Crafting in SWTOR, and help rename the Jedi Wizard

Lots of cool information about Star Wars: The Old Republic today this week from Bioware. Darth Hater reports on news about crafting and PvP battlegrounds in the upcoming MMO.

The crafting sounds very cool and interesting and different. You’ll be able to send your companions out to gather materials, craft items or engage in missions and different companions will be more skilled at different areas. This is already sounding like more of a RTS approach (puts me in mind of Starcraft) and I love the idea that you can come back to your ship and catch up on what they’ve been doing while you were away.

They also say that there will be ways for players who are more involved in crafting to get deeply involved and better rewarded for it, so I’m guessing that you will also have some options to specialise your main character in that area.

I find this all very intriguing.

The PvP scenarios also sound fun, with some similarities to the battlegrounds we all know and love from numerous MMOs. At least in the sense of allowing limited numbers from each side and being objective based (presumably you’ll get some points for kills too). I am also intrigued that they felt that banners, flags and points were too game-y, and guessing that they will use similar mechanics but better dressed up in terms of the story of that battleground. (Compare Wintergrasp to Arathi Basin for an example of using banners and defense points in a more immersive way, for example).

And finally, due to the epic amount of complaining from people when the Jedi Consular caster-y subclass was revealed and named Jedi Wizard (which is, yes, kind of lame), Bioware went back to the drawing/ writing board and thought up three alternative names for the subclass. You can vote on your favourite one here (and yes, there is an option to keep the Jedi Wizard!)

Alas, Jedi Psychiatrist is not on the list.

6 Rules for Enjoying Hype (and some cool videos from GW2 and Clone Wars)

Some people just don’t deserve hype.

Here we are, stuck in the doldrums of the MMO year and going through the motions in games or expansions where the shine has long since worn off. You’d think that injecting some optimism and excitement about upcoming games would be welcomed with open arms, right?

But some players (and bloggers) seem to take it personally every time their expectations are raised and then shattered on the jagged rocks of a cruel reality that may ship with bugs and not offer some random class/ race option on which the player had set her heart.  This is precisely NOT the way in which to enjoy well presented hype. It’s a thrill ride, a trailer, an insight into the hopes and imaginations of the artists and producers. That’s all it is. Not a promise graven in stone.  Sometimes it’s more fun to go along with the ride and then – just like a rollercoaster – enjoy the inevitable emotional fall through the floor later on.

Film style trailers have become a big part of game advertising. They range from gorgeous high budget “artists impressions” that bear no resemblance to the game, all the way through to Bioware style mini-documentaries about how some part of the game was made. I think the Mythic crew have a lot to be proud of in the way that their regular videocasts used to promote different aspects of Warhammer Online and why fans might be excited about them before that game was released. It has obviously had an effect on the rest of the industry.

A couple of trailers released this week did a particularly good job of capturing my imagination:

  • Guild Wars 2 Manifesto – manifesto implies some actual promises and debate and the GW2 team don’t disappoint. It is also gorgeous. The game looks as though it’ll be great, although I don’t quite understand (from the voiceover) how if you love MMOs you’ll love it, and if you hate MMOs you’ll love it too.
  • Star Wars Clone Wars – this is SOE’s Free Realms style Star Wars game that is launching next month. This trailer sold me on it and I’m definitely going to check the game out. It just looks FUN.

But what happens when hype seems to promise something that no real world game can deliver? Whose fault is it really if people are disappointed when they see the real thing and it fails to live up to their hopes? It’s our fault. We are not naive little flowers. We know how the media works. We know how advertising works. We know that trailers intended to sell you on an idea and a setting may not be 100% game accurate.

So here are some basic guidelines to help you enjoy the hype for what it is, and not let the hype ruin your experience in the game when you see it later on.

