Category Archives: SWTOR

Deliberating TESO

The beginning of a new year is a time for predictions good and bad. Gamers look forward to their most wanted launches of the year in enthusiastic or more reluctant anticipation. As for mainstream media, it’s an opportunity to be sensationalist and snide because nothing brings more hits than condemning yet-to-be-released titles or already revealing the GOTYs of 2014 in January. January.

I have no MMO predictions to share for 2014 and even if I did, I’d like to keep them positive. Whatever feeling one might have about upcoming AAA-titles, 2014 will be a year of new releases – of buzz and growth and lots of discussion. The genre is moving forward or at the very least, it’s moving and new games will infuse our conversations. For this reason, 2014 is already the better year for MMOs in my book than 2013 ever was. There’s no real failure for this genre as long as new games keep coming out. Once they stop being developed that’s when we’re in trouble.


What do you mean, no more MMOs? [belen02 @]

Condemning TESO – A brief Chronology

So, what happened? A few days ago in good old Kotaku stunt manner, a member of said news site declared publicly on twitter that The Elder Scrolls Online “apparently has a price tag of $200 million”, only to delete the tweet soon after because it’s bad journalism to make claims without any fact to back them up. However, that’s exactly how effective internet rumors start and that brief tweet was enough to set the gaming community completely ablaze over a simple, uncorroborated figure.

As if that wasn’t silly enough, Zenimax’ own Matt Firor then added more fuel to the fire by making very unfortunate, sarcastic remarks on how TESO could never ever have cost nearly that much because hey, look at our game – it’s crap! (just to paraphrase mildly). Now, I do somewhat appreciate the obvious eyeroll from Firor but it wasn’t the greatest way to address the budget question and infuse trust and enthusiasm in your anxious player base.

After all of that commotion had already spawned myriads of sub-tweets, message board threads and blog posts, Forbes (yes, they do video game journalism) ventured forth to declare TESO the “Greatest Videogame Disaster of 2014” two days ago. The article is essentially a summary of old news and concerns long debated among MMO players, but since the rest of the world needs time to catch up with us, it has gone viral not least thanks to its sensationalist headline.

All the while, I am scratching my head a little over what exactly has caused some of the vocal TESO malady in the wake of this budget rumor. Mainly, I have three questions regarding the most popular concerns (in the Forbes article and elsewhere) that I just can’t seem to figure out:

1) What does $200 millions even mean?
Maybe the person holding authority over efficient MMO budgeting could please come forth and enlighten the rest of us what TESO at its current state should legitimately have cost. Of course nobody knows similar figures for AAA-ventures Wildstar or Everquest Next and it seems the best course of action to make sure your numbers never get out lest you not be met with omg-SWTOR-hysteria. By the way, wasn’t it $300 millions for SWTOR? Or $500? If you really want to bore google, you can find them all. In truth, I’ve never found an MMO player nor videogame journalist who had an inkling of all the costs related to a particular MMO development (they tend not be public!) but now that we know (not) that TESO cost 200 MILLIONS….that changes everything!

2) How is it news that this is “just a Skyrim Online”?
It’s been clear from the beginning that an ES MMO wasn’t going to re-invent the genre wheel. When TESO was finally officially confirmed in 2012, the game had been in development for several years, which also means prior to Skyrim’s success and during an era of still solid WoW rulership. You can bet a franchise as traditional as Elder Scrolls dipping their first toe into MMO territory, was going to keep things conservative under these circumstances. There is also the ES fanbase to consider which doesn’t necessarily consist of online players. So yes, of course an ES MMO will essentially boil down to something like “Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim Online”. What else would it be? One doesn’t turn to TESO for big MMO innovations in 2014. Duh?

skymmo3) Nobody ever wanted an ES MMO. Really?
Considering TESO’s imminent launch this April 2014, it’s not only a grossly cynical statement that nobody ever wanted an Elder Scrolls MMO, it is also simply untrue. For every new installment be it Oblivion, Morrowind or Skyrim, fans have debated and fervently hypothesized up and down social networks how awesome an online Elder Scrolls or at least coop function for Skyrim could have been. I myself addressed this topic after Skyrim on this blog, preferring a coop option to the MMO. Of course TESO was already being developed then but the general MMO discussion for Elder Scrolls games is a thing among gamers and an old thing at that. To say the developers has no legitimate reason to believe such a project might be of interest to their fans, as the Forbes article has done, is bogus. If anything, that interest has increased over the last few years.

