The Lifting of the SWTOR NDA: Only One Thing Left To Say

Now pretend that big, scaly motherfucker is the NDA, and you get the gist.

That’s right, folks. As of today, per the statement of one half of the Doctors BioWare, Greg Zeschuk, himself, the SWTOR NDA has finally been lifted – but there may be just a bit more complexity to this than I first considered.

For the sake of confirmation, I’ll post the official statement below:

Folks,

As of now, the non disclosure portion of our Game Testing Agreement is officially lifted. While all players must still accept the Game Testing Agreement, from this point on testers may now freely talk about their experiences this past weekend in the game, as well as post screenshots and gameplay videos of their testing experiences. We encourage you to come join us on the official Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ Forums to share your experiences!

The Star Wars: The Old Republic community site will have a copy of this message on the forums and it will also appear in the Patcher. Players may not talk about nor reprint posts from our testing forums as they are still fully covered by the confidentiality portions of our Game Testing Agreement. And all players who want to participate in the upcoming Beta Test Weekends still have to accept all terms of the Game Testing Agreement. So, other than that, free feel to talk about and share your experiences in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

My thanks go out to everyone who has beta tested and continues to beta test the game. It has been with your help and feedback that Star Wars: The Old Republic is where it is today. We really appreciate your efforts.

May the Force be with you!

Greg Zeschuk
VP, Electronic Arts, BioWare Austin, General Manager

Now my analytical side always goes into overdrive when matters of business are concerned – that is why I am going to take the part about “this past weekend” to heart.

I will not discuss anything here that I did not experience this past weekend. That’s just a safety measure, to be honest.

However, there is plenty to discuss about what I did experience. But first, I need to clear the air a bit here by making one purely emotion-filled, honest, from-the-heart declaration.

THIS. GAME. FUCKING. ROCKS.

That’s right, I said it.

Is this game the messiah of the MMO genre? No. I won’t lie. I love this game, but mechanically it feels similar to another 900lb gorilla of the MMO franchise (I say that as a compliment, because the gameplay I experienced on the weekend of Nov 11th-13th was smooth like silk).

Is the story as good as advertised? I would argue it is better – it certainly was for me. I cannot accurately recall how many times I sat back in my chair and pondered verities in dialogue. I’ve never played an MMO where I consciously took note of my wishes for my toon’s personality.

Do I want to be a complete bastard, or do I want to cut this quest giver a break?

Do I want to kill the dad in front of the kid and take him back to his witch of a mother by force, or do I see the dad doing something out of love for his son and let the two of them escape?

Do I spare my master by taking his hand back to Lord Baras, or do I just gut him and mock him, even after he showed me kindness (if self-serving).

Nevertheless, I did just that while playing SWTOR – I was always aware of the moral direction my character would be going if I made a certain choice. I loved that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw a few things that I pointed out when filling out my little surveys that always seemed to pop up onscreen at the worst possible moments. Texture glitches were the most abundant bugs I saw, though many were resolved within the weekend (among my favorites were the elongated fingers when wearing gloves, and the flaps hanging off armor). I also noticed more than a few instances of what I call the “ventriloquist bug” (i.e., audible voice with no mouth movement). That said, I neither saw, nor experienced, anything I would consider game breaking; in my opinion, the game is probably 95%-97% ready for ship. I can only wait in anticipation of what has been tweaked and changed between the last beta weekend and the one coming up next week.

