Posts Tagged ‘Environments’

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PAX East: My SWTOR Bounty Hunter Origins Demo Playthrough

March 14, 2011

What I did:

Let me say it was a real tough choice when it came down to deciding which class to play. With the Jedi homeworld of Tython premiering at PAX East, every class was available. And they all look so good. Obviously, there were good reasons to play the Jedi Knight or Consular. But my first love is the Bounty Hunter, the class I plan to make as my main at release. And yet, I wondered if I should be choosing it to demo as it would be spoiling some of the quest content for myself.

In the end, a helpful fan next to me in line suggested that I go with the Bounty Hunter, but only do a few quests and spend the rest of the time sightseeing, fighting, experimenting with the mechanics, and overall just exploring to get a good feel of the starting world. This way I’ll get to experience my favorite class, get to know it a little, but also keep the spoilerific moments to a minimum. So that is exactly what I did.

There were four stations set up for the origin demo — two Empire, two Republic. All the characters were premade already, which is par for the course for something with a focus like this. So I don’t know anything about the character creation process, though I did notice after I selected the Bounty Hunter and entered the game world that my character was a large heavyset human male with slightly Asian features and something that looked like a cybernetic “patch” on his jaw. A good sign for character customization.

There was no cinematic or anything (for now, anyway), just a loading screen with information about the Bounty Hunter. Once I finished reading, I clicked the mouse, and I was in.

The beginning was almost exactly the same as what we saw in the developer walkthrough video from a while back, which follows the Bounty Hunter character as he appears on Hutta trying to win entry into the Great Hunt. I met Mako, Braden and Jory, and picked up my first quest. I’m usually the paragon or the “nice” guy when I play Bioware games, but since this was just a demo I turned up my jerk-o-meter and just acted like an ass, insulting my new-found friends to see what would happen. Oh man, some of the “evil” dialogue is just too funny.

Next, I exited the building and started exploring. I shot at enemies, played with my abilities, and ran around the map to look at everything around me. I experimented with emotes, pored over my inventory window and character sheet, switched around my equipment. I did a few more random quests, and got a few levels, and soon after that, my thirty minutes were up.

What I thought:

Let me just get the “constructive criticism” out of the way first, so I can end on a good note. I use that term instead of “negatives” because these aren’t exactly gripes, per se. But one of the first things I noticed was that I did not feel as “heroic” as BioWare had said they wanted players to feel right off the bat. Granted, I’m a Bounty Hunter whose only loyalty is to myself and credits so I’m not exactly the poster child for the perfect hero and the quests reflect that, but even the combat felt a little subdued. I had two attack abilities on the same cooldown — one that was like a rapid blaster shot and another that was like a missile launcher.

Yes, I was able to take on two, three mobs at once, but there were no special mechanics, no tricks up their sleeve. For all intents and purposes, I may as well have been fighting one mob split into three. Combat didn’t particularly feel all that different from any of the other MMOs I’ve played before; I felt no more powerful or impressive. However, this was just my observation, and I was not disappointed by any means. I think this is what most players would expect from an introductory area of a new game in any case, and I have no doubt the quests and combat will become more interesting as you get farther along. In fact, things started getting better the moment I received my flamethrower from my trainer, adding a very cool looking damage-over-time ability to my repertoire.

Another thing I observed as I was running around and exploring — exiting and entering the buildings from one instanced area to another wasn’t as seamless as I expected. Every once in a while I would get a noticeable “jump” on the screen, where the screen freezes for a split fraction of a second as I assume the instance loads. Other than that, the transition was generally smooth and did not affect gameplay at all. I was, however, playing by myself. I wonder what would happen at launch when there’s a ton more other people around and a lot more data to load.

Now for the good stuff — and there’s a lot of it. The most impressive thing is the voiceover. They’re not kidding — the VO makes the game, I think. I was originally concerned with BioWare’s huge investment in their fully-voiced MMO, wondering if all that effort will be worth it or if they’re overestimating the patience and attention span of their playerbase who would rather read the captions and skip over the spoken dialogue. Well, in the end I think if you’re an RPG fan, it will draw you in right away. Even if you’re not, I think you’ll find yourself immersed if you even give it half a chance.

