Blaster versus Lightsaber

Ok, we all know what happens when someone brings a sword to a gunfight. Now it is POSSIBLE for a highly skilled and sneaky sword wielder to beat a person with a gun. It has been done. Much as I detest the idea of drawing on Hollywood for examples, the 1971 Charles Bronson movie Red Sun shows what happens when an overconfident outlaw gunslinger gets cocky around a samurai. But fighting a man armed with a gun when he is far away and you are only have a sword does not usually work very well. But that is real life. Star Wars is different.

In the original trilogy, we do not see much of lightsabers in combat. We see Obi-wan slice a thug’s arm off, and we see Darth Vader and Obi-wan battle it out in Episode IV. We see Luke and Vader fight in Episode V. And then we see the only time in the original trilogy that a blaster get used against a lightsaber in Episode VI when the last surviving scout trooper tries to gun Luke down and then run him down. The blaster bolts hit the blade and we all remember what happened. They were deflected, leaving the enemy virtually defenseless against the energy blade. Wow, that makes the lightsaber a VERY effective weapon when fighting blaster armed enemies.

The prequel trilogy shows a lot more lightsaber action. From the combat with the battle droids at the beginning of Episode I until the final climactic duel between Obi-wan and Anakin, lightsabers dominate in almost every battle they fight in. The only reason Order 66 worked was it took the Jedi COMPLETELY by surprise. One on one, using a blaster against a lightsaber simply doesn’t work very well for the blaster wielder. And people wonder why Boba Fett carried a flamethrower and multiple other weapons?

According to Wookipedia, blasters are particle beam weapons that fire from a replaceable power cell. This makes them much more powerful than a slug throwing weapon such as a real life assault rifle. Blasters are line of sight, that is, if you can see it, you can usually hit it. Although atmospheric effects will slow and or degrade the particle beam somewhat, only at extreme range will the effect be discernible. On the down side, blasters are fragile, as is evidenced several times in the movies with Jedi slicing weapons apart. But if you hit your target, you will do damage, lots of damage.

Lightsabers are elegant weapons. They are swords whose blades are composed of pure energy. Anyone who has wielded a sword in real life (which I have btw) can tell you that no matter the blade, they are not easy to use. Add to that a weightless blade, you cannot tell by the pull where the blade is. It would be very easy to hurt yourself with one of those. But this is not real life, this is SPARTA! Sorry, couldn’t resist. No, this is not Sparta, this is Star Wars.

In Star Wars, lightsabers are melee weapons. Some users could throw them. Some could wield them using the Force at long distances, telekinetically. But mainly, lightsabers and all their derivatives are meant to be used up close and personal. Ordinarily, this would be a problem. If the blaster wielder sees you before you see him, BAM! You are dead. But then we get into the fun part.

Say that a Trooper sees a Sith Warrior at a distance. Trooper pulls out his blaster rifle and Bam! He fires off a round. What happens? Sith warrior blocks the bolt with his lightsaber is what happens. And then Sith Warrior is likely more than a little ticked off. He jumps to close the distance and the fight is on. What will happen next is utterly dependent on the skill of the combatants in question.

Is the Sith Warrior someone along the lines of Darth Malgus or Darth Vader? In that case, that Trooper is toast, period. But if he is not… Things get more complex. The Trooper will fire, the Sith Warrior will deflect the shots. But can he deflect them all? Jedi Master Ki Al Mundi was taken by surprise in Episode III during Order 66, but he still managed to deflect many of the blaster shots that came his way. But there were just too many bolts coming his way for him to deflect them all. In this case though, the Trooper has problems. The Sith Warrior is virtually impervious to his rifle attacks. The Sith gets close and even a stock strike won’t keep the Sith from making a nice clean slice through that pretty white armor. End of story.

What if, instead of a blaster rifle, that poor trooper had a heavy repeater? A heavy machine gun blaster fires so fast that it is hard to see the bolts, let alone deflect them. The sheer weight of fire will count for something. Anyone wonder why the soldier that Darth Malgus took out first in the ‘Hope’ trailer was the one with the heavy repeater? Because he was the greatest threat. That weapon fired so fast that it would be next to impossible to block all of the shots. And if even one gets through it will do significant damage.

