Oceanic Soap Box: Balancing MMOs

Welcome to the very first edition of Oceanic Soapbox, replacing our regular Friday SWTOR Suggestion Box. We’ll be putting forward topics that apply to any MMO gamer, so we hope you enjoy the new format.

This week I thought we’d start with the evergreen topic of playing more than one MMO. Do you do it, and if so which MMOs so you play in combination and how do you pull it off? Is it possible to be a hardcore player in more than one MMO?

Looking forward to hearing your comments!

We Need You: Review Our Podcast

Having just finished Episode 30 of our Flash Point podcast, we’re at a stage where we’d love to get the word out more on what is Australia’s only generic SWTOR podcast (if we’re wrong, please let us know as we’d love to tell people about other podcasts).

One way of doing that is for the iTunes Store to feature Flash Point. To do that, we’d need a bunch more reviews. Whether you love the podcast, hate it or somewhere in between, say so by posting a review.

Here’s how:

1. Click on this link then click on the blue ‘View in iTunes’ button. OR – in iTunes just search for TOROZ and it comes up in search.

2. Scroll down past the podcast episode to the ‘Customer Reviews’ section and click on the ‘Write a Review’ link. You’ll need to have an active iTunes account to post the review.

3. That’s it!

Again, we’d really love your review whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. Whether it’s the Australian, New Zealand, USA or Canadian iTunes stores, it all helps.

Trooper Trek: Aussie Charity At Its Best

I wish I’d heard about this great story before, but it’s still more than worth telling.

Jacob French, a member of the worldwide 501st Legion (the Aussie contingent are called the Redback Garrison), is walking from Perth to Sydney to raise funds for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. The difference is that Jacob is doing it all in a modified Stormtrooper outfit.

Jacob is looking to raise 100 thousand dollars and he’s well on the way to achieving it. He’s made it all the way from Perth and is currently travelling up the South Coast of NSW.

Have a read of his story and maybe help him achieve his target – I can’t think of a better Star Wars-related reason to spend some money.

Stephen Reid Q&A: Summary Transcript

It wasn't really the Spanish Inquisition

Earlier today we had a great time throwing some questions from the oceanic SWTOR community at BioWare’s Stephen Reid. He answered them all with aplomb and quite a bit of detail overall.

You can listen to the whole shebang here, but if you want a rough summary of the answers to each question then read on. Note: the answers are NOT word for word answers from Stephen, they’re summaries I’ve jotted down on the run. You’re much better off listening to the podcast to get the fully accurate picture. A big thanks to all those who posted questions as well!

So here we go:

Jono from Sydney NSW – Was BioWare surprised at the level of organisation of Oceanic players in populating three specific servers?

SR: Not surprised – knew it was coming. Made sure they got out announcements about oceanic servers / regional launch as close to launch as possible. Humbling to see interest from oceanic players prior to US/EU launch. Ideally would have loved to have launched in all territories.

Glenn from Southland NZ – Were you surprised at the level of sales from the oceanic area even though excluded as a launch territory?

SR: Again, not surprised overall given interest in SWTOR but Amazon certainly seemed the go-to place for Oceanic people to order the game.

Multiple sources – Where will the oceanic servers be physically located?

SR: “The good news is, the servers are going to be physically located in Australia”. Likely to be Sydney or Melbourne but unsure at this stage. Understands big distances in oceanic area but Sydney or Melbourne the more realistic locations. Also super close to being able to announce Oceanic launch date. Expect announcement within the next few days to a week. No plans for a launch trip to Australia at this stage.

Milza from the Sunshine Coast QLD – Can you reveal any more about the legacy system? Will previously locked species become playable?

SR: Some species previously not available will be come unlocked. But no you won’t be able to play a Wookiee. Legacy aimed at benefitting both alts and mains. Abilities WILL benefit gameplay but not unbalance the game ie. single toon players won’t be disadavantaged significantly but SWTOR is a game always designed for mulptiple toons.

Josh from Victoria – Will there be a Collectors Edition for Australia and will it and the game have bonus content like the current collectors edition?

SR: TBA in next week’s oceanic launch announcement

Dave from Perth WA – Just wanted to ask what is Bioware’s take on the complaints from community groups about the upcoming change to allow toons to have same sex relations?

