SWTOR's Disappointing Trailers

Once upon a time I wrote a post on why I loved SWTOR's original three cinematic trailers, especially "Hope". This is not that post. Instead, this is the post about why I continue to be disappointed by the trailers that Bioware has been releasing ever since launch - and no, it's not because they don't have awesome cinematics courtesy of Blur Studios.

This post was inspired by Xam Xam's latest weekly roundup, in which she mentions the new "Choose Your Path" trailer, which many fans found decidedly underwhelming (which wasn't helped by the fact that Bioware's social media advertised it as something new and exciting beforehand).

The thing that continues to throw me every time Bioware releases another one of those trailers is how poor these trailers are at telling any kind of story. I get that films and games are different media, but still... for a company that has based its whole reputation on making games with intriguing stories, this just makes no sense.

Let's talk briefly about what I think a good MMO trailer needs to be like. It feels odd that I have to use Blizzard as an example here, but I really loved their trailer for patch 2.3 (back in the day...), called "The Gods of Zul'Aman":

Basically this patch was about a new raid. How could they have made this a bad trailer? Easily, for example by just showing random scenes of people fighting the new bosses. (And they did actually make a pretty disappointing trailer like that for patch 3.2, but I digress...)

Instead, they made it awesome by:
- having a cool voiceover,
- telling a coherent story,
- making the story emotionally engaging in some way (you can't help but feel for Zul'jin when he gets his eye cut out),
- and finally, making sure that this story is relatively straightforward to understand even for a layperson.

Now, for comparison, let's look at one of Bioware's recent trailers for SWTOR as an example of what I continue to find lacking there. Let's take the "Revan Returns" trailer:

It has some nice voice snippets alright, but the story... just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We're being told that we have to fight Revan, but there is zero explanation as to why. We get a lot of disjointed shots of fighting, but the whole thing doesn't really come together in any meaningful way. In fact - and I hope the KOTOR fans will be able to forgive me for this, but based on this trailer we don't even know who Revan is. That kind of thing can't just be taken for granted, at least not if you're trying to advertise to Star Wars fans in general - which you should, as that's a much bigger group than just the people who have played KOTOR.

I'm not saying that we need a lengthy backstory for every trailer, but you know, even something short and simple would do: something about how he used to be a hero of the Republic (maybe include a snippet from the Jedi prisoner storyline here) and then a line from the Legacy of the Rakata flashpoint, like the bit where a Republic character can ask him why he betrayed the Republic. Boom! Instant story! A former hero of the Republic has now betrayed it and is posing a threat to both Republic and Empire... but to what end? Instant intrigue! Instead we got: "We need to fight this Revan guy because... reasons. Look, blasters and lightsabers!"

As an example of how this kind of thing can be done well in the context of SWTOR, I present you this fan-made "unofficial trailer" for the Imperial agent storyline from 2011:

Honestly, just rewatching this makes me want to roll another agent right now. The pacing, the choice of music, the carefully chosen quotes that introduce the idea of what an Imperial agent is and which then lead you towards moments that give you the chills... I wish we could see that kind of work from Bioware too. I feel that they aren't really doing their own game justice with the trailers they are releasing right now.


Day 2: Class Stories

This is the second post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

Last time I posted this challenge, the game had only been out for about six months and I had only completed two class stories, so those two were all I had pictures of (plus the print screen bug caused me to miss out on a lot of great moments). By now I've seen all the different class stories, so any recent screenshots come from alts on which I'm replaying them for the second or third time. This has the nice side effect that I know exactly when some of the best moments are about to happen, and thanks to Fraps I can actually capture them.

Many people seem to agree that the Jedi consular story doesn't really get interesting until it gets to Chapter 2. While I honestly liked all three chapters during my first playthrough, Balmorra was certainly the planet where I first remember thinking: "Wow, this is cool." Part of this was thanks to Zenith, a companion whom I really like, and part of it was due to the fact that you get to face off against Darth Lachris, a key NPC from the main storyline on Imperial Balmorra. This really drives home the point that the class stories aren't just independent events that happen in closed off phases, but that they all tie into an overarching "world plot".

