Guild Changes

About three weeks ago I posted about running Terror from Beyond for the first time, and about how I wasn't sure how my guild was going to proceed from there, seeing how we only had a handful of people left who were interested in running operations. Shortly afterwards I had to be AFK for a bit more than a week, and when I returned I came back to a message from one among that last handful, telling me that he had left BoR to raid with another guild.

I wasn't surprised, but I was a little miffed... at least initially. It didn't seem fair that other people were taking "the easy way out" and leaving me in the lurch while I was still agonising over how to keep things running in the guild. However, then I realised that in essence, I was suffering from an issue of my own making. I wasn't a veteran member or a high-ranking officer; I was only as responsible as I wanted to be. (Stubborn has a very topical post on that subject up today. At least I'm not the only one who has problems like that.) So I finally got over myself, admitted that I didn't really want to lead, and that maybe it was best for those of us who still wanted to raid to simply join other guilds. Nobody got mad, and the slightly resigned responses basically came down to: "Yeah, I guess you're right." We were still going to be friends. Phew.

Now my only problem remained that I knew nothing about how to find a good guild to raid with. I've been playing MMOs for six years and have been guilded for 99% of that time, but every single time I joined a guild it was because existing friends invited me along for the ride. I had no idea how to find a guild for a specific purpose. Fortunately I knew a couple of friendly people through random PvP (yay for the community-building effect of same-server warzones), so I started probing one of them about his guild. How often did they raid and on what level? I didn't even think to ask about their raid schedule or any other details like that. They were active and the couple of people I knew were friendly enough; that was going to be enough for me. I applied on their forums, got accepted, joined the guild - and done!

I've now been a member of Twin Suns Squadron for about a week and it's still a bit weird not to know anyone that well. I'm finding that I'm unusually shy because I don't want to commit any kind of social faux pas or make a fool out of myself while I'm still getting a feel for the general tone of the guild. Nonetheless, things have been going well so far.

I signed up for their more casual raid night, they had a space for me, and I got to participate in a nightmare mode run of Karagga's Palace, even though I'd previously only completed it on hard mode. Getting a new title on my first raid ("The Unyielding") sure felt rewarding. It also made for an interesting change of pace to be playing in a more progression-oriented environment again, as I suddenly felt acutely aware of how little attention I had paid to my PvE gear in the past few months (missing augments etc.). I must have felt pretty flustered about that, seeing how I managed to make it through the entire raid without noticing that my push-to-talk key wasn't working. ("Oh well, I'm the new person, of course they are ignoring me!") The absurdity of that thought made me laugh afterwards.

The op itself wasn't without entertainment value either. My favourite moment was when we were at Karagga, and the following conversation took place (paraphrased):

Tank: "Okay, so I'm going to tank him clockwise around the room."
[Fight starts.]
Someone else: "Dude, you said you were going clockwise."
Tank: "Yes?"
Someone else: "Well, you're not! You're going counter-clockwise."
Tank: "Eh, give me a break, it's been ages since I looked at one of those old-fashioned clocks!"
[We bork it up and wipe. As we line up for the next attempt...]
Tank: "Okay, so apparently I'm going to tank him counter-clockwise..."

And tonight I finally got to see Terror from Beyond story mode in its entirety. I'd forgotten how much fun operations can be when you're excited to see new content and don't have to worry about anything but your own performance. I'm really looking forward to seeing where things will go for me from here.


A World Boss Adventure

I was just hopping between alts to send out the minions today, when I noticed someone spamming in /say that he needed help with killing a low-level world boss. At first I tried to simply ignore him, but he was very persistent and standing right at the spot where I usually park all my alts on the fleet, so there was no easy escape. Eventually I decided to try to be helpful instead of expressing annoyance or blocking him, and sent him a whisper to point out that he'd probably have better luck trying general chat on the planet on which the world boss was actually located.

He replied to tell me that he couldn't do that because he was on a trial account and thus couldn't use general chat. I immediately felt a surge of pity for him and asked which boss it was he was after. It turned out to be SD-0 on Coruscant. Since that one's only level 18, I offered to log onto my max level Guardian and kill the boss for him (I figured that a dps character was most suitable for this). He objected, saying that a max level guildie had tried to do that for him before but it hadn't worked. Curious, I looked up some more information about the boss and found some very conflicting reports about him, some saying that it was impossible to solo him due to a certain mechanic, and others claiming that he was perfectly soloable and that those who claimed that he wasn't were simply incompetent. I decided to interpret that as "probably soloable but with some sort of tricky ability involved" and set off to Coruscant with my level 12 trial account ward in tow, confident in my ability to figure out how to tackle the boss.

