Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Choose Your Side: Smuggler vs. Sith Warrior

Right now I'm on vacation (on my parents' not-that-fast computer), yesterday I was travelling, Monday my Internet was down and the days before that I was lost in a galaxy far, far away. So I'm a little late reporting last Friday's update.

Though at this point I think most people are more interested in playing the game than in reading about it. Either way.

Anyway, just as I predicted, last Friday BioWare gave us the final "Choose Your Side" video, facing off the Smuggler against the Sith Warrior. Here is the official news:

From the moment we announced the eight classes in Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ fans have been pitting them against each other, arguing who would have the advantage in a one-on-one fight. The hallways of BioWare echo this debate, with the writers, combat designers and other developers all chiming in on which classes they feel will have the upper hand.

In the fourth and final installment of “Choose Your Side,” writers and developers discuss the ins and outs of the Smuggler and Sith Warrior classes, highlighting some of the skills and abilities that separate these classes from the rest. This time around, Senior Writer Hall Hood and Senior Game Designer William Wallace stand behind the Smuggler, while Writer Ian Ryan and PvP Designer Ben Pielstick speak for the Sith Warrior.

Personally my money is on the Sith Warrior for this. Lightsabers, use of the Force and an utter ruthlessness are probably going to be better than blasters and wisecracks. Don't get me wrong, I think Smugglers are more fun, but Han Solo did end up in that carbonite.

After the break a note regarding server queues, numerous articles and developer quotes.

I still think that SWTOR is having the smoothest launch I've ever seen in an MMO ever. Even so as the Early Game Access ramped up and the servers became increasingly crowded so too did a lot of servers get queues. Personally I've experienced nothing worse than a fifteen minute queue, once (and I think I'm on a fairly popular server) but then again I've been logging in pretty early and just staying connected. Others seem to have been less fortunate and there's been some grumbling about server queues, so BioWare had this to say on that:

We know there have been questions about the queues on the servers, so we wanted to take a moment to give you some insight.

In order to ensure that the service would be smooth and stable, we staged how we brought people into the Early Game Access program, adding people in waves. As you know, there are a lot of folks who want to play the game right now and we want to make sure they have lots of people to play with. Balancing this with figuring out when to bring new servers online to help alleviate the size of the queues is part art and part science. On one hand, you do not want people to wait too long – on the other hand, you want to make sure that people have a dynamic, engaging community to play with for long after launch. Either way, we have one clear objective – to make sure folks have fun.

While we can’t promise that there won’t ever be queues, we can promise you that we are taking this matter seriously and constantly reviewing them to make sure that they are manageable and reasonable.

Jeff Hickman, Executive Producer – Live Services

Personally I think that queues are a necessary evil, at least for a game with multiple servers. People seem to be drawn to playing on the most populated servers and thus queue times on those servers increase (while there are plenty of lower population servers people could play on). Not entirely the players' fault and more an inherent problem with the incredibly broken multiple-server setup for MMOs (I'm still saddened that GW2 is going that way, though they at least should offer free, unlimited server transfers so it doesn't really matter what server you play on). And considering the amount of trouble I'm having with multiple friends all playing on different servers I hope that SWTOR will offer something similar as well or it's going to seriously cut into how long I end up staying in this game 9as opposed to playing a game that actually makes it easy to play with your friends).

Server queues do tent to calm down a lot after launch. But, yes, it's also incredibly frustrating if you want to play but can't because you're in a two hour queue.

One interesting bit of news that was released on the official forums yesterday that I'd thought I'd repeat here is news for those living in Australia and new Zealand: a launch window for TOR in those territories:

We can confirm that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be launching in Australia and New Zealand in the spring of 2012.

Right now we are targeting March 1st, but that could change as our number one priority is making sure that customers have a great service to play on.

For those of you who may have already imported the game, we will be investigating solutions to allow you to continue to play on a local server once they come online in March.

EDIT: As pointed out, southern hemisphere seasons are reversed! When we say 'Spring' you can substitute 'Q1/Q2 2012'. Apologies for that.

I'll look forward to soon seeing an "Oceanic" (or such) tab appear on the server selection screen and welcome our Australian and new Zealand friends into the game (though there's nothing stopping them from getting the game internationally and playing now).

On then to a host of links from across the web. There are far more with lots of sites offering their thoughts and tips and guides and whatnot. It is... somewhat overwhelming to be honest. But hopefully I filtered it down to the most interesting ones (and that's still a big list).

