25 September 2013

Card Hunter

Small Update: Work is crazy busy right now with preparations for the upcoming semester and lots of staff meetings.

In the field of gaming, I have been inspired by Tobold’s numerous positive posts about Card Hunter and I decided to give the game a try. Apparently, so did lots of others which led to the minor inconvenience of log-in queues from time to time. Blue Manchu said they were working on increasing the server capacity. Since Card Hunter is a Flash-based browser game, one can always use the waiting time to catch up on some reading.

The game itself is graphically rather simple but it manages to capture the nostalgia associated with early versions of Dungeons & Dragons quite well. It is free-to-play with an in-game shop and some sort of extra subscription, but up to now I have not felt the need to pay anything. Like Tobold, I might pay something mainly to express my support. Currently, I have three characters in my party – a Dwarf Warrior, an Elf Wizard and a Human Priest – all of them level 8. I do not know whether this is the best combination, but it serves me quite well so far and it seems the most immersive.

All in all, I can highly recommend Card Hunter to anyone who enjoys a tactical, turn-based gameplay experience. It’s simply oodles of fun. I shamelessly stole that last expression from my favourite person on the internet. Now who might that be?

30 August 2013

SW:TOR // World Events

World Events are a common aspect found in many modern MMOs and Star Wars: The Old Republic is no exception. In addition to the Life Day festival, four world events (officially named In-Game Events) have taken place over the course of the game so far: the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event, the Chevin Grand Acquisitions Race, the Relics of the Gree Event and most recently the Bounty Contract Week. Each world event in SW:TOR may look good in theory and I am sure that a lot of players have greatly enjoyed all of them, but I for one felt that they were all rather boring and poorly implemented – some with very distinct drawbacks.

At the moment the Relics of the Gree and the Bounty Contract Week are considered recurring events, meaning players will be able to participate on a regular basis. It seems that the first week of every month will be a Bounty Contract Week while the Relics of the Gree Event will become available again every other month or so. One can assume that the Chevin Grand Acquisitions Race and the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event were one time occurrences, even though there is some discussion about whether or not the latter will return. This is one of the reasons why I generally dislike world events: players who are not online when the event takes place are going to miss the experience altogether. A problem that is somewhat mitigated by SW:TOR's recurring events. Another reason is that world events distract from the usual business, the everyday routine so to speak. I value structure and order and dependability extremely high, both in the real world as well as in virtual worlds and therefore do not appreciate distractions very much. I can, of course, fully understand why many people feel the need to mix things up now and then.

It was only after reading Shintar's description of the first Bounty Contract Week that I eventually decided to give it a try. I actually did everything exactly as she described it on my Chiss Bounty Hunter, but alas, I found the experience very unfulfilling, if not to say boring. Suffice to say I have no plans to repeat this event at all, let alone being sucked into the associated reputation grind.

Shintar has already beautifully covered the Relics of the Gree Event and its various iterations. I would like to point out that the major flaw here is inclusion of a PvP component which is also the primary complaint voiced on the official forums. The missions themselves only serve as another reputation and token grind and are not intrinsically fun. Therefore it should not be surprising that many people are only interested in reaching the desired reputation level or token count as soon as possible, thereby feeling forced to complete the two additional missions in the PvP area as well. Bringing two groups with very different tastes (PvE versus PvP) together in the same environment is a surefire recipe for disaster. Apparently the same situation has also happened in another game – with the same results.

Interestingly, even many players actually interested in PvP are ignoring this opportunity and behave in an orderly fashion just to complete their mission without delay rendering the whole “let’s add some PvEers as cannon fodder for the whining PvPers”-point moot. This does, however, not happen everywhere and/or not all the time, so that the individual player may still be faced with the typical PvP ganking.

In a similar vein, the Rakghoul Pandemic Dynamic Event was horribly designed because it consisted of several staged missions that only became available the following day (gated content). This meant that it was not possible to complete the entire event in one playing session. Maybe the developers felt the need to entice players to keep on p(l)aying. One may suggest that if this was the case, the experience could not have been so good to begin with. Moreover, the final reward for completing all related missions was a set of Medium Armor gear and hence only usable for certain classes (Adaptive Armor and Legacy gear were not yet implemented back then). Receiving all related Codex Entries required the defeat of three world bosses (two of them level 50), one of which was conveniently located in the open PvP area on Tatooine – again forcing the two different groups into the same environment.

