Star Wars the Old Republic:
The Game is at the Bottom

By Shamus Posted Monday Jul 23, 2012

Filed under: Game Reviews 169 comments

Remember back when Star Wars the Old Republic was still new, and there was a bit of a debate about whether it was The New Awesome, or a poor execution of a fundamentally flawed design? Often there were comparisons drawn between SWTOR and Guild Wars 2, which was interesting since the latter game wasn’t (and still isn’t) yet released. Now that I’ve played both games, I think I get why.

On Twitter, I took SWTOR to task for not having a mouselook-toggle. If you want to look around, you have to hold either mouse button while you move the mouse. There is no setting or option that will let you click to switch between “looking around” mode and “clicking on stuff” mode. Some people thought I was being petty for complaining about this, but it’s an important aspect of the game and it goes way beyond “my hand gets tired holding the button down all the time”. By making the interface default to a mouse-pointer mode, the game is telling you that the normal interaction is to click buttons and menus. This isn’t just about how the game plays, but about what kind of game you’re playing in the first place. Or to put it more accurately, it tells you how the designers intended for you to interact with the game.

The interface of Sim City has clicking menus and placing objects with the mouse. You press your mouse button in order to press an on-screen button in order to perform an action. There’s a layer of abstraction at work that keeps the game at arm’s length. The interface of Doom 3 has you looking around and moving directly, without the middleman of on-screen buttons. You don’t bring up your PDA to decide who to attack, you just look at him and pull the trigger.

Neither experience is invalid. The menu-clicking one is more abstract and distant, and is more appropriate for strategy situations where you’re making granular, long-term decisions or choosing from a large list of possibilities. The action interface is better for fast-paced gameplay where you’re making many moment-to-moment decisions that shape the course of a single encounter.

This is not the game you’re looking for.

In SWTOR, the game is at the bottom, and the visuals are just window dressing. Ugly window dressing, if you believe what some people are saying.

Even if you use hotkeys to activate those powers at the bottom instead of using the mouse, that bar is still the center of the gameplay. You need to manage your cooldowns, and trigger your powers in the most efficient order. You don’t choose target by aiming at them, you choose them by selecting them with the mouse or by pressing TAB.

In a game like Jedi Knight, Force Unleashed, or Republic Commando, you don’t spend all your time looking at your health bar and ammo count at the bottom. You spend it looking at the world in front of you. In fact, designers go out of their way to add as much information to the world as they can so you don’t need to look down very often. When you get shot the view kicks, your character cries out, and there’s a red flash to indicate the severity of the hit. In some games there’s even a directional arrow to go with it, so you know which direction the damage is coming from. You know you’ve been shot, and you should have a pretty good idea of how hard you were hit. All without needing to look away from the game.

In an online game, this is replaced with a health bar at the bottom, which you monitor during the process of clicking on things. You know your enemy is about to die when you see his bar get low.

As you go around the world, you’ll run into various types of enemies, like this guy:

DEV Farkus? I’m willing to bet he’s a self-insert of one of the developers.

Farkus here has the same character model as other mooks in the area. If you look closely, you can see a little silver pip to the right of his name, indicating he’s a special. But beyond that? Nothing. What level is he? What kind of foe is he? I made the mistake of attacking this guy to find out, and was dead within seconds. After it was over, I was mad that the game didn’t tell me what I was looking at. But the game did. I just wasn’t looking at the game.

I was looking at the window dressing and mistaking it for the game. The game is at the bottom.

THIS is the game.

The reason I died is because of the other guy. The guy standing to the left of Dev Farkus.

Welcome to planet beige.

Let’s just ignore that he’s the same color as the environment. Actually, let’s not ignore that. It’s stupid. And don’t make an argument that this is ‘camouflage’ for the sake of realism, because I will beat you over the head with the other ten thousand oddities, absurdities, and contrivances that make up this area. This is not a sudden, dramatic shift towards gritty simulation of warfare, this is the result of Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V game design and one-note art direction.


If you’re looking at the middle of the screen, the guy standing up doesn’t look like anything special. He’s wearing the same armor as most of the rest of the guys in this zone. But if you’re looking at the game, then you’ll see that the guy on the left is:

I guess we should be grateful the other guy isn’t named Daxter.

NOW we can see he’s a badass. We can see his level. We can see he’s an elite. We can even see he’s a melee-based foe. Take a shot at Farkus and this guy will wreck your day.

In a game like Borderlands, you can spot an elite right away: They’re huge. They have OMG GLOWING EYES LOOK OUT! They often have distinctive armor or combat taunts. You don’t need to check your dashboard and tab through a cluster of foes to know who the troublemakers are, because that information is already in front of you. In fact:

This area of Borderlands was always really brutal.

Note that the Skag on the right isn’t highlighted, but you can still tell he’s the dangerous one. On top of this crucial little datum, you can see your weapon, what foes you’re dealing with, their relative strength, and which ones are elites, all without taking your eyes off the action. Compare this to an online game like SWTOR, where you could go through an entire battle with the top 90% of your screen blacked out and still have great odds of surviving.

Despite its pretense at action, SWTOR is very much an old-school MMO. It’s a fussy little game about babysitting abilities on your hotbar, watching cooldown timers, and monitoring health bars as they go up and down. In the early days of online gaming, this was a necessity. Most people were on dial-up. By making a game built around a hotbar, they could make a game that was much more tolerant of low framerates and terrible network latency. Online games were basically a new kind of chatroom. You camped in a single spot for hours, beating down the same cluster of mobs as they respawned every few minutes.

But we’re about a decade past those technological limitations. An online game is free to move towards more action-oriented gameplay if that’s what they want.

This is where the Guild Wars 2 comparisons come in. A lot of people are eager for online games to evolve into something more like regular games. They want a tight experience with solid mechanics. They want a third-person action game with a connected world, not a third-generation Everquest knock-off. The superhero games have been at the forefront of this, but now we’re seeing some quasi-medieval fantasy games like Tera and Guild Wars 2 try their hand at turning the looting & leveling games into action games.

SWTOR occupies such a strange spot on the spectrum. It arguably looks more action-oriented than World of Warcraft, but in terms of actual gameplay mechanics and focus it’s cut from the same cloth. It might even be a step back. I don’t know. Some of it is fast paced, but other parts aren’t, and I’m not even sure if the developer understood what they were doing. It’s entirely possible they thought that making a game more “action oriented” meant adding explosions and speeding up the cooldown timers.

As I mentioned in our recent hangout: I’m a fan of single-player action / roleplaying hybrids, especially ones that offer a lot of exploration. Randy is almost exclusively a PvP player, to the point where he almost never bothers with single player games. Josh likes a little bit of everything, including hardcore number-crunchy games like Crusader Kings 2. We’re three totally different types of players, and yet we’re all excited for Guild Wars 2 after playing the beta. In fact, I stopped playing the beta for a while because I didn’t want to spoil too much of the game before it was really finished.

Again, this doesn’t mean Guild Wars 2 is unambiguously better. The point I’m making is that Guild Wars 2 has a very deliberate identity and set of design principles that push online gaming in a new direction, while SWTOR is a muddled Frankenstein’s Monster of established MMO gameplay conventions. Its parts are stitched together from existing successful games and they don’t always seem to satisfy. This is a game that does things because that’s how we’ve always done things. (And then it does them poorly.)

Two hundred million is a lot of bucks. I wouldn’t buy a new car without making sure the driving felt just right. Game designers really ought to make sure they have a game prototype that feels right before they start shoving sacks of money into the game-o-tron.


From The Archives:

169 thoughts on “Star Wars the Old Republic:
The Game is at the Bottom

  1. Joe Cool says:

    Well, what did you expect for $200 million? Who’s going to drop that much money on something unproven? I’m sure EA told BioWare to make it “just like WoW” and probably nixed anything that wasn’t already done in another big, successful game.

    By the way, I completely agree. The extra layer of abstraction between me and the game is why I (finally) quit WoW after 7 years. I wanted something a bit more action-y and fun. SWTOR just wasn’t what I was looking for after just leaving WoW.

    As cool as my Bounty Hunter’s Death from Above ability was, it would have been so much cooler if I was doing it, rather than just telling my character to do it.

    1. This is one of the reasons why I never bothered to play SW:TOR after the beta.

      Dungeons and Dragons Online is SO much more engaging combat-wise. And the areas are beautiful. And the quests are complex and interesting. (Quests are individual instanced dungeons instead of being objectives randomly salted around the world.)

      And I really like that in DDO trash mobs really are TRASH mobs–you can take them down in a couple quick swings or one good spell. Granted, the higher level you get the harder this is to do, but that’s why we grind for lootz. :D

      1. some random dood says:

        Shamus, have you ever reviewed DDO? I don’t remember seeing it in your “back-issue” reviews. With it “free-to-play” these days, I for one would like your opinions on it.

        1. He did a Let’s Play for Lotro, and he may feel that since both games are run by Turbine they’re a bit too similar to do both of them. But I’d sure like it if he came and visited me in DDO.
          There’s a TON of new stuff that’s just come out recently.

          1. Actually, addendum, they came out with HALF of the planned new stuff. So if it sounds interesting to you, Shamus, you’d be best off to wait until they get around to releasing the other half (the new enhancements system to go along with the epic system) so you’re not caught in the middle of some huge gargantuan crazy changeover while you’re looking about.

      2. PhotoRob says:

        Were we playing the same game? I’ve never understood why people say it has one of the best combat systems ever… you stand there and click the mouse button until the monster falls over then repeat until done. Also, the only time things felt like trash mobs is after I’d been through a quest for the billionth time and had geared-up to the point of becoming sort of super-powered.

        1. I wouldn’t say it has one of the best combat systems ever. It has fun combat for an MMO. Considering that the core of the game is over 6 years old. The functional mechanics are very different from most MMO’s.

          Prior to some of the more recent updates, new characters were at a severe disadvantage because loot drops were always *several* levels lower than you were. They have (finally!) fixed this silliness, so you can actually get good gear just running level-appropriate quests.

