SWTOR: Why isn’t player housing on a ship?

Back when I played SWTOR, I was highly disappointed that the game didn’t have player housing.  I mean, it sorta, kinda, technically did in your player ship, but it wasn’t customizable at all on the inside.  Eventually you were able to put more functions (mailbox, auction access, etc.) into it, but the look stayed the same.

That was a shame and a missed opportunity, because players spent a lot of time using their ships and it could have been one of the first games to use mobile player housing, so to speak.

So it looks as though SWTOR is going to get player housing for reals now, which, hey, that’s great.  We don’t know a lot about the details other than a teaser trailer showing an apartment on Coruscant with a mailbox and a droid and some pretty decorations.  At least from this presentation, the assumption that a lot of folks — myself included — are making is that player housing will be on a planet/in an apartment and not on your ship.

If this is the case, I really have to ask why, because I’m not seeing how this works out unless BioWare’s going to be giving a special recall button to go to your house.  Your ship is everywhere you go, while a house is not.  Players have really wanted to deck out their ship interiors for a while now, so why wasn’t that a focus?  What will a planetside house offer to make it significantly more interesting and useful than making ships full-fledged player housing?

Lots of questions do I have.

Knights of the Old Republic, now in tablet form!

kotor

According to this here blog, the last time that I played Knights of the Old Republic it was 2009 and I did it in anticipation for the then-to-be-released SWTOR.  I think that three full playthroughs is more than enough for any given RPG, especially in light of the games I haven’t gotten around to playing yet.

But then KOTOR came out for the iPad and it dropped to $5 and… well, I was a little bored one evening.  Why not, I thought?

It’s pretty fantastic that we’re able to play full games like this on an itty bitty tablet, especially considering how games like this were considered so top of the line back when.  Even today, the amount of voice recording makes it a beefy game to download.  I’m building a dual blaster pistol-wielding Jedi, probably on the light side of the force.  I still wish I could shoot Carth Onassi in the head after first meeting him, or possibly airlock his butt out of the Ender Spire.

I don’t have any great goals of going all of the way through it again.  I might play it a little here or there, but right now it’s just a fun novelty that kind of makes me wish that SWTOR was on tablets too.

It’s really weird to go back from SWTOR to KOTOR.  The visuals are different — KOTOR is older, obviously, and… thinner, for a lack of a better word.  SWTOR had more colors and a thicker feel to the models.  The combat and builds are very primitive in comparison as well.  Plus it’s turn-based combat with a different RPG platform.

Aesthetically, there doesn’t feel like a big connection either.  I don’t remember seeing the silver-coated Sith troopers anywhere in SWTOR, nor the cheesy vibroblade models (although I know that there were vibroblades).  And how about that swoop racing and pazaak, huh?

Anyway, I hear that Final Fantasy VI might be coming out soon as well, so that could take up my tablet RPG time.  There’s one RPG I’ve never completed (nor really gotten very far in at all).

SWTOR: Greetings, meatbag!

Our pre-run routine consists of bad dancing, fireworks, holograms, and Jawas.  It pumps us up.

Our pre-run routine consists of bad dancing, fireworks, holograms, and Jawas. It pumps us up.

I was really looking forward to last night’s outing in Star Wars: The Old Republic, as our guild was scheduled to wrap up the acquisition of HK-51 for those of us who had yet to grab him.  We’d all hunted down the first five parts, but the remaining two — tucked away inside instances — remained on our to-do list.

So let me set the scene.  I’ve had this horrible head cold that’s left me feeling like my noggin is denser than a black hole and my body achier than an 80-year-old with arthritis.  To make matters worse, the cold had jumped to my 9-month-old son, so he was extremely cranky and terribly awake when it came time to run these flashpoints.  But darn it, I wasn’t going to miss out on this!

That’s how I ended up mumbling groggily into Teamspeak while holding a sniffling, miserable child (who really did just want to be held).  That’s when I became glad that I had a Naga mouse, because I had to move and heal with just one hand.  And it worked pretty well, I think.  The instances weren’t that tough, although the Foundry kept glitching on us during the HK boss fight.

