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 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.

SWTOR to go Free To Play?

Over the past 24 hours or so there’s been a lot of interest in some comments made by BioWare’s Emmanuel Lusinchi in an interview with UK magazine games™. Interestingly, the online interview preview appears to have been pulled, but you can still view the cached Google version.

The two comments being dissected so forensically are:

In regard to competition from free-to-play MMOs:

“I think it’s more than the free-to-play model – it’s more that there is a lot of competitive offers,” suggests Lusinchi. “If it was just free-to-play games and they weren’t very good it wouldn’t even be a question but there are definitely good games out there and good games coming out, so of course all of this competition impacts your plan with what you want to do.”

On feasibility of making SWTOR free-to-play:

“The MMO market is very dynamic and we need to be dynamic as well,” he says. “Unless people are happy with what they have, they are constantly demanding updates, new modes and situations. So we are looking at free-to-play but I can’t tell you in much detail. We have to be flexible and adapt to what is going on.”

That’s the sum-total of information out there at present. None of it is that explicit, nor that surprising. The challenge BioWare face is that in some quarters going free-to-play is seen as admitting defeat – even though some games have grown going that route. There’s no right or wrong – it’s just how such a model would work that becomes key.

Over to you: do you think F2P is on the near horizon, and if so, what impact do you think it will have on SWTOR?

Suggestion Box: Favourite Planet?

With the 1.3 update not far off, there’s a focus on new content in the game, but I thought this week we’d talk about the foundation of most gameplay in SWTOR: the planets. I’m still pretty enamoured with Voss and if I had to list a favourite, that’d be it. What I’m most interested in though is what planet you either love or hate the most. Does Taris make you want to use a cheese grater on your inner thigh? Does Corellia warm the cockles of your dystopian heart?

Jump in and give your 2 cents worth!

From The Holonet: Why the Empire Can and Must Win

From the Holonet is a series of articles, opinion pieces and features taken from the Old Republic and printed here on TOROZ.

In Imperial society, power is truth.  Sith principles guide the Empire to new heights with every passing hour.  It is a simple and proud example of our principles, to watch those with ability break their chains and achieve what others could never do.  Recognition of power and authority is one of the cornerstones of the Empire, and why the Empire is destined to win.

As we all know, the Republic unrelentingly gorges upon its citizens’ tax credits and wastes them on woeful projects such as the doomed Taris reconstruction.  Such endless expenditures drive good Human citizens into poverty, so that Ithorians and other aliens might live in luxury on a getaway planet, fulfilling their whimsical dream of growing plants.  Such an institutionalised tragedy is not matched in the Empire.  Money is spent on the military, which brings more wealth to its people as well as protects what wealth it does have.  Those individuals most worthy and most able invariably obtain the wealth that they deserve.

The sprawling seat of power that is Kaas city; home to many of the Empire’s finest

The Imperial political system is also superior.  In it, those most capable and most powerful obtain more power.  This is a system where promotion is granted on merit, not on mercy.  In the Republic, a so-called democracy, the brutal rule of the unintelligent masses shackles and weighs down the brilliant few.  While capable Republic people are stuck fulfilling the demands of the incapable masses, Imperial brilliance is rewarded and promoted within the system.  The incapable minorities are driven to achieve well above their station, as directed by the most capable.  In almost all cases, that is the Sith.  Within the Empire, the actions of a Sith Lord who steps into command of a military affair and subsequently succeeds is not only permitted, but encouraged.  In the Republic, it would be looked down upon, perhaps even punished.

In the Republic, the Senate is the primary political force.  Senate committees, subcommittees, debates and votes take an incredibly long time to get anything done.  They are also so complex as to be hidden from sight.  Corruption within the Senate, like the Republic, is common and ugly.  The Empire has the Dark Council.  The most powerful and most worthy Sith are empowered to make decisions.  Without the delays and the intrigue of the broken Republic political system, the Empire is able to make decisions quickly and implement them effectively.  The Senate is caught floundering and failing to keep up with the Dark Council.  One merely has to look at their mishandling of the Treaty of Coruscant.  Distinctly unpopular with the Republic’s most able individuals, Master Satele Shan and General Garza among them, Senate grumblings and Alien votes prevent its overturning. Instead, the Republic continues to bow in deference to a humiliating treaty, surrendering huge amounts of territory and enforcing complex conditions upon themselves.  The Empire would never have subjected itself to such a thing, for they are powerful, independent and free.