From where I personally stand nothing has changed in terms of looking forward to TESO this 2014. I trust all the beta testers who have told me that it’s essentially “just Skyrim Online” and all those who have mixed feelings about the game’s polish or long-term appeal. It’s more or less what I am expecting. Of course, there is the subscription concern and a free-to-play switch is probably in the books for TESO as is the case for so many MMOs nowadays.

No doubt, TESO is going to be the traditionalist among 2014 MMO releases and it will need to charm franchise fans. Pre-condemning the title for these reasons however, seems rather oblivious to the fact that many players still like traditional MMOs and that we’re living in times where switching to free-to-play is not a failure but proven business model. Either way, I’ll be playing TESO with or without a sub and I will make final judgements after all the big contenders of 2014 have had their fair shot. For now, my MMO sky is still lit with promise and lots of opportunity!


Holding a torch for MMOs until proven otherwise.

Battle Bards – Episode #7: City Themes

swtownIn this lucky seventh episode of Battle Bards, Syff, Step and myself are rambling about all things MMO city/town music and why we all hate the Stormwind theme! We also find out that Steff actually says “SWOH-TOHR” for SWTOR (I know, silly right?) and that I am apparently incapable of pronouncing Lineage correctly…I did give it my best shot towards the end of the show though!

Episode picks:

  • “Coruscant” from Star Wars: The Old Republic (comp. Lennie Moore)
  • “Stormwind” from World of Warcraft (comp. Jason Hayes)
  • “Imperial Square” from Allods Online (comp. Vladislav Isaev, Mark Morgan)
  • “Meridian” from RIFT (comp. Inon Zur)
  • “Seville” from Uncharted Waters Online (comp. Kazunori Miyake)
  • “Crossroad at Dawn” from Lineage II (comp. Bill Brown, Inon Zur)
  • “Kingdom of Light” from Aion (comp. Yang Bang-Ean)

There are cookies hidden in this episode! Also, we apologize for the overall sound quality this time around; Syp lives in a country where they’ve only just discovered electricity. As always, thanks for leaving us your feedback and don’t be shy on rating the show sometime!

Monday musings on phony media, SWTOR, birdchat and wishing it was Friday already

Last year’s media controversy regarding the mass murders in Norway, has resurfaced once more among bloggers. I commented on the ludicrous claims in July 2011 and how angry it makes me every time newspapers and TV channels pull the video gamer card when such exceptional human tragedies occur somewhere on the world. Redbeard, Tobold and Gordon have each voiced their concerns in the past week and I briefly wondered about the timing. Around here, the news have gone very quiet for some months now, as is the way of the world. We are shocked, we cry out wringing our hands, we pay our condolences – and then we move on with our lives. The court of Oslo has a task at its hands now nobody would envy. How do you punish such evil a deed?

I managed to install the free trial of SWTOR this weekend, thoroughly uninterested as I am in both TERA and Diablo III – and a jolly club we are. I’d rather not rant too much, but it turned out to be the longest download in the history of mankind, after lots of initial sign-up troubles (sorry we don’ like your email address, try yet again!). Anyway three hours of gameplay in, I feel SWTOR has done nothing to win me over and everything to confirm my bias. So I’ll stick to the good which is the shared quest scenarios, the audio conversations and choice options…..and of course the Chiss! What a great race, they definitely did something right there. In a way it’s a pity SWTOR came out this late – I would probably have enjoyed it more 7 years ago when it still would’ve been nice looking and innovative.

In other news, I finally succumbed to joining the birds club. I officially have a twitter account, ya rly. I had to open a work related twitter recently for a company I’m freelancing for and actually liked how easy it let’s you stay on top of updates and releases. I don’t expect to chat there much and I am still a cautious client, but I do see the advantages of link exchange – and of course being able to follow my favorite developers, writers and bloggers with more ease. So for now, I will have a look at this. The proof is in the pudding.

How I wish it wasn’t Monday! I have a job interview this afternoon and another on Wednesday, so I’m feeling somewhat nervous for no good reason. I deeply dislike the drill – which is ironical as my future job will include interviewing applicants. But then it’s a big difference what side of the table you are sat on. Seems a fitting analogy for our entire existence on this planet: it all comes down to what side you are on and what clothes you are wearing. If they ask me about my weakness again, I’m going to tell them that I’m a bad liar. Gotta love the room for interpretation.

