R-4 Hoop Jumping

One of the things I've learned at my current place of work is that when resources to fix problems are very limited, small issues that can be worked around in some way can go unfixed for a very, very long time. After a while you pretty much consider the workaround the new "normal" way to do things without even thinking about it anymore, until you have to explain the workflow to a new starter one day, and suddenly realise that it's rather odd that whenever you want to perform a search in application A, you actually perform the search in application B and then copy and paste part of the URL string into application A, because the actual search function in application A itself has been broken for as long as you can remember and just causes the whole thing to crash. To use a totally made-up example.

What does this have to do with SWTOR? Well... I've been taking a break from progression ops in recent weeks. The frustration with the whole ops situation had just become too much for me to want to deal with. The rest of my team however, including Mr Commando, has largely soldiered on, and I haven't exactly been "away" either. I've still been chatting with my team, and once or twice I did attend an op to help out when they were a person short.

On Friday I was called upon once again and got to kill the second boss in R-4 veteran mode for the first time. I had a good time overall, but it really struck me how thoroughly broken the ops experience in R-4 is at the moment. That's to say in the sort of way I described at the start of this post, meaning that people have to apply half a dozen workarounds on a daily basis to be able to do anything at all.

First off there is the obstacle of the first boss being massively overtuned on veteran mode. Even people who've successfully killed it seem to agree, especially since the second and third boss are so much easier in comparison. This has led to the few who are actually capable of killing the first boss bartering their lockouts away to the slightly less capable, so that the latter can gear up from the second and third boss without ever having killed the first one.

My guild has also chosen to go this route, so even though none of our raiders have ever killed the first boss as far as I'm aware, some teams have been farming bosses two and three for a few weeks now. Someone just needs to have a connection to a team that can kill the first boss and then needs to organise a lockout handover before ops time every time.

Then follows the next complication: When you start the operation with the first boss dead, the second boss isn't accessible by normal means as a door that should be open bugs out and remains closed. However, someone figured out that there is a certain location on top of a crate where it's possible to have a duel, and someone with a knockback can then throw their opponent across a giant chasm if the person to be thrown also jumps into the air at just the right time. You want to choose a stealther for this manoeuvre, as once they've successfully landed on the other side, they can then stealth past the trash mobs there and unlock the train to the second boss. So this is another whole ritual that has to be performed at the start of every ops.

It's a good thing that you're able to duel inside of R-4, because generally this is disabled inside instances. It's unclear whether the fact that it's possible in R-4 is yet another bug that just happens to work in the players' favour for a change or something that Bioware intentionally enabled to make this and other workarounds possible, though I'd be very surprised if it was the latter.

Wait, I just spoke of "other workarounds" related to duelling, what else is there? Well, for a few months now there's been a bug whereby after a wipe and respawn, one or more members of the group will look dead to one or more other members of the raid, even though everyone is alive. This bug has been in the game since before 7.1, but at that point it didn't happen that frequently. Honestly, initially I thought it was just very funny - jokes were made about so-and-so being "undead" etc. - and if you're not a healer, it's not necessarily a deal-breaker that someone shows as dead in your ops frames when they're actually alive.

However, in R-4 this bug happens all the time, and it's quite annoying to deal with during progression, especially when it keeps affecting the healers (who obviously need to be able to see people's health bars accurately). Good thing there are more workarounds!

For one thing, it seems that it's possible to avoid the issue occurring if you're the last person to release and respawn. Now, obviously someone has to go first, but if the healers make sure to revive last, they'll generally be able to see everyone alive even if the bug affects other members of the ops group.

The other workaround involves duels once again - because if someone who can see the "undead" person's health normally duels them and hits them with a hard stun, they'll suddenly come back to life for everyone else in the group as well. I mean, I do enjoy being able to make sincere requests such as "someone kick Aregelle in the nuts please, he's dead to me again" but it's still a hassle.

If you make it to the third boss on veteran mode, apparently everyone has to Alt+F4 at the start and reload the game, or else they won't be able to see an important visual cue during the fight. When you exit the operation at the end, it's best to drop group before doing so, or else you'll have a high likelihood of getting stuck on an infinite loading screen. The list goes on and on...

It feels like every night in R-4 requires an obstacle course of following all the right steps to be able to raid at all, before you even get to having to learn the boss fights. I'm honestly kind of in awe of the people who have persevered in the face of all that just to get that purple 340 gear, but I've got to admit that with a bit of distance and perspective, it looks like a very weird experience.


Forum Nostalgia

A couple of days ago I was very surprised to find a post on the official forums announcing that the forums themselves were going to receive a makeover soon (and that's not "soon™" but "soon" as in next week). According to Eric Musco, the current forums are based on "a very old and very custom version of vBulletin [and] it was simply on its way to becoming unsupportable". That makes complete sense to me and I'm glad that they're continuing to modernise everything surrounding the game to be able to continue to support it for many years to come.

