22/05/2019

Group Decision Making

I've sung the praises of the group conversation system in the past, and I stand by everything I've said about it. It just makes for a fantastic experience when playing through story content with friends... even in content that you've all done many times before. I was reminded of this while doing a master mode Esseles with three of my guildies (Cal, Mace and Ori) last night.

Naturally, all of us having been there dozens of times before and aiming for quick weekly completion, we hit those space bars to get through all the conversations as fast as possible... but that didn't prevent us from talking on voice chat about what was going on story-wise. The funniest of these chats happened when we entered the engineering deck.

Brief context for any readers who might not know/remember: The situation is that you are on a ship that's been boarded and you are under pressure to quickly get to the bridge to reclaim it. The bridge is locked however, and you've come to engineering to find a way to open it up. You are given two options: A reactor reset, which will achieve the desired result instantly, but also flushes a group of engineers that are trapped behind a force field right in front of you out into space (dark side). Or you can shut down the secondary conduits, which means that nobody has to die, but you have to take an extra two to three minutes to run to the conduits and kill the mobs around them (light side).

Does the gravity of the situation allow for you to take the extra time to choose the "safe" option? The NPC that's accompanying you, Ambassador Asara, doesn't think so and wants to sacrifice the engineers right then and there, but it's up to you to make the final decision.


As soon as we entered, the following conversation ensued on TeamSpeak:

Ori: Ah yes I know, we have to throw them out or Mace is just not going to do anything.
Mace: [laughs]
Cal: I was about to say: check alignments, people.
Me: You sound like someone speaking from experience.
Mace: For some reason light side tends to win a lot here!
Cal: Because who can bear to watch those engineers be flushed out into space every single bloody time?
Me: It's horrible!
Ori: Mace, take a bathroom break.
Everyone: [laughs]
Cal: What are you trying to say here?
Mace: Well, they need help getting out. So I help them get out.
Cal: Oh dear. Well, let's see what happens here.
[All except Mace make their choice on the crucial conversation option.]
Me: The suspense is killing me.
Cal: Roll, Mace, roll!
[He times out and one of us light-siders wins the roll to save the engineers.]
Me: He can't even make up his mind! Or he already went on the bathroom break.
[He times out on the next conversation choice as well.]
Me: Oh come on, making us wait through this is just cruel.
Mace: [laughs] That wasn't my intention, sorry...
Cal: Oh dear.

After that the three of us proceeded to shut down the conduits while Mace chilled with Asara for the next few of minutes, in silent protest of us choosing the goodie-two-shoes option that adds extra minutes of run time to the flashpoint. We all thought this was hilarious.

I have actually had similar - if slightly more subdued - banter about conversation choices in pugs sometimes, but generally speaking, the group finder's "press the button and go", expecting-to-be-in-and-out-in-30-minutes culture is unfortunately very much at odds with this sort of system. For that reason I can completely understand why Bioware has chosen not to include conversations in the newer flashpoints... but at times I do wonder what else we could have had if the game hadn't gone down the route of designing flashpoints primarily for quick and endless repetition by pugs.

18/05/2019

Mastering Blasting

Today on "boss kills that I've been chasing for so long that I was starting to doubt they were ever going to happen", let's talk about Master and Blaster veteran mode.

Similar to Revan, we didn't even get to really work on this dynamic duo pre-KotFE because Bulo and Torque were enough of a stumbling block as it were. (We did end up killing both of those during the 3.x cycle, but it took a while.) As they became smoother kills post-KotFE, we kept coming back to Master and Blaster every now and then to try and kill them too.

You can see evidence of this in my #IntPiPoMo posts to some extent: I featured shots of us wiping to them both in 2016 and in 2017, and both years I also included pictures of people chilling between said wipes.


This picture still brings back fond memories every time.

I don't recall us ever getting very far though... ultimately we always ended up abandoning the fight again and changing focus to work on something else because people were sick of the encounter.

The thing that stuck with me above anything else from those times is that most of us felt that the fight was frustratingly random. It's a very "dance-y" encounter with a heavy reliance on correct positioning, but there isn't a simple guide you can follow. There are a whole bunch of things you have to dodge at the same time, and they don't always line up in the same way.

- Blaster has a giant cone-shaped knockback that everyone but the tanks needs to stay out of, and even they need to be careful to always face the boss in the right direction when they are about to get hit by it or otherwise they'll go flying to their deaths.

- Master has a spinny move that engulfs him in flames, which forces the tank that has him to kite for a bit, and again, everyone else has to make sure to stay out of his way when that happens.

- Throughout the entire fight, mortars keep landing on the platform, covering a large chunk of the floor in giant orange circles that everyone has to stay out of.

- A couple of times throughout the fight, an ability that's aptly called "Rain of Pain" will be triggered which additionally covers most of the platform in a big red stripe that will most likely kill you if you get caught in it.

- And to top if off, players will periodically have grenades attached to them, which eventually explode for a bit of damage and knock you down... more importantly though, if two players with grenades get too close to each other, they explode for more damage and get sent flying.

I'm sure you can see how all of this together could pose a challenge. Taken on its own, none of the mechanics are hard: Don't step in the orange circles. Don't stand on a red stripe. Don't stand too close to other people. However, add it all together and there'll be moments where you're trying to dodge out of the red, but the "safe" area is mostly taken up by an orange circle instead, and there are two others right in front of you and you know that if you run into them you'll just blow up and die... and so on and so forth.