First is Curse, who have a audio interview with James Ohlen:

You know, it's odd working on someone else's computer. Next to missing all the plugins I'm used to (and Firefox in general, though at least I'm using Chrome instead of my parents' Internet Explorer) I also noticed for the very first time a commercial before a video on YouTube. I've never even seen that before (guess my adblocker stops them). And this computer is slow (compared to mine at least).

Anyway, over at Best Buy (of all places) they held a live developer chat where the community could ask the developers questions. Here's an excerpt:

Guest-104: will there be a raise in difficulty compared to the beta tests?

Gaming-BBY: >>Gabe: Our Flashpoints have two difficulty modes (Normal & Hard) and our Operations have three difficulty modes (Normal, Hard, and Nightmare). We aim to offer a wide variety of difficulty levels to accommodate the casual and hardcore players.

Guest-295: Do you have plans to add pod racing?

Gaming-BBY: >>James: We feel vehicles are an important part of Star Wars and we’re looking at ways to improve the vehicle experience post-launch.

I've had some great fun doing the Flashpoints (even though Flashpoints like Hammer Station aren't as good as Black Talon) and got myself some really nice looking fully slotted gear from them (finally my Agent looks like an Imperial Agent with an actual sniper rifle). I think that pod racing could be fun too (I've also had fun doing some space misisons), but just as the space combat has some real risk of feeling disconnected from the rest of the game.

It's a bit early for review to appear as reviewing an MMO usually takes a long time. Over at IGN they've got a unique solution for this by making a review in progress. This is basically just them playing and continually updating the review with new thoughts and experiences (adding them on at the end). Here's an excerpt:

Dec. 14: In a genre defined by massive open worlds and do-anything mentality, at least some direction has to be given early on lest the game leave the player wandering the wilderness aimlessly. The opening moments must set the tone of the world, giving you some context for the adventure about to unfold and how you fit into it.

Of the many, many MMOs I have played (at least two!), no game has done this better to date than The Old Republic. The three amazing cinematics released prior to TOR's launch serve as the intro cinematics. The cinematics do an excellent job of showcasing each of the playable classes while immediately setting the scene for the state of the galaxy. Immediately after creating a character, you're then met with the traditional Star Wars scrolling text screen, which sets things up specifically for the class you have chosen. Then, like the films, the camera pans down to reveal a planet or space craft before it takes you to a loading screen, after which you're put in your character's shoes for the first time ever.

By the end of the Star Wars theme you ought to be pretty pumped to get in and play -- exactly what an MMO intro should do.

Since it is a review in progress obviously it isn't done yet and is constantly being updated. I also think that the format could use some improvements (such as an index at the start that lists all the dates the article has been updated with links that jump you to the new segment as I often find myself losing track of where I was despite the dates included). But it's definitely an interesting approach to an MMO review.

Another website that had a Q&A with James Ohlen is GameSpy. Here's an excerpt:

GameSpy: One of the big concerns we're hearing from our community centers on the current amount of endgame content (or lack thereof). How aggressive will you be post-launch in releasing new endgame content?

James Ohlen: We're going to be very aggressive about releasing post launch content. Unlike a lot of other development studios that have worked on MMOs, our team is staying together. This is actually a new experience for me. Usually when a game is finished you move onto different projects, so when Baldur's Gate was finished and I was already working on Neverwinter Nights. But in this case, I am still working on Star Wars: The Old Republic. In fact, the whole studio is. If we want players to stick with us, they have to know that we're releasing new content on a regular basis.

GameSpy: Can you give any kind of rough idea of when the first new content patch will be released? Also, can you say what players can expect in a typical new patch (such as a new planet or something of the sort)?

James Ohlen: I can't give an exact date, but we do want to be releasing it on a regular basis. I can say that the new content will be focused around high-level content such as operations, flashpoints, warzones, and often this stuff will be based on new planets, because we really want to have new environments for the player experience.

Now is really the time for BioWare to keep the pressure on and keep people excited with what more stuff is coming for the game. Right now most everyone is still excited and playing the game, reveling in the newness of it, but soon people will start to feel the itch for new things I think (though I also think this might take longer in SWTOR than in most MMOs due to the stories keeping people engaged). I know I'm definitely curious as to what mew things they have planned.

