Monthly Archives: January 2012

Checking in with SWTOR

Well, we’re a little more than a month out from the official launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Funny, it feels as if it has been out longer. It often seems that way with games, doesn’t it?

Right now, I am working my way through Balmorra on my Jedi Knight. Thus far, I think Tatooine is my favorite planet. Balmorra is fine, Alderaan is good, but there was something about the way Tatooine was set up and laid out that I really enjoyed. As for the planets I don’t care for? Taris, not that that is a surprise to many players. Dromund Kaas comes in second on that list.
I changed my spec to Focus and noticed a huge improvement on damage done. It’s great in PVP. My damage counts have jumped up considerably, as have kills and medals.
I think that’s one of the nice things about taking time to level: you can experiment more. I’d rather try out a spec and not like it at level 20 or 30 than mess with it at 50. It took a few times to figure out a rotation I liked, but the result was satisfactory.
The ability to try out new play styles is important in a MMO. It gives players more options and ways to improve. In World of Warcraft, I tried out Fire Mage for a few levels. That didn’t do it for me. I was an Arcane kind of player. I did use Frost in PVP often. WoW introduced dual specialization awhile back, which made it easier to switch. I’m not sure if that actually helped the issue of lack of tanks and healers.
Speaking of tanks and healers, SWTOR has an abundant amount of tanks running around but not many healers. That’s unusual to see after WoW. I can’t tell you how many times I spent time looking for a tank. In this game, everyone searches for healers.
SWTOR doesn’t offer this. If they did, then would they eventually allow players to change advanced classes? I’m not sure if I like that idea. Yes, it is annoying to need to decide the specialization at level 10, especially if you haven’t played them, but it does require players to pay attention to the game.
In the next coming weeks, look for entries about romance, The Phantom Menace and more SWTOR adventures. And if you are new to the game or MMOs, check out my Q/A with Fangirl Blog here.
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Filed under Gaming, Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR, World of Warcraft

SWTOR Endgame: What’s there and what I’d like to see

I quit playing World of Warcraft twice. The reason I quit both times were similar: it became boring.
I started playing WoW about a year before the release of Wrath of the Lich King. Between work and class, it took months to reach 70. After that, I hit somewhat of a brick wall. I didn’t like PVP (at the time) and the raiding group I was in was horrible. It wasn’t a question of skill. It was more or a problem with getting started. We’d schedule the time for eight and wouldn’t start until 10. Someone wouldn’t show (which happens), someone needed to do something “real quick” or half the group would go AFK at random intervals.
When we did get started, we could usually take down the enemies within a reasonable amount of time. The downside was that once the fight ended; there was yet another round of waiting. I’d talk to people who would clear Kara in a matter of hours while it took us two nights.
I tried raiding with other groups, but ran into similar problems. Half of us would wait 30 minutes for everyone else to show up, someone would leave without warning halfway through a fight or everything would implode. There’s no guarantee that a raid group is good. Sometimes a person’s off night costs the raid. There were very few times that I had a successful raid.

 

