Unexpected Maintenance Part 2: Tonight

UPDATE: Make that 7pm-11pm AEST now…

It’s no fun to report that for the second night in a row we’re facing a maintenance downtime. This one’s meant to definitely be staying within the four hour timeframe – here’s hoping.


AEST: 5pm-9pm
AWST: 3pm-7pm
NZST: 7pm-11pm

The full details:

We will be deploying a patch and performing an unscheduled maintenance this Friday, June 29th, 2012. Patch notes will be made available shortly after the servers come back up.

The servers and SWTOR.com will be down for four hours on Friday, June 29th, 2012 from 2AM CDT (12AM PDT/3AM EDT/8AM BST/9AM CEST/5PM AEST) until 6AM CDT (4AM PDT/7AM EDT/12PM BST/1PM CEST/9PM AEST). There is a possibility that the maintenance window (start & stop times) may shift later than posted here. If that occurs, we will update the messaging immediately. All game servers and SWTOR.com will be offline during this period. This maintenance is expected to take no more than four hours, but could be extended.

After the maintenance, please login via the launcher to download the latest patch. If your launcher was open during the maintenance, you must close and reopen it for a fresh login.


Date: Friday, June 29th, 2012


There is a possibility that the maintenance window (start & stop times) may shift later than posted here. If that occurs, we will update the messaging immediately.

All game servers and SWTOR.com will be offline during this period. This game maintenance is expected to take no more than four hours.

The Wrong Revolution?

MMORPG is a stale genre in many respects. Leveling, crafting, gathering. It’s all very familiar – electronic Dungeons & Dragons®. So when a new one appears we all hope that it’s got something new to offer, something improved, perhaps revolutionary. SWTOR promised this with the ‘fourth pillar’ of story and voice. It’s definitely made the leveling process more interesting and immersive so long as you don’t mind having your character and path heavily defined for you. But once you reach endgame this fourth pillar effectively vanishes, leaving you with the same ol’ tripod – a notoriously unstable configuration, particularly if the legs are different lengths.

Which is why two recent MMOs have got me thinking about whether BioWare really chose the right thing to pour so much time, energy and money into. I’m talking about Tera and Day Z.

Tera was launched in South Korea in January 2011 and in North America May this year. It runs on the time- tested Unreal 3 engine. Unlike SWTOR, the producers (Bluehole Studio) have made no attempt to reduce grind or draw you into a rich compelling story. What they have done is bring a third person shooter-style aiming system into an MMO, along with distinctive play styles and strategies for each class. I don’t need to tell you that this can remain fun and interesting long after the leveling process ends. Despite a total lack of innovation in most other areas, many admit it’s still damn fun and compelling. People want to try new classes because they each offer a something substantial and distinctive, not just different animations and light effects.

Day Z is completely different. A mod for ARMA II (plus its expansion Operation Arrowhead), Day Z runs on the propriatory Real Virtuality 3 engine and throws you into a zombie infested, post apocalyptic landscape (254 km.sq). You have some basic supplies, a weapon and zombies… so many zombies. Scattered about this enourmous landscape are fellow players who may help you, or just as likely kill you for the pittance in your backpack.

Every step you take, every choice you make has real consequences, it’s all about survival. But it’s not for everyone. There’s no crafting, no slick UI, no map (you WILL get lost… alot) or any of the plush velvet luxuries that many MMO players now demand. There’s no attempt at plot, but there are plenty of stories – all tales of player’s experiences – some are intense and no wonder. It’s just you, your wits and a little blind luck. This is a brutal, unforgiving place and it’s massively popular. So much so it’s pushed ARMA II sales up, even to the top of Steam’s sales chart. Not bad for a product still in alpha.

So where does that leave us? In fairness to BioWare, the world has changed a lot since SWTOR was conceived in early 2008. Back then K.Rudd had just apologised to the Stolen Generation and the Global Financial Crisis had yet to start biting. The world has changed a little since then, but not within SWTOR’s masterplan it seems, although that may change very soon. Only time will tell if the ‘fourth pillar’ was the right move or just a footnote in MMO evolution.

The real question is “where to from here?”. Maintain the ‘fourth pillar’ by continuing your personal story? Desperately add extra content for endgame? Re-examine the current market and make some hard choices? In all honesty, since it’s hard to tell what resourcing EA/Bioware have available for SWTOR, it’s hard to say – especially after the Austin studio lost somewhere around 120 fulltime staff (as best we can tell).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sick of the game, nor am I downhearted about its future, but I’m not going to gloss over existing problems. I believe that, with the world economy and reduced staff resources, BioWare need to decide who their core player base is and focus on improving the game for them. They will lose players but they’ll certainly gain many others.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to sit back and hope we see more openness and transparency in BioWare’s communication with their fans. They should remember that, like your character has a health bar, any business has a trust bar and that SOB drops fast and recharges very, very slowly.