When Blizzard modernised the WoW forums a few years ago, they nuked all the old forum content, but Bioware has the lofty aspiration to import all the old posts into the new platform. We'll see how well that works out. I'll be very surprised if all the links to forum posts that I've included on this blog over the last decade actually continue to work - my more pessimistic/realistic expectation is that the move will generate a lot of link rot, but we'll see.

I've also been kind of surprised by how much of an emotional impact this announcement has had on me. I've never really been very active on the official forums as I don't tend to find the discourse there particularly inspiring, but I do tend to read them quite regularly... and I just have a soft spot for that sort of old-school, bulletin board format in general I guess, as similar forums were where I formed my very first connections online in my late teens around the turn of the century (gosh, it feels weird to say it like that). I even met my very first boyfriend on a forum about Transformers (the cartoon from the eighties, not the Michael Bay movies or the electrical components).

While the forum as a concept will remain, I expect the general feel of it to be quite different after the update. There's talk about the new software including "gamificiation" features, which I guess means stuff like upvotes, badges and what not. It just won't be quite the same. Then again, maybe that'll be a good thing and I'll actually feel inspired to post more often myself, who knows.

On a whim, I checked the stats on my current forum profile, and apparently I started 20 threads and made 124 posts in total over the years, which may not be a lot but is honestly more than I expected. Most of them revolved around bug reports or suggestions, which makes sense. While I do use the in-game /bug command sometimes, the official forums are still a primary destination for me when I encounter major bugs, because it does feel good to receive affirmation that a strange new issue is not just affecting me, plus the more attention you can draw to a bug the more likely the devs will make it a priority to fix it.

Occasionally I did post about other things too though, especially in the game's earlier years. For example I asked in March 2012: "How do Republic and Imperial side Quesh stories go together?" (I think the answer is: I still don't really know/they might just not go together.) And in April 2014 I felt the urge to poll people about their favourite and least favourite flashpoints for some reason. Nowadays I'd probably just do that kind of thing on Twitter.

Anyway, I'm very curious about this update and am crossing my fingers that things go well next week. The concept of official forums may be somewhat old-school at this point, but the same could be said about my own attitudes towards that kind of thing and one could argue even the MMO genre itself. I'm glad the SWTOR team wants to continue to invest into keeping that line of communication to their player base open.


Combat Logging in SWTOR

Whether I like it or not, I've had a lot of reasons to look at dps numbers in SWTOR in the past few months: partially because I know I can't choose to hide my performance from others anymore, partially because certain operations have been so tough that looking at everyone's numbers and ways to improve has been very... relevant.

On a whim, I put "SWTOR combat logging" into Google today and was kind of shocked to see that most of the results were forum posts from 2012 full of now-dead links. So I thought to myself, why not use this as one of those opportunities to actually post something useful on here?

How to enable combat logging in SWTOR:

Go to your in-game preferences (bound to Ctrl+P by default) and select "combat logging" on the left. You'll see a checkbox called "Enable combat logging to file" on the right, which you'll want to tick. This will save all your combat data from each play session into a text file on your PC, which can then be found in your documents under Star Wars - The Old Republic > CombatLogs.

The game warns you that this is "a feature for advanced users that may require active disk management", which is their way of saying that if you play a lot, you'll want to make sure to clear out the combat log folder every so often or your hard drive might get clogged up with thousands of text files after a while. I hadn't cleared out my own since February and when I checked on it just now it was over 6 GB large, oops.

As for how to view the information recorded in these logs in a way that makes sense to a human, you currently have three main options that I'm aware of:

Ixale's StarParse

This is a separate program that you download onto your computer and run alongside SWTOR to watch your numbers (and now also those of your group mates) rise and fall in real time. Personally I find it somewhat clunky/limited for more detailed combat analysis (such as "just why exactly did we wipe there, I'm not sure what happened") but it's great for getting a quick overview of dps and healing numbers.

It also sports additional features such as timers and overlays. Timers can be a bit fiddly in my experience, but when they work they are the closest you can get to having something like a boss mod addon in SWTOR, as you can set them up to give you sound cues when certain abilities are triggered or to show countdowns to important boss moves.

Overlays can be set up to show you additional information on screen such as a boss's health percentage (without you having to keep the boss as your focus target) or to give a healer a better overview of their heals over time on different targets.

About the only thing it doesn't do is allow you to review your logs online and share them with others, but for that it has integration with...


Not to be confused with the herb - I've mistyped this in my browser many times. Parsely is the longest-running site for people to upload their SWTOR combat logs and where you can compare your performance to that of other players, meaning it's full of interesting stats. With 7.0 and the changes to combat logging, it got a big revamp and now also allows you to do much more detailed analysis of your logs, making it possible to break them down in different ways and even allowing you to watch tactical replays of fights.