SR: No real further comment but not going to change stance in supporting the option.

Tim from Canberra ACT – Hoping to learn about specific upcoming PvP changes — will there be changes to game announcements so player names are credited for achieving objectives, medals for accomplishing objectives, etc?

SR: Haven’t heard about those two specific ideas, but a lot of PvP changes coming – new Warzone in update 1.2 which is popular at BioWare. Certainly not leaving the PvP systems alone.

Ken from Sunshine Coast QLD – What are your future plans for light side / dark side… will some pvp rounds be light vs dark (so you have jedi and sith fighting other jedi and sith)… will there be planets where the questing will be divided by light / dark

SR: Interesting idea! But not anything that SR has heard discussed. Encourage you to leave that feedback on the forums.

Aaron from Melbourne VIC – Will you be offering any services in the near future for things like character server transfers/faction changes/renaming and will some form of this be available for oceanic players to be able to move characters from from US servers they currently play on to the oceanic hosted servers when they are released?

SR: Part of Oceanic planning is allowing any current players wanting to shift to new servers to do so. More details on that next week. Character transfer will definitely be happening at some point. Unsure of how faction change would work i.e. you couldn’t become a Jedi on the Empire side etc without radically changing class story. Renaming a possibility but not high on priority list.

Rob from Auckland NZ – Will character transfers be paid or free?

SR: Too early to comment but Oceanic transfers likely to be free around launch of the local servers as courtesy to those wanting to move.

Rob from Auckland NZ – Any chance of a Cut Scene stress relief event where we eject C2-N2/2V-R8 out the ship’s airlock so we can watch them float away into space and burn up entering a nearby planet’s atmosphere?

SR: Much laughter. Discussions occurring on adding more dialogue for companions – much more commentary during gameplay. But opinions divided and Dev team still looking at the issue.

Tyler from East Gippsland Victoria – Please can “”Are you sure?”” buttons be placed on important choices, such as advance class choice? ( Having rolled a Bounty hunter I got to advance class choice only to miss click a button and become a powertech instead of mercenary)”

SR: Could happen but you do get a fair warning of the choice being made. Other dialog boxes coming so it may be an option for the future and should be elevated for discussion. Advanced class switching not coming any time soon.

Glenn from Southland, NZ – Are there any plans to introduce a localised call center or at least a center that routes calls from oceanic areas to your main call center after launch to avoid serious toll charges?

SR: There will be a local Australian number but don’t know if there will be a NZ number – to be confirmed.

Ken from Sunshine Coast QLD – Will physical security keys become available to oceanic players either through stores or through origin?

SR: Pretty sure they will but wait for launch announcement FAQ

Gail from Wollongong NSW – Is there any particular reason that SWTOR maintenance is at the same time as WoW maintenance? I could see a lot more WoW players coming to the light side on a Tuesday if SWTOR maintenance were a different day…

SR: Tuesday nights one of lowest levels of overall traffic – so purely a cooincidence.

Ben from Brisbane QLD – Are there any plans to add additional features to the mobile app? Eg armoury and guild chat. Or maybe a something for the tablet market to do such as space missions on an iPad (or equivalent) or to send companions on crafting missions via an app.

SR: Mobile apps have been talked about, no announcements yet. Might happen in the future though space missions might be a bit much. Pthers ‘possible’ and have been discussed but no timeline.

Jonathan from Wellington NZ – Given the massive upset caused by mishandling of the launch (flipflop on grace period, exclusion of red zone, length of time to get answers on issues like IP blocking) has BW/EA learned anything and can we expect, most importantly, more transparency and more sticking to what has been promised in the future?

SR: Not a lack of transparency, but more too much with the grace period example. Never going to lie intentionally to anyone. Because we know we’ll get caught in the lie. Learning lessons all the time. BioWare take reactions to announcements seriously, but doesn’t mean things will always change as may be impractical or can’t be done immediately.

Mark (TOROZ) – What brought Stephen from England to Texas, was it the Job ?

SR: Not this job specifically, having a US-born wife assisted in migrating.