Another article up on GameSpy reports on Day One of Early Access. here's an excerpt:

Yes, for the first day of the early access period at least, The Old Republic ran smoother than a smoothie. To be sure, BioWare and EA are proceeding with caution, but today was still a sizable SWTOR rollout. As of this writing, there were 64 North American servers online with a matching number of European servers, and all of them registered Light to Standard populations throughout the day.

The result was an online experience free of long waits, crashes, or freezes, and latency held steady at 120 ms without significant spikes. In other words, no noticeable lag. I rolled a Sith Empire Chiss Bounty Hunter, and while there were plenty of other guns for hire on the Hutta origin world, I never grew frustrated waiting for quest-linked enemies to repopulate.

based on my own experiences and what I've read elsewhere things pretty much held steady. Queue times did increase and there's been some rumbling over two-hour queues (partly players' fault and party the fault of the multiple-server model itself), but overall the Early Access was incredibly smooth. From what very little I've seen so far launch itself also looks to be similar (the only real issues I've seen ended up to be due to the user's own computer needing cleaning). Though since I can't keep as close an eye on things maybe I'm missing several major disasters (though that seems unlikely).

You can see sentiments like this echoed on blogs like BioBreak which seem very positive regarding the smoothness of Early Access. here's an excerpt:

I almost hate to gush because I know there’s accusations of fanboyism out there when one does, but holy moley, I just had a blast today, more fun than I’ve had with a game in a long, long, long time. Like, I don’t want to go to bed kind of gripping. It feels so polished, so intuitive, and so involving that my initial launch impressions are that BioWare actually pulled it off. I think this has every chance of being a monster hit for the new decade, and whether it is or not, I know I’m going to be playing for a long time to come.

I know exactly how you feel, Syp.

Another interesting thing is that John Gatt over at SWTOR Face has published a guide to SWTOR eBook (Amazon US, Amazon UK). Here's the description of the eBook:

Entering a new MMO can be daunting. This guide is designed to help you break the ice and understand common aspects of the exciting new MMO from BioWare, Star Wars The Old Republic. Whether you are a veteran MMO player or completely new to this genre of PC gaming, this guide will help you get started and understand the key concept of Companions and their role in the SWTOR galaxy.

This guide covers getting set up with the game including the right hardware, a look at the background story and how to choose a server and guild. Key terms and roles for characters like DPS, tank and healer are introduced and inside information gained from over 250 hours of gaming in Beta is set out. The eBook then goes through the options for setting up a character before explaining and detailing the Advanced Class options. Complete lists of information about Companions available to each class is provided including their preferred gifts, which will help you build reputation, unlocking new and exciting Missions. Crafting with Companions, upgrading equipment and mods, keyboard and mouse controls, navigation, tips on Missions, combat, targeting, using Companions in combat and setting up Quick Shots is all explained, plus information on Datacrons and full Maps to planets is included. Get set for your Galactic adventure!

I'll definitely get a copy of that on my Kindle (so that I don't have to go completely without TOR over my vacation).

I should probably have grouped all interviews with James Ohlen together, because here is another one. This time on Massively. Here's an excerpt:

Besides the story elements, what other kinds of benefits will be coming from the legacy system that you can talk about?

It's a system by which all the characters that are a part of your legacy family gain the benefits of that family. As you level up that legacy family, you're going to have to choose. It's going to be something you're going to have to tailor to the kind of legacy you want. Some of those benefits will involve the itemization system. Some of those benefits will involve the combat system abilities. Some of the benefits will change how character creation works. That's just some of them. I believe people will be very excited when more information comes out about that.

The Legacy System is the big question at the moment and i think that this is the first time I've heard of choice within the system, of having a particular type of Legacy based on choices you make for it. That definitely seems to fit with what BioWare is doing with the game, though I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. After all, I make very different types of choices for different characters. And the more I tailor the Legacy to be a specific type the harder it will be to logically fit some of my characters into that Legacy.

Eurogamer has an interesting article. They look at whether TOR will be the last game of its kind. here's an excerpt:

Eurogamer's SWTOR review is a few weeks away, and we'll reserve judgment on the game itself until then, but even now it seems like a very large gamble. Not in its content - in combining two top-ranked brands, Star Wars and Knights of the Old Republic, with the superlative storytelling skills of BioWare and the MMO tech of Mythic, it's a winning formula on paper - but in how EA has spent its money and how it expects you to spend yours.

