Time to fight!

Well, it’s official. And yes, I admit I had a geekasm when they announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic would include space combat. Yes, I even went ‘squee’. Can you blame me? Most of my fondest memories are of X-Wing, TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance. What can I say? I am not a pilot in real life. With only one eye that works right, I will never be a pilot in real life – certainly not a very safe one anyway. So I do simulations – that way, if I crash the ship, plane, tank, whatever, all I have to do is reset the game or reload the level. But I do love flying. And there is something about flying in space, even simulated, that draws one in, and holds one. I still play Battlefront II, mainly for the space combat aspect.

We don’t know a lot yet about what space combat will involve. What we DO know is that it will involve ‘hotspots’. Will these be instances? We don’t know. It is touted as an ‘alternative gameplay experience’. Does this mean it won’t be a mandatory part of the game, for those people who seem strange to me who don’t like flying games? We don’t know. There is a lot we don’t know yet.

Many people seem to be holding out for a free flight simulator like X-Wing Alliance was. I admit, I am one of them, but I am not holding my breath. The problems in the Jump to Lightspeed expansion for Star Wars Galaxies shows just how bad twitch based flying can be in an MMO. There were parts of it that were quite enjoyable, mixed in with mindless grind, mindless grind, mindless grind, mission and then back to grind, grind, grind. I always enjoyed tweaking my birds for maximum efficiency, speed, firepower, you name it. And I enjoyed making life miserable for Imperial dogs. But free flight is a big enterprise. How many items were there to program in Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed? Hundreds if not thousands or more. Ships, asteroids, space debris, planets, stations, nebulae… you name it, it was there somewhere.

An alternative is the gamestyle of games such as Rebel Assault, or like the gun turrets in Knights of the Old Republic.  This is a game or mini-game where you have no control over the movement of your ship, you just blast everything in sight as quickly as you can. Some people call these games rail flight simulators for a good reason- your movement is set, you can go around and around, but nowhere else. If you shoot fast enough, straight enough and pick the right targets, you will survive and progress to the next level. If not, there is always that handy ‘reload save’ feature.

Most games that have come out since the dawn of video games have been one or the other of these. Some of them have been a mix. In Space Invaders, Galaga, Centipede and the like, you could move a bit, but not much. You were on rails, but you had the ability to move your ship or whatever in a limited area. Then there were games like Defender and Asteroids where you had free control to move your ship anywhere on the screen. But those were rarer from what I recall, admittedly, I only played some of those games. I was mainly a Galaga fan. And I still am. I loved getting three ships in a line to blast the enemy three times as fast.

So… What will we see in the Old Republic? We don’t know yet. It may be a free flight simulator like X-Wing Alliance, but what are the odds? Those are incredibly hard to pull off well. Most of the space simulators that are made never make it past a week on the on the store shelves and wind up in the bargain bin in two weeks, and then the trash can in three. Will it be something like Star Wars: Empire at War, where you control each ship from afar? Will it be something like Lego Star Wars where you had a tighter view, but a top down one designed for console players? Or will it be something like Rebel Assault, where you could shoot up things to your heart’s content, but never deviate from your flight path? I personally hated that kind of game play. I like to have control of what my in-game thing is doing, whether it is a tank, a plane or a spacecraft. The top down games always seemed… off in some way to me, if that makes any sense. The far view in Empire at War was fun, but again limited in what you could order your vessels to do. There was simply too much other stuff going on to have a lot of controls for things like say, fighters.

Bioware and Lucasarts will likely give us more information fairly soon, especially since after the announcement at Comic Con, many of us needed to change our pants and wash our faces to get the froth off. But no, we are not fanatics. Just dedicated. We do know that there will be space battles, we know that there will be larger vessels than the player ships. We are told that we have to ‘blast our way through asteroid fields, enemy fighters, frigates, destroyers, and a variety of other obstacles that will evoke memories of some of the great Star Wars™ space battles.’ (quote from Sean Dalhberg) What does this mean? We don’t know. But knowing Bioware, they are unlikely to market Space Invaders: Star Wars style.

For myself, my dream is another flight simulator like X-Wing Alliance, but harder. I want to fly around, get on an enemy’s tail and stay there while he maneuvers frantically. I want him to sweat while I pump enough laser fire into his hull to make him a pretty cloud of scattered atoms. But then, I am not a nice person when I fly. Good thing I only do it in games. I quote a famous man: ‘A fighter pilot finds the enemy and shoots him down, everything else is rubbish’ -Manfred Von Richthofen (AKA the Red Baron)

And yes, I have to say it again. SQUEE! As soon as that issue of PC Gamer comes out, I am on it like a X-Wing on a TIE.

Over to you, what kind of space flight would you want to see? Free flight like X-Wing Alliance or SWG JTL, rail flight like Rebel Assault, top down like Lego Star Wars, far view like Star Wars: Empire at War, or something in between?

Photo courtesy of Retro Gamer.

Profile: Gestahlt (SWTOR forums roleplayer)

No this is NOT the person

For this week’s piece I am interviewing another regular at the TOR forums. Just about anyone who follows any of the Star Wars: The Old Republic Website forums at all has likely seen a post by this writer. Love this writer’s work or hate it, you have to respect the skill and sheer writing ability that is shown. Give it up for Gestahlt!

E:  Hello ­ Gestahlt, I have a few questions for you today, if you don’t mind.

G:  Mind?  I’m absolutely honored to be even be considered for an interview.  The pleasure’s all mine, really.

E:  In very general terms, what are you in real life?

G:  Perpetually bored?  No.  I’m a full-time student finishing out a degree in English, as well as the committed boyfriend of a woman I’ve been in love with for just about three years now.  When I’m not writing I’m usually with her, and if I’m not with either – well, that’s where that whole student thing comes in.  I’m an amateur health nut and love to work out whenever I can.  It keeps me relieve stress and on top of that, think out stories while I exercise.

E:  How long have you been doing RP and fanfiction in online forums?

G:I’ve been writing in general since I was about 8, which is to say I started putting together terrible ideas ever since I was a kid.  When I turned 13 we were given America Online 3.0 (Oh god, I just dated myself, I think?) and from there, it was almost an instant gravitation toward roleplay. I’ve since used AOL, WoW, Age of Conan, Star Wars Galaxies (briefly), and Final Fantasy XI as means of roleplay.

But, at the end of the day, it’s writing my own story that really gets me into the creative mindset.

E:   What got you started in this?

G: Reading, without a doubt.  I’m a military brat (Chair Force, represent!) and we moved around a lot.  To compensate I started reading more than I would have otherwise and fell in love not only with the written word, but the world that it could create.

In many ways, it has become a sandbox without boundaries.  My friend, Terminalpleasure, has often compared roleplay to kids playing “make believe”, and I think he’s on the right track.  I actually never played DnD or anything of the like; Bioware was my first time testing out a D20 system, yet it was their story telling that further encouraged me to try out my hand at roleplaying.

E:  What do you think is the most rewarding thing about writing fanfiction?

G: It’s two-fold.  The first is the sense of completion that you get when your protagonist works out something that you’ve been trying to have them solve for awhile.  It’s as much a journey for me, I believe, as it is for my readers.

The second part is the readers themselves.  If someone can read a piece of writing I did and glean some entertainment from it, then I know I’ve done a good job.   I recently put in my sig that if a person has a story in their head they should just write it.  No matter if you think it’s bad or good, get it out.  When we create we encourage others to create and when there is a creative community then we’ve established something that’s lasting.

