GW2: Traditional Quests? Hell, No…

WoodenPotatoes makes an argument that Guild Wars 2 needs traditional quests to fill up a gap that dynamic events can’t cover, because the racial cities (and the world) somehow feel hollow.

Personally, I think he’s conflated two issues together and grasped at the old standby of traditional quests to attempt to solve it.

Point 1, which I heartily agree with, is that the racial cities are full of unexplored potential and as of right now, feel extremely empty and hollow.

When I too ran around to explore the Black Citadel, I kept coming across all manner of interesting locales and intriguing NPCs that I would have loved to hear say more than a few automatically scripted lines on interacting with them.

Coming across an NPC that said a few words of “fluff” that added to the lore was nice, if you’re the sort to actually read such things, but that’s about as good as it got, besides stumbling across the various merchants that sold different kinds of food and so on.

Sure, keep pacing. Maybe one day I'll get to join you in a gate defense holding off invaders from the Asura gates.
Sure, keep pacing. Maybe one day I’ll get to join you in a gate defense holding off invaders from the Asura gates. Too bad it’s not right now.

Point 2, is that he thinks this empty feeling can be solved by strewing a whole bunch of traditional quests across the landscape, alongside dynamic events.

I disagree most heartily.

Perhaps this is just semantics, or perhaps my most recent experience with “traditional quests” in SWTOR has left an extremely jaded taste in my mouth, but when I hear the word “traditional quests,” I imagine players running off alone by themselves on Fed-Ex errands moving things from one NPC to another, there and back again, just to get it ticked off a list and done with, preferably for xp or some other reward.

Being led around by the nose in Kass City on a traditional quest that was apparently meant to be an extended city tour did not actually serve to show me much of the city besides endless running along empty corridors, and all I could think of was that I wanted it DONE. Done and over with.

Now, of course we can argue that the map design of GW2 is a whole lot better than SWTOR in that there’s almost always something intriguing to see after just a couple of paces, and it wouldn’t ever devolve into endless jogging across barren landscape…

But to me, the entire design of a traditional quest is counter-productive to what GW2 is trying to achieve.

A traditional quest focuses you on the end reward, on the destination, not the journey. It’ll end up a race to swiftness as much as possible from NPC A to NPC B for the shiny. Repeat ad nauseam x how ever many alts you have, because of course, all of them want the shinies. That shiny is linked to the quest, see, so you can’t do another quest, you gotta do -this- quest.

A traditional quest is often done alone, by yourself. It wasn’t until later that all the fancy shared questing and shared item collection technology got shoehorned in, because folks suddenly realized that it was really stupid to have to kill 12 rats x 3 players when in a group so that everyone could get their proper share of rat intestines, while the guy who did it alone raced off blowing raspberries at the slowpokes who dared to be social.

No, no, you say, we will assume that we have learned from the past and all this technology will be implemented… but are you saying then that every player who wishes to do the quest together must first run to NPC A to pick up the quest? If you don’t have the quest in your quest log, then you can’t get the quest complete, even if someone in the area did it while you were standing nearby. That’s traditionally how it goes, no?

No, you scream at me, MMOs have solved that already. It’s called sharing quests. Any player who’s picked up the quest can share it with others in their group (or maybe even, in the area) with a press of the button. They don’t have to run to NPC A to start the quest. That’s old-fashioned.

Wait a sec, why do we even have to press the button to share the quest?

And suddenly we are in Warhammer Online and RIFT territory with public quests.

Add the question of why we have to physically form a group by ourselves (Warhammer) or click a button to join the group by yourself (Rift) and suddenly we are back to square one with Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events.

The beauty of the dynamic event system is that they are both solo and multiplayer friendly. If you’re alone, you can do it by yourself (assuming it’s not marked as a group, and even then a lvl 80 probably could) and anyone in the area can come by to help out – and they can only do so if they see those admittedly-immersion breaking orange marks on the minimap.

In truth, what you may possibly be irked with is the following:

a) Dynamic events feel very random and beyond one’s control to start.

A lot of the dynamic events are on some kind of timer, or linked in a not-so-obvious chain where a prior DE may have to be completed before the whole thing cycles again. To most players, the events just seem to pop up at random.

But they don’t have to be.

There are dynamic events that can be started by talking to an NPC, and they are often helpfully marked with a symbol over their heads and a conversation option with another symbol.

Here's a dynamic event that's started under player control.
Here’s a dynamic event that’s started under player control.

b) Dynamic event rewards feel all the same. Woohoo, xp, karma, 1 silver and however many copper pieces…

Maybe GW2 missed a beat here by not sending a thank you mail with a shiny item attached, so that it feels more traditional quest-like.