All Roads Lead to Rodia

Any of you familiar with the movies knows that the empire of Vader’s day isn’t the alien inclusive, warm and fuzzy Sith playground of SWTOR. Aliens are not tolerated in Palpatine’s version – it’s often referred to as a ‘humans only club’ and in some ways SWTOR is just as exclusive to humans.

Wait, did I just say that SWTOR is inclusive but it’s not? Contradictory much?

Let me explain. From the beginning, BioWare have had a pretty clear idea of what they would and would not do. Playable and romanceable races are one of those areas where they think they know best. Some they have relaxed (decisions having real consequences, others they have stuck to (player characters must be as human-like as possible).

While for some games a new playable race meets strong reactions for and against, you know you’re doing something reeeeally wrong when it’s met with a resounding “meh”. Cathars are humans with a re-skin – nothing newsworthy there. I mean, we all loved it when that Cathar character in The Empire Strikes Back grabbed the blaster and…. oh…. wait there weren’t any Cathars. This is a race that exists nowhere except in comic books and as a companion in the original KoTOR. Aside from the fact it’s an easy race to make playable since they’ll fit existing armor, there’s no good reason to add them. Lazy or panicked addition, I can’t really tell. Although their unremarked deletion from the video now playing on swtor.com could be a clue (see before and after), so let’s add ‘confused’ to the list. Now, if it had been Trandoshians, that would be news. Instead this seems more a case of activity trying to look like movement.

I’m not beating up Bioware for their assertion that for a character to be relatable it must closely resemble a human, particularly the face. After all, the less like us things look in the animal kingdom, the more likely it is to have its own classification of phobia. But it’s not a universal truth and it’s a lazy assumption. Personality can be injected into anything either by the creator or observer. For example, the first exercise a prospective animator will often be faced with is the flour sack. Think the flying carpet from Disney’s Aladdin. It’s not a nuanced performance, but you know what it’s thinking. Not convinced? I’ve one word for you. Well, four letters actually: R2D2. Perhaps BioWare have heard of him.

For a tripodic pepper pot, that droid has more personality in his little canister body than Mr Lucas managed to inject in most of the characters in the new trilogy combined. Now I’m not saying there’s much subtlety there either. R2’s vocal expressions are broad and much of what we pickup from him are the generous reactions provided by other cast members, but that’s the point. In an RPG you don’t need your alt to provide much, because you as a player do that. We are very good at anthropomorphising things. We do it all the time with our pets. Projecting real feelings is second nature – some of us even manage to do it with politicians. Most players don’t need the emotional telegraphing. If you are a hard core raider you won’t miss it and if you enjoy RP you don’t need it.

In writing and other creative fields there is the precept of ‘be prepared to murder your darlings’. No, it’s not recommending infanticide, but how you must be prepared to sacrifice cherished notions for the sake of the greater work’s quality. The idea of players not being able to relate to their Trandoshian bounty hunter or Rodian consular is flat out wrong.

If BioWare want to give people an added, meaningful reason to create alts and play other story lines, they need to wake up and smell the blue milk.

It’s About The Numbers: SWTOR and subscriptions

There's still subscribers in them there mountains!

Well, it’s a sunny day in the neighbourhood for doomsayers and whingers everywhere. The news of an undisclosed number of employees being laid off from Bioware Austin is seen by some as the latest nail in a coffin that certain people have been building out of thin air and speculation.

But does that mean they’re wrong? First, let’s go over what we actually know.

Employees have been laid off – some will be able to join other projects within EA in Austin (EA Sports also have a presence there).

Are the layoffs a sign of anything definitive? No. At least not according to Massively’s Larry Everitt who tweeted “oh well, it wouldn’t be an mmo without layoffs after launch”.

That there have been layoffs is almost predictable and sadly inevitable. In fact, mass layoffs aren’t unusual in the software industry in general. remember the 600 Blizzard employees let go from its worldwide workforce in February this year?

Daniel Eriksson was recently promoted, so that may be indicative of internal restructuring that’s been planned for some time although it’s equally possible EA’s growing financial issues and the 25% drop in active subs also prompted the shedding of staff.

That said, Stephen Reid, SWTOR’s Senior Community Manager, was one of the unlucky ones who are now charting a new employment adventure. I think we can all agree that wrangling the trolls and hysterics that populate the SWTOR forums probably needs more people, not less. Judging from his tweets it wasn’t his idea to go either. So what gives there? It’s odd.

