Thursday, 12 January 2012

Unofficial Holiday Updates

"Unofficial" is perhaps not the right word, more "Coming From Sources Other Than The Official Website". But that makes for a bit long title so I went with what I did, making it the next in my series of "playing catch-up with the Holidays" series.

Though I'll start with something that can be considered an official update as it was posted on The Old Republic's official YouTube channel. The following video shows a flash freeze mob in New York's Times Square held to celebrate the launch of the game:

That was quite amazing. Would've been something to just be there, going about your last-minute Christmas shopping, and then have all that happening. Though when I started watching I didn't know that it was a freeze mob and kind of expected to see some choreographed combat. This was still amazing though.

After the break I'll look at a bunch of other things posted over the Holiday weeks.

There are a lot of updates and I'll list them all at the bottom of this post. I'll also lift out a number of them, though not all as that would just be insane. But hopefully I'll pick out the more interesting ones.

To start, over at GameInformer they have a Getting Started guide for TOR, particularly meant for those who haven't played many MMOs before. Here's an excerpt:

The other big decision in front of you is which faction to play. Again, make sure and coordinate with your friends. You won't be able to group up with someone from the opposite faction. Whether you go with the Imperials or the Republic, your character can go down the light or dark side path or choices no matter their faction or class. That said, the Empire is ultimately a militaristic dictatorship led by a horribly evil emperor. The Republic is a democratic collection of many equal races. You do the math; Republic players generally work more with traditionally "good" guys, and vice versa. That said, playing an evil path in the otherwise friendly Republic is pretty amazing. Likewise, playing an Imperial officer or Sith resisting all the evil around him in order to the right thing feels pretty darn heroic.

I must say that I don't completely agree with the guide. For example, when talking about selecting servers they mention PvE and PvP servers... but make no mention of RP servers (meaning that starting players looking at the server list might get confused about "what is this RP server"). They suggest picking a class based on Star Wars fantasy... but then fail to provide a list of which class is which Star Wars fantasy. They discuss some features which really aren't that important to starting players such as how to toggle your Companion ability bar; starting players don't have to do this so it would've been better to mention the possibility and then note that you don't have to worry about it. And I think that it would've helped a lot to add pictures showing what they're talking about. They talk about bind points without noting how you can recognize them. And it doesn't talk at all about MMO conventions that might be alien to starting players (such as targeting and toggling abilities, picking up quests, etc). I can appreciate the effort, but I'm not convinced that the guide is really all that useful to new players.

Over on GameSpot they have a guide as well, which they're calling a "Walkthrough" (presumably because the intention is to add quest walkthroughs as well and make that the main part of the guide). It seems to be a work in progress which currently mainly lists the eight classes. Here's an excerpt:


A Bioware developed MMO set in the Star Wars universe is a dream come true for sci-fi and gaming fans alike. Both entities have an outstanding pedigree to build upon, and might be the key to introducing single player gamers into the world of MMOs.

The world in The Old Republic (TOR) is set 3500 years before the timeline established by the Star Wars films. In the century leading up to the game, the Sith Empire made an attempt to move in on the Galactic Republic’s control of the Coreward Worlds in the center of the known Galaxy. You must decide which faction to side with and how to explore your role as an individual.

Our guide will show you how to maximize the advantages provided by each class and their distinct Advanced Class specializations. We will also detail the planets available to your character during your campaign as well as the Starships that take you from the remote chill of Ilum, all the way into Korriban, within the Seat of the Empire.

For what little is there at the moment I think that, considering the target audiences for both, this guide is a little better than the GameInformer one. Personally I find the list of Companion gift information to be quite useful. They also have a couple of Datacron location videos, but I don't find them to be very informative. I've definitely seen much better and more complete datacron guides. But it'll be interesting what the Walkthrough turns into and whether they truly intend to make it a complete reference.

Another nice thing over at GameSpot is an hour-long video interview with Daniel Erickson. This is a special episode of GameSpot's HotSpot podcast-type show. In this episode they have Daniel Erickson as a special guest and they ask him loads and loads of questions about the development of The Old Republic and such. Here's the video:

It's a nice video with a lot of nice details about the development. Such as that the entire first chapter for all classes was first done entirely in NWN because they didn't have anything to work with yet. And I also much liked the comparison Daniel drew to comic book heroes to explain why every player in TOR can be a hero. Made a lot of sense to me.

