[SWTOR] Quest of the day, companion chat, and when is a ban not a ban?

taris1

I’ve mentioned before that I love the graphical sides of being in cities or built up areas in SWTOR. In this screenshot, my Sith Warrior surveys the departures board (I assume) in Taris spaceport.

Taris is interesting in many ways, especially to anyone who remembers it from KOTOR when you encounter the planet before [spoiler alert] it is turned into an industrial wreck. This game takes place around 300 years later, and although Taris is mostly a swampy ruined wreck, it’s been interesting enough that both Republic and Empire have forces there and there are some alien settlements also. It’s not an especially pretty planet, but gives the Bioware artists more opportunities to show their chops on wrecked out industrial landscapes. And swamp.

What I found enthralling is that my class quest here could be boiled down to “find and kill four named republic generals.” That doesn’t sound too exciting, and mechanically it is exactly what your character is doing. And yet, due to the writing, the quest presentation, music, and pacing, it included some of my most memorable moments in the class story so far.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers but one questline in particular sees you furiously racing against time to unlock a safe room inside a reactor that is about to blow up, after having unmasked a ‘fake’ general, and been jumped by republic troops who clearly have no qualms about running into a reactor that’s about to blow up just for the chance of downing a sith. The timer was down to 10s, the music was getting more exciting and intense, and a speech option came up. I said to my companion (Quinn), “Do you have any last words?” And he said, “My lord, you know how I feel about you.”

I laughed. Why can’t you ever say anything that romantic when we’re actually on the ship and don’t have 10s left to live?, I thought, although that option wasn’t actually present. I have enjoyed having Quinn around while questing. He does occasionally pitch in to suggest ideas, or comment on military plans that someone else suggested. Annoyingly, he’s always right. But that comment above came from left field, I was expecting him to have a smart suggestion.

But now I’m curious as to what other companions might have to say for themselves during quests and whether it’s comparable, or if Quinn is an outlier and the writers just liked him.

Pacing

Because I’m a) really digging the game and b) am on holiday at the moment, I’ve been online much more than I usually would. There is a risk in Bioware-type games that once hooked, you can burn through the quests very quickly because you’re just that keen to find out where the story is going. I remember feeling similarly exhausted in Cataclysm-era WoW, because the quest pacing was fast enough that you could burn through content like a three year old in a sweet shop. And it gave me the quest equivalent of a sugar rush back then too.

I am already thinking that I may play another Sith Warrior alt, and take it more slowly next time, writing up each planet or questline as I do it with commentary.

Having said that, the pacing in SWTOR is generally fine (this is on a scale where LOTRO is glacial and WoW is superfast).  It’s a bit slower than WoW because of travel time, listening to quest mobs (if you don’t spacebar through them), and zoning in and out of your ship, and although some would disagree, I find that it gives you some slow time to appreciate the scenery rather than rushing questquestquest.

I have found the difficulty generally good in the game. I’ve been upgrading my gear via quests and gear tokens (which you get for planetary quests), and using biochem to keep myself supplied with healing and buff potions. I am enjoying that I can sometimes die in quests, but that when this happens, I can try again with a bit more thought and get through it. The end of chapter 1 was a particular high point and I died about 4 times in one part before I got the hang of it. Finishing that questline and picking up my legacy name felt like that much more of an achievement.

We’ve also had a chance to run some more flashpoints, none of which have really compared to Black Talon in terms of story. Which is not to say that they haven’t been fun. Plus you may meet some old friends in Boarding Party/ The Foundry which was split into two parts so as presumably to be more manageable for players. (I don’t think either is especially long but they work fine as shorter halves.) We’re still dual tanking them, although I’m now taking on more of the single bosses/ tougher mobs.

The bans, they burn

Top ‘news’ in the game this week was that some people were temporarily banned for doing something exploity in the level 50 zone with their low level alts. (The official explanation for this is behind this link.)