  1. Enjoy playing the game in your head. Trailers are meant to be inspiring and to encourage you to imagine how the game world might be. If one catches your imagination then enjoy the ride.
  2. But play the game in front of you when/ if it arrives. You can choose to either look for the fun in the game you have, or complain about all the ways in which it fails to match the game in your head.  For example, people who complain because hunters in LOTRO don’t have pets, ignoring the fact that there is another ranged class which does have pets that they could also play. Sometimes you have to either say, “No this is not the game for me, I must have a bow class with a pet,” or “OK, I can change my concept a bit.”
  3. Don’t take the trailer too literally. Just because you thought you saw a blurry shot of an elf with a broadsword doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to play elf fighters as PCs. A dev team may also not be able to implement everything exactly the way they would have wanted it when the trailer was released. It’s not a guarantee.
  4. Take the trailer literally. Don’t assume that it implies something which the narrator didn’t say or show. For example, Gordon wonders how much instancing will be used in GW2 to let players feel that they affect the world around them. We don’t know the answer to that yet (although he’s probably right), as the trailer didn’t touch on it.
  5. Enjoy the emotional journey. We’re fans. This is our hobby. Getting worked up about trailers and arguing the minutae of minor lore details is what we do. If you read general MMO blogs you’ll notice that a lot of bloggers position themselves quite early on in the hype cycle as either fans or cynics. That’s the most fun way to ride the hype out. (I’m a huge Bioware fan, for the record. They won my heart with DAO and I can’t wait to play a smuggler in SWTOR. So I’m not going to post anything too dismissive of that here.)
  6. But don’t take it personally if you later change your mind. It’s OK to hype a game and then find, when you actually see it, that you don’t enjoy playing it much at all. Laugh and move on, on to the next wave of hype.

So what do we actually know about SWTOR?

With great thanks to the hard working posters on the Bioware forums, here is a link to a long and exhaustive list of what has currently been announced about the game, its locations, gameplay, and classes.

This includes:

  • Planets
  • Classes
  • Playable Species
  • General Class Information
  • Gameplay: General
  • Gameplay: Combat
  • Gameplay: Story
  • NPCs and Lore
  • Companions
  • Graphics/ Music/ Sound
  • Space and Transport
  • UI
  • Loot and Gear

… and lots more. As ever, bear in mind that this game isn’t yet in beta testing (edited to add: My bad, it is in closed beta. Thanks @belghast and @modernmisuser  for the correction via twitter) so a lot of this information could change and some of it might be wish-lists by developers which won’t be in the final version.

[SWTOR] Player housing, PvP, new video, and more from E3

Star Wars: The Old Republic, as befits the best funded game in history, has put up a strong showing at E3 this week. So here’s a summary of some of the posts and details.

Bioware are very keen to quell any rumours that the game will be a Massively Multiplayer Solo Game. There is going to be plenty of group content, battlegrounds and PvP, raids, instances, the whole shebang.

Now my perspective is that I decided that I wanted to play this thing after playing Dragon Age. Bioware have the ‘it’ factor for RPGs like very few other developers. So the rest of the information is gravy. But for those who have not yet made up their minds ….

But first for something completely different – an unrelated video

New out for E3, the Hope video, showing a battle between Republic and Empire forces on Alderaan (which looks a bit like where my friend lives in Southern Germany).

It looks phenomenal, it also contains no gameplay footage. So what to make of a trailer like this? Enh, enjoy it for what it is. They’re showing off the setting and some of the classes and combat abilities you might see in game. Although the Jedi/Sith get all the best moves, the Trooper (notionally the hero of this piece) looks pretty darned cool as well.

And a far more related video

If you have 30 minutes to spare, also check out the 30 min broadcast on G4 which does include some live gameplay footage. This link above didn’t work for me, but if you can either get to it or saw the show, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Let’s talk about some of the new features announced this week

The two big reveals during the EA session were that players will each get a ship, to use as housing, and that the game will sport some PvP gameplay via battlegrounds.

A ship of my own – whilst some commentators have been going nuts expecting space combat and spaceflight in game, it seems clear to me that this isn’t Bioware’s plan. Maybe in future, but for now, the ship is going to be a private base of operations for your character which can move from planet to planet (eg. as in KOTOR).

You’ll be able to customise the ship, invite friends round to see it, and intriguingly Bioware hint that each class will have a different type of ship. This makes a lot of sense, the game is heavily based on giving people lots of class specific content and who would expect a smuggler to fly the same type of ship as a trooper?

There has always been a disconnect in MMOs with housing between the idea that your house is your home base, and the notion that adventurers wander the world smiting evil. You don’t normally think of Sir Killsalot the questing knight coming home every evening to a cosy cottage with his favourite stuffed dragon head in the garden. And as the game worlds expand (via expansions and new zones), it seems even stranger to be going back to your original home every night.

