Jun 22, 2010

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Hands On: The Trooper!

Editor’s Note: We wanted to provide a slightly different perspective with this hands-on than you have probably been reading elsewhere: it was written by a non-MMO player! Matt Jarbo is a gamer and journalist living in Los Angeles, and provides a unique look at the game!

A long time ago (1995), in a galaxy far far away (Canada)… A little known video game company named BioWare emerged, and went on to create some of the greatest computer role-playing games of our time. Fast forward to 2010, and we find them in the middle of their most ambitious project to date – one that would rock the foundations of the MMO community, and surely bring any rival to their knees. We are of course talking about Star Wars: The Old Republic. I got a chance to get my hands on this masterpiece at E3 2010 in Los Angeles, and I’m here to tell you how it looks, how it plays, and how much fun it is.

The Trooper and his pals.

The Trooper and his pals.

Before I go into the details of the game, I wanted to inform all of you readers at home, that I am not a MMO player. I avoided WoW, I never tried EverQuest, and anything from NCSoft made my head spin. So I was a bit reticent to place my fingertips on the W,A,S,D, keys and navigate my way around the world of Ord Mantell. Read on to learn how that all turned out!

On the opening day of E3, I got to spend a good hour playing The Old Republic as a Republic Trooper. My character started off in a ship heading towards the planet, when it is attacked. I was trapped in the room with an Officer, who talks me through putting out the fires with an extinguisher. As soon as I started interacting with him, I got my first taste of the oft-touted fully voiced characters in the game. I was immediately transported back to Mass Effect’s dialog tree, and how I was able to select a good, neutral, or bad response each time I’m able to speak. I found out the hard way that the spacebar allows me to skip to the next dialog tree instantly.  This option will work for those gamers who want to play and not be bogged down by long conversations. With the conversation sequence over, after averting disaster, I was transported to the planet surface.

On the ground, I took a few minutes to become acquainted with the controls. As a life-long gamer, I know that a bad control scheme can kill a game very quickly. I was assisted by James Baldwin, a BioWare Network Engineer, who was very helpful in teaching me the controls. It was explained to me that the controls are very similar (i.e.: identical) to other “popular MMOs” in the marketplace.  Once the basic controls were explained, I took off running around the city to battle the enemies on my quest to save the Galaxy from Empirical rule.

Full Auto

Now this is a gun. But where's my helmet?

I led the Trooper down a pathway towards the gates of the decimated metropolis, and I was ambushed by a trio of blaster rifle wielding enemies. I targeted the first enemy and the Trooper engaged him in combat, James was standing next to me and told me to select the grenade option that was in my #2 slot on the Action Bar. As the ordinance flew out of my rifle and struck my foes for several XP, James cheered loudly at my victory.

After that encounter, he explained the rest of the UI to me. He pointed out that I was a level 2 Trooper, and he explained the other abilities that were available in my action bar. I had access to Fast Reload, Grenade, and Rifle Butt. While in my next battle, I ran up blasting away, and when I got close to the bad guy, I clicked the Rifle Butt ability, knocked him to the ground, and proceeded to shoot him until he was dead.

Next to the action bar on the HUD, is the standard selection of options: Inventory – which has 48 slots available, and the Character Sheet – This showed my current alignment and stats. The only thing I wasn’t able to access was the Skill Tree, as it wasn’t available. Directly next to the action bar, were the buttons for Recharge, and calling my shuttle. I tried to call my shuttle and blast out of the world, but it never came.

I noticed that sometimes there was a “radar” part of the HUD next to the mini-map. When I asked about the significance of the radar, James told me that it wasn’t  an actual radar, but rather that is was a placeholder for images of the NPC when you talk to them.

Trooper vs. Droid

Is it really wise to elbow a droid in the face?

