12/11/2018

Huttball Meta

I've been spending a fair amount of time on the Sky Shredder lately. I'm starting to wonder whether Bioware didn't tweak its chances to come up in the rotation for the duration of this patch after all, what with how often I've seen it pop recently instead of other warzones.

I stand by what I said a month ago about it being quite a fun warzone, but what's been even more entertaining to me has been watching the gradual evolution of the Huttball meta. Shortly after I made my original post it came to my attention that there were people out there who claimed that the additional traps to slow down scoring were ineffective because supposedly it was easier to score quickly on Vandin than it had ever been before. Why? Because you could just leave a stealther to lie in wait at the enemy line, so that whoever picked up the ball can just jump into the pit, pass up, and boom - job done.


They are not wrong that this is something that can be done, but it's certainly not unique to Vandin - this has been a possible way of scoring in the original Huttball since launch, but it kind of fell out of favour over time, so it was interesting for me to see the Skyshredder cause a revival of that strategy. Basically, for all its efficiency when done right, there are several downsides to this "going through the pit".

- It does require a minimum of two people to co-ordinate. That may not sound like much, but we're talking pugs here... if you're a good player who knows how to chain cooldowns and are able to run to the line all on your own, you don't have to rely on anyone else on the Nar Shaddaa map.

- Even if you have two players willing to co-ordinate, if the ball gets picked up by another team member who doesn't pay attention to what's happening, the plan might not work.

- Worse, if the enemy picks up the ball first and starts running, the person waiting at the enemy line is miles away from the action and effectively not contributing.

- The person waiting at the line has to be willing to give up chasing kills and generally engaging in actual PvP, something that (understandably) doesn't sit well with a lot of PvPers. I was in a match the other day where we won in the "classic pit" with this strategy, and the guy who had been waiting for the passes finished the match with nearly 20k objective points but literally zero damage or healing.

- For this tactic to work effectively, you need the person lying in wait to be a stealther, which greatly limits the class selection. In theory you can have a non-stealther stand around and wait for a pass (and I've successfully done that too), but for that to work successfully for any length of time it requires the enemy team to be seriously oblivious.

- Once the enemy team catches on to what's happening, it's not hard for them to interfere. Knocking the intended recipient of the pass back down is the obvious and most effective counter, but even if you don't have a knockback you can try to stun them at just the right moment to cause the pass to fail, or hell, simply stand on their head and their chances of success go down to at least 50-50 as you might intercept the pass simply by proximity. I was seriously impressed one time when the second I came out of stealth on the line, a warrior leapt at me and managed to intercept the pass intended for me right in front of my nose.

- If the intended recipient of the upwards pass gets knocked down, killed, or it becomes otherwise impossible to safely pass to them, the person stuck at the bottom of the pit is in a very crappy situation, and unless they are on a class with a leap they'll probably die.

In other words: passing through the pit is an age-old tactic that can work very well but it's also susceptible to all kinds of issues. And that's what makes it fun! Quick passes and trying to mess with people who try to make them is what Huttball is supposed to be all about. The other day I had a match where both teams were really good at this and the game ended with no less than 15 goals scored. You bet that never got boring or tedious. We'll see how long people's preference for this scoring method will stick around before things get changed up again.

10/11/2018

Day 4: Missions & Conversations #IntPiPoMo

My 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots in celebration of International Picture Posting Month continue. If you want to see a list of all the themes I'm using, you can find it here.


Cal just made a post the other day about the impact that fast travel has had on how we play the game. I've been thinking about this a bit myself, as the way we can just kind of "teleport" from planet to planet feels kind of weird to me, and I'm actually a little startled when for one reason or another I actually end up in a cut scene showing my ship flying somewhere, like you can see the bounty hunter ship doing here in the intro to Oricon mission. At the same time though, I don't really like traversing spaceports and dealing with the loading screens to enter and exit the ship. I don't really have any ideas on how this could be made to feel better.


I posted this one on Twitter before, but I feel that doesn't count. I'm not sure I care much for the little cut scenes before each boss in Gods from the Machine, but I love the one before Nahut just because of the "WTF is this" face our characters make while they look around. Unfortunately it's only really there for a moment, so screenshotting it can be a bit tricky.


In general I feel that the upgrade they gave facial expressions in 5.0 (?) tends to give them a bit of  a comical edge. This one is a particularly good example because my Sage making a 0_0 face as Valkorion sneaks up on her from behind can be deliberately misinterpreted in all kinds of ways.


