[User Interface] Moving and Modifying Group Frames

Step 1:  Show party frames as raid frames.  Oh, excuse me, I mean “Operations Frames.”  At least that way it looks more grid-like, and your own frame also shows.

Step 2: Right click on the little “people” button on the top of your “operation frames” to bring down the “unlock” menu.

Step 3: Move that sucker wherever you want. Then you can right click on the little people again to get a menu to lock it back down.

Hopefully this will help with healing groups.

Follow Your Heart or Follow Orders

In the time I’ve been messing around in beta I’ve realized that what you are ordered to do does not always correspond with what side of the force you are trying to build. This presents players with some interesting choices in character development. If you are a by the book Republic Trooper who follows orders from your command like they are the word of God, you will at times come across issues that put you on different sides of the morality divide.

Sometimes you will do good.

For example let’s say that your commanding officer tells you to blow up this building, and there is solid evidence that a weapons cache is there that cannot be removed because of time limitations. You head out to blow up the cache only to find out there are a few human shields. The obvious light side choice is save the human shields. The standing orders is to destroy the weapon cache in a timely manner. Your character will have to decide which approach best suits their motivation. Do they care about doing good or bad, or care about the power of the Republic or Empire. Smugglers and Bounty Hunters have an additional wrinkle to this with their loose affiliation with the governing bodies. Your interests, your employer’s interests and your morality can create interesting priority hierarchies for you to sort out to figure out what you need to do.

Another wrinkle to this decision tree is balancing out what to do versus what your companion might think. If you know as a Bounty Hunter Mako doesn’t like you acting a certain way the decision landscape gets even more complicated. Do you keep acting bad and just plan to buy her affection after the fact? That is done at the expense of other things you could spend time or credits on.

And sometimes you will not.

I want to applaud Bioware’s writing team for creating these problems in a way where you can agonize over what to do for more than a few seconds, and give the decisions you make have impact on things that happen down the road. It really creates an immersive world, and makes players feel more attached to their character’s development than any MMO I can think of to date.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – A look at Beta

I was fortunate enough to be chosen to BETA test SW:TOR by BioWare/EA this weekend, and I wanted to give some feedback about my first 12 levels in the game. This is not intended to be a full game review, just some comments on things that stood out to me or struck me as amusing. These observations are based on my personal experiences during the Thanksgiving weekend Beta tests.

Some technical things to note – my computer does not have a new graphics card (It’s an NVIDEA 9800) and I’m running Vista 64 with 4 GB of RAM and a Dual Core processor that’s not terribly impressive these days. I prefer to run in windowed mode.

My Sith and her companion (The blue Twi'lek) in The Sith Stronghold

Before I even really get into this review let me say a few important things –

  • I’m sort of a giant Star Wars dork
  • I played Star Wars Galaxies (Pre-CU) and loved it
  • I’ve played a decent number of MMOs
  • I intend to roll a Republic Character at Launch and only rolled Sith to try out the other side of the fence first. I’m really glad I made this choice.

I’ve been keeping an eye on this game since it was announced and was overjoyed to find this week that I had a beta invite in my email. I had intended to wait until the launch (likening it to knowing your xmas gift before you open it), but my curiosity got the better of me. I rolled a Sith Warrior on the Cosmic Turbine server with my guild, the Church of Alvis and set out for blood, guts, and glory (and drinking).

Some TL;DR thoughts if you don’t have time to read the whole post –

  1. Being on Ventrillo (VOIP team chat) while playing the game makes it have a very MST3K feel
  2. You seem to get a lot of pants as rewards early on
  3. Sith really DO have more fun, but are also kind of dicks (duh)
  4. You develop a legitimate investment to the story
  5. The world actually feels pretty big
  6. Every class story really is different
  7. The story is actually something to look forward to instead of just clicking through
  8. The world is filled with fun touches (like the customs droid that scans you on arrival at ports)
  9. The game was fun, immerse, hilarious, and I was shocked with how engaged I was with the story
  10. I really dig the companion system
  11. I recommend giving the game a try come Dec 20th!

Make the right choice... or your companion will judge you

Now I don’t normally play Melee DPS characters, but the allure of a light-saber combined with cinematic graceful combat couldn’t keep me away. I went with a human female toon, and was shocked how interested I was in the story. Something we’ve read a lot of (those of you who have also been fans of the game before it was even out) is that storytelling plays a huge part of the game. The questing system is engaging and makes you feel not only a part of the world, but pretty epic in the middle of it.

