Someone I used to work with used the “fives” metaphor for MMOs, though I’ve also heard it as “eights”. Basically, you need an answer to the question of “what is the player doing in five seconds?” “five minutes?” “five hours?” “five days?” “five weeks?” “five months?”. I think MMOs do some of these better than others. Five seconds is a combat moment, it’s that cool combo you pull off, that timely stun, that charged-up finisher. We’re pretty good at those in the hotbar space, but we’re still figuring them out in the more action-driven spaces. Five minutes is a quest step, or a few fights. It’s you scoping out a mob camp and figuring out how to take it on, or putting together something you’re crafting. Five hours is a level or two, or a zone, or collecting materials for an epic crafting pursuit. Each of these are like wheels, things that may turn multiple times in each five-[whatever] increment, enough to see the entire arc of gameplay in that block a few times.



It starts to get a bit blurry after that. As more MMOs have come out, we’ve seen the levelling pace speed up. World of Warcraft has a lot to do with this. One of the things that WoW gave us was lots of people at max level, one of the first MMOs to really allow this. At WoW’s release, it took mere months to get to level 60; now it takes a few days. It’s set a breakneck levelling pace that other games have to at least appear to match, or feel painfully slow and dull by comparison. Now, five weeks is a max-level character, if it even takes that long. Five days for the most dedicated. I don’t think we even answer the “five months” question anymore; I can’t think of a game that gives me projects that take five months to accomplish anymore.

Other games do this as well. Very few talk about “weeks” or “months”; most non-MMO games don’t even pretend that people play them that long. 30 hours is a long time; 10-12 is more common. I put about 20-30 hours into Infamous: Second Son, and someone who worked on the game said that was a surprisingly long time. Very few games go past that 10-12 hour mark. I think it’s something of a sweet spot. As the average gamer age goes up further, games that absorb huge amounts of time are less popular. It might take the average player weeks to get through a 10-15 hour game, whereas earlier in their lives that represented a small chunk of a weekend, and they might have even gone to hang out with friends that same day.

Still, games keep an eye on those time blocks, and what you’re doing in them. Depending on who you talk to, they’re often referred to as “core gameplay loops”, which cover everything from a single button combo (sometimes called “moment-to-moment” gameplay) to an entire guild working together to build a city. If you have a game that feels weirdly unsatisfying, or that you like to play in short bursts but no longer than that, it’s usually because longer core gameplay loops aren’t supported. You’re hooked for five seconds, and five minutes, but maybe not five hours, and certainly not longer than that.


A few games that make me think of this concept: EvE Online has absolutely captivating five-day, five-week, and five month loops, but it can feel a bit aimless in five hours and I find the five-minute and five-second gameplay loops boring and unengaging. Guild Wars 2 has a pretty compelling five-second loop and a very solid five-minute loop, but starts to fall apart for me at the five-hour and five-day loops, before picking up again at the weeks/months level, when you’re talking about forging legendary items and the other various long-term progression paths.

I say all of this and keep coming back to that five hour play loop. It feels like a lot of games fall apart here, where the thing you’re doing in that span of time feels a little underwhelming. In a lot of MMOs, that’s about the timeframe in which you’re going back to town to sell and repair a few times, maybe find and equip some upgrades. In a fighting game, that’s about the loop for a campaign playthrough. It’s a Chapter in Call of Duty, or a handful of quests in Borderlands. There’s not often a lot to think about in that loop, just keep spinning the smaller loops as you work towards the bigger ones.

I remember a game that had a cycle at that scale. Star Wars Galaxies would ask you to go back to town and hang out at cantinas, get patched up by doctors, and otherwise rest over long periods of time out in the field. It wasn’t the most robust of systems, but it was about as well-integrated as a lot of the other systems in the game and gave shape to larger play sessions. Fallout, on Hardcore mode, will ask you to eat and find water to drink. It’s a kind of sustenance that you need to do a bit of work for, a sense of long-term planning that ties the very short term and the very long term goals together and is visible, unlike the usual “whoops, my gear is broken, time to talk to a repair guy” concept.


It’s a little thing that adds a bit of depth and forethought to the game, or can in theory do so. We don’t see a lot of it anymore, and I think it has a lot to do with our shift away from games as worlds and more towards games as narrative experiences. Minecraft certainly has loops from five seconds to five days, for example, whereas I don’t think most MMOs do anymore; they’ve compressed things down into “dailies” that don’t really offer a longer-term core loop, or try to turn the same series of quests into a single loop that you do each day, with a reward once you’ve done them enough times. There’s no planning taking place there, just logging in and doing.

The whole thing is an exercise I do a lot when playing games. I take a close look at what I’m doing at each of the “fives” and see which ones are strong and which aren’t. It’s yet another angle to consider and analyze games from. Food for thought.

Worth Sticking Around For

A friend of mine got to a boss she couldn’t beat and quit playing the game. Another friend of mine had a single bad experience at a restaurant and hasn’t been back since. Another friend of mine, a highly competitive gamer, had a frustrating match in a game and stopped playing it entirely. Yet another friend saw an episode of a show that she’d been following for thirty episodes, hated the episode, and never went back.


I’ve done a lot of these things myself. It’s hard not to; why waste time on second chances? There are so many options out there — for everything — that it seems like there’s no reason to hang around if something frustrates or offends you. Flush it and move on, there’s always more where it came from. There are other games, other restaurants, other shows. It feels like a defense mechanism against the deluge of content to be ready and willing to shut down and give up on something at the first sign of trouble. We’ve all become highly sensitive to anything that provides a poor experience, so we can cut it out and move on, and not be bothered by it. We can “buy time” to experience other things by removing anything that fails us.

I’ve had the opportunity to go back and try a variety of things over the last year, that I’d otherwise abandoned or moved on from or what have you. Every time I do, one of my friends invariably goes “you’re playing THAT again? WHY?”

