Tuesday, 17 November 2015

I'm no economist, but...

I'm pretty sure the asking price these sellers have listed has created a no-win situation for all involved.

Keep in mind that the item shown in this picture is only needed by non-subscribers with credit limits capped at either 350K or 250K. (Preferred and Free, respectively).

You can click on this image to see a bigger version of it.
  1. The going price on the Galactic Trade Network.
  2. The Cartel Coin cost of pulling enough credits out of escrow
  3. The Cartel Coin cost of buying the pass directly from the Cartel Market
Obviously, if I can afford 240 Cartel Coins to pull 600K out of escrow, I'm going to use those Coins to buy the pass directly and save myself over half a million credits.

Alternatively I could use two escrow transactions of 150K each, totalling 160 Cartel Coins to get a 300K temporary bump in my credit limit, which would allow me to make the purchase.

The trade off with this method is that the escrow transactions are priced in a way to offer more value for bigger packages.

Assuming that each Coin spent offers better value the more credits it releases, then by buying a smaller package of credits I'd be devaluing each Cartel Coin I spent by 25%. Meaning, I'd've cost myself the value equivalent of 200 Cartel Coins. And the unlock still costs me 650K credits over and above!

If I'm missing something here, could someone with a better grasp of economic theory explain to me how this is anything other than a fool's game, and that no non-subscriber would ever purchase this unlock when it's priced this way.

Author's Note: I concede that if you had maxxed a Preferred credit limit, and you had 300K in escrow and you only had 160 Cartel Coins, you could use the alternate method to purchase the unlock instead of the 240 directly from the Cartel Market. But that's a pretty specific scenario. And you'd be ripping yourself off.

Monday, 16 November 2015

My Fine-to-Play experience in SW:tOR

If you've read this blog for a while (although, to be completely honest, why the Hell would you?) you'll know that until recently I only blogged about SW:tOR; it was the only game I played.

Not long ago, however, other games started to get a mention here and there (Wildstar, primarily, and GW2).

I realised that after three years of playing SW:tOR exclusively, it was time I branched out and tried other things. So I chose a bunch of games that had Free to Play (F2P) models and that looked mildly interesting and I set about installing them on my trusty Linux operating system.

I used to easily rack up 20-30 hours a week of game-time. These days, between other games and RL commitments, I squeeze in significantly less, making the $20 a month (after converting my South Pacific Pesos to USD) subscription much less of a value-for-money proposition.

So I cancelled my recurring payments and waited for the day my account got bounced back into the friendzone that is Preferred status.

That day came recently, and with it it brought a raft of unexpected difficulties. This blog post is my way of venting about, exploring, and possibly finding peace with, those problems.

As the Escrow flies:

This was a weird problem to bump into. I knew going in that I was going to be limited to 350K in-game currency on any given toon. I took the precaution of stockpiling commodities that I could reliably sell for a reasonable amount whenever I needed cash (but not more than I could bank in any one transaction).

The problem has arisen because I didn't bother to check the market price on some of the unlocks I need as a Preferred account. For some reason, people think it's sane to list items that are only of use to F2P accounts for more than a Freeper can have in their wallet at any given time (in some cases twice as much).

I know that I have access to the Escrow system, and that when I have enough currency to afford the unlock I need, I can cough up some Cartel Coins to pull the appropriate (preset) amount back into my active wallet to buy the unlock. But as a Freeper, it takes a longer to save up that cash. And the experience is no sweeter knowing you're being gouged for (up to) twice your allowable limit.


Edited to add: I've explored this situation more fully in a follow-up post here.

Cartel Coin Stipend(ed):

This was a silly oversight on my part. Once I realised the difficulty I was going to have buying the necessary unlocks with in-game currency, I thought to myself "Oh, that's fine. I'll just wait and get them with my Cartel Coin stipend.

Except my stipend has ended. Or it would have if not for the fact that I have a security key attached to my account. 

Which means I can score 100 Cartel Coins a month...one sixth what I'm used to. At this rate it would take three months to save up for the cheapest unlock I need (which only lasts a week).



The unlock I keep referring to is the Weekly PvP Pass. The one that gives unlimited access to PvP for a week to non-subscribers. 

Aside from the cost of the subscription, another reason I was keen to downgrade my account was to focus-level some toons I created solely for PvP. 

I'd left them languishing while I concentrated on getting my PvE toons up to max-level and through Shadow of Revan (as well as grinding out all the Legacy-bound companion gear and weapons I needed from Rishi and Yavin).

Since a Preferred account is topped at six active characters, I figured I could activate my PvE main, and then, one at a time, activate and level my lowbie PvP characters.

Yeah..that's gonna be tough when I'm only allowed to do five Warzones a week!