According to the guides I had skimmed between loading screens and talking to the lowbie, the key to the encounter was the boss's Proximity Laser ability, which connects two players with a beam and they have to run away from each other or suffer heavy damage. Hardly anything new to an MMO veteran. However, on my first attempt I died to that very same mechanic almost immediately, as running away from my companion (who was the one I had been connected to), did absolutely nothing and the beam insisted on ticking for 100% of my health despite of the massive level difference. On my next attempt I managed to survive the first instance of this with the help of a medpack, but he recast it soon after and I died again. I was confused and mildly annoyed, since what the boss was doing didn't match what I had read about and seen in videos. The beam always seemed to tick for 100% of a person's health, even if both targets were on opposite ends of the platform.

My ward was even less pleased with my failure. Supposedly even his guildie hadn't died quite this quickly. He insisted that I should ask for more people in general chat. My pride was somewhat hurt by that, but I went along with the suggestion because I figured that, if nothing else, other people to get killed by the beam might just buy me enough time to take the boss down to zero.

We tried again with eight. Same issue as before. Nobody understood what was happening, least of all me. It was suggested that someone else should make the pull to become the target of the first beam, but in practice the lowbies refused to sacrifice themselves and remained rooted on the spot, at the same time complaining that we weren't making any progress. Eventually I gave up and made the pull again, which resulted in yet another wipe. One helpful person suggested that we were dying because my character was wearing PvP gear. I facepalmed.

Suddenly the level 12 that had started the whole thing asked me to kick the other low-level players. Funnily enough he said this in party chat, which of course only earned him the ire of other group members who saw it. I said no either way, as that would have been an incredibly random and cruel thing to do, and I didn't see what it was supposed to achieve anyway. Then he suddenly reverted to insisting that we should spam general chat some more to get even more people in. I relented to that and eventually we ended up with a raid of twelve, which included another level 50 as well.

When we pulled again after that, we finally did kill the boss. The funny thing is that I have no idea what made the difference. I got targeted by the beam again that time but didn't even bother to move anymore. The other person did run I think, and all of a sudden the beam ended up being green and doing me no damage, finally acting like it was supposed to. I just wish I had an idea why. Other people did die to subsequent beam casts, but fortunately the boss was already going down by that point.

The little level 12 immediately asked whether we could kill the boss again. I didn't reply to that since I figured that he couldn't be serious. I just thanked everyone for their time and said goodbye. Somehow what had started out as a simple plan to quickly help someone out had turned into one and a half hours of mildly annoying faffing around and feeling like a fool.

I don't regret offering to help, because I still think that it was the right thing to do, and if nothing else I learned something about the world boss. But I do think there is a lesson in there to be careful what you offer help with (that is to say, preferably not something that you're not actually sure how to do) and that there is no guarantee that anyone will be grateful for your efforts, especially if the experience isn't perfectly smooth.

I do wish someone could tell me what the hell was up with SD-0's beam though, and why it seemed to be a completely inescapable killer mechanic during most of our attempts.


Can't sleep, probe droid is watching me

I was curious enough about the detailed workings of the new cash shop that I decided to pay another visit to the public test server myself. It was quite fun to have a considerably sized allowance of fake money to play around with for free. Talking to other people who were playtesting the patch provided some interesting insights as well: for example I didn't know that new players will now unlock their legacy after the starting planet. I think that's a nice change, and since legacy names aren't unique anymore there isn't really a risk of people who give up on the game soon afterwards "taking up" highly desired names.

Anyway, I bought a couple of the "gambling" packs and every single one of them contained a pet among other things. I take it that that's not the standard though, as my SO joined me, tried to do the same things and ended up with no pets at all - instead he received some funky new emotes and a shiny Republic banner that he could show off all over the place on a short cooldown.

The first pet that I got was supposed to be a new model according to the name and icon, but when I summoned it I somehow ended up with a Hagnoffarl. Bug report time!

Another pet I "won" was the Low-atmosphere Miniprobe, or "probe droid" as I called it for short. This turned out to be a big source of amusement for us as it made me feel irrationally paranoid after a while. Somehow it didn't feel like a friendly companion by my side; it made me feel as if someone else was spying on me! When I shared this with my boyfriend, he started making probe droid noises - FRIMMIN ON THE FRIM FRAM, FRIMMIN ON THE FRIM - and I completely lost it. Of course the only way to conquer my fear after that was to have the damn thing with me for the rest of the evening and keep making probe droid noises myself. Good times.

After today, I can heartily recommend messing around on the PTS this weekend, even if it's a huge download - especially if you're interested in what the F2P player experience will be like. I may not be a fan of gambling with real money, but gambling with fake money is quite fun. On Monday all accounts on the PTS will be changed again, I'm guessing to experiment with "preferred" player status or something.

I do have to say that some of the current restrictions do feel a bit ridiculous as it is. Mind you, I want free players to be restricted, because I want my continued subscription to provide good value, but a lot of it is just so... random. I noticed someone levelling up next to me and typed /cheer into chat, just to see my character do nothing at all and find myself faced with a message that this emote was locked. Cheering is a privilege? Come on. Or when I tried to use the /who command to check who was currently on, and was again faced with a "this function is locked" message. More than anything else, some of these restrictions simply strike me as a bit odd.


