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Star Player

Musings and ramblings on MMO design philosophy and mechanics. Allstar - BOON Control - @AllstarMMO

Author: Allstar_MMO

WildStar interview with Lead Combat Designer Chris Lynch - Part 2

Posted by Allstar_MMO Friday August 30 2013 at 8:59AM
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Welcome back to the second part of my interview with Chris Lynch, Lead Combat Designer on WildStar, where we discuss Crowd Control, Hybrid play and more!


I'm reminded of one of the encounters in Stormtalon's Lair, where you're disoriented and have your controls switched around and you have telegraphs thrown down to deal with at the same time, very difficult!

Ah yeah, that right there, that confuse or disorient is probably the most punishing form of Crowd Control we have in the game right now and I'm probably gonna have to get in there and look at it a little more, I've seen some good uses of it, and some uses where really it feels a little punishing to me right now.

We have a philosophy on the combat team, it's going to sound a little corny but it's the Three R's; Recognise, React, Reward and with the way that we've been using the Disorient in some of these dungeons there is no time to Recognise so you don't get to React. Due to that I don't enjoy it as much because for me as a player, I want time to recognise what is happening to me, formulate a plan in my head on how to deal with it and then react to it whereas what is happening in that encounter he's like “DISORIENT! TELEGRAPHS!” and you're like “Ohmygodwhat” and then usually someone dies.

There is a good example of using it where in one of our mid level zones you get a quest where this little Squirg (adorable little land-squid) gets put on your head and you're Disoriented and the only thing you have to worry about is getting back to the quest hub so you have time to get used to the idea of “Oh, I'm Disoriented and I need to get back to the Hub” so you have time to Recognise and React and by getting back to the hub you get your Reward.

In the case of the Stormtalon boss it's like, YOU'RE DISORIENTED! REACT! REACT! C'MON! C'MON! TELEGRAPH! TELEGRAPH!



Yeah, and you're dead.

It happens to me too and I'm a very good player at our game and I'm like “Nah, we're not gonna be doing this, please lets tone down the use of disorient and make sure we're finding the appropriate uses for it”.

In fact, now I'm not saying that this will happen, but I've been thinking about Disorient on the trip out here and maybe instead of disorienting your movement controls we could disorient your ability hotkeys, something that’s a little less jarring and less punishing.



Were there any other challenges you faced developing your Crowd Control Systems?

Well, there's another one that I know a lot of people are talking about right now.

When you're stunned? Rapid-tap F right? I have a macro keys on my keyboard right? Stunned? Ohh not any more!

We do gate that on the server side, there's a maximum number of inputs per 250ms and it isn't much more than I can do manually, it's still more efficient to macro but it doesn't mean that you instantly get out, the most you can ever reduce your stun to is by half but the nice thing about a macro is that it makes sure that it keeps up that tempo, and I can actually have it running on the back-end before the stun even happens.

We're mostly looking to fix that, it's good for right now but by the time launch comes around I don't know if I would expect Stun to be the same breakout gameplay. In fact, we had some other ideas for other CC that may or may not make it into the game that we may make use of.

Imagine that these represent your player, sorry your recorder can't see this (Chris stacks one water bottle atop another), imagine that these are inside each other and you get stunned. You, or the part that you control gets knocked over here (moves one of the bottles across the table) but your actual body that people see in game remains here (indicates the remaining bottle) so you're like a ghost now that nobody can see and you're travelling back, trying to get back to your stunned body and when you get back you regain control.

That would be another way I would look at handling Stun, that way isn't macro-able but it still has the same Recognise, React, Reward mechanic and then you have a gameplay that you're trying to do because you can see your body getting beat up and you need to get back and tell it to get away. So yeah, there are things that we could do.



Were there any PVP concerns surrounding the new CC mechanics?

Our breakout gameplay has helped a lot in PVP, it was actually designed specifically for PVP to prevent player on player frustration with stun locks and stuff like that. it's working very well in PvP but we're probably going to add some protection on top of that, making sure that you can get stunned too many times in a row etcetera through Interrupt Armour.

All of the healing classes and some others have access to Interrupt Armour, what this does is that if you get hit with a CC whilst you have units of interrupt armour, lets say 2, it doesn't do anything but it decrements your Interrupt Armour down to 1, if someone else hits you with CC it will decrement to 0 but the effects will still be absorbed and then any type of CC after that will go through but it will protect you from interrupts or CC during that time.



Moving on from Crowd Control, a lot of MMOs recently have been favouring specialisation at the expense of everything else in terms of combat and ability design. This has left little room for fans of hybrid play, is there anything your team is doing to combat that?

There is absolutely room for hybrid play in our game, for example we've had feedback surrounding some Esper abilities in that they make the class feel too much like a caster/melee hybrid and we've responded by adding some new abilities to get them back to a ranged feel but we're keeping those short range abilities on there because since they require the light armoured Esper to be up-close, they will actually improve due to how we balance skills.

The way we balance our abilities is that we have so many points per ability, (this is all internal speak by the way, players will never see this stuff) essentially we start off with say 100 points per ability which can be spent on functionality or damage, it might cost 50 points for a stun and we could use the other 50 points to see how much damage it will do or another ability could have all 100 points go towards damage.

One of the key things is, there are a while bunch of modifiers that determine how many points an ability really gets. Is it a stationary ability? It might get an additional 20pts because I have to stand still to cast it. Is it a 3sec cast time or 2 sec cast time? If it takes a long time to cast, more points.

So one of things we will probably end up doing with Spectral Frenzy for the Esper is we will actually increase the number of points that it gets because you're a squishy class, and to cast it you have to get up really close so it might get some extra points that might be used for extra damage or extra effects.

So in terms of hybrid play, I can be an Esper that like to get up close and even hybrid on the other side, so all classes have access to two roles, every single class has a DPS role and a secondary role of either tank or healer. In the case of the Esper it's a healing role, if I want to I can put some healing abilities on my bar and some DPS abilities and hybrid that way. I can also be different types of DPS like we were talking about just now, I can be ranged DPS or I can get up close, if I'm getting up close I have a lot of risk because I'm squishy but I'm going to get a lot of reward because I'm doing lots more damage.



We haven't heard a great deal about Game Content yet, what can you tell us about the current state of end-game activity?

I can give you a brief synopsis of where we're at right now, a lot of this information is getting released very, very soon, we're wrapping up some of our raids, so we're going to be pushing that into beta very soon.

If I were to draw up a chart, there is a lot of end-game content depending upon your play-style.

If you're a PVEer you're going to have solo content, you're going to have solo end-game storylines in personal instances where you go to experience the story of nexus. If you're a group, you can go into dungeons and eventually 20man and 40man raids.

Now on the PVP spectrum you're going to have arenas, you're going to have battlegrounds. Battlegrounds are more for groups, Arena can be solo or small group and then eventually Warplots which is our PVP version of raids, 40 players on each side.

If you're a social player, we're going to have something for you, you've got your housing, that’s your solo thing. You can play with your own house or your friends houses and you can invite your friends to do Adventure instances on your plot.

And then on the ..wait, I can't talk about that yet because it because it's not going to be launch.


Ah go on, you can say it. I promise I won't publish it.

I won't say, but eventually there will be a social thing for ..raids, social raids.

Not social raids, but imagine like, groups of people larger than just a single group getting together to enjoy social content. Yeah.


Last one is a freebie!

What one thing are you most excited about for release?


I really enjoy dungeons, I'm looking forward to getting back to work next week and we're going to finish polishing off all of the dungeons and raids and we're going to get those out to our testers.