And to think, there's so many subscribers in this game who NEVER set foot in a single warzone...and they have unlimited access!!


Artifactually Speaking:

So far I haven't activated any characters other than my PvE main. I wanted to glut myself on the 'Alliance' content at the end of KotFE Chapter 9 first. 

But even though it's my main PvE character, I do PvP on it as well, and I happened to be in my PvP gear when my account was demoted. And now I can't take it off. 

F2P and Preferred accounts need to buy an unlock in order to be able to use Artifact (purple) level gear (because of course, why not?!).

Like most people, I've worked hard to attain purple gear. Only now all that gear is worthless to me. I can't use it until I get the unlock (which thankfully is account wide and permanent):

But until I can save up the Cartel Coins for it (at my new crippled rate) I'm too scared to take off my (purple) PvP gear for fear I won't be able to either equip it again or put my PvE gear on instead. 

So I can't take off my PvP gear, can't equip my PvE gear, and can't buy upgrades to either!


Edited to add: I've just found out that I can, in fact, equip the purple items that were greyed out to me when I wrote this. All I had to do was log out with them in my inventory (they were in Legacy Storage before). Apparently they are "Previously authorized by subscription" according to the tooltip.


But it's not all bad.

Admittedly I haven't been a Preferred account holder for even a week yet, but so far, I'm not hating it. Yes there are some obstacles to my original idea. But they're not driving me away from the game.

In fact, the gameplay changes introduced in update 4.0, and the fact that I'm now playing for free, is attracting me to the game even more. I like that I'm having the same fun as I used to, without the monthly price tag.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Going Korri-bananas!

The term 'gamechanger' gets used quite a lot, in a lot of different contexts and not always when it's deserved.

It's deserved here and now because BioWare's updates for SW:tOR in the 4.0 expac are, literally, game changing.

The changes are so deep and so encompassing that they can, and likely will, have a profound effect on how you play the game, not just your experiences in it.

I have a few plans for after the release and I want to discuss one here.

I want to level a character entirely on a starter planet.

I'm seriously considering levelling a new toon as far as I can while staying on a starter planet.

Since the new level-sync mechanic guarantees you'll be getting rewards and experience commensurate with your actual level (regardless of what planet you're on) it's now become entirely possible to level, using PvE content, on a starter planet. True, you'll need to kill a lot of NPCs, and repeat the Heroics enough times to make your eyes bleed. But it's possible.

Although nebulous at this point, my plan is to roll a Sith Warrior and play as much as I can on Korriban.

Ideally I'd like to go all the way to level cap without leaving the planet, but, considering the starter planets are so small, I'm probably going to need to move on at some point (even if it's just for my own sanity).

I'll probably end up undertaking a one-time relocation to the broader pastures of Drommund Kaas, with it's greater variety of NPCs, higher number of repeatable Heroic missions and access to a Stronghold and GTN terminal.

I know something like this has already been done by players who were focussing solely on Galactic Starfighter and rolled up a toon for that game-mode only. For many of them, they never needed to leave the starter planet. But I'm proposing doing this more as a role-play choice than just staying put simply because the game mode you've chosen to focus on doesn't require you to travel.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Don't get defensive!

I want to talk about the changes upcoming to Snipers (my main class) in KotFE.

I sat on this post for a while, to see what came out of the various datamining sources and/or BioWare themselves. I also wanted to see if anyone else was discussing this and what their thoughts were.

I heard the team on the Galactic Gamers Coalition being decidedly unimpressed with what Snipers got out of the ability lucky-dip. The Angry Sniper on Youtube was likewise non-plussed, calling the changes little more than a return of some of the utility that was taken away from Engineering Snipers in 3.0.

I'd like to offer a different interpretation.

Something to keep in mind is that the Sniper is the antithesis of the philosophy behind the changes BioWare is implementing in 4.0. It's been clearly stated that the intent is to grant more mobility to classes. But the Sniper is a 'turret' class. It always has been.

So what was BioWare to do when the philosophy that is informing upcoming changes is in direct opposition to the philosophy that informed the very design of the class?

They decided to stay true to spirit of the class (which I applaud considering the freedom they've already granted by taking the reliance on cover away from a lot of abilities) and instead used the opportunity to address some very pertinent concerns being raised about the class's performance in Ranked PvP instead.

Because the changes coming in 4.0 are meant for PvP, specifically Ranked PvP.

Consider the following:

I'm blue da ba dee da ba die...
  • The new skill is a comprehensive defensive cooldown reset, and it's pretty unanimously agreed upon that Snipers are a free kill in Ranked Arenas.
  • Sniper's don't have an 'Oh shit!' button, like so many other classes do. Their health tends to continue dropping once it starts until there's none left.
  • The new skill has a remarkably long cooldown of its own...which means nothing in a Ranked match as CDs are reset between rounds.
  • Any Sniper who needs all of their DCDs reset during a PvE encounter should probably consider playing a different class.

