17/08/2018

Developer Appreciation Week: Much Love for the SWTOR Dev Team

Blaugust continues, and it's Developer Appreciation Week! While my post on this subject last year was more general in tone and could be read as addressed to many developers, I do want to specifically give some love to the SWTOR devs this time.

It does tie into last year's post though in so far as I want to start with another lesson I learned at work in the past year: that it can be demotivating sometimes to work on a product/brand that is perpetually treated as an "also ran". It's disheartening to be strongly invested in something while constantly seeing that it's just not as popular as some of its "siblings", and feeling like you're caught in a vicious cycle where you sometimes can't do your best because of a lack of resources, yet because you're not doing so great you won't be given any more resources either.

That's definitely a place that everyone who currently works on SWTOR has got to be familiar with. EA likes to "forget" about it when they talk about their line-up of Star Wars games (though they've gotten a bit better at this in the last couple of years), while Bioware prefers to (understandably) focus on its own properties and tends to treat SWTOR as "that licensed thing we also do". Fans are so used to this that players positively freaked out from all the attention when Casey Hudson actually devoted a whole sentence of his 600+ word "Mid-Summer Update" on the official Bioware website to SWTOR. Long story short: SWTOR devs, I know your work often doesn't get much attention, but do remember that there are still hundreds of thousands us out there who enjoy what you do and are grateful for you doing it.

Next, let's talk about a few specific things that I appreciate about the SWTOR dev team.

First off, I love how passionate they tend to sound whenever they get to talk about the game. Charles Boyd in particular is a poster boy for doing what he loves, what with parading around as a trooper in his free time. (I think he builds blaster replicas in his garage too? Or am I confusing that with something somebody else said?) Every time he and/or Eric and Keith appear on a podcast I immediately get excited about the game again, even if I'd been in a bit of a lull before that. You can tell that they aren't just people trying to sell you something as good because that's what it says in their notes, but that they are genuinely into the game and care about all its little details.

At this point, can I also give a shout-out to Eric actually? I'm not really sure how good a job he's doing if you did a comparative ranking of MMO community managers as I'm not sure about everything that's involved, but I simply appreciate that he's stuck with the role for more than five years now (and he was already working at Bioware before that too). To this day he appears to remain completely unperturbed by all the toxicity he must undoubtedly be encountering on a daily basis, always letting it roll off his back while trying to focus on what people may be trying to communicate underneath their potentially nasty words. That's a really valuable skill, and with him having occupied the same role for so many years now he's kind of become "the face of SWTOR" to fans simply because absolutely everybody knows him, which is also nice in terms of consistency.

Tying into that, I'm always impressed by how much the SWTOR team tries to listen to the fans. They haven't always been great at this in the past, but they've been working on it for a long time now and things have improved a lot. I'm always baffled when people claim that the devs don't listen - mind you, listening to the players doesn't mean that everyone always gets what they want: in fact, that's literally impossible as some players' wants will be diametrically opposed to each other. However, so many things they've added to the game - especially more recently - have been directly based on player feedback, from larger changes such as cutting the "Knights of" story arc short and refocusing on group content to small things such as making previously static companions customisable or changing the colour of the sand in the Rishi stronghold. To be honest, sometimes I almost feel like they listen to players too much and could dare to do their own thing a bit more, haha! (I mean, just because people disliked Saresh that didn't mean you had to completely assassinate her character, you know...)

In conclusion: Thanks for continuing to be passionate about what you're doing! As long as you'll remain dedicated to making the best damn Bioware Star Wars game you can, us players will always happily come along for the ride.

13/08/2018

Inventory Management

One of the shared writing prompts inspired by Blaugust that I've seen going around in the past few days has been on the subject of inventory management (appropriately inspired by Bhagpuss of Inventory Full). I think this is quite a fun subject to talk about, not least because a lot of it applies across different games but also because I actually kind of enjoy fiddling with my inventory (to a certain extent).

Here are the people I found who have already written about the subject at the time of posting this. Feel free to let me know if I left anyone out:
So one thing I found interesting was that in many of these posts, people talk about the annoyances of inventory management and dealing with a lack of storage space, but there was very little about how they do actually manage their inventory on a day-to-day basis, so I thought I'd write about that.