Coins, Coins, Coins

Reading all the Cartel Coin news going around at the moment made me think of the song "You make me wanna shop" - until I tried to google it and realised that the lyrics are actually "make me wanna shout". D'oh! And all these years I thought... oh well. So much for my mondegreen moment for the day.

But yes, Cartel Coins! They are on the PTS, and while I haven't logged on there myself yet, Darth Hater and Dulfy have some good coverage up already.

The main thing I was relieved to see was that apparently the icon for the shop in-game is only a bright gold $ sign added to the top bar of the UI, with no additional pop-ups or anything that I've heard of (so far). I'm actually generally quite supportive of advertising and don't use an ad-blocker while browsing the internet, but I definitely don't want to get messages along the lines of "buy this" shoved into my face while playing an MMO, especially not one that I'm already paying for.

Looking at the list of things available for purchase with coins, they basically seem to fall into two categories: attempts to squeeze some money out of people that will otherwise be playing for free, and things that could potentially appeal to both free and paying players.

The main thing that struck me about the unlocks purchasable for free players was that they make the free option look extremely unattractive to past or current subscribers. I didn't realise just how many things they were going to restrict: not just major features like species selection at character creation or options for endgame activities, but also really basic things like the hide helmet option or even emotes! When the switch to free to play was first announced and the main point of interest was the fact that you'd still be able to play through your entire class story for free, I noted a considerable amount of current players that said that they were going to switch to playing for free after the change, since they weren't going to use any of the paid features anyway. I know I even considered it myself for a brief while. But looking at all those restrictions... seeing so many things greyed out and finding myself limited and inconvenienced left and right would drive me absolutely batty. I don't think I could stand it, and I can't see it going down very well with former subscribers who were considering a return after the conversion.

However, we'll have to see how well this system works on people who never paid for the game before. They can't miss what they never had to begin with. Then again, seeing other players zoom past on their speeders while they find themselves limited to legging it everywhere could quickly annoy them too. Can you even imagine trying to do the quests on a planet like Hoth on foot? Yikes. The question will then be whether the content has already drawn them in sufficiently that they'd rather pay to remove the inconvenience than stop playing.

The goodies that are designed to appeal to all types of players were a lot more interesting to me. As a subscriber I'll receive a "stipend" of Cartel Coins automatically, so obviously I'd like there to be something to spend those on, even if I never intend to buy any coins separately. I also reckon that this might actually end up being the big money maker for Bioware. I'm no expert economist, but it seems like a no-brainer to me that it's going to be easier to make your already loyal subscribers spend a little more money on a game they already love than to convert sceptical freeloaders that don't want to give you their credit card number.

To me these purchases basically seem to fall into one of three categories: cosmetic stuff, convenience / "power" and gambling.

The cosmetic stuff is pretty straightforward: speeders, pets, outfits. The outfits come with low-level mods in them, which could arguably be described as buying power, but someone getting a level 15 purple chest piece without "working" for it seems pretty inconsequential to me.

The currently available outfits are mostly just recolours of existing stuff, so I can't see them selling amazingly well, but presumably there is a market out there for people who don't want to research things like where to get the equivalent orange item that's available from a drop or a crafting schematic. The only outfits that I think will draw attention are the ones that look the same on both factions and will thus allow a Jedi to look like a Sith and vice versa (if anyone would want that). I have to admit I'm a bit concerned about what that will do to life on the fleet - seeing tons of Sith lookalikes run around on the Republic fleet would be weird.

Rohan attempted a nice breakdown of MMO payment models today, and he admits that the line between power and convenience is kind of fuzzy. In the SWTOR cash shop, you'll be able to buy experience boosters for example. I don't care about that and don't see why anyone would want to level faster in this game anyway, but I don't feel that it will affect me in any way. Still, I could see others already perceiving something as simple as that as "giving others an advantage for money".

Apparently legacy unlocks will be purchasable with Cartel Coins as well, as long as you fulfil the base level requirement. Now that is a funny one for me, because on the surface it's something that should really annoy me, along the lines of "I worked really hard on this / spent a lot of credits on this and you'll just get it for spending a couple of dollars?!" But in reality, I actually like it. I think it's because I always found the credit requirements on legacy perks a bit weird to begin with. "Being allowed to buy something" is not that great of a perk anyway, I thought I was supposed to be rewarded for having reached a certain level, not for making credits! I could happily see myself spending some of my Cartel Coin allowance on unlocking perks that I've shied away from so far simply because I don't have millions of credits burning holes into my pockets. (The actual level requirements were never a problem for me.)

The one case of "power" currently being on sale in the shop that has been raising eyebrows are the colour crystals that come with +41 of a stat on them, yet don't have a level 50 level requirement on them. I hope that there is a bug or typo in there somewhere, because otherwise this is something that could play absolute havoc with low-level PvP. Unless warzone scaling could somehow compensate for it, I guess... and world PvP isn't that common at low levels anyway.