Without going into too much detail I wanted to briefly mention a couple of articles talking about some problems. First there's Rock, Paper, Shotgun complaining that the weekly maintenance takes place during European daytime. Living in Europe myself I can very well understand the frustration. In fact, the very first day after I got back from vacation, having the week off still specifically to play The Old Republic, I couldn't play because the servers were down for maintenance. That was frustrating. But also understandable. I think that just happens to be the time when, globally, there are fewest people online. And with the way TOR is set up doing one continent before another wouldn't really work (that's the price you pay for being able to play on US servers as easily as EU servers). Personally, despite the annoyance that day, I can live with it. I do agree though that taking the website offline at the same time too is perhaps something that they could avoid.

Another niggle posted up on Rock, Paper, Shotgun is with the queuing. Now, there were definitely long queues for the game on some servers, but this post particularly complains about the website queues. Personally I don't quite agree with his complaints there. Yes, queuing for a website can be frustrating. But it's not as easy as just putting in more web servers. It's only during a very brief time (around launch) that it really is required after all.

And finally there's GameSpot complaining that you need to subscribe to use your free days. This one can go both ways a bit; I do think that most MMOs require that you subscribe before you can use the free period. But at the same time we've already paid for the boxed game and it really shouldn't be needed. Not to mention the trouble this causes gametime card people. Perhaps BioWare is caught out here by shifting public perception due to the industry shift to free-to-play games (where you can play without having to make any dedication), but I do seem to remember that in most MMOs I needed to put in my credit card details before they let me play the game.

On a more positive note I also wanted to briefly mention Massively's Guild Counsel article on Guild Life in SWTOR. Guild Counsil is Massively's weekly column discussing MMO guild matters. And this article looks at guilds in SWTOR. What's most interesting is the numbers they mention for the amount of launch guilds. That's a lot of guilds (and to me it's heartening to see how many roleplaying guilds there are as well). They also seem to be surprised by most guilds being relatively small, but I don't think that's that strange. I suspect that initially that's true in most MMOs, you just tend to not see the number there. And the big guilds tend to have higher survivability as well as higher visibility.

In MSN's online show "In-Game" they handed out an award for best game of the year. You'll never guess who won:

I must say that I'm slightly surprised that they gave it to The Old Republic. I've played all of the nominated games (except Uncharted 3 as I don't have a PS3) and they're all very good games. Most best game awards tend to lean towards one of those other four games (particularly Skyrim, but I've also definitely seen Portal 2 win and even Arkham City did). My personal game of the year is still Skyrim, though that's in part because I don't really count TOR as a 2011 game since two weeks isn't nearly enough time to tell how good or bad an MMO is. MMOs are much more long-term games and should be judged on that. But even so congratulations to BioWare for the award.

Over the last few weeks Stephen Reid held an AMA (which stands for "Ask Me Anything") where people could ask questions for him to answer. The always useful Darth Hater lists all the questions and answers from that. Here's a random selection (well, not so random, mostly those I found most interesting):

Q: Any thoughts of letting us play “sabaac” or “pazaak” against others or a house for credits?

Those games are fondly remembered by many team members from KotOR. :)

Q: Are there plans to add more vanity pets and non-mechanical mounts to the game?

More pets – yes. Non-mechanical mounts – maybe, it’s a technical challenge, I’ve been told.

Q: I was wondering if you could shed some light on neutral gear

As I understand it neutral gear was harder to implement than first thought, and was unfortunately moved out of the launch window. It’s not ‘dead’, and James Ohlen brings it up as something he’s a fan of quite often, so.. chances are pretty good it’ll make it in someday.

Q: Can we get more badass cinematics?

If you mean CG cinematics a la ‘Hope’, ‘Return’, ‘Deceived’ – we save those for big events. What’s the next big event after launch? Hmmm…

I find that last answer I quoted a tad confusing. The three cinematics were all first shown at E3 (and event) making it sound like they're giving another cinematic next E3 (which is the next big event after launch by that token). But I think that's not what he meant and that he's referring to the announcement of the first expansion instead (which could also very likely happen at E3, though the next one might be a bit soon after launch for that). Released games generally don't show at E3 unless they've showing an expansion (and even then that's usually in diminished capacity compared to the the game itself). Of course it's quite nice altogether to hear that there's more of those excellent cinematics planned because I'd kind of thought that those three would be all.

For the rest the questions are alright though not incredibly enlightening. Mostly because "ask me anything" apparently doesn't guarantee that you get a useful answer and Stephen answered a fair number of questions with a variation of "can't talk about that now". Even so it's always nice to see these kinds of things as there's often a few hints and surprises in the answers (the first question I quoted definitely seems to hint at the future possibility of Sabacc/Pazaak).

