SWTOR Beta Impressions

Having signed up before 11/11/11, Bioware was kind enough to invite me into the closed beta weekend event this last weekend.  With the NDA lifted, details have begun to filter out and although highly anticipated, the news I’ve been getting from trusted sources has been a bit concerning.  So, I went into the event with maybe a bit of a negative predisposition.  Unfortunately, that was not changed.

First the good.

The game itself feels very solid.  As of Saturday night, I clocked about 15 odd hours in game and never experienced a crash or any noticeable lag.  Queues did show up Saturday morning, but I’m told that some folks were green lighted on Friday morning (me) and others couldn’t get in until Saturday morning.  The Saturday hordes descended and queues of up to several hours were present.  I still had no significant queues applying the two general rules of optimal server selection:  pick the lamest name and/or a PVP or RP server, or better, both.

The game is polished from the technical side.  In that sense, it can likely withstand the hordes on launch.  There are a few getting stuck in the terrain issues, but I didn’t really see any noticeable bugs.  Kudos to Bioware for getting the backend in reasonable shape before launch.

The world(s) are big.  They are beautifully rendered (in a stylized and limited pallet sort of way) and certainly give a good immersive feeling of the Star Wars universe.  The soundtrack is pervasive and all the familiar sounds are ever present.  It gushes Star Wars.

There are cinematics.  Boy are there cinematics.  It must have been 15 minutes from log on through character selection with the cinematics.  Selznick must be proud.  As others have noted, the ubiquitous theme music, the text scrolling into the vanishing point and lots of story story story.

I enjoyed it.

Now the not so good after the break.

Continue reading SWTOR Beta Impressions

Indian Summer

At some point I guessed we lurched across the autumnal equinox so I guess its officially fall, not that you would know it from the weather of late.  While other parts of the country begin to feel that first nip in the air and leaves may be already starting to turn, Northern California often experiences a long last hurrah of summer– the so-called and probably now politically incorrect Indian Summer.

This year seems no exception with unseasonably warm temperatures arriving after a tepid and unseasonably cool summer.  As Wilhelm is wont to experience his annual nostaligia binge, I tend to wax maudlin.

Summer’s fecundity grudgingly erodes and is overtaken by the season of decay, but Indian Summer makes the conclusion less of a victory lap and more like the slow inevitable defeat of an aging protagonist that shouldn’t have attempted one more adventure, one more come back making the final defeat bittersweet.

Harvest is done.  School is back in session.  Vacations are complete (if you took one).  The days are notably shorter.

The group of freaks, artists, scientists, musicians and misanthropes that I call friends would often get together for a campfire at a friends’ house in these Indian Summer nights.  We’d start with a barbeque or not and then We’d stand around the bonfire swapping stories and sharing laughs until the fuel for the fire or the beer ran out or the chill finally drove us home.  No one wanted to leave that circle of warmth and light and go into that chill night before they had to.  No one really wanted it to end.

The iconic sensation for me of this time of year is stepping outside at sunset.  The low sunlight is particularly golden and the wind carries a slight sweet scent of decay from the farmlands that surround our fair city.  Once the light fades, the warmth of the day fades quickly and a cool nip in the air creeps in far to soon.

This summer has been an especially cruel one on the game front.  After our instance group left WoW and our brief foray into EQ2X died an ignominious death, we slumped into a bit of a hiatus as we have tended to in recent years.  Summer vacations, long days and warm nights make for other opportunities that make keyboard life seem a bit thin.

Mrs. P and I partook in our annual indulgence of each and every stage of the Tour de France in July leaving little time in the evenings for gaming outside of Tour immersion.  Once the Tour concluded, we decided to spend a bit more time in LotRO with the coming of Isengard, it seemed a decent goal to head toward Moria at least.

Progress has been made, but RL concerns have derailed efforts in August and September.  As much fun as LotRO can be, in the right measure, its still a bit of an acquired taste.

As a result, I’ve been casting about for something to ignite the spark of gaming enthusiasm or at least scratch the itch with little lasting success.  I’ve been exploring a number of facebook games like empires and allies, the sims and a few others, but I’m always left with the feeling that facebook games play you rather than the other way around.

Seeing my raptor flash from time to time with Wilhelm playing Civilization V, I decided to grab that from Steam on sale.  I’ve played a few games and if nothing else, its reminded me of some of the things we’ve lost in migrating from turn based games to real time games.  A series of interesting decisions indeed.

Again inspired by Wilhelm, I’ve been playing Need for Speed: World and managed to connect to a part of my (our shared) youth that was steeped in car culture.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m vaguely looking for a new car and confronting the stereotypical male midlife crisis.  Smoking tires and bootlegs, even virtual, seems to help cool the hot flashes of male menopause, though I still find myself trying to justify picking up a Boxster…

With the exception of LotRO, there is an ominous absence of MMOs from my gaming geography.  With the announcement of the SW:TOR release date of December 20, my heart sunk a bit.

Its going to be a long fall.  I was looking forward to something– anything– new on the gaming front that could involve our little group.  Diablo 3 was a possibility, but with D3 delayed until early 2012, that possibility is even further remote.

Even looking forward to SW:TOR is a bit bittersweet.  As many in the blogosphere have predicted, it may be the last of the dinosaur Triple A subscription based MMOs that we are likely to see for some time.  Darren, Tipa and others openly wonder whether there is anything new SW:TOR can bring and whether MMOs generally can  rekindle that sense of wonder and exploration that sucked most of us into the genre.

As we get older and the genre “matures”, some say “decays”, its harder to get the same bang from the all too similar formula we’ve all seen before.  Darren predicts that SW:TOR will be F2P within a year.  Tipa wonders whether any MMO can justify the time commitment required.

I can’t completely disagree with them.  Though I’d like to.

To bring the analogy full circle, I feel the genre having been fruitful is starting to decay with the inevitable winter to follow.  I fear that SW:TOR will only enjoy the dying light of the Indian Summer of the traditional MMO.  Nonetheless, many of us will go there to enjoy the dying rays of what used to be the summer sun and wilfully deny the shiver that encroaches as the autumnal night closes in a bit too soon for those of us that want one more endless summer evening around the fire with friends, even if its just for a little while.