[SWTOR] 10 things you need to know about consumables

There are four main types of consumable in SWTOR, and the reason it’s worth knowing about them is that they are all pretty good and can add a lot of survivability and power to your character. Bioware have been quite good about scattering medical droids who sell healing and buff potions all over the gameworld, and healing potions are also frequent drops from mobs. Vendors in cantinas will also sell buff food. And you will occasionally find stim vendors out in the world – I think this is just where Bioware decided that they needed extra vendors standing around for RP purposes because they just split off some of the goods that medical droids would otherwise sell.

I’ve been running Biochem, and it’s balanced oddly. The crafted consumables are better than bought ones, but also can be expensive to make at the top end, so I’m not sure that people have a good idea how to price them on the AH at the moment.

In any case, here’s ten things you’ll want to know about better living through chemistry in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

1. Store bought stims (buff potions) typically last for an hour and will buff one of your core character attributes (might, willpower, aim, cunning) – there are also Stims that boost presence (this buffs your companion) and endurance.


2. Crafted stims will boost power or defence in addition to one of your core character attributes. Fortitude stims are the tank buffs which buff defence as well as endurance, the other stims all boost power as a secondary stat. Blue crafted stims will last for double the length (2 hours) and will not disappear after death – they’re the equivalent of WoW flasks. Purple crafted stims are for Biochem crafters only, are equivalent to green crafted stims and are reusable.


3. In Cantinas, there are vendors who will also sell you food buffs. The ones I have seen so far is a food buff that improves your out of combat regen for 30 mins (arguably not v useful since every class has an out of character regen ability, but this will probably save time if you’re speed levelling.) The other is a 30 min buff to presence (ie. boosts companion power), which does stack with stims. So if you’re struggling with solo content, the food presence buff might be one to keep in mind.

4. Green crafted healing potions will typically heal for more than vendor bought ones, and can come in at different level ranges also.


5. There are also green crafted healing potions which heal your companion as well as your character. Potions which just heal your character will be called XXXX medpacs, potions which also heal your companion will be called XXXX med units. If your companion has died, one of these potions will res it in combat as well as healing – I don’t entirely know if that’s intended but it is what happens at the moment. I find these invaluable when I’m trying solo content that is a bit tough for my level.

6. Blue crafted healing potions will typically provide a HoT as well as the initial burst of healing. The HoT heals for half again of the initial healing burst over 15s. They’re good, but I’m not sure they’ll be worth the extra cost to craft.


7. Adrenals are short term potions which provide a large kick to one of your secondary  stats for 15s (ie. power, surge, crit, et al). I haven’t seen any vendor adrenals, so these may only be available from Biochem crafters. Adrenals are all blue items, except for the purple reusable ones (Biochem only).

8. There are also triage adrenals which increase your tech/force power for 15s but reduce the amount of damage you do during that time by 50%. If it’s not obvious from the name, these are meant as healer buffs – if you’re not a healer use one of the other adrenals.

9. The cooldown on medpacs is 90s (ie. you can use one every 1.5 mins). The cooldown on adrenals is 3 mins. There is no cooldown on stims, but they are longterm buffs that you won’t need to spam unless you’re dying a lot. The reason Biochem is probably overpowered at the moment is that they can make reusable versions of any of the green crafted items for themselves. So as a Biochem crafter, you can if you want have access to a heal potion every 90s, an adrenal every 1.5 mins, and buff stims up all the time without having to rustle up the large number of materials or credits that it would cost anyone else to buy this.

10. You can use all of these consumables in PvP.


This is a shot I took on Voss. There do seem to be rather more orange/ brown planets than strictly necessary ….

Social Capital #2: How we make connections in MMOs

Last week I was writing about communities in games, different types of communities, and why strong social capital is a good thing for both games and players.

Next week, I’m going to talk about the challenge of building strong, long term communities.

This post is more focussed on the nuts and bolts of player interaction. The different ways by which we can make connections with other players. If you like, these are the building blocks that make social networks happen.

Buffs: the gift that keeps on giving

Abilities which temporarily make other players stronger are very specific to computer games. Pen and paper RPGs didn’t typically time combat closely enough to allow for a variety of short or long term buffs.

But mechanically, buffing is a brilliant mechanism for allowing players to spontaneously help each other. I’ve known many players who enjoyed being able to carry out drive-by-buffing when meeting another player ‘in the wild.’ Usually the convention is that if someone else buffs you, you return the favour if you have any buffing abilities handy and they hang around for long enough.

