The Rise of Skywalker

So I finally went to see The Rise of Skywalker - a full 11 days after its release! I had to go on my own as well, since we don't have any friends that live close by and Mr Commando had been even more annoyed by The Last Jedi than me, to the point where he didn't even care to see how the whole trilogy was going to end anymore. You bet that I still cared though!

Movie poster from starwars.com

That said, I didn't go into the film with high expectations - rather the opposite in fact. From what I'd gathered from the spoiler-free commentary I'd seen, reviews were kind of mixed, which they had been for Last Jedi too. There seemed to be a weird kind of inversion though, where the people who loved Episode VIII seemed to hate this one and vice versa (obviously this isn't true for everyone... but it does seem to be the general trend).

After having seen the movie, my own opinion aligns with this as well. I didn't hate Last Jedi, but my overall feeling was that I found it unsatisfying and disappointing. And I didn't love The Rise of Skywalker, but I did have a good time with it.

This wasn't actually true from the start, as I didn't enjoy the first third or so of the film very much at all (I didn't check the exact time). It just felt like one fast-paced action sequence after another, with characters only being allowed to have the barest of dialogue to advance the plot. It kind of reminded me of bad fan fiction and actually left me feeling a bit bored if you can believe it, just because I couldn't really connect to anything that was going on.

Then there was one scene that genuinely surprised me though, and from that point on I started to get more engaged. (I think it also helped that around this time the film started to slow down a little in so far as it actually allowed the viewer to take in new scenes for more than a couple of moments.) I still found myself thinking "what the fuck is even going on, this makes no sense" a lot, but at the same time I actually cared about what was going on... which is a win I guess?

The climax is this bombastic CGI fest where the threats/powers just keep increasing and there's no real sense of place anymore as it's all just shadows and lasers and lightning (and to think people complained about the ending of Wonder Woman...) but I did have my eyes glued to the screen wondering how it would all end. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy themselves as well, with some people even clapping at the end, and I left the movie theatre in a good mood.

With that said, as I'm sure you can tell from the way I phrased things above, I can totally understand people who didn't like this movie as well, because, well... it is a bit trashy in parts, similar to a mediocre fanfic or a low-grade EU novel. Just take the whole setup of Palpatine being back somehow, and having been behind everything somehow, and don't worry too much about everything that happened in the previous two films, just know that he suddenly has a giant fleet of Star Destroyers that all have planet-killing weapons and we've got to worry about that now. (I'm not sure I can even call that a spoiler, considering that most of this is revealed in the first five minutes of the film.) Or just look at the way certain characters that the writer didn't like are suddenly shunted into the background and behave completely differently (poor Rose)...

Anyway, this might sound weird but I'm kind of glad that the sequel trilogy is over now. Hopefully we can stop arguing about what true Star Wars fans should think of this or that on social media now. I still remember when Episode I came out and many people claimed that the idea of midichlorians had now ruined Star Wars and the Force forever! Yet where are we now? Ultimately, people just pick and choose the parts they like and drop anything they don't like by more or less pretending that it was never mentioned in the first place. I'm honestly curious to see what everyone will consider the memorable parts of the sequel trilogy in ten to twenty years from now.


Happy Life Day etc.

I hope everyone's having a good holiday season, whether you've been celebrating anything or not. I don't know if it's inevitable to get disenchanted with Christmas as you get older or whether it's simply dependent on your personal circumstances, but let's just say that I'm mostly glad to have it over with, and relieved that it went as well as it did.

In game it's Life Day again of course. I realised that I haven't written about that event in quite some time, but to be honest there simply hasn't been much to talk about. I first wrote about Life Day when it was introduced to SWTOR back in December 2013. In December 2014 I commented on the addition of the Overheated Gift Droids. And ever since then... there hasn't really been much to say since the event didn't change (other than some rotation among the offerings on the Cartel Market - I mentioned buying a red-nosed tauntaun in 2016).

This year Bioware finally decided to inject some new life into Life Day (yes, I went there)... with the addition of wookiee hugging! There is now a quest and several achievements for hugging wookiee revellers, not by using the /hug emote but by utilising a special temporary ability that appears if you stand in just the right spot and which results in you and the wookiee having a proper cuddle.

