Eyecandy: A Visual Tour of the Old Republic (part 2)

 

Alright, this week in Uncle Jara’s little goodie bag: part 2 of the Eyecandy tour.

For those who missed the first part, 7 worlds were represented, with screenshots, concept art, and videos to add flavor. Among these, we had one ecumenopolis (Coruscant), one desert world filled with delicious ruins (Korriban), a rotting cesspit of villainy (Hutta), and a winter wonderland rife with internal political turmoil & intrigue (Alderaan), among others. These first 7 worlds went a long way toward proving that The Old Republic already boasts a rich assortment of landscapes, climates, and local wildlife to compete with any MMO on the market right now.

Next up, we’re going to take a look at 5 more of the 17 total worlds in SWTOR.

Included among this group: a dark world with a lush jungle atmosphere, a once thriving ecumenopolis that looks to have a 2nd chance at life in The Old Republic, a world that is home to one of the galaxy’s most notorious prisons, and a world of high mountains and forests, where an ancient race uses their mystical knowledge to survive amidst a sea of violent enemies.

However, before we delve into the worlds mentioned above, the first world on this part of the tour is a world that needs no introduction—though out of respect, I will give it as fitting an introduction as I am able.

Star Wars fans rarely agree on many things.

-To some, Darth Vader is the epitome of a Sith, while to others, Emperor Palpatine holds that title.

-There are those that feel Luke Skywalker is the archetype of a Jedi in the Star Wars universe, while others still see Grand Master Yoda as that true icon of Jedi glory.

Whatever differences Star Wars fans may have in their opinions of most things, one thing remains universal to this day: only one planet deserves to be considered THE one true icon of Star Wars worlds.

That planet is, was, always will be:

Tatooine

Ok, seriously, those have only a passing connection with SWTOR (the fact that they are on/about Tatooine, itself), but they needed to be posted.

Tatooine transcends video games.

Now for the real stuff.



Tat001

Though the desert is vast, you might want to watch your step at all times.

 
 
 

Tat002

Explorers who find their way to Tatooine should always stock up at a local settlement before trekking into the desert.

 

Tat003

In need of "reliable" droids? Shop Jawa.

In the Galaxy of The Old Republic, Tatooine is an arid desert world located in the Outer Rim. Its two suns feed an already broiling desert climate, making Tatooine a very inhospitable planet for would-be travelers.

With only pockets of civilized settlements present amidst the desert landscape, the major hubs of civilization tend to be the larger settlements, in particular, Anchorhead, the largest outpost on the planet. Once an outpost for employees of the Czerka Corporation who were stationed on Tatooine to mine for resources beneath the planet’s surface, Czerka has long since abandoned Anchorhead, leaving it to become a haven for Smugglers, Jawa traders, & any others who happened to dock on Tatooine and smelled opportunity—or those looking to “disappear under the radar”.

The name Czerka runs deep throughout Tatooine’s recent history. Five centuries ago, Czerka first showed up to mine resources from beneath the surface of the planet. When those plans fell through, Czerka shifted their focus to weapon development. Many secret Czerka weapon research & development laboratories were built, and alien technologies from all around the galaxy were brought to the planet for experimentation. Many of these experiments were deemed too “terrible” to be allowed on civilized worlds, though the full extent of Czerka’s machinations on Tatooine remain a mystery to this day. What is known, however, is that Czerka suddenly pulled all operations off of Tatooine, leaving behind their secret weapons laboratories & complexes to sink beneath the sand. Nobody is sure what prompted this swift withdrawal, though it is rumored some terrible secret beneath the sand holds the key.

Anchorhead has been something of a pit stop for Republic citizens who travel through the Outer Rim in The Old Republic. In recent years, under the nose of the Republic, Imperial forces have begun to carve out a foothold on the planet’s surface. The Empire has even gone so far as to send a small force to occupy a settlement called Mos Ila, via a spaceport rebuilt by Jawas hoping to encourage trade in the region, where they appear to have taken an interest in Anchorhead—and specifically, in the now-abandoned Czerka weapons facilities in the area.

 

Jara’s Thoughts: Tatooine is destined to be one of the first worlds I intend to explore the living hell out of, right along with Alderaan. There’s just so much about it that I find interesting. The terrain appeals to me, the size of the world appeals to me, and the people that live on this planet appeal to me (if this planet only had Jawas, I would still dig this world just as much). The fact that an Imperial presence is felt on the surface appeals to me, as well (I intend to roll Imp for my first 2 or 3 toons). But also, I love the lore associated with this place.

Yes, some part of my joy is connected to my nostalgia for anything to do with the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Even beyond that, the backstory with the secret Czerka weapons facilities, some mysterious force that caused them to suddenly retreat and leave it all behind, not to mention the Jawas, Tusken Raiders, the Banthas, even a Mandalorian settlement (shown in the PAX East Tatooine video)—it all looks like something I want to explore. Not just through travel, but also through quests.

Here’s a confession: I secretly hope that I’ll wander into an Anchorhead or Mos Ila cantina and hear a slightly similar version of the original Star Wars cantina music.

That would be the ultimate cherry on top of this sundae.

 

 

 

Dromund Kaas



DK001

Dromund Kaas, the capital of the Sith Empire, looms among the shaded landscape.

Dromund Kaas, the seat of the Empire. It is on this world where the Emperor sits atop his throne and schemes against the Galactic Republic. It is also on this world where the Dark Council, 2nd in power only to the Emperor, holds court from the Imperial Citadel in Kaas City, the capital city of the Sith Empire.

Dromund Kaas was the planet the Emperor led his people to following the Great Hyperspace War, after the Republic’s failed attempt to exterminate the Sith species. Immediately, the survivors of the Sith Empire went to work, building the great capital Kaas City, and also rebuilding their military might through the centuries. Due to the tireless work of such legendary Imperial figures as Odile Vaiken, the Sith Empire flourished and reloaded after their bloody conflict with the Jedi & Galactic Republic. Centuries later, the Sith Empire would strike out from Dromund Kaas, eventually forcing the Galactic Republic into a treaty, thereby achieving vengeance for their past defeat.

The landscape of Dromund Kaas outside of Kaas City is blanketed by lush jungles. The atmosphere of the planet, ravaged by centuries of the Emperor’s Force rituals, appears as if in a perpetual lightning storm. Rain is also common on the surface, and the planet itself seems to be in a never-ending dark haze. Other commonly seen features of the Dromund Kaas landscape are the ancient caverns, ruins, and statues depicting venerated former Sith Lords.

 

 

Jara’s Thoughts: Right out of a world that is already an icon of Star Wars history (Tatooine), directly to one that looks like it could very well turn into one of the most significant icons of SWTOR‘s history.

As a Sith Warrior, I can only imagine what this world will hold for me. Dromund Kaas IS the Sith Empire… Literally. This is the place where the Dark Council spreads their influence over the Empire. This is the place where Teneb Kel’s quest to hunt down Exal Kressh began. Though the Emperor appears to be involved in mysterious schemes outside of the Empire, I imagine he’ll still be in Dromund Kaas when I reach the city. At the very least, I’ll get to see the throne that Malak & Revan approached in one of the most awesome timeline videos revealed of the game, so far.

Seeing as how Dromund Kaas looks to be steeped in the history of the Empire, I know I’ll enjoy the quests there. I am curious to learn more about past events on Dromund Kaas, the ancient figures that shaped the Empire, and maybe even chat with a “Force ghost” or two in my time there. More than that, I dig jungle worlds.

While this doesn’t appear to be a “pure” jungle world—like your Kashyyyk’s or Yavin IV’s—it still has that jungle feel to it that I enjoy. If nothing else, it looks like a very dimly lit rainforest.lol

 

 

 

 

Taris



Tar001

Vines canvas the ancient, ruined buildings of Taris' once vibrant city.

 
 
 

Tar002

Though new settlements do exist, the spectre of Taris' tragic past always stands as a reminder in the background.

 

Tar003

Taris, doomed to a perpetually ruinous future, or primed for rebirth?

Once a thriving ecumenopolis, Taris was razed in the year 3,956 BBY by the Sith Lord Darth Malak in his attempts to kill the Jedi Knight Bastila Shan.

More than three centuries have passed since that act of utter destruction left the city a smouldering ruin. Taris in present day, at least currently, is still in a state of ruin. Swamps are the most prevalent aspect of Taris’ terrain. The remainder of the landscape is covered in the ruined shells of buildings that once stood in a proud, prominent city. Though little remains of the once great city, perhaps its darkest aspect, the diseased Rakghouls, have managed to survive the destruction of their home. There are also rumors of an evolution of sorts happening to those afflicted by this disease—created by Sith alchemy—, including reports of “bizarre” powers.