It’s a hard question to answer. The simple answer is that I’m looking for something fun to play, and a lot of this old stuff doesn’t cost me any money, or relatively little. More complicated is that I often don’t remember why I stopped playing them– I very rarely go back to games or books that I’ve finished and play them again, but I don’t finish all that many games, especially since I play a lot of MMOs, which defy completion.


The more complicated answer is that I like to stick with my entertainment. I like games in a series, not one-shot, disposable titles. I like something I can get invested in, and both express myself through and make a part of myself. I’ve had this discussion with Kodra, but I often find board games, even the very high quality ones, a little too shallow and a little too ephemeral to really get into. There’s little to no self-expression in them, and no sense of long-term importance. I’m not unraveling a story that will stick with me, nor am I exploring a world that will inspire me. The majority of the board game experiences I’ve had have taken one of two forms. In one case, a bunch of friends and I sit down at a game none of us have ever played, learn the rules, then play together. These are the better experiences, but they tend to take hours. An hour or two or more to learn the rules and set up the game, and another two to three to actually play. In another case, I and others are playing a game that one or more people absolutely love, and have a bunch of experience with and are really excited to play with other people. I have yet to have an experience with a game like this that isn’t miserable; the games are dominated by the players who already know everything about it and I’m basically filling a chair so that they can play.


These experiences have deeply informed how I introduce people to games that I like, and most of the time I don’t do it. I’d rather someone ask me about a game that I’m playing and love, at which point I can teach it to them, than try to push that game on someone. The only games I’ll openly suggest that I and others play are ones that I’m passingly familiar with, just barely enough to teach, and am still learning how to play. Even these are hit or miss.

It’s a big part of why I play minis games, and why I’m generally very selective about the minis games I play. The game pieces I use have stories, each one the result of one or many games, and these stories start to inform how the mini looks and feels. It’s a personal touch, and I feel like each addition to the collection is another potential set of stories. I run a lot of tabletop games, but I haven’t played in one in years; minis fill the kind of personalized game experience for me that someone’s character does in a tabletop game.

It’s also why I actively seek out entertainment media that I can stick with. I’ve found it’s hard to have an experience that’s deeply changing or otherwise significant without some amount of friction and investment. I’ve worked on intuiting the difference between something that’s interesting but difficult and something that’s simply unappealing; usually if it’s the former, it speaks more to something about myself than something about whatever I’m watching. I’m really interested in entertainment that forces me to self-evaluate.


Case in point: Tales of Zestiria. In a lot of ways, it’s a fairly dark game, but it’s presented in a very upbeat, very cheerful way. I can feel myself reacting with annoyance– at the overly-chipper characters and what feels like a mood that doesn’t take things seriously. It would have been easy for me to check out already, citing tonal issues and childishness as reasons. The argument for quitting is easy, even as I write this it jumps to my lips. Instead, I’ve kept playing.

I have a hard time explaining why, just like I have a hard time answering “why” when someone asks me why I’ve jumped back into some old game that we quit in disgust. I think that’s what I find compelling, and ultimately rewarding. Tales of Zestiria has started speaking directly to my cynicism. X-Wing has proven shockingly deeper than my initial play (and dismissal) of it, years ago, and I’m fascinated to explore it more. Guild Wars 2 is a game that, years on, I finally understand, and it’s a very different kind of MMO than others out there. Each of those games have forced me to look at myself rather than the game to really appreciate them, and I have similar experiences with various shows.


It’s something I’m continuing to work on, to fight that urge to drop something at the first bad experience and keep on exploring. I’ve very rarely been disappointed, when I manage to shed my defensiveness and ego and let myself enjoy things for what they are, it’s just hard to do. I’ve gotten good at a lot of games that I never would have thought I’d enjoy, and found a few favorite shows that I would otherwise have never looked twice at.

I just wish I had some way of sharing that experience with other people, but like pushing a new game that you’ve come to love on someone that’s never tried it, it’s too easy to just dominate the experience and make it unfun for them.

Worldbuilding vs Storytelling

It doesn’t matter if the new Star Wars movie is good or not. It only matters that there’s a new one, and that it creates more space for our imaginations to play in.

It doesn’t matter that the Star Trek universe doesn’t always make a lot of sense. It only matters that the captain and crew of whatever interact with each other and the places they boldly go.


There’s a difference between good worldbuilding and good storytelling, and it’s possible for something that has one but not the other to be really, really great. Star Wars is one of those things. Some of the more well-reasoned criticism of Star Wars is that the storytelling isn’t great. This is certainly true of the prequels, and the originals were certainly drawing heavily from other, older stories. The thing is, Star Wars isn’t about its stories. It’s about the setting, the universe that the characters inhabit. It opens up by telling you this: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”

The worldbuilding of Star Wars is a rare jewel. It sparks the imagination, giving you both strange and relatable things in equal measure and leaving plenty of space for you to fill in details in your mind. There’s evidence of this all over the place. What other property has sparked so many books, so much fan-fiction, so many entries in every imaginable medium by as many varied creators as Star Wars? It’s a really short list, and every single one of them is coming from a place where the setting comes before the stories told within it.

This isn’t to say that worldbuilding is more important than storytelling by any means, it just creates a different kind of experience. It’s entirely possible to create a compelling world that’s devoid of story– tabletop RPGs have been doing this for decades, and early MMOs did the same, showing off far more world than story. It’s also possible to create stories with little to no worldbuilding– romantic comedies do this constantly, as do many horror films.


It’s very easy to get caught up in viewing everything through the lens of storytelling, rather than worldbuilding. After all, it’s the storytelling that stirs our emotions, and worldbuilding as a concept is a lot younger than storytelling. In a lot of ways, we lack the language to adequately talk about it– we can talk about how a story is moving or is paced well, but we have to get a lot more complicated and a lot more academic to talk about whether or not a setting is consistent, or conceptually large, and in what ways.