This Guild Wars 2 beta weekend cannot come soon enough. All responsibilities have been canceled and the fridge will be stuffed with pizza and Coke Zero (the greatest gift since the electric toothbrush). Oh the glory of playing MMOs! Happy soon-to-be Friday, everybody!

The curious case of SWTOR and LFG

Imagine yourself the type of player who loathes the dungeon finder for many reasons; most of which can probably be summed up by “single-most detrimental feature to social interaction in MMOs” or “what really sent WoW’s community downhill”. Imagine yourself the player who would rather wait for the proper group (and go do other things), who’d rather start his own groups by taking initiative in zone/general chats, who’d rather re-think his role choice (in an MMO that enforces a trinity), look for a guild or form one himself, before seeing this type of feature implemented in his favorite MMO. If you’re not that type of player: imagine it anyway. Imagine yourself as someone like me.

In no conceivable MMO-future could I picture myself among those who actively ask for LFG; that would just be utterly bizarre. Unthinkable. Outrageous.

Or wouldn’t it?

Oh, teh irony…!

For several weeks now, I have kept an eye on my co-bloggers currently immersed* in the worlds of SWTOR, commenting among other things on the absence of LFG in the game. The thing that increasingly made me raise an eyebrow was the number of players calling it a grave oversight while blogging from the “MMO veteran corner”. Certainly not to be expected – what’s going on there?

The answer is frankly making my heart bleed. For most discussions, the bottom line is this paraphrased (also see one very recent example for this dynamic at Rohan’s):

“SWTOR being the type of solo-centric / solo-friendly MMO that it is, those players who usually look to group up frequently are left with not enough opportunities to do so. On a server where the majority of players are content to solo (alternatively stick to micro-groups) or use NPC companions, the traditional MMO player is faced with a gaping silence. The same crowd who used to condemn LFG is starting to require it.”

Now, I don’t know how the situation is on every server. Nor do I claim to know how much of that felt lack of opportunity is actual lack of own initiative. Still, I can clearly see a problem for grouping-friendly players in an MMO that does not enforce cooperation; I think it can be expected too that with much lower overall numbers, finding suitable players for grouping during the same playtime as your own, is taking a big hit no matter how great your initiative (which can be expected to some degree if we still assume a player of a more oldschool persuasion). Especially in a game that still clings to certain group setup.

…With that, the remaining players are left with the wish (or rather: resignation) for LFG, lest they not miss so much of the group content and dungeon runs while leveling up. How deeply cynical is that? How completely upside down!

And once more, we must recognize how the old, non-chalant claim of “just play the game the way you like” or “it doesn’t affect you, just ignore it” is utter humbug. HUMBUG folks!

A couple of post scripta

  • P.S.: This is in no way a jab at anyone who enjoys soloing in SWTOR; Bioware obviously intended the game to work this way and at least some are having fun. Whoever is not, can only do the obvious thing and stop paying (and write rants on it).
  • P.S.(2): LFG still sucks. An MMO that makes types like me wish for LFG must therefore suck even more. Sodom and Gomorrah!
  • P.S.(*): Raph Koster actually says that immersion is for dreamers (ha-ha). I guess he’s enjoying SWTOR then! /sarcasm off
  • P.S.(3): I wasn’t looking to bash SWTOR in this article. But I guess it happened anyway.
  • P.S.(4): I will continue to bash MMOs I am not playing (and those I am playing) on this page and there’s nothing you can do about it. Objectivity is all about erm…distance. ^^
  • P.S.(5): Yeah, sarcasm wasn’t really /off there. I lie. Sometimes.

Why I don’t play SWTOR

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with the fact that I’m not playing SWTOR, while most bloggers I read are currently somewhere up in space. Let me explain. Besides the obvious thing, that this is a general MMO blog where I usually stay up-to-date with all major releases, I really like trying new MMOs. I certainly haven’t played every game in existence, but with the exception of Aion or LotRO, I’ve dipped my toe into most major titles that have come out the past 7 years. When times are quiet, I will even go back in time and try out older games just to get first-hand impressions. I like to know what I’m talking about. I also really love newbie level.

So, why not SWTOR then? Surely the game qualifies as “major title” – it comes with a big name, history and team behind it. You can expect a high level of technical polish and crowded servers. It appears that after some initial sign-up and subscription gripes, most players are content for the moment, few audio or UI issues aside. I don’t care for small complications like that – although I really think a flawless launch without server crashes and queues should be a standard these days (kudos to Trion here).