As I said, we mostly used to complain about how random it all was. With so much going on at once, sometimes things just come together in a bad way and then there's nothing you can do, right? Stupid RNG. And then we'd try again, and wipe just the same the next time.

This time though, it felt to me like our approach was different... or maybe it's just me who was seeing things differently. But as we got closer and closer to the kill, it was less of a "hell yeah" feeling for me, and more like Neo suddenly realising that he can see the Matrix. It wasn't all random. In fact, it was all very predictable - you just had to allow yourself to accept that and to realise that there were strict rules for dealing with all the different permutations. When mortars land over there, I move here. When they land over here, I stand exactly there, where there's a small spot that is always safe. And so on and so forth.

It was pretty magical to be honest. It felt less like we were beating the fight, and more like we were transcending it - seeing all the patterns and knowing just how to react to every single one of them.


For the experts among my readers, this does indeed mean that we were doing the fight "the hard way". Some time ago, a group of my guildies led by someone very experienced with the operation beat the fight with what I consider a somewhat cheesy tactic that requires a Guardian tank to use certain utilities and abilities to solo-tank the boss and eliminate a lot of the movement requirements for the rest of the group.

We tried that, but the onus of performing the cheesy Guardian magic fell on Mr Commando and he was not happy with it. Having never done it before, he kept making mistakes and wiping us... over and over, while the rest of us literally just stood there and watched him, because this particular tactic didn't require us to do anything else. It was... a bit awkward, and didn't really feel like what raiding should be about. We ended up abandoning that plan in order to go back to working on the fight as a team - making equal contributions and getting equal chances to mess up (and boy did we make use of those). Just one of those little things that I love about my guildies. We do things our own way.

Coratanni was a massive letdown afterwards by the way! We briefly read up on what we needed to do and then killed her and Ruugar on the second try, with most of us not even fully understanding what was going on with some of the mechanics. But so it goes.

15/05/2019

Let's Go To Dantooine

Two more weeks and Dantooine will be added to the game! We've actually known about this planned addition (minus its exact release date) since early April, but to be honest back then I didn't know what to write about it. This blog isn't a news site, and the main reactions to the announcement seemed to follow what I tend to think of as the "KOTOR rule": add anything that was in the original Knights of the Old Republic games and watch people go nuts with excitement just because of the association.

As someone who doesn't have the same nostalgic connection to the original games, I never quite know what to think or feel during such times. I mean, I did play through the original KOTOR on my tablet two and a half years ago, and the game was still entertaining, but it wasn't really a life-changing experience. My main impression of Dantooine back then was that it had a few interesting quests, but visually I found it pretty meh, so to be honest the thought of having it in SWTOR didn't particularly excite me.

Now that it's closer to release though, I'm increasingly looking forward to it.

While it may have looked rather meh with graphics from 2003, early screenshots of its implementation in SWTOR look like it may have a certain pastoral charm to it.


Getting a whole new planet before the expansion is pretty neat as well, something that I'm only now starting to really appreciate. I guess they did have to give us something else to pass the next five months until Onslaught, but a whole new planet was far from a given. In fact, the last time we got a new planet or moon between expansions was with the release of Oricon back in November 2013.

Getting a new content-based world event is also really nice. Again, I think the last time one of these was added to the game was with Nar Shaddaa Nightlife in 2014, and even that was fairly thin on actual content. The last really meaty addition would then have been the introduction of the recurring Rakghoul Resurgence in January of the same year. And that was over five years ago! Since then the only new "events" have consisted of things like temporary XP gain increases.

I also appreciate that it must be quite hard to come up with themes for these in a Star Wars MMO. Life Day aside, you can't just take a real life holiday like Easter and slap a bow on it, like most fantasy MMOs seem to enjoy doing. So I'm happy enough to see what this "Pirate Incursion" entails.

The proposed feature list looks promising enough, and the minimum level requirement of 20 means that new players and alts will be able to jump right in too. New daily missions don't exactly sound revolutionary, but I'm happy to get more of the familiar, and I like that they are once again including heroics. I also like the idea of the place including a set of separate missions during peace time. Even if they will probably be less rewarding (otherwise what would be the point of having the event), they should make for an interesting change of pace.

I've stayed away from the PTS and people talking too much about it, but I couldn't help picking up that there'll also be some random pointless bits of fun for explorer types, which I can't wait to see. Definitely something to look forward to!

11/05/2019

That Was Fast

When I mentioned in my last post that I was working on the Sprint Champion achievement, I didn't expect to already have it a couple of days later. With my very relaxed speed of giving it one shot per night in order not to burn myself out, I figured I was going to be at it for at least a few weeks... but nope, it took all of five days. I was so pleased with myself that I did a little jig around the living room after the achievement popped up, much to Mr. Commando's horror.


I initially tried to beat the timer on my Sage, with whom I had done KotFE on master mode, and it did go reasonably well actually. However, then I tried on my Guardian and it just felt that little bit better. While I missed the advantage of being able to continuously dps from range, my Guardian is slightly better geared and I'm a little better at doing damage on her as well. She then made it on her second run. It must have been really close as well, because I manually started a stopwatch a few seconds before engaging the first encounter, and when I looked at it after getting the achievement pop-up, it was just over 15 minutes, so it really must have been down to the wire. So good news, everyone: If I can make it, and that quickly too, it can't be that hard anymore, as I'm pretty bad at doing damage. Just ask any of my fellow raiders.