I think it helped that SWTOR doesn’t exactly go overboard in giving healers tools.  I mean, my Operative — who is full heal-specced at the moment — has a whopping total of four heals (main chunky heal, free semi-chunky heal when tactical advantage is up, HoT that can be stacked x2, and group HoT).  It feels really streamlined and basic when compared to, say, my Cleric in RIFT.  I mean, you want to talk about HoTs?  My Warden spec has a good dozen or so heals.

Anyway, the runs went well, my son went to sleep in my arms, and HK-51 was gotten by all.  Big thanks go out to guild members who already had the droid companion and yet went on runs anyway to help out each other.  As a bonus, I dinged level 51.  All in all, a good night, and now I have a new favorite companion.

SWTOR: Of Ewoks and murder-droids

treekCompanions are a big draw of SWTOR to me, although I do wish that you could have two out at a time so that they could bicker in typical BioWare style.  In returning to the game, I’ve given my companion roster some thought on both my Bounty Hunter and Operative, and decided that I need some fresh blood in both.

For my lowbie Bounty Hunter, who just has good ol’ Mako, I’ve bestowed the gift of a psychopathic possibly lore-breaking Ewok: the new companion Treek that came out this week.  I figured having a second companion would really help in the early game, plus I’m all for parading about something slightly ridiculous that generates nerd-hate from people who take things a little too seriously.

Treek’s pricey (either way you acquire her), but so far she is worth it to me.  Her introduction is pretty funny, setting her up as a battle-mad murderous ball of death, and she only gets better once you see her animations.  Swooping in on a hang glider as a charge?  Tossing giant heal balls at you?  Hey, it amuses me.  Plus, her addition to the roster’s allowed me to send Mako out on crew missions.

Treek is kind of interesting in that she has either a healing or a tanking stance, without a DPS stance.  I’m fine with that.  I’m a Powertech, so I’m always in the market for a good healer.

Over on my Operative, I really want to get HK-51.  I mean, HK-47 was just about the best thing in KOTOR, especially for the dialogue, and I’d love to go through the new expansion with a similar model at my side.

Our guild’s Thursday night group started working on getting HK-47 last night, and after seeing the first half of the process, I have to say that I am so glad I was in a group for it.  There are group quests and a lot of tedious searching involved.  I’m down to four parts left right now, although two of those are in the flashpoints, so hopefully we’ll be getting together to finish that up later on.

Going through all of this has made me think about how much I’m going to appreciate that droid when I finally get it.  I mean, the lazy part of me thinks, “Gee BioWare, I paid to open up Section X, so just gimme the companion already!”  But then I was pondering if the devs set up these tedious quests and assembly tasks not just to be a timesink, but because of the IKEA effect.

The concept behind the IKEA effect is that you tend to appreciate and enjoy something you put together yourself, even if it’s more time-intensive and annoying initially.  Because it’s the “fruit of your labor,” as NPR puts it, you love it more than if you just bought it outright.  I think there’s something to that.

Anyway, here’s hoping that I’ll be hearing sly comments about meatbags in the near future!

SWTOR: Rough re-entry

yetiWith my new MMO gaming schedule, Thursdays are right now designated for Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It’s been a while since I even lightly dabbled in the game, but I missed hanging out with my guild and wanted to continue my Operative’s adventures.  Call me silly, but it was a little bit thrilling to see “CHAPTER IV” show up on the loading screen as I moved on to the Rise of the Hutt Cartel content.

However, it was a rough re-entry — and I’m not just talking about the crash landing that started my experiences on Makeb.  I haven’t played my Operative since early/mid-2012 and I had very little recollection how to play her.  To make things worse, somewhere along the way my talent points were refunded and the tree tweaked.

I respecced how I used to be: full-out heal-bot.  I love having access to her powerful heals, although it does make me rely a bit more on my companion.  Even so, I wasn’t exactly breezing through the new content.