Personally, I thought I would feel bogged down by the amount of back-and-forth dialogue after a while once the novelty of it wore off, but to my surprise, I didn’t at all. The script was so well-written and voice-acted so superbly, I was immediately sucked into the conversation and everything around me just faded into the background. It didn’t drag at all, and my 30 minutes simply flew by. When it was time to stop, I couldn’t believe it had been that long.

I was also very impressed with Hutta. I’d always thought that planet was sort of nasty — grungy, smoggy, yellow and just overall kinda gross. But even here there is beauty. The first thing I did when I exited the building into the world was look up. There was the outline of a giant moon or something in the sky that just made me go, “Whoa.” I also ran around some more, seeing how far I can go. I stopped when I opened up the map and saw how big the starting area was and realized I wasn’t going to have enough time to do all the exploring I wanted.

Gameplay was also smooth as hell. Combat and other movements were natural and fluid as water. That was pretty amazing.

Of course, the selling point of SWTOR is the story. Obviously, 30 minutes is nowhere near enough time to be able to experience all its intricacies, but in that time, I did get a taste. Like I said, I was immersed almost immediately, and was hanging off every word of the dialogue. Even though the objectives of the few introductory quests I was tasked to do were rather mundane and fairly typical of your standard MMO fare, the story and reasoning behind them made up for it.

In other words, I didn’t feel like I had to do a quest because I just wanted to gain experience or rewards, I felt like like I wanted to do the quest for the quest itself. I wanted to know what will happen, to follow the events through to their conclusion. In most games I’ve played in the past, quests have felt separate or removed from the rest of the game, as in I could get in, get out and never have to think about the quest ever again after it’s completion. During my time with the demo on the other hand, the quests I did felt like individual parts of a larger whole, as in I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my decisions at level 3 will come come back to haunt me again at level 30. In fact, I think I’d read or heard somewhere that that’s exactly what happens. I really do get the feeling my choices will matter, and I didn’t even have to get very far in my playthrough to reach a point where I was faced with a major decision that I know will alter my future.

Well, I’d originally wanted to do my write-ups for the Bounty Hunter origins demo and my playthrough of the Taral V flashpoint together at the same time, but this ended up being longer than I thought. Taral V will have to be my next update.

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STO: Cutting The Cord

March 7, 2011

So ends Star Trek Online’s Cloaked Intentions series with the feature episode “Cutting the Cord” which premiered Saturday. While it might not have been as epic as last week’s episode (but then, what is?) it was still a finale worthy of the words “kick-ass”.

One other thing: I managed to rope my husband into doing the FEs again with me last weekend. He’d lost interest in the game earlier this year and trying to get him back into it was like pulling teeth. The man is not easily impressed and usually over-critical when it comes to the handling of his precious Star Trek. I was a little wary of what he might think as we caught up with the episodes of this series, but I needn’t have worried — Mr. MMOGC had nothing but good things to say about the experience, and days after he is still praising “Coliseum”. I just wanted to mention this before my review as a testament to the good work Cryptic and the STO team has done.

Note: Spoilers in the text and screenshots

Okay, so Starfleet has finally clued in on to the severity of the situation. But while Command is open to helping Obisek and his people fight for freedom against Hakeev, they wish to do it discreetly. First, they’ll need more information on the Romulan’s relationship with the Iconians before they proceed, and someone needs to get in there and nab Hakeev. Guess who gets the privilege!

Throughout this whole mission, I just thought of myself as the leader of a strike team. The most disorganized, unprepared and incompetent strike team in the history of the Federation, perhaps, but my objectives were clear as day — infiltrate the Tal Shiar base on Brea, beam down and clear it out, take Hakeev alive for questioning. Never mind that we were detected in orbit as soon as we dropped out of warp. Never mind that our transporter went wonky and beamed my away team into different places. Never mind someone forgot to tell Starfleet Command that T’Androma doesn’t do alive. OOPS!