It's cute, though I think the top achievement requiring one thousand such hugs is a bit insane (and yes, I know people who've already got it). I did run around hugging some wookiees on several characters, but ultimately it's a bit fiddly to find the right spot to be able to perform the hug and I got bored.

It did make me give the other activities another look though. I rediscovered snowball-throwing as a nice way to pass the time while waiting for PvP pops and between boss attempts in operations for example - I'd forgotten just how chill and relaxing that can be. I even invested into the Life Day Snowball Cannon at last, an item that I'd been eyeing for a few years but every time I finally resolved to buy it, it had already disappeared from the Cartel Market again.

I was also surprised to discover that Nar Shaddaa is a veritable hotbed of Life Day celebrations. Not only does the promenade have lots of wookiees to hug, there are also oodles of gift droids around, a feature that I had thought was still limited to Coruscant and Dromund Kaas. Unfortunately I only had limited success coaxing gifts out of the droids simply because they require a crowd to function optimally, and there weren't any organised groups hunting them on Nar Shaddaa like I had seen on Coruscant in the past.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my renewed appreciation for this event and how it's different from many other world events in the way it has no real organised activities, just seasonal hugging and snowflakes. And I'm down with that. Now if only Bioware hadn't decided to also launch the Total Galactic War conquest event on Christmas Eve of all days... no season for peace in a galaxy far, far away!


Happy 8th Blogday to me!

As is traditional, my blog's anniversary comes two days after SWTOR's own birthday. In terms of blogging activity, this year has been similar to last in that overall, I wrote a bit less than the previous average, largely because I found myself struggling for a few months mid-year, though there was once again a burst of activity when we got a big new content release towards the end of the year.

I rang in 2019 by loading up Elder Scrolls Online of all things, a game that I had abandoned at a very low level several years prior. What I had expected to be only a brief spur of the moment adventure actually ended up with me subscribing for a while, and I was really into it for about three months... then I spent another three months just logging in for the daily log-in rewards and to train my mount and that was that. Still, it was a fun and educational experience and I might revisit some day.

In SWTOR I was still busy on Ossus, where after having spent most of December praising the new content, I got a bit critical by highlighting various bugs and analysing the new ways of getting gear. I also shared my seven golden rules for happy pugging, bemoaned that the new guild perk system was confusing, and - inspired by the new saboteur path introduced with Jedi Under Siege - considered the practical implications of the idea of changing factions, since faction involves a lot more complications in SWTOR than in most other MMOs.

Somewhat related to that, I used February to write about why I enjoy the faction conflict in SWTOR and consider it an important part of the setting. I also wrote a silly little top five list, and looked back at the strangely troubled developments of the two "Knights of" expansions. Oh, and I married my pet tank in real life. Minor thing, that.

In March I looked at just how much time I had spent playing SWTOR in February, since I had installed an app called ManicTime on my PC at the start of the month. By the way, while I haven't written about it again, I kept that app running all year, and so far I've racked up more than 36 days of SWTOR playtime for 2019. That's more than a whole month spent doing nothing but playing SWTOR! For comparison, the other MMOs I played this year came in at 16 days for WoW Classic (which is not bad considering it only came out at the end of August), 11 days for ESO, and 46 hours for Neverwinter. Sorry Neverwinter, we're clearly over.

Other things I wrote about in March included MMO superstitions (or the strange ideas people come up with when they can't tell what triggers certain bugs), musings on how level sync works in SWTOR vs. ESO, and Swtorista's "sweep event" celebrating the milestone of her YouTube channel reaching 50k subscribers. (She's up to 81k now - 100k subscriber celebration next March maybe?)

April was a month of big achievements for me as it saw my guild defeating Izax on veteran mode, and me finishing off the last of the KotFE chapters on master mode. Onslaught was announced to much excitement, and I spent some time playing a low-level character for the first time in ages but ultimately found it somewhat unsatisfying. Oh, and guilds got flags heraldry.

In May the thought of the upcoming expansion had me all excited, and I made a to-do list. My guildies and I killed Master and Blaster on veteran mode at last, and I had a slightly strange experience trying my hand at using my seeker droid for the first time in literal years.