Somewhat random, but I really like it when our characters make angry faces in cut scenes, I don't know why. I think it highlights just how expressive they are compared to the in-game cut scenes you see in most other MMOs. (This is my Cathar Sith warrior by the way, also on Balmorra if I recall correctly.)

Here's my Vanguard alt meeting Captain Cormac on Alderaan. This guy is still my number one NPC that I wanted to be a companion. Honestly, I would trade him for Tanno Vik any day.

This is a little Sentinel alt of mine that is still only level 11 or so, but I had to include this screenshot because - forging your own lightsaber! Honestly, on either Jedi class this is such a cool moment. It just sucks if you're a consular and pick Shadow as your advanced class, which means that you have to replace your carefully forged saber with a random green from a goodie bag the moment you get to the fleet. Or if you're simply a noob and don't understand the modding system, you may not realise that you can actually keep that lightsaber forever. (I know that on my first character it took me some time to figure that out.)

I've said before that the Sith inquisitor is not one of my favourite class stories, but even so I'll concede that it certainly has some damn cinematic moments that make for great screenshots - such as this one.


Day 1: Bugs

This is the first post in my 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots challenge. Click on any screenshot to see a larger version.

Let's start with a classic: the missing granny! This is an issue that has been known for a long time and for which Bioware customer service generally seems to recommend running the repair utility on the launcher. Fortunately for me, I never actually encountered this myself until late last year, and even then it was just this one class mission during which Mako's gear was suddenly missing a texture, and it quickly seemed to fix itself without me doing anything. The jokes about missing elderly people never get old though.

One of the patch notes for patch 3.0.2 stated: "Players beginning the Mission “Torch's Flame” can no longer see duplicates of Lana and Theron." To which I'll say: I'll have your two Therons and raise you two Jakarros! (This was one of the later missions too.)

Once I was questing on Republic Balmorra with my pet tank and he said: "Look, a floating tree!" Huh. Well, that's one I hadn't seen before. And I'm pretty sure that it's not usually like that.

And finally, another visual glitch that has been around for ages: the lost assault cannon.

Every so often my character will appear to "lose" her assault cannon, which means that my healing beam appears to originate wherever she "lost" it instead of from her actual position. I used to find this kind of irritating, but nowadays I'm mostly amused by the light show, especially knowing that it will always fix itself pretty quickly.


10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots Strike Back

Back in 2012, I ran a series of posts called "10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots". I think I was kind of hoping that it would turn into a meme, but nobody else picked it up so in the end it was just a random thing I did. Either way it was also an opportunity for me to post some screenshots and talk about them, which was relevant because at the time I struggled to find excuses to insert images into my posts, which left my main page looking a bit bare at times.

Since then I've obviously become better at spicing things up with the occasional picture, but I still end up taking a lot of screenshots that I then never end up using for anything, which is why I've been thinking about giving 10 Days of SWTOR Screenshots another run. I've finally decided to go ahead with it - also because I'm in the process of moving house and I fear that I won't be able to keep up with the game and writing about it as well as I usually do. Posts with just a couple of screenshots and a little story in them are easy to write and should provide a bit of a buffer for the blog while I may not find as much time to play and come up with good post ideas.

Mostly I've decided to stick with the themes I used for the original 10 Days series, except for two:

Day 1: Bugs
This may be a slightly strange one to start off on, but as I wrote back in 2012: "Let's start the challenge off the same way the game started off: somewhat buggy."

Day 2: Class Stories
Share one or more screenshots of your class story, preferably without massive spoilers.

Day 3: Companions & Pets
Show us your favourite minion(s) doing what they usually do. This used to be just "companions" but I decided to add pets because... why not? They've become a lot more common since early 2012. (Anyone remember my post about Stevie the sandcrawler?)