The yellow light goes well with my pasty green complexion!

Of course, all thoughts of the mission left my head as soon as we reached the surface of the planet. For a couple minutes, all I did was gawk and take screenshots while my poor husband waited patiently for me to get pictures from all the interesting angles. I wish I could make panoramic shots of this gorgeous tableau. Despite the harsh yellow light reminiscent of smog in a pollution-choked city, the artwork was stunning. It’s nice to see something more than just squat angular structures on a flat desert ground.

And the urban setting made this map a lively little battleground. The novelty of fighting above ground is already something. I’m so used to seeing a vast, sprawling empty piece of land in this game that it was a real thrill to be traversing a map that was built up “vertically”. Multi-level maps are different and good. It also made for some really cool mischief.

Plasma grenade incoming! Oops, that would have been a good idea...if most of those guys weren't on my own side.

Another reason why this map was such a great battleground — all the buildings and balconies and catwalks make for a pretty formidable maze. Of course, you can simply follow the fighting like we did and not get lost, but Cryptic has thought of everything and included a “Virtual Guide Path” system players can activate in case they need to know which way to go for the next objective.

You don’t really need these blue lines to show you where to go since the catwalks are straight and generally do not fork, but I thought I’d activate it and take a couple screenshot to illustrate to my readers just the sheer scope of this “multi-levelness”. Check it out:

Follow the shiny blue line! Follow the shiny blue line!

Follow, follow, follow, follow...

Impressive.

The Tal Shiar fighters appear to be out in full force! Apparently, they have Spider-Men among them, as they are literally raining down on me from the rooftops above. It is a bloody warzone out here, in this pitched battle between Hakeev’s people and my own. But still…where is Hakeev himself? Ah, figures the little craven has gone and hidden himself behind one of his forcefields.

As if I didn’t have enough problems already, my officers inform me that an Iconion transmitter has crippled our ship’s systems with a virus. What the? Whose turn was it to update the McAfee? Ugh, if I manage to live through this, I promise there will be demotions for all.

AHA! That must be Hakeev. Who else would have their arms crossed so arrogantly like that?

Obisek himself shows up for the final showdown against Hakeev. Hey, not that I’m ungrateful for the extra support, Obi, but now that there are a gazillion witnesses I’m actually going to have to attempt to take Hakeev alive. But of course, I’m sure as a last act to spite me, he dies anyway. Such is T’Andy’s life.

Luckily, we find an encrypted PADD on Hakeev that references the location of an Iconian gateway not too far from us. It had to be obliterated, of course.

Gorgeous.

Time for a Trek lore break! If I recall correctly, the Iconians were an ancient civilization that was wiped out long ago. According to Memory Alpha, ancient texts refered to them as the “Demons of Air and Darkness”, and their advanced gateway technology was what enabled them to appear at will on far-flung planets without the use of any starships.

Ooh, are we going encounter these mysterious “demons”? Cryptic has done such a good job building up these guys in the last few episodes. I find myself actually squirming in my seat with anticipation as we beam back out to space…

That is one sick ship. It breaks my heart to pummel it.

…TO A FULL OUT ROMULAN SPACE BATTLE! And will you believe it, the Empress Sela herself graces us with her presence, showing up in her mighty warship the Leahval. Sorry, your royal worshipfulness, but there’s only room for one crazy bitch in this galaxy and T’Andy’s not about to be outdone!

What. A. Climax. And what a twist! A weird looking asteroid nearby turns out to be an Iconian gateway. Chills ran up my arms as I watched as the Leahval was drawn into the mysterious portal. Was Empress Sela going willingly? Or was this development as much a surprise to her as it was to me? Oh boy, good show, Cryptic, good show. I am absolutely delighted.

Okay, wow. That's put me off joy riding through any donut asteroids ever again.

The strength of “Cutting the Cord” was in its combat, which I felt was the main focus for this episode. Unlike some of the previous installments in this series, there wasn’t much problem solving and opportunities for diplomacy, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, just an observation. We do need some balance and variety of objectives between the FEs, after all. When all is said and done, this mission was relatively straightforward.

