Tatooine Press

Keeping The RP In MMORPG

Keeping the RP in MMORPG

Imagine, if you will, you’re playing a medieval online role-playing game like Dungeons & Dragons Online or Warhammer with all of your friends. This game, though, has no sound. No, not even voice chat. The only sound you’re hearing is whatever ambient noise is in the room with you. Maybe you’re playing some music that helps set the tone for the game you’re playing, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack. Furthermore, this game has no graphics. In fact, the only thing on the screen is the text conversation between you and your teammates. It’s like one big dialogue window, ‘cause… that’s what it is. In any case, you’d be doing the same quests, have the same abilities, and achieve the same goals as you would in a game which has flashy graphics and 7.1 surround sound. With less to distract your senses you’d have to rely more heavily upon your own imagination to provide the imagery as the game progresses. In that case, you’d probably find yourself simply falling into the trap of role-playing. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but in typing your actions and responses, you might almost feel the need to play to the role of your character rather than simply clicking the right hotkey at the right time. If we take hold of that assumption we would also have to ask two things: 1) Why do we find those who do play their role within the game world as those to be ostracized, and 2) will playing to our role be more important in Star Wars: The Old Republic?

I found myself drawn to these questions ever since I started playing MMO’s, but especially lately I’ve heard and seen a lot of conversations in the course of my day and on our forums about various role-playing methods and practices. We even discussed it briefly as an aside during our first session of “MMO Loser” (Episode 39: A Pile of Dead Gungans). We mentioned how it’d be off-putting to be playing with someone who plays their opposite sex in-game and then we said how if it’s an RP server, then playing to that role would be appropriate. Of course, we all understand that not everyone wants to type or speak to their friends like someone from Middle-Earth. That would be kind of strange, but RP servers are around for a reason. There is certainly nothing different in terms of what’s to be found within the game-world between these different servers, but the RP aspect shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re not playing with friends at a given moment, but you run up to someone distinguishable as, say, a High Elven Ranger, wouldn’t you approach them as “High Elven Ranger” rather than “Stranger Sitting at a Computer?” Not that you’d say, “Good morn, to thee!” but you would gather that they came from a different place than you (let’s say you’re human) and by whatever they’re wearing that they’ve seen some action, or just the opposite, that they haven’t been anywhere. You know that this person, as you see them in-game, has a different story to tell than you.

Keeping the RP in MMORPG

I, for one, have always picked my species/class combinations based on their stories. I shy away from those that are rather one-dimensional and lack any kind of substantive narrative. Paladins, Shamans, and Druids have always been my choice. Now, by my saying that, I’m sure there are plenty of Warriors, Priests, Hunters, Mages, and Rogues who would argue against that, but why? Why would anyone argue that the stories of the latter classes to be any worthier than the prior classes? That is because each of us is attached to whatever story it is that we’ve crafted for ourselves. Even if you haven’t written your character a complete biography on a piece of paper you stained with coffee to make it look like old parchment, you take pride in your character’s accomplishments. Again, that’s your character’s accomplishments, not yours. I say not yours, because you personally don’t gain anything in your life because you’ve earned the title “Kingslayer.” Alternatively, when your toon walks through the streets of your capital city, you know that when another player sees your level 85 Warlock with the Kingslayer title above her head, they know you (the Warlock) killed the Lich King, and unless they know you personally, they’re not associating you (the player) with the one who felled the leader of the Scourge.

If we can accept that we do craft stories for ourselves within these characters and within these various game worlds, then why do we shun those who enjoy it all the more? And that’s really all it amounts to: a higher level of enjoyment. Not that anyone should or shouldn’t enjoy it on whatever level they so choose, but when you’ve taken the time to perhaps invest more into what makes your character unique than what the next achievement on your list is, more people might understand why others play the role of their character. I keep using the phrase “play their character” because we may have associated the term “role-play” with something a bit more, um, adult. That is what is it, but it is certainly not the point of discussion here. Getting back to my point, what is it that makes my character any different than yours? If we choose the same species, class, and character model, what makes mine special? Nothing? Is it the gear I equip or the talents and powers I choose? Or is it something less tangible? Is it something I give to my character?