One thing that did leave me feeling a bit wanting was the lack of some of the group finder tools to which I have grown accustomed in other games like WoW. However, at the expense of convenience, I found myself interacting with the community more than I did in WoW. I would not be exaggerating if I said in one weekend of SWTOR I interacted with and befriended almost as many people as I ever did in WoW since the group finder was implemented. No joke. I can’t remember 9/10ths of the people I ran content with through group finder in WoW, but I’ll always remember the Imperial Agent with the fat body type I ran all that heroic content with on Hutta (big ups to you, big man). Even though we constantly died as we tried to two-man the content, both playing dps specs (BH Merc, here), it was a blast. This also carries over to other groups. I still laugh about having to do the 4-man “Deed” quest on Coruscant 4 times because the quest item only spawned for the owner of the heroic instance (another bug I hope gets fixed). We learned a little more each time. By the 4th run, we each knew our roles and punched through the content like a boss. All that I just posted seems to get lost with a group finder system. You never get a chance to make friends, because often you’re from different servers and you’ll never see each other again. A sad side effect of that particular convenience feature.

Music was another aspect of the game with which I had a slight love/hate relationship. When it played, it took my breath away. That said, there were times when no music played, only ambient sounds of the city/jungle/village, as well as the blaster fire from nearby players. While I do not dislike ambient sound, I sometimes felt like the areas didn’t get as much of an aural identity as they could have – at least on a musical level. I do wonder if BioWare decided against a constant musical track like in other MMO titles, in favor of musical cues set to begin whenever you entered a specific area. I will say this does work to an extent, as I personally loved hearing the violin-driven music on Coruscant when first approaching the Galactic Senate, or the cue that played when inside the Senate, itself. It had a regal quality to it that fit the place like a glove. Having said all that, what was in the beta may not be the final product. It is still very possible they just haven’t gotten to the point of inserting all the music into its proper place, yet.

Since I mentioned ambient sounds, I suppose now would be a good chance to detail another of SWTOR‘s strengths: combat sound effects.

The sound effects for the skills in SWTOR are sick, and absolutely iconic. The Bounty Hunter’s rocket has such a punch when it connects you can almost feel it; the first time you ignite your lightsaber, the reverb just brings to mind all the beautiful Star Wars memories a nerd could ever ask for. I found myself igniting it and de-igniting it just to hear the reverb. I also held particular fondness for the Smuggler’s barrage from cover ability. The explosions, whether from guns or grenades, were intense and, again, very satisfying.

Companions, in my opinion, are going to have just as much of a positive effect in SWTOR as they have in every other BioWare game. Nobody does companions better than BioWare, and with the ability to queue up and disable abilities that your companions use as you see fit (I’m looking at you Corso, with your grappling hook that brings enemies to my face when I want them across the room), it could be argued that BioWare has done companions in this game better than they have ever been done before. That is all just the mechanics; when speaking of BioWare companions, you have to also consider the storytelling enhancement they provide. Vette, for instance, added a flavor to my Sith Warrior experience that was refreshing. Catherine Taber does a fantastic job bringing personality to the character. I enjoyed having the backup, and the occasional vocal assessment (though in character, I think maybe I got a little too much joy out of bitch slapping her with the Sith social ability…). Throw in Corso Riggs – despite his annoying grappling hook -, who endeared himself to my Smuggler with his “farm boy” sensibility (her words – p.s. Kath Soucie, you rock), and you have the beginnings of a flavorful stable of companions for each class. I only wish I could have obtained more in my time.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate BioWare, particularly the casting director responsible for choosing the voice actors for the main classes. While I did not play every class, those that I did play had excellent voice acting. Steve Blum absolutely nailed the Bounty Hunter – the gravelly tone to his voice just makes his tough-as-nails mercenary personality feel all the more authentic. Steve Valentine also does an incredible job bringing an aristocratic air to the Sith Warrior class, while never feeling too high class to be capable of destroying anyone on a whim. Kath Soucie (unconfirmed… But come on, I know her voice) brings a cockiness and swagger to the Smuggler that fit perfectly. I played her as good-hearted, but money hungry (“Sure I’ll help… If you make it worth my while. Momma’s gotta eat, too.”) I did not find one voice I disliked among the main classes. Considering we are supposed to play with these voices for 50 levels, I consider that a major plus.

