Missing The Small Touches

I wonder if I'll ever get over the fact that there won't be any more additions to the individual class stories in The Old Republic. I mean, I understand why the devs decided to go down that road and it's not as if I'm about to quit the game over it, but finishing the last of the class stories last month certainly made me wonder. Before that point, it always felt to me as if there was a nigh endless potential of stories to explore in the game, something that I was never going to catch up with. You have to admit that it sounds brilliant in theory, to think that every major patch was going to add a unique new piece of content for up to eight different alts. I'm not surprised that it's not actually financially viable with the amount of subscribers the game has, but that doesn't mean that I don't still love the concept. I think there's a part of me that still dares to dream that some day, somehow, the devs will come up with a way to give us more class stories without completely breaking the bank.

The problem I have at the moment is that with no more class stories to come, alt play is kind of doomed to end in boredom eventually. I feel that right now my main motivation to play alts is the reputation system, because they give me the option of binging myself on new content whenever a new set of dailies is released and allow me to save up a lot of rep within a short time in order to use it later. Yet every time I play through that content on another alt, it's more or less the same. Yes, I can choose from a handful of different conversation options, but those quickly come with diminishing returns. I have to admit that I can't quite fight the feeling that Bioware has been slacking a bit when it comes to tailoring new content towards different classes at least on a small scale.

One example of this are class-specific lines. In the original levelling game up to fifty, almost every time you have to make a choice in a conversation, at least one of the options is tailored to your class. I even remember reading an article or an interview somewhere way back when, where someone from Bioware talked about how this was an important opportunity for the writers to distinguish the classes from each other, especially the slightly similar ones like knight and consular. They should never sound the same because they are totally different! Supposedly.

Makeb really made me notice how much that has changed. I quite enjoyed my first playthrough (on Republic side), and didn't think it was particularly problematic that my trooper sounded a bit... "sassier" than usual. Her lines still seemed to fit her well enough most of the time. But then I went back to go through the whole story again on my smuggler... and all her lines seemed to be exactly the same, word for word. I couldn't quite decide whether that meant that my trooper was joking too much or my smuggler was too serious; the point was that they sounded the same! I might've been a bit more forgiving about similarities between the two types of Jedi for example, but there's just no way a trooper and a smuggler should give the same response to everything. It was particularly disappointing since prior to expansion release, Bioware had been emphasising that even though the class stories in the original sense were gone, the dialogue on Makeb would still feel uniquely tailored to our character. In reality I saw even less evidence of that on Makeb than there is in the generic planetary story arcs from release. I can understand why the class stories turned out to be too much work to maintain, but are things really so bad that they can't write and record a couple of extra lines for each conversation (without changing anything else) just so the classes don't all sound the same?

Another area of detail where I've noticed a drop-off in quantity and quality is that of companion affection gains from conversations. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that companions barely have any sort of reaction to most of our dialogue anymore these days. And I'm not talking about actual voiced interjections here, but the simple little pluses and minuses under their portraits that tend to show up during conversations. So, you know, no voice acting required or anything, just someone to add "Vette: likes this" or whatever to each conversation option.

I can't find the source right now, but I distinctly seem to remember Njessi mentioning somewhere that she was surprised that her love interest seemed to have no opinions whatsoever on her character flirting on Makeb, something that is pretty much a guaranteed "-1 of shame" with most companions that you're romantically involved with during the original levelling content. Ever since the expansion I've noticed that these little indicators seem to get harder and harder to come by with every new quest. Your companions will probably still have an opinion on your light/dark side choices, but seemingly not on anything else you say.

You'd think that this is something that shouldn't matter that much, but it's really a little thing that adds a lot. It feeds my imagination to know what my companions like or don't like, and makes me picture them high-fiving my character afterwards, or giving her a serious frown. It can affect the way I make decisions, knowing that my current companion will or won't approve. When they suddenly stop having opinions because nobody at Bioware could be bothered with the busywork of adding the numbers for forty different companions, the game definitely loses something.


Solving the Screenshot Issue

For as long as I can remember, there's been a bug in the game that causes the screenshot function to not work properly for some people, me being one of them. I used to be kind of torn about how to feel about it, because on the one hand taking screenshots is hardly a key aspect of gameplay... but on the other hand this is a problem that has been present at least since launch, and I can't believe that they still haven't figured out a solution after nearly two years.