Buffs in MMOs are one of the many ways in which players can do favours for each other. You can compare this with how virtual gifts are passed around in Facebook games. A buff is something quick and simple that you can do for another player, and it doesn’t cost you anything, require spamming your friends list, or ask you  to making pointed suggestions that they should give you something back in return.

It has always puzzled me why some games are so down on out of group buffing. Limiting buffs to situations where the entire group benefits, including the buffer, means that the buffing character can’t just get to go around freely handing out buffs and feeling generous and altruistic. I don’t mean that all buffers should do this, but some people really enjoy it. By contrast if buffing only happens passively or in groups, all that happens is people whine like crazy in a group if the buff isn’t there. In my opinion, something is lost.

And you can see how a game in which it’s very common for people to happily buff/ assist other strangers could feel friendlier and more welcoming than a game where they don’t. If your first contact with a strange player is that they wave, buff you, and move on, it shapes your expectations for the game and its community.

Emotes: Is there really an emote for that?

Emotes, like buffs, are very very old school. MUDs had plenty of them, and even in a text only game where people could just chat to each other anyway, people did still use the canned emotes (they functioned like macros).

The great thing about emotes in MMOs is that they are so immersive. Seeing another character wave at you in game and being able to wave back is pretty cool. I’m now sure how many people would actually be watching the emote rather than the chat window, especially if you are in a crowded location, but it is a way to exchange greetings and simple interactions without having to get into a complex discussion.

Amazingly, given the amount of animation work required, there are way way more emotes in games than most people would ever need. And yet, when some of them catch on in the community, they take off like wildfire.

In WoW specifically, dancing has been vastly popular. This is partly because Blizzard put so much effort into the special racial dances when the game first went live, I remember everyone being blown away by the dance videos. However awful people find the WoW community, when a group of bear druids start dancing in one of the major cities, expect EVERYONE to join in.

Emoting also can be a type of minigame. You can play it with enemy players as well as friends, or with players who don’t speak much English. Occasionally you will see people communicating mainly via emotes, either for one of these reasons or just because it amuses them to try to act out their responses and try out some of the less familiar emotes.

Emotes are also great for nervous players who aren’t sure about chatting yet or are cautious of the community. You don’t really have to worry about saying the wrong thing with an emote. It can be an ice breaker. And emotes are also great for games targetted at children where there is a desire to not allow unedited chat channels. It’s a more controlled way to communicate (although players can usually find a way to simulate some sort of sex via emotes if they really want.)

Given how old school the emotes are, I’m always surprised when they make it into new games. And yet, being able to wave at that guy who you always see in the auction house at 6am and get a wave back does engender a sort of feeling of recognition and community. You don’t always want to have long conversations with people, and text based conversations do tend to take awhile.

Grouping for quests and PvE

Joining a PvE group is a step above waving at someone in a city or buffing someone as you run past. This is a form of mechanic where players have to work as a team in some way to beat a mutual challenge and reach a mutual goal.

Closed groups involve a fixed number of people. Whoever creates the group will recruit people, either from anyone in the vicinity who is interested, to members of their guild/ friends list, or directly contacting other players of the right class and level to invite them. I have memories in DaoC of paging people across two zones to ask if they wanted to group, it was how we used to do things.

The way in which groups were traditionally formed was blown apart by WoW’s random dungeon finder tool which forms groups based on role and level and dumps them into appropriate dungeons together. Being able to skip the harrowing group forming step has definitely made group content a lot more accessible. But it is having an effect on how players view the rest of the LFD community. Rather than being able to negotiate with each new player individually and decide who you wanted to group with, there’s a good chance you’ll be thrown in with players who you would never ever have come into contact with otherwise.

And unfortunately, people now view it as the equivalent to jumping into a shark tank. Maybe you’ll be lucky (in actual fact, the vast majority of runs I have done have been fine, they might not have been smooth but the actual players were OK) or maybe you’ll meet Jaws and have to bail.

The other issue with LFD is that it has become so accessible that dungeons are no longer really seen as special content that you have to really focus on because it might have taken so long to arrange. So a lot of people take a really half arsed approach, bail as soon as anything doesn’t go their way and generally act as though everyone else was an NPC with bad AI.

It’s hard to blame Blizzard for this entirely. It was a shame when so few people had access to their nicely designed dungeons and they must have been thrilled at how many more can play through them now.  How to fix LFD is a subject for another day, but it may well be that different types of instance is the answer and recognising that there is a hunger in players to play with other people and get the group rewards, but also to chill out after work, not be tied up for hours and not have everyone feel forced to play at hardcore levels.