As far as resourcing SWTOR in the future, Andrew Wong, an EA spokesman indicated that other studios, some overseas, will be involved in future work so that might indicate outsourcing or perhaps Bioware utilising assets within the greater EA family. Either way there’s no reason to think that the game will suffer in the short to medium term at this point.

Even so, the spectre of F2P still keeps getting pushed forward by many. This is almost always shouted down as being the certain kiss of death, but I’d suggest it’s a rather old way of looking at the MMORPG landscape. Without doubt, any F2P game of yesteryear would be a pale shadow of any premium sub-based AAA title, but it’s not the case any more. Consider, when SWToR was conceived four or so years ago the very idea of making it F2P was laughable. But the world has changed since then and it’s likely SWTOR’s subscription model is a fossil from a bygone age.

‘But WoW can do it successfully’ I hear someone in the back yelling. ‘So what?’ is my reply. Blizzard created something that is probably going to remain unique. People spend the money because they have invested so much time building a virtual life and community amidst a world of content that’s been build up over seven years. WoW has mass, WoW has momentum and it’s going to take a long time for that to wind down. SWTOR is losing mass and has lost much of it’s momentum, but that doesn’t mean its doomed.

SWTOR does need to evolve. Into what, I have no idea. But I am reminded of another game I waited eagerly for the release of. It got off to a rip roaring start but was buggy with missing features. Controls and combat needed major work and after the initial novelty wore off, the bitter, angry complaints started. After the second month it started losing subscribers. In fact it shed so many that it was rare to see another player. At all. Then came server merges and finally the dreaded move to Free2Play. ‘It’s the end of the game’, ‘We’ll be swamped with 8 year olds’. The sky was falling according to many, but it didn’t. Now DC Universe Online is doing just fine. As of November last year its revenues were up 700% from its old subscription based model. Its fourteenth DLC update is about to hit and will include returns from Adam Baldwin and Mark Hamill.

Does this mean SWToR should look at F2P. Not really. Not yet. The subscriptions would have to get down to 500k before the financial viability becomes questionable. Since many players will have taken out three or six month subs it’s the June figures that will give us a clear indication of how the games future looks. But even if they drop and the sub model fails, it’s not our last hope. There is another.

BioWare’s Stephen Reid: Adios

As we reported yesterday, BioWare have announced layoffs within the SWTOR. It’s been widely reported  (here’s a perspective from Austin Texas’ own newspaper), but one extra detail that’s come out is that Senior Community Coordinator Stephen Reid is one of those who has been laid off.

As a non-US site we had a little less contact with Stephen than some, but the contacts we did have were very productive and informative – our podcast discussion with him was wide-ranging and delivered a lot of great information including the acknowledgement of an LFG being in development.

All that said, he was (unfairly) a lightning rod for discontent throughout the lead-up to launch and in the weeks afterwards – and he appeared to take it all with good grace.

As we said yesterday, these things are never pleasant, but we wish Stephen the best in whatever comes next, we will miss trawling the Rockjaw Twitter account for snippets of info. And we’re also confident he’ll find the pic on this post appropriate!

As far as conjecture on what this means more widely – we still hold to the belief it’s a normal post-launch shakeout, as unpleasant as it is for those involved. There’s also some reportage that development may spread out to multiple studios:

With layoffs in the Austin team, it appears continued development on The Old Republic will involve multiple studios. In a comment to Shacknews, an EA representative told us that “BioWare Austin remains a large and important part of BioWare and EA, working with other studios around the world to continue to deliver a high-quality service and exciting new content for Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

It’s over to you: what say you on these recent developments?

Believe It or Not, I’m Walking On Air (Spelunking in SWTOR)

Inane references to The Greatest American Hero aside, there’s plenty of legitimate fun to be had in SWTOR and Bioware have promised much more to come in the future.

That said, it doesn’t stop some of us from making up our own entertainment and I’m no exception. First a quick disclaimer: it’s almost certain that I’m not the first to propose this idea, but as I’m not aware of any previous endeavors I’ll pretend this is novel, so no flaming if you’ve heard this before, okay?

Like any compulsive explorer, I have to know what’s on the other side of that hill. It doesn’t matter what hill – it’s a metaphor. As it turns out, eventually, the answer is nothing. Welcome to the Land of Dark Hexagons.

