Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

And to the Republic

The following post has nothing to do with EVE.  You EVE players can go get a coffee, or get some real work done for a change or something.  ;-)

In fact, this post references two competing MMOs, Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO, and Black Prophecy.

First, let me write my one and only major post about the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO.  I won't be playing, and I won't be subscribing to this game.  I wasn't even invited to the beta, but I've seen enough from videos posted on-line, opinions of friends and colleagues, and blog posts from people that I trust that were invited to the beta.  From my perspective, there are three major problems with this game that are not only bad choices by the developers, but are actively genre-breaking for me:
  • the cartoonish graphics;
  • the "you are the chosen one" hero's journey meta;
  • the complete lack of space content at launch.
I don't use the phrase "genre-breaking" lightly, so let me cover each of these items in a little more detail.

I am an old school Star Wars fan.  Star Wars for me starts the moment the pretty, clean, white Tantive IV starts getting messed up by Stormtrooper explosions and gunfire.  From there, it's a straight narrative through-line from Tantive IV, to the dingy workshop Luke Skywalker works in on Tatooine, to the dirty smoky cantina in Mos Eisley, to the narrow maintenance cooridors and smuggling bays of the Millenium Falcon, into the cell blocks and trash compactors of the Death Star, to the slap-dash make-do hangars of Yavin 4.

When you're on the ground, Star Wars isn't supposed to be pretty.  Somewhere along the way, George Lucas forgot that real people live and work in real places, and most of the time, those places are none too clean.  The second trilogy occasionally remembers this (Sebulba's shop, some of Coruscant), but most of the time, forgets it.  And by the time the Clone Wars animated series rolled around, this wasn't even a consideration.  But I hold firmly to this position: in Star Wars, space is pretty, but on the ground, things are gritty and real.  That's what makes Star Wars accessible to me, even in a galaxy far, far away.

SWTOR ignores or forgets this entirely, too concerned with chasing WoW subscribers that are used to these cartoonish graphics.  Those graphics work for WoW's genre, but decidedly do not work for me in Star Wars.  Strike one.

One of the things that bugged me about the Conan MMO was the meta that every single player in that game was the chosen one, a world-historical figure destined to trod down the jeweled thrones of the world beneath his sandaled feet.  It's a meta that simply doesn't work in an MMO, where there are tens of thousands (if not millions) of other chosen ones.  EVE gets this one right in its opening video, making it clear that you're an immortal demi-god... but big deal, the universe is swarming with immortal demi-gods, and most of them want to kill you.  Good luck!  Conan got it wrong, and the SWTOR MMO seems to be getting it even more wrong, and in exactly the same way.

One of the most clever underlying concepts in Star Wars is that the heroes of the piece are, with one notable exception, regular joes with special skills but not necessarily special backgrounds or destinies.  Though Luke Skywalker starts on the hero's journey, by the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, he's abandoned that path and as a result, the comforting predictable arc of the tale is cast adrift (one of the reasons why Empire is far and away the best SW movie, incidentally).  At the end of the day, while everyone playing a Star Wars MMO might want to play a Jedi, who they really want to be is Han Solo or Leia Organa, the regular guy or girl(1) who still manages to kick ass and in the end, gets the girl or the guy, depending.  ;-)  SWTOR misses this point.  Strike two.

Finally, let's not forget what drew most of us to Star Wars in the first place.  Think of "Star Wars" as a concept, and chances are pretty damn good that the first image that popped into your head was your favorite SW space ship, whichever one that happens to be for you.  For me, it was the X-Wing fighter, as I've written about before.  But whichever your favorite SW ship, I'm sure that you have one.  The previous SWTOR games get this, but the MMO does not.  And I'm sure this wasn't a conscious choice so much as trying to limit the scope of the game at launch.  I can hope that later releases of the SWTOR MMO will fix this problem, but for the time being, a tunnel shooter does not a compelling space experience make.  Strike three, you're outta here, SWTOR MMO, at least for me.

I have nothing against those that are going to play this game, but I am not one of them.

Note that I didn't mention the theme park aspects of the game.  This is deal-breaking for a lot of people, but not necessarily for me.  I have nothing inherently against theme park MMOs.  I think they're intrinsicly limited and self-defeating of their own replayability, but hell, that describes nearly every single-player game ever, and lots of people -- including me -- love those.  It just means that such a game has a lifespan.  Even WoW has such a lifespan, and with all their recent subscriber troubles, you can see that it may finally be reaching its end.  Blizzard will try riding this wave a little closer to the beach (note to self: explain this analogy sometime), but sooner or later, there will need to be a Blizzard WoW replacement.