With a good understanding of how the game played, I was now left to my own devices to explore the city, and battle enemies till someone kicked me off the machine. I used this time to check out the graphics of the game. I had been hearing reports/concerns from some TOR fans about the graphics. I can tell you this right now; while the graphics aren’t Mass Effect, they don’t disappoint. The graphics were designed to be less striking than Mass Effect, but still detailed enough to work on a wide range of different system types. Now, keep in mind, this build of the game is still in Alpha, and it will be more polished when it officially launches next year. To me, the graphics were somewhat reminiscent of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV show. There were similarities with the designs, and the more cell shaded edges to everything. Occasionally there were a few hiccups with the network connection. These were few and far between, but I was assured that these would be fixed by the time the game launched. Within 15 minutes, I was fully immersed in the game, and loving it.

While storming through the city and killing homicidal droids, I came across a Twi’Lek Smuggler who was in a battle with several foes (who, it turns out, was another person playing the game in the room with me.)  I clicked the Recharge button, and charged in to help my comrade. She fired her blaster at the droids, and I committed the coup de grace by launching grenades.  When the fight was over, I thought I’d try and engage in a little PvP by firing a grenade at her, but it wouldn’t work. James informed me that we were in the same faction and unable to fight each other.

After that encounter, I thought I’d leave the city and explore the countryside a bit. I ran around and fought these dragon-like creatures and more baddies while continuing to move away from the city. In the back of my mind I was expecting to encounter a barricade, or an invisible wall that would limit my progression into the world. I asked how far I would be able to travel on foot, and the response was that there were no walls. The planets that were on display (Ord Mantell, Hutta, and Koriban) were complete and able to be explored.  I decided to make a mad dash for the hills and see how far I could get, but I was out of med packs, and a few of those dragon-like buggers killed me in a fight. My Trooper died, and a debug screen popped up that had the option to “resurrect”. Before I could click the button and get back into the game, I was told by an booth attendant that my time was up.

Trooper w/ Big Gun

Happiness is indeed a warm gun.

To summarize my experience with TOR, I would have to say that this is a game that is being built with the idea that it will change the way MMOs are played. This game was designed to be an action RPG, and a damned good one at that. The combat is fluid and fun. The characters are fully developed and real. BioWare is renowned for creating powerful and gripping storylines, and I know they won’t disappoint. This game was created by an exceptionally talented team of artists and programmers who are devoted to the material, and its clear that a masterpiece is emerging.

As a person who hasn’t played MMO’s, this game is calling me, and I’m going to answer that phone.

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Sep 5, 2011

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Yellow Posts: “Hands You A Beer and Tells You You’re Handsome” Edition

Greetings everyone! The first article I’m going to start with technically isn’t from last week, but I thought it was worth mentioning anyway since I didn’t get to it previously due to time constraints. In a thread titled “JEDI Consular/Engines out of every ground”, poster Lazzarus says that when he is playing his Jedi Consular he doesn’t want to see a huge metal septic tank be pulled from the ground in every environment he goes into. Pulling an environment-specific object from the ground (i.e. a rock when on Tython or a metal object on Coruscant) would be much more appropriate and less immersion breaking, he says. Georg Zoeller, Principal Lead Combat Designer, took the time to respond and let everyone know that the metal tank the Jedi Consular hurls everywhere is, in fact, a placeholder model:

The ‘tank engine’ as people call it was always a placeholder. Consulars will project a large variety of objects into your enemies. 

That said, they are going to be pulled out of the ground, which may be ‘immersion breaking’ for some and beg the question of ‘how come this planet has become the dumping ground for broken astromech units’, which may be a mystery.

The limitation here is a technological one and while we’re interested in pursuing a more environment appropriate selection of objects for you to throw, it won’t happen for launch. 

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Aug 27, 2011

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PAX 2011: Hands-On Huttball!

One of the big reveals of out of gamescom last week was the announcement of Hutball, a brand new Warzone in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Hutball is a little different in that it’s the only Warzone (so far) where you can have same faction vs. same faction matches.

BioWare has been quoted as saying the reason beyond that was to avoid population imbalance problems between factions. Writing Director Daniel Erickson wrote a story to wrap around Hutball so that fighting your own faction would have context. Now, not everyone were pleased about this decision, including our own Professor, but, Huttball appears here to stay.

