Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where I play The Old Republic

So in my last entry I described my attempts at buying this game and the brick walls I ran into just trying to download it.  Suffice to say, I finally managed to get it to work.  After a four hour installation, where it downloaded 25GBs worth of files and patches from the internet, I was ready to play.

Let me preface this by making two disclaimers.  First, I was a HUGE fan of the original Knights of the Old Republic (hereafter called Kotor), which is the main reason why I've been chomping at the bit to play this. The original Kotor is, in my opinion, one of the best RPGs ever made.  Wonderful design, wonderful characters, great moral-choice system, and a roundhouse kick of a twist that I never saw coming.  It's the first game I ever played that upon finishing it, I instantly began again with a new character.  It's the game that inspired me to get into game design.  It's the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned, of how to blend story and gameplay and has yet to be topped.
Oh, you.

Second disclaimer, I know nothing about MMOs aside from what I've gleaned from popular culture and watching The Guild.  I've heard terms like "aggro" and "flashpoints" and "instances" but have no idea what they really mean.  So I was going into this a total MMO newb, knowing nothing except that I liked the franchise.  So this "review" such as it is, is for people like me who don't care about MMOs but really want Kotor 3.

So let's dive in.  The first thing I do is create my character.  I do this very weird thing when creating characters these days.  Whenever a game lets me customize my avatar's features, I will often choose the female option and make her look as much like my wife as I can.  So here's my lovely Sith Inquisitor, Janet:

I am either the best husband ever or the worst.

(Sith Janet also joins the ranks of Janet Shepherd, Janet Hawke, Janet the Grey Warden, Janet the New Vegas Courier, and Janet the leader of the Third Row Saints.  I'm sure there's a psychological reason why I do this, but I'm not equipped to figure it out.  It doesn't bother my wife (she is actually flattered), so I keep doing it.)

Anyway, the Sith Inquisitor campaign starts on Korriban, which made me happy because Korriban was my favorite area of the original game.  Korriban is the birthplace of the Sith Empire, and the Sith have recaptured it after a bloody battle.  The Empire needs raw recruits, so they offer slaves the chance to earn their freedom by training at the new Sith Academy on Korriban. I, or rather my character avatar, am one of those former slaves.

Right away, things look good.  I walk out of my shuttle and into the academy, where I am greeting by my new instructor who is not impressed with me at all.  I am presented with several dialog options during this conversation, where I am given the usual opportunities for role playing.  I can bow my head and say "Yes master" and take the abuse, I can lash out at the instructor and threaten to kill him when his back is turned, or I can relish my new position to kill for the Empire.  It's all very Star Wars, and a nice way to introduce the game.  Either way, I am given my first task: to enter a tomb and speak to a hermit who has sequestered himself in there.  He's going to give me some kind of test.

So I wander off into the valley where the tombs are.  Let's see what kind of trouble I can get into...

Eat lightning!

K'lor'slugs.  Lots of them.  They fall quickly to my force lightening strikes and trainee lightsaber thing.  I make my way towards the tomb, slaughtering K'lor'slugs as I go, feeling pretty badass.  I realize I've gone the wrong way and turn around, only to come across my first difference between this and the original single-player game.

All the K'lor'slugs I killed have are now back again.  There's not even a dead sluggy body as a reminder of my victories.  I suppose I should have expected that (the other players need something to kill as well), but it's hard to retain that that sense of accomplishment when I clear an area of foes, only to have them pop back into existence again. But no matter.  Off into the tomb I go...

More K'lor'slugs, but bigger!

I'm beginning to see a pattern here.  Lots of small and easy enemies to kill to get you used to the mechanics, with the occasional bigger and slightly harder one to make you feel more powerful.  As I make my way into the tomb, I find a message on a datapad.  It says that there are looters in the tomb and to dispose of them as you see fit.

Hm.  In thinking about it, all the quests on Korriban involve going into tombs and looting what's inside.  What makes those looters any different from me?


So yeah.  I won't take you through the game step-by-step, but the rest of Korriban is pretty much like this.  Get a task from your instructor, which usually involves going into a tomb, and bring back some ancient artifact.  There's a bit of intrigue involving your instructor and his master, which is all wonderfully told.  All the lovely original Kotor conversation/character goodness is definitely present; the only problem is that you have to work so much harder to get there.  There's a lot more emphasis on combat, for good or ill.

The game really picked up when I got my first companion character. Much like the original Kotor, you can have companion characters that fight alongside you.  Not only that, you can have conversations with them and influence their approval of you by what you say or do. 

My companion character is a hulking creature named Khem Val. He was the proud servant of a Sith Lord who existed a thousand years ago.  I found him trapped in a tomb vault on Korriban, where he was waiting for his long-dead master to return to him.  In freeing him, he became bound to me and began to fight alongside me.  We made a good team, as he was a close-quarters fighter and I preferred blasting my enemies from a distance with lightning.  He's also completely insane - his approval of me goes up everytime I do something particularly evil or bloodthirsty.

