Why Nobody Wants to Talk

Posted: 2012/08/02 by Nick in Uncategorized

This is in reference to an article by Jason Schreier, which you can find here.  I’m gonna post this as an open letter to the author, since there is absolutely no way I’ll ever read, much less post on, one of Kotaku’s comments sections again.

You say that the gaming industry should communicate more with its customers and reveal more peeks behind the curtain so folks can see what’s going on back there.  I can understand the sentiment, I often feel that way myself, and since you’re a person who makes his living writing about this stuff, I can certainly dig where you’re coming from.  However, I think the gaming industry as a whole whould be foolish to do what you’re asking for.  Here’s why:

1. Pretty much anything you say can and will be held against you.  Any statement made by these companies carries with it a huge element of risk.  You can’t hint at a feature unless you’re positive that it will make it into the release.  You can’t talk about a release date unless you’re positive you’ll hit it.  Every word you type/say is poured over and analyzed for every possible meaning.  I’m just an observer here, I don’t work for a game studio or anything, but I have to think that if I got my teeth kicked down my throat every time I opened my mouth, I’d learn to keep my big yap shut.

2. Whenever investors are concerned, you have to be careful.  The same rules apply, you don’t want to hint at anything that might not later turn out to be true, but here it might actually land somebody in jail.  Hints and guesses become promises and expectations.  The rise of social media and a robust gaming press exacerbates the situation, as any tidbit that falls through the corporate wall quickly gets picked up and broadcast/re-broadcast.  Investors see this, and it doesn’t take much for them to get their expectations set to something entirely unrealistic.  If you work for one of these companies, I can guarantee you that your boss doesn’t want to get angry calls from investors.  You would be wise to keep all communications going through the PR bureaucracy.

3. I don’t think these guys treat the whole social media thing with the proper mix of fear and respect.  This puts them in an elite category of damn near every company in the world.  It’s a really new animal, and I think the business community as a whole is still trying to figure out how to spin/control/co-exist with this medium.  Quite frankly, I think a lot of businesses are hiding from this new animal.  I suspect that people who are really good at this are probably working in politics or for really big corporations.

To be honest, I don’t see any upside in communicating with the gamer community at this point. It’s impossible to compete with the negativity, the playing field is tilted in favor of the haters, and this whole concept of managing social media and communities is at odds with the core competency of making games.  In fact, I gotta think that if I was in the business, I’d shut down the forums, social media, etc. and operate like Willie Wonka, in complete secrecy.  If you want a peek behind the curtain, you have to buy the game with the golden ticket. 🙂

(This was cross-posted to my FB page, so if you get it twice, sorry)

(Edit: Added a title.  /embarassed)


During the course of my smuggler experiment, I have been running LFG as much as possible.  For the first time, I’m experiencing the Flashpoints at the level they were meant to be run at and it’s been a lot of fun.  But, as with any random group of PUGs, there have been some rough spots.  One one recent Cademimu run, we had a tank who had absolutely no idea how to tank.  He was a Guardian, and didn’t know what Taunt was, was in Shi-Cho form, you name it.  I’m convinced he only got assigned to the tank role because the LFG tool has that box checked by default, just like it says Heal for me, even though I’m not specced for heals.  I tried my best to guide the guy through it, but the fact is, I mainly did the tanking on my Scoundrel, made possible by a very good healer.
Anyhow, I thought I’d try and put together a quick lesson for such people.  Something I can point them to that just covers the basics without getting too heavy into the theorycrafting.  It’s confusing enough as it is.  So, here it is.

Basic Theory

A tank has two jobs:

  1. Hold the attention of the enemies
  2. Don’t die

To accomplish the first job, you have to understand the concept of Threat.  Threat is a numeric value (a score if you will) that makes the enemy attack you instead of attacking your teammates.  Your Threat score is determined by damage that you do, your Lightsaber Form and special abilities like Taunt.  The other players will have their own Threat score, and if their scores go over yours by a certain percentage (110% for melee and 130% for ranged), the enemy will turn around and start attacking them.  Soresu Form makes this a lot easier because the threat done by you will be doubled, which helps you stay ahead of the other players.  Taunt and Challenging Call are your other tools.  They will force the targeted enemy (or all nearby enemies in the case of Challenging Call) to attack you for a few seconds, and they will bump your Threat score up to 20% over the top Threat score at the time.  So, during any fight, you’ll want to be using Taunt almost every time you can, since it gives you a big jump in Threat.  Challenging Call is a little more situational, since it’s on a longer cooldown.  I like to use it when pulling a  lot of mobs especially if I have a lot of focus to start spreading some damage around.  Between those two abilities, Soresu Form, and generally hitting things as hard as you can with your Lightsaber, you should notice that most of the enemies will stick to you like glue.