So, let’s try that scenario again. Sith Warrior jumps in and meets a hail of blaster fire. He blocks five, ten, twenty, but the twenty first gets through and nails him. Then while he struggles to maintain focus, a grenade lands at his feet. Ouchtime.

Now I am not saying that a Trooper will always win; not hardly. As I said before it is the skill of the combatant, and thus, the skill of the player that makes all the difference. But there is one other thing that needs to be said. This is not the movies, this is the Old Republic. Jedi and Sith are known factors, they are everywhere. In the movies, no one knew how to fight lightsabers, or they acted as if they didn’t. Does anyone think that people of the time period of this game will NOT have some clue how to fight Jedi or Sith?

In closing, a blaster versus a lightsaber is an uneven match. The lightsaber wielder has the advantage in that he can deflect the blaster shots while he closes, even without using the Force offensively. And once he is close, the contest is essentially over, if all the two have are a blaster and lightsaber. But sneaky tactics or heavy weapons may even the playing field. I look forward to seeing what Bioware has come up with when I finally get my hands on the game. I am definitely going to roll a trooper first.

What do you think? Should blasters be able to counter lightsabers in some way? Or do you want other options to counter Force users?

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.

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:

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?

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?

Space: The MMO frontier

Space. The deep black. The awful emptiness. The final frontier. The fringe. There are all kinds of names and monikers for what is beyond the atmosphere of Earth. For as long as humans have looked up towards the sky, people have created stories about space. From aboriginal tales of gods and demons coming from space, to writers like Jules Verne, to modern day screenwriters like George Lucas and James Cameron, people have looked to the sky and said ‘What if?’. Now, people who follow Star Wars: The Old Republic have a ‘What if?’ of their own. What if space is part of the game? Well, what if it is not? Would you play it without a space component at launch?

Think about it. Star Wars has the word ‘Star’ in it. It is not Planet Wars, or Ocean Wars, or Sky Wars. It is Star Wars. The very first scene of Episode IV, after the introduction writing, is of two starships, a small one and a huge one, fighting in space. To this day, I get a small thrill when I see the image of the imposing huge white bulk of an Imperator class Star Destroyer. Ok, ok, for those purists out there, an IMPERIAL class Star Destroyer. Whatever… The image of X-wing starfighters diving in to attack the first Death Star was one of the most iconic scenes ever made in a movie. So from the very beginning, the stories have included space. It was added on with the later movies, with the battles becoming more epic in scope. Love the prequels or hate them, the space battle images from Episode III, especially the battle of Coruscant, were epic.

Star Wars games likewise have been very focused on space. Everything from Empire Strikes Back for the SNES to The Force Unleashed has shown space as an integral part of the Star Wars story. But it hasn’t always been playable. Games such as the X-wing series, the Battlefront Series and the Empire at War Series have all shown what is possible in Star Wars. Even Lego Star Wars has space missions. But is it possible to do such a thing right in a MMO?

Take Star Wars Galaxies. The people in charge tried to make space a part of the game. To their credit, they delivered most of what they promised. It was flawed in a number of ways; it was shallow and more than a bit boring. Grind, grind, grind, do mission, grind, grind, grind. Lather, rinse, repeat. It got old after a while. I personally played space more than the ground side, because I was a huge fan of X-Wing Alliance and older titles. What can I say? I like blasting TIE fighters out of the sky.

There is a problem in a MMORPG however. There is more than one kind of person playing the game. From my own personal experience, people who like space games usually fall into two categories. There are those people who like to ‘see what is out there’. In effect, they are explorers. They are driven to seek out new life, new civilizations, to boldly go… Oops, wrong game. Essentially, they are there to see what is there. To explore, to find things, to visit strange places so they can talk about them. Or just to collect the badges, whichever comes first.

Then there are the people who like to blow stuff up. Come on, you can admit it. I know I do. We live to make things go boom, the bigger the better. There was nothing at all more satisfying that blowing up a Star Destroyer in the original X-Wing game with a Y-wing. Or taking on a rebel fleet with a single assault gunboat in TIE Fighter. Or watching the second Death Star blow up after flying the Millennium Falcon through its innards at full speed in X-Wing Alliance. Player versus Player or Player versus Environment, space simulators are just fun!