Wrath of the Lich King came out; I leveled up to 80 through the dismal Northrend and again found myself with nothing to do. Only this time, there was no expansion on the way. Between planning a wedding, finishing up my last semester of college and a general lack of stuff do, I quit.
The second time I played WoW, I only PVP’d. I helped with lower level raids for guild achievements but that was it on that front. I quit month later because TOR’s release date was approaching and I didn’t have anything to do. Rolling more characters to drag through the same quests I didn’t care about wasn’t appealing.
I don’t dislike raiding. When the raids went well or we were actually doing something, it was enjoyable. I had no desire to do it when I returned to WoW and don’t care to in The Old Republic.  I suppose that’s one of the reasons that endgame content isn’t nearly as a big deal to me as it is to others.
There is no doubt how vital good endgame content is. Without, there’s nothing for players to do once they reach max level. The content should pose a challenge. Because I prefer PVP, I’d like to see a 50s only warzone or something like that. Ilum poses all types of problems. Two days ago, Executive Producer-Live Services Jeff Hickman announced that players who took advantage of a bug on Ilum in the Jan. 18 patch would be punished in some way. Players were camping at the enemy bases after taking the various control points on the planet and killing to earn valor.
 Now, I completely understand why this would be frustrating. It makes it difficult to complete the dailies. Players who knowingly took advantage of the bug to increase their value levels rapidly were wrong. It’s fair to take back some of the valor those players earned unfairly. Neither party is free of blame. The players chose to take advantage of it and BioWare didn’t catch the bug in testing. Exploiting bugs happens in MMOs. It happens in console games. Thankfully, it didn’t take BioWare long to deal with the problem.
This issue brings Ilum to question. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s a PVP world. I want to know what’s going on with it because that’s the type of play I prefer. I don’t know what they should do with the world to make it better. Maybe placing most of the dailies in non-PVP zones would work, and then leaving a few in the open area. That way, players could at least complete some of their dailies.
It reminds me of Tol Barad. Your faction had to win control to complete a group of dailies. You could do the ones on the other side no matter who had control. Winning Tol Barad, at least on my server, was a pain. It wasn’t a good system.
I don’t know what a good PVP scenario would be for only 50s. I’m not a game developer. There needs to be something done, whether it’s fixing the problems on Ilum or bringing in a new 50-only warzone to give the max level PVP players something else to do.
At this point, I don’t think it’s fair to compare TOR to WoW. WoW has had years to perfect the game. There was a two-year gap between the times I played and I noticed countless improvements. New games have bugs. They don’t have as much content as ones that have been out for years. Players coming from games with lots of content and things to do, like WoW, may feel bored by the lack of options.
One of my favorite additives to WoW was the achievement system. Players could earn titles, mounts and other rewards by completing the objectives. The list is so long that it gives players plenty to do with their time once hitting max level. TOR is only a month out from the launch date. Players now are at the ground floor. It’s not perfect, but it’s fun.
I don’t feel like I can predict if the game will succeed or fail. That it’s Star Wars will keep it going for a while. With the story and voiceovers, it takes longer to reach max level than other games. There’s enough to do 1-49. For casual gamers, they could play the game for a couple of months, working on characters until the endgame content matters. Some worlds you play for all classes, but those quests are broken up by the unique class story quests. In addition, you can pick different Light/Dark alignments to mix it up.
The hardcore gamers suffer. While they aren’t the main portion of the market, they’re still part of the customer base.
The most important thing BioWare can do right now to ensure the survival of the game is focus on activities for players to do at max level, be it a new warzone, releasing a harder raid or adding in some sort of fun system like WoW’s achievements. Or something else.
The main thing for people debating on playing the game should keep in mind is that it is fun. It’s an enjoyable game to play. There is enough content to do at the moment, what with leveling up the various classes.

It’s not perfect (no game is), but give it a little room to improve just as if every other MMO needs to do. The short attention span lifestyle hurts all games. Players want more and more at faster rates than the developers can do. At some point, consumers need to give some—and the companies should give back.

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Filed under Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR, World of Warcraft, WoW

When a character’s sacrifice seems in vain

Contains major spoilers for The Hunger Games trilogy.

What do Chewbacca and Katniss Everdeen have in common? Both characters made a sacrifice that readers could see as a waste. Many readers don’t like it when a sacrifice was in vain, though these only seem that way on the surface.

Chewbacca died during Vector Prime, the first book of the New Jedi Order. He died in the only way Chewie could, a moon impaling a planet. He sacrificed his life so that Anakin Solo could live. And then, several books later, Anakin gives up his life to save the Jedi.

Chewie’s sacrifice could be seen as wasted here. I agree with the decision to kill off Chewie. It set the necessary dark tone to the series. Not only that, but it broke the idea that everyone was safe. NJO wouldn’t have worked if no one major died in the beginning. One could argue that what was the point in killing Chewie to save Anakin if he was going to die? I don’t know when it was decided that a Solo child would die, much less when Anakin was chosen over Jacen. Either way, Chewie’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.