They really aren’t kidding when they say storytelling is centric to the game. Maybe it was the fact that it was star wars, maybe it’s the fact that it’s a modern looking world, but for whatever reason I actually cared about my characters choices and actions. Now I’m generally an RPG fan aready (Final Fantasy, etc) but in most MMOs I can’t be bothered to even read the NPC’s name. However I loved seeing what my character was gong to say. The Sith were snarky and spunky, and I loved it.

Every single conversation offers entertaining and clever comments that are clearly intended for a wide variety of audiences with a PG-13 slant. The characters you interact with are three dimensional and illicit emotional responses. Perhaps I was moved because of the good voice acting, or perhaps I just wanted to see what my toon was going to say based on my choice. Whatever the case, I dig the quest system which is a first for me.

However it’s not just questing that makes a game. Environment, UI, Combat, and “playability” factor in as well, making a whole experience. I took some shots of the various environments I encountered (around level 10) to try and show some of the flavor in the various environments.

More Light-sabers more often

A moment of peace watching the space traffic before I head back to evil--doing

This was while I was strolling along slaughtering rebel scum

Darth Baras loves twinkies

The game moves back and forth between on world assignments and on ship or more “base” oriented assignments offering a variety of colors, lighting, creatures, and situations that keep things moving. I was happy to see that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t stuck in a noobie shelter zone for too long. There was a sense of advancement that was fairly constant and despite what I’d consider slow XP progression, I still felt like I was making progress. In fact, I rarely looked at my XP bar. (Shocking!)

One of the other things I really appreciated about this game was the variety in costuming, body types and voices. (The Sith are from the UK and the folks on Hutta appear to be from New York). The variety really shines in group instances.

In particular, I was struck by Darth Baras (pictured right) and one of the other earlier NPCs (the old woman). So often in MMOs we see perfect specimens of humanity (and other made up races). It’s nice to see some characters who do not fit into the modern model of fitness and sex appeal. Darth Baras over there, clearly likes his Melons and Sugar Dumplings and Cu-pa stew. He also seems to have a whiskey flask on his belt, but that’s probably just my interpretation. You’ll also notice that he has a sort of steampunk mask on. His voice actor reflects that as well. I just really liked the attention to these sorts of details in the game – not everything is cookie cutter. The character himself is overconfident but still engaging.

I haven’t completed my time as his apprentice, but I’m looking forward to see what other horrible things he will ask my Sith to do.

Either way – I applaud the fact that Bioware was willing to use more realistic body types, even if it means tubby villains. At least I know I can have a toon model that’s got “a little junk in the trunk”. (Can’t take credit for that quote, my guildie noted that first).

One of the other things that struck me is how damn useful my companion is. You get your first companion around level 10 or so (give or take, each class is different). She’s pictured above (the blue Twi’lek). Companions serve a variety of functions –

  • Comic Relief
  • Making me feel less alone at night
  • Crafting
  • Gathering things
  • Doing my bidding
  • Having someone else to be my Barbie doll.
  • Apparently doing more damage then me in combat..

The holo-trees were a nice touch

When you get your first companion through the story you may be struck with how mouthy they are (which makes me smile) but I loved how useful they are as well. They will sell your useless (gray) gear as well as do your crafting for you. This really speaks to my micro-management needs in an MMO. You can have up to 5 companions all filling various functions in combat – but you can only bring one of them with you at a time. The others remain on your ship (which I haven’t gotten yet) to fulfill “crew” duties (Like making me rum and cokes). They can be geared individually, and you can have relationships with them beyond just making them suffer occasionally. Though that really is it’s own reward.

You can train up your crafting skills just like any other MMO, but you don’t have to slave in front of a console for hours, instead you have crew to do that for you! They wander off when sent on missions and come back to you after an allotted amount of time. Just don’t send them off before you get into combat…

Some of the other features I’ve enjoyed are the instanced dungeons. I got to do what they call a “Flashpoint” today, and was pleased to find that depending on what your group chooses to do will determine the course of the event. This makes instances interesting and replayable. We did ours twice, and there was some different loot for both choices. The flashpoint was actually a lot of fun and the story was interesting both times.