So, while I feel sorry for any Sniper devotees who were hoping for a shiny new variant of 'BANG! BANG!' to impress their friends with, I look forward to seeing how the class starts to perform on the Ranked Arena leaderboards

Author's Note: I don't consider myself to be an expert on Ranked PvP and its meta-game. Far from it, I've never played a single ranked match. But I have experienced arenas in the regs solo queue. Also, I am an expert in playing the Devil's Advocate. ;)

Monday, 14 September 2015

On kneejerk reactions

When I first found out that BioWare was going to do away with the four character class main stat system in SW:ToR (in favour of one main combat stat across all classes) I was a little stunned.
That system has been a cornerstone of gameplay since the game launched. It's informed pretty much every decision and all aspects of play (except GSF) so deeply that it's hard to think about it not being a factor.

After my bewilderment lessened a bit, I moved on to anger. I was mad that BioWare was about to render months and months of work, grinding and very carefully selecting gear in order to cover all classes, obsolete. Not only had I built a Legacy PvE set for each class (one for each of the four stats), I'd also ground out the same for PvP (another four sets), and for all my toons' companions (another eight, across two possible roles for each stat-using companion) AND a wardrobe of levelling sets, at four-level increments for each of the four stats.

So all told, the four-stat system has influenced the building of about five dozen gear sets in my Legacy. That's a lot of work and expense to have rendered useless.

So yeah, I was mad.


I've since realised that with this shift BioWare has actually done me a favour. Take for example those PvE sets. Not a single one of them was completely at raid-level. Each of them had some raid drops in it, but the nature of group compositions meant that I'd as often as not, be taking a different toon into an instance than I had the last time. But now, since all of the sets will be just as effective no matter what character class I put it on, I can mix and match to make one set that uses the best of all of them. It's quite likely that this new uber-set will be either at, or very near, raid-level in all slots. Saving me having to grind out the rest of the Willpower set, for example.

The same thing goes for the PvP sets. Not all were tier 2 in all slots, much less fully min-maxed. But some of the pieces were. And soon I'll be able to consolidate those pieces into one set. That's awesome!

And while I can't consolidate the many sets of companion gear that I've collected, I can just vendor them now. Companions won't need stats of their own in this new system. So there's an easy couple hundred thousand credits just waiting to be had.

So yeah, all in all and on more relaxed reflection, I'm actually seeing the benefits coming out of this change. Very real benefits that more than make up for some imagined slight of having had months of grinding thrown out the window!

Postscript: Also, I've been enjoying a similar system in Wildstar which is moving to a two-stat system in its transition to F2P; all gear will have  'Assault' (damage) and 'Support' (healing and maybe some tanking benefit). So you only need to check if any gear drop has more of the role-appropriate stat than the item you currently have, rather than having to remember to grab Moxie, or Grit gear. It's much more fun this way.

If you want to check out Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can play for free by downloading the game from  http://www.swtor.com and earn some free swag if you decided to subscribe!

Monday, 7 September 2015

I'm not a Gilded Warrior

In keeping with my newfound interest in trying out new (to me) free-to-play MMOs, and after a strong recommendation from an old SW:TOR guildie, I decided to give Guild Wars 2 a try.

And because I'm a masochist, I decided to not even bother with a Windows installation first and went directly to PlayonLinux.

I actually thought it would be pretty easy to install since it's such a popular game and there's already a PoL script available. That was my first mistake!

I didn't know, at the time, how much memory my video card has (I sure do know now, thought!). So when the installer script asked me for a figure, I did a quick Google search and pasted in the first answer I found. Which was, of course, wrong.

This mistake lead (or so I thought) to the game spiking my CPU and locking up my system whenever I tried to launch it. After more research, however, I found out that because of some quirk in the way that GW2 renders itself on the screen,  we Linux users need to tell Wine (via PoL) to create a virtual desktop for the game to run in.

None of my other games need this so I wasn't familiar with the process, but it wasn't actually too hard to configure. Setting it up got the CPU problem under control and gave me an actual window wherein I could see the game running (or at this point, downloading).

Unfortunately, something in my stack, (Xorg or PoL or Wine or something) insisted that this virtual desktop belonged on my laptop's built-in screen, and not on the significantly larger monitor I have attached.

Again, much googling finally yielded a command that I could use to grab the virtual desktop window (which the Gnome window manager steadfastly refuses to decorate with borders) and offset it by the width of my laptop screen, effectively shoving it onto the external monitor.

So, all in all, it's not an elegant installation, but it works. The game launches, runs, and appears at the right resolution on the correct monitor. But it's been the hardest PoL installation I've tackled to date.