Some of the "action" sequences are pretty cool looking, such as this one of the Outlander and Theron throwing themselves into the beast pit during Vaylin's party.


This one on the other hand always makes me cringe a little. Surely this isn't actually based on a motion capture? Who would land like that after a jump? That's just asking for pain in your legs (and elsewhere if you're a guy I guess).


This one I just like because I managed to capture my Scoundrel's hand movement at just the right moment to make it look like she's about to make a grab for Theron's crotch.

Okay, so a lot of these were on the slightly silly side, which is a theme for another day, but nobody said that there can't be a bit of overlap between themes.

IntPiPoMo count: 23

07/11/2018

Day 3: Companions & Pets #IntPiPoMo

My 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots in celebration of International Picture Posting Month continue. If you want to see a list of all the themes I'm using, you can find it here.


Back in April I wrote a post about some of the class-specific Alliance alerts dedicated to bringing more of the romanceable companions back, and I was hyped about getting more of my characters to the point of getting theirs back too (a.k.a. to the end of KotET). That... hasn't happened, and the only other companion return I've done since then is the one pictured above, which shows my Scoundrel getting Akaavi back (plus Mako as a bonus).

Of the returns already in game, I have yet to make it towards getting Iresso and Vector back, as well as Mako as a bounty hunter. I guess I am still working my way towards them, but only slowly.

5.10 promises some more returns though that are even further out of reach. For example you'll be able to get Khem Val back, but only if you made a certain choice at the end of his companion story. Of course my Sorcerer who's all up to date with current content made the other choice. I can't say I'm thrilled by the idea of bringing my other Sorc up to that point, as she's only on Makeb story-wise. Likewise, Jaesa Willsaam will make a return in both of her light and dark side forms, and while I have recruited both versions of her in the past, only the Marauder with the dark side version is ready for Ossus in terms of current story progress.

I think at this point I'll just stop fretting about it and will simply file this stuff away as content I might see one day when I happen to get there naturally on an alt.


Replaying chapter one of the smuggler story I was reminded of this companion quest for Corso that I had nearly forgotten, in which he sets out to "rescue" his cousin Rona and finds out that she's actually made it big in the criminal underworld and has no interest in leaving that life. I've played through that mission four times now but I've never agreed with Corso on forcing the issue, so I don't even know if you can. Either way I think it's an interesting part of his character development. He doesn't get much love from people who don't enjoy his romance arc, but I think he's an interesting character regardless. He joins the smuggler with a pretty naive, black-and-white world view and has to learn that there is a lot more nuance than that to things.


I'm not a big fan of companion pets, but I took a screenshot of my tanking Guardian winning this little Force Hound because I love the Kath Hound model in general, and the winning roll came at the end of a prolonged Battle of Rishi master mode run in which I successfully tanked the bonus boss for the first time (and killed him for what was only my third time or so), which made it feel like a just reward for what had been a lot of effort.


As I said, I don't pay much attention to companion pets, but at some point I visited the Nar Shaddaa stronghold of a guildie who's both into decorating and pet collecting, which made for some interesting screenshot opportunities, such as this one of a tiny underwalker standing at the feet of a giant one.


He also had a fountain of Mewvorrs. (I had to look up how to spell that; for some reason I always think of them as "Meow-arrs".) I have no idea if these are meant to be aquatic or something, but again I found it kind of original and cute.

 

Finally, in another juxtaposition of small pets and their larger counterparts, he has tauntauns guarding their offspring with guns. Who thought it was a good idea to have tauntauns manning guns?!


The same guildie also proudly showed off his Treek, who had apparently been disfigured by a bug that had once made it possible to equip her with a C2-N2 customisation, and he was so tickled by the result that he kept her that way. I certainly found it screenshot-worthy and dread to think what this looks like in combat...

IntPiPoMo count: 17

05/11/2018

Insights From 2008

Considering for how many years I've been playing SWTOR now, it's still funny to me sometimes to think of how quickly and suddenly I got into it. A big part of why many people ended up being disappointed with the game at launch was apparently that there had been years of hype about how great it was going to be and that it didn't live up to, but for me, all of that went completely under my radar.

