[SWTOR] It’s a new day, it’s a new patch

My experience of playing SWTOR has been solidly positive, but it took a great turn for the better recently. Suddenly my frame rate improved massively, loading screens and conversations start seamlessly, and even hopping in and out of orbital stations is more of an interesting change of scenery than a painful speed bump. Amazing how much difference a new computer can make Smile (The old one was about 6 years old and has now been retired to less onerous duties.)

Oh, yes, there’s a new patch 1.2 also, featuring new high level content, Legacies as a way to earn perks for your alts, huge UI improvements, and the usual round of “PvP is now broken” feedback. (Although some people do also like it.)

What do you need to know about the new stuff?

Here’s a few useful links for SWTOR players:

mmo-mechanics has a guide for Empire players to the new Corellia dailies (I assume Republic players get their breadcrumb quest from the fleet too)

UI Cantina is a repository for UIs, which you can now download and use. Their ‘tips and tricks’ tab also explains where the .xml files (used to store UI information) will be stored, so to use a new one just save it in that directory. It is actually a hidden directory on Windows 7 so you’ll have to set your file explorer to show hidden files/ directories to check it. Look on this as a learning opportunity if you don’t know how to do that yet.

mmo-mechanics also have some UIs which you can download. I am thinking there will soon be plenty of UI related sites, if you know any good ones feel free to suggest them in comments.

legacy

This is a screenshot of the Legacy window. You will have to log in each of your characters to have them show up, and can then move them into the middle of the screen to define some relationships. You do this by holding the picture of one character over the picture of another who you already set up on the screen, and as you can see here some options for relationships appear. When you pick one, the new character will appear in the ‘family tree’. (Same sex marriages are allowed, incidentally.)

Since my agent (shown) is a sleazy horndog, he’s probably slept with all the others so I’m mostly defining him as ally or enemy depending on what happened after that. I’m not sure yet why he earned the enmity of my Sith Warrior but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t take much to set her off. Let’s hope he has some good friends, as opposed to the bunch of weirdos he usually hangs out with.

The Legacy screen also shows you what abilities/  races/ special stuff you have unlocked or have yet to unlock. I think I’m now saving up a million credits so that my ship (and all my alts ships on this server too) can have a repair bot, which is nice in the sense of adding some long term goals. Long term goals are essential for player retention, so Bioware will now be hoping that plenty of other players are also now thinking “Cool, I’ll save up for XYZ,” or “Oo, I could make a True Sith Consular!” Anyhow, it works for me. I like that my alts can benefit from my main, and vice versa. Shame they all have to be on the same server but you can’t have everything.

One of the fancier bonuses is that if you have completed chapter 2 on any character, your other alts on that server will automatically get that character’s buff alongside their own when they cast it. So for example, all my alts now cast the Sith Warrior buff as well as their own automatically. This is actually a pretty nice perk for alts.

There are also perk abilities you can get if you have a character who is LS5 or DS5.

To make your armour match, open up the character window. You will notice a small tab around halfway down on the right hand side – click that for the armour matching option. You can then unclick the icons by individual armour pieces if you want a few non-matching bits too.

Anexxia has also posted a FAQ for patch 1.2 so if you have any other questions such as “Where’s the guild bank” or “where are the legacy vendors” check out her post.

Also, some random rewards from Bioware

Bioware is also giving out goodies to existing and former players. There are free pets for active players, free time for lapsed players and a free MONTH for anyone with a level 50 who has ever subscribed. That’s rather generous – Bioware are now becoming synonymous for me with being wildly generous, I remember they threw out free copies of ME2 with DA2 last year also and even then I thought, “That’s nice, if a bit unexpected.”

Tobold takes the logical assumption that this is all intended to encourage player retention. Comments in that thread compare this to recent WoW offers and to the sorts of offers that subscription magazines offer and don’t find it particularly out of place.

Naturally because this is Bioware, people are also complaining about the free stuff. Personally, free is a nice counterpoint to the money grabbing scams I’m more used to so I’m happy. But then I was planning to renew my 6 month sub when it’s up anyway, because I genuinely am still having a lot of fun with the game,  so possibly making me happy is not a huge win for Bioware.

My feeling is that in the same way that Blizzard have been free to experiment with doing all sorts of weird stuff to WoW, Bioware are being encouraged to try out just about any marketing trick that they can think of to see what works. And since there really aren’t that many successful subscription games, there is still a lot we don’t know about what really does attract players to themepark games that aren’t WoW.  I’d say good luck to them, if offering people 7 months for the price of 6 (which is basically how I’m interpreting this for me) works for them, then go for it.

And while I am not sure that I am the core target for this offer, I am still a keen player with a level 50 who is in a casual guild which regularly does the endgame instances and raids. And as anyone who has ever tried to run a casual endgame guild knows, ANYTHING which encourages max level players to keep playing is a boon for everyone in the guild who wants to run group content. So this might actually be a very savvy move from the perspective of social players. I’m curious to see how it plays out.