To brush up on strategy, I watched this video by Aeyix (whose videos also helped me with some master mode chapter fights) and this guide by Crump3txxix (what a name). While they were both recorded back when the level cap was 65 so aren't necessary representative of what works now, they do give some very helpful pointers on how to speed things up.

As recommended by Aeyix and backed up by personal experience, I went with a melee companion on all of my attempts. On my Guardian I figured I would take Arcann along because she's in a romance with him, and was very dismayed to find that he was only at influence level 3! Clearly romance is dead. Fortunately bribery is alive and well however, so a few hundred companion gifts later he was ready to be my wingman.

Going in with the recommended double dps setup was pretty amazing. As someone who usually mains healers, I'm used to things dying slowly, so it was quite a treat to watch the first five bosses fall over so quickly that they basically had no time to do any mechanics.

Now, the Breaktown Brawler was still tough. Looking at Aeyix's video I have no idea how he managed to live through that fight with no heals. I gave it one try as double dps and I was literally dead in seconds. Seconds! The damage from the boss's regular melee hits was just that insane. So I quickly resigned myself to losing some time on this fight by setting Arcann to heals. Then I just followed the tactic as described by Crumpet (not typing out his name with all the weirdness in full every time) and things went okay, even if it did make the fight quite long and time-consuming.

The next two fights I could do with a double dps setup again - though you'll get knocked around a bit both times, the damage is manageable. On the Doom Droid I kept hearing that it was important to down her before she went into that temporary immunity phase as it causes you to lose a lot of time, and I was very pleased when I actually managed this!

Now the final fight, Zotar, is an interesting one. In his case I could kind of see how you might be able to do it without a healing companion, but I honestly felt that I wasn't good enough for that, so I figured I'd see if I'd be able to scrape by in time with Arcann set to healing again. On the run when I did get the achievement it went remarkably fast anyway, even with Arcann contributing limited damage. I did manage to prevent one probe summon with a stun (before watching Aeyix' video I didn't even know that was possible), though the second one got through, but there weren't any others after that. I actually smiled to myself when the walker had just enough time to start firing his laser on my second run at him, as one quick Saber Reflect was enough to put him out of action for good. The final burn on Zotar still feels nerve-racking every time, but I handled it well enough and then the achievement popped up.

So that's one item off the Onslaught bucket list already; lots more still to go!

08/05/2019

Five Things To Do Before Onslaught

When I implied in my last post that I haven't really got a plan for how to prepare for the expansion yet, I was kind of lying. I do have a plan, I just haven't really been implementing it just yet. After all, the expansion is still five months away... and that's a long time, right? Or maybe not - better get started! Let me share with you my top five ways of getting ready for Onslaught. Advice and top list in one, what more could you ask for?

1. Finish up those hard achievements

If you weren't around / doing endgame content around the release of the last two expansions, you might not be aware that ever since the introduction of level sync, endgame content levels up with us. So nope, you won't get to give Izax an extra hard smackdown once you're level 75 - because he'll be level 75 too.

In fact, what tends to happen is the opposite of players being able to overpower old content: everything suddenly gets harder again. This happens because of gear inflation in the previous expansion; and due to the length of the 5.x cycle, it's currently more pronounced than ever before. When 5.0 launched, getting a full set of 230 gear already took some work, and 242 was as high as it went.

Since then, Bioware has effectively released three(!) more tiers of gear as well as new and improved augments, without re-tuning any of the existing content around this increase in character power. This means that there has never been a better time to let wildly overpowered gear give you a bit of an edge when it comes to beating particularly tough content, so consider working on those achievements before Onslaught launches. Examples of things you might want to work on are:

- Veteran and master mode ops bosses (though that requires you to find like-minded people who are willing to do them with you)
- Veteran and master mode story chapters
- Eternal Championship achievements

It had previously never occurred to me to even attempt the Sprint Champion achievement for example (complete the entire Eternal Championship in less than 15 minutes), but after thinking about it I realised that if I'm ever going to get it, the time is now and I better start working on it. The first time I ran a stopwatch in the background - while doing the Eternal Championship for the first time in ages, on a class I'd never done it on - that run took me 40 minutes! But I wasn't discouraged; there was a lot of room for me to improve. My most recent time was already down to 20 minutes, plus I got an Iknayid pet and the Cybernetic Rancor as drops from the bosses.

2. Take your character(s) up to and through Ossus

Obviously you should have done this already since Ossus is great, but I'll concede that there are always more alts to work on. This way you'll be ready to jump right into the new story content once it comes out, and if Ossus is any indication, it will actually be fun to play through it on multiple characters!

If you really want to, you can skip a lot of the stuff that comes before to jump straight ahead to Ossus and beyond, but even if you're not that big a fan of KotFE/KoTET, I personally think that it's nice to be able to make your own decisions instead of being saddled with default choices that may or may not reflect what you think your character would have done. That said, actually taking characters through all that content also means that it will take more time, so better get cracking!


Image courtesy of the Clone Wars Wiki

3. Prepare for Nautolans

With the announcement of Nautolans joining the fray as next playable species having been the undisputed fan favourite at Star Wars Celebration, chances are high that you, dear reader, are also thinking about making one. There are actually a fair few aspects to this that you can consider well in advance: what colour you think they should be, what class etc. Maybe you even already have an outfit idea and could go shopping for it? Just keep in mind that the species' big heads will mean no helmets or hoods, and chest pieces with any large protrusions such as spikes or backpacks are likely to result in clipping issues.