Generally, I find the world events in SW:TOR to be utterly boring and badly designed and implemented. It is never a good idea to combine PvE and PvP aspects and, in fact, one should never, ever listen to PvP players in a PvE game in the first place. Make no mistake here: most theme park MMOs like SW:TOR, WoW, RIFT are actually PvE games first and foremost, with a poorly designed PvP component added on top. If someone truly desires an awesome PvP experience, then maybe, just maybe games like EVE Online or Darkfall Unholy Wars match their profile better.

26 August 2013

Personal MMO History

One of the hot topics in the recent past was the announcement that both WildStar and The Elder Scrolls Online will be employing a business model based on subscriptions. The former also offers an alternative payment method similar to PLEX in EVE Online. Bhagpuss has a very good post about how payment models generally do not matter all that much.

I'm a member of the apparently increasingly rare breed of gamers that likes to devote all their gaming time to one game, so a subscription is great in terms of value for money. -- Shintar

Since I agree with this statement entirely, I am more than pleased by this shift away from a misleadingly named F2P model. While I am not that interested in TESO, WildStar on the other hand leaves me hopefully optimistic – at least judging by what has been revealed so far about both games.

Considering the commitment and devotion I deem necessary for real MMO gaming, it should not come as a surprise that I have not played that many MMOs up to now. I am not a very creative person and I find describing aesthetics and art design (in video games) rather difficult. The following is a chronological overview of my experiences with different MMOs.

This was the first ever MMO I played and the one I played the longest. I was deeply invested and the decision to abandon ship so to speak did not come easily. I still think that WoW is the most polished MMO where everything feels natural and in place. Some people are pondering a return, but I am not one of them – even if Blizzard were to revert the game back to a state that I would enjoy. To quote Shintar yet another time: “I think I hit a "point of no return" in WoW, having been disappointed too many times... even if Blizzard changed it into the perfect game for me tomorrow, I'd still be suspicious of it”. Maybe I will revisit my old characters when WoW goes F2P at some point in the future.

It must have been about a year after LotRO launched that a friend gave me a trial pass to test the game. The world Tolkien created has shaped the fantasy genre in numerous ways and the opportunity to enter that world, to be part of that gaming experience – developed with adherence to the lore – was a dream come true. The brutal reality, however, was that I felt almost immediately repulsed by the game. There was no sense of awe or wonder upon entering and I cannot quite point my finger as to why that was. It might have had something to do with the character models, particularly with their movement and with the UI. Everything just felt clunky and out of place. I wanted to give the game a chance so badly that I pushed on until I simply could not take it any more. The level of polish was miles behind what I came to expect. WoW had certainly spoiled me. My wife and I tried again some time ago (long after LotRO went F2P), but we could not force ourselves to like it. My wife is usually very calm and thoughtful, but she ranted on for quite some time about how unfathomably bad that game was and how she was at a loss for words that our friend actually bought a Lifetime subscription.

This is my current MMO and I have been playing it pretty much since launch. The game feels very clean and everything falls into place quite neatly. The level of polish is second only to that of WoW – just ignore the many, many, many bugs. Despite what the haters claim, this game does not suck and its drawbacks are primarily rooted in the limitations of the Hero Engine and certainly do not lie in voice acting or in story-driven content. In fact, it is voice-acting more than anything that has spoiled me yet again for future MMOs. I do not even want to imagine reading quest texts again. Nevertheless, the transition to F2P has hit my commitment and my dedication to SW:TOR very hard and I seriously dislike the direction the game is heading in: more and more daily hubs and an overemphasis on the Cartel Market. I do not know how long I will keep on p(l)aying.