Going into the 11/11/11 beta test weekend, I felt like I had everything nicely tucked away, and knew exactly what to expect. I certainly did not expect for any of my preconceived notions to be challenged, changed, or wholly confirmed. Yet, here I sit, typing away furiously, knowing full well that many things have changed, been challenged, or were confirmed in my perception of SWTOR.

  1. Smuggler is now solidly in my top 3 classes to play at launch (I only faintly considered them in my top 10 before the test).
  2. Sith Warrior is everything I hoped it would be and more (Force Charge does not get old, plus Vette rocks).
  3. SWTOR is better than I expected (I went in cautious, I come out confident that my $150 bucks wasn’t hastily spent).
  4. Lightsabers make ANYTHING better – they just do.
  5. Finally, BioWare once again proved to me that they know their shit. They have a nasty habit of looking a little lackluster early on, then coming on strong at the end. Foolishly, that can make you think that maybe THIS time they won’t come through strong; that would make you wrong.

Now that I’ve played this game, and many other MMO games on the market right now, I feel like I can say definitively that SWTOR matches up well with any game out there (even the 900lb gorilla). Endgame will be the – pun intended – endgame, but seeing what BioWare has been able to do, and knowing their tendency to really come on strong at crunch time, I am confident BioWare will deliver quality.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to test the game, if only for a weekend. I look forward to the next testing weekend where I will have another chance to test it out.

Most importantly, I am damn glad that now I know what to expect at launch. I am already jonesing for my toons again, and internally mapping out the direction I want to take them when launch day arrives. More importantly, I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my $150 dollars was well spent on a game I have always wanted, but never really expected to see – an actual, meaningful rpg experience in an MMO game.

Do I expect some to dislike the game, even with the emphasis on story? You’re damn right I do. That’s just how it goes. This game is not going to be the end-all for everyone.

But If you are a lore hound like me, SWTOR is going to hit your sweet spot from downtown like Kevin Durant.

Even if you’re not, this game has many aspects that should go a long way toward appeasing almost all aspects of an MMO base.

Now, as has become the norm on this blog, it is time for some tunes. Something to celebrate the lifting of this damn NDA.

Live it up, people. Enjoy this day – and the supermodels:

A Tale of Two Systems

Today marks an important day in my soon-to-be completed quest to be adequately prepared for the coming of SWTOR.

Finally, I have upgraded my PC.

Yes, I have now joined the ranks of people who can run the game on the highest of settings. It was a goal I had in mind for months, though now that I am running on a machine that navigates everything fast and silky smooth, somehow it is just another thing that makes me realize how important SWTOR already has been for me, and hopefully will be for some time.

I certainly have never upgraded my system for any other game, that’s for sure. Not WoW, not even for Mass Effect or Dragon Age. For the longest time my gaming needs were met by my trusty Dell (sort of an oxymoron if you think about it, “trusty” and “Dell”). Nevertheless, change is necessary. With SWTOR only 32 days away, I guess I just figured I had waited long enough.

I think a little celebration is in order. Not only for my newfound “performance enhancement” (Yes, I went there), but also for the impending release of a game that I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is worth every cent I dropped on a collector’s edition (more on this once the bloody NDA drops).

 

 

And just for the funk of it – take it away Parliament:

I loaded every single one of those videos, plus two more videos, plus started a DCUO download, at the same time, just for shits and giggles.

I love fast internet.

MMO: The Legend of (insert name here)

As I contemplate buying Cataclysm in the next few days, old thoughts have been creeping back into my mind — such as “Why did I quit in the first place?”

That one is fairly easy — but I feel like reliving some memories before I disclose that reason.

When I left WoW, my characters — at least the ones that mattered to me — had all reached the end of their progression, and there was really nothing more to be done with them. I’m not a hardcore raider, so I wasn’t about to jump into that shark tank just to have something to do. I ran out of content that I wanted to participate in. I left with few regrets, however. Actually, I left with some pretty good memories, mostly in PvP:

-I’ll never forget taking my rogue into WSG (“Warsong Gulch”, for the non WoW players) with my best bud’s warrior, where we promptly won the whole thing for our team (I returned the first flag, then he returned the 2nd & 3rd while I set up shop in our Horde flag room and killed anyone who set foot in it. We even earned a few achievements in that bg).