Keeping the RP in MMORPG

Perhaps it’s all in the name, which was a topic of interest for me on our forums recently. The question was actually whether or not people would likely choose more appropriate Star Wars universe names for themselves or if they’d use the more common screen name approach, which often involves l33t nicknames like Crash 0verride or Acid Burn (yes, I love the movie Hackers). Overall, the response seemed to be that universe-appropriate names would be more likely. Is it that fans have a deeper connection to the SW universe than to other MMO game-worlds, or is it the built-in story element that requires you to spend more time thinking about how your character should respond depending on the outcome you desire? Maybe it’s both of these, but then I also wonder if all of these factors will result in a much deeper character immersive experience for players. We keep hearing about how The Old Republic will be the most immersive MMORPG we will have played yet, but immersive how? I certainly can’t quote the dev team, but I think they do intend for players to feel more for their characters than they may have in past games. I’ve read articles in gaming magazines about how everyone has their own personal version of Commander Shepard from BioWare’s Mass Effect games and how they can’t wait to see how THEIR Shepard handles whatever’s to come in Mass Effect 3. Another factor for this deeper feeling may appear in the form of the personal quest(s) that your character will embark on, the choices that you’ll have to make, and the consequences of those choices, be they good or bad. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m definitely the type who saves their game right before a momentous event takes place in a role-playing game, and if things don’t go the way I want, I load from the previous save. Not having that option will make these moments of choice all the more personal and lasting.

Obviously, I’ve made it clear that I love tabletop RPG’s like Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars RPG Saga Edition. Last year, I had the privilege to play with a group of friends who enjoyed creating characters and worlds as much as me. During our initial session of Mutants & Masterminds (a superhero RPG), our DM gave us each an origin story. This became the spark behind the idea for our Deceived contest: getting our listeners to think about not only the class they want to play, but the type of character, the type of person, they’ll be playing as. I wanted those who participated to look at their Day One character through the lense of the narrative they’d constructed for them, and, I hope, at least, that they feel more willing to put more of themselves into their first character and let it show in how they play in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Tatooine Press

To Swap Or Not To Swap

To Swap Or Not To Swap

Should we be allowed to change our character’s Advanced Class or not? This has been a hot topic on the official forums and our own forums as well. As it stands now, the developers still seem to be on the fence about whether to allow this or not (possibly leaning more towards “yes”). In an attempt to settle the debate, let’s examine some of the pros and cons of Advanced Class swapping.

First, to really make an informed decision on this issue we all need to understand what exactly an Advanced Class is and what it is not. Because the Advanced Classes branch off from your base class, too many people seem to view this as analogous to the different talent trees for a class in other MMO games such as World of Warcraft. However, this is not the case; each Advanced Class is a separate class in its own right. The Scoundrel and the Gunslinger are not merely two minor variations on the Smuggler, they are two completely different classes who happen to share the same origins. Take a look at the Sith Sorcerer and the Sith Assassin: the Sorcerer is based off Darth Sidious and the Assassin off Darth Maul. I don’t think anyone would argue that those two characters are anything like each other.

Another thing that confuses the issue is the fact that each pair of Advanced Classes will share a talent tree. Looking at the Scoundrel and Gunslinger again, the Scoundrel gets the Scrapper and Sawbones (what a weird name) trees and the Gunslinger has the Sharpshooter and Dirty Fighting trees. Both Advanced Classes share the Luck talent tree. While it would seem that this points to each set of Advanced Classes being just two sides of the same coin, the developers have stated the shared trees will act very differently depending on your choice of Advanced Class. Does this mean that only certain talents in the tree are open to each Advanced Class or will it mean that the order of the talents is jumbled up depending on your choice? I don’t really know, but I do know that either option will greatly affect your gameplay.

To Swap Or Not To Swap

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets take a look at our pros and cons.

Why AC swapping is a Good Thing:

It offers more versatility. Does your group need a tank and none are to be found? Well then change your Commando into a Vanguard.
Changing your gameplay style can help keep your character fresh and interesting.
Well…that’s about it…

Why AC swapping is a Bad Thing:

It’s immersion breaking. As I stated above, your two Advanced Classes differ quite a bit from each other. From a lore standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to make such a huge change in your character’s abilities.

