Random (halloranelder) wrote,

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A new timesink...

About 18 months ago I started playing Star Wars Galaxies with Kevin and Byron. SWG is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG or MMO), so as a result you have many hundreds of thousands of people playing character in the Star Wars universe.

The game has overall been disappointing.

The game had a lot of potential but Sony Online Entertainment (the company running the game) just didn't follow through.

First issue was story line. The game is set after the destruction of the first Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope but before the start of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. As a result there should be very few Jedi in the universe with Yoda being the only one of note at that time (Luke wasn't a Jedi yet, and Ben was already dead). However, in the Star Wars fandom, everyone wants to be a Jedi, so SOE allowed people to be. This means that wandering through Mos Eisley or Theed or any of the other locations you remember from the movies you see Jedi's with lightsabers out have duels with each other in the streets.

Second was the grind. For example, if you want to be an artisan who makes stuff (whether it be weapons, armour, droids, buildings or whatever) you need to survey for resources so you know where to put down your harvesters.

To survey you pull out your survey tool, get it to survey for the appropriate resource where it marks the highest concentration in the area, then you go to that location and repeat. Eventually the highest concentration will be at the location you are, so you can put down your harvesters there and start mining. The problem is that the area you can survey starts incredibility small, and increases as your skill in Surveying increases. The only way to increase your skill is to hand sample resources.

To hand sample you go find a high concentration of something that you want, then get the character to sample. The character kneels and then every 30 seconds or so it tries to extract a sample of the resource from the ground. If it does you get a small amount of the resource, and some survey experience (xp). Once you have the required amount of survey xp you can go to the Artisan trainer and learn the next level in Surveying, and then go back and do it all again.

The initial range on survey is 64 meters. This means that you do a scan and (assuming it finds the resource you are looking for) then run the 32 meters to the highest concentration and then rinse and repeat. This takes forever to find a decent concentration of resources, so everyone who wants to be a serious crafter will want to learn all four levels of the surveying skill.

To do this takes hours and hours of doing nothing but watching the character on screen sampling. You can't even walk away and leave it while you do other things because there are the occasional pop-up message that you have to answer before the character will continue, plus the fact characters get logged out after 30 minutes of inactivity. People were able to come up with macros to get around this, but still it's a couple hours of absolute boredom.

And all the professions are like this. To be a crafter you must be a Master in the profession, because without being a Master you won't sell anything. If players want a new weapon they are only going to buy the best weapon they can find. If you can't make that best weapon, you ain't going to sell a thing. Same with Armour, people only want the best, so only the best will sell.

As a result you have people harvesting copious quantities of resources, and making copious quantities of items that they won't sell just so they can get the xp to get the skills so they can master the profession so they can start selling stuff.

To be a combat character you need to grind your way through the novice levels of the profession so you can get to Master so you can start doing the "big" things so you can loot the good stuff so you can sell them to make money.

To be a doctor you need to grind your way through the novice levels of the profession so you can be a Master so you can make the really high quality buffs that people want so you can earn money.

You get the picture?

The biggest problem with the grind was that it created a lot of Away-From-Keyboard (AFK) macro characters. Doctor is a prime example. Some of the combat classes have Tumple-To-(Position) abilities. This means that they can tumble from whatever position (Standing, Kneeling, Sitting, Prone) they are in to another one quickly. Since each position has different benefits this is a useful skill.

The issue is that tumbling causes damage to the person who does it as a cost to use. So as a result you have combat characters in the Medical Centers running a macro that simply tumbled them from one position to another and a whole heap of doctors standing around them running macro's to heal him.

As a result, when a active character with wounds that needed healing walks in to a Medical Center wanting healing, he is ignored because all the doctors are either AFK, don't notice because of all the tumbling system messages filling their screen or don't care because they are getting more xp from the tumbler than they would to heal someone.

Unfortunately the AFK mentality is everywhere throughout the game, especially in all the support professions, meaning that the few people who tried to play the game properly weren't getting anywhere because of all the AFK Players doing the same things as them but a lot cheaper.

Third problem was bad design choices/mechanics. A prime example is Jedi. Of course, with a game in the Star Wars galaxy people want to play Jedi. SOE did a smart thing in my opinion by not telling people how to become a Jedi and letting people find it out for themselves.

Eventually people started unlocking their Jedi. Then SOE stuffed up and told people how to be Jedi. It was quite simple. When you created the character a random 5 of the 32 Professions were flagged. When you mastered a profession the flag was cleared. When all 5 flags were cleared, you unlocked your Jedi sometime in the next 48 hours.

Of course, there was no way of knowing which professions your character had flagged. The moment people heard about this they started grinding up professions till they had mastered them, and then dropping them to go to the next one. This severly screwed the in game economy because all of a sudden you have people giving away their services for free in the support professions because they want their Jedi.