By this time the game had downloaded to the point where I could log in, create a character and begin futzing around in the starter area. So, on to my thoughts about it.

Firstly I don't really go in for 'fantasy' settings in my media, be it books, movies or video games. I'm a die-hard sci-fi guy. Not that I won't make exceptions if the work in question is good enough. But usually don't feel any pull towards the fantastical realms of speculative fiction.

I'll be honest and say up front that Guild Wars 2 isn't likely to change that preference. It's got all the usual fantasy tropes and, thus far, it doesn't really do anything new or interesting with them.

I created a human engineer (because dual wielding pistols!) after a failed attempt at playing an Asura (Asuran?). I've played him to around level 6 or so and, while the game is interesting (because it's new), I'm already starting to struggle to see what will keep me interested long enough to grind to the endgame.

So far I feel the setting and storylines (such that I've encountered in beginner regions) are generic, the movement and character models feel clunky and awkward, and even the UI, trying to be all Gothic and mystical, is just ugly.

Having said that, though, there are some things that have jumped out and really impressed me.

I really like the way 'group' content happens organically through one player spawning an 'event' that all nearby players are informed of and encouraged to join. It's usually just a boss fight, but still, the unexpected, organic and cooperative nature makes them kind of fun.

I accidentally spawned one of these group events during my most recent session and was gratified to see other players pitching in to help carry it to conclusion (especially because it became rather tedious in the end).

I'm also a big fan of the way GW2 offers multiple weapon options to a class. My other MMOs (SW:TOR and Wildstar) give each class precisely one weapon option. I was pleasantly surprised when I recently realised that my engineer could stow his dual pistols in favour of a two-handed rifle. And that when he equipped it, it changed all of his abilities to ones more befitting the weapon!

This versatility really feels like it could keep the game interesting, especially during long levelling grinds. Equipping different weapons loads different abilities which creates a different rotation and leads to a different playstyle for your character. I like this idea so much I wish it would be adopted by other games.

But yeah, all in all, unless something changes soon to keep me engaged with GW2, I can't see it becoming a permanent feature in my gaming roster. Sorry Narine.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Getting Wild with the Wine again.

In my last post I mentioned I'd been given a key to the Wildstar closed beta testing effort. I'm still very much enjoying being back on 'Nexus', so much so that I will definitely be continuing, at least with a F2P account once the transition to that model is complete.

So, Wildstar is now a part of my ongoing gaming roster (actually, adding it takes my gaming from 'a game' to 'a roster'; I'm such a noob). And, of course, having to maintain a Windows environment just to play it was annoying me a bit.

So, after my success running SW:ToR in a Wine virtual drive using PlayOnLinux (PoL), I decided I had nothing to lose by trying to replicate that success with Wildstar.

I was mildly concerned that there was no scripted installation option in the PoL ecosystem (PoL makes installing software with Wine easy as it uses scripts written by gurus to provide guided, if not automated, installation).

Since an install script exists for SW:ToR, I'd never manually installed anything through PoL before. A bit of googling and a few PoL forum posts suggested that it wasn't actually that hard to get running, so I dove on in.

The process, I'm happy to report, went pretty smoothly.

I've outlined the steps I took below for those of you who might be interested:

  1. Start a manual installation from the PoL interface.
  2. Create a new virtual drive (rather an modify an existing drive)
  3. Name it (Wildstar, obv)
  4. Choose the 'Install some libraries' option (as I'd read that wininet and winhttp were needed)
  5. Choose '32 bits' as the architecture (even if you're on a 64 bit system, this is usually safest)
  6. PoL creates the drive
  7. Find the installer file (I initially tried running it directly from my Win 7 partition...didn't work)
  8. Let the installer do its thing.
Wine crashed randomly a few times during the installation, but I was able to nurse it through to completion by repeating the process above and choosing to modify the existing drive in step 2 (leaving everything after that unchanged).

Once the installation was finished, but before I fired up the game, I disabled the OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL) as I'd also read that it was causing poor framerates when active (select Wildstar in the PoL games list, click Modify, go to the Display tab, find the GLSL Support entry, choose Disable in dropdown menu).

And that was that. The game runs as smoothly as it does in a Windows environment.

Postscript: Another awesome feature I've found is the PoL Vault, which is a plugin that backs up  (and optionally compresses) your virtual drives to a different location (in my case, an external storage drive) for easy re-installation later. Needless to say that I've backed up both my SW:ToR and Wildstar virtual drives. Obviously the backups won't get any patches applied to the games, and I'll need to reinstall Wildstar when I switch over to the live client (the closed beta is a separate client installation), but still. you can never have too much backed up!

Monday, 31 August 2015

New game, new name.

