KOTOR 2: Telos Station

(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

It’s weird when you come back to a game that you never beat but have played several times before. You know that there’s a lot of brand-new content coming once you hit a certain point, but up until then it’s well-trod territory. It’s like that for me and KOTOR 2. Everything through Telos is pretty familiar to me, and I know that I harbor a dislike for this bland station that followed another bland station from the beginning. Oh well, let’s get this worked out.

As we settle into an apartment — because KOTOR 2 does love shamelessly appropriating from KOTOR 1 — restlessness settles in and our attention is gripped, GRIPPED by the ringing of a phone.

I love how the game actually gets annoyed that I’m taking too long to answer it. You are not the boss of me, Atton. We’re going to watch Deal or No Deal and then play some Magic for a while.

As we twiddle our thumbs, we get two calls — one from the Ithorians and one from Czerka Corp, both asking me to take sides in a land contract dispute on the planet below. Also, station security frees me but says that I’m still impounded until the Republic arrives. That sounds ominous. Time to skedaddle!

We start doing the normal RPG routine when you arrive in a new area: methodically explore it, loot everything that’s not nailed down, interact with locals to see if there are any quests to be had, and get into trouble. In one of the apartments a man gets all riled up that I’m looting through his things (most CRPGs seem to include at least one such character to give you pause about doing this), and I flip out at him and initiate combat. One dead guy later, and I’ve started to walk down the Dark Side. Oh noes!

Oddly enough, Keira is more upset than Atton. She chastises me while Atton sputters about how he got caught up in the moment and it was over so fast. Strap yourselves in, kiddies, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I’m kind of super-cheesed that the game took away all of our weapons and other equipment except for the body armor we were wearing, so until I get replacements or get them back, we’re going to have to melee for now. I go ahead and beat up an Exchange thug in the hallway just because I can, and also for those sweet dark side points. By the time I leave Telos, I want to be a full Sith Lord. Or at least as un-Jedi as I can possibly be.

Even though the original KOTOR games are much more crude, graphically, than SWTOR, you can see the inspiration that the MMO devs took from this series. There’s a certain shuttle waiting area in KOTOR 2 here that was definitely replicated in some of the stations in SWTOR, and the cantina is a familiar sight indeed.

Telos Station is, essentially, a long twisty hallway. There’s the apartment area, the cantina/shop area, and the loading docks. It’s really a shame that this far into the game, I’m still stuck inside grey metal walls of a controlled environment; feels like the opening flow didn’t go quite right. I hoover all of the quests I can find and make sure to be as gruff as possible.

Good news: I got all of my gear back from the security center. Bad news: Mr. Droid here tells me that someone’s stolen my starship, so even if I could get clearance to leave, I don’t have the means. They parked it down on the planet, so I guess we’re going to get that road trip we wanted sooner or later.

I do start working aggressively for Czerka, even though the company is laughably evil. The KOTOR series has not always had the best record for presenting options that weren’t either lily white or black as sin, although arguably the games do have their moments of tough choices. The Ithorians who oversee the planet keep telling me how much pain I’m in and how if I help the planet, the planet will help me, but I’m not going for that Captain Planet Final Fantasy VII Gaia nonsense. I’ve got a doohickey on my head and I’m OK.

Let’s just say that over the course of an hour and a half, I become a rather despicable human being, murdering and thieving and enslaving my way across the station. For someone who most always plays a very goody-goody character, it’s really fascinating to see what’s programmed into the game for those who walk a much darker path.

Postcards from Syp’s vacation! I do raise an eyebrow at the fact that at one point, I slaughter an entire squad of TSF security agents… and there is no consequence for that. I even talk to the head security guy and he seems blissfully unaware of the whole exchange.

All paths lead to the Exchange — the criminal mobster empire that’s been trying to kidnap me from before the start of the game. It’s with deep satisfaction, then, that I march straight into their headquarters and blast the living crap out of everyone there. Teach them to mess with a grumpy ex-Jedi.

As an aside, how awesome do I look in this picture? That mask was worth every bit of the 6,000 credits I paid for it.

While the game does present you with options at the conclusion of the Exchange “dungeon,” it doesn’t really matter what you pick. You’re going to have to kill both bosses to proceed. And so I do, and Czerka is really quite pleased with my assistance. The company agrees to give me a shuttle ride down to the planet to help me find my ship.

THEN JUST LEAVE, KREIA. GAH!

Nostalgia Lane: GCE Game Time Wrist Watch

Today I want to talk about watches.

No, I don’t wear a watch. Haven’t since, oh, freshman year of college? 1994? I got sick of the tan line and started using cell phones and other devices to keep time. But before that, I had a long string of neat watches, especially in the ’80s.