Alas, they were trying to think outside the box and offer players the option to choose their desired reward from pretty much anybody.

Talk to your karma vendors, people, there’s where your quest rewards are. Toys, equipment, and so on.

c) Dynamic events repeat too often and thus feel predictable and cyclic, and shortly thereafter, boring

Well, this I’ll give you partially, but the devs are human and can only make so many events at one time.

And we tend to only see the most obvious dynamic events run on repeat cycle because that’s the ones most people find.

Just today I did an extended Zho’Qafa Catacombs dynamic event chain that I’ve personally -never- seen before because so few people bother to find and run it. Straits of Devastation is somehow so oddly avoided an area. But it was extremely fun, with a number of champions along the chain. We had formed a group to go Final Rest hunting, and it seemed almost dungeon-like, where we were cooperating as a synergized team – boons, conditions and all, just in the open world where others could join up too.

It’s not really the fault of the dynamic event system per se, because it is also quite capable of sophisticated surprises. I wouldn’t dismiss the system just because the big event chains follow a predictable pattern.

Fer instance, a couple days ago, I was just waffling along on my lowbie Asura Guardian in Brisban Wildlands and I came across a chest next to a Veteran cave troll, flanked by two minion cave trolls. Recognize the setup?

The chest -was- on the right, along the wall. I've gone back twice now and haven't seen the chest again.
The chest -was- on the right, along the wall.

Kill veteran, pick up blue piece of loot from chest, right? Or if you’re sneaky, bypass veteran and grab loot from chest. But I’m a bloodythirsty sort, so I kite the cave trolls and kill them, feeling awesome and bounce over to the chest to grab my reward…

…and suddenly this slimy Skritt thief hops out of the chest, cackling madly and runs off with the loot. (Cue dynamic event popping up – stop Skritt thief from reaching destination)

Caught completely by surprise, I snap off my scepter’s immobilize, but it’s short lived and the skritt is off.

STOP, YOU THIEVING RAT, I want to yell, but that’s a waste of breath when my Asura is already huffing along on super short legs.

I didn’t have any swiftness skills swapped in at the time, and I fling myself after it with greatsword leap, trying to get in range for binding blade, but it’s a little too late, he’s got a head start and my guardian is slowed down by having aggroed all the mobs in between him and me.

The skritt does drop one piece of blue loot in the chase, but I fail that event, and now my Asura despises those little thieving buggers (he won’t even call ’em bookahs – those are for tall stupid people) even more now.

What was different about this dynamic event? Player-triggered, for one. Out of a goddamn chest, not by talking to an NPC like you’d expect.

As for the timer, well, I keep wanting to do it again and challenge the Skritt to a rematch. I’ve gone back twice now and haven’t found that chest again. Maybe there’s an in-between event I’m missing somewhere. Maybe it’s a long timer.

And Lost Shores proved that the dynamic event system is even capable of one-off events. (Though just because it’s capable of it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to do it.)

Well, maybe, someday I’ll get that scrawny Skritt…

You know what I think GW2 needs? To fill up those empty-feeling areas?

What those places need is -content- and -stories-.

We want to have stuff to do in the cities, aka content.

As for stories, well, even across the open world, some of the dynamic events may feel more generic than others – nameless bandits, centaurs, Inquest, Risen, whoever, just rushing to the slaughter.

But I remember Rhendak the Crazed pretty well, mostly because I keep joking he’d have to be crazy to sit all day underwater waiting for people to come by. I remember the ghosts in Barradin’s vault VERY well, because Ivor Trueshot kept pwning my lowbie and Horace still tears up my downleveled 80 and I recall them as people from Guild Wars 1. I even remember the Bane warband going on their regular ghost patrol, if only because they and my character share part of their surnames.

(I even remember that most useless group of almost-pacifist ogres that need their hand held with everything – even if I don’t remember their names.)

I think what we’d really like is to get to know some of the characters in the open world a little more. Learn their names. Hear their stories. Get involved in meaningful ways. Bring a little more personal story into the world story.

Ditto with all that potential in the racial cities. (I remember enjoying the public quests in Warhammer’s cities.)

But you don’t need traditional quests to do it. That’s a cop out. That’s the “I don’t have time to show you these stories, so I’ll just tell them to you in a big wall of text format” solution.

Based on the dynamic events already in game, add on what we’ve seen in end-of-beta events and the monthly updates, the dynamic event system is capable of filling those in just fine.

Given some time.

Steam Linux Sale: Two Weird Gems

Steam’s currently having a celebratory sale for Linux-playable games.

Of course, since all the Linux games are also playable on PC, it just means I get to trawl the collection and go bargain-hunting.

I want to highlight two gems that may be less obvious than things like FTL at 50% (still waiting for 75%, yarrr.)