I continue to use the word “space” to describe good worldbuilding. It comes from the idea of a map, and how much of it is shown vs blank. When you see a map with blank space on it, and other parts filled in, you can start to imagine what might go in that blank space. I think of good worldbuilding like a map, not just of geography, but of people, ideas, cultures, technology, and everything else. These things don’t stir your emotions on their own, but they’re both the foundation and the details of your story. Good worldbuilding gives you space to both frame the story that’s being told and imagine all the stories that aren’t being told alongside the one you’re experiencing. Star Wars is this. You imagine the galaxy, with all its planets and people. You hear that “no ship that small has a cloaking device”, and not only immediately imagine what kind of ship DOES, but what if a ship that small DID, even though no cloaking device ever appears in the series.

You see one Imperial officer get choked to death by Vader while another looks on nervously, and the doubt and worry shown on his face despite his disciplined thanking of Vader for his new “promotion” suggests a person who’s a little worried about his job. It creates the space to imagine someone for whom that worry is too much to handle, and defects from the Empire, and suddenly all those ace pilots in the Rebellion start to make sense. These things aren’t plot points; most of them are throwaway lines or scenes with a different story point entirely. They do, however, add more blank space to the map to capture your imagination.


Sometimes you see worldbuilding that exists solely to support the story. It’s hard to imagine a character that isn’t a part of the story; they have nowhere to live, nothing to do. Zelda games tend to be a lot like this. You’ve usually got The Castle, which appears to rule over The Land, which is mostly empty except for some ruins and The Village. There are about four houses in this village, and I’m not sure who lives in them or what they do all day. The castle is full of guards, usually two or three times as many as there are people in the village, but what they’re guarding against when they aren’t mind-controlled and fighting you is uncertain. Nothing, really, because they exist to serve the story of you eradicating darkness from the land. It’s not about the world in Zelda, it’s about the story of you vanquishing evil.

Note that I don’t think this is inherently bad. The world doesn’t necessarily need to be robust and compelling with a lot of imagination space for the experience to be good. However, there’s a LOT less Zelda fiction than there is Star Wars. It’s fun, but it doesn’t capture the imagination because the experience is entirely contained and explores the entire world, end to end. The entire map is filled in by the time you’re done; there aren’t any blank spots for you to speculate about.


This map even has arrows to let you know that there’s stuff out there you haven’t seen. What’s it like in Orlais? In the Free Marches? What’s across that ocean?


Going back to Star Wars, this is why even bad Star Wars is good. The prequels aren’t very well liked for their storytelling– the storytelling in them is frankly pretty bad, but they hint at things that the original trilogy didn’t. They added a lot more to the map, as it were, and a lot of blank space. Knights of the Old Republic did the same thing, and it’s widely considered one of the best additions to the Star Wars license. Midichlorians were hated because they shrunk the universe, reduced the mysterious Force to something mundane and scientific– it filled up a huge blank space on the map with something boring. It’s also why most of the Expanded Universe has been blown up– most of the EU was focused on filling in those blank spots on the map, to the point where it became very difficult to find any blank space to speculate about. Starting over in the EU creates a lot more space.

Episode 7 is the same. It doesn’t have to be a great movie, or even a good one, so long as it makes the Star Wars universe bigger and not smaller. What I’m seeing in the trailers, what excites me, isn’t that I’m expecting some great story, but that I’m seeing hints of a new map, with a lot more blank space on it.

Tales of Zestiria

It’s not often a game surprises me in a really compelling way right off the bat. Thanks to Ashgar, I got ahold of Tales of Zestiria, the latest in the Tales series, and I’ve been giving it a whirl. Two things I want to point out, as my frustration compels me to: the game is VERY BAD at letting you know where you need to go if your goal isn’t in whatever area you happen to be in (I spent about an hour wandering around trying to figure out where I was supposed to go), and the game has no autosave (I lost about three hours of progress when I died to something I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to fight).


Okay, frustrations out of the way, here’s why this game is interesting to me. I grew up playing JRPGs, which I define as the particular type of game, generally coming from Japan (hence the J), that are heavily story-based, usually involve turn-based combat, often have a transition between “overworld” and “combat” gameplay, and so on. They’re a particular style, and one that’s frustrated me for a long time. As mentioned, I grew up on them, but as time went on, they didn’t change or evolve much. Still rows of characters lined up, still selecting from a menu, still random encounters. Some people love that. I got extremely frustrated with it, and for me, MMOs felt like the natural evolution of the JRPG– big, expansive worlds to explore and get more powerful in, and hey, I get to play with my friends too! I got into Everquest and pretty much dropped JRPGs entirely.

One exception comes to mind. At one point, after I burned out hard on Star Wars Galaxies, I picked up a game over winter break from college: Tales of Symphonia. It’d been recommended to me as “a JRPG I might like”, as I’d previously ranted about how annoyed I’d gotten with the genre, particularly the random encounters that I’d frequently fall asleep during while playing late at night. Tales of Symphonia replaced the menu-driven combat with something that felt more like a fighting game, and I was instantly hooked. It was the right game at the right time, and it renewed my faith that I could have fun playing a JRPG.

I beat it, loved it, looked around for more games like it and found out there pretty much weren’t any. Nothing so interesting, lots of menus, lots of me falling asleep. I replayed Xenogears that year, then fell deeply into World of Warcraft. I’d dabble in JRPGs periodically but never put much time into one until Persona 4, much later.


So. Tales of Zestiria. I’m at a point where my major limiter on video games is money, not time, so games I can drop hours and hours into are really appealing. I would never have liked Tales of Zestiria while I was working in games; it would have taken too long to get to “the good stuff”, and in fact, its predecessor, Tales of Vesperia, I played while working and moved on because it didn’t move quickly enough. It’s a potent reminder of how my enjoyment of games has changed now that I’m not making them and don’t feel the need to play EVERYTHING notable that comes out, just to stay sharp.