Finally, there is the gambling: the item "packs" that contain an assortment of random items of varying rarity. I have to admit, when I first read about this it immediately made me feel uncomfortable. I'm not a fan of gambling with real money. And you could immediately tell that it works, too, because wherever you look, the contents of the packs are what have players intrigued the most about the new system at the moment.

I definitely see the benefits too though: people are attracted to randomness, and it's something for the player that has already bought everything else they wanted but keeps getting Cartel Coins from their stipend. It's undoubtedly going to make Bioware some good money, and if that helps to keep the game running, that's good, right?

On the whole I've been feeling quite positive about the preview of the item shop. There are some things that I feel kind of meh about, but there are also things in there that I could actually see myself buying, which kind of surprised me to be honest.

I do have some concerns however. What will this stuff do to the economy for example? The random item packs contain companion gifts and crafting materials as "minor" goodies; will we see the GTN get flooded with those? Also, will seeing people in item shop gear break my immersion? In a fantasy game I would have said "yes" to that question without hesitation, but I have to admit that in a setting like Star Wars, the idea of someone buying gear from a shady black market elsewhere doesn't actually strike me as that immersion-breaking. We'll see though.

Still, I do worry a little what this will do to the overall feel of the game. Overall, The Old Republic is a fairly serious game. Humour and silliness have their place in it of course, but seeing female characters run around in bikinis on the fleet always makes me frown for example. It just doesn't fit. Depending on how well the item shop is received, we could soon also see an influx of wannabe Sith speeding around the Republic fleet on mobile thrones and male characters showing off their pecs 24/7 while wearing invisible shirts. I don't want it all to be silly and weird. I still shudder at the memory of Dalaran the day WoW released its "sparkle pony".

And of course, if things like the random item packs take off as big moneymakers, I wouldn't be happy to see development time diverted from actual content and gameplay features towards making more random trinkets for the gamblers.

What has caught your eye in the item shop previews?


Word Of Mouth

Apologies for my lack of responsiveness over the last week or so. I hope nobody thought that I was ignoring them because I wasn't replying to comments, but I was actually AFK, away from both the game and the internet in general, visiting friends and family in Austria. Now I have a lot of catching up to do, both in terms of reading and in terms of commenting. On the plus side, I seem to have figured out Blogger's scheduled publishing feature okay, as the three short posts that I had pre-written before my departure all went up as intended.

Living without the convenience of the internet is slightly annoying, mostly because you can't look up the answers to every random question that pops into your head at your leisure ("What was that guy called again?") but I have to admit that I didn't really miss SWTOR. I'm happy to get back into it now though. And it did come up in conversation at least twice, when I was talking to friends whom I would both classify as fairly casual gamers.

With the first one, it went like this:

Her: Oh yeah, [her boyfriend] asked me to ask you what server you play on in WoW.
Me: Oh, is he playing the new expansion?
Her: Yeah, [looking kind of skeptical] he's running around as a panda smashing things.
Me: Ah. Well, I stopped playing several months ago. [excited] I play Star Wars: The Old Republic now!
Her: [slightly blank stare] ...
Her: Well, you know I'm not really into these kinds of games...

Then she showed me her Smurfville village on her phone. Oh well, can't win them all. With the other friend I fared a bit better though:

Me: Oh, you're still playing WoW?
Her: Yep.
Me: Are you playing with pandas?
Her: [slightly awkward] Yes, we made pandas.
Me: Did you buy the new expansion too?
Her: [looking increasingly uncomfortable] Yes, we did that too.
Me: And, are you enjoying it?
Her: No! It's so dull. And we don't know how to play our characters anymore. And it's all so... childish. Don't you think?
Me: [surprised] Oh, I wouldn't say that. But [insert rant about my own misgivings about WoW here], so I stopped playing quite a while ago. I play Star Wars: The Old Republic now!
Her: Oh, I liked that! We both tried it out when it came out, but [her boyfriend] didn't like it that much because of "all the talking he had to listen to" [rolls eyes]. I thought it was quite charming though.
Me: [feeling like a salesman] Well, you should be happy to hear then that it's going free to play next month then! So you can go back and finish your character's story without having to pay a subscription.
Her: Really? That sounds cool! I might just go back to my little Jedi knight then. She was only level 16 or 17 anyway.

I'm not sure she'll actually remember, but it still felt like a minor victory to me. It's all about the word of mouth!


Thinking about Tython... and F2P

Back when I used to play WoW, I would sometimes create a character on a server where I didn't usually play (as I had no character slots left on my "home" servers as it was), just to play through a certain starting zone again, with no plans to take the character any further. It seems to me that traditionally the starter areas in an MMO tend to be some of the nicest virtual spaces, as the game tries to make you feel welcome and invite you to stay. (In comparison, high level zones are often desolate or ravaged by whatever evil you have to fight in the game.) Not to mention that the thrill of progression is never as fast again as during those first couple of levels.