At its core, my system is very straightforward: Put stuff you want to keep and always have with you (such as toys or stacks of consumables) in the top left corner. Stuff I want to keep for a while but expect to use up soon (such as armour pieces which I'm planning to wear but for which I'm not high enough level yet) goes into the bottom right corner. Everything else goes in between. In games where things go into multiple bags instead of a single unified inventory, I might spread things out across different bags, but the core system is still the same.


The key thing about this is that I always know where new stuff goes: in the bit I marked in green on the screenshot. I'm always a little horrified when people show me screenshots of their own inventories and they are not just very full but have random gaps everywhere. No wonder you're having trouble keeping things organised if you never know where your newest bit of loot might end up. Random gaps are the enemy. I hate it when one of them appears in my "keep this" rows (because the item I stored there was unexpectedly used up or disappeared), then some random junk item ends up filling the hole and keeps occupying that slot for ages because I never notice it or think to look for something to vendor there.

I always make sure to visit vendors religiously. Always keep as much free space for the next adventure as possible. My biggest problem are usually items that I don't want to vendor because they could be useful later (to me or even someone else). Actually, now that I think about it that may well be why ESO never clicked for me. That game allows you to gather everything and learn every crafting profession, so my bags filled up with crafting-related items repeatedly before I'd even hit level five. I didn't want to throw them away because I knew they had a purpose... usually what I'd do in such a scenario would be to visit the auction house and at least sell things to other people so they can use them, but of course ESO doesn't have an auction house. Faced with a never-ending avalanche of potentially useful stuff that I didn't know what to do with I preferred to log off instead, heh. (Not to mention that ESO doesn't allow you to arrange your inventory the way you want to either.)

Anyway, I digress. Lest you think that I'm some sort of inventory management guru, let me assure you that I'm not. Like many people I struggle with wanting to hold on to too many things that really aren't that valuable or important when you think about it. The above screenshot actually showed the inventory of one of my alts, so let me show you my main's for comparison:


Yes, it's still orderly, but way too full of random stuff. I don't really have that many things I need or want to carry around with me at all times, I'm just too lazy to sort them out. I highlighted some of them in red. For example I always have not one but two holo trainers with me - why? Since I first hit the level cap back in 2012, I probably haven't spent more than a few hours levelling on my main (every time the cap got raised basically). Or those four goodies from... I think it was the pre-order bonus? I never use those, ever. But I guess I feel I should have them around just in case I suddenly need to prove my veteran cred or something. Then there's that social token that has no purpose other than to make you do a little cheer emote and which I only own because there used to be a quest that told you to buy one. (I think that mission has been removed since then.) Also, two different stacks of anniversary fireworks? Really?

The bottom right corner doesn't fare much better. How likely am I to use those bound pink and purple dyes that I got from a cantina crate any time soon? And oh my god, the armour shells! Yes, it makes sense to keep some of them to upgrade later but how many different sets of armour do I realistically expect to be buying in the future? Maybe writing about this will help me with finally overcoming the inertia that has kept those items in their places for so long and encourage me to engage in some spring/autumn cleaning.

10/08/2018

More Conquest Tweaks

Tuesday's patch was mostly about the Rishi stronghold and PvP changes, but there were some tweaks to Conquest as well, which are shaping up to have a bigger impact on me than I originally expected.

On the plus side, it looks like Bioware finally, finally managed to fix the reset bug on their third attempt, which had previously allowed people to repeat objectives that were meant to be limited to once a day ad infinitum. As I noted when I originally analysed the Conquest revamp, one of its major goals seemed to be to actually get people working together and to reduce the impact that a single person could have a guild's score, but this bug effectively negated that. Someone who was both "in the know" and willing to cheat the system could still carry their guild pretty heavily, potentially skewing its results upwards by quite a bit. So it will be interesting to see what the scoreboard will look like by the end of this week, which will effectively be the first week of the new system working as intended. And if it turns out that the scores awarded for certain objectives are still too low for comfort (or even too high), at least we'll all be on the same page about it.

What came a bit out of left field for me was the part of the patch notes that stated that the downtime between Conquest events was going to be reduced from 24 hours to a single hour on Tuesday evenings. I was surprised by how dismayed I was to read this.

I've always perceived the Monday Conquest "downtime" as a pleasant break intended for those who had given Conquest their all in the previous week, giving people time to reflect on what had worked and what hadn't, as well as to study the final scoreboard to see how their guild held up compared to the competition. In my own guild I'd gotten into the habit recently of spending Monday evenings noting down people's individual scores to give them credit for their efforts on the guild forums - while there is a top five display on the revamped guild Conquest tab, the fact that it's character- instead of legacy-based makes it heavily biased towards people with no or few alts, while the guy who scored exactly 15k points on fourteen alts gets no recognition within the game itself.