Personally I've been affected by this bug in two ways: Firstly, I'm usually unable to take screenshots during cut scenes. It does work on occasion, but there's no rhyme or reason to it and those occasions also seem to be getting less and less frequent (or maybe I've just given up trying often enough). This is annoying because cut scenes are usually the perfect time to take screenshots! There's interesting stuff to see and you're not busy mashing buttons just to stay alive. I remember seeing this awesome cut scene during the consular story that included some great imagery, mashing my Print Screen button like crazy... and was then disappointed afterwards to see that not a single one of them had actually been taken.

I've got to take a screenshot of that, Qyzen!

The other thing that happens is that sometimes, Print Screen will just stop working entirely. This can at least be fixed by restarting the game, but unless you regularly tab out to check your screenshot folder it's something that's easy to miss. Nothing like lining everybody up for a great boss kill shot, hitting Print Screen and then realising that it stopped working about an hour ago. Argh!

If you're not someone who takes a lot of screenshots, this might not even matter to you at all. However, personally I do like taking screenies of everything and everyone, sometimes for the blog, but mainly because I enjoy going back through them later and going: "Man, that picture brings back memories, such fun!" (I do a similar thing in real life by taking my camera with me everywhere and taking snapshots of everything from buildings to flowers to sunsets.)

Keeping that in mind, I'm not actually sure how I managed to put up with this screenshot bug for as long as I have without looking for a workaround. I guess I was lazy and hopeful that surely this couldn't be something that would take long to fix. Well, nearly two years later and while levelling my upteenth alt I'm finally fed up with it!

Simple workaround: I already had Fraps, so I set it up to take pictures when I hit Print Screen and to put them straight into my SWTOR screenshot folder. I used to only start it up when I was planning to make a video, but since it's hardly a resource hog while it's not recording, it shouldn't be an issue to keep it running for screenshot purposes too. Whenever SWTOR's screenshot function actually does work properly, I now end up with two shots of the same thing, but that's hardly a big problem either.

If you don't have Fraps, there are plenty of free programs that can take in-game screenshots for you too and I can heartily recommend taking the couple of minutes to get it all set up. I still can't believe how long I put up with being unable to capture my characters' greatest moments...


Brief Update

Like Rav, I generally prefer to keep my personal life out of my blog, but also like her I haven't really been writing as much as I used to - thereby sadly ruining a pretty solid posting schedule that I'd previously kept running for nearly two years - and I just wanted to say that it's got nothing to do with the game. Basically, about a month ago, my relationship, living and employment status all changed at once and since then things have been pretty stressful and exhausting.

I have been playing some SWTOR during that time, because it's been a nice way of having some stability in my life while everything else has been caught up in a whirlwind of change. Logging on for ops with my guild has allowed me to hold on to at least some sort of normalcy for a few hours a week. The rest of the time however, I've honestly been too distracted to spend much time thinking about the game in the way I used to. Hierarchy of needs and all that.

There are still game-related subjects that I'd like to write about, and I'm hoping that I'll eventually get back into some sort of rhythm, but for now I'm afraid that you'll have to make do with whatever I find the time and motivation for (which may not be that much for a little while). Either way I'm still around to read and comment on other people's writings.


Too Many Goodies!

The other night I decided to create a new alt from scratch, something that I hadn't done in a few months. I was rather surprised when immediately upon entering the world, I had no less than fourteen messages waiting for me in my mailbox.

Yes, I preordered the game, I paid up for the Digital Deluxe edition before the game went free to play, then I preordered Makeb, and so on and so forth, all of which came with some goodies, usually a title, a vehicle and/or a pet. And yes, I know that various subscriber rewards were dished out along the way as well, but some of those were only temporary (or at least I'm not getting any more Gannifari pets mailed to me for free), so I didn't really think that it would all add up to quite that much.