Obviously magic portals can cover a lot of ground by explaining how these things are possible. But the basic problem that a wandering adventurer probably doesn’t have a permanent home is a storytelling and immersion issue. Having a space ship base in a space game resolves a lot of these issues. Your home moves with you, problem solved.

Battle zones! Bioware announced that players will be able to fight the opposite faction in SWTOR in battle zones (such as Alderaan, shown in the video). I’m not clear as to whether this is limited world PvP (ie. an entire PvP zone and people can drop in or out as they wish) or instanced PvP (such as battlegrounds or scenarios) but expect to hear more about this as the months go on towards release.

More interviews, more information

The fansites and official blogs are also getting more face time with Bioware and a chance to see a live in-game combat demo. Here are a couple of summaries of their experience/ chat, from Massively and Darth Hater.

One thing that comes out of this about classes. In the segment that the press saw, the Trooper acted as main tank, but it sounds as though all of the classes could fill more than one role. So the Jedi consular was healing but also on dps and crowd control. So was the smuggler (a stealth healing class, just what the world needs!). The Jedi knight was dps but also off tanking. And the Trooper was putting out a lot of damage as he tanked.

That probably gives us more idea about how the game will play out, and I like what I’m hearing. Massively also discuss crafting in SWTOR in their interview (it’ll be like WoW)

So, anyone feeling the Force yet?

Class Consciousness: The Cult of the Splat

Last week there was a minor spat between two classes amongst the WoW bloggers. A hunter dissed the mage bloggers on a podcast, and suddenly half the blogs in my reader went up in flames.

But why do people care about their class so much? Surely by this stage, most people who are keen enough to blog will have multiple alts anyway? And are there really enough readers who only want to read hunter blogs to support the 7 zillion hunter blogs out there? What do they all find to write about?

To get to the bottom of this, let’s go back in time. Pen and Paper RPG publishers always struggled with maximising sales, even when RPGs were trendy. The reason was that a group of players could get by with only one set of rulebooks. So the GM bought the books, and the players – well they could buy if they wanted or they could just share. A keen player would probably eventually buy some rulebooks. But they were optional; as long as one person in the group had access to the rules then the whole group could play. Clearly from a publisher standpoint, this was not ideal. It was the old board game model (one person buys the game, lots of people can play it), but with so much player enthusiasm out there, surely they could sell something to the non GM players. The guys who just turn up, play their character, and then go home.

White Wolf revolutionised the way gaming books were sold by producing splat books. A book full of optional rules, lore, colour text, and fun ideas focussed purely around one specific clan/class. (I’m going to keep calling them classes because it serves the same function.) So players who had a character of that clan and loved it would want to buy the book. If you loved your class, that class book was for YOU. The GM could look at the player’s copy if they needed to use the lore or optional rules. And these clan books quickly became known as splat books. Yes, suddenly the title of this post makes sense.

There were also lots of class-centric web pages and support for WW games. What White Wolf had done was to create a class identity for players. People got attached to their warriors or elves or wizards long before this, but there wasn’t much support for class-based lore from publishers aside from the odd scenario here or there.

Warhammer did the same thing for wargaming. Their army books provided not only rules but also background and painting tips for specific factions in their gameworld. (The 4th Edition of Warhammer was the first to publish separate army lists for different factions in separate books – so this was at about the same time that WW was publishing their splat books.)

And after that, the floodgates opened. Just about every tabletop class based RPG will now publish books about splats aimed at players rather than at GMs. And players love them.

Cult of the Hunter, and other splats

So given that background, it’s not surprising that WoW has a very healthy class-based blogosphere. If you want to blog about the game, why not write about your favourite character and join a readymade community of other people who want to read or write about similar things?

Why hunter and druid blogs are quite so overwhelmingly popular, I never will understand. I can see how hybrids potentially offer more subject matter (you can explore more roles) but the huge number of hunter blogs is a mystery to me. They also seem to have the most interesting blogosphere drama. I don’t read any of them regularly though, whereas bizarrely, most of the well known mage blogs are on my reader, despite the fact I don’t play a mage either.