If you read the comments on the RPS story about this, you’ll see how quickly some players get riled up about this. And how people are able to (with a straight face, I presume) argue that innocent players who just wanted to test the limits of what the game allowed them to do are being HURT by this evil EA attitude.

But as an experienced MMO player, I tend to assume that ultra competitive players have a propensity to be obsessive cheating gits (as shown by every exploit in WoW ever) who are not satisfied with merely finding interesting loopholes and reporting them but will then go on and exploit them as if their lives depended on it until stopped, and if that ruins the game for other people then that’s seen as an added bonus. So colour me unsurprised when RPS later posted a more nuanced explanation, and were immediately accused by their readers of pro-EA bias.

What we get from this is that the readers of RPS tend to be twats. Or maybe it’s just that most gamers are twats (present company excepted, naturally), the jury is still out.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with people playing competitively. But if something needs a fix that cannot be done immediately (ie. needs time to decide what the best way is to proceed), I have no issues with temporary bans being handed out while that happens as long as the players were given the chance to stop the offending behaviour first. Also I have no issues with people being banned for gold farming. And one of the good things about playing a sub game is that they usually have active CS teams to deal with this kind of thing, which I believe makes the game better and fairer for everyone else.

And now, here is two sith dancing (/clubdance is great)

dancing

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20 thoughts on “[SWTOR] Quest of the day, companion chat, and when is a ban not a ban?

  1. The RPS comment threads are rather depressing (I say “RPS”, most comment threads are profoundly depressing, present site excepted.) I suppose the stories of EA forum bans having more profound game-access implications have brought out the torch and pitchfork crowd, but drivel like “if it’s possible to do it in the game they should just fix it and not punish anyone” is rather vexing. Enough to turn anyone to the dark side…

  2. Part of the issue with the ban comes from the fact it’s EA, a company that does have something of a history in regards to banning people from games and somewhat questionable business practices in regard to this sort of thing.

    If there was ever a company that made Bobby Kotick seem like he comes to gamers houses to had out gold bricks and shoulder massages, it’s EA.

    The other issue, which someone mentioned in the comments section on Rock Paper, is that MMO’s, especially WoW-Alike MMO’s, are getting to be a fairly old genre and these things should be taken into account. And while you can argue that people can’t think of everything, you had a period where WoW had a similar problem and took steps to resolve it.

    I’m not disagreeing with the bans per se, but it didn’t really involve a set of cunning exploits and gaming the system. Just hanging around the world pvp zone that’s mostly empty at the moment because everyone is low level and grinding.

    • There is always going to be a bit of doubt about what was actually involved, because the CSRs don’t want to broadcast the exploit to the world. I take your point about people being unwilling to trust EA, but honestly EA is not a single corporate entity and the SWTOR CSRs like Stephen Reid have always been so professional I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

  3. Long time reader, first time commenter… and a gaming twat, as I am really unhappy with the way Bioware handled this situation =).

    According to Reid’s post, they temporarily suspended or warned accounts for excessive looting, with clarification that it’s fine go anywhere in game at any level, and it’s fine to take anything you can get to… as long as you don’t do it too much. So, it’s either “it’s OK to cheat, but only a little” or “performing an otherwise legal action too much makes it cheating”, with “too much” being left open to interpretation.

    Combine this with a section in the Rules of Conduct (http://www.swtor.com/legalnotices/roc; section B6) that prohibits item loading and defines it, among other things, as account containing currency and items inappropriate for the character level on that account, and I can honestly say that I do not trust myself to determine where the lines are drawn. May I buy high level items on GTN as a level 20 and save them for later use? How many before I’m abusing the privilege? What about GTN selling? How many credits may I have before reaching a level inappropriate for my character level?

    What they needed to do was quickly fix chest respawn rates and locations or lock the zone down. What they did was create an arbitrary “what feels right” rule that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my 10 years of gaming.