Eversion

Hitting little brick blocks with one's head? Check.
Bright and shiny colors? Jumping on little moving sprites to defeat them. Hitting little brick blocks with one’s head? I’m surprised it’s not Mario!

I’ve owned this for quite a while and rarely see it on sale. It’s going for two bucks, which I think is the perfect price point for the six or so hours you may get out of it (if you chase all the achievements.)

And even if you don’t complete the game, it’s worth two bucks to see the neat genre twist involved. (Assuming you are at least vaguely familiar with the platforming tropes of Super Mario Brothers – else it may possibly be lost on you.)

Suffice to say, things stay only bright and cheerful and kiddy and bright and bouncy for so long.

It’s like The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing for platformers, which by the way, is also a great read if you’re into dark and creepypasta stuff.

Fair warning: You have to be okay with the frustrations of platforming games – rehearsing pixel perfect jumps and getting one’s timing -just- right may be an issue in certain parts. And dying and being sent back to the start or the nearest checkpoint if you miss. Over and over if you’re having an off day.

I know I personally have trouble with getting the hang of the timing when just starting out, but get it down after a while. There is also one notorious spot in particular that causes immense rage and failure for quite a number of people – including me, and led to staring at video guides and trying it 30x and still failing. I got past it eventually and seeing the ending(s) and experiencing the whole game was worth it.

There’s a less graphically attractive free version floating about the web too, but I think for two bucks, it’s worth spoiling yourself with the full-featured version. The 8-bit style music’s pretty fun and fitting too.

Magical Diary

magdiary

No, seriously, WHAT?

I know I’ve mentioned that I have a soft spot for cheesy casual games before, but this didn’t look like anything I’d be remotely interested in at first.

I don’t have a huge allergy to anime style cartoon graphics, but this game’s images are a touch on the amateurish side in places. Some characters look good/okay, and some look really strange to my eye.

Purely on principle alone, I don’t think I’d mind dating sims or visual novels but honestly have had very little experience with either genre.

(The closest to a dating sim I’ve ever gotten is an ADRIFT text/graphic adventure game called The PK Girl, submitted for the 2002 Interactive Fiction competition, which I found I quite enjoyed. It’s received some criticism for portraying things in a sexist light, but I was mostly more intrigued by the branching possibilities, multiple endings and ability to develop relationships with characters in an IF game, using a language that wasn’t Inform/Z-Code.

As for visual novels, Analogue: A Hate Story is about the closest I’ve gotten around to trying so far. Not bad if it’s on sale too, by the way.)

More of a buzzkill is the fact that it’s set in a magical school, and your protagonist is a magical student that has been raised as a Muggle (redacted for copyright reasons), unaware of her destiny until approximately high school age.

Your default character’s name starts out as Mary Sue (until you change it in haste.)

And you’ll even have a cheerful and helpful female professor as your ally, while there’s this sour-faced lanky, evil professor whom you smash into early on, whose life purpose appears to be making yours miserable.

*resists urge to puke at Harry Potter overdose*

sappy

For $25, or even for $15, I’ll never buy such a thing.

But you know, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has reviewed the game and been somewhat positive about it, and it’s now on 75% sale on Steam, making it a much more palatable $3.75…

… and there’s even a free demo.

Welp, the demo did its job really well on me.

I gritted my teeth through the initial overdose of sweet sappy cheesiness, smiled tolerantly at the most obvious tall, dark and arguably handsome stranger who showed up as the most likely potential boyfriend for my character, and to my surprise, found myself getting into the flow of the story, experimenting with various twists and turns and options, suspecting there was significant branching narrative potential here, and most of all, wanting the story to continue when I reached the end of the demo.

That is how you sell a game.

What I’m most impressed by is the multitude of scenes and occurrences that the writer(s) have concocted for the setting. No shortage of writer’s block here. Global school events occur over the course of the term. Vacations come and go. You’ll have the opportunity to develop relationships (not necessarily solely romantic ones) with a plethora of characters. Conflict and drama pop up everywhere, sometimes when you’re least expecting it. Time passes. Things change.

And ultimately, you do feel like you’re living the student life of the protagonist you’ve designed, and that there’s room to try another kind of protagonist for another replay at the very least.

What I would recommend is to at least give this game a chance. Don’t immediately judge it by its appearance. Download the demo to try it out – it will give you a good idea of whether you might like this style of game/visual novel at all.

I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. Next game, I swear I'm making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.
I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. This has earned me numerous detentions and demerits. Next game, I swear I’m making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.