I recently scored a key to participate in Wildstar's Closed Beta Testing program (or, as they call it CBT; which I really wish they wouldn't, as that initialism has other, much less family-friendly, connotations to me).

For those who don't know; Wildstar is adopting a free-to-play model. This move seems to have garnered Carbine some serious goodwill in their community (which kinda runs contrary to what I remember of SW:ToR's transition). When the F2P model is launched, the game is undergoing some fairly large changes to complement it. Hence the beta testing.

This isn't my first experience with Wildstar. I bought the game at release, and duly paid my sub for a few months. I let it lapse, however, as I couldn't afford to pay two subscriptions (I was saving for a house) and I was still very much in lurve with SW:ToR. At the time, Wildstar being free-to-play would have been the perfect solution.

All things change, however, and since then, my passion for SW:ToR has waned slightly (although I am still very keen to see how the 4.0 expansion literally changes the game) and F2P Wildstar is now a thing (or soon will be).

And so I now find myself thoroughly enjoying Wildstar again, logging in every day (and not just for the new daily login rewards) in lieu of SW:ToR.

Which brings me to the title, and point, of this post; since I'm going to be keeping an active account with Wildstar (even if it is only a freemium one), the focus of this blog needs to expand to accommodate it. Goodbye 'Respec'd Legacy', hello 'MMO MO'.

Postscript: I'm also finding myself, at the insistence of a trusted friend, seriously considering trying out a WoW Starter Edition account. But I don't know if my gaming schedule can support three games unless I'm super casual with all of them. Which I'm fine with but it may preclude WoW from being a staple as there's no ongoing free accounts (Starter Edition accounts are capped at level 20). So I'd need to sub if I wanted to continue beyond that. Which I'd be hesitant to do if I was spending my time jumping between three different MMOs.

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Brief Response to Bioware's pre-E3 Announcement.

I said to my partner as I was getting into bed last night that it felt like Christmas Eve. Swtor Clause was coming in the morning and great and wondrous new toys awaited just one sleep away!

And so, in this morning's pre-dawn gloom, I was parked in front of my laptop, double-strength coffee in my hand, fairly shaking with anticipation (either that or the mild chill that passes for winter here in Queensland) as I tuned in to watch the announcement.

Although I was disappointed in the lack of specific details, there was still enough information during (and immediately after) the presentation to start thinking some wildly speculative thoughts.

SWTOR II...kinda

While this isn't the revamped game some were thinking/hoping we were going to get, it is a re-launch of sorts.

It's an on-boarding point for new players and a fresh starting point for existing players (there's a word for this type of franchise reboot aimed at offering a convenient place for new fans to start from, but I forget what that word is right now).

Basically, what I see happening is that the game as we know at today; everything from the starter planets to Ziost, is kind of a SWTOR I. It's a game about the 'Great Galactic War' that your character (and very little else, by the sound of it) survived. It's the classic SWTOR. You level, you do Flashpoints, you enjoy a class-specific story, you get melted in the first two tiers of PvP.

But everything new, everything in 'Fallen Empire' (which I presume will be 4.0) and beyond is kind of SWTOR II (or SWTOR: the Next Generation if you will). You pick up your character (or start a new one) facing a new universe. Your faction is gone. Your companions are gone (from your side but presumably not from existence, although that could happen to some of them!). You embark on a new story, you assemble a new crew you learn new skills and [hopefully] triumph over a new enemy.

So, while the SWTOR that's been around since 2011 isn't going away, I like to think of this expansion as the dawn of a 'new' game. At least in a pseudo-spiritual way.

One can, quite literally, open the game for the first time and play only the latest iteration. The existing content has been decoupled to the point were, in my opinion, the only thing stopping this from being an actual SWTOR II is a separate launcher.

Can't we all just get along?

Since the Empire and Republic have fallen, faction lines have become irrelevant. The war we've been fighting between the 'blue' and 'red' (or 'yellow' and 'purple' if you're a PvPer) is no longer being waged.

I'm cognisant that this conflict was (is) the major attraction of the franchise, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not the only attraction.

In my opinion this change offers a huge change to the zeitgeist of the game. There's no reason any more that 'Empire' players need to group only with other 'Empire' characters. Our characters, Outlanders now (individually, if not collectively) will presumably be able to band together to take on the Emperor of the Eternal Throne (as the new big bad is known).

It may not be that big of a change to the game. But I find it exciting. After years of only being able to group with other classes of my faction (whichever side I was on at the time) it will be a novelty to be able to take my Sith Warrior into battle beside a Jedi Knight, or Trooper. Or to use my Gunslinger to offer coverfire for a Sith Sorcerer healing my group.

Author's Note: After I'd published this, it was announced that cross-faction play would not be coming with the KotFE expansion. I am Jack's utter disappointment.