It may cause certain Advanced Classes to be sparse. I can easily envision a situation where every Sith Warrior becomes a Marauder for the pure DPS pwnage and only pulls out the Juggernaut Advanced Class when someone needs a tank.

You’d have to carry around way too much gear. There’s a lot of gear that is tied to which Advanced Class you choose. So in the example from number two, our player would have to have his Marauder DPS gear, his Juggernaut DPS gear and a set of Juggernaut tanking gear. And you’d probably want a set of PvP gear for each Advanced Class, just in case. Better get your guildmates started on crafting those 20 slot bags.

Until you swap, you’ve had no experience with the other Advanced Class. Lets just pretend for a moment that I play my Sniper up to level 50 and then decide that I’d like to try my hand at healing and swap out to become an Operative. Then I go find myself a flashpoint group in need of a healer and prepare to drop some mad heals only to discover that I have no idea what in the hell I’m doing. This is one of the reasons we have to level up our characters rather than starting at max level; it gives us an opportunity to learn the class.

The game already has hybrid Advanced Classes. Go play one of those if you want to switch up your gameplay style every now and then. Advanced Class swapping would make hybrids kind of pointless except in a few situations.

To Swap Or Not To Swap

There you have it. The cons outweigh the pros. You may have gathered that I am pretty strongly against Advanced Class swapping. While this is true, I’m not entirely opposed to the idea. I would be willing to accept swapping if it was very restricted. For example, you can only swap at certain levels such 20, 30 or 40. This lets you change if you dislike your choice of Advanced Class without having to play the lower levels all over again, but still gives you time to learn the class’s mechanics before hitting level 50. Or maybe giving a player three chances to swap at any time, but once those three times are used up, you’re done swapping.

The above solutions are okay compromises, but if swapping was to be in the game I would prefer it to be a lore based solution involving a (loooong) quest line. Let’s say a Sith Assassin decides that sneaking around just isn’t his style anymore and thinks it’s time to start just blasting everything in sight with lightning. Well he’d have to first find himself a Sorcerer willing to share their knowledge with someone as skilled as our player. Training an apprentice is one thing, they can always be smacked down if they start to rise above their station, but handing all your secrets over to a fellow master of the Dark Side is tantamount to suicide. After that you would have to spend some time unlearning what you have learned (you become a Sorcerer of your current level but have no skills or talents beyond what you got from your ten levels as an Inquisitor) and then you would start learning your new skills. A chain of quests would unlock your new class’s skills and talents in groups of, say, 5 levels worth of skills and talents per quest. Yeah. That would be awesome. Make it happen BioWare.

-Leo Andrie

Tatooine Press

Your Droids? Still Waiting Outside


Your Droids? Still Waiting Outside

When it was mentioned by the TOR devs a couple years ago that droids would not be a playable race in Star Wars: The Old Republic, there was a fair amount of nerd rage rampaging across the interwebs. The team went on to explain how they want you, the player, to be able to connect emotionally with your character and a droid is about as inhuman as you can get. They said this also applied to those alien species which are simply not human enough to relate to, although, graphical limitations would be equally justifiable in that case. If one were to look back at BioWare’s previous RPG’s, you’ll notice that the character creation is not exactly what you’d call robust. Although I have not yet played Dragon Age: Origins or Dragon Age 2, I have played through both Knights of the Old Republic games and both Mass Effects and I certainly see the “personal connection” aspect they’ve been going for all these years. Actually, TOR looks like it will have the most thorough character creation module of any game they’ve yet produced. Now that we’ve established, somewhat, at least, why we won’t be able to directly play as a droid in our much-longed-for game, we should still take a look at why there would be any desire to play as one at all and what types of droids we can almost definitely look forward to playing alongside with in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

For most Star Wars fans, and trilogy/saga purists especially, there are no more important nor as recognizable two droids as R2-D2 and C-3PO. From the story-telling perspective, these characters often add a level of humor (though more recently, annoyingly), but also they are the catalysts or conduits through which the story builds. In Episode IV, we see much of the beginning of the movie from their perspective, if not through their eyes directly. It could even be said that we felt more of the universe in which these characters lived in their scenes than through the melodramatic human interactions of the main cast. From the game player’s perspective, however, they do not bring much to the table. Certainly, there are moments when an astromech droid would be great to have around. Those times usually involve getting the hyperdrive to work when a bunch of Ugnaughts have been pulling the reverse power flux cupplings for the past several days. A protocol droid is great when negotiating with gangsters who don’t speak Basic, but even then they don’t do much good when they can’t impersonate a deity. Love them all we might, I can’t see myself wanting to roll a Droid species with a Protocol class.