SWTOR: How Not To Run Your Cash Shop

1) Remind Free2Play players what idiots they are for not subscribing at every juncture

restarea

Treating Free 2 Play customers like they are second class citizens makes it obvious that you want them to subscribe. Some may, just so they don’t have to endure all this nonsense. Others will simply give up, not bother, not feel valued enough and voila, you lose the long tail – those who might have kept buying in small amounts and those who just don’t believe in sub games these days but will spend big money on microtransactions.

standardadvert

Constructive solution? Instead of bashing F2P people with a stick to tell them how horribly -penalized- they are in -reduced- xp because they aren’t subscribers, sing the praises of a subscription BOOST or BONUS. F2P is the baseline and paying customers get it FASTER, doubled, twice as good and so on.

The hardcore will bite, guaranteed. No matter how fast things are, they’ll always want it faster.

2) Promise things your shop doesn’t deliver

promisethings

Yeah, well, I really don’t see this item in the shop right now, no matter how hard I look.

This one specifically annoys me because SWTOR feels built to be slow and inconvenient to get around at the default sluggish run speed. I do not really approve of the stick and peer pressure method of getting people to pay up, but I was indeed considering making a token payment of 5 or 10 bucks to get Preferred Customer status and sprint at level 1 instead of level 15 – since it is taking eons to get to 15 and I feel bad that my friend is always waiting up for me.

However, if I am going to give them real money in exchange for shop tokens, I’d like to be able to buy something -attractive- and -desirable- in the shop with them.

Since convenience and speed is a priority for me in this game, so as to get to the quest givers and cutscenes more speedily without endless jogging, I asked myself, “What is the thing I would love to unlock the most?” The answer: Faster recharging Quick Travel.

The Free 2 Play default is 2 hours, and it is way too long for me, being used to zipping around maps with Guild Wars 2. Even at a one hour recharge, rather than the 30min cooldown that subscribers get, this would be a desirable item for me.

Except said permanent reduction time item does not exist, despite the website saying it does.

What does exist is a one-off consumable that costs about 90 cents a pop.

qtconsume

Screw that.

I don’t do consumables, unless they’re really really cheap. Permanent unlocks for me.

Constructive solution? Well, the ideal would be to offer said item in the shop. If the design decision was made to not offer this and there’s no way it will ever come in, then… for goodness’ sakes, proofread and edit the marketing copy on your website to reflect reality.

3) Offer bundles that contain the same item so that it is not worth it to buy both

OR Confuse customers with lack of clarity and shady tricks of omission

This one confuses me greatly. I have been looking at the two currently discounted bundles that appear to be designed to tempt new players into dropping some cash.

One of these things is just like the others...
One of these things is just like the others…

The Newcomer’s Bundle includes a Quick Travel Pass (I assume this means the 90 CC single use consumable), a Czerka Cruiser Speeder (that I have serious difficulty researching but appears to be a cheap basic mount that costs 8000 credits in-game), 5 minor XP boosts (60CC x 5 each) and the Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting I (475CC.) Total Discounted Cost of the Bundle – 405 CC.

One of these things is... exactly the same?
One of these things is… exactly the same?!

The Preferred Access Bundle includes one helping of the Inventory unlock of 10 slots (175 CC), a crew skill unlock (420 CC), Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting I (475CC), and Customization unlocks of Display Title (100CC), Display Legacy Name (100CC) and Unify Colors (350CC.) Total Discounted Cost of Bundle – 972CC.

I note the repeated Legacy Perk: Improved Speeder Piloting I in both packs.

Now one possibility that occurs to me is that this particular item is not account-wide, but only character-wide. But it is certainly not stated in the shop that way and seems rather like selling stuff under false pretenses or convenient omission.

Which then immediately rings alarm bells and makes me wonder which of the other items are only also character-wide, instead of account-wide? I had -assumed- that the crew skill unlock would apply to all characters. The inventory unlock becomes significantly more questionable then as well.

Which results in universal confusion and worry that one is being cheated somehow, and reluctance to buy anything for fear of it being a lemon, rather than temptation to buy both packs and be done with it and get maximum bonuses that way.

Constructive solution? Consistent clarity in your store descriptions please. State clearly if this applies account-wide or character-wide.

What makes it even more confusing, I have discovered, is that each server’s character slots appear to share one Legacy, so in addition to account-wide and character-wide, we need to stick the term server-wide somewhere in there too.

Finding forum posts like these dating back just three months ago, expressing serious confusion over the Improved Speeder Piloting Legacy and its account-wideness (or lack of), does NOT build confidence or trust.

No, seriously, if I buy this thing, how many characters of mine are going to have this? I need the clarity of information in order to make an informed decision to buy or not to buy.