It is for these reasons that victory must go to the Empire.  Every planet claimed for the Republic, is another planet to be weighed down by democracy, by alien rule and by wasteful spending.  Every planet liberated under the Emperor will find its potential unleashed, and its most capable citizens will soon flourish under the glorious banner of the Imperial forces.  The galaxy cannot afford Republic rule.  Its people cannot afford it.  There is too much talent, too much power and too much potential wasted within its borders.  Only the Empire can bring the worthy to power, and only the Empire can liberate the people of the galaxy.

Jacena Azana is a Human with a strong background in the Empire.  Though she cannot discuss her former employment, she now works as a journalist and writer for the Hutt-owned, completely neutral ‘Evening Star News Network’.  Azana routinely publishes pieces on intergalactic politics, the Empire, and the Republic.  Her hard hitting firebrand journalism is widely read in all corners of space.


Star Wars: 1313 Preview

I’m not even going to attempt to compare what you see below to SWTOR – it’d be a totally unfair comparison. That said, am I the only person that dreams of playing an MMO one day that’s of this level of graphic quality?

Have a look for yourself:

So I’ll say it again: would you pay big money for an MMO that looked like Star Wars: 1313?

Suggestion Box: Predicting Subscriber Numbers

With winter officially hitting Oz and NZ today, it means we’re officially allowed to spend more time indoors playing SWTOR. That means there may be a bump in local subscribers numbers, although with the US and Europe hitting their summer there will be the usual seasonal drop off in playing time which could affect subscriber numbers.

So on that basis, let’s play Nostradamus. By the end of our winter on September 1st, what do you think SWTOR’s subscriber numbers will be?

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.

Suggestion Box: Celebrating Star Wars’ 35th Birthday

In what has been a gloomy week for SWTOR, let’s try to get into a weekend frame of mind by talking milestones. In this case it’s the fact that 35 years ago on May 25th 1977, the first Star Wars film opened in US cinemas.

So, in that vein, this week’s discussion topic is the original Episode IV: A new Hope: tell us when you first saw it, where you saw it and the impact it had on you. Jump on in!

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?

BioWare lay off SWTOR staff: is it the beginning of the end?

To answer this post’s title first up: no.

Most importantly, commiserations to those who have lost jobs – it’s never an easy thing for anyone having to adjust to a new reality, even if they’re lucky enough to have another job to go to.

The full announcement from BioWare’s founders:

Hey folks, since you’re reading this you may likely have heard that we’ve done some restructuring here on the SWTOR team. Sadly, we are bidding farewell to some talented, passionate and exceptionally hard-working people who helped make SWTOR a reality. Impacting people’s lives this way is always very hard, but we’re ensuring the affected people are treated with dignity, fairness and respect.

Looking back at launch, we all came together and did something historic. We executed one of the largest, most successful and stable launches of any MMO yet in industry history. That is not an easy feat for any development team or company and we are humbled and honored by our fan community’s strong support both at launch and beyond.

Looking forward, the studio remains vibrant and passionate about our many upcoming initiatives for Star Wars: The Old Republic. We still have a very substantial development team working on supporting and growing the game, and we feel we are in a strong position, with your continued involvement and feedback, to continue to build Star Wars: The Old Republic as one of the most compelling and successful online experiences in the world today. There are many strong initiatives planned for cool new content and new features that we’re excited to tell you about in the upcoming weeks and months.

Rest assured that we remain dedicated to delivering a high quality service in SWTOR to you, our fans, and we will continue to support and grow Star Wars: The Old Republic over the weeks, months and years to come.

Greg and Ray

So, in regard to the layoffs and their implications for SWTOR, there’ll be no shortage of prognostications about how this is the beginning of the end. There’s one small flaw in that argument though: can anyone show me where an MMO development team maintains its full workforce post-launch? Surely no-one thinks that the huge team involved in getting SWTOR off the ground would all be kept ongoing?

Sure, there’s a massive amount of development of the game still to do, particularly given the proposed enhancements and the regular content updates that need to happen. Even then, I would have thought ongoing efforts require a smaller team now that development processes post-launch would be well and truly bedded down.

Again, it’s a hard time for those affected, but let’s not mix up respect for that with an assumption of more ominous undercurrents.

Over to you: do you see this announcement as a natural part of the process or am I being a BioWare apologist?

The Assassin Tank

This is a guest post from Xterminatz over at Xterminatz Gaming. Enjoy!

Ever since SWTOR has been released I’ve been playing multiple roles and characters at the high end-game level. My primary role is Ranged DPS on my Sith Sorceror however I do play other roles such as Assassin Tank and Bounty Hunter Healer during the alt/casual runs to give other non-hardcore players opportunity to see end-game.

Midian was in the race for Warlord Kephess Oceanic First kill several weeks ago however we choked horribly to say the least and there was some major changes that needed to happen if the guild was going to stay together especially with Diablo 3 coming soon.