The other surprise about the hunter blogs is that they no longer represent the popularity of the class in the game. There was a time when hunters (and warriors) were so popular that we used to joke that night-elf hunters on our server alone outnumbered the entire horde. That isn’t the case any more.

There are also plenty of readers who are perfectly happy to have lots of blogs telling them things they already know about classes, roles, and games which they already play. As well as newer players who don’t care about the discussions and just want to be told how to play.

And even aside from that, lots of players enjoy reading opinions about the game from the perspective of the same class that they play. So for example, I couldn’t really call this a warrior blog, but my main in WoW is a warrior and a tank and so I’ll tend to come from that perspective. I occasionally put out informative warrior/ tanking type posts (usually when I am poked with a sharp stick).

For many people, class based forums offer a much better way to get information than searching blogs. It’s easier for forum mods to organise the information, stickify useful posts, and gather information from a wide range of posters. But it’s not really an either/ or choice. If people are interested and have enough time, you can read class forums and class blogs.

Selling to the Splats

One of Blizzard’s odder decisions was when they decided to close class forums on the official boards in favour of switching to role based forums. (ie. tank forum, healer forum, damage forum). There was an outcry from the player base. They loved their class forums, even if they did occasionally get used to stir up shit against other classes.

Blizzard relented on that one, and the official boards do still include class based forums. They’ve never really been happy about class based content though, not since vanilla which did feature class questlines, class mounts, class epics, and so on.

To my mind, and in the world of F2P and cash shops, that’s a lost opportunity. Of course people would pay for cool cosmetic items that only their class could equip. Or class based questlines. We want to see more of that type of content, not less. People love their class identity, class lore, and class specific content.

And this is why I haven’t said too much about Bioware’s various SWTOR press releases. Frankly, their killer content is not the gameplay or the storytelling or the companions or the setting. It’s the fact that if you play SWTOR, you’ll have access to the most extensive class based questlines and gameplay of any MMO ever created. Imagine a whole game created entirely for your class. Well, maybe not a whole game, but plenty of content and lore and it’s all about you.

We may never really know why players love their splats so much that they’ll create content for them, create communities around them, or make them so much a part of their lives. But maybe devs don’t need to know why it happens, just to design around it and offer content that feeds that itch.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars–Renewing My Interest in a Galaxy Far, Far Away… (via Split Screen)

The big MMO news today is that SOE have announced that in Autumn this year they will be releasing a new game. Described as a Virtual World rather than an MMO, this is to be a bright, colourful, kid-friendly, free/freemium game in the Free Realms mould.

And it’s all about Star Wars: Clone Wars. If you’re curious about the Clone Wars setting, check out the blog post below for a description of the animated series and discussion of why the writer prefers it to the films.

Is the world big enough for not one (Star Wars Galaxies), not two (Star Wars: The Old Republic) but THREE Star Wars MMOs? I guess we’ll find out.

One thing is for sure, it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan if you are a MMO gamer. And interestingly, each of these three games represents a very different view of the genre. I think people could happily play more than one, if they have the time.

I have a soft spot for Free Realms, it’s a very cool game if you’re looking for something casual friendly, and I can’t wait to see what Sony do with the best licence in the Star Wars Universe.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars--Renewing My Interest in a Galaxy Far, Far Away... I’ve been a bit starved for entertainment lately, so forgive me one last non-gaming related post to get it all out of my system. During the Dark Days leading up to my graduation, I spent a portion of my dwindling down-time programming my DVR with things that I’d rather be doing. Somehow Star Wars made it onto the list, not because I have any great love for the new timeline–the recent trilogy effectively killed off any good will I’d accumulated d … Read More

via Split Screen

[SWTOR] I find your lack of excitement disturbing

Slowly, slowly more information is being released about Bioware’s upcoming WoW-killer, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Last week, EA held a press event in London to show off a new playable species, their plans for class customisation and talent trees, and the Bounty Hunter. The link above also includes links to various press reviews of the demo. Most of which are notable for a tone of polite interest masking a lack of any genuine excitement.

Maybe people don’t want or need to get excited about their games any more. Maybe the journalists are so jaded from seeing demos and hype that they’re wary of piling on the plaudits for yet another game that will fail to meet its beta promise.

