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Archive for December, 2011

Tarisian Ale or Happy Holidays

December 24, 2011 Comments off

I spent the last couple of my SW:TOR days on Taris.

It’s a depressing, post-apocalyptic trash-heap of a place, and that’s just too good to pass up. Debris from its once majestic skyscrapers is a constant feature of terrain. Plenty of KOTOR nostalgia, including the wreck of the original Endar Spire. Rakghouls and Mandies and crackpots and looters, as Julie Andrews might have sung.

We ferreted out all the datacrons (minor stat boosters set in difficult-to-reach places to encourage exploration) and found all the lore objects. I even got my first semi-serious tanking gig in the form of a pick-up raid for Subject Alpha, the giant rakghoul world boss in the acid lake of Brill Sediment. As a quick summary, he is best done with two tanks since he performs an Archavon-style toss-in-the-air/aggro drop combo; his other mechanic of significance is player-targeted gas clouds which one moves out of. All in all, Taris wasn’t entirely unkind to us in our self-directed TOR gameplay.

Unfortunately, the big disappointment came at the end, when it became clear that the meta-achievement for Taris is, at the moment, impossible to nab. A required heroic quest line has not been implemented yet. Alas, early days.

Anyway, it is the 24th, and it is time to Get A Life™, briefly. Here’s to a good season and new year, in TOR, EVE, WoW and that ill-designed free-to-play known as the real world.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Molten Front or SW:TOR Launch Q&A

December 22, 2011 Comments off

Just a quick post with a week-old link. For my own reference as much as anything else.

The most satisfying paragraph in the above is:

Can you give any kind of rough idea of when the first new content patch will be released? Also, can you say what players can expect in a typical new patch (such as a new planet or something of the sort)? 

James Ohlen: I can’t give an exact date, but we do want to be releasing it on a regular basis. I can say that the new content will be focused around high-level content such as operations, flashpoints, warzones, and often this stuff will be based on new planets, because we really want to have new environments for the player experience.

GameSpy: You’ve put an incredible amount of work into making fully voiced questlines for TOR. Will all future content be fully voiced and, if so, will that impact the rate at which new content is released? 

James Ohlen: Yes, we are going to have fully voiced content, and yes, the recording aspect does affect the rate at which we can release it, which is why we’ve been planning for it ahead of time. Creating our content is more difficult than creating content for an RPG that doesn’t have voice work because there you don’t have to go through the process of finding voice actors, recording it, bringing it back, and working in the cinematics and all that stuff. To compensate for this, we have a long lead time for everything. We’ve had the scripts for our future content done for quite a while, and we already have a lot of our future content ready to go almost immediately after launch. We have a lot of content in the pipes and some of it is in various stages of completion, but we’ve gotten used to working with content on such a large scale over the last six years. If we didn’t, we’d be screwed.

Which means that Bioware aren’t daft, realise that they need a big buffer given their slow content generation, and probably have the next content patch already sitting on ice. I wonder if it was included in the original development costs.

Tobold argues that TOR, at endgame, will suffer from the Tortage Effect, which is MMO-geek jargon for a content bait-and-switch. In a shocking and unxpected move, I disagree. First, while I’m not a fishing man, I have trouble envisioning the eight-course feast that Bioware served up  dangling at the end of a hook. Second, I think there will be decent endgame in TOR, though it certainly won’t be some kind of Revolutionary Endgame that would wet the dessicated palates of jaded bloggers. Yes, it’ll be quite recognisable to anyone who played WoW. Possibly more recognisable to someone who left WoW after TBC, if my tea leaf reading and attunement to the vibe suggested by early flashpoints are worth anything. Third, I predict if there’s any effect TOR endgame will suffer from, it will be the Quel’Danas/Argent Tournament/Molten Front effect: new planets with hours of quest gameplay likely related to whatever new Operation is part of that patch. Those storylines (the parallel with WoW ends here) will be voiced, engaging and well-written. The quest lines will eventually culminate in gear rewards which will be attractive enough for all of the galaxy to head over and do it to keep up with the Joneses and better prep for the Operation.

And that will be okay.

Categories: Endgame, Uncategorized

Battlelord Kroshen, or Single-Player MMO, Yo

December 19, 2011 Comments off

Coming up for air to jot down a funny thing that happened to me while consuming my storyline content.

We were merrily working our way through Coruscant when one of my friends, who’d resolved his fps issues with the celebrated “turn off all shadows” manoeuvre, began clamouring for something to do as a group.

Having gotten past the initial shock and confusion and frantic search for the multiplayer button on this single-player RPG, we’d decided to tackle something called… Hammer Station. It’s like an instance or infestation space in those actual MMOs, but it couldn’t be that, could it?