-I love reminiscing about a heated PvP rogue vs. rogue matchup I got into in Arathi Basin once. It seemed like we, the Alliance rogue and I, just always ran into each other at every flag and it was on. The battles were close, too (neither he, nor I ever won by a sizeable margin — it was always by the skin of our teeth). I ended up winning overall in our duels (3-2), but even if I hadn’t, I don’t think I would have considered it too much of a defeat. Those fights were just two skilled PvP rogues who happened to clash numerous times, and we both knew how to play our classes. Those are the kinds of matchups you usually find in arenas.

More than just the memories, I also left with some great visual snapshots to commemorate my time in WoW.

"Death floats down on a black cloud, ready to consume all it touches."

Sometimes you just have to dance.

If there was one thing I DIDN'T miss about Outland, it was those things. Many is the time I would be skinning some recently deceased boar, only to have this big sumbitch come right up behind me.-_-;

See, the rhythm can even get dreadlords.

Roughly 40% of all my screenshots are dancing, but this one was the only one I had as my wallpaper for a long while.

"Look at this ludicrous shit..."

Boy, do I know how to digress, or what? This article is already getting tl;dr, and I still haven’t explained why I left in the first place. Now to get back on track.

As I wait in anticipation of Star Wars: The Old Republic, often I get into discussions with people about it. When I mention that I was a former WoW player, I usually get responses along the lines of “then why are you looking forward to SWTOR so much? Isn’t it just WoW-in-space?”

For the longest time, I didn’t know how to respond to that. Mechanically, yes, there are some very noticeable similarities between the two (though you could make that comparison between WoW and many other MMO’s, as well — including Everquest, which much of WoW‘s mechanics were based upon). However, after really thinking about it for awhile, I realized what it was that eventually turned me off to WoW and got me onto the SWTOR wagon — and though Cata‘s questing looks to be much improved, it doesn’t rectify this one nagging deficiency for me.

Basically: I got tired of playing everyone else’s story.

I never felt like I was playing MY story when I played WoW — or any other MMO, really. I always felt like I was playing Tirion Fordring’s story, or Rexxar’s story, or Thrall’s story, etc. Sure, I was there for some of the good moments, but it just felt like being an assistant.

That is probably not even considered a deficiency for people who play WoW for the time sink aspect, or raiders who spend so much time talking through vent, dissecting the mechanics of the encounter to the point where they barely pay attention to the lore of the game. However, for someone who values story and, more importantly, story integration & immersion, it always stood out to me that I was nothing more than a backseat driver in the grand scheme of things. It certainly wasn’t a game breaking omission, but it left me feeling unsatisfied.

Now, when someone asks me why I am anticipating SWTOR so much, I feel like I can give a legitimate reason. Also, this doesn’t simply pertain to WoW, this same situation could be said of all MMO’s, to this point.

I’m ready for my character to be given attention & focus; everything I’ve heard, seen & read about SWTOR suggests I will get ample attention & focus when the game launches.

Ffs, the devs have already confirmed that there will be quests where I, the Pureblood Sith Warrior, will be the quest giver. Instead of running around the world looking for a NPC to give me a random quest, there will be times when I will get my crew together and give out orders, and those orders will be in the form of quests. That is just so wicked to me.

This is the aspect of RPG that I feel is missing from the MMORPG genre — feeling as if YOUR character is a meaningful part of the grand scheme.

RPG is all about creating a character you might like playing, then integrating them into a fictional world. Most MMO’s are great about giving you tools, in the form of talent trees, to make your character your own, and fun to play. However, few MMO’s have made the RPG element of the genre satisfying. Usually, RPG in most modern MMO games is created and policed by the population. Your character, in the overall picture, doesn’t really do much, except maybe free a village that promptly gets “retaken” a few minutes later. All of the major moments happen as if the “real” heroes do the job, while you merely assisted.