SWTOR Logs is a relatively new kid on the block, but the site's creator isn't new as they also maintain well-known logging sites for other games, such as Warcraft Logs and FF Logs. I'd say that this has pros and cons: An example of a con is that SWTOR isn't their main priority, which is part of why it took several months for the site to be updated for 7.0. On the plus side though, if you're familiar with one of its sister sites, you'll find the UI very intuitive since it works in exactly the same way, and you'll likely appreciate the very powerful filtering tools that allow you to drill down to a very detailed level. I'm definitely biased here as I've been using Warcraft Logs for quite some time, and I've also spoken to the creator on Discord and found them to be very responsive to fixing bugs. You mileage may vary, but I can definitely recommend giving this one a try if you're interested in looking at logs at all.


Total Galactic Victory

I've mentioned in the past that Total Galactic War is my favourite Conquest event by far, as it really opens up the planetary scoreboard and gives guilds other than the usual top three a chance to conquer a planet.

In the past my guild has been pretty good at planning ahead for these, as we often used to hear through the grapevine when the next event was planned according to a datamined schedule, or there would be a situation like last Christmas, where Bioware made a point of telling us that they were giving us three Total Galactic Wars in short succession to give us something to do after they delayed the much-anticipated launch of Legacy of the Sith.

This time around though, we were taken almost completely by surprise. It was literally only on the Sunday the week before that a guildie pointed out that he'd just noticed that the next week would be Total Galactic War (the Conquest tab always shows both the current and following week's events), and we all kind of went: "Wait, what?" However, most of us were also pleased as we had not had a Total Galactic War yet since Legacy of the Sith's launch, so it had been a while.

On Tuesday night, the deliberations about where to invade lasted less long than usual. In the past I had a whole list of guilds to avoid, but 7.0 had changed Conquest yet again and I honestly had no real clue how these changes had affected the overall competitive landscape. We just knew to avoid the current "big three" that were winning Conquest all the time when only three planets were up for grabs, but other than that, who knew?

Unfortunately the two large yield planets that we've still never won as a guild over the course of almost a decade were definitely out, so it was a matter of picking one of the other targets that members of the guild still needed for their personal achievements. After a bit of deliberation we settled on challenging a guild called ChissMyHutt for Iokath.

I remembered seeing their name in the top ten for large yield before, so I knew that they would require some effort to beat, but they seemed to be off to a very slow start, which made me hopeful that maybe they hadn't weathered the transition to 7.0 that well.

And indeed, for the first two days or so, things looked good. We quickly claimed first place and our lead slowly increased until we were about 3.5 million points ahead. I was already quietly patting myself on the back for my accurate assessment of their performance, while not stressing too much about my own contribution as we seemed to be winning with ease anyway.

But then, on the Thursday, they suddenly surged ahead, catching up with us within a matter of hours and soon acquiring a lead of almost six million points as well. I've said in the past that competitive Conquest involves a certain degree of psychological warfare, and seeing such a complete turnaround within less than 24 hours was certainly a blow. Had they just been toying with us? Did we even stand a chance if they could outclass us like that in such a short period of time?

However, with years of experience we were not that quick to give up and continued pushing, and in fact redoubled our efforts. I went into maximum grind mode to a degree that I hadn't done since September last year. Back then it was still possible to "prepare" partially completed weeklies and then finish them off quickly during the actual Conquest week, which is no longer possible now, but since the completion requirements for warzone and GSF weeklies were also lowered, I still managed to complete both of them every day, while rounding out my contribution with a bunch of daily zones and other activities.

Still, throughout the next couple of days it wasn't easy to stay motivated, as we consistently remained behind. However, the gap between our scores began to ebb and flow over the course of each night and day, and each time it shrunk we gained a little more ground.

There was also talk in guild about making strategic use of Conquest requisitions. These are an item that instantly completes a character's personal Conquest and were added when login rewards were first introduced as something that comes out of the final box of a specific calendar week. You can't really farm them as it's randomised which reward week will appear in your personal calendar, but if you log in consistently over long periods of time, you can save up a lot of them, and you can pop as many of them at once as you like. With 7.0 increasing personal Conquest targets from 50k to 100k, the tokens also doubled in power.

Since it had been so long since the last Total Galactic War, a lot of members had a lot of tokens saved up. I was one of the people who had popped all of theirs early in the contest, but others hadn't even touched their reserves, and a plan was hatched to "ambush" the opposition on Tuesday morning with a bunch of token pops. Considering that we had several million points worth of tokens saved up, we could potentially beat them even if we remained in second place until then, as long as we didn't allow the gap between us to grow any larger in the meantime.