Let’s put it this way.  I played WoW for about six years.  After the first three, it became boring.  But the ability to roleplay with other creative people made it a wonderful thing.  I hope that in time TOR gets that same feeling (if not one more focused on the creativity) and enables us to look back six years in the future and say “Man, I wasn’t ever bored for a day with that one.”

E:  What do you think could be improved in general about the fanfictions we see on the forums?

G: I think that people should have a little more confidence in what they do.  Yes, a lot of the stuff is new but it’s well worth trying your hand at.   We have a lot of good writers, I have seen, with excellent ideas but they all become somewhat insular.  TP tried to combat this with his Circle of Reviewers thread, but the problem with that was if you didn’t start a story early on, it’d be hard to catch up.

I think it’d be nice if the moderators gave thread creators a bit more control over their threads, so we could weed out the posts that are just problematic as well.  But, I suppose that is only really a problem if you write a story in which Revan loves Alek!

E:  What on Earth made you write about an alternative lifestyle Revan?

G: Well, the fact is we don’t know a lot about Revan.  Bioware’s been working to fill in gaps, but I feel like we’re trapped in some archetypical Heisenberg’s Principle: the more we learn, the less we know.  I can understand that Revan was a charismatic Jedi that made sacrifices and ended up falling, but what does that mean about the MAN himself?  Well, there’s the disconnect.

I wanted to make Revan more of a person.  I’m not saying that having him fall in love with Alek makes him more “interesting” than if he was entirely straight, but by the same token we didn’t see Revan always around a woman, did we?  No, he was with Alek and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with two people finding love in one another.  From that alone, I knew there’d be a problem… but I didn’t care.

To be completely honest, I like Revan.  I dislike his fanatics, though.  The people that go on and on about how Revan could defeat Sidious, Mace Windu, and Bane at one time just irritate me.  Not because I think Revan is weak, but because they don’t even like Revan.  They like the concept of some all-powerful jackanapes that can run up and destroy everyone without feeling or effort.  That’s boring; if that was who Revan was, KOTOR would have been a very flat game.

I’ve had my story referred to before as the “Gay Revan” story.  Shocking?  Not really.  In the start of the story he is in love with Alek – to be honest, I think he even loved Alek after he struck Malak down on the Star Forge, but the story itself was much more about what happened between those events.  I was allowed to explore the Exile and show her in three important stages: Broken, Mending, and Completed.    I was able to elaborate on the Bastila and Revan Dynamic – on the Revan and Arren Kae relationship.  There’s just so much out there that we could know, and I wanted to put attention to those important details.

So in the end, do I think I made Revan “gay” just so he’d be “gay”?  No.  I think I made Revan a person, just so that we could have something to like more than a mask and a red lightsaber.  I’m quite certain my vision of Revan and that of Mr. Karpyshyn does not match up all that much, but I can live with that.  What I was most concerned with was giving answers where only questions were before, and in the end maybe helping other people really think about who Revan was and what he was capable of.

TOR should answer a lot of things.  I wouldn’t be shocked if 99% of what I said is refuted by what is revealed, but that 1% will mean a lot to me.  I’m eager to see just how far off the mark I was.

E: What do you think is your best piece of writing?

G: It’s up in the air.  I have two pieces of writing for my own personal stories that have competing places in my heart.  The first is the story of a young girl who grows up in a horrible situation and rises above it.

The second is the story of an alpha-male, take-no-prisoners, itinerant swordsman on a quest to rescue his bastard daughter from the hands of a megalomaniacal despot… so that he can kill her.  An amazing tagline, isn’t it?


In conclusion… Ladies and gentlemen, feel free to check out the really cool writing of Gestahlt on swtor.com. You won’t be disappointed. Surprised, sure. Possibly shocked – but not disappointed.

Photo is courtesy of www.swtor.com

Is privacy going the way of the dodo?

Say it ain't so!

Well, it’s official. Anonymity is on its way out on the internet. Recently, Blizzard Entertainment announced the RealID system for the World of Warcraft MMORPG. The stated idea of the system as to provide a social aspect to the game. If that was what they intended, they failed miserably. What they have created, is a firestorm of protests as well as a drop in subscriptions. Of course, since they had about 20 million subscriptions, they likely didn’t CARE if they lost a few hundred thousand to poorly implemented ideas. Though given their backdown, maybe they did care a little.

On the surface, RealID is not a bad idea. The concept is fairly simple. Take a new WOW player. In order to subscribe, that player must create a battle.net account. This allows them access to the game. They also are allowed access to the game forums. Now I don’t know about you, but I avoided the WOW forums after the second day I played the game. It was flame, troll or die, all day, every day. Any time someone asked a serious question, they got hit with so much spam it wasn’t funny at all. But to create their account, they have to give their real first and last names, the same ones they used to pay for the game. So… Unless you have a very good fake ID with credit attached… You have to use your real information. Hence the title, RealID. And these names will show up in game. (If the player chooses – it’s optional in-game – Ed.)

Now the internet is not a nice place, we all know that. We may not like it, but there isn’t a lot we can do about it. Some people seem to think that as long as no one knows who they really are, they can act as they wish, be as insulting, rude, crude or socially unacceptable as they wish with no repercussions. They can use racial slurs, sexual innuendos, or any other things they wish with no fear of repercussion. They can threaten, they can intimidate, they can do anything they want, because they are anonymous. And hey, it’s not real, right? Who cares if some people take it seriously, they are just nuts, right?

Not really. The entire concept of privacy on the internet is laughable to say the least. Any information that anyone has ever transmitted online is out there, somewhere. The whole idea of stalking has been taken to a new low by the internet. With so much information available online, it is easier than ever for perverts and creeps to get hold of what they want. Where once they had to go through people’s trash to find out the addresses for their targets, now they surf Facebook and other such social sites. That is one reason that I don’t use Facebook. So, now Blizzard had decided to implement such a ‘service’ themselves.

Ok, how about an example? A divorced woman with two abused kids is in a new home far from her ex husband who liked to hurt all three of them when he got drunk. She has been hiding from him since she escaped. She likes to play WOW and she plays as a new character with friends that her husband knows. Suddenly, her information changes in game, and her real name pops up over her character. And guess who is there, sending her a nice, private message? ‘See you soon’. What can the cops do to keep the ex from harassing her in a game? Nothing. What can Blizzard do? Why should they care? It’s not their problem, it’s hers.

Harassment is nothing new. It has been around since humans started coming down from the trees and likely will for as long as the species is in existence. Many humans seem to have a deep rooted need to dominate others. Of course in real life, there are laws against such things now, for good reasons. Harassment can lead to worse crimes. It is degrading, humiliating and just plain wrong. And no, it doesn’t just happen to women, or gays, or people who are not of mainstream religions. It happens every single day, to many different people. And on the internet it happens every minute, every second probably. Because there is no accountability.

Blizzard was attempting to instill some of that accountability into its game. They have backed off of it now, probably due in no small part to the overwhelmingly negative response that they got from their customers after the announcement. RealID is still in the game, but now, it is optional, as opposed to mandatory. Of course all a player has to do is download a utility called GameStore to access it anytime. But that may be a bug. We HOPE it’s a bug…

It was and is an interesting idea. But the concept of allowing other people, strangers, to view so called ‘private’ information cuts deep into the heart of many gamers. We want to feel we are safe, even if it is an illusion. We want to have fun in games, not worry about our identities being stolen or worry about being harassed or stalked in real life. We want the illusion of privacy that we cling to online to be secure.