(I’ve bought character-only stuff before, my main in GW2 has easily got four extra bag slots because I use him for high-level farming and dungeons and got tired of my bags constantly filling before I was done. I just need it made clear. This is clear. Just Google it and the second link confirms it. As for this, every webpage I click on gives me conflicting information on whether it is account-wide, legacy-wide, server-wide, character-wide or whatever.)

Update: On re-logging in to check the store ONCE more, I have JUST noticed two teensy tiny icons in the lower left picture of each respective unlock in the bundle. Mousing over those brings up the tooltips that the item can be bought for one character or for all characters in your account.

Ditto mousing over the actual blue or purple item itself, which brings up another tooltip that states it is for the player character only.

So my rant is not quite accurate, but it took me around eight very long fueled-by-suspicion-and-paranoia scrutinies at the store to finally find the very small print. It’s still very deceptive UI. And confusing to new players.

(Nor do I understand yet how to buy it for all characters should I want to. Clicking on the icons doesn’t seem to change the price around any. I guess I will have to Google again at some point.)

4) Give them problems logging into your website, after they’ve decided they may want to buy something off you anyway

Even after maximum confusion, I was still game enough to convince myself that a smoother game experience for five bucks (despite knowing very well the game was designed to be un-smooth so as to part you from your money just to make it nice-to-play) was not really worth agonizing over, cheap cash shop tactics notwithstanding.

After all, the quality of the cutscenes and entertainment value I was deriving out of SWTOR was worth putting down an initial outlay of a Starbucks coffee.

Except when I tried to click on the Add Coins button in-game, it assured me that it would open a browser window.

browser

But it didn’t.

I switched to Windowed Fullscreen, thinking that Fullscreen might have given the game some trouble. No go. Browser remained closed.

I helpfully opened the browser (Firefox) and clicked the button again. No new tab. No redirect. No nothing.

Um, okay. Nevermind.

I went to the SWTOR.com website itself and clicked on the “Buy Cartel Coins” option and got looped back to the same page. Nada.

Oh, maybe I have to be logged into my account. Makes sense, right?

So I click on the Log-In and type in my username (I have no email linked to the account, the free-to-play page here never asked for one) and my password and…

failedwebsitelogin

…This happens.

Again and again. I switch browsers and try Chrome. Then Internet Explorer. Still nothing.

I’M TRYING TO GIVE YOU MONEY HERE, GUYS.

Why won’t you let me log in to my account on the website, using the exact same password I just copied and pasted, which worked -fine- in the launcher to get me into the game itself?

No system maintenance or alert messages to suggest the website was under maintenance. The Customer Service FAQ and the forums made no reference of this particular problem I was having, leaving me just staring at the webpage thinking that like it or not, I would remain stuck as an SWTOR free-to-play status player for good.

I got no constructive suggestions for this one – only a semi-snide remark that if you make it difficult for customers to buy anything from you, a good lot of them would be much less persistent than me.

Epilogue

Because I love a good mystery, I sat there trying out various configurations, thinking some of the special characters in my password might have been throwing the website form off.

The irony of this is that when you sign up on their uber-easy free to play page, the tooltip says that some special characters are not allowed, but never tells you which ones. I figured that if I typed in the password and it was accepted, it would be fine. And certainly the launcher accepted my password just fine too.

I did eventually figure out exactly what was perplexing the website.

The sign-up page stated that the password had to be 8-16 characters in length – among other qualifications. Being somewhat paranoid, I entered a pretty long password without counting how many characters were actually in it. I’d assumed that if I exceeded the requirements, it would spit it back out at me as an invalid entry.

Turns out that my password had 18 characters in it.

Sign-up form accepted it just fine. Launcher accepted it just fine. (Perhaps they truncated it automatically.)

Website log-in, on the other hand, was NOT happy.

But typing in the first 16 characters of the password sent me right into the account page.

Go figure.

I just don’t know if I want to give them money anymore.

ATITD: Can I Have Your Stuff?

Karen Bryan over at Massively has been covering A Tale in the Desert recently for their Choose My Adventure article series. It’s an enjoyable read from a new player’s perspective, and it suddenly reminded me how much I actually love and miss the game.

I jettisoned it five months ago for Guild Wars 2, after playing it all out for a year, and it seemed like a good time to poke my head back in for a visit and putter around.

I’d maintained a sub on my main character, while letting my alt account lie fallow. This preserved my compounds and my resources from the scavenging player vultures – one of the first and only laws that is passed every Telling is an act that allows active players to tear down and salvage resources from players who have quit or let their subs expire.

Known as the Departed Persons Act (or DPA) this time around, most of the wording never changes except for the length of leeway time a previously paid up player has. In all fairness, the act that seems most generally accepted is the longest period, of two months, in this case, despite a few players trying to argue for a shorter timespan.