In the past, when my obsessive prodding of boundaries leads me to the edge of the world, I usually admire the view then turn around and get on with questing. But yesterday as I stared at the legendary floating mountains of Alderaan I thought, ‘why not jump and take a screenshot to prove what a dick I am?‘ So I did… and a new age of gaming was born.  I’ve called it a ‘Spelunk Jump’ because it almost rhymes (sort-of) and it’s easier to say than ‘BASE Jumping Off the Edge of the World’ or ‘BeJuOtEotW’ for short. See? I said ‘Spelunk Jump’ was easier.

Granted, true BASE jumping involves a parachute, but since the wizards at BioWare have yet to provide one in my loot drops, I’ve decided to go without.  The same goes for having anything to actually land on which makes the point of slowing one’s decent somewhat moot anyway.

Of course the real challenge is finding the sweet spot through obstacles and I won’t lie, you need persistence, patience and a good eye for a tender spot. In fact, it requires the kind of fanatacism reserved for donning explosive underdaks shortly before hitting the overseas departure lounge. Once you’ve clambered over enough rocks, in enough places, you’ll hit a magical chink in Bioware’s slippery rock/invisible wall armour. Lo, True Believers, the end of the world will present itself to you as the ground ends abruptly and you’ll get your first view of floating rocks since you last watched Avatar.  Then it’s just a matter of a quick running jump into the void, making sure you snap a juicy screenshot of your plummet into nothing before you reappear in front of the closest medical droid. You won’t incur damage, but you will loose any active buffs or stims, so be warned.

No photo, no bragging rights.  Deal? Okay then. We’ll let you in the club.

Is this the beginning of a new e-sport? Will groups gather for a mass Spelunk Jump?

Clearly not. In fact it’s probably the least productive thing you can do in the game besides trying to discuss cushion stuffing with your ship droid. But is it satisfying? Absolutely – if you’re a little wrong in the head. But until ‘Jawa Throwing’ or ‘Ewok Punching’ becomes a mini-game, it’ll do.

If you’ve found any good jumping points or map edges, send in a photo of your efforts or coordinates so someone else can try.


Go on… You know you want to.

You, Robot – Part 3: Your companion as a magic elf

Welcome to the final instalment of a three-part series on companions. You can view Part 1 here and Part 2 here. You can also view the most amazing Companion Stats Uber-Mega-Omnibus right here!

Back in prehistoric times, before Star Wars, there were other stories. Hard to believe, but there you have it. One of them involved an old shoemaker and some magical elves who made shoes while he slept. That kind of characterises how crafting works in SWTOR. You get to sit around ogling holodancers or arguing with your friends about which of you has the higher midiclorian count, while your trusty companions go off on their own little adventures only to return with… well, whatever you sent them for. Usually.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes, just be aware that this is for those who haven’t looked into crafting in much detail. If you’ve played an MMO before, you have some idea how this gig works. Having said that you might find a few handy tips too. I’ll also stress that since we are only two months into the game’s life, tweaks and nerfs are inevitable and what you become used to may not stick around in its current form (hello Slicers!). I’d also suggest you have a look at the improved ‘Companions Guide’ for a comprehensive overview.

In the Crew Skills system there are three classes: Crafting (making stuff), Gathering (we find stuff), Mission (they find stuff). So what’s with the pronouns? With Gathering tasks you can collect materials as you run around the world OR send a crew member on their own. With Mission tasks, only your companion goes. You aren’t involved other than to delegate the task. So if you despise the tedium of having to stop and fill your pockets during a quest then this is, on the face of it, a dream come true. No more dirty fingernails. There’s a down side though – each mission costs money and your companions will sometimes fail.

So once you hit level 10 and your faction’s fleet hub, you get to select your Crew Skills. It’s worth talking to ALL the trainers (cancel out of each dialogue) as you’ll get XP for every one of them. But which skills you choose can be very dependent on how you want to use the system. You can go the obvious route and pick one of each type (preferably compatible ones) so you can become a one person production line. But you don’t have to do it this way. If you prefer you can have three mission skills or three gathering skills or one crafting and two of either. Before you ask, you can’t have more than one crafting skill. If you’re not sure what skills to go for, check out the attached spreadsheet for a few clues.

Once you’ve made your choice, it’s time to start delegating. Here are a few general pointers.