With this change to the system, things like my manual calling out or even rewarding of players for their Conquest contributions will have to become a thing of the past. Hell, I won't even know the guild's final placement on the scoreboard, since it will only be visible for an hour during a time when I'm still on my way home from work, and by the time I'll get home Conquest will already have reset.

I guess that's a niche problem to have, but it still makes me a bit sad and I can't help but wonder what was wrong with allowing for a day of rest and reflection between Conquests.

08/08/2018

KotFE Chapters 1, 2 & 3 Master Mode

With over a year having passed since I completed KotFE on veteran mode and four months since I finished KotET on master mode, I've been overdue for ticking that last achievement off the list: KotFE master mode. To be honest, the main thing that was holding me back was indecision in regards to which character to take into it.


My Sage was an obvious choice. As my main alt she's the character I know how to play best after my main, and she's really overdue for getting KotFE and beyond done from a story point of view as well. I had originally planned to take her through it as my second character after my main, but then kept putting it off due to worries about another light side playthrough not resulting in enough variety and all of the consular companions except Qyzen remaining missing. With Iresso having returned recently and Zenith at least on the radar, there's definitely some incentive there to finally get started in order to see their return stories. On the other hand... Sages are kind of lacking in damage reduction cooldowns, and just how many times do I want to heal things to death anyway?

It was mainly the latter which made me consider my Gunslinger as an alternative choice. Taking a damage dealer with great survival cooldowns through the content just seemed much more appealing from a mechanics point of view. Then again, I already have a smuggler all caught up with the current storyline; could I really justify taking another through when I hadn't completed KotFE/KotET on all base classes yet?

Sentiment and story eventually won out over gameplay considerations, and so Golu began her journey into KotFE. I was immediately treated to some cringe-worthy cut scenes as the bug that causes certain armour sets to display their Imperial look on Republic side apparently still isn't fixed yet.

Anyway, as was my experience with veteran mode, so far KotFE's master mode hasn't been nearly as bad as KotET's, which is why I figured I could summarise the first three chapters in a single post.

I knew chapter one couldn't be that hard since I remembered that there had been a time when people had made a point of speed-running it for CXP, to the point where Bioware felt the need to nerf its rewards. I died a couple of times to some of the skytrooper mini bosses since my damage output was low and I misjudged what to interrupt sometimes, but that was a simple learning experience. Only the last boss seemed to pose a little bit of a challenge, but even he was relatively easy to defeat with a bit of pillar-humping.



Chapter two was a similar experience, which was again not unexpected, as that too had had a reputation for making a good CXP farm for a while. The trash hit less hard as well. I had to laugh though when one of the mini bosses that are based on your class literally one-shot me when I failed to interrupt one of his casts.

The one thing I was curious about was the Monolith fight at the end, because somewhat contrary to the former I had also heard reports of this fight being quite hard. I ended up one-shotting him myself, but it was very slow and involved my character running in circles and healing herself for ten minutes. Afterwards I googled the fight to figure out what I had been missing and apparently you can climb on a rock in a certain spot where he can't hit you and easily beat him that way. Oh well, my way feels more legit to me even if it took longer!



The biggest and very unexpected road block I ran into so far came in the form of the Ground Assault Walker mini boss in chapter three that blocks your way just before you cross that bridge on your way to the droid factory. This is where the Sage's lack of damage reduction cooldowns really hurt me for the first time, because I couldn't survive more than a couple of hits from the walker and the small, fenced-in area wasn't really suited to kiting or breaking line of sight either.

I started by giving Lana some gifts to raise her measly influence rank from one to at least fifteen, but after that seemed to make no noticeable difference I decided that clearly the solution was instead to burn down the walker myself before it could kill me. So I did something I'd never done before: I respecced my Sage to dps, and funnily enough, just like in KotET chapter one, totally clueless dps was the way to victory over skilled healing. Even though I neither knew how to play Telekinetics nor had any accuracy on my gear, I one-shot the boss on my next attempt (though the adds got me afterwards... but it didn't matter because the boss was dead). I expect that this will be something that I'll have to repeat in future chapters.