GameSpy has a nice four-page interview with Daniel Erickson. Here's an excerpt:

GameSpy: You've got a lot of references to the Star Wars movies in there. Primarily, it seems, the original trilogy. Do you feel reluctant to bring in stuff from the prequel trilogy, on account of them sucking?

Daniel Erickson: No, actually, there's a huge amount of stuff from the prequel trilogy. I guess what people don't quite think of, because they'll see the little bits, and they'll say, "Oh, that's kinda like the old movie" If you're playing on the Republic side, the entire game is primarily the prequels and the Clone Wars as far as their setting. Everything we see about the Jedi order, everything we know about what any of this actually is, is from the prequels. Jedi are just some old dude who lives in a cave and one mean guy with a red lightsaber in the original trilogy. So the new movies, I would say, infuse more of the actual sets and what everything actually is, whereas the old movies are more of our touchstone for emotional feel and pacing and, I guess, what we believe Star Wars is, which is very much that 1940s serial drama, space opera.

That makes a lot of sense actually and he's totally right. Although I suspect that the EU already had details on the Jedi/Sith before the prequels came out, the prequels officially established most of these things.

One answer I don't quite agree with however is the final one (about the Korriban quest). Having played that quest a few times I must say that I didn't get that he was insane at all, nor that he was torturing these animals. He was a little bit off, but then scientists, particularly those working with visionary theories, always tend to be a little off in entertainment. And I thought that he was experimenting mostly with dead animals (and only needed the animal brought back alive because of a timing issue). I believed that he could be right, and then there was this upstart apprentice who thought to know better so lets just destroy this man's life work. That didn't seem Light Side at all. So maybe Daniel is right in how it was supposed to be portrayed, but for me at least they failed at communicating the nuances of that situation making the Lightside/Darkside options feel completely wrong.

Another award then, this time Massively has a list of "Best of 2011 Awards". And they list TOR as Game of the Year:

Game of the Year: Star Wars: The Old Republic

OMG this game just launched! How can we possibly rate this the game of the year! We must be paid off! Adhgdjhgdudbjh! The fact is, this was a hard one. RIFT launched as a staff favorite in March, but it's both the freshness of SWTOR's launch and the fact that MMO fans have been going nuts over this game for years that combine to make this our Game of the Year. Plus, ya know, it's kinda fun.

Considering that I still think that The Old Republic is probably the best MMO ever, I'm not terribly surprised by the award (though in fairness, as I mentioned above, it might be too soon to tell). I'm a bit more surprised by their award for best launch though. But then I didn't follow the Rift launch. I just suspect that Rift was launched longer ago and most of the issues might've been forgotten already while they were still very fresh for TOR and I think that Rift in general probably had a bit easier time due to not being nearly as popular. But then what do I really know.

The next article should, in retrospect, really have been included with the list of reviews. But somehow I failed to pick it up from my list for that post, so I'll do it here.

The Border House, according to their mission statement, "is a blog that aims to break down cultural and stereotypical walls and cross social borders in virtual worlds, MMO games, video games, and social media through inclusive journalism". It tends to look at lot at gender, race and sexuality based issues in games and as such their review of The Old Republic is skewed that way as well. Here's an excerpt:

What Bioware actually excels in is presenting a very proto-feminist vision of women’s participation in society where we are shown to be potentially competent at everything but still somewhat tokenised, still just so happening to be fewer in number than our male counterparts. Bioware is good at providing a few feel-good storylines where your woman character or some NPCs overcome misogyny. Wonderful,yes, and I approve of that. But there is a greater issue beyond this: why is the first principle of presumptive patriarchy itself never questioned?

And just to contrast that and show that the review is not just about gender issues here's another quote:

In the spirit of the game’s contradictions, it is a painfully obvious clone of WoW, but one that then distinguishes itself: not just from WoW, but from every other MMO I’ve seen thusfar. The spaceship, related space combat quests, companion system, and even ‘small’ details like the beauty of the Galaxy Map aboard your ship set to a lovely orchestral theme, the dialogue system, all serve to not only distinguish TOR from its competitors but positively create an atmosphere that can be said to be distinctly TOR. The game has a lot of potential to make its own unique je ne sais quois, an issue many MMOs struggle with. When I did my first space mission, adapting to admittedly loose controls, I felt I’d finally found where The Old Republic truly stands. It touches that precious commodity of uniqueness and holds tight here.

I find it a quite enjoyable review and thus pains me even more that I'd forgotten to include in with the list of reviews. I don't agree with all of it of course. For example, I particularly disagree with the comments about lack of space; TOR is full of vast stretches of space that are there for no reason other than to provide space. For a small example, take the (Imperial) cantina on Tatooine that's two floors with a lot of back rooms, most of which seeming to serve no purpose beyond providing atmosphere. In contrast what I've played of WoW felt a lot more like everything was just there for a functional reason. Even so I found it a quite enjoyable review to read.