  • Gathering/Mission tasks – crew members can only do one task at a time, but you can have multiple crew members deployed simultaneously
  • Crafting tasks – you can stack up to five tasks, per crew member.
  • Choose wisely – some companions are more adept at certain tasks than others. Try to match them with the task; the quality/yield will improve (see the ‘Companions Guide’)
  • Love and other mistakes – Affection matters, the more they like you, the better the results.
  • Get some sleep – you don’t need to be playing for your crew to be working. When you log back in they’ll proudly present you with the fruits of their labour. Some missions are 30-40 minutes, perfect just before you log off.
  • Put it in the bank – your crew can access any crafting material you’ve put in the bank. You don’t need to lug the Bronzium around with you.
  • Everything on the menu – just because your trainer offers a recipe doesn’t mean you need to learn it. If it’s not something you can use now or shortly, don’t learn it. Save money and avoid cluttering your crafting menu with a growing list of gray items.
  • Keep ’em busy – it’s easy to get your Gathering and Mission points badly out of whack since Gathering is something you do yourself as a matter of course, where as Mission tasks have to be manually delegated. This becomes less of a problem once you get your ship. Send that darned robot on all the three minute missions. Why three minute missions? Because they’re cheaper, quicker and still give you the points.
  • Take it apart – use reverse engineering – By breaking down items similar to the ones you can craft (either things you make or have collected) into their constituent materials you gain raw material and the possibility of earning a bonus recipe, some of which are rare.

So now you’re all skilled up, is it worth your time? That depends what you want from it, but here’s a few things to consider:

  1. Endgame – very few crafting skills are much use once you get to level 50, with the exception of Biochem. To be honest, it’s debatable how useful some of them are even before this point because, at the time of writing, you’ll often get better gear through PvP, Warzones and Flashpoints. However Georg Zoeller has indicated that Bioware intend to make ALL crafting professions ‘fully endgame viable’. Tweaking is supposed to have started in 1.1.2, but no word on any changes yet.
  2. Print your own money –  there are two issue here. Whether you can make anything worth buying and whether anyone can find it if you do. Right now the Galactic Trade Network (GTN) is a capricious beast and searching on it is less ‘eBay’ and more ‘newspaper classified listings circa 1976’.
  3. Boost your alts – This is probably the most practical use for crafting at the moment. After all, your alts will eventually share the same surname. Why not let your virtual clan do the equivalent of having your electrician brother-in-law put in a new powerpoint for a slab? If you’re playing alts from a range of different classes, this very quickly makes sense, since certain crafting skills are more appropriate for certain classes. The downside is you will level up more slowly since you’re splitting your time across multiple characters.

Ultimately crafting isn’t for everyone, but if you’re inclined to give it a go it won’t be a waste of your time so long as you use it strategically and understand its limitations. Also bear in mind that things are going to keep changing as Bioware try to balance the economy. For better or worse, the real magical pixies aren’t your companions, they’re the shadowy figures in Austin studying metrics and playing with magical spreadsheets.


You, Robot – Part 2: Your companion as a lethal fashion accessory

Welcome to Part 2 of a three-part series on companions. You can view Part 1 here and you can download the most amazing Companion Stats Uber-Mega-Omnibus right here!

Combat is like fashion: you don’t want to be wearing the wrong thing for the occasion. Just as a bow tie and a thong might be appropriate attire at certain events, it may also be like using a Glock 26 for sniping. In other words, a poor choice that attracts the wrong kind of company.

From the time your first companion joins you, the advantages become obvious. Instantly you have someone to cover you, draw fire or in many other ways be the ying to your character’s yang. For most classes this means you get a DPS or Tank with melee or ranged abilities, whichever is complimentary to your own skillset. Only the Bounty Hunter gets a dedicated healer.

So are companions much more than a bipedal pet class? Simply put, yes they are. Functionally the mechanic is familiar, with a dedicated toolbar offering attacks and stances. The big difference is the versatility of control. Using various combinations of the AI toggles you can set certain abilities to operate automatically or manually. Don’t want your companion to use AoE when tackling an enemy? Turn it off. Do you want to choose when your companion uses their most devastating attacks? Go for it! Your companion’s toolbar can be expanded for full control or minimised if you’re letting them run on automatic, either way you get a lot of flexibility with this system.

Aside from them letting you take on many Heroic 2+ areas (in case you can’t find or don’t feel like dealing with another player), they’re also handy if a player bails out of your group halfway through. If this happens the group leader can select which companion of the remaining group members can jump in and fill the gap. While a last minute sub like this is not ideal and can’t realistically replace a capable human player, it can make the difference in completing the raid or gazing at the screen in abject defeat and wondering why you have no chicken.

Speaking of chicken, (no, not really, I just can’t think of a seque), there’s the ability to customise your companion’s skin colour and dress. While the initial selection of customisations is restricted, more customisations become available throughout the game. To be honest, I didn’t like this system as the customisations became available far too long after your companion initially joined you. It broke immersion and disrupted the emotional connection that Bioware work so hard to build. Happily this has changed with one of the recent patches. You now get to customise your companion as soon as they hitch their carriage to your train. Not only is this less jarring, it also means there are fewer identical companions running around the origin worlds.