Other than the combat, one of the things I really enjoy about working on WildStar is that I love watching players reactions to what we do, I like watching people enjoy our game . it's been that way for any game I've ever worked on seeing people enjoying the stuff that you make is amazing.


Thanks for your time Chris, looking forward to the WildStar party this evening!

Thanks, I'll see you there!



Thanks for reading!


WildStar interview with Lead Combat Designer Chris Lynch - Part 1

Posted by Allstar_MMO Thursday August 29 2013 at 7:24AM
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This week I was fortunate enough to be given the chance to sit down with Chris Lynch, Lead Combat Designer on WildStar to talk Combat, Telegraphs, Crowd Control and more.


We've seen a lot more information on housing plots this week with a lot of new cosmetic features, are there any non-cosmetic features planned that might give players an edge in Raiding and PvP?

Definitely, a couple of things. First off, as you're levelling you're probably going to want to decorate your house so that you get the rested EXP stuff, additionally there are tradeskill mines and machines that give you benefits as opposed to the tools you have planet-side.

As far as raiding, one of the things we have show is a raid portal that will take you straight to the raid and give you a buff.

One of the ways I like to see housing personally is like my little station. When I'm done adventuring after I've saved money and saved stuff to sell, when it's time to go sell it and adjust myself I don't go back to town I go back to my house and sell it to my own vendors.

One other thing is Adventures, these are where you're building a micro instance on your plot that you can go into alone or with other players.

There will be more perks, we're still investigating what the perks are and what other perks could be but there are going to be real-world benefits.



Earlier this month, you announced the closure of CBT3 and it seems that CBT4 will not return until October. Can you explain the reasoning behind this hiatus?

Over the first 3 CBTs we collected a lot of great feedback and some of that dictates that we make some large changes, we didn't want to be releasing CBT phases in the middle of these changes because this would mean releasing half-implemented stuff so we just wanted to buy ourselves a little time to make sure that we could implement these new systems, polish them and get them ready without any bugs and then get back into beta.

Otherwise beta testers would have been testing half-implemented, half-broken, half-buggy stuff which wouldn't have been a good use of their time or our time so we're going to make sure we get it all right and then release it back out there.



What has been the biggest change from original concepts through beta?

Was there something you were absolutely convinced about that changed based on feedback?

I have a whole list! Right now, I would say Time To Kill on creatures is coming down. Our Time To Kill was a little long, and testers didn't like that so there are a couple of things we're doing to fix that.

First of all, we're bringing the Time To Kill down and second off we're making it so that DPS classes do more damage so those two things are multiplicative.

That, and also one of the things we're doing is we're actually going to leverage one of our strengths; telegraphs.

So we have auto-attacks and telegraphs, one of the main pieces of beta feedback that we had was that players didn't enjoy the frequency of telegraphs because most of the creature behaviour in combat was auto-attacks with occasional telegraphs. This meant that most of the damage came from auto-attacks which you couldn’t avoid, even when a telegraph was dodged it was such a small portion of the overall damage that it didn't feel like skill came into play.

One of the things that we're doing is increasing the frequency of telegraphs so it feels even more like an action game now because creatures are telegraphing much more frequently, which also means that you're dodging more and player skill comes more into play as to how much health you have left at the end of a fight and it feels a lot better this way.

There are tons of changes we're making based on feedback, but those are the top ones for me.



Staying on telegraphs for a moment, how do you feel players are responding to telegraphs when scaled up to a 40man content environment?

I think “excitement” is how they respond to it because one of the things we have been able to do is evolve the telegraph system in the last 2 years and it has come to a great point at which we can do a lot with it and you don't really see a lot of this until you get to the end-game content.

Once our testers start getting there, the shock, surprise and excitement on their faces when they start to experience some of that stuff is pretty great for me.

It starts off with a static telegraph, very static, doesn't move and then we slowly start introducing moving telegraphs around level 20 and then as you start heading toward the 30s, 40s and 50 you're going to start seeing telegraphs that require very fast reaction time, some moving towards you so there is a sense of anticipation as you see a telegraph actually moving at a certain rate towards your character and you're running as fast as you can to get out of it.

Excitement is the best word I can use to describe it, because I enjoy it. I enjoy watching it, I enjoy playing it and just having the communication and messaging of it because we've been training you for 50 levels to do this, it becomes instinct, but then we're trying to scale up how hard it is, especially in the dungeons and it's lots of fun.

I'm trying to think of some of the fights we do at level 50, there's one called “Raina” (sic, apologies if the name is inaccurate, I declined to ask for a precise spelling) and she does this thing, imagine a wall of fire coming at you where there is only one small opening and the walls of fire keep coming so you're trying to squeeze through these openings and finally you get to her and interrupt her, lots of fun!



Action oriented combat naturally raises the entry level for skill, Do you feel like the telegraph system could prevent some people from enjoying the game versus a traditional model, particularly those with slower reaction times?

I would say that is a fear, but I'm hoping that it's fun enough that they actually want to play it.

In the over-world zones, I don't think that the telegraphs are too hard, as long as they have the reaction time to manoeuvre out of the way then they should be good.

We try to make the over-world zones a little more friendly to casual players. Where it starts to get difficult is if these players want to participate in hardcore group content such as dungeons and raids, or even PvP, but if they enjoy the over-world stuff whilst being immersed in a great world then I think the balance should be good enough that they shouldn't have too many issues.



That's all for part 1, come back later this week for part 2 where Chris and I discuss Crowd Control and Elder Game combat!



Apollo Program

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday August 5 2013 at 8:59PM
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The recent announcement that the team behind LUI, a popular World of Warcraft UI modification package, will be shifting focus to WildStar caused ripples within the MMORPG community.

This is one of the first signs of major community content developers embracing WildStar in the run-up to release and creates a perfect opportunity to analyse what the staff at Carbine have been doing with their budding UI and Addon community.



There is a strong philosophy at Carbine about UI modification led by Jon "Bitwise" Wiesman, Lead Client Engineer on WildStar and developer of the Apollo UI Engine, to the point where not only has the game been built up around the concept, but has led Wiesman to claim that he will never work with a game without this functionality in the future.



A bold claim, but so vehemently do they believe in the philosophy that they have included a fully-featured Addon development tool in the game files appropriately named “Houston”.

Wiesman has gone on record stating that anything the in-house UI team is capable of developing, the community will be given the tools to accomplish just as effectively by giving the community full access to the LUA and source code that Carbine use themselves.


This means that not only will users be fully equipped to make anything they can imagine, but by integrating these tools into the game engine Carbine has drastically lowered the barrier of entry for enthusiasts and hobbyists to bring their ideas to fruition simply by being able to dive into Houston and start seeing how it all functions.

In doing so, prospective Addon and UI developers will potentially be able to reverse engineer some of Carbine's existing functionality, users will be introduced to the idea of making addons in a way that has been previously limited by intimate knowledge of LUA and XML coding.



By integrating the software in this way, less third party software will be required, this means that an idea can go from concept to synthesis and working in-game within minutes.

Furthermore, all users will be using exactly the same tools, giving access to peer-level functionality and networking allowing contributors to collaborate on larger, more complex projects and pass it on to other users in the future.

It is even possible that the Apollo engine will allow players to browse, review and install Addons in-game, further reducing the need for third-party intrusion and creating an additional avenue for community interaction and development.

WildStar is already seeing its own Addon scene developing in beta, within hours of getting Beta access a now famous user by the name PacketDancer had uploaded her first addon to the beta forums, quickly followed by many more created by herself and others.