David (TOROZ) – Are there any plans for a big SWTOR convention at some stage in the future?

SR: Doing the guild summit is a great practice for doing something like that. If fans want such an event, then make it known. Also very keen to see local fan-organised events to support.

David (TOROZ) – BioWare founders Ray and Greg have alluded to the fact they understand the desire for a Mac port of the game. Are there any significant technical obstacles to be overcome to achieve this that would prevent it occurring in the medium term?

SR: Nothing to add – don’t believe it’s a priority but more likely to occur than a console port. Would give an excuse to have a Mac at work.

David (TOROZ) – One thing I’ve noticed since launch is a distinct lack of creative SWTOR machinima being disseminated and I’ve had some comments that they assume it’ll be pulled. What is BioWare / LucasArts’ approach to fan-created machinima?

SR: Can’t speak for LucasArts but we like to see SWTOR machinima so get creative! To be fair too, machinima options are limited in that access to Hero engine not available to players.

David (TOROZ) – Most humourous and stressful moments you’ve had at work since launch?

SR: Humour and stress go hand in hand at work. Lots of fun memes that have popped up around the game. Always stressful when things are going wrong with the service but that’s what we’re supposed to deal with in our jobs.

David (TOROZ) – Is the level of patching more than what you would have liked?

SR: Yes, more than we would have liked. Weekly maintenance a necessity as a base. Done extra patches to help players but not taken lightly. Overall want to reduce level of patching. Upside is where possible weekly patches may have early access to larger patch content.

Ed – Any plans for guild capital ships?

SR: We have no current timeline for a feature like that but it never goes far away from anyone’s mind. Don’t want to do a feature like that by halves. Being discussed but no details yet.

Simon – Any plans for an LFG tool?

SR: Definitely being looked at including cross-server Flashpoint tool. Definitely wanting to do.

Simon – Any work being done on being able to transfer characters from Public Test Server or higher-level premades?

SR: Yes – most likely to be character transfers, not premades. No timeline but not on distant horizon – absolutely know it’s an important thing to get in place.


So it’s fair to say there’s a lot to digest there. The imminent oceanic launch announcement is a biggie, the oceanic server location is even bigger, but there’s lots of meat in there in regards to the game more widely. Which part interested you the most?

Community Q&A on character classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Now for the good stuff, the Community Q&A, where you ask the questions and the developers answer. This go round the devs answered over ten questions so I’ll post (in my opinion) the top three then you guys can read them for yourselves on SWTOR’s official website.

Q: Will Bounty Hunters be able to use their jetpacks outside of battle to get around faster or for another way of movement other than walking/jumping? – JornFalm

A: We have no plans currently for jetpacks as a mode of fast travel outside of combat. You’ll have to rely on your personal transportation for that (details to be revealed later!) which offers a much more comfortable ride anyway.

I think this one is EXTREMLY interesting for the fact that a dev confirms personal transportation! Speeder bikes anyone?

Q: Will all classes have a main Companion Character or several different ones? Also, how important will Companion Characters be? – Frozentorch

A: Over the course of the game, your character will meet a number of companions. There are several companion archetypes, each with their own ability set (including, but not limited to medics, ranged damage dealers and tanks). By maximum level, all classes will have one companion of each archetype. Which companion becomes your ‘main companion’ is left to your choice of playstyle and personal preference.

Furthermore, you can customize your companions with kits that add extra abilities such as Grenade Launchers, Flame Throwers, etc. Regardless of which companion you choose to travel with, they will shape how your character approaches combat and will complement your strengths or help make up for your weaknesses.

This question is great for those of you who like to solo. Being a fan of soloing, I love the idea of companions. Being a Tank it will be great being able to always pack a healer around with me, or for you healers imagine being able to constantly have a meat shield to take the heat while you get some soloing in. Or if you feel you’re up for it that extra damage from a DPS companion would be nice. Companions are one of the things that sets this MMO apart from all others, and I have a feeling its going to be a great addition to the MMO formula.