05/08/2018

800 Posts!

Time to celebrate another blogging milestone! It's been nearly a year since I hit the 700 post mark, as my posting frequency has dropped a bit in the past year. The problem is that I'm just trying to juggle too many things at the same time: Not only do I have a full-time job with a long commute, am going all out on SWTOR which inculdes running operations three nights a week, participating in Conquest and blogging about it, I've also been giving more attention to my secondary MMO, Neverwinter, and to making videos. Not enough hours in the day! Not that this stops me from trying.

Anyway, I still haven't really come up with a good replacement for the old Google Analytics search term fun, so I thought I'd celebrate with a reprise of the "most popular posts on my blog" theme from last time, only instead of looking at my top ten posts of all time according to Blogger, I'll be logging at my top ten posts from the past year according to GA. There are some interesting differences.

1. The Best Classes to Take into KotFE / KoTET (2017) - 1249 views

Okay, so this one was in my top ten posts of all time last year, and it was the "rising star" of the lot so to speak, as it was the most recent post to earn the honour of being included. As I said at the time, it covers a question that I think is relevant to many new and returning players and was linked on reddit, so that explains a lot of its popularity.

2. Galactic Command Is Alright Now (2017) - 767 views

This post made it to second place mostly because it was also linked on the SWTOR subreddit, by the ever lovely Swtorista, who thought that it raised some interesting points. Unfortunately she didn't exactly do me a favour in this case as most people there seemed to disagree with my stance, which is fine, but some of them actually got quite worked up about it too (as people do on the internet). It was quite amusing when someone in the reddit thread concluded that my opinion proved that I was clearly too much of a casual who couldn't have been playing for very long, but some of the anger people expressed was less fun. I even felt a bit sad for some of them, because what else must be going on in your life if a reward system in a video game can make you that mad? I mean, obviously we all care about this stuff more than average or we wouldn't be writing about it, but still... At least I didn't see anyone getting really nasty (or if they did, the mods were quick to delete those posts), and no toxicity spilled over onto the blog.

3. So what's the difference between beating Revan solo vs. in the operation? (2015) - 665 views

I've often said that I'm not a guide writer, but sometimes I end up writing one almost by accident, usually by talking about something that gave me pause or personally caused me trouble but which is simultaneously a minor enough issue that nobody had thought of writing a "proper" guide for it before. This is one of those posts, as I reviewed the option in the Shadow of Revan story on Yavin to deal with the temple solo or in a group. As I said in the post, it was ultimately much ado about nothing and not very well explained, so I'm not surprised that people are still googling it to find out what all the fuss is about.

4. Which Healing Class Should I Choose? (2016) - 551 views

Okay, this was one of my rare attempts to write a proper guide, even if it was a very short one. It didn't really gain much traction after its original publishing date in February 2016, but earlier this year Swtorista (again!) gave it a signal boost in a post on the official forums called "The Ultimate Guide of Guides for SWTOR 2018", in which she collected and curated links to a bunch of different community resources. I felt quite honoured to be included in that.

5. The Art of Achieving Map Completion (2014) - 495 views

This was another one of my more accidental guides, and yes, it was in my top ten of all time as well. A guide to one specific achievement is always something a bit niche, but in this case even more so since exploration is not something for which you can easily write up a few instructions, as success is more about understanding how the underlying system works than about following a prescribed order of steps. Good thing I quite like writing long rambles along those lines. It's also worth noting that this is the oldest post to still make this list.

6. The Missing Companions (2016) - 395 views

Here's the last one that was also in my top ten of all time, the one about which companions still hadn't returned after the release of KotFE. Considering that this post is now two years old and we've had a veritable surge of companion returns this year, it's getting more and more out of date though... For anyone interested I can recommend Vulkk's Companions Status List instead, which is much more detailed and he actually keeps it up to date.

7. A Traitor Among the Chiss - The Story (2017) - 359 views

Seeing this one on the list actually came as a bit of a surprise to me, as it was "just" a story review. Why were people so keen on reading someone else's thoughts on this flashpoint? Did lapsed players want to know what was happening to help them decide whether to re-sub for this new content or not? Maybe it was just because this update raised some questions at the time it came out, such as about Theron's real status or what was revealed by the mysterious star map, both of which were matters I addressed in the post.

8. KotFE Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 16: The Battle of Odessen (2016) - 274 views

Another kind of surprising one to me. I have several theories as to why people might be finding this one. One is that they are looking for help with the Arcann fight, for which the post provides some guidance but not much, and the other is that some might be agonising over whether to shoot at Senya or not and wondering what consequences it has. Surprise: there are none; the outcome of the chapter is the same either way.