Though only lightly inhabited in the centuries since its destruction, recently the Galactic Republic has begun stationing forces on the surface in order to rebuild the city. The Republic hopes that rebuilding this city, once a symbol of Sith atrocity, will boost the morale of a Republic in need of new hope. However, the Empire has also begun sending their military to the planet in an attempt to prevent such a move. In their eyes, Taris stands as a testament to the destructive might of the Sith—and they intend to keep it that way.

 

Jara’s Thoughts: Anyone who has played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic should be intimately familiar with this world and the events that brought about its eventual downfall.

This planet was the scene of one of the most gut-wrenching—but oh so damn effective—plot twists in video game history. It isn’t often that you’ll find developers willing to, literally, blow up to Hell a whole world they worked on. Yet, that’s just what happened here. BioWare allowed you to explore Taris in KotOR, let you get to know its people, and then made you watch as Darth Malak unloaded the clip on it. In many ways, this planet might have been the home of the hardest hitting BioWare plot point at the time—surpassed only by the twist when you learned about Revan later (I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn’t played it).

Getting to go back to this world (and hopefully rebuild it, via BioWare’s “phasing” technology) is going to be one of the sweetest aspects of SWTOR. Just knowing a little about the history of this place, then being allowed to go back, is very cool. I expect quests there to focus on the Rakghoul situation, and on the Republic side, I imagine the quests will gear more toward rebuilding the place. (That’s probably the one downside I see with playing Empire—they are trying to keep it destroyed. I’ll probably have to roll ‘pub to see the rebuilding stuff [though I hope Drew Karpyshyn is hinting in that first video that the Empire might just start building their own stuff to counteract the Republic.)

 

 

 

 

Belsavis



Bels001

Though known for its cold climate, Belsavis' vibrant vegetation thrives.

The history of Belsavis precedes the Galactic Republic or the Sith Empire. Indeed, its origins and history reach all the way back to the “Infinite Empire” of the Rakatans, who used the planet as a prison for captured beings—beasts and intelligent beings. Many of those beings are said to still be locked away deep inside the planet’s massive prison.

In the timeline of The Old Republic, Belsavis has been used by the Republic as a prison for dangerous Sith lords and war criminals. Having discovered its true nature as an ancient prison in past centuries, the Republic attempted, unsuccessfully, to fully overtake the massive prison complex. Deep within its structure, the Republic learned that the Rakatans had contained many hideously dangerous prisoners. With this knowledge in-hand, the Republic has begun sending increasing numbers of military personnel to the planet to attempt to maintain the defenses of the prison. On the other hand, the Empire, having learned of the prison’s existence through its vast network of Imperial spies, has also dispatched its own military forces to Belsavis in an attempt to liberate its numerous Sith prisoners.

The presence of both the Republic & Jedi has transformed the labyrinthine prison complex into a bloody battleground. While the Sith attempt to retrieve their captured brethren, and the Jedi attempt to keep the prison intact, a dark evil waits in the depths of the facility, ready to break free of its centuries old prison.

 

 

Jara’s Thoughts: As a known lover of “winter worlds”, I can see myself enjoying the terrain & climate of Belsavis. That said, the presence of a massive galactic prison certainly raises my eyebrow.

I think I could enjoy all aspects of this world—as long as the quests are engaging.

If I am going to spend a lot of time in prison complexes, I hope the quests are involved, with a very ever-present sense of danger. I also hope that both Empire & Republic will get to delve deeper into the mystery of this place. Just knowing that the Rakatans actually used this prison millenia before the Republic or Empire makes me curious to see what exactly they have contained deep inside it. I am kind of hoping it’ll be something akin to At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft—though unlike Dyer & Danforth, I actually want to SEE the evil contained within.

Sadly, if I had to guess, I bet the Republic will come out ahead on the intriguing quests for the prison. I think the Sith will become aware of the evil as they are attempting to free their captured people, while the Republic will most likely get the “We must not let this evil escape” awesome storyline.

However, until we get into the game, this is merely a guess (I could be completely wrong).

 

 

 

Voss



Voss001

Voss-ka, capital of the Voss species, boasts very ornate, detailed architecture.

 
 
 

Voss002

Anti-aircraft guns stand ready to shoot down enemy ships---a testament to the culture of conflict present on the planet.

 

Voss003

The pagoda-like design of this Voss structure suggests skilled craftsmanship---though its true purpose remains a mystery.

Voss, home to the tech-savvy, aggressive species called the “Gormak”, as well as a peaceful race of mystics who refer to themselves by the same name as the planet, was found by accident not long after the signing of the Treaty of Coruscant.

The Voss species, who make their home in a city on a tall mountain peak, have survived centuries of constant assault by their mortal enemies the Gormak by virtue of their city’s natural defenses, and due to the guidance of their Voss Mystics. Though Sith & Jedi outside of Voss would instantly recognize the Mystics’ power as coming directly from the “Force”, the Voss have no term for it, nor do they care for outside opinion. Yet it has saved their civilization from certain extinction from the Gormak, who see the Voss as an affront to nature, itself.

The Sith Empire attempted to conquer the planet after discovering its existence, while the Republic attempted to prevent its capture by taking the planet, themselves. The powerful Voss Mystics were able to see through these attempts, however. Guided by their mystical knowledge, the Voss were able to prevent the Republic from taking the planet, then defeat the invading Sith fleet, causing it to vanish. Afterward, both the Sith Empire & the Galactic Republic established embassies in Voss-ka, the Voss’ home, in an attempt to try and gain favor with them.

 

Jara’s Thoughts: Of all the planets BioWare has released for The Old Republic, I feel confident in saying Voss has been the hardest to read for me.

I have no friggin idea yet if I’m going to like this planet or not.

I will say, there are things about this world I find very intriguing. The Nightmare Lands, which is supposed to be an area tainted by some dark energy that is inhabited by twisted Gormak & Voss Mystics who have gone insane, sounds like a blast to me. The Voss, themselves, sound interesting, as well—though I have to admit, the Voss, named after the planet Voss, which resides in the Voss System, just makes me think of the Marklar from South Park.

I have no idea what to expect as far as quests on this world. You would think that some of them will be your superiors attempting to get in the good graces of the Voss, though if you are Empire, there’s no doubt that some ulterior motives will come into play. The Gormaks view you as an enemy simply because you don’t hate the Voss and they see them as abominations. Therefore, I doubt they will be welcoming quest givers (though any experienced MMO player knows, love and hate by a faction for you in an MMO only lasts as long as it takes you to grind rep with them, or do some quest that changes your allegiance).

If I had to make one suggestion that I hoped to see in the game, I hope at some point you, as a Sith player, can do something heinous and then point the finger at a Jedi or something in a Voss quest. I get that these guys are kind of psychic, but it would still be fun to do since you’re both basically trying to suck up better than the opposite faction.

 

 

 

Closing Thoughts: Thus concludes part 2 of our three part adventure (there were only ten worlds left, so I decided to split them in half).

In this part, there were definitely a lot of worlds that I look forward to experiencing in-game. Not even just Tatooine or Taris, I see fun questing possibilities on all of these planets. Most of them, save Tatooine, seem to have a single recurring theme: political intrigue. Voss, Belsavis & Taris just look like political warzones, with two sides fighting over them for different reasons, and with different agendas; Dromund Kaas, though an Empire-only planet, is no doubt steeped in political games, also (this is the home of the Emperor & the Dark Council, after all). Tatooine, while not specifically stated to be a grand political battleground for the Republic & Empire, still has some juicy secrets to spill. They all raise their own questions.

-What caused the Czerka Corporation to very suddenly pull up stakes on Tatooine and hit the road without so much as packing? I doubt they would have incurred such losses over anything small.

-What sort of prisoners did the Rakatans imprison underground on Belsavis—and what exactly about them had the Jedi order moving so quickly to keep them contained?

-What exactly is the Emperor up to, and will he have the full support of the Dark Council when the time comes to implement his plans? The final chapter of the Blood of the Empire webcomic would suggest not (Teneb Kel made it very clear that they would want to know what the Emperor was truly planning—enough to spare his life and even elevate him to a full Sith lord).

-If the Empire wants to keep Taris in ruins, and the Republic wants to rebuild, which side is going to win out in the end? Also, what part will the “evolving” Rakghoul disease play in the grand scheme of things?

-Though the Sith Empire & Galactic Republic seem set on trying to curry favor with the Voss, what sort of ulterior motives are going on underneath? The Jedi Order may stick to their friendship policy with the Voss, but I imagine both the Imperial & Republic politicians have other ideas for what an alliance with the Voss could mean.