The second part of the jobs, not dying, can be a little trickier.  For starters, a good healer can cover your mistakes, and you may never know you’re doing it wrong.  Then you get a bad healer and you fall over like a sleepy 2-year-old.  At it’s most basic, the elements you control in staying alive comes down to:

  1. Gear
  2. Buffs/Debuffs
  3. Cooldowns

Your gear will give you Endurance, Armor, Shield Chance/Absorption, and Defense.  You also get Strength, Power, etc., but these latter stats go more towards helping you do damage, and therefore Threat.  The former are what play a role in your survival.  As you level up, don’t worry too much about the stats.  Just pick ones that have higher numbers, and focus on items that have the survival stats, and you’ll do find.  By the time you get to endgame and the numbers start to really matter, you’ll know what you’re doing and can tackle the meatier articles out there, like on MMO-Mechanics.

You have a few buffs and debuffs that directly affect your survivability.  Most are made possible by the Skills you choose as you level up.  They are:

  1. Blade Storm + Blade Barrier – This gives you a little shield that lasts 10 seconds.  There is some debate on how much it actually absorbs and whether it’s worth the two skill points, but my philosophy is you’re going to be mashing that button anyway, so you might as well pick up a little absorption while you’re at it.
  2. Force Sweep/Cyclone Slash + Dust Storm – This gives nearby enemies a -5% accuracy debuff for 18 seconds.  That means each of their melee or ranged attacks are 5% less likely to hit you.
  3. Riposte + Blade Barricade – This gives you a 3% defense buff that lasts 12 seconds.  Since Riposte is activated when you parry or dodge, meaning a successful Defense, this feeds itself.

If you can keep these three things running while working enough damage in to keep up threat, you will be in good shape for most fights.

You have three cooldowns of note, and you might pick up some more with Relics:

  1. Saber Ward – Increases your  melee and ranged defense by 50% and reduces the damage taken from Force and tech attacks by 25%.  Lasts for 12 seconds
  2. Warding Call – Reduces all damage taken by 40% for 10 seconds.
  3. Enure – Increases your maximum health by 30% for 10 seconds.  Note, that when those 10 seconds are up, all that health is lost.

The cooldowns on these range from 1-3 minutes, so you don’t want to just toss these around haphazardly, but they are important tools you have to stay alive for a few more seconds in a tight spot.  Many fights straight up expect you to use them, and not doing so will just cause your death, so don’t be shy.

You also may have some other things that should be considered cooldowns:

  1. Relics – You might have a relic with an “On Use” ability such as a defense or shield boost.  Make sure it’s on your action bar.
  2. Healthpacks – Don’t leave the fleet without ’em.
  3. Adrenals – The absorb adrenals come in real handy, and a stack of them might be just the edge you need.  Of course, over-reliance on them may result in side effects such as being broke because you spent all your money.  Being a biochemist comes in handy here.

Basic Tanking

If all that hasn’t sent you running for the exits, here’s where you get to put it to use.  Get a group together and go out there and raise a ruckus.  I’ll try and cover a few things you’ll want to know as you get started.

A “pull” is when we initiate combat.  In general, this is the tank’s job.  Sometimes impatient players will do this.  (I’ll leave it up to you as to whether or not you let them die when they do this.  I’ll usually save them once, after that, they’re on their own.)

My basic pull sequence is:

  1. Combat Focus to get Focus up.  Can be skipped if I’m already full from the last fight.
  2. Saber Throw at one of the enemies.  This gives me more focus, and puts some Threat on one of my enemies.
  3. Force Leap to one of my enemies.  This tops off my Focus, if I was empty, and gets me in the thick of the action.

Then I launch into my rotation.

Boss pulls are the simplest.  This game is heavily documented and you can do a Google search on any boss and get complete strategies.  Usually one of your teammates will have already done the fight and can tell you what to do, but that’s no excuse for not doing your homework.  Anyhow, you pull the boss as detailed above and work your rotation while following the strategy.  Easy enough.

Trash pulls are a little trickier.  For starters, nobody ever documents them, so you’ll more than likely be on your own in figuring them out.  Here’s a few tricks that will help you through that first 10 seconds.