9. KotET Chapter by Chapter - Chapter 6: The Dragon's Maw (2017) - 250 views

I'm guessing this one gets a fair number of hits because people are looking for hints for the puzzle section. Unfortunately I didn't provide any myself, but I did include links to actual guides in the post, so I don't feel too bad about people finding this post while searching for help.

10. So THERE's That Skytrooper Control Device (2016) - 230 views

This post is pretty much what it says on the tin - an explanation of where to find the Skytrooper Control Device for the bonus mission in KotFE chapter 15. Ironically, the last time I played through this chapter, I failed to find it myself again. After writing a whole post with screenshots about it. I suck. Still, I'm glad it's on the list because it's one of those few posts that were specifically meant to be helpful, and it looks like it has been.

It's interesting to me to see how many of last year's most popular posts were related to story. I guess this is not something that a lot of SWTOR fan sites discuss in depth anymore?

Anyway, see you in about a year for a celebration of the next 100!

02/08/2018

I Waited 3 1/2 Years For This

More than three years ago, I mentioned in a post that I had never killed the Revanite Walker world boss on Yavin 4. As I explained at the time, he just seemed to spend most of his time dead, as in: already killed at the hands of other people.

As the years went by, the Lance Squadron Commander slowly became less interesting for guilds to kill and could be encountered slightly more frequently... but at the same time there was also less interest in killing him from my guildies. And whenever we did have a large enough group of players online and I actually remembered to bring up the matter of killing this particular boss, someone else had once again beaten us to it.

Well, yesterday it finally happened. I was just finishing off tanking a partial guild run of EC story mode when another officer excitedly called out on TeamSpeak that he'd got a group for the walker together and the boss was actually up too! (The reason there was such large interest in killing him was that this actually awards conquest points this week.) I was so there!


Aaand then we killed him. After all this time it was actually kind of anticlimactic, especially with people repeatedly going on about how much tougher he used to be "back in the day". It's not like I'd know!

Still, it definitely felt good to finally be able to hand in a quest that had been sitting in my log for three and a half years. (It's actually a weekly repeatable too, hah!) Now I just need to repeat the kill nine more times for the final achievement... at my current rate I should have it by the end of 2050.

30/07/2018

#Blaugust Reborn - Why Blog?

SWTOR has a pretty active and awesome community of fan content creators, but as a blogger, things can still feel a bit lonely sometimes since so much of people's focus when it comes to content creation has shifted to podcasting and streaming/video-making these days. Well, in the month of August at least, no blogger has to feel lonely because Belghast of the Tales of the Aggronaut blog is hosting Blaugust! This used to be an event about posting every single day throughout the month of August, which is why I avoided it in the past to be honest - my days of wanting to post something every single day are long past me.


However, this year he decided to give it a broader appeal. You can read all the details here, but as a short summary you could say that the event is about the following:

- Encouraging people to blog, whether they are new to it or "hardened veterans". Most of the people involved write about gaming, but it's not strictly limited to that.
- Exchange links to increase exposure of your own posts and to find new blogs to read yourself.
- Share tips and advice about the subject of blogging (the event is also supposed to incorporate what used to be called the Newbie Blogger Initiative in past years).
- Developer Appreciation Week! I quite liked that one last year.

I signed up as a contributor, which doesn't really mean anything special for the blog as I'm not going to try to ramp up my posting frequency or anything, and I don't necessarily expect to make use of all the different writing prompts - but I will be mentioning the event every now and then and am fully planning to check out other people's blogs throughout the month. My blogroll could certainly do with some fresh blood.

If you are thinking about starting a blog, or maybe reviving one that you started in the past and then abandoned, this is the perfect opportunity to do so! We sometimes like to joke that blogging is dead, but more seriously: I believe that despite of social and new media, blogging will still remain relevant for quite a while and I'll give you three reasons why:

Controlled Discourse

Recent social media kerfuffles have once again highlighted that for all the connections that social media provide, they can also be incredibly vicious and unpleasant. We tend to forget that every public Tweet we make is basically like shouting into a megaphone, because most of us only ever generate a very limited response. However, things could basically get picked up by the wrong crowd at any moment and then all hell breaks loose.