Overall, these worlds look poised to provide some exciting quests for people who choose to camp out on them. It’s difficult for me to say which one I think is going to be my favorite. All of them have great story potential; I think it’ll come down to how well the stories of these worlds engage me. (If there is a cantina on Tatooine with some rendition of the original Cantina Theme, however, all bets are off.)

Well, here are worlds 8-12 on our tour of the 17 worlds BioWare has unveiled for The Old Republic.

Among the worlds we have yet to cover:

-a world where an enveloping, warm Tauntaun coat could save your life;

-a “moon” where “fair play” is just a bunch of four letter words;

-the “Detroit” motor vehicle (starship) capital of SWTOR;

-a world with diamonds that you wouldn’t want to make teeth grills out of;

-and finally, a world where the Hutts figured: poisonous atmosphere + dangerous plants + chemistry = profit.

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The War of the Narratives: Insular vs. Grand

As I recover from searing back pain, I feel compelled to revisit a little debate I had with someone awhile back.

The debate: which narrative form tells the best story: “insular narratives”, driven by colorful characters in relatively small settings, or “grand narratives”, which focus on large-scale events, sometimes at the expense of intimate character descriptions?

As with anything, narrative preference is a matter of personal taste. Also, there are seemingly as many narrative forms as there are bones in my body. For that reason, we—a fellow writer & I—tried to simplify the subject to the two separate categories in the title.

For the record, I come down on the side of insular narratives.

In my opinion, insular narratives, be they in video games, films, books, what have you, offer the best chance for complex character development. Because the story doesn’t focus on some grand, cosmic (or even non-cosmic) event, the story has to focus on bright, colorful, layered characters in order to be satisfying. More than that, a book with an insular narrative can’t survive unless the characters within are engaging and endearing. (If the terminology in this article gets too pretentious, I’ll provide a cliff notes response at the end of the program.)

In a good book/film/video game with an insular narrative, you won’t find many Bella Swan’s or Kantorek’s (or if you do, they exist merely as punching bags for the textured insular characters to rip on for their one-dimensional personalities). In a good piece of work with an insular narrative, you tend to explore your characters more deeply than you do the setting—and that means your characters have to live with some damn color.

I’m talking interesting, intriguing personalities, not characters that have no dreams or ambitions outside of one person/place/thing. If you have a character like that in an insular narrative, at some point you have to see what brought them there, and at some point either a change must come, or you get what you asked for and people finally leave you alone to brood and bitch in a quiet, dank room (not celebrate it, like some books).

Either that, or they’ll just tell you off.

bland

Edward: “What’s your favorite food?” Bella: “Whatever kind of food you like.”

cute kid

“You guys suck!”

I prefer stories that focus on character development, because, I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit of a man slut when it comes to complex characters in stories: I can’t get enough of them.

My “opponent”, on the other hand, believes the adage “people are shaped by their environment”—and as an extension to this, the more grand the environment, the more complex the characters will become. I can sort of agree on this point. After all, doesn’t it often take some kind of catastrophe to show us who we really are? The same thing happens in any form of creative fiction/non-fiction. Just toss a little bloody war into the mix and you’ll find out very quickly what your characters are made of, and of what they are capable.

A “grand” narrative is — the true definition of which is simplified for this article — a style of narrative in which some greater event drives the story forward, not simply the characters. The characters grow with the event, transform with it, and ultimately find themselves through it. Think Lord of the Rings; yes, there were aspects of an insular narrative in it (Frodo & Sam spend most of the trilogy away from the others, as do Merry & Pip), but they are always driven by a grand goal (stopping Sauron from jacking up the world by destroying the One Ring before he can recapture it).

You could call this a debate over character driven plots & event driven plots, but that sort of minimizes the discussion a bit. Stories driven by a great event don’t always do so at the expense of meaningful character development (All Quiet on the Western Front), and conversely, not all stories with an intimate setting automatically have superior characters.

Funny enough, this debate eventually spilled over the literature line, right into video games and, especially, films.

I stood my ground as she reeled off titles like Ran, The Ten Commandments, Saving Private Ryan and, of course, The Lord of the Rings trilogy—all films that I love—to support her argument, to which I countered with Rashomon, Citizen Kane, Eat Drink Man Woman, and Die Hard (which got a nice big LOL in an otherwise concentrated discussion).

Badass

“Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really like those sequined shirts.”

Just think about it for a minute; does Die Hard ever take place anywhere other than inside the Nakatomi building? Yes, there are scenes that show people outside of the building, but everything is centralized on that location, and the situation within.

The entire movie takes place in one near-constant setting, with the story driven by the complexity of the characters. You learn all about John McClane, his struggling marriage, his job as a New York cop, his wife’s ambitions, his kids, Hans’ goals (and later his REAL goals), Al Powell’s internal struggle with the aftermath of having accidentally shot a kid, that long-haired blonde guy’s thirst for revenge after John killed his little brother in the stairwell, that one douchebag reporter’s attempts to get the story before anyone else, etc.

Die Hard is about the characters, while the situation in the Nakatomi building is really just a backdrop (and not even a terribly important one—it’s not as if the writers mentioned every 10 seconds that this was a Japanese corporate building. This story could have, realistically, taken place in any powerful corporation’s highrise and not skipped a beat).

I also mentioned other titles like Seven Samurai, which nearly led into an entirely new debate. That was until I mentioned that, while the story does take place in the Warring States Period of Japanese history, the story itself isn’t at all focused on a grand picture. It’s just a film about 7 ronin who are hired to defend a farming village from bandits.

(On the other side, I eventually had to grudgingly concede The Godfather, because even though the film focused quite a bit of attention on the people within the Corleone crime family, it was driven by a grand event: Virgil Sollozzo’s attempts to set up a Heroin trade business in New York, as well as a simmering feud between the other 4 crime families who are all vying for power with the Corleones).

This debate really does come down to a personal taste issue, in the end. It’s like asking two people who love pizza to name their favorite topping—just because one prefers pepperoni & the other prefers sausage doesn’t mean that neither will ever eat a pizza that contains one or the other topping. Sometimes variety in your pizza topping is good; the same principle holds true for creative media.

I enjoy books with grand plots; I enjoy films with grand plots; I enjoy video games with grand plots; It’s just that if I have to choose one or the other, I’ll always go with stories that have complex characters, even if a grand setting has to be omitted to make it all work.

In fact, some of my favorite stories are ones that feature dialogue between two or more characters, with little or no action. It might sound a bit dull, but if it is done right—and the dialogue is crisp enough—the results are beautiful.

Case in point (the way I eventually “won” the “insular-only-is-a-relevant-form-of-storytelling” part of our debate):

Now granted, you could put Samuel L. Jackson in a room with a tape recorder and tell him to give his opinion on newspaper articles—it’d be the most entertaining shit you ever heard. But seriously, what you have here is one of several instances in Pulp Fiction of no action, but plenty of character interaction, and it works like clockwork.

This isn’t a deep conversation here. Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) & Vincent (John Travolta) are talking about a foot massage, ffs. Still, it works because of the little instances of humor, intentional or otherwise, and because at some point both characters get serious about what they’re talking about, and what they think about it (a dude getting tossed out a window for giving a foot massage to the boss’s wife).

Could you see a conversation like this taking place in 300?

fun buddies

“Have you given a lot of foot massages, Xerxes?” “Shit yeah, got my technique down and everything.”

Yeah, no.

I love grand narratives, but sometimes I feel like your characters have to be a certain way in order to function within them.

It would just get ludicrous if Leonidas got together with Artemis to get drunk and talk about how fucked up Xerxes looks with all his weird piercings—or to ask how their armorer ever got paid for designing loincloths that wouldn’t stop a throwing dart, much less a Persian sword.

Grand events dictate your characters act in different ways, I understand this to a degree. But when you think about it, is that really true, or are writers just not trying hard enough to make it work?

In a lot of ways, it looks like writers are hiding behind grand events to evade the work of actually having to create complex characters.

To illustrate this point, we’re going into the next topic we stumbled into in this debate: role playing games.

Some of the best stories in video games are from role playing games.

When our discussion moved into the video game territory, I was met with an immediate “all role playing games have ‘grand narratives’; it’s always about saving the world, not just a town.” I conceded on this point (it’s so true). However, I fired back that “The setting may be ‘grand’, but the interaction of the characters is ‘insular’—which makes it at least 50% an insular narrative, if not more.”

By this, I mean that role playing games almost always revolve around a half-a-dozen-to-a-dozen characters, their motivations, their goals, with only token mentions that anyone of note exists in the rest of the world other than the villains & heroes. Hell, if you weren’t paying much attention, you probably could be convinced that you’re playing the ONLY interesting characters in the entire world, and the rest of the world’s population are just amorphous blobs. (Kind of makes you wonder why they’re really worth saving, doesn’t it…?)