In TOR, I think Tython does this best. While neither of the two Jedi types is my favourite in terms of gameplay or story, I do love hanging out on Tython. Green grass, blue skies, sparkling waterfalls... who wouldn't want to have a picnic there? What do you mean, flesh raiders and ancient droids are a plague on the land? Bah!

Some time ago I made a lowbie consular on what is now The Harbinger, before Bioware had increased the character limit per server to twelve. He was still in the starter zone when I went back to check up on him the other night, and I was amazed by how busy Tython was. The server merges have made all planets reasonably busy, mind you, but Tython was buzzing like a beehive. You could definitely feel the difference caused by the first fifteen levels of the game being on an unlimited free trial.

Some people were saying dumb-ish things in general chat, but none of it was hideously offensive. More importantly, there was also a guy who was holding some sort of Star Wars trivia contest. It was all expanded universe stuff that I had no clue about, but it was still fascinating to watch. Everyone who joined in seemed to rather enjoy themselves, and it struck me as a very nice thing to do.

It really made me think about the upcoming free to play conversion in a good way for the first time. Star Wars is an incredibly popular IP - the problem is that only a small fraction of those Star Wars fans are traditional MMO players. Maybe Bioware isn't completely crazy with their reasoning that too many of them don't want to pay a mandatory sub these days, when you can access so many online games and services for free. There's definitely no lack of interest in Star Wars itself.

I'm still a bit wary of the whole thing of course, but I do have to admit, if F2P brings in more people wanting to share Star Wars trivia in general chat, then it can't be all bad.


YouTube Link Love

It's been a while since I last linked to some fan videos on YouTube, so let me once again share a couple that have amused me lately:

1. Sith Assassin PvP 1.3 - The Bradleey Troll Diaries, part 1 & 2: I'm usually not a huge fan of PvP videos, because a lot of them aren't very entertaining to the average Joe, whether it's because they are badly edited or because they only serve to show off the "leetness" of the video creator. These two videos by Bradleey are very fun to watch however, as he focuses on silly moments in warzones that mostly involve him wreaking havoc with Force Pull or capping nodes undisturbed while oblivious defenders are looking the other way. You can really tell that he had fun making these whenever you watch him happily hurl himself off a bridge only to take someone else with him. But then, what else would you expect from someone whose legacy name is "Hehehehe"?

2. Captain Zekk is kind of a jerk: A lot of the smuggler's funniest "rude" moments edited together, with some other bits of random fun in between. I actually laughed out loud more than once. While the video doesn't outright spoil any plot points, it does give away all kinds of random bits of conversation, so proceed with caution if you'd rather see it all for yourself and haven't levelled a smuggler yet.

3. SWTOR Music Video: Atreyu - Falling Down: One of the first results you get when searching YouTube for "SWTOR music video", this is quite well done for something that's made exclusively from manually recorded gameplay footage. I've watched it a few times now, and I don't even like the song! Too bad the creator responds to enthusiastic comments from viewers with "lol, I only played this for a month".

4. Crimson Nova Girls: This video is not without its flaws. Aside from the spelling mistakes in the subtitles, I'm generally not fond of people overdoing the whole "girls dancing in bikinis" thing, but one has to give credit where credit is due: the singing is good and the accompanying video is very well made. I was quite impressed by some of the synchronised dancing in particular. And original SWTOR songs are hard to find.

5. Darth Baras - You Mad Bro? Finally, something simple but fun: footage of a single conversation that Sith warriors have on Dromund Kaas during Act I of their class story. I wouldn't worry too much about spoilers with this one - just savour the privilege of getting to listen to one of most quotable NPCs in the game...


Embracing the PvP grind

Grinding in MMOs has gotten a somewhat bad reputation as of late. I'm not sure why, considering that at its core, grinding simply means investing time and effort into the game to achieve an enjoyable result. Of course there are plenty of ways in which you can make a grind a bad thing: making the baseline activity extremely boring or tedious ("chores"), getting the balance wrong so that the reward doesn't feel worth the effort ("pointless grind"), constantly moving the goalposts so that the player isn't sure where they are going or if they are getting anywhere at all ("treadmill")... okay, maybe I can see why grinds have gained a bad reputation in the blogosphere.

The Old Republic is generally not very grindy. Levelling doesn't take very long, and PvE gear is easy to come by. However, there is one exception and that's high-end PvP. Initially, max level PvP is easy to get into because the game provides you with a full set of free gear the moment you ding fifty (which is quite handy for PvE as well by the way). Then it only takes a couple of weeks to upgrade that to Battlemaster, even if you only put in a moderate amount of effort by doing the warzone daily every other day. But then War Hero looms on the horizon as your next goal, and holy crap, that's grindy. Assuming you don't participate in any ranked play and only get ranked commendations from the daily and by trading them in at a great loss, you'll only get a single piece of gear every other week or so, even if you PvP every day. Harsh!