Look at everything Anakin accomplished before he died. He found ways to fight the Yuuzhan Vong, he saved Jedi students and Tahiri, the list goes on. I don’t think that he would have been nearly as passionate or motivated to do everything he did had he not experienced some type of personal loss that taught him that it wasn’t a game. He was vulnerable just like everyone else. He didn’t learn the lesson entirely until the end, but the seeds were planted and field of understanding growing.
In that way, no Chewbacca’s death was not in vain.

Let’s look at another, example. In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen volunteers as Tribute when her Effie Trinket pulls 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen’s name from the reaping bowl. Katniss manages to survive the Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell (Catching Fire) and makes it to Capitol (Mockingjay). When the end is near, Katniss loses Prim, the one she was willing to give up her own life so that the girl could live.

Had Katniss not taken Prim’s place, the Hunger Games would still go on until someone else forced the dissatisfied people to rebel. That would have taken years. Because of Katniss, not only were the Games stopped, but also a horrible replacement for President Snow was eradicated.

Putting the good of the people aside, why did Prim’s death work with the story and Katniss’s character? Katniss is a loner. She had Gale before the Games, and Prim. She was a virtual stranger to her mother. After the Games, the only people who could truly understand Katniss were the former Tributes—and Prim to some extent. She pulls away from Prim, putting up a front for her family. She fell even more alone once Prim died. She was on her own. She couldn’t go back to the caretaker she was before.

The way Katniss breaks down at the end of Mockingjay is necessary for her to be in the right mindset to do what ultimately needs done: stopping Coin. Snow is already out of the picture. His replacement is almost as bad. Sometimes it takes the extremes to see the truth of a matter.

Having just finished rereading Mockingjay, I find that Prim’s death makes much more sense than it did before. The Hunger Games isn’t about happy endings. It’s a lesson in becoming the very evil your fighting. It’s a lesson in revenge and manipulation. The reason Prim is dead reveals the final truth to Katniss.

Generally speaking, readers don’t like to see a character’s sacrifice go in vain. It happens; it’s unavoidable. With Chewbacca and Katniss, this isn’t true. The sacrifices of the both characters still mattered even though the ones they gave everything up for died, looking at it for the story, character’s sake or others.

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Filed under Expanded Universe, Star Wars, The Hunger Games

Mercy Kill Excerpt (probably) in Apocalypse: Does it mean anything?

Erich Schoeneweiss of Del Rey announced on Twitter last night that the excerpt in Troy Denning’s Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse comes from Aaron Allston’s Mercy Kill. Back in the summer, we were told that we would see a preview of the next Star Wars series. Long before that, Del Rey stated that another long series wasn’t in the near future. Of course, this could change.

The inclusion of the first chapter of Mercy Kill at the end of Apocalypse can mean a multitude of things. While it’s possible that we’ll see an X-Wing trilogy, the idea of previewing the next series could have been easily abandoned. We simply don’t know what book deals and ideas are discussed or thrown out.

It’s not a surprise that Mercy Kill is the excerpt. It’s the next major—and only—release in this era of the EU. If it’s not the sign of a new series, then perhaps it leads into the next. It’s no secret that the fans desperately want this book. Building up as many sales as possible is vital.

Given that there has yet to be an announcement stating that Mercy Kill is the flagship book of a series or news of a new series in this era at all, I’m hesitant to believe it. It’d make sense, given the attitude of many EU fans, to publish a couple books that shy away from the Jedi v. Sith conflict. It adds a bit of variety, some breathing room. That said, I don’t want to wait years to find out what happens to the main players in FotJ.

No matter what it means, it great to hear that we will have a taste of Mercy Kill before August.

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Could Ben Skywalker and Anakin Solo co-exist?

Imagine the galaxy with Anakin Solo alive. It paints a pretty, uncomplicated picture at first. Jaina never fell to the Dark Side. Jacen wasn’t nearly so disturbed. Han and Leia didn’t lose a child. The prophecy about Tahiri and Anakin would have had the potential to matter.

Now think of Anakin co-existing with Ben Skywalker.

The image becomes a bit complicated.