As has been widely reported, it has cost EA around $80-100 million (excluding a probably greater amount spent on marketing) to make SWTOR into an MMO with a boxed-copy-and-subscriptions model - what some call pay-to-play. Following the similarly expensive flop APB, if SWTOR fails, then no publisher will want to finance a game using pay to play again.

I can't quite put a finger on it, but the article feels... wrong. It's a lot of speculation based on rumors and little facts. Honestly I think that there will always be a market for subscription based games. And I think that the article is rather pessimistic about TOR's chances. I also feel that if TOR is in any way a success (as the article itself feels it will be) then there will be others trying the same approach as well. After all, WoW being the success that it was didn't stop others from trying (and often failing) to make a similar game.

Either way though, if a game is good and enjoyable (to me) then I'll play it and if it isn't then I won't. And that's really as simple as it tends to get.

From Eurogamer back to GameSpy then as they have a preview article up (the article does contain some spoilers for the early Bounty Hunter story, but does also warn of them). Here's a (spoiler-free) excerpt:

Previous MMOs may have featured equally stellar stories, but beyond major characters, plot points, and CGI cutscenes, those stories had to be read within the game. For me, that meant glossing over block after block of quest-giving NPC text before tramping off to do nothing more than kill X amount of Y at point A on my map -- and this is coming from a writer that loves devouring all forms of the written word. The story is meaty in SWTOR, and you'll actually be able to sink your teeth into it thanks to the staggering amount of recorded dialogue. I can't stress enough what a difference voice acting makes in SWTOR, particularly when you include BioWare's trademark dialogue tree system and the element of choice. MMOs are all about creating your own unique character and living vicariously through them in a fantasy world. When you're able to interact with other characters in that world through dialogue, and actually make choices in the words you use and decisions you make, it pulls you in like a tractor beam.

It really can't be stressed enough what a difference the story makes and it helps that another voice confirms that as well.

GameSpy also has an interview with the BioWare doctors. Here's an excerpt:

GameSpy: I've seen you talking about playing the game fairly heavily throughout development. Presumably you're giving the team feedback. I know you're not involved in the nitty-gritty design work, because that's what you pay James Ohlen for... but is there any one little tweak that you can claim as your own, something you asked for specifically?

Greg Zeschuck: I've got an awesome one. It's very significant, and funny enough it involves a story with James. At the top of the menu, there's Mission Log, but also the Codex. It just said "Mission Log," it didn't say "...and Codex." So I told James, "James, it really should say "...and Codex," and he's like, "Oh, you're right." So we changed it. It's funny, because I said to James, "Now at least I can say I did one thing in this game." He thought that was pretty funny. The feedback... that's kind of a joke. We try and simulate the consumer experience. Our job is to not get too deep into the what and the why, but just sit back and experience it like the consumer would.

It's nice to hear that they mostly play games as consumers and don't try to drive the development. I've definitely heard it before where upper management forced through their own ideas instead of letting the teams do their jobs and it rarely made for a better game. And I'm a bit envious as well; I'd love to tell people what kind of games to make and then just enjoy them as a normal consumer. But overall it's a nice interview i thought.

Shacknews has a first look article up. Here's an excerpt:

On the battlefield, Star Wars: The Old Republic is also one of the best looking MMOs I've seen. Mechanically, it's still a matter of simply targeting an enemy and using a thoughtful combination of abilities from the character's toolbar, but the battles are pretty flashy, and a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Jedi will deflect blaster shots and incoming melee attacks while gracefully slicing and dicing with their lightsabre. One of the first powers my Consular achieved allowed him to telekinetically rip objects and debris from the ground and send them hurtling toward his targets. When grouping with other players (a very easy process, in practice), battles are even more visually varied and fun to participate in.

One of the things that often tends to be overlooked are the improvements BioWare made to MMO combat animations. Usually players don't really notice them (possibly until they go back to older MMOs that don't feel as interesting). It's often the little things that tend to go unnoticed that make all the difference. As they say: the devil is in the details. As such I can only agree with the above quote; combat just feels fun to play (where all too often in other MMOs combat feels boring). Though admittedly part of that might also very well be the newness factor.

The last couple of months Kotaku started doing something different. ext to giving reviews they've also added "gut checks" as to whether something is worth buying or not. They tend to be brief overviews where a few of their writers give their thoughts (based on relatively brief experiences) regarding whether the game is good or not. As so they've also got a gut check for TOR. Here's an excerpt:

So how come the big graphic up top is all green? Because Star Wars: The Old Republic is at its core eight different single-player BioWare Star Wars stories rolled up into one. Each of the eight classes in the game has its own story that sees players travelling to the far corners of the galaxy in pursuit of their own personal adventure. My Smuggler, for instance, has developed an intense rivalry with a rival operator. I hate this bastard, and can't wait to see how he gets his final comeuppance at the end of the storyline. Consider me emotionally engaged.