Add a friend (as long as they didn't wipe your party)

One of the other neat features was the ability to add group members as friends at the end of the instance. I thought this was a really smart touch. Sometimes you meet good people in PUGs (Pick up groups) that you may want to group with later. This feature is just plain handy.

I love thoughtful implementations like this. It’s smart in a world where PUGs are a reality for most group events.

One of the other features I found handy included the map that became see through as soon as you moved, and the fact that the map would tell you if your quest hand-in was upstairs or on that level. In a modern world, stairs are a huge part of the layout… so this was a thoughtful touch. (This is not pictured in this post.)

I also liked the binding system. Instead of binding in one place you are bound at all of the locations that you have clicked in that zone. Quick Transportation is available (on a cool down) to any of them in that zone. There are also Taxis that will move you from one point to another which was similar to most of the other transpo systems common in MMOs.

OMG, where am I going?

One of the other things I enjoyed was the helpful mini map which not only told me my local time, but it also let me know how bad the lag was, and where my quest objectives were. This just made things a little less painful for me. Plus it was again – just convenient and smart. Now don’t get me wrong the UI is not perfect – I want to be able to customize my bars and move things around till my hearts content, but for a beta I was pretty satisfied with the additions they had put in. I’m really hoping that there are opportunities for add ons (via curse) because I have really had a hard time determining what my DPS is.

There’s also a lot of room for macros and things like that (for instance when I send off my companion on an errand). The game is still clearly in BETA but it seems like the amount of feedback bioware has gathered through the course of the betas will be valuable. Overall though, it’s probably the most polished pre=launch games I’ve played.

Joun and Clam helping with the the Flashpoint

While I tried to take some videos of combat, I wasn’t really happy with how my computer rendered it – but what I can say is that it feels epic, and that the moves (for the Sith at least) are fluid and graceful, and everything feels exciting. It was however, pretty hard to keep track of the 4 characters in the Flashpoint, but that may have more to do with my graphics card then anything else. It’s clear I need to learn more about my class and how to effectively dish out the damage.

Yes, there's a guy in carbonite back there

For those looking at playing the game come launch – there are things in the game that some seasoned MMO fans will question at first, but my advice isto give it 5-10 levels at least, the game has a lot to offer both old and new players to the genre. Bioware has clearly made some strides that I think will make a difference for MMOs to come. All in all I’m really excited to play the actual game, as well as get to see the stories for the light side. Plus it helps that I have an awesome guild to look forward to playing with!

I’m really glad I got my two days of PTO off for launch (Which is December 20th). Special thanks to – The Church of Alvis, Jounville, Gandalfini, HappyClam, Furiel, and the rest of the Cosmic Turbine server!

This post is thanks to the lifted NDA from Star Wars: The Old Republic.

The Bad Boys and Babes of Beta

NDA lifted, and with it we have a lot of Alvians who have gotten into not just the weekend beta, but the normal beta program. Needless to say we are very grateful to Bioware for this opportunity to play around, help test, and get a feel for game systems before we actually launch.

It was decided that we would roll a beta Sith guild so as not to spoil the Republic stories for ourselves before we ran them with our live game mains and alts. Since we are rolling Sith, the general consensus is to sow our royally evil oats. For my part I decided to roll Jounvillain the Rattataki Bounty Hunter. He has very very few charitable bones in his body. The priority list goes credits, thrill of killing, other stuff I imagine.


I'm the bad thing that happens to good people.

I’m not the only one breaking bad. On thursday Happyclam, Furiel, Yaj, and myself ran the Black Talon Flashpoint and the general game we seemed to be playing was, “Who can be the biggest jerk?”. It was a lot of fun. I’m really curious to see if the ability to reform into fine upstanding beings on the light side of the force will happen after our vacation in depravity.

The most surprising check to my evil inclinations though, wasn’t what my fellow guildies were doing, but rather how my first, and as of yet only, companion responded to me choosing evil acts. Mako was not happy with my desire to kill a Republic Scientist for a bounty, and that led me to earn my first light side points. Oh the horror.

What ways have you been going against your launch intentions?