          Also, if you play elite quests with a new toon, yes, you will feel WAY underpowered. Because elite exists for the purpose of letting psychotic multi-reincarnates with a huge pile of twink gear level quickly. Well, quickly-ish. If you *group* on a new toon you will also feel pathetic, because quests scale according to the number of people in them. If you solo on normal as much as you can (with a hireling as necessary–and a VERY LARGE proportion of the quests in the game can be solo’d), you will have zero problems. It will be a cakewalk. Plus you’ll actually learn how the quests work, which is always a plus.

          Lastly–if all you’re doing is auto-attacking until you win, you’re playing it wrong. There are a *colossal* number of abilities in the game (stun, trip, sunder, sap, etc.) built precisely for the purpose of letting people coast through the trash. Most people completely ignore these abilities because in PnP they are WORTHLESS. In DDO they are super-fantastic-awesome.

  2. Psithief says:

    On this topic, but referring to a different game:

    I played The Secret World’s second dungeon today, and I thought to myself “Why am I looking at the very bottom of my screen??”

    I ended the dungeon not even knowing what the final boss actually looked like. I had to constantly avoid ground attacks, and that meant constantly watching the ground instead of the action. Funcom has learnt less than they think they have.

    1. Brandon says:

      I have also been playing The Secret World lately, and I don’t find I have this problem. I find that I die sometimes because I don’t bother to monitor my health bar at all, because it’s way down there at the bottom of the screen, and I’m too busy trying to avoid attacks and avoid running into other groups of mobs and stuff to realize that I’m dying.

      I’m not saying TSW is perfect, but I think it’s a step forward.

      Shamus: You should give The Secret World a whirl if you have the time. I’m not sure, but I have a feeling you would like a lot about it.

      The writing and atmosphere blows most MMOs out of the water, and it doesn’t hold your hand like most MMOs do. There are a lot of missions I’ve encountered that give you an instruction like “Find out where X is” or “Find out more information about Y” and leave it up to you to decide where the best places to look would be.

      The best part is that so far, the solutions have been really logical. Want to know what businesses there are in town that might have first aid? Check the phonebook, get an address, and go there. Things like that.

      1. Zombie says:

        The writing is awesome because it’s not like their trying to point to the references. They use it in a normal way, like the guy in the skate park that was like “They wont give me a gun, but I have plenty of experience killing zombies in Left 4 Dead.” I also don’t have the problem of constantly looking at the bottom of my screen, mostly because the bright white of the AoE attacks conflicts so much with the ground covering everywhere I’ve been.

        1. Brandon says:

          The writing is amazing for more than just the references.. Although they are clever and actually manage to not feel forced.

          The impressive part of the writing is its consistency. Each character has 5 minutes of dialogue or so that you can run through with them, and maybe a questline or two that have an introduction. After you finish the conversations with them, you will have a really good idea of just what this person is all about. There are no completely whimsical remarks unless the character is actually being portrayed as whimsical.

          The questlines are great too. There are no quests (that I have seen so far) that do not make any sense. No collecting squirrel guts (thankfully) or anything like that. Collecting webcams to set up a security perimeter around the sheriff’s office.. now that makes a lot of sense. Additionally, the little “quest complete” dialogues you get after submitting your quest are excellent to, and really reflect the faction you are working for.

          Even just how the quests are strung together is excellent. A quest to go kill some sea-zombies to see what makes them tick follows the same progression you would expect from WoW, but executes it in a different fashion. It’s very.. kill some weak ones, kill some other weak ones, kill some strange ones, kill some stronger ones, kill the boss. However in WoW you would need a trip back to the quest giver for each individual piece of that chain. In The Secret World, the journal writing makes it seem like your character comes to the conclusion of what the next step should be rather than needing an NPC to point the way for them, and you get the next piece of the quest immidiately so you don’t have to leave the beach where you are killing them.

          And like I mentioned before, the Puzzle missions that have zero emphasis on combat and play out like an old school adventure game (with a touch of ARG thrown in for fun) are a lot of fun too. Did I mention that they build a web browser into the game just for people to look up the clue hints? Also built at least one website that I’ve found that is completely related to the game itself ( and also contains clues for the game puzzles?

          Anyways, I ranted way more than I wanted to here, but I have been really, REALLY impressed with The Secret World. It isn’t perfect but it has a lot of potential and it is a really neat and different take on the MMO genre.

          1. Zombie says:

            Out of pure curiosity, do you sometimes get the message that is clearly from the Illuminati that talk about how good you are and how they might contact you later?

            1. Brandon says:

              Are you talking about the quest completion messages? I haven’t gotten one that is clearly from the Illuminati, but I have had quests where when I went to turn them in, the quest message suggested that my report had been intercepted and the message I got back was from someone other than my superiors. That does sound Illuminati-like, but I don’t think it was them. I would have to see if the same quest had the same response with an Illuminati character to be sure though

              1. Zombie says:

                It wasn’t a main or story quest, I got it from some of the side quest’s after mission reports in Kingsmouth.

                1. Michael says:

                  Yeah, as a Templar I’ve gotten messages from the Illuminati recruiter suggesting you take a look at New York some time. As an Illuminati I’ve gotten messages from Sonnac, suggesting I take a look at London. On both of them, I’ve gotten messages from the Bees, and messages that look like server glitches, I suspect of being Dragon.

                  All of that said, it’s always side missions, the main quest missions are always from the appropriate person.

          2. Mephane says:

            I was skeptical about the game when I learnt it had basically the same EverQuest/WoW/+clones mechanics (select target, mash abilities until either their hp bar reaches 0 or yours), but the writing atmosphere are so stellar that they alone convinced me to get the game, and so far I have not been disappointed.

            They also managed to solve one of my pet peeves with most MMOs – that clothes and armor are usually tied to stats, and only sometimes bandaid systems are added at a later point. In TSW, stats come from talismans which have no visual whatsoever, and you dress your character just the way you like; and for weapons you can create casting molds to reshape one weapon with the appearance of another (of the same type).

        2. D4 says:

          Trivial note: Even WoW has fixed (much of the time) the go-back-for-next-quest setup, at least in the newer areas. These days, many of the newer quests auto-complete and trigger a new quest once you’ve fulfilled their conditions.

          This isn’t universal in Cataclysm, but it happens enough that it stands out when it doesn’t–it feels like they had multiple teams designing quests, or multiple passes through, and one team or an early pass that didn’t get updated didn’t have access to the same tech.

      2. Kdansky says:

        TSW would be ten times better if it had a “toggle mouse-look” button. Seriously. It wants to be played with mouse-look, but it can’t, resulting in me taping down my right mouse button. There isn’t even anything to click on during combat with just 7 abilities and TAB to select enemies. It’s like they made a different game and then slapped WoW-controls on top of it and called it a day.

        By the way, DAoC had mouse-look toggle despite being an MMO. In late 2000. Even WoW didn’t come with it and addons generally could not cope with the richness of WoW’s right mouse button (which is about as flexible as the X-button on consoles).

        As for bottom of the screen: When I played WoW a bit more seriously, the most important thing was to move the basic interface components from the corners to the center. I don’t need to look at my character. I need to see the cooldowns, health meters and cast bars. I have screenshots of Molten Core raids where there is literally only 300×300 pixels of game, with all other space taken up by a diverse assortment of bars and timers. And I don’t even think that’s bad! In fact, I’d love it if a Space-game would pick that up and let you play as a commander of a huge battleship, commanding dozens of turrets, swarms of fighters, drones, and so on, nothing involving action, but tons of strategy. It’s not bad, just unsuitable for an action game. I mean, EVE gives up at about 8 guns (which you all fire at the same enemy), but I would like something more alike an RTS, played from the cockpit of a battle-cruiser.

        1. Blackbird71 says:

          The funny thing is that when you mentioned a Space-game where you commmand a ship with strategic gameplay, EVE is exactly what popped into my mind.

          Just a minor nitpick: in EVE, you definitely don’t have to fire all weapons at the same target. Raise your targeting skill and you can lock more targets at once, and each weapon can be firing at a different target. Of course, this strategy works best when you’re facing swarms of weaker enemies that you don’t need a full salvo to kill.

          1. Ninjariffic says:

            With carriers and supercarriers you can have mighty swarms of drones, and you can even send them off with other members of your fleet.

            And of course if you really want strategy in Eve you can start commanding increasing numbers of players in fleet battles.

            Just be prepared to have your day ruined every so often.

            1. Mephane says:

              Just be prepared to have your day ruined every so often.

              I remember reading about a case where some people built one super-large battleship, possibly involving months of resource gathering and constructing, only to have the thing destroyed in an gigantic battle shortly after completion.

              1. Rollory says:

                I remember reading about this one time when this one thing happened. Pretty cool, right?

                Ok, yeah, I played Eve for a while, and if you want to tell stories about it there are plenty like that or actually much better ones that could be told. But if you’re going to tell it, tell it right! Don’t make it sound like run-of-the-mill griefing from Generic MMO #32. Eve deserves better than that.

                1. Mephane says:

                  Well, I was not there, I tried Eve for a single day and found it was not exactly for me. I read an article about that incident and was really impressed both by the effort the people put up to construct it and the effort other people put up to destroy it, heh.

                  I did not want to imply that it was griefing, I understand the underlying principles of Eve and the consequences your actions have there. Sorry.

                2. X2Eliah says:

                  Why isn’t it a general run-of-the-mill griefing? From the sidelines it sure looks as if basically everything about EVE is plain old griefing through and through.

                  1. decius says:

                    It’s not griefing, anymore than taking the opponent’s pieces in chess is griefing. That’s the type of game being played.

                    1. John Lopez says:

                      Laughing at “it’s not griefing”. I think an amusing counter quote to that was by the EVE University guys at the last alliance panel.

                      “EVE is a game about groups of bastards competing to be the biggest bastard in a battle for money and power. And EVE University is running a *charity*”.

                      If you watch the rest of the video you will see a gradual descent from this “high minded” (by EVE standards, certainly) ideal into “look at how much we trolllooloo”.

                      Granted, it is *consensual* trolling and griefing (at least for people who get it and weren’t mislead by nonsense analogies to chess).

                      Chess is a game of skill with fixed rules and defined endgame conditions. EVE is a game of alliance building with ill defined “rules” as to what alliances do and don’t do and no defined endgame at all. It has basically nothing to do with spaceships fighting in fair fights and everything to do with street gangs managing their drug running cartels. Not chess at all.