If that seems a bit too "RP" for your taste, there is still the name to consider. Trust me, you're not the only one considering some sort of Kit Fisto pun! You might want to make sure that nobody else has already thought of it before you, and depending on how attached you are to the idea, you could even go as far as creating a placeholder character to reserve the name.

Speaking of placeholders, do you have enough spare character slots? In fact, the matter of character slots may be a pertinent question for you even if you're not personally interested in creating a Nautolan, as it's likely to result in some business opportunities if you keep an eye out for cheap unlocks on the Cartel Market and the GTN in the months to come. There's bound to be a spike in demand for them once expansion day comes around.

4. Clear out your bank and spend those currencies

At first this may sound like pretty generic advice and to be fair, it is something I tell Mr. Commando all the time just to have him ignore me (I'm pretty sure that man has a fortune carelessly buried in his cargo hold). However, in this case I'm not just referring to general tidiness. For example crafting materials that are relevant at max level right now are likely to experience a steep price drop once the level cap is raised (though we don't know how exactly the new gearing system is going to work out).

Eric Musco also officially confirmed that both Masterwork Data Crystals and Unassembled Components will go the way of the dodo with Onslaught, and any leftovers will simply be converted into credits. As the conversion rate is likely to be unfavourable, you might as well use them to buy something useful now! With goal number one in mind, there may still be value in trying to get the best gear you can get right now for example, to help you beat those tough fights while you can still acquire that extra edge.

5. Complete any long quest chains you're on

This is less about hard content and more about time-consuming items, such as the various Aratech missions, which require you to complete a whole bunch of flashpoints or several operations. The reason I'd advise people to do this is that I remember at least one expansion where the big patch caused quest progression on all existing missions to reset. This doesn't necessarily have to happen again, but let's just say there is a chance, and I'd rather be safe than sorry (or annoyed that I have to re-start the mission from scratch yet again).

05/05/2019

Pre-Expansion Energy

Everybody knows that the time just after the release of a new expansion is one of the most exciting periods in an MMO's life cycle, but it's only during the last year or so that I've come to appreciate just how important the time just before the release of a new expansion is as well. I observed it from the outside with WoW's Battle for Azeroth, and now with Onslaught's announcement I see it in SWTOR.

Just knowing that new content is coming is enough to get a good percentage of lapsed players back into the game, even if its release is still some time away. I was utterly amazed the other day when my friends list suddenly lit up with the names of not just one, but two members of my old launch guild (which dissolved less than a year into the game).

For me personally the expansion announcement has done wonders for my motivation as well. It's not that I didn't have fun playing before, but I was just kind of cruising along lately by alternating between doing dailies and PvP. I guess none of what you could call my long-term character goals have been feeling very urgent after two and a half years without an expansion. It's all still going to be there tomorrow, right?

However... with an expansion coming up, you never know! I mean, realistically I don't expect it to change many of the things that I'm working on right now, but strictly speaking you never know - so better get on with it. There is a bit of a sense of urgency now (as far as you can apply that word five months in advance) and it's been helping me to get off my butt and get some things done.

There hasn't been much rhyme or reason to my goals just yet - my enthusiasm is more based on a general feeling of being re-energised than any sort of real plan. So I've done things like getting two more characters their Aratech Ice speeders (the one you get for completing all of the original set of master mode flashpoints), finishing off the Seeker Droid and Macrobinocular missions on one character, and finally starting them on a bunch of others.


Cue my guildie: "I think the last time I did this quest was in 2015..."

It also helps that after Ossus I'm really excited about the current story direction for the first time in years. While KotFE and KotET had their strengths, ultimately I did not enjoy being the Outlander and leader of the Alliance, and I think that put a bit of a damper on all my alt playing. Beyond the sense of boring repetition that you get while replaying the chapters, taking any alt into the 4.0 content and beyond felt a bit like a dead end to me, not somewhere I actively wanted to go.

Since Ossus, I'm actually excited by the thought of taking more alts through the new story for the first time. KotFE and KotET are still going to be a bit of a "hump" to get over in terms of story (since I don't want to just skip them and be saddled with default choices), but I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now, which is a great feeling.

01/05/2019

An Arena Story

It seems that little Tessal the Mercenary is just having one amazing adventure after another at the moment. Monday night I decided to do a couple of PvP matches for Conquest points, since she was very close to hitting her personal target from all those flashpoints and just needed a little push to get over the line. I got into an arena. When I loaded in, there were three people on the enemy team and I was alone on mine, but soon more people started to load in. It went something like this:

Friendly 1 joined the ops group.
Friendly 2 joined the ops group.
Friendly 3 joined the ops group.
Friendly 1 left the ops group.
Friendly 2 left the ops group.
Friendly 4 joined the ops group.
Friendly 3 left the ops group.
Friendly 5 joined the ops group.
Friendly 6 joined the ops group.
Friendly 4 left the ops group.
Friendly 7 joined the ops group.
Friendly 6 left the ops group.
Friendly 5 left the ops group.
Friendly 8 joined the ops group.

I don't even remember the exact point at which the match started, but I do know that it was just me and Friendly 5 against their full team of four at that point, and unsurprisingly we got obliterated, which is when he quit too. But hey, at least I managed to get four medals before I died.