  • Cut down the volume of fire.  When the fight starts, you’re at your most vulnerable.  All the enemies are alive and if you’ve done your job right, they are attacking you.  This is the period where you will take the most damage, and be at most risk of losing threat.  Killing the weaker enemies will cut down how much damage you take and how much you need to spread your damage around to hold the enemies.
  • Make it easier on yourself.  Focus on holding the attention of the toughest enemies, especially on very large groups.  These Champions and Elites will cause a lot of trouble if they get loose, but their weaker friends can usually be handled by your teammates without too much trouble.
  • Master the LOS (Line of Sight) pull.  This is a helpful technique when enemy groups are tightly packed in an area and there is a risk that the fight might get out of hand if you fight them where they are.  So what you do is to find a nearby corner where the enemies can’t see you, position your team there, then run around the corner, execute a Taunt or Saber Throw, and then run back real quick.  The enemies will have no choice but to follow you around the corner, and then it’s clobberin’ time.  Communication is key to pulling this off, and it might take a little practice, but it works like a charm.
  • Call for Crowd Control (CC).  Your team can help you with their CC abilities, which takes one or more enemies out of the fight for a little while or until someone hits them, so be sure to ask for help if you need it.   Some trash packs are designed to be CC’d, so there’s no shame in playing the game the way it’s meant to be played.
  • Move around.  All the other tanking classes have a much easier time on trash than we do because they have many Area of Effect (AOE) abilities, whereas we have Force Sweep, Guardian Slash and Cyclone Slash.  This is better than it used to be, but still expensive and two of those abilities have cooldowns.  But, what we have that they don’t is mobility.  With Guardian Leap and Force Push/Force Leap, we can get around the battlefield better than anyone else in the game.  Use that.  If the enemies are spread out, jump on somebody at one end of the group, beat him up a little and then Force Push him into some guys on the other end.  Follow up with a Force Leap, and finish it up with a Force Sweep and some slashes.  Not only does this make you look like a badass, but it’s very effective and lots of fun.

I think that should get you started.  I’ll probably add more to this as I think of stuff, but I’ll stop here for now.  Good luck, and remember our motto – Just Don’t Die.


<edit: the ranged threat pull percentage is 130%, not 135%>

A while back, I mentioned that I was going to level a toon using only PvP, Space Missions and the Class Quests.  My Scoundrel, She’Quii, just hit 39 last night, so I thought I’d put up a long-overdue status update.

Leveling via PvP is quite easy and fun.  Since the server merge, my queue times in the 10-49 class are pretty short.  I mean, “You won’t be able to complete a Space Mission,” short.  If you do this, be sure to grab the daily quest from the Combat training area.   My advise with the quest reward for this is to get the gear for one tier above you.  That way you’ll have a nice set off lock-boxes to open when you hit 20, 30, 40, etc. If you get it for your current band, you’re unlikely to get an upgrade.

I’ve been happy with my PvP experience.  Sure, when I was level 10, I didn’t have all the tools I have now, but that didn’t bother me too much.  You level up quick at those levels, and you can really feel the progression.  Yes, you’ll get owned by the level 49 Sorcerer, but he’ll soon level out of the class and be getting owned by the 50’s in War Hero gear, so let him have his moment.  Or, better yet, drop out of stealth and kick him in the nads when he tries to cross the fire trap.

Space Combat has been sort of hit-or-miss.  There are a lot of missions, but you quickly level up to the point where they no longer award XP.  As a result, there’s only a few missions in your level band that will level you.  I have to say that Space Combat is not a viable levelling option, but is quite fun and makes a good way to take a break.

I’ve added Flashpoints to my leveling strategy, since we now have a LFG tool.  Queues are long on The Shadowlands for leveling DPS, but I can usually get a group in each session.  Just sign up and go about your business. With the exception of one tank who had absolutely no idea how to tank, the groups have been pretty good, low drama, and professional.  I’m a little disappointed that the LFG group will drop you outside the instance at the end, since you need to interact with the FP’s quest-giver.  Sadly, if you’re deep in a quest area somewhere in the galaxy, that brings a bit of pain, since you’ll need to invest quite a bit of time getting back to wherever you were.  I wish it would bounce you back to your starting point like PvP does.

My other disappointment was the Legacy Perks.  I thought these would be pretty nifty, in that I could grab perks to accellerate my leveling via the parts of the game I am playing.  Quite frankly, I think they’re too expensive, too little, and too late.  Essentially, I could get my guy set up the way I wanted, but it’s just money down the drain.  Space Missions don’t give enough XP to bother boosting, and for everything else, it’s a wasted investment once I hit 50.  The only way I can see this being worth-while is if you really wanted to bring up a new toon as fast as possible, like if your guild suddenly has an open healer slot.  But still, I think you’d be getting only ~30% more XP for whatever you’re doing.  I decided to pass on this.

