Archive for the ‘Knights of the Old Republic’ Category

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Read Lately – Star Wars: The Old Repubic: Revan

November 28, 2011

I wanted to like this book, I really did. A month ago when I was so eagerly anticipating the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan, I didn’t expect I would be starting a review for it this way, and I really don’t like having to be negative, but what can you do.

Granted, it is possible that my high expectations may have clouded my judgment. For one thing, I’m a big fan of Drew Karpyshyn — he wrote the Star Wars Darth Bane trilogy and also the Mass Effect novels that I found I really enjoyed. But more importantly, I’m also a big fan of the character Revan, having been obsessed with and emotionally invested in his story from the Knights of the Old Republic games. Still, I have a feeling that even the most  casual of readers picking this up will find many problems with the writing and execution of this novel.

To be fair, I’ve been following Drew K’s blog for a while now, and on it he occasionally talks about the pressures of looming deadlines and the challenges of meeting them. His writing in Revan appears to be the latest victim of this restrictive time crunch, as it’s definitely not his best work. This is a shame for two reasons: 1) He’s usually capable of much better writing, and 2) I would have pegged him as the perfect author to tell Revan’s story, as he was intimately involved with the development and writing of the first KOTOR game.

Another reason why I think the book was a rush job is how well it started out in the first handful of chapters, versus how everything started unraveling and falling apart in the second half. I’d glimpsed some of the not-so-positive starred reviews prior to finishing the novel, and thought to myself, “Nah, this isn’t that bad.” But then I hit part II. And I began to understand.

First of all, in retrospect so much of the book felt like filler, lengthy exposition sequences and drawn-out descriptions. While I understand the need to bring readers up to speed with the events of KOTOR (for those who have never played the RPG or need a refresher — it’s been about 8 years since the game’s release, after all) I lamented the fact it came at the expense of scenes that actually required details and a more in-depth look. Instead, important action sequences and scenes that actually drove the plot forward or called for more emotion were completely glossed over.

Second, the book was so short. It’s not like there wasn’t enough to write about. Like I said, so much of the novel could have been fleshed out and made better. It just felt like the author needed it to be over and done with, fast.

Third, there was a very noticeable shift in focus by the end of the book. I thought I began by reading about Revan, but little by little, he started taking more of a background role, and by the final chapters it was clear the emphasis was more on the Sith character of the novel, Lord Scourge. I just found this odd, and I still don’t really understand the purpose.

Nonetheless, there is still plenty of Revan, which is one of the reasons why I couldn’t just toss this book aside. There will be answers to some big questions left behind by the ending of KOTOR and KOTOR II, and for this reason I don’t regret reading it at all. The Jedi Exile also plays a huge role, and it is in this book that she is finally identified and given a name — Meetra Surik.

However, speaking of characters, don’t expect many of the companions from the games to make an appearance. The three that get the honor are Canderous Ordo, T3-M4 and Bastila Shan. The rest like Mission Vao, Zaalbar or HK-47 are only mentioned in passing, or given some weak excuses why they couldn’t show up. Carth Onasi doesn’t even get a mention, and while admittedly he was one of my more whiny and annoying BioWare boyfriends, I couldn’t help but notice the snub. Ouch.

I don’t want to make it sound like Revan was all bad. I personally liked a lot of the dialogue, though I think I’m probably in the minority with regards to this. I definitely think dialogue-writing is Drew Karpyshyn’s forte, but while some lines might work well in a video game, I admit they don’t always translate well onto a page in a novel. Some plot points were predictable, but in general I enjoyed the story. And finally, like I said before, the book does manage to bring some form of closure. Sort of.

This does beg the question: Is closure — that is, a truly satisfying conclusion that emotionally invested KOTOR fans have been waiting almost a decade for — even possible for an epic story like Revan’s? Honestly, I believed the answer is yes. And I still do. Which is why I had such high hopes for Revan. Despite my biases, I still think it could have been the book to bring ultimate closure to the KOTOR series. If only Drew K had been given enough time.

So, to wrap this review up, you may find Revan interesting if you’re into Star Wars novels or game tie-ins in general. I say read this book if you’re fan of the character and the KOTOR games. You might end up disappointed, but you’ve come this far, so might as well finish up. Also read this book if you’re really into the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. There will be quite a few mentions of Revan and his adventures in the game, so knowing the character’s background might enhance the story behind those quests for you, but it’s definitely not required knowledge.