Just a Sith Apprentice and her pet psycho

This was what I was looking for.  My favorite part of Bioware games (and the original Kotor especially) was having party members I could talk to. And Khem Val is a pretty interesting character.  He hasn't said much so far, but he does pipe in during conversations and offer to eat my enemies for me, which I definitely appreciate.

There is a side-effect of having a companion character, and one that I can't help but think is odd.  This is a multi-player game, so often you will see other guys running around and doing their thing.

Like this guy, Margol. On the same quest as me, I assume.

I've never been what you'd call a very social gamer, but it was an interesting experience seeing other players running around the landscape.  Sometimes I'd be throwing lightning on a higher-level monster and getting nowhere, only to see another player leap in and come to my rescue.  I'd often pay the favor forward - zapping away on a monster that another player is fighting.  I don't talk to the players and they don't talk to me, but it's kind of cool in an esoteric way.

But there's one REALLY weird side-effect of having other players around.  That companion character of mine, that ancient monster who slumbered in a tomb for a thousand years only to wake up and join forces with me... ain't so unique after all:

What? I didn't tell you about my 962 twin brothers?

You want to feel special and cool because you've got this awesome character to pal around with, but then you see dozens of other players are running around with identical clones of him. It's one of those MMO-isms, I guess, but it does ruin the immersion just a tad.

So that pretty sums up my three days of playing this game.  Is it Kotor 3? No. But is it fun? Yeah, I'd say so.  I'm enjoying playing it.  The ratio of combat to character interaction is higher than I'd like, but it's not ridiculously so.  There's a ton of content on offer, and lots of ways to play through the game.  When I get tired of the Sith path I will probably try the Jedi path, just to see what it's like.  So for what it's worth, consider it a recommendation from me.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Where I try to review The Old Republic

When I heard the news that Bioware was making my beloved Knights of the Old Republic RPG into an MMO, I was dubious but hopeful.  The trickle of press reports that reassured us that yes, yes, just as much effort was being put into the single player campaign as the MMO mechanics, and it would be just as satisfying.  And when the game came out, I read every review.  But each review hit me with disappointment, because they didn't tell me what I really wanted to know: What about us folks who don't care about MMOs, but just want Kotor 3?  I know diddly squat about MMOs, aside from maybe watching Felicia Day in The Guild.

So after a few weeks, I could take the suspense no longer. I decided to take one for the team, buy the game, and write that review myself.

Or rather, I tried to.  Here is a chronological list of my attempts to just download the game, let alone play it.  Honestly, you'd think this would be an easy thing for a company like EA to deal with.  If an idiot like me can do it, you guys can.


2:10pm - Here we go. Biting the bullet and buying the game.  Happy belated holidays to me.

- Still waiting for email confirmation.

2:31pm - Got an email saying my EA Master Account was ready, whatever that is.  I go to the site, give myself a username and password, and sniff around.  No download link or any way to get my game.  After clicking around a bit more, I finally see a button that says "My games" and dutifully click on it... only to see nothing listed.  There's another button called "Orders and Billing", so I click on that.  Aha!  There's something listed under "pending orders."  I click on it and see that my order has been "submitted and pending"  I guess the payment process takes a little longer at EA than at Wadjet Eye?  Eh, no problem.  I can wait.

3:35pm - One hour later.  No download link.  Okay, maybe there's something I am supposed to do myself.  I go to the Customer Support page and click through a bunch of items.  Apparantly there's some newfangled software manager called "Origin" that I have to use to get the game.  What, seriously?  I'm just getting the hang of Steam and now I have to have another software manager eating up my system memory? Bleh. Okay, fine. It was too late to back out now.  I dutifully click the download button and wait for it to install.

3:50pm - Origin is installed.  I open it up, enter my login info, and... nothing.  "No games detected for this account."  Okaay.   I check the "Orders and Billing" page on the Mastar Account site.  It still says pending. Getting a bit annoyed now. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but a customer coming to my store would have been playing their game for an hour by now.  But still. This is EA we're talking about, and one of the biggest games to hit the interwebs in a long time. I'll give it a bit more time.

4:10pm - Bam! Two hours after I paid, I get an email confirmation that I paid. Patience is rewarded.  "Downloadable products may be accessed by looking up your order."  I'll check the Master Account website first.  Hopefully I can bypass using that Origin manager completely. 

- Um... it still says "Order pending" with no download link.  Right.  That's a no go.  I take another look at the confirmation email.  Waaaay at the bottom it says go to "www.swtor.com/redeem/game" and enter a code that's at the bottom of the email, and then I'll get download instructions.  Why does it tell me to do one thing and then another?  Meh, whatever.  Being a dutiful drone, I go to the website.  I enter my login info and the code.

4:13pm - LOGIN FAILED. @#$@#$@#.

4:20pm:- In trying this a few times, I notice a message at the top of the page that says "Log into your SWTOW account." I've been using my "EA Master Account" login, and now it's dawning on me that this is something entirely different. Welp, okay.  There's a little link that says "Create SWTOW account" so I'll click that and see if it works...

4:25pm - I created an official SWTOR account.  I click OK and this message pops up: "An email will be sent to the address you registered with shortly.  You must verify your address for your account to become active."  Sigh.  I go make some tea.