          2. Kdansky says:

            It’s not about “being able to lock more than one target”. As soon as you can fly a Destroyer (that’s usually your second ship, and you get one for free), you can easily lock half a dozen targets at a time. The issue is that it’s nearly always bad. Shooting at a single target is superior, that is why fleet commanders announce the primary target. If everyone shoots at the same enemy, they can’t repair their armor and shields before they die.

            My idea would be more alike having a single battleship that’s so big that your left guns can’t reach to your right, and your battery of small guns are utterly useless against big ships, but your four lazerz will miss the small ships. That way, you would have to assign different targets to be efficient. EVE is still an action game.

            Yes, you can become fleet commander, but that is a social role and responsibility, and not a game-mechanic. I want to play “battleship commander” when I start up the game, not spend two years training with small craft and searching for the right corp.

            You whippersnappers don’t remember the flawed Battlecruiser 3000 AD, do you…

            1. Felblood says:

              It’s not exactly what you guys are looking for, but have you tried Artemis TSBS, yet?

            2. decius says:

              Gratuitous Space Battles. It’s not so much “battleship captain” as “Fleet Admiral”.

              And once the line of battle and tactical priorities are laid out, your captains carry out the orders and there are no further decisions to make.

        2. void says:

          This is why some of us put together AutoHotKey scripts to enable mouselook toggles. With that, and my five mouse buttons bound to my first five abilities, and the last two to letter keys, I have a LOT of fun in combat.

      3. BlackBloc says:

        Guys, I love TSW, got my lifetime membership and stuff, but the writing for the cinematics is atrocious (I’ll accept the fact that the mission text is pretty awesome though, at least for the parts I bother reading).

        Being from Montreal I happen to be only two social steps (in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon sense) away from the writers at Funcom because I’m sort of ‘seeing’ a lady writer friend (who doesn’t do videogame writing but knows a bunch of them). I was talking to her about how I thought all the cinematics for TSW are basically all about individual characters with a quirky personality that stands in for some philosophical standpoint and that you’re basically being infodumped all about their entire personality in the first cinematic you see of them. No subtlety or inner life, it’s all getting right there on the screen that the priest is some mega Illuminati wannabee/fanboy, the guy asking you to build weapons is some sort of nomad survivalist, etc etc. She said “Wow I bet X wrote the cinematics for that game, that’s pretty much his entire writing style.” and sure enough we checked and that was him.

        Anyway… bad writers, bad!

        1. Brandon says:

          You have to realize that the first cinematic you get of an NPC is a lot of the interaction you get with them. Like I said in a different comment, you only spend about 5 or 10 minutes max interacting with any given NPC, that’s their introduction, their quest cinematics, and all of their discussion topics. Writing a character in such a way that their personality comes through loud and clear in such a small interaction is difficult, and oftentimes feels forced. Whoever did it for The Secret World did an excellent job of it. (In my opinion. Feel free to have a different one)

          Regardless of the quality of writing, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of WoW’s writing style of “This guy is a quest dispenser with no personality.” How many quest NPCs in other MMOs can you name off the top of your head, nevermind tell me what their personality is like?

          Anyways, I should probably stop posting before you guys start thinking I’m getting paid to promote this game. :p

          1. BlackBloc says:

            You know, “other games have worst writing” doesn’t change the fact that this game has bad writing. Game writing is horrible in general.

            1. ps238principal says:

              Having just messed about with a ton of Fallout New Vegas mods that included fully-voiced characters, bad video game writing is starting to seem a lot like bad movie writing/acting. Even the most mediocre monolog and/or performance in a high-budget game sounds like Shakespeare when compared to one made by someone who thinks ambition and drive can make up for knowing how people actually speak, that brevity is the soul of wit, or even to make sure your characters aren’t repeating the same words/phrases over and over again.

              This isn’t a dis on the modding community, and I’m not naming names. I’m just pointing out that even when the pros get it wrong, it’s often far better than average. However, given their budgets, it’s a bit like being served a day-old McDonald’s cheeseburger in a restaurant with cloth napkins.

        2. Psithief says:

          Here’s a tip – time how long the mission cinematics are.

          They’re all about the same length! That’s why they always seem to outstay their welcome, the developers have forced the writers to pad them out to a certain length.

    2. X2Eliah says:

      “Why is everything at the bottom of the screen” – Hm, frankly I have the exact same complaint about Oblivion (which I am replaying at the moment because why not) – the default GUI has everything stuffed at the bottom that relates to your character.

      Why bottom, and not, say, on the top of the screen? Most games have just an empty skybox on top, or roofs/ceilings; on the floor there can be traps, chests, small enemies in grass, distant-land caves and so on. And idk, for me, with the top of the screen being at eye level because I’m not a giraffe that has screen hung to the ceiling (in other words, I hate bending my neck upwards so my screen is positioned normally for a human being), it’s far easier to glance “straight” (top of screen) than way down (bottom)…

      So what is up with most rpgs of last generation placing stats etc on the bottom?

      1. Dave Anderson says:

        You’re missing the point. You shouldn’t have to look any direction on your screen whether it’s bottom, top, left, or right. You should be able to watch your character and what is happening to him\her to able to tell what’s going on and how they’re doing. Your game shouldn’t be played via wathcing a toolbar, it should be played via the game.

        1. X2Eliah says:

          And you’re missing the point in that I am not talking about “toolbars” or the imaginary ideal-world solutions, but purely on the choice of the bottom of a screen as opposed to the other three areas.

          1. Dave Anderson says:

            You’re right, I did miss the point then. My bad.

    3. JPH says:

      I would assume you were staring at the ground because the character animations are so terrible.

        1. Lame Duck says:

          Oh no, all my water spells are on cooldown!

      1. Psithief says:

        No, it was because it was TSW encourages you to dodge enemy attacks, and you can only see where to dodge by looking at the ground. The fight I was referring to was particularly obsessed with this mechanic.

        1. JPH says:

          Clarification: I was kidding.

          1. Michael says:

            Comment on the whatever: I actually did that dungeon while sleep deprived, and had exactly that experience… though I did eventually see what the boss looked like, I never noticed Wicker was there at all until the cut scene. Take that for whatever it’s worth.

          2. Psithief says:

            Addendum: Yes, but they are terrible. That doesn’t mean I want people to avoid it playing it. ;)

  3. Lalaland says:

    Replaying KOTOR and aside from cooldown timers the interface seems very similar. It’s a shame they didn’t stick with the KOTOR battle system for Dragon Age Origins, I got around 2 hours into DA:O and the order brought by 3 second ‘turns’ seems completely lacking going to take a while to get used to.

    TOR looks like ‘KOTOR Online’ but that’s just a really bad idea, shame Bioware have wasted so many man hours on this rather than the RPGs they used to make :(

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Technically TOR was mostly done by a different team. Its main dev deam was at Bioware Austin, while the ME and DA teams are up in canada (montreal?), literally across the hall from one another. At least I’m pretty sure that’s how it is.

      1. Infinitron says:


        1. guiguibob says:

          ME3 multiplayer was a montreal job the rest is in edmonton.

          1. Lalaland says:

            I just wish they’d spent even a fraction of the investment necessary to create 3 new studios on their single player titles instead.

            1. PurePareidolia says:

              It’s not that they “create” new studios per se, so much as EA rebrands old, failed studios with the Bioware name. The guys doing C&C Generals? That’s the studio responsible for Tiberian Twilight. As far as I know the name is the only change.

              1. Michael says:

                Wasn’t that kinda the gag response to “they’ve never made an MMO?” So someone rebranded Mythic Studios as “Bioware Austin” and suddenly the fanboys could point at Warhammer Online as “a Bioware product”.

                I could be wrong, but I’ve always found that particular rebranding rather suspicious.

                1. Thomas says:

                  I’m too counter-counterconformist to join these things however sensible they are :D, but I think the point where EA just starting calling all their studios Bioware was the point where it became clear that things weren’t going to turn out quite the way the optimists hoped

  4. Chuck Henebry says:

    The strange thing about those screen caps with Farkus and friend is the scale: they look like Star Wars collectable miniatures set out next to a couple of logs at a campsite. They’re tiny, so small that they don’t read as people next to the grass or trees around them. Maybe if I’d played the game they would look like human figures to me.

    1. CTrees! says:

      Not really. The scale of everything is really weird. See Shamus’ comment about the furniture sizes in a previous post.

    2. Zak McKracken says:

      I remember some of the comments about Project Frontier screenshots that included a figure. Now… It took me a long while to develop a theory which pixels in the first screenshot are supposed to be Dev Null (or whatever his name is). My current theory is that he must be very small and partially covered by something that is … something. The proportions look completely off.

      Everyone who complained about the proportions in the project Frontier screenshots: Either it is very easy to look out of proportion in a screenshot, or some people made a mistake worse than Shamus’, while getting paid for it.

  5. Torsten says:

    It’s nice to read your thoughts on the mouselook interface, it has been a little unclear where your ideas have come from. I do agree with your thoughts on the direction the user interface is evolving on mmorpgs. The next big hit is probably whichever game brings the single player action gameplay into them.

    Hopefully this does not derail discussion much, but how do Tera and The Secret World compare in gameplay to the two goliaths? It is an interesting situation where we have four games competing for the spot as the next generation benchmark for mmorpg.

  6. Amarsir says:

    That’s a very good point. I’ve started to think of this, probably incorrectly, as “design for PC” vs “design for console”. WoW is played via keyboard, offering easily over a hundred distinct keypresses, and therefore spreads out to multiple taskbars. DCUO is a console-design (to a fault) so powers are built around combinations with minimal display.

    What’s displayed in which way is a very good point, but I suspect it’s probably just a lack of consideration more than anything else. SWTOR polished the old-school thinking to the extent that you can set your action queue time to tenths of a second. A nice touch if you are pre-queueing, but not particularly action-focused. Had Bioware considered visible-at-a-glance as a design worthy goal, I’m sure they could have done so without major modification.

