Nov 27, 2011

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage | 15 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: My Initial Impressions Of Role-Play Potential In SWTOR

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

I’ve had the chance to beta test TOR for a while now, and I thought I’d start off with an article about my initial impressions of RP potential for TOR.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I entered the game was the magniificent ambiance of every environment I stumbled across. Planets in TOR are gorgeous and are dripping with atmosphere. Admittedly, I played a Jedi Sage, and so I spent most of my time on Tython and Coruscant.  But regardless of the planet I really enjoyed the grandeur of the setting from the moment I logged in.

Exploring the environments in the game really did inspire me with the mental imagery for building story. At one point I realized little ideas for story and events were jumping out at me each time I moved into a new area.

As I wandered around it became clear that I would have no end of choice for places to RP. Cantinas are obvious starting points. However, the senate building on Coruscant not only offered a sumptuous setting, but also had the scenery and space. Throw in the ‘political’ backdrop and I can see some great RP scenes in the making there.

The old Galactic Market was definitely worth a visit. But then so was the Jedi temple. I can see Jedi RPers heading there for setting the stage. The temple and surrounding grounds will be a great point for Master-Padawan RP scenes without a doubt. There are wonderful rooms off the beaten track that really add to the feel of it all.  Whether you set a scene in the combat training room, the lecture hall, or train your Padawan amongst others practicing their levitation and Force Lifting skills, you are sure to find the setting you want.

Other planets like Nar Shadaa and Coruscant are filled with much potential.  From shady meetings in the corners of cantinas, to wandering through grafitti and garbage filled streets, and on upwards to the polished and decadent heights, there is no end of ambiance and backdrop to your story.

What’re you lookin’ at? I know what I’m doin’

The decision by BioWare to use social points won during group conversations to buy cosmetic outfits will delight many RPers. I’ve got a feeling that the possibilities of elegant dresses, hats and rugged casual menswear is only the tip of the iceberg. I look forward to sharing the discovery of how broad the social wardrobe actually is. And most interestingly, this system actually provides incentive for RPers to play the game, since you have to group and quest with others to win social points.  For the role-player that likes to avoid questing you may find yourself constrained to get at the nicest attire.  But then the upside to all this is that the story is just so…much…FUN!

I will confess that I discovered the downside of phasing/instancing when trying to get a group together. Phasing divides players across different servers, which reduces lag.  This may mean that depending when you log in or travel to another planet that you may find yourself sitting on a different instance from those you want to RP with.  However, from the RPers point of view I think that we will just work out that we need to move to the same phase that can take us all. But for larger gatherings, or ‘accidentally’ bumping into RP I do see a downside. It is worth bearing in mind though phases only kick in for busy areas.

Your eyes can deceive you; don’t trust them

But any RP review has to consider the downsides. The biggest to my mind is tha lack of being able to interract with the environment. We cannot sit yet (except in the pilot’s chair of our spaceship). This will undoubtedly make it in post-launch, but the early days are going to see a lot of standing, meditating or sitting on the floor. Be warned though that the seated postures also leave quite a lot to be desired. We’ll get by but we’ll rejoice when the ability to sit on chairs is added. And I hope that a Bio tab won’t be long after launch either.

I found a sizeable set of emote menus, but I suspect that those from SWG may be a little underwhelmed.  However, as someone who uses text to emote and finds even the extensive SWG emote library limiting I’ve never been much of an in-game-emoter. But I’m certain there’ll be those that will be left wanting.

Where are you taking this… thing?

Still, the elephant in the room is the absence of the appearence tab. This has a hot topic on the official forums for some time now, and was even covered by Ask A Jedi a while back. In my opinion, while being able to sit on chairs and benches supports the setting of a scene, an appearence tab supports a richer switch between playing the game and roleplaying in the game. And given that many RPers will be questing with groups to win social points and get those nifty casual outfits, I anticipate many RPers will be left wanting for the appearence tab in short order.

Obviously, companions add the potential for a great new dimension in MMO RPing. We have an instant cast of NPCs for events, story and scenes. However, my early experimentation with companion customization left me wanting. Add the lack of appearence tabs for companions and I think RPers will definitely feel the work to prepare for scenes is getting old within a few months.

