Posts Tagged ‘Demo’

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PAX East: SWTOR Taral V Flashpoint Demo Playthrough

March 15, 2011

This article is going to be a monster. It is organized into three parts — first I go through the preparation we had to do before the demo, then I talk about what our group did during our playthrough and our strategy for the boss fight, and finally, I talk about my opinions of the demo. If all this is TL;DR, feel free to just skip down to the third section of my post that summarizes my thoughts.

1. The preparation:

BioWare sure knows how to build up anticipation. On Sunday, the last day of PAX East, my husband and I spent more than three hours waiting in line at the Star War: The Old Republic booth to play the demo for the Taral V flashpoint…but it was worth it.

Right before it was our turn to step up to the stations, 12 of us were herded into a cordoned-off area and were told to get ourselves into groups of four. My husband and I had been chatting up these two friends who were waiting in line beside us, and had gotten to know that they were a tank and healer team. After watching some of the demos being played on the TV screens around us, I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to be the Trooper (anytime something bad happens, the crowds watching are always so brutal to the tank when they jeer) or the Smuggler (I’m nowhere near brave enough to tackle healing on a character I’ve never seen before, in a game I’ve never played). So really, fate had decided for us beforehand that we were going to team up with these guys.

Each team was then given an iPad by a Bioware employee, and asked to peruse the presentation on them about the Taral V flashpoint which included a brief rundown of the classes and their abilities. The presentation was also supposed to give us an idea of which role you wanted to play. Since our new friends had already claimed the Trooper Vanguard (tank) and Smuggler Scoundrel (healer) roles, that left the Jedi Consular Sage or the Jedi Knight Guardian. Since Sunday was the day I wanted to let my husband call the shots, I let him decide first. He chose the Consular, which I knew he would, as he does seem to have an affinity towards the ranged playstyle. That suited me just fine too, as I happen to love melee. And so that was how I took on the role of the Jedi Knight.

Next, we were let into an enclosed booth, where we got to sit down in really nice chairs (I know any seat would feel like heaven after that grueling wait, but they actually were really nice chairs). BioWare Product Marketing Manager Deborah Shin welcomed us and showed us a short video about five minutes long further explaining the flashpoint and focusing on each class and what they’re supposed to do. It wasn’t a strategy guide by any means; rather, it was informing us of the tactics each class is capable of, which could then lead to the formulation of multiple strategies.

We’ve seen many groups try many different things — some were successful, some were not. The boss fight method shown in the video of the Taral V Developer walkthrough is not the only way. In fact, during the hours waiting and watching, we saw many demo groups try just that and fail miserably. “Ping-ponging” aggro doesn’t really work so well when you’re four strangers playing without any form of effective communication. We were told that probably only 15 or 16 groups have managed to be successful in defeating the boss, working out to about 1 in 5. Later on, our booth helper told us it was probably lower than that, closer to only 1 in 7 groups that managed to succeed.

No matter what, our group just knew we wanted to nail this. We didn’t have a lot of time to talk between ourselves, but it was just barely enough to put together and agree upon the rudiments of a working strategy…

2. What we did:

After the presentation, we finally got to sit down at our demo stations. Ours went like this from left to right: Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Trooper, Jedi Consular. This later on turned out to be a pretty unfortunate set-up, but more on that later.

I sat myself down at the second machine, and quickly looked over my Jedi Knight abilities and tried to remember what I had read about them from the iPad presentation earlier. There was also a little card taped to my station that gave a little information. I was a level 32 Jedi Guardian who had a DPS role in this demo, but I was also heavily armored and specced in a way that I could cover some off-tanking duties as well. I saw by pressing “P” that I actually had a lot more abilities at my disposal, but BioWare had set it up so in this demo I was only supposed to utilize mainly the ones they had placed in my action bars.

They were arranged in a specific way — 5 of my main attack abilities were grouped up at the front of the top bar, for example. Then came a chunk near the left that made up my taunt abilities, another chunk that made up my focus-building abilities, then my buffs, recovery abilities, etc. I literally had seconds to familiarize myself with the set-up and gather my bearings before the demo started and we were playing in earnest.