The stated ‘public good’ idea behind this is one of resource renewal and lebensraum for new players. If old player structures are allowed to sit there for all eternity (or at least until the new Telling), slowly and gradually the best locations will get taken up and newer players forced to move outward to less convenient territory. See Wurm Online for an example of this – one has to walk a very long distance from the starting area to maybe find a good spot to build – and even Wurm has building deterioration for non-subbed players baked in.

Trial players of ATITD especially have a habit of leaving wood planes, brick racks and flax distaffs littering the landscape behind them – since the citizenship tutorial requires them to make said items, and then they promptly either quit because the grind / the running / the graphics got to be too much or they make their home far away from where they started and completely forget where the hell they left their early stuff.

Usually the former.

And since they have no knowledge of the long-term implications (the stuff doesn’t go away by itself), no interest in establishing long-term ties with the community or value the game as a whole, cleaning up after themselves is less important or just not a natural reflex (I mean, who destroys the stuff they themselves built?)

Hence the litter.

And hence the solution to solve it in the form of DPA.

That’s the nice explanation.

The profiteering explanation is that as older veteran players get bored of the game, and they will, a couple may storm off if they had a massive drama implosion somewhere, a lot will get knocked out by the unending grind and monotony after three, six, nine months, a year…

… other players can stand to gain from the resources collected and hoarded by these players. It’s a bit of a crapshoot, if they didn’t advance very far, there may not be anything of real value but you might be able to finally get rid of an annoying eyesore of a building too near you. Or you might find pretty nice stuff, like a wine bottled in the early days of the Telling, which would have developed into something very fine by the time you drink it down now.

It’s easy for some people to leap to a moral judgement about such things.

From one perspective, it is a bit slimy and vulture-like. Especially if someone watches the days of an unpaid player count down like a hawk (one can /info them and see how many days their account is unpaid) and turns up the very second (literally) the time ticks over 60 days to lay claim to their stuff. Some people can get quite competitive about this, since only the first at the scene will get the goods.

Then there was the recent complaint I just overheard over the Egypt public channel on my return – where apparently someone crept into an entire guild’s multiple compounds close together (of which there were still active players within) and located the one warehouse that a quit member neglected to set ownership rights to the guild for, and nabbed it with DPA before any of the active guild members could log on and get to it. They tore it down, apparently, so the guild members couldn’t see who laid claim to it, and the contents, whatever they were, walked off with.

Of such stuff is drama and conflict made.

From another perspective, we have a recollection of Van Hemlock’s venture into ATITD (whose blog post is now unfortunately lost to the mists of time.)

-I- remember, anyway, that Van Hemlock wrote about finding an old player’s compound much further along the technology tree than his compatriots and he, and claimed it with the DPA variant active at that time. They joyously ran back to their own compound with riches, riches beyond their wildest imaginings as newbies, and those resources allowed him to construct an anvil and experiment with blacksmithing – something he was most taken with and wrote about in his blog – which in turn captivated others like me into trying out the game in the first place.

If a newbie gets to an older player’s compound first, it can be an enabler. Something without which, they would not have progressed as far in ATITD.

Then again, what are the chances of a newbie getting there first versus the experienced vultures?

Personally, I would have liked to see something that allowed a player to tear down stuff after the sixty days are up, without gaining any of the resources. That would allow eyesores to be taken down, but remove all personal resource profit from the equation.

That, I suspect, would encourage folks to leave most of the buildings be, as long as they weren’t in anyone’s way.

Why?

I like seeing the remains of civilization. Egypt is so empty anyway, it’s nice to see where people have been and stayed. Yet, if someone new really wanted to build in that location, they could take it down and set up there regardless.

But I doubt that law will ever pass.

For most players, those unused resources are ‘a waste’ if never used. After all, if a benevolent veteran gets to it, they may use it to further research in the Egypt-wide technologies at Universities. So sayeth the public good explanation anyway.

In the previous two Tellings I’ve participated in, when I lost interest, I left for good and only came back on free weekends to poke my head around – and sure enough, my stuff was gone.

I hope it made -someone- happy.

(Funny story: I did meet an extra-friendly player once on one of these check-back-in visits, who actually plied me with completely free items to sacrifice to a Vigil in progress. I kept her company, because I was in the mood for chatting and because I loved the adrenaline rush of a good Vigil, growing more and more stunned at the sheer quantity of stuff she was generously throwing at me to let the fire consume for good…

…then it turned out in the course of the friendly conversation that she was the one who had salvaged my compounds of stuff.

Lol, guilty conscience, perhaps? And wanting to even out the scales?

At the time, I had no intentions of restarting the game and assured her so. I was just there for fun, for a good chat and also help the Vigil along by my presence (since having more people participate multiplies your points, over doing one solo as she had been attempting.))