Join me on the Dark Side

I know that being enthusiastic about Bioware/SWTOR expansions/enhancements/announcements is considered kind of uncool in this community; the herd mentality (even from daily players) is definitely geared toward tearing down, rather than edifying, the game and the company (and the forums, and the Twitter account, and anything else bearing the Bioware/SWTOR logo).

But goddammitall, I'm excited about this expac. It's giving a huge breath of fresh air to a game that I didn't even feel was that stale to begin with!

You can disagree with me if you wish; my response will simply be to tell you to go find a game you like and leave me to this one that I love.

If you want to check out Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can play for free by downloading the game from  http://www.swtor.com and earn some free swag if you decided to subscribe!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Getting high on Wine.

I finally took the leap and nuked the Windows installation on my gaming laptop. Rather than being the gaming version of suicide; this turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made in some time.

I've never been a big fan of Windows, even during its 'good' iterations. And despite the positive (and possibly hyperbolic) review I gave Windows 10 on my other blog, I'm a Linux guy at heart.

I've kept a Windows installation active for gaming, but there's been a number of times since I started playing SWTOR that I've looked longingly at its page on WineHQ, wondering if I had the skills to tackle the installation.

For those who don't know; Wine is a tool for running a Windows program on a Linux system. It provides a Windows-like environment that allows the program to run. And the larger, more complex the program is, the more difficult it is to get it running properly though Wine.

SWTOR promised to be diabolical in this respect.

And then I discovered PlayOnLinux. POL is an installable service that allows people who've successfully run Windows-only software using Wine to write an installation script that other instances of the service can use to install and run the same software.

And someone had been so kind as to create an entry for SWTOR. Installing SWTOR is now as easy as installing POL, finding SWTOR in its program list and hitting the [Install] button.

So, with hope in my heart, I reached for my trusty Ubuntu installation CD.

The process took under two hours, from the moment I discovered SWTOR was available on POL to when I logged in for the first time in my fresh Ubuntu 14.04 system (this includes installing Ubuntu itself and some minor configuration).

Obviously it would have been longer if I'd had to download all of SWTOR from scratch, but I'm in the habit of keeping an up-to-date backup of my installation to avoid that very thing (if you're using an Australian ISP, you can appreciate the necessity of this).

And it worked like a charm! I actually wound up investing significantly more time into finding a way to map the extra buttons on my mouse (since there's no proprietary support available) than it took to install and start SWTOR.

And the game works surprisingly well. Aside from a few client-crashing niggles that are easily avoided, it runs as well as it ever did in a native Windows environment. In fact, although it may just be my imagination, I feel like it actually runs a little better (Linux is much less resource hungry than Windows, allowing more computing power to go into running the game).

SWTOR blogger (and fellow Aussie) XamXam, hosts a great set of instructions written by her partner on how to install SWTOR on a Linux system. I didn't actually use this guide (as I only found it after I'd performed the installation myself) but the process described in the Play on Linux part is exactly what I did (except for the upgrading the Wine version part, which I've since done).

And I couldn't be happier with how it turned out:

The SWTOR login screen, with the PlayOnLinux interface (and a process spawned by it) in the background.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice a TeamSpeak icon in that screenshot. TS3 is available for Linux. The stylised 'M' above it is for Mangler, a Ventrilo-compatible Linux VOIP client. So I'm all set to game away to my heart's content.

Oh yeah!

I don't actually play with the sidebar visible like this; I use an external monitor.
I just wanted to capture it so show SWTOR in action on Ubuntu.

If you want to check out Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can play for free by downloading the game from  http://www.swtor.com and earn some free swag if you decided to subscribe!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

"The Shadow of the Order of the Elite of the Dark Jedi"™

This blog only tangentially applies to SW:TOR, but it fits here more than it does on my other, non-gaming blog.

Browsing the Amazon Store on my Kindle earlier today, trying to decide if a subscription to Kindle Unlimited was worth my tenner a month (it isn't), I came across the 'book' you can see in the image below.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why I took a closer look at it...

Now, I can see at least three things wrong with this publication:

  1. It's five pages long.
  2. It's described as a 'saga' (...that word. I do not think it means what you think it means).
  3. It's $7. That's $1.40 per page (to put that in perspective, the Tarkin novel is slightly over 4¢ per page).
Eagle-eyed readers may have already noticed that the good Doctor's name appears on the left-most book in the 'also bought' pane (See it? The one sporting the cover image ripped off from the Assassin's Creed franchise?)

Yes, Dark Jedi Elite has a sequel (or prequel, it's hard to tell) called Shadow Order of the Dark Jedi.

This second masterpiece, too, is $7 for five pages of what must surely be the most rivetting Star Wars prose ever penned.

Ahh, the Kindle marketplace; "If you write it, they will buy".