Don’t know what it was about the era, but the ’80s had incredibly cool watches, especially if you were a kid. I had watches that transformed into robots (I actually still have the robot part of one sans strap), several of the almighty calculator watches, a watch that had a radio (that’s something that played music before MP3 players, kids), one super awesome watch that did so much that I’m going to have to write a separate article on it, and one or two game watches.

I actually lusted over game watches. Video games that you always had on you? Tiny? Cool? Yeah, sign me up. The Tetris, Zelda, and Pac-Man watches in particular looked incredibly cool, and I had limited amounts of fun with the Batman watch when a friend let me try it.

But in sixth grade I briefly owned perhaps one of the greatest game watches — the GCE Game Time Watch. There’s a story that goes with this as well.

So the GCE is a really novel little piece of hardware. By using a field of LCD dots and top-and-bottom parentheses, the designers were able to fit four fun and challenging games on it:

  • A dodging game where you had to scoot around oncoming walls
  • A skeet shooting game where you shot at an angle at a disc
  • Mini-Space Invaders
  • Mini-Breakout

The variety and sheer difference between these game modes really set it apart from a lot of other watches at the time — and it was made in 1982, which was pretty early for watch game technology to be pulling this stuff off.

So the story goes that one of my friends had the GCE in sixth grade (which puts it around 1986-7) and offered to sell it to me for $10. I agreed, went home and got the money, but when I came back to school the next day, he had balked. However, his mom heard about this and forced him to sell it, saying that he had to honor his word. To this day, I kind of feel bad that I went ahead with the purchase knowing that he wanted out of it, but I guess I got mine shortly thereafter.

The kicker to this tale is that after a few days of enjoying my nifty game watch, I ruined it. What happened was that I was falling asleep one night and my fingers found a little nub in my bed, like an eraser. I didn’t think about it at all, I just popped it in my mouth and chewed it up. I think I was doing stuff like that back then, but man, I kicked myself so hard the next day because this ended up being one of the control buttons for the watch… a watch which was now useless. Maybe I threw it out? I don’t remember.

I’ve thought of trying to track one of these down for the glow of nostalgia ownership, but let’s be real — I wouldn’t wear it, I’d play it for about two minutes, and then I’d give it to my kid. And he’s already got a watch that plays better games than my computer did in 1994, so that would be a waste.

Changing up my nightly gaming routine

Lately I’ve been going through somewhat of a gaming malaise. Nothing terrible, nothing that makes me want to quit MMOs or anything, but simply I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and unsatisfied with how I’m playing and what I’m doing with my time. And when that happens in my life, I try to take a step back, look at the situation objectively, and try a different approach.

What I’ve been doing is trying to juggle multiple MMOs on a given evening, doing my WoW dailies and logging into LOTRO, SWTOR, and Guild Wars 2 to do a bit in each. It’s the format that I came up with years ago to handle my diverse interests, yet I just don’t think it’s working for me any more. Fracturing my game time during an evening is starting to cause distance and disinterest in my progress, and I’ve noticed that when I just stick with a game for an hour or two, I find myself far more engrossed.

Plus, I’m logging out earlier than I used to in favor of getting in some more reading time before bed. This means that my gaming hours are now 8:30 to 10:30, and that’s too short to be divvying up between three or four titles.

So. Two major changes going forward for me, at least for the time being.

Change the first: One game per evening. No set schedule, just pick a game that day and play it. Make some progress. Get a good blog post out of it. Could be an MMO or a single-player game, whatever. Maybe a new title, to try things out.

Change the secibd: One character per game. I’ve been getting bad at this lately, creating alts here and there instead of focusing on my main character, and I just know that I won’t actually see any of these alts through. My roster that I’m going to stick with is:

  • Guild Wars 2: Engineer
  • SWTOR: Imperial Agent
  • LOTRO: Lore-master
  • Secret World Legends: Templar shotgun-something

I think that when you stop having as much time for things, it actually becomes more important to give what you’re doing your full attention when you’re doing them. Thinking about multiple characters or what else I have to do in other games that evening is too distracting for me, and making this change has already had the effect of taking some stress off of what should just be a relaxing time.

I started this last night, just giving an evening over to Guild Wars 2, and it turned into a highly productive session. I wrapped up the personal story on my Engineer — no crashes in the instance, hooray! — and now can move on to the living world and expansion content. I also spent some time guild shopping, which I’m approaching in an unusual way by joining up with multiple guilds and then lurking in their chat channels to get a feel for them.

