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:

The Eternal Struggle (of the heart) Comes To SWTOR

In BioWare games, companions are quite possibly the most unique, not to mention vital, components to the success of any title.

When you look back at BioWare games, at first glance they may seem like little more than your average RPG’s. Especially in games like Dragon Age, people can look at it and think – foolishly -‘Oh, another fantasy game with castles, dragons, and knights.’ However, what has made BioWare such a giant in the RPG genre is not that they make a familiar fantasy world for you to explore. It is their ability to make you feel like your character is a part of the grand story that makes a BioWare RPG something different from the norm. Most RPG’s place you in the narrative, place you in the world, but few developers give you the chance to really make it your own. In a BioWare game, not only are you a focus of the story, you – Revan, the Grey Warden, Commander Shepard, etc – are the epicenter.

Everything you do has impact in a BioWare game. Not just on the environment, but also on the people closest to you in the game – your companions. Anyone who has played a BioWare game can tell you, NOBODY will let you know how your actions are affecting things more loudly than your companions. They are often your moral compass, but more importantly they are always your emotional compass. They pipe in their disgust with you when they see you do something reprehensible, or else throw in their sinister approval. They applaud your virtuous decisions, or else have no qualms pointing out your “weakness” in the face of taking the harsher action, and so on. Overall, companions really make the BioWare experience. Ask any veteran BioWare player and I’m sure they can reel off any number of companion names that made their lasting mark.

And damned if they don’t worm their way into your decision making… Sometimes whether you want them to or not.

I will admit right now that I’ve often allowed my companions to completely shift my ingame personality to a lighter or darker shade than it would otherwise have gone.

I just can’t be as big an asshole as I want to be knowing that Leliana will be standing just behind me watching my every move.

On the other side, sometimes I want to refrain from driving my lightsaber into a person’s skull – but Khem Val would think I was a little soft wuss (he already calls me a “little Sith” too much for my tastes, as it is).

When you throw romance into this mix, you get an interesting concoction you simply cannot get in any other RPG.

Romancing companions is one of the most fulfilling parts of a BioWare game. Not only because of the implications for your ingame character, but also because they often lead to the most entertaining, hilariously awkward conversations you will ever experience in an RPG.

 

While I am feeling the same familiar companion uncertainties (which choices to make in order to appeal to x or y companion) as I have in previous BioWare games, somehow in SWTOR the phenomenon has made a drastic and interesting shift.

Instead of allowing my companions to dictate which way my character shifts, I find myself struggling to decide which ones best suit the direction my toon is heading.

For as long as I’ve known I would play a Sith Warrior for my main when the game came out, I’ve known exactly how my path would play out.

With all the certainty of a person who knows next to nothing about (the launch version of) a game he claims to already have his path mapped through, I was deadset on seeing my carefully considered trail through to its end. I would begin dark side, then somewhere along the way I would rebel against my dark ways and start to redeem myself. I would traverse the galaxy saving kittens and little bunnies with my goody goody blue lightsaber, as well as Vette, by my side.

Fast forward to the present and where do I stand? Dark III… Murderer of innocents and guilty, alike… Solidly in the midst of my very own Betty vs. Veronica situation.

Vette slave bikini

"Come on, let's go hit the cantinas on Nar Shaddaa! It'll be fun!"

Jaesa dark side

"Come on, let's go murder Jawas on Tatooine! It'll be fun!"

A month ago I would’ve said Vette all the way, end of discussion. Now, with this character… I don’t know.

"Romance is tiresome. Things are so much better when you can just murder people and be done with them."

Truth be told, my Sith Warrior is nothing like I thought he would be when I started – and I’m not entirely unhappy with the way he has turned out.

The Empire is a far different place than I had ever considered. A blue boy would have been chewed up like wad in that world. The Sith are conquerors, and their world is an ever-changing one. The option may be there for someone to be the lone holdout, vehemently opposed to this world from which he was spawned – but somehow that didn’t seem terribly real to me.

The further I got into the SW story, the more I started to feel like the most logical, believable path for a pureblood Sith wanting out of the current ladder system would not be to become a hero type, always making choices for the sake of justice. That almost seems too cheesy. Instead, it seemed more believable to me that a pureblood Sith wanting out of the current system would just rewrite the current system – and pin under his thumb all who would stand in opposition. After all, Qin Shi Huangdi didn’t rebel against the warring states system by becoming an independent, pacifistic patriot – he subjugated (brutally) the states and unified them under one banner (China, fyi).