It still baffles me just how many of these "rewards" I'm receiving on any newly created character now. Do they even mean anything anymore at this point? It really struck me when I realised the other week that there had been a promotion last month, primarily aimed at getting current free players to (re-)subscribe, but also rewarding current subscribers, that I hadn't even known about. It only came up when someone mentioned during an ops run that he'd received a speeder and a pet in the mail but wasn't sure why he had got them, and nobody else was really sure at the time either.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the thought, but a "reward" for something that I was doing anyway, that I didn't even know about and that just gets drowned among a dozen similar items isn't that exciting to me. I suppose the fact that I'm not a big pet or vehicle collector plays into it, but even so... I think this is one area where the SWTOR team might want to try coming up with something new soon.


Thoughts on Dread Fortress and Palace

When Oricon was first released, I made a post about my first impressions of Dread Fortress, and a few days later I summed up my initial experience of Dread Palace in a short YouTube video. I did want to spend a little more time talking about both operations though, seeing how they wrap up a  story arc that has been running through the game for more than one and a half years now.

I don't actually have that much to add to my Dread Fortress post, because it still sums up my thoughts about the story mode operation pretty well. The only thing I forgot to mention was the hilarious exploding droid trash leading from the second boss to the fourth, which seems to regularly leave up to half of our raid dead on the floor. It initially gave me flashbacks to the first hallway of trash mobs in WoW's Tempest Keep back in Burning Crusade, and how the melee regularly cried that they might as well just stand back and do nothing for all the good they did. Of course the difference is that the exploding droids can be rendered completely harmless by a bit of coordination of stuns; it's just that most of the time people don't seem to want to put that much effort into handling trash.

On hardmode we're up to Corruptor Zero at the moment, whom we haven't downed yet, which hasn't been helped by some hiccups with our roster as well as the fight seemingly changing with every patch - and it's not always clear whether the changes are intentional or bugs.

As for Dread Palace, when we entered it for the first time, someone commented that it seemed a bit lacklustre and tacked-on, what with the way it was designed as a straight hallway with five tunnels leading off to one boss encounter each. Oh, how wrong that turned out to be.

I have to admit that I ended up being really impressed by that instance. Bestia isn't the most imaginative of fights (tank swap, adds and red circles, yawn), but on pretty much all the other encounters the developers have clearly gone out of their way to come up with something new and interesting.

Dread Master Tyrans was a real hoot the first time we faced him and realised that the floor soon started disappearing under our feet. Of course I seem to have a bit of a thing for falling floors, based on my love for Soa, but still... I wasn't the only one who was cackling maniacally when we found ourselves isolated on one last floor tile during our first attempt and managed to down the boss with only three people left standing.

Calphayus was sadly bugged the first couple of times we downed him, meaning that he didn't actually execute any of his special moves, and I've only got to see the fight in full twice since then. However, what I have seen of it definitely looks very unique and interesting. I'm still not entirely sure about everything that's going on with those crystals and that seed, and why they are so crucial to defeating the boss, but it's certainly an exercise in coordination (and an opportunity to recite endless Back to the Future quotes).

The Raptus fight mixes things up yet again with its individual challenges for each role, and it's pretty funny to see messages about your healer's incompetence pop up as raid warnings in the middle of your screen - and I say that as a healer myself! (As an aside, the forums seem to agree that the healer challenge is/was overtuned compared to the others.) As an added bonus, there's a (very easy) "bridge boss" as well - I believe initially we even had someone claim that the gap was too small to fall through, but then we had someone else promptly prove otherwise when we exited the area after the fight.

And then we have the final council fight, which I dare say manages to do the Dread Masters justice, which was not an easy feat considering how much build-up they've had as villains. If you watched the little video I linked above, you can hear the whole group howl with laughter and excitement when Styrak and Brontes make a reappearance, and the encounter as a whole is just absolutely manic. It's been a month and I'm still not entirely sure about everything that's going on during that fight each time.

In summary, I think that Bioware has done another excellent job with these two operations. There is less of a story-telling angle than in previous raids (with Scum and Villainy being the prime example of how that is done in my opinion), but they have clearly been learning from previous experience and are rebalancing things all the time. I found it quite noteable for example that there are no overly long stretches of trash in either instance this time, and from what I've seen after a month, none of the boss fights suffer from prolonged periods of repetition or tedium either. I'm looking forward to whatever the devs will come up with next, now that the Dread Masters have been dealt with.