Actually, before Makeb I tried to go for Section X to start the HK-51 chain.  I figured it’d be cool to get him before I went to the new planet, but trying to solo that quest — and even just trying to get to the quest location — showed me how fragile I was.  So I moved over to Makeb, but it was still rough going.  I don’t know if I’m just sorely undergeared compared to modern level 50s, but I go down fast now.  As the quest rewards I’m finding are significant upgrades to my current equipment, I think that my absence saw my gear fall behind the curve.

My plan is to stick it out on Makeb, get used to my build again, and hopefully get enough good gear to not be a total embarrassment.  I didn’t get super-far in one night, but I did make it through a good half-dozen quests and net a few bars of XP.

I had missed my Operative and it was nice coming home to her.  The whole evening was filled with “oh YEAH, I forgot that did this!”  Having a skill that instantly dumps me out of content and puts me into stealth?  A shield that heals me when it’s used up?  My vibroknife attacks?

What was even better was just seeing her story continue.  My interest in SWTOR really nose-dived when Yeti’s journey ended at the end of chapter 3.  It feels like the old gang is getting back together again and I’m up to my snarky, suspicious ways.  With the company of my guild, Thursdays could become a night that I’ll be looking forward to all week.

SWTOR: A Bounty Hunter on the prowl

BlizzBecause getting ready to go on a vacation and preparing for Neverwinter’s soft launch tomorrow isn’t enough to keep me busy, I loaded back up SWTOR to check out the game’s changes since 2.0 went live.  I thumbed through the few characters that I’d created during the subscription era and found a fresh new Bounty Hunter with an unlocked race and expanded inventory to enjoy.  Sounds good to me.  Guess I’ll try my hand at a tank.

It’s not been terrible returning.  The combat isn’t as free-flowing as what I’m used to in GW2, but it’s satisfying and scratches the ranged combat itch in me.  I particularly like the addition of achievements, a few of which are tied to tangible rewards (such as cartel coins).  It does seem like there aren’t as many rewards tied in with these as I’d prefer, but it’s nice to have secondary goals while puttering around on a planet.

So I’m getting used to Ghostfire, a Bounty Hunter who loves to indulge in dark side choices while being sugary and sweet to those she likes.  Going through Hutta is a huge nostalgia trip as I feel all of my long-term memories being downloaded back into short-term for quick recall.  Oh, there’s where that datacron is.  I remember this quest.  Those aliens really want to make me kick their butt.  Etc.

I think LOTRO is spoiling me with its remote looting, because clicking on mobs to loot seems so passe now.  Even GW2/TSW allows you to loot nearby corpses with a button press, which is much faster.

I think I’ll be keeping my time with SWTOR pretty casual right now.  I know that XP gains dip for F2Pers after level 10, which does a number on my enthusiasm for gaming, but we’ll see how bad it is.  I saw that joining a guild gives you a 5% XP gain boost, and perhaps running the three flashpoints per week can supplement things to keep me up to par.

Maybe one day I’ll see the expansion content, even.  I’ve heard good things.  But for now I’m just trudging through the industrial muck of Hutta and dreaming about one day finding a Jawa sidekick to love.

Rise of the Hutt Cartel Market

I uninstalled Star Wars: The Old Republic a couple of weeks ago, mostly because I couldn’t settle on a character to play, had little time to plow through the entire story again, was more than a little rankled at the free-to-play setup, and generally felt like there were more interesting prospects elsewhere.  But I don’t bear the game any ill-will, nor am I going to say anything so rash as “I’ll never go back there again.”

So I’m not without some interest in the news of the upcoming expansion, titled Rise of the Hutt Cartel.  Yes, it’s a little unfortunate for BioWare to use a word in that title that instantly makes the players think of the cash shop, but what are you going to do.