However, as it turned out... we didn't even need that. After fighting us tooth and nail for several days, ChissMyHutt's activity just kind of seemed to fizzle out on Monday. I mean, Mondays are always a bit of a wild card as you never know how many members of a given guild will be prevented from playing due to work commitments, but the fight just seemed to have completely gone out of them all of a sudden, and we ended up closing the gap and overtaking them organically anyway. We still ended up popping a few tokens on Tuesday morning to be on the safe side (there had been a previous instance where we'd felt secure in victory just for the enemy guild to suddenly overtake us in a last-minute push), but our lead Conquest contributor made sure to save some for next time. I hope we won't have to wait another eight months for a similar opportunity.

All in all, I really enjoyed this round of Total Galactic War not just because we won, but also because it provided us with a good fight. You wouldn't necessarily know about all the stuff going on behind the scenes just from looking at the scoreboard, but those numbers can hide considerable tales of adventure.


Difficult Decisions

Blaugust has come and gone, and has left me feeling rather down. I've never been into the whole "daily posting" aspect of the event, but the badges on my sidebar (only visible on desktop, sorry) are a testament to my consistency when it comes to participation, as I've been able to proudly show off my silver award (earned by making 15+ posts throughout the month, in my case spread out across multiple blogs) four years in a row.

I thought it was going to be a given that I'd earn it again this year, but I stalled out at thirteen posts. During the last days of the month I kept trying to think of ways in which I could still squeeze in another couple of posts to hit my usual milestone, but in the end I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm for it.

I expected the month of August to provide a lot of positive inspiration for posts in the form of SWTOR's patch 7.1, but that didn't really pan out the way I expected either. The story update and new daily area were okay, but the new operation was honestly just a shock for me.

Back in March I actually gave the new tuning for operations introduced with Legacy of the Sith a thumbs-up. Things seemed a bit on the tough side, but Bioware had been clear about their long-term gearing plan for this expansion and I had faith that they would come through and eventually give us access to better gear that would make things easier.

However, the more 7.1 got pushed back, the more we started to feel the squeeze. I wrote about class imbalances and how my ops team was increasingly running up against a wall, unable to find any more bosses that we could kill with our skill and gear level. I was looking more and more towards patch 7.1 as the source of our salvation, seeing how it was supposed to both give us our first new operation in almost three years as well as give us access to better gear. Unfortunately, the reality of that has turned out to be nothing like I imagined.

I've expressed some of my annoyances with R-4 Anomaly already, but really, it's not just the new operation itself, but also the fact that Bioware back-pedalled on the whole gear upgrades thing at the last minute - on the PTS, Rakata gear was upgradeable beyond 330, giving raiders a chance to improve their gear even if they couldn't immediately kill anything in the new operation on veteran mode, but for some reason they decided not to go with that for live, only allowing daily and flashpoint runners to increase their item level to 330 but not letting raiders have any progress outside R-4 veteran mode.

So my ops team is basically no better off than it was before 7.1, just that we now also have a new and horribly overtuned operation to wipe in.

I don't like writing posts like this because it's a game and I generally try to focus on the positive aspects of the hobby - if I don't like something, I prefer to just avoid that part of the game instead of whinging too much about it. The problem is that running operations has been such an integral part of my SWTOR experience for over a decade now that it's impossible to ignore all this. My ops team consists of people I've known and played with for years, and since we hang out multiple times a week they're one of my primary social circles.

And here we are, stuck with nowhere to go in terms of progression, basically because Bioware has decided that after ten years of raiding some of us are not good enough for their game anymore. This stinks! We've been trying to find some sort of solution, but it's difficult because outside of our shared interest in progression raiding, people have very different gameplay preferences. I eventually had to say last week that I need to step down and at least take a break from all that progression stuff because it was just depressing me. That's not how a game should make you feel.

Because of how integral running ops is to my experience, it's been a long time since I felt so down on SWTOR as a whole. The last time I wrote about hitting a wall in operations to this degree was proabably back during Shadow of Revan - but that was a different time, with much faster patches, and we got the announcement that the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion was coming up only two months after I wrote that post. There is no such relief in sight right now.

I also find myself thinking back to the early days of Galactic Command and how it made me not want to play. That one didn't have anything to do with difficulty, but instead was tied to a bad gearing system that made a lot of our efforts feel futile, which again sounds somewhat familiar - but again, at least there was some relief in sight back then as Bioware was already working on tweaking the system.

This time I'm finding it much harder to be optimistic. The other day there was a dev post that said that they "continue to look at Operation difficulty. The team continues to tweak and adjust R4 and other Operations to ensure a fair balance", but I'm not hopeful that this may result in useful action any time soon. Even if Bioware does end up nerfing the operation or changing the way gearing works in a few months, things have already been out of whack for so long that any changes may well end up coming too late for my ops team.