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


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.


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)


Quests, goals, and mechanical horses


Finally hit level 40 on my character in Rift (yes, I know most of the blogosphere is off in tier 2 expert dungeons, which is sort of equivalent to hard mode heroics), and was able to buy one of the coolest mounts in any game ever. This is why you roll Defiant. It’s all about the mechanical horse. This is a copper one, although you can’t really see that in the screenie, I call it Rusty. I always pick boring brown horses when I have the choice, there’s probably something Freudian in that.

Now the mechanical horse and my great desire to virtually own a copy of same has really made me think about how I feel about quests in games. Because even as a low level noob, you will get to see NPCs with mechanical horses, you will see the mechanical horse vendor when you first head into Meridian. And you will KNOW that one day, if you want one, it will be yours. You can browse the available mechanical horses and decide which one you prefer. And you also can easily find the requirements –- you will need to be level 40 and have 35 plat to spend. It’s not like having a quest pop up in your quest journal, but no less of a quest all the same.

WoW pretty much went the same route with their mounts. As your lowbie character travels out of the starting zones, you will encounter the mount vendor with all their ‘wares’ out on display. It’s just that none of them are as cool as a mechanical horse.

Wolfshead posts a thinly veiled screed against WoW and all it’s scions, specifically focussing on the evils of quests this week. I can’t really agree with him; whatever the downsides are to quests, I rather enjoy having a variety of short and longterm goals in game. Quests serve a useful storytelling purpose in many CRPGs. And if they didn’t exist in MMOs then all that would happen is that people would find the most efficient way to level via grinding and just do that – we know this because it’s how levelling used to work.

And yet, they can be improved. Quests like the unofficial ‘where’s my mechanical horse?!’ aren’t official quests, they’re more like game-specific goals which I make for my character. And they always feel more personal than a coded quest, even if every other player on my faction shares the exact same goals. (And if you don’t want a mechanical horse, then I do not know you.)

Sims Medieval has a good modern take on questing – you’ll have some immediate goals to be getting on with, and your characters will also have more longterm ambitions. Plus you as the player may also have some goals which aren’t codified, but will influence how you play.

I’m looking forwards at some point (ie. when I have more free time) to picking up LA Noir, which looks to mark a point where even Rockstar Games abandon the full sandbox in favour of more questing, to see how they handle giving the PC some goals and direction.

But speaking of WoW, the main issue I had with Cataclysm questing is best described as sugar rush. I liked the zones well enough (Vash’jir and Deepholme in particular are brilliant), but everything was so fast, so quickly consumed. My character was travelling quickly, killing quickly, finding things quickly – with no downtime it’s just a lot to take in.

I think the questing layout in Rift is better in general than WoW. Not because they’re more streamlined, because they aren’t. Not because the storylines or writing are better, because they probably aren’t. But because they seem to preserve a better balance between exploring a zone and zipping through it so quickly that you can’t really remember it a few days later. And also because there is a better mix of linear quests, hidden stuff to explore and dynamic events. The pacing seems to work better, for me. Plus it has mechanical horses.

So my view on quests as gameplay is that they’re a useful way to project linear storytelling into a virtual world, but that we’re not done with them yet. I hope to see more devs experiment with ways to encourage players to set and celebrate their own goals, formed through interacting personally with the game world and NPCs. Or in other words, it doesn’t start and end with the gold exclamation mark.

[Cataclysm] Praise where praise is due, and the high cost of tradeskilling

So I was home a bit earlier last night which meant less of a wait in the queues (or rather, that I could start queuing and then sort out supper).

I’ve enjoyed my time in the undersea realms very much. I’d have been thrilled with a whole underwater expansion! Although the questing is fairly directed, there is also plenty to explore.

One interesting thing I found is that although in the new lower level zones, all the travel time has been cut and loads of new flight points added, in Vash’jir they’ve gone back to an older style of doing things. Flight points (sea horse points?) are more hidden, you’ll need to explore a bit to find the things you are looking for, and of course it’s more 3D so don’t forget the up and down dimension (z axis, for those keeping score). Quest NPCs, mobs, and items might need a bit more searching out as well.

(Incidentally if you love 3D – or pseudo 3D – combat and would like more of it, check out Star Trek Online. They have a very cool implementation of space combat.)

Some people will hate this and find it frustrating. I thought it was ace. Until I came to a point in the quest line where one of the quests was broken.

It was frustrating because I knew I was fairly close to the ends of the zone so I didn’t want to just give up and go on to a higher level area. I decided to sleep on it, so I left Spinks logged in near the offending quest and went to bed.

When I logged in the next morning, there was a note on the screen that they had restarted our servers at about 5amish (“Oo, maybe a hotfix”, I thought hopefully). And sure enough, my quest was fixed.

In my experience, it’s been very rare for an MMO team to be that on the ball with hotfixes unless there is some kind of critical potentially game breaking issue. And still, it’s the basic expectation I had with WoW, and I was right.

Tradeskills and Materials

I was selling stacks of Obsidium for over 600g each last night. I think leaving Blacksmithing for a few weeks while people are still crazy enough to pay these amounts was quite a good plan.

So if you are levelling a tradeskill at the moment, that’s your opportunity cost.

Screenshot of the Day


Thought of the Day: People vs Text

The slew of new quests in WoW at the moment reminds me of how reliant MMOs still tend to be on quest text to tell their stories. Blizzard is clearly trying to experiment and move away from this a bit (with good use of cut scenes, NPCs who chat while you are leading them around, et al.) but the bulk of the information comes via text boxes.

And it’s usually thought that most people don’t bother reading the text. They just scroll down to see what the rewards are and what they need to do — and increasingly the quest target will be marked on a map anyway so you don’t even need to do that.

My first thought is how great it would be if other important information givers experimented as widely with ways to tell us things we need to know. Interactive bank statement, anyone? How about consumer rights when you sign a loan agreement? Of course, the difference is that in these cases, they might actually prefer you not to read the small print …

And secondly I was thinking that sometimes I really do prefer print. I’m not a fan of videoblogs and prefer text to podcasts because a) I can read them at my speed (which is fast) rather than at the rambling speed of the producer, and b) because I don’t have to dig out my headphones. Communicating via text in games might be slow compared to speech but you don’t lose important information because someone shouted over it. So maybe in games it is as much to do with the size and placement of the text box, and the tendency to info dump, as the fact it happens to use text.