Ding

So… Funny thing happened to me on my way to an Imperial base on Corellia today.

 

 

Ding

Doctor Lokin: "Does it feel like something has changed to you, too, Bal?"

* * *

As big moments in life go, this is merely a trickle. But as gaming goes, reaching cap is a pretty big deal. It is cause for celebration (you could even say it demands one).

It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that I was jonesing for this game hard. Even wondering – somewhere in the back of my mind – if it would EVER come out.

Today, I have reached the mountaintop.

As I look down at all the tiny flecks that are, in fact, people, I take this moment to reflect.

With my head swimming in the clouds, I wish you all well.

May your individual journeys to this mountaintop be as eventful, as entertaining, and as enjoyable as mine was. Take care all.

-Jara

* * *

Since this is a celebratory moment, it only seems appropriate:

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Of Reverse Continuity & Awesomeness

After having had a day to recover from the “excellence seizure” I experienced following the release of Return, the new cinematic for Star Wars: The Old Republic, I feel like I am finally coherent enough to post my thoughts on it.

 

… Wicked. Just freaking sick. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Epic. Brilliant. I feel like there aren’t enough adjectives to use for it (certainly none that do it adequate justice).

 

This new cinematic, made by the geniuses at Blur, may be the closest any piece of Star Wars media has come to capturing what made the original trilogy so enduring. It had everything: the cocky Smuggler, who talks a good game, but fights a better one; the Jedi master, who sacrificed himself for the survival of his padawan; the Padawan, destined for great things, though they, themselves, do not yet realize it; the Sith lords, cloaked and ominous; a pulse-pounding lightsaber duel featuring some of the best choreography ever seen in Star Wars — you name it, this cinematic had it in spades.

I’m positive that everyone had their own reasons for loving the cinematic. For me, I couldn’t help but think of all the minute details from the previous two trailers (Deceived and Hope) that suddenly have a new coat of context applied to them.

-After seeing Return, I feel like I finally understand that look of utter fury and pain on Satele Shan’s face in Hope as she Force-doukened (trademark pending) Darth Malgus into the mountainside. At the time, I wondered why she looked so pissed — now I know why.

SS_BA008

This is for my master!

-I understand now why Satele had such a rough time trusting the Sith in ToP. It would be a little hard to trust anyone who launches surprise attacks, especially considering your own master was the victim of one of them.

-I can now see the evolution of Darth Malgus in three parts.

1) Ascension (apprentice who kills his master when he has surpassed him);

2) Lesson learned (commander who leads his forces to battle, but suffers his first defeat, learning of his own mortality);

3) Master (a battle-hardened, much wiser Sith, utterly sure of his own skills in both lightsaber combat and tactics, kills a Jedi Master in one-on-one combat and leads his armies in a successful sacking of the Republic’s capital city.).

-The trooper on Alderaan, the one who watched one his fellows die right beside him in Return. I get why he was so relentless in Hope, why he was willing to set off a frag grenade right in his own face, just to damage his enemy.

All of these don’t even take into account the events of the novels, which also gain a new perspective. The motivations behind some key characters got a spotlight shown directly on them with Return.

This cinematic series would work well if seen in the order Return, Hope, Deceived – but actually, I like the reverse chronology BioWare used in the cinematics.

I felt like BioWare made the smartest move possible with this last cinematic, focusing on both the Empire & Republic. The two previous cinematics felt like propaganda videos for one or the other side; Return felt like a welcomed showcase of both sides.

Other than the narrative tie-ins, there were too many reasons to love this cinematic to name all of them. The Smuggler (oh my goodness, so badass), the dual-dual-wielding-weapon-Jedi (yes, I typed that right [the double-bladed light saber is supposed to be a dual-wield weapon]), finally getting some light shed on why Malgus was dual wielding lightsabers (though I did laugh at some who suggested it was a hint at respec. XD), Satele Shan (love the new design), etc. The cinematic was so crispy, I’m getting baked just thinking about it.

As one poster on Darth Hater said, this is “the first that actually felt like the original trilogy.” I can agree with this statement 100%.

There are still several days of E3 left. There should be any number of things that we will learn from the con before it is all said and done, but this is, without a doubt in my mind, the best way they could have begun their SWTOR promotion.

Here is the video — courtesy of realdarthhater — for your viewing pleasure:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves

-but leave it to my wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

Alright alright, so it was God who said that, but I think it is an apt quotation now that I’ve seen my (at least PvP) AC path in SWTOR.

Say hello to your friendly neighborhood Vengeance Juggernaut.

Badass

Chooser of the living, chooser of the slain

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock with your fingers plugging your ears going “lalalalala”, then you know that today’s Friday Update for Star Wars: The Old Republic included a sneak peek at a new comic upcoming called The Lost Suns (which incited a particularly satisfying display of QQ rage), a few tidbits of what can be expected from SWTOR at E3, and finally, an update to the Advanced Classes page on the official site.

While the first two pieces of the update were not without their merits, even if people didn’t all see them (Eternity Vault? Try and convince me this is not going to be the first raid shown in the game.), the AC update, understandably, took center stage.

I’ve never seen so many nerdragers backpedal so quickly. It was beautiful. BioWare deserves a bully for such a well-played match.

This may be the first really tangible material that players can use to plan the first stages of their game time experiences. Many of us had an idea what class we would play, and some even may have felt certain they knew which AC they were destined for, but this is the first time we, as players, have been given a glimpse of the various ability trees we can dive into in order to make our characters our own.

*Go to the Advanced Classes page and select the Sith Warrior-Juggernaut. Now, read the tooltip for the Vengeance ability “Unstoppable”. Combine that with an ability Georg Zoeller mentioned that changes your Force Choke from a castable ability into an instant cast, and you have a recipe for a “CK” (caster killer), which should explain at least part of my excitement.

As launch — seemingly — draws closer, I find myself thinking about things in real time. I’ll look at a video of Tatooine and think, “As soon as I get to Tatooine, I’ll have to go to that canyon.” I do the same thing when I see videos of PvP, crafting, even dancing.

My excitement, which, honestly, had been dimming a bit, now has come back in full force.

I look forward to the day when my toon, which I crafted to my specifications, can get moving on his/her journey.

If updates like this are any indication, I think that day may not be so far off.

Whatever class you intend to play, my hope is this update did for you what it did for me — provided real substance to help you on your path to your preferred AC.

P.S. – This video has nothing to do with the update, I just felt like posting it. 😛

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.

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