June saw the release of Dantooine and its associated world event. When the latter ended, it got me thinking about how Dantooine in peace time offered the first real opportunity to level a pacifist character in SWTOR. I also realised that I still had achievements left to do and datacrons to hunt on Ossus, so I got on with that. People also got (sort of) nostalgic about the fact that it had been three years since the big Dark vs. Light event, and I joined others in musing about what had become of the alts I had created for the event back then.

In July my guild hit level 100 under the new guild levelling system (for whatever that's worth), and I was overcome by random nostalgia for Makeb. I asked the question whether PvP was more balanced one year after Bioware made all warzones cross-faction, and the answer seemed to be "mostly yes". I also ruminated on the option to skip KotFE and KotET and why I can't get myself to do it despite of the many arguments in favour.

In August I took part in (the more easygoing version of) Blaugust again, and had my first look at the Onslaught PTS. My earlier musings about levelling a pacifist character came to fruition as I started my pacifist Shadow Pacis on her journey. (For anyone who's wondering about her by the way, I'm still levelling her but it's been a while since I've done anything other than more Dantooine dailies or that one heroic on Coruscant, so there hasn't really been anything to write about.) Oh, and we got the launch date for Onslaught, which was later than originally indicated, but everyone who'd been on the PTS pretty much agreed that this delay was sorely needed to give them time to tidy things up.

September was the quietest month on the blog because I was in the throes of the freshly launched WoW Classic and not at all enthused by what I was seeing on the PTS.

Fortunately everything was sunshine and roses again once Onslaught actually launched. My first impressions were positive, the new loot system looked good (despite of how unimpressed I had been on the PTS), and I did the new Onderon dailies a lot, even though being asked to find green circles on green grass didn't strike me as the best design.

In November I took part in International Picture Posting Month again, wrote down my thoughts on the new story content, made a Nautolan and was intrigued by undocumented changes to the group finder.

In December I talked more about using your phone as a security key and to browse this blog, and my guild's progress through the new raid. And that's where are now! I'm looking forward to another fun year of playing and writing about SWTOR, which should incidentally also see me make my 1000th post on this blog. I hope you'll stay tuned!


Eight Years of SWTOR

It's that time of year once again to wish my favourite MMO a happy birthday! And to update my collage showing off my main's different looks over the course of the years:

I can't believe we're getting close to a decade of SWTOR now, and it's still holding up well. As usual, hard facts and figures are hard to come by, but when Keith popped into the dev livestream a couple of days ago he said that Onslaught has been doing "really, really well" and that lots of people are coming back to the game.

For me, YouTube also keeps recommending videos by smaller channels (less than 10k subscribers) that are about the creator trying SWTOR for the first time recently, and then said videos suddenly become the most watched things on their channels, eclipsing their subscriber numbers by several multitudes, so there's still obvious interest in the game.

Of course the release of episode nine and the Mandalorian have undoubtedly contributed to a renewed interest in Star Wars from more casual players as well. The other day someone on my Twitter timeline commented that the Mandalorian made them crave a Star Wars game that wasn't just about swinging lightsabers - I'm sure it won't take you three guesses to figure out which way I pointed them...

Anyway, to take a few steps back for a moment - as I mentioned at the start, these birthday posts are an annual tradition on this blog, so if you like you can look back at how I rated other years in SWTOR's history:

Happy Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 2nd Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy Third Birthday, SWTOR!
Happy 4th Birthday, SWTOR!
Five Years of SWTOR
Six Years of SWTOR
Seven Years of SWTOR

Last year I was mostly expressing some concern that it had been the second year in a row that we hadn't got a new expansion. I liked the direction in which Bioware was taking the game and its content, but new content seemed to be coming out painfully slowly. My main hope for 2019 was that this would improve a bit.

Now, I wasn't instantly sure how I should rate this in hindsight. We did finally get that long-awaited expansion two months ago, so fist pump on that count! It brought with it a great new story, a brilliant new operation, a fun new flashpoint and more. Is one sizeable content dump at the end of the year really that much more than we got in 2018 though? Ossus was a pretty damn big patch too after all.