First came a conversation with Jedi Master Oteg. Here, I finally got to see the multiplayer conversation system at work. Each player picks their answer from the dialogue wheel, and after everyone chooses, a random roll occurs and the highest one is the response that takes place. I could see in the lower left hand corner the numbers that were rolled. On the other side of our station was a group of onlookers watching our screen, and we could hear them keep chanting for us to pick the “evil” dialogue option. Well, we’d been waiting in line seeing people choose the “jerk” option in the demos all day! Just to annoy them, my husband kept picking the “good” option. And he also happened to win probably 80% of the random rolls so we got to witness his Jedi Consular’s answers almost every single time. I think my husband took pleasure in that, also when he called this system the “convo-loot” system.

So we’re off to the Imperial world of Taral V to rescue an imprisoned Jedi Master who is essential to the Republic war effort. The four of us made our way to the hangar bay and into the shuttle. We could see checkmarks appear above our heads as each player got ready. A short cutscene followed, showing our ship taking off and disappearing into the distant stars.

And then, we were in the jungle. Everyone buffed and filed in behind the Trooper. As the tank, we were going to let him lead the way.

Almost immediately, we saw our first hostile mobs. Close by, lightning struck, causing some brush fires as a Imperial ship landed in the distance, an unsettling sight. We engaged in combat, battling all manner of enemies from Imperial units like commandos and droids, to creatures like jungle beasts and lurkers as we made our way further down the path. Some mobs were stationary, like the Imperials standing on guard, but would charge you or attack as soon as you got in sight. Others like the beasts often ambushed us, popping up from the ground groups at a time to surround and converge on us.

I was a little hesitant at the beginning, not feeling very confident about my knowledge of my abilities, and unsure of the role I was to play in this group. Should I stick with DPS, or should I take the initiative and tank some mobs on my own since that was within my capabilities? Finally, I was just like, “Ah heck, no guts, no glory!” and charged in, taking on a more pro-active role, helping the tank whenever I could. I tried to always start off with my focus-building abilities, first hurling my lightsaber from afar (awesome!) before force leaping in to smash the enemy up close. We were always taking on groups, and while I found I was a good damage-dealer, I was also useful in sharing some of the damage with the Trooper while we were taking on big groups.

Usually, I let the tank take on a big mob while I ran around taking care of the weaker enemies. I noticed his friend playing the Smuggler was also helping us by getting into cover whenever he could, giving us defensive bonuses. My husband playing the Jedi Sage was vigilant in throwing out his crowd control abilities, and I was careful to avoid mobs that he had disabled. I had something like a Force Pull ability to taunt mobs off the two of them whenever they drew attention, and I also had an AoE taunt ability that I used once or twice during ambushes to quickly get them off our healer, while giving the tank time to engage.

We were here on Taral V to rescue a Jedi Master, but along the way there were also several optional objectives to complete, such as killing Imperial units and destroying research terminals. Our team did the latter whenever we could just to have the experience, but also to see the destruction it wreaked (the explosion that ensued often helped us damage whatever enemies we were fighting in the immediate area). Otherwise, our main goal was to get to the Imperial facility. Only half the flashpoint was playable for the demo, and we knew we weren’t going to be able to finish our bonus objectives. The minutes were also ticking by, and we were anxious to get a crack at the boss. We wanted as much time as we could, in case we needed more than one attempt.

Finally, we reached the facility. Our first order of business was to clear the mobs in the area. No harm in being too careful; we didn’t want to aggro any adds while fighting the boss.

The boss encounter is Captain Shivanek and his pet Ripper. Once Shivanek is engaged he will summon Ripper who bursts out beside him and charges the group. We’d already planned on me as the Jedi Guardian keeping the captain busy while the Trooper tanks the hulking beast. While we’d seen the developer walkthrough video and the way that group takes down Shivanek first and has the Trooper and Guardian share aggro for Ripper, we’d also witnessed countless groups that day fail to carry that method through. When the captain dies, Ripper enrages and does A LOT more damage, and we’d seen many tanks go down after that happens.

People forget that the group in the video most likely had had multiple attempts, and knew what they were doing. The players might even have had the ability to communicate between each other. The four of us sitting at the demo station did not really have that luxury. First of all, while all of us were sitting side-by-side in a row, the place was LOUD. There were tons of people everywhere surrounding the booth, and the noise was such that even to talk to the person sitting beside me, I had to shout myself hoarse to be heard. Add to that, we were also wearing headphones. Typing everything wasn’t going to work either. No, we had to come up with a way that didn’t require constant communication between me and the tank, or the tanks and the healer. Though we knew it was going to be a little tougher, we were also confident it could work.