What grouping also does is require people to play with a team at a similar level to beat PvE based puzzles/ mobs at a fixed difficulty (games like CoH allow you to vary the difficulty a bit which I always thought was an interesting idea). This team play is one of the more addictive qualities of MMOs from a gameplay point of view. It shows off how the different classes and roles can fit together and should ideally give everyone the chance to both help other players and help themselves. I am personally a fan of the class model where everyone has some buffs, heals and crowd control but not enough to solo buff, heal, or CC an instance.

Ever since Warhammer Online, we have seen a lot of interest from designers in the idea of open public groups, most recently demonstrated in Rift. In this model, when you see a group of players out in the wild fighting a group encounter, you can easily run up and join in. Having more people involved should always be a good thing in this design (this has not always been the case), and in fact EQ2 is making this specific in their next patch with better rewards given for having more players in the public group.

A great alternative to instancing for the casual players, open groups let everyone pile in on an encounter with rewards for everyone and very little chance of being shouted at for not being an expert in your class or in that particular encounter.

I’m not touching here on raiding, because in WoW and similar games it has more of a long term approach so will be talking about that next week. There are also large scale casual PvE raids which are just another form of public quest. In my experience, players always enjoyed them and I certainly enjoyed organising big public master level zergs in DaoC.

Group and solo  PvP

One way in which we communicate with other players is by ganking them in PvP. If you think this doesn’t communicate anything worthwhile, it’s worth noting that some of the strongest communities I have ever seen in games involved hardcore PvP players of several factions chatting outside the game. They had a good competitive atmosphere.

Having a competitive encounter with another player of similar skill isn’t really any different from playing chess with them, in the sense that you’re playing a game.

Battlegrounds have become the PvP equivalent of instances. They are mini zones into which fixed groups from both sides zone in and have to battle over specific objectives. To me they always feel very sterile, I prefer open world PvP or large PvP zones where you can really make use of the terrain and make good use of scouting and area knowledge to lay out ambushes. However, they do encourage tactical play and if they feel more like pocket games than actual PvP, that’s because they are. The team with the best communication usually wins, a fact that you kind of hope would not be lost on players.

One of the trademarks of MMOs is also the big open world PvP battles involving 10s of players on each side. There is a strong sense of community that you can get from fighting alongside others in your faction for your faction goals.

Other games allow economic routes to help your faction in PvP also. In Pirates for example, you can create “unrest bundles” to help either stabilise or destabilise ports that are under attack. Again I think this is a great way for allowing different types of players with different strengths to aid their faction in a meaningful way.

((Ugh, out of time here. Will finish this post tomorrow when I want to talk about economic transfers in game, in game chat, guild chat, sharing information, and out of game communications. Sorry everyone, this almost never happens.))

So how is ‘bring the player, not the class’ working out for you?

One of Blizzard’s mottoes for raiding in Wrath was, “Bring the player, not the class.” Previously, Blizzard had attempted (with varying success) to encourage raid leaders to bring a variety of classes  — which mostly worked until one ability was so suited to a raid that experienced players were ditched so that alts or inexperienced characters of the optimal class/ spec could be fitted in.

The new strategy involved duplicating buffs and abilities more between classes. Raid leaders now had more options for assembling the optimal set of raid buffs, hopefully being now able to include the players they wanted to bring.

But how is this really working out in practice? Here’s some bullet points, based on what I have noticed:

  • Individual players don’t feel as meaningful. If there are seven different people in your raid who can provide a desirable buff or debuff, it doesn’t really matter that you’re there too. In fact, you may even end up arguing about who should provide which buff or debuff.
  • Non-optimal compositions have been really successful in normal mode raiding. (Whether this is because the buffs are spread out or because the raids are easier, I couldn’t say.)
  • Hard raids do seem to have more options than previously but some classes are still better than others. Shamans and Paladins would need to be nerfed to the ground not to be optimal in 10 man raids – they simply provide that many more buffs than anyone else.
  • If people aren’t being brought purely for one desirable buff or ability, then their base tank/dps/heal capability is the only way to stand out. I think this has tended to blur roles and make the tank/dps classes feel more similar. Healers are due to be more homogenized next expansion.
  • I still struggle to get raid spots on my dps DK alt. Maybe if it was an enhancement shaman or retridin …

Blizzard are evidently happy with the results of this policy because they’re extending it into Cataclysm. Shamans will be sharing bloodlust with mages. Death Knight and Warrior tanks will be sharing more buffs and debuffs. And there are rumours of yet more buff homogenization to come.