I started working on my own War Hero set back in May, and even mentioned at the time that the prospect of such a huge grind looked quite daunting - especially considering that this was before the server transfers, when it wasn't unusual for warzone queues on my server to take half an hour. However, five months later and with much shorter queues I've finally reached my goal. I decided to keep a couple of pieces of Battlemaster because the War Hero versions looked more like sidegrades than upgrades to me, but the bottom line is that I've got all the PvP gear I could possibly want right now.

It's a strange feeling. I almost forgot how satisfying it can be to complete a major in-game goal like that after a long time. The only downside is that I also feel a bit lost. I started spending excess commendations on what cosmetic goodies there are on the PvP vendor, but it feels a bit ridiculous. Who thought that it was a good idea to make vanity pets with a valor rank 70 requirement anyway? I do feel a bit sorry for anyone who wants to be a serious pet collector in this game.

However, I'm running out of things to buy and the PvP currencies are starting to build up. It won't be long until I hit the cap. And then what? I could of course continue to run warzones anyway, because it's fun, however I'm guessing that I'll eventually be drawn towards the lure of having both fun and rewards by playing on an alt instead. Or maybe I'll make a serious effort to get back into endgame PvE. It's about time anyway.

Either way I think it's all good. People like to complain about running out of content once they've completed what's there. In general I agree that new things to do should be added over time, but I've also found from experience that a game that keeps piling on the new content too quickly isn't fun for me either. It just frustrates me if I never get to complete anything before it gets changed or becomes obsolete. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with being given some time to complete your goals in an MMO. It's part of what makes a game satisfying. If it's been a pleasant experience, it will only encourage you to come up with new goals for yourself, because if it's been fun, you'll want to find reasons to keep playing. And if you didn't care about the game before, no amount of additions is going to make you love it.


Terror from Beyond First Impressions

I've previously posted about how my guild stopped raiding. About a month ago, I organised a roll call on the forums to see who was still interested in operations, but sadly the result of this was that even if every single person who expressed an interest were to show up on the same night, we still wouldn't be able to field a full team. This put me in a difficult position. I really want to raid again, but I'm not particularly fond of organising things. On the other hand however, I've also had too many bad experiences with guildies in WoW who abandoned ship for progression, and officers who quit without even trying to make things better when the guild was down in the dumps. I'm not a proper officer in BoR, but I'm something. (For a while my guild rank was "Bank Alt" and we joked that I was the guild leader's PA.) I had to at least try to get something going.

So I organised a guild event for this Thursday, well in advance to give people plenty of time to sign up, and with a detailed plan for alternative activities depending on how many people actually showed up. As we did achieve the maximum turnout of six, I decided that we were going to brave Terror from Beyond story mode.

Getting an extra damage dealer wasn't a problem, but finding a second healer was hard. It doesn't help that I rarely meet any healers in my flashpoint pugs because usually I'm the healer. I spammed general chat with "LF1M" for about fifteen minutes but to no avail. Eventually some of my guildies joined in to help as well. That was when my boyfriend suggested that we should offer cookies, because that was supposedly a sure-fire way to get responses. "We have cookies!" two guildies exclaimed in general at the same time... and instantly we had not one, but two applications. Who'd have thought it?

It took us a while to get going, but once we did, things went quite well. The guildies were clowning around on Mumble, and both of our puggers were competent and sociable. I didn't even feel the need to set master loot. As a bonus, our pugged damage dealer already knew the place and soon turned into our de facto raid leader by sharing key information with us whenever necessary. I was very glad about that as it took some of the burden of leadership off my shoulders and allowed me to actually enjoy myself while playing, after I had started the evening feeling somewhat tense about having to be the responsible one all night.

As for the operation itself, my first impression was that it's extremely atmospheric. It was great to finally meet the Gree, and they look about as strange as you'd expect. When you enter the operation itself, you get dumped in this sort of swampy area, with buildings that look very technologically advanced but also decrepit. Ugly little aliens bursting out of the ground unexpectedly only add to the eerie atmosphere. Then, as you advance further in towards the parts where the Gree technology is still intact but malfunctioning, the area takes on a very distinct Tron feel. One has to hand it to Bioware's operation designers: they know how to infuse a place with flavour.

As for the fights, the people who had told me that Terror from Beyond was a return to easier story modes were not wrong. We downed the first two bosses on our second attempt each, and even then it felt like we could have done it on the first try if we hadn't derped around so much (i.e. we initially started the Dread Guard fight with two people locked out, d'oh). The third boss took us a couple more attempts, but again it felt like this was more due to us being klutzy rather than anything else. Unfortunately we didn't get any further than that for the night, as getting the group together and various AFKs and disconnects had taken up a lot of time. But it was good to raid again.

I just wish I had a better idea of what lies ahead.