The game has also gotten my attention pretty quickly. It introduces me to two characters almost immediately, and does a trope-y setup that Ash and I both joked about as we started the game together. Obviously, this character is the protagonist and this other character is his best friend / rival who becomes a villain and yeah we’ve seen this all before. It’s still fun, it’s still charming, but we kind of know how this story is going to go. The first thirty minutes or so of the game proceeds like this, then takes a sudden, sharp turn. I won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say it’s a cleverly executed but very simple hook that’s driven a ton of the story for the first several hours of the game I’ve played. I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on in the world, but I have some pretty clear goals and I’m moving forward and dealing with new stuff as it comes.

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It reminds me of why I liked JRPGs in the first place. A lot of games– most of your action games and even some action-RPGs– are like an album track. They get their hook in early, wow you with the chorus, provide a bit of variety with the bridge, keep you smiling as the now-familiar chorus comes around again, then finish before you have time to get tired of the beat. A JRPG is like an orchestral piece, which starts a lot slower and builds over time, often changing in sound entirely as it runs its course. You rarely find yourself humming them afterwards, but they stick with you in their own ways.

Tales of Zestiria is still building, but what I’ve seen and heard thus far hints at a really big world, and it’s already managed to surprise me in ways that a lot of other games don’t manage to without employing some serious deus ex machina. I’ve talked on occasion about the difference between storytelling and worldbuilding– the storytelling in Tales of Zestiria isn’t terribly complex, but the world in which the story is told is, and is (thus far) extremely consistent. It’s quickly and cleverly set up a world that I want to know more about. I’m interested when characters talk about history, and I’m curious about the broader scope of what I’ve seen so far. I don’t have the bug that some do to explore for the sake of exploration; I want to feel like I’m finding something interesting or getting a greater understanding of the world when I do, not just another vista or map unlock.

Tales of Zestiria is a world I want to explore, that I want to know the structure of, and probably most importantly, that I’m going to go back and play more of despite losing an entire night’s worth of playtime to what felt like an unfair encounter. I’ve abandoned games for frustrations FAR less severe than that.

SWTOR Class Story Reviews (Part 4)

As of Sunday night, I’ve completed all eight class stories in SWTOR. It’s been a fun few weeks, and I’m glad I managed to get through them all– there were a lot of really cool things that I would never have seen otherwise. The last two class stories I have were for two classes I’d barely put any time into– one because I wasn’t interested thematically at all, the other because I wasn’t excited by the class mechanics. They’re the Bounty Hunter and the Smuggler, and they’ll round up my class story reviews.


As before, spoilers ahead, about as much as the other class stories. Without further ado:


So, it’s Han Solo. This class probably has the fastest jump into its plot of any of them, and it’s a pretty great hook. Your ship gets stolen out from under you by a jackass named Skavak who takes the time to mock you and vanishes, all before you’ve finished your very first class quest. Obviously you’re going to get it back, and get a bit of revenge on Skavak, and there’s your setup.

Act 1 is all about getting your ship back and getting revenge on Skavak. You chase him from Ord Mantell to Coruscant, with him mocking you the whole time, Handsome Jack-style, until you finally steal your ship back on Coruscant, only to find that he was planning on using it to find a lost crazy treasure of a legendary former space pirate. Stealing his own job out from under him seems like pretty good revenge, so the meat of Act 1 is completing this plan while fending off Skavak and the minions of a crimeboss that Skavak screwed over and left you to take the fall for. It’s a great story, with each planet revolving around the buyer of some random bizarre object that you’ve acquired. The planets are varied and interesting; sometimes the buyer is hard to find, or wants to back out of the deal, or has been compromised in some way (usually Skavak). As you get closer and closer, Skavak gets more and more annoyed, and when you finally come out ahead, he starts getting desperate.


The Act 1 finale is solid and satisfying, with you taking down Skavak one on one, becoming a legend of the underworld, and getting a new crewmember who’s been your assistant (and the mastermind behind the treasure hunting plan) the whole time. You haven’t tied up all of your loose ends– after all, there’s a crimeboss out to get you, but in general things are looking up. Then things go off the rails.

Act 2 opens up with a meeting with a contact of yours from Act 1, who has a proposal for you. You’re warned about some dangerous Imperial admiral called the Voidwolf, who you’ve never heard of before, but otherwise you go to meet your contact and– surprise!– have the party crashed by the crimeboss’ thugs. Fight your way out, suddenly there are also Imperials and the Voidwolf, I’m not really sure, but you escape. Good times. Your contact still has a job for you, suggesting that you take up work as a privateer for the Republic, which seems a little out of left field but he’s got a Senator vouching for the idea. Sure, whatever, anything for some credits. The Act continues with you doing odd jobs for this Republic Senator on various planets, culminating in you rescuing her from the crimeboss’ thugs (but not going after the crimeboss himself). She’s very grateful, and something something the Voidwolf is out there and is scary.

I left Act 2 confused and a bit lost. I’ve got a major villain who’s been set up for me, but who I don’t seem to be doing anything against, I’ve got some random ominously-named Imperial that keeps getting mentioned but who I’ve seen once and don’t really have a lot of reason to care about, and I’ve spent the entire Act doing odd jobs for a Senator for some reason, and there’s the occasional hint that I’m building up my own pirate army, or at least that I’m some bigshot in the underworld with lots of followers. I don’t actually see any of these people once I “recruit” them, and I’m not really sure what they’re doing, or what I’m doing, or why. I know that I have exactly one notable foe and I’ve spent the last several planets not actually acting against said foe. Whatever, moving on.


Act 3 starts with “let’s take down Rogun the Butcher”, the crimeboss that’s been coming up since Act 1. We’re chasing him by tracking down the source of the creatures he used to attack the Senator at the end of Act 2, which were apparently terrifying considering how many times they’re mentioned over the course of the missions, but I’ve fought enough weird stuff by level 40 that they didn’t really register. Either way, we’re hunting down my last rival, who may or may not be working with the Voidwold, that Imperial who keeps coming up for some reason, and have a plan for getting him. I’m on board.