Droid 2

The next most popular droid from the saga we might talk about wanting to play as is IG-88, the first assassin droid we meet. Remarkably, we actually get less out of him in terms of personality than we do from Boba Fett in the course of their screen time. If you’re not sure who I’m talking about, IG-88 is one of the bounty hunters hired by Darth Vader to find the Millennium Falcon. You know which scene I’m talking about; on the Executor, remember? We don’t even get “As you wish” out of the droid, like we do with Boba. That aside, this jet-black droid has managed to garner a bit of a following. He was a key character in the Shadows of the Empire stories and even managed to spawn some look-alikes throughout both Clone Wars shows, the Tartakovsky series as well as the current Dave Filoni series. As I mentioned a moment ago, though, IG-88 is silent, or at least, has very little to say. I can’t imagine that he’s much of a conversationalist, so engaging in branching dialogue with NPC’s might be a little difficult to pull off. That being said I think we might be approaching a slightly more feasible means of having a playable droid character.

With that, we move onto the droid all KOTOR vets really did want to play as in TOR. The one I’m talking about is none other than HK-47, another assassin droid. While you do get another droid companion in Knights of the Old Republic, T3-M4, another astromech droid very similar to R2-D2, HK is the one we all love (and fear, simultaneously). What really sets HK apart from a character like IG-88, and the main reason he’s so compelling, is that he is quite a talker. As little as some droids say, Threepio aside, HK more than makes up for it. Throughout both KOTOR games you can engage him in rather deep conversation, though, in the end, it all comes down to how much he enjoys slaughtering meat-bag organics. Sure, we all laugh at his lines and we enjoy listening to his diatribes over and over again (especially when he complains about you being not as much fun as you used to be *spoiler!*), but if that’s the extent of his character could you really spend an MMO’s-worth of time trying to take that kind of PC through a personal story arc? It’s a bit hard to fathom. Although, they do make the case for character growth in terms of gaining experience and learning new abilities. In KOTOR, they translated the tried-and-true talent/ability system for humanoid characters to upgrades and new programs for the droids. What will be enjoyable is having a character like HK along for the ride, as well as the typical R2-type of droid.

Droid 3

There are numerous other types of droids that could be talked about, but in terms of droids who will be essential to your journey through The Old Republic, I think these are the main archetypes we can expect to see. Being that TOR is still a combat-focused MMO and is not trying to somehow recreate the entirely cerebral experience found in a tabletop RPG, one needs to consider that every companion or party member needs to be somewhat viable from a combat perspective. We’ve already seen an astromech companion show up in the form of T7-01, walking (er, rolling) alongside a Jedi in some screenshots, as well as a full profile on the Companions page over at the official website. We’ve also gotten a glimpse, short though it was, of what looks, and sounds, like HK-47, either back from the scrap pile three-hundred years later, or faithfully recreated in a new model. I think HE would disagree as to how “faithful” any reproduction of himself could possibly be, of course. Will we see more droids popping up in TOR? Of course! I can just see myself accepting a quest from a down on his luck refrigerator droid. And what better non-combat pet could anyone ask for than a mouse droid? Will there be more companions than an astromech and an assassin? I hope so. If being an Agent gets me an Imperial probe droid, I’m in. Am I at all glad that we don’t have droid as a species? I think so. I’d say that by not having that they might free up some space for another more deserving species for more and varied race/class combinations.

I nearly forgot: there are battle droids, but really, who would want to have “Roger. Roger.” as a dialogue response every time?