So that’s the face and hair taken care of, what about the threads? As with your character, a little sartorial augmentation works wonders. Companions use the same core-stat system and need gear with the correct primary stat to do you the most good. They don’t have any relic slots, but that won’t matter until after level 15 – they also only have a single implant slot. The exceptions to this are the ship droids whose requirements are more… umm… mechanical, but they still use ear and implant slots, can ‘bear’ blaster pistols or rifles (main hand) and shields or generators (off-hand). Except that’s not entirely true. While they have slots for blaster weapons, they can not be equipped. There are hints that this may change but for the moment they are only useful as healers who will throw the occasional punch.  It’s also worth noting that companions can’t equip any item with light/dark side requirements, although they can use crystal mods.

Then there’s the troubling issue of ‘Affection’. No, actually that’s a lie. Affection isn’t that tricky at all, in fact you would have to work very hard to get them to hate you, except at certain pivotal points in their stories. In general any +affection you get is substantially greater than any negative awards. So it’s almost always a net gain. In any case it’s easy enough to buy their love although you need to know their tastes first (see the guide). The ship droids are (again) an exception. At present you can’t increase their affection, gifts or no gifts, so an absence of trinkets won’t reduce the menu planning or random cushion stuffing. Another little trick is to dismiss your companions (when practical) if you don’t think they’ll like your upcoming conversation choices. What they don’t hear, won’t hurt you.

You might be asking yourself why you should care what a companion thinks of you but there are practical advantages particularly in crafting, which is the exclusive province of your companions. Since it’s a fairly broad topic I’ll be covering that in the last article of this series, because, if you’re anything like me you just want to get on playing the game and won’t bother with this until later – which would be a mistake.

Just like that bow tie and thong.

You, Robot – Part 1

Love them or hate them, companions are a pivotal part of the SWTOR experience. Our resident companion guru, Simon, will be covering in-depth over three parts, everything you need to know about companions. If you’re looking for the full Companions Chart, here’s where you go, otherwise read on below.

Part 1 – NPCs that need NPCs are the luckiest NPCs in the world.

As I stared at my Twilek slave, pondering the merits of freeing her or bestowing another 20,000 volt love-tap, I noticed an irritating buzz in the back of my head. I should mention that I usually ignore most of the activity in there, but this time was different.

This time I realised what it was, before anyone had to accuse me of being insensitive, ripping the ethernet cable from the PC, storming from the room then skyping her mother for two hours whilst eating all the ice cream. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Where was I? Oh, right -feelings. In this case guilt. And while your frontal lobe may know it doesn’t matter in any real sense how you treat a computer generated, scripted character, deep down in the squishy gray recesses of your brain are neurons that don’t differentiate bad behaviour towards one of your companions or a flesh-and-blood person. For me, that’s where the magic begins.

Bioware’s companion characters have always been deep and contrary with their own agendas. In SWTOR, as you should know by now, this tradition has developed further. With their deft facial animations and sometimes inscrutable likes and dislikes they slowly take on a more real nature then you’d expect. Granted we humans are great at finding patterns where none exist and filling in details that are only suggested. This is why people in Tallahassee occassionally see the image of Elvis on their toast.

But even knowing that, it’s sometimes hard to believe they don’t have a more profound opinion of you than ‘+15 affection’. All of the companions have their own quirks and it’s not always straightforward identifying their likes and dislikes. Having said that, if you’re looking for some insight into your companions or simply want to suck all the fun out of life, you’ll find some useful information in the linked tables accompanying this and the next two articles in this short series.

By now all of you have met several companions and how you feel about them will depend on how you choose to play the game. In some ways it’s easier to ignore them when they start prompting you for a cosy chat everytime you go into a cantina and just use them for the extra firepower, healing, crafting or running off to sell your accumulated junk. But if you do that you’ll miss all the other benefits of getting to know your new imagninary friends. Not only will they add depth through exposition and open up additional side missions, you also have the much discussed opportunity for romance. At this point there’s been little revealed about the depth of this feature, either in the current patch or future ones (barring the same-gender aspect).

There’s always the chance that giving gifts to a companion may be as exciting as giving your toaster the gift of bread – but Bioware isn’t just going to give us toast, as these romantic tangents will offer additional side quests. Even if they don’t ‘love’ you, some companions will offer opportunities for gear if they like you enough. Everyone hates you? No problem, just buy them gifts until they’re borderline co-dependent. Not sure whether they’d prefer ammo or flowers? Just check the table.