The first step is chasing down his former mentor, in prison, so you can find Rogun’s stashes, safehouses, and so on. It’s one of the only times I’ve thought Belsavis was interesting, but the whole thing turns into this bizarre chase where said mentor is seeking ancient alien powers or maybe a hidden starship or something, and you’re pursued by a guy who’s supposedly working for Rogun who doesn’t seem to die properly, until you kill him in a cutscene at the end. I honestly have no idea what ultimately happened on Belsavis except that I recruited the mentor who apparently decided I was okay and told the Republic that I’d killed him. There might be some immortal guy who’ll come back for me and has a bunch of clones, or maybe he just ran out of lives.

We move on to Voss, which we’ve heard about at the start of the Act and is where Rogun is smuggling weird monsters out from. How Rogun found out about Voss when it’s ‘recently discovered’ is beyond me, but whatever, Smuggler isn’t the only class with odd questions regarding the Voss. Either way, you track down Rogun’s supplier, get embroiled in Voss court, and find out that the Sith are connected to Rogun’s supplier, and are working for the Voidwolf, who keeps tangentially showing up. The whole thing unfolds quite nicely except for the fact that I don’t actually get what I came for on the planet– information about where to find Rogun. I get a bunch of other assorted tidbits, but nothing on my actual goal. That’s okay, that mentor I rescued from Belsavis knows where Rogun is meeting, and apparently it’s soon and I can show up and stop him.

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I roll up to this secret meeting, slip past Rogun’s guards and confront the crimeboss, who accuses me of working for the Voidwolf. Some Sith show up and it’s big reveal time. You see, that contact I had in Act 1 and the Senator were both in on it, and everything I did in Act 2 and some of Act 3 was directly benefiting the Voidwolf. Somehow, this escaped my notice entirely and I’ve had no way to check up on my own pirate army. The Voidwolf is crafty and bad, and Rogun (read: the guy who’s been touted as a menace since Act 1) is maybe okay and we team up to fight some Sith and now we’re sorta-bros. In a sudden final-planet twist reveal, we’re now going to Corellia (?) to hunt down my contact and the Senator who were lying to me and also maybe the Voidwolf because wow people won’t stop telling me how scary he is. Spoilers, you catch up with all three of them and wind up shooting the Voidwolf on the bridge of his own ship. He’s got some plan to hit the Republic with a pirate fleet or something, and you accidentally heroically step in to stop him.

If I sound flippant about the latter two chapters of the Smuggler story, it’s because I spent most of both of them grasping at straws to figure out who I was dealing with, why I was dealing with them, who my enemies were, and what my motivations were. It really felt like the two Acts could have been “I hunt down Rogun the Butcher, find out he’s working for the Voidwolf who suddenly is after me and my merry band of pirates with overwhelming Imperial force, and I turn to the Republic in Act 3 for help against this menace”. It would have been a nice incremental progression of bad guys and WAY less confusing than what I actually played. Act 1 is so strong, and has me ready and excited for what feels like an inevitable escalation, and then I just get lost in the mishmash of names and events. I don’t even get very much face time with either Rogun or the Voidwolf; there are two conversations with Rogun over the entire course of the story, and I think three with the Voidwolf, even though both are sending minions against me.

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Having played through it, I understand Kodra’s utter disappointment with his class story. It’s got a lot of good writing on a line-by-line basis, and some of the one-liners and exchanges are genuinely funny, but the overall plot is a mess. I can only assume it was hit hard by some late-in-development content changes, and two fully fleshed out stories got gutted and had to get frankenstein’d together into one.

That having been said, though, Smuggler Act 1 is one of the best first acts of any of the class stories. Moving on.


I expected to hate this story. It appears to mostly be about becoming a champion of the Great Hunt, which isn’t really well defined early on. You’re put in with a crew of people who have brought you on as their point man, while they play support so you can win the Great Hunt. You’re looking for a Hutt to nominate you, and do a bunch of odd jobs and various services to get his nomination. Along the way, your support team gets murdered by another Great Hunt participant, but that doesn’t stop you; you’re a badass.


Act 1 is basically entirely about the Great Hunt. The Hunt is, apparently, a big bounty hunting competition run by the Mandalorians. You get various jobs through the Mandalorians, who have themselves gotten them from clients, wherein you hunt down some particular individual who’s wanted for some reason and bring them in, dead or alive. After Dromund Kass, things shift, and you need to both catch your mark and eliminate your opposing hunter, who has also been assigned the same target.

This gives Act 1 a lot of interesting variety– you’re hunting down interesting characters and dealing with interesting bounty hunter opponents, and you’re never certain when you’re going to run into each. Sometimes catching the mark is trivial, but you have to deal with the opponent. Sometimes you run into the opponent immediately but it takes a while to find your mark. Sometimes you get embroiled in various bizarre situations just to get to your mark, and have to resolve those before leaving the planet with your target. While the premise of each planet on Act 1 is the same, the execution is different and it stays fresh through the Act. Along the way, you’re noticing that the game is being rigged against you. Your targets are much more difficult than they ought to be, and you suspect it’s that Hunt rival of yours, but you can’t prove anything and the Hunt has rules against hunters killing each other outside of specific situations.

Act 1 concludes with you hunting a particularly nasty target: a Jedi, who’s able to overwhelm your rival who beats you to the Jedi’s ship. There’s some interesting back and forth here, where you can grant your rival’s request for an honorable duel to the death by letting him out of the prison cell he’s in, or you can leave him there to rail at you in anguish, knowing that you’re probably going to blow up the ship before you’re done. It’s an extremely satisfying end to the smug rival who’s been a problem the whole way through, and denying him his shot at glory is especially sweet. You also bag the Jedi, which is good times, and call it good. You win the Great Hunt!


i’m sold on the Bounty Hunter on the strength of its characterization, and Act 2 doesn’t disappoint. Having won the Great Hunt, you’re summoned by Mandalore himself, who wants to make you into a Mandalorian and have you join an elite cabal of Great Hunt winners who hunt particularly high-value, exclusive targets. You meet some of these other legendary hunters and get slowly brought into the fold over drinks, then go out hunting your targets. Your targets in Act 2 are basically hazing on the part of the Great Hunt winners, who send you some difficult targets mostly because it’s funny and something of a tradition to grief newbies. They’re put in their place when you actually bring the targets in, and Act 2 is set to culminate in a big party in your honor, thrown by your newfound close friends, who have warmed up to you over the act and who are generally pretty cool.