As I was waiting for the second round to start, now in a mighty team of three with Friendly 7 and Friendly 8, I typed in ops chat: "People must really hate arenas, considering how many joined and left without even doing a single thing." Friendly 7 found this amusing.

We were still a man down when the next round started, but this time the two remaining players on my team didn't leave. I decided to just aim to keep us alive for as long as possible in order to at least gain a few more medals. Soon I found myself thinking that I was doing surprisingly well at this.

Then I noticed that Friendly 7, an Assassin, had already racked up six medals. She was keeping me alive with Guard and taunts. Friendly 8, an Operative, was also helping to keep me alive, throwing me some off-heals even though she was dps-specced, while also still doing some damage on the side.

Suddenly someone on the enemy team dropped dead. How did that even...? Then we got another one of them. The match had been going on for long enough by that point that it went to acid, and we were the last ones standing. I laughed and thought that I didn't even care anymore if we lost after that, because that comeback alone had been worth it.

We didn't lose though. The final round was even tougher than the first (there were still only three of us and they had to some degree caught on to what we were doing), and it went to acid again, but we won again. I finished with fourteen medals.

And this is why I never, ever quit a match just because it looks like we're losing.

29/04/2019

An Epic Two Hours in Depths of Manaan

It's been a long time since I wrote a blog post dedicated to nothing but a single pug run, but I couldn't resist writing down what I experienced this past Saturday. The run I'm about to describe had just about everything: good pugs, bad pugs, angry pugs, the game bugging out in new and interesting ways - the works!


This cut scene is a good illustration of how the entire run felt.

To set the scene: It was Saturday afternoon and I had decided to do the weekly Masterwork Data Crystal mission to run four master mode flashpoints on my Mercenary Tessal (the one I levelled for my original flashpoint levelling experiment). I'm not a fan of this particular quest in terms of effort vs. reward, but I was in the mood to run some flashpoints so I thought I might as well kill two birds with one stone.

I'd already had three pretty smooth runs of flashpoints that I had queued for specifically in order to finish off some story quests. Now that I was all out of missions except for the weekly one, I decided to queue for a random and got Depths of Manaan. It's one of the harder ones to pug on master mode, but also one where I generally feel comfortable carrying people to some extent, and I was healing anyway (which makes carrying even easier).

I noticed that when we entered the facility, our Assassin tank, to whom I shall refer as "Vee" for the rest of this post, immediately took a turn to the left and clicked on the console to start the bonus. This caused me to raise an eyebrow, as the bonus boss in Depths of Manaan is one of the harder ones and pugs rarely attempt him. I didn't mind either way though, and if the tank of all people wanted to do it, I was happy to go along. Our damage dealers were a Juggernaut and a Marauder, whom I shall nickname Lord Rage and Lord Silly going forward.

The first boss, Sairisi, requires you to actually follow some tactics. He is immune to damage while protected by shields from two droids, so to be able to damage him you need to get both droids to half health, at which point they'll retract their shields and start to regenerate. Ideally you want to split the dps about evenly between the two droids so that you have maximum dps time on Sairisi. If it's uneven, one droid will already be regenerating while the other one is still being burned down, and even one shield going back up is enough to make the boss completely immune to damage again.

Anyway, as soon as we pulled, it was apparent that someone did not know how to do the fight as only one droid was actually going down. I initially tried to help even things out a bit and also thought about typing out instructions in chat, but it's a somewhat healing intensive fight so I had to focus on keeping people alive above everything else. I also had Earth, Wind & Fire's greatest hits running in the background and decided to just chill - as long as I could keep people alive, we were going to get there eventually - and about eight minutes later, the boss was finally down.

We continued and reached the bonus boss. Vee declared that the boss was easy "AF" even though our damage dealers indicated that they were unsure what to do. He took the time to type out some short instructions (very slowly) and we gave it a go. Unsurprisingly, we wiped quickly. In short, the fight is about avoiding exploding probe droids that travel down the room in three "lanes", while occasionally biting the bullet by blowing one up intentionally, but in a controlled manner so that the damage is manageable.

I had noticed that Lord Rage had run into what had only been the third droid to spawn and noted that there was no need to blow one up so quickly since we could have simply avoided that one. Vee countered that it was too much hassle to run back and forth between the lanes and that it was easier to blow up some extra droids to avoid having to move so much. This, again, made me raise an eyebrow as I'd never seen it done without the group running back and forth between the "lanes" to dodge as many droids as possible. Surely the damage from the extra, "unnecessary" explosions would kill people? On the other hand, Vee had seemed highly competent so far, so I was inclined to believe him when he said it was possible.

We tried again. Vee was optimistic that now that people had seen how it worked, we'd be fine. And things did go really well for about 75% of the boss's health... until Lord Silly got too close to a droid that wasn't meant to explode and pulled it right onto the rest of the group, causing us to wipe again. Oh well, mistakes happen, right?

Time for attempt number three. Again things seemed to go okay for a bit... until we had another droid pile-up and wiped again. I wasn't even sure what had happened there as I had wedged myself so tightly into the corner of the room that I couldn't really see what was going on with the rest of the group. (I saved a video recording of the fight to review later but it was literally impossible to see what happened from my point of view.)