The story, however, was something different entirely. I liked the plot twists, and I appreciate how STO is attempting to move the Star Trek story forward.  The Cloaked Intentions arc didn’t simply feel like a series of missions…it felt like a book I wanted to read, if you know what I mean. It had elements from the different Star Trek shows and a sense of cohesiveness that made it very memorable.

And we made a new friend, aww. Somehow, I think I knew we were going to get a Reman bridge officer as a reward. It must have hit me the moment we started working with Slamek from last week’s “Coliseum” episode, even though he did turn out to be a dirty, stinking traitor. You also get a quest to talk to Obisek upon completion of the FE, where he wraps up the story for you nicely and even gifts you with a new floor trophy. How thoughtful! I love a young man with manners. I am also glad to have been his ally, because when he’s not messing around with deadly thalaron weapons he can be a pretty decent and upstanding guy.

A proud friend of the Horta!

It is not immediately obvious which trophy it is, but it turns out to be the one listed as “No Kill I”. Kind of an odd choice for a trophy, in my opinion. I mean, considering the vast epicness of this arc and the fact that the encounter with the horta was just a small bit part in one of the episodes. Personally, I would have expected a theme to do with aiding the Remans, since it’s also supposed to be a gift directly from Obisek. But that’s just me.

Thank you, STO team, for bringing us this thrilling conclusion. I await the next series with eager anticipation.

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STO: Into The Coliseum

February 28, 2011

Out of my way, fool.

Star Trek fans, be sure to have an extra pair of underwear close at hand because the latest Star Trek Online feature episode is nothing short of nerdgasm-inducing. And fans of the Original Series, you might want to have two pairs handy.

Time to take a break from all the Rift posts with my review of “Coliseum.” And what can I say? Wow. Just, wow. I have a lot to talk about, but the hard part is figuring out how to do it without coming across like a raving fangirl. Fact is, it is not in my nature to squee and fawn unless something is very, very good and extremely well done — which I think applies to this particular FE. I’m going to echo what Tipa has already stated in her write-up — this episode is truly epic.

Note: Spoilers in the text and screenshots.

Surprise, surprise — this latest mission does not start at Admiral T’Nae. Instead, it is Obisek’s scarred visage that pops up on your screen, asking for help, no less. The nerve! Seems one of his ships carrying a load of thalaron weapons through the Nopada system has disappeared. His only bargaining chip was simply, “If you didn’t like the idea of thalaron weapons in the hands of a loonybin like me, you would like them much less in the hands of an even bigger loonybin like Hakeev now, wouldn’t you?”

ARRGH!!! This is why you don’t let crazy ass Remans run free to do as they please! I should have attempted to arrest him when I had the chance, especially since the decision to do so or not to do so turned out to make no effing difference in the end.

Skip ahead to the Nopada system because I’m a tool and I’ve agreed to help Obisek find his missing ship. There, I find nothing but derelict hulks and a mysterious satellite. And whaddya know, it’s a trap! At this point, I was going through the motions, thinking this was just gonna be another one of those missions where I’ll have to run around activating glowy consoles and pressing buttons until I find a way to escape.

Well, I discovered it was that and more. Math? MATH, CRYPTIC?! Why do you hate me? But thanks to my overbearing mother and her forcing me to go through five years of Kumon in my youth, however, I was set, calculators and pencils be damned. After you work out which number corresponds to each letter, all it takes is to go through A, B, C, and D sliding the numbers left or right until they show the correct value.

After that, make sure you explore every nook and cranny of the small facility. You’ll need to somehow set the satellite to expand its scanners far enough to pick up the derelict hulk, using it to redirect focus away from your ship, and then you’ll need to dial down the power settings to allow yourself to get away. The information takes a bit of digesting, but the key is to know where all your consoles are to do your fiddling, so be sure to note them on your map.

So by now I admit I was feeling a little indifferent, expecting myself to beam back to my ship and be ambushed with a space fight or something. I thought, “Typical.”

