Monday, October 24, 2011

Your Seventeeth Assignment: A Critical Eye

Flight Control, Agent Ancestor reporting in.  I'm on approach to the hangar bay but I'm noticing stress fractures in the hull.  Requesting permission to inspect the ship for more problems.

Lock and load, agents!  My love for TOR is unabashed and fanboyish.  I am a staunch proponent of all things Bioware.  My Collector's Edition was ordered in the first 6 hours it was available.  But, fellow agents, there are some things TOR needs help with.  I'll cast a very critical eye at TOR's blemishes today.

Your Sixteenth Assignment: 11 Million Pandas

Control, Agent Ancestor reporting in.  I have reached the enemy compound and am setting up long term surveillance.  The architecture is ... peculiar.  Inhabitants seem to be peaceful for the most part, though preparedness is high.  They look slothful, but seem to be physically very strong despite their rather ... cuddly ... appearance.  Observations to follow this message.

Lock and load, agents!  Bioware's biggest rival has absolutely blasted a warning volley over the bow.  The boys from Irvine, CA have served notice that they are still the subscription MMO juggernaut and won't take Bioware's newest game lying down.  I wouldn't be surprised if Metzen and Morhaime wrote dirty messages on the cannon rounds to the Doctors.  Blizzcon just wrapped up ... and boy howdy was it a show.

If there's one thing Bioware can learn from Blizzard, it's how to organize a show.  Blizzcon this year was just amazing (as opposed to the weak show last year).  So much info was pouring out that it reached critical mass inside the first hour.  Mists of Pandaria.  Annual Pass.  Diablo 3.  Heart of the Swarm.  Just tons of stuff coming out.  I fully expect the Doctors to put on their own show, perhaps called "Bio Break" or "Biocon."  There's just so much fan-generated goodwill that comes out of these events that it'd be silly not to host your own (once TOR gets enough of a fanbase, say 2-3 million subscribers).

'Great, ok.  WoW is putting stuff out.  What's it to us?' you ask.  Well, fellow agents, Mists of Pandaria is a very subtle, very precise strike at Bioware.  MoP looks to be a story-driven (in fact, story was mentioned multiple times during the announcement) expansion.  Metzen spoke of placing dungeons in the world that made 'sense' and fit thematically.  They were designed to work with the landscape and provide epic storylines.  Sound familiar?  You'd almost think that Daniel Erickson was up there himself.  Story and plot have become the new buzzwords in MMO development; everyone is falling lock-step behind Bioware in touting the immersion and plot of their games.  Blizzard is no exception.

In fact, if you look at what's being offered by MoP, you could almost call it a casual-friendly environment that aims to bring back the fun of Warcraft, and thereby increase subscriber count.  In this sense, they have utterly succeeded.  Blizzard knows that they have some serious competition on the horizon with TOR, Guild Wars 2, TERA Online, etc etc.  By skewing away from the 'uber serious' vein of Cataclysm and instead taking their players to a magical, whimsical world filled with kung fu pandas, they separate themselves from their competitors.  WoW returns to the quirky, fun game it used to be.  It's a brilliant strategy, really.  Position yourself as too much fun to let go and you retain your playerbase even if they drift to other MMOs.

So, what can Bioware do?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Bioware has done everything it can, and done it to perfection.  Everyone knows that the moment TOR drops that players will be lined up around the block to get in.  It's the gorilla in the room.  It's the white elephant.  Everyone knows it's coming and no one can do a damn thing to stop it.  TOR has moved into position as the preeminent MMO for serious gamers, while Warcraft has very solidly put itself in to the casual-friendly MMO that prioritizes fun.  Warcraft has always been sort of jokey and hokey, and that's fine.  That absolutely has its place in the world (and I even appreciate it).  TOR is for serious adults only, however.  There are no hokey quests to collect poop or gather up injured critters   Sure, you'll have your lolkidz show up and go Dark Side for the 'lulz.'  But the majority of gamers who will be attracted to TOR will be serious-minded people who want an adult, thematic experience that challenges them in all areas of the game.  And I think both Bioware and Blizzard are ok with that.