I'm no sure how valuable these gut checks are in the end. So far I've noticed very few times where their gut check was 'no'. But it's still interesting in the sense that Michael Fahey has tended to be rather negative towards TOR over the last year and his gut check is still a 'yes' (as the above quote explains). If it can win over such skeptics...

Finally GameInformer has a rather lengthy article looking at the Empire classes, which originally appeared in their printed magazine I think. Admittedly I haven't read this one yet, but here's an excerpt regardless:

After three years of interminable waiting, we've finally had the opportunity to dig into BioWare’s upcoming Star Wars MMO. Even while we now get going on our final game release characters, weeks ago four Game Informer editors spent dozens of combined hours during the game's beta exploring different character classes populating the Sith Empire faction. We discovered a gigantic game whose scope and ambition are hard to overstate. Combining the traditions of World of Warcraft-style questing and cooperative multiplayer with the storytelling, character depth, and voice acting of other BioWare games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, The Old Republic is poised to reshape the MMO landscape. Every one of us who played the game found dramatically different experiences to be excited about; flip the pages to the character class you’re most excited about, or explore each journal for the full picture. And keep an eye out in the coming days and weeks as we continue our coverage of this long-awaited game.

To close off before the developer quotes, though not quote TOR related, here's a YouTube video showing lightsaber-wielding ninjas:

Very nice.

Developer Quotes

The developers have made far more post than listed below. But the vast majority of them dealt with issues people were having and such. I hope that I got the most interesting ones (though I decided not to quote any of them since they're not really that relevant anymore now that the game has launched; everything that is relevant now seems to be posted on the Community Blog).

  • [link] to David Bass on East Coast Server List.
  • [link] to David Bass on West Coast Server List.
  • [link] to David Bass on European Server List.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on Welcome to Community Forums.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Early Access 'Waves'.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on security questions.
  • [link] to Amber Green on known issues.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on late pre-orders.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on number of invites.
  • [link] to Allison Berryman on no off-topic forum.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Early Access 'Waves', part 2.
  • [link] to Joveth Gonzalez on product key.
  • [link] to Stephen Reid on Early Access 'Waves' Explanation.

And that's it. I probably won't make another post like this in the next week or two as I'll be enjoying the Holidays instead. I'm not even sure how much I'll really keep track of news still as I'd rather be spending time with my family than behind a computer. As such there's little left for me to say than to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance and to those playing The Old Republic: have fun and enjoy yourselves.

[link] to audio interview with James Ohlen at Curse.
[link] to developer chat at best Buy.
[link] to review in progress at IGN.
[link] to Q&A with james ohlen at GameSpy.
[link] to Early Access article at GameSpy.
[link] to Day One impressions at BioBreak.
[link] to TOR Guide eBook at SWTOR Face.
[link] to interview with James Ohlen at Massively.
[link] to End of an Era article at Eurogamer.
[link] to preview article at GameSpy.
[link] to interview with Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk at GameSpy.
[link] to first look article at Shacknews.
[link] to gut check at Kotaku.
[link] to preview article at GameInformer.
[link] to Jedi Ninjas video at YouTube.


Bretton said...

I think the Sith v. Smuggler discussion encapsulates something I was initially worried about with SWTOR, i.e. force users vs. non-force users. I think they did a pretty good job of both playing up non-force users' heroics and their resourcefulness. As a smuggler (aptly named "Scrapper" spec), I have to scrape by with flash grenades, a scatter gun, a stealth belt, and when all else fails, well-placed kicks to the family jewels. Of course, I'm a bit obsessed with my smuggler and so quite biased, but I'm glad it doesn't feel *entirely* ridiculous that I could take down a Sith. What do you think?

Ayane said...

I'm a bit of two minds about this. On the one hand I agree. On the other though it feels a bit like they've taken away from what made Force users special, larger than life. They're now common, 'just another soldier' and not something unique and powerful. When my IA runs into a jedi I don't think "crap, a jedi, now I'm in for a really tough fight" but I think "oh, another enemy" and proceed like I would against anything else.

I know that it can't really be different. But I still miss that a little.