Because the focus on the characters you play in an rpg is so insular, often you get better character development than you would if you just let the setting drive the story. When you put an insular focus on rpg characters, often you find out that your heroes are flawed. Not in a tragic, melodramatic emo way, but in more of a complex, “human” way. Having said that, you also get to see other sides of a character’s personality besides the dark and mysterious exterior. You get to see the humor, as well.

Because you choose to focus on the heroes on their journey, as opposed to focusing on the world as the heroes are on their journey, the environment feels more intimate, and you care more about these people you’re following. You get to see more sides to them than you would normally get to in a story with an overarching “grand narrative”.

Tellah

R.I.P. You awesome, awesome old bastard.

Throughout the course of our debate, I started to realize that strong focus on the characters is more important to me than a narrative with grand ambitions. In fact, my favorite movies tend not to be your 300‘s, with its special effects & over-the-top fight scenes, or your Star Trek‘s with its massive interstellar ship battles. I prefer films like The Fifth Element, which does have its own action sequences and grand “I-must-save-the-universe” narrative. But beneath that “grand narrative”, the writers found a way to also include humor and diversity to its cast of characters.

Seriously, tell me what business that has in a movie where the plot has an entire universe on the line? It doesn’t…Unless you find a way to make it fit (which the writers of the movie did brilliantly).

The rest of the movie was just as random. It had its serious moments, but it also had some flavor to it.

-This movie didn’t just have flying cars, it also had McDonald’s drive-thru windows to service them;

-It didn’t just have apartments that were high up in the sky, it also had flying Chinese restaurants to bring people their dimsum;

-It didn’t just have a decorated war hero who goes off to save the universe, he was an out-of-work cab driver with an overbearing mother, who falls in love with a character who literally falls into his lap…er, into the back of his cab.

But I digress.

The point is, stories should always put ample focus on characters, in my opinion, even if it means sacrificing a grand narrative. This is the area in which we ended up in a stalemate.

She conceded that character development is important, but, in her opinion, grand events make for the best settings & story drivers. It was a little hard to argue with her because some of my favorite movies/films/books feature grand narrative events to which the characters must adapt.

That said,  many of my favorite stories are ones where the characters are doing the driving, and what matters is the characters, and what their concerns are, while the event that brings them together is just kind of ancillary. Like Before Sunrise, a movie that takes place over the course of one night, in one setting (Vienna), where the narrative—if you could even say it really has one—is minimalist, at best, and driven entirely by the characters.

Like I said at the beginning, so much of this has to do with a person’s own tastes. I love stories with grand narratives, and I love stories with insular narratives—I just choose insular if I’m asked point blank.

I feel like the best stories are the ones where the characters are looked at closely, where you are given a window into how they got to be who they are, where they are going, what they are going to do if things don’t go their way, and so on. I love when two characters just shoot the breeze long enough to talk about what’s about to happen. Hell, you could stretch that out and make a two hour movie about soldiers talking the night before a huge world-changing battle and I would enjoy it if the dialogue is engaging.

To me, the players are more important than the game.

What about you? If you managed to get all the way through this tl;dr article, which side of the divide do you come down on?

Is it more important for you that there is some great objective the characters must face to make a good story, or some event that changes the world based on the participation of the main characters?

Do you find that stories that put more focus on characters tend to be superior to stories that have great objectives, but don’t really let you see the different aspects of its characters?

Does a story have to have both in order for you to be interested, or to stay interested?

Michael Bay or Martin Scorcese? (Ok seriously, don’t answer that.)

Eyecandy: Space (area) in the Old Republic

Instead of putting together the 2nd part of the Eyecandy tour, I decided some special attention needed to be put on something that was revealed during this past March 11th-13th’s PAX East convention: BioWare’s reveal, and guided tour, of the planets Hoth & Tatooine.

* * *

First up, a tour given by SWTOR’s Lead Writer Daniel Erickson of one of the most iconic planets in the history of Star Wars lore.

The ice jewel, the playpen of the Wampa’s, the place where Luke very nearly froze his nuts off—until Han found a creative use for his buddy’s deceased Tauntaun.

The one, the only…

 

Hoth

I’m going to refrain from going into any details about Hoth, itself (Daniel Erickson does a much better job of getting across how wicked the planet is), so I’ll just post some arbitrary thoughts that I had upon seeing this video for the first time—and I’ll do the same with the next video.

First off—FUCK ME! I had no idea the planets in this game would be so damn huge…

I was honestly not prepared to take in the full scope of what I was seeing. In my head, more often than I can even accurately recall, I have tried to visualize what the worlds might be like, as far as area, in SWTOR. Before I really knew it, I was beginning to make comparisons based on the MMO’s I’ve played in the past (LOTRO, WoW, Perfect World, etc). Of those games, WoW was definitely my biggest measuring stick.

I had a blast playing WoW. I had my reasons for leaving the game, but I’m not afraid to admit that I enjoyed my time in the game, thoroughly. One of the main reasons for this was the environment I had to run around in.

I still have a fairly clear picture in my head of the scope of WoW’s zones. I feel confident I could accurately describe almost all of Westfall, a large section of Stonetalon Mountains (I still remember that creepy as fuck Sishyr Canyon with the giant tarantulas), almost all of Ashenvale, and probably more than 75% of every other zone in the game (apart from Alliance areas. I never did run Alliance—I was always more of a Horde guy, as is my best bud). Even a good while after I left the game, I still have a pretty good grasp on how big a WoW zone can be.

That said, I was absolutely amazed by the videos BioWare unveiled at PAX East of the worlds Hoth & Tatooine.

Hoth looks exactly like I imagined it would: perpetual “oppressive” winter (for those who actually read the previous article, wink wink).

Funny enough, however, it doesn’t look nearly as oppressive as I thought it would be originally—more importantly, the thing is MUCH more massive than I ever thought possible.

When I imagined a “ship graveyard”, I thought it would be similar to certain areas of WoW where downed airships in Northrend littered the ground, forming the covering for a small hut with some people inside. I wasn’t thinking an ACTUAL ship graveyard—with a ship so massive you could actually go inside and explore it like it was an actual building. It’s not even the only one, either. As Daniel E says in the video, it is only one of the ships in the ship graveyard. Who knows how many will be ripe for exploration in SWTOR?

Color me very impressed with Hoth. I cannot wait to get off my ship and just wander out into the wintery expanse. I may even try to jump off a cliff, or hit a lava fissure in a canyon by jumping at just the right angle. This planet definitely has me excited to see what BioWare has in store for the planets not yet released—including worlds like Alderaan & Taris, which are both worlds BioWare has described as “massive”.

* * *

Hoth was not the only world BioWare dropped on the mass of SWTOR-starved fans who descended on PAX East like hungry little bastard piranhas. I figured I would save the best for last, just like BioWare did on the day.

I can’t just begin this with BioWare’s version of Tatooine. First, I have to go back to where it all began.

Luke, two setting suns, and the immortal score by the great John Williams:

 

Tatooine

Now for Family Guy’s version:

Finally, BioWare’s version :

Ok, Hoth actually got a reaction out of me. I can clearly recall seeing the Hoth video and saying “damn” about 50 times.

Tatooine, on the other hand… I was speechless.

I’m not sure exactly what it was about the video that hit me so hard. Maybe it was the Sand Crawler, towering over the landscape like some monolithic obelisk (you can actually see it from a great distance away if you pay close attention). It could be the large canyons, or the Bantha stumbling along looking for food or water. It might even be the damn Jawas hanging around Anchorhead standing by the droid while a speeder coasts by. Whatever it was, this video just completely smashed my preconceived notion of what Tatooine would actually be like in SWTOR.

Like I said about Hoth, I had no idea the worlds in SWTOR would be so fucking expansive. I know better now (the devs have confirmed some worlds can be as large as 7-8 Wow zones), but at the time I first watched this video I had no warning.

I can already imagine myself getting lost on Tatooine—on purpose. I can’t wait to get a speeder and just go explore the whole damn place.

I don’t know what materials will be abundant on Tatooine for the exploring crafter at this time, but if it turns out to be a good place for an Artificer to get some materials (my SW is going to need his upgraded glowstick), I could see myself spending a crap ton of time on Tatooine. The Crew Skills video released by BioWare several months ago shows the Bounty Hunter character collecting salvageable metals, then directing his companion to salvage while he went back to killing. At the very least, Tatooine looks to be a good place to scavenge up droid parts or maybe metals that can be used to create blasters (being that this is the home of the Jawas, that sounds about right).  