When it doesn’t matter what you play, does it actually MATTER what you play?

Picking Alts, and Seeing how the other Half Live

One of my favourite parts of going to a new restaurant is poring over the menu.

You scan over the different items, mentally imagining how they might taste. You pause at foods that you either don’t get often at home, or that bring back fond memories of previous meals. Then you change your mind at the last minute for no reason, and spend the rest of the evening suffering menu envy at all the dishes (that you passed up) being ferried to everyone else’s tables. It’s great! If nothing else, you leave with a mental list of dishes that you want to try next time. You could skip several steps by picking something familiar on your first visit; you won’t hate it and can compare it to previous dishes (I do this in Indian Restaurants, for example). Then you can try something new if/when you go back.

Alts can be this way also. You pick one because it sounds like a nice flavour combination and maybe it’s been a favourite in the past. Then  you get a flash of menu envy when someone else wanders by with an especially cool looking buff, or being able to do something your character just can’t, or generally acting overpowered. I have rolled alts before because I thought a spell had an awesome casting animation, or because I thought their role in one particular fight was really cool. I’ve rolled alts because I thought it must be fun to res people, or because I had a cool name in mind for a pet. I’ve rolled alts because a particular set of gear looked really good.

Watching other people play different classes or roles is one of the big motivators in picking alts. Especially if you have friends who really enjoy their characters. So is reading cool forum posts, watching videos, or anything that makes you look twice at another class and think … wow, menu envy. I want to do THAT.

Or there is also the related route of picking something because no one you know plays it. Maybe you are more of a risk taker, and hope you’ll be the one to give them menu envy.

Many Alts, Many Points of View

I’ve been thinking about alts because in Warcraft right now, I don’t have a whole lot to do on my main character when I’m not raiding. One random heroic instance a day for frost badges, and I’m done.

Like a lot of other players, I have a clutch of level 80 alts. (As an aside, there was a time when having several alts at the max level meant that you were extremely hardcore; now it is pretty much inevitable if you have been playing awhile*) So those could also run a heroic dungeon for frost badges every day also.

With the dungeon finder, it’s never been easier to gear up an alt, and get some playing time in groups. More players are doing this now than ever before. There are fewer other endgame grinds to take up game time, plus there’s the lure of frost badges which can be used to buy the very saleable primordial saronite, if you don’t need it yourself.

So really, the playerbase should be getting better at seeing other classes’ points of view. We should be understanding that some classes are harder to play than others because we have more time to try it. Some roles are more involving. Some tasks more taxing on a caster rather than a melee, or vice versa. It’s way easier for me to put up high dps numbers on my death knight in instances than on my warlock, for example.

I’m not sure that this utopia of broad understanding based on all walking in each others shoes is happening though. Yes, lots of people are playing lots of alts. Yes, more people than ever are dipping their toes into the murky pool of tanking or healing for the first time.

Maybe this is going to be a longer term trend. Maybe as it becomes more baseline to have multiple well-geared alts who are just one tier behind a main, we will have more empathy for the other classes based on our own experiences with them. Right now, I’m more likely to be impatient at people who persist in being blinkered by a single class or role.

Do you find that playing multiple alts or roles has opened your eyes to their issues?

* Note: This does depend on how casual a player you are, I know some people have been playing for years and still don’t have a level 80.  But they are outliers.

How much is a buff worth?

It is a common trade-off in MMO design that players are asked to decide whether they’d prefer more damage or more utility for their character. Any talent spec scheme that lets you choose whether you’d prefer to spend points on buffs instead of on more damage is following this theme.

With tanking or healing classes, you’re simply choosing what type of utility you prefer to provide. Would you prefer better buffs, or slightly larger heals? Better raid buffs or more threat for yourself?

But with a dps class, it’s a straight up choice between more personal dps vs more raid utility. The idea of a raid buff is that the performance of the whole raid is improved by more than any detrimental effect on the buffer. So why must it feel like a penalty if someone is asked to buff? I think it’s because there’s a sense in which you are donating a gift to the raid (the buff and the dps hit) in return for your raid spot, whilst raiding alongside other people who don’t have to do that. Not only that, but due to various buffs working in different ways, some classes do genuinely get to provide buffs at very little personal cost. So it is easy to feel hard-done-by.

In Wrath-era WoW, all classes have become buffing classes because Blizzard decided to spread out the buffs. But can you really teach an old dog new tricks? Will classes that had previously been categorised as pure dps really want to give up their top slots in order to give better buffs?