In closing, I will say this. The internet is still very much a Wild West type of environment at the moment. People can say anything and do anything. The worst that can happen is that they are banned from a forum. So they make new account and come back worse than ever because now they are mad. But this is liable to change. New laws are making their way laboriously through the process of being approved by state and federal authorities that will tighten the strictures that are so lax on the internet. Just as law and order eventually tamed the Wild West, laws will eventually tame much of the internet. While there likely will be trolls, flamers and fools with causes as long as there are humans, with less freedom to inflict their cruelty on others, they will become a nuisance as opposed to a normal thing. And it cannot be soon enough for me.

Over to you: if an online game required you to show your real name, would you play it?

To Beta or Not to Beta

It's time...

Ok, the day has finally come. Lucasarts and Bioware have finally announced game testing for Star Wars: The Old Republic. We are approximately 10 months from launch and from what we have seen so far of the game in demos and videos, it looks remarkably well polished and ready to go for a game just out of alpha stage.

The usual computer game stages run: alpha, closed beta, open beta and then release. For anyone who might not know what those are, alpha stage is in house development, tweaking, testing and revamping. Computer program beta testing is when a company allows people outside the company to try the program.  A closed beta is by invitation only, such as what Bioware is running at the moment. These stages are usually less polished, less complete and often have gaping holes in places that need to be found and fixed. One of my favorites was in the beta for a game called Global Agenda where if you fell through the map, you wound up upside down on another map. It was annoying at the time, mind you and they fixed it fast. But looking back it was hilarious. The whole point of a beta is to find the problems that the alpha stage missed so they can be fixed.

Open betas are usually for games that have a large multiplayer section, or games that are totally multiplayer, like MMOs. The point of an open beta is also to find bugs, crashes and other potential fail points, but also to stress test the servers. Nothing is more annoying in a MMO that you pay a subscription fee to every month than having it say ‘I am sorry, the servers are full’. Or worse, being in the game and not being able to move because of the transmission lag. Or the game launcher crashes due to a massive influx of players. All of which I have had happen in various MMOs since my first, Star Wars Galaxies.

There are of course problems with betas. The public sees things that can sour them on the game. I have taken part in several closed and open betas for games and have to say that after the betas, I bought one of the games. None of the others held my interest. This is one problem, another is that beta is not about getting to play the game before anyone else. Many people see betas as just that, an advance showing and in some ways they are – but the point of a beta is to find and fix problems, not to have fun. You can have fun in a beta, I have on several occasions – but it is also a lot of work.

First you have to find the problems. These can be game-breaking bugs such as crash to desktop errors. They can be as obvious as a hole in the ground where the code doesn’t show and your avatar falls through and keeps falling. Or they can be as subtle as a single misspelled or wrong word in a quest dialogue box that sends the player to the wrong place to do the quest. Or even worse, the quest location icon shows the wrong place. That can get very aggravating. They want all of these things fixed before launch, not that they can be, but they seriously want to try. Most of the problems I found in betas were somewhere in between. But then comes the really not fun part.

You have to report the bug, in as much detail as you can possibly achieve. Sometimes you have to try and repeat the bug. If it is a game crash, was it your system or the game engine? That hole in the ground that your avatar fell through? Is it easy to find or hard? Is it on a critical quest path or off the beaten track? Either way it needs to be addressed, fixed if possible, blocked off somehow if not. And yes this means you have to read every single line of quest dialogue. Often two or three times. Then you have to run every single quest. It is a lot of work, and most of it is boring as all get out. And whatever work you put into the game, usually gets wiped every week or two, or will definitely be wiped when the game launches. It wouldn’t be fair to regular players otherwise.

Now, the fun part. You get to see the game before almost anyone else. That is cool. You get to try the game before anyone else, which is very cool. You get to be a part of a living, breathing entity and watch as it takes shape. You get to meet other, like minded players, and sometimes those relationships last past the launch of the game.

But the main focus of beta testing, is the testing. You are not there to have fun, although you can. You are not there to meet people, although you can. You are there to find and report problems to the development team so they can be fixed. Many people seem to forget that. Beta testing is not just about playing the game. It is work, hard work. It can be incredibly rewarding when you go into the game later and say to yourself: ‘I reported that, and they fixed it, sweet!’ It can also be incredibly annoying: ‘What? They haven’t fixed that hole in the floor of this instance yet? Geez it’s been there since the beginning of beta…” Some problems take longer to fix, and some problems simply can’t be fixed. But the job of a beta tester is to find the problems and report them so the development team knows what is wrong and where.

I for one, hope to get an invitation to the closed beta portion of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I hope to be able to give hands on help to the development team in creating this piece of Star Wars history. I hope to play a trooper and see just how effective a heavy repeater can be against those pesky lightsaber wielders. I want to play an Imperial agent and snipe enemies of the Empire down from cover. I want to help balance and tweak the game so it is as epic as I believe it can be when it launches.

Do you want to take part in the beta? Why or why not?

How Do We Get There? And Can We Smash Things Along the Way? Huh? Can We?


Oh…. Dear…

We all know what this is, right? Who doesn’t want to drive something like that? As long as those pesky airspeeders are kept away, you would be virtually unstoppable. One of my favorite memories from a video game is from Battlefront 2 when you get to pilot the AT-AT in an assault on the Rebel base on Hoth. Silly Rebels. Can you say CRUNCH?

Vehicles have been a big part of Star Wars since the beginning. We have spacecraft sure – the opening scene in Episode IV, the space battle between the Devastator and the Tantive IV is epic to say the least. But starships and starfighters are not the focus of this piece. After the droids escape, we see a huge sandcrawler, a landspeeder and others including living mounts (am I the only one who thinks dewbacks are kinda creepy?) before we get into space again.

And then in Episode V we get the real deal. Airspeeders first and then Imperial Walkers. It is not entirely clear how many walkers attacked Echo base, but it had to be a bunch. Figure each of the six Star Destroyers in the Imperial Death Squadron had a full complement (are YOU going to tell Lord Vader you are short an AT-AT? I wouldn’t want to either…) That is twenty per Star Destroyer. Add to that the Executor’s complement of thirty. A hundred and fifty AT-ATs… No wonder the Rebels ran away.

In Episode VI, we see a hoverbarge, repulsorlift sleds and up close and personal views of AT-STs. We had a quick glimpse of one in the battle of Hoth, but on Endor we see them a lot more. We see them get swarmed and smashed by a bunch of rock throwing primitives. Sigh… Some days it just doesn’t pay to serve the Empire.

The Prequels showed more vehicles of all kinds. In Episode I, we see droid tanks, armed landspeeders, living mounts… the works. Episode II of course we see the clone army in all its glory with artillery, gunships, tanks and all sorts and sundry of other vehicles. In Episode III we see other vehicles, including the only film representation of an A6 Juggernaught Heavy Assault Vehicle during the battle of Kashykk.