    (I confess not seeing the appeal of Guild Wars though. I bought GW and didn’t stick it out that far, and tuned in to about 10 minutes of your stream last night. It seems too face-mashy to me. Playing or watching, I wasn’t struck by any immense difference in where you are, who you’re fighting, or what powers you use. If there is a subtlety it was lost on me.)

  7. Trithne says:

    Even Guild Wars 2 suffers from this, but not nearly to the same extent. It’s not particularly difficult or attention-consuming, but keeping an eye on your cooldown timers is at the bottom, as well as a few conditions. But they’ve done a great job of making it kinda like subtitles: You scan the bottom of the screen out of instinct without it distracting from the main attraction going on. They also use other visual cues, like the screen border reflecting conditions affecting you.

    Also not having to track umpteen million skills helps.

  8. Michael says:

    My only objection is that you’re presenting the ‘interface as the game’ as undesirable and something we should move away from for games to get better. If anything, I’d like games to move back in that direction. That would appeal to me more.

    Divide gameplay into three components, a. figuring out what to do, b. actually doing what you want, and c. being able to do this quickly. Decision-making, execution, twitch.

    I liked the old turn-based roleplaying games where it would all be about the decision making. What skills do I need to do to survive the enemies next attack, how to balance surviving with progressing against him, etc. MMO’s couldn’t focus that much on decisions because you can’t pause an mmo for just one player to think. Decisions became less complex and there was an increased focus on execution. Given the situation I see now, what do I need to be casting a second from now.

    Anyway, it seems like you’re complaining that the interface for TOR doesn’t suit a fast-paced action game. But TOR isn’t a fast-paced action game, and I don’t want it to be, so I don’t agree it’s a problem. Of course, the graphics can be improved and more indicative of the situation, but graphics are wall-dressing, the interface is the real game. If they added mouse look, maybe they’d also add mechanics where you benefit from mouselook, which would be terrible. I want games about seeing a situation and being able to carefully, thoroughly exploit it with maximum efficiency. Not games about how quickly I can line up my mouse pointer with a moving object on the screen.

    I don’t know. It feels like you’re saying that this game would be better with more twitch, when this is a game people play because they don’t like games with twitch. o.O

    1. Thomas says:

      The problem with strategic focuses in MMOs is that you’re playing so much that any decision making, you’ll know by rote before you’ve finished up an area and it’ll just be slow button pressing after that. Unless they can figure out a way to generate really dynamic encounters. That’d need some really smart game design to get it to work in the end.

      I’m beginning to feel the whole idea of MMO needs to be rewritten, Shamus’ thing about stories in MMOs restricting character, so you have a world full of everyone playing the same person really struck me and so much of MMOs is about using time without really having fun doing it. Everything, the story, gameplay and setting needs to be about player interaction, or else what’s the point? And the whole Game/End Game situation is just a bit weird.

      Realm of the Mad God is good at this, everything about it encourages people to do everything together and it has it’s world events

      1. Pickly says:

        I’d argue game/end game separation is partly unavoidable in a leveling game that people are are expected to stick with for a long time. If the game has a level cap, than it is automatically split by that cap into a period where “will this level me up quickly” is a consideration, and a period where it is not. (and with the most common style of game designs, this biases a character towards damage dealing, certain types of activities, etc.) Without level caps, a problem exists of generating areas to play that players are not enormously overpowered for, and of players not being able to catch up.

        Of course, a lot of designers seem to greatly increase the “leveling game/end game” issues by designing completely separate things to do at the two points in the game, which does have the feel of “We’ve designed the leveling part, now we need to find something for people to do”.

        (Admittedly, I am probably one of the very unusual people who does not enjoy leveling/looting/progression much, but does enjoy a lot of the other parts of an MMO, so anything to do with progression I have a jaded view of. Would really rather see more games get rid of power increases entirely and designing some other ways to attract the progression minded people. But, since this is unlikely, I just end up occasionally checking out MMO releases, and than going back to original Guild Wars from time to time.)

        1. CTrees! says:

          EVE Online has done fairly well at having meaningful gameplay without a level-cap. Oldbies may be able to do a lot more things well, and may even be able to do any given thing slightly better, but except for a few things like flying supercapital ships, the difference between someone with a few months of experience and a few years of experience is minimal, given the same equipment (which, with an alliance, can be easy).

          1. Thomas says:

            Eve frankly is the example of a correct way to build an MMO. The only thing they haven’t got right is the actual game/gameplay :D

            Hardly another game of existence has utilised the idea that the whole game is meant to be about the other people so well

            1. harborpirate says:

              I would agree. Current-gen MMOs suffer from trying to impose developer created narrative into a massive online world. This creates a “cookie cutter” experience.

              The reason for this is less risk: the developer created story might be mundane, but it won’t be completely nonsensical. Pre-written story may restrict the player to a small number of choices; but the player will never be faced with something completely unexpected, or dozens of similar choices that cause confusion. Its “safe”.

              I’m interested in games where all goals/quests are player generated, but I’m not sure that most people are. Many people believe that a GOOD narrative is something that has to be written by a human author, and not something that can emerge as a result of a system simulation and player interaction. I don’t buy that, but its something many people will have to have proven to them before they’ll buy into the idea.

        2. Blackbird71 says:

          One thing I liked about the original Star Wars MMO (SW:Galaxies, pre-CU) was that it was a level-less system. You gained skills which could improve your character, but not having certain skills (or amounts of skills) didn’t prevent a new character from experiencing most of the game, and having a lot of skills didn’t mean grinding the same content over and over.

          I just remember only being a few weeks into the game, and going with experienced guildmates into some of the more dangerous areas. It wasn’t as easy for me, but I was able to hold my own, and enjoy the content. There was no artificial barrier between me and the rest of my guild. Contrast this with WoW where I had to spend months levelling up just to be able to tag along on guild events! Levels do not need to be part of an MMO, and “max level” and “endgame” do not have to be the goals.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      I agree with points A, B, and C, but you’ve left one out. Let’s call it:
      “o. perceiving the state of the game, a. figuring out…”

      I believe this is the real point of the article. SWTOR does not display the information required to easily make informed game play decisions. No matter how good the puzzles, no matter how seamless the input, no matter how satisfying the response, the game will be frustrating if you can not easily understand what you are looking at.

      This is like making chess pieces all the same color and shape, and then writing the color and name on the bottom. Manipulating the pieces is easy! It’s quick! All the information is clearly written where you can see it once you pick the piece up and look at the base. Too bad it’s so frustrating. We should make it more exciting by lighting the identical pieces ON FIRE!

  9. Ralph says:

    I also gave it a go the other weekend when it went free. Did the Jedi starting world.

    The camera controls are almost the same as WOW, and given the game is a WOW clone, I think this is the right choice. The only difference I found was the SWTOR camera tends to rubberband a bit when you swing it and this feels less responsive, but no doubt if I sink a few more hours in will feel ok.

    Agree that looking at cooldowns on the action bar is not very fun. I guess this is why most wow players now have them as auras that appear in the centre of the screen (the default UI has some, and many addons allow you to have whatever you want). Keybind anything you need to press more than once a minute around the move keys and you will find yourself looking down there far less.

    Not sure why you ever thought it was an action-RPG. I never saw anything that suggested it was anything other than WOW with a star wars skin.

  10. MintSkittle says:

    I’d say that some of your complaints can be linked to some misleading marketing, specifically, the versus trailers. In them, the devs pit 2 classes against each other, one from each faction, and try to sell why each class has the upper hand in terms of powers and abilities, interspersed with “gameplay” footage. I put gameplay in quotes because they try to make it look all actiony with the running around and power slinging, when it’s as said above, babysitting cooldowns.

    I think if the marketing was more honest about what kind of game they were making, you wouldn’t have had nearly as much whining about it being a WoW-clone. Which it is, by the way. No point denying it. But some of us are okay with that.

    I’d probably have renewed my subscription if the Summer Steam Sale hadn’t just happened. I have way too many games I’d like to play right now.

  11. X2Eliah says:

    a muddled Frankenstein's Monster of established MMO gameplay conventions

    Speaking of which, anyone want to get hyped for The Elder Scrolls Online?

    Anyway, as for the interface being the actual game, yeah, I can see that, and I really don’t like such games myself… That’s the main reason why I can’t stand most strategy games, for example – to play them well, you basically have to zoom out to “icon level” and pay attention only to bars, numbers and icons/shadings.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Yeah no.

      As soon as they said cooldown based skills I practically wanted to cry :(

      1. Thomas says:

        It’s so weird that they did that. What about Elder Scrolls combat doesn’t work in an MMO setting? Why do we need to default to cooldowns?

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          What are you talking about? It’s just like The Elder Scrolls games. After all, if you press the block button, your character BLOCKS!!!

        2. Adeon says:

          Because they are trying to capture the WoW market and WoW has cooldown based gameplay. The sad fact is that for the moment WoW pretty much defines the MMORPG genre (although not necessarily MMOs in general) so the majority of big-budget MMOs are going to be designed so as to try and convince WoW players to switch.

          It won’t work but companies are still going to try.

        3. Phantom Hoover says:

          Well, lag issues can make first-person combat problematic (and no, not everyone has a connection as good as yours, inevitable complainer), which is why WoW has cooldown-based combat in the first place; lag was even worse when it was designed.

      2. Cody211282 says:

        I really really wanted to get excited for that game because of how much I love the The Elder Scrolls series. But with everything I’ve seen it just looks like they haven’t learned anything from every other failed MMO out there.

        1. X2Eliah says:

          Yeah, precisely. And you’d think that especially with what’s going on with TOR, the TESO devs would re-evaluate their approach before it’s too late..

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            Sadly, I think it may already be too late. Once you spend that much money on a project, it may be too hard to scrap anything.

    2. Ryan says:

      Now, TESO’s developers have put a lot of weight on their design philosophy being about looking at the world, not at your toolbar. Whether or not you believe them is of course important.

  12. Canthros says:

    It gets worse, though. In my experience, by the time you reach level 20-30, you’ll find yourself needing at least one or two of the additional quickbars to manage various abilities. One of those will be right under the one you’ve got there, but the other two will be on the sides of the screen. Eventually, you’re looking at everything except the game world.