Early Details on the Legacy System

Throughout the history of SWTOR there has been a rumor of the existence of a Legacy System. No one was sure whether it really existed, was something else taken out of context from a Dev misspeak, or the flights of fancy of fanbois. It was by all intents and purposes the Area 51 of the SWTOR development cycle. Yesterday that changed with a post from James Ohlen which required a bit of clarification from Damion Schubert and Allison Berryman.


James Ohlen started it with this:

Hey Everyone,

This build has our first iteration of the Legacy System! At its core the Legacy system is about allowing players to create a family tree of characters. Family is pretty important to the Star Wars universe, with the Skywalker family having one of the most interesting dynamics in movie history. This version is just the foundational components that we will use to build upon in the future. Here are the features of this iteration:

  • Once your character has completed their Chapter 1 storyline, they will be able to choose aLegacy Last Name. This Legacy Last Name must be unique and is shared across all characters on that server – so choose carefully!
  • Once you have unlocked your Legacy, any and all characters on that server will now contribute to that player’s Legacy Experience Points. Much like normal experience points, when you reach certain Legacy thresholds, you will increase your Legacy Level.

We already have plans for how we will expand the functionality of the Legacy System in one of our major post-ship patches.



This will include being able to shape your Legacy’s family tree, and give you a reward for all those Legacy Levels.

We look forward to reading your feedback on the Legacy System!



–James Ohlen

Damion Shubert clarified it with 

You can choose to do one of the following:
– Display your legacy name as your last name (“Raiel Firewalker”)
– Display your legacy name below your name

The Firewalker Legacy

– or choose to hide it altogether. This choice can differ per character.




These explanations of the Legacy System are obviously not the Legacy System in total, but it has provoked a large backlash over the implementation. The complaints typically fall into a few main themes.

Not All My Characters Have the Same Last Name

The Legacy System seems to promote people forming families within their alts. This works for some people like myself who have their toons being within the same family. But there are plenty of people who want different unrelated characters who would have different surnames. This is especially rue for people playing characters on different factions of different species. Why a Human, a Sith Pureblood, and a Chiss would all share one name ignores cultural naming conventions. Even for people playing the same species and same faction may want to have familial separation from each other.



What if Someone Takes my Surname?

With the requirement that you need a character that is through the first Act (approx level 28-32ish), many people worry about having their desired surname taken by someone who is power leveling through the story instead of allowing the story to progress organically. It is reasonable to expect common Sci-Fi sounding names to grabbed early. Things like Strife, Windrunner, or Starfire sound very Star War-sy and will probably be in the first wave on all servers to be taken.

This has a couple ramifications. First it gives people an incentive to come up with a unique name which is probably a good things. Second is that it will push some people to play the game other than they would have otherwise done with the intention of getting their desired surname first.

I Want to Have the Same Surname as My Wife or Brother

There is a sizable group of players expressing a desire to have their real life families, or friends to form an in game family. This seems pretty reasonable. If for Role Play reasons you and your significant other want to have the same family name, the Legacy System as it currently is set up would impede the ability for people to do that. Either they would have to find similar spellings like Starfire and Starfirre or use accent marks to replicate the name.



Community solutions seem to revolve mostly around the idea of decoupling surnames with Legacy names and they often cite the following example.

Jacen Solo
The Skywalker Legacy

It allows players to choose whatever last name they want, and even have the same last name as other players, but allows the Legacy to be independent. Personally I’m a bigger fan of this than the proposed implementation. I would like to have a non-unique last name starting at level one instead of wondering until level 30 if someone took my last name. And it makes the Legacy feel more like a clan with varied stories in it.

I am curious though what other features the Legacy system has in store for us. People need to remember that this is just one feature of a much larger system.

Reconciliation of the Teachings of Alvis and the Jedi Code

Editor note: This article is an attempt to mesh the lore of the Star Wars Universe with the lore of the Alvian Church.

Author Note: (I can’t take all the credit for this, a lot of it involves a thread of discussion as well as input from other Alvians as well, particularly Furiel. This is just my take on it.)