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Working as intended; SW:TOR's Outfit Designer.

I'm relatively new to gaming. I didn't beta pong like some of my contemporaries might have done. I didn't finish the first Zelda on the N64 console. I don't even know if the first Zelda came out on the N64.

So when it comes to features in games, I'm not really able to say things like "GameX had FeatureY at launch" or "GameA's implementation of this feature is so much better". I just don't know which game offers which feature and who does it best.

What follows will be my honest opinion of Star Wars: The Old Republic's new outfit designer. A feature I've been interested in trying since it was first announced.

It will be a review of the good and bad points of the feature itself, without comparison to similar features in other games. If you want to know if the outfit designer in SW:TOR is as good as the one in LoTRO, you're reading the wrong blog. Sorry.

I was very interested in trying the outfit designer because all of my characters in SW:TOR have at least two outfits they swap between regularly; their combat gear (which is in Legacy shells) and their 'around-the-Stronghold' gear which is empty cosmetic shells they wear when not out questing. About half of my toons also have Legacy PvP armour, too, adding another set to the gear juggle.

And so, as soon as I heard that the outfit designer was available for testing, I spent the better part of a week trying to install the Public Test Server in my client (I wound up having to do a complete reinstall of the entire game before it would install the PTS).

Overall, I'm happy with what I found when I finally got to play with this new feature. Having said that though, there are a few niggles in it.

Before I discuss those, though, a word about expectations. The outfit designer as it exists now is exactly what I was expecting based on tidbits shared by Bioware in the lead up to its being opened for testing.

I wasn't expecting to be able to customise, let alone design, individual gear items. Anyone who has played this game for any amount of time and who thought that might be the case is obviously an incurable optimist when it comes to the limitations of the Hero engine that SW:TOR is built on.

So I wasn't disappointed when I first opened my character window and started to click on all the new tabs. It was, to my mind, all according to spec.

You can create, and lock in, up to 16 different outfits for your toon, mixing and matching from any gear you have available and you can swap between these outfits with two clicks.

The list below is the things I found most interesting about the tool. Some are good, some are bad. Bear in mind that any of these could change before the official launch.

  • 'Stamping' an item into an outfit binds it to you. You can't buy an item, use it in an outfit and then pass it around to other toons or sell it. Totally fair enough in my mind.
  • At the moment, you can only 'stamp' items into an outfit if you could also equip them the normal way. Meaning a light armour class can't stamp heavy armour pieces into an outfit. Tait, however, has mentioned that they are looking into removing this restriction 1.
    I'd like to see this go, if only so that heavy armour wearers don't have a distinct advantage when it comes to options in creating a costume.
  • You can't leave slots in a costume empty and have them appear as empty on your character unless that slot is also empty in the corresponding base slot. This is suboptimal. In my opinion, not having a piece of gear on/showing as part of a costume is every bit as valid as having one (as exhibited by the 'Hide Head Slot' perk). If you leave a slot in a costume tab empty, whatever is in that slot in the base tab will 'show through', appearing as if your character is wearing it.
  • Further to the last point; items that 'show through' from base slots can't be color matched to the chest piece of the costume they are bleeding into. I hope this is a bug and, if Bioware doesn't allow us to have empty slots as part of an outfit, that we can at least colour match the things that show up there anyway. This is, to my mind the biggest problem with the designer at the moment.

On the left is the base gear; all clothing slots are filled and colour-matched. On the right is the first outfit tab; the gloves, belt and bracers are empty with the base items showing through (they appear more shadowed than the other items). The actual character model shows the active outfit, plus the base items in unfilled slots. Since it's not possible to colour-match empty slots, it's equally impossible to colour match base items that show through into empty costume slots.

  • It's a credit sink. Because this is the PTS and nothing really matters, I blew through about half a million credits setting up six full outfits on another toon (unlocking the tabs and stamping an item in all slots). Six is about a third of what's available and likely more than I'll ever use.
    It costs 14K to stamp an item into a slot. Across 16 tabs with seven slots each this comes to over 1.5M credits. That's over and above the cost of unlocking the tabs in the first place. And the unlock prices have gone up since I did it!
  • As with everything that costs credits, pay attention to what you're doing! After you unlock a new outfit tab, the window doesn't automatically switch to it. So if you're not careful you can wind up creating a new outfit over the top of one you've already committed, destroying it and wasting the money you spent to create it in the first place. There's no warning that you're about to undo an existing outfit. I did this precisely once before I learned my lesson. QoL issue there, Bioware!
  • And finally, while not a problem with the outfit designer itself, years of practice has taught me to interact with the character window horizontally, not vertically, causing me to click on the 'Companion' or 'Ship' tab pretty much every time I wanted to tinker with outfits. Muscle memory will adapt in time, but for now, be prepared to misclick a lot.