Our strategy — to take them both down at the same time…together. Think the Romulo and Julianne fight in the World of Warcraft Karazhan raid instance.

So, it was up to me to initiate the encounter. I chucked my lightsaber at Captain Shivanek, and force leaped in to tank him. Ripper popped out, and the Trooper immediately fired on him to grab his attention. The Smuggler watched us both to keep us healed up, while my husband range-attacked both the captain and Ripper and kept an eye on their health bars to make sure they would go be going down at relatively the same rate.

Everything was going well…until the bosses were at about half health. That was when I saw my health bar faltering, and so did the Trooper’s. Our healer had been doing a wonderful job up until this point, so I knew something was going on. I looked to my left where he was sitting, and he turned to me and said (well, more like shouted) “I’m going to need back-up healing!” From there, even though we were sitting pretty close together, it was like a mini-game of broken telephone. I turned to the guy on my right, the tank, and shouted, “Tell the Sage we need back-up healing!” He then turned to my husband and shouted, “Back-up heals!”

Well, of course, by then it was a little too late. I found out afterward from the guy playing the Smuggler that he’d realized he had been using his “big” heals too generously. The Scoundrel’s strengths appeared to be his heals-over-time, and the other heals ate up his energy much too quickly. The Sage’s support didn’t come quick enough, and our Trooper went down.

At this point, I thought we were lost. No group I saw had ever lost the tank and not wiped. But those who were still alive fought desperately on anyway.

I continued smashing at Captain Shivanek, even as I was down to less than 50% health. I couldn’t see what was going on behind me, but I could assume Ripper was probably pummeling our Consular and Smuggler into dust. But…even after half a minute, everyone was still alive. I saw that Shivanek was down to about 15% health, and seeing as I still had some life in me, I pounded at him as hard as I could with my most damaging abilities. By some miracle, I survived when the captain finally died, and I quickly turned around to see if I could take Ripper, knowing he was now enraged and I was probably going to live for about two more seconds before he finished me off.

But when I turned around, Ripper was…dead? He was lying on the ground in front of the Jedi Sage. Later, my husband told me he had been “tanking” Ripper, and when Ripper died he had immediately turned around to see if he could help me with Shivanek only to see him dead on the ground in front of me as well. The two bosses must have gone down at exactly or almost exactly the same time.

You have to understand, this encounter itself wasn’t a very complicated fight, but our circumstances made it extremely so. We couldn’t very well talk to each other easily. The tank was dead and running back, so he had no idea what was happening with the fight. The healer couldn’t see target-of-target because the interface wasn’t set up for it in this particular demo, so he didn’t know what was going on with the bosses either. I was concentrating on Shivanek so I only had half the story, while my husband was focusing on Ripper so he had the other half. When we found both bosses dead, we all looked around at each other with totally perplexed looks and asked, “Did we win?” It wasn’t until our booth assistant beside us shouted “You guys did it!” that we finally cheered and started patting each other on the back.

Yes, we lost our tank. But now we knew our strategy was viable, if the Smuggler had conserved his energy a little and if the Sage had jumped in with back-up healing a little sooner. We were so happy to have killed the boss, which according to our booth assistant was what only a few groups she’d seen had managed to do.

After the Trooper ran back, we still had a little time until our 45 minutes were up, so we went around killing the mobs we missed. We also played around with the GUI and “/danced” our victory dance.

Playing around with the emotes was also when I typed in “/threaten”, making the text pop us as “You threaten everyone with an omnious stare” or something like that. “Omnious?” I pointed it out to the booth assistant and asked if they knew about that typo. Well, that would be my one itty-bitty contribution to the feedback process!

 

3. What I thought:

Okay, there will be people who will hate Taral V and SWTOR flashpoints in general just as there will be those who will absolutely adore it, and everything in between. I happen to be one of those people who enjoyed myself immensely, and I’ll say why.

First of all, if you’ve read some of my comments on group combat on this blog before, you’ll know that I am not necessarily anti-MMO holy trinity, but what I would prefer to see in the future is a more dynamic kind of MMO trinity in our instance encounters. I had suspected we would see this in SWTOR flashpoints, and after playing the Taral V demo, I can definitely say I saw some of this being realized.