Ghostcrawler had an interesting comment on this in shaman forums recently:

We want classes to have to take a hit for buffing the raid, but we don’t want it to be a gigantic one. Again, on the one hand players are eager for these buffs because it “secures them a slot!” but on the other hand, they want someone else to do the buff so they don’t have to.

This is spot on in my experience. Dps tend to complain like crazy about having to be ‘the buff bitch’, even though they’d likely complain even more if no one wanted the buff at all and it was never worth speccing for. I don’t mean every single one of them complains, but everyone who enjoys playing the damage meter exhales a private sigh when they realise that they are on buffing duty so won’t be troubling the top 5 slots.

This expansion has marked a minor role shift for dps specs in the game, towards more hybridness. If we had buffing classes, no one would complain about providing buffs because it would be their raison-d’etre. Although that would present a completely different set of issues.

How does your raid decide which member of each class should buff? Do people complain when they are asked to do it?

Sharing information in fights: Everyone’s a critic

I think we can agree that yelling at people in frustration is not the best way to pass on information. (See yesterday’s post and comments.)

But when we’re playing in a group in a MMO, a lot of information needs to be communicated quickly. Are we trying to focus fire and if so, does everyone know what they are supposed to be hitting at any time? Do you need to ask another player to remove a debuff from you? Have you just used a cooldown that your tank or healer or dps needs to know about? Are you going to assume someone else’s role because they just died in combat?

A lot of our abilities are designed to interlock with each other. A buff from one player might significantly affect the abilities or optimal ability use of another. If you have debuffs, you need to know when to use them. When you think about it, that’s a crazy amount of information that needs to be assimilated quickly.

So how do we do it?

  • Pre Pre-planning. This is where you discuss the fight and tactics in detail on a bboard before you even step into the instance.
  • Pre-planning. If you know what will happen in a fight, you can pre-arrange the kill order, any crowd control, any other tactics, and roughly when significant buffs will be used.
  • UI. We rely heavily on the user interface for information about when players have buffs or debuffs active on them. This is automatic information provided by the game (and the UI addons, if you use them) and doesn’t require anyone to actually say ‘I’m poisoned!’
  • Flashy graphics. Some spells just come with very unmistakeable graphical effects that no one can miss if they’re paying attention.
  • Boss cues. Some bosses will cue before they make a special attack with either a graphic or some kind of yell. Games don’t tend to use pure audio cues; I’d like to think this was in respect of deaf gamers but it’s probably just because they know a lot of people play with the sound off.
  • Text and macros. Sometimes the easiest way to inform your group or raid when you’ve used a cooldown or buff is to macro in an automatic comment on group or raid chat when you activate it. eg. ** Just used Bloodlust ** The only problem is … not everyone reads text chat in the middle of a fight.
  • Shout on voice chat. Best saved for if something really unexpected happens and pre-arranged plans have to change on the fly. Also probably best left for the raid leader.
  • We don’t. No one says or types a word. We just assume we roughly know what they’ll be doing and go with it. (Really common in 5 man instances in WoW these days, or any content where it isn’t critical to micro-manage.)

Either way, it is a huge amount of information to process and I think regular raiders often forget how enormously overwhelming it may have felt when you first tried a raid, particularly as a healer or debuffer.

Broadcasting Taunts

Given the sheer amount of information flying around, I’ve always tended to the cautious side when I’m deciding which of my abilities and cooldowns to publicise. I was thinking about this lately because with the heroic beasts fight, we do a lot of tank switching in the first part. So I picked up an addon which would automatically tell people on the raid channel when I’d used various different abilities. What I really wanted was to let people know if a taunt had failed, but I figured I might as well add an inform about Shield Wall also (it’s a tanking cooldown).

You know the worst part? Not people complaining about spam because actually no-one complained. I got the impression it was felt to be generally useful. Nope, the most difficult part about automatically informing your group when you use an ability is that … they automatically also get informed when you press the button by mistake.

You don’t realise how naked this makes you feel until you try it. I mean, OF COURSE I press taunt at the wrong time sometimes. So does every tank who ever lived, unless they have it bound somewhere really inaccessible. If it’s not being broadcast, you just whisper to the other tank afterwards and apologise. They’ll shrug it off, we all do it. If using taunt by mistake means it wasn’t up when you really needed it then you can always fake that it missed or failed. But if you broadcast your abilities, then suddenly your entire raid becomes a backseat driver. Or at least it can feel that way.

So one positive side to broadcasting my taunts and cooldowns? You can bet I’m way more careful with them now. There’s no doubt that it’s made me a better player, in that sense at least.