We went in with three players and a companion. 15 Guardian tank (sort of; with much of the toolbox still missing, but at least Soresu Form available for threat), 15 Shadow Consular and 18 Commando Trooper as our healer. We switched a bit between catman and astromech for companion, but aimed for ranged dps.  The level range assessment for Hammer Station hovers around 16 to 19, depending on whom you ask.

As we proceeded through the flashpoint, it began dawning on me gradually that this isn’t your father’s Stockades or Shadowfang Keep. Yes, we were a little understrength, but looking back on it, it was rather refreshing. Coordinated crowd control mattered. Kill order mattered. Using the Force (no, really; had to Force-destroy those pipes and barrels for extra cc and dps) mattered. I counted several features of the instance which would have been more at home in Cataclysm heroics than in the second full flashpoint of the Republic. Like Tunneler’s Corla-style get-in-the-way-to-block beam.  Or the disappearing bridge of certain death. Or the profession-dependent bonus buff and bonus boss.

Battlelord Kroshen, the final boss of the instance, is a suitable finale. He summons prodigious numbers of adds in waves, and throws mines, which telegraph their explosion briefly with red circles on the ground. He also has a powerful narrow-cone attack (targetted at the tank but side-steppeable if timed well) and a knockback which may throw a player (mostly the tank)  to their doom instantly with poor positioning. His alcove has windows specifically for this purpose.

We wiped on him about seven times. A couple were foolish ‘learn to dodge the cone and mines’ wipes. But in the end, we ran into a dps issue – the adds were not going down quickly enough and swarmed the healer. The ranged companion wasn’t cutting it as the fourth player, at least not left to his own devices. After much despair, we decided to ask our Consular to switch to her tanking stance (I artificed her a shield off-hand on the fly) and tank the boss. I peeled adds off the healer and brought them to her, so that we could destroy them with our combined aoe before the next wave. This was particularly important for the later add waves, which were larger. Our healer asked, correctly, to be allowed to use his companion for the 20-minute cooldown.

With not a whit of damage going to waste, it ultimately worked. The last few percentage points of Kroshen’s health were as much of a cliff-hanger as any raid boss I’d ever downed in That Other Game. And the whole thing is in high contention for my most exhilarating TOR moment so far.

The remarkable thing is that Hammer Station has practically no story. There is a barely-logical dark-side/light-side moment that seems, quite frankly, like a bit of an afterthought. Yet it managed to make my evening, with a correctly-tuned PvE challenge and the involvement of other people.

I do think some of SW:TOR’s “KOTOR3” obituaries are being written prematurely.

Categories: Mechanics, Mentality

Touching Down

December 16, 2011 Comments off

Finally in. Regrettably, got the opportunity to play only for a few hours before scheduled maintenance, but fun was had.

Having recreated Sullas and my IA from beta, in addition to having made another couple of characters who struck my fancy, I found the continued inability to transfer UI setups between characters to be a little irksome. And the UI itself does not fail to leave things to be desired. What I wouldn’t give for macros!

Another small disappointment is that hardware requirements have apparently risen since beta testing. One of my friends who had no previous trouble found himself unpleasantly surprised by choppiness, brought about by increased terrain cosmetics. My posse is slightly hobbled until the gentleman in question upgrades his display means.

Otherwise, all is great. Travelling with a consular friend and soon to be joined by a trooper, the difficulty of early questing is utterly trivialised, of course. But SW:TOR storymode play is still very good storymode. I find that I am not bored by repeating the Jedi starter area. While I have a vague memory of where to go and what to do next, the mannerisms of the quest-givers remain entertaining, and it all helps reacclimatise oneself within Tython. This bodes well for the future. Perhaps there is simply something fundamentally immersive about someone who wants something from you in an MMO actually talking to you about it interactively, as they might in real life. Perhaps one day this will be seen as an obvious and required feature and we’ll wonder how we managed to entertain ourselves by merely hitting a red ‘Accept’ button and feverishly hunting down the objective location on the map while summoning our sparkle pony. Stranger things have happened.

Categories: Uncategorized

Holding Pattern

December 13, 2011 Comments off

Awaiting my own Early Access with restrained anticipation, I have taken to sighing deeply at the whininess and entitlement expectations on full display on the official forums. The arguable generosity of the EA being phased-in two days before originally promised has been pocketed by the user-base and long forgotten. At present, it’s all about whether July preorders, despite chronological advantage, aren’t getting the short-end of the stick on account of being the largest single pre-order blob.

As I skim the full spectrum of outpourings, from angry to the kiddily-cutesy, but all amounting to ME WANT IN GAME NOW BECAUSE IT IS ME, my thoughts skitter down dark avenues. It is the virtual equivalent of those lethal Black Friday Wal-Mart crushes because a waffle-iron dropped to quarter price. I realise that I would not wish to share any gaming experience with most of those people.