So I went to check the patch notes, and yeah, I think it's fair to say that we got more content this year. Before Onslaught we also got the Hive Queen as a lair boss, Dantooine as a new planet and with it a new world event, as well as some minor story updates.

As I had predicted, they've been kind of running out of actual game features to revamp at this point (something that had been a bit of a trend for the last two years), though they did upgrade the gear preview window in April. The toughest period were probably the four months in the immediate run-up to Onslaught, as nothing of impact happened during that time and things felt kinda slow if you weren't particularly interested in testing things on the PTS.

I've also learned from hearsay (though relatively reliable hearsay at that) that the SWTOR team is now much smaller than it was even a few years ago (so long after the big post-launch lay-offs), only about half the size it was around the release of Shadow of Revan, presumably because a number of staff were pulled off to prop up the ailing Anthem. While this is not happy news, it did greatly increase my admiration for this small team that keeps the game up and running as well as churning out exciting new content - if not at a regular pace, then at least at a decent one.

They also seem to have grand plans for the future - in the aforementioned dev livestream they also mentioned that they are already thinking about the game's tenth anniversary, which is still two years away, and I'm sure we'll see more exciting story and group content before then. For now, the next new thing we know to expect is a new stronghold on Alderaan, which is currently available for testing on the PTS and set to be released around February. Good times!

So another happy birthday to you, SWTOR, and I once again raise my glass to all the folks at Bioware who keep this show running in such an enjoyable way. Long may they continue!


Reviewing Objective Meridian

When I talked about the part of Onslaught's story that takes place on Corellia, I said that the Objective Meridian flashpoint probably deserved a post of its own... this is that post.

Functionally, it works the same as the previous three flashpoints we got over the last couple of years (Crisis on Umbara, A Traitor Among the Chiss and Nathema Conspiracy): there is a single-player story mode that you're meant to play through while making your way through the main storyline and which has all the cut scenes and dialogue. Then there are repeatable solo, veteran and master modes that are virtually devoid of cinematics and more about having fun with the combat and pursuing rewards.

However, this is already where the commonalities between Objective Meridian and those other flashpoints end. In fact, in every other aspect they are pretty much opposites.

The three flashpoints forming the traitor storyline wowed us with beautiful new environments, with each new one more stunning than the last. Story mode aside, they were also fiendishly hard however. (Nathema Conspiracy slightly less so, but still.) I didn't view this difficulty as a bad thing exactly; instead I found the challenge interesting - but after beating every difficulty once or twice, I started to dislike having any of them pop up as my random of the day in the group finder, as it always meant having to work so much harder than in most other flashpoints.

By contrast, Objective Meridian is visually quite dull. I'm biased in that I never liked Corellia's environments much, and this is just more of the same. The trash feels old-school as well, with wide and open spaces in which groups of enemies stand around neatly spaced out so that you can actually just run past a fair number of them without even engaging. I did enjoy the story very much, but in terms of flashpoint visuals and mechanics I wasn't at all impressed on my first run.

On the other hand though... it's really fun to re-run! I'm actually happy when it pops up in the random group finder because I know it won't be too long or difficult (though like Dxun when compared to other operations, it currently seems to award less loot than the older flashpoints for some reason). The fights aren't boring - Malgus and Tau in particular are quite well done in my opinion - and you may well find yourself wiping a couple of times the first time around while figuring out the mechanics, but once you understand what's going on the tactics are straightforward enough to execute without pushing you to your absolute limits.

Speaking of fight mechanics, another thing that was a pleasant surprise for me is that while the flashpoint's layout and progression are the same for both factions, the bosses actually have different mechanics for each side. I had expected it to be more like Assault on Tython/Korriban Incursion, where you essentially deal with the same content only with a different skin. But no, here every boss actually has their own unique mechanics (and Imp side actually seems more of a pain to me than Rep side, but maybe that's because I've only done the former on master mode once and am therefore less familiar with it).