    1. Zombie says:

      By level 30 on my Soldier I was using all four, the bottom 2 for abilities, one for my speeders and such, with a few cooldowns, and another with medpacks and cooldowns. I really couldn’t stand that all I was looking at was the quickbars, but its not like the game was better looking then the quickbars, with the whole 4 or 5 colors they used for the whole game

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Have you seen WoW? It’s exactly the same way, quite possibly worse.

        1. Jarenth says:

          So I started looking for a good WoW Interface picture to accentuate your point. I find one that really shows the inherent madness, click it, and, well, guess which site it leads to.

          This one. The answer is this site.

          1. TheZooblord says:

            To be fair, this is an outdated picture from quite a while back, and even for the most elite of raid min-maxers that seems like an exceptionally (emphasis on exception) masochistic example lol.

            1. Trix2000 says:

              And to be fair, a lot of recent custom UIs seem to be trending to simplicity lately.

        2. TheZooblord says:

          Actually I would have to SWTOR is the worst offender as far as hotkeys go. I played a Sith Inquisitor up to 50, and by level 50, I had 6 entire quickbars full of abilities, and that is not an exaggeration. It wasn’t junk either. 90% of the slots were taken up by class abilities that could and should be used, the remaining 10% being a slot for my mount, a slot for my hearthstone, a slot for my current-best health potion, etc.

          The more I think about it the more I realize I spent more of my time in SWTOR desperately scrambling to click the correct button on a menu, more than anything else.

          In WoW, I use the default action bar and one directly above it. That’s all, and I have 4 classes at 85 and the other 6 in their mid 70s. Meanwhile the WoW devs have acknowledged and actively been fighting the problem with too many actionbars, paring down several fluff abilities and buttons. SWTOR is much worse.

          That being said, I really enjoyed the story and compaions so I played the game quite a bit anyway. Even when the story was mediocre or stupid, it had popcorn-level entertainment value to me.

          And, M1-4X is the crown jewel of Bioware writing. He is pretty much Stephen Colbert as a robot, only NOT EVEN SLIGHTLY IRONIC ABOUT HIS PATRIOTISM.

          Can the-Republic-patriotism-is-American-patriotism be odd and immersion breaking? ….yes.

          “We will ride this durasteel eagle into the heart of the Empire and bring our fight for freedom to the door of the Emperor himself!” hilariously delivered in a lantern-jaw Justice robot voice? TOTALLY WORTH IT.

    2. Daimbert says:

      Yeah, I know …

      Wait … you can have multiple quickbars? I really have to figure out how to do that; right now I have abilities that I don’t use only because I can’t fit them on only one quickbar [grin]

  13. Lupinzar says:

    Did they ever allow modding in SWTOR? I though it was kind of a mistake to not release with it. Modding can help bring the focus back to the middle of the screen, although you’re still going to be looking at a lot of information versus action or surroundings, but that’s the nature of the game.

    I bet the WoW mold will be broken eventually. Elder Scrolls Online gives me hope.

  14. One of the things I noticed at Bioware that I think may have contributed to some of the development problems listed above was the fact that a majority of the employees were contract. An employee would be hired, work for a year on the game, and then was let go to be replaced by a new contractor. This constant merry-go-round rotation of employees meant that the managers were constantly having to hire and train new people, while simultaneously losing well-trained, experienced employees.

    This rotation of employees occurred in ALL departments – QA, world design, art, writing, combat, etc. I don’t know how this could NOT have impacted upon the quality and consistency of the game. Not to mention the effect it had on morale as we constantly saw people coming and going. The feeling of being disposable as an employee was inevitable.

    I understand why studios hire contract labor – it’s cheap. But I think many companies in the gaming industry OVERUSE and ABUSE contract labor. In an effort to save their bottom line they compromise the quality and consistency of their product.

    1. Cody211282 says:

      That scares the crap out of me, honestly they should have ha a core team that they kept around to work on the game so it felt consistent and flowed together, instead we have this jumbled bland mess.

      1. JPH says:

        This seems to be the direction a lot of dev teams are taking, honestly. Let’s not forget the outsourced boss battles in Deus Ex 3.

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          Easily the worst decision of that game. Even the least analytical person can see how that affected the game’s overall quality.

        2. Mephane says:

          They outsourced the boss battles? How is that even possible? Did they go to another game company and say “Yeah here we have this awesome game, we just can’t figure how to make a few badass foes, could you maybe, like, come up with ideas, implement and test them for us and all, and be cheaper than our own guys who know the game, story, and technology by heart?”

          1. Thomas says:

            Well it’s not quite that bad, if everyone you’ve got is working flat out as it is, then the only way you can get the boss battles in is by taking the whole time, where you have to pay the whole company whether they’re working on it or not. It probably did work out cheaper (and I still contend they were a number tweak off being quite good boss battles, they all had multiple paths, strategies, stealth was an option etc. MGS had clearly been looked at, it’s just they had too much DPS to actually comfortably explore any of these strategies (also regen health definitively sucks for bosses, even if it worked for most of the rest))

    2. X2Eliah says:

      Hm. I wonder, then, if a game is so heavily outsourced, is there any value left in saying “oh it’s made by X, they have done a lot of great games before so that’s a seal of quality, y’know”…

    3. Mephane says:

      Facepalm. Just facepalm. I would remotely understand if they had contracts for the length of the entire development and might then release part of the staff (although you would still need a lot of people to develop not just patches, but new content, and eventually expansion packs), but having people work on such a large project for a year and then replacing them with the next guy just cries Dilbert-level management stupidity.

    4. PurePareidolia says:

      I really appreciate the inside information here, it goes a long way to explaining some of the game’s more questionable decisions. Of course the problem then becomes, if they were cutting corners on a budget of $200 million, how much would the game have cost if they hadn’t?

      I think the tradeoff would have had to be cutting some of the content in order to focus more directly on the things that mattered, because trying to compete with the amount of content in WoW at this point is kind of a fool’s errand – better to get the game fun and playable with not a lot of content then add more later.

      Of course, they could try adding procedural dungeons or landscapes to give the impression of a bigger galaxy without requiring so much work. Like if you used the planet scanner interface in Mass Effect and could just land anywhere and it’d generate a landscape with some indigenous fauna, maybe a random encounter like a crashed space ship and a couple of dungeons to explore then you’ve got a tonne of filler to keep people placated until you can make more hand crafted stuff.

    5. Daimbert says:

      Working on a different type of product entirely, my view is that contractors can only work if you keep a strong and dedicated core team who really understand the product and how it works. Without that, things get … problematic.

  15. AncientSpark says:

    I feel the same way about GW2, I’ve stopped playing the beta because I don’t want to spoil the game for myself, after reaching level 19 on a thief and a warrior to get a good feel on what kind of class I’m looking at.

    Are you guys planning on starting up a guild? It seems like the kind of thing that would be cool and it seems like there’s quite a few people interested in GW2.

    1. MediocreMan says:

      Guilds take a lot of time and a lot of organizational skills. Besides, there will inevitably be drama. I’d rather not see the Spoiler Warning crew disintegrate because of a bad guild experience.

      1. Josh says:

        Yeah, we’re thinking about doing a guild, and I’ll probably make a post about it as the release of the game approaches.

        I’m not too worried about drama, myself; The demands of actually doing Spoiler Warning are, from my perspective, far straining on relationships than running a guild in an MMO would be. We’ve managed that for two and a half years, and I don’t think a guild will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Besides, I don’t think either Shamus or I have the patience to entertain the sort of sophmoric power-posturing that some guilds seem eager to partake in. Our general rule of “Don’t be a dick or we’ll kick your ass” will no doubt apply.

        1. Milos says:

          Another significant factor in reducing drama is the way the guilds work in GW2. It’s a lot more laid back, you can be a member of 10 guilds and switch at your own leisure. You want to do some pvp but everyone else wants to do a dungeon? No need to kick up a fuss – just switch to another group of friends and see what they are up to. You don’t have to be territorial about your members.

  16. WILL says:

    It’s actually much close to 500 million with the advertising included, and apparently the voice acting was included in the advertising costs for some reason. EA spent more on this disaster than James Cameron did on Avatar.

    1. Thomas says:

      On the other hand they’ve already made over $150 million of that back, is it much worse than LotRo? Because if not they’ll probably make their money back fairly easily once they go free to play

  17. SyrusRayne says:

    Yeah, the Hangout last night pretty much convinced me to pick up GW2. It’s pretty (even on the stream,) seems to be a lot more mobility based, and seems more action-oriented in a way that is actually oriented towards action. Also it looks fun. Definite plus.

    1. Mephane says:

      The biggest minus for me is the item shop. Not its existence per se, but what has been decided should go there. For example, armor appearance customization requires a specific consumable item to combine the looks of one armor piece with the stats of another.

      That consumable item is sold for real cash. Oh of course you can also buy it with in-game gold, from players who got them for cash (they are not bound to the player who bought them).

      So basically I could continue the weird-clown-syndrome of disgustingly mismatched armor piece, pay real money every time I get an upgrade and don’t want to lose my look, or effectively become the gold farmer for the guys who would otherwise turn to 3rd party gold selling sites to cheat their way through.

      1. Milos says:

        You can also get them in game as a reward for some quests as well as completing an area in the world (doing all the hearts, exploring all points of interest etc.)

        1. Mephane says:

          Those are one-time benefits, and thus irrelevant in the long run of the game. Eventually you will have used them up, and then?

      2. Stranger says:

        Or . . . OR you could look into crafting. Putting together armor for yourself with the enhancements you know you want instead of hoping for them to drop.

        The downside is that I accidentally made a rather awesome longbow for my ranger then couldn’t use it immediately. (It took half an hour of a few more Dynamic Events to put on another level to use it.) But it can be done. And the items you mentioned I hear also can be opened out of the “Mystic Chests” which sometimes drop . . . which are opened with keys either purchased with the Real Money Currency or dropped as randomly as the chests. (Or earned through completing a line in your personal story, which is how I got mine.)

        1. Mephane says:

          I am not talking about stats, enhancements etc. I am talking about combining item looks A with item stats B. If that is doable through plain crafting (and without a lot of super-hassle or ultra-rare-drop materials), that’s great.