And now, we come to games. The starfighters get a lot of press of course. After all, the attack on the first Death Star was one of the most iconic scenes in any science fiction movie. Most of the times in Star Wars games, vehicles were things to fight, all the way back to Empire Strikes Back for SNES. Star Wars Battlefront was an anomaly. The first version had no space combat at all, the starfighters could only be flown within the confines of the ground maps. But the tanks and the landpeeders more than made up for it. Battlefront II added space to the mix and then boarding actions on enemy ships, which were also VERY cool but somewhat hard to pull off properly. Especially when the AI of your allies told them to get into the transport that you just carefully landed on the enemy hangar deck, to then immediately crash it.

So, now we come to another game in Star Wars history. Many people who played it loved it. Until things were changed. Star Wars Galaxies had one of the coolest ideas ever. A full online world populated by AI driven characters AND players. And in STAR WARS? What more could anyone ask? Well, aside from them changing things so thoroughly without telling anyone, lying to their customers and treating their customers like trash?

The game itself had flaws, no question. But it was STAR WARS. You could, after they fixed the launch bugs, go anywhere, do anything. You could ride a swoop, get into an X-34, or speeder bike. You could even have an AT-ST as a pet. My only true complaint was that you could not fight from the vehicles. Some of the creature handlers could fight from their mount which was very cool, but still…

Single player Star Wars games have had vehicles as well. The swoop races in Knights of the Old Republic I and II. Jedi Outcast had the illustrious Kyle Katarn ‘borrowing’ a series of AT-STs from the Imperial Remnant during their attack on Yavin IV. Yes, he WAS going to return them. Are YOU going to tell him, to his face, that he wasn’t? Thought not… Jedi Academy had a mission in which you flew a swoop and either used a lightsaber or on board cannon to fight with. The Battlefront series of course had vehicles out the wazoo, and even Republic Commando had a scene where you ‘appropriated’ an AT-TE to dispense some pain on a horde of battle droids. Lego Star Wars has vehicles to use as well.

So… what can we expect in Star Wars: The Old Republic? As an MMO, we will likely not see the same level of sophistication, the sheer scope of The Old Republic defies such things. Any MMO is a huge undertaking, This MMO is supposedly the largest one ever conceived. So… What would we want in a vehicle?

Speed and maneuverability. These things go without saying. In almost any human there is a deep rooted need to go fast. To make him or herself move faster than others around him or her. We want style too. We could drive around in a box. My sister drives around in a box in real life, but then again, she has two kids and a hyper little dog, so she needs the space. I don’t want to drive a box, I have some taste.

Do we want combat vehicles? I can’t say for anyone else but I like driving around and blowing things up. There is something visceral to driving a tank, even a simulated one. Having been in a real tank, I would prefer never to do it again. It smelled of VERY old socks. Thank goodness games don’t have a stench component yet. Combat vehicles though would be much harder to program I assume. Different weapons, different animations, different types of damage taken, different companions manning the guns need different animations… Ick… Just the thought of all the stuff required makes my head hurt. And if we want more than one kind of vehicle… AGGGGHHHHH!!!!

Exotic vehicles are a major part of the Star Wars experience. Whether they are spacecraft or a humble landspeeder, they all play an important part. In an MMO, vehicles provide speed to get to places, or away from them. This is unlikely to change in Star Wars: The Old Republic. But we can expect some new twists, and probably some cool surprises as well.

As for myself, I want to drive this walker APC that was shown in the concept art. What can I say? I LIKE crushing things under the feet of a metal behemoth.

Over to you. What kind of vehicles would you want to see? Do you want vehicle combat?

AT-AT image: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/All_Terrain_Armored_Transport

Do We Get Rolled By Character Roles?

Lots of people from all over the place seem to be getting upset about the fact that Bioware ‘seems’ to have followed the pattern many other MMORPGs have over the years. It’s called the holy trinity: healer, tank and damage dealer.

What is wrong with that? For a character to be a jack of all trades usually makes them a master of none. When a person focuses on a certain discipline, it does not necessarily make them utterly useless at anything else.  Case in point: If a person focuses on healing, does that mean he or she can do no damage at all? I don’t know about you, but I loved being a medic in Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. The shock pads in BF2 were a NICE weapon for up close and personal. One solid shot was almost always a kill. Not to mention, they were quiet. You could sneak in and do a god-awful amount of damage before you were detected.

Let’s take a closer look at Healer, Tank and DPS (damage per second). That is:

– a character specialized only to heal other characters.
– a character designed from the ground up to take damage and hold the enemy’s attention.
– a character designed to actually do lots of damage. 

The whole point is that the tank gets and holds the enemy’s attention. Whether this is a mob of bad guys or one uberly powerful boss, it makes little difference. As soon as the tank holds the attention, the ‘aggro’ in MMO parlance, he will start to take damage. Enter the healer, who keeps the tank on his or her feet and holding the enemy attention. Then the DPSer sneaks around and where possible goes for the throat of the enemy. The reason this combination it is so common is because it works. And not just in games.

What many people do not realize is that there is nothing at all new about these tactics. As far back as the Mongol conquests of much of Europe, these tactics were well known and in general practice. Not just with the Mongols, although they did use them well. Now the healing part is a bit different from historical fighting since no one that we know of had magic to heal their soldiers with at the time, but everything else is the same. You have a tank, someone heavily armored or otherwise protected who can take punishment, get the enemy’s attention and hold it while another force sneaks around to deliver a killing blow. These damaging or killing forces were usually lightly armored, and as fast as people could make them. The whole point was not to fight, but to win. And the easiest way to win? Make sure that no one on the other side survives. Not nice, but hey, all is fair in love and war, right?

But now we get into games. Ever since EverQuest, players have been clamoring for something different, something that did not force them into cookie cutter roles. Now, I never played EverQuest, but I did play World of Warcraft, until I woke up anyway. I almost always played a tank. Occasionally, I played a healer. But to do DPS in those kinds of games, you really need to have better reflexes than I possess. You also have to be willing to get killed a whole lot. In most games, there are tradeoffs. DPS characters do a god-awful amount of damage, but they can’t take it well. Lightly armored characters such as mages and rogues don’t usually deal well with battleaxes swinging at them. Tanks do not do a lot of damage when they fight, but they can take it like nobody’s business. Hitting a tank is easy. Hurting one? Not so easy. And healers… Well… depending on what specialization you chose for your healer you either are immortal, as in nothing in the game can do enough damage to overwhelm your healing, or you are made of glass and depend on everyone else to do everything for you while you keep THEM standing. And pray that nothing bad notices you while you are doing it. Nothing worse than being a healer specced character and all of the sudden, everyone runs off somewhere and leaves you to see that ominous twist of smoke start pouring out of the dragon’s nostrils. AHHHH!!!!! Run AWAY!

So… what do we see in Star Wars: The Old Republic? Not a lot so far. In the E3 group video, we see the Jedi consular character healing while the trooper gets and holds the attention of that big droid. The Jedi Knight and the smuggler work on crowd control, keeping all of the other enemies from attacking while the trooper unleashes hell on that droid. It is very interesting to see the trooper specced as a ranged tank. Tanks don’t usually go that way in video games. Of course tanks in real life are another matter.  Heavy armor, big gun and mucho mobility. Sound familiar? The problem with a tank in real life is similar to the problems for tanks in games. Unsupported, tanks in the real world are easy prey for infantry, mines or artillery. In most games, if a tank does not have some means of damage mitigation, or someone healing him, his lifespan is measured in minutes, if not seconds.