But as in all things, there is no free lunch. A MMO is a big undertaking, and this MMO is apparently larger than almost all the others ever made. According to Bioware, this game is larger than every single other game they have made put together! There is a lot of work that has to go into any MMO. Do we want a space component? Exploration or combat or both? Oh HECK YES! But what if it detracts from the rest of the game? What if, in making a space simulator of some kind, which is not an easy enterprise all on its own, parts of the rest of the game get neglected? This is what happened in SWG I believe. They focused so much on the space expansion that everything else went on the back burner, bug fixes, additional content, everything.

My personal feeling is this. Space is an integral part of what makes Star Wars special. The aliens, the cool locations, the evil bad guys, the not so nice good guys, all of these are important – but space is what really makes Star Wars. That was what I really missed when I started SWG. It was the only reason I stayed as long as I did, first the promise of the Jump to Lightspeed expansion, then when it came out. It had problems, yes, but it was space combat and I got to blow up TIE fighters! If the rest of the game hadn’t gone so belly up with the changes, I might still be playing it to this day.

So to answer my first questions: Space is important. At least some kind of nod to space is absolutely required by anything Star Wars related.  Knights of the Old Republic had the gun turret scenes. The Dark Forces and Jedi Knight series had multiple references to space even if you couldn’t do anything in space. Jedi Academy had a mission where you had to use turrets to defend against TIE fighter attack – it was cool, but it lacked something. Something that all of us Star Wars simulation freaks knew and loved: the freedom to fly in space. I am willing to bet that even if it is not available at launch, that somewhere later down the line, some kind of space content will become available. Because it is, in the end, Star Wars.

As for me? I will play the game even if it doesn’t have a space component at launch. If it does, you will not be able to drag me away from it with a tractor beam.

So what do you think? I am going to be… busy… Green Seven rolling in on some Imperials now… DIE YOU DOGS! *sounds of laserfire*

SWTOR combat: extensive new footage

The folks over at GameTrailers have an exclusive SWTOR developer diary that provides 6-minutes of insight on combat. During that time it shows some of the most detailed combat footage seen to date, covering most of the classes. If you want a really detailed dissection, you might like to check this out.

The reaction to date has been mixed – I tend to think the light saber dueling is a little rushed looking, but I imagine there’s still plenty of work still going on in regards to movement so that it looks better by release date.

One key thing that stands out for me after watching the piece a few times is just how well developed SWTOR is graphically. Sure, there’s not much given away about the user interface or most of the game mechanics, but it’s really starting to look pretty – that does count to some extent.

Anyway, have a look at the video:

Over to you: do you like what you see and does the combat shown make particular classess appeal to you less or more as a result?

SWTOR’s combat system: an initial review

coruscant Self-proclaimed SWTOR newcomer Phillip has a close look at SWTOR’s combat system:

Bounty Hunter Class
UI looks pretty straight forward. UI appears to be hidden during “cutscenes”. Dialog Interface during cutscenes to decide on conversation path seems intuitive, reminds me somewhat of the Sims dialogue widget. Action bar sitting along the bottom along with character hp bar sitting slightly above. Mini-map sitting along the bottom, the majority of the screen apart from the bottom is free of distractions. Point and click based combat similar to WoW with use of skills from the action bar. Very little use of cover or tactics it appears, target appears on the other side of the UI action bar.

Smuggler Class
Represents Han Solo fantasy, once again makes use of a basic blaster. Disappointing that the cover zones are specified, would have been nice to have cover accounted for simply by being obstructed. Why don’t other classes have access to cover facilities? They keep talking about “Heroic” combat, I don’t see all that much heroic about hiding behind a rock.

Korriban Planet Review: Sith Warrior Class
Sith learn their training on this planet. Appears to be melee based class, and has what appears to be a rage style bar. The light sabre effects look good, will be curious to see what kind of system demands are placed on PCs and Macs. The scenery from all demos looks fantastic, plenty of spaces to take cover it looks (not sure if they are cover zones). Enemies make use of cover, the demo doesn’t really detail the AI capabilities.