In any case, Tatooine looks like a very awesome world for the MMO explorer. Since I am an MMO explorer, I can see myself just wandering this landscape to see what’s around a mountain or something; for that reason, I am very pleased that BioWare seems hellbent on giving me as much room to roam as possible.

* * *

I figure this is a good place to stop. There isn’t much left to say about these two worlds that Daniel Erickson didn’t point out in the videos.

Let me say again, I am very impressed with what BioWare is giving us in terms of space (area) in SWTOR. While something can be said about small areas with content bound up tight like a mummy, I find I prefer area where I can stretch my (metaphorical) legs out.

It wasn’t the cramped areas I liked most in WoW (Eversong Woods, Darkshore, Elwynn Forest), I preferred the more open, vast areas (Tanarus, The Barrens [minus the inane chat from the past], and WotLK zones like Storm Peaks, Borean Tundra & Howling Fjord).

In LOTRO, one of my favorite zones to explore was The Shire—in part because of the ambience, and in part because of the wide open fields waiting for you everywhere you looked.

Based on the videos above, I’d say BioWare is coming along great in terms of creating interesting space for their future MMO audience to traverse.

The Evolution of a Story-loving Gamer: A Musical Journey (part 2)

As I looked over what I wrote in the last part, I realized something: every single one of those music samples was from an SNES game.

I guess that was because I grew up a child of the SNES age, when rpg titles like Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Lufia & the Fortress of Doom ruled my playtime. Each of those titles influenced my preferences in rpg video game narratives (all but Lufia & the Fortress of Doom—which was more of a personal favorite—had critically acclaimed narratives attached to them), and left a hefty imprint on my musical tastes. 

Every one of those titles listed have musical pieces that just left me utterly enthralled as a young gamer, and some still do:

Secret of Mana – Fear of the Heavens

Secret of Mana, composed by the talented Hiroki Kikuta, will always have one of the greatest opening theme songs of any game, in my opinion. This tune really set the mood for the game’s story, filled with an incredible overarching plot, awesome characters, each with their own reasons for undergoing the game’s incredible journey—plus, one of the most effective self sacrifices I had seen to that point in an rpg (matched only by the Sage Tellah in Final Fantasy IV [You’re the fucking man, you old bastard!]).

Final Fantasy VI (III in America) – Awakening

There is a considerable amount of debate about which game in the Final Fantasy series is, in fact, “the best.” However, in my opinion, Final Fantasy VI deserves to always be in contention for that title.

With some of the most unique characters I’ve ever played in an rpg (Celes, Terra, Locke, Cyan, Sabin, Relm, Strago, Shadow, Gau, Setzer, Umaro, Mog, Gogo, Edgar—that’s right, they all made such an impression I can remember them all by heart), along with THE most iconic (or at least effective) villain in the entire series (Kefka, who, unlike most villains who merely TRY to wreak havoc, actually tore the world asunder and ruled atop it for some time before the heroes finally regrouped to face him), FFVI remains in my top 3 of rpgs that I have played. 

Breath of Fire II – Nightmare

I’ll never forget the feeling I felt when I heard this music for the first time. Awe, wonder, dread, all rolled up in one.

This is the tune that plays while you descend into “Infinity”, the inner sanctum of the dark God Deathevn in BoFII. This place was so different from the other areas you traverse in Breath of Fire II, it actually caught me off guard the first time I ventured in. The difficulty level ramps up the second you enter, making it feel like a dimensional portal crawling with horrific monsters just waiting to spill forth into the world. For the MMO players out there, I liken it to exploring the world fighting monsters, then suddenly walking into an endgame raid. It felt like another world; it was definitely something you had to experience for yourself to truly grasp the magnitude of it.

And for all your toil, for all the turmoil you endure to reach the bottom of this chaotic abyss, what do you get for a thank you?

Death

I didn't know Cthulhu had a brother...

 

Final Fantasy VII – Main Theme

Now, I know I said above that I consider FFVI one of the very best games in the Final Fantasy franchise, but that is like saying $1million is better than $999,999—the important thing is, you’re rich as fuck either way.

Final Fantasy VII is easily in the top 3 for the franchise in my book, right up there with Final Fantasy IV (#1 for me) & Final Fantasy VI (sometimes #2 for me, sometimes #3). With a pretty complex plot, several twists along the way, cutting edge cutscenes for the time, and a truly iconic villain (Sephiroth), FFVII really led the charge for console rpgs out of the SNES era and into the Playstation era. 

 

Phantasy Star: The End of the Millenium – Various

Phantasy Star: The End of the Millenium was not the only Genesis rpg that I enjoyed, but it was the one that had the biggest impact on me as my rpg tastes grew.

I’m not sure what exactly sparked my love of this game. Partly, it was because the character I thought was the main protagonist, the huntress Alys, dies fairly early in the game’s narrative. This leaves only her young assistant Chaz to continue forward into a story that ends up spanning the entire galaxy. (I also think my love of snow worlds in games may have begun on Phantasy Star IV’s “Dezolis”, an ice world where the adventurers crash land.)

This game featured comic book style cutscenes, an excellent soundtrack, a pretty layered story for the time, incredible environments, and funny enough it introduced me to a staple of MMOs that I would experience much later (a macro system for queueing up spells and actions—a first for a console rpg that I can recall).

* * *

Looking at what I just wrote, it could be said I’ve been creating a “best of” list for rpgs, but that is not my intention. Each of those games listed above added something else to the list of reasons why I have come to love incredible narratives in video games.

Secret of Mana taught me that it is okay, and sometimes even more effective, to have a clear plot from beginning to end. I don’t often love the stories without too many twists and turns (it is pretty clear all throughout the game who the villain is, and that the hero will likely turn into one of the “destined hero” archetypes), but the plot is so crisp and well-crafted, it hardly matters. This story definitely taught me that creating a story based on a familiar formula is not a curse. It’s all in the execution. 

Final Fantasy VI had one of the most effective villain ascensions that I can recall in a video game. I’ve seen a 2nd-in-command suddenly turn ambitious and attempt to strike down his/her master, and I’ve seen a clear cut villain rise to become something unspeakable, but until FFVI, I can’t say I ever saw someone I thought was nothing more than a clown turn into a legitimate villain.

Kefka, the main villain of FFVI, begins the game as what appears to be a neurotic more than a psychotic. Even as he shows signs of his true madness, it still doesn’t prepare you for the unimaginably awe inspiring villainy he wreaks later.

By the end, he has literally turned the world inside out, burns whole cities simply for pleasure, and has created a massive tower made of the ruined scraps of the world, drawn together by his twisted magic. So yeah, this guy turns out to be one fucked up villain.

Plus, he has a wicked theme—and probably the most legendary laugh in all of video games:

Breath of Fire II started off in a way that I can hardly recall any videogame beginning. You begin as a child who wanders off and falls asleep near a dragon who died years ago to protect the village where you live. But when you wake up and wander back to town, nobody there recalls you, your father, or your sister EVER having lived there. Needless to say, it started off trippy, and only got more strange after meeting another “orphan” named Bow, a dog person (this an rpg, after all), who is also a child, who convinces you to leave the town with him. Which only seemed like the right thing to do since nobody there had any memory of you. The two of you leave town and eventually wander into a cave where some giant behemoth demon worm is waiting… Then you wake up as if from a dream, a young adult.

What I learned from BoFII is, creating a tasty mystery at the beginning of a story can be quite satisfying when you get to see it unveiled, little by little, as the story progresses. I learned this from books and films, too, but it was awesome to get to have such an interactive experience with the story that only a video game can really provide.

Final Fantasy VII let me play a character who was living as if his slain best friend’s memories were his own. All the while, the main character Cloud uncovers more about his true past, delves into the pasts of the people he is traveling with, and features one of the most well-executed death scenes in the history of rpgs. If anything, FFVII taught me that the death of a main character isn’t always merely for sensationalist purposes; sometimes, it is what needs to happen for a story to advance in a real way. Death has as much of a rightful place in story as love, pain, glory, or any other emotion—perhaps even moreso.

That said, it also made me realize that a meaningful death in a story can’t be too obvious. It has to be handled delicately.

Phantasy Star: The End of the Millenium let me start the game out with a clear idea of who the main protagonist was, who was the sidekick, and who was the main villain. Fast forward about 2/5ths of the way through the game and, suddenly, the “main character” is dead, the sidekick turns out to be the true hero, and the “main villain” was merely a pawn for some dark God chained up in a neverending void plane that wanted to break free of its prison. Add to that the fact that there is little to no hint your story will even leave the planet you start on, and it makes for an excellent entry to a galaxy wide saga.