So this morning, I was excited to learn that my first hands-on gameplay with TOR at PAX Prime 2011 would in fact be a Huttball match! I could now see first-hand if this “elastic-ization” of the lore was worth the tradeoff.

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Jul 12, 2011

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SDCC 2011 Update: Flashpoint Hands-On Schedule – RSVP

As mentioned last Sunday, BioWare has been working overtime to secure some extra playtime for TOR fans who may be in San Diego, but do not have a badge to get into the convention. Better yet, this special play time will allow players to play either of the first Flashpoints in the game – The Esseles (Republic) or The Black Talon (Empire)!

Today, Senior Community Coordinator David Bass gave some details on the schedule, and more importantly, the procedure on how to RSVP and get your name on the list for this great opportunity:

Two sessions will be held each night, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (July 21-23), one at 7PM, and one at 8PM. Each session will accommodate several groups of players for each Flashpoint. If you’re going to be in San Diego next week, and you wish to RSVP for a chance to play, please follow the directions below exactly and in their entirety.

Photo ID will be required for entry. Please note that incomplete RSVP emails WILL NOT be considered for invites. We cannot guarantee your first choice of play time or Flashpoint.

1. Gather the following information:
– Full name (as shown on your ID)
– Preferred Night: Thursday, Friday, or Saturday
– Preferred Time: 7PM or 8PM- Preferred Flashpoint: Esseles (Republic) or Black Talon (Empire)

2. Email all of the above info to events@swtor.com with the subject line: “RSVP for Flashpoint Gameplay at Comic-Con” by 10AM CST on Wednesday, July 13th.

Please note that anyone who wishes to play must send their own RSVP, and invites are non-transferable. Feel free to ask any questions you have below, but do NOT RSVP in this thread!

Important! You must send your RSVP email by 10am CST July 13th. That’s TOMORROW!

So, if you’re going to be in San Diego, this is something you definitely want to be a part of! Head over to the thread for complete info.

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Jul 10, 2011

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SDCC 2011 Update: More TOR Hands-On Opportunities

As far as Sundays go for TOR news, this is a pretty good one! And an even better one if you plan on being in San Diego for the upcoming Comic-Con.

BioWare Senior Community Manager David Bass made a post on the official SWTOR.com forums indicating that, in addition to playing the game inside Comic-Con, as well as outside the convention at the Hilton Gaslamp, there is now a 3rd, special opportunity for fans to get their hands on the game:

In addition to our playable demos at the Comic-Con show floor and at BioWare Base at the Hilton Gaslamp, we’re also excited to give some of you the opportunity for an extended play session on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at the Hilton. We’ve got a limited number of sessions each night to allow for selected fans to play through the first hour of either the Esseles or Black Talon flashpoints. In order to do this in the most fair manner, we’re going to do a random selection from those who RSVP to this event. Here’s how it will work:

  1. On Tuesday, July 12th, we’ll make a post on the forums with instructions for how to RSVP. You’ll have exactly 24 hours from that post-time to follow the instructions and email us if you’d like to be considered for an invite. Note that you must be in San Diego during Comic-Con in order to play, so please don’t RSVP if you can’t make it to San Diego.
  2. On Wednesday, July 13th, we’ll close invites off, and over the next day we’ll randomly select players from those who RSVP’d. Those people will be contacted, and will have a day to confirm their date/time for a play session.
  3. On Friday, July 15th, any remaining open spots will be randomly offered to the remaining pool of applicants.

This is an awesome opportunity for some after-hour TOR gameplay, in one of the first two Flashpoints in the game. The Esseles is for the Republic, and The Black Talon is for the Empire. Having played The Black Talon at the Fan Site Summit, I can tell you this is something you want to do. I promise :) So pay close attention to the schedule that David outlined to have your best chances!

I think I speak for most fans when I say thanks to BioWare for going above and beyond the call of duty battlefield to work out all of these gameplay opportunities!

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