Being in a four-person team, I felt our tasks were more evenly spread out. In other words, being in a smaller group than what we were used to, each of us felt like we had more of an obligation to “share the load”. In fact, the only person on the team that I felt was more “pigeonholed” than any of the others was the Trooper, whose tanking responsibilities remained pretty much necessary and static throughout the entire encounter. Even so, he was doing more damage than I would have expected from a tanking character. Me, I was either off-tanking or helping the others do DPS. The Scoundrel, our healer, took part in actively CCing and doing damage especially in our fight through the jungle.

And my husband the Consular…well, he stole the show. He was a ranged-damage dealer, but was also shocked to see himself do decent damage with his lightsaber as well. Not great damage — but it wasn’t as pathetic as you would expect from, say, a Mage swinging his staff. So he delighted in the fact he wasn’t completely helpless if any loose mobs got in his face. He also did plenty of crowd control, disabling enemies with a sort of force vortex. And of course, the Consular also has some healing abilities. In fact, I only survived our chaotic boss fight thanks to his heals at the end, even though they were small and I assume not as effective as the Scoundrel’s. He even tanked Ripper for about 20 seconds. When that happened, my husband told me he almost fell off his chair. The whole time, he’d thought of himself as playing a “clothie”, and as soon as Ripper headed for him after the Trooper went down, he thought he was a goner. He almost was, but simply by HoT-ing up himself and DoT-ing up Ripper, he was able to barely keep himself alive to finish the encounter.

I’m thinking the Consular will probably be one of the more interesting classes to play, in terms of mechanics and abilities.

I normally want to keep all comparisons of WoW separate from my discussions of other games, but I was reading a particular thread on the SWTOR forums last night, and I just can’t resist. Is having instances in your game like WoW? Is being able to tank, damage or heal as a group like WoW? Is having abilities you use on your action bar, being able to obtain and roll for loot, having health bars and mini-maps, fighting mobs and bosses etc. etc. etc. just like WoW? Yes, along with numerous other MMOs and even some RPGs out there, but make no mistake — While I think it’s absolutely right to say the mechanics resemble WoW, on the other hand  to say SWTOR flashpoints look “just like WoW” is also seeing only the similarities and ignoring a whole slew of differences. I for one thought that playstyle felt distinctively different.

Everything was fast-paced. Our group did not sit around before every single pull to mark and discuss who’s going to CC what. Nor did we go rushing in to AoE everything into oblivion. Every decision had to be specific, and made in a split second. Like I said, we had more of an obligation to share the load, watch out for each other to see where the gaps were in our tactics, and if you were able to, you filled them in as best you could. I flowed from one task to another — sometimes this meant switching over from damaging one mob to damaging the next, other times it meant going from damaging to off-tanking and vice versa. The only real pauses were after fights, where we all took a few moments to reload, regenerate or recover.

BioWare has made each class useful and capable of handling many different situations, something Blizzard finally figured out when they gave each class and spec viable roles in group play and things like effective CC abilities. I wouldn’t go as far as to call SWTOR classes hybrids; instead, I’d say each class has ample utility. For example, I think when you know you have a responsibility in the group beyond simply doing as much damage as you can, you are more likely to look around and ask yourself, “What does this situation require?” and “Can I provide that support?” If the answer is yes, you go ahead and you do it. You’re not worrying about whether or not you can top the damage meters today so your group won’t decide your DPS is too low and exclude you tomorrow; you are thinking for the good of the team and not just of yourself.

Not surprisingly, I felt a stronger sense of cooperation between my group members and myself while playing this demo than I’ve ever felt in an instance in ages. I really, really liked that. In supporting my team and knowing that they were in turn supporting me and each other, and in defeating our enemies this way and pressing ahead, I actually started to understand the feeling of being…heroic. I have to wonder how the raids in this game are going to be like. Apparently, being a hero isn’t going to be about the personal glory — it’s going to be knowing that in pulling a loose mob off your friend, or by tossing out that last minute heal, you just saved the day.

In terms of the combat and gameplay, it goes without saying that it was smooth as butter. BioWare has gotten the combat down as well as making the environment feel alive, as seen with the crashing ships and burning fires. They’ve also given us plenty to do in the instance, like optional and side quests. I think if you enjoy doing group content, you will probably like these flashpoints. And if you’re concerned that SWTOR will be too much of a “single-player game”, do something like this and hopefully it will assuage your fears.