Day 4: Missions & Conversations
This was actually kind of tricky in 2012 because I missed out on a lot of good screenshots due to SWTOR's unending issues with the Print Screen button. Basically this day is dedicated to those cool cut scenes we just can't get enough of (except when we do and hit the space bar).

Day 5: NPCs
This used to be "gear" but looking at my screenshot folder, I couldn't find a single picture from the past year that featured gear in an interesting way. Alas, I'm no Njessi (who is still being missed). Instead I went with something else of which I have a lot of screenshots and which didn't have its own category before: SWTOR's myriad of interesting NPCs. Tell us about some that you love... or love to hate - and why!

Day 6: Environments
Picture(s) from your favourite planet or maybe a neat little corner somewhere that most people overlook but that you think is interesting.

Day 7: Team
Like most MMOs, SWTOR is the most fun in a group! Show us your team, however you define that term in this game.

Day 8: Memorable Moments
A challenge you were proud to overcome, or something that really impressed or entertained you.

Day 9: Silly
The previous days might have contained some silly screenshots already, but since you can never have too many silly screenshots, this is the day to fit in any remaining ones that didn't go with previous themes!

Day 10: Death
What better way to end this series than with screenshots of interesting deaths?

Note that this doesn't mean that my next ten posts will all be about this series. I'll probably post about other things in-between, depending on how the mood strikes me.


The Republic Class Missions on Rishi in Review

I believe I said something like that I probably wasn't going to review all the new class missions individually, but now that I've completed the four Republic ones at least, I really kind of want to get my thoughts on them off my chest. Spoilers abound, so beware if you haven't played through any of these stories yet.


With my Commando being my main, this was the first of the new class stories that I completed. It was nice to see General Garza again, though also somewhat surprising to see someone of her rank come to Rishi personally. I was also surprised by how she treated my character almost as an equal - it's been a long time since I played through the original trooper story, but I don't remember getting promoted to quite that high a level at the end. You can even tell her off for her attitude and threaten to expose her mistakes to the public.

The story of Eclipse Squad is a bit of a throwback to the trooper's Chapter One, what with the whole "hunting down a rogue squad" theme, even if their background is different. I liked that, though I felt that this story more than any of the others I've seen so far really would have benefited from being longer. Garza sums up every Eclipse Squad member's background in a brief voice-over as you kill them, and I couldn't help but think that there was a lot of unrealised potential there. I really would have liked it if there had been some time to flesh those characters out some more.

Jedi Knight

Considering the overall tack of the Jedi knight story, which is all about being a big damn hero with your lightsaber, it was quite surprising that the knight's newest class mission turned out to be very quiet and introspective. It doesn't even require you to kill anything, though a couple of cove crabs might potentially get in your way at one of the monsoon baffles.

I had somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it was nice to be reminded of a side of the Jedi that doesn't really get much attention in the original Jedi knight story, but on the other hand it does feel a bit odd to go off to cure the sick and clean up the local town when you're supposed to be stopping Revan. You can bring this up in conversation with Master Orgus' spirit, but your concerns get brushed off in a manner that I didn't find entirely convincing. Still, overall I really enjoyed this story, so I guess the positives won out.

Jedi Consular

The Jedi consular's new class mission is also quiet and introspective, though in this case that's completely in line with the previous class story. It's nice to be called by Master Satele and to be reminded that your character is supposed to be kind of a "big deal", something that you may have forgotten if it's been a long time since you actually completed the original class story and have been spending your time doing dailies and running flashpoints since then (like me).

It's also worth noting that while Master Satele gives you a brief call, the consular story is one that doesn't so much rely on bringing back an old character but instead introduces a new one: Master O'a the Bothan. Just seeing another Bothan in game is cool, but Master O'a also has an interesting personality, and his visions of the future provide fascinating insights into your own character. This class mission may very well be one of my favourites.