TERA prides itself on introducing action combat to the MMO genre and I felt like giving this idea a try after the game went F2P mainly due to Liore’s positive comments. I have about 14 hours of played-time over the course of a weekend and I can safely say that this is not the game for me as I have come to realize that I genuinely dislike action combat in MMOs. More importantly, however, I simply do not care one bit about the world. I have no prior relationship with the IP and the whole setting feels very generic and exchangeable. This post offers some reasonable explanations as to why TERA is not that successful among western gamers.

This is part of my summer project. I created two characters shortly after the game went F2P and I did have a blast for some time. However, while the game does have potential, especially regarding the soul system, it also suffers from the absence of a compelling IP or lore. There is just no immersive reason as to why players should care about the world, its inhabitants and their conflicts. One thing I will say though, is that RIFT’s F2P restrictions are very unobtrusive, which is in stark contrast to SW:TOR.

WildStar is my new hope on the MMO horizon, though I am only hopefully optimistic at best. The video footage looks quite appealing but who knows what the actual gameplay will feel like. The game seems to be whimsical enough to make me care. However, Syl already adequately demonstrated that the developers have clearly misunderstood and misinterpreted the Explorer archetype. While I do have plans to give it a try when it will be released next Spring, I cannot help but feel a bit uneasy about their intentions.

16 August 2013

Macky's Back in Town

It has been over a month since my last post because I was thoroughly enjoying my summer holidays. My wife and I went on an extend summer vacation. We started our trip by visiting her parents for a week, followed by three weeks in Italy and lastly stayed for another week at my parents. We finally returned back home last week. That makes about five weeks of awesome and mainly relaxing summer time. And I even have one more week of holidays to enjoy.

Anyways, now that I am back online I will start posting more regularly again, especially since time obviously did not stand still in the world of MMO blogs and it seems I did miss quite a few juicy pieces.

02 July 2013

SW:TOR // Community

Another one bites the dust. It was a sad day for the tanking and theory-crafting community in SW:TOR when one of its most prominent members, Kitru, announced his retirement from the game due to the developer’s design decisions and their interactions with the community in general. The triumvirate consisting of dipstik, KeyboardNinja and Kitru has provided an undeniable source of knowledge for any aspiring Tank – Vanguard, Guardian and Shadow alike. Kitru’s posts in particular were usually amazingly well written and presented an unrivalled level of detail. Seeing him leave is rather disheartening. With tanking being my second preference right after healing, I was ready to recognize and reflect upon any insights they offered. Even though I am a very experienced Tank myself, I still believe that there is always room for improvement. In that sense, I can only hope that at least KeyboardNinja will continue to crunch the numbers and offer guidance where needed.

Since I am not raiding in SW:TOR, I cannot really comment on the current predicament in any meaningful way. There seems to be some sort of problem with Shadow Tanks in that they can be one-shot by a particular boss if RNG goes against them. Apparently the other two tanking Advanced Classes have methods of preventing this from happening. It may also be possible that the entire issue is being vastly exaggerated. I honestly do not know. However, I do welcome all changes that serve to make encounters less predictable. Failure must always be a possibility. As soon as near-perfect preparation and near-perfect execution are inevitably resulting in victory, people are tricked into a false sense of expectation that will lead to boredom and frustration. Where is the thrill if everything goes according to plan all the time? Today’s success could be tomorrow’s failure and vice versa.

I consider Kitru’s departure a loss for the game’s community in general. That is distressing not only because of his dedication and knowledge but also because the community in SW:TOR is a very pleasant and positive one – possibly due to its limited size. One might not always get this impression judging by the official forums alone, but the sense of community is a lot greater in SW:TOR than e.g. in WoW or RIFT. This becomes more obvious in-game, of course. Nonetheless, I feel the need to qualify this statement with the fact that I can naturally only speak from my very own personal experiences which are very rich in the case of WoW, and almost nonexistent in RIFT (I will discuss this in another post, some other time). SW:TOR falls somewhere in the middle, leaning a bit closer to WoW.