4:30pm - Email verification has arrived!  Not a bad turnaround. "To complete your registration and activate your account, simply verify your email address by clicking here."  I click here.  It asks for my login info and a new password.  I dutifully come up with one.

4:31pm - "Password must contain 1 uppercase letter, 1 lowercase letter and 1 number; must not use special characters."  Screw you game! I like this password.  Siiigh, fine. Have it your way...

4:32pm - "You have successfully validated your email address and completed the account registration process. Welcome to the Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ community.  Press OK to continue."  Hooray! I press OK to continue.

4:33pm - I have been redirected to www.swtor.com - the homepage for the game where I started this journey over two hours ago.  And... still no download link.  But.. aha!  I see a "login" link at the top.  Perhaps logging in with my spiffy new SWTOR username will let me get the game?

4:35pm - It's asking me for my security code. Ah, right! Duh.  I need to enter in that code that came with the email.  The one that I needed a SWTOR username in order to enter.  Which is why I made a SWTOR username in the first place. I enter the code.

4:36pm - "Sorry, we couldn't find your code. Try again?"  BLARGH AND DOUBLE BLARGH!

4:40pm - Okay.  The original confirmation email said I needed to redeem my game at "www.swtor.com/redeem/game" and enter my security code there.  Maybe if I enter my login and security code on that page it will magically work?

4:42pm - "Sorry, we couldn't find your code. Try again?"  Guess that's a no.  Lacking any other options, I leave the security code field blank and click OK.

4:43pm - I get another prompt to "Enter my security code, exactly as it appears" in my email. Um, didn't I already do that and you told me it wouldn't work?  Meh, whatever. I enter my code and I click OK.

4:46pm - "Congratulations! You are now registered for the following items: STAR WARS(TM): The Old Republic(TM) Digital Standard Edition.  Press OK to continue." Hooray again!  I press OK to continue.

4:47pm - "Get ready to play!  In order to play Star Wars™: The Old Republic™ you must first answer a series of security questions and provide your contact information."  Um, buh? Seriously? You know what? Fine. FINE! BRING IT ON! I'VE COME THIS FAR! I'M NOT GIVING UP NOW!

4:59pm - I finish the survey, hit OK, and come to a games page with this gorgeous sight:

I dutifully click that button.

5:10pm -

FINALLY.  Let's do this.

5:11pm -

I'm going to go cry now.


Monday, January 2, 2012

The Post about the New Year

Normally I would have written about this yesterday, but I was delayed for totally legit reasons. So, here are my thoughts on the last year, one day late.  It's interesting to look back, because we entered 2011 a bit wary and battle-hardened.  I wrote last year about how we lost the backing of PlayFirst, so while we had much more freedom we were also completely on our own. 

It turns out that our worries were unfounded.  In February, we launched Josh Neurnberger's Gemini Rue and it was our biggest success by far.  It cemented us as a serious publisher and caught the attention of mainstream gamers and major league websites like IGN and Rock Paper Shotgun.  It became our first game to be localized into German and Polish thanks to the wonderful guys at Daedalic, and given a boxed-and-retail release in those areas.

The success of Gemini Rue has prompted us to publish other games, and 2012 will see three new games published under the Wadjet Eye banner.  The first one is earmarked for a February release, and we'll be doing the usual announcement at the end of this month.  It's been a blast working with all these developers, and a major learning experience as well.

This year also saw the release of the Blackwell Deception, the fourth game in the Blackwell series.  And personally, I think it's the best one yet.  I feel like this is the first time I "got" what Blackwell was about and I was just blundering my way up through until this point.  The reviewers and customers seem to agree, as it became our highest earning game ever. 

This was also the year of Steam, with Blackwell finally popping up on the service.  While it's true that we have other games on Steam, it was hard for me to be personally as excited about them.  There was the game I wrote but didn't own (Emerald City Confidential), the game I own but didn't write (Puzzle Bots), and the game I just owned the sales rights to (Gemini Rue).  But what about poor Blackwell, the games I both wrote and owned? Steam kept rejecting them, but tenacity prevailed and they finally changed their mind in 2011.  Getting that acceptance email about Blackwell made me giddy with glee.  Like it or loathe it, Steam has the hearts and minds of mainstream gamers and it feels good that my own games have been accepted into their ranks.

The month of December alone was a game-changer, with the first three Blackwell games being sold as part of Indie Royale's Christmas bundle.  As a result, over twenty thousand new people were playing our games, and my inbox and forums exploded.  It's overwhelming and awesome, and dealing with it all has forced me to be a lot more vigilant about keeping up with my emails.

So all-in-all, it's hard to think about how 2011 could have been any better.  We have two smash hits under our belt, three more games coming out this year, and more people are playing our games than ever.  And really, I owe it to all of you.  Whether you have followed my work since the beginning, or you are a new fan who has just hopped on the WEG bandwagon, it's hard to know how to express how grateful I am.  As I've said before, I love doing this, and you guys let me keep me doing it. So thank you, and happy (belated) New Year!