It’s going to WHAT?

Expecting this for SWTOR?

Okay, what the heck? I was away from the main Star Wars: The Old Republic forums for a while, working on getting a book published and focusing on school and when I come back there are threads out the wazoo about how badly SWTOR is going to fail. Some of the angst that I have read has been internet trolling of course, but some of it seems to be genuine fear. But why? The game looks amazing.

Well, first and foremost in many people’s minds is the debacle that was and is Star Wars Galaxies. Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) will be forever emblazoned in many players memories as the worst game company ever created. They rushed the game out before it was completed, which is nothing new. Many game companies put out games before they are finished, but this game was… well… awful. The only reason people played it at all at launch was that it was Star Wars. The fact that for about three days the players walked around on worlds that had nothing on them, no mobs, no buildings, not even any plants, no NOTHING, was absolutely awful. But players suffered through the bugs, because it was Star Wars, and parts of it were fun. Then came the Combat Upgrade, (Or as we called it Completely Useless) where they made what was one of the most innovative and cool games out there, minus the annoying bugs, the same as every other MMO out there. They didn’t need level defined gear and enemies, but of course, WoW had it, so they must need it, right? Wrong. Then the day that will live in infamy, the day the Next Generation Entertainment hit the servers. SOE lied to their player base. SOE undid in a day what many players had spent years perfecting, tweaking, and basically having fun with. They decided not to listen to the community, to do their own thing. Why should they care if they shafted most of their players? It wasn’t SOE’s problem. Small wonder many of the most hardcore players simply left and will likely never return. I was one of those. The game is still running, on limited servers, but I for one will never touch it again, and I am not alone. SWG failed, and failed hard through no fault of the game, but through the less than intelligent choices made by SOE.

Bioware is not SOE, and while some of SOE’s employees have joined Bioware, I highly doubt that even the most jaded of Bioware’s employees could say that Bioware is going to repeat the same mistakes that SOE freely admitted they made. Second, Bioware has a formula that they use for their games. Well, yeah. How many of us, when writing stories do NOT use some kind of formula? How many of us use an outline, a plan, something? For me, it makes it clear what I need to write next and my stories are nowhere near as complicated as some Bioware games. Some people criticize Bioware for following a pattern, one that I have put as my intro picture. Bioware’s stories are not Pulitzer prize material, but they are also not bargain bin trashy romances either. There are limits to what can be done in a video game story. Admittedly, they are pushing the envelope of what can be done in game stories with what they are focusing on in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Some people have criticized Sol Invictus and others have praised him for making this chart. It is good, as far as it goes. Bioware DOES have a pattern.  But think about it, did the fact that you were following the same general pattern detract in any way from the experience in Mass Effect 1 or 2? I had no time to be thinking about that as I was blasting my way through the games.

Last but certainly not least, we come to the clincher. Many people are saying that SWTOR is going to fail because Bioware has never made a MMO before. They are known for their single player games, but a single player game, no matter how big or complex, is nothing on a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying game. But, they know this. This is why they have spent so long, and such epic amounts of money, to make it. This is no Star Wars Galaxies clone. This is no WoW Clone. This probably will not be a WoW-killer, to use the internet lingo. WoW is simply too huge, too easy to play at the lower levels, for any one game to simply knock it off its pedestal. The only thing likely to kill WoW is Blizzard Entertainment, the same way SOE killed SWG with stupid choices.

To sum up – some people think SWTOR is going to fail. Some of those people are being pessimists or internet trolls. Some of them have legitimate cause for concern, after the horror that was SWG. SWTOR is a massive game, larger than any other. One wonders exactly how many DVDs will be required to carry such a game. Bioware has never made a MMO before, true. But… that also has some plusses. They had no preconceptions. The idea of full voice over for every character was laughable, until Bioware started doing it. Are there going to be problems? Almost certainly, this is a game made by humans, and humans are not perfect. Is it going to flop at launch? Doubtful.

That is my two cents worth anyway. What do you think?

Picture from Game Riot

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?