While I had plenty of characters spread across a large number of servers in WoW, I only have characters on two (technically three) servers in SW:TOR which severely limits any generalizations I can make. The Progenitor is an English RP-PvE server hosting all of the characters on my main account. Technically, I do have one other character on The Red Eclipse but I am going to transfer him to my main Legacy. Additionally, I have one character (on a different – F2P – account) on the French PvE server Mantle of the Force which I created for my summer project. This character is currently level 26 and will leave for Nar Shaddaa next. The Double XP Weekends allowed for a rather speedy level progression. To this point, I have completed every available Flashpoint and [HEROIC] mission on this character, always with the help of other players and I must say that the atmosphere on this French realm is simply unbelievable. People are generally extremely helpful and friendly and above all else very, very polite. Everybody is treated with respect and communication follows the rules of the French grammar. Nobody is shouting in CAPS, insulting other players or yelling “gogogo ffs”. Skipping conversations during leveling Flashpoints is not common practice here – something that I really appreciate. So far, at the beginning of every Flashpoint people have always greeted each other politely and at least one player has always wished the group a successful and pleasant run. In fact, my positive experiences on French realms in SW:TOR and WoW have led me to seriously consider a French server for my adventures in WildStar.

I have the overall impression that people are by and large friendlier on an RP server and The Progenitor is no exception. I have a hard time remembering unpleasant encounters with actual human beings in SW:TOR, while that is pretty much all that I remember from WoW (I know, I know: selective memory is selective). Of course, this refers only to PuGs. I enjoyed the atmosphere in most of my WoW guilds immensely. The annoying people in SW:TOR usually fall into three categories: (a) they moan about others going to slow and/or about not skipping conversations and/or trash mobs in Flashpoints, or about other people sucking in Warzones; (b) they are ninja-looters, i.e. rolling “NEED” on loot that their current player character cannot use; (c) they are bad players in that they are unwilling to learn and improve. I would say that the types (a) and (b) are most common in SW:TOR as I have observed that many people welcome and accept polite and constructive criticism. There is a high chance that this is the first MMO for many players, who do not have any prior knowledge (e.g. about the “trinity”) that the veterans take for granted.

In conclusion, I can safely say that the in-game community on the two aforementioned European realms is friendly and welcoming, particularly below the level cap in non-Hardmode content. Maybe the situation is thoroughly different on American or other European servers. In any case, SW:TOR provides an excellent experience for small groups (of real-life or in-game friends) and the next step of establishing social ties with the larger community is certainly something that I would recommend.

26 June 2013

Summer Project

Summertime has traditionally always meant a decline in raid activity because many people went on vacation or were otherwise occupied enjoying the beautiful weather which left those who did not care for these kinds of distractions behind and frustrated. On the other hand, it could also be seen as an opportunity to focus on something else – a different project, so to speak – until things were coming back on track in autumn. That is what I usually did back in WoW; e.g. leveling another alt or go achievement hunting.

Since I am no longer raiding or interested in in-game achievements for that matter, I have decided to pursue my very own summer project nonetheless. While it cannot be called an experiment in the scientific sense, it will serve to satisfy my curiosity regarding two distinct aspects of MMO gaming, namely “free-to-play” and different server cultures. So here is, without further ado, the title of my summer project:


The idea behind it is to test how the two games differ for F2P players who never spend any real money. SW:TOR offers an exhaustive overview of their F2P restrictions, some of which seem rather ridiculous, such as the reduced number of quickbars or the lack of certain emotes (/hello – WTF?!). RIFT on the other hand claimsNO TRAILS. NO TRICKS. NO TRAPS.” Whether or not that is actually true remains to be seen. I can already attest to the fact that RIFT (same as SW:TOR) allows only two characters per server for F2P players. Unlike SW:TOR, however, that is not made explicitly clear until one tries to create a third character. Moreover, there have also been some problems with the auction house not working properly for F2P players. As it stands now, F2P players can use the auction house only to buy items, but are unable to create their own auctions at all. Again, this is not stated anywhere explicitly.

I have created two brand-new accounts specifically for the purpose of the summer project with characters on the two French PvE realms Mantle of the Force (SW:TOR) and Nomi (RIFT) respectively. I did not have any characters on either server prior to the experiment; in fact RIFT is an entirely new game for me. This will allow me to experience the differences in server culture at least from SW:TOR’s perspective where it also has the additional benefit of eliminating possible Legacy interferences.