Tl;dr version: My first impression of Objective Meridian wasn't great, but it's really grown on me with each subsequent run. On the other hand I got both Crisis on Umbara and Traitor Among the Chiss as my random master mode several times over the past couple of weeks (once we even got Copero twice in a row!) and as pretty as they are, it always elicits groans. It's really made me think about the comparative value of dazzling the player with a great first impression but being tedious to repeat vs. the other way round.


Kuat Drive Yards Can Be... Fun?

Last time on "levelling through flashpoints" I decided that I'd had enough of Hammer Station and that going forward, I was going to exclude it from my flashpoint selection before queueing. Somewhat to my surprise, queue times with Hammer Station unselected really were longer, though it was mostly a difference between mere seconds and waiting a couple of minutes. Things really are more dire than I had thought if that many people are queueing for nothing but Hammer Station in specific.

Also, fun fact: When I went to unselect Hammer Station, I noticed that what inspired this whole project, to find out at which level each flashpoint unlocks now, is actually a pointless exercise since it says right there in the tooltip of the group finder interface what each flashpoint's level range is! D'oh!

I levelled: 30-31

Ahh, Cademimu, an old favourite. My team for this one consisted of two other Shadows and a Sentinel, which led to a lot of sneaking. Mostly we were successful in skipping the pulls we tried to, though other times we did end up aggroing things by accident and once, just before the first boss, this even led to a wipe. Oops!

Order 66 executed successfully.

We were mostly carried by the level 75 in full 306 gear, while the poor lowbie tank seemed a bit lost. I took it as final confirmation of his newness when he died to General Ortol's very first rocket firing - you know the one, where only one of the four quadrants is dangerous and the other three are safe, yet he managed to run right into the one that killed him.

Maelstrom Prison
I levelled: 31-33

I briefly considered unticking Cademimu from the list on my next run to avoid getting it again, but then decided against it because after all those Hammer Stations two Cademimus in a row would have been nothing anyway. As it turned out the question was moot in any case as I ended up in Maelstrom Prison. I've always considered this one a pretty nice flashpoint to pug, as it's one of the easier ones overall but has a couple of tricky bits that prevent it from being a snore-fest.

My party this time around consisted of three Guardians, one level 75 tank, and two labelled as dps, level 60 and 45 respectively. While everyone said hi at the beginning, there was virtually no conversation after that, so I didn't bother bringing up the question of the bonus boss when it became obvious that some people were keen on quickly running past anything that was skippable.

Our tank had a clear understanding of the basics of tanking, as he was taunting and using his cooldowns appropriately, but displayed a surprising lack of tactical knowledge when he attempted to face-tank Colonel Daksh, which eventually resulted in a wipe. The next time around we got him down okay, and the level 60 revealed himself to be the most experienced by using his taunt to take over kiting duty.

The level 45 was a funny one in so far as he kept running ahead to be the first to jump into as many pulls as possible and died multiple times from that. However, every time he was revived he went straight ahead and did the same thing again, undeterred by the obvious negative consequences. Some people play this game in (to me) very strange ways.

At one point he also accidentally pushed a gold mob into a patrol and then said "mb" in chat. After my recent adventures in WoW Classic my brain immediately went to "mana break", which obviously made no sense, until I realised that he was apologising for the bad pull: "my bad"!

Kuat Drive Yards
I levelled: 33-36

Kuat at last! I never thought I'd say that, considering that this used to occupy a similar position as Hammer Station does now, as in: the easy place to spam for rewards (though it used to be more of a levelling thing than about max-level gear).

The group I got for this one was fairly low-level, with the highest character a level 51 Guardian, and the other two slots being filled by a level 16 Gunslinger and a level 21 Sentinel.

I got a bit worried when the Guardian started the introductory convo before the Sentinel had even loaded in and asked people to skip if they'd already seen the cut scene, but then he aborted the conversation when he realised that we were still missing someone and didn't actually complain when we did watch the cut scene. He was sporting the title "Friendly" and I was curious to see whether he'd live up to it. (He did.)

Remembering how rush-rush people used to be in this flashpoint it felt odd to go through it as slowly as we did, but at our level every pull was a challenge and we had to heal up in-between. We got the armoury and the gun emplacements as our random segments. We even did the bonus once! The second time the Guardian completed the final objective before we'd found the Elite Defender, but oh well.