Doing my part for the community

While I was perusing the official forums the other day (they are really not that bad these days if you take care to avoid topics with certain key words in the title), I came across an interesting thread whose author bemoaned the lack of fan site support for the game as of late, specifically when it comes to item databases, talent tree calculators and the like. While the responses quickly veered off topic, the original post certainly left me thoughtful.

My personal item database of choice has always been Torhead, because I liked Wowhead when I played WoW, and Torhead is basically the same thing, only for SWTOR. My relationship with it was only soured ever so slightly a couple of months ago when I posted a comment that was fully compliant with all their rules: concise, accurate and useful, and yet it was downvoted to a rating of -4 within days. I even made a thread about it, to earnestly ask what was wrong with it, and the only response I got was basically a shrug and "don't know". What kind of community downrates useful information? Bah.

Still, I kept using Torhead because I wasn't particularly attracted to any of the alternatives. Since that thread I linked above was posted, the site has been updated for 1.4 as well. After having a bit of a look around, I still found it to be in a pretty sad state however. Empty pages everywhere, with no comments, screenshots or anything.

Well, I thought, at least that's something I can work to change! I may not be able to fix things like broken links, but I can add to the community-driven part of the site. So I began my personal little project called "inundate Torhead with useful information, particularly screenshots". Ever wondered how one type of Banded Longboots looked different from another? Well, now you can find out, because I came across both of them on my Sith warrior and uploaded screenies. I've added over two hundred of them over the last couple of days.

It's a fun little mini-game actually. The site is missing so much information that you can pretty much pull out any of your characters, take a picture of every piece of gear you're wearing, every piece of gear your companions are wearing, every piece of gear in your bags and bank, plus assorted vehicles and pets, and nine times out of ten Torhead won't have any screenshots of it uploaded yet. People give me funny looks when I twitch around my companions to get the best angle for a picture on the fleet, but it's all for a good cause. It's gotten to the point where my significant other gives me frowny faces and asks whether I'm taking screenshots again. Yes, yes, I am! For the community, and for questionable internet fame!


Reconsidering my stance on datacrons

Up until now, my stance on datacrons could pretty much be summed up as: "whatever". I think they are a neat idea, but personally I'm not really "into" them. Truth be told, this is mostly because I don't even notice them half the time, which is funny considering that I score high as an explorer when it comes to Bartle types. However, there are different types of exploration, and I've come to accept that exploration of geography in particular isn't really my favourite. In TOR, the story is what spurs me on time and again, wanting to see every last part of it, including different variations based on your choices. I consider the scenery easy on the eyes and love to have a general idea of what's where, but it's never really the focus of my adventures.

I think this is due to the fact that I easily get lost in three-dimensional virtual spaces and thus often have my eyes glued to the mini-map instead of looking at what's in front of me. In a way that's sad and hurts my immersion, but I also know from experience that being deprived of a map and constantly getting lost isn't that much fun either.

Anyway, that's why finding datacrons isn't something that comes to me naturally. I looked up the locations of a couple of them to make matrix cubes before, but reading a guide and then just repeating what it says isn't exactly my personal idea of fun gameplay. And I'm not particularly bothered about the min-maxing side of +3 aim either.

However, I can't help but notice that time and again, whether it's with friendly strangers or with friends, datacrons end up making for some incredibly inspiring group content. There are of course the obvious ones that require more than one person to access and thus present people with options for teamwork that are different from regular group gameplay, but even datacrons that can theoretically be accessed solo can make for a very fun grouping experience.

For example I've noticed that many people who know the locations of all the datacrons love sharing that knowledge. Some time ago I was questing on Hoth with a friend and even though I initially brushed him off, he kept going on and on about the datacrons there until I relented and "allowed" him to show them to me. I've experienced strangers being willing to jump through various hoops purely to show someone a datacron as well. There is clearly a certain appeal to the feeling that you're sharing "secret" knowledge with someone, even if you've got nothing tangible to gain from the experience yourself. Being on the receiving end of this kind of sharing isn't half bad either, as it makes you perceive other players as helpful and promotes community.

Hunting down a datacron with others while neither of you know how to get to it can be pretty fun as well. When my SO and I were questing on Dromund Kaas together, it was him who first spotted the telltale glow up on the side of a cliff, and he insisted that we go over to the bottom of it and at the very least have a look. When a path wasn't immediately visible, I became intrigued as well. "Maybe you can get to it from behind." Soon our quests were almost forgotten as we kept veering off the path to look for a gap in the cliff face, and when we finally found it, we were very proud.

I never would have found that datacron on my own, and I'm not sure whether my boyfriend would have gone after it quite as persistently if he had been running solo. However, together we could combine resources and cheer each other on. Sometimes the way a datacron is placed means that there's also room to assist each other in a more "hands on" manner, for example by duelling the poor person who just fell off halfway to the top and harpooning them back up.