This isn’t Bioware’s fault, and in any case, my disappointment with our new game’s player base is unfair; the forumers are just a vocal minority. That said, I think Bioware is needlessly fanning the flames. As everyone knows by now, Bioware sends out early access emails to its pre-order customers in three waves (or so; we got a bonus one today) per day. I am not sure if it’s really wise of Bioware to issue Twitter updates of this and to crank up the tension (for many people, at any rate) to 11 with this hour-by-hour tactic. I also think they should have hedged their commitment to “access according to pre-order date” since it seems they are having trouble with it.

On the bright side, hey, we have the North American server list. The unofficial hub RP server, based on Bioware’s guild assignments and coordination efforts by the good people of The Old Republic Roleplay, appears to be Lord Adraas, and my friends have opted to settle there. My favourite server name is undoubtedly Space Slug.

Categories: Mentality

Crucible, or Every Six Seconds…

December 9, 2011 Comments off

In Koba the Dread, his reflections on Stalin, Stalinism and their evolving moral assessment in the West, Martin Amis observes that “given total power over another, the human being will find that his thoughts turn to torture.” There is a certain chilling and irrefutable logic here, revolving around the axis of totality: total power implies no emotional hold by the captive over the captor, for that is a form of reverse power, however slight, and by extension it implies no need of the captive by the captor. When no other transaction is required, all that remains is gruesome entertainment.

EVE remains entertaining, in its way. The Crucible expansion did not bring too much to a plebe like me who will never be concerned with fleet warfare balancing – though, as I’m Minmatar and enjoy messing around with tangential speed and small ships, the destroyer buff might be fun. There are a few small conveniences, not least to do with UI, and everything does look much prettier. I find I’m not especially concerned with the Captain’s Quarters stuff; when I log on, I want to be out in silent, cold vacuum, represented only by my ship, as much as possible.

I like EVE for what it is, yet I cannot help but feel a certain measure of amusement when I read some of the blogger paeans to the game. It reminds me of a certain hilarious kind of tourist machismo – the same individuals who would make a terrible fuss over being served the wrong preparation of filet at Bistro de Paris of Disney World will happily subsist on iron rations and canteen water as they trek through a well-marketed “real thing” wilderness, celebrating every mosquito sting and every injection of sand into their nether regions as affirmation of their ruggedness.

Categories: Mentality, Other MMOs

Starter Area Woes or Surely, You Can Do Better!

December 5, 2011 1 comment

A few people have complained that their Jedi Knight (or Sith Warrior) feels unpleasantly weak around levels 5-10. I don’t remember much frustration at that point, and I’ve been wondering about the inherent challenges it does present to some. Here are a few things I’ve come up with:

Keybinds and UI: It might be obvious to an MMO veteran, but spending a few minutes setting up one’s UI pays tremendous dividends down the road. There is no support for UI mods or even macros in SW:TOR (yet), so wringing what you can out of the standard interface is a high priority. For one thing, there’s absolutely no reason not to have all four quickslot bars on the screen at all times. As new abilities pile up, these will be necessary, and one might as well turn them on from the start. Also, since I always forget to loot things, putting on area looting is a bit of a help.

Remember to put yourself in Shii-Cho lightsaber form, it’s the only one you have for now. Find your self-buff and your self-heal (Force Might and Introspection), put them somewhere accessible and use them. It’s blindingly obvious, maybe, but at least in the beta I’ve seen a surprising number of padawans in the starter area finish a fight, stand around for a few seconds, run to the next fight and die without having bothered to introspect in between, leading me to believe that this ability might be easily overlooked.

If one is like me, one keybinds nearly everything usable in combat; I almost never feel comfortable with the 1-0 default number key setup; I prefer to have my binds clustered around the left-hand direction keys, others like to use their extra mouse buttons with modifiers. Your mileage may vary, but do make sure that at least your fundamental combat abilities – force leap, force sweep, strike, slash, riposte and blade storm – are bound to something you’re comfortable with.

Don’t get into the habit of clicking any abilities, since as a melee class fighting against a lot of ranged opponents, you’ll be moving with the mouse. Together with occasional target selection the mouse has a lot on its plate. The old WoW stigma against keyboard turners applies here, though as with all dogmas, it’s not absolute.

Skill Training: It’s an old RPG tradition that has one go back to one’s ‘guild’ or ‘trainer’ and learn skills as one levels up. Frankly, I wouldn’t mourn its loss in MMOs; WoW has already dispensed with making you learn individual skill ranks, though you still have to learn any entirely new ability. Rift, SW:TOR and a few other MMOs still insist on sending you to the trainer to upgrade your existing stuff. If you level up in the wild and you’re having a problem defeating enemies that should be easy, go back and pick up the new ranks. With WoW, you might not wish to bother, but the difference between, say, Slash Rank 1 and Slash Rank 2 is considerable in this game.