“There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no death, there is the Force. “

—The Jedi Code (Based on the meditations of Odan-Urr)

Most Jedi within the order throughout history have argued that the Jedi Code, in and of itself – is complete and final, and requires no further clarification. Sadly, this dogmatic belief lies in thousands
of years of passing down the teachings through Knight to Padawan, with little questioning. It is true, questioning the will of the Force as it relates to the Jedi Code does in fact, go against certain Jedi traditions. Traditions and rituals were set into place to facilitate the learning process of the force and the training of Force-sensitive individuals throughout the ages. However, one inevitably realizes that tradition and rituals cannot destroy ignorance, as these concepts are not mutually exclusive. The Force is
an ever-unraveling truth which ever grows, evolves and changes fates of sentient species, on an ongoing basis, and throughout time immemorial.

Further meditation on the Force, beyond the Jedi Code itself lends itself to a complex unraveling of many layers of philosophical truths. Black and white areas of philosophical arguments can occasionally disappear, and one can occasionally glimpse into deeper layers of the will of the Force. To accept a set of philosophical precepts as final betrays the level of realization of the Jedi, as the Force is ever-changing and evolving.

Throughout history of the galaxy, there have been many Jedi who have been pioneers in their own right. Questioning dogmatic beliefs and searching through years of unquestioned traditions, they have
carefully been exposed to more subtler aspects of the Force. And while many experts have agreed that the Light Side is less seductive and leads to greater peace, many Jedi have confronted the Dark Side and through their attempts of learning, gained some degree of control without being completely consumed by it. Darth Revan, Luke Skywalker, Mace Windu are a few within recorded history, as examples.

Another undocumented account was handed down through word of mouth and widely debated was through the teachings of Alvis. Historians have debated whether or not he was truly Force-Sensitive and the impact his teachings have had on the Jedi Code. Many historians have sadly written off his teachings as the ramblings of a drunken sociopath. There are a few Alvian purists however, who have learned to
embrace his teachings and incorporate them as their own moral code. A very small but growing sect within the Jedi Order also embrace these teachings and have reconciled them to a degree where they are one and the same. They are sometimes secretive of their devotions, sometimes overt, and most of the times unpredictable, but all share in their unwavering adherence to his supreme principles of drunkenness and vengeance.

The key to understanding the Jedi Code as it relates to Alvis’s teachings, is balance. Balancing the will of the force, which occasionally warrants vengeance.

The biggest thing that most people overlook about Alvian vengeance is that Alvis’s vengeance is JUST. And that sense of justice is where both the Jedi Code and the Alvian Code merge. Being drunk and
violent can be fun, but the vengeance as Alvians do is payback to those who have done injustices to the will of the force in and of itself. And it is worth mentioning those injustices do not always materialize as injustices ones done to devotees of Alvis, but also to those who cannot exact said revenge themselves. Thus the Jedi uphold this part and protect the will of the force, in and of itself.

So ultimately, Alvian Jedi may be viewed as more extreme and violent than a typical, run of the mill Jedi, they do share a strong belief in righteousness and justice, be it their own unique distinct brand of
justice, and the Jedi order does secretly turn a blind eye to those who would do so as having Alvians on their side would be viewed as an asset, especially in times of injustice as was the case when the Republic was under the invasion of the Sith.

Jedi historians speak rumors of an ancient Jedi prophecy, which originally stated that Alvis’s drunkenness and revenge will eventually bring balance to the force. The influence of alcohol on
midichlorians has been noted as miraculous as it agitates the cells within a receptive mind and allows them for a furious and tempestuous rage, often misinterpreted as violence. The true nature of alcohol
on midichlorians…is Revenge.

Thus spake Alvis.

Dood Fromeianna is a Priest for the Church of Alvis.

Ghosts From MMOs Past

Games always get compared to other games. Checkers and chess get compared since both are played on board with 64 squares of alternating colors. Hearts, Bridge, and Spades get compared to each other as they are four player card games involving tricks. So it is natural that Star Wars the Old Republic is going to be compared to other MMOS. For SWTOR there are two that will linger around for comparison for a long while after launch. First is Star Wars Galaxies and the second it World of Warcraft. The interesting thing to speculate on is what lessons Bioware has taken from these two games.

Lessons from Star Wars Galaxies

The comparisons are easy to draw. Both are part of the same universe. Both are MMORPGs. Both have huge expectations at launch about their ability to change the genre. But Galaxies has plenty of lessons I hope Bioware has taken to heart and employed in their game. First is that having a finished product matters. Talk to anyone who played SWG at launch and they can no doubt tell you stories about having to find work-arounds for various issues of gameplay that weren’t fully tested and fixed before launched. For crafting a common one was having to be very careful with how much money you put in your harvesters because if you screwed up you could lose a lot of credits or your harvester. It was a very careful game of balance. In combat things that targeted the mind bar were generally viewed as the best so there was a whole slew of flavor of the month templates all focusing on getting the biggest bang for your buck on attacking the mind pool stat of mobs and other players.

