between developer mode and client mode at will, so they can play what they've just created to check for bugs right on the spot.
On an unrelated note, I've put a gadget with external links up on the blog (right above the list of tags to the right). Might add a section with links to fansites too at some point.