Focus: Our resource system. We increase it with certain (usually low-damage) abilities, and spend it with others (usually higher damage). If gained and unused for a while, the focus pool decreases on its own. At roughly level 6, our focus builders are Force Leap (3 focus, opener only) and Strike (2f), and we may spend focus on Force Sweep (3f, 15s cooldown), Slash (3f, no cd), Blade Storm (level 6, 4f, 12s cd) and Riposte (3f, triggered by parry/deflect). At level 8, we are given Master Strike, which is focus-free but has to be channelled and has a long (30s) cooldown, to weave into our rotation during focus lulls.

Fighting: The first thing to realise is that unless you actively do something to the enemy, nothing will happen. There is no auto-attack. I have a feeling that has tripped up a lot of people coming from other games, who are used to it being okay to wait a few seconds for abilities to come off cooldown.

A second point: we are a melee class without an in-combat self heal (at least at this level range). The first goal is to reduce incoming damage immediately by killing one of the enemies in the pack (usually the weakest), and ideally use control and damage mitigation moves during the early phase of the fight while the incoming damage is high.

The third thing to take note of is: when in doubt, Slash. It’s not as strong as Blade Storm, but if you’ve messed up your rotation, it’s better than letting focus pile up while Striking, Striking, Striking aimlessly and hoping something dies.

Fourth item: Saber Ward. Three minute cooldown, reduces damage considerably (upward of 25%, depending on damage types) and worth putting on before leaping at the tougher enemy packs, or early in the course of the fight.

A popular way of approaching a pack of enemies around level six is to Force Leap then Force Sweep. It makes sense at first glance – you earn 3f and spend 3f immediately, striking up to five enemies and stunning them. Initial burst and control is what we want, and it’s also, frankly, fun and looks very Star Warsy. Two things to take note of, however: one, make sure to leap at a ranged enemy (you will know which enemies are ranged based on their tooltip description and experience with local pack types) allow the melee enemies in the pack to converge upon you, and two, it might take a second for those melees to do so. Since we’d like to catch them all in the Force Sweep, it’s not the worst thing in the world to Strike quickly for +2f while they’re moving to you, then Force Sweep.

The initial enemy who got Force Leapt, Struck and took his fair share of Sweep damage is likely to be on their last ropes, while we are left with 2f, which isn’t enough for any focus dump. Strike the enemy again, which ought to finish them, but whether or not it has, look for someone else to Blade Storm with the 4f you now have. It’s your highest-damage ability (despite the storm reference, it’s single-target) and it would almost certainly be wasted on your current near-dead target. It’s worth noting that Blade Storm has a 10m range and a 4s stun. If there was a second ranged enemy in the group (you Force Leapt the first one) who didn’t come hither into the usual 4m range, they might make a good target for Blade Storm.

Focus is now back to zero. Strike twice (make sure you kill your initial enemy with one of them if you haven’t already, and mouse-move to the other ranged if you have). +4f, so another Blade Storm, right? No. It’s still on cooldown. Slash. 1f remaining. Strike. Force Sweep should be off cooldown now, so if enough enemies remain to make it worthwhile, use that or another Slash. Not a bad time for a Master Strike if you have it. Strike. Strike. Blade Storm.

Tl;dr: Force Leap (3f), Strike (5f), Force Sweep (2f), Strike (4f), Blade Storm (0f), Strike (2f), Strike (4f), Slash (1f), Strike (3f), Slash or Force Sweep (0f), Strike (2f), Strike (4f), Blade Storm (0f).

But wait, what about Riposte? Well, the above are suggestions for front-loaded damage used to dispatch enemies as quickly and reliably as possible at the low level. Riposte is a little unpredictable in this context, since it will light up after dodges and deflects, which are semi-random. A theoretical optimised single-target dps rotation for a long fight at level 6 would have you maintain an overhead of 3-4 focus at all times to account for Riposte procs, to be restored after each proc by two out-of-rotation Strikes. The good news is that the window of opportunity for Riposte is 8 seconds, more than enough to Strike twice and use the proc if one is so inclined, or simply replace the next Slash with it.

 Companion: When we get our little droid, it’s worth expanding his violet ability bar and taking a look at what he can do. You should ensure that his tanking stance (Sentry Process) is enabled (a blue square over the button) and take note of his Taunt ability (the hotkey is ctrl-4). Juggling aggro between your droid and yourself can help defeat the tougher enemies. Before such encounters, you can turn off his Sentry Process, tank yourself until your health gets low, activate Sentry Process, taunt with the droid, and continue dealing damage as the boss enemy now works on the droid’s full health bar, not your diminished one.
Categories: Mechanics