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SWTOR Launch Day

Star Wars: The Old Republic Columns - By Isabelle Parsley on November 04, 2011

SWTOR Launch Day

It’s been over a month now and I still haven’t found a new MMO to play, despite all the helpful suggestions received here (for which, thanks!). The issue is mostly one of time, but probably also one of lassitude: maybe I just needed a break from gaming for a while. It happens.

Now, however, I’m going to have to eat a heaping helping of humble pie. I said a few months ago that I was kind of ambivalent about SWTOR and that I wasn’t sure I wanted to pick it up at launch. Things change, of course, and I should have remembered something I’ve known for a long time when it comes to MMOs: never say never. I’ve heard some pretty good things from friends in the beta, who did their best to kill me after telling me (before the NDA was lifted, anyway). I always intended to pick up the game at some point, just not necessarily on the first day. But now, without a new game lined up and with the lure of the new and shiny, I suspect I’ll be joining the hordes on opening day.

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I forgot something when I wrote my “meh” column: I love MMO launches. There’s nothing quite like them, even if most of the games I’ve been in at launch I was also in the beta for. I never did make it into the SWTOR beta and I’ve avoided reading much about it in the last month or so, so this time I’ll be a genuine noob. It’ll be a blast. Much though I enjoy testing, there’s an added element to joining eleventy-million other players in a new game, without any prior knowledge.

The launch-day (-week, -month) community on an MMO is unlike anything else – it doesn’t last long, but for a short while there’s a sense of excitement and common endeavor that’s unbeatable, everyone bound up in learning, discovering and, of course, liberally killing zillions of foozles to get to level 2. Yes, it’s also fractious, over-excited, and crabby at having that spawn stolen again by some other noob who snuck up while you were checking your inventory to make sure you only needed one more foozle tooth, but on the whole it’s good-natured. Everyone’s in the same boat.

You can usually expect a little chaffing from the long-suffering beta-testers or early starters, who have already seen and done all the new and shiny things you’re only just discovering. You can expect a few smart questions and a lot of inane ones, like how to find one’s backside with both hands, a flashlight and a map. Worst of all, the inane questions are on a 2-minute loop as new people log in… but even then there’s usually still a reservoir of goodwill. The community will never be as tolerant again as it is on launch day, even if it’s also as hyped-up and hair-trigger as a 4 year-old on Mountain Dew. (Not counting the issue of game comparisons. I’m tired of those – hell, I think everyone is tired of those. If you think Game-X is so much better, just bloody go back to it and let the rest of us enjoy the experience without your judgmental eye-rolling, kthx.)

This is going to sound strange, but even the inevitable launch-day glitches are fun, if only in retrospect. People often cite WoW as having a flawless launch, but they can’t have been there or they weren’t on the server my guild and I picked. There’s a reason Icecrown server is affectionately known as Icedown. I remember lagging out every two steps in the Wetlands, trying to run a motley group of low-level night elves from Menethil to Ironforge, and coming back to the graveyard after having been eaten by crocolisks for the eleventh time. Servers and zones, to quote a friend of mine at the time, were up and down more than a tart’s knickers. It was exasperating and I seem to recall possibly throwing a few things at the wall, but seven years down the line there are a couple of dozen of us who all went through it and who all remember being there together at the time. Bad memories are memories too, and time transmutes them into positive shared experiences.

But what I enjoy most of all is the new stuff. Everything is new, and that’s unbeatable – new classes, new systems, new gear, new landscapes, and possibly even new experiences. I’ve known for a long time that what I like best about MMOs is discovering how to play them. Learning how to play is a joy to me; the steeper the learning curve the better, assuming it’s not steep because the systems are badly designed (but that’s a rant for another day). On the Bartle scale, my Social and Explorer indices are fairly even, with Achiever some way behind and Killer barely registering at the bottom; and while that scale has its issues, it’s relatively accurate in my case. The nuance is: I’m more a systems explorer than a places explorer. I enjoy finding new places, but it’s finding new mechanics and learning how stuff works that really fires me up.

For that, you can’t beat an MMO launch. Sure, you can do all that learning after launch, which is just as well or no game would ever get new players, but it’ll never be quite the same because at launch, you’re learning with a packed crowd all learning too, and there’s something unique about that atmosphere. And while there are some who seem to care only about the end result (which makes me wonder why they play at all, but it’s their dime), many of my friends are like me: playing a new game is fun, but the journey on launch day and for the next few weeks is special.

Even the information overload is fun, though it’s probably a good thing that doesn’t go on for too long. You know, the “OMG-inventory-skills-buttons-map-quests-leveling-what do I do-where do I go?” experience. I’d contend it was a sharper, more immediate experience when everything wasn’t up on a wiki before launch even began, but to be honest there were websites out there even in the prehistoric MMO days of the twentieth century. I’m debating whether to forbid myself from checking out any of those sites for the first few days, but even that’s not necessarily a smart move nowadays, when games are being designed with wikis and fansites in mind (TSW, for instance) and with integrated web browsers.

Nonetheless, I think I may well do my best to avoid them as much as possible. The immersion factor on launch day is usually pretty strong, even with the haters and inane people who make you wonder how they managed to turn their machine on, let alone log into the game; but every time I switch out to my desktop, the immersion is diluted a little (at least for me – people’s mileage varies), so I’m going to try fairly hard to stay put and *gasp* figure things out for myself. My main concern is usually screwing up my character, but I’ll live with that too if it comes down to it. My first Asheron’s Call character was horribly designed and horribly gimped, and I never had as much fun with any of my other characters.

I guess I’d better get off my arse and replace my graphics card. It’s a good card but it overheats (a hardware issue I can’t be bothered to fix) and since it’s a couple of years old anyway I’m going to splurge on a new one. After all, if you’re going to jump into the insanity of an MMO launch, you might as well do it with new hardware too. I may still be ambivalent about SWTOR’s staying-power for my play-style, but I know I’m going to love launch day, because however different every game may be, launch day is a constant and launch day is always fun.

See you there!

Isabelle Parsley / http://stylishcorpse.wordpress.com