I had the fortune to RP in LotRO from day one. Yes, sitting in chairs was there close to the start. However, the appearence tab took quite a while to make it in. I am under no illusions; I’ve yet to experience the utopian RP environment in an MMO.  There may be shortcomings for RP potential in TOR but I believe that the main ingredients are there, or will be there soon enough.

The Force is strong with this one

Overall, SWTOR is showing the potential to be a fantastic setting for RP. Given the popularity of the Star Wars genre, as well as the self-professed passion for role play on the part of BioWare team members, I hold out hope that the RP community will fare better than we have with other MMOs.

My conclusion is that this will be a must-play MMO for RPers. There are definitely gaps to be addressed. But we are talking about one of the most epic IPs in the world, set in a graphically stunning world oozing atmosphere, an emphasis on story behind the game’s design to inspire story, all developed by a company that considers themselves RPers and used the emphasis of table-top mechanics from back in the day for many elements of game design. In short, I think you’ll like what you see at launch, but you’ll love what it’ll become in time.

I’ll see you at launch ;)

  1. I myself am not fussed at all about the lack of a Biography option. It’s already bad enough if a metagamer makes his character magically know my character’s name. I don’t need him figuring out my profession or background story simply by reading my bio before commencing RP.

    And inversely, if I want to approach a group of RPers I don’t want to first spend a good bit of time reading all their bios in case any of them filled it with crucial information about extra scars the game can’t cover, jewellery, birthmarks, beauty spots and/or race they are RPing but that they can’t roll in the character creation. So, yeah, as far as I can concerned, biographies can take all the time in the world to get to TOR.

    • For my part, I like bio tabs because I can use them to share information about my character’s appearence and demeanor. It’s not the place for backgrounds and such fields rarely have more than ~500 characters of room anyway.

      Perhaps the tab might be better titled, Appearence.

      • But again, that’s not ideal either, because if everyone does that and you want to join a group scene then you’ll be losing precious time reading everybody’s bios checking for any telltale marks that aren’t visible on the model but you would/should notice in person. I’m more of a fan of sticking with what the game can let me show and rolling with that.

  2. I agree with your points. After finally playing the game this weekend, the RP potential, for me, is off the charts. I literally had to stop and take in Tython and Coruscant. They were just so immense and beautifully done.

    I did manage to play a bit with some of my RP guild, but it was purely playing. We didn’t bother to RP, but with the social points and quests and how both of those are completed is built for RP. For once I truly felt like I was in an MMORPG! It wasn’t just fetch or collection quests, they had meaning. Those push you forward with the RP. I just want to thank the writing staff at BioWare for their obviously excellent work.

    I don’t want a biography tab. If I meet a player who wants to know my history, allow me to tell my story how I want to. Maybe it creates conflict or a RP event where I say something about myself that isn’t 100% true. My guild knows the truth, but the new player doesn’t. Would my guild go along with my deception or would the bring it to light? And question as to why I made the deception in the first place.

    You mentioned the imperfect /sit emote, but did you check out the player animation when they stand up? HAHAH, it was kind of a mess. It’s like you just kinda levitate up half way to standing. It made me chuckle.

    12/20 can’t come fast enough!!

  3. BlueMeanie says:

    I’d like to see a bio tab ASAP. I don’t plan on having an extensive bio on it, rather 3 or 4 lines of text that can impart any information that would be obvious to anyone viewing my character (and not obvious on the avatar itself).

    I’m surprised when talking about downsides you don’t mention chat bubbles? They’re a huge plus to roleplaying, arguably much more than sitting in chairs and bio tabs.

    • I didn’t mention chat bubbles because it’s a question of preference. I don’t like them, and I didn’t want to go there in the article.

      I don’t like chat bubbles for a number of reasons. In my experience the following come immediately to mind:
      – Controlling how long they stay on screen is a challenge. If someone types a HUGE post (which will happen) then I’ve got a HUGE bubble.
      – You don’t get custom emotes (/e) in the bubbles. Now I need to read in both the text box and on the screen.
      – If I do get custom emotes in chat bubbles then I have to mentally work out the difference
      – If 10+ people are in the scene the page gets filled with chat bubbles
      – I don’t know the order of who spoke when with chat bubbles. I do with sequential text.
      – Now add HUGE spoken lines with HUGE emotes and suddenly I’ve got a visual nightmare.