All that said – if Bioware adheres to canon, the exploration of love will necessitate flirting with the dangers of passion, although you could remain pure if you only participated in meaningless sex. But that wouldn’t appeal to most players… would it?. I should also mention that not all companions are romanceable, so if you are a smuggler hoping for a little wookie-lurve, you are out of luck. Bioware’s criteria of only having human-like playable races also extends to the races that you can flirt with. If you are curious about your chances for love, you could look up your horoscope or for more reliable information, try the table.

Of course, the best feature of your companion is that, unlike a real person, you can dismiss them when they start to get on your nerves, instead of having to sit smiling through Notting Hill for the hundreth time.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

In the second part of this brief guide we’ll be looking at combat, AI and the all-important ability to pimp your companion’s appearance.


Macros, and add-ons, and scripts! Oh, my!

Gaming is a bit like owning a car, it will give you hours of fun, cause you to neglect your girlfriend and best of all, you can soup it up anyway you like. After all, it’s your car, you can pimp it out till the cash runs out, so long as you’re not trying to run the thing on nitro or installing hood mounted cannons. Games should be the same too, right?

Welcome to the world of add-ons, custom UIs and all the other shiny things that make our games work the way we like best. So when Bioware announced ‘no add-ons at launch’ there was an understandable blow-up by many commentators. Over-reaction, much? To paraphrase Daniel Erickson: Absolutely!

The first point: all that’s been said so far is that there’ll be ‘no add-ons at launch’. How can anyone take issue with that? After all, a rushed or poorly implemented add-on could break the game. Then there’s the crazy notion that perhaps it’s a good idea to actually play the release version before thinking about what colour go-faster stripes you want to stick on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no issue with add-ons as long as they’re used in the right spirit. Most of us have used them to improve our game experience and make things easier or quicker, so much so that if we were forced to do without them some would feel, in some way, gimped. I suspect that is why some in the community felt dread at the thought. But is a vanilla experience really such a bad thing? I would suggest it’s not for two reasons. First we’ll all get to start fresh and on a level playing field. No one is going to have an advantage, we’ll all be like new born lambs skipping about the dewy meadows of [insert starter zone here]. Okay, in the case of Hutta it’ll be a polluted bog and Ord Mandell, a shell-cratered wasteland, but you get the idea.  The second point is that it’s going to force us out of entrenched behaviours and while that’s going to be painful for some, it’s probably long overdue because there are some out there who have gone waaaaaaay overboard. I’ve know people who endlessly finesse their customised UI but you need a penicillin shot just to walk across their loungeroom.

However, not everyone is going to like being made to go cold turkey. Let’s face it, opinions range from SWTOR not being different enough from earlier MMOs, to the polar opposite of it not being similar enough and providing avenues for all the nasty little habits we’ve developed. If you are in a gaming rut so deep you need a team of sharpers to get out, I’d take the assist and stop complaining that daylight hurts your eyes.

Apart from wanting a fair and consistent experience for every player, I think it’s clear that the lack of add-on support demonstrates Bioware want YOU to play the game, not an augmented you. Case in point – no auto attack. If you ain’t hitting the keys then you ain’t attacking. All your character is going to do is a series of beautifully animated blocks. This forces you to stay involved in the moment, to maintain situational awareness and I’m all in favour of this. I like a little RP in my RPGs, I want my character to be an extension of me, not be insulated from it. To be honest I find that many things I used add-ons for are already catered for, so I’ve not suffered any withdrawals, but to my hardcore raiding friends and OCD PVP amigos, I’d recommend chillaxing.

To use the car analogy again, it’s the difference between driving an automatic or a manual.

I’ll take the manual anytime.

SWTOR: Simon’s take

You’ve heard Mark and David’s take on their beta impressions of SWTOR, now it’s Simon’s turn – enjoy!
Caveat – I’m not a hard-core raider or PvP puritan and my MMO experience consists of WoW, LotRO and DCUO, so bear that in mind as you read on.

If variety is the spice of life then cover me in cinnamon.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being in beta for over six weeks now and have been through 3 builds so far, which has given me a chance to play all the classes up to at least level 10. With each new build you can almost hear the beads of sweat hitting the keyboards in Austin, Texas. The latest build, released on Nov 17, has seen a quantum leap in polish. For the first time, to me at least, this looks like a retail product. Once you get your invitation to the upcoming weekend beta, you are in for a treat.

But hyperbole and metaphor aside, how does the game play? First, latency. I’ve had no problem with this. No drops, no lag issues, always below 300ms, usually around 250ms. While proxies are an option I’ve not found it necessary so far.