Oh sure, Kick in the door and run into a room filled with bad guys. All of whom are now pointing blasters at… Um… Does this sound like a good plan?

Not to me. I am really looking forward to playing this game, especially after the MAJOR shot in the arm for Trooper esteem everywhere that premiered at E3 this year. I want heavy armor, a big gun and lots and lots of bad guys in front of me. I can and have played as part of a team, and I look forward to seeing what interesting twists Bioware comes up with for this game. And if I have to group to do some content? I have no problem with that. As long as the group isn’t composed of Leroys. And even if it is, well, we will go out with a BIG bang.

Over to you. What roles would you want to see? What roles would you not want to see?

Courage and ‘Hope’

Last year was absolutely EPIC at E3. The cinematic trailer for The Old Republic was a masterpiece. The Sith assault on the Jedi temple on Coruscant in ‘Deceived’ has to be seen to be believed. No one doubted that Star Wars: The Old Republic was going to be epic before that trailer.

After it? There was such a huge response that the SWTOR website crashed. Everyone was looking forward to E3 this year. But then Lucasarts and Bioware did it to us again – I expected a meal and they gave me a five course, full service banquet. They were not content to give us a new trailer, no…

Players will have personal starships. Oh did I not say that right? PLAYERS WILL HAVE PERSONAL STARSHIPS!!!!! Ah! I very nearly went in my pants when I heard that. I don’t CARE if there is space combat now. Knowing Bioware and Lucasarts, if they have starships, there will almost certainly be more to do with them that use them as houses. But I don’t care now. I get my own personal Republic Gunship! YAY! The images were just so cool, and the bits of PvP footage rocked as well.

But then, on the heels of that… They rocked my world. I have so few words. I am almost unable to type, I was so dumbfounded. If you have not seen the ‘Hope’ trailer, do it. Now. You will not be sorry. Spoilers follow this so watch the trailer first.

Oh my god. I have never been a huge fan of Jedi. They were too overpowered, too strong, too fast, too tough for normal people to beat. Sith likewise. Can you possibly imagine someone like Darth Vader falling to a Rebel Alliance trooper? I couldn’t. Until now.

The setting, Alderaan. All Star Wars fans know about Alderaan, the homeworld of Princess Leia, the world destroyed in Episode IV by the Death Star to make a point. The cinematic opened with peace, and then, darkness. The Sith of course as is their wont, invade and destroy. The only thing in their way? A small force of elite Republic Special Forces troopers. But cannon fodder these guys are NOT.

The Sith in charge of the attack on Alderaan is the same one that later lays utter waste to the Jedi Temple – Darth Malgus. This is at the start of his career, he doesn’t have the mask yet. But after the ending, we know why he wears it. I am amazed he survived at all. I guess hate makes a good anaesthetic.

The Republic set an ambush for Malgus and his troops. They don’t have the personnel to fight him one-on-one. So they fight guerrilla style. And when the narrator said ‘For the Republic’ I very nearly jumped out of my chair to charge myself. Dark Side of the Force, ha! Meet grenade launcher, heavy repeaters, thermal detonators and courage! They were swatting black robed forms right and left until Malgus himself entered the act. But even the kind of courage that the troopers had, has its limits. I was stunned when the senior trooper got his tail kicked by Malgus’ Force lightning.  When he was kneeling there about to be killed, I was almost in tears. And then she made her entrance.

I said I never cared for Jedi, and that is true. They always seemed too over the top. But the consular who dropped into the fight made my day. She wasn’t the focus of the battle, but she kept Malgus busy long enough for the troopers to win. She wasn’t invincible. Malgus was obviously better with a lightsaber than she was, cutting her double bladed one in half. She was powerful, I mean, come on! How many people can block a lightsaber with a bare hand? I think it was the same kind of thing Yoda did when he faced Dooku and Palpatine’s Force lightning in Episodes 2 and 3. A lightsaber blade is energy right? That means it can be deflected with great effort. Maybe a bit over the top, but it was very cool to see.

And then the TROOPER saved the day. How many times does a lowly trooper save a mighty Jedi? And how he did it… Omg, that was epic! The look on that Sith Lord’s face was just priceless. I mean I can see the guy thinking…

‘This Republic scum is pathetic! Tackling me, trying to hit me with his hands? Sheesh… How stupid can he be? Wait a moment, what is that in his hand??? A GRENADE!!!’

I laughed out loud when I saw that. High and mighty Sith might be tough, but raw courage can take them down if given the chance. Admittedly Malgus was still on his feet and the trooper was not. But it gave the Jedi time to recover and prepare to hit Malgus with the Force. And THAT is the whole point of this. Teamwork wins wars. Individual prowess means nothing, it is working as a team that makes such things possible. Sith are mighty combatants, true, but if they fight as individuals, they can be taken down, albeit at a massive cost in lives. And that was what won the battle for the Republic, the Jedi and the soldiers of Havoc Squad working as a team to fight and die if necessary.

If you notice, the Jedi’s arrival allowed the troopers time to regroup and fight back effectively. And that means more to me than any special effects or showy force powers. She was not the prime focus of the battle, she was there to keep Malgus occupied until the soldiers, the common foot slogging soldiers, could win the day. Smashing Malgus into the mountainside was almost an afterthought. This was after he had been burned by incendiary grenades, showered by blaster fire, and had a grenade go off in his face. No wonder he wears a mask now…

I found myself crying at the end of that trailer, and I strongly doubt I was the only one as the Republic fleet came to the rescue. It was… I truly have no words. It was epic was about the best I can do.

Such a game as Star Wars: The Old Republic is shaping up to be will be good no matter what. But if THIS is what we can look forward to, such surprises, such epic stories, such… sheer scope and grandeur… Such… Star Wars!

I personally think we have a contender here. We have something epic that may finally, after so long, live up to the franchise.  It may finally be Star Wars. Oh, by the way, the website crashed again, I read something about 25000 hits in about ten minutes or something like that. I have occasionally had my doubts. But now I truly have ‘Hope’…

And we have personal starships!!!!!! YAY!!!!

Over to you, what do you think of this announcement? I know I am going to watch the trailer again. And again, and again.

Cannon Fodder or Making Mulch out of Cannon Fodder?

Here comes trouble...

Companions: cannon and sword fodder, trusted friends or potential backstabbers? The people at Bioware have a history of making really cool games. Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 1 and 2… the list goes on and on. But one of the major themes in every game that has been companions.

I still remember the original Baldur’s Gate. Khalid and Jaheira were two of the best written NPCs in a game I have played. When Khalid died at the beginning of Baldur’s Gate 2, I actually felt sad. Even though he had been a bit of a whiny sort, he had been part of the journey. His sacrifice, while tragic, was needed to further the story. I always tried to romance Jahiera in the game – she was the funniest of all the characters and the hardest to please. So it made it a great thing when you finally did manage to woo her and spend the epilogue of Throne of Bhaal with her. Maybe I just like tough women in video games.

The later examples of companions in Bioware games have been just as epic, or more so. Who can’t like Carth Onasi or Mission Vao as supporting characters? And Bastila… I won’t ruin it for any who haven’t played the game yet, but if you play as a male good guy type, enjoy yourself. All of the supporting characters in KOTOR were solid, well written, and basically good characters. They acted in character and they worked well to support the plot, such as when Mission asked Bastila if the Jedi ever used the Force for fun and then Bastila used the Force to trip Mission up. Or when Carth asked where Bastila’s lightsaber had been when she was captured and she replied that she had ‘UM… I misplaced it’.