Christmas last year SOE game every character (theoretically, there were a few hickups) a holocron which when activated told you one of the five professions you needed to master, and also made holocrons available as loot items. The first four holocrons will tell you four of the professions you need, and no subsequent holocrons would work for that character meaning you had to find out the other professions yourself.

I said professions (plural) there, instead of profession (singular), because SOE then decided to increase the random profession requirements from 5 to 8 without telling anyone.

Eventually SOE realized how much of a cock-up the Jedi unlocking method was and changed it to a supposed better one. The new system was based on badges. Your character gets badges whenever it does certain things. Everytime you master a profession you got a badge. Everytime you visited certain places you got a badge. Everytime you completed one of the Theme Parks you got a badge, and so on.

To activate your Force Sensitivity you needed to have visited a number of important places (all Jedi related), mastered at least one profession, visited at least 5 difficult points of interest (the Sarlac being one of the difficult ones), and gotten at least 5 "content" badges.

This all sounds good unless you realize that SOE means "content" to mean the Theme Park badges and all the Theme Parks are combat based, so if you don't have a combat character, you can't do them.

There are three types of character in SWG. Combat character are self explanatory. You can use ranged weapons (pistols, rifles, etc) or melee weapons or your own fists, but a combat character is a combat character.

The second type of character is the crafter. Artisan, Architect, Weaponsmith, Armoursmith, Droid Engineer, Tailor, Chef and Merchant. All allow you to make things, except for Merchant which allows you to place vendors to sell things.

The third type is the support characters. Entertainers, Musicians and Dancers allow characters to heal Battle Fatigue while they watch/listen to them and give buffs, Medics, Combat Medics and Doctors heal and give buffs, and Image Designers allow people to change their appearance.

Due to the limitations of the skill system, the most you can have is three Mastered Professions at once, plus a bit of dabbling in a fourth.

If one of those mastered professions is not a combat profession, you can not do the Theme Parks. The only reason I managed to do it myself was that Byron and Kevin had good combat characters and they came along while I was doing the Theme Parks and took care of most of the combat for me.

Of course, this didn't actually make you a Jedi. This only allowed you to get a visit from the Old Man who gave you a Force Crystal. You then got attacked by some Sith Shadows you had to kill (oh look, more combat) who gave you a waypoint to their base where you had to go and kill all them (combat again!) and then you got a waypoint to the secret Force Sensitive Village.

At the FS village you still weren't a Jedi. To be a Jedi you had to learn some FS skills, a minimum of six branches of four levels each. Each branch took about 7 million FS xp of the appropriate type and the only way to get FS xp was to convert normal xp to FS xp.

Each skill in SWG required you to have a certain amount of xp to learn it. To stop people getting all the xp they need and then jumping from Novice to Master in one step, a character can only have twice the required xp of the highest skill that needs it, or if you don't have any skills that need it, twice the required xp of the highest skill you've got.

For Architect (which is what I did most in the game) the highest skill required 120,000 xp, meaning I was capped at 240,000 xp. This converted at 35:1, so that amount converted to about 6850 FS xp. It took me a week or so to get this much xp under normal circumstance, so to get one branch in one of the FS crafting skills would have taken me about 19 years.

Different xp translated to FS xp in different rates though. The cheapest was Combat xp at 3:1, and the most expensive was Structure Crafting xp at 35:1.

However, it wasn't quite as simple as getting the xp and learning the skills. Before you could learn any skill in a branch you had to unlock that branch by doing a quest. You could only unlock one branch a phase (each phase lasted three weeks) and only certain branches were available to unlock in each phase, and if you didn't get to unlock within the three weeks you had to wait until that branch was able to be unlocked again in nine weeks.

And the quests were stupid. One of them was having to visit a collection of waypoints, and if there were enemies there to kill them. Doesn't sound to bad, until you realize you had to do six of them, each mission had more waypoints and they were further apart. In total about 10 hours of boring travel with a small amount of combat in the middle.

The two crafting quests I looked at were to craft a certain number of components for the village defenses. Sounds fairly easy, until you realize that you need special resources that are only available by looting them off the Sith Shadows. The resources only dropped individually with a maximum of one per Sith, and you needed a minimum of 200 of them. The only way to get them was by killing Sith Shadows (there's that combat thing again) and the only Sith Shadows around the place were the ones that Spawn from the combat characters quests which means unless you found an exceptionally nice person, you had to buy these resources from the combat characters (like they didn't already have enough money as it is) at exceptionally exorbitant prices.

If you eventually managed to complete at least six branches you then got another visit from the old man and had to go kill a really bad Dark Jedi and all his henchmen (guess what? Combat!) and then and only then would you be a Jedi.