      It comes down to personal preference. I’ve tried chat bubbles in MMOs and have turned them off. I really do dislike chat bubbles for all the reasons above and more. I would prefer to have my avatar sitting in a chair over a chat bubble. And as for the bio tab – well, I’m with you.

      • That said, the ‘option’ for chat bubbles being turned on would be nice. Since there are those that like them.

        Obviously, I’d take chairs and appearence tabs as personal preference first though. :)

  4. New reader here, howdy! And I regret that my first statement here is one of disagreement because I didn’t think the few, low-level planets plus Coruscant I saw in the stresstest had much ambiance at all. They felt very dead, static and sterile and that was one of my biggest disappointments. :( IMO the immersion experience would be so much better with wildlife and critters wandering around (instead of just some huge big monsters standing around like statues), more scripted NPC talks (I barely encountered any), ambient sounds, weather effects, kids running and playing, and so on. I know they don’t intend to do a day/night cycle and I disagree with that decision, though with the game spreading across multiple planets I guess you could say you always “just happen” to arrive on Coruscant in the morning.

    The lack of interactive objects is another big downside for me, I do really hope that more/most chairs, benches etc. will be made interactive.

    Also, exploration seemed pointless for me because there was nothing to discover. I heard that later planets become more open and offer some actual exploration possibilities, and I do hope that is true.

    An appearance tab would be very nice, definitely. I read claims that more items will be modable in later builds, which might lessen the need for it, but IMO it would definitely add a lot. Chat bubbles I don’t care for and never had on in WoW, but for those who like them, I hope the option will be there. A flagRSP type of addon or inbuilt feature would be nice as well for providing some more descriptive details, though I don’t like full-blown biographies and such.

    In closing, I still enjoyed the beta but as someone who isn’t a Star Wars fan at all but simply likes the Jedi and the Force, I didn’t find that much RP appeal in it. I guess those who are true fans will feel more drawn in by what is there and those who aren’t will not. I do intend to get the game, but I’ll see if it will turn out to have a longer-term appeal beyond the class storylines. Of course, being an introvert and currently being massively burned out by WoW has some influence on my ability to feel enthusiastic about a similar game and about the prospect of having to build whole new social circles for proper RP …

    • Fair points. And to an extent I can see why you’d take that position.

      My position is based on what I know will come from RPing with others. I am fairly visual and will admit I am influenced more by architecture than flora and fauna. In my mind I was speculating on what it would be like to be RPing with my guild and friends. And with that vision I stand by my article.

      That said, the environment could do with some polish. I’m not too fussed over the weather. I can see why BW would take that position. I thought the environments were rich in places. As I descended into deepest Coruscant it really felt seedy. Yes, there are not a multitude of NPCs, but that’s the fare for MMOs (and from a processing POV I can appreciate that). Tattooine gorgeous, but filled with wide open spaces. However, wandering will yield some great meeting spots on many planets. I just hit Alderaan last night and I have to say I’m seeing some great potential there as well.

      I will agree that there were very few ‘green’ critters. Tython had those big Uxbeasts (?), but that seemed to be it. I can only hope that BW will add some over time (this is just beta after all).

      I did run across a few scripted conversations. But I found that they became cumbsersome for two reasons. First, the effort to make such scripts rotate through something I’ve not heard before is expensive. And I would rather not have the same line every time (which is the norm for MMOs, and that I encountered on Taris, again and again…). Second, if such a script was going on and I clicked an NPC for a quest the audio tracks would overlap each other. Too much repetitive convo would get boring very quickly. But we can agree to disagree on that.

      My advice is to wait for the social aspect of RP to kick off. Judging SWTOR through the lens of WoW and being burned out likely takes on a harsh tint (as you freely admit). To me the environment is like a white canvas. It’s the players that will make the art come to life.

      • If the social aspect isn’t there, then the most vibrant world won’t help, yeah. Of the two, the former is definitely more indispensable! It’s perfectly possible to have absolutely intense RP without any visual or audio aids after all.