LOTRO: Legends of the fall

More screenshots of my LOTRO journeys today, hope you don’t mind! Let’s start out with a picture of Bilbo’s trolls. Out of all of the scenes in LOTRO that haven’t changed over 10 years, this one kind of makes the most sense. Although maybe we could’ve had some moss growth?

My vote for most beautiful location in the game? Easily has to be Dunhollow. It’s like the most ideal camping spot in Middle-earth, with flowers, pine trees, and majestic mountains all around.

I was particularly proud of this picture of the Last Homely House. Just a good angle, good lighting, lots of foliage in the shot. Naturally, I’d be OK with someone bombing this whole elf village into dust, but there’s no harm in taking a “before” shot, right?

Taking a quiet moment for myself out on the porch. Seriously, this game is still so very beautiful.

The scavenger hunt quests can really try my patience, especially as they send me to places I either have never been to before, haven’t been to in a long time, or don’t remember how to get to. The in-game map isn’t always helpful.

After a long time trekking through the Entwood, I finally rediscovered Treebeard’s cave. I like the subtle glowing of the tree leaves above.

The Hall of Fire. Probably the best MMO fireplace I’ve ever seen, and it amuses me how many trees suffer and die at the hands of elves to make it roar.

Just kind of liked this shot. I always have a thing for pictures where the top of a hill seems to kiss the sky.

Willem Whisker, as corny as that name is, has to be one of the best additions to the game’s large cast of characters. As a Lore-master, I can understand why someone would want a loyal pet.

World of Warcraft: On a break

Lately in World of Warcraft, my play time has been short and rather aimless. I’ve logged on to do my daily emissary without enthusiasm or an understanding why I’m doing them. The flying makes it easy, I suppose, and getting gold to get more subscription time to do more emissary quests… wait, I sense a loop. And not the fun Groundhog’s Day-type loop, either.

Otherwise? I’ve lost interest in cleaning up my DK quest log and have been puttering about with my lowbie Warlock, logging in for a few quests and a quick hit of nostalgia. But then I start thinking about how long of a road it is to get all the way up to the cap… and how I feel like I’ve exhausted my interest in Legion as it is… and I think I might be done.

It’s not as though I’ve had a bad run, here. For a game that I had sworn, up and down, that I would never return to, I’d just spent a rather enjoyable year and a half questing through two expansions and hanging out with a nice guild. It’s not gaming time that I regret spending, but when I no longer feel compelled, interested, or enticed to keep on logging in, I know it’s probably time to hang up my hat and focus my efforts elsewhere.

I’ve already unsubscribed, and my game time will run out at the end of July. I’ll buy a game time token and leave it in my bags in case I want to come back at some point without ponying up for a sub.

And it’s not as though I’m lacking other things to do. I have a pile of single-player games that continue to be resolutely unplayed. I haven’t even purchased Mass Effect Andromeda yet. There’s an expansion to look forward to in LOTRO, the same in Guild Wars 2, and SWTOR’s starting to get more of my time, too. Then there’s Secret World Legends come mid-summer, and I’ll be too busy to really miss doing my WoW dailies.

What would bring me back? Patch 7.3 would really have to be something way, way better than 7.1 and 7.2. Maybe legacy servers, but I sincerely doubt anything of the sort will ever happen. And then there’s always the excitement over a new expansion, come a year or two from now. But for right here, right now, it’s probably best to part ways before burnout sets in and resentment grows.

Battle Bards Episode 98: Perfect World International

Perfect World — it’s not just a massive games publisher, it’s also an MMORPG! The team at Battle Bards timidly tiptoe into this unknown soundtrack, not sure of what may lurk around the next bend. Is it a hot pile of suck? An undiscovered gem? Forgettable fluff? We’re not going to tell you in the intro here, you’ll have to listen along with us to find out!

Episode 97 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Rising Tide Themeand “Frostcovered City”)
  • “Fly With Me/Etherblade City”
  • “Archosaur”
  • “Plume City”
  • “City of Raging Tides”
  • “Descent Theme”
  • “Genesis Theme”
  • “Cube of Fate”
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Horizon Zero Dawn, “The Capital with a Beautiful Lake and the Holy Sword” from Tales of Zestiria, and “Caprice” from Morrowind
  • Anniversary show incoming!
  • Outro (feat. “Everywhere”)
  • Stinger

LOTRO: Dragging my butt all over Middle-earth

Between scavenger hunts, kinship parties, Bingo Boffin, and general wanderlust, I’ve been bouncing around in Middle-earth like a deranged tourist over the past month. Even after 10 years of playing this game, I’m still taking tons of screenshots, so I’m going to unload some of them this week in a bit of a random travelogue.