The writeups politely agree that combat looks fun, the demo story looks fun, and regret that much of the rest of what they saw is still in flux. Eurogamer has taken deserved flak (check the comments) for their MMO reviews recently, but Jon Blyth, reviewing for Eurogamer this time around does ask about plans for more alien races and gets the entertaining answer:

When I ask about others, I’m given an entertainingly evasive answer that they’d only be using humanoid races because love scenes get weird with blobs.

Love scenes get weird with blobs. Someone actually sat down and thought about it then? Hold me Garrus, Bioware are starting to scare me.

Today, the SWTOR Friday update announces their Advanced Class System, aka talent trees. This is Spinks’ lack of excitement. I don’t understand why my character has to choose between being dps or being a tank. Obviously I want to switch depending on what mood I’m in that night and what my friends are doing; or maybe that’s not obvious to anyone except me.

All I can say is that this fourth story pillar had better be absolutely knockout. And the truth is, I’m still so enamoured of the storytelling from Dragon Age and Mass Effect that if they are able to produce a massive version with several months worth of story based content, it won’t really matter if the gameplay fails to excite.

Good, Evil, and other Genre Conventions

I always play good characters in games. I have never set out to be evil just for the sake of it.

When I murdered the child in Redcliffe (in Dragon Age) it was because I was saving the world from a worse evil. If that’s not heroic then I don’t know what is! If Mrs Spinks kills the odd few hundred people in Tarren Mill, it’s to protect her homeland. And it isn’t as if she hasn’t helped to kill a lot of dangerous dragons too, even though she totally could have forged a sick note and got out of it.

Or we could just say that I like dark fantasy which involves murky noir-esque moral setups. So when I have a choice, I lean towards the in-game faction or options which let me tell stories in that genre.

I wonder if all good vs evil choices in games really do boil down to letting the player pick their genre. Even a game like KOTOR, in which playing as evil involves scheming, betrayal, random nastiness, and power grabbing for personal gain is just a more hardcore version of the dark fantasy. With some Randian philosophy thrown in for kicks.

The problem with good or evil in games is that either people complain that the choice doesn’t matter, or else there’s one clearly superior option, so it isn’t much of a choice. i.e.:

1. It’s just colour. Or flavour. It might affect what race you play or which faction. It may affect the twists and turns of the story. But your choices are so restricted in other ways that you can never really go all out evil, or all out good.

2. One side will usually have the game mechanics behind them. For example, if a game strongly encourages cooperation then the side which can best cooperate will always win. If a game encourages selfish, backstabbing behaviour, then the side most prone to do this will always win.

It is a dilemma that can be solved. But the game would need to be focussed on playing out the conflict between the different philosophies. Give them different but balanced game mechanics and then see who wins. I’m jonesing to try playing Anti-Monopoly someday, because this is exactly the approach that the designers take. You can either play as a monopolist or as a free marketeer. The mechanics support both. And then fight it out on the board to see which philosophy wins.

But to do that, we need to get away from ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

Alignment and Alpha Protocol

Given these genre musings, I was intrigued at the approach with Alpha Protocol, the upcoming spy action game, takes. Instead of letting you loose to pick good or evil, players can instead pick between Bond, Bourne, or Bauer. Three different genres of black ops style storytelling. Each with its own definition of good or evil.

For example, you’ll never see James Bond court-martialled for fraternising with the enemy. But you’ll also never see him in a situation where he’s in an actual no-win situation where he’s forced to make dark moral choices either.  Other genres could take you deeper into different types of stories. And as a bonus, people who are fans of the genre will know who Bond, Bourne, and Bauer are, so it’s a meaningful choice for them.

I’m not a fan of action games so I won’t be trying this one. But I find the approach far more interesting than just being asked to pick good or evil.

The Alpha Centauri Angle

Alpha Centauri is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s like Civilisation set on a new space colony, with an underlying storyline and where each faction has a very distinct philosophy which is underlined by the game mechanics.

The game itself is sheer genius. You can pick your philosophy by picking the faction which shares it. And then you can use it to conquer the world. Military supremacy? Mad science? Economic win? Be one with nature? There’s some very very clever game design going on in there, and it works brilliantly.

And again, there’s no clearcut choice between good and evil to be made anywhere at all. Instead, you get to choose how you will define good and choose how you will define evil. And to my mind, it leads to a stronger gaming experience overall.