Gear hasn’t been too bad, although gear for my companions has been suffering.  Normally, I count on commendations from the planet I’m questing on to update my orange gear and drops/quest rewards for everything else.  Not doing the planetary story means you don’t get as many of either.  Flashpoints help out a lot, here, so I think you really have to add that to the strategy if you want to level this way.  Thank the Maker for the LFG.

Lord Magras

He has to be in Black and White, because the Funk in living color would blow your mind!

Lord Magras

One more thing on gear, the PvP tokens you’ve been collecting can buy you a full kit at 20 and 40, however there’s no level 30 stuff for sale.  This can result in a bit of a gap in your gear.  I eventually decided to do the story arc on Quesh, because it’s short.  Also because the final battle has a confrontation with a Sith version of a Parliament/Funkadelic member.

Money has had it’s ups and downs.  I’ve been powering through Armstech, Scavenging and Investigation.  Not spending much time planetside means I need to actually send party members out for scavenged mats, so it has been a money sink.  I did have to send the toon a little money a couple of times, but I’m well in the black now.  The secret?  Baraduim Flux.  This is bought from the PvP vendor for 1000 WZ commendations, which you probably won’t need, and sells for 45-65K.  Tell ’em Shekky sent ya.

That’s it for now.  See you with a name over your head.

Free to Play?

Posted: 2012/06/26 by Nick in Ranting
Tags: ,

In the grown-up world, we have a concept known as Risk.  Governments, businesses, and individuals should, if they’re smart, understand Risk and how to assess a risk, mitigate it or avoid it, or at least understand the cost if you have to take the hit.  Back when I was a Project Manager, Risk was my bread and butter.  No matter how much you plan things out, you still need to have  a Plan B for when (not if) something goes sideways on you.  So, I’d have a plan for if the network guy got re-prioritized, or a key developer got sick.  Governments do the same thing.  I guarantee you that somewhere in a desk in the Pentagon or Langley, there’s a document outlining a plan to invade England, just in case.  They’ll never admit it, and it’s unlikely to be used, but if it’s ever necessary it’s good to know someone has put a little thought into it.

So, someone did an interview with one of the BioWare staff.  During this interview, the designer said something and people are taking this to mean that SW:ToR is going Free to Play and the doomsayers are saying dooms, and the forum trolls are trolling, and the podcasters are going blind trying to read the tealeaves.

Let me break this down for you.  BW is a business.  They will do what they can to maximize profits.  If they can make more money on the game by going F2P, they will.  The question is, where is that breakpoint?  The current subscription model brings in (monthly) X revenue for Y cost, yielding profit X-Y=Z.  Going to F2P will bring about a one-time cost,W, to convert the game, servers, etc to support the model (not trivial, by the way.  Just ask the DCUO guys).  I don’t know the amortization period of a game,  so I’m just going ignore that for now.  After converting to F2P, their revenue goes to X2 and the cost is Y2, so the monthly profit is X2-Y2=Z2.  So, there is a breakpoint where Z2 > Z  (adjusted for the Amortized W) and it becomes more profitable to go to F2P.  So, they have a plan for this, just in case.  They’d be crazy not to.  The fact that someone admitted to this plan’s existence is hardly worth the drama that’s going on.

With 1.3 coming down the pike, and the servers humming with new life, I thought it would be fun to start a new toon.  After seconds of soul-searching, I settled on rolling another smuggler.  I have a smuggler, Shekky, but I created that gunslinger to run with my funny little hunny, and since she hasn’t been playing much, the character is pretty idle.  So, She’Quii, the son of Sh’Eckee and Elara was born.

The problem is that I’m pretty tired of the planetary storylines.  So, after finishing Ord Mantell and Coruscant, I have limited myself to levelling in Warzones, Space Missions and Class Quests.  If I ever get the uninterrupted time, I’ll also do some flashpoints.  To keep things fresh, this guy’s a Scoundrel, and uses the Scrapper tree.

So far, it’s going surprisingly well.  You don’t level quite as quickly as you would if you maddogged quests, but I hate Taris and was very pleased to fast-forward past the place.  Space Missions are always fun, and I’m finding PvP as a Scrapper is a hoot.

The scrapper in general is an entirely different animal from the Gunslinger.  It’s an entirely different style of play.  Whereas a Gunny will want to get in cover and plink away at folks, a Scrapper wants to get a backshot and then throw away the gun and punch his victim to death.  It’s actually quite amusing, and in PvP it catches people by surprise.

