ahoodedfigure's forum posts

#1 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

Been playing SWTOR a lot in the run up to our subscription expiring. I was given a 3 month subscription as a Christmas gift from my employer, and had started up after that employer had been dissolved by a rather familiar publishing house. For a good portion of that subscription I wound up not playing at all; my other half was more involved than I was. Toward the end though, I guess I realized I wasn't going to be playing after the sub, at least unless we decided to come back later, so I am pushing to get my Bounty Hunter to level 50 in the time I have left.

Then comes the news, long foreseen, about SWTOR clipping on a free-to-play model. From what I understand, this will include pretty much all the stuff that I actually enjoy in the game. The stories, the conversations, the different narrative paths for each of the classes seem to all be included. They will naturally try to limit exposure to these things somehow, the details aren't clear (and maybe they're still working out the details) but to me it seems like my playing style may not be affected much at all. Which is a bit crazy, but I guess my profile may be exactly the kind of person they're trying to keep around.

There are limitations to SWTOR that, when you compare it to the KOTOR games, are a bit pronounced, but if your primary goal is to experience a Better Star Wars, like KOTOR allowed for many of us, it's good. I wish I could say I love it, but I'm not sure it's precisely my kind of game. I still love exploring environments to find hidden objects, I like advancing the class stories, and I actually engage in some multiplayer, which I usually don't do. The community is in general fairly helpful, so I've managed not to enrage anyone as I bumbled through Flashpoints I hadn't seen before (Flashpoints are fast-paced mini stories used to get better items, quick alignment gains and things called social points). When I got to about level 25 I started to burn out, partly because I felt like the game was merely adding to my list of chores rather than giving me a new compounding of interesting things. It may be the pressure of trying to finish up, but that doesn't bother me much anymore, and I'm not very close to level 50, and a planet away from finishing my class story.

Understanding the system and what it has to offer helped me appreciate what there was. I'd avoided flashpoints for a while because of their multiplayer component; they still give me performance anxiety in a way that grouping up to do a mission rarely does, in part because they often involve more puzzle combat and prior knowledge of the scenario to optimize play. But with flashpoints you get a good chunk of interesting mini-plots, like about the fate of that murderous HK droid, Darth Revan, and the Exile from the KOTOR games. Many of the characters we recognize from the old games are referenced, and I think that's where the game tends to be more fun. Some of the very basic side quests in the main game tend to be a bit un-heroic, and the Imperial side pushes distasteful for me, often being about murdering the locals. Still, what I do appreciate is that, thematically, the Republic is filled with its own corruption and dissent, and the shades of gray that help enrich what is admittedly a thin universe is much appreciated. My Bounty Hunter is about as good-aligned as you can be for any character class, although I do occasionally punch jerks in the face and sass Sith lords.

If I was a big fan of SWTOR this might read more like an advertisement, but I still feel that a lot of my game-engine choices are merely nuanced versions of the same things. My current build means I'm strong in defense, but can get higher critical damage (important because I get automatic criticals on railgun blasts). Yet when I'm modding my equipment I feel like I'm getting only slightly better, rather than a big leap in functionality that you'd feel in the KOTOR games when you uncover a goofy looking but very useful pair of goggles. Appearance is a lot more important to the designers of SWTOR, although that's a bit of a relief. You can often have a certain look translate all the way up to level 50 without it changing if you don't want it to, if you have gear that can be modded. I still wish the mods were more like in the old games... here they're just extra ways to push stats in a certain direction.

Those who enjoyed how skills were used in KOTOR will find SWTOR's approach to be very different, often geared more toward creating better-than-level gear for yourself and your companions, and your companions don't really contribute to your three chosen skills except in crafting; in the field, you can sometimes access objects if you have the right skill, but your companions share your skills with you, rather than contributing unique, contrasting abilities. They're primarily there to provide combat and story stuff.