We all know that The Old Republic has a lot of voiced dialogs. I mean a lot of voiced dialogs. And now it's official, The Old Republic is the Largest Entertainment Voice Over Project ever. That's "entertainment project", not just "game". It's in the Guinness Record Book (Gamer's Edition):

Star Wars: The Old Republic has been officially recognized by Guinness World Records on the heels of the game’s launch December 20th. In the latest Guinness World Records 2012 Gamer’s Edition the franchise's second major massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) is awarded for an unprecedented feat. The game, developed by BioWare with LucasArts and EA, boasts a record-breaking effort as the Largest Entertainment Voice Over Project ever. More than 200,000 lines of recorded dialogue were performed by several hundred voice actors, making it a far more ambitious recording project than any undertaking for a feature film.

We pretty much always knew that this was the case, but with it being a Guinness World Record now it's been made official. The link to the article has a few additional details (such as Knights of the Old Republic being the 'best' Star Wars game... by which I take it they mean have the highest Metacritic rating, which isn't the same thing).

As someone who's playing a neutral Imperial Agent at the moment the following news was quite welcome. According to PC Gamer BioWare's James Ohlen has confirmed that items for neutral players are coming:

“We knew with the light side/dark side system that there would be an urge, especially for min maxers, to go completely light side or dark side. It happened in Knights of the Old Republic back in 2003. We knew it was going to happen,” said TOR’s game director, James Ohlen.

“We have a system for people who want to stay more in the middle. But that’s something coming up in a later release,” he continued.

“It’ll let you play a “Gray Jedi”. Basically you don’t need to go to the extreme to get rewarded. You can have a different playstyle. We like to call it the “Gray Jedi” playstyle. That’s coming in a future piece of content.”

It even makes sense within the lore. James says that Bioware never intended to restrict player’s options with the exclusive items.

“We don’t want to force people. We were careful about the rewards for Light Side and Dark Side as well. We don’t want to make them too impactful on the endgame because it would mean players wouldn’t be allowed to join an Operation unless they were absolutely Light Side and or Dark Side. However, once we get to the next stage of our light side/dark side system, you’ll see the rewards. Light Side, Dark Side and the grey items will all get more powerful.”

This makes me quite happy and feels like it validates my choice to play a neutral character. Now it's just waiting for them to implement that next stage.

I've mostly been leaving off opinion pieces, podcasts and such, sticking with interviews, news, awards, reviews and such. But I thought I'd share this video from G4TV with Adam Sessler's Soapbox where he talks about TOR:

First, do remember that this is a soapbox, basically just Adam saying whatever is on his mind. It's not a review or such. And he makes some good points (I agree with him that despite the popularity of free-to-play the subscription model is still very viable). And love the new look, Adam.

And that's all for now. Turns out I handled more articles than I thought I would. I've got a few more things to handle from over the past few weeks, mainly the patch notes as I'm planning to start regularly reporting the patch notes as well. And then it's all new stuff when it appears.

[link] to flash freeze mob at YouTube.
[link] to starter guide at GameInformer.
[link] to Walkthrough guide at GameSpot.
[link] to video interview with Daniel Erickson at GameSpot.
[link] to down in Europe during daytime at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
[link] to website queues at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
[link] to subscription and free trial at GameSpy.
[link] to Guild Counsel at Massively.
[link] to Ray & Greg article at Kotaku.
[link] to TOR points to heatly MMO market at Gamasutra.
[link] to TOR points to heatly MMO market at GamesIndustry.
[link] to Game of the Year at MSN.
[link] to BioWare docs defend subscription model at Joystiq.
[link] to Reddit AMA with Stephen Reid recap at Darth Hater.
[link] to interview with Daniel Erickson at GameSpy.
[link] to Best of 2011 Awards at Massively.
[link] to Mac version possible article at Massively.
[link] to review at The Border House.
[link] to god cheat (now fixed) at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
[link] to interview with Alexander Freed at VideoGamer.
[link] to Guiness Record news at MMOsite.
[link] to Razer's TOR headset/mouse review at Kotaku.
[link] to Razer's TOR headset review at MMORPG.
[link] to interview with Dr. Greg Zeschuk at TORWars.
[link] to loot for neutral players article at PC Gamer.
[link] to scores article at Eurogamer.
[link] to Sessler's Soapbox at G4TV.

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