Sadly, the party is crashed by Republic soldiers, who murder your newfound friends and put a huge bounty on your head. They’re not happy about you killing a Jedi, and are out for blood. Another Jedi is hunting you down and being awfully smug about it. On top of that, the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic (not Saresh, the person who Saresh replaces, hint hint) has named you Public Enemy Number One.

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Act 3 is about revenge. This Jedi and the Supreme Chancellor have killed your friends and gotten on your bad side, so you team up with a Sith Lord, Darth Tormen, to hunt them both down. You attack their close allies and important people to try to goad them into coming after you, and ultimately face down both the Jedi and the Supreme Chancellor, while Tormen gets more overbearing and vicious as your deal starts to sour. In my playthrough, the Chancellor made a deal for his life– clearing my name as long as I stop Darth Tormen, who’s crazy (as many Sith Lords are) and unspeakably cruel (also like many Sith Lords). The Chancellor would rather lose his position forever than have Tormen (who’s become kind of a dick by the end) in power over Corellia, and I opted to agree and cut ties with the Darth, as well as cutting him down with a blaster lots of fire.

The Bounty Hunter is a really solid story, start to finish. Act 1 requires that you buy into the whole Great Hunt concept, but if you do, the entire class is really satisfying. It doesn’t have the twists and turns and genuinely surprising moments of some of the other classes, but it does have some great lines and a very solid plot. I knew who I was after and why at every step of the way, and getting there was much more enjoyable than I’d expected.

More on SWTOR stories as a whole later on, I’ve written enough today, but this was a fun thing to do and it was absolutely worth it for me to go back and play through all the content I’d never seen.

Being Skilled, Graciously

I played another Infinity tournament over the weekend, and had a ton of fun with it. The local scene for the game is a huge amount of fun, lots of very nice, casual players who are both humble winners and gracious losers. The whole experience with the group is fantastic, and it’s been a lot of fun for me to join in. I really appreciate how welcoming the group has been.


I was really concerned about jumping in and playing with a new group at first, for a couple of reasons. I never know what kinds of attitudes I’ll have going into new scenes, for starters. I had a great, private group of friends that I played Warmachine with in Austin, and went back to playing in Maryland. I took some time off of the game and game back to the same Maryland group and found it had soured, and it put me off of the game entirely. I haven’t played a single game of Warmachine since I moved to Seattle, and was worried that the same might happen with Infinity.

The other reason is that I was worried about how I might fit into the group. My Infinity group in Maryland was one of the most competitive groups in the country, and the guy I would trade wins back and forth with swept Gen Con and got invited to Spain to participate in their big international tournament. I’m not what you might call a hyper-competitive player in general– I could probably perform better than I do if I played more lists that traded fun for effectiveness, or stuck with one faction and mastered it. I’m not that player. Kodra would probably describe me as somewhere in between a Timmy and a Johnny, in Magic: The Gathering parlance. However, I’ve played a lot of Infinity, and I’ve played a broader swathe of the game than most people are even interested in. I’ve played against some really, really superb players and learned to hold my own.


The short version of this is that, not to toot my own horn too much, I’m a fairly highly skilled player, and introducing a new, highly skilled player to an existing group of players, especially a more casual group of players, can be like dropping pure sodium in water. Having “the new guy” suddenly appear and start sweeping everyone can be a bad experience for a playgroup, and while I do my best to make my games fun for my opponent even as I’m winning, I’m well aware that it’s easy to be frustrated with someone like me. It’s less of a big deal if there’s already another high-skilled player who tends to win a lot, but even that can create strife.

There are two ways I can see to approach this. I can downplay my skill, intentionally add handicaps to my play if it looks like I’m winning too much, or I can play at the level I’m used to and let other people deal with it. The first option has always felt disingenuous to me, and robs me of the fun of the game (and my opponents as well, if they catch on). It bothers me at a deep level, because I feel like it’s twisting the good parts of the game to a nastier, pointless end. On the other hand, it’s hard for me not to feel like playing hard and letting the chips fall where they may is irresponsible.


A good friend of mine locally, who’d seen me play quite a lot in Maryland, demanded that I “just play”, and not concern myself with that sort of meta-thought. It meant a lot, coming from him, because he tends to take a dim view of excessive competitiveness; it’s one thing to win, it’s another thing entirely to stomp an opponent with ease and know full well how and why you’re doing it. It felt like permission to just play the game I enjoyed, which is what I’ve been doing. I’ve played something different, sometimes silly and fun, for every tournament I’ve been to, and while I’ve won all of the ones I’ve attended, the more important bit to me is that I’ve had fun and my opponents have enjoyed themselves.

I care a lot about my opponents enjoying themselves. My least favorite games are the ones I sweep. They were satisfying once, years ago, when I wasn’t sure of my ability at the game, but I don’t have anything to prove anymore. I want games where, at the end, my opponent says “that was awesome!” even if they lost. I think I’m succeeding. People are excited to play games against me; I’ve had a local friend ask me to bring the most vicious list I could come up with against him, just so he could see it in action, and at the last couple of tournaments I’ve had people excited both at the chance to play against me and hopeful for the chance next time.


I think that means I’m doing something right. I’ve won every tournament I’ve been to this year, and I’ve gotten a bit of a rep as a strong player. However, I’m not winning by the margins I was nine months ago; each tournament gets closer and closer. At some point, someone is going to overtake me, and I think they’re going to be thrilled. I’ll be thrilled too– it means that I’ll have been the final boss for someone, and it’ll make their victory all the sweeter.

Short Fiction Friday: Holocron

[Missed a few of these, time to change my schedule a bit so I don’t forget ’em. This is setup for my upcoming tabletop game. Enjoy!]