    • I know you won’t believe this, but from my experience, I think it’s likely they had some far more specific issues than just people looting high level stuff. They just can’t talk about the actual behaviour in detail but my guess is it involved something to do with zone flipping/ win trading to force fast respawns as well as stockpiling the goods. In any case, it looks that the banned accounts got warnings beforehand, so if you were pinging on their radar (which I bet you aren’t), you’d get a warning first so you could stop doing it.

      There’s always room for interpretation about at what point ‘finding a loophole’ becomes ‘exploiting a bug’ or ‘cheating’ and game devs make the call quite a lot with emergent type behaviour. Truth is, a loophole that would be a cute and clever trick if someone did it a couple of times can become game breaking if loads of people hammer it into the ground, and that’s often the point at which someone on the dev side has to make the decision.

      Sure, they could have locked the zone down or done something about respawns but they probably felt banning the few exploiters after warnings hadn’t worked was less disruptive to the rest of the player base while they decide on a fix. At the end of the day, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think you’re being a twat because you haven’t asserted the player base’s right to do whatever it wants yet :) But if you believe it is possible for hardcore exploits to affect game balance, then maybe consider if it’s possible that was a justified concern here.

      I also think part of the reason this happened is that Bioware actually are fairly open to the idea of low level characters sneaking into high level zones if they want. They haven’t put a level cap on crafting either. So I think they really don’t want to level cap the planet/ chests.

      • I’m not sure what to believe. On one hand, your explanation makes a lot more sense than “we suspended players for looting too much.” On the other hand, the official forum post doesn’t even hint at win trading or zone flipping; not even in the vague, hand-wavy “creative use of game mechanics” way. Seems like it would be easier to simply state that some accounts were suspended for abusing game mechanics in the new PvP zone, than to spend paragraph after paragraph assuring players that “normal” gameplay won’t result in anything unpleasant. All in all, I don’t know how to call this one.

        Another interesting implication of that official post is that there might be undisclosed “per level” currency norms used to determine how much a character is allowed to make in the game. While my characters weren’t anywhere near Ilum, I might be on their radar due to the amount of traffic I generate on the GTN. I’d hate to get a timeout for that. I think I’ll just hope that your zone flipping theory is correct :).

        Thanks for the reply!

  4. When I first read about this issue last night, my initial reaction was that both sides overreacted to a degree. I think from Bioware/EA’s perspective, a warning and a clarification to the offending players should have been sufficient. The “letter of the law” seems a bit gray on this and even a temporary ban feels a little heavy handed in light of the lack of specificity in the offense. That having been said, I think the community overreacted as well, and this is likely due to the negative attitude towards EA in general amongst gamers. Many people seemed to assume that EA was simply being mean without waiting for the full explanation of the situation.

    So I think there are lessons to be learned all the way around here. And it helps to keep in mind that Bioware is still relatively new to the MMO genre. They are going to make mistakes, but I think this will be seen as a minor one in the long term. Bioware/EA learns to be a bit more specific in terms of how they define exploits and offenses, and the community learns (well, hopefully) to wait until the full story is told before passing judgement.

    Side-note: Does this mean Taris is actually fun as an Imperial? I have to say I despised the place on my Republic characters. Balmorra was way better at that spot in the game. Come to think of it, I think all the low level Imperial planets are by and large superior to their Republic counterparts. Korriban > Tython. Dromund Kaas > Coruscant (by a HUGE margin.)

    • I did find Taris pretty fun as an imperial, mostly because I liked the storylines. The non-class specific storyline has you rushing around helping the Darth who is in charge of the planet to fend off a grave Republic threat and you keep running into his nutty, competitive apprentice who you occasionally have to rescue, threaten, snark at, and possibly kill if that’s what you want. (I dunno if non sith get the same storyline, it may go rather differently if you’re a BH or IA.)

  5. Strangely enough, this whole debacle reminds me of the reason I never even tried the original Everquest: I read a post on their official forums that basically said, “We have decided that hiding under the staircase in Dungeon XYZ is an exploit. Anyone who uses this exploit will be banned.” And my first thoughts were, “So … why did you put the staircase there in the first place? Are you aware that many of your players don’t read the forums and probably won’t know that the staircase ‘exploit’ is considered an exploit? And are you planning on actually fixing the problem caused by your own incompetent level design?”