Prior to last week we had a good few weeks of wiping on Warlord Kephess and being the GM sitting in a leadership role you can’t help but feel that It’s your fault the guild is not progressing as well as the amount of responsibility that’s on your shoulders as a leader.

You ask yourself how do I fix this?

We killed Colonel Vorgath before the 01/05 reset and had at least a few attempts on Kephess, but the problem didn’t start happening until 03/05 and from there it was just constant wipes. The raid would progress and manage to get to the transition phase at 58% majority of the time but once below that all hell broke loose.

Once you pass the transition phase sucessfully and you reach below 58% It’s no longer the “main” responsibility of the DPS or Healers for what happens next. Watching other videos and guilds killing on live stream the tanks play the vital role in the end it all comes down to positioning, timing and kiting Kephess correctly with the final mechanics of the fight and this is what we struggled with.

After watching our tanks a few times it was clear that they didn’t have a real understanding of how these mechanics worked or what exactly they had to do for the final phase, we had them watch multiple videos and we discussed endlessly the different ways to approach it but none of them worked.

What to do now?

So after 6 raiding nights of wiping as the GM and the leader I made the decision to stop 16HM raiding on Sunday 13/05 as players started to burn out and people just didn’t want to turn up for progression anymore. From a DPS/Healer point of view you can point the finger endlessly at the tank but until you’re actually playing a tank you don’t understand what’s happening in the raid.

The following night Monday 14/05 I decided we would do 8HM instead and bring our best players from the team, I also switched to play my assassin tank so I could feel and see what our tanks were doing, it allowed me to have a 1-to-1 perspective to see if it was the tanks having the problem or maybe just the strat we where using.

First problem; Positioning – After the transition phase we found that the positioning used for Kephess was slightly incorrect and we saw within a few attempts DPS/Heals would get gimped because Kephess or the raid was in the wrong spot and he would cleave (arcing slash) players.

When you enter Kephess room you’ll notice 3 doors/gates one to the left, one to the right facing Kephess and obviously the third is the one you entered the room via. We positioned Kephess at the right door/gate and had the raid DPS/Heals stack at the entry gate to maximize the distance for any possible issues we would encounter, we also had a specific tank on Kephess for the transition phase.

The offtank (myself) who was not tanking in the transition phase positioned himself at the boxes to the left entry door so that when Kephess finished the transition he would immediately taunt, then get knocked back to start dropping purple circles and the original tank would pickup again and continue tanking as normal.

We did this a few times and it worked great!

Second problem; Timing and Kiting – We found our first problem and fixed it relatively quickly however the second problem now boiled down to timing of the tanks taunting at the correct times for BoTM (Breathe of The Masters) and being able to kite Kephess without getting hit by him, or getting knocked into a purple circle which would result into the tank getting one shot.

The key to this problem was communicaion between the tanks which we previously never saw in any of our 16HM attempts and I think this is one of the major key points that turned it around for us. After deciding we would kite Kephess clockwise starting from the boxes it all boiled down to the tanks communicating with each other and letting one another know when to taunt (as a verbal warning) for BoTM.

I’ll admit that when I was kiting Kephess I made a few bad decisions with the kite path and got myself knocked into the purple circles, tanks for this phase will always need to be on the ball.

The end result – make or break?

With all phases now sorted out it came down to the entire raid perfecting the execution of the strat and this is pretty much where exceptional gamers are either made, or broken and I can happily say that with the amount of time and effort we’ve put into Warlord Kephess we killed him 8HM re-assuring our players for 16HM.

Here’s the live stream unedited 8HM kill:

Following the reset our 16HM raid visited Warlord Kephess on Wednesday 16/05. We used the exact same strat as our 8HM kill and with much suprised we managed to kill Kephess & clear Explosive Conflict within one raiding night. Unfortunately I don’t have video/fraps recorded from my POV however I plan to have a 1080p HD video up soon from my tanking perspective to help with other guilds.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article It’s not easy being a top raiding guild but I thought I would share my experience as this was the birth of The Assassin Tank for me.


Suggestion Box: SWTOR playing time

This week’s topic of debate is the amount of time you spend playing SWTOR. With Diablo 3 released this week, there’s a lot of people who seem to have taken a breather from SWTOR to kill their wrist clicking a mouse to move their hero round some dark dungeons and cathedrals. Once people have had their fill of that, there’s plenty of other games coming up.

So it’s over to you: compared to say 3 months ago, are you playing SWTOR as much as previously, more than previously or is it playing second fiddle to something else?

Post away in comments!