The companions are definitely spice in the mix, and it's always nice to hear what a new character has to say about an old place, although I find I run into the same problem I have with most Bioware games in this regard, since I CAN'T have all my companions with me at once, I wind up just wondering what the others would have said. Despite my being better at the game, and probably capable of racing through it on a replay to hear what one character would say in a situation, I don't think I'll play through as the same class too often. The companions are also fairly contained within the game system. Sure, there may be lasting story consequences for a given character, but you will always have access to them; they're too integral to your ability to make stuff, to have a fling, or to guard your back when you're on a mission. They're less-than-characters in that way, always subordinate to the main character's progress. Very versatile, very flavorful pieces of equipment.

And every time in the story they reference something I specifically chose it's great, but more often than not it's a very Bioware-level of narrative control, with dialog options leading to the same result (and some voiced dialog repeating itself) except for the major decision gates. There ARE references to what you've done later, though the gameplay impact of these specifics is usually not terribly pronounced. And because it's a shared universe, the turrets you blow up regenerate after a while, the caged prisoners you DON'T free by the time your quota is filled are still stuck there, monsters pop back into existence (and so do treasure chests) if you wait long enough. The encapsulated stories feel final enough, but the game feels more permanent than your choices do. You have to already be enjoying the story for its own sake, I think, rather than testing the limits of its reality, because it's pretty clear this game is more about experiencing things within a relatively versatile game engine than having a strong narrative where unpredictable and devastating things can happen.

What I do get out of it is the grandeur of a given location, the wealth of little details, and the sense of ownership over my character. I DON'T miss KOTOR's repetition in terms of environments and NPC designs; SWTOR is thankfully leagues more varied. So much so that it's frankly a bit weird to see others' characters of the same class and sex speaking with the same voice as mine, since it feels like only MY character should be using that voice. I like the stories for the most part, even the ones that feel a bit rote are still fun to follow through to the end, though, like I did with the Jedi Consular, I just watched someone else play (who explored nearly every dialog option before committing). Watching someone else play, I also get a sense that the battles are often quite dynamic and interesting to watch in a way that you're not always aware if you're busy pressing buttons. The game is quite generous, flaws and all, and it helps me to appreciate it even when it annoys me.

I do think this game is unfairly maligned, probably because of its initially reported price tag. Now that it's going to be open to whoever wants to try it, I guess it'll live or die on its own merits as a game and an experience, which to me seems fair. When the game's machinery are laid bare it can feel a bit rough to continue, especially if you're not into the environments or the story. About halfway through my character's advancement I felt pressured to always have the best equipment and to jump through a bunch of hoops to do it. Some of the criticisms of SWTOR are justified, in that I still feel like the time it takes to do something is stretched with less interesting bits in a way that the KOTOR games didn't have to worry about. I do miss that dynamic element at times, though in other ways I feel like it's an incremental improvement of KOTOR, especially how dialog is handled.

As far as my own SWTOR experience I got over the hump, I guess. I'm enjoying it enough to keep playing now that the mechanisms are clearer to me. And now that what is apparently ALL of the stuff that I enjoy is going to be free, I guess I might still stick around even if I don't manage to finish my Bounty Hunter's story before the subscription lapses.

It DOES help to have people to play alongside, whether it's a casual meet-up or people you know well, and my experience was probably better for that. As much as it supports single player play, it's more fun with others. There's something about waiting to see if your group will make light-side or dark-side choices in a flashpoint that is still suspenseful, even if you've done it a bunch of times already. Though there's always the occasional asshole, people are willing to explain stuff and tell you the best way to do things even if you're not in a group with them, which makes learning the system a bit easier for people like me who prefer to be told what needs to be done rather than read about it or hope that a random internet site knows what it's talking about.

I'll go back to playing now. Maybe in a few days I'll be able to say whether or not the Bounty Hunter's story had a satisfying conclusion...

Any questions about the game, or criticisms of and reflections on your own experiences, are welcome.