My character on Mantle of the Force is a Cyborg Commando, currently level 19 (courtesy of the recent Double XP Weekend). I purposefully chose the Republic Trooper because it has one of my favourite class stories – only surpassed by the Jedi Consular and, of course, the Imperial Agent – and the Commando Advanced Class due to Hail of Bolts, which I consider to be one of the best abilities greatly facilitating trash groups.

On Nomi I decided in favour of the Defiants and created a Kelari Warrior, currently level 21. I did a bit of research beforehand because I wanted to try something different this time. So, very unusually for me, I went with a dual-wielding melee character that I enjoy immensely at the moment. I must also say that this guide was tremendously helpful in getting me started in RIFT.

Over the course of the summer, I will now and then write a post comparing the two games and their respective F2P models. At times I will also include observations on the different server cultures. I am always open to suggestions and will try my best to answer specific questions.

20 June 2013

SW:TOR // Operations

In Star Wars: The Old Republic Operations are described as large-scale multi-group missions, i.e. extended PvE content, the equivalent to WoW’s raids. Shintar already remarked that, at least from a linguistic point of view, the name Operation is not very fortunate because the corresponding verb, operating, does sound rather weird in this context. This is probably one of the reasons why this activity is frequently called raiding in SW:TOR as well. Another reason could also lie in WoW’s market dominance which is further exemplified by SW:TOR’s raid structure, e.g. several versions of the same Operation varying in difficulty. As a strong proponent of the raid model featured in classic World of Warcraft and its first expansion The Burning Crusade, it should be obvious that I do not welcome this approach.

Like Shintar I was unsure whether I should enter the raiding game in SW:TOR at all. My considerations became heavily influenced by real life obligations which simply left me no time for extended playing sessions and the social ties that once were required. (Note that SW:TOR did not feature a tool for automated grouping at launch. It is very unfortunate that the developers gave in to the constant whining and cries for a “Dungeon Finder” – at least it is still restricted to the same server.)

I have no guild affiliation or any other social ties in the game so far. Moreover, I consider it highly unlikely that I will establish any, now that the game is changing drastically into a direction I do not appreciate. My first-hand experiences concerning Operations are therefore very limited. The only time I actively joined an Operation was during the “Relics of the Gree” event for the two World Bosses (Gravak’k and Surgok’k) and the instanced, single boss Xenoanalyst II. If I remember correctly the group consisted primarily of a raiding guild in need of a few more warm bodies. I already had the associated mission in my mission log, so I happily joined as DPS on my Sith Sorcerer. Preparation took some time which gave me the chance to consult Dulfy’s guide and to familiarize myself with all the relevant elements of the encounter. Everything went smoothly and we defeated the boss in the 16-player version on both difficulties (Normal and Hard Mode). Nevertheless, this experience did nothing to re-awaken my interest in joining a guild to start raiding regularly again now that I actually have the time to do so.

Regarding the Group Finder, I was unable to find even a single group to join during a three hour playing session. I did try more than once, though. It may have something to do with The Progenitor being an RP server as I have noticed that players on these kinds of realms seem to have very different priorities. This might also explain why requests for raid groups are far and in between. The very few ones that I do notice, however, share the same illusions that have been prevalent in WoW for quite some time now. In order to join a PuG the raid leader requires potential candidates to already know every encounter beforehand and in addition expects them to be overgeared for the proposed content. Taking a closer look at the Undergeared project should illustrate how ridiculous that is. The easiest way is not always the right way.

Shintar speaks very highly of raiding in SW:TOR (“oodles of fun”) as do others. Nevertheless, I still cannot shake the feeling that – judging by the game’s overall difficulty – the actual raiding experience may turn out to be quite shallow indeed. I must admit, however, that this is an educated guess at best, since I really have no personal (empirical or anecdotal) evidence whatsoever. It's just my impression that raiding (or “operating”) in SW:TOR is not worth my time. This may also have to do with the fact that I am no longer interested in any kind of gear grind.