Then we get to the newer titles, Mass Effect 1 and 2. The companions in these two titles are incredibly well done. The big guy at the top of the post is my favorite companion of all time. Urdnot Wrex is likely my favorite of all NPC characters I have ever encountered. Big, strong, mean and he doesn’t care. He is the ultimate walking talking tank. The Krogan is an icon to anyone who has played either Mass Effect game. My only complaint is that Wrex is not playable in Mass Effect 2 – we can hope he comes back in Mass Effect 3 as a playable character.

Dragon Age: Origins took companion NPCs to a new level. They added an approval system, you could please them or tick them off and they would react differently. As in real life it is virtually impossible to please them all, every action that you took might please some of them and anger others. Of course some actions are so good (or bad) that they will react overwhelmingly. I won’t ruin the game for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, but it you haven’t you have missed some MAJOR coolness. Epic heroes versus epic villains in a showdown in an epic land. Need I say more?

So… Now we come to Star Wars: The Old Republic and the latest news about companions and the unveiling of one of them. An irreverent, but tough as nails Twi’lek named Vette. If that is the character from the ‘Deceived’ video trailer, you know the one fighting beside Lord Malgus then she is no lightweight or pushover. Even if she isn’t, then she is a similar type of character. And she looks like a fun person to have interactions with. No, not that kind! Get your minds out of the gutter…

Anyways…Where was I? Oh yeah, companions. Bioware has a solid history of creating epic companion NPCs for their single player games. From Baldur’s gate all the way up to Mass Effect 2, their NPCs that travel and fight alongside the protagonist or protagonists have served as comic relief, as cannon and sword fodder and more importantly, as another aspect of the game to explore. Do you keep your companions happy? Do you try and gain their loyalty? Do you try the romance angles when you can?  Or do you not care and just go for the throat of the enemies, whoever they are?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I always try and keep my companions happy. If I do, there is less chance of them backstabbing me. Yoshimo in Baldur’s Gate 2 is probably the only companion I ever had backstab me when I was not expecting it, but since that was part of the plot all along, well… I shed no tears for him when he was cut into chunks after meeting my paladin’s sword head on. I enjoy wooing the females in the games, and gaining the trust of the males. I explore the other options, but maybe I am just a softie, because it just doesn’t feel right to be mean to people, even when they are virtual creations. I managed to play through KOTOR once as dark side, and stopped. It just wasn’t right for me. And in Dragon Age: Origins, I almost always romanced Liliana. What can I say? I like redheads. A redhead bard with um… ‘special’ infiltration skills? Oh HECK YES!!!!

Companions look to be a major part of SWTOR and knowing Bioware, they will be epic as well as fully voiced. So, romances, betrayals and all other assorted plot twists are coming, both for the main character and for his/her companions. Since we know Bioware, we can assume that some of them will be telegraphed beforehand and some will come right out of the blue and this is a good thing. We want to be surprised; we want to be stunned, shocked, scared, sad, whatever… We want an epic story with epic characters, some of whom we can add to our party to wreak as much havoc as we can. We want companions who make our games unique.


Over to you: what do you want in a companion NPC? What do you not want in a companion NPC?

The hook – music and SWTOR

A VERY important person to Star Wars (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What comes to mind when a person says the words ‘Star Wars’? Is it the lightsabers, the starfighters, the aliens, the epic battles?

Not to me. In my mind the single thing that says Star Wars more than anything else is the music. Tell me you are not thrilled every time you hear the Main Title from Episode IV. Or the Cantina Band? Or the Imperial March from Episode V? Or even Luke and Leia from Episode VI? Or Duel of the Fates from Episode I? Or even… I have to stop or I will be here all day.

The music of Star Wars is John Williams’ masterwork. Even people who detest space opera movies like Star Wars can enjoy the music. It is at times poignant, at times merry, at times humbling and at times majestic. It draws the listener in ways that can only be described as spellbinding. You WANT to hear more. You want to know what is about to happen. You know something is about to happen because the music just changed. Or as in the scene with Leia, Han and Chewie following Lando into the trap on Bespin, it suddenly goes soft and almost inaudible but with the faint undertone of menace. Or the moment when Luke fought Vader for the first time, the air was THICK with menace and evil, just from the music.

And then you have scenes in the movies that just pull all of your heart strings. And behind them all, the music is what sets them up and sets them apart. The climactic battle between Luke and Vader on the second Death Star – the music was just perfect for the mood, Luke nearly falling to the Dark side. When Luke finally unmasks the man behind the mask a few minutes later… all I can say is wow, well done John Williams.

It is odd. The same repeated notes occur in almost every piece that he has done, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, most of his other works all have the same notes. They may be triplets, quartets, quintets, but they are always the same notes. The Raider’s March from the Indiana Jones series is a strong example of this. Dum, dum dum Da. Those four notes can be sad, mad, happy, excited, tired, angry… So many ways to express feelings with four simple notes.

But let’s get back to Star Wars. How epic did the score make a watcher feel when they saw it for the first time? I don’t know about you, but I felt uplifted and at the same time utterly insignificant when I first heard the Main Title theme from Star Wars blaring out at the drive in theater my dad had taken me to in 1977. I KNEW the movie was going to be epic. Everything that came after that was important, yes, but the music drew me in and held me tight, all the way to this very day.

Let’s look at music in Star Wars games. Almost all the games that have been put out have featured John Williams’ classic score, which by all rights they have to of course. But then again, NOTHING I have ever seen has reached out and grabbed me quite as hard as John Williams did in 1977. Games, plot, action, bad guys, all of these are important, but the music is what draws people back again and again. I still remember the theme from many arcade games I played in the early 80s; most of them utterly boring and repetitive. But the music was a hook. And again, that was what the creators wanted. They wanted people to remember them.

Then came Knights of the Old Republic. Some people loved the game, some people hated it. I was somewhere in between. Parts of it were just as I wanted, parts were kind of ‘meh’. But again, the music, an artful rearranging of John William’s masterpiece, pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go until I had heard all of the bits of it. You don’t usually think about the music while playing the game, you are thinking about how to beat this bad guy, or what is behind that next corner. Suddenly, the music changes and you are like ‘AW **** Here we go again!’

Plot, story, intense action, cool or otherwise memorable characters, horror, humor (dark or light) – all of these have places of importance in any story that has ever been written.  But the music is what really makes things timeless. We can expect that Bioware will manage quite admirably as they have with many of their creations. Jade Empire had a solid score, as did Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. It didn’t detract from the game, it enhanced the game, which is actually fairly hard to pull off well. Their history of making solid games with solid characters and solid soundtracks is well proven in my book.

The music of Star Wars is actually one of the few things that has won awards with each and every release in big screen. John Williams’ collaboration with George Lucas has created something absolutely amazing. Something that simply cannot be matched. A multigenerational modern day myth. And as with many myths that were sung as ballads in ancient times, the music sets the stage. Nothing that I have seen since the first time I saw Star Wars has had such an effect on me, and the music is one of the main reasons.

True masterpieces of music are literally timeless. Composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, and others knew this and worked tirelessly to bring forth what we today consider classics. And Star Wars has joined that exalted group, with John Williams taking his place among the greats of music. And all I can say is ‘Well, done, Mr. Williams’. After all, how many people on Earth at the present time who have access to SOME kind of media would NOT recognize this?

