Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hello, Old Friend

For some reason, I only have altoholic tendencies on SWTOR.

I couldn't explain why, because outside of the class stories there's no real difference in wanting to create multiple alts on SWTOR versus any other MMO. When I played WoW I played a toon on each faction for a while in Cata, but in general I kept to a single specific toon each expac. I never considered that a true alt, as I simply switched my main to a brand new toon with a different class.

On other MMOs, I haven't created more than one or two toons total.

But with SWTOR I've created somewhere around 14 toons, and 7 of them are at least L50.*

Maybe it's just an extension of what I do with WoW, but compressed into an L1-L50 story. And with WoW, of course, you had only two main story arcs --one for each faction-- with the occasional class story thrown in for good measure. Since SWTOR doesn't have major expacs the same size as WoW's (or LOTRO's for that matter), I can't use the "2 Year Plan" as a cutoff to trying out a new toon. Viewed from that perspective, reaching the end of the original class story and starting up a new toon makes a bit of sense.


In much the same way that I found the pre-Cata Vanilla and BC areas of WoW fascinating, I really enjoy poking around the L1-L50 areas in SWTOR. It's not limited to trying out the different class stories, as I've created at least three smugglers and three counselors. Sure, the light/dark/neutral choices when interacting with a quest giver give the game a bit of replayability, but I'm kind of (in)famous for playing more as myself instead of trying different options for curiosity's sake.

Even as a 'nice person' Sith?  Yep.

Andronikos was just off screen. He was busy saying
something about how he didn't want to go into slaving
as he'd learned from watching me that some slaves are mean...

I've not played Sreeka in, well, ages. I logged in with her briefly to acquire the initial quest for the Forged Alliances story, but as I was busy with my Bounty Hunter at the time I never did anything more. Before that, hmm.... That would have been at least a year ago, when I finished up the Makeb story back in January 2014 and worked my way through the Dread Masters questline shortly after.

She's still a loyal member of the Empire and technically in an alliance with Darth Marr, but she still forges her own (light side) path.

But boy, have her abilities been tweaked.

I had to essentially rebuild my UI from scratch and relearn how to play the proverbial glass cannon, all within the scope of the Forged Alliances solo flashpoints. Well, I'd completely forgotten about some little things --like Static Barrier-- until several hours in, but I only died once.  (I think.)**

It was good to see Sreeka in action again. And her voice, that dark, throaty, sultry voice that promised both electrocution and entertainment and arrogance in one fell swoop... I'd missed that.

Xanthe Elbrick does a great job as
the voice actor for the female Sith Inquisitor

Welcome back, Dark Lord.

*There are two Smugglers who have completed the original class story, but the others are separate classes. I haven't completed the Knight or the Agent, either.

**For a DPS Sorcerer, Static Barrier is more than "just" a little thing; it can often be the difference between life and death. I was reminded of that once I reached Rishi.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Did You Expect Anything Else?

If you're one of the few people on the planet who haven't seen the new Star Wars trailer (released today), here you go:

Oh, and did you catch that Sith's mask? Looks an awful like a certain (ex) Sith Lord:


Before you jump to conclusions, no I don't think it's Revan, but boy is the mask similar.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I've noticed a very odd trend on my stats the past few weeks, and it's the sudden spike in Russian websites visiting the blog.

At first I saw the increased traffic and thought that I must have been added to a widely read blogger's lists, but then I saw where they were coming from: tons of *.ru and [random miscellaneous letters].com sites.


Well, that was deflating.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Not Your Typical ESPN Fare

I'll come right out and admit it, I'm a college basketball junkie.

If there's a game on --men's or women's-- I'll likely be watching the game (or at least be familiar with it).*

I've also developed a minor addiction to Barclay's Premier League football (thanks to NBC Sports Network) and NCAA Women's softball, which means that I frequently scour the NCAA games on ESPN3 for something to have on in the background while I'm doing housework on the weekend.**

Well, there is a new thing available on ESPN3 that has gotten some writeups the past month or so but I've managed to avoid: Heroes of the Dorm, a college oriented Tourney for Heroes of the Storm.

ESPN likely looked at the number of people who a) pay money to watch streaming of BlizzCon online (or via DirecTV) and b) the exploding interest in eSports  (see their broadcasts of the League of Legends World Championships) and decided to throw some money Blizzard's way to get a HotS tourney going for broadcast.