But after the bugs and the slow pace by which SOE fixed them, there is a lesson about content. SWG was a great game for sandbox type players, and as far as a player driven economy there are few that are in the same league as SWG. But there were a lot of Star Wars fans who came in expecting a story, and were disappointed in the lack of things to provide the Star Wars experience. MMOs tend to plot somewhere on the spectrum of pure sandbox to pure theme park. Sandbox is about world building and interaction while theme park is go see the sights everyone else has seen, get your digital “I slayed the rancor at Jabba’s Palace and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” badge. I think SWG was too sandbox for many Star Wars fans who were used to games providing a story for them. The question that pops up for me is whether an MMO with an established lore from another source (movie or book) can really be a sandbox MMO? I’d venture to guess they have to err on the side of themepark, or you get the fan base, that came to you because they love the source, disappointed at the lack of things to do.

Finally the last major lesson from SWG is the importance of community. SWG veterans wear that fact like a badge of pride. They look at less buggy games and think, “They don’t know the horrors I’ve seen.” Despite the lack of content, or maybe because of it, the players of SWG bonded and formed a real and honest to goodness online community. The fact that Alvis is still together after 8 years is a testament to that. And we are just one of many SWG guilds reforming for SWTOR. But with the development of a solid community, you also have to communicate and work with that community. Many SWG vets left at the launch of the NGE in 2005 because they saw the NGE as a betrayal of the trust the community had put into the developers. I sometimes wonder if the NGE had been the game that was there at launch if people would have liked it better. Ultimately we don’t know, but we do know that players who had invested time and effort into their characters over two and a half years felt like they suddenly didn’t have the same game anymore. And the developers lack of communication leading up to it was a major scandal.

So to sum up Star Wars Galaxies shows Bioware that you have to have a mostly bug free game at launch, you have to have things for people to do to get their immersion, and you have to work with your community.


Lessons from World of Warcraft

For as much as people think that Star Wars should be compared to Galaxies, it is going to be compared more to World of Warcraft. Since its rocky launch in 2004 WoW has grown into the 8 ton gorilla in the MMO market. In fact WoW’s success has had some industry commentators muse that they crowd out other games to the detriment of the genre as a whole. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I can say that they definitely raised the bar of what players expect from an MMO.

Customer Service is important. The rocky launch had some people not able to play for days or even weeks at a time. Blizzard responded to their screw ups with, you missed playtime we’ll give you playtime. That was something that wasn’t exactly common back in 2004. But since then the Blizzard customer service has been rather good, even accommodating to players. When accounts were hacked by gold farmers, Blizzard generally was pretty quick to get the player “whole” again. My wife’s account got hacked, and she missed a raid, but overall it was a decent experience. People who were hacked multiple times, refusing to get an authenticator, were still made whole time and time again despite the stern lecture on account security from customer service.

Polish goes a long way. Personally I started playing WoW one year into its life span. So I don’t know first hand about the rocky experiences, but I do know that in November 2005 when I started playing I was blown away by the fact you never had to find a workaround for doing what should be routine activities for your class or profession. Since then the polish has gotten better with each expansion to the point where looking back at Vanilla WoW I’m amazed that we put up with some of the dumb quests we had to put up with. QA clearly matters and if you don’t have serious or widespread problems with a patch or an expansion people tend to be more patient about waiting for the next bit.

You will have casual and hardcore players and you can’t ignore either. Blizzard for all of their polish has not been without fault in their run. The original raids were a nightmare to organize with forty people and the number of people who saw Naxrxamas in Vanilla was a tiny portion of the population. Their initial solution to that was to make raids smaller and so the Burning Crusade was more accessible for the first tier, but the higher level dungeons weren’t seen by many people either so their expansions chief bad guy most people hadn’t seen at all. Wrath of the Lich King seemed to find the solution by making the villain pop up all over the place and it was widely regarded as a pretty great expansion. It took time, but Blizzard seems to have found a way to give casuals a way to see almost all the content made, but still giving the hardcore the ability to get shiny toys for their accomplishments.