Guilds have an advantage in that as long as there is one player still subbed, no one else can claim it from your collective. Then again, the disadvantage of multiple persons in a guild is that any of them can steal the guild’s stuff if they wanted to. Guild theft is a possibility of pretty much all MMOs, not merely ATITD, if one’s permissions are not set properly to trusted individuals.

Me, I’m a paranoid type of person and need to keep my personal stuff separate from group stuff. I like to think this makes me more reliable when joining group guilds because I don’t -need- the guild stuff, I have my own stuff to draw from.

But it means that to keep my stuff, I’ll have to maintain the sub (with a month or two of leeway.)

As a mostly solo player, such is life in the desert, vultures and all.

SWTOR: An Odd Marriage of Singleplayer and MMO

I’ve spent three nights in SWTOR so far.

The launcher did eventually finish, and to give credit where it’s due, it did veer up to around 3 MB/sec download speeds at odd hours for a short while. According to my friend, who is a preferred status player, his takes several minutes at most and certainly wasn’t the pathetic 100-200kb/sec that I was seeing. Which now makes me suspect that it’s simply free-to-play players getting the short shaft of the bandwidth stick priority-wise. Who knows.

Following the advice of those who commented, I made an Imperial Agent (twice, to compare Light/Dark storyline choices) and took them past the Prologue to around level 11. I’ve also started a Sith Warrior and played it in a duo with my friend’s Sith Inquisitor, whom he kindly rolled up to roll along with me.

beginning

Overall, I’ve been…pleasantly surprised, though to be fair, my expectations weren’t at all high to begin with.

Stuff I Liked:

  • Voice acting and Cinematic presentation of Quests

I get the distinct feeling they spent a ton of the budget on voice actors (and not enough on the nuts and bolts of gameplay.) It’s immersive to be given quests via conversation and dialogue options, though once I figured out the spacebar key fast forwards, it’s been tricky to resist the urge when I’m alone and have finished skim reading the subtitles already.

  • Aliens talk in alien speech with English subtitle translations

Immersion again, and it gave me flashbacks to one of my favorite oldschool games – Nomad, whom we’ve mentioned very briefly before.

  • Mob layout vaguely reminiscent of City of Heroes, in packs of 3-4 across the world

One of my guilty pleasures was always street-sweeping in CoH, where I’d just prowl my superhero around the streets and jump villains off doing their own thing. While SWTOR doesn’t have the elaborately posed and scripted mobs of CoH (eg. some mafia thugs giving another one concrete shoes and the victim hopping around with their feet stuck in a bucket,) it did let me jump from spawn to spawn causing mass easy carnage and recreate some of that feeling.

Downside, it’s a little hard to avoid aggroing and not killing anything. The fastest way to a destination seems to be going -through- mob spawns with fancy laser blasts, and that may get tiresome and repetitive after some time.

  • Well done tutorial tips

I liked the clarity and pacing of the early tutorial messages. While strictly speaking, I could have probably survived without them, I appreciate the sparkle and polish that offers help to truly new-to-MMO players. And knowing stuff unique to SWTOR (aka the precise icons used for quests, transportation, etc.) is always handy even to people who have played MMOs before. At around level 8-10, there’s an onslaught of tips that are a little less well paced though.

  • Zone transitions are very ‘open’ and lack loading screens per planet

A feature from the WoW side of the MMO toolbox, I believe. While I’m not as rabid as some about how this helps immersion, I just appreciate the lack of having to sit around waiting for the zone to load.

Stuff I Didn’t:

  • Default camera issues and quirky settings

Nearly threw up when innocently right clicking and mouse looking caused the camera to spin wildly with high sensitivity and lots of jerkiness. Eventually, by lowering the camera rotation speed all the way to zero percent or so, it got tolerable enough – though I was ready to follow a forums post that suggested editing the text file for even lower speeds if that failed to work.

I also spent a while fighting with the settings and having them reset to default before I figured out to hit “apply” and make sure the settings stuck. Autoloot and area loot was off by default – why, why, why? Every new character has to be keybound individually too, apparently, though the general settings do save. I would also kill for a keyboard shortcut to loot corpses – it’s so automatic now to press F to loot stuff (*coughs*) though I’d grant that the radius of area loot in SWTOR is fantastic and that GW2 really needs an area loot option.

  • Combat responsiveness is sluggish

WoW and GW2 are the kings of this. Press a key and you get an instant response. Now I’ve dealt with more quirky MMOs before, you get into a sort of pre-queue up the abilities situation with LOTRO and City of Heroes, Rift had their own global cooldown to get used to, Warhammer and TSW were slightly clunkier with their response times, but something feels quite wrong with SWTOR. I keep tweaking the ability queue times, hoping to get it set to a level I can adjust to, and I still end up pressing keys and having absolutely nothing happen at times. Including the rolling into cover key – which doesn’t help survivability, I can assure you.