Regarding play style I think it’s fair to say it’s more Mass Effect than LotRO or WoW. In part this is down to the depth and pervasiveness of your class storyline. Story is the driver, story is the master, it is the delicious grape jelly around which the whole donut is built. The positive side is that you’re swept into a cinematic epic that inexorably builds to a spectacular crescendo. But, and there is a but, this also means that the game, of necessity, needs to shepherd you here and there. Because of this, mostly in the early stages, it may feel a little linear. But you will stop noticing, if you ever notice at all. So why mention it? Well, I don’t want you to misunderstand the underlying rationale as I did and it’s one that features a little bit of Star War’s history.

In the original movie some unlucky actors featured in the Tosche Station sequence. These scenes were cut because having Luke wander off to chat with his friends interrupted the flow of the story. It destroyed momentum and, to apply this kind of thing to an RPG, potentially  disrupted the necessary sequence of events. In most MMOs my tendency is to do exactly this kind of random walkabout so I initially found the game’s nudging a little limiting – perhaps you might too. However, any initial misgivings I had quickly faded because this game drags you in like a Sarlacc on a bread and water diet.

You will settle in quickly once your fingers settle over the WASD keys (or Razer Nostromo) as there is much in the UI that feels familiar, but the depth, the richness of the environments and the classic Star Wars ambience feels new, fresh and remarkably addictive. Each class has something to offer, none that I’ve played have felt OP or weak. As always, bear in mind that there is still room for improvement and additions. Character creation is a little restricted, but this may change. The lack of an appearance tab is also an irritation. You will undoubtably have your own list of improvements – but it’s still early days and nothing is ever set in stone.

Let’s face it, everyone has their own dreams and expectations of what this much-anticipated game will be. It can’t be everything to everyone, so my recommendation to you is leave your expectations at the door and let SWTOR draw you in on its own terms.

You won’t be disappointed.

How SWTOR Ate My Summer Holiday

It’s with a great deal of pleasure we welcome the latest member of the TOROZ team. Simon Potter is Victoria-based and you can find out more about him here.

Simon will be writing regularly on what takes his fancy really – so make him welcome!



One penultimate test weekend is all that stands between humanity and the release of a game that may melt the InterWebs. It’s going to be so big, you can see it from space.

The good news for everyone in RedZoneLand, (ie. everyone who isn’t into Gridiron* or Lederhosen), is that we  get to play along with anyone else whose already signed up for testing on swtor.com (so long as you checked the box before November 11). Not only that but Bioware has dropped more beta keys on US and European websites than Tony Abbott has smuggled budgies.  I’ll let that image sink in… all done? Good.

So lets do a little math. How many invites are we talking about? Massively has 75k, Curse 12.5k, MMORPG.com had at least 14k and while the other sites haven’t disclosed how many keys they have, we can estimate at least 12k each. Add those numbers together and we’re heading towards 150k. Factor in all those preorder codes punched in to swtor.com and you’re looking at a stress test even a Jedi is going to feel.

So what should you bear in mind before that email arrives and you become Charlie Bucket for a moment?

1. Remember, this is a stress test. There will be delays. There will be queues. There will be some technical issues. Relax. For every frustration you encounter in the test, that’s one more frustration that Bioware have a chance to fix for the final release. Remember /bug is your friend.

2. Watch the SWTOR forums. All information will be posted as stickies. I’d also suggest that you only post if you really need to. There will be a lot of people in there once the beta is announced and the last weekend test brought the forums down for a couple of hours due to excess traffic.

3. Download as early as possible. Speeds will be slow, so set and forget. Don’t sit there watching the progress bar. I’ve tried it and it isn’t fun, even with beer and corn chips.

4. It’s a beta. Remember that what you see will be close to the final release, but not the final version. 

5. Your character will be deleted. “No duh, Sherlock” you may be saying. But there are people out there who have mistaken ‘Beta’ for ‘Early Access’. I’d hate for you to be one of them.

6. Read up on your advanced classes. If you play one character over the whole weekend, you’ll probably level up enough to make that choice. While the client is downloading, do some research, that way you can make an informed decision and have unimpeded fun.

7. Go nuts. Try a class you wouldn’t normally go for. Make choices you wouldn’t normally make. Nothing you do will exist after the test, so use this opportunity to experiment. Save your favourite class for the real deal.

* I should note that Canadian Football is different and far superior.

UPDATE: As I’ve certainly missed a few gems of wisdom, any additional suggestions or tips regarding the upcoming beta are most welcome, however please make sure that, if you have played or are playing the beta, any advise doesn’t violate the NDA.