The final boss was Lieutenant Krupp, and of course we wiped the first time due to the two lowbies being completely oblivious to the grenade mechanic. I explained. On the next try the group split and activated both degaussing stations at the same time, so that we were unable to cleanse the second round of grenades and wiped on that one. Friendly Guardian put a star over my head and told everyone to follow me whenever the grenades were thrown.

We continued in that vein but wiped about another half dozen times without much progress, barely shaving twenty percent of the boss's health off before dying. I was getting increasingly worried that someone was going to get angry/frustrated and leave, but that didn't happen. Friendly Guardian and I just kept trying to come up with additional advice to improve our performance, such as to kill the adds as soon as they appeared, while the two lowbies did their best to execute it (though with limited success).

As survivability was our biggest problem, I eventually took it upon myself to personally run back and forth between the kolto stations - I had expected our Guardian to heal himself there since he was the one with boss aggro most of the time, but after a few tries of that not working I decided to just do what I could myself. I also taunted the boss every now and then to spread out the damage a bit, and the Guardian let me take some hits, then taunted back when I got low. We were obviously on the same page on that point.

I think it must have taken us ten or twelve attempts until we finally got the boss down. On that final successful try the Sentinel died early on too, so that we three-manned most of the fight. I was doing very little actual damage, mostly just running back and forth between the kolto and degaussing stations, but eventually we got him down. I checked the time and the fight that finally led to the kill had taken us a full seven minutes. Quite hardcore for a group of lowbies fighting a flashpoint boss - and easily the most satisfying run Nautalie has been in so far. (EDIT: I actually uploaded a video of that fight to YouTube in the end, you can see it here.)

I don't mind showing these guys' character names because they were all goddamn heroes.

I levelled: 36-37

I guess after the positive excitement of the previous run, karma decided that I was due for a train wreck. I got put into a Cademimu run in progress, though they were only on the second trash pull. I saw two level 75s still in levelling gear designated as tanks, a Vanguard and a Shadow, and another dps Shadow a few levels below me.

When we got to the bit at the bottom of the first elevator where you can run past a lot of mobs, one of the other Shadows charged right in and pulled half the area, causing us to wipe. The Vanguard yelled some expletives. We re-grouped and the Shadows (or one of them, I couldn't quite see) ran right back in to pull the same group again. The Vanguard left as soon as that happened and we wiped again.

We re-grouped for a third time and someone was obsessed with getting revenge on that Champion drone now as they unnecessarily pulled it yet again... but we got two at once and wiped yet again (well, I stealthed out just beforehand). That resulted in the level 75 Shadow leaving as well.

The lowbie Shadow had been passed group lead for some reason and I told him that he had to re-queue us if we wanted replacements but he was completely non-responsive and just seemed confused. I summoned my crappy influence level four Qyzen Fess and tried to gently guide him onwards. He did follow me for a bit, which got us past the cantina and to that bit where you can take a shortcut through the fenced area. We both snuck up to the next pull right outside it in stealth and I was pondering whether we should just bypass it entirely, when the Shadow decided to jump out of stealth with an AoE, dying a few seconds later. I still tried to help him but died as well.

We started running back once again, and I watched him jump to his death while the elevator wasn't there, just like that. I didn't know what to say. Suddenly he seemed to have found the queue button as the prompt for getting replacements popped up... but before we could actually get any, he left the group, causing it to disband. I returned to the fleet, somewhat bewildered by what had just happened.

Kuat Drive Yards
I levelled: 37-38

I re-selected Hammer Station just so I could get the weekly Searching For Allies quest done, fully expecting to get thrown into it right away, but the instant pop I got actually took me to Kuat Drive Yards again!

This time the group consisted of three other dpsers just below max level, two Shadows and a Commando. There was a bit of confusion at the beginning as one of the Shadows lagged behind and eventually asked us to kick her. I was glad that the other two didn't immediately oblige but rather asked why. She said that she couldn't see her UI, which prompted the other Shadow to explain how to reset your UI. I imagined the Commando rolling his eyes as he announced that he was going for a bio in the meantime.