Will Bioware Learn These Lessons?

It is impossible for me to know for sure if Bioware has learned the right lessons from their MMO ancestors, but we have a lot of reason to suspect that they have.

Bioware enjoys a reputation among game developers that is top notch. When you ask most gamers what Bioware, Blizzard, and Valve have in common, the response is usually something to the effect of “They will not release a product until it is ready”. It is amazing what kind of leeway gamers will give developers with that kind of reputation. Most of Alvis is very very eager to get their hands onto this game. We read about it, we obsess over the latest tidbit said at a con or a Friday update. But almost everyone I’ve talked to has said something to the effect of “I’d rather wait for a finished game, than pay to beta test a broken game.” Bioware has been very clear that they want to make sure that launch goes smoothly, that the game is complete, that it runs well, and that the bugs are gone before 12/20/2011. Their reputation is on the line and they know it.

The second main lesson revolves around content. Since they announced the game they have gone on and on about how they are really giving “story” the center stage in this mmorpg. If they needed a tag line it would be something to the effect of “SWTOR: Putting the RPG back in MMORPG”. Podcasters have joked “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently this game has story.” If they pull this off it will be a new bar for the genre in a significant way. I’ve been playing WoW for almost 6 years and despite killing the Lich King, and seeing most end game content for years now, I never really knew why we were doing any of the things we were doing. I mean I guess that guy in that castle/cave/palace is a bad person, and he needs to be stopped, but I was in it for the game play not the story. If Bioware has succeeded it will add a whole depth to my game playing experience in that, not only will I do things because I like the game play, but I genuinely care about solving story problems. That has the potential to up the genre bar the same way WoW did.

The final lesson is about community and communication with the segments of your player base, and this is the part we can’t know for sure for a while. Ideally Bioware has gotten the resources lined up and the ability to help customers feel like the company values their subscription. And hopefully Bioware has fun activities for the whole spectrum of players. PvPers, raiders, crafters, socialites, and altaholics. If they do, then the player base can settle as a solid community. There are many promising indications this is already happening. Devs are very interactive already with players. They work with fansites, blogs ,and podcasts on a regular basis. They seem to get that people are excited, and that working with the community goes a long way towards having a lasting community.

Bioware has had lots of tests thrown its way. It has to prove it can be a viable game and succeed where a whole list of other MMOs have failed. They have the potential, they seem to be learning from other people’s mistakes. If they live up to their own expectations they could emerge out of SWG and WoW’s shadows and become a giant of their own.

The Case for Surnames

At Comic-Con the following exchange took place during a Q&A:

jorussher asks: Will our characters be able to have surnames?



James Ohlen: No answer at this time.

This comes from this thread.

I personally believe Bioware should allow players to have Surnames. I hope to make the convincing case here.

Bioware has bet on and doubled down about their intent on making story matter. They have bolstered this with voiced acting to all quests, drawing us away from skip reading go find my rats to kill. They have released three cinematic trailers tracing a major character over significant parts of his life. Clearly they care about story and immersion.

They have also wanted to make your story feel epic and like it belongs in the Star Wars universe. They have made eight class quests guiding you from level one to level fifty providing plot elements and twists along the way. They have promoted this with eight class trailers.

With all this focus on creating an epic Star Wars story, they need to touch on one of the simplest tools at their disposal, the creation of a Star Wars name.

When you ask people to name who the characters are in Star Wars some of the names that come to mind quickly are Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett. Something you will notice is each and every one of them has a Surname. While I will quickly concede that there are those without surnames such as Chewbacca, Wicket, Yoda, Palpatine, R2D2, C3PO, or Jabba the Hutt, it should be noted that most characters have family names, and those surnames can be very important for their stories.

The main story of the original trilogy follows the rise of Luke Skywalker on his journey to become a Jedi Knight like his father before him. He also learns about his relationship to Leia. Family clearly matters.

In the prequels family matter again with Anakin dealing with the loss of his mother Shimi Skywalker. Also he has to deal with his secret marriage to Padme. In addition we see a subplot where Jango Fett has a clone made to be his son, and we see young Boba dealing with the loss of his father to the Jedi forging his path in the future. In the novella Boba Fett: A Practical Man you see this loss really does a mental number on Boba Fett.