    MMOs are not a new genre. My patience for developers “learning the ropes” and “figuring things out” has never been great and decreases on a daily basis. If you’re going to claim to be professionals and charge money for your product, then it’s =your= responsibility to make the product work properly. If MMOs were chainsaws, they’d be chainsaws with no safety mechanisms and the companies would be relying on the warning disclaimer to “use at your own risk.” It’s really not acceptable.

    As to the crux of the issue: fuzzy guidelines that rely almost entirely on someone’s judgment (especially when it all occurs inside a black box with no outside accountability) is just as bad as “zero tolerance” policies that leave no room for judgment at all. Apparently, by EA/Bioware’s standards, an “exploit” is kind of like “obscenity”: they can’t define it, but they know it when they see it.

    This is a very weak foundation upon which to build.

    • Problem with this view, Vatec, is that it will naturally lead if universally adopted to stagnation. While WoW-clones are fairly soundly understood what is an exploit in an innovative three dimensional travelling MMO?

      Also there are always grey areas. I’m one of the people who kept a slicing crew member running all the time while leveling before the Great Slicing Nerf. Was I exploiting? From a certain point of view… yes.

      • And if TOR were doing anything innovative, I’d agree with you ;^)

        The more innovative the product, the more “room for error” I’m willing to allocate. In fact, I have a great deal of patience for companies and people that are trying new things.

        But Bioware is making rookie mistakes for which they have no reasonable excuse. Their implementation often strikes me as copying something they don’t quite understand. Maybe that’s the Mythic influence? Because goodness knows, when Mythic tried to copy their =own game= they somehow failed to understand what had made the original successful and what had led to its failure….

      • See, that’s a thing with TOR. I’m loving the Bioware bits but the MMO bits are a bit retrograde. Which is fine because I will happily kill ten rats but game should always carry more weight than story and I was kind of hoping the game would be at least as polished as the story parts.

        My particular issue is that a lot of the problems cropping up are ones you could have forseen just by looking at WoW. From the somewhat disturbing faction imbalance (And I have no idea how they’re going to fix that because combining the the ability to look pretty with the skulls and spikes faction was always going to be a thing) to the Illum issue, these are things that have cropped up on WoW before TOR development even began, so they should at least have been aware that they were going to happen and taken them into account.

  6. I am rather intrigued by the second screenshot, where Ailil carries the title of Lord although she appears to be female. This strikes me as really strange and is hopefully only another minor developmental oversight. Wouldn’t Lady be the better choice here?

    • Throughout the game male versions of noble titles are used for both genders. There are occasional exceptions, if someone is a dependent female spouse the feminine forms are used.

      But this happens elsewhere in society where females who act often call themselves actors to signify they take their work seriously etc

      Another minor irritant is that they pair honorifics with titles wrong. A Count should be addressed as My Lord, not Your Highness and so on. They get that wrong almost every time (as do most American fantasy authors).

    • You’re right, but in this case I rather prefer Lord as a title on a female character. It implies that you hold the rank in your own right, where Lady could just mean someone married to a Lord. So I suspect that isn’t a bug and that someone gave it some thought.

  7. On the Lord/Lady thing – the Sith specifically use Lord as a non gender specific title. On the other hand, there’s an Imperial officer on Dromund Kaas whose nickname is the Duchess. I think it may just be that the Sith are actually at the forefront of gender equality, because your ability to Force Choke your enemies is far more important than the exact nature of your genitalia.

    And as for the gamers/twats topic – my experience is that most gamers aren’t twats, however most regular posters on official forums are. And just for the record, I’ll contend that I’m not a twat, I’m an arrogant, opinionated asshole. There is a difference :)

  8. Sith dancing. Bleh. Modern dances in these games might make sense from a social standpoint, but they always bug me. One of those little immersion killers… ultimately not really a problem, just a mild annoyance.

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