Carbine responded to this by inviting PacketDancer to their studios, this sort of community reward and recognition is going to be key to the successful community development of WildStar, building relationships with key users can only benefit the game and the community and inspire others to come up with their own ideas.


The power this will give to the community is unprecedented, features that the community request added to the game will be made by the community to a standard that normally has to be reserved for patch-cycles to be implemented successfully.

That isn't to say that the best features won't make it into the standard UI though, we have seen World of Warcraft implement addon functionality into the base UI in the past and we should expect no less from WildStar as features and ideas are developed by the community that Carbine themselves might not even have considered.


The Houston functionality then, benefits absolutely every end-user of WildStar, even those who will never install an Addon in their playing career will see the UI evolve as the community breathes life into it.

Great power, however, comes with great responsibility and the trust that Carbine are placing in their community is admirable but far from careless.

Libraries and Functions will be carefully considered and reviewed before releasing them into Houston to ensure that users have all the tools that they need whilst protecting the integrity of the game from malicious intent or misuse.



Opening the UI development to the community on such a large-scale is ground-breaking, whilst other MMOs in the past have allowed the use of addons, WildStar will be the first to fully integrate it as a design philosophy from day one.

It is inspiring to see major players in the mod scene involved with WildStar before release, even more-so to see the community breeding its own during beta (it is also refreshing to see a beta test used appropriately as opposed to a marketing tool) which serves to enrich the experience for all potential players.

I expect to see the addon scene develop explosively post-release and create a legacy for UI development in MMOs of the future, Carbine’s enthusiasm is as breathtaking as it is sincere, their commitment to making WildStar a success in every possible way is beyond remarkable.



A Wild New World

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday July 15 2013 at 6:18PM
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At a very basic level, immersion is not very difficult to create but it is incredibly difficult to maintain in the MMO space; a genre that demands systems and repetition thereof to function effectively.

MMOs in recent times have had a difficult time crafting believable, living worlds. In this article I hope to explore how Carbine can go about overcoming the challenge in WildStar.



It begins with aesthetics, Blizzard has managed to maintain a cohesive theme in World of Warcraft for a number of years with a graphical style that can be preserved indefinitely without gradual updates to the game engine and new art assets breaking their design principles.

Carbine are obviously looking to continue this practice in WildStar with a style that many have, not unfairly, described as a marriage between a Pixar movie and Firefly.

The art team at Carbine is in a unique position in that they are developing an entirely new IP, they have complete freedom to create without being constrained by rulesets of a pre-existing universe, something that SW:TOR, Guild Wars 2 and even World of Warcraft have had to deal with, and they are doing so in a bold new style.



The really difficult part of designing a world in an MMORPG is making the world feel alive.

There are pitfalls here that many dev teams have fallen to; Have too few world events going on and the world feels stale, too may and players begin to see the structure of the world around them as nothing but a set of systems, something that Guild Wars 2 and Warhammer Online fell prey to previously.


Trion actually has demonstrated one of the best approaches to this dilema in recent years, balancing static quest hubs with massive, pseudo-random zone wide events that genuinely affected players zone progression dynamically by breaking the linearity of a zone and by taking quest hubs out of commission entirely until invasions are dealt with.


Carbine are offering a different solution with their Path system by allowing players to interact with the world in a manner of their own choosing.

This is interesting as it will give players and communities real power by granting them tool-sets to change the world around them as Settlers build up towns and quests hubs as they progress with the aid of other players and Soldiers initiate battles that anyone can join.



Another facet of a living world is that it needs deeply engaging history and lore with memorable characters and room to grow.

World of Warcraft has demonstrated a masterclass in this area, with almost 20 years of Warcraft history woven with new ideas, a consant sense of mystery and a stream of remarkable personalities they have created easily the best loved universe in MMO history.

Carbine, again, is in a perfect position to bring WildStar to life with the begginings of their own universe that will concievably extend beyond Nexus one day.

Scientists will be allowed to to unlock snippets of lore as they progress through the world and Explorers but it is critically important that carbine keep some cards to their chest, a huge part of player engagement in this area will come from leaving holes to be filled by their imagination and create community dialogue with lore speculation.


Ultimately, it isn't simply about Carbine creating an immersive world, it is about them creating a lasting legacy by giving their playerbase the tools and the freedom of imagination to make WildStar their own.


Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday June 24 2013 at 7:36PM
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Blizzard has had a difficult time finding a happy balance for 10man and 25man raiding since making the decisive split between the two raid sizes in Wrath of the Lich King and has been trying to balance the disparity every since.

In Wrath, 25man raiders were rewarded with higher iLvL gear that 10man, with separate lockouts for both sizes many guilds ran a 25 group and two 10s, forcing players to raid two separate difficulties every week to optimise performance. This was normalised in Cataclysm, 10 and 25 shared a lockout and gave exactly the same loot and did nigh irreparable harm to the 25man raiding scene.

In Mists, Blizzard have attempted to reach a medium with Thunderforged gear having a higher drop-rate in 25man Throne of Thunder, effectively bringing the average iLvL of 25man raiders up and bringing the paradigm full circle.

Yet 10man remains vastly more popular, simply because it is logistically easier for guild to manage a raiding guild on this scale, but this brings about its own problem of player rotating and benching.



Being benched sucks. Any player that cares enough about raiding to progress past LFR and show up to every raid night prepared with flasks, pots, food, etc, cares too much to be told they aren't being invited to the party and take it on the chin.

But it is absolutely necessary to have a roster larger than the minimum in case some of your members can't make it one night and you need people to step in, leaving some players out of luck every week.

At least until now.


Recently Blizzard announced the implementation of Flexible Raiding (immediately coined as “Flex mode” by ..everyone) as an additional difficulty setting between LFR and Normal mode and designed to scale depending on how many players are present in the raid group with a new iLvL of rewards.

But ..does WoW really need another difficulty level in an already bloated raiding system?

It certainly seems to serve a purpose right now in terms of filling a void for social guilds that have too many people for a 10man raid and not enough for 25 but how many guilds are going to make the decision to take an extra two people and run flex every week in addition to their 10man progression runs? It could be argued that it is simply a choice, much like LFR is a choice for players involved in normal mode progression but it is still difficult to argue the element of choice to those that don't have it; the two or three raid-ready players sat outside a raid instance portal hoping to be invited every week.



It would be amazing if Blizzard failed to implement this in place of normal mode entirely in the next expansion, 10 and 25man normal modes would simply cease to be a meaningful distinction and it would be a healthy change that the game has needed for some time.

This would be a great change for guilds currently running a 10man team, once they can maintain the minimum requirement of 10 players on their roster they never have to bench a player again, everyone wins and the guild can continue to grow without members fearing for their raid spots although this will no doubt mean more specific performance management from raid/class leads which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

25man guilds would remain unaffected for the most part, some with larger rosters may lose a few players who will settle for slightly less than 25man for the sake of a raid spot but it is definitely expected that guilds will flourish in this environment as more players find spots in guilds for median sized flex raids.


It is difficult to ignore the feeling that Blizzard have chosen to implement flex at this point in an expansion's life cycle, the final raid tier, intentionally to test it much in the same way that LFR was implemented in Cataclysm during Dragon Soul.

Implementing LFR at that time gave Blizzard a snapshot of what LFR would become, allowing them to make necessary changes after seeing how it functioned in a live environment and the problems it had initially with loot rolls, players losing out on loot they needed to those that didn't (simply because they could) and  some guilds getting around the system of only looting a boss once per week via an expoilt.