The smuggler story was sadly a bit of a disappointment, in more than one respect. It brings back Beryl Thorne, a character from your past, but she's such a comparatively minor character that this doesn't have as much of an effect as the throwbacks that happen in other class stories. She only features on Taris and then briefly on Quesh. Male smugglers can romance her and maybe having done so makes her story more compelling, but personally I struggled to remember much about her. In fact, my character seemed to recall more than I did, and asked Beryl where she left her droid... while I couldn't even remember that she had one.

The other problem was simply that the "action" was woefully short. None of the class stories on Rishi are very long, but I recorded all of the ones that I played through so far and this one was actually several minutes shorter than all the others. You just click on three things and then kill a single mob... it simply felt disappointing and like there really should have been more to it.


SWTOR Probably Won't Have 2 Expansions This Year

This shouldn't really be news, but the latest episode of OotiniCast touched on this subject briefly, and I thought that it might be worth putting down in writing as well.

Last week Redna from OotiniCast brought attention to this question on Twitter:
It was a good one. Why have people been talking about two supposedly upcoming expansions?

The answer is that Dulfy reported "two more game expansions before end of the year" on January 24th as part of her PAX South Cantina Tour coverage, and at the time of writing this, that line is still up on her site. It didn't necessarily seem like a crazy thing to claim, considering that we had two expansions each in 2013 and 2014.

The problem is that Bioware stated only two months earlier that they currently didn't have any plans for another GSF- or a GSH-like expansion. Plans can change of course, but even if they had suddenly come up with an idea the very next day it's unlikely that they would've already done enough work on this new expansion for them to want to talk about its upcoming release two months later.

Since they also stated at that same press event that they were going to double down on their storytelling, could it be that they are working on two storytelling expansions instead? Not likely. Both previous story expansions included a level cap increase, and trying to raise the level cap three times within little more than a year (it was only just raised by Shadow of Revan) would likely spell complete mayhem.

Even if they were to change things up and release an expansion without a level cap increase, it's unlikely that they'd be able to do so within the stated time frame of a single year. More than 13 months passed between the release of the game and its first expansion, and about 19 months passed between the release of Rise of the Hutt Cartel and Shadow of Revan. Even if Bioware were to speed things up considerably due to not working on a GSF- or GSH-like expansion on the side, I just can't see them cranking out enough new story content for an expansion every six months.

In the producer's letter that was read at the PAX South Cantina event (which can handily also be found on OotiniCast here) there was talk of "two major updates", which someone could easily have misunderstood to mean expansions, even though that's not what it says. However, you have to consider that Bioware loves to call things expansions that other games might consider too small to be worthy of that name (I actually struggled with the semantics myself back when GSF came out, though I've gotten used to it since then). When even they talk about "updates" instead of expansions, then these patches are going to be just that: updates. My guess is that a "major" update would be something the size of patch 2.3 or 2.4, which included a new planet as well as new pieces of group content or something similarly meaty.

The thing to keep in mind with Dulfy's (or anyone's really) Cantina reports is that very often the news poster hasn't actually been to the event themselves, but is instead relaying information that has been provided to them by tipsters that have attended. Maybe Dulfy misunderstood some piece of information that was sent to her, or maybe the tipster himself got it wrong. Note that the info about the slot machines which they provided and which was posted on the same page was also amended and they even posted on the forums to apologise for accidentally having misrepresented what Bioware said.

This doesn't mean that Dulfy is a bad site or that Baa’nariim of The Harbinger is a bad person. But it does mean that we shouldn't take everything we read on news sites as gospel, especially when it comes to Cantina Events, as it's way too easy for announcements that are made in a noisy room to be misheard or for snippets of casual conversation to get misinterpreted or twisted to mean something else. This can happen even when people are reporting about first hand experiences and try their best to relay things truthfully. I seem to recall Mcsluethburg cringing when his report about the Vancouver Community Cantina in May 2014 got linked under headlines such as "Star Wars: The Old Republic housing will not disappoint, devs promise", which was a wonderful example of a quote being taken out of context. I also remember Gaddock Teeg's report of him talking to Bruce MacLean during the NYC Cantina morphing into "Bruce MacLean spilling secrets while drunk" when people discussed it later, even though that's not what was actually said.