The only time I've run into trouble with datacrons as a group adventure so far is when the challenge is particularly difficult and your ability to help is limited. Earlier today my SO and I found a datacron on Imperial Taris. I was quite proud of myself for figuring out the "jump route" to it on my own, but it was quite difficult and involved a lot of jumps. I kind of expected that I wasn't going to be able to make it, and that I would eventually have to "cheat" by duelling my boyfriend's character and leaping up to him. However, as fate would have it I got lucky and ended up making what looked like the worst of the jumps the first time I reached it and then made it straight to the end, while my SO just couldn't get past a certain point. Eventually he simply gave up in frustration, and I was left standing up there feeling a bit sheepish. I would have loved to help, but my Marauder simply had no way to assist his sniper.

Then again, that kind of problem is not something unique to jumping puzzles. Who hasn't been in a tough raid where you absolutely needed a certain person to complete a key task or die, and they simply failed at it over and over again? Surprise, surprise, many people find it frustrating to be unable to help, no matter the circumstances.

Still, at least datacrons are completely optional content. I suppose next time I should make sure to have a character with a pull ability parked nearby.


Novare Coast Forever!

I encountered a most amusing bug today. I was running warzones with a guildie and we got into a game of Novare Coast. We were kicking the Imps' butts quite thoroughly, and soon we had brought their bunker down to zero while ours was still at a hundred percent.

I had just died and respawned at our base when I found myself unable to leave. We all waited for the scoreboard to pop up, but nothing happened. The rest of our team gradually died and respawned as well, while a couple of Imps were still running loose outside. They went over to one of our now undefended emplacements and capped it, but since their bunker had already been taken down, the guns weren't firing anymore.

However, the game also refused to end properly - everyone could still move around and act as normal, except that we were trapped inside our bunker after dying because the force fields weren't going down anymore. Eventually some people got bored and quit the game manually, but my friend and I decided to wait around for a little while to see whether the issue would resolve itself somehow and if we would still get credit for the win.

More and more people left, but somehow the game was convinced that the match was still ongoing and kept replacing players at a rate that I could only dream of when people drop out of an actual game in progress. The new people didn't know what was going on and mostly thought that they had been dropped into a fresh game, until they eventually noticed that both the enemy bunker and the countdown were on zero and that nothing was happening.

At first I explained to a couple of them what was going on, but as new players kept coming and going continuously, I quickly grew tired of repeating myself and simply left them to wallow in their confusion. I got a chuckle out of seeing some people leave and rejoin several times in a row.

I opened a ticket in hopes of still getting credit for the game, but it didn't look like any customer service representatives were online and immediately available. The warzone shutdown sequence was initiated and aborted several dozen times. We could only guess at what must have been going on in the Imperial bunker.

Half an hour later, after a lot of jumping around the bunker and giggling at the silliness of it all, my guildie threw in the towel and went to bed. For a brief moment we were down to only two players on our team, and I was wondering whether the warzone shutdown sequence would finally complete... but within seconds we were up to seven again. D'oh.

Eventually I started chatting to one guy who had left and rejoined three times already and he suggested that me hanging around might be part of what prevented the game from shutting down properly by now. While I hadn't yet grown tired of watching the situation unfold, I didn't want to risk inadvertently ruining other people's play, so I left. When I found myself back on the fleet however, I was still a member of the warzone ops group and I could see no option to leave.

I took what I thought was the next logical step and relogged, and when I came back a few minutes later, things finally appeared to have sorted themselves out as I wasn't part of a group anymore. However, the guy that I had been talking to immediately whispered me to say that I still showed up as a member of the warzone group for them and that they weren't able to kick me either. I put myself in the queue again and got put back into the bugged game. At this point I broke out into slightly maniacal laughter. My very own warzone! Just like Hotel California, you can check out any time you like but you can never leave! This time I didn't appear to be a member of the ops group though, and the other guy whispered me once again to say that I'd finally been removed from the group. I left the warzone again, successfully this time, and when I rejoined the queue I got put into a Huttball game. Phew.

About an hour after that match of Novare Coast had ended for the first time, I did a /who Novare and saw no more level fifties in there. At last! I thought it was quite a funny experience though.


Video Time Again!

Even though I've been quiet about them as of late, my clumsy attempts at making SWTOR fan videos have not come to an end. After making a PvP music video, a raid music video, and a "look at this funny random warzone" video, I decided that the next step should probably be something without the UI showing, and that it shouldn't just consist of random gameplay but be somewhat more directed. Unfortunately I'm not very good at actually playing without my UI, so that limited my options somewhat. Then I finally came up with what I thought was a fitting idea, but I needed someone else to assist me and he was never around.

Eventually I decided to say "screw it", altered my idea a bit and enlisted my significant other to be my emote slave lovely assistant. What else are boyfriends for? The end result was this:

It's all very basic, and there are some sections that I'm not entirely happy with, but after a while I just got tired of re-recording the in-game footage in yet another attempt to make things look ever so slightly better. It'll have to do!

It was quite fun to play around with the emotes though. Before I did this I never realised just how many different ones there were, and that some of them look pretty funky.