I have no doubt that flex will have teething problems initially, it will absolutely be open to guilds “gaming” the system and figuring out the perfect number and combination of players to maximise efficiency but ultimately it is absolutely the right direction to take the game, not least to address the elephant in the room; shrinking realm populations.

Coupled with the newly announced Virtual Realms Blizzard are beginning to explore solutions for the inevitable decline in population whilst deftly avoiding the negative PR and logistical headaches associated with server merges. I don't want this to be a doom-herald post, but it is something that will need to be addressed in the future and the sooner that Blizzard make moves to explore the eventuality the better.


The only problem with having flex replace normal mode is how players would make the transition to heroic raiding, assuming that heroics will retain the 10/25 structure it could be a jarring experience to move to a more strictly regulated environment and the idea of being benched will be a huge deterrent for some.

Could Blizzard take a similar approach and add Flex to heroic modes?

Unlikely, but like so many changes Blizzard has made to the game in recent years I have learned to never say “never” but I expect that many players would feel that the experience would be cheapened by such a change, especially with regards to world firsts and other achievements.


Overall, this is a massive positive change for World of Warcraft at a time that the game desperately needs it and I firmly believe that it will not only be the defining feature of patch 5.4 but Mists of Pandaria's legacy for the next expansion.

Grindfest - Challenging pre-conceptions in Aion 4.0

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday June 17 2013 at 6:30PM
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Grinding” has become something of a negative connotation in the MMORPG market, a stigma that Asian releases are almost habitually assigned with by European and American gamers.

Getting into this discussion is a minefield of misinterpretation and stereotypes (to ask why Koreans enjoy grinding, one might as well ask why white people play wow-clones, racist and completely ridiculous) yet the question presents itself, why do Asian MMORPGs so often fail to make an impact in the western market, and what is Aion doing in 4.0 to challenge the preconception?


Principaly, we must examine the culture in which the games are not only played, but developed.

In the Asian market, time is everything. In a culture where many gamers are on limited timecards and often playing in internet cafés, players will approach the games in a very direct manner, one which will give maximum return for time invested.




Asian players are also far more used to the idea of investing in cash-shop items and boosters, a trend that is only just starting to make headway in the west, to maximise efficiency.

However, this doesn't mean that Asian gamers prefer the play style, many don't enjoy it any more than the western MMORPG audience, they are simply victims of the culture in which their games are developed.

The Asian MMORPG scene is slowly changing, compare the likes of FFXI and Ragnarok Online to more recent Asian MMOs like Aion and ArcheAge (or even between RO and RO: II), these games still undergo a level of “westernisation” before release in the US and Europe but the differences are becoming fewer with every new release. Over the past few years there has been a noticeable trend toward more “western” tropes with increased rewards from questing, story driven elements and more solo-play options in response to the changing attitudes of player-base and international demands.


All but gone though, is the mid-game level grind. Blizzard's success with World of Warcraft can largely be attributed to how they have exploited a faily smple fact: Player retention at max level is far higher than the mid-range, getting players there is the key to keeping them paying their subscribtion fee.

Even in vanilla, where the levelling was much less forgiving than by today's standards, it was much faster to get to max level than other western MMORPGs of the time and years ahead of the Asian market.

This is, of course, a very jaded (not to mention cynical) view of MMO design that could easily be romanticised as the evolution of the genre.




Yet, the “grind” is still apparent in Asian MMOs, but is it any different in the western scene?

Certainly it appears to be different, a western MMO developer would never make you kill 5000 mobs to gain an armour piece at max level ..would they?

It can be argued that the grind approach is no less devilish than the slot-machine of boss loot , it's definitely more transparent and it is unfair to suggest that it is an objectively worse method for being so.

The biggest problem that grinding has to overcome is that of the health concerns if the ability to farm for a prolonged period of time is not only unrestricted, but rewarding. In Korea, this is usually handled by the use of a Fatigue system that will eventually limit the loot and exp players gain after a certain amount.

ArenaNet attempted to implement a similar system in Guild Wars 2 to limit the ability players had to farm loot (either as a market restriction or a counter-botting measure) and it was poorly received, largely due to how quickly and harshly the restriction was triggered, leaving players unable to farm anything for more than a few minutes.



Typically, such fatigue systems have been removed entirely in the western release of Asian MMOs and this, coupled with monthy subscriptions instead of timecards, leaves players unlimited in their ability to grind for hours on end. This creates a unique problem, in a genre where worth is usually measurable by gear and time invested players willl do whatever it takes to get there and feel obliged to take the unhealthy route; grind obsessively.


Western MMOs have tended to take a different approach to Fatigue by limiting players absolutely with gating on the rewards they can earn per day and per week in the form of daily quests and weekly point caps, however this again creats a problem for players feeling forced to hit these caps every day and every week to remain competetive: missing a days worth of daily quests is impossible to recover, not hitting your weekly valor/conquest cap in WoW is unthinkable to most players.


So, then, all MMORPGs are grinds and both systems have their advantages so why can't we see more MMOs that give players the choice? Aion has done a decent job of this recently, allowing people to get gear with daily quests for Kahrun's gear or Crucible PVP gear or grind out the current Daevanion or Abyss sets in addition to the regular instance boss drops and crafted gear.

Aion's upcoming 4.0 expansion: Dark Betrayal is set to take this even further, with no less than ten (its actually far more if you consider the varied qualities attainable) end-game sets available from a variety of sources, player choice has never been better.




For the grinders, There is PVP armour in the form of Battlefield Armour available by completing daily quests and killing mobs in the new PVP area and similarly (in the absence of a Daevanion set) PVE 'Ancient' armour is aquired in much the same way.


The usual Abyss grade armour is present, complete with new rank-exclusive sets for Star Officers, Commanders and Govenors and a new way to pay more AP with less medals and vice versa.


Normal and PVP itemized Balic gear is avaialable from crafters, although to get the best possible stats from this gear you need to crit no less and three crafts, along with the usual obscene material costs, good luck!


With new instances, of course, comes new gear sets including Mythic quality armour for the first time!


“The Runadium” instance - 6man - Mythic quality


“Hyperion” gear from “Katalamize” instance - 12 man - Mythic quality


“Impenetrable Bastion” instance - 24man – Mythic/Eternal quality


“Steel Rose” instance – Solo – Fabled Quality


There is also "Hero Quest/Katalam" PVE Eternal quality gear available from group/alliance one-time quests which sounds too good to be true (which it almost certainly is) and "Lord Beritra" gear from world bosses



Aion has come a long way since release, with a vast wealth of content available to players of all types it is sometimes puzzling that the game hasn't enjoyed much greater success well into its 3rd year of release.

It seems that Aion, like many earstern MMORPGs is still struggling to shake of the Stigma of the past.

That was a world class pun and you all know it.

Inferiority complex

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 20 2013 at 6:23PM
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Complexity and difficulty are two very different things. They are often, erroneously, used synonymously when in reality they represent two very distinct mental operations.


In this article I will briefly discuss how Complexity and Difficulty are both affected by players, and the impact they have on design and player ability.


Complexity describes a level of process that players, as humans, use to interact with the game world whereas difficulty represents the effort or energy expended to complete a task, beat a boss or complete a tricky quest.

Difficulty can very easily increase without requiring a new level of complexity, for example a boss encounter on one difficulty setting might require players to move in a certain way at a specific moment, whereas on a higher difficulty setting they would be required to do so faster.

More difficult? Sure, but it certainly isn't any more complex.

This is because the mechanic still remains in the lowest level of Bloom's Taxonomy: Knowledge.