However, chat suddenly exploded. "Why did you just pull them all?" shouted Lord Rage. "Why did you throw a grenade at them," chimed in Vee, "what did you try to accomplish there?" I was mostly confused. As far as I could recall, none of the classes in our group had any abilities involving grenades. Had someone confused the boss's cryo grenade with a player attack? Did someone use a Cybertech grenade? What had even happened? Had I done something wrong?

"You stupid fuck!" shouted Lord Rage and quit the group. "Oh for real?" sighed Vee. I was standing there like a deer in the headlights. Was this going to be one of those "group suddenly falls apart in a ball of rage" moments? But no... whatever it was that had incensed people so much, Vee still seemed more interested in getting on with it than shouting at people. He queued us for a dps replacement and we instantly got an Operative to replace Lord Rage. Let's call her Deena.

"Please tell me you know what to do," Vee addressed her as she entered. As far as I could tell Deena never replied, but we pulled anyway. This is where my memory actually gets a bit fuzzy - we might have had another wipe or not, but Deena generally did seem to know what she was doing, as either way the boss was dead soon after that.

Vee's "alternate" strategy of blowing up every single droid that came down our "lane" did work alright - if at least two people correctly took turns in order to take care of them. This was theoretically the damage dealers' job, but in practice it ended up being done by Deena and me. Lord Silly still seemed a bit confused about what he was supposed to do, occasionally darting in and out of the group like a shy animal but not actually doing anything useful other than dps-ing the boss. (In fact he was making me very twitchy with his running around, as it often looked like he was about to pull a droid again... but fortunately we managed to avoid that particular problem that time.)

We continued to Ortuno, who I think is by most considered the hardest boss in the instance. Mostly the fight is about the tank moving him around correctly, which Vee handled with aplomb. The rest of the group just needs to remember to run out of the puddles every time the boss casts "Flow" - not a challenging task, but if you get it wrong it's instant death.

Lord Silly died on the first cast, and the combat res was still on cooldown from the previous fight. Once it came off cooldown, I revived him. I mean, even if he was new to the fight, he'd seen how it worked now, right? The next time the boss cast Flow, he died again. The boss's health went down slowly enough that my combat res actually came off cooldown a second time, but after Lord Silly's previous performance, I didn't bother to revive him again. Until he begged to be revived in chat, at which point I did it anyway. This time he managed to survive for a little longer, but then died again.

Eventually the three of us got the boss down (if you've ever wondered whether Ortuno has an enrage, the answer appears to be no). Before the last add had hit the floor, Lord Silly was begging for a revive yet again. I gave it to him, then moved on to the next door. He released anyway, then complained that I hadn't revived him. "Yes, I did," I said. "You just didn't take it." He complained that it had been greyed out. I explained that this was probably because he had died too many times in quick succession, which causes the ability to accept revives to go on a cooldown.

Vee, Deena and I were forced to wait patiently at the door that triggered the next cut scene. But Lord Silly didn't show. Eventually he complained that he was locked out. We went back to investigate, and for some reason the door to Ortuno's room, which closes when you pull him, hadn't re-opened and Lord Silly was stuck on the other side. (Incidentally, if you hovered over it it also wasn't called "door" but "OBJECT HAS NO NAME", which I thought was funny. Too bad I didn't think to take a screenshot.)

At one point I thought that he had suddenly made it after all because a fourth person appeared next to Vee, Deena and me. It wasn't Lord Silly though, it was... a Jedi. "Why is there a Jedi here?" I asked. "Are we in the Twilight Zone?" "Oh good," replied Vee. "I thought I was going insane and had started seeing people." We could also see the Jedi's companion (Nadia) and the Combat Support Droid you get in most solo modes, but it didn't look like he could see us. He happily continued onwards through the door tied to the next conversation and disappeared.


I suggested that Lord Silly should exit the area and come back in, but that didn't help. "What are you guys doing?" Lord Silly eventually exclaimed in desperation. "Being stuck in a small room that we can't get out of without you", I replied, which earned me a +1 from Vee. I suggested that maybe we should all try exiting the area and then come back in. We did so, and now we were all stuck on the wrong side of the door. I thought I could hear the implied eye roll when Vee commented that he should have seen that coming.

That was going to be it, right? Our instance was bugged and there was no way out. (I tried a quick Google search in case this was a known bug with a workaround but couldn't find anything.) "I guess I could try resetting the phase," proposed Vee, who was party leader. "Does that mean we'll lose all our progress though?" I suspected so but wasn't sure. And anyway, what else did we even have left to try? So Vee reset the phase and we went back inside... to find that everything had indeed reset.

Vee: Are we going or fuck this?
Me: Well.
Me: I'm annoyed but I do need one more FP for the weekly quest and I don't mind which one it is.
Me: At least we know we can do this one!
Vee: Let's roll then!

So we started over. And even though it was our second time, it still wasn't a smooth run.

On Sairisi I came to the realisation that the reason he had gone down so slowly the first time wasn't in fact a case of the dps not being split correctly - it was Lord Silly attacking the boss the entire time even though he was immune to damage for most of it. This time he even went so far as to type out in chat that we should be doing the same! High healing requirements or not, that prompted me to pause and reply that no, he needed to hit the droids to remove the boss's shield. As far as I could tell from the target of target functionality, he never caught on though and continued to whack the boss for the entire rest of the fight. Gotta give kudos to Deena there for effectively soloing the adds.