18 June 2013

SW:TOR // Warzones

Star Wars: The Old Republic currently has five Warzones (instanced PvP battlegrounds) available: Novare Coast, Alderaan, The Ancient Hypergate, Huttball and Voidstar. I rather enjoy the first three and utterly dislike the latter two so much that I'm always on the verge instantly leaving when I see the loading screen.

Please bear in mind that the following account pertains solely to my experiences advancing the Republic’s war effort below the level cap as I may have only ever once participated on the Imperial Side. In addition, my first-hand PvP knowledge is limited to two healing Advanced Classes, namely the Jedi Sage and the Scoundrel. Moreover, this is the perspective of a solo player operating without the support of pre-made teams. I would like to recommend reading this post by Shintar if one desires a more in-depth view into SW:TOR’s PvP content, particularly at the level cap and concerning the adjusted “Bolster” mechanic.

Success in Warzones can only be achieved by focusing on the objectives, not by randomly killing as many enemy players as possible. That should not indicate, however, that the latter is in any way prohibited by the former. Things normally go best when the leader declares a common (and sensible) strategy during the preparation phase which in turn everybody follows. Unfortunately, in most cases that is wishful thinking. Either people openly or privately disagree and follow a different, yet not disclosed, battle plan or they are completely new and lost or they have a different motivation all together and get their kick by “pwing some nubs” one on one. This will most certainly result in a terrible defeat which then again does not really matter because SW:TOR (such as WoW), of course, rewards losing and playing badly.

I have participated in a considerable amount of Warzones by now and I can count the number of times that a Tank was guarding me on one hand. I usually announce that I am a Healer during the preparation phase of every match. It seems that Tanks are either guarding their personal friends and/or guild members (fine by me) or simply cannot be bothered. Talk about lowering the odds right from the start. Usually though, most players follow their own (aforementioned) agenda and their primary goal is killing as many enemy players as possible, regardless of the overall outcome. Afterwards they are happily complaining that “pubs suck” because “we lost again”. Unbelievable!

(1) Novare Coast

My favourite Warzone is Novare Coast where the objective is to take (and keep) control over at least two (of three) mortar emplacements. Once capped, they will begin attacking the enemy base. A very successful strategy lies in capping the western emplacement fast and keeping it controlled. This is best achieved by any Jedi Consular due to Force Speed. The rest of the team should relentlessly focus its entire attack on the southern emplacement. As soon as both emplacements are safe, five players should remain at the southern one, while one additional player is deployed to the western emplacement (ideally a Healer and a Tank or a strong DPS are now on guard duty). Just standing there and doing nothing for the remainder of the match can easily become boring but it is still vital to keep that emplacement safe. Depending on the attack patterns of the enemy, one or two additional helpers need to move across the battlefield from time to time fighting off approaching enemies. Following this method will usually yield very successful results, a landslide victory with the home base remaining undamaged.

However, when no strategy is declared in the beginning and people just run around aimlessly, all the while only serving as cannon fodder for the enemy, things will suddenly look very bleak indeed. I distinctly remember one occasion where I was defending the western emplacement on my Jedi Sage and another player kept accusing me of doing nothing but standing there and “afk-farming” medals. He simply could not understand that the key to victory in Novare Coast is to keep the western emplacement safe at all times (always!). Losing “west” for a prolonged period means almost inevitably defeat. So be smart: keep “west” safe, even if it is boring or other people are yelling at you to do something else.

(2) Alderaan

Another Warzone I greatly enjoy is Alderaan Civil War which is very similar to Novare Coast in terms of objectives. They only differ in name (turrets instead of emplacements and troop transport ships instead of beachheads) and in the layout of the map. The strategy, of course, is similar as well: cap two turrets and defend. What happens, however, is that usually everyone storms the central turret like headless chickens while the enemy is capping the eastern and western turrets. Lately, it seems that the Empire has completely given up on the middle as I have noticed several times groups of four capping the outer turrets (“grass” and “snow”). Good luck defending against that onslaught on your own.

