Archive for May, 2011

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SWTOR: Sounds Good

May 20, 2011

A quick note on the Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday update today, as the start of a busy weekend awaits me in approximately T-minus 3 hours. Luckily, it was a short update. I’m happy because I get to play padawan to the master of bullet points today!

  • Fan Friday revealing the usual community creations, fan site interview, concept art and forum avatars, but this time also a SWTOR event schedule for the year…listing all the huge conventions I will probably never be fortunate enough to attend. I think PAX East is plenty excitement enough for me, though some day I hope to be able to make it — at least once! — to the geek mecca that is the San Diego Comic Con. It’s on the bucket list.
  • The accompanying Studio Insider featuring a dev blog on Combat Sounds. I think it’s interesting that they hit upon many things that went through my mind when I first heard of the topic, most of all the fact (and Scott Morton puts it so well) that such a “long legacy” of signature sounds has been associated with the Star Wars universe. In a nutshell, they can play around with these — but just a little bit — as for the most part they must retain their “iconic aural identity”. In other words, don’t screw with the lightsaber whoosh or blaster pew pew.
  • I liked how they threw in that trivia tidbit about the core sound used by Ben Burtt for the TIE fighter’s screaming engines in the original trilogy —  an elephant call! Reminds me of a Jurassic Park documentary feature I once saw, where I found out the screeches of the fearsome velociraptor were actually created using a combination of walrus and dolphin sounds. When everything’s layered together, you can’t even recognize the source sounds anymore.
  • The example videos in dev blog show how it all just adds up to one big cool Bounty Hunter boom.
  • I love the idea of aural character for each class and establishing a “sonic palette”. The process behind capturing the “Zen-ness” of the Jedi extends even to the colors of the visual effects, and making the associated sounds match them with a “smooth and wavelike” quality.
  • The Q&A topic is something that I have a personal interest in — the art of the Old Republic. I’ve never made the comparison of the game’s look to the Clone Wars series, but I can see why some would. Mostly, I feel SWTOR’s style stands on its own. Clint Young’s “Old Republic’y” comment is the technical term for it, I guess?
  • Finally, the Fansite Summit Report. Recently, BioWare brought 15 fan sites around the world to their studio to play SWTOR. The PvP experience was the highlight for me, since until now we haven’t heard many hands-on stories about it at all.
  • The video is outrageous — fans actually being excited about a game that their entire fan site is built around? No way!
  • I do wish the report had gone beyond the usual “Awesome!” or “Epic!” comments and focused more on the soundbites with more substance, but it is uplifting to see that a wide range of people played and enjoyed the game, from younger men to middle-aged women.
  • AARRRRRGH! Jealous!
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Books Versus Games

May 19, 2011

Drew Karpyshyn (author of the the Mass Effect books, the Star Wars: Darth Bane trilogy, as well as the upcoming Star Wars: The Old RepublicRevan) is one of the authors I “favorited” on my Goodreads page, so that was how I saw the notification for a new entry on his blog yesterday, in which he contrasts Revan as a game character versus a book character:

“To put it bluntly, Revan in the book will not be the uber-powered death machine you controlled at the end of the video game. You might have min-maxed your character to smack Darth Malak down in seconds without breaking a sweat, but in a book that battle would have been a brutal, hard fought affair spread over multiple pages. In a video game it’s fun to kill hundreds of Sith Masters, but in a book that would just be boring. It would suck out any drama or conflict or tension, and as an author I have no interest in writing that.

Now, I suspect some of you are already getting worked up about how I’m ruining SW canon by nerfing the Revan from the game. Well, tough.”

You tell ‘em, Drew. Sometimes I think what FUN! it must be to be a Bioware writer and be able to write cool books, but in the end I see stuff like this and I can’t say I envy him his job. There’s already been resentment from some Knights of the Old Republic fans over the establishment of the male, “redeemed by the light side” canon Revan, and it’s hard to believe now that even his power levels are under contention.

I respect canon as much as the next gamer, but there’s gotta be a line drawn somewhere separating game mechanics and the elements that makes a story good. I played a female Revan in KOTOR and I’m not pissed off…heck, I’m happy I even had the choice to begin with! Like Mr. Karpyshyn points out, games and books are not the same thing. You do one thing to make a game fun for gamers; by the same token, you must do another to make a book fun for readers. Good to see him sticking to his guns.

To be honest, when a video game tie-in novel actually tries to work in too many of the game mechanics into the story, I get annoyed. I’m okay with a little bit — just enough for flavor — but I really don’t need it thrown in my face. It’s harder to get immersed when whatever I’m reading is making me think about stuff like class, levels, abilities, quests, etc. If an author needs to take a few “artistic liberties”, I say by all means — because I’m reading something, even a game book, I’m definitely in it for the reading experience.