Second, in a similar vein, I will be giving up Black Prophecy, at least for the foreseeable future.  There's nothing at all wrong with BP: I've enjoyed playing it very much.  As I said when I started playing, it has a real Descent: Freespace feel to it that works beautifully.  But I'm finding the concept to be inherently too limiting to be a long-term playable MMO.  It has much in common with Global Agenda and World of Tanks in its instant-on PvP aspects, but it also has too much in common with its spiritual predecessor, Crimson Skies.

Like GA or WoT, once you complete the introductory missions, you can get a PvP fight pretty much whenever you want it.  That's a good thing.  However, like Crimson Skies, there's currently no skill or item matching: every PvP fight eventually degenerates into a free-for-all where the guy with the highest level and the best toys wins.  And it looks like BP will eventually be going with a micro-transactions system to address this inherent imbalance, something that -- should it happen -- will put me off the game for good.

It's a shame, because I really think there's a place for a true flight simulator MMO.  Something really close to Strike Commander or Privateer, two old-school flight sims, would probably be the best model.  In such a model, the theme park elements would come from missions assigned against static targets by NPCs.  But when you were looking for some PvP, you could go looking for that.  Such a model would even have room for a mix of PvP and PvE: missions assigned to two different squadrons, one slated to destroy a target, the other slated to prevent its destruction.

Guess I'm still looking for "EVE with aim", though.  ;-)

(1) Yeah, I know she's supposed to be a princess, but... c'mon.  ;-)


  1. If your going to Wurm Online, on your list of planned MMO I advise against it because of the fact that's clunky gui, it's rather cartoonish graohics (java) and it's horrible text based PVP system is not worth your time. As a veteran and recently quit player of the game, it's on it's death knees in a similar way too EVE was except without CCP realizing it. So in conclusion, don't go their for PvP.

    I agree with all your points that you have already outlined, themeparks yuck, WoWish graphics no thanks, and just chosen one shit is just too cheasy for me to handle. Though what breaks it for me is that their is no grey items in the game, you are either part of the light side or the dark side, their is no middle ground to speak of. But makes sense given Star Wars Universe about good vs evil bullcrap.

    Which makes me hope that a non CCP MMO sandbox with a grey and dark morality, maybe not spaceships but definately where the game gives the player the tools to create what they want can come into bringing. Maybe I'm just a little too optimistic about that, given the themepark design of most games these days, but maybe an ARMA MMO is what is needed ehh?

  2. That's something CCP has yet to rediscover though, EVE designed for lifespans.

    Quite simply, this winter CCP is focusing on shiny that sells (and under current circumstances also grabs people back, rekindling the affatuation). But unless CCP takes on the game design challenges that adapt it to changed and changing lives it will give itself a lifespan. That does not mean EVE will not grow, it will, but the question should be asked which is more rewarding (and cheaper): cycles of shiny sales to attract for growth and recycling subscriptions, or continuity of challenge & adaptation to remove the boundaries of lifespan symptoms.

    EVE with aim, that will come. Rest assured, CCP has not dropped Incarna (in spite of popular belief). On the contrary, but that will wait for better plans till after turning a cold winter into a hot one.

  3. Yeah, the more I read about Wurm Online, the less interested in it I become. I was intrigued by the idea of the player-built communities. Despite the fantasy setting, there was almost a post-apocalyptic feel to this aspect of the game (and I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptia). But Wurm seems to have pushed this TOO hard; a friend told me it's nearly impossible to survive if you're not part of one of the communities right off.

    I'll probably try Vendetta Online next, even though it just looks like a more cartoony EVE.

  4. If your interested in a post apocalyptic sandbox MMOG, Xsyon which is in payed beta of which is going to be released soon (2012 January) has player built towns, multistory buildings, somewhat good combat mechanics, slot based inventory, and has a lot of potential but is relatively unknown which is good. For now at least.

  5. Vendetta Online is too cartoony imo. It's just, you know, too thick on it.

  6. Though I'll talk more later, I think that you rather missed out on some of the class stories. Some end up being based on the idea of 'the chosen one' certainly...

    But with a few, you are an average joe, or as average as any star wars hero can get. For the Sith Inquisitor, you actively start as a slave and have to work your way up.

  7. I never play video games based on movie franchises, or watch movies based on video game franchises. Following this simple rule has saved me from having to suffer though a retarded movie or game countless times.

  8. I WAS invited to the ToR beta, and with all Honesty, despite its many (MANY) other flaws, the "chosen one" aspect wasn't emphasized THAT much, at least not in the content I played through. Certainly a far cry from AoCs mystical prophecy schtick.