Oh, the other good thing about this levelling strategy is that you _never_ run out of rested XP.  I’m not sure, however, how gear will work out.  There are defined bands of PVP gear and the lockboxes are pretty useless.  Usually I get Strength or Willpower gear, so they are not a viable strategy for gear.  I think I might have to rely on Flashpoint drops, which is fine by me.  Once 1.3 hits, the LFG tool should make getting groups easy.  The XP boosts for different game modes will be interesting, too.

Anyhow, I’ll post an update as I see how well this works.

Easy as Pi

Posted: 2012/06/15 by Nick in Uncategorized

And now, a brief message about the character transfers…

I have toons spread out across 3 servers.  My Republic toons were on Krayt Dragon, and my Imperial toons were on Bergeren Colony and Telos Restoration Project.  This week, BW offered me free rides off of KD and TRP, and is consolidating other servers to Bergeren Colony.  I know there’s a lot of worry out there about the transfers, so I thought I’d post my experience with the process.

The TRP toon, a Level 25 Warrior, moved right over.  Took all of a minute to do the move.  No guild, no legacy on this guy, so it was quite simple.

The KD toons were just as easy.  Fortunately, my guild, Covenant of the Phoenix, had officers on to handle ginvites, and all my names and legacy came across as easy as can be.  Literally, the transfer process took about 5 minutes.

After logging into the new server (you have to reset the server screen after the transfers, it doesn’t automatically update), I logged into each toon and had to re-do my chat setup, activate the correct UI layout and join chat channels.  Friends lists got cleared, but there’s no way to do anything about that.  Setting up my chat screens and channels took the most work, but still, I got everything done in under an hour.

Before moving, be sure to retrieve any items from the GTN and clean out your mailbox because these won’t follow you to the new server.  If your character or legacy name(s) are in use, you’ll need to rename yourself, but since nobody in their right mind names all their toons “Shekky” or some variant thereof, I had no problems at all.

So, my experience was very positive.  All my guys are now happily on servers with lively communities being built, people to sell to, and lots of fun to be had.  I give BW high marks for this one.

For those of you fretting about the move, I say do it.  If you’re part of a guild, make sure you have a plan.  CotP has a VERY organized officer corps, and they made the move very smooth on our members.

If you’re still worried, consider this.  BW is consolidating servers because nothing destroys an MMO better than the perception that you don’t have other people to play with.  With a player base spread out over more than two hundred servers, there were a lot of folks for whom this was the case.  I know that on TRP, Sh’Quii was often the only character on the fleet.  That’s not a happy situation to be in.

Furthermore, consider that this is a server merge.  They are giving you the illusion of choice, but if you don’t move, you will quickly find yourself alone in the galaxy.  There will come a point where you simply run out of things to do as a solo player, and they will probably close your server down.  Take my advice and make the move.

People bemoan the lack of “Open-World PvP”, but I never get a straight answer when I ask, “What is it?”  About the closest I get is some nostalgic talk about the Tarren Mill/Southshore battles that used to take place in WoW.  Apparently, these were fun.  Since most of the times I had the opportunity to see this “epic fun battle” I was leveling a toon through the zone and was easy fodder for pretty much everyone with  a red name over their head, I humbly disagree.  At best, my quest-givers were all dead when I hit town and I had to wait around for them to respawn, at worst, I’d find myself flagged somehow and ended up sitting in a graveyard for a the rest of the evening.

In short, my experience with Open-World PvP was not exactly positive.  I’m pretty sure when folks say, “I want Open-World PvP,” what they really mean is, “I want to roll around ganking lowbies until someone logs onto their main and gives me someone to fight.”  This is essentially griefing, and I realize that if there is no other way to get PvP, this might be all you have.  But, if you have other avenues, is this really necessary?  SWTOR launched with 3 and is soon to have 5 Warzones.  What’s the problem?  You can get a fight just about any time you want, server balance issues aside.  I know Ilum was a bust, but you can go their now and hunt people who are going after armaments.  You can go to Outlaw’s Den and go after people hunting chests.  There may not be a lot of people there, but there won’t be any until the PvP folks start going there… Is it that folks are afraid of a free fight?

So, am I wrong?  It could be I’m missing the point, but I think there are plenty of PvP options, other than you don’t get to grief lowbies.  I consider that a good thing.  Do you define Open-World PvP differently?

For my part, if you want a PvP fix, go get some in Mount&Blade.