Eventually we got everyone onto the station though, and this time around we got the hangar and starship assembly scenarios. Nice variety! My attempts to get people to do the bonuses before completing the main objectives were once again only moderately successful. I did grit my teeth a bit when people didn't want to do the Elite Defender in the hangar even though he was right next to the exit, so that when we eventually had to kill him anyway, we didn't get anything for it since the bonus quest had disappeared. On the starship assembly someone customarily mashed all the buttons before I'd even had a chance to figure out the puzzle and the prototype exploded. Nice to see that some things haven't changed.

The final boss was Station Guardian One, whom we dispatched easily enough as everyone used the two kolto stations responsibly (thankfully). I just found it amusing that I was once again the lowest level by far yet ended up tanking the boss for most of the fight - until I got caught in a tight spot with no kolto station in reach and stealthed out to avoid dying.

It does still feel a bit strange to get this much satisfaction out of running Kuat Drive Yards of all places, but right now anything that's not Hammer Station is a win.


Raiding With Little Guidance

For the longest time, the #1 online resource to consult about raiding in SWTOR used to be Dulfy's website. From what I can surmise, she was a dedicated progression raider herself and would usually play through all the new content on the PTS, where she took screenshots and notes so that she could have a detailed guide ready and published the moment the content actually hit live.

However, in the latter half of 2017 she suddenly seemed to lose interest in operations, and after the first two encounters in Gods from the Machine the guides just stopped, which posed a bit of a challenge for raiders who were used to having them as a reference. I mentioned this when talking about my own guild's Gods progression at the time.

We eventually bumbled our way through via a mix of obscure written sources (our main reference for hardmode Scyva was from a Google doc written by a person with a French-sounding name) and orally related instructions from friends and guildies who had already managed to get their kill via some other means.

Cue the release of Onslaught! Dulfy seems to have given up guide-writing for MMOs entirely earlier in the year (not just raid guides), and while other fan sites like Vulkk and MMO Bits have picked up the slack in a lot of areas, raiders still feel a bit underserved to me in terms of helpful content. Xam Xam has actually started posting guides for the first few bosses of the new operation recently, but for my guild at least these still came kind of late, as we're up to the last boss on veteran mode now.

It's interesting because it's one thing to go into story mode "blind" for a bit of fun, but we never had any intentions to do hardmode progression "blindly" too. The first two encounters were easy enough to figure out on the go, but by the third one we were running into some trouble.

Fortunately it was word of mouth that saved us once again, as an acquaintance from another guild was able to give us a crucial tip that managed to turn things around. Still, we are back to running two progression teams at the moment and it's been interesting to see how each one's been doing things slightly differently, simply because there's no single source telling us what to do along every step of the way, so each group just experiments with certain things until they find a way that works best for them.

It's a different raiding experience than what I've been used to for a long time, but still fun. It gives you that odd feeling of being on the very edge of progression, among the first people to figure out how these fights work (though we're obviously not). And the operation itself has remained good fun so far; to me it really feels like Bioware hit about the right difficulty for a hardmode this time around.

We also keep discovering little bits and pieces that make us laugh, from new hardmode-only mechanics to little things that we just managed to miss previously. Did you know that in the room with the turrets before the Huntmaster, you can avoid being shot at by simply RP-walking past them? The AI wasn't kidding when she said that they were activated by motion sensors...

Now we just have to deal with the last boss, which like on story mode, is the one thing I'm not so sure I like. On story mode I criticised the sheer length of the fight as well as the imbalance in terms of what each group member has to do, while veteran mode seems to be extremely unforgiving in terms of group composition, which has most of my team gearing up some alts now because our usual mix of classes and specs is simply not viable. We shall see how that goes!



This is going to be one of those blog posts mostly about blogging, so if that isn't your cup of tea, feel free to skip this one.

A couple of months ago now, I finally got a smartphone. I held out with my old "dumb phone" longer than most, largely because I only really wanted it to do "phone things" such as make calls and write text messages, and an old-style phone is actually better for that as the limited functionality allows it to have a much, much longer battery life.

However, times change and for a number of reasons I finally gave in and got myself a smartphone. In regards to SWTOR this turned out to be a lucky turn of events, as my old physical security key finally gave up the ghost literal days after I got my new phone, which made it easy enough to switch to using the security key app instead.