I don’t have a lot of time right now, so here are a few off-the-cuff thoughts on this:

  • Bully for the studio in getting out an expansion.  SWTOR has not had the easiest of years, and players really needed a reason to have or regain confidence in the product.  Expansions are a good way to project, “Hey, this game has a future!” whether or not it’s true.
  • It really does feel like more of a chunk of DLC or a content update than an expansion, especially with a features list that includes: (1) a new planet, (2) a five-level bump in the cap along with more storyline content, and (3) “more information coming soon.”  If there is more to the expansion than that, it really would’ve been in the best interest of the studio to put that on the announcement page.  They couldn’t have brainstormed a couple more talking points?
  • Another thing I’ve been seeing is that the additional planet isn’t exactly new news at this point, making me wonder if Makeb was originally intended to just be part of a monthly update, but now that F2P has hit, it had the potential to make a few bucks.
  • On the upside, it’s not a traditionally priced expansion, costing either $10 for subscribers or $20 for everyone else.
  • Finally, I really like that the studio is finally doing something to give a lot of players what they’ve been asking for: the next part of their character’s personal storyline (unless I grossly misinterpreted what’s being offered here).  BioWare’s been mucking about far too long with endgame features to cater to the raiders and PvPers while ignoring what I see as the core audience of the game, the levelers.

Star Wars and the uncanny valley

I think The Secret World has spoiled me in ways I haven’t fully realized yet.  Ever since going back to SWTOR, I’ve had a lot of difficulty getting into the stories and quests the way I could last year, but didn’t put a finger on it until recently.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that while it was pretty good for what it was, TSW showed me how it could be a lot, lot better.

Here’s a quick and dirty list of what’s holding me back from reveling in SWTOR’s strongest suit.

Problem #1: Stupid facial hair and morbid obesity

I cannot stand cutscenes where the other person has one of the ridiculous cartoony moustaches or beards or mutton chops.  Just about all of them are butt-ugly, looking more like someone glued a slug to their face instead of giving any semblance of “hair.”

And the male morbidly obese model is incredibly distracting, because I simply cannot buy how this character is a soldier or mercenary or anything other than a Walmart shopper who needs an electric cart to scoot down the aisles on.  I mean, props to BioWare for acknowledging other body types, but there are stops along the way from “well built” to “Jabba the Hutt.”

Problem #2: There are far too many NPCs

This is why I think TSW does so well: It keeps its cast list to a manageable number, akin to what you’d find in a book or movie.  Over the course of several quests and investigations, we get to know these characters, and there’s always the chance we’ll be coming back to them when missions are added in the future.  I can probably tell you several aspects of each NPC questgiver in the game off the top of my head… and I really can’t do that for most of SWTOR.

SWTOR had a lot of voice acting and actors involved, but that’s the problem: There are way too many.  It’s a problem that many MMOs have, the disposable NPC who means little because they’re one among a legion and you won’t be speaking to them tomorrow.  They don’t have a chance to make an impression and you already know they won’t matter.  When you tack on expensive voice acting, it turns that disposability into a tragedy.  Sure, some of the story characters and companions are more fleshed out, but BioWare had to stick to the traditional MMO model of an enormous supporting cast.

It makes me wonder what if… what if the cast was far more limited, such as what we see in a standard Star Wars movie?  What if there was nothing else than the personal storylines and a much stronger emphasis on your interactions with a few NPCs and your companions?  I think I would’ve liked that a lot more.

Problem #3: The uncanny valley

This last problem wasn’t something I really acknowledged until recently, and again, only when compared to TSW.  I won’t argue that TSW’s characters are sometimes off-putting to behold, but the excellent writing, voice acting, and — this is important — facial and body gestures combine to form a believable personality.  I get as much from a shrug or a happy dance as I do from a line of heavy-handed exposition.

So going back to SWTOR feels like stepping way backwards.  These characters don’t really emote.  Sure, they have good voice acting, but their faces don’t really show emotion or match up to what’s being said.  “Angry” and “orgasmic” are basically the same expression.  And gestures?  Since BioWare apparently used some program to cinematically splice together cutscenes instead of doing them by hand, you’re going to see the same gestures over and over again — gestures that don’t have much to do with anything being said.  Just Theater 101 stuff.

Is it the uncanny valley?  I’m starting to think so.  They look like people, they talk like people, but they do so through Leatherface masks.

I’m wondering if all this combines to a subconscious unease, as if my brain can’t quite make that final step to accepting these characters as believable fiction.  The pieces are in place but something’s getting in the way.