Later, you wind up traveling to other worlds, learning more about the great evil that plagues these places, and you also learn more about the history of the Phantasy Star series. Despite this, you never lose the sense that this is your character, your story, and the concerns of the galaxy are just a well-connected set piece that enhances the overall story. I think the most important thing I learned from this game is: don’t be afraid to get grandiose in your vision for a narrative. If you work it just right, it is possible to create something that spans worlds, yet still feels kind of insular in its own way.  

* * *

There are a number of different things that affect how you are going to react to a story. Narrative is only one part. Music is another one, but just as important as the music and the narrative, a story’s setting informs how the rest of the story is going to feel. If the world feels dead, why should you give a rat’s ass about it?

One thing about all the games I’ve played that really stuck with me, maybe even more than the overall narrative, was how the setting felt. For me, setting is maybe the most important part of a good story. Just a change of scenery can have a drastic effect on the feel of a story. You might even say a profound effect. But even deeper still, the marriage of music and setting is probably the aspect of video games I enjoy most. It’s what often makes the game for me.

All the games I’ve played have incredible settings, and incredible themes to support them. As I type this a couple come to mind:

 

City of the Ancients (Final Fantasy VII)

There was something about being in this city for the first time that really grabbed me. The music was a big part of it.

This piece was so different from the other pieces in this game’s soundtrack, I think that was one reason why it felt like stepping into another world. The architecture of the city—the empty, archaic buildings—definitely sold the rest. I remember wandering through this place just to hear the music and take in the feel. I can even recall leaving my character standing idle in the city just so I could sleep to this music once.lol

The City of the Ancients in this game became the archetype for me on how an olden city should feel. When I play new games with a similar setting, this is the game and theme I always return to for a comparison.

Dezolis (Phantasy Star IV)

Field #1

Town #1

Town #2

Field #2

I can say with 100% certainty, Dezolis is the setting that began my love of ice worlds in video games. There were so many things about it that I enjoyed, the ice caves, the indigenous animals with snow themes that you couldn’t find on any other world, the towns with bonfires all about filled with parka-adorned people milling around—and people inside the buildings remarking on how bitterly cold the weather had gotten outside.  

Then you had the ice and snow drifts that made travel on the world a nightmare for normal citizens—including walls of ice that could only be broken through with a vehicle called the “Ice Digger”. PSIV really went the distance to make you FEEL like you were on an ice world, and I have nothing but respect for them for that.

When it comes to ice worlds, I find the most effective music has a “crystalline” quality to it, similar to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (which is still, to me, the archetypal “inviting” winter song that can be heard in many winter-themed musical pieces even more than a century after it was written).

There are two ways to really portray winter: inviting or oppressive.

Do you focus on the beauty of winter, or the bitter cold? The clear ice, or the blinding blizzard?

This is why in a game like the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, Alderaan is my favorite ice world and not Hoth. While both are technically “winter worlds”, Alderaan comes across as more of an “inviting” winter, while Hoth just feels like it will be more “oppressive”. The same could be said of zones like Winterspring (inviting) and Dragonblight (oppressive) in World of Warcraft. Both have their good sides, but my tastes tend to shift toward inviting.

Dezolis managed to give you both. When you first reach the planet, they are in the grip of a terrible blizzard that doesn’t cease. Even on a natural snow world, this blizzard begins to threaten the lives of the people. Early Dezolis is what I would call an oppressive winter world. Later, after you have destroyed the creature causing the blizzard, Dezolis becomes more of an inviting winter world. The music above reflects the change: Dezolis Field #1 is the oppressive world map theme when you first arrive on the planet, while Dezolis Field #2 is what plays on the world map after you’ve halted the blizzard.

Dezolis was the archetype for a good winter environment, on both sides of the inviting/oppressive divide, for me. It was a world that I loved, and anytime I go into a new game with winter environments, I hope to see at least one winter place that is inviting.

* * *

This seems like a good stopping point. I feel like my nostalgia needs to die down for the moment.

I hope this was somewhat entertaining to anyone who happens to come across this piece. I certainly had a good stroll down memory lane while I was writing it.

Part 3—the final part—will be incoming in the next week or so. With PAX East on the way tomorrow, I don’t dare promise more (even if I’m not going, I would hate to miss the coverage).

Take care.

Update: Nameless No More: The “Hope” Trailer Jedi

Hope Jedi

Bring it

One of the most persistent questions floating around the The Old Republic community has finally, FINALLY, been put to rest.

The Jedi in the “Hope” cinematic trailer is, indeed, Satele Shan.

Alexander Freed, a developer at BioWare Austin, offered some clarification on what he considered “understandable confusion” as to the identity of the Hope Jedi:

There’s been a lot of (understandable) confusion about Satele Shan, so I figured I’d clarify a few points:

First, yes–Satele Shan is the Jedi depicted in the Hope trailer. When Satele originally appeared in the Threat of Peace comics, her appearance wasn’t yet final in-game. Ultimately, we’ve gone in a different visual direction for the character, and you’ll be seeing more consistent portrayals in the future. (One of the perils of releasing information–even seemingly innocuous information–so early!)

Second, regarding Satele’s age and experience–at the Battle of Alderaan, Satele is a fully trained Jedi Knight. By the time Threat of Peace rolls around, she’s had significant real-world experience and trained under several Jedi Masters, Dar’Nala included; she’s a candidate for becoming a Master herself. So she’s older than she looks… but Darth Malgus still has a few years on her!

Third, to answer this thread specifically… no, that wasn’t Tavus leading troops at the Battle of Alderaan.

Hope that helps!

This change in design was evident in the Hope trailer, which showcased Satele in a far different character design from her turn in ToP (as you can see below).

ToP

...Yeah...I can see where there might be some confusion...

All kidding aside, the most important thing is, we now have a name to put with the face. Also, if you were a big fan of the Hope Jedi’s character design (which I was), then you should be backflipping in joy (figuratively—don’t go breaking any bones or anything) right now.

Below I will post a promo pic of the newly confirmed Hope Jedi/Satele Shan for a new webcomic that is to be released this summer, as well as a link to a brief synopsis. The webcomic, called Lost Suns, follows the exploits of Satele’s son, Theron Shan, a spy for the Galactic Republic.

SateleShan

Yes please.

I am relieved that the confusion has been cleared. Though I’m sure it will take some time to get this information around to those who only casually follow the game, to be able to back up theories with fact is beyond sweet. (Plus, those of us who absolutely dug the design of the Hope Jedi can now rejoice that we should be seeing much more of her as new media is released.)

I am going to post some screenshots, and of course the Hope trailer, in celebration. Enjoy.

SS_BA001

Hmm, what's going on here?

SS_BA002

Ah, now I see where this is going.

SS_BA004

Few people have gone head-to-head with Darth Malgus in a lightsaber duel and lived to tell about it, just ask Ven Zallow ( R.I.P.).

SS_BA005

Where the hell did she go?

SS_BA006

Ok, time to die---oh NO you didn't!

SS_BA007

Oh yes she did.

SS_BA008

What comes next I wonder?

SS_BA009

The coup de grace a.k.a. "Force-douken"

SS_BA010

"I gotta admit, that was pretty badass."

SS_BA011

"I know."

Star Wars: The Old Republic – The Hope of Alderaan cinematic
 
 

The “Guilded” Age: Where Do You Fit In?

Guilds

They're either going to butcher each other, or have a Pat Benatar-esque dance off.

 

For those who might have missed it, the official site for SWTOR unveiled a new feature for their game systems page today: Guilds.

That’s right, ladies and gentleman—shit just got real.

Are you looking for a group of like-minded players to roll with while you attempt to achieve your PvE/PvP/RP/Social Interaction goals? BioWare has just made the task a great deal easier.

Even with SWTOR going to PAX East without a solid release date, BioWare’s move to allow pre-launch guilds a place to gather (minisites within the swtor.com official site) and recruit new members (through a search engine that separates guilds by preferred playstyle, time zones, and many other factors) says to me that they are definitely in the “winding down” phase of development.

Honestly, this news took me completely by surprise. I can’t recall a game doing this kind of a thing before, especially pre-launch—or Hell, pre-confirmed-release-date, even!

As I understand it, BioWare has even taken steps to try and allow guilds and their allies/rivals to set up shop on the same server when SWTOR launches. This aspect of the system is what probably makes me grin the most. While I am not a member of any pre-launch guild, I do recognize that guilds being forced to split up when an MMO launches is an unfortunate, yet common, problem. This system—if it works as planned—could go a long way toward repairing this problem.