So can 3 million jedi and 11 million pandas coexist?

We better hope.

Fly safe, shoot straight!  For the Glory of the Empire!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your Fifteenth Assignment: The Wild Blue Yonder

We got incoming, Agent!  Three Republic cruisers just entered the system.  The battle for Makem Te has just begun.  Lock and load.  Fly safe and shoot straight!

Suit up and strap in!  Today ... we go into space.

That's right, kids!  Here's my brutally honest review of space combat in the Old Republic.  For one, if you ever played Star Wars Galaxies and loved the Jump to Lightspeed expansion, stop now.  TOR space combat isn't like that at all.  AT ALL.  You can't fly anywhere.  You can't be a fighter ace.  You can't be a Y-Wing bomber pilot.  So take those expectations and toss them out of the airlock.  You will be sorely disappointed.  And as your disappointment manifests in whiny guildchat, I will laugh vociferously at you as I barrel-roll through the expanding debris cloud of a Republic starfighter.

The comparisons between Starfox and TOR's space combat are pretty spot on.  It is an on-rails shooter that flies you through a predetermined course.  On this course, there are objectives to complete.  If you do not complete the objectives before you finish the course, you fail the mission.  There are also bonus objectives, usually involving the destruction or turrets or fighters.  It sounds boring.  It sounds monotonous.  It couldn't be further from that if it tried.

Space combat is a blast.  Total blast.  I spent the better part of the weekend flying my ships (both Republic ships; Thunderclap for the Trooper and Guardian for the Consular) through about 50 combat sorties.  From what I can tell, there are about 15 different space missions (more could unlock later); each faction has their own missions, although plenty do overlap.  You can gain quests to do these combat missions aboard your own ship; these quests give it out pretty respectable xp rewards as well as commendations that are used to buy high level upgrades for your ship.  The first two tiers of starship upgrades are bought through credits (right now, at least) and they can really improve your performance.  They can be found at Starship Sales and Service vendors located in space stations as well as on planets.  The first full set will run you about 15,000 credits (~ 1200 credits per piece).  The second set will run you about 30,000 credits (~3500 credits per piece).  Ship upgrades can be right-clicked and automatically put on your ship, which is viewable on your ship tab (on the character screen).

To fly, you need both a spacebar and a mouse.  Spacebars are for barrel rolls.  Mouse is to move.  Left button fires your lasers.  Right button fires your missiles.  And that's it.  Simplicity is the key here; by making it no-muss no-fuss, Bioware ensures that maximum fun ensues.  And oh is it fun ...

I'll be honest - it's not going to appeal to everyone.  You have to approach the space combat as a mini-game.  It is not there for advancement; it is not like PvP.  It is very simply just an addition to waste time.  Sure you can get xp by doing it, but the rewards aren't as good as quests.  The xp comes it at about 1/3 the rate of questing and you get no credits for actually completing the missions.  But, if you wanted to upgrade your ship and waste an hour or so before raid time, the ship combat is the place to be.  It's Starfox in Star Wars.  'Cept no Froggy this time.

Let's get this out of the way: the space combat portions are gorgeous.  By using an on-rails approach, they basically can make sure that each section of the mission looks its absolute best because the player never really has control on where his ship goes.  The combat feels heroic as you twist and turn through the enormous space battles.  Lasers are responsive and missiles explode with a satisfying boom.  You can run into things as well, so make sure you are paying attention when flying around; running into an object takes away all your shields does considerable damage to your hull as well.  Even in space combat, there is story.  Each mission has a backstory and an objective; escort the freighter, shoot down the Imperial spy ship, assault the space station.  For the most part, the objectives are fun.  Some are annoying, some feel cheap, but you'll find that in any on-rails shooter.

In all honesty, space combat is a completely optional experience that you don't have to take part in if you don't want to.  You won't be missing anything important ('cept a couple of titles).  When you play it, you'll either have fun or you won't.  For me, space combat is a total blast and an excellent way to waste an hour before a raid.