Throughout Anakin’s life, it’s clear that he is destined to be the next Luke Skywalker. He is powerful in the Force, quiet, intelligent, brave and understands the point of sacrifice. Jaina and others mention, either aloud or through silent observations that Anakin seems to understand more about the Force, both before and after his death.

“It’s like this. For the past two years, I’ve listened to Anakin and Jacen debate the role of the Jedi and our relationship to the Force. In the end, what did any of that amount to? […] Anakin started to figure it out. I sensed it in him after Yavin Four. He learned something there that the rest of us don’t know, something that could have made all the difference, if only he’d had time to figure it out. If there is such a thing as destiny, I think that was Anakin’s. He has always been different. Special.” –Jaina Solo, Dark Journey

Had Anakin not died, would he have become the leader of the Jedi? I’m not sure, but it felt as if that was the direction the authors were taking.

That is, until Ben came along.

Ben has had his own issues with having probably the most famous father in the history of the galaxy (Darth Vader may have him beat…maybe). Ben isn’t even 18 and he’s already treated as if he is the next best thing. With Ben’s birth, Luke had a direct heir.

At the beginning of the New Jedi Order, there wasn’t a question as to who was destined to be the most powerful Jedi. Jacen was the more peaceful and Jaina was the solider. They were the support behind Anakin. I haven’t seen enough to show that Ben is nearly as powerful as Anakin was. While I don’t think Ben would have fought Anakin over the issue, it would have raised questions among fans.

The question remains is that if Anakin survived, how word it have worked with Ben? Would Anakin have been the one working with Luke or would Luke have taken a step back from the front lines? Anakin’s voice of reason would have come through somehow. There’s enough of an age gap between the two that Ben could take time gain enough life experience, one could argue. However, the other side to that is Luke won’t give up the mantle of the No. 1 “go-to Star Wars hero” until, well, we don’t know but it doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon. By that point, Anakin and Ben would both be experienced adults.

That is, of course, if the Jedi actually need someone to lead them.

“The order can’t wait for a great Jedi Knight to lead it. That’s what everyone thought I was, and when I died, too much died with me. Don’t make the mistake I did, don’t let anyone push you into that. Every Jedi Knight has to be his own light, because the light shouldn’t go out when one Jedi dies.” Anakin Solo, Abyss

 

Ultimately, I don’t think there should be one end all, be all being the Jedi look to. While Yoda was clearly the leader, it wasn’t as if his death would have caused such a huge reaction in the Jedi Order. Yes, he’d been around for a along as everyone could remember, but great Masters died often enough. Through the movies or books, it never feels as if should Yoda die, the Jedi will fall into shambles or act lost. It’s a different story with Luke. In the beginning, when Luke started trying to grow the order, it would have crashed without him. No arguments there. But now, it could go either way. The Jedi either get with the program and realize hey, no more Luke Skywalker to fix our messes or fall into chaos. With the state of things at the moment, I’m leaning a bit towards chaos.

There’s no doubt that there will always be someone in charge, be it Yoda, Luke, Satele Shan or Ben. And while that isn’t a bad thing, blind dependence only leads to disaster. There are enough examples in both fiction and the real world to illustrate that point.

Ben has leadership qualities that come out, but not enough to make him win me over like Anakin did.

In the end, I don’t know how it would have played out. We’ll never know. Both characters are interesting, memorable and keep the reader’s attention. Until I see more of Ben’s character develop, I think Anakin would have been the better, more effective leader.

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How to make a strong female character: Breaking past the stereotypes

The career-driven lawyer, the teacher with commitment issues, the rogue bounty hunter who’s trying to avenge a loss without getting close to anyone. All of these roles and more show up in movies and books featuring strong female characters. More often than not, during the bulk of the movie or book, the strong female character won’t give into love or won’t become allies with another person (insert any scenario) because of a career (No Strings Attached) or some other single-minded goal (A Woman Called Sage).

In the typically movie set up, the strong female character in question falls in love with the man, saves the day, escapes capture, ect. and at the end is suddenly a “female.” Now it’s okay for her to want kids. She can’t have any desire to be a mom before the end because that’s just not part of the stereotypical strong female definition. She’s allowed to marry, wear a nice dress and heels and have a massage. The stereotypes demands that the woman acts hard, cold and even the ever insulting, ignorant phrase “PMS-y.”