But if you don’t know much about the lore behind SWTOR and the Old Republic era and are thinking of picking Revan up to get pumped for it, I would rethink that decision. For that, you’d probably be better off playing KOTOR instead of reading this.

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Review: The Art And Making Of Star Wars: The Old Republic

November 10, 2011

Cover

Due to professional interest, but also thanks to my general love for art, I’m always on the lookout for artbooks. They’re good for reference or just ordinary perusal on a rainy day, and I collect just about anything and everything that catches my eye.

Several of my shelves, however, are especially dedicated to the realms of fantasy and sci-fi. Over the years, I’ve amassed artbooks featuring masterpieces by the greats such as Frank Frazetta or Brom, but also gaming-related books containing graphics and concept art from games like Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, etc.

Today, I want to give some love to The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I was ecstatic to add to my collection this week. Remember, I was initially disappointed that no artbook was included in the retail collector’s edition of the game, but now that I am holding this gem in my hands, I am beginning to understand why. The Art and Making of SWTOR is a masterpiece in and of itself. It’s a hefty hardcover of good quality, filled with full-colored images of digital pictures and concept art, and pages and pages of commentary to go with it.

Topics covered include the things you’d expect: class design, planets and environments, species, creatures, ships, weapons, armor, etc., etc., etc. But since this is technically a “Making Of” book as well, you also get developer insights into the creation of the game, everything from commentary on SWTOR’s evolution from its roots in Knight of the Old Republic, to the multitude of challenges BioWare faced when moving into the MMO space.

There are also other interesting tidbits on the game’s development, random facts about the game I picked up as I read through the pages. One of my favorites is the section at the back, called “Verbal Cubism”. Did you know that beyond the main dialogue, thirty-thousand lines of alien-speak were recorded for SWTOR? The book states: “To put this in perspective, [that's] more than the entire script for Mass Effect or both KOTOR games combined. Just in aliens.” Pretty neat.

If you 1) have a general interest in game art and concept art, or 2) are a big fan of SWTOR, then this book is definitely worth it. Since both those descriptions apply to me, I must say I am quite pleased. I’ve been flipping through the pages admiring the beautiful pieces in there since I got it. I wish I could showcase them all, but there are just too many. Here are, however, some of the highlights and my favorites:

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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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SWTOR: OMG I Love Drew Karpyshyn!

April 22, 2011

Why think of a proper title for this post when I can just go with my first reaction at seeing today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic Friday update? I’m a huge fan of Drew Karpyshyn’s work.

Last month Darth Hater posted an article about the possibility of a third SWTOR tie-in novel coming to us later this year, penned by none other than Drew himself. I’m so glad that this has been confirmed today by BioWare — along with a title reveal: Revan.

A whiny and obnoxious hockey-haired pansy!

Yes, that Revan. You can’t imagine how full of squee I am right now.

I think some stories benefit from an open ending, while others suffer from a conspicuous lack of closure. Personally, I’ve always felt Revan’s story falls in the latter category. Whether you agree with me or not, it’s still sort of a moot point –  because I can’t imagine that even the most casual fans of BioWare and their games really didn’t see this one coming. Nothing screamed “To be continued!” louder to me than the ending of Knights of the Old Republic, and I never believed for a second they were going to leave this doozy alone. BioWare’s simply been biding their sweet time and waiting…waiting for something like SWTOR for the perfect chance to finally explore the mystery of Revan.

Drew Karpyshyn says in the Q&A that fans want to know what happened to Revan after KOTOR, and that he’s “ecstatic” that he’s the one who gets to tell the story. You’re not the only one, Mr. Karpyshyn. If anyone is going to continue the story of Revan, I’m so glad it’s you.

Like, sure, I want to find out what happens, but then I don’t want to know just for the sake of knowing, if you know what I mean? For example, I think so many movie sequels these days suck so hard because their creators simply string any old plotline together and rush it out the door so it could coat-tail ride on the success of the original. I really didn’t want to see the same sort of thing happen to Revan’s story.

Knowing that it’s in Karpyshyn’s very capable hands helps a lot, even if Revan’s story has become a canonical quagmire where geeks fear to tread.