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Cryptic For Sale

May 18, 2011

To be honest, I’m not all that torn up about the news regarding Atari’s decision to sell Cryptic. Sure, I’m a little sad because anything that results in instability can’t be good —  but certainly I’m relieved that many of the concerns earlier were simply blown out of proportion, that Cryptic isn’t the sad image of “the kicked puppy standing in the rain” and everything is business-as-usual.

I’m still looking on the bright side. Not that I have anything against Atari, but it’s probably accurate to say that many of the wonky decisions I’ve doubted in the past have in fact come from the publisher and not Cryptic. I have also seen how the developer has chafed under their thumb. So frankly, if Atari currently wants to shift their focus away from development and expand into “casual online and mobile games” instead, I see this as the best for everyone…just my two cents.

After all, things have also been going well for Cryptic lately; based on what I’ve seen from Star Trek Online, they work their tushies off over there. At this juncture, I think what the company needs is a partner that will actually take pride in their work, as well as the resources to keep doing what they do best.

As long as things continue as normal (it appears to be so) my support remains with the dev teams and their games and future projects, regardless of where the wind takes them. Here’s hoping someone out there will recognize the talent and potential that Cryptic has, because they do good work and ’cause they’ve got streeeeength of the souuuul, and no one’s gonna bend or break — okay, sorry, couldn’t resist.

Best of luck, Cryptic. May you find a buyer in good time and keep moving forward.

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Star Trek Online: Bonnie Kiiiin Bonnie Kiiiiin, I SEE YOU

May 16, 2011

Federation News Service, killing for a story.

My experience with Star Trek Online this weekend exemplified what I like so much the game. Late Saturday night, I found myself drowsing at my keyboard but not quite ready to go to bed. With the Series 2: The Devidians rerun in full swing, I decided to hop online and do an episode before I crash.

I found my Federation News Service fleeties already finishing up the series, but as luck would have it they had to go back to the first episode, and so I happily jumped on board. What I like most about STO is the fast, straight-forward and self-contained nature of the missions. When I run them with friends, I get all the social benefits associated with running an instance without the hassles like roles or worrying if encounters will last for hours and hours.

I plugged away at the rest of the Devidian series the next day and relived the creepiness of the later episodes, taking a page from Scopique and playing it in the dark with my headphones on.  This series is probably my least favorite (not because it wasn’t well done, merely because I felt the other two were even better), but atmosphere is clearly still the strength of this arc. Recalling how it first debuted during Halloween weekend of last year, it’s hard to believe it’s been so many months since I first played it. Even now, it still give me the creeps. Stupid “Bonnie kin” voice!

As you can tell, these reruns are giving me reason to play STO a lot more again. But while I’m happy to replay and earn fresh rewards, I still long for the day a new Feature Episode arc returns.

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SWTOR Sith Inquisitor: “Treachery Can Break Even The Mightiest Foe”

May 13, 2011

Late last night Gamespot posted a new video along with an exclusive Q&A, the curtain-raiser to what was expected from today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday reveal — the Sith Inquisitor class update.

First, the video. Love the deception, love the force lightning, love the calm and cool-headed attitude of this badass Zabrak chick who is the very model of an upstanding emissary to the Empire. When considering most of the class videos that came before, it’s also a breath of fresh air to see someone who isn’t brutishly running around bashing in people’s skulls. As Daniel Erickson pointed out in the Gamespot interview, the Inquisitor is the “thinking-person’s Sith”; their strengths are in treachery and manipulation.

But if I have to nitpick, I can’t say I’m a fan of the “warlockian” outfit used in the video. I hope having to endure those monstrous shoulderpads isn’t part of the “rigorous trials” process on the long journey to unlock the secrets of the dark side.

If I haven’t already made up my mind to play a Bounty Hunter, I think I would have seriously considered the Sith Inquisitor. In the words of lead combat designer George Zoeller:

“Through advanced class and skill selection, the player can mold this class to fill any of the traditional roles of characters in massively multiplayer games.”

Yeah, especially in light of the bombshell that dropped last month updating the Inquisitor and Jedi Consular to tanking classes. I predict the two classes will fill similar roles in the game, and while I’ve only seen the Consular in action, if the Sith Inquisitor displays even a fraction of the same versatility I witnessed…well, I stand by my declaration — that in terms of gameplay, I think these two classes will probably be the most versatile and interesting to play.

However, I’m still going to have to give the SI the edge here — nothing beats being able to zap people with force lightning coming out of your fingers!

That said, the Sith Inquisitor Advanced Classes are very different. Assassins wield double-bladed lightsabers and they have the potential to fulfill damage, support, or even tank roles. Sometimes they even get to wear cool ninja-type armor like this! Now that’s an outfit I can learn to love:

Sorcerers, on the other hand, rely more on force-based abilities to do battle — lightning strikes and force storms are the kind of powers you find in their arsenal. They can also use the force to control their enemies or heal their allies.