Cut to the left, I'll take the leader!  Fly safe, shoot straight.  FOR THE GLORY OF THE IMPERIAL SPACE CORPS!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Fourteenth Assignment: Preparations

Alpha Base, this is Agent Ancestor.  I have identified an enemy invasion force.  Reconnoitering the area.  Preparing for contact.

Folks, it's here.  As of this writing, we are 74 days away from Release Day, also known as "The Day Marriages Died."  Are you excited?  This weekend, October 7th, also kicks off the second beta weekend.  Make sure you check your spam boxes for those invites!  And lastly, keep checking the Scum and Villainy sites at the TOR main site (which can be accessed here).

So, some of you may be wondering what's in store for S&V once The Old Republic launches.  I'd like to take some time to line out my goals, views, and a bit of a warning regarding guild behavior.

As you expect, standard Pub Crawlers rules are going to apply.  The guild will be friends and family only, but I am open to the prospect of adding new people (new folks, new game, right?) after an informal interview carried out over vent (actually, this was Colin's idea) by me, Colin, Chris, Atkian, or Nios.  We don't want to add the wrong type of person into our fledgling TOR home (more on that later).

While we're on the subject, I'd like to formally congratulate Joshua, Chris, Colin, and Nios!  You guys just got volunteered to be the Guild Council!  And by Guild Council, I mean, the five of us will combine our thoughts on what direction we'll be going in for TOR and discussing any and all possible policy changes.  That being said, feedback and ideas from the whole guild will not only be heard but highly encouraged.  We're all mature here, and I'm pretty sure we can find a way to get along pretty well.  After all, save for Chris, we pretty much like everyone!

Direction.  Goal.  What is it?  Eventually, I'd like to see us raid.  I think, in the grand scheme of things, that's why the majority of Pubbies play.  Certainly, there are those that don't raid, but more than a few of us enjoy it, as well as the camaraderie that it fosters.  To that end, we'll primarily be a casual raiding guild.  I'm not going to bust your guys' balls about attendance or loot or anything like that (more on that later).  But just respect your fellow players; show up if you sign up, let us know ahead of time if you can't make it.  In Pubs, we know that life happens.  Stuff goes on.  Family comes first.  We're not going to be hardcore about this game ... I just want all of us to have fun together.

And that brings us to fun.  In order to promote a fun atmosphere where everyone is welcome and feels safe in the S&V zone, I'm going to place a strict limit on the guild chat.  No racial, homophobic, or ethnic jokes, guys.  We're all adults.  We don't need to resort to that type of stuff to get a laugh.  Just because it doesn't offend you doesn't mean it's not offensive.  If an office pipes up and asks you to tone it down, please do so.  We're all trying to have fun here.

Making fun of Kellee is highly encouraged, however.

And lastly, a note about guild behavior.  So, in our previous game(s) we've encountered some drama and whatnot.  While a little bit of drama will always be present when human beings are involved, I'd like to keep it to a minimum this time around.  To whit, any and all guild invitations will have to have unanimous approval from me, Colin, Chris, Joshua and Roger.  This certainly applies to any and all members of Pub Crawlers as well as outside applicants.  There is a certain type of attitude that we don't want in this new game; the type of attitude that puts themselves above the team and wreaks havoc behind the scenes while pursuing a personal agenda.  Folks, we're all a team and we function as a group.  We won't stand by and watch another good thing get ruined because of selfish actions.  If anyone is found to have behaved inappropriately during a raid, pvp session, RP meeting, or any other guild function, please let your officer corp know.  We will get to the bottom of it quickly and administer corrective action.  I won't be pussy-footin' around this stuff, ladies and gentlemen.  I've seen what happens when you relax guild rules and I won't allow that to happen in a galaxy far, far away.  No ethnic/racial/homphobic jokes.  No inappropriate behavior while wearing our guild tag.  No slurs or excessive swearing.  Pay attention to your officer corp.  Team first, individual second (applies to raiding, mainly).  Don't let anything ruin your fun.  If you have problems, contact us immediately.

All in all though, it should be a fun time for us!  I can't wait to get in-game with you all!

Fly safe, shoot straight.  For the glory of the Empire!