You were my brother.

The words came unbidden, searing through his mind and shattering his concentration. Floating pieces of glass and metal, not yet anything more than pretty scrap, tumbled to the ground. He cursed, once, breaking a lifetime of training and discipline. Even here, in the desert, far from anyone who might hear him, much less judge him, he felt a pang of guilt.

He’d felt a lot of those, recently. He was responsible for the single greatest failure in the galaxy, and had little else but time to mull over it. He would atone. This self-imposed exile was not simply penance, he was quietly, carefully watching and waiting. If the boy showed promise, he could be the hope that the galaxy needed.

Holding all hope in one fragile basket was a fool’s errand, though. He’d learned that one the hard way. With a sigh, he started picking up the metal and glass pieces and arranging them again. They were for his other gamble, one he wouldn’t be able to oversee in person. If the boy didn’t show promise, or if something happened to him like had happened to the boy’s father, this gamble would have to succeed.

With renewed focus, he concentrated again, willing the shards to rise and form a pattern. This time they settled properly, a faint glow suffusing the room. Allowing himself a smile, he began to speak, making an effort not to stumble over the name he hadn’t used in a decade.


“Greetings. If you’re seeing this, you are the last students of the Jedi, and I congratulate you on coming this far. You have had a harder childhood than you deserve, and I’m sorry.

My name will mean little to you, but I should share it anyway. I am Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi, and if you’ll have me, I’ll teach you everything I can. We will never meet, and for that I am sorry, but I will pass on as much knowledge as I’m able through this holocron.

I will teach you what I can, and guide you to places where you can learn more. It is up to you what you do with the knowledge I share, but I hope you will use it for good. There is already enough darkness in the galaxy, and some must stand against it. You will not do this alone; there is another who is being trained, but I do not know if you will cross paths.

I am sorry for the hardships you will face. If you are seeing this, it is not long before you’ll need to flee everything you’ve ever known. It will no longer be safe for you. Some of that is my fault; I have little confidence that this delivery has not been tracked. As my students, I give you your first task: escape. Flee the planet, any way you can. We will speak again once you have.

Good luck, and may the Force be with you, always.”


This time the shards closed properly, folding neatly into a small cube. The man allowed himself a wince, remembering the last time he’d sent a message this way. The next part was easier, but would take months. He would pour his knowledge into this cube, leaving a part of himself within it to teach.

The children would have a difficult time. If that hadn’t been the case before, it certainly would be as soon as they recieved this cube. There were few things in the new Empire that were more illegal to own. One of the others would be included in this package as well. It bothered him to put the children in danger so suddenly, with such a monumental task ahead of them, but he knew of no other way. One hope would be raised in ignorance and idealism, the other would be forged in conflict. One would have to triumph.

He was responsible for the greatest terror the galaxy had ever known, and he would see it ended.


Seeing the Whole Picture (or: The Privilege to Rant)

I’ve been reading a book that was recommended to me by a professor of mine. It’s “You Are Not A Gadget” by Jaron Lanier, and it’s an incredibly interesting read. It’s a studied look at the effects of the Internet on our daily lives, and talks about his take on both how structures influence meaning and culture and, ultimately, how those shape the kinds of things we take for granted.


Lanier has something of a background in the Internet– I’m understating things here; he’s credited with popularizing the term “virtual reality” and has been working in computers and technology for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s fascinating, then, to read his generally skeptical, sometimes negative view on the Internet. He adopts a severely critical view on the culture of the Internet and where it’s gone, and does so from a position of knowledge and understanding, which I find incredibly rare.

The overall tone of the book (as far as I’ve read; about halfway thus far) is that of disappointment; that the Internet could have been much more and instead what we’ve done with it is create a massive shopping network and commodify ourselves, making ourselves and our lives the products for large-scale corporations. He’s not wrong; facebook, twitter, many blogs, lots of games, all of these are making money not from the people who use them, but from third-parties who buy and sell information about people. Indeed, he has a fairly severe anti-social-media bent, though it’s rooted in a deep knowledge of the systems at work.

He takes the concept a step further, and suggests that our easy adoption of these structures has redefined what we consider possible, and that it’s constraining our creativity. He goes beyond that and suggests that we are reducing ourselves through our expression, and that we’re redefining what it means to be a person into something that fits neatly into our current internet-social constructs. He says this is limiting, and that we run the risk of dehumanizing ourselves in our mad rush to be ever more connected and ever more in tune with internet culture, the “culture of the future”.


I’m torn on my reaction to this. Were it said by someone without his credentials, I’d quickly dismiss it as the rocking-chair ranting of someone who the future left behind, who doesn’t understand what the future has brought and is afraid of it. The thing is, he demonstrably DOES understand it, or at least its structure, and as a result I’m inclined to give him a bit more than short shrift. When he talks about how the idea of a “file”, something so deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness as an immutable concept, that’s simply one of many possible means of storing data, it resonates. He comments that the “file” is one of a number of possible structures that were being developed simultaneously, and simply caught on.

He goes on to state that, unlike a lot of other human endeavors, computer science and software engineering don’t necessarily generate the best solutions. A massive, unfathomably complex system needs a particular fix, and needs it RIGHT NOW, and the first, quickest fix isn’t necessarily the best one, yet it endures because tearing down the edifice to “do it right” is unthinkable. He uses MIDI as an example– developed originally as a way of digitizing a single, specific musical instrument (the keyboard), it has expanded to imitate a vast number of musical concept, some better than others, and has instilled itself as a type of sound we expect. It’s worked its way backwards from an imitation of “real” music into “real” music itself, and entire genres and subgenres of music are borne of it.

It’s about here where he and I disagree. He’s horrified by this, saying that the extremely limited MIDI form constrains our understanding of the whole of music as we come to expect its sounds over other musical sounds. I find it clever and fascinating that we have the ingenuity to turn anything, even the most simplistic pale imitation of music, into a musical art form unto itself. He thinks it speaks to a reduction in our worldview, I see it as a triumph of the human urge to express itself. Digital music allows people who could previously never have made music to express themselves musically, and yet it’s still a functional and practical enough medium to be recognizably used for specific technological purposes (like cell phone tones and PC error messages).