Q: Will both skill sets in a particular Advanced Class require the same set of stats, thereby enabling a Sawbones-spec Scoundrel to respec to a Scrapper-spec without having to carry a second Scrapper-specific set of gear to function at optimal capacity? – Finalcaliber

A: If changing skill distribution also involves a role change for the character (such as from damage focused to medic), chances are you will need to obtain a new set of equipment to go along with the change in gameplay experience. If no role change is involved (e.g. changing skills within the Gunslinger Advanced Class), you are likely able to reuse most if not all of your equipment.

This question and it’s answer pertain more towards end-game and PvP, but what I got from it was you will be able to re-roll your stats later in the game. So take a tank build – a Guardian can in-turn swap out his stats and skills to become a single saber damage dealer or a hybrid of the two to make a PvP build or go back to pure tank for endgame raids.

As always this is Alec “Dekin” Bailey signing off, and may the Force be with you!




Sith Temple concepts and community Q&A

Bioware’s Concept Artist Diego Almazan takes us inside the process of creating the concept art for a Sith temple. Almazan Starts with a basic idea on the mood he wants to set for the temple. “I wanted to keep in mind that this temple is as much an ancient prison for the dead as it is a tomb or necropolis. It’s dark, eerie, and foreboding, so I started with some basic shapes and colors that work in those ideas.“

Almazan goes into how he uses large shapes and organic details to further create the mood he wishes to bring to the temple. Diego’s task is more than just designing a temple or building; his design goes straight to the level creation team where they take them and turn them into reality. Almazan then adds details and a color change to the Sith temple to simplify the transition from design to creation. Diego says, “Up to this point the material had been a bit ambiguous, so I proceeded to add chips, cracks and discoloration to show how the stone has aged over time. I made the sculpture at the top a bit more faceted to push the stone look, while the pattern on the overhang was changed to be more decorative. The pillars add a nice aggressive touch, and function as a lock for tombs that should not be opened.” Diego Almazan then adds spider webs, both old and new, to show age and that critters still lurk the halls of this Sith temple. He adds yet another color change to bring back more of that dark feeling in his final cut of the concept art for the dark and ominous Sith temple.

This Friday Bioware also releases it’s monthly Q&A, questions from fans answered by executive producer of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Vice President of production, Bioware Austin, Rich Vogel. (It’s fair to say the response from the community, as evidenced by the comments on the Q&A, was rather lukewarm – Ed).

The first question asked is will force users be overpowered in comparison to non-force using classes. Bioware answers that whether your playing Warzones or Flashpoints, “there will be good reasons to play every class – it’s our intent that no one feels punished for playing the class they love. “ says Rich Vogel.

The next question asked concerns the treatment of the Consular, “Will Consulars be pigeonholed into one role? “ asked by Brian. Rich Vogel answers by bringing up the multiple roles each class can take and reassures the community that the role your hero takes will be that of your choosing.

Community member Benjamin asks ”How friendly will this game be for solo players in the endgame? “ Vogel replies that there will be plenty to do for soloers, even if they do not wish to participate in Flashpoints or Guilds, Bioware wants every play style to have plenty to do at endgame. Another question asks if player choices will affect faction alignment, Vogel says “At this time, we don’t plan on allowing characters to change faction as part of the class story. One of the main reasons for this is that it would interfere with your class story’s continuity.” Kes, a member of the SWTOR community, asks what range of hardware SWTOR will run on. Rich says “It’s important to us that The Old Republic can look great and run well on a wide variety of hardware configurations. To that effect, we’ve done as much as we can to create a compelling, detailed world that can scale easily based on your hardware’s abilities.”

The last question is one that I have been curious about myself and was asked by community member Philip “Is there a jump button?” Vogel replies “Absolutely! If you can’t jump, that takes away a lot of the “realism” of exploration.” For the full Story and the Fan Friday update, which included new concept art, smilies, and forum avatars, go here

A Third Element?

I don’t know about you, but when I first saw the title of ‘The Third Element’ I wondered if Bruce Willis was involved somehow. What can I say, I loved ‘The Fifth Element’. Korbin Dallas’ form of negotiation will always be my favorite scene in a movie. It was with a little bit of a pang I read that Bioware considered community to be the third element in a great game. Then I started nodding.