Unlike a lot of the other ESPN sports, this one has the feel of a brand new broadcast searching for it's groove. If you want an apt sports broadcast comparison, I'd say it's similar to the FOX Sports One's Big East broadcasts, where the quality on the court is much better than the quality in the booth and in the TV trucks.***

Still, even though you have to have a cable/satellite subscription (or your ISP has an agreement to carry it) to watch Heroes of the Dorm, I'm sure that this is a win-win for both parties. ESPN locks up more of the eSports market, and Blizzard gets a partner that will (eventually) push a high level of professionalism and promotion into the eSports environment. For people like me who have little interest in eSports, ESPN provides legitimacy that you wouldn't have found elsewhere.

That legitimacy will inevitably cause a backlash from the "real sports" crowd. Even though these games are on ESPN3 or WatchESPN, I'm sure there will be gripes and jokes about how the nerdy "non-sports" masquerading as "real sports" are taking away from the "real sports" on television.

In a bizarro-world sense, it's the Jocks vs. the Geeks all over again, but this time for television viewing ratings.

Does the NCAA Basketball Tourney have to worry about ratings competition from eSports? Not likely, but what is likely is a resistance to an expansion of what exactly "sports" is. Never mind that Texas Hold 'em poker tournaments have been broadcast on ESPN for over a decade, that's a MAN'S game. Not these sissy eSports that nerdy guys in their basement play.

As for me, I'm not likely to watch the games --I'd rather play an MMO or MOBA myself rather than watch someone else play-- but I think this entire debate is silly. If you want to watch someone play eSports, more power to you. If ESPN wants to get in on the ground level with Blizzard for this HotS Tourney, great.**** There's plenty of bandwidth for everyone, so why bitch?

*Want to hear someone complain about how UCLA should never have been given an invite to the NCAA Tourney? I'm your guy. As soon as Baylor lost in the Second Round, I called my dad --an avid Xavier fan-- and told him that X is about to advance right through to the Sweet Sixteen. The one team in the Rounds of 64 and 32 that could beat X just got upset by Georgia State, and X would have an easy time of it until they'd run into the Arizona buzzsaw.

**It's kind of hard to play an MMO while doing housework; not to say that I haven't tried, just not had much success doing both that and getting cleaning done.

***For the record, I'm not a Big East fan. I'll watch the games --mainly to root against Xavier, I'm a Dayton fan-- but outside of when Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson are in the booth the other broadcast teams just aren't at the level of quality that you'd expect in an ESPN or even a CBS broadcast. Some of it is also due to FOX constantly insisting on being ultra "hip" and "edgy", when neither is necessary for broadcasting or reporting on games.

****I'm sure that ESPN will really amp up their League of Legends coverage this fall, based on their experience with both the Heroes of the Dorm tourney and last year's LoL World Championships. If nothing else, ESPN is a master at promotion.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Overheard This Evening

The mini-Reds are busy:

"I've got a shield! Come at me, bro!"

"I'm out!"

"I'm out too!"

"Okay, I've got this!"

"Did you get the shot?"

"Yeah, I got the shot in!"

"Yeah! We took him out!"

For the record, the first line was said by mini-Red #3. Were it not for her quip, I'd probably have not posted this. And yes, I'm biting back my laughter.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Attack of the Blue Shells

One of the games I've been playing lately hasn't been an MMO or a PC based game at all, but a console game: Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U.*

I know that some "real" gamers don't think that the Wii U qualifies as a true gaming console because it doesn't have any gritty shooters on it,** but since the other consoles we have include an Atari 2600 and an Intellivision II, yeah, I think it qualifies.

I realize that some people would argue that the Wii U is technically behind the current gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft, but there is one thing that the Wii U does right: it allows you to play previous gen Wii games on the Wii U. The PS4 and XBox One won't allow you to play PS3 and XBox 360 games, which means you have to keep your old console around to play years worth of accumulated titles. Nintendo might be giving up some profits by following this model, but the goodwill generated by this gesture can't be underestimated. And if you're like our family, who doesn't want to have multiple consoles cluttering a single television, it's a great thing.