Flashpoint: High Level Bounty Hunter and High Level Sith Warrior
UI in the cutscene shows two of the character portraits in the lower left hand corner. Can’t work out what the numbers are being shown in the portrait icon. Interactive system and it appears different group members have an opportunity to participate. Force Charge used, force bar seems to charge through melee attacks. Nice fire effect from the Bounty Hunter. Looks like decisions will affect “Dark Points” accrued, I’m assuming Jedi’s accrue “Light Points”? Storm Troopers armed with Melee weapons? Why wouldn’t they be equipped with range weaponry? Especially going up against Sith or Jedi. Sith Warrior has crowd control abilities. Jet Pack, Death from Above ability, no player control it appears, an action bar ability. Bounty Hunter has lockpick type abilities, explodes the locked door. The combat on the whole does feel epic watching it from the point of view of the Sith Warrior, not so sure it has the same feel while playing ranged. Bounty Hunter has Sleep Dart. Jedi Padawan takes on the Sith Warrior. Not very acrobatic combat or relying on the use of the Force much apart from a Force Choke. Combat against the Jedi Knight appears to be very stationary, would have been nice to see more acrobatics and movement rather than so much toe-to-toe combat. The UI appears to be very slick, will be curious to see whether or not 3rd party addons will be allowed and to what extent they can have effect on the UI customisation. Inventory system is more compressed and doesn’t waste screen real estate with the characters avatar shown. First ever multi voice dialogue system.

The Sum Up

Wow. Exciting. Visually compelling.

How else to describe the video delights Bioware is releasing currently to those of us impatiently awaiting every tidbit of news they dangle before us. Having spent some time watching the developer walk-through, it had me thinking about combat and what we’ve seen so far in the demo. Overall I’m fairly impressed, but it’s not so impressive to leave me speechless and in awe (on the flip-side the environments and atmosphere did impress me – a lot).

There was just something a little off in the way combat appeared to pan out during the walk-through, if I had to pick a word to describe it, I would probably say it’s a little ‘wooden’. Now what do I mean by that I hear you ask? Movements and actions just seemed too orchestrated, there just didn’t appear to be any kind of “flow”. Most of the classes just stood exchanging blaster fire or melee blows which didn’t equate to anything “heroic” in my book.

Every time you read through or watch a Bioware interview they always talk about how “heroic” their combat is going to be along with all the “heroic” action. I think the story is heroic, but as for the combat shown, it’s not so heroic. I’ll break it down and go through some of the issues I feel need to be addressed.

The smuggler, a great class idea, and it’s use of a cover system is exciting, but I’d really like to know why they are the only class to have access to “cover”. Shouldn’t every class be able to make use of objects or obstructions as refuge from persistent laser blasts? Last time I watched the films I vividly recall that all of the heroes at least spent some time huddled away behind doors, or cargo boxes exchanging blaster fire, even the mighty Jedi weren’t averse to ducking out of the way every now and then. As a game mechanic it’s great, but yes, I don’t see why it’s a unique class perk, just seems a little silly to me, when you see a smuggler taking cover while his Trooper buddy stands out in the open taking the heat – I really think if he had a little common sense he’d be jumping for cover as well!

There has been a lot of excitement in the forums surrounding the Bounty Hunter’s jet pack, a lot of people are speculating as to whether or not it will be possible to use it to fly around the zones. It looks like that will not be the case, although I could be proven wrong as higher level details haven’t been released at this stage. From what was released in the walk-through, it will be leveraged in some of the abilities available to the Bounty Hunter, but just being able to quickly shoot into the air a few feet and rain down some damage seems a little understated. At least have the Hunter drop a nuke or something worthwhile – a few puny blaster shots does not constitute “death from above”.

The Sith Warrior was exciting to watch, there’s something about seeing light sabres flash and skewering people effortlessly that is so visually thrilling. It’s eyeball candy, very hypnotising. There was even the occasional use of force choke thrown in for good measure. There wasn’t much to not like about the Sith Warrior, it definitely looked to be a more immersive style of play and the flow of combat between the Sith Warrior and the Jedi Knight near the end brought back memories of the epic light-show dance of death you see in the films. I’m looking forward to what they’ll have to offer with the Jedi (when they officially release the class info).

The environments shown look rich and intricate, a lot of thought and effort has been put into the design of the game world. I’m very curious to see how it will turn out in terms of scale, as we are dealing with Planets in the Star Wars mythos, not simply cities or continents. I’d expect some areas will be richer than others, and I’m really looking forward to combat in varied atmospheres against different species!