Basically, it's best to take everything that's reported about a Community Cantina event with a grain of salt unless you can get confirmation from other sources as well. Bioware gets enough crap about their communication as it is, so we don't really need to make up additional things they supposedly promised and which we can then complain about later. (And at this point I fully expect some people to go "Where are the two expansions you promised us, Bioware?!" later in the year, just you wait...)


Revan Annoys Me

When I completed the final Revan fight on Yavin 4 for the first time, I thought that it was pretty epic. It was a very cinematic finale to what I considered to be a solid story. Of course it was also bugged, which didn't cast a great light on Bioware, but you know... at least the encounter looked like a good idea in principle.

Since then I've repeated the fight more than a couple of times, sometimes on alts going through the story for the first time, sometimes because it's also a weekly quest that rewards a sweet 192 companion weapon. And the more often I do it, the more it annoys me.

The problem is that the awe caused by the story and cinematics wears off when you see them for the umpteenth time, which causes your focus to shift towards the basic gameplay mechanics of the encounter instead. And those are pretty terrible for two reasons:

1. Your actions don't actually matter (except during the "orb phases").
2. You spend way too much time being stunned.

Just another day on Yavin 4...

I'll admit that the first point is a matter of preference, as there seem to be a lot of people who really enjoy ambling about in the wake of a nigh invincible NPC while they just get to enjoy the scenery. That's why people love the new solo flashpoints, and that's why people loved the Battle of Undercity in WoW. I disliked both. If you just want to show me something without gameplay getting in the way, show me a damn cut scene, and make it a good one. But don't force me to run around and "pretend" to fight while nothing I do actually matters because the NPCs actually have everything under control.

The weird thing is that in early guides to the encounter there was mention of Revan starting to cast an ability towards the end that would kill you if you didn't interrupt it. I also remember seeing him start to cast this when I enlisted my guildies to brute-force the encounter while it was still bugged (though we never allowed him to finish his cast, so I don't know how devastating that ability's effects actually were). However, when Bioware fixed the major bug in the encounter, they apparently also took out the one ability that may have actually required the player to act.

I'll admit that the initial implementation of this mechanic may not have been the best anyway. Revan casts multiple things, so one might have been tempted to interrupt one of his other abilities first, and with the new and improved much longer interrupt cooldowns introduced in 3.0, this could have turned out to be fatal in a very annoying way when - surprise, surprise - a new and even deadlier ability suddenly showed up at the very end when your interrupt's already on cooldown. But making the player's actions in combat completely irrelevant instead was not a good solution either, as it just turns the entire encounter into a giant bore-fest.

This is compounded by point 2: the sheer amount of stuns that Revan has. I'm not against stuns in principle - especially in group content they give people a good reason to use crowd control. But in a solo encounter where you're pretty much invincible anyway, they just take you out of the game for no real reason.

It's easy to complain about there being "too many" stuns, but I actually wanted to be able to back my claim up with numbers - so I recorded my Guardian as she was fighting Revan, counted how many times she was stunned and for how long, and put that into perspective compared to the total duration of the fight.

In its entirety, the encounter lasted about 6 minutes, 15 seconds, or 375 seconds. The two orb phases took up about 110 seconds in total, leaving 265 seconds of actual fighting, which is about four and a half minutes. In that time, my character was stunned 14 times, with most of those stuns lasting 6 seconds each. Or in other words, I spent more than a quarter of an already tedious fight being incapacitated, which actually surpassed even my most dire estimates. And this was a fight where my character managed to dodge a couple of stuns as well.

Do I really need to say more?

Basically, story can make people overlook bad game mechanics the first time around, but if you make content repeatable it really has to be able to hold up better than this.