Instead, BAM! I found myself behind bars in the next scene. I did not see that one coming. Not sure if it was intended, but way to go Cryptic for luring me into a false sense of impassivity. This was probably the biggest twist I have ever experienced in an FE, and I love it!

And what made it even better, was when the doors opened, and I realized…I get to fight? Oh my God, I get to fight! No pressing any buttons, no scanning any objects, no running around trying to be diplomatic. I. GET. TO. KILL. STUFF. Now THIS is T’Androma’s kind of mission! Just your good old-fashioned, straightforward gladiatorial skirmish with fantastical creatures in an open coliseum.

Ladies and gentlemen, choose your weapons. Take ‘em all if you want, but it’s the Lirpa for me. As if I would choose anything else.

As a proud owner of a little Sehlat cub of my own, I really should be feeling bad about this. But that's the way of the arena! Sorry Fluffy!

And all the while, I’m going dun-dun-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DUN-dun-dun-DUN-DUN! in time to the music. Because everyone knows, of course, that the Amok Time song is the greatest fight music EVER. I laughed, because it seems that after almost a year, my wishes were finally answered. That was before I got into Star Trek. Sigh, how utterly ignorant and sad I was then.

Are you enjoying yourself? When do you think we'll get to go again?

The fun was over way too soon. Before long, T’Andy was herded back into her cage, where she had the opportunity to talk to the Reman slave who fought beside her the coliseum. “I tire of this life,” he moaned. “I can’t go on much longer.” “The lights are too damn bright.” Whine whine whine, bitch bitch bitch. It took every ounce of self control not to bite this guy’s head off and call him names, insult his manhood or imply he’s a psychopath. Seriously, Slamek, the joys of the arena are wasted on you and blubbering wussies like you.

But no, T’Andy had to  be diplomatic to get through this. Guess you can’t always have it all.

With much reluctance, T’Andy finally agreed to escape with him. At this point, I thought Cryptic would throw in a few objectives related to subterfuge or evasion. Surely, after all that fighting, they’ll make us sneak around some.

I could not have been more wrong, and boy am I glad for that:

Deworming.

Beating the Aehallh Worm in the coliseum shouldn’t be too difficult. If you find you are getting low on health, there are regenerative spores around the place you can “activate” to heal yourself. Run around to avoid the corrosive spit, beat down the tentacles, activate the turret system, simple as that. Letting you free the other prisoners to help you fight was also a welcome touch; I thought it added nicely to the frantic atmosphere.

By now, it feels like I’ve been playing this mission for a long time, and certainly it has already been twice as long as some of the previous FEs in the past. But it ain’t over yet! T’Andy and Slamek may have escaped their prison, but they still have to escape the desert. I was surprised there was still more to the story, but this is the most fun I’ve ever had in any STO mission, period, so I wasn’t complaining in the least.

Of course, it wasn’t enough just to be whiny and annoying, Slamek had to be an incompetent burden too. Wounded by the worm in the arena and poisoned by its venom, my Reman companion wasn’t going to make it unless he received immediate medical attention. If it were up to T’Andy, she would have let him die, but Starfleet has a pesky tendency to find out about these things, and if her churlish ways ever got back to the Admiral she would have my Vulcan ass on a silver platter.

Scorpions overhead!

The landscape, however, was absolutely breathtaking. As I gathered up the herbs for Slamek’s injuries while dodging the ranging Scorpions overhead, I couldn’t help but admire the desert scenery in the beautiful light of the silver moon. I don’t think I’ve seen anything else like this in STO. The environment was simply gorgeous. And huge. Thank God in one of the game’s previous updates they gave us a longer duration sprint.

Okay, now I have to spend the night with Slamek? Are you seriously saddling me with this pathetic creature, Cryptic? It’s like being haunted by a ghoul. Will the torture never end?!

Curse you, Slamek! Your fugly presence is totally ruining my glamour shoot!

Sigh. Just don’t get fresh with me, okay, Slamek? Or I swear, my boyfriend will come and nerve pinch you.