This update is an awesome sign that development of SWTOR could very well be in its final stages. Still, this update also has me thinking a little more deeply about guilds, and how I hope to see them implemented in SWTOR. More importantly, it has me wondering where I would fit.

Personally, I don’t see myself jumping head first into this thing. I am very happy for the pre-launch guilds who already know who they will be playing with, and that they now have their own section of swtor.com in which to congregate, but I find I am still undecided.

Most of my indecision comes from not knowing just yet where my particular playstyle fits into the grand scheme of SWTOR’s picture of guilds—that would be the playstyle of the dedicated crafter/economist.

As I said in a previous article, I am typically a person who wants to be comfortable monetarily in whatever MMO I play. I like to craft goods, get the best price for them, and then find a good use for the money (though I am not above blowing it on frivolous things, I’ll be honest). However, as I perused the swanky new guild section of the official site earlier, I felt a tiny sinking feeling when I did not see very much aimed at the dedicated crafter. (The “Earning Credits” part of the systems page did make me feel a bit more at ease.)

I decided awhile back that I am just not a guild leader. My playstyle just doesn’t suit someone whose sole job it is to do the everyday maintenance (and occasional babysitting) required of running a guild. I am not a Lucky Luciano, a Liu Bei, or a Tokugawa Ieyasu; I am a Meyer Lansky, a Zhuge Liang, or a Tadakatsu Honda. I make a better right hand man in life than a leader, and this is no different in an MMO guild. That is why I am hoping that crafters will be able to find a place within this guild framework BioWare is constructing. Then I can be a Meyer Lansky to a Lucky Luciano, using what I know I can do well to help make a guild better.

My hope is, BioWare comes through on their promise to allow dedicated crafters a chance to fit into the MMO guild tapestry without being forced to take too much attention away from their chosen playstyle.

If I had to join a PvE/PvP/RP guild, my choice would be PvP (I have more fun at it). But I would rather PvP be my secondary choice, with my first choice being to remain dedicated to my crafting. I’ve always been a business minded person, in life and in MMOs, and I would love it if SWTOR affords me the opportunity to devote my energy to what I enjoy most. In turn, I will do what I can to try to help further the guild’s financial standing, and resource collecting goals.

No matter what happens, I will find a place for myself. Being a solitaire MMO player has never bothered me in the past. I certainly don’t have any solo questing phobias, and I’ve always been able to find interesting things to do as a solo player in an MMO.

I just hope when this all shakes out, maybe I’ll have a chance to bring what I can bring to a guild—as a hardcore crafter.

How about you? What kind of guilds do you tend to run with in MMOs? Do you prefer to stay a solo player? Are you solo only because your playstyle isn’t as supported as others (PvE, PvP, RP) in the MMOs you play?

Eyecandy: A Visual Tour of the Old Republic (part 1)

This post is mainly for those who are largely unfamiliar with, or absolutely enchanted by, what SWTOR has offered in the way of planets and environments.

To say The Old Republic features some of the most impressive environmental images I have ever seen in an MMO is an understatement. Whether you are a fan of the seemingly endless urban sprawl of the ecumenopolis (Coruscant, Nar Shaddaa), a fan of wintery, crystalline landscapes (Hoth, Alderaan), a fan of dark, foreboding environments (Dromund Kaas, Ilum), or even if you are a lover of more natural forest or desert terrain (Belsavis & Tatooine, respectively), it appears the designers at BioWare Austin have created something to suit every taste.

With 17 confirmed worlds so far, SWTOR seems poised to provide a level of diversity in terrain that is truly hard to fathom. That is certainly the case with me.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Don’t take my word for it—judge for yourself.

I am going to link to as many pictures as I can find of the various worlds confirmed for SWTOR, post the BioWare released video snippets of each world, and give a short (or long, depending upon my enthusiasm for the world shown) description and commentary of my own thoughts toward each one. Take a peek. I hope you find it entertaining.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – The Planets 

Tython

Exterior of a Jedi temple on Tython

An ancient home reclaimed, the Jedi Order's presence can easily be seen in the majesty of their architecture.

The Jedi temple, seen from another angle.

The statues of the Jedi ancients, ever watchful.

Way station

Settlers at a way station mill about, awaiting travelers.

Watch towers

A world awaits you just beyond the horizon.

 

Tython, the ancient home of the Jedi, torn apart by the first Force War between adherents of the “Light side” of the force and their “Dark side” brothers, and rediscovered much later by Grand Master of the Jedi Order Satele Shan (*whew* try saying that 5 times fast).

Tython is the home to the first society of Force users, and in the world of SWTOR it is the home to the modern Jedi Order.

The landscape of Tython is covered in lush forests and streams, but the presence of both the modern and ancient Jedi Order can be seen and felt in the various temples and ruins that dot the landscape.

Jara’s Thoughts: Tython definitely looks like a world I will enjoy experiencing. A Jedi class is not going to be my first, or even second, choice, but when I do roll one (most likely a Jedi Sentinel), I look forward to seeing how the Jedi narrative plays out against this backdrop. The “green” planets aren’t necessarily my favorites, by they are far from my shit list (such as I have one—as an explorer, I can usually find something about every place to like).

 

 

 

 

 

Korriban

Sith Academy on Korriban

Korriban, with its oppressive red canyons rising up on all sides, is not for the weary.

Portal

In the skies beyond, a star ship flies off into the dark red sky.

Holocron

A massive Sith holocron, adorned with the faces of ancient Sith lords, sits just inside the entryway of the Sith Academy.

Korriban could be considered the exact opposite of the Jedi homeworld. While Tython bears the mark of the ancient light side Jedi, Korriban bears the tombs, ghosts, and battle scars of its ancient residents.
Home to such Sith lords as Naga Sadow, & his rival Ludo Kressh, Korriban is the ancient homeworld of the Sith species. It is on this planet where the Dark Jedi fled following the first Force War, eventually intermingling with the Sith that lived on this world and creating the hybrid species that exists in the Sith Empire to this day.
Korriban’s landscape is cavernous, with monolithic pyramids, and cliffs to match, on all sides. Desert reigns supreme on this world. The harsh landscape and climate breeds an even harsher resolve in its Sith residents. Being born & cultivated on this world makes you understand why Count Dooku stated thousands of years later that the Sith “lack fear.”
 
Jara’s Thoughts: Ok, seriously, this world is going to own my soul. I can only imagine how much work BioWare put into this world’s narrative. I know Jedi is supposed to be the most iconic class in Star Wars canon, but the Sith are equally as iconic for me. I enjoy desert environments, and since those deserts are filled with Sith tombs to explore, pyramids, giant holocrons, this world looks like a playland for me.
 
Sith Warrior (Juggernaut, unless BioWare allows Marauders to avoidance tank) is going to be my main’s class, and I am extremely excited to play on this world. Ok, maybe excited doesn’t cut it. Let’s try “absurdly fucking psyched out of my head in an almost beyond metaphysical way.” That’s a little better.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
Nal Hutta (Hutta)
Nem'ro's Pleasure Palace

The Pleasure Palace of Nem'ro the Hutt, kingpin of the Hutt cartel of Jiguuna, towering over the tainted landscape of Nal Hutta.

Hutta cantina

A cantina in a Hutt controlled city is always alive with nefarious characters.

Local wildlife

The local wildlife, unable to escape the toxic waste from the numerous factories of the Hutts, have evolved into dangerous predators.

Nal Hutta is home to many Hutt cartels, run by such Hutt crime bosses as Fa’athra, and his rival, the great crime boss Nem’ro. 
The Hutts have systematically transformed the once thriving landscape of Hutta into the warped, decaying environment it is today. The waste from their many factories has negatively affected the vegetation and the wildlife of the planet, and their exhaust has turned the skies of Hutta a sickening yellow. Gangsters, and anyone willing to trade their services for a credit are prevalent in Hutta cities.
Bounty Hunters and Imperial Agents in SWTOR call Hutta their home. Expect plot lines on this world to delve deep into the crooked underworld of the Hutts, with ample opportunity for double dealing, backstabbing, and open gang warfare.
 
 
Jara’s Thoughts: As Imperial Agent is set to be my 2nd class, I am going to have to learn to stomach this environment (which raises an interesting challenge since the fucking thing looks so putrid). But the stories on this world look to be as tasty as the world is not. Hutts, especially the cartels they run, are some of the most intriguing entities in the Star Wars universe. Being that they are crime syndicates, their stories are always seedy, layered, and full of delicious twists and turns. I can honestly say I am anxious to see how the Imperial Agent’s narrative shapes up on this world, and also for the Bounty Hunter once I roll one. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ord Mantell
Streets and a speeder

A calm day in Ord Mantell is a rarity.