For one thing, the man knows his stuff — both the character and the Old Republic era. In his words, “KOTOR was my first creative foray into the Star Wars universe, so writing Revan felt a little bit like I was returning to my roots.” Come to think of it, the subject of the novel should have occurred to me the moment I saw Drew Karpyshyn’s name attached to a new SWTOR book project. He’s probably the best choice (if not the only right choice) of author for a book about Revan, being the one who wrote much of the scenario and dialogue for KOTOR in the first place.

In any case, I’ve been a fan of not only his writing in games like KOTOR and Mass Effect, but I’ve also come to really enjoy his novels as well. His Darth Bane books rank among some of the better Star Wars books I’ve ever read. And in fact, earlier this year, it was reading Mass Effect: Revelation that made me wonder if there’s hope for the video game tie-in genre yet.

Revan will take place about 300 years earlier than the other SWTOR novels, but we are told the events of this book will have a major impact on shaping the game’s universe. However, there is nothing to indicate whether or not Revan will actually make an appearance in the game (personally, I hope not…it’s one thing to provide closure, it’s another to needlessly resurrect a character). But we do know from the Q&A that along with Revan, several of his companions including Canderous, T3-M4, Bastila Shan (yes, might we please put the matter of whether or not they have children to rest once and for all?) and even the Jedi Exile will have major roles to play in the novel.

I can understand how for some a SWTOR Friday update about an upcoming novel can be a disappointment when information about the actual game would be more exciting (actually, “disappointment” is an understatement judging from some of the rage-filled and betimes puerile commentary in the forum thread in which 20 pages had to be unceremoniously deleted). But those who know me know that I love reading, and that I enjoy sitting back with a video game tie-in novel every once in a while. Personally, I’m really looking forward to reading Revan “later this year”.

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LFG Death Star, Must Have Fast Ship

February 4, 2011

LF2M then G2G

Today’s Star Wars: The Old Republic update is a dev blog about Flashpoints which I think would have been much better off and more informative bundled with last week’s update, but it is still no less full of win.

From World Designer Jesse Sky, a Flashpoint in a nutshell:

The Death Star was a Flashpoint. Luke and Obi-wan spent a few minutes LFG in the Mos Eisley Cantina where they enlisted the aid of Han Solo and Chewbacca. Together, they infiltrated a moon-sized battle station to rescue Princess Leia.

They had a plan: rescue the princess, deactivate the tractor beam, and escape in the Millennium Falcon. Of course, things didn’t go quite as planned. They had to deal with a legion of Stormtroopers and a dianoga in the garbage compactor. Before they could escape, Obi-Wan was killed in a confrontation with Vader. Maybe next time you won’t split the party, Kenobi.

I love the analogy! It’s also good to see devs with a sense of humor, and by the way, how awesome it must be to have “World Designer” as your job title. I would go around at dinner parties telling everybody.

However funny it may be, I think the example from the movie does do a good job of illustrating Bioware’s vision for Flashpoints. Sometimes, even a big damn hero needs a little bit of help for those missions one can’t handle alone. Each will comprise of a string of objectives, all centered around a narrative. There will be a purpose to all of it, as like Jesse Sky pointed out, Luke et al. didn’t just go charging in through the blast doors aimlessly shooting at every Imperial in sight.

At the same time, he assures us that not every mission will be linear. The decisions that a group makes can change the outcome of the Flashpoint, affecting the course of the experience or opening up new possibilities for your character. Imagine if Han Solo had been like, “Screw the princess, my ass is staying right here!” when Luke beseeches him to save her. Things would have turned out a lot differently, and it makes you appreciate all the more that deep down our favorite smuggler is a chivalrous romantic at heart, even if he was in it for the money at the time.

Here’s another quote from the blog that I pounced on right away:

As much as possible, we try to move you between large, open spaces and smaller, claustrophobic spaces. Every now and then we throw in something crazy. We know we’ve done our job right when the artists react with a mixture of enthusiasm and annoyance.

That last bit again gave me a little chuckle, but I also like the idea of varying the environment within a Flashpoint. “Claustrophobic” is an interesting choice of words, but also accurate, I think, for how I’ve often felt in instances that confine you to one environment, or even just one room (Violet Hold, I’m looking at you). I predict having some visual diversity definitely will help in “opening up” the Flashpoint, making it less painfully obvious that you are in fact confined in a self-contained instance.

