SWTOR: Mark’s take

Now that the embargo on talking about the SWTOR beta has lifted, we’ll start giving you some impressions of the game. Starting out is our own Mark Duncan, Flash Point co-host and arguably the TOROZ staffer with the longest time in-game.

Having taken part in two betas now, I wanted to give you all my opinion of the game and perhaps give you a little insight in what to expect. The short answer is: it’s all good!

In my opinion MMOs have become stagnant over the last few years. Since World of Warcraft, I have tried many MMOs from Star Trek, Rift and Aion to DC Universe and quite a few others. They all lacked something that WoW has, and the only way I can describe that something is one word: polish.

Star Wars: The Old Republic now enters the fray and trust me, if your looking for polish, this most definitely has it.

Every thing about the game speaks quality: a whole galaxy of work has gone into making sure we have an amazing experience while playing our characters and progressing through content.

Probably the most compelling aspect in my opinion is the story. I have tried most of the classes in the game to at least Level 10 and am simply blown away by the story of each class as it unfolds. It’s like a good book that you cannot put down, I just want to keep playing to find out what my toon has in store next. It is clearly evident that the writers and the developers who implemented all this work are very passionate about the game.

Right and Wrong – those are decisions that will be a major factor for you when you play the game as both light and dark side. Decisions are common and can make a large change in how your story plays out. I won’t include any spoilers here, however having played solely as a dark side player, some of the decisions I made were downright nasty – evil just flows out of my toon and I love it!

Every class has a role and in beta I am glad to say that I have seen all classes represented well and I cannot say I have seen any particularly weak class.

As a disclaimer, please understand that all of my opinions are based on the build I have been playing which is an older build and should not be compared with the finished game that we will all play in December. If this beta is anything to go by I know what I will be doing this Christmas, and it won’t be eating Turkey!

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?

BioWare responds on beta-test selection for Mac users

I few days back I wrote about being excluded from the beta-test, due to trying to sign-up on a Mac. Sean Dahlberg, BioWare’s Community Manager, has followed up with a response:

I wanted to apologize for the previous response you received in  regards to your issues signing up for STAR WARS™: The Old Republic™. While we recognize that there are other operating systems and platforms available for games today, our development is specific to the personal computer (PC) using the Microsoft® Windows® operating system at this time.

Our technology provider for the system scan is not compatible with a Macintosh running Windows, so we are unable to validate your system for testing at this time. For the purposes of providing the most stable testing environment, we are currently limiting our testing participants to those using the Windows operating system on a PC. At some point we will be evaluating compatibility with the Macintosh running Windows and we may put out an additional call for testers at that time.

We apologize for any inconvenience and that this has caused and for it not being well conveyed to begin with.

It’s a positive sign that BioWare at least haven’t rules out the option of people on Macs testing SWTOR. There’s obviously the wider frustration of SWTOR not being available for the Mac natively, but that’s another whole mountain that’s likely never to be climbed.

SWTOR: the excluded

By now, thousands have signed up for the SWTOR beta, but I thought it was worth mentioning those who won’t be able to take part in the beta phase. Specfically, any person on a Mac running VMWare Fusion or Boot Camp may not be able able to take part, after I emailed support stating the sign-up form wasn’t running correctly. I understand there’s a system scan prior to submitting the application, but I didn’t even get that far on Safari and Firefox – it’d just endlessly cycle between the terms and conditions and the tester details form.

The response from BioWare’s support:

Since the game is designed to run on PC only, It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the scan is not set up to work properly on a Mac.  Since much of the criteria we are using to select testers is a function of system specs and OS, this phase may not be available to you.

Um, ok. If this is an indication of how OS issues are going to be managed, I have some concerns on the beta-testing experience for people, let alone the end product support. Yes, I’m pissed on the total lack of Mac support. BioWare have basically said ‘that’s what Boot Camp is for’. Yet, when trying to test SWTOR using said Mac, it’s a no-go, albeit not within the Boot Camp environment. I just get that overwhelming feeling of non-interest in the whole issue.

Over to you: am I whining too much over lack of Mac support or am I right in querying the level of responsiveness to people who are willing to virtualise their Mac for testing, but don’t want to do so for the sake of filling in a web form? Hit me with your thoughts and flames.

Update: BioWare have followed up with a response to the issue.

BioWare announces SWTOR beta: invites applications

If you haven’t heard already, BioWare have invited applications to join the SWTOR beta program. This may surprise you greatly, but the response has been enthusiastic, with the SWTOR site down due to the influx of applications:


All you can do wait for the site to return and to wonder at the infrastructure challenges facing BioWare when SWTOR actually goes live. Here’s hoping they’ve purchased a small country somewhere in which to house the servers required to run things when everyone logs in at the same time. Anyway, here’s where you need to go to sign up for the beta program, just expect an image similar to above in the short term.