That’s why I am eagerly anticipating what a developer like BioWare, who are known for creating flavorful, enriching RPG experiences, can create with modern MMO mechanics, an enormous MMO landscape, and phasing technology at their disposal.

It is my hope that players will, in fact, get an opportunity to impact the world in a meaningful way. Things like assisting the rebuilding of Taris, or killing an NPC that will STAY DEAD after you kill him/her.

The possibilities are all there for advancement of the RPG aspect of the MMO genre. Who better to attempt to make RPG integral than BioWare?

At this point, waiting for SWTOR is wearing on me, a bit. That is why I said in the first paragraph that I am considering buying Cata. However, I am starting to realize that no matter what game I play, I will never stop looking forward to SWTOR.

While some people don’t bat an eyelash at the “Your choices matter.” mantra, I suppose I took it as a statement that maybe, possibly, I FUCKING hope, that I will finally get a chance to play an MMO with some real RPG in it. Whether that will be the case will have to wait for after release, but at least I feel optomistic about it after seeing what BioWare has shown.

For me, story really does matter. That is why, while some scoff at BioWare’s dedication to it, I still think story will end up being the great equalizer in MMORPGs. But not just story — MY story.

I’m ready to play MY story, where I make things happen, and my motivations are what drive things forward.

No disrespect to the major NPCs in most modern MMOs, but I’m ready for ya’ll to make guest appearances on my tracks, you dig? I’m tired of “Thrall featuring Warrior” or “Darion Mograine featuring Death Knight” — I’m ready for “Pureblood SW featuring Darth Angral”, or “Human Imperial Agent featuring Darth Jadus”.

It’s time for me (the player) to come up in the game.

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.

Archetypes of the Modern MMO Gamer

There are literally hundreds of opinion blogs that have discussed this topic in one form or another, but I find some of them a bit outdated. So I figured “Why not do another one?” At the very least you might find something entertaining to scoff at here.
 
At one time or another I think we’ve all heard the term “casual vs hardcore”.
For those who haven’t, here are the cliff notes:

-A casual player earns his/her label by being seen as lax in their commitment to a game. They are the ones who only log on sparingly, mostly due to real life commitments, and spend their time doing non-progression activities, like pet farming, etc.

-A hardcore player is one that spends the bulk of their time ingame. Unlike the casual player, the hardcore player is almost never offline. They will even go so far as to schedule their real life commitments around their raid/game schedule.

Like I said, those are just VERY short summaries of the archetypes, but that is often the only division some people will make between the two groups.

Times change. At that time, maybe MMO players were tightly defined within the casual vs hardcore civil war. These days, with the explosion in popularity of games to the mainstream, players of all types are mingling and sharing space with the gamer old guard. As a result, the archetypes themselves have changed, significantly. You are just as likely now to find players jump roping with the casual-vs-hardcore line as you are to find people who fit neatly into either group.

That’s right, casual activities can be done with zeal that borders on fanaticism, just like activities once thought of as the exclusive domain of the hardcore can be done very casually.

Therefore, maybe it’s just time to throw out the old standard and start from scratch.

I am by no means an expert on psychology as it pertains to the MMO player, so all I can do is call it like I see it based on what I have encountered in my time as an MMO player.

Below is a list of all the MMO archetypes I have encountered in my game time. Take a look and see if you fit in here somewhere. If you’re like me, you may fit into more than one of these categories.

 

 

 

Archetypes of the Modern MMO Gamer

 

The McDuck

 
 

scrooge

It's all about the Benjamins/gold/credits, etc.