Sorcerer armor style, however, is a little more distracting. I don’t even really know what to say. It’s like sci-fi meets shamanism. I love it, but at the same time I don’t — it’s a great look, but it’s also going to take me some time to get used to seeing it in the Star Wars universe:

As with every class update, the information also includes a known associate/companion: Khem Val, a member of force resistant and not-so-pretty Dashade species who according to his description sleeps dormant in the tomb of Naga Sadow on Korriban, waiting for a worthy Sith Inquisitor just like you to come along to finally wake him from his stasis. I assume you don’t do it with a kiss.

And of course, the ship — the same one that Sith Warriors use which was first revealed in their update — the Fury-class starship . Or what I like to call the love child of the Millennium Falcon and an imperial TIE Interceptor.

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Rift: Looking Snazzy

May 12, 2011

What started out as a curious peek into Rift’s new appearance slots system yesterday turned instead into a 3-hour trek across the whole of Telara on a quest to put together my first wardrobe set. Oh, the lengths we go to in order to look good.

When I first rolled my Cleric, I had in my mind a picture of an avenging angel, a heroic woman in shining chain mail and white cloth. I think I alluded to the image of a Roman warrior goddess. So I kinda took that and ran with it. The higher level chain gear has also always been a little too bulky for my tastes. You ever run around in a full length chain mail dress? I have (long story), and I can tell you that it was uncomfortable as all hell.

I actually really liked the look of the chest piece that newbie Clerics start off with, but I’d long since gotten rid of it (in fact, I’d vendored a lot of nice-looking items from quest rewards after I’d out-leveled them, and I am kicking myself for that right now). The good news is, the new Clothier NPC by the dye vendor sells all the newbie gear which any class can use, so at least I got my shirt back. The bad news is, I had to drop a pile of platinum for it.

But it was still nothing compared to what it cost to get the player-made dyes on the Auction House. Let’s just say I’m sure I made someone very happy yesterday. Note to self: buy White Dye recipe the next time I get an Apothecary plaque.

The result is nothing too fancy, but the look is somewhat closer to what I’d originally had in mind for my character when I first created her. The system’s still new; I foresee more available costume pieces in the future that I’ll be able to work with. Just a couple things of note:

Gear Proficiency: There was actually a very striking cloth robe I had my eye on, but since we can only equip armor in wardrobe slots of the appropriate type for our calling, I sadly had to tear myself away. I suppose I can understand the reasoning behind such a decision (preventing PvP distractions, Warriors rolling need on cloth for their wardrobe, etc.) but I’m still a little disappointed about the implications of this for roleplaying. It did, however, help me narrow down my choices as I scoured the auction house and hit up every armor and Rare Planar Goods vendor I could find.

Weapons: One day, I’d love to see weapons and offhand appearance slots as well, functioning the same way as the wardrobe system. The sword and shield in the above picture are just for aesthetic purposes, in actuality my character carries a dark purple death-looking hammer bedecked with skulls. A very nice weapon by itself, but also sort of kills the whole avenging angel look, obviously.

Overall, I’m liking the new appearance slots and the wardrobe feature, but then again in general I’m a fan of anything that lets my character go about her MMO duties without looking like a candidate for clown college. I have no doubt I’ll be making use of the other slots and making new outfits in good time.

I’ll just have to be able to afford them first…

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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

May 11, 2011

I was going to take a break from blogging today in order to get some work done, but I am suddenly struck by this this little nugget of wisdom from the twitter feed of Anjin from Bullet Points:

Reading about gamers hating on/feeling detached from/white knighting other gamers is making me sad. If there was ever a community that should embrace the breadth of its otherness, it should be gamers.

It really spoke to me, because I’ve actually mulled over this many times in the last year. I mean, everyone is entitled to an opinion. Whether or not I agree with something, I usually don’t mind too much reading about criticisms of a game. Sometimes I even enjoy it, because I can learn a thing or two from getting someone else’s point of view.

However, civilized discussion about how mechanics aren’t working or how gameplay can be improved is one thing. Even a short response like “It’s just not for me and here’s why” is equally legitimate and fair. What bothers me is seeing how more and more of this “constructive criticism” is actually crossing the line from tearing apart a game, to tearing apart its players.

I’ve been noticing a lot of commentary these days devolving into ad hominem and personal attacks, ultimately saying much less about how one feels about a game (which is actually somewhat useful), and becoming more about making known their condescension and hate for their fellow gamers for liking or disliking it (which is completely pointless). It irks me and bewilders me, because it’s not like how someone else feels about a game, or what you think of those individuals, has any bearing at all on your gameplay experience. This contempt at others solely for their gaming preferences, where is it coming from?

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