Learning is fun, kids!


Its only when we move up the scale, into “Comprehension” that things start to get more complex.

Sure, a player knows that they need to not stand in the fire, but they also need to interpret that knowledge and to understand the consequences of hot feet and its effect on their healer's patience (pissed off healers isn't a reason to execute mechanics properly, its just an amusing symptom of failure) or to understand why half the raid blew up when they didn't move out with the debuff.


Are raid encounters inherently difficult, or complex?

This is a difficult question to answer, it could be argued that they are both (or neither, if you're a pro) but most encounters do lean towards complexity over difficulty, as when executed properly a practised strategy by a raid team that knows each other well looks extremely easy, few and far-between are the bosses that are still difficult even when done 100% correctly.

Even on higher difficulty settings, the standard model of making an encounter more challenging is to make it more complex by adding new mechanics (usually making more mechanics happen simultaneous just to mess with us) but they are also made more difficult by tuning the damage higher and making existing mechanics less forgiving.


The interesting thing about humans, however, is our inclination to make things more complex in order to make them less difficult.

If a boss performs a mechanic that players are required to react to in a very specific manner, enthusiasts will invest time and energy creating an addon that will advise and direct players to act accordingly at the correct time.

Creating an addon is an entirely higher level of complexity (arguably the highest levels of Analysis and Synthesis) and difficulty, programming an addon is a hell of a lot harder than not standing in fire by several orders of magnitude but it means that a single instance of expended energy and creativity vastly reduces the amount of effort required by everybody who uses it (assuming they pay attention to it) from that point forward.


Everyone went through this stage with their UI


Humans are good at this, really good at this, we've been inventing tools and machinery to help us do our work more efficiently for thousands of years ..but why?

Romantically, benevolence. Truthfully, laziness. Scientifically, the instinctive desire to conserve energy.

Whatever the motivation, we understand that as complexity goes up, difficulty usually goes down.

This inalienable truth is what allows players of all levels of ability to have a chance of getting raid bosses down.


Complexity actually has very little to do with ability, difficulty has a much greater impact and we can affect that to a much larger degree by changing the way that players are presented with information and how they are able to interpret it.

Players at the higher end of the ability spectrum, fast learners, will learn core concepts of boss mechanics very quickly. This allows their brains more time to analyse (more taxonomy, kids!) sub-sets of information and sort them into important and unimportant categories.

These players probably know that there are tank-specific mechanics to an encounter, they might even know what they are, but as DPS they sure as hell know that they aren't affected by them so they effectively unlearn it. This leaves more room for independent thought, creativity and above all fast-recall of the information that they do need.


Meanwhile, at the lower end of the spectrum, the slower learners are still trying to figure out how to deal with the massive wall of text they are presented with when attempting to learn encounter mechanics.

These players will struggle to quickly learn a fight due to the complete information overload they have been burdened with, denying them the critical thinking and information retrieval necessary to execute a clean strategy.


When your boss strategy has multiple subdivisions, you have a problem


And it is not their fault, whilst they might rightly be considered less-able than others it is categorically unfair to label a player as being “bad” when they are trying to learn, but struggling due to poor presentation of information. These players can perform just as well as (and in some cases, out-perform) their peers when presented with information in the correct manner.

If the challenge of selecting only the information useful to them is taken out of their hands and they are simply taught the sub-lessons (and eventually taught how to recognise and ignore those that aren't necessary), these players will find the fights much less taxing, and be given a much better chance to perform.

This adds complexity to the design process when it comes to strategy, but as complexity goes up ..difficulty goes down.


External sources traditionally do a very good job of this, but most strategies cover all mechanics out of necessity, in-game resources need to do a better job of teaching people mechanics relevant to their roles to allow players of all abilities an equal opportunity environment

By all means, keep designing deeply complex and beautifully intricate raid encounters and make them hard as hell, but if you're going to design a boss with enough mechanics to fill a novel, don't punish people who are trying their best to learn by making them read one.

Hybrid Theory

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 13 2013 at 2:25PM
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In recent years, it seems that hybrid classes in MMORPGs have become something of a taboo, developers have intentionally strayed away from them by design but the desire to play them is still there, as is the potential.

In this article I at least hope to defend the idea of hybrid class play in the face of increasing homogenisation and specialisation in the genre if not make an argument for their return to form in WildStar.


Perhaps the biggest problem that hybrids face is that whilst players want the flexibility that they provide, they also want to perform a vital role in group-play. While hybrid classes have a history of excelling in solo and small-group play where specialised roles are less important, their viability drops as group size increases.

In larger groups, hybrids only become as effective as the least represented role. For example, If a raid group has 2 tanks, 6 DPS, 1 healer and 1 hybrid the hybrid player is going to be much more useful as a second healer than a seventh DPS, so why not specialise?

MMOS have been trending towards rewarding specialisation recently in an effort to reduce complexity and limit roles to design and itemise around.



In the rare cases where hybrid play still exists, those who choose to play them have been subject to the phenomenon of “hybrid tax” in that they are forced to be the jack of all trades, master of none and cannot be allowed to perform as well in any specific area as a specialist.

If your hybrid player is healing more than your dedicated healer and doing damage, why bring anything else? But on the flip-side, if they are going to be forced into a specific role where they under-perform, why bring them at all?


Some MMORPGs have handled hybrids very well though:

Chanters in Aion could rarely out-heal a cleric but brought an impressive suite of buffs that made them almost vital to group composition.

The same can be said of Bards in many MMOs, although they have been large required to invest time twisting songs rather than dealing damage and healing.

Captains in LOTRO fulfilled a unique role in that they were incredibly flexible in the way that could heal, support and deal damage.

DPS specced clerics in Aion were a fantastic as a “pure” hybrid done well, largely due to the way that healing in Aion scaled (or more importantly, how it didn't) prior to the introduction of Healing Boost stats

Arguably the best example of a hybrid class in an MMO (or possibly just my favourite) was FFXI's Red Mage, with White Magic, Black Magic and Warrior abilities they were as flexible as any potential hybrid but their ability to use Chainspell and Refresh made them an extremely desirable addition to group composition.



The secret, then, is to give hybrids unique abilities that no-one else can bring to a group composition.

Will Carbine make a return to hybrid play in WildStar? I certainly hope so, with  two confirmed classes having the ability to both heal and deal damage there is certianly room for it, after speaking to a couple of people who attended the Arkship events they claim that it was certainly possible from what they had seen.

What this essentially boils down to though is creating a fourth role, outside of the "Holy Trinity" and allowing players to fulfill a support role. But is this a hybrid, or merely a new standard of specialisation?

The answer lies in itemisation and the flexibility of the CBC system, the base abilities that the class would be equipped with and skill choices.

From what we know about WildStar, healing and dealing damage will come from two very distinct stats which gear will almost certainly not share, but if the respective classes have skill tree choices to boost their healing output when in a DPS spec and vice versa it is possible (so too would be off-tanking in a DPS build, but I'll leave the tank-mage for other people to reminisce about).

If, however, they are forced into a choice between damage or healing in addition to unique support abilities then they can't really be considered a hybrid at all, but the potential is there, allowing the archetype to deal damage and heal simultaneously would fill a role that a lot of players crave.

Mike Donatelli let slip (mistakenly, apprently) in an interview that they haven't revealed their "main healing class" but as every class in WildStar so far is able to fulfill two roles it is highly doubtful that it will be a pure support class. Beyond that there are no hard facts to go on so actual speculation is of little use.

But hey, I can dream.