It’s not awful unplayable, else I would have stopped. But it’s not anywhere near “good” or “average” either.

  • Hell, even Printscreen goes on vacation

What this thread said. Only about half of my attempted screenshots are coming out, which puts a severe dampener in any plans to take pretty pictures in this game, I can assure you. I got to Kass City, loved its look, and got a total of zero successful screenshots. I have and could FRAPS it, but really, why should I bother if your game can’t function well enough to take its own picture?

The elevators? You go right through them. Though there was that one time I fell through the world while doing it and got the lovely screenshot at the top of this post...
The elevators? You go right through them. Though there was that one time I fell through the world while doing it and got the lovely screenshot at the top of this post…

Stuff That Wasn’t Good Or Bad, Just… Odd or Interesting to Think About:

  • No neutral gear sends my min-max optimzer warring with the immersive roleplaying part of me

Yes, I hear that it is coming. So they say. The fact that it is not -here- makes the optimizer in me scream, “come on, you know Bioware, Paragon or Renegade all the way!” and want to stack the deck one way or another. Yes, I have also heard the real top of the line gear has no alignment requirements. Then what the hell is the point of giving points for this stuff then?

I used to play this MUD, see. It had good, evil AND neutral gear. And neutral was the best because it was so hard in that MUD to maintain a neutral alignment, accidentally killing one too many things of the wrong alignment would skew you one way or the other and all your nice gear would fall off you. Freedom of choice and consequences.

  • Nice single or duo player experience, but MMO bits felt tacked on

I had a decent time playing through the Agent prologue. It was immersive enough, there were some roleplay or at least conversation opportunities, and the story was fairly entertaining.

With a friend, I got the impression that this was -the- way to experience SWTOR, in a duo, where you got to see each others’ class stories (but still be able to keep track of the plot because it’s only two of you) and enjoy some of the random surprise of a group conversation where one might speak before the other. We were also cracking each other up with jokes about dead body disposal in the Sith Academy since between the two of our storylines, we were racking up quite a body count.

Friends don't let friends defy gravity and screw up screenshots
Friends don’t let friends defy gravity and screw up screenshots

And was it really necessary to have all that jogging through empty corridors and long stretches of road though? Standard quest flaw, once you’re done, you gotta run back to the quest-giver. Friend has 35% sprint at level 1, I don’t. He was nice enough to not use it after a while, but this metagame stuff just gets in the way. You’re reminded that you’re a second class F2P citizen, run along and subscribe or buy some Cartel Coins now, eh?

I appreciate it took lots of work to make 8 different class stories winding their branching way all the way up to level 50. I wonder how many people will actually bother to experience all of them, or even some of the twists and turns of Light and Dark side choices… and whether they’d get sick of the standard MMO kill 10 bog-rats grind before they manage that feat.

Flashpoints, Operations, Warzones (or ahem, Dungeons, Raids, Battlegrounds) … I haven’t tried them, so I might be talking out of my ass here, but they strike me as, WoW has them, so we better have them. They’re probably functional, but not, say, spectacular or a unique selling point.

It’s like the MMO stuff gets in the way of what could have been a very nice buy-to-play singleplayer or small group game.

Conclusion:

For what it’s worth, I’d probably still keep playing for the story a little while longer. Until such a point where I either get bored of the combat or simply can’t progress further on my own.

I did enjoy the Mass Effect style conversation aspect of the game. I’m just not sure how long that alone will hold me.

I’d actually rate it closer as a decent substitute to City of Heroes over something like Champions Online, in the sense that there’s a more substantial game here and more of a story. You can still be a hero or villain, even if not literally dressing up in costumes and masks.

I’m vaguely tempted to drop a couple dollars on the microtransaction market, if only for the convenience options, but I’m also rubbed the wrong way by them selling things like hotbars and the ability to color coordinate your clothes and remove your helmet. It strikes me as trying to forcibly push people into buying something from you, kind of similar to restaurants who do not serve tap water, so that there’s significant pressure on you to purchase a drink.

Would I pay for the game itself, up front? Unfortunately, at this point, I think not.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game. The stories and voice acting seem worth going through. I haven’t had an extreme Star Wars allergy reaction yet. I don’t know if that’s good or bad news for true Star Wars fans, because it may either imply that the story writers did a good job in not unleashing typical Lucas movie absurdity, or that the fluff’s diluted down and generic enough for me to take.

It’s got significant polish for the price of free. Just, not enough if I actually had to pay for it.