I actually didn't know whether to be amused or sad the other day when in a discussion about this issue, I saw several people say things along the lines of: "If you just want to shout into the void without anyone ever responding, get a blog!" I mean, yes, you can make a blog that doesn't allow comments, but I think for most of us having comments enabled is part of the appeal. We do want to hear responses to our ramblings.

Anyway, the nice thing about blogging is that you control the discourse. People starting to flood a post or the whole blog with unwanted comments? You can selectively limit them without breaking a stride when it comes to your own output. Also, personally I've found that even if you allow completely anonymous comments, it seems that the feeling of "being on your turf" somewhat discourages people from leaving outright nasty comments, at least compared to an open platform like Twitter or reddit. So again, to make a long story short: blogs are nice because they allow you to have public discussions with strangers but with a safety net. I wouldn't be surprised if people actually came to appreciate this more again with all the social media ugliness that we've been seeing recently.

Searchability

I get that not everyone is as interested in archiving and preserving their own words as I am (it's pretty conceited, isn't it), but a properly formatted blog is like a miniature library that makes the past both easier to remember and straightforward to navigate. Between an archive sorted by year and month, tags and the simple search function, I can find any old piece of writing that I want to revisit with ease. Likewise the few more useful posts that I've written are merely a Google search away from anyone else who might want to find them.

One of the big problems I have with audio and video is that it's a pain to find things again later on. Ever felt your heart sink when someone tells you to check out so-and-so talking about such-and-such and they link you to a one-hour video without a clue of where the actually relevant part begins and ends? Or maybe you vaguely recalled hearing an interview in which something was said that you'd like to revisit... but you have no idea how to find it again based on that fleeting bit of memory alone. I've even run into it myself when recording my Pugging with Shintar videos, when I suddenly find myself thinking: "Didn't I talk about this before?" but I have no way of verifying my suspicion other than re-watching all of my old videos to find where it might have come up (which I usually can't be bothered with).

Maybe this is something that technology will be able to solve with time, but I wouldn't hold my breath for it happening any time soon. For now, blogging is still the way to go when it comes to creating content that will survive the test of time.

Time-Sharing

I suspect that one of the reasons that blogging and I suppose reading in general is on a bit of a downturn is that we live in an age of multi-tasking, where people don't feel productive if they aren't doing at least two things at the same time, and reading is really limited in that regard. You might be able to whip out a book while training on your exercise bike or something, but generally speaking, if you want to read something, you have to focus on it. This is a major advantage of podcasts and streamers, that you can listen to them on your way to work or watch a video while knitting a scarf.

However, one of the big trade-offs that comes with this is that both watching and listening take far, far longer to impart the same information than the written word. I reckon that most blog posts I read throughout the week don't take more than two to five minutes to read, with many taking even less, while most podcasts and videos that pop up on my feed tend to range from fifteen minutes to an hour. This is the main reason I'm really bummed that so many of SWTOR's content creators are focused on video these days - because while I'd be happy to say, read three blog posts about a new stronghold, I don't really want to watch three twenty-minute videos about said stronghold, even if they are all nicely done. Since each individual's content demands more time, I'm actually following much fewer of them than I follow bloggers, because there are only so many hours in my day - which is a shame in a way.

Long story short: reading and writing allow you to share information much faster and with more people, with less time commitment required on the end of the consumer.

Did I convince you to try blogging yet? Well, even if not it might still be worth your time to check out the list of Blaugust blogs and read about other people's adventures in gaming at least (not necessarily in SWTOR). I promise it will take no time at all!

27/07/2018

Interview Insights

If there's one thing that the SWTOR fan community is lacking right now, I would say it's a site that gathers and curates news and articles about the game (I'm not talking about just re-posting patch notes here, or about guide writing). Anyone remember SWTOR Network? Man, I loved that site, and not just because they linked to me a lot. It's such a shame that it ended up being abandoned.


Memories...

As it stands, it can be easy to miss things like interviews if they don't get reposted as official news anywhere, and sometimes I don't come across them until quite some time after they've been released.

For example the Passionately Casual podcast had a great two-part interview with Eric Musco and Charles Boyd recently. Part one was largely about upcoming content and I actually already listened to it over a month ago, but I didn't load up the more lore-focused part two until the other day, and boy, was it even more interesting than I had expected! Everyone has their own topics of interest of course, but the two things that stood out to me the most were a mention of Zenith (the consular companion) and an almost off-hand comment about something going back to early SWTOR's development.