Immediately prior to posting this, a ..volatile patcher leak was brought to my attention (which I won't link to directly out of respect to Carbine and the NDA) which indicates no less that 5 additional classes or specialisations.

At this moment in time, it is effectively impossible to tell  what combination they will take, or even if they represent the unrevealed classes at all (as opposed to specialisations of existing classes) or classes that might not make the final cut.

We can, of course, speculate as to what they elude to. It certainly seems that the staff-wielding characters seen in some screenshots appear to be a Caster/Healer class.

The immediate question this raises though is that with Espers already being in WildStar, is there really room for another Caster DPS/Healer hybrid? It doesn't really make sense from a design perspective, but it stands to reason for itemisation as Espers are the only class that currently uses "Magic" as a priamary attribute so there is certainly room for another.

It is possible though, from the datamined information we have seen, that they will be a "pure" Caster DPS but given Carbine's currently demonstrated philosophy of all archetypes being hybrids this seems unlikely.



The files seem to confirm speculation of an Engineer class though, along with a few abilities (some of which just sound plain awesome) . As with the "Magic DPS" argument there is also space for another Strength based DPS spec. This seems at odds with the idea of a rifle wielding engineer that many envisage when thinking about the class, we would expect the class to be Dexterity based for flavour, but the math simply doesn't add up.

It could be that the engineer uses the Technology stat to DPS and Strength to tank as a reversal of the standard (Warriors and Stalkers both use Tech to tank, Espers and Spellslingers use Wisdom to heal so the standard seems solid enough) which certainly stands up to the flavour argument, but would put additional stress on the itemisation system Carbine are employing.


With E3 in a months time, we will probably see more information released in the near future. I would especially expect to see a response from Carbine given the nature of the leak (as with the March patch notes leak) in the coming weeks and look forward to it with great relish.

What WildStar needs to get right in raiding

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 6 2013 at 3:44PM
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Was the old school really cool?


A lot of MMO players wax lyrical about large-scale PVE raids in MMOs of the past.

The pull of nostalgia is difficult to resist and when players had to commit such a huge amount of their time just preparing to raid their attachment is easy to understand.

With the announcement that Carbine will be making a return to 40man raiding in WildStar, many veteran MMO players are rejoicing at the return of “hardcore” raiding whilst some remain hesitant. What if all the nostalgia really is just ..nostalgia?


In this article I will be examining the areas where Carbine will need to excel and the pitfalls they need to avoid in order to make the return of the 40man raid in WildStar not only successful, but truly epic.


Cosy, I love what you've done with the ..spikes and flames. Very ethnic.



We are the 1 percent

The announcement that Carbine will be catering their 40man raids to the “1% of players who want the really tough stuff “ came as something of a shock to a lot of gamers. MMO developers in recent years have geared their design philosophy toward accessibility for all with multiple levels of difficulty, allowing all players to experience their game's content whilst keeping the very hardest content present for the upper nth percentile of players.


This method, of course, comes at a price. A large number of (particularly vocal) players have complained about this approach with the argument that it cheapens the overall experience for those with greater desire and, perhaps critically, more time to dedicate themselves to the game and clear the most challenging content.

Naturally this should be considered in a measured approach, just because other players are given an opportunity to experience content at a reduced difficulty shouldn't make players feel as if their achievements are invalid, it's counter-productive to an MMO's growth to suggest otherwise. More-so, allowing developers to invest time making content that they know will be delivered to the majority of their player-base should never be considered a bad thing.

Making a return to hardcore raiding is a bold move for Carbine, and something that has drawn a lot of positive press and feedback.

It remains to be seen though, in an age of instant gratification in online games, whether it will be the correct choice in the long-term or if Carbine will have to adjust their approach as WildStar develops post-release.


Dear Marvel, please don't sue.



Investment Returns

In older MMORPGs, raids took a huge amount of effort to clear, not necessarily because of the challenging nature of the encounters, the reason lies largely in the fact that loot distribution and itemisation was terrible. In vanilla WoW, for example, Gearing up 40 players with bosses the only dropped 2 items meant that progression was painfully slow, and that was only if you were able to clear the first few golems in Molten Core in the first place. Preparing to raid was an adventure in masochism in itself with reputation barriers, horrifying attunement quest chains and consumable farming.

Back then, the investment that players had to make to raiding was enormous, which led to it being exclusive to those with the time.


How can WildStar deal with this problem?

At this point facts are unclear, but we do know that raiding will come in 2 flavours; 20man and 40man and that the 40man raids will offer the best loot.

Initially this looks problematic, will the 20man raids be mechanically easier? In recent years WoW has homogenized loot between 10man and 25man raiding with little success, both raid sizes have their advantages (10s being logistically easier to manage, 25s having much more margin for error, more raid cooldowns available and less wasted loot) but nonetheless 25man raiding has been quickly eclipsed by 10man raiding due to the simple fact that a 10man raiding guild is much easier to manage for exactly the same rewards.


What many players would like to see is 20man and 40man raids be completely different instances with separate audiences in mind as opposed to the “same raid, less people” method.

This raises some questions, does the relative power of gear come into the equation? Will guilds be able to maintain a 40man raiding roster with the promise of better loot, or will the “epic” experience be enough of a hard sell?

Sadly, the answer to both questions seem to be foregone; players will choose the path of least resistance and will attempt to maximise their investment:reward ratio. Ultimately, better gear is the carrot to the stick of raiding.

Carbine need to develop an incentive to make 40 man raiding worth the logistical investment for guild leaders as well as their members, especially as it appears that guilds are going to be expected to run two 20man groups before clearing the 40man raid.


Getting pretty tired of you shooting our cameramen Greg.



Attunement Therapy

As a concept raid attunement isn't a bad idea, but the delivery needs to be executed well for it to be successful and, above all, fun.

Forcing players to run out of date content in order to raid historically isn't a good way for developers to gate their raid content (and Attunement quests are content barriers by any other name) as it simply removes the element of choice for players, effectively forcing them to do something that they, and their guild in the case of clearing old raids, don't want to.

That being said, attunement quests serve the purpose of a competence-check for prospective raiders beyond the experience that 5-man instances provide, they show that a player has taken the time to prepare properly and is dedicated to take the required steps to progress.

In light of the fact that a lot of story-driven content in WildStar is going to be delivered by solo instances it seems natural to treat Raid attunement in a similar manner.

This would allow players to prepare themselves in their own time, without having to form groups to run old content or worse still, force a raiding guild to clear an old raid for the sake of getting one player attuned to the current content. They could also be used as an introduction to some of the mechanics and themes that would be present in the raid encounters themselves, allowing players to not only prepare themselves in a check-list fashion, but to prepare themselves mentally for the raid environment.


Attunement is a divisive subject, but it could be argued that many MMO's haven't explored the possibility in a modern fashion. It doesn't have to be a grind, it doesn't have to force players into older group content and it certainly can be fun.


I claim this land! And that bit of sky. The bird too ..and the sun.



Expectation Value

Raiding is far, far more complex now than it ever has been in the MMO space. Players expect roles, gear and boss mechanics to be tailored to extremely specific standards and to allow players to min-max their way to maximum efficiency in a way that leaves little room for ambiguity in encounter design or raid composition.

Raiding over the years has become a game of efficiency over fun where information is easily available to every player about everything they could possibly want to know, players expect itemization to be perfect because, thanks to addons and websites that do the math for them, they know to the exact decimal point what they want out of their gear.