      3. Danel says:

        And I don’t think clown syndrome looks quite as bad when you can dye the armor pieces, so that the colours will match if nothing else.

  18. Irridium says:

    On the note of analyzing games, this appeared today.

    The main site:

    It’s a bunch of short videos (about 1 minute each) of prominent game designers talking about games. Pretty interesting stuff.

    1. Thomas says:

      There’s some absolute dynamite on the site, and insight
      [On reception of Lara Crofts creation] ‘There was this urge… they just loved killing her’
      Sometimes you don’t really want insight into other people :(

      Also, all the depth put into something as simple as Pacman, you just never think about it

      Apart from anything, it’s cool just to see a glimpse of some of these landmark people

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Funny that you mention borderlands as the opposite,but I didnt like that game precisely because all the enemies looked the same.In fact,I had to look for a bit at that image to spot the difference between those two.

    1. newdarkcloud says:

      Same. The two skags looked incredibly similar. You have to look for the eyes.

      I’m honestly not too excited for Borderlands 2.

      1. MediocreMan says:

        The only interesting/fun thing about Borderlands is the loot drops. So when I got to the end of the game and there was no gigantic loot drop (that I had envisioned) and just a large octopus monster, I was effing pissed!

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          I stopped playing after the first playthrough. I realized that I had no reason to keep playing for 2 or more playthroughs.

  20. TheZooblord says:

    Guild Wars 2 question Shamus: What do you think of the Personal Story steps so far? You mention not wanting to spoil story for yourself, but it has so far been slightly hit-and-miss for me.

    I am pretty much a dedicated GW2 fanboy already, participating in and loving every single beta weekend since the Press Beta, and I think it is my personal favorite MMO of all time thus far, but I have to say the story can be severely lacking sometimes.

    I haven’t experienced all of the story branches from level 1-10 and only one from 10-20, and my reaction was a mixed bag.

    The best the writing gets is just pleasant, good-enough fun adventure, with really 0 pathos or emotional connection, but it still manages to be fun and somewhat engaging.

    Even though the Player Character is rigidly defined as a generic nice guy, I personally prefer that to the absolute flood of faux-macho “dark and gritty” characters that have been absolutely plaguing games recently. Comic book fans talk about the Dark Age of the 90s a lot, where everyone was named BLOODSHOT and they SHOT GUNS and CUSSED a LOOOT, and it was “AWWWWESOME”. That’s kind of how I feel about the modern AAA game industry, it’s obnoxiously juvenile. Even though its not exactly what you wanted your character to be, I will take a Player Character that wants to go out and save the world over some Marcus Fenix or Ethan Thomas (condemned) or Max Payne, any, day, of the week.

    At its worst the writing is flat, the characters are flat, the Player Character is flat, and you are forced to make gratingly arbitrary “deep” decisions. You are Told, not Shown, that your PC has had a best friend for many years in one storyline, and then with nearly zero time to get to know him yourself as the player, he is put in a dramatic situation you are supposed to care about/save him from. Enemy factions, while beautifully detailed and imagined through outside sources (the Arenanet blog, and the novels), get little to know explanation in-game unless you hunt down villager NPCs and talk to them until you find someone who knows what’s going on. Your character is too defined to fully role-play, and too generically nice to be interesting.

    Honestly I found about 40% of the stories I played to be flat bland writing and 50% to be generic-but-interesting-and-most-of-all-fun writing and the last 10% to be The Good Stuff. Through it all, GW2 never made me feel an ounce of pathos or drama, but it definitely made me smile. :)

    1. TheZooblord says:

      little to no*, not little to know.

      My kingdom for a longer edit window.

  21. JTippetts says:

    Is Specialist Dev Farkus an Easter Egg of Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story? The character portrait sure looks a lot like Farkus.

    So help me, he had YELLOW EYES!

  22. MelTorefas says:

    I get frustrated when people go on about how great Guild Wars 2 is. I was really excited for the game, per-ordered it, and have played in two beta weekends. Both times I played different race/class combos, and my experiences were identical.

    Try to fight something: die.
    Try to walk somewhere: die.
    Try to figure out what my current quest objectives actually ARE: wander in frustration for several minutes due to complete lack of information provided, then die.

    Seriously, that is barely an exaggeration. The fights I tried were always, ALWAYS like this: Spam the 3-4 abilities I have as fast as I can while occasionally dodging.

    The outcomes were about 75% ‘Watch health go from full to zero in 1.3 seconds, then die’ and about 25% ‘watch enemy collapse like a wet paper sack leaving me inexplicably with almost full hp’.

    Now, when I say ‘die’ I mean ‘fall over and use special near-death abilities’, which often resulted in rallying. But the thing is, constantly falling over and ‘FIGHT TO SURVIVE’ is not my idea of heroic adventuring. Yet the game seemed so completely enamored of this near-death mechanic that it felt the need to show it to me on every fight.

    Further, most of the fights and especially the events involved huge masses of NPCs that there was no way you could survive if you got aggro from more than one. Those fields were generally littered with the slain and incapacitated of the playerbase.

    In all of this I cannot shake the feeling that I am doing something very wrong, but since the game didn’t bother EXPLAINING any of its mechanics, ever, I have no idea what or even if I am.

    After a couple hours I quit playing and my opinion of the game has turned very negative. Which leads me back to my original point: when others praise the game I become even more convinced that I was missing something when I played, and I really wish I knew WHAT.

    1. MerryVulture says:

      My wife and I kind of feel this way. We were excited to play, but have little clue as to what to do. It really needs a better tutorial. Not every one has been playing MMOs since day one.

    2. Ryplinn says:

      I can answer the bit about quest objectives: There aren’t any.

      Well, not exactly. There aren’t any in the traditional MMO sense. Instead of “go here and do this”, it’s more “there’s some stuff over here which you can d, and some stuff over there which you can do, but it’s totally up to you.” Guild Wars 2 won’t lead you around by the nose, or make you do anything, but if you look around a bit there’s always something available.

      The two main things to do when wandering around the world are Renown Hearts and Dynamic Events. Renown Hearts are the closest thing to traditional WoW-style quests, although they still don’t have a quest-giver. You simply go near the heart and the “quest text” area in the top right will tell you what to do. These are worth doing, but if you only do them, then you’re missing out on most of the content (and xp!) that GW2 has to offer.

      Dynamic Events are the core of GW2. As you wander around (perhaps from heart to heart), notifications will pop up in your quest text area, and circles will appear on your map, indicating the presence and location of an Event. To participate, go to the area and do what it tells you to do in the top right corner. Other players will flock to these as well.

      Dynamic Events can be started by talking to an NPC, killing a particular mob, or any number of other triggers. They tend to come in chains, so stick around for a few minutes after you finish one.

      As for dying, I’m guessing you aren’t dodging enough. In GW2, you are responsible for your own health bar, so not taking damage is a good idea. Depending on your class and weapon set, you may also have abilities that let you block, or blind enemies (which makes them miss). In addition, continually strafing out of area-of-effect and frontal-cone spells, and in general, can also reduce a lot of the damage you take. Doing this makes the difference between breezing through the first couple of zones and dying to every piddly even-leveled monster you find.

      I can confirm that you have been missing something, and I hope this helps you find it.

    3. TheZooblord says:

      I don’t know if I’m the best person to help with this as I’ve never been close to having an issue with dying in GW2, I do understand how much of a pain in the butt it can be to be playing a game that is difficult in a way you don’t understand.

      I always loved the visuals and gameplay ideas in GW1, and the story, but could never quite get into the game because I would just die over and over again without ever knowing why. It’s horrible and un fun, and I think its sad people are having this problem in GW2.

      Honestly as Ryplinn said the dodging is very important: several enemies have a big wind-up before they use a power attack, and staying out of the fire is as always important too. I noticed too that you said you use your skills as often as possible; as soon as they come off cooldown. Well, as Josh and Randy were discussing in the stream the other day, you almost get more raw damage output from just auto-attacking than from any other source. Some skills do add pure damage, but the majority of them are utility. Example: Warriors with a 2h Hammer have an AoE cripple. My auto-attack was hitting for about 50-70 damage, my AoE cripple for 30. If I use the cripple on an enemy who is in my face, I am doing less damage, while the enemy is doing the same damage, thus making me more likely to die. Better to just spam auto-attack.

      But that cripple could come in handy! I could use the cripple when I am at low hp, dodgeroll away from the now-slowed enemy, wait for my heal to come off cooldown, and use the cripple to gain some distance. The cripple can also slow fleeing enemies Suddenly the skill is useful, just not as damage!

      There’s a lot of subtlety like that in the game, and just attempting to faceroll will get you nowhere. You just gotta stay out of big telegraphed attacks, keep mobile, and make sure you only use your skills when they are actually beneficial, instead of all the time.

      I wish it were easier to get used to for everyone! :(

    4. Stranger says:

      They did tone it down somewhat in this Beta Weekend, from what I was hearing about in-game. I know that if I was alone at an event and fighting things off then I had pretty much one or two targets to deal with. Only when a bunch of people showed up did a bunch of targets show up.

      . . . at least, in the early areas. Soon as I hit the areas which allowed higher than level 10, it did become a bit more about “don’t rush into that stuff without thinking of how to get out”.

      1. AncientSpark says:

        A big part of Guild Wars 2 is that “dying” is basically to be expected. Solo missions, yes, you should be able to hold your own, but most of the times, this will involve getting downed a hundred billion times and rallying up with smart play. And in dynamic events, with the difficulty scaling up for multiple players, you’re going to get defeated every once in a while. But there’s incentive for people to help you in these cases and, more often than not, you’ll get a rez at some point. If not, it’s usually not a big deal to just walk from a waypoint, although money costs do hurt in GW2.

        Also, weapon selection has a big impact on how you play the game. I remember having the exact same problem when playing with the thief on my first time through, but I switched over from a melee based build to a pistol/dagger combination that I found a lot of synergy with on the skills I liked. It felt much more comfortable and I died way less often as a result. Later, when I was running through the game with my warrior, I immediately threw away my sword/shield because I hated how it felt during the intro and immediately bought myself a greatsword and had close to no trouble with most of the early levels (with the exception of some brutal brutal dynamic events).