The very earliest mention of SWTOR that I can recall is Spinks making a post about it in November 2010, in which she mentioned that Bioware was holding a community poll about what to rename the Jedi Wizard class. The main reason that stuck with me was that I thought that Jedi Wizard sounded absolutely ridiculous and I couldn't fathom how anyone had ever thought that it was a good idea to give that name to anything (boy, am I glad that they went with consular in the end), but beyond that I didn't really take in that SWTOR was going to be a big, new MMO. That didn't happen until a few months before launch, and back then the impression I got was simply that it was going to be a game that combined Bioware storytelling with WoW-like MMO mechanics and an IP that I was very fond of - a combination that sounded great to me; and one of the reasons I'm still playing seven years later is probably that I got exactly what I thought I was going to get - and more.

So in a way, I'm really glad that I missed all the hype, but that doesn't mean that it's not interesting to my inner archivist to know what was said back then and what happened. Wilhelm from the Ancient Gaming Noob, who is always good for some nostalgia and general reminiscing, had a post up on Saturday about an old podcast episode dedicated solely to all the news surrounding the official announcement of SWTOR back in 2008, so of course I had to go and listen to that.

The most "so wrong now it's funny" thing in the show was probably Brent (the host)'s talk about how there was obviously no reason for Star Wars Galaxies to shut down just because of another Star Wars MMO entering the scene. Mind you, his logic was sound! They were/are two very different games. Too bad the higher-ups didn't see it the same way in the end.

Even more interesting to me personally were several quotes about SWTOR's game design.

The first one mentioned how all the quests in the game would have you doing truly heroic things and you would never just be accosted by a random NPC in a cantina or by the roadside to go and rescue their cat or something. This made me laugh because that's exactly what the side missions in the base game are like. In fact, there is even one on Republic Taris where two NPCs by the roadside literally ask you to free some felines.

At the same time, many people didn't find those quests very interesting, which is what I always figured was the main motivation for Bioware to make them optional and skippable with 4.0, as well as completely moving away from having any side quests whatsoever in new content from that point on (unless you count the Alliance alerts - but they follow quite a different format). Listening to the podcast though, this apparently wasn't just a reaction to player feedback but rather a throwback to older design goals they had.

With all that said, I've personally always liked the side quests, and I miss them. They add flavour to the world, and personally I don't see anything wrong with a Jedi taking a few moments out of their day to rescue someone's cat. The class story mission on Rishi even emphasises how important it is for a Jedi to not forget about the little things while also facing bigger threats.

The second design quote that caught my attention was about how they were planning to completely revolutionise MMO combat - hah! More specifically though, there was mention of how they didn't think that it feels good to have a bunch of people attack one giant boss, and that it should really be the other way round - for players to have an epic experience, they should always feel outnumbered and as if they are overcoming the odds. Now, obviously they went back on this as well, considering that the game launched with old-school style raids... but then I suddenly thought of the uprisings they added with KotET! I've wondered in the past what exactly the design intent was behind those, and wanting to create a feeling of being outnumbered makes perfect sense... on paper.

Of course, it turns out that most MMO players apparently prefer fighting a giant, epic boss to being outnumbered by mooks. As commenter Forztr put it in response to a recent post: uprisings feel as if Bioware took the basic dungeon design, removed the bosses that people actually get excited about and instead added more of the type of trash that players are always desperate to skip. In other words: in trying to finally deliver something they were apparently aiming for as early as 2008, Bioware created a type of content that most people consider inferior and less interesting than regular dungeons. The irony.

Finally, there was talk of them having plans to make it so that companions would evolve alongside your character and "become different people" so to speak, based on your decisions. This is something they obviously experimented with via the Sith warrior story and by having different versions of Jaesa, but I guess they decided that it was way too much hassle in the end. (Honestly, you can always tell that Sith warrior was the first story they worked on simply based on the amount of random crap it has going on that's not featured anywhere else.) One has to wonder if they had actually gone so far as to lay out plans for different versions of other companions. I guess we'll never know.

Anyway, that was a very interesting blast from the past, which - funnily enough - made me think that it's really a good thing that we didn't get everything they originally promised, because a lot of it probably isn't half as fun in practice as it sounded on paper. Were you following the game in those early stages?

03/11/2018

Day 2: Class Stories #IntPiPoMo

My 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots in celebration of International Picture Posting Month continue. If you want to see a list of all the themes I'm using, you can find it here.

My first thought when I was putting together screenshots for this theme for this year's run was: Crap, I didn't really play any class stories this year, did I? And I wasn't entirely wrong, in the sense that I didn't complete any of the original class stories in the past year. I did however progress a few casually played alts a little bit through their stories, whenever I felt like it - which is the worst way of playing these of course, as by the time I get back to any given character, I've usually forgotten what kinds of decisions I made on them previously. But oh well.