One thing I have been wary about when it comes to Flashpoints is the combat, and I have to say I remain so even with what has been said in this dev blog. I’m all for finding alternatives to the concept of “the MMO trinity,” but until a viable solution presents itself, I’m willing to settle for a more dynamic sort of trinity. I don’t mind having to take on a main role in an encounter, but I would like other skills that make me useful beyond simply being pigeonholed as a meat shield, nuker or healbot.

For example, one thing I loved about playing a feral druid in World of Warcraft was my ability to shift into different forms — DPSing as a cat when it was required, transforming to off-tank as a bear to save a clothie being pummeled by a loose mob, quickly throwing heals-over-time on the main tank to keep him up while I battle-rez the healer who had gotten herself killed — all in a single fight. Encounters like that require split-second decisions and the utilization of a player’s full repertoire of abilities, which is what I’m ideally looking for, though I admit this might be too much to expect from any game. However, I have to say that some of the combat I’ve seen in SWTOR group play footage makes me think that Bioware may be attempting this. I’m a bit dismayed that the little blurb from Lead Combat Designer Georg Zoeller did not offer much more in terms of information about that, but I guess that’s a dev blog for another day.

In any case, unique AI behavior and scenarios making combat in Flashpoints different than combat in the open world should be enough to bring about a sense of unpredictability and the excitement that goes along with it. I also liked that Zoeller’s example illustrated how the environment can play a part in creating that experience.

At the end of the day, I liked this quote most of all:

At the end of a Flashpoint, you’ll have more than just shiny new items – you’ll have developed your character. You’ll have the satisfaction of righting wrongs (or wronging rights). And to top it off, you’ll have learned something about your friends (“You seem more evil today. Are you evil?”).

Evil? Who, me? Ha ha, I’m starting to really like this Jesse Sky guy. But I think right there, that’s Bioware’s mission statement. You’re here to develop your character’s story and have fun with it, not play a “glorified slot machine” or crunch numbers all day (though no matter what, there’s just no stopping some people). Here’s hoping that works out for SWTOR, we’ll just have to see.

Finally, Sky’s comment about playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and imagining how cool it would be to join forces with his roommate to take it on together also made me smile because that thought absolutely crossed my mind when I played that game as well. Did it for you?

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Picture Points: What’d I Miss?

October 17, 2010

Well, I’m back from my vacation/honeymoon, which was spent cruising on the Oasis of the Seas in the Eastern Caribbean. My right shoulder is a little sunburned and I feel about a hundred pounds heavier (man, they really feed you on those things) but otherwise my time away from the real world and the virtual world has left me feeling quite rested.

As honeymooners are wont to do, my better half and I closed ourselves off from the outside world and shunned our cellphones, internet, and all other means of communication with the world at large. As such, I came back to hundreds of unread emails and messages, and a mountain of blog articles in Google Reader. Looks like a lot has happened in the last week, but how nice it is that none of my favorite games seem to have imploded or went under while I was gone. Hey, with this industry, you never know.

Gee, where do I start? More and more, I’m starting to appreciate the wisdom behind Anjin’s use of bullet points, especially when you’re tackling multiple topics in the same post that are all completely irrelevant of each other. How’s about some picture points?

This topic really doesn’t deserve to be tackled first, but I’ll do it anyway because if anything, I felt it was the most entertaining tidbit of my day. Yet another long, whiny rant to add to the ever-growing pile of other long, whiny rants. The more I read about it, the more it seems the only reason this one caught fire was because the author alleges himself to be a soon-to-be Ex-Mythic employee. Even if he could prove his claim, I could care less why he thinks Warhammer failed, but along with Syp, what amuses me most (because such drivel is hardly worth getting angry or even annoyed over) is the way the guy tries to smear Star Wars: The Old Republic by dragging it into his bitchfest born of a feeble grudge. Shoo, louse, I had to deal with a flea infestation on my dog earlier this month that commanded more attention. I’m not worried; SWTOR has survived the storm of naysayers for years, no doubt it can weather another angry little gust of hot air.