I have to admit I actually quite like it too. For all my sentimental attachment to the physical key, the app is much more responsive, and I like that it has this little bar that shows you how long the code generated will be valid, and automatically generates a new one when the timer runs out. Something that used to happen to me quite frequently with the old key was that I would generate a code but it wouldn't work because it had already expired by the time I entered it, and I had no way of knowing that in advance.

The new phone has also meant being able to read blogs on the go, which was in many ways an eye-opening experience. Some blogs that I always thought ugly and kind of annoying to navigate on desktop turned out to be the opposite on mobile, the layout having clearly been designed primarily for the latter.

On the other hand I was surprised to find that even in this day and age there are still people on my blog roll who forego having a responsive layout altogether. Though apparently Firefox (and presumably other browsers too) can convert most articles into a format that's readable on mobile anyway if you press the right button.

I also leave comments from my phone now sometimes! It's a bit of an exercise in patience since it takes me ages to type anything on my phone screen, but I spend about eight hours a week commuting on trains, and during that time my entertainment options are limited anyway. Plus every comment I manage to leave on the go is one I don't have to remember to come back to later.

My own blogs surprisingly turned out to look... okay on mobile. This is mostly because many years ago I learned somehow (I can't remember where now, probably in conversation with another blogger) that Blogger had a simple checkbox in its settings that would set your blog to show a plain default mobile layout on small screens, which I ticked as soon as I was told about it because it seemed like very little effort for a lot of accessibility.

One thing I had never thought about before though and which bothered me now that I saw it for myself was how much site content is lost on mobile, mostly because the sidebar is completely invisible. Now, I figure most readers never look at it anyway, never mind clicking on any of the links, but they still matter to me. After some googling I learned that there is apparently a way to show sidebar content on mobile too, though it goes in a long list under each post instead (which makes sense in terms of space).

However, this only works if you select another option in your Blogger settings to customise the mobile layout further, which initially just means that Google will check your desktop layout for style elements like colours and fonts and try to automatically apply them to your mobile layout too. Applying this feature to this blog looked quite good. On my WoW blog it looked terrible, so I reverted to the default there.

However, I found out that simply enabling every sidebar widget for mobile looked terrible as well, as they were just crammed in at the bottom of each post one after the other with zero spacing or any kind of separators. If I was more knowledgeable about things like CSS I might have been able to fix that by adding some padding, but I'm not, so I opted to simply disable most of them again. Some of them also looked terrible in general and were borderline unusable on mobile anyway, such as the blog archive feature - which did break my heart a little as it's easily the widget I use the most, always checking back on older posts that I can cross-reference.

Interestingly I noticed on Bhagpuss' blog, which also seemed to have the default mobile layout enabled with zero customisation, that he had a tappable mobile drop-down at the top of the blog somehow. I eventually figured out that this is created when you use the "pages" feature and put it on the sidebar. (Though you don't get the neat little top bar if you've selected the option to customise your layout, go figure. If you did that it will just go in the long list of widgets at the bottom with everything else.) So I ended up re-creating a couple of widgets as pages that are hidden on desktop and linked them up so that they appear as part of the menu on mobile. Better than nothing.

All this has been a bit of a reminder of how unloved Blogger is by Google and how little support it seems to get. (It's been years since the YouTube widget died and I don't think they ever bothered to replace it.) Though I will say this: Another thing I've started doing is moderating spam comments on the go, and after a couple of weeks of being annoyed about the non-responsiveness of the comment moderation section in the Blogger menu, I suddenly found that it had been updated to be mobile friendly one day, just like that. When I checked back just now to look for the "show default mobile layout" option I was talking about earlier, I noticed that that page had been revamped as well. So there's still some work being done; hopefully Blogger isn't headed for the Google graveyard just yet.

I look forward to them making the actual blogging window mobile friendly as well - not that I can ever see myself writing whole blog posts on the go, considering how long comments take me already! However, besides taking care of spam comments that would also allow me to more easily fix typos in older posts when I come across them. The things I didn't know I wanted...