Sub-optimal is not an option any more, whilst this has made a lot of hybrid play and clever strategies for dealing with mechanics redundant it has certainly allowed players to play their class the way that they want to instead of being forced into specific roles that they don't simply because one of their class' specs isn't viable.

What players should hope for from Carbine is for them to allow for a little more flexibility in their encounter design. 40 people is a lot of players to design mechanics around and players should be given more freedom to play their own way instead of adhering to a strict script of encounter mechanics in order to “solve” the encounter.



Oh come on, I'm level 5 for pity's sake cut me some slack



Contents may vary

Carbine haven't stated much about how quickly they intend to release raid content, but we do know that they intend to release “large monthly updates“ including group and solo content.

It is, of course, unlikely that Carbine will release raids at anything like this pace, but it does raise the question of how often they will.

Pacing of content is a difficult balance, release content too quickly and the game will feel bloated; Guilds will have difficulty clearing the content before more raids are released.

Too slowly and the hardcore raiding guilds will run out of things to do before the next content patch hits.

It would be a fair estimate to say that Carbine will release raids every 5~6 months, whether these are full 40manraids, 20man raids or a combination of the two remains to be seen but for the content to successfully reach the spectrum and demographic of players that Carbine should be aiming to attract it should be both, along with some solo, 5man and scaling group content.


Don't worry tiny phallis-bot, I believe in you!




All in all, making a return to 40man raids is a bold move.

The attitudes and behaviours of MMO players have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, the wealth of information available to us is overwhelming and developers have been required to react in kind with mechanics and systems that have become increasingly refined over time and altered our approach to gaming.

Sometimes, though, I feel like we've sacrificed the fun along the way somewhere in our quest for maximum efficiency, Diluting and stripping away everything ablative about raiding and being left purely with those mechanics and systems.


To be absolutely honest, I'm a little concerned. I find it difficult to imagine many guilds being capable of maintaining a 40man raiding roster in the current gaming environment, and the problem is compounded by the idea of making said raids exclusive to a vanishingly small number of players.

I can't escape the feeling that Carbine are devoting a lot of development time creating a raiding experience catering to an audience that may no longer exist.


Fortunately, this is all merely speculation at this point in WildStar's development. Carbine clearly have a wealth of creative talent behind them and near limitless options in creating a new legacy in the MMO market, one that I look forward to with great anticipation.

SW:TOR Revisited: A Year In Review

Posted by Allstar_MMO Monday May 6 2013 at 3:26PM
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With the announcement of SW:TOR going Free to Play this month, I felt that now was a great time to revisit the game with a fresh look at how it has developed since release.

In the runup to the games release, myself and a few other members of this community were vociferous about the games apparent failings and in retrospect these assessments weren't entirely fair.
Like many people of a certain age, I am a massive Star Wars fan. We all grew up watching the original movies at least once a week and letting our imaginations run wild with our friends.
Fortunately the gaming community has been blessed with a vast range of excellent Star Wars games accross multiple genres, chief among those for many was Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic series.
When SW:TOR was announced in 2008 I don't think I was alone in hoping that we would be getting a spiritual successor; a KOTOR 3, albiet on online game.

However, when actual gameplay video started to surface, even those released officially by Bioware, my excitement turned to dismay.
The graphical style initially looked terrible, the animations worse-so, but above all the gameplay had been taken from KOTORs fantastic hidden D20 system to a much more formulaic MMO affair.
The phrase "WoW-clone" quickly attatched itself to the game along with "WoW with lightsabers" and other derogatory terms.

Thankfully after playing the game at Dreamhack 2011 and talking to some of the team there I quckly realized that the gameplay, whilst not being ground-breaking, was solid enough and the class storylines were great in places.


Chillin' with Malgus at Dreamhack


The style of the game was consistent throughout and the game was obviously written with a passion by Star Wars fans, for Star Wars fans.

Sadly, as is often the problem with big-budget MMO releases the game wasn't without its share of problems even after release.


Having now played characters on both factions to level cap I'd like to take some time to discuss how Bioware has addressed the game's initial problems as we head towards SW:TORs first anniversary.



Class and Faction Stories

Whilst I won't pretend to have played though all of the class stories (if there was a way to do so without having to play through the rest of the quests I would absolutely pay extra for that opportunity), I believe that in the Impeial Agent I have seen the best Bioware has to offer and in the case of the Jedi Consular, I have seen by far the worst.


Without giving away any spoilers, the Imperial Agent storyline is easily one of my favourite RPG storylines in any game and goes far deeper than I honestly expected it to.
The story leads you to question your allegiances, the value of life as a "mundane" Empire citizen, the Implacable nature of Sith Lords and, as a Light Side player, the true meaning of patriotism.


The player is faced with important distinctions in Imperial dogma early in their career.

On Hutta, and indeed throughout the game, the player can chose to play the good patriot by promoting Imperial values of safety through community, the value of hard work and above all stability.
Soon after you are faced with betrayal by your superiors, mind-control and being forced to operate alone behind enemy lines as a double agent, all of which force even the staunches loyalist to question their allegiances and make some extremely tough decisions.


The IA story delivered on every possible front, the companion characters could potentially have been more engaging perhaps but that is a very minor concession.
Oh, and those Imperial uniforms are just fabulous.

The Empire: Unlimited Power, Great tailoring


After the Agent storyline teased me with this, I was hoping for a similar experience from the Jedi consular storyline.

I was expecting the view of the Jedi Order as unquestioningly benevolent to be challenged, to have questions raised about the real aspirations of Jedi Masters and how they would deal when faced with tough decisions.
What would have worked better would be to have been faced with genuine corruption within the order instead of a disease and to have needed to use real diplomatic skill to prevail.
Sadly, the storyline delivered none of this, instead giving you a mystical power to lead you on a galactic-scale quest to cure the mysterious disease affecting Jedi Masters.
The other major issue I had was that I was raised to a Master myself at a very premature point in the story, its a nice touch, but would have been better executed at the climax of the story rather than at around level 30.
I was hoping to play my Consular as a "Grey Jedi", playing to the nature of the shadow specialization I had chosen, but there really didn't feel like much room for it in the storyline and was left with ironically static absolutes (when everyone knows only Sith deal in absolutes) which had very little real effect on the story.
On a good note, I thought the companion characters in the Consular storyline were excellent, Tharan Cedrax and holiday made for some excellent comic moments and even I found it difficult to resist his charms.
There was also a sense of togetherness with the Consular companions as a team that I found lacking in the Imperial Agent story, with many mission briefings throughout the plot and a great camaraderie between the characters (although an Astromech Droid would have been a perfect addition Bioware!)
The Consular story could have been an entirely rich experience, but I found it largely predictable and was ultimately found wanting for some real drama.
Admittedly, I am an Empire sympathizer (as you might have guessed), but having played through both factions quests there is little contest between the two.
The Revan quests lines, the duplicity of Darth Malgus and the progressive nature of the Empire in the Old Republic timeline all contribute to giving Empire players a vastly superior experience playing the game.


I desperately want to be unbiased in my appraisal of the faction storylines but I fear my judgement my be clouded here.


Graphics and User Interface

This is something that myself and other members of the community found the most galling about the game when we first saw viedos released by Bioware but the style has really grown on me over the past year.

Early in the games release there was an issue with texture quality. There was a huge disparity between how textures appeared in cutscenes versus how they appeared in regular play.

CSI: Balmorra. Enhance!


This was somewhat understandable, the Cinematic cutscenes were much less demanding on the engine given that they were pre-scripted and given a short loading time but it was slightly baffling that the option to have the high-res textures in-game was present in beta but not on release.