As a byproduct of this change in philosophy, my romance options have also changed. Throughout the course of the game, I’ve miraculously managed to keep Vette’s affection for me up, despite all the innocent people I’ve slaughtered along the way (and with the help of a few companion gifts *ahem*).  That said, after obtaining my second romance option, the former padawan turned evil apprentice, Jaesa Willsaam, I am not so sure I want to end up with Vette as I had first decided.

To say that Vette and Jaesa are coming from vastly different places in SWTOR’s version of romance would be an understatement.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll just say Vette is no angel (she has been involved in her share of heists and petty crime), but she is also far from a devil. She prefers non-violence overall, but is happiest when whatever I am doing brings in the cash.  She hates seeing innocent people murdered, and hates ME with a vengeance whenever I succumb to bloodlust. Vette also seems to enjoy seeing me act like a dick to people in charge. Whenever I mouth off to people in authority, I have gotten used to seeing that familiar numbered “like” tab pop up on the bottom left of my screen with Vette’s portrait. I sometimes get the vibe that, while she is somewhat appalled by the world from which my Sith Warrior was forged, she can at least appreciate the fact that I am making a place for myself instead of blindly serving my (current) masters. For my character, who wants nothing less than the galaxy itself, she is a pretty ideal companion for my Sith Warrior. She is probably the only person in my crew that would never turn against me, could never turn against me, and doesn’t want to turn against me – in a world where betrayal is as common as breathing, that has to count for something.

Jaesa, on the other hand, can be a devil – but you have to read between the lines to get the full story. She is happiest when I tell everyone to fuck all and just do my own thing. As a dark side companion, she loves indulging in the vices that she had no access to as a Jedi or even growing up before she was found by her former master. That said, she has a somewhat naive approach to being Sith that I actually find refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, she can be as wicked as a scorpion, but she also picks and chooses which precepts of the Sith to follow and which to challenge (such as the practice of an apprentice eventually killing their master). She also seems loyal to my character above all else, which appeals heavily to my Sith Warrior. That kind of loyalty is uncommon in the world of the Sith – especially by a fellow Sith.

My character, Lord Oktavian, holds true to the Machiavellian principle of ruling through fear – but also giving enough (gifts, compliments) to his subordinates to keep that fear from turning into hate. The decisions I make with the character tend to border on a sort of Sith version of the Conan/Norse methodology (strength above all). I don’t murder for the thrill of murder, so much as I take delight in battling strong foes (and killing those who really deserve it, in my toon’s opinion). I also don’t spare people out of a desire to be righteous, just whenever I feel like killing or cruelty would serve no purpose. Oktavian the Sith Lord has no redemption policies. If you betray him once, you won’t have the chance to do it again. No excuses. No mercy. Having said that, I should point out that “Ok” is not devoid of humor. Whenever I have been given the chance to act like a smart ass, I do it.

When you put those three in the same room, I’m not exactly sure what will happen.lol Vette appeals to my character’s lighter nature (which is there, just buried beneath the inherent darkness of a pureblood Sith forged in the belly of the Sith power structure). Meanwhile, Jaesa is a newborn Sith, still unsure of which way is up, still learning restraint, but also with enough self-awareness to follow her own instincts when they conflict with centuries old Sith teachings. That sort of pick-and-choose philosophy really fits well with a Sith who isn’t interested in becoming just another step in the current ladder.

I had thought that this particular choice would be clear by the time my character took shape – but it couldn’t be murkier.

Damn you, BioWare for doing this to me. 😛

The Day Arrives: SWTOR Is Now

If that doesn’t get you pumped up, you must have a cold, dead heart.

That is right ladies and gentlemen, the day has finally arrived. Within a few hours, zero hour dawns: the launch day of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

After years of waiting, of anticipating. Months – for some of us – of being teased by short spoonfuls of weekend betas. Days of being tantalized by the promise of being able to progress a character you know won’t be wiped in a few days. Finally, our long journey comes to an end. At a time like this, there is only one thing to do, really…

Radio, video. Boogie with a suitcase.