-Evan Lewis

Tatooine Press

Star Wars: The Lost Suns Review

Lost Suns Review

Review – The Old Republic: The Lost Suns #1

Bioware and Dark Horse have already given us two short runs of comics that act as prequels to The Old Republic. However their newest venture, The Lost Suns, is the first comic that takes place within the same time frame as the game is going to. This is Bioware’s chance to really give us a taste of the universe that we’ll be part of very soon. Did they succeed? Well, mostly.

In this comic we are introduced to Theron Shan, the secret son of Satele Shan and spy for the Republic. Theron is sent to Sith space to track down Ngani Zho, the drunkest Jedi Master ever, who disappeared some time ago. For whatever reason, Theron decides to take Teff’ith, his Twi’lek prisoner from a previous mission, with him rather than leave her locked up in a jail on Coruscant. Also joining the hunt for Zho is Darth Mekhis, the ugliest Sith Lady ever.

Lost Suns 1

The script, written by Bioware Senior Writer Alexander Freed, was fairly decent as far as an intro story goes. I really like that story focuses on non-Force users. Too much of Star Wars media is Jedi/Sith centric. It’s always nice to get a look at the part of the Star Wars universe where the “normal” people live. But, I think that Freed’s inexperience with the medium of comics shows through. Panels don’t always flow together real well and the story feels somewhat disjointed at times. Oh, and he had a Gamorrean speaking Basic. Fail.

Dave Ross and George Freeman provide the pencils for this issue and they give us some really spectacular views of Coruscant’s skyline. Unfortunately, when they’re drawing people is where things kind of fall apart. Teef’ith’s lekku are as thick as a linebacker’s thighs and the characters never really maintain a consistent look. At one point Theron manages to look quite a bit like a girl. Michael Atiyeh’s colors, on the other hand, are wonderful, vibrant and really elevate Ross and Freeman’s pencils. They have an awesome watercolor feeling to them that is a welcome change from all the digital coloring you see in today’s comics.

Lost Suns 2

This is by no means is it the worst artwork I’ve ever seen (for that go read Jurassic Park: Redemption) nor the worst writing (for that go read Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men), but I really hope they tighten things up a little bit in the subsequent issues. All things considered, the issue was a pretty good start to the miniseries. The story isn’t exactly riveting, but since this is just the introduction, I’ll give them some leeway. The Old Republic fans will certainly enjoy this glimpse into the world of TOR, but it’s not going to entice any non-Star Wars fans into jumping on the TOR bandwagon.

-Leo Andrie

Tatooine Press

Grab Your Towel, Don’t Panic

Don't Panic

For most people, May the fourth was recognized as “Star Wars Day.” I was curious as to the date of, or even if there was, an international Star Wars day. According to reliable sources (yes, Wikipedia. Shut up.), it’s officially May 25th, per the city of Los Angeles. May 25th was the date of the release of the original Star Wars movie, long before it was ever subtitled “A New Hope.” If you look up May 25th on Wookieepedia, you’ll find a vast number of other Star Wars related milestones on this date. One other celebration of May 25th happens to be “Towel Day.” For those not in tune with British science fiction, the towel is the most important item you can ever have with you, according to the best-selling Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s with one of that book’s most notable quotes with which I’d like you to consider with me the recent shake-up of Electronic Arts’ release schedule and the much-talked about possible push-back of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Now, I completely understand why nearly everyone has taken the news of EA clearing their fourth quarter release schedule of anything non-sports related quite poorly. Given the precedent that has already been set by the developers and publishers of SW:TOR and all the pushing back that has already happened, it’s unfortunately only too understandable. However, as mentioned on episode 39 of Mos Eisley Radio, there are several factors to consider that should not only diffuse any potential animosity towards them for the potential delay, but also make one wonder if there even will be a delay.

Firstly, I’d like to address the length of the development of this game. We’ve been watching the news trickle out of the developer studio down in Austin for nearly four years, creeping up on five. Compare this to when World of WarCraft was in development. Does anyone even remember when WoW was in development? For being such a cultural zeitgeist, for most it seemingly came out of nowhere. I’d wager that most of WoW’s 12-million players hadn’t been amongst those Blizzard loyalists who begged at the doorstep of for most of 2003 and 2004. Even for those of us who played every game they’d developed leading up to the release of Vanilla WoW, I don’t recall there ever being the fervor and foaming at the mouth that there is for TOR. Is it simply a matter of this being Star Wars? Or is it rather a matter of a change in the media and how any company deals with its public relations? If one were to look back at WoW’s development, or listen to one of their podcasts, they’d find that WoW took every bit as long to develop as TOR has. The groundwork of WoW was being built simultaneously to WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion The Frozen Throne. With that in mind, one could make the argument that Mass Effect and DragonAge should be those analogous appetizers, filling as they are, to hold us over until we get The Old Republic.