  23. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    This might be something like what bugged me about every MMO I played in college.

    I always felt like I wasn’t engaging the world or other players. I’d be on a PVP castle assault (Dark Age of Camelot) and I’d be part of a group and really had nothing to do (except when I was a healer) except whatever was convenient. I was a (bad) tank, so I’d go hit whatever was nearby while the wizard nuked stuff. Often I got stuck on siege equipment duty (though that was pretty fun). Most of the game consisted of hitting my hot keys in sequence and praying that the healer was keeping a better view on my Hitpoints than I was. Even in PvE most of the quests consisted of running across the map and hitting stuff, not playing with other people.

    In early Galaxies (ie: before I started playing) there was supposed to be this mission-impossible set up to PvP where the slicers broke open the gates, and then the bounty hunter set the bombs and the whole thing had to be covered by weapons specialists. By the time I started playing, they’d switched to the click to shoot system, but jettisoned everything else. I lost interest in the game when I stepped out of Theed Starport and saw a courtyard full of Jedi doing practice lightsaber duels in front of a legion of stormtroopers and thought “yep, emersion gone.”

    By contrast, I’ve finally gotten an Xbox Live Gold subscription and I’ve been playing ME3 multiplayer (and Spoiler Warning should do an episode of that, just saying). And there is something intensely exciting, engaging, and fun about working as part of a squad to accomplish goals, cover each other, shoot husks off your partner’s back, work out a flanking maneuver to kill a nemesis or a turret… you get the idea.

  24. NihilCredo says:

    For the sake of all that’s good and holy, Josh should do some Crusader Kings 2 posts. It’s literally impossible to play that game without ending up with some fascinating stories to tell.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      One project at a time. Let him finish reuniting Japan!

      1. MediocreMan says:

        Perhaps instead of a series he could center a Spoiler Warning Hangout around it?

        Just sayin…

      2. Zombie says:

        With the Sword or the Gun? With a Shogun or an Emperor? We must know these things Josh! (I mean, just finish Shogun 2, or play Fall of the Samurai to.)

    2. Simon Buchan says:

      Oh GOD YES. I have a Scottish Countess who swore fealty to the Fatimir Sultanate (modern: Egypt) and converted to Egyptian culture after winning her independence with mercenaries funded from ransoming PoWs, after her Fatimir husband was assassinated by a neighboring Baroness. My current plan is to convert Brittania to Shia, by politics, … or “politics”. If *I* can troll history that much in my first 15 hours, what the heck does *Josh* do?

      1. Zombie says:

        In Medieval 2: Total War, I played as Scotland, steamrolled England, and then turned on my ally France, using my cannons to destroy every wall that was before my armies. After I was done with them I turned on Denmark and the Holy Roman Empire. I won after destroying a HRE army and then mauling two Danish armies, taking all of their westernmost cities. It was a fun game.

  25. Paul Spooner says:

    Love the insights. A lot of this stuff is still the same old “stop making good graphics and make good games” but it still needs to be said. Obviously someone isn’t listening.

    It would be neat if there were intentionally obfuscated information which required visual identification to uncover (like the glowing eyes). Instead of looking at the HUD bar for the character level, you could visually identify their equipment, or look for muscle mass or something. It could be as simple as an insignia on the character model somewhere. This would reward a careful approach, careful observation, and communication between players as to which enemies have what equipment.

    All of that could be done easily with procedural techniques. Too bad homogeneous “polished” content is more valuable to the market than intriguing game play. Oh wait.

    1. Thomas says:

      I’m not sure how that oh wait is meant. Doesn’t that normally imply that the intriguing play is dominant? Also to be fully nitpicky :D Valuable implies that it has worth like ‘It’s a shame most people enjoy polished content, get value from polished content’ etc

      EDIT: Oops, ‘valuable to the market’ I guess that fixes it. Although we need to sit down one day and find out if popularity is a marketing thing or just because people enjoy CoD more. If 5 million people genuinely enjoy CoD the most, we need to change our direction of communal thought slightly to acknowledge that we’re seeking the sidebar and not the main course. In which case indie games are actually meant for us and not indie games. Does that mean in criticising AAA games that means there’s something about them we wish we had in indie games? Well I’m sure someone has answers but I don’t :D

  26. Yesyesofcourse says:

    SW:TOR is not an FPS, thus it does not, nor should it, play like an FPS.

    SW:TOR is one in a very large group of games which all share the mechanics and all belong to the same genre. Those games include, but aren’t limited to, WoW, WAR, Aion, RIFT, Tera, Conan, DDO, and so on.

    Clearly the guy who wrote this doesn’t understand the aforementioned genre and it’s mechanics, and was expecting the game to play like an FPS, which obviously it wasn’t going to do.

    I also saw no mention of the KotOR games, which also play in quite a similar fashion to SW:TOR, but I did a mention about several games which are from a completely different genre, and thus shouldn’t even have been mentioned.

    If you want an MMOFPS, then go looking for an MMOFPS. If it’s not clearly stated that it will be an FPS, then it won’t be. It will be exactly what a dozen other recent similar games are.

    1. Irridium says:

      It wasn’t billed as an FPS, but it was billed as having dynamic and “visceral” combat. Which it doesn’t have. It uses the same mechanics as many other MMO’s which is also true, but as both Guild Wars 2 and Tera show, you don’t need to have those mechanics anymore, and can do more interesting things with gameplay.

      With how much money has been put into this game, it’s disappointing that it came out so… mediocre.

    2. Dudecon says:

      Wow! A Troll! We rarely see your kind venturing so far into the Reasonable Lands. How did you come to cross the Warding Walls of Young?

      Perhaps you’re not a troll. If that is the case, allow me to point out a few oddities in your comment which may mislead people.

      You mention “FPS” six times, yet first person shooters are nowhere mentioned in the article. Indeed Shamus indicates that SWTOR is in the “third-person action game with a connected world… spectrum” and never brings up shooters at all.

      You also point out that games of different genre should not be compared. This could be indicative of a misunderstanding of the capabilities of the mind. We here in the Reasonable Lands employ such techniques as inductive reasoning, metaphor, and symbolic logic to breach the walls seperating ideas and perform strange cognitive alchemies. If you stay among us long, you may learn this subtle craft. Suffice to say that far more disparate concepts than genre-differentiated games may be compared without hazard to yourself or others.

      Finally, you seem to be under the impression that you can freely insult the authors of any website you visit. The “guy who wrote this” is the owner of the site, and can remove your comment without a trace. It will be as if you never were.

      Welcome to the twenty-sided blog! Here, we are all polite, or our comments are incinerated from above by the purifying fire. I have seen it fall. I have been tasted its fury. Be warned.

      1. Troll or not, the comment is not entirely without merit. While all of Shamus’s objections stand, he does weirdly use an FPS (Borderlands) to demonstrate how the interface could be better resolved. And most of the same criticisms could be (and have been) raised against KOTOR – which is what a lot of people hoped SWTOR would be.

        Personally, I don’t mind the hands-off gameplay, but in KOTOR I controlled 3 characters, not one, so perhaps it was more appropriate there. On the other hand, I find Shamus’s critique of the SWTOR art direction to be utterly damning. I was staring at the screencap above for about a minute and I still can’t figure out where the Farkus character is…

        1. Zombie says:

          He’s the little brown dot next to the slightly bigger grey dot. And this sort of thing goes on for EVERY PLANET IN THIS GAME. I also can’t tell which planet he’s on, something that if you give me a screenshot of WoW, TSW, or STO, I could probably tell you what zone/planet their in.

        2. Thomas says:

          The criticisms mentioned in this article don’t apply to KotoR though, all the selection and doing stuff buttons/information, were in middle screen, so you were looking at what you were doing, and enemies stood out and it was pretty plain what you were doing with them.

          It’s pretty clear that KotoR would need an overhaul to fit into an MMO, there could be no pausing, there was need for visible levels (hmm, could they have got rid of this?), more progression, more depth to support a wider variety of playstyles etc. There wasn’t a whole lot of tactical depth but what depth there was, was all about battlefield placement, it was sabre throws, force push and knight speed stuff where the tactics shone, and all that involves looking at the screen and not the bottom

      2. Jeff says:

        I (kind of) agree with him though.

        The interface is subject to complexity. The more options you have, the greater the negative impact on usability when you obscure them.

        Shamus did clearly compare this ability-based RPG with FPS games. Borderlands is an FPS, even more so than Deus Ex and System Shock. The Jedi Knight series goes from the Dark Forces FPS to Jedi Academy, a 3rd person hack & slash like Force Unleashed. Republic Commando is an FPS as well.

        Comparing action (player skill, twitch) game interfaces to mechanical (character skill, spreadsheet) game interfaces is hardly fair.

        1. Shamus says:

          “Comparing action (player skill, twitch) game interfaces to mechanical (character skill, spreadsheet) game interfaces is hardly fair.”

          I was comparing them for illustrative purposes. I even said explicitly:

          “Again, this doesn't mean Guild Wars 2 is unambiguously better. The point I'm making is that Guild Wars 2 has a very deliberate identity and set of design principles that push online gaming in a new direction, while SWTOR is a muddled Frankenstein's Monster of established MMO gameplay conventions.”

          You’re saying it’s not fair to compare them because they’re different types of games. But that’s WHY I was comparing them.

          “Not all sports figures are the same. Notice how Eli Manning gets tackled on the job, but not Tiger Woods.”

          “No fair! You’re comparing different sports!”

          You’re missing the point of the comparison.

          1. Paul Spooner says:

            Lol! Oh man!
            Eli Manning: $18M/yr
            Tiger Woods: $85M/yr
            Photo of Eli Manning in mid air about to tackle Tiger Woods in the middle of making a putt: Priceless.

    3. Lame Duck says:

      “It will be exactly what a dozen other recent similar games are.”

      Yes, you’re right, that does seem to be SWTOR’s main problem.

    4. Eric says:

      Shamus posits that ToR’s primary failing is that it has action game leanings but doesn’t fully commit to action-based gameplay, and the interface is a key obstacle in the way.

      MMOs don’t have to adhere to the extremely strict WoW knock-off framework that they’ve been following for the last decade, and many would benefit immensely from adopting different play mechanics and user interfaces.