In case you are wondering, that would be a screenshot of myself on the left, and my best bud on the right, doing our best Pop Muzik imitation (after several tries, we managed to get our moves synchronized).

To say that I’ve had a blast playing SWTOR since the beginning of early access would be an understatement — probably of the century. I have been having a fantastic fucking time. From running BT (Black Talon for the laypeople out there) more than a dozen times on different toons, to leveling my profs, to climbing all over the buildings of Mos Ila like a spider monkey, as well as riding through the deserts of Tatooine with a few good buddies like our own version of a Star Wars biker gang — it would take too long to relate all of the awesome things I’ve been a part of in just the past week. I even managed to co-raid lead my first SWTOR operation group to take down Trapjaw on Tatooine (big ups to all the guys and gals on Iron Citadel that were there to share in the joy with ol’ Balthezar that day – you rock, every one of you).

I have literally taken hundreds of screenshots since I hit early access last week. Because of the sheer volume, I couldn’t possibly post them all up — but I will post up the ones that hold some nostalgia for me. The one above is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you notice the chat in the top left corner, you can see just how amazed Vette was by my dancing.

On the same day I co-lead a raid on Trapjaw, here is a screen of myself and a few groupmates riding through the sands of Tatooine like bosses.

I didn't expect to like the "Segway" as much as I did, but I have to be honest: I dug it (and still do).

The pictures I have of this datacron on a rooftop above the Market District of Mos Ila will forever hold a special place in my heart. I managed to find a way to get this datacron without the help of guides -- just hours of careful deduction, meticulous climbing, as well as trial and error.

When I created my quasi-main Imperial Agent, Balthezar, I chose to make him more like Arnold in True Lies over a James Bond ripoff. Here, Balthezar shows off the benefits of Imperial Intelligence's rigorous fitness regimen.

I swear I must have stared at this NPC for more than ten minutes -- laughing my ass off the whole time. (For those who aren't familiar, this guy -- and another on Tatooine, I hear -- exists as an homage to one of the funniest SNL sketches ever.)

SWTOR has many landscapes that made my jaw drop. The first time I came upon the vastness of the Dune Sea, when I stepped out of the space port to the snow-capped mountains of Alderaan. However, I think Nar Shaddaa hit me the hardest. I have always been a sucker for city lights.

For sheer ambience - of the night life persuasion -, Nar Shaddaa really comes across like Vegas x1000. The Smuggler's Moon really does live up to its name. What freewheeling, double dealing smuggler wouldn't feel at home amid the neon painted cityscape of this Hutt jewel?

You meet the most interesting characters traversing the galaxy bringing down terrorist cells and criminal syndicates. This was taken from the scenic vista provided by the Jawa balloon above the Dune Sea. We were on our way to a few datacrons -- sadly, our ride glitched out before we reached them.

The funny thing is, I would probably not be writing this if it weren’t for the fact that the SWTOR servers are down for the night for maintenance. Writing about a game isn’t nearly as fun as playing it.lol

For one of a handful of times in the last few years, I am able to play the game instead of pine for it at a distance. That option makes the wait seem worth it. The game has been what I hoped it would be and much more — a story-driven MMO that has me hooked on the storyline like crack. Whether it is chasing after that fucking asshole Skavic, trying to forge my power while under the knuckle of the ruthless Darth Baras, hunting down terrorist cells across the galaxy in secret, or attempting to secure myself a position in the Great Hunt, SWTOR has me hooked.

This is the story-based MMO I was waiting for all along — and that it is Star Wars only makes this Christmas gift sweeter.

To those who will be getting their first taste of this amazing game tomorrow — live it up, drink it in, don’t rush through. Savor. Every. Flavor.

Think back on the long wait and rejoice.

Go back in time to the first time you heard that this game even existed. For some, it was before the game even had a title. For others (myself included), it was the first time Deceived melted your face off after E3 2009 (thanks D), etc.

Look back on all those Fridays you were waiting breathlessly for on the official site, just for the chance at even a scrap of information.

Think about all those Fan Fridays that sometimes seemed superfluous, even though they really were a great showcase for the talent of the SWTOR fanbase.

Recall all the conventions where you were hyped for the information coming, hoping against hope for a release date — or even a hint of one.

Think back on that time and remind yourself of one all-important fact:

Tomorrow, Star Wars: The Old Republic will be upon you.

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.

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?