The typical Warzone match then goes something like this: at least 7 Republic players storm the middle and maybe 1 (lucky or rather unlucky) sod heads to the western turret (grass) in hopes of capping it. Meanwhile the Empire has split up into two teams of 4 each moving forward east (snow) and west (grass). They can then easily cap those and just need to defend them in order to assure almost certain victory. Usually it takes some time before the 7 Republic players, who are vehemently defending the empty middle against nobody, are becoming aware of what has transpired. I cannot remember ever winning this Warzone and any attempt to convince the group of the alternate (Imperial) strategy in the preparation phase is futile at best.

(3) The Ancient Hypergate

This Warzone is quite literally the middle-ground for me as I am neither overly fond of it nor do I detest with all my heart. I must say that I cannot provide a surefire winning strategy even though this is the one Warzone I win most of the time. Whenever I see the loading the screen, I instantly think “hooray, another victory”. Since I basically have no clue what to do there other than healing people and collecting orbs and dropping those at our pylon, it must be that my team mates are usually very strong and competent. Why only in this Warzone though? I have noticed that most victories follow a similar pattern: the entire group ventures towards the central complex where we collect orbs and defeat enemies. At some point, shortly before the timer reaches a critical phase someone, somehow captures both pylons and our meter goes up. Do that two maybe three times and the Warzone ends with a congratulatory victory screen.

I do apologize if my account of this particular Warzone does seem rather lacklustre. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to the finer details.

(4) Huttball

A very controversial Warzone, Huttball, puts two teams against each other in a match of the dangerous new sport that has captured the hearts and minds of the people on the Smuggler’s Moon of Nar Shaddaa. The goal here is simple enough: grab the ball, throw the ball and get the ball over the opposing team’s line anyway you can and your team gets a point. The tournament area, however, is not without hazards and careless players will suddenly find themselves swimming in pools of acid and catching on fire.

There is one technical reason and one gameplay reason why I seriously dislike this Warzone: from a very practical point of view, and even though my machine exceeds even recommended specifications to play the game by far, this Warzone is very taxing on my performance. My frame rates are usually at the lowest in “The Pit”, sometimes as low as 4. That is simply very exasperating, especially in a PvP environment. I honestly cannot say why that is and I plan on writing a detailed post about the technical horrors that have befallen SW:TOR at some point in the future. Suffice to say, I cannot enjoy the game if it does not run smoothly.

From the viewpoint of actual gameplay, i.e. objectives, and in comparison to all other Warzones, Huttball, requires the most cooperation among the individual team members. That can be quite an enormous problem when playing with a random group that did not agree on a strategy beforehand. This is exacerbated by the constant need to look around in order to detect people on the ledges and coupled with the aforementioned technical constraints makes for a very frustrating experience.

(5) Voidstar

The final Warzone, the Voidstar, is a derelict Imperial Battle Cruiser believed to contain the schematics to a powerful weapon and both the Empire and the Republic are racing to take control of the vessel and access the secrets stored in its memory banks. My criticism of this particular Warzone can be summed up by one word: boring. Admittedly, it is the most “action-packed” Warzone with nearly constant fighting and hardly any “downtime” but it is also not very elaborately designed. One team has to breach through doors that the other team is guarding. B O R I N G! Also, the sound that plays when the doors are finally breached is more than annoying!

As far as I can see, the easiest strategy for the attackers is for all players to focus their attacks on one side, thereby overwhelming any resistance. Should the enemy team manage to fight back, a single stealth class can sneak over to the other door and place the detonator charge without the enemy being any wiser. The defenders can split their group evenly and try to hold off the attacker’s approach. Normally, they do not all attack the same door at the same time.

Regarding victory conditions, I must admit that I honestly do not know how the game calculates each team’s progress. There's a timer and once it has run out someone is declared the winner. That is all I can make of it so far. I would gladly hear some insights as to how exactly this works.

Generally, I can say that, much to my own surprise, I actually enjoy PvP in SW:TOR. I would never have thought this possible. But the daily mission coupled with the fact that Warzones reward players with both XP and credits really make them a viable alternative to planetary questing which is why I became interested in them in the first place. Additionally, the low level PvP vendors – who can now be found on each faction’s capital world – do sell some very decent looking pieces of armour. Now if only people were starting to actually defend their Healers all would be good.