Dadada DUM! DUM! Dada Dum Dum!

Over to you. What does music mean to you in a game? Do you turn it off or leave it on? If you leave it on, what is the single most memorable musical scene you remember? What style of music would you like to see in SWTOR?

She Plays Insane People: NitWhit

Is this what I think it is?

Yes that is a Mynock, and yes it has a rifle. It’s so totally random and yet, so totally cool that anyone who sees it is like: ‘Huh? Oh wow!’

For this week’s piece I am interviewing another regular at the SWTOR forums. Like my previous interview, she has been posting in the forums there since October of 2008, a month before I started. She has been a massive presence on the SWTOR Boards since they began. She has a devious mind that is only matched by her absolutely brutal style of roleplaying and ‘assisting’ people – sometimes with a swift kick in the cranium via a private message. She has no patience for people whose grandstanding gets in the way of good storytelling. But at the same time, she always has time to help a rookie, which we all were once, whether we admit it or not. Whether it is roleplaying a psychotic Twilek assassin, a naive technician or a brain bent shape shifter, she does it with style. Give it up for the NitWhit!

Edward: Hello Nit, I have a few questions for you today, if you don’t mind.

Nit: I don’t mind at all.

Edward: In general terms, Nit, what are you in real life?

Nit: I’m a college student working on getting a degree in engineering who spends my free time juggling writing, art, and several groups I’m involved with on my campus.

Edward: Why do you play insane characters most of the time?

Nit: Well sanity is overrated tends to be my quick answer, but really I just like a challenge when I write. Insane characters provide such a different perspective that they make me have to really sit down and consider how this psychopath would handle a situation rather than how I would and how they developed into what they are, not everyone who is insane started out crazy of course.  Those are the kinds of things that fuel me to sink more and more time into a character so a lot of my characters wind up with their own brand of craziness. I should probably also note that not quite all of my characters are completely bonkers.

Edward: How long have you been doing RP and fanfiction in online forums?

Nit: Not very long actually. I’ve only written fan fiction and RPed on a forum since I joined the SWTOR site coming up on 2 years ago now. I have been playing RPGs for far longer than that of course and I had RPed in Star Wars Galaxies when I played what now seems like ages ago, but I was always far too terrified to try anything beyond that until I saw some RPing threads on the swtor site and decided I’d take a shot at it.

Edward: What got you started in this, writing fanfictions?

Nit: Not all engineers will admit it but numbers get boring day in and day out. I found myself quickly missing high school English classes, which I honestly never expected to hear myself say. Unfortunately though, there are only so many ways you can spice up a report on the various parts used to assemble a mechanical device and when you try, as I know well with the numerous attempts I’ve made, the assistant grading your paper will promptly tell you that your writing was too ‘narrative’ and that you need to be boring. That was what really made me decide that I needed to pick up writing just for fun again and flex my creativity. It was around this time that the SWTOR site went live, I spotted a few RP threads and decided to give it a shot and well things spun off from there.

Edward: What drew you to SWTOR in the first place?

Nit: I grew up as the original trilogy was re-released in theaters and the prequels hit theaters. I’ve always been a bit obsessed about Star Wars. It was this obsession that led me to eventually pick up Knights of the Old Republic, my first Bioware game and I’ve been a bit of a Bioware fan girl ever since. With all that in mind you could say I was pretty much instantly drawn to SWTOR.

Edward: What do you think is the most rewarding thing in writing fan fictions?

Nit: I find the most rewarding thing is simply getting your ideas out there and working with other likeminded people to craft a story especially when those other writers and RPers seem to click together.

Edward: What do you think could be improved in fan fictions?

Nit: I’d love to see people being more open to criticism and more willing to provide others actual feedback. I feel like a lot of people miss major chances for improvement as a result.

Edward: What do you think is the best writing you have done?

Nit: That’s hard to say, I don’t know that I have anything that I’d label my best. I suppose I have a few fan fictions sitting on my desktop which I’m still prodding at which might qualify if I ever find time to finish them.

Edward: Indeed. Well, this is a question some people are likely to ask. What kind of character will you play when SWTOR comes out?

Nit: Well I do know I’ll likely largely be staying on the Sith side of matters, darker more ‘evil’ characters hold a special place in my heart. Currently I’ve got my eyes on the Inquisitor class and Bounty Hunter where I can cross a few of my RP characters over, but I’ll see. Knowing myself, I’m liable to eventually wind up with one of everything.

Edward: Is there anything you might want to say to New Zealanders or Australians who read this blog?

Nit: If you ever feel tempted by RP or fan fiction, give it a shot; you might just be pleasantly surprised. And of course I’d love to visit both countries one day, diving at the Great Barrier Reef and kayaking in New Zealand are musts on my massive to-do list.

Edward: 🙂 Mine too. Well, thank you for your time.

NitWhit has been one of the major players in the SWTOR site since its founding in 2008. Her biting wit, intriguing (and insane) characters and her desire to assist other people -myself included- have made her a massive presence on the boards. Her skills in writing are only matched by her skills in art, and I like to call her a friend. It’s always best to stay on the good side of crazy people after all, right?

Check out NitWhit on Deviantart.com and SWTOR.com. The Mynock with a rifle is one of her pieces, and in my opinion, it’s not even close to the best one. She has talent, does NitWhit.

Do We Want To Be Sneaky?

How many of you have played a game where if you make a wrong move at the wrong time, you get ganked?

*raises hand* – I know I have. Stealth fighting and stealth killing is one of those things that you either love or hate. People who like the ‘play in their face, kill them and let the gods sort them out’ types generally hate stealth type gameplay. It’s too slow, too demanding and far, far too hard for those types of gamers to usually enjoy. Not that some of them don’t get good at it, but they don’t generally enjoy it as much.

Then there is another kind of gaming person. The kind who will sit in a hole somewhere far from where the bunny hopping gank-fest is going down, until he finds his perfect shot and then BAM! He then moves a bit, or not, depending on the situation and does it again. I am not too proud to admit that I am one of those creepy game sniper types (so am I – Ed). You will never see me on the front ranks if I have any choice at all. If you do, I will likely run away. My reflexes are not good enough to hit reliably at close range, especially when people start circle strafing and bunny hopping.

Snipers get a very bad rep, and truth be told, much of it is deserved. They strike from ambush and disappear, sometimes leaving ‘presents’ for the enemy to find. I was notorious in Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142 for setting up on a high point and sitting there for the entire game. I would hold victory points all by myself sometimes. An area denial asset, that was me. The only way they could get to me usually was with aircraft, or artillery. Every time they sent guys up after me, the poor slobs found the stairways mined. Good times… but the games that set me totally in my element are the Splinter Cell games by Ubisoft. Strike from hiding, and vanish. Hit and run away quickly. Not very sporting, but then again, I have never been a very sporting person. If it works, I will do it. If it will help me win, I will certainly do it.

But where does stealth fit into Star Wars? Aside from Obi-Wan, Luke, Han, Chewie and the droids sneaking onto the Death Star, or the Rebel strike team trying to sneak into the bunker on Endor, stealth does not play a major role in any movies. Disguises have, do they count? Luke and Han trying to infiltrate the detention bay on the Death Star, Princess Leia as Boushh and Lando as a guard in Return of the Jedi rocked. But in Star Wars combat, does sneaking up on an enemy to knife him in the back or shooting him in the head from half a kilometer away count as heroic? Not really. Not to mention it would be very difficult to do properly in an MMORPG.