Because it’s okay for men to have mood swings, but not women. If a man freaks out on someone, he’s stressed or dark. If a woman does it, PMS. No questions asked.

One book that managed to not only keep the lead female actually believable and made it so her resolution wasn’t a complete 180 of her former self is A Women Called Sage by DiAnn Mills. Sage is a bounty hunger in the post-Civil War west whose husband and unborn son were murdered. She returns to her Native American roots on a quest to find her family’s killers. She lives off the land, refuses help from anyone and won’t entertain the thought of the future. Revenge is all that matters to her. At the end, she finds life again, but still maintains what made her the capable woman she was in the beginning of the book. She’s learned lessons, grown, but her core is intact.

When reading books or watching movies that boost a “strong female character,” I compare that person to the supporting cast. What makes the rest of the cast “weak?” (If that is what they are considered or how it’s portrayed.) In the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich, Stephanie’s mother, Ellen, is a homemaker and spends her days cooking. Does this make her a weak female character? What about Ellen’s desire to see her daughter in a safer job with a husband who loves her? Ellen appears as a weaker character on the surface due to stereotypes, but if readers look beneath the surface, they will find a woman who holds down her home no matter what is going on.

Often it feels as if romance, parenting or a trip to a spa is seen as a negative character factor for woman. When a woman says, “I love you,” she’s suddenly cast aside. What is it about love, family and female habits that make someone weak?

Absolutely nothing.

In the quest to make more female appealing characters, some authors and filmmakers are taking the wrong exit. When creating a female character, make her a woman. Don’t ask, “What would a man do?” in a situation. “What would that character do?” is the better question. If she has a fear of drowning, odds are that she would try to find another way around river than swimming across.

It’s far too easy to make a male character, give him a women’s name and call it a day. That doesn’t work. It’s the old sheep in wolf’s clothing bit. Something doesn’t look or feel right. Whether writing for a book, movie, video game or TV show, it’s easy to trap yourself into a set of rules regarding what the female characters can and cannot do. Becoming trapped often hinders character development. A character grows during the writing process. Stories evolve. That’s something good writers know and embrace. Setting hard rules as to what can and cannot be done only limits the story and characters, female or male.

There’s no formula or character sheet that gives the exact recipe for a strong female character. Rather than mold them all from the same mold, let them grow and adapt into something real, not mass produced.

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Odd Star Wars-themed merchandise

“Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made.”

That hard truth was spoken by Yogurt (Mel Brooks) in Spaceballs. For those who haven’t seen the movie (and if you haven’t, do it), Yogurt is supposed to like Yoda. That is, if Yoda took his own image, put it on a variety of merchandise and sold it. The items he talks about include breakfast cereal, a doll and, of course, a flamethrower (“The kids love this one, he said).

Many of us have sunk our hard-earned dollars into various Star Wars products. We consumers have so much to choose from to show our love for the saga. Some collect LEGO sets, while other make costumes and buy prop replicas.

For everyone awesome Star Wars product out there, there’s a weird one on the shelves. From robot swimsuits to fuzzy wookie hoodies, these are some of the odd items available around the internet.

Think Geek released a Tauntaun sleeping bag, which is a combination of awesome and oddness. It’d be fun to have as a kid, but that eye will never stop looking at you.

Then we have the J-Box R2 sauce dispenser. Looking at it I have to wonder how hard it is to clean.

One of the more disturbing items is the C-3PO tape dispenser. Placement of the tape roll aside, why is he screaming?

Apologies. You can’t unlearn that image.

I admit, I’m not a zombie fan. That’s not why this zombie poster of Empire Strikes Back is weird. Look at Han and Leia. Enough said.

There’s really not much to say about the Lando Calrissian Disguise Kit. Is that a caterpillar on his nose? A bent cigar? Wouldn’t a cape be more appropriate?

Happy New Year, everyone!

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