New Content

I haven’t run the new dailies yet but we had a crack at normal mode Lost Island, the new flashpoint, last night. We worked out strategies as we went along, people were still adjusting to various class changes, and I was tanking without any tanking gear so this was not perhaps an optimal setup. Still, it was good fun, the scenery is gorgeous (I will take a screenshot of the volcano next time), and we enjoyed learning the bosses as we went along.

It felt quite tightly tuned for a normal mode instance to me, but maybe that is just because we didn’t really know the fights. Highlight was the group’s reaction on spotting a platform in the middle of a lava flow with a boss in the middle, “Oh, knockbacks into lava” – and Bioware did not disappoint.

Have you tried the new patch? What did you think?

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a quest

There was a time a few years back in which it felt as though everything in MMOs was a quest. Quests were the new hotness, back in an era where one of WoW’s major selling points on release was that you could level purely by questing.

The standard way to show players what they were expected to do in game was to have some NPC offer a quest. Quests were used for telling stories, as tutorials, filler quests, quests to make you explore the zone, hidden quests that rewarded you for exploring further afield, quests for sending you off to the next zone, quests for PvP, quests for raid bosses (occasionally). Then add in daily quests for xp/cash, daily instances, weekly battleground bonuses, quests to get you to use vehicles – quests were used to direct players towards all of these things. And of course, every time a quest is set up, there needs to be a reward attached.

Of course, not every game is WoW. LOTRO (for example) always had a clear set of grinding goals/ titles alongside the regular quests. There were titles and perks for exploring areas, using a class skill a set number of times, killing large amounts of various different mobs in different zones, and so on. EQ2 had its alternate advancement system. But even with all these extra possible goals, players still tend to rely on quests to show them where to go next and if they happen to miss the correct breadcrumb quest (maybe through just doing things in an unexpected order or being in the wrong zone) then they’re stuffed.

But these different sets of goals also made the games more complex and confusing for new players. Unless of course there were quests to introduce them (if nothing else, quests force players to go through set actions in a certain order which can make for a good UI tutorial.)  And – this is key – most games do not regularly adjust any such introduction quests to be accessible for newbies. There’s no quest in WoW to introduce newbies to the idea of glyphs, for example. There’s no quest to let newbies know which parts of TBC they can skip (isle of Quel’Danas, for example).

In A Tale in the Desert, you pretty much have to have a window open on the wiki while you play. In that game, nudging players to collaborate on huge problem solving tasks is a key part of the design and you are directed towards the wiki from inside the game. However, it’s very much a sandbox game (literally!) and although there are general goals for the player base, the more experienced players tend to leap on them quickly and instruct everyone else in what to do next for region progression. (So you might get your goals from other players as much as from the actual game.)

Another example is EVE. New players often complain of difficulty in setting goals because the game is so open ended and has so many possibilities. It’s easy to feel lost just because you don’t have a good idea about what your options and possibilities are when you begin.  Another way of putting this is that a new player would be at a significant disadvantage to an experienced one who was starting a new alt, because the experienced player would know the ins and outs of the game so well. They wouldn’t just know what they wanted to do, they’d also know what they needed to do to get there. One of the ways in which a player learns what they COULD do is by looking at what others are doing, which is actually quite tricky in EVE unless you read forums and blogs … or have joined a corps and have some experience with the game.

Encouraging players to ask each other for help is the traditional old school MMO way of managing this complexity. This often involved a lot of offline work with reading forums, bboards, and player written tutorials (large amounts of up to date information are not easy to transfer over a MMO in game interface.) But a lot of players don’t want to interact that much with others, and/ or they don’t want to make a commitment to a guild so they might not mix with the more experienced players who could answer those questions.

So quests do serve a really useful function. They’re great for directing players around in a way which doesn’t require them to talk to other players. They are potentially great tutorial devices, if players actually read the text. They also provide for a very specific and CRPG-friendly form of storytelling (if you break down your story into a series of steps).

We are seeing some innovations in questing at the moment (public quests, quests presented when you enter an area or pick up an item rather than always talking to the guy with the Q, better use of cut scenes and phasing and non-wall-of-text based storytelling) and also I don’t think that questing is still the “one size fits all” game mechanic of old.

  • Achievements and Titles in WoW have taken some of the pressure off raid and instance questlines. Players know that there will be an achievement for completing every instance – they also can look at the achievement list to find out a set of possible goals rather than needing a separate quest for each individual achievement.
  • Guild advancement is another type of non-quest based goal.
  • Increased use of social networking mechanics and shared scoreboards is another way to provide goals to players in MMOs.

None of these things are new, but to me the innovation is finding ways to introduce these things to new players in a way that isn’t complex, obscured and confusing. The innovation is in the UI.

When you complete an achievement in WoW, it zaps up on your screen with a zing and is also shared with both your guild and with anyone close by (as well as the Armoury). You know that someone has done /something/ and if you click the achievement on screen you will find out precisely what. Think of it as just another form of gold exclamation mark …

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.