My Commando on the Ebon Hawk Star Forge has finally got her whole team together after two and a half years - one advantage of not having to worry about gearing your companions anymore is that if you're as lazy as me and can't be bothered with giving them all unique outfits, at least their default get-ups create a somewhat coherent-looking team, instead of everyone looking like they just put on whatever armour they were able to salvage from their fallen enemies (which is of course exactly what we used to do). I think I last left her somewhere on Belsavis, so she still has some ways to go.


At some point last year I also decided to roll up a Gunslinger on Star Forge to keep my Commando company, and I played her up until the end of act one of her class story. That first act of the smuggler story is just so full of awesome that I found it impossible to choose only one screenshot from it. Here's Comptesse (as the little lady is named) meeting the shiniest bounty hunter on Nar Shaddaa...


... and here she is dealing with the stupidest of Skavak's ex-girlfriends.


Meanwhile, the smuggler's class story on Tatooine is a perfect illustration of just how absurd Jedi and Sith can potentially look to "normal" people.


My eternally pugging Commando Pugette has also nearly completed chapter one of her class story, mostly from me doing bits and pieces of it while waiting in the queue for uprisings. Here she is guarding a Twi'lek slicer that's doing a job for her. Now that I think about it, slicers/slicing used to be quite a frequently used plot device for the non-Force-using classes back before the storyline went all supernatural in Shadow of Revan, wasn't it?


I've said before that I really like cut scenes in which my characters make angry/determined faces. So here's one of my second Sage on... I think it was Balmorra? This is my slowest-levelled character of all time by the way, as I created her relatively early on (I think it was shortly after the game went free-to-play) as a dedicated grouping character in an attempt to get some old friends from WoW to play SWTOR with me. It quickly became apparent that this wasn't working out at all, but I've still been dragging my feet when it comes to levelling her alone ever since. Five or six years later she only just finished Quesh, heh.


Now this screenshot isn't from an original class story but from the Nathema Conspiracy flashpoint, but I actually consider that flashpoint to be the closest thing we've had to something approaching unique class content since Shadow of Revan. Sure, it's only a short conversation via holo that's unique, but there are so many variations! I took a quick look at a spoiler thread about the flashpoint on reddit because I didn't really want to know all the possible permutations, but I kind of did want to know how many there were (and therefore, how many different classes I could take through it to see different content) and there were a lot - at least two per class I think.

IntPiPoMo count: 10

01/11/2018

Day 1: Bugs #IntPiPoMo

It's that time of the year again: It's International Picture Posting Month! By now, participating in IntPiPoMo has become a cherished tradition for me, as I go through my 10 themed days of SWTOR screenshots and reflect on some things I did and witnessed in the past year but that weren't necessarily worthy of having whole posts dedicated to them. I know these screenshot-heavy posts don't generate much discussion - and I'll admit that they are very easy to make - but I still like the change of pace they offer.


Day one, is as usual, about bugs. Interestingly, I didn't find many screenshots of bugs among the pictures I took in the past year. Are Bioware actually getting their act together or was I just lucky to not run into that many?


The Jindo Krey encounter in the False Emperor flashpoint has been notoriously buggy for years (ever since they made the side turrets irrelevant I think...) in that the bounty hunter's ship can become invulnerable to attacks when he calls for assistance, which can make the fight quite painful. This was something new to me though, that upon entering the area on my Operative, the ship seemed to virtually have landed inside the space station... it did fly back out when we pulled the boss though.


Another "oldie but goodie" is the "companion holocalls you in their underwear" bug. It's kind of incredible to me that it's 2018 and this still hasn't been fixed, but I guess something that does no more harm than cause a couple of silly cut scenes is probably not high on the "must fix" priority list. I could have done without seeing a Gand in underwear though.


This one requires a bit of context, as to the layperson it may not be apparent what's buggy about me getting an achievement after killing a mob on Ilum. The thing is that the achievement is totally wrong: it credits me for a world boss kill when I just defeated nothing but a couple of random mobs. This happened right after the Conquest revamp, and made the first Gree event in its wake both funny and ridiculously easy to complete, as everyone who killed any mobs at all (it didn't even have to be on Ilum) would instantly get this world boss Conquest achievement completed and gain a whole bunch of points whether they were trying to or not. I thought it was quite amusing, especially watching people's confused reactions throughout the week as each one of them experienced the bug for the first time.

IntPiPoMo count: 3