 

You love cash. EVERYTHING about the game is all about making more money. Cash Rules Everything Around Me—you want to be the one who best exemplifies that message. You want to be comfortable, which means having enough of whatever the game’s currency is to buy anything you might need—or even things you don’t. You play the auction house, you try to broker the best deals for your materials or goods, and you carefully watch the market for any shifts. If someone is selling something for less than its true worth, you are likely to buy it and repost it on the AH at a more appropriate price. You are likely to be the one who has that super exorbitant “Mechano-Hog”-type mount that everyone will envy you for because they don’t have your wealth.

 

 

 

The Scrapper

fight

Go ahead, just look at me funny...

 

You LOVE to fight. There’s nothing more that you enjoy than pitting your skills against another player. You love it so much, you don’t even have to really have a reason for it—you’re happy just hanging out around a populous city, picking fights with anyone that happens to wander by. You are likely to instigate violence in outlying areas, running into a town to slaughter all its lowly (or lowbie) inhabitants in order to draw out the more level appropriate blue boy heroes that will show up to defend them. On the flipside, you will drop whatever you are doing at the drop of a hat to jump into an open world PvP skirmish to help out an ally that is outnumbered—sometimes out of desire to help, but mostly out of your desire to fight. If you could spend 100% of your time in player vs player mortal combat, you would be in Heaven.

 

 

 

The Gatherer

 
 

picking flowers

Guild chat: So then I ganked him and camped his corpse!LOLZ

 

You are the gatherer. You love to go back to low level areas and just shoot the shit with your fellow guildies whilst picking herbs, or banging on mineral ores, or slaughtering innocent animals for their skins, etc. You do this for a number of reasons: the social experience – you can spend your time chatting up fellow guildies while you gather, and avoid many of the headaches that normally come with interaction while raiding; the cash – whether or not you are a member of the McDuck clan, you know your goods will earn a nice little dividend on the open market and that’s enough to spur you onward; the professional – you need the goods to max out your chosen professions. You want to be the best damn herbalist/blacksmith/leatherworker, etc, you can possibly be, and this is just a necessary evil.

 

 

 

The Achiever

 
 

run

I ALMOST have it!

 

You are the achiever–if there is something to achieve in the game, you want it, desperately. Maybe it’s that new pet that has a 0.00000001% to drop from a mob that has a 0.0000001% chance to spawn? Maybe it’s that boss that nobody has been able to kill yet with less people than the encounter calls for? Maybe there is an achievement that only a small percentage of the game’s players will ever have the time, patience, and diligence to achieve? What matters is you want to be able to say you did it, and so you will keep chasing that carrot until you get it. The beauty of MMOs is, if you chase that carrot long enough, you may actually run it down. However, the ugly side of MMOs ensures that, sooner or later, another juicier-looking carrot will come along to replace the one you just caught. And the chase continues…

 

 

 

The Role Player/Lore Hound

 
 

RPG

Knight #1: "Hey want to get some tacos after we kill Lord What's-his-face?" Knight #2: "Damn it, Chad..."

 

You are the type of player who falls in love with the lore behind the game. Moreover, sometimes it sparks an inner theater lover in you that compels you to break out your old english dictionary and quote Cyrano de Bergerac. For you, it is all about the story—and you don’t have much tolerance for people who discard it like spoiled milk. Therefore, you can be found most often on an RP server, where other like-minded role players will appreciate your subtle turns of phrase and mannerisms. For the few who brave regular PvE & PvP servers, you learn to blend in, but your love of story never dies—and so it makes you a sad panda when you see how little story means to some of your fellow players. (Them: “Who is Arthas?” *gets ready to storm Icecrown Citadel* You: T_T)

 

 

 

The Min-Maxer

 
 

Number crunchy

My numbers are .00002% better than your numbers.