Even though consoles have been hooked up to the internet for ages, I still think of them as stand alone non-networked devices. They were the "get a group of people together and play" systems, one step removed from boardgames and pencil-and-paper RPGs.  Therefore, my approach to the Wii U has been to not explore the online capabilities of the system very much.

The one exception has been the online play for Mario Kart 8.

Ain't that the truth. From

My account is the only one on the Wii U capable of online interaction***, so I have a say in when we play online with Mario Kart 8. That has put a damper on the mini-Reds' enthusiasm for online play --they'd rather hang around LOTRO or Marvel Heroes for that-- but I introduced my wife to online Mario Kart races last week.

I didn't quite expect her reaction.

You have to put this in perspective; my wife looks at MMOs as a big steaming pile of "meh". She kind of shakes her head at the rest of us and our interest in slaying internet dragons (or internet Sith), but doesn't interfere as long as we stay within a specified budget. She may play her occasional word game as a single player, but she never exhibited any interest in online gaming itself.

That all changed the other day.

She had the day off and was getting a few Mario Kart 8 races in while I was working in the next room. Typically, around mid-morning I'd be ready for a short break and would get up and possibly get a race or two in before delving into something else, but I was stuck in meetings. So when she asked if I was interesting in playing, I had to turn her down.

However, a light bulb went off in my head, and I replied that while I couldn't play, I did have a few minutes between meetings to set her up with an online session if she was interested.

She was a bit skeptical. I know she hasn't heard about the XBox Live horror stories because that sort of news doesn't interest her much, but I figured that she was probably more worried about looking like an idiot on screen.

I assured her it wasn't a big deal, and since people tend to get grouped in with their same point level, you'll be able to find people with similar skill sets.

So I switched users to my account, fired up Mario Kart 8, and got her ready to play.

After I explained the (minimal) differences between a regular VS series and the online game, I retreated to my office and joined the next meeting.

Then I heard a "WOOO!" from the other room.

"I'm playing against someone from Japan! And Germany! And the UK!"

I grinned in spite of myself.

About an hour later, I stretched and wandered over to see how it was going. "Well?" I asked.

"I was going to stop after a few runs, but this is so much fun!"



The Mario Kart 8 online play has two big things that make it welcoming for new players: matching players with similar scores, and limited options for player interaction.

If you take the rating system in Rated Battlegrounds and apply it to all players of online Mario Kart, then you've got the idea how the Mario Kart rating system works. You do well, and your rating rises; if you do poorly, your rating drops.**** You're matched up with players of similar ratings --within reason-- but everybody who plays has a rating.  This means you don't have the scenario that's frequently found in a random WoW BG: a guild group who runs Rateds stomping all over the other side composed of casual BG players. There's nothing that says that a player who picks up a Wiimote with a "newbie" rating of 1000 isn't a high skilled player visiting a friend, but the gear discrepancy and "flavor of the month" build found so frequently in WoW isn't present.

Since both the Wii and Wii U versions of Mario Kart only allow a few set phrases to be used, there's no trash talk between online players. I'm sure that some people get frustrated at not being able to scream "YOU SUCK NOOB!!" or "GO MAKE ME A SAMMICH!" at the other players, but this creates a safe space for everybody to play. It's not unlike the Wizard 101 method of game play, where you're limited in interactions by design, so that parents can feel confident that their kids won't be bullied or stalked online.

Both online design decisions are a win in my book. For my wife, who would likely be intimidated if she were being constantly pounded into dirt or offended the minute some asshat decides to unload on her for being a woman and a noob, this is perfect. And, needless to say, it's good for kids, too, although the mini-Reds are kind of old pros at the MMO scene these days.

Maybe we'll have another MMO gamer in the future after all.

*Yeah yeah yeah, I know; I'm some sort of traitor.

**I'd have said "Rated M for Mature" games, but the Wii U does have some of those, such as Bayonetta 2 and Assassin's Creed IV.

***That's by design, since I don't want to open up a credit card statement and discover that I "purchased" some games or downloadable content (DLC).

****Everybody starts at a rating of 1000.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hey, It's Video Game Related

If you're my age, this hits ALL of the right notes.


Forget The Avengers, THIS is what I'd like to see.

I mean, Adam Sandler can't screw this one up, can he? He even has Peter Dinklage in it!