Case in point, Tabula Rasa had one of the coolest ideas for snipers ever in a game. The powers that you could use either caused the target to suffer more damage, negated cover, or something else equally cool. My favorite was called Crit Wave, it doubled or trebled the critical hit chance for every member of your group. Talk about bringing the pain! But the game system suffered from several shortcomings. For one thing, the range of the sniper’s main weapon, the torqueshell rifle, was 80 and the maximum view distance, even with a high end machine, was about 65. So you could hit targets from a long ways away, and do a god awful amount of damage to them, but the other problem was that the stealth system never worked quite as designed. Once you fired, every bad guy in range saw you, and then proceeded to chase you, and stomp you flat when they caught you.

One of the interesting facets in Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, was the stealth system. You could sneak past bad guys, or lay ambushes for them. Combat range was pretty well set and all ranged weapons could do damage out to that range. Most enemies had both ranged and melee weapons so while you might get a swing or two in before the enemy could react, then they switched to a melee weapon and started going to town on you.

It looks like the combat system for The Old Republic, what we have seen of it so far, is very similar. If so, we can expect most battles to be fought at very close ranges. People like the Trooper are going to need many tricks and tactics to keep Sith warriors from jumping on them. We don’t know if there will be a stealth aspect of the game. From what has been shown so far, it is doubtful. As I said, it is not very heroic to run up behind someone and do over nine thousand points of damage to them with a single hit without giving them a chance to fight back.

The Player versus Player combat that was shown in the combat video looks really cool, and even if it doesn’t have a stealth aspect, I will likely play the heck out of the game anyway. The Imperial agent and smuggler likely have the most ‘stealthy’ type of gameplay anyway. Troopers are more in-your-face blast everything. And Jedi/Sith…? Well, we know what they do. It looks like the combat is going to be very close ranged, very fast paced and very ‘heroic’ as the devs call it. So there is probably no place for sneaking around.

Like I said, I will play it either way, but stealth for me is the way to play. I stink at twitch games. I want to do something that I can sit a ways back from the fight and… Ah, GOT YOU! *Bam!*

What do you think? Would you want a stealth aspect to the game? Would you want missions that would require you to be sneaky?

We Don’t Need No Wimpy Bad Guys

What makes a game great? Is it the graphics? Is it the story? I don’t know about you, but for me, the most rewarding part of a game is beating the bad guys. In any game, whether it is a board game, a pen and paper Role Playing Game, an arcade game or a video game, nothing really tops the feeling of satisfaction when you take down a powerful enemy. Enemies are important in games of all kinds. In some types of game, such as chess, they call the enemies opponents, and you still do your best to outmaneuver and destroy him, her or it. But it is in video games that we really get to show our tactical acumen and skill. We can do things in video games that would get us at the very least arrested in real life. If you did half of what you do in video games in real life, you would be a mass murderer on par with people like Hitler and Pol Pot. But it’s okay, because it’s just a game.

Plot, story, action, adventure, all of these make games good. Enemies are what make games great. How many of you remember the original Atari Space Invaders? The enemies in that game were about as bright as a box of rocks. But they didn’t need to be, they had numbers and time on their side. Games like Galaga, Centipede and others were great, but they lacked something. The enemies were predictable. Once you knew the pattern, the game lost its challenge. So you went to find another game, one to challenge you.

Games have come a long way since then, and so have the enemies in those games. With many modern games it is hard to believe that the avatars that you shoot at are not real people, they react fast, and are utterly vicious about using whatever they have to take down THEIR enemy which happens to be you. Case in point, one of Bioware’s latest creations, Mass Effect 2. I recently played through on the insanity level of difficulty and it is insane. The enemies work together to flush you out of cover, and use their weapons and powers relentlessly. They are incredibly tough, requiring teamwork to take down simple soldiers, let alone bosses. My only true complaint now; is that after playing through on insanity level, every other level seems simple.

The rest of the game may be utter garbage, but if you have a memorable foe to face and defeat, it will likely be remembered. I still remember the arcade game Solar Warrior, not for the action, which was repetitive, nor for the planets which were boring. But for the sheer number of bad guys, lieutenants and bosses that the game threw at you. Even Force Commander, which in my opinion stands as one of the worst Star Wars games ever made, had some incredible foes to face and bring down. Trying to sneak out of an Imperial base while defecting to the Alliance, WITHOUT having the alarm raised, was a pain in the rear. My favorite games, X-Wing and TIE fighter, had battles with some serious opponents. Taking on a Star Destroyer in an A-wing took hours, but what a sense of accomplishment when the thing finally went boom.

And who can forget the first Star Wars: Dark Forces game? Being swarmed by stormtroopers hurt – a lot! I remember the first time I played that game and wound up on the Executor, a Super class Star Destroyer. All of a sudden, about 50 of them came around a corner! Ouchtime for me.  After that, you have Dark Forces 2, then Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy, Republic Commando and others. Each time, it is the enemies that stand out. Dark Jedi, Stormtroopers, droids, criminals, bounty hunters, you faced them all. Each required different tactics. I still recall swearing all night at the Rodian snipers on Nar Shaddaa in Jedi Outcast. Or the Trandoshans with the concussion rifles in Republic Commando.

But Star Wars: The Old Republic is going to be a different kind of beast. Multiplayer, by its very nature, add a great deal of complexity to any game. Any time you have a real live person controlling things from the other side, you will have interesting times. You have no idea whatsoever what they are going to do, as the famous “Leeroy Jenkins” scene played out in WoW proved to that raid’s dismay. And facing real live opponents in player versus player combat is always a challenge, because they know the game as well, or in some cases, better than you do. This adds a massive amount of complexity to the game that is missing in any other type of game. First person shooters are a case in point, how many times have you set up, expecting an opponent to come at you like a robot and they blindside you with a sneaky tactic? And in an MMO, well, the complexity goes up a notch further. As does the challenge and the feeling of victory when you succeed.

And that is, in the end, why we play games. To succeed, to win. And that is why we want enemies in games that challenge us. Winning a game against a weak or pathetic enemy is just kind of blah. Facing a horde of low level minions as an endgame just kind of sucks. We want the bad guys to be real bad guys, not whiney fools with a weak spot between their eyes. Facing someone like Darth Vader in The Force Unleashed was just EPIC! Facing the Emperor after that was kind of boring; yeah he was powerful, but predictable. Vader was much more difficult to defeat, at least for me.

So it is the enemies that really make a game memorable. Fighting mobs can be challenging, depending on your level, their level, their resistances, etc. But nothing beats the sense of accomplishment in taking down a difficult boss. People at Bioware have a history of making memorable villains. Sarevok from Baldurs Gate, Saren from Mass Effect, the Archdemon in Dragon Age: Origins, or The Outlander in Jade Empire. Oh come on! How many video game bad guys with such cool dialogue have been voiced by John Cleese?

I personally do not think that Star Wars: The Old Republic will lack for epic enemies. My concern is that they may be a bit too easy to beat. The devs talk of soloability and that is a good thing. But I want the bad guys to be uber, so when I beat them I can say ‘I DID THAT!”

Over to you: what do you want in enemies in a game? What don’t you want?