    5. Zombie says:

      The reason he doesn’t bring up KoTOR is because, while it does use a similar system to TOR, most of the buttons are in a scroll wheel above the enemy you are trying to deadify. The handful of abilities that are in the relatively small box in the bottom left corner are mostly utility (Healing, speed boost, etc.). You aren’t looking at the bottom of the screen in KoTOR, you are looking at the enemies (Who look different based on difficulty) and the area around you.

      1. Eric says:

        I disagree. Most of my time in KotOR was spent figuring out how to queue up moves. Mechanically it is a decent adaptation of a D&D-inspired tabletop game, and as such the game takes place almost entirely in the menus and UI.

        Of course, combat in KotOR is completely awful, and BioWare, at least in crafting better encounters and enemy types, have improved a good bit since then.

    6. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Because I dont play mmos usually,Ill give you this one example showing you are wrong:Diablo 3(say what you want,but diablo 3 is an mmo).While it too relies on cooldowns,and info about everything is mostly on sidelines,you can still focus just on the main window and figure out everything.You dont have to target a specific enemy to see that it is dangerous,because all elites,champions,uniques and bosses are clearly marked,glowing the appropriate colour.So when you see a monster glowing blue,you know therell be 2 or 3 more blues of the same type,and that they are dangerous.When you see a mosnter glowing orange,you will know that they are especially dangerous.

      Furthermore,the abilities are all specific.You wont be confusing desecration with acid pools or with fire bombs.You can also spot,more or less,what build your allies are using just by the animations of their characters.

      All this information is delivered just by looking in the main window.And no,diablo is not an fps.The genre of the game has nothing to do with how well it deliveres information about its world.Diablo 3 does it well.That picture up there with the two special enemies shows that swtor does it not so well.

      1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        If Diablo is an MMO, then Vindictus certainly is as well. The interface is just a heath and stamina bar at the top and a small bar for items. All of the combat is hack and slash and you can clearly tell when you are hitting something, when you are being hit, and when you are out of stamina. Also, dodging, blocking and swinging are how you defeat enemies, not standing, clicking on buttons, and waiting for cooldowns.

        Actually, it’s free to play. I’d suggest everyone try it for a bit just to see what’s possible when you step back from the standard MMO combat cooldown system and try something drastically different. I have to say, the combat can be EXTREMELY satisfying, both soloing and with a four-person group.

        1. acronix says:

          My problem with Vindictus was that gearing your character (as most MMOs, the most important part of your character) for a given level range required an enormous ammount of grinding the same instance/s over and over again to get all the materials.

          Combat was fun, though. Soloed most of my way to 60 before leaving.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Just my luck,when I finally downloaded the client,it went on maintenance.

            Yeah,grinding is mostly why I dislike mmos.Was in beta for a few early ones,but never got into them.I wouldnt even try diablo 3 if not for the real money auction house.

          2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

            If there were three times as many places to go it would be almost perfect for me. They could adjust the leveling curve, but hitting the level cap would happen rather quickly with the relatively small amount of content.

          3. Jeff says:

            Don’t bother to grind mats for gear. Vindictus is more about player ability, and ranking skills.

            With the basic skills unlocked (so that you have Slip Dash for Lann, for example), even if they’re at a minimum rank, player ability will carry you through. My friends and I used to do the first four or five boats naked to save on repair costs, which were higher when we played, and had a chance of permanently reducing max durability.

            I used to just casually slip-dash through earlier boss attacks (up to the double spider boss raid), although Lann is high sensitive to lag and being murdered by lag even on easy (for me, at the time) bosses got me to quit. I don’t remember what level I was, but I was wearing a full set of the armor needing the green spider bits. (Switched to Evie instead, since being able to keep my distance meant I had a safety buffer against lag.)

            Speaking of which, you have zero reason to grind for mats unless you’re one of the end-game players, where everybody needs the gear so it’s unavailable on the auction house. Everything other than the top two tiers of gear tend to be super-cheap and easier to purchase than craft.

  27. Craig says:

    “SWTOR is very much an old-school MMO.”
    This describes the root cause of most of my complaints about the game. It doesn’t look as if the designers have actually played any MMOGs in the last seven years.

  28. Ninjariffic says:

    The more you talk about this game, the less interest I have in trying it. I already play “Spreadsheets in Space” and that’s not what I’m looking for in a Star Wars game.

    1. MediocreMan says:


      1. Daemian Lucifer says:


  29. Eric says:

    Great article as usual. I think your observations into how the interface relates to the “location” of gameplay are definitely very pertinent and insightful. Even though many of the differences are aesthetic, it can be easy to forget that the way we interact with a game determines how we understand it and how we play it. It’s very different from simple “good controls, bad controls” that it’s sometimes made out to be.

    I have to imagine that a lot of the things in The Old Republic relate to the Hero Engine framework that it uses. I haven’t played the game (or any Hero Engine title for that matter) but I would imagine a lot of the things in the game are the way they are simply because Hero, from what I gather, is basically an “MMO in a box” sort of thing that doesn’t especially encourage customization.

    Unfortunately, many of the problems with the game can be traced to the fact that a lot of fans wanted KotOR III and ToR just isn’t that. I think BioWare realized that and tried to mash up both – in theory it sounds great, with a huge, near-endless story and tons of gameplay, plus the usual MMO framework for junkies – but they overlooked that the hardcore MMO fans often don’t care much about story, or that the story-driven players actually want a compelling, tightly-woven narrative rather than simple quantity.

    I also have to wonder if a lot of this comes down to 3D graphics. The old Infinity Engine and even Gold Box titles worked very well primarily because their 2D interfaces were basically an abstraction of the rulesets. Sure, they looked good for their eras, but ultimately they were a front for gameplay, and the point and click interface worked very well with the 2D backdrops.

    Modern 3D games that try similar ideas, including many MMOs, Dragon Age, etc. arguably suffer by trying to import that same gameplay into a close-up, highly detailed perspective. Comparing even Dragon Age to Neverwinter Nights 2 reveals these sorts of flaws – Dragon Age goes for cinematics, detailed and emotive characters, (in theory) chaotic and hyper-violent battles, while NWN2 is much more focused on the raw mechanics solely due to the interface differences, even though the gameplay rules and genre aren’t really much different.

  30. Andy_k says:

    Awesome article – very insightful.

    Slightly off topic – haven’t played any MMOs for various reasons, mainly being I prefer single player games so I can play on my own agenda, but it always frustrates me playing any type of game when the user interface changes my gameplay… Be it moving troops, casting spells or shooting guns. This is separate to core game mechanics; I have no problem with a game like Deus Ex forcing me to juggle me inventory within a grid for instance, it forced me to make decisions about what I was carrying around. On the other hand Mass Effect I gave up trying to manage inventory at all and just made a point of purging all but the best weapon of each class every time I went to the shop, because actually making decisions was a chore.

    Anyway, good article, as always.

  31. Luke says:

    Disclaimer: I’m a SWTOR player and I actually like the game. Not for the actual gameplay that much (it’s nothing special – same old hotkey action game), but the class stories are nearly all very good (I’ve played 6/8) and some of the companion characters are brilliant.

    The default interface is indeed horrible, and the whole “the game is on the bottom of the screen” thing is kinda annoying if you actually want to watch the (admittedly jerky/lame) action. When you move and resize the UI elements though, and you turn on useful things like health bars for everything (why aren’t they on by default?!), it becomes much better, and you have less of the “gameplay is at the bottom of the screen” thing.

    Funny you should compare to borderlands though, since I have the exact same differentiation-between-enemies and enemies-blending-in-with-the-background problems in borderlands as do with SWTOR (which turning on health bars fixes). Also, you still have the look-down-at-the-bottom-of-the-screen thing with borderlands for your ammo, grenades, health, shields, and special ability cooldown as well.

    I’m glad SWTOR is of the old-school ability hotbar 1-ability-per-1.5sec gameplay though, since if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be able to play it since I’m stuck down here in Australia on crappy 1Mbit “broadband”.

    1. Irridium says:

      This is more or less my entire situation and opinion(s). Only difference is I’m in Vermont, USA instead of Australia.

  32. Daimbert says:

    I was never bothered by those sorts of things because I’m used to it. Other than having a colour for threat level — which TOR replaces with a colour for hostility, which it kinda needs — DAoC and CoH did the same thing, so I was just used to it. There are a lot of other things I hate about the interface, and I hate the interface, but that was not one of them.

    I find the game a bit too actiony for me, myself, but do find the combat fun to watch. I suspect that that was more what they meant, because it’s pretty much the same thing they advertised in KotOR: the fights look good and look like fights even though all you do are hit buttons. But if it was more actiony, I might not be able to play it; I get killed enough when it isn’t so actiony. In fact, the comments here about GW2 and actually having to dodge might put me off that game.

    So far, I really like TOR. I like CoH better overall, but TOR is a game that I might actually reach the level cap with. The story is interesting, there’s always something to do, and I really like Mission … er, Vette [grin]. I’ve been playing it steadily for a few weeks now, and am about to hit level 30 making it the highest level I’ve ever achieved in an MMO. WoW left me cold, but TOR interests me. I can’t really ask for more than that.

    1. AncientSpark says:

      Thankfully, the dodging mechanics aren’t THAT prevalent. It’s more a “use your emergency button when you can prevent damage”. You’ll still tank hits a lot of the time if you’re playing melee, as you can only dodge twice before waiting for your stamina to build up again and you only recover enough stamina to dodge once every 10 seconds or so.

      PvP is another matter entirely of course…

      1. Daimbert says:

        I’m hoping to avoid PvP. I generally dislike PvP.

  33. silver Harloe says:

    Am I the only one who, upon seeing the title of this thread, thought Shamus was going to make some kind weird or clever (or both) yogurt analogy?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yes. I think you probably are.
      You are the only one.
      So very alone.

  34. Sam says:

    First off Im sorry cause I only read half the post and none of the comments, but I wanted to say there are keys you can use to move to camera (so your hands dont get tired) second, once you get really good at game you stop staring at the little bars and really start to use the enviroment around you, especially once you get more into pvp, and finally they introduced screen editor and made it even easier work with.

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