I got involved in MMOs back in 2003. Being a Star Wars fan, I had little choice in the matter. Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), was the way to go. I bought the game, rolled a Wookiee Teras Kasi Artist and started my journey into Star Wars. I played SWG for two years and I have to say that those two years were the most fun I have ever had in my time on a computer. Every day after school, I would log on and look for my friends to hunt Imperials, cause havoc or just sit in the cantina shooting the bull. It wasn’t the game that made my life so interesting – it was the communities. There were so many issues with the game: glitches, bugs, exploits, pathing, almost any problem a game can have was there. And it didn’t matter. To myself and a number of other people, the major draw to SWG was not the game itself, it was the people we played with.

SWG was my first incursion into online games. I had heard a lot of negative things about them, and frankly, I wasn’t sure I had the income to continue the subscription. I found the money after the first week. I was part of several guilds, my Wookiee being a bit of a wanderer. I am very much a solo player at heart, but there was something about the communities that drew me back.

Then came 2005, the year that will live in SWG infamy. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I logged in and my Wookiee TKM, master pistoleer was gone after the NGE. I had been on a trip, and logged out for a week. I came back and found nothing. Everything was gone, everything had changed. I had gone through so many iterations with him; he was almost a kind of family member. I went online, looking for my friends. Most were gone. A few were standing around the opening areas of the new game, and everyone was sad. SOE had decided we were not worth listening to or keeping, so we were gone. All of us. I think there were five of us that day, out of a guild of a hundred and six. We gave each other our farewells and I logged out and uninstalled the game. To this day I wonder what might have been. I tried the NGE with the free trial once in 2008 and had to shut my computer off. It just wasn’t the same, no sense of community.

I have looked for that sense of community in other MMOs. I tried World of Warcraft for a week before getting bored with the grindfest and the idiots on the server I was on. I played City of Heroes/City of Villains, and had a level 50 hero and villain, but the few groups I tried to stay with just disintegrated. No one was willing to invest the amount of time and effort in creating an online community for fear of what happened to SWG – having their long term work just vanish one day. Many veterans (survivors) of SWG were present and I caught up with a couple of old friends, but it just wasn’t the same. It wasn’t Star Wars, and it had no community.

The closest I have ever come since 2005 to that sense of community was in a game called Tabula Rasa. I heard about it while playing City of Heroes and was unsure. So I joined the open beta for it and was astounded. It had its problems, sure, but the people were a definite pull. I hadn’t felt such a strong sense of belonging to a community since SWG. Both the players and developers wanted it to work. Unfortunately, the publisher apparently did NOT want it to work, so after a year they canned it. Tabula Rasa had a strong story, incredible graphics and music, and one of the most dedicated player bases I had seen since SWG. I truly felt I was part of something big. And then they threw it away in the name of selling more micro transaction, free-to-play utterly boring MMOs that were only to be sold in Korea. Or it was back room politics, depending on who you talk to. But for a little while, just over  a year, I was part of a community again online, and it felt good.

And that is the main thing: humans are at heart, still herd animals. Just look on any highway on Earth sometime if you don’t believe that. Where are all the cars? Clustered together – it makes no sense from a safety standpoint, but instinctively humans seem to want to be close to one another. Humans need social interaction, be it face to face, over internet chat boards or in MMOs. We need to feel we are part of something. We need to belong. We need community.

According to Wikipedia: “In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms (or different species) sharing an environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.”

In other words, we share with each other. Humans are social animals for the most part. Aberrant types exist in all species, and anti social behaviors are not uncommon, but for the most part, humans want to interact with each other. And online games provide that interaction. If you want just to blast things, online First Person Shooter (FPS) multiplayer is for you. It is far more challenging than facing artificial intelligence enemies for the most part. But for many of us, the main draw is the social aspect, the community aspect. So, we are drawn to MMOs.

Bioware has the reputation of being very good at what they do. They have created some of the greatest games I have played over the years. Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, the list goes on and on. They were all great games. But in all those games something was always lacking. Something was missing. Something powerful, something necessary, something that humans seem to need. A sense of belonging, a sense of community.

Bioware seems to understand that and be focusing on that aspect, and if so, I personally will be first in line to stand up and shout ‘TOR forever!”

Over to you, what do you want in a community online?