Here, T’Andy’s tactical training background required her to collect wood for a fire. Play with other classes in the group to collect all the accolades! Afterward, I thought surely the night in the cave must mean this episode was coming to an end…but there was still one more scene. Somewhere deep down I was starting to think this was getting a little ridiculous, but then I saw the marvelous view of the crashed Reman ship and promptly told that part of me to shut up. Again, the graphics and the design of the tableau was of a caliber I have not seen before in STO.

She's seen better days...

Just a few more objectives requiring me to send my signal to my ship, and T’Andy was almost home free. But then BAM! cutscene again. I was laughing out loud by the end, because I was having all these nasty thoughts about Slamek the whole time…and in the end it turned out I was right not to trust him. Traitorous bastard. Now that one I actually did see coming.

Why he went through all that just to sell me out though, I still have no idea. But the look on Hakeev’s face when I made my last minute getaway was funny enough to make me set aside all my questions. Silly villains. Y’all need to take a page from T’Andy’s book — shoot first, talk later.

Dammit. I knew I should have let the worms eat you out there, Slamek.

Days after playing this episode, I am still geeking out over it. My only concern about it is the fact it makes the rest of the game look less good, if that makes any sense. No wonder they are planning on going back to revamp past missions; I feel the chasm of difference between the old content and the new would be too great otherwise. Not only do I feel “Coliseum” is the best episode so far in the arc, I’d probably go as far as to say this was the best FE released to date. Hell, best mission the the game, even. Bar none.

This is now my favorite episode, and I have to say playing it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in STO. And it’s not just because I got to wreak all kinds of destruction in my wake. This episode must have been a massive undertaking — to write, to direct, to produce. It had everything, from the engaging script to the cinematic cutscenes with dramatic camera angles (especially with Hakeev at the end). Beautiful environments and music appropriate to the atmosphere. Extraordinary creatures, big and small. Lots of things that have never been seen before. There was also humor, suspense, excitement. Combat, problem solving, diplomacy. The whole mission was like a buffet table generously laid out by Cryptic, encouraging you to sample the best bits of everything.

Finally, in “Colisium”, I also see a labor of love, a devotion to Star Trek and a clear commitment to its fans to bring us the Trek elements we know and love. I’ve glimpsed this in other parts of STO, but here in this particular episode, it really shines.

Seriously, whoever came up with the idea for this mission deserves a raise. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next Saturday. It’s the series finale!

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SWTOR: Through Victory, My Chains Are Broken*

February 18, 2011

*Not applicable when dead.

Another month, another Fan Friday for Star Wars: The Old Republic, featuring fan creations and forum goodies for the community.

Frankly, I am shocked — SHOCKED! — that they are able to pull off such a wide range of expressions using a Sullustan. Though, what the heck, #1 and #4 appear to be the same smilie, and #6 is a good reason why this species should never ever ever be given teeth. Good god, get that thing away from me.

Of course, no Fan Friday is complete now without a Studio Insider with another Community Q&A installment, and Concept Artist Diego Almazan explains the process of how he created his concept for the Sith burial ground.

I really wish they had included a bit of lore to go with it. Personally, I find it fascinating that this Sith tomb or temple is also described as a “prison for the dead”. You see a lot of cases of cultures constructing temples and large necropolises to honor or immortalize their dead, protecting the tomb’s contents and grave goods from the outside…usually not the other way around.

I would assume that a Sith burial ground meant they interred their own people here. Did that include any ancient Sith lords? Because that really says a lot about how they viewed their masters. Which I guess isn’t really all that surprising, given what I’ve learned recently from reading some Star Wars books. At the moment, I’m working my way through the Darth Bane trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn and even though it takes place more than two thousand years after the events of SWTOR, it talks enough about the old self-destructive ways of the Sith Order, where Sith plotted against other Sith in a never-ending cycle of distrust and infighting.

In any case, I liked the concept art of the tomb itself. Looking forward to seeing what it would actually look like in-game.

It’s a pretty light week, even I have to admit. Questions in the Q&A are mostly from folks who are worried about one thing or another, and answers are predictably and maddeningly vague. I am hoping they are saving some big news for PAX East, at which I am definitely going to stop by their Booth 912. And if the pattern holds, next week might be the Bounty Hunter class video and update. Come on, Bioware, make it so!