Then we got to the bonus boss and wiped on that again. I think once I saw Deena accidentally shoot one of the droids, which caused it to aggro and explode on the whole group, and another time I swear I saw Lord Silly achieve the same effect by saber-throwing into a whole group of droids. I emphasised that it was important to never attack the droids, but to either run into them or avoid them entirely. Next try we got it down.

As we stood in front of Ortuno again, I quipped to Lord Silly that in case he hadn't caught on yet, standing in the water when the boss cast Flow was bad. He asked what else he was supposed to do. I told him to run with us. And he did! I'm not sure now, he might have died one more time, but he did actually get the hang of the basic tactics this time.

Finally we were able to approach Stivastin, the last boss. His gimmick is that he has a damage absorption shield and needs to be pulled under some fire vents periodically to burst it. We did manage to get this one down on the first try, though we were only seconds away from hitting the boss's enrage/reset timer. Also, Lord Silly kept yelling at Vee (who was doing everything correctly, as he had done throughout the entire rest of the run) to get under the fire more quickly or else we'd be here all day. "Gee, really?" Vee replied, and I have to admit that for a split-second I had a horrible feeling that this might be the straw that broke the camel's back and he might rage-quit, but fortunately that didn't happen. The irony of the one guy who had done pretty much everything wrong on every boss fight trying to tell our highly competent tank how to play was overwhelming though.

When we finally finished, I thanked everyone, particularly highlighting Vee's contribution. He thanked me and said that for an alien, I was quite alright. (Tessal is a Twi'lek.) I also won the roll on the six Manaan Research Data that dropped at the end, so I can't really complain.

Actually, I wasn't going to complain either way. I mean, yes, I had to effectively run the flashpoint twice to complete it once, one guy swore and rage-quit, and another guy was making our lives miserable by being utterly clueless about the fights and also being completely oblivious to just how hard we had to carry him... but I also learned a new way of fighting the bonus boss, met some nice and competent players, saw some funny bugs and generally had a good time. What more could you ask for when doing group content with random people?

27/04/2019

Raise Your Flag

Two weeks ago, patch 5.10.2 added Guild Heraldry to the game, a feature that was originally intended to be part of 5.10 proper but then ended up being pushed back a bit. What is Guild Heraldry, you ask? Basically, it's what WoW has popularised as tabards, a way to create and show off a logo for your guild... except that we don't have tabards in SWTOR, even after this.

Where does this logo show then? Well, in your own guild window, in the guild inspect window that other people can see, and a teeny tiny version also shows next to your guild's name on the Conquest leaderboard if you make it into the top ten. Finally, you have the option to display it next to people's character names, because we clearly needed more stuff floating above our heads.


Mr Commando and I immediately set out to design a logo for our guild (conveniently enough, the design window can be accessed by all guild members at all times, they just can't save their creation without the proper permissions) but quickly disagreed on what it should look like. Also, I was reminded that my sense of matching colours isn't always the best, which in turn reminded me that we have some very artistic and creative people in the guild. So we decided to put the matter to the masses.

In the first round we had people submit their own banner ideas. There were a couple of obligatory jokey ones, but most were quite good. There was a lot of experimentation with different variants of planets, suns and stars to evoke that "Twin Suns" feeling but also some more original ideas, such as utilising the Aurebesh letter T. There was even some discussion on whether the logo should be starfighter themed - hardly anyone in the guild plays GSF, but the name Twin Suns Squadron has its origin in a fighter squadron from the old expanded universe.

Then the officer team picked some finalists, trying to represent a variety of ideas and we put the matter to the vote.


Funnily enough, the winner was the one on top, which was the very first idea I put together. All this effort to have a contest and then you just vote for the original suggestion? I mean, thank you for your confidence... I guess. (Plus there were the obvious "rigged" jokes since I'm an officer and the GM's wife.)

While the designing and voting was still going on, I also started inspecting other people's guilds on the fleet and in pugs to get an idea of what other guilds were doing with their logos. I'm afraid to say that sadly, the majority of them looked dreadfully boring. Every guild gets either a red Empire or blue Republic symbol on a plain black field as its default logo, and most guild leaders apparently haven't felt the need to make any great changes to this. On Imperial side, the Empire symbol is sometimes replaced with something else that's vaguely martial looking (such as a fist or a skull) but without any further adjustments. On Republic side, a lot of guilds just kept the Republic symbol and didn't do anything other than slightly adjust its colour.

There was some creativity on display though, which I thought would be fun to share on here.


I have it on good authority that chloroform isn't green, but that aside, I like how this logo conveys a mood. Smells Like Chloroform is an Imperial PvP guild, and just looking at that banner made me think of Operatives using their Toxic Haze ability on me.


This was the first guild I saw using the logo featuring planetary bodies partially eclipsing each other that I also used in my design and I think it's appropriate for the guild name.


Stroke My Wookie is the biggest Imperial guild on Darth Malgus, so big that its membership is split up into two separate guilds (both of which share the same logo). I guess if you're the biggest guild on the server you can get away with having a plain logo on a black background and still seem cool. Credit has to be given for using the Aurebesh version of the number five for its resemblance to the letter S.


This guild is jokingly named after something from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and since I imagine it would've been quite impossible to have anything resembling the actual Knights of Ni, going for an approximation of the St George's cross as worn by Sir Galahad struck me as a good solution.