Landing pad

A landing pad sits on a ledge, ready to host incoming Republic military vessels.

Crater

The signs of war are always near.

While Ord Mantell would one day come to be known as the “Heart of the Bright Jewel”, in The Old Republic, Ord Mantell is a planet at ceaseless civil war with itself.
Following the Treaty of Coruscant, Republic military forces began stationing their troops on Ord Mantell’s surface, only to be met by Separatists who attempted to establish independence, backed by government supported criminal organizations. This situation developed into an ongoing war that has ravaged the landscape.
Military outposts surrounded by mountainous terrain are the hallmark of modern Ord Mantell in SWTOR. Also, from the videos released of it, the constant warfare has taken its toll on the planet.
 
 
Jara’s Thoughts: This planet isn’t one of my favorites, but it could turn out to be one of those worlds where the narrative makes up for what it lacks in aesthetic appeal (ala Nal Hutta). Smuggler (Gunslinger) is in my top 5 of classes I intend to play first, and I can only imagine how fun their quests could be.
This is a world under constant bombardment—somebody has to supply those cannon shells. That is going to be me, with my Kath Soucie-supplied Smuggler voice, running around, gunning down droids and separatists, alike.
Seriously, dual wielding the blaster pistols is probably going to make me feel like I’m in a Star Wars film directed by John Woo (take that razor blade away from your wrist—it was just a joke). 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Coruscant
Coruscant traffic

Traffic in this ecumenopolis looks like a bitch.

Spaceport bridge to Senate

The bridge that connects the spaceport to the Senate building is likely to be a gathering spot for Coruscant's many visitors in The Old Republic.

Docking bay

Cranes are poised to move heavy cargo in Coruscant's lower levels.

The Senate Building

Under the early evening sun, Coruscant's Senate District bustles with traffic and activity.

 

Other than Tatooine, is there a more iconic planet to Star Wars than Coruscant, the ecumenopolis to end all ecumenopolises? I know, I know, everyone seems to have their own opinion about what world is most iconic to the franchise, but if Coruscant is not number 2, at least, then it is number 3.

Coruscant is alive with traffic, at all hours. Travelers from all over the known galaxy arrive in the city daily, ready to do business, or deliver goods to the planet’s innumerable citizens. This traffic is as likely to include scruffy merchants, as it is to include a powerful senator on his/her way to the city’s grand Senate Building.

However, while the upper levels of the city suggest an oppulent lifestyle, the lower levels of Coruscant are rampant with gang warfare. Criminal organizations, among them the Exchange, and the powerful Black Sun Syndicate, rule the lower levels of the city with an iron fist. If you venture down from the upper levels, be wary of the danger surrounding you.

Jara’s Thoughts: This is a city that almost literally took my breath away the first time I saw it ingame at PAX Prime 2008. It certainly has the look of an ecumenopolis—and if Brandon Miletta of BioWare (formerly of TOROcast) is be believed, it feels exactly the way it looks.

For me, it’s all about the lower levels. The upper levels of the city look like incredible eye candy, but the lower levels are where the magic happens, it would seem. The Black Sun have appeared more frequently in recent BioWare videos, so I can only imagine what the quests below the city will be like. Since the world is faction specific, I would guess the Smugglers are going to get the juiciest class quests out of Coruscant’s underbelly for the Republic side. But I also expect the Jedi Consulars to have some excellent stories on the upper levels, dealing with the inner workings of the Galactic Senate, and its personalities.

All in all, Coruscant looks impressive. The architecture of the city can feel imposing, while at the same time, very grand. The constant flow of traffic beneath and above you only adds to the “metropolitan” feel. I look forward to turning off my UI and taking my first screenshot looking off into the distance from one of the city’s many outdoor platforms.

 

 

 

 

 

Balmorra

Machines on the horizon

War is a part of everyday existence on Balmorra.

Massive cranes

Massive cranes tower over a salvage yard, looking for building materials.

Guns & starships

As star ships fly overhead, anti-air guns stand ready to light up the enemy at a moment's notice.

In a galaxy where many worlds have suffered the terrible price of war, Balmorra may be the worst. With its numerous droid and weapon manufacturing facilities seen as vital to both the Republic’s and Sith Empire’s war efforts, Balmorra has remained in a state of near-constant warfare. Even the Treaty of Coruscant did nothing to slow the fighting on this world.
In the days before the Treaty of Coruscant, Balmorra once held a significant Republic military presence on its surface. However, due to heavy losses and needs elsewhere, the Republic was forced to abandon a small force of soldiers that remained aid the Balmorrans in their continuing fight against the Empire. Once the treaty had been signed, the Republic began sending their troops back to Balmorra, though the resentment of the formerly abandoned people remains among some to this day.
 
 
Jara’s Thoughts: This world just screams “PvP”. I guess you might just call it a warcry. Either way, I see a lot of potential for some excellent PvP combat on this planet.
Really, the world seems to support a warmongering feeling. Considering its reputation as a weapon & droid manufacturing planet, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the planet that holds the “Directive 7” flashpoint, which is the only endgame flashpoint that has been unveiled so far. I also would expect to see a Warzone for this planet, as well as quests centering on the conflict between the two factions—and if you’re Republic, probably some really pissed off people with abandonment issues (for shame, Senate).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alderaan
Into the distance

Surrounded by vibrant trees, this path leads off into the mountainous distance.

Market district

Shops stand ready to support SWTOR's thriving businesses, in the background majestic mountains stand tall against the blue sky.

The citadel

A citadel rises high among the beautiful, snow-covered Alderaanian peaks

Wtf

I don't know what the fuck this is---but it is wicked.

Once home to the Killik species, Alderaan was conquered and populated by humans prior to the timeline of SWTOR. However, signs of the now-extinct species still exist on Alderaan, in the form of large mounds located all throughout the planet.
In the days of the The Old Republic, Alderaan is in a stalemate, as both the Empire & Republic attempt to gain a foothold on the world by supporting powerful Alderaanian noble houses (House Organa for the Republic, House Thul for the Empire) who are also in constant political conflict with one another. All of this is overseen by Bouris Ulgo, decorated Republic general & acting monarch of Alderaan. It was Ulgo who originally placed the planet under martial law, following the death of the previous crown prince and his mother, the Queen. (It is hinted that Ulgo had a hand in the deaths of the former royal family.)
Alderaan was also the site of one of the most important Republic victories in the Great Galactic War: the Battle of Alderaan. It was during this battle that the Republic military’s elite “Havoc Squad” managed to ambush and defeat a much larger Sith invasion force with the help of a female Jedi. This victory, which galvanized the struggling Republic military, was considered a key victory in the war for the Republic. However, this victory also set into motion the events which would lead to Alderaan’s (historically a stout Republic ally) secession from the Galactic Senate.
 
 
Jara’s Thoughts: Confession—it was all I could do to get through that history recap so I could properly nerdgasm.
Alderaan is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite world in SWTOR. I watch that video above probably once a month, if not more, just so I can take in its majesty. The snow-covered mountains, the architecture, the political intrigue, the warring houses, a mad general at the head of the monarchy, green plains with Killik mounds, Warzones, possible PvPvE, caves, snow, market places, snow, badass architecture—and SNOW, damn it! This planet literally has it all.
BioWare has said this planet is one of the largest in the game, and I can’t wait to explore it fully. In fact, I’ll probably find it difficult not to rush to the level appropriate to safely travel through the Alderaanian landscape. I want to hear the music, join in a Warzone, climb a mountain, see if there is a Nerf mount, and, hell, make fucking snow angels—and hundreds of other things that don’t have anything to do with questing. I just want to drink this world in, and I want to find a place on this planet where I can comfortably log on and off (I am one of those people that hates to log out in the middle of a city, so I tend to find a nice little quiet corner when I log).  
If ever I was to have a “home” in SWTOR, Alderaan would definitely be it for me. I am a great fan of snow worlds. Winter is one of my favorite seasons (apart from the bitter cold), and I especially love it in MMOs, where I can enjoy the winter aesthetics but not have to endure its cold climate.
Alderaan, I am deeply sorry you are doomed to a fiery demise in several thousand years, but I promise—as long as I am playing SWTOR, I will always appreciate you (though I may have to slaughter some of your citizens).
 
 
 
 
Closing Thoughts
So here are the first 7 worlds unveiled for the game, in order. As you can see already, the environments just in these 7 worlds are diverse, with unique backstories that should lend to intriguing quests when the game launches, no matter your class.
This is where I’m going to leave off for now. There are still 10 more worlds left to detail, but this is good for a 1st part.
Part 2 begins with a world that needs no introduction (though I will give it one out of respect). Stay tuned for it.
Thanks for reading.