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STO: Valentine, Valentine, Wilt Thou Be Mine (Enemy)?

February 14, 2011

Sorry about the title, but I never said I was a poet.

“Mine Enemy”, the second featured episode of the new Star Trek Online series arc debuted Saturday, and once again prior engagements kept me elsewhere and unable to log on at the time of launch. Again, I thought it was for the best as Cryptic still appeared less than prepared to handle the increased server loads at such a peak time. However, things didn’t go too smoothly for me either when I was finally able to play that night. I didn’t encounter any high-population-related problems, but I did hit a pretty annoying bug instead. More on that later.

Note: Spoilers in text and screenshots

This week, T’Androma and First Officer Sleer investigate a Ferengi-run mining colony in the Hfihar System. The rest of the away team stay behind as not to spook the miners and inhabitants, mostly made up of Romulan refugees, as they are not used to seeing too many outsiders to their area. For more on the plot and story of the mission, check out Tipa’s great write-up.

Traffic congestion in sector space.

Like last week’s episode, “Mine Enemy” starts at Admiral T’Nae located at Starbase 39. I made the trip to see her in person so I could grab a few screenshots of the crowd. It’s a shame Cryptic can’t manage the server loads more smoothly, but I do love it to see so many people in STO. It was late Saturday night, but T’Nae was no less surrounded by dozens of players jostling around and even on top of her desk trying to initiate the mission. I find that I really like the voiceover for her character. The actress manages to convey strict control over emotion, and yet there’s just that tiny little hint of condescension you would expect from a Vulcan.

Upon entering the Hfihar System, you’ll encounter a very short space sequence before getting the option to beam down to the surface of the mining colony with one other member of your away team. Commander Sleer was chosen for the assignment. As T’Andy’s first officer, the loyal science officer is her friend, her rock, and most importantly, her healer. Bringing someone who can provide your captain more firepower would work too, but as a tactical officer who likes to go in guns blazing, I personally like someone who can keep my shields up.

Once again, the STO team at Cryptic proves that when they set their mind to it, they can do wonderful, powerful things with environment and atmosphere. Because boy, what a craphole this place is, and I mean that in a good way. You can practically feel the despair rolling off the NPCs huddling in the dust and shadows of the slums. The gravity of the situation hits you even harder when you consider the main Star Trek timeline and the significance of everything around you — all these Romulans are sad and homeless now, scattered to the wind after their planet went kablooie in the supernova. You gotta feel bad for them.

Before you enter the mine, you’re asked to help out some of the Romulan refugees in the area. You get to complete different tasks depending on your character’s class. As a tactical officer, I got to take out a bunch of thugs that has been threatening this poor guy just trying to feed his own family as well as his dead friend’s, which suited me just fine. The point is though, I notice Cryptic is sticking to this trend of providing class specific objectives, which I approve because I think lore-wise it makes each role feel more unique in function, on top of simply just having different abilities.

Why you don't mess with T'Andy.

Okay, here at the entrance of the mine, I encountered the really annoying bug. I first tried using diplomacy to talk the Romulan jerk on guard into letting me through, but ended up having to put him down anyway. Subsequently, I was given the objective to take out 4 more groups of hostile Romulans, except I only got 3 groups, and thus got stuck when I couldn’t initiate the next part of the mission. Apparently, this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence; I saw several people talking about in sector space chat, and a couple of my own fleetmates experienced this whacky glitch. You only have two choices if it happens to you, unfortunately.  One, you can drop the mission and start it over, or two, you can beam out and wait 15 minutes for the mine to reset. I did the latter, but while I waited I also redid “The Vault” with Blue Kae and Talyn, so it wasn’t a total loss.