 

Numbers, careful calculation, spreadsheets and equations = fun to you. You take pride, and also joy, from knowing that you are THE heaviest hitter in any group…Or the best healer…Or the best tank. You know this is fact—because you ran the numbers more than a handful of times. You are always geared, specced, gemmed, and enchanted to the absolute pinnacle of efficiency. Whenever new gear becomes available, you immediately rush to your spreadsheets to calculate how much the new equipment will affect your numbers. If the improvement is significant–or even if it is not really–you will go on a crusade to get these pieces on you. It doesn’t matter how long it takes—you are willing to hit that raid dozens of times to get those pieces. (Similar to an achiever, but while an achiever sees the achievement as the end, min-maxers see the numbers gained from the reward as the end.)

 

 

 

The Explorer

 
 

roam

You guys keep fighting. I'mma see what's over here by the tree.

 

You are an explorer. Scaler of mountains, the first one to jump into a chasm just to see how deep it is, the first to run across a desert dismounted just so you can make sure you didn’t miss anything before. Finding new things makes your heart swell. While other players are off gathering materials, or sitting around waiting for heir raid groups to show up, you are content to just wander aimlessly and listen to the music of the various zones you encounter (or the music from your ipod). You enjoy seeing new things, finding little hiding spots that you can return to later. You may even find a sweet farming spot that nobody knows about as a result of your tireless exploration. Uncovering the entire map gives you the same kind of chills that others get from their raid encounters.

 

 

 

The Pet Whisperer

 
 

bunny

Good Fluffy. Now let's introduce you to your 15 brothers and sisters.

 

There is not a pet in existence that you don’t want, and you will often invest great time and patience into obtaining them. You are the first to jump when word of a new pet comes up. You already have a stable of pets, and though you may have one that is nearly identical to the one you are chasing, the extra horn, glistening eyes, or slight difference in the color of fur is MORE than enough to have you camping the pet’s normal drop zone. If a rare pet drops from one single type of monster, you will annihilate the poor son of a bitch into near extinction to get your pet. You may even find yourself frequenting the auction house with the sole intention of watching the pet listings, hoping that a coveted pet is being sold at a bargain price. (If you are also a McDuck, you may even be willing to pay the luxury price just to have these pets.)

 

 

 

The Social Butterfly

 
 

group

Okay everyone, group hug!<3

 

For you, the only real reason to play an MMO is interaction. You live for frivolous chats in cities and with your guild that contain no substance. Often, no substance just means more fun! You hate being by yourself, and would rather sit at a fountain or meeting area surrounded by people rather than go off and quest alone. You don’t always have a ton of ingame ambition that doesn’t have to do with other people. For you, it’s all about doing things with your fellow players. For this reason, you aren’t phobic of any particular playstyle—usually—as long as it requires large groups and some sort of social interaction. You love being the life of the party, and more often than not you are. However, certain aspects of the game are lost on you. Knowing WHY you’re going into a dungeon or raid encounter isn’t as important to you as knowing WHO you’re going in with.

 

 

 

The Average Joe/Jane

 
 

Average

We did it, guys! C+!

 

The name says it all. You will never be at the top of the dps or healing charts, you will never be the greatest crafter on the server, or have the most pets. You will never be the best at PvP, organized or open world. But you know what—you’re cool with that. You play the game to play the game, and as long as you are having fun, you’re fine. You are far from bad, but not quite great. For this reason, you can slide into just about any aspect of an MMO. You want to PvP? You can be a good PvPer. You want to raid? You can hold steady at the center of the charts. You won’t accumulate as many pets as the Pet Whisperer, nor collect as many mounts or accolades as the Achiever, but you will have a good time doing what you do.

* * *

As you can see, the dividing line between these archetypes is much more complex than just “casual vs hardcore”. These archetypes don’t even begin to classify every single person that sets foot in an MMO. It is impossible to accurately separate and categorize MMO players wholly into one or two categories. If the MMO game is a soup, we are each one of millions of ingredients that give it flavor.

In my time in MMOs, I’ve found that people tend to exhibit one or more of these characteristics, in some way.

For the record, I consider myself a McDuck, with a little bit of Explorer & Role Player/Lore Hound thrown into the mix.

Where do you fit in?