As a result SOE merely swapped one form of grinding (grinding all the professions to try and unlock) for another form (grinding whatever gives you the most of the appropriate FS xp in the shortest possible time).

Another example is the Image Designer profession. ID's were originally the make up artists, hair dressers and plastic surgeons of the SWG universe. At character creation you pick your name, race and sex, but everything else was modifiable by an ID.

They were nice, but not really a necessary part of the game.

As a result SOE decided to make them vital. Previously if you wanted to change your stats you went into the Stat Migration screen, moved your stats where you wanted them, and they gradually shifted to the new levels over the next day or so.

SOE decided that to do a Stat Migration you had to set your levels like you wanted them, but nothing would happen until you visited a ID. They also decided that Id was too easy so they added timers to everything. A small cosmetic change took 2 minutes, a major change took 5 minutes and a Stat Migration took 10 minutes.

This made ID the most needed profession in the game, as well as the most hated and the most frustrating. Something that was previously free and could be done on your own now required another person, and you usually had to pay for it. Plus with the new timers it took something akin to forever to get xp to increase your skills. You couldn't even do Stat Migrations at the start, and the small amount of cosmetic changes you could do until then nobody wanted.

A third example is combat. Being an MMO, you would expect a lot of group activities, and I think that was what the game was originally designed for. However, the buffs in the game were far too powerful. As a result people could get full buffs from a Master Doctor, and do most of the game solo.

At one point while I was getting the content badges, Byron's character was helping me. His buffs wore off while I still had mine (I needed them so I wouldn't die!). I was doing better as a buffed non-combat character than he was as a non-buffed combat master, which in my opinion is completely unbalanced.

The final issue was content. Overall there wasn't any. SOE's method of adding new content was adding a new dungeon with things to kill. Which may have been fine for the combat classes (but actually wasn't, because they were all very shallow), but what about the crafters and the support characters?

Whenever the new "content" was added it made the combat characters all enthusiastic for a while, but once the dungeon has been completed, what then?

When the Jump to Lightspeed expansion was announced Byron and Kevin wanted to have a look at it, hoping it would save the game.

They both got into the beta and there reaction was that it did what it did well, but it didn't do much.

JtL is a space based first person shooter and that's about it. It adds another crafting profession (Shipwright) and two new races, but that's it. As a result they have quit the game, and I'm going to.

While the parts of the game I was playing were enjoyable (crafting and selling) they weren't enough to keep me in the game by myself. After I log on, I find out what I've sold, restock the vendors, check my harvesters, and then what? The only thing keeping me to the game was that Byron and Kevin were still there. Without them, there's no reason to stay.

So, over the past month or so I've been closing up shop. I have a hell of a lot of stuff on my vendor, and it doesn't seem fair to just up and quit and delete all that stuff, so I'm having a closing down sale, and putting everything I don't sell into storage just in case we do end up coming back (unlikely that this is).

On November 23rd, Blizzard are releasing World of Warcraft, a MMORPG set in the world of Warcraft, Warcraft II and Warcraft III, set about 4 years after Warcraft III.

I got into the final beta and downloaded the installation program (2.5gig!) and installed it.

This morning I gave it my first test run and played for about an hour before coming in to work (naughty boy). I had more fun in that hour than I have for the last few months of SWG.

There are a total of eight races, four for the Alliance (Human, Dwarf, Night Elf and Gnome) and four for the Horde (Orc, Troll, Tauren and Undead) and a total of nine classes (not all races can play all classes).

I decided to try an Undead Warlock. I wake up in the crypt, walk outside and meet the crypt keeper. The entire game is quest based, so he gives me my first quest, nothing more than wandering down to the town, finding the church and meeting the guy in charge. This is difficult in that I have no idea where I am, and am getting used to a totally new interface, but I eventually manage.

I get there and talk with him, and he gives me my second quest, to clear the town of some of the mindless undead wandering around. I do that and then he gives me two more quests, firstly to go talk to the Warlock trainer in town and to go and kill off some of the skeletons wandering around (a little bit harder than the mindless zombies).

That's about where I left it this morning, but it was fun.

In that one hour I got the hang of the interface, went from first to second level, and over half way to third level, plus picked up money and loot items that may be useful to me.

The graphics are superb, the characters look good, the mechanics that I have seen so far work well and it's got content. With the killing zombies quest, I got xp for each zombie I killed, plus I also got xp as a reward for completing the quest as well. There is no need to camp out spawns or to wander aimlessly looking for something to kill like was needed in SWG.

I think I'm going to like this game.

Byron, myself and Kevin all have preordered the game which should be available at 9 am on the 24th. There's a fairly good chance we'll get Will into it as well, and a number of other people are interested. Should be fun.

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