13 June 2013

Friendship is Magic

One of the universals of language is that all natural languages are constantly changing. Changes can occur on several levels, though perhaps most easily recognizable are changes in meaning, e.g. a word used to mean something different in the past. The semantic change of the word gay is quite possibly one of the most famous examples. At some earlier stage in history gay had a denotative meaning very close to “light-hearted” or “carefree” or even “brightly coloured” in other contexts. Through a series of processes (e.g. specialisation) this meaning changed into “being sexually attracted to people of the same sex”. One simply has to accept the fact that linguistic change is unavoidable in any living and breathing language.

Taking a closer look at video games and modern media, it is possible to identify a slight difference in meaning when using the word friend. Tobold has talked about this phenomenon several times and I must say that I fully agree with him. The inflationary use of the American (“facebookian”) sense of the word friend slowly devalues its core meaning. Whether one considers this good or bad or neither is, at this point, irrelevant. The important part is merely to notice this development, not to arrive at a hasty conclusion of any kind. Nonetheless, I have a very hard time imagining that someone who has over 100 “friends” on Facebook actually knows them all. That number may very well be a lot lower. But then, if one does not know these people, how can they be one’s friends?

Not unrelated to the aforementioned excursion into semantics is this week’s biggest news in SW:TOR, namely the introduction of Patch 2.2 which was supposed to bring with it the option of Paid Server Transfers. Judging by the official forums and Dulfy’s coverage of the topic many people have been crying out for this for quite some time now – basically since the very beginning of the game because they want to play with their “friends” or leave their ghost towns for greener pastures.

I'm not entirely sure how pressing the issue of under-populated servers still is because, after a series of server consolidations, there are simply not that many servers left any more: 9 European servers (3 each for English, French and German players) and 8 American servers, covering the different US time zones. The Asia Pacific servers are being shut down in a few months and people there are given the option to transfer their characters to any other server free of charge. Considering the limited options, I still fail to see how one server can be seen as being vastly more populated than the others – at least from a European point of view. Maybe the situation is really different in the U.S. And maybe this entire discussion is simply a lot more important in the U.S. because the American servers may actually have very strong imbalances in server population. In a European context, however, this does make a lot less sense.

As for any real life friends, I have difficulties understanding why those real life friends would choose to play on different servers in the first place. Why would they not discuss this before even creating their first character? It may be possible that they know each other, but do not know much about each other and only discover their mutual interest in gaming at a later time. Anything is possible. Looking at this post by Green Armadillo I see no convincing argument as to why the author desperately needs to transfer his characters. Granted, he is “stranded” on a server where he does not know anyone, but I highly doubt that he could not find a single person or guild with whom he could associate. He mentions that he could “name at least three other servers where [he] would rather be playing today” were it not for the costs of transferring. I can only assume that means that he knows some people on those three serves already. Now the question remains the same: if he knew these people in real life before, why did he choose a different server as his home base? However, if they are not friends in the traditional (narrow) sense then why is he so eager to transfer to their server? What if they decide to stop playing in the near future? Then he will be left alone again – only on a different server. But then again, if they are merely “Facebook friends”, what is stopping him from making new acquaintances on his current server? I'm simply at a loss here. This might quite possibly be more of an American problem, probably due to the vastness of their country.

I fully concur, however, that SW:TOR is in a very bad position here due to the Legacy system that very strongly promotes playing only on a single server. Once a player has established a large enough Legacy there is virtually no reason at all to create a character on another server, apart from maybe some academic interest in different server cultures. This is one of the greatest shortcomings and fundamental oversights in SW:TOR. The Legacy should have been attached to a player’s account. It's a textbook case of a lost opportunity if ever there was one. During the process of account creation, one should choose a “Display name” that basically serves as the characters’ surname and Legacy name and identifies the player’s Legacy. This is the only unique name! That way all other names become freely available (charactername @ displayname). This system could also have helped avoiding the One Time Password madness by establishing two distinct names: one account name used to log into the game and the official website and one display name that functions as Legacy name for the characters and identifies the user in the forums.

In short, I consider SW:TOR’s implementation of the Legacy system to be fundamentally flawed and anyone who is not a close personal friend in the narrow sense should rather be seen as an acquaintance.