The thing with Zenith was that dataminers found files for an Alliance alert for him a whole two years ago now (something I mentioned here), but to date he is one of the few companions that remains missing post-KotFE. In the interview, Charles brought up why that is: Apparently what they had planned was similar to another Alliance alert that was released around that time and which wasn't well received, so they decided to not go ahead with it and have now come up with an alternative scenario that they think suits the character and will be received much better.

This is all good news as far as I'm concerned, but I couldn't help but wonder which Alliance alert he was referring to, mostly because I don't remember any of them being particularly badly received. I've been trying to remember which alerts came out around that time, and I think we can narrow it down to Bowdaar, Broonmark and Guss Tuno. Bowdaar's and Guss's were among my own top five Alliance alerts! I guess Broonmark's wasn't that great, seeing how it was a puzzle that wasn't much of a puzzle. I now remember that Cal ranked it as his absolute least favourite actually. Could that have been it, that Zenith's alert was supposed to involve another puzzle?

The other thing that was mentioned in the interview and which blew my mind was that apparently in SWTOR's very early development stages, they originally intended to have three factions: Jedi, Sith and Underworld characters. It's easy to see how classes like the smuggler or bounty hunter would have slotted into that third faction. I have to admit that as much as I like the game as it is, the idea of a third playable faction sounds like something that could have had the potential to be extremely cool as well. To think of the possibilities...

In other interview news, long-time Bioware vet James Ohlen, who's been working on SWTOR from the start, recently left Bioware and used the occasion to grant a little interview to Game Informer. Most people probably latched onto what he had to say about Anthem, but I found the tidbits he provided about SWTOR the most interesting. This comment made me laugh:

Working on the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was the game director, which meant I had the most power, but I often felt like I was the captain of the Titanic and I could just steer it a teeny tiny bit if I put all my efforts into it.

I get what he means, but did SWTOR really need any more Titanic comparisons? He couldn't have chosen a worse analogy there I think.

The other line that stood out to me was this one, when asked about whether he has any regrets:

With Star Wars: The Old Republic I wish that I pushed a little bit more toward making it kind of Knights of The Republic online rather than “Star Wars World of Warcraft.”

This is interesting to me because people can't agree to this day whether SWTOR is/was too much or not enough like WoW - which is exactly the argument people got into in the comment section of MMORPG.com when that site linked to the interview. Of course, for me the balance between those two aspects at launch was actually just right, but I guess I'm in the minority with that opinion.

25/07/2018

Conquerors of Alderaan!

Since at least one commenter asked about it: Yes, we won! To be honest, I was planning to write about it anyway; I was just very busy yesterday.


Our lead held and we finished with a comfortable margin of victory. In fact, looking at the entire scoreboard at the end of the event, it was revealing and positively surprising to see that only six guilds in total had higher scores than us as far as I could see (there might have been another couple of high scorers on Imperial Balmorra and Taris; I didn't relog to check those), meaning that actually, we probably would have been able to take on some of those competitors we had so cautiously and intentionally avoided when choosing where to invade. Then again, some guilds' results are probably a bit deceiving - if they faced no real competition for their invasion target, they didn't have to try very hard to win - however, that doesn't mean that they aren't capable of scoring much higher when push comes to shove.

I was so ridiculously happy with the result - I mentioned previously that I've taken up my old habit of tallying up total scores per legacy at the end of each event again - that I sent everyone who had contributed at least 15k points a thank you note in the mail. (As I did so, I learned that you can't send more than one in-game mail per minute, probably to counter credit spammers... let's just say that this resulted in a pretty long evening.) It seems a little silly if you think about how ultimately inconsequential the rewards for first place are... or if you're in one of the even bigger guilds who routinely win Conquest every week anyway. However, for us this was our biggest success to date, and I just loved seeing everyone work together and contribute in their own way: officers organising extra events to help people gain points, or guys who rarely bother with Conquest making that extra push to hit their personal target on at least one character, even if they weren't around to interact with other guild members very much otherwise. It's the sort of thing that really makes MMOs special to me and gives me warm and fuzzy feelings inside.


Now we've definitely earned some rest until the next Total Galactic War though!

22/07/2018

Total Galactic War Returns

This week the Total Galactic War event made its return. As I noted at the time, one of my biggest disappointments with the new Conquest system was that Total Galactic War had been turned from a huge, unique event into just another Conquest, and I said at the time that I was really hoping that Bioware would reconsider that change. And they did! This week Total Galactic War broke out with a total of 19 planets up for grabs (21 if you count the faction-split Balmorra and Taris twice).