Thankfully this was resolved in patch 1.2.

Also introduced in patch 1.2 was the option to modify the user interface.

The standard UI was also something that came under close scrutiny at lauch.

Why was the chatbox way up in the top corner? Why was everything so big and clumsy? Why was everything filled with ablative (not to mention invasive) blue clutter?


I'm not sure if everyone else was as bothered by this as I was, but the difference that removing the clutter and reducing the scale and alpha levels on the UI elements makes the game so much more of a pleasure, I think the difference between the two is staggering.


Its worth giving due praise to the masterful job that Bioware's art team has done with the environments in SWTOR, there is very little evidence of elements being copy-pasted anyhwere (and in the instances where it is done, it makes sense for them to do so).
Many of the environments are absolutely beautiful, I couldn't possibly include all of my favourites but I will include one, Imperial Intelligence.

Observe, Mr. Bond, the instruments of Armageddon.


PVP gear

The RNG of getting PvP gear at release is a case of how I will never understand how some things get past QA, let alone beta testing.


Unfortunately, this is something that Bioware found difficult to correct before ultimately making it better for everyone.


In patch 1.1, roughly a month after release, the system of aquiring PvP gear was changed from requiring specific tokens randomly received from bags to earning commendations to buy the gear.
This made aquiring PvP gear much more predictable, ultimately getting players precisely the pieces they needed when they needed them.
The problem with this system is that it potentially took a little longer to get the gear than the people who simply got lucky in the previous system, and required a lot of grinding from new lvlel 50s against better-geared players to make progress.
Whilst I think that "they have better gear" is often a weak excuse in PvP, the difference between players who had already aquired Battlemaster gear were at a vast advantage over fresh 50s and grinding out those commendations took real determination as you were going to lose a lit of games.
I still find the progression-system much more satisfying though, I just wish they had the forsight (or the QA team) to implement this system from the beggining.


The system was improved further still in patch 1.2 in April 2012 with the introduction of Recruit gear.

Recruit gear is available to fresh level 50s for nothing more than credits, it is the same quality as the Champion gear (1 tier below Battlemaster) and reduced the gear disparity for new players dramatically.
Furthermore, Battlemaster gear can now be purchased with regular warzone commendations and the new tier of War Hero gear is available only through Ranked Warzone commendations.


In a way, I can understand that Bioware wanted to differentiate themselves from WoW's honor system and that is admirable, but its difficult to see why these systems were ever implemented to begin with.


World PvP

World PvP was also a mess at release, although I'm not sure this was entirely Bioware's fault.

Ever since Dark Age of Camelot, there has been a very dedicated sector of MMO communities that crave large-scale combat.

The problem is, the fickle nature of the MMO community means that a lot of titles don't have the longevity the playerbase would like. New MMO releases come along and these communities will attempt to shoehorn large-scale RvR gameplay into games that simply aren't designed for it, leading to developers making approximations of the play-style with mixed success and a high failure-rate.

Warhammer Online tried it with a degree of success (WAR will always be the MMO that really broke my heart, the game it should have been would have been amazing).

Aion did an exemplary job of it prior to 2.0.


Another evening on Hellfire



We have seen it to an extent in World of Warcraft with Wintergrasp (and its inferior descendant; Tol Barad) with a some aplomb as one would expect from Blizzard but it is a design they have eschewed for Mist of Pandaria.

In RIFT, we saw Trion attempt to implement world PvP objectives, although I suspect this was more of an effort to prevent players griefing people that were trying to quest and felt largely tacked on, although I would commend Trions efforts in responding to player feedback in the timely manner that they did.

Currently ArenaNet are making their own foray into the genre (for better or worse, which I shan't discuss here).

SWTOR shared the same problem that many "RvR" implentations in MMOs suffer, the engine couldn't handle a large number of players in one area and the community found a way to break the system almost immediately.

The daily and weekly quests on Ilum which rewarded players with bags simply required the zone to be flipped in favour of one faction, which quickly led to win trading and actually killing opposing players there was almost unheard of.

In patch 1.1 the quests were changed to require player kills to complete before being removed entirely in patch 1.2.

Sadly Ilum, and perhaps moreso The Outlaws' Den on Tatooine, never really recovered from their poor implementation, I hope that one day Bioware will return to the concept of PvP worlds but I fear it may be an opportunity lost.


Free to Play

I can't pretend that I like the concept of games moving from a subscription based model to a free-to-play model.


I have no problem with paying a subscription to an MMO if I think it is worthwhile (which SW:TOR certainly is), it is generally accpted that they money you pay makes for a better experience for everybody in terms of quality and hosting and a subsription fee should be viewed as a hallmark of quality.


Games that are designed with it in mind tend to work, League of Legends and Guild Wars are excellent examples, but those making the transition have a tendancy to make drastic changes to the game in order to generate money through micro-transactions.

Sadly, SWTOR is no exception.


Among the list bizzare restrictions to the free version are:


• Restricted to 2 hotbars - Anyone who played the game with 2 hotbars will tell you that this is not enough for most classes

• Less exp per quest and from mobs, and no rested exp

• 5 Warzones and 3 space missions per week - Combined with the reduced exp from questing, I find it hard to imagine how people will level at all without long periods of grinding mobs

• No Raids, Ranked Warzones and only 3 flashpoint rewars per week - Essentially no endgame content

• No customer service - I cannot fathom their reasoning for this

• 2 character slots only


Most of these restrictions can be bypassed by paying for micro transactions but what, then, is the purpose of the free-to-play model at all?

Every player would be better off simply paying a subscription or be faced with a game that is effectively unplayable.

I wish there was something positive I could say about it, perhaps the ability to buy cosmetic gear is a nice bonus even for subscribers.

It is worth noting though, that the servers are currenlty all under Heavy Load with players logging back into the game now that it is free. Some servers even having queues at peak times.

It will potentially be a few weeks before this stabalizes, and if the trend continues it could lead to Bioware being forced to open new servers accommadate the player-base which is almost unprecedented so long after an MMO's release and subsequent server closures.



Major Patch Highlights

1.1 January 2012

Kaon Under Siege - New flashpoint

Karagga's Palace - New Operation


1.2 March 2012

Legacy System implemented

Explosive Conflict - New Operation

Novare Coast - New warzone


1.3 June 2012

Group Finder

Ranked Warzones

Augment slots - Enabling players to add the best mods to custom gear


1.4 September 2012

Terror from Beyond - New operation

New Raid Tier of gear

Nerfs to CC in PvP


1.5 November 2012

Free to Play

HK-51 Droid companion

New World Boss



Going back at this point in time was refreshing, I knew what to expect from the gameplay and all of the elements added post-release make for a much more well-rounded experience.
I can't help but wonder if the fate of the game might have been different if Bioware had been given the neccessary development time to launch the game with the features of 1.1 ~ 1.3, the feature of having a Group Finder for flashpoints alone could have made a huge difference to the casual playerbase.

Sadly it wasn't to be as once again EA rushed an MMO to release before it was ready, let this be a cautionary tale.

That being said, SWTOR isn't a bad game. Its an excellent RPG that was let down early in its life by unfinished or poorly implemented features.

Would I reccomend it? That depends.

I would certainly reccoment that every Star Wars or RPG fan plays through some of it at least once (do yourself a favour and play an Imperial Agent, you won't regret it) but as an MMO it suffers the same fate as every other release; It isn't World of Warcraft.
Bioware have once again done an excellent job of brining the Old Republic era of the Star Wars universe to life and that, at least, is worth celebrating.