So clearly in Star Wars, families matter. They matter a great deal. So Bioware in wanting to create an epic story for players that meets the Star Wars ought to allow players to have that tool to expand and develop their characters. Family dynamics can allow for some really fun role play opportunities. For example in SWG players were allowed to have surnames and I chose to make an alt who was my main’s father. Jounville Blackferne was young, charismatic, and generally optimistic. Arillius Blackferne by contrast was old, balding, had wrinkles, and was generally grizzled.

Not all players will take the surname option. Arrican and Furiel both were single named players who were fine with that. Others just used the last name for a little flair but nothing else.

I hope Bioware makes the smart decision and allows players to have a surname as part of character creation. It fits the lore, it helps make the stories players create better, and can be a lot of fun all around.

Star Wars the Old Republic: Deceived Book Review

The key figure in the three cinematic trailers they have released for the game has been Darth Malgus. From the first time we saw him in the Deceived trailer we realized he is a force to be reckoned with.


What the novel does is flush him out more than just a force of rage slaughtering Jedi left and right.

For anyone yet to read the book

and wanting to avoid spoilers

please  stop reading now.

Everyone else follow past the


Continue reading

Loot Containers: The End of Loot Drama?

‘Loot containers’ (name is still a work in progress!) do indeed exist and are designed to alleviate the frustration some feel around high-level loot drops.

As it’s currently implemented, at the end of a key encounter within an Operation, upon looting a high-level opponent, everyone in the Operations group will get an individual container which has a chance to give you a random piece of loot that’s specific to your class. It could be part of an armor set, a weapon, and so on. If you don’t get loot, you’ll get commendations which can be used to purchase gear.

Please note, this feature is currently in Game Testing and may well be modified before launch. -Stephen Reid

A long standing problem in MMOs is “who gets the loot?” I’ve seen loads of drama and read about worse drama in six years of playing World of Warcraft all on answering that exact question. There are a ton of different ways to answer the question but every one has their advantages and disadvantages. In a flashpoint (or small group instance) it is generally pretty easy to tell who a specific piece of gear is intended for and who in the group benefits most from it. But in Operations (8 or 16 man ‘raid groups’) that question becomes more difficult as you will likely have multiple people who could use a specific piece of gear.

Bioware has taken what I think is an interesting step in answering the loot question. They have essentially said “every plays, everybody wins”. This is good in many cases, but could be bad in other. I’d like to quickly outline what I see as the benefits and the potential harms.

There is not a question of who gets what. Operation Leaders cannot play favorites because everyone essentially has a grab bag and the random number generator is deciding who gets what, not a loot system.

Since your loot container is tied to your class, any loot that drops will be class appropriate. It may not be your spec, or might be a duplicate of what you have, but it won’t be like an operation of Jedi Knights, Consulars, and Troopers finds themselves with Smuggler drops they can’t use.

Even if you get no gear, you still get something. The commendations that drop are an in game currency that can be exchanged for gear. So for every loot container you get where there aren’t pants, you still get something that when saved up will go towards new pants, or armor or a weapon.

Don’t need an external system for tracking and allocating loot. There are a lot of possible loot systems people use in World of Warcraft, and most require some addon or offline list/spreadsheet to figure out who can get loot. A loot container gets rid of the need for that since everyone is on their own loot path.

The drawbacks I see are relatively few and mostly can be mitigated if gear can be traded. Let’s assume that what is provided in a loot container is bound to the owner of that loot container. There are operations I’ve been on that are farm nights. And what farm nights are really good at is helping to quickly gear some one up so they are ready for even more difficult operations in the future. For example if a Trooper who was slow to level, or had to take a few month break from the game comes to a farm night, then no matter what trooper gear dropped from a boss, they could be designated to get it. This would likely happen since all other troopers would likely already have that gear and not want it.

Another drawback is while loot containers are class specific, it isn’t necessarily spec or advanced class specific. If all I care about is tanking, DPS boots do me no good. But Furiel will want DPS boots and if the loot is linked to me and I can’t trade it, we are at a net loss.

Both of these drawbacks I think are relatively minor, and easily negated if Bioware allows for Operation members to trade loot containers within a certain time limit from opening.