    My main problem with it was that it did really nothing new, nothing at all. It felt like a reskinned WoW, where every class was a slight variant of Hunter, 'lock or DK (everyone gets pets). Having just quit WoW a few months prior due to sheer boredom (after a 7ish year run), well, it just wasn't for me. The graphics were the same style, the combat played similarly, the quests and dungeons all followed the same tried and true blueprints, and the few "innovations" added virtully nothing to the gameplay while adding a lot of annoyance factor (400 lines of conversation text, group convos taking forever with the outcome reliant on a lucky roll between party members). Add to that the multitude of bugs that were reported for weeks or months on end and seemingly never fixed, all wrapped in a hopelessly unfinished UI (Christ, I hope it was unfinished. Not even a text filter in the goddamn auction house. W. T. F. You'd like to buy a lightsaber? here, navigate these 2 dozen odd drop down menus instead of typing the word "light" in a box and pressing search), well, when they offered me the chance to particpate in a second and then third beta period, I left the mails in my inbox unopened.

    My prediction? SW:ToR is going to crash and burn faster than even the Star Trek MMO did. I didn't even make it through my "free" 60 days (with game purchase) on that stinker.

    TLDR SW ToR is a steaming pile of shit, but you won't smell it next to the cesspool that is WoW, where all the flies have already been laying their eggs for the better part of a decade.


    Paid...beta...? Don't they just call that an MMO?


  10. Actually, the Chronicles of Riddick games are quite good. Then again, Vin Diesel is a massive gamer and owns the game developer.

  11. SWTOR hasn't been released, but it already has sales that are triple that of EVE. The market has spoken, SWTOR is the better game. All hail capitalism.

  12. @ Anonymous you're right. A Honda is much better then a ferrari. Just look at the amount sold. :p

  13. SWTOR may already have more subscribers than Eve, but so did Conan, EQ2, LOTRO and WHO and look at them now.

  14. WC Privateer (was going to say WCP but forgot that refers to Prophecy) .... despite the clunky graphics and all, def one of my FAVE WC games of all time (Prophecy being the other -- Vampire FTW).

  15. LotrO has just gotten a new expansion (albeit not unproblematic, sounds familiar eh?). And for a "better" WoW clone, is pretty fun to play. Nowhere near the deathbed, as the uninformed like to think.

    The "crashed&burned" Trek MMO is also chugging along famously. With a ground combat revamp just finished and newly arrived deep coffers from China. That mostly keep out of picture for the coming F2P launch.

    The space combat part was always light years ahead of EVE´s anyway.
    No sandbox & rudimentary PvP, true. But what again is 80% of EVE´s pop doing? Right, running lvl4´s and crafting.
    In Trek you can make your own "storyline" missions. Basically a free inbuilt fanfic generator.

  16. I have been keeping my eye on Jumpgate Evolution for sometime and since the lawsuit was settled I had hoped to hear news on it. However, it seems my hopes for a shooting EVE game seems to have died with it in whatever canyon of lost and failed games JGE has ended up in.

  17. @maniac: yeah, that was listed among my "Planned MMOs" until it became clear to me that it was dead. Darkfall 2.0 might very well join it there, from what I'm hearing.

  18. Jester, I am not going to be playing TOR for very long after release. I went into the beta thinking it would be awesome and was quickly unimpressed. But then I got to thinking. Its a bioware game, and what are they famous for? I started treating it like a single player RPG, and enjoyed the hell out of it after that. The story really is great. I will not however hail it as a great MMO, its not. Its WOW the lightsaber years in that department. But if you like bioware storylines then play it through as a single player RPG. Its what I did and found it to be very enjoyable in that fashion.

  19. @ one of the anonymous, get some names for fuck sake.

    No, it's a paid beta. The developer isn't ready to launch it fully, so they open it so they can get some money but they say it's beta. Or what's commonly being called a Gamma Game.

  20. @Anon2021: you're not wrong there, and that's really how they're marketing it to people like me. I read an interview that basically said "If you're looking for KOTOR 3, here it is. Along with KOTORs 4, 5, and 6." It was a good argument, but I just didn't find it convincing. ;-)

    That said, if you get your money's worth out of it playing it that way, more power to you. KOTOR 3 would have been between $15 (used) and $60 (new). So that's between one and four months of SWTOR MMO play.

  21. I played the recent stress test, and although the multiplayer of TOR is bleh, and as mentioned based on a lucky roll of a party member; and also mentioned everyone gets a 'pet'; some being tanky pets and others being more of a DPS pet.

    Play TOR for the storyline and it's quite nice. I did NOT see any of the "you are the chosen one" and I played Bounty Hunter, Imperial Agent, (Storm)Trooper well into their mid-20s in the 3 day weekend.

    The solo gameplay is more than good enough:
    -the party system is sort of but nothing like WoW and involves checking a box on the LFG channel and then expecting a party leader to start inviting people
    -I didnt see the raid system, but presumably it will follow the fail LFG party system I mentioned above, and waiting for a leader to step upto the plate and 'FC'

    The exploration and crafting stuff looks unnecessarily complex, but the gathering side of things, and being able to send your minion/pet off on missions which yield a small quantity of mid to high end supplies is a nice thing.


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