My hope for SWTOR is that Bioware will have learned from previous outings that good vs evil isn’t really interesting enough to stand alone. And instead, when you pick a class, you will really be picking a genre for your space opera. And any good vs evil choices you get to make while playing are more about letting you tailor that genre to your own preferences.

Do you like games where each faction has a distinct philosophy? (Warcraft kind of manages this for Horde, but not so well for Alliance in my view.)

SWTOR, GW2: A game trailer is not a film trailer

You know that you have seen a really good piece of game hype when your reaction is not, “Ooo, pretty,” “I want to see more of that,” “great music, I’ll be humming that all night,” or even “I wonder how they’ll balance that?” but instead, “I want to PLAY that!”

It’s a very visceral reaction. It can be illogical. It can be unexpected. But to me that’s how a game trailer should be different from any other kind of trailer. Sure, interest me in the world, the background, the story, and the mechanics. But if I don’t end up thinking, “Yeah! I want to play that!” then it hasn’t hit the spot.

Bioware released a new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic last week to show off some of the combat moves in the game. I think it’s a fascinating trailer to watch because the graphics are not exceptional. There’s nothing unexpected in there and no real indication of how the game will play. Very likely it’ll be a minor adaptation of current MMO mechanics. You’ll press buttons and use cooldowns. Even the fights they they showed were fairly predictable: jedi with a lightsaber, some cool acrobatics, dual wielding, a cool bit with a big gun, someone casting lightning bolts like the emperor in return of the jedi, some flashy tech gadgets and yet … when that trailer came to an end I thought “Hell yeah! That looked fun! I want to play that.”

The current MMO player is exactly who they are trying to attract with this trailer. They’re showing that their game will offer your favourite current combat type. You like dual wielding? How about dual wielding lightsabers? You like ranged? How about a massive gun? Whatever you like right now do not fret because the SWTOR team thought of YOU.

The only curious exception so far is the lack of any pet class. I wonder if a more active use of NPC sidekicks will just mean that everyone effectively has pets.

The Guild Wars Manifesto

We are still mid-election rush over here, so it’s certainly the right season for a manifesto. Arena.net have opened the floodgates on the Guild Wars 2 information with a new blog and a new design manifesto.

This is another document that is aimed at current MMO players. Read it with the thought, “like your current MMO but better” in the back of your mind and you will get the full hype effect.

Main points:

  • It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world
  • You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world.
  • GW2 tells story by allowing the player < to >adventure with key characters, by presenting him with moral dilemmas <…> and by having him live through world-changing events
  • With GW2 <…> you can just naturally play with all the people around you
  • When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill.
  • worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. ((I think this means some kind of server vs server competition))
  • So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. <…> we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat.

The combat discussion isn’t easy to sum up in bullet points. One of the great strengths of Guild Wars is the combat system. Each character has a large selection of abilities, but must select only 8 before leaving town and going out to adventure. You can freely change which 8 you want any time you are in a town. So players are encouraged to adapt their skills towards each encounter. There is a lot of choice. And this is something arena.net plans to build on for GW2.

There is more on the combat system and skills, if you are curious to delve more deeply into the design.

Again, reading through the documents leaves me keen to actually play the game myself and try it out. I wonder if I am some kind of easy sell with these things … and I’m staying tuned to the GW2 blog to hear more about their plans.

If this talk of Guild Wars mechanics has intrigued you, Steam is having a sale on GW at the moment. You could either get the whole trilogy and start from the beginning, or do what was recommended to me and just grab Nightfall.

LOTRO update, Final Fantasy screws the pacing, and can SWTOR really get 2 million subs?

mirkwoodbynight

Mirkwood by Night (not sure how well this will come out)

The first time Arbitrary showed me around the daily quests in Mirkwood, I was scrambling along behind her hoping not to get lost. Although there are paths and roads through the zone, it’s also a big dark scary forest without obvious road signs all over the place. Strange as this sounds, obvious road signs (for no obvious reason) do feature in a few of the latter WoW zones. I never understood why Horde/ Alliance didn’t go mess with the signs in order to throw off the opposing armies.