The above? Kin party with giant oversized shrews. I don’t know how they got these shrews so big, but they definitely threatened to ruin LOTRO’s famed immersion. Me? I didn’t mind so much.

Looking and acting like a doof, I could see Bingo Boffin getting on people’s nerves, but for me he happens to land on the side of endearment. I think it’s because he’s so helpless and enthusiastic about it, and also because going on his quests is like babysitting a small death-prone child. I’m very familiar with that by now in real life, so why not in MMOs?

Here, Bingo goes “swimming.” It’s pretty funny.

The cow on the roof of Buckland’s great hall never ceases to amuse me when I swing by this town. Cows aren’t meant to be so lofty, but this one does not look very concerned. Maybe he’s a spy for Sauron and this is the highest vantage point he could find.

The interior of Tom Bombadil’s house is so sumptuous and warm, I wish it was my player house. This just exudes “home” to me.

Meanwhile, Bingo gets totally smashed and starts dancing on plates of duck and ribs while singing. He’s in danger even in a tavern, but I’m too hungry to care.

Welcome to Hogwarts! Today we’re going to learn a curse that will turn you into a wraith and make you serve the Dark Lord! Or it’ll summon licorice. Both are pretty evil.

In my opinion, you can’t really take a bad screenshot of these statues, although my preference is a good nighttime picture.

The Secret World: Do I have the energy to do this all again?

One of the best perks of my job at Massively OP is that every so often I get to interview MMO developers directly and ask them any old thing that pops into my mind (I do prep beforehand, of course). For an MMO player, it’s a treat to have this direct line to a developer, even if for a short period of time.

You might have seen that last week I had the opportunity to sit down with two of the guys in charge of The Secret World and ask them some point-blank questions about the game’s transition to Secret World Legends. Ever since the announcement was first made, I found myself waving my arms and sputtering in frustration and anxiety over all of this. I didn’t find Funcom’s initial round of interviews satisfying, so it was great to have this chance to dig into this decision. When you genuinely care about a game, you are concerned about its future and want honest answers instead of fluff. That’s what I was after.

You can tell me how well it all came off. I didn’t get to every question I had and there were a few topics that the team danced around (such as how they’re going to make money with F2P, which wasn’t answered to my satisfaction in retrospect). But at least it was good to hear about the process behind this decision, the rationale for the move, and the thought that was going into some of these decisions. I may not agree with all of them — I think the reticle combat is a dumb idea that nobody was asking for — but I appreciated the responses. TSW just wasn’t making money and the studio feels that this is the only way to avoid shuttering it and to keep the stories coming. It’s a weird pill to swallow.

And the question for me is, will I swallow it? As I told them, I’m a weird mixture of anxiety and excitement over this relaunch, but the anxiety is definitely winning. I’m seriously worried about all of this, about how this decision affects their core playerbase and how the new game will handle. If it doesn’t work, then this will be the end of Secret World in any incarnation; Funcom isn’t going to pay for Season 2.

But excitement? Sure, there’s a bit. It’ll be nice to see a spotlight back on this game (although the timing is terrible, as June is already packed with big MMO expansion releases). If the game looks, performs, and plays better, then wonderful. And I was pretty geeked to hear that we will be seeing a development roadmap soon for post-launch plans, including an AEGIS rework (yay) and the next chapter of the game’s saga.

I’ll play it, I know I will, but there’s part of me that is intimately familiar with the mountain of content that I’ve gone through — twice — and quails at thinking of having to do it all over again, build up a whole new character, just to get back to where I was. It’s the price that all TSW vets are going to have to pay to see what comes next, and I’m sure for some, it’s a dealbreaker.

Then again, I’m Mr. Altoholic, so maybe I can get into a mental space to think of this as just another one of my alts. I miss my shotgun build, so I’ll definitely be going back to that and the Templars, and maybe I’ll start shopping for a cabal come June. There’s some time left, after all.

Oh, and I also want to hear some details about what subscribers/grandmasters are going to be getting, since I have a $150 package invested into this game. Hard to walk away from that, too.

LOTRO: A Lore-master’s vestments

In the midst of scavenger hunting and Bingo Boffining, I’ve been working on tweaking this outfit. I went with a bright Evendim Blue base for the robe and shoulders, black for the glove, walnut brown for the hat, and green for the cape. The shoulders are there to add more bulk to the upper arms and cover up some unsightly clipping with the cape.

I’ve actually never used this cape before, but it’s so Lord of the Rings, isn’t it? Lonely mountain? And I’m always happy to don my snow-dusted traveler’s hat, which is probably my all-time favorite piece of cosmetic gear.