Yet – I can’t overcome my skepticism. I blame it on not enough time available, but that’s rarely the truth. A few things just bug me about SWTOR, have always bugged me ever since the early previews – to the point of remaining turned off despite reading more enthusiastic reviews of late. Even the ever-critic Nils calls it “worth 50euros for anyone into RPGs or MMOs” and Shintar has opened a brand new blog dedicated to SWTOR. So what’s my problem? And will I be able to change my mind yet?

Judge for yourself, maybe from more first-hand experience. Here are my major SWTOR “bias”:

  • SWTOR looks horrid. Okay, let me re-phrase this: it looks incredibly dated. I’m not as single-minded that graphics are all I care about in an MMO, but I DO expect a title launched in 2011 to look considerably better than WoW. It doesn’t have to be the world’s greatest render-job, but Rift’s graphics are what I consider the minimum; its graphical polish, the atmosphere, the variety and “life” in your environment, the flora and fauna. Elaborate effects for shading, wind, fire and water. I’ve checked out plenty of SWTOR footage and screenshots since its launch and it’s just not there – the landscapes look sterile and dead, some textures remind you of the clone stamp tool in Photoshop. The cities are impressive, but anything remotely “organic” falls short. If I compare desert shots from Tatooine with desert scenarios I’ve recently played through in Uncharted or Fable 3….not good. I get it – we’re in outer space, scale and distances are vast, so you’re bound to see more boring, empty spaces. Still: really???
  • SWTOR is Sci-fi; this too needs some explanation: I like the Star Wars franchise, I love the old movie trilogy. But the Star Wars films, as is widely agreed on, are in fact more “fantasy than sci-fi”. The story of Luke Skywalker, his quest to master the Force, overthrow the Galactic Empire, destroy the Deathstar and discovering his true identity in the process, could just as well have been staged in a traditional medieval or sword&sorcery setting. This is also why many fantasy fans still dig SW, when they would never watch Star Trek or Babylon 5. To me, SW is fantasy with light sabers – no issues there. SWTOR on the other hand, does not benefit exclusively from story appeal. It’s an MMO, which means it relies on different factors to create lasting player enjoyment. Being the protagonist in this tale, the deviating settings, the combat, the weapons & technology, the space-ships etc. all impact on my first-hand experience. And I personally really prefer sword&sorcery based MMOs, I can’t help that.
  • SWTOR appeals to single-players; I’ve actually been told a couple of times now, that this isn’t “necessarily true”. I get it, you CAN always group up if you like to – that is as much a consolation to me as it was in WoW, to be honest. If part of SWTOR’s appeal is what Tobold compared to the “Tortage effect”, I worry about the game’s longterm appeal and community. I’m not sure I need to play SWTOR just to soloplay through the main storyline and send around NPC companions (which I already eye with worry as it is). Another point that’s worrying me in terms of cooperation is that combat is apparently slow and umm boring, but then it seems most players agree that SWTOR brings little new compared to WoW there, anyway.
  • SWTOR and Electronic Arts; this is maybe a minor gripe, but for me it adds to the rest. Sure, EA did bring us titles like the Sims, Battlefield or Dragon Age in the past years, but some of the recent publicity the publisher caused left me with a very bitter aftertaste. Notably the Origin debacle at Battlefield 3 launch or their ridiculous BF3 forum policy argument. Intransparent personal data security in EULAs or phony player censorship doesn’t exactly warm me towards trusting EA or any company for that matter (hello Blizzard RealID debacle). Our BF3 pre-order was canceled over this – in the end it’s a matter of principle. How far are you willing to compromise (and compromise yourself literally) just to play online games? Needless to say, posts like this one don’t improve matters for me.

There you have it, all my negativity. Yet the thing is, I’m not putting it out here to rant – I would like to like SWTOR and give it a chance. There’s frankly not much else around for a while. There are features that interest me about the game: classes, multi-mob combat, difficulty level, just to name a few. I could also imagine that the sheer scale of the settings would greatly satisfy the exploration junkie in me (and traveling between different planets is kinda win).

I don’t know. For the moment I just can’t bring myself to overcome my gripes and enter my CC details to try out a game I might only play for 5 days. Am I wrong – am I right? You tell me. Maybe someone will yet be able to dispel my SWTOR doubts…Until then, the inner battle continues.