To avoid the glitch, I was advised to just go in and just shoot the guard. Don’t try to negotiate with him, don’t even talk to him, just kill him. Shoot him dead. Well, I can do that. And voila, it worked! Keep going further into the mine and you should get the message to kill 5 groups of hostile Romulans, which is the way it should be. You miss out on the choice to use diplomacy, but I did this mission twice and both times I followed this advice, and the bug didn’t show itself again, which is what matters. The puzzle (well, if you can even call it a puzzle) initiated to open the hidden cave door, I stood on one of the pressure plates, stuck my bridge officer on the other, and whew, I was finally through this pesky area.

And what’s this? Cutscene! I think this is another trend we’ll be seeing more of from these featured episodes. And with Cryptic having plans to revamp many more of their missions like they did with the Azura encounter, at some point we may even be seeing these all over the game.

Be sure to explore everything before you head past the code-protected door. In one of the caverns to the side, you’ll get even a nice surprise and an accolade out of it…

Cue "not a bricklayer" line!

It’s moments like these that I’m glad I took the time to watch all the Star Trek shows, even the Original Series. The episode with the Horta is one of my favorites. It’s so much more fun when you get the references, and I gotta say kudos to Cryptic for putting in gems like these for the fans.

I’m also astounded by all the choices you’re given in this FE. In the brig, you get the optional mission of releasing the prisoners, for example. I did, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them help me fight! Of course, five minutes later I managed to get them all vaporized. So it goes. I also had the choice of not killing the Romulan commander for the access codes, but duh, I did anyway. What, it’s not like my diplomacy rank would have been high enough in the first place! I don’t know, I didn’t check.

Anyway, choice means a lot more fun for completionist types like me, and even though it is possible to sneak through the facility without having to kill a single worker, I mowed the whole place down so I could sneak a peek at all the information on the consoles they were working on. What can I say? Destruction follows T’Andy around like a pet goat, but there’s usually a rhyme and reason to it.

Speaking of destruction, I love how the whole place almost comes down during your harrowing escape from the mines. There’s that whole thing with environment and atmosphere again. Good job, Cryptic!

Escape action-hero style.

You return to your ready room afterward, to decode the files you downloaded from deep in the mine before you managed to get out of there. Some of the files include errors that you have to correct in order to receive pass codes that will help you decipher the main encrypted document. What followed was a lot of reading and in some cases guesswork, but I found clicking through trial and error will also ultimately get you to your goal in decoding the message. Oh, you Remans. I look forward to breaking your necks.

On a more cheerful note, I love this week’s reward. How could I NOT choose the Horta hatchling pet?

Uh, T'Andy, I don't think he likes the fire extinguisher.

Overall, great episode. Just a shame about the bug; if it wasn’t for that, everything would have been perfect, 10 out of 10. Still, “Mine Enemy” probably ranks up there as one of my favorite featured episodes so far.

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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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STO: Aye, She’s A Beaut

January 24, 2011

Twitter was abuzz this weekend with Star Trek Online players talking about the amazing changes to Earth Spacedock on the Tribble test shard. Normally, I resist looking at anything before they reach the live servers, but  the temptation this time was just too great. I knew I had to see them for myself.

That said, I tried to limit much of my exploring to ESD, and after seeing it I have nothing but compliments. First off, it’s nice to see that we now have a transporter room. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Club 47 got a face-lift, and after making a giant fool out of myself by careening into the transparent barrier separating the club from the corridor, I even did a little jig on the dance floor with a few other players (after wiping my bloody nose, of course). Not sure why they need so many guards armed to the teeth standing on the lookout though, are a bunch of partying Federation officers really that much of a threat?

There are heaps of other changes scattered all across ESD, but the real surprise was waiting for me in the new Ship Requisition area:

Wow. I literally felt chills as I stepped off the turbolift and ventured up to the window to behold the Galaxy Class beyond it. When you play “as” your starship out in space, you start to lose the sense of just how massive these things are supposed to be. Here, the new Ship Requisitions serves as a clear reminder. This area used to be a bunch of NPCs standing around a room talking about ships and now it’s…well, still a bunch of NPCs standing around a room talking about ships, but its presentation (something which Cryptic is becoming increasingly accomplished at, I might add) is simply beyond beautiful.

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