A couple of the quests are scouting missions, in which you have to check out four different locations in order, and then report back to base. There are maps which help navigation, but still, when I started doing these dailies on my own I used to have to keep stopping (in stealth, naturally) to check my map like some kind of lost tourist.

No longer. I was able to save up enough daily tokens to buy a new horse for my character – a nice study black creature which seems fitting for a burglar. And I noticed that I was smoothly completing my scouting missions without having to stop and check maps any more. I feel like a veteran of the Mirkwood front!

goalsblackhorse

I took a screenshot of the new smoky black horse in Bree, since a screenie of a black-clad burglar on a black horse in a black forest might fail to impress. Whereas in WoW, your basic horse will do the job but the more expensive epic mount is faster, in LOTRO the advanced horse runs at the same speed as the basic one but it is a bit sturdier. Or in other words, you don’t fall off it every time a monster looks at you funny. Acquiring one was one of my in-game goals, and I’m pleased that the black one was the more accessible to me from the Mirkwood elves.

The other picture is a demonstration of why glowy daggers and stealthy burglars don’t really mix. Gosh, I wonder where the stealther is in this picture? Fortunately orcs are very very short sighted … or something.

In which I want to slap final fantasy 13

A couple of people commented on my affection for the extremely on-rails presentation of FF13. What can I say? I wouldn’t want every game I play to be linear like this but it’s refreshing to see it done well, like a palate cleanser. In general, the games I have most enjoyed on the PS3 so far have had strongly directed, well designed gameplay. It seems to be a general strength of console games.

Or in other words, I like smoked salmon and could probably eat it for every meal, but I also like other foods and some of them don’t go well with salmon. Ultra-linear, highly directed gameplay is not really what I look for in a MMO, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun in its own right.

Having said that, the pacing of FF13 became glacial during chapter 6. I don’t expect to actually feel bored during a Final Fantasy setting. Interestingly, it was the gameplay pacing that was off, the narrative pacing was fine. It’s perfectly OK to have a long sequence in which two characters who didn’t get along have to travel together, and along the course they learn to trust each other.

Just usually in films you’d go to a travelogue or montage sequence to show the passage of time without boring the pants off people via a sequence of forgettable fights.

odinlightning

But I am a mercurial gamer and the game picked up massively in chapter 7. So now I love it again, I genuinely enjoy all of the characters and their development arcs, and can’t wait for our next session. It’s quite a feat of storytelling to show such marked character development for all of the main characters. They don’t quite pull off the marriage of gameplay with narrative, but I still love what they are trying to do.

Also, Lightning is awesome.

Can SWTOR really get 2 million subs?

A few bloggers have picked up on a report that EA chiefs have high hopes for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and are shooting for 2 million+ subs. I’m not linking to them all because what everyone says is, “Is that realistic?”

Yes. Star Wars is a big and very well known franchise. But if that was all it took, then why isn’t LOTRO larger than World of Warcraft? Still, it certainly helps to get word out of the door, and Bioware’s stonking recent record of story based games (Dragon Age, Mass Effect et al) surely doesn’t hurt either.

I can only conclude that:

  1. Bioware have a lot on their plate at the moment. They’re known to be working on Mass Effect 3, and almost certainly on a Dragon Age 2 (sequel). On top of that, SWTOR is a vast undertaking and also the most expensive project in EA’s stable at the moment.
  2. SWTOR is an incredibly risky project. I’m still amazed that both EA and Bioware chose to go the AAA MMO route at this point in time.
  3. SWTOR rather failed to blow reporters away when they tried a demo at GDC. People liked it, but no one came away saying, “Oh my god this is the next big thing, give it to me now etc etc.” Having said that, the trooper sounds quite fun – a dps class which can switch from ranged to melee and has big guns.
  4. I think they will get their 2 million subscribers. They may end up redefining what a subscriber means, especially if they go with a hybrid pricing model but they’ll get the numbers.
  5. I’ll play it! So now they only have to find 1,999,999 other people and they’re golden.
  6. But I’ll still wish it was Mass Effect Online rather than Star Wars …

And the gratuitous female fighter in platemail picture

alg_alice_wonderland_vid

From Alice in Wonderland, of all things. But now I wish Tim Burton would take on The Faerie Queene as a project — I’d pay just to see the visualisations.