Really, the major negatives of my experience didn’t come from within, it came from without. The throngs of people around and the small crowd in line watching and commenting on our playthrough being shown on the TV screen in front of us made for a huge distraction, and my lack of experience with the character didn’t help, and neither did our time limit, forcing us to learn our abilities as quickly as possible. It was a real baptism by fire, to say the least. I wish I could have heard more of the music in the game, but the exhibition hall was so effing loud that I couldn’t really catch much of it. Kinda made me wonder why they would provide us with such upscale clunky gaming mice, but not give us better quality headphones.

I did have issues with the user interface. It was nice and neat, and made your screen look clean, but one of the hardest things to get used to was knowing to watch your own health decrease this way <—, while watching your enemy target’s health decrease towards that way —>. However, it’s possible that these little things can be changed through interface options in the settings, along with stuff like seeing target-of-target, so I’m not too concerned. The UI itself looked pretty comprehensive, displaying all the information you’ll need to know about yourself and everything around you in your environment.

The only other couple of things I want to nitpick are small, possibly even trivial. The combat, as I’ve mentioned, was very fast-paced. Perhaps a little too fast. Speaking of which, I was pretty excited to be playing the Jedi Knight, hoping to observe some cool lightsaber forms as I was fighting, but the motions simply zipped by in a blur. Or maybe it just felt that way. I admit I was a little frazzled and my mind was overworked, trying to deal with all the stimuli bombarding me from all directions in-game as well as out of the game. The other thing is that when you die, you spawn at the closest med-station, which is at the beginning of the flashpoint. This is pretty standard procedure, but in most other games you are confined to a dungeon or a small area, not running like a mile through the jungle just to get back to the first boss, which is what our Trooper had to do. It felt really, really long. I wonder if they will put in checkpoints in the final product.

So, was waiting hours and hours worth it? Hell yeah it was. You might wonder why BioWare didn’t just decrease the amount of time players are allowed at each station, cut down a 45-minute demo to say, 15 minutes in order to get more people through. God knows I asked myself the same thing enough times while I was waiting impatiently in line. But after playing it, I have to admit, any less time would not have done the flashpoint demo justice. I wouldn’t have been able to utilize my class to its full potential, learn the synergies between myself and others, get immersed in the story, or make all my other observations otherwise.

In closing, after playing the demo, I had myself a thought. I love MMOs, I love BioWare, I love Star Wars. I am totally going to buy this game. In the end, however, I figure BioWare probably isn’t targeting players like me — that is, gamers who have a game blog, who spend time viewing gaming discussions, following the news day-by-day, picking apart everything that comes out, talking about specific mechanics in online communities with other gamers, etc. No, BioWare has alluded to this many times before — they want to make a fun game to appeal to a wide audience, from the MMO veteran to the beginner online gamer.

Most gamers are your average player simply looking for a good time in an MMO. Well, my husband’s like that. He doesn’t follow gaming, and is pretty much happy as long as he’s playing whatever I’m playing. He doesn’t ask for much — only that he can play a game that works, something that’s fun and has a well filled-out world, something that gives him a challenge and plenty enough cool stuff to do. Well, if you’ve actually made it through this monster of a post to get to this point, you know my thoughts. Mr. MMOGC, on the other hand, is a lot more succinct. His first words immediately after playing the demo as he took off his headphones and got up from his seat? They were, “That was AWESOME.” Take that as you will.

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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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My PAX East 2011 Recap

March 14, 2011

So PAX East weekend is at an end. I feel a little sadness at that, since I had such a great time, but there’s a bit of relief as well. For one thing, I am exhausted.

This is the first chance I’ve gotten in days to get online and give my blog some attention again. If there’s something I learned, is that PAX lines are the great leveler. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, how old you are, everywhere you look everyone is groaning, gasping, cringing as they shift on their tired feet and stretch their sore back and leg muscles.

Anyway, here are the highlights of my weekend, which included some hands on time with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Mission accomplished!

Friday

We arrived in Boston after about 9 grueling hours on the road. We were delayed earlier in the day by traffic and other complications, such as a 5-month old puppy with an overactive bladder. By the time we were settled in, it was already almost 9pm. I had wanted to hit up the Rift community meet-up, but even as the hours passed by as we were driving, I knew the chances of making it were pretty slim. We were just so tired by the end of our trip, I opted to crash early so we could wake up tomorrow refreshed. Such a shame, though; I heard afterward that the Trion crew threw a rockin’ party.