Secondly, and this one will only be a quick follow-up to the first, we waited HOW LONG for StarCraft II? And how many WoW expansions did we get before we even had access to SC2 beta? I think BioWare can be forgiven for adding a few months on to the dev time in order to get the game where it needs to be.

More seriously now, any potential delay may not even be at the behest of the development team. Remember, there are three major companies with a tremendous amount of vested interest and capital in this game: BioWare, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts. Not a one of them wants to even let the most infinitesimal glimmer of failure enter in at launch time. BioWare has a tremendous amount of capitol with its fanbase that they can continue to milk with future titles; LucasArts has plenty of money, but their in-house developed games have not always brought the level of accomplishment and acclaim that their third-party titles have, as can be seen when one compares Knights of the Old Republic with The Force Unleashed; and Electronic Arts, while they certainly don’t lack for a following with their sports games, as a publisher, has seen a significant downturn in their yearly sales, with fans becoming less willing to shell out sixty dollars a year for their annual iteration of sports titles, as well as being luke-warm to some of their less-than-innovative titles (Dante’s Inferno and Army of Two, amongst others). In short, the team down at Austin is dying to release their game and be able to openly talk about it like the fans they are, too. Though, they most assuredly want their baby to be ready before it’s released into the wild.

A final point to consider is the game’s competition. Anyone thinking that WarCraft is the only title that will be vying for fans’ rather limited attention spans towards the end of 2011 is sorely mistaken. If there is anything that makes even the hardest of hardcore MMO players abandon ship for even a short time, it’s the fourth-quarter console extravaganza. Speaking of yearly iterations, trailers for Modern Warfare 3 have already been released; it’s a good bet that MW3 will likely drop the first or second week of November. The first trailer for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has already stated that 11.11.11 is the release date for that sure-to-be award-winning, blockbuster title. I just finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and I fear for when Assassin’s Creed: Revelation is released in November, because I may have to abandon EVERYTHING in life until I put the finishing touches on Altair and Ezio’s story arcs. There are so many other titles releasing in the post-summer season, including Elder Scrolls V, Resistance 3, Gears of War 3, Batman: Arkham City, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, and Rage, that I don’t think the average gamer will be able to play all the titles they want. We’ll all be forced to choose sides and MMO’s are such a precarious beast to deal with that they have to be sure that the iron is still hot, but not being thrust into the fight at the wrong time. Oh, yeah, almost forgot: Diablo 3. How could I have missed that one?


Finally, Bioware’s biggest opponent might have been themselves. Originally, they had slated for both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3 to launch within three to four months of each other. Granted, there might be some MMO players who have no interest in ME3, and I suppose the inverse could be equally true, but I think it’d also be fair to say that, amongst scifi, rpg, and Bioware fans, there is an immense amount of crossover with that company’s three flagship titles. To make their fanbase split their time between two massive titles, or even, heaven forbid, be forced to choose which one to spend money on at a given time, it makes no sense, either in terms of drawing in as many people as possibly, nor even in stark dollars-and-cents terms. When both games were removed from EA’s release slate, ME3 was immediately given a relative release date in Q1-2012, while no further approximate date has been given for TOR. I think it’s reasonable to expect, therefore, two things: one, that they don’t want either title to perchance have a negative impact upon the other, and, two, that they’d like to avoid the fall-winter rush and maybe even get such a foothold in the market early on that the average consumer, who does not buy every major title at the midnight launch, will purchase and stay with TOR through the barrage of console releases and eventually will want a break from MMO’ing and jump back into the Normandy for awhile, only to return to the Star Wars galaxy.

After all that you might be wondering, just what does Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy have to do with this? Simple: “Don’t Panic.”