#2 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

@fisk0: Ah, it was manufactured in Denmark. Seems like it hopped over whoever was in charge of translation :) I wonder if they were thinking at the time "wow, that was easy!" Great find, thanks :)

#3 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

@EquitasInvictus: I'm a fan of Roman history, so that's a possibility. What I more meant was that the political backlash is less likely the further back in time you go. So you can have parallels in Rome without people even noticing, but when you touch on more recent history it's harder to disentangle yourself and just have an interesting simulation, which probably seeps into the design choices, making optimal paths or idealized depictions... but maybe plain old war board games are the only games that tend to be truly dispassionate about their subject (and even then I suspect some heavy bias in a lot of cases).

#4 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

@ZombiePie: I didn't really know about the back story until after I'd played. I find the idea of creating a monster of sorts and having it have a life of its own intellectually fascinating, but I don't think it would have added to the experience at all. Makes me wonder if folkloric myths are a reflection of the earliest kinds of memes, where something just resonated and spread organically between people.

@EquitasInvictus: One thing that I felt absolutely didn't work for me was the scrawled pages themselves. The creature and my relationship (running, mostly) with that character was central to the experience, but the pages felt... well, they're really hard to do right. I've seen so many of these "diary of the dude that got eaten"s over the years and they're so often blatantly expository as to sort of kill it for me. It's an interesting challenge to come up with something that acts as a portent of things to come, yet doesn't seem like the writer is trying to spook the player directly.

And since I was in the same boat as you I don't know what knowing about the Slender Man beforehand would have done for me. I'm willing to bet, given my reaction to the game, I would have been quicker to put the whole thing in context, like "OK, this is a specific monster they're trying to depict" and it would have taken a bit of the sting out of the Unknown behind it. The sneaky angel premise would probably be as effective no matter if it was connected to modern folklore or not... at least until I got used to it as a game-ish mechanic.

#5 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

Brass Restoration was the only visual novel I ever tried, but it was surprisingly good. I guess anything like this will likely have the stigma of the fetishistic fiction Japan is inadvertently famous for, but they wind up being more varied than that, even if I personally don't have a problem with porn. Brass Restoration was more about the lives of the students, and yeah there was some affection involved but it grew naturally from the story and never seemed uncomfortably exploitative.

The weird thing in games like this is more about how much the player character is inserted into a given story. The more a cipher they are the better they can be a proxy for the player, but the harder it sometimes is to WRITE for that character; if they are supposed to represent everyone at once, you might find yourself writing unnatural choices to please whatever random person you think MIGHT be playing.

The title of this contribution has been "WRITE makes MIGHT." Thank you for your time.

#6 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

I have a demo of CK II but haven't tried it. These games tend to be a bit daunting to me, though both the American Revolution and the Napoleonic War are interesting time periods for me. I kind of hope when I go into these sims that they'll try to lean heavily on history, but it's always a gamble when you're trying to make a fun game and are sticking with subject matter that's close to the heart of many of the players. The further back in time it goes, the more likely it's going to be easily abstracted, it seems.

#7 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

I tried Stone Soup a long time ago, but I didn't stick with it. I don't remember why exactly. The recent roguelike that I've stuck with the most has been TOME, just because I felt there was a nice glot of variation in what you could start out doing, and plenty of cool little choke points to try to get past. Even that one exhausted my patience eventually, though. I wonder if the roguelike I'd prefer has yet to be made. Still, I don't mind doing the research to find it...

#8 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

@enpopica: Thanks for reading, appreciate your thoughts.

I didn't say above but I gave up and actually turned the light on at one point. The jump scare it gave was cheap, but it managed to get a gasp out of me, which was a bit unexpected. Like I try to imply, it's not actually hard for this game to pull these sorts of scares off with the tools it uses. But it's still remarkable to me that you can tell someone about a fear-inducing experience and have them just blow it off, but when you're actually in the middle of it, playing the role, there's something about that complicit behavior that involves you deeper.

I don't think this is the most freaky thing I've ever involved myself in (one of the scariest was when I tried to write a horror story and managed to channel a bit of the fear I was trying to write down into my own head, I guess), but it's decent. I think it would have benefited slightly from making the monster a bit less obviously a 3D model... like a more matte black body would have been awesome, and a vaguer face.