Saturday

So the real fun begins in earnest. My brother-in-law lives in the area, so he knew all the best places for cheap parking around the Convention Center. However, we arrived to find out he had forgotten his PAX pass at home! As a result, I was dropped off to enter the building on my own.

I waited in the line to get in, noticing I did pretty good for myself. The doors finally opened at 10am and we were released from our taped off corrals like cattle. You know me; I made straight for the EA booths, specifically 912 where Star Wars: The Old Republic is located. I stopped in my tracks as soon as I saw a wall of TV screens showing off the Taral V flashpoing gameplay and just stood there and watched. This was the first time I’ve ever come so up-close-and-personal with the game, and I think I just wanted to take a quiet minute to appreciate the moment.

It was kind of hard to do. There were so many people. It wasn’t long before there was an announcement on the stage, telling visitors that the lines for the demos were already capped for the day. And this was barely 10 minutes after the door opened! Crazy. I heard they weren’t going to let anyone get into the line anymore, but that was okay with me. I knew before coming that there was going to be an iffy chance whether or not I was going to be able to get some hands-on experience with the game, and I’d already come to terms with myself about that.

Imagine my surprise when someone from Bioware wearing an Old Republic shirt came up and told me and the group around me, “You guys are looking at about a 3-hour wait,” before moving down and counting heads again, then telling those people “4-hour wait”. Apparently, by wandering straight over with the crowds to ogle the TV screens, I had unwittingly and cluelessly queued up for the demo line. Hell, I wasn’t there on Friday, I didn’t know! I just followed everyone else and it turned out to be the right place! I couldn’t believe how lucky I got.

Of course, that meant I’d left my husband behind and he wasn’t very pleased. He hesitated to ask me to get out of the line though, even before I told him it would be like me pulling him out of a Superbowl game when his favorite team was playing. He said, “No, it wouldn’t!” but he was understanding and made me promise I would wait in line again with him tomorrow if he wanted to play the demo too. Hey, to try for another chance to play SWTOR? No complaints here! I have the best husband in the world.

The time went by quickly, especially after I got to know my neighbors in line and started talking to them about the game. In a bizarre twist of fate, the nice gentleman beside me I was chatting a lot with turned out to be none other than TheDarkKnight, creator of the epic thread on the SWTOR general discussion forum, “Information gathered on the Old Republic so far!” I don’t think I’ve ever interacted with him on the forums personally, but I see his posts so often that I almost feel like I know him. It really struck me then; people talk all the time about how fan expos and conventions are such great places to meet up with your online friends, but it didn’t hit me until that moment — you can literally run into anyone in the community here. I was so glad to be in line with someone I “know”, and like his forum thread, he was a wealth of SWTOR information.

Finally, the moment of truth — as I neared the front of the line, all of us were asked what we were interested in demoing. I’ll admit I was sorely tempted to play the Taral V flashpoint. But being more popular, the wait was going to be a little longer. I decided not to test my husband’s patience and decided to play an Origin demo. I was plucked from the line along with TheDarkKnight who also opted to do an Origin, and led to another cordoned off area to await my chance to play — and if you’ve been following my SWTOR posts, my choice won’t come as a surprise — the Bounty Hunter starting area.

Sorry to tease, but I’m afraid my hands-on experience will have to wait for another post. I just have so much to say, but my brain is so tired right now, I can’t promise I can communicate all I want to say in a coherent manner. And also, I want to write it together with the hands-on experience I got the next day, because as it turned out, I managed to play the demo for the Taral V flashpoint after all…

After I finished the demo, which was about half an hour long, I gathered up my SWTOR swag consisting of a poster and a couple shirts. I received one of the latter after playing the demo and TheDarkKnight offered me his since he already have some — he said so that I could have both a Republic version and a Sith version. I was so touched and thankful! Bless good people. Bless gamers.

I went in search of my husband and my brother-in-law, who had been walking around checking out the rest of the expo. I had originally wanted to check out the Guild Wars 2 panel at 3pm, but I got done just shy of 2pm and BAM! Twitter informs me that they were already 100% full. Like, as in don’t-even-linger full. I should have figured.

I found the guys finally; they had been exploring, checking the Warner Bros/Turbine booth. My brother-in-law discovered free-to-play Lord of the Rings Online and they’d grabbed a couple game discs. I met up with them in the Nvidia area, where they’d been playing some of the demos there in 3D, and my husband wanted me to give it a try as he was impressed enough that he was actually willing to consider getting a computer with 3D capabilities for his next rig.