I have no idea what this small guild is about- the name certainly sounds like something that would have a story behind it - so I can't exactly judge the appropriateness of the logo, but the chosen green and brown tones made me think of Kashyyyk (the Wookiee homeworld) and maybe that red X in the middle symbolises an explosion or some other negative thing that would give a Wookiee cause to wail? I don't know, like the first logo I posted above I think it just manages to convey a feeling.


This just amused me because of how they thought to use the planet icon to represent a cookie. It totally works too.

How did your guild choose its new logo?

23/04/2019

When You (Can't) Go Back

Bhagpuss, MMORPG connoisseur extraordinaire, has decided to give SWTOR a try at long last and has been busy pushing out first impressions posts pretty much every day since. I've very much enjoyed reading them so far because Bhag's opinions are always well-articulated and often somewhat different from the mainstream, which makes them extra interesting. As an unabashed fan of the game, I've also been pleased by how much he's been enjoying it so far, especially as I didn't expect it to be his cup of tea at all. He himself has expressed surprise at how entertaining certain features have turned out to be when he didn't really expect to like them very much at all.

Seeing all this talk about and screenshots of starter planets made me wistful for my own days as a newbie. Of course you can't go back to that, but you can always roll up a new alt, right? Well... there's that "alt creation fatigue" I've been talking about in previous posts to consider though. What to do?


I eventually compromised by firing up the character selection screen of the Star Forge, where for some reason I have no less than four characters, none of which had even hit level ten or chosen an advanced class. There's Shintar the Mirialan trooper who I believe I originally created out of a desire to play with Redbeard, though I wouldn't swear that this was my motivation at the time. I tried to go dark side on her though and quickly found myself disliking the character (never good for an alt that shares your main's name).

Then there's a human Jedi consular, the only male character I ever created. I'm not sure now why I created him on an American server... maybe I knew that I'd struggle with connecting with a male character and didn't want this to "taint" my regular legacy?

Then there's the agent I created back in the day when Mr Commando and I were at the peak of our desire to level characters together and found that our regular server was down one evening, while a US server was up, so we decided to go there instead. We made it to level three (back when that took more than three minutes) before our regular server came back up and we dropped our new agents like hot potatoes, never to return.

And then there's the Togruta I talked about creating in this post from nearly four years ago - I levelled her to four and then never touched her again.

After carefully considering my options I decided that the Togruta knight would be the most fun to start up again... mostly because I had an outfit idea for her. (The outfit designer has made me so shallow.) I chose the option to turn her into a Guardian and off I went.

The best thing about playing on the Star Forge was that I had no legacy there; I only got to create it once I reached Coruscant. (In fact, I somehow managed to completely miss the legacy creation prompt; it was only because I found myself thinking "Shouldn't I have a legacy by now?" that I checked the icon in the top bar and there it was, flashing at me to choose my legacy name.) Legacy is a great system in many ways, but I have to admit that as a long-time player I also see it as a downside sometimes that you can't ever truly feel like you're starting over because thanks to your legacy you already own all the datacrons, all the class buffs and more, and have a bank full of materials at your disposal.

It feels like it's been forever since I bothered to hunt for the classic datacrons for example. The ones on Tython were easy enough to remember, as was the first one on Coruscant, but in the Black Sun territory something funny happened: I looked a the map and thought "I really can't remember where the datacron is here..." but then just set out to explore the map as I normally would. And what do you know, as I was picking up some archaeology crystals in a corner, I suddenly looked at the stack of containers next to me and knew that this was it. I couldn't remember where to go exactly; I just knew that I could and should continue climbing up those containers until I could reach a pipe, and then I just kept intuitively putting one foot in front of the other until the datacron was mine. The memories!


I also had fun working on my crew skills. I actually had a use for those rubat crystals and got excited to find gathering nodes around the district!

While on the fleet I purchased the Coruscant stronghold. It's still my favourite, but on Darth Malgus I've pretty much got it as I like it and have no particular desire to make any big changes. I was kind of surprised to find it only costing seven credits - to be honest that immediately made me think that this must have been a special put in place for the game's seventh birthday back in December and that nobody remembered to revert the price afterwards. Not that I minded or think that it should be particularly expensive, but seven credits felt like an insanely good (and oddly priced) bargain.

The one thing that put a bit of a downer on things again was the insane ease of combat and levelling speed. I found it very striking that Bhagpuss noted that he hadn't bothered to learn more than four skills on his smuggler because what was the point? I of course trained everything the game would let me, remembering the good old days when this was actually a useful if not required thing to do because enemies didn't all die in two hits. I also tried setting T7 to dps for a bit but eventually just sent him away entirely whenever I wasn't about to do a story cut scene. While on my own this allowed me to use a few abilities at least while fighting in a heroic area, even if the mobs still didn't manage to get me to half health before dying.

And then there's the levelling speed... as I said the Guardian started at level four, but only a couple of hours of play later I was already in my thirties and still not even halfway through Coruscant. Originally you were meant to be around level twelve around this part of the story. I suppose I haven't been helping myself by choosing to do this thing just as Bioware launched another double XP event, but it still makes me itchy. How can you enjoy playing a lowbie if the game doesn't allow you to be a lowbie for more than a couple of hours?

Maybe this is another thing that's making me shy away from creating more alts: I'm actually not sure I would find the low-level gameplay engaging enough to hang around if I came to the game as a new player now, and seeing the sheer OP-ness of every new alt just reminds me of the unease I feel about current levelling and kind of makes me miss the way things used to be pre-4.0.