But yeah... I guess this is me admitting I was affected. :)

#9 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

Slender is an exercise in terror (not so much horror as I've often seen people say) using the Unity engine. If you're curious, get it here. Otherwise, or afterward, I'll talk about it below.

Rather than go into Slender itself, which is pretty simple in its setup, I'll mention a particular state I entered into while playing it.

Most cultures have monsters, but none come to mind that don't have warnings about them, observations on behavior, or methods to defeat them. What is hidden behind this seemingly completely irrational tendency for us to anthropomorphize the unknown is our ability to find patterns in it, and thus find weaknesses.

If anyone wonders why human beings have managed to extend the average lifespan, and come up with complicated machines that help make life easier (and end life quicker), you might look at how we beat the small monsters through the use of holy symbols, prayers, silver bullets. We tell ourselves there has to be a way, and in fiction there inevitably can be. We use fiction as a practice run in protecting ourselves, and outrunning death, that undeniable real-world monster, just a little longer.

In fiction, though, you can also simulate hopelessness. You can tell the reader the rules, then imply that there is no hope no matter how hard they try. As pat as it is to have the good guys win, and while the specific definition of what a good guy is is arguable, it is important not to lean on this hopelessness style too much. I believe we learn real-world skills even through made-up worlds, and it's strange in light of this to teach us to give up.

Still, we have all sorts of entertainment that simulates this freefall into death. Roller coasters come to mind. We plummet, scream, but smile while we're doing it because we know, most of the time, the cart won't crash into the ground (unless you live in the universe of Roller Coaster Tycoon).

While playing Slender I found that I was trying to ask the game, through gameplay, if there was any hope, or if things were just going to get worse and worse the more crayon drawings I picked up. It's easy enough to plop you with a dimming, narrow-beam flashlight in the middle of a pitch black forest, and zing you with orchestrated jump scares even though you know you're not exactly in this situation and can quit at any time. But as I played I felt as though what the game was trying to do was to see how far I'd go, what I'd be willing to put myself through, despite the story context being so minimal that I began to scrutinize the graphics, wonder why I couldn't scale the fence, wonder where this game I was interacting with was intending to take me.

I tried to see if there were methods for evading, ways to clip through walls and try to get around boundaries and then, 4 pages in, I decided to beat the game. While running from my pursuer I found that the truck I'd found early on counted as an obstacle that would prevent me from being affected by my pursuer's gaze. The glass of its windows counted as a solid object, so I was safe to look. I did, using the game's strange zoom function to get a closeup of the creature's boxy, pinched face. It stood there, dumbly, waiting for my screen to be filled with static, not knowing I wasn't affected, but unwilling to move because I was facing it.

Then, I quit. In this case, as the machine said, "the only winning move is not to play."

#10 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4239 posts) -

@RagingLion: Would have been cool if the second choice would have allowed for a different NewGamePlus mode where you have access to things out of order or something. I don't know how that could have been elegantly done, though.

The more I think about it, the more the restoration seems to be the standard choice, which leads to the narrator's new lines that open happen during the Plus mode of the game. I wonder how far into the replay that goes. A lot of player investment in replays, without reading up on spoilers, is complete faith. I'm glad they added things to the game on replay, but I wonder how much, and would it be enough.

Oh, hey... that's a good interpretation. He even says "no, ma'am" at one point, which I thought was just a stylistic choice but fits perfectly into what you're saying. I wonder if that was added later on when things all made more sense. Sometimes decisions are just made because they're cool ideas, then they're woven together. We all have a weird relationship with any narrator or tutorial in a game. There's a period of orientation usually, but to have a constant narrator there is a bit of a battle going on. Or maybe my playstyle is naturally contentious! :)

That perspective does make sense, though, on the level that Rucks is telling the story of the Kid and in a sense, by acting, the player writes the Kid's story. Sort of like that cool meta-storytelling mechanic that PoP: Sands of Time had.