Ugh, I don’t know. First of all, everything’s a lot darker with the glasses on. Bugged the hell out of me. Also, I have messed up eyes, my left eye being far-sighted while my right one is near-sighted. Things generally balance themselves out, so I’ve never actually required glasses — but you can imagine what weird things that can do with my depth perception at times.  Anyway, I learned something that day. My vision gets screwed up when I attempt to see through 3D glasses, to the point I actually wonder if I see the same thing as other people with normal vision. Even if I was wearing my contact (yes, I was only ever prescribed one contact lens, and I’m only advised to wear it while driving) I don’t think I could stand having something resting on my nose while I’m trying to play a game. It’s why I disdain glasses. I’m fussy like that. Sorry, 3D, no thanks for now.

I also wanted to check out some Guild Wars 2, but was surprised to see no booth for them. Instead, their demo stations were spread out around the exhibition hall. There was one at the Alienware booth, for example. I knew there was also on at the Nvidia booth, so I went and looked for it. There was quite a handful of people waiting to play, so all I was able to do was watch for a while. I was quite impressed with what I saw. The person playing was a Charr — and the movement and combat I saw was exceedingly smooth. Not being able to get some hands-on experience with Guild Wars 2 was probably my only regret for PAX East.

We took an hour or so afterward to eat and go home to check on the doggies. My brother-in-law has a dog too, so it’s been a madhouse here with three hyperactive dogs running around. After cleaning up the mess the little puppy made, my husband and I took off back to the convention center to attend MMORPG.com’s “The Future of Online Gaming” panel. It was my first and only panel at PAX East, and boy, was it a good one. Information was sort of missing from the program, so I’m trying to go by memory here — panelists included Craig Alexander from Turbine, Scott Hartsman from Trion, Curt Schilling from 38 Studios, Colin Johanson from ArenaNet, James Ohlen from BioWare and a couple other devs from big companies. It was fascinating, to say the least, being able to hear what these bigwigs had to say about the genre and to see what their visions are for their games.

Interesting thing happened at the end of the panel. I knew from the conversations on my feed that many of my Twitter pals also attended this panel. I tried to see if I could spot any of them…and lo and behold, I caught sight of someone I thought might be Pete from Dragonchasers, just from the description he provided me of himself earlier last week. But see, I wasn’t sure. How embarrassing would it be if I was wrong? But I saw a woman with him who I thought might be @g33kg0dd3ss, and just went, ah, screw it, I’m gonna go ask!

I go, “Hi, excuse me, are you…” then wondered what the heck should I say? If I said “pasmith” his Twitter handle and it turned out not to be him would I just look like some random whackjob? So I quickly finished with, “on Twitter?” And when he said “Yes, I am!” that was when I finally relaxed and realized I was right. It sure was Pete and @g33kg0dd3ss! I also got to meet @Scopique briefly before I had to go to dinner. But I knew I was going to have a chance later that night to get to chat more — I was going to the PAX East 2011 tweetup!

So glad I made it. It was so much fun, meeting with some of the people I’ve known on Twitter for what feels like ages — @Scopique, @girl_vs_mmo, @adarel, @sera_brennan, @kylehorner, , @Hawkinsa1, @_jwgoodson, @g33kg0dd3ss and @pasmith. I wonder what my husband and brother-in-law made of it. I think to a certain extent it might have amazed them that some of us are only meeting in real life for the first time, the conversation was so lively and cheerful. Everyone had such a great day and we were all sharing our experiences and stories, and I just couldn’t help but think wow, this is the spirit of PAX.

It was almost 1am when I left the meet-up. As reluctant as I was to go, I knew it was getting late. It was also the night to “Spring Forward” and we were going to lose an hour of sleep. I had to be rested, for I had a BIG day ahead of me tomorrow. My husband is going to make me get up bright and early to make it into the SWTOR line again, after all…

Sunday

Sunday was light compared to Saturday. I hadn’t even originally planned to do much on this day, before I got roped into my promise with my husband. Thought maybe I’d sleep in late, walk around the exhibition hall a little, visit the gift shop and just have a relaxing day.