        None of the issues I had with the game is a deal-breaking in and of itself, but together they add up into something that can make or break my feeling of immersion. WoW, ignoring all its countless and worsening flaws, does a better job at “pulling me in” than TOR because of the mostly seamless world where more background stuff is happening. Of course, it’s impossible to directly compare the two games in that regard since WoW is set on a single main planet plus a secondary one and a couple smaller oddball planes of existence, while TOR somehow has to make us feel like we’re actually in a whole flippin’ galaxy!

        I really want to like this game because there’s so much I loathe about WoW and the directions Blizzard is taking it, especially lore-wise, that I’ve been pretty much only playing because of my guild for a good while now. It’d rock to actually feel happy about a setting again as well as happy about the gameplay and the people. Star Wars will never appeal to me as much as proper fantasy because I’m very much a nature gal instead of a tech fan, but I will give it an honest try.

  5. Since the article is only about a few planets, I will add to my counterpart’s article.


    VAST! That’s the word I’m using to describe the planet’s RP potential. Want to RP a moisture farmer that has his own moisture farm? The potential is there. I found empty moisture farms with no actual characters occupying them apart from the motoring utility droids mulling about the grounds doing their duties.

    Want be a business man working for Czerka on Tatooine, trying to get your fair share of profit? You can have your own office and location to conduct business because there are many empty places like this floating around the planet.

    Tatooine probably presented the broadest scope of RP potential that I witnessed as opposed to any other planet. So for those of you who were upset by Coruscant, Ord Mantell, and Tython. Do not stress, I promise you that the later planets are far greater.


    Want to roleplay an descendant of an abused alien relative that was subject to the ridicule on Taris from KOTOR? You can! There are still elements of bigotry and racism on Taris. There are plenty of places to set up shop and make your stand on the planet. Especially in the individual towns and outposts.


    Want to roleplay your character as a descendant of someone that died on the Endar Spire? Guess what? You can find yourself exploring their history and past right to the crash site of the Endar Spire on Taris!

    Want to be a scientist or doctor trying to find a cure to the rakghoul plague? You can also do this on Taris, set up shop with some of the local scientist at one of the outposts and see if you can’t figure it out!

    Nar Shaddaa:

    Want to work for a dirty Hutt and be his lackey? Guess what?! You can! There are Hutts sitting around that you can RP their body guard or RP one of their lackey’s by going to one of the many cantina-like establishments on Nar Shaddaa.

    Want to be a dancer and get paid for your services in a skimpy outfit? Go ahead, set up shop in one of the many spots catered for this. I’ll toss you a few credits via trade. :)

    The limit for RP in TOR really stops with your imagination. As I went through the game I was brainstorming so many scenarios, campaigns, and social events that I can set up for my guild and those who choose to roleplay with us.

    Really, there is great GREAT potential in this game despite some of the minor mechanical wants/needs that have already been mention. Bio/Appearance features. Chat bubbles. More visual effects with the emotes. Interaction with the environment. All of these things are great, but don’t put yourself under the illusion that you can’t have a great RP experience without them. These things will undoubtedly make it into the game as it progresses, but as it stands. I can say with absolute certainty (in my opinion, of course) that if you’re a roleplayer and you have others to roleplay with you’re going to have a blast with or without those mechanics.

    Good article, Sa!

    p.s. I miss you!

    • That does sound encouraging. :) I just love big open places to explore and find RP spots in. Does it start to get better right after Coruscant? And can lower-levels get to those planets for events? I didn’t see if there was a shuttle service for anything but the starting worlds plus the capital, but even if there isn’t we should be able to ferry low-levels there with our ships I hope.

      • I attempted to get a member that hadn’t gotten far enough to get their own ship yet on my ship and I didn’t have any success. The member wasn’t allowed to enter my ship instance in order to board.

        I’m not sure we will be able to fairy low level characters to these events until they’ve at least gotten far enough to get their own ship.

        That is the one draw back, some RP is level restricted, but then again. So is RP gear. A lot of the decent gear doesn’t come until way later levels. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t impressed with the way my character looked all the way up to level 30 simply due to the appearance of the gear.

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