Something else that a lot of the blogs I read covered this week was the World of Warcraft Patch 4.0.1. I haven’t updated the game yet or even looked at the notes, but just based on some of the opinions I’ve read, I am prepared for some big changes. You mean I have to relearn the game agaaaaaiiin? /whine. I have so many characters, many of them at level 80, I just can’t be bothered to go through all of them and give their abilities and gear their makeovers, not even my feral druid that has been my main for years. The more I hear about Cataclysm, the more I think I just want to dabble lightly in WoW until it comes out, then pour my full attention into a new Worgen or Goblin character. To hell with the rest of ‘em. I mean, with a fresh expansion, a fresh Azeroth, fresh game systems and mechanics, why not a fresh main? My husband probably won’t be too happy to hear that, but the idea appeals to me more and more each day.

SWTOR released a new timeline video about Exar Kun for their new Friday update. To be honest, I was never really interested in that particular storyline, but I enjoyed the video, nonetheless (and things are so much more exciting when they’re narrated by Lance Henriksen, aren’t they?) As such, my leaky memory has shed most of the details about the fall of Exar Kun, so the timeline was a nice refresher even if it didn’t reveal much of anything new. In any case, it’s worth a look if you haven’t read the books, comics, or played the Knights of the Old Republic games that deal with Exar Kun, to get acquainted with one of the more relevant storylines of this era. One thing of note (that I’m surprised Hunter hasn’t mentioned since he has as much at stake in planet reveals as I do) is I wonder if we’ll be seeing the moon Yavin IV unveiled some time soon in a future update? It seems almost a certainty, given this timeline video.

So much to do! I can hardly wait to visit the Minecraft multiplayer server to see what new construction projects have popped up in the last week, but first I have business with the Devidians to attend to in Star Trek Online. The new arc debuted yesterday and I have plans to savor it tonight with a hot cup of Earl Grey tea and a bowl of chips. Until then, I’m staying far far far away from West Karana and Tipa’s spoilers.

Well, vacation’s over and it’s back to the drawing board (or should I say, the Wacom tablet, now that I’ve started my adventures into digital art?) but I’m not sure how much work I’ll be able to get done for the rest of this month. It’s the attack of the single-player games! Oct 19th — Fallout: New Vegas. Oct 26th — Fable III. Oh, and don’t forget, on the same day we have Force Unleashed 2, as Blue Kae reminded me on Twitter earlier today. Gee, thanks. Thanks a lot. It’s going to take incredible willpower to get anything productive done in the next couple of weeks. Gotta love it when the release dates for highly anticipated games just sneak up on you like that, but it’s a whole other conflict when they all descend upon you at once like an avalanche.

Finally, on a non-gaming-related note, I’ve recently become completely obsessed with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. My interest in epic fantasy has been rekindled after reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and I brought the first novel A Game of Thrones with me on my vacation. I’d originally wanted to start another novel or series after finishing it, just to spread out the titles in my to-read list a little bit, but who was I kidding? I began devouring the second book A Clash of Kings the moment I finished the final page of the first. I’m surprised I hadn’t picked this series up sooner, and even more surprised that my husband never recommended it to me, since I just found out he had read it years before. Dammit, he knows I like my epic fantasy dark and gritty. What’s even stranger is that a certain promo on HBO featuring snowy landscapes, ravens and scruffy men with swords and beards has caught my eye for weeks and weeks now, but it wasn’t until earlier this month that I realized it was the television adaptation, around the same time I started debating whether or not to start reading the series. Funny how these things work out, and funnier how unobservant my mind can be sometimes.

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Mysteries Of Knights Of The Old Republic, Meatbags

September 4, 2010

The new Star Wars: The Old Republic video that came out of PAX today is nothing short of awesome, a treat for KOTOR fans and especially those of us who have been vexed all this time by the mystery of Revan.

Dammit, you know you can’t be throwing around images of a certain helmet and using words around like “rebirth” without getting me all hot and bothered. What does this mean? Will SWTOR reveal the fate of Revan? Surely, after 300 years, it won’t be so trite as to have him still alive? As always, more questions than answers, but without a doubt, this was more of the kind of update I was hoping for this weekend. And it was nice to see an old “friend” at the end there.

Still, Bioware, you’re all dirty, dirty teases.

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