So I was not a very happy camper when I was dragged up at 7am in the morning, after only 3 hours of sleep. I sat bleary-eyed in the passenger seat while we drove to the convention center once more. I fought the urge to curl up in a ball and fall asleep on the ground while we waited to be let in.

Long story short, as early as we showed up, we still ended up in the SWTOR line waaaaaay near the back, to the point we weren’t even sure we were going to get to play today. I turned to my husband and asked him what he wanted to do. It was his day, I promised him. So I was going to let him call the shots. He figured we could afford to wait a little and see what happens.

It turned out he was right to follow his instincts. Within half an hour, the line had shrunk and we were bumped up to only a few hours wait. Being a Sunday and the last day of PAX East probably had a lot to do with that, with people taking today to do everything they had missed and of course, those with day passes would be reluctant to spend half their day in a line.

I had wanted to save instance content for when the game is released, but you know, when you’ve waited hours in a line and you’re suddenly faced with the opportunity to play it, I was just like, ahh screw it, gimme flashpoint NAO! So that was how I ended up being able to play the Taral V demo.

Again, I’m just going to have to sit on the write-up of my experience for now. It’s going to take some time to gather my thoughts during that whole time while I was being bombarded with so much stimulation and information. It’s not just about my excitement and anticipation while I was playing the game; the atmosphere around me itself was just chaotic and insane. Imagine trying to play with your group without any effective way of communication, while hundreds of people are talking and shouting around you and watching and commenting on your performance being shown to the crowd on a big TV screen. Add to that, you’re thrown into this instance as a level 32 character you’ve never played before and know nothing about. And if that wasn’t enough, you literally only had seconds to familiarize yourself with the ability set up in the action bar, as well as the really clunky gaming mouse they provide you with.

We were given some time before we were seated to learn our abilities and decide on our class and discuss strategies, but it’s just barely enough. It’s no wonder we saw so many groups flounder on the boss. During our briefing, we were told only about 15 groups have made it, as in killed the boss, which is about 1 in 5 or 6 groups. However, the BioWare employee helping us out at our station told us it was probably less than that, closer to 1 in 7.

I am so proud to say that our group consisting of me, my husband, and a two guys that we got to know who were beside us in line, got to be in that minority and beat the boss! We didn’t exactly do it gracefully, as it was one of those really hectic encounters that leave you wondering, “Holy crap, did we seriously manage to survive that?” Actually, our tank died. Usually when that happens, it’s a wipe. I had no idea how we managed to hold out, but at the end, we were so shocked we actually made it that we didn’t cheer for victory until our booth assistant cried out, “You guys did it!” I think even our audience watching our TV screen was a little shocked. The instance was already awesome, but the way we ended it just made it EPIC.

All in all, we got 45 minutes to play. There are some people questioning why they just don’t decrease the amount of time the demos take, so more people get a chance to play. It’s a nice thought, one that I’d entertained many times myself while I was in the line, but at the end of the day, there was just no other way to get so immersed in the flashpoint experience. To be able to play through the content, utilize your abilities and enjoy the combat and story dialogue, you simply required that much time. I have to admit, any less wouldn’t do it justice.

We got kudos for being able to “complete” the flashpoint, and received posters as a reward. Since my husband and I were both in the group, plus the poster I got yesterday, I now have a set of Republic-side and Sith-side posters, plus an extra Sith poster. Methinks they will look good in the game room once we set it up in the new house.

After our demo, we went around and took some pictures, did some last-minute things. For example, I desperately wanted to look at a 3DS and see what this glasses-free thing is all about. Instead of heading for the Nintendo booth, I found a much smaller crowd at the Capcom booth, where some of their games were being demoed on 3DSs. I didn’t really want to play; I just wanted to look. And the effect I saw was sort of…underwhelming. After all the great stuff I heard about the 3D effect of the handheld, it wasn’t at all what I expected. But hey, maybe it’s just my screwed up eyes. I’m probably doomed to never be able to enjoy 3D technology, until I suck it up and wear my contact, or get laser eye surgery.

I didn’t stick around long after that. I was pretty exhausted. I went home and — what else? — fell into bed and took a nap. Like I said, this is the first time I’ve managed to power up my computer and get online. What a crazy weekend, but it was one to remember. I’ll definitely never ever ever forget my first ever PAX!

Now, I shall crash. I’ll try to post about my thoughts and experiences with the Bounty Hunter origin and Taral V flashpoint demos tomorrow, if I can. Good night!

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