And that's about all I have to say on the matter (as if over a thousand words isn't enough!). Feel free to leave any comments below or hit me up on Twitter (@Scotthomas) or on Google Plus with the details on the right of this page.

If you want to check out Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can play for free by downloading the game from  http://www.swtor.com and earn some free swag if you decided to subscribe!

1: Updated: The armour weight restriction is being lifted in the Outfit designer; 
(Original post suggesting that this might have been happening: http://www.swtor.com/community/showpost.php?p=8102494&postcount=35)

Sunday, 15 February 2015

SW:TOR PvP: I don't like the term 'broken', but...

I have a complex relationship with PvP in SW:TOR. I was, when I first started playing this game, only interested in PvE.

I eventually forced myself to overcome my fear and try my trembling hands at PvP as I wanted to learn how to better play my main class. And nothing would forge that skill better than the battle-chaos that is PvP.

After a while I came to enjoy playing PvP and, from my humble beginnings with one PvP-focussed character (of the same class and discipline as my PvE main), I've since rolled up four more PvP-only characters (of different classes and roles). I've even started PvPing on a couple of my endgame PvE characters.

So yeah, I enjoy it. But it's not all it could be. Any SW:TOR PvPer will tell you that.

For the uninitiated, there's five different options for PvP in SW:TOR:
  1. Open-world PvP, which happens when characters attack each other out in the questing world.
  2. Low-level Warzones, which are objective-based PvP scenarios for the 10 to 29 level bracket
  3. Mid-level Warzones, which are exactly the same scenarios but for the 30 to 59 level bracket.
  4. Endgame Warzones, which is the same again but only for max-level (60) characters.
  5. Ranked Arenas. which are a different game mode from Warzones. They're team death-matches rather objective-based scenarios, only for max-level characters, and they're far more competitive than 'regular' warzones.
Of these five opportunities for PvP, I engage in precisely one. Number 4; Unranked endgame Warzones, or Regs.

Here's why:
  1. OW-PvP: I play on a PvE server, so Open-world PvP is actually kinda hard to come by. Of the few times I've engaged in OW-PvP, I've been soundly annihilated. I put this down to either not having, or not wearing, PvP-specific gear at the time, but it's still not fun.
  2. Lowbies: Since I don't have any characters who are under level 30, I can't do the low-level bracket (unless I start a new character, which I'm not planning on doing any time soon).
  3. Midbies: The Mid-level bracket is one of my main gripes with PvP as it stands at the moment.
    Bioware/EA recently raised the game's level cap (from 55 to 60) in their Shadow of Revan expansion. Which in turn raised the level needed to get PvP-specific gear (as that gear is only ever purchasable at the top level).
    Most people were eager to get the expansion and get to the new level cap. Even if this meant needing to get a new set of PvP gear when they hit the new max. But there are some players who, for whatever reason, haven't bought the expansion. Which means they can't level to 60.
    Which, in turn means, they're stuck in the mid-level bracket.
    This leaves us with the untenable situation of having level 55 characters entering the mid-level warzones wearing powerful PvP gear attained before the expansion; PvP gear that increases damage output and decreases damage taken by up to 30%*; PvP gear that is unavailable to the other people in the tier.
    So these guys who, prior to the expansion, were battling it out in warzones with equally geared players of the same level, are now sitting pretty eating relatively undergeared players (who in some cases are also up to 25 levels lower) for brunch.
    Which makes the mid-level tier of PvP into a killing-field. One I'm staying out of it for the foreseeable future.
  4. Ranked: I refuse to do the Ranked Arenas aspect of PvP because, despite how awesome the rewards have been lately, nothing is worth enduring the vitriolic and toxic community of competitive PvPers.
    I'm just not that competitive by nature. I play this game, including PvP, for fun. And while I enjoy winning, I refuse to slave away doing everything I can to get an edge. That just doesn't seem like fun to me.
    Also, the ranked Daily and Weekly missions are counted by wins. Since I only ever queue for warzones solo (not part of a pre-arranged group of friends), my chances of winning are dictated by the people I'm grouped with when I zone in. So it's random.
    Imagine a PvE mission that you could only randomly complete and that you had to grind over and over again until the RNG finally went your way. How many people would actually do that? Most would think it was a bug!
I enjoy PvP in this game. I have about nine different characters that I PvP on. As with PvE, I play and enjoy all roles (even PvP healing!). But I only feel able (or appropriately incentivised) to participate in one fifth of the PvP options available to me. I'm kind of conflicted about this; while I'm glad there's still an option open to me, I still feel like I'm missing out on a lot.

I'll give them one thing though, they sure know how to make a great video:

* I haven't crunched the numbers on this myself. Others have though, and this is the prevailing wisdom.