I had completely forgotten that this was going to happen, so I came online on Tuesday to a lot of frenzied discussion among the officers about which planet to invade. Since I still think back on my very first Total Galactic War as one of my fondest Conquest experiences, I got super excited and immediately began studying the state of the leaderboards. With SWTOR Conquest currently out of commission it was quite hard to judge the competition at times. While I've made a habit out of screenshotting the board at the end of every week since the new Conquest system was introduced and could therefore gauge some guilds' strength, others remained dark horses even so.

Back in the day when it was all about getting into the top ten on the leaderboard, just finding a planet that wasn't too crowded was usually our main consideration, but with how much Twin Suns has grown lately and a mere top ten placement not granting anything special anymore, there was no doubt for us that we wanted to go for gold.

Eight of the 21 planets are now large yield targets, seven promise a medium yield and six a small yield. And this is where the whole "hoping that large guilds will go for a large planet" system actually worked decently for a change. At least for us, it was clear right away that we didn't want to go for a small yield planet. If we didn't win first place, it would have felt hugely wasteful to have limited ourselves to a small reward, and also somewhat unfair to the smaller guilds who finally saw their big chance for a win in this event.

After much back and forth we settled for invading (large yield) Alderaan, where we knew that we would be facing another large guild as competition, but one I reckoned we would be able to beat if we tried hard enough. I don't want to jinx it because the event isn't over yet - knock on wood - but so far it looks like our gamble might have paid off, as we're sitting at a score of over two million at the time of writing this, while our nearest competitor only has achieved a little more than half of that.

Those of us with an interest in Conquest have been banging on about it all week, asking every guildie to make at least a small contribution, even if Conquest isn't usually their cup of tea. With the event's activities being focused largely on dailies and small group content/PvP, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to take part. Trying to lead by example, I also leaned into it myself as hard as I could, and I'm currently on track to finish with nine characters having hit their personal target.

It's certainly been an interesting experience - queuing for PvP comes quite naturally to me, but it was nice to have more guildies grouping up for it than I've seen in a long time. And while dailies are not something that I'm particularly fond of, it's not as if I dislike them so intensely that doing each area once this week would have been a major chore.


Feeling pretty spent after completing all of these and then some...

I can't even remember if I ever did the new Makeb weekly after it was no longer staged, if not this would have been my first time. Somewhat bafflingly, there is virtually no difference compared to the old system except that you can pick up more than one mission at a time now, but since the quests themselves are the same, you still end up doing them one at a time as they all take place on separate mesas and don't overlap. That quest to steal Regulator speeders in particular... oh my god!

The GSI dailies are another piece of content that I hadn't done in a long time. I know that FibroJedi likes them because most of them are effectively non-combat missions (except for the heroics and any mobs that might incidentally be in your way), which could be considered relaxing I guess. Looked at it from another point of view though, they are examples of the kind of old-school MMO quest design that many people hate, where you get sent all across the map just to click on something, with more time spent travelling than actually doing anything.

A lot of the missions are also bizarrely unintuitive the first time you do them - for example the original Seeker Droid quest chain teaches you to dig up objectives or treasure by placing your droid in a random spot and then following its indicators. However, the dailies don't work like this - instead they require you to (visually) find certain spots on the ground and plant your droid exactly on top of them. That's not a bad thing exactly, and I actually prefer it to the way the treasure hunting works, but without knowing this in advance, you could easily spend twenty minutes on your first GSI daily, wondering why your Seeker Droid is suddenly so useless and maybe giving up on the whole thing altogether before you've even really started.


Also, they make you dig for what looks like poop. I know that's not what the quest says, but...

Doing the Macrobinocular mission to find "Big Red" on Alderaan also gave me flashbacks, since I remember that the first time I did it, I didn't realise that there were several map markers for this quest and that you're supposed to visit all of them and find at which point "Big Red" just happened to spawn that day. As a result, I thought the first marker I visited was the only one and spent twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to scan random thrantas that were flapping around in the background, wondering why Bioware had made the objective for this quest so hard to target.

Anyway, despite of these niggles about some of the quests, this week has felt hugely exciting for me in SWTOR, facing challenging competition for that first place spot on Alderaan and getting to revisit some older content at the same time.