I also see his scathing critiques of social media and the harms that some of it have allowed, and I’m unable to completely disagree. He talks about the parasitic nature of social media, and how it pulls us apart while purporting to bring us together. I’m hard-pressed to disagree, especially as I see friends of mine get burned out of things like Facebook and Twitter and take a break, attempting to rid themselves of the mental toll it takes. He mentions the original source of anonymity on the Internet, and laments that this stopgap solution put in place decades ago has become a tool for harassment, trolling, and other vulgarity.

I can’t disagree with what he sees, but I also don’t think it’s the entire picture. Were I to abandon social media, I would lose contact with a great many close friends, solely because of the inconvenience of distance and different time zones. The great sign of friendship that we often rave about is the ability to see a person after months or years and pick up where we left off as if only hours had passed. Prior to the internet, that was rare, a special kind of friendship that few of us attained, if we attained it at all. Now, for me, it’s true of many of my friends, far more than I’d otherwise be able to keep up with in person. I see the harms of anonymity, people being harmful or dangerous and using anonymity as a shield to protect them from retribution. I also see the people whose voices were never previously heard, able to speak for the first time (sometimes in human history) because that same anonymity shield protects them from reprisal.


It’s a privilege, I think, to be able to look only at the bad that the Internet has wrought, and knowing that one could do without it, decry the endeavor as a disappointment. I think it speaks to how we can be highly knowledgeable in our field and still not see the bigger picture; we can be blind to the implications of our own work despite our expertise. It mirrors my own concern with my creative work– do I include viewpoints that I don’t share or don’t fully understand and cause them to be represented even if my representation is inaccurate or unintentionally offensive, or do I leave them out and perpetuate the cycle of under-representation?

It creates a catch-22, I think. I can’t write about perspectives I know without risking misrepresentation, but I can’t avoid writing about them if I’m concerned about perpetuating the status quo. We can’t purge the anonymous internet trolls without catching the previously-voiceless in the crossfire.

I used to think, like Lanier appears to, that we could build things “properly”, such that we got all of the good parts and none of the bad. I’m no longer think that’s possible. There’s no getting the good without the bad, and what’s left is deciding how much of each is worth it.

SWTOR’s Jedi Consular

I talked a bit yesterday about how I didn’t want to just bash on the Jedi Consular story without commenting on what I would have done differently. I’m loathe to critique something if I don’t have a better suggestion, and so I want to follow up with how I would have approached the Consular story, and why.

To get to what I would change, I want to talk a bit about why the Consular story doesn’t work, because the writing in it isn’t bad. There are some great moments, and when the Consular story has good moments, they’re very memorable. The biggest flaw with the Consular in my opinion is that the image the story is going for– the wise, diplomatic healer– does not translate well into gameplay, so there’s this automatic disconnect between the story concept and the structure of the game it’s in. It means that the good writing (and there is good writing in the Consular story) is scattered and doesn’t form a coherent whole. It’s a lot of justifications to get to the interesting moments, which are good, but feel too few and far between.


Why This Doesn’t Work, and What Does Work

The concept of the Consulars that appear elsewhere in Star Wars mostly comes from Yoda, who does a lot of sitting around talking and precious little actual action. It’s not conducive to a game, at least not one where the core mechanics are centered around traveling around and fighting. The “healer” side of things is a bit more compelling, because going around and healing people is pretty reasonable, but the urge to go more character-driven means you fall into a pattern of chasing people around and then finally doing some healing at the end. The same is sort of true of the diplomacy part– you’re really going out and doing favors so that you can do a bit of diplomacy at the end. It makes the majority of your time feel tacked-on, because the real ‘meat’ of what you’re supposed to be doing is the healing or the diplomacy or the being wise, which isn’t sustainable and so is doled out in small pieces.

There’s also the problem that the Jedi Knight steals a LOT of thunder from the Consular. The Consular is at its best when it’s doing things that the Knight isn’t, which is why the Consular Act 2 is the most conceptually compelling chapter, because it’s dealing with galactic diplomacy, which the Knight doesn’t even touch. A lot of the other stuff the Consular does, the Knight ALSO gets to do, while doing other, cooler stuff as well.

From the story, it feels like the Consular is going for a more cerebral kind of story than the Jedi Knight’s lightsabers-and-heroics story, and is trying to showcase different aspects of what Jedi powers do. I think this is great, and it’s both fitting for the Consular and compelling as a story. The other thing that the Consular story pushes that the Knight story doesn’t really bother with is the role of the Jedi in the Republic. You get a bit of that with the diplomacy side of things, and again, this is why Act 2 is the strongest in concept.

I think it’s possible to retain a lot of the structure of the Consular story as well as the overall themes and ideas it seems to be going for in a way that would separate it further from the Jedi Knight and make it its own awesome thing.

What I Want out of Consular

So, I want a story that ties the Republic in with the Jedi more. I want it to feel significantly different from the Jedi Knight, and I want it to be more cerebral while still touching on the more mystical side of the Jedi. I want more memorable companions, and I want my gameplay actions to cleave a bit closer to the concept I’m after. I also want the mysticism to be more of an active part of the story, rather than a justification or macguffin.

There’s a part of the Republic that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the various storylines, that I think we could work a bit more with: the Strategic Intelligence Service (SIS), the Republic’s spy agency. Neat characters, neat opportunities for cool moments, and mostly don’t show up in the other class stories (except Agent). Speaking of Agent, it’s a story theme (cloak-and-dagger spies) that doesn’t show up in the Republic-side classes pretty much at all.

You may see where I’m going with this.

Consular 2.0 (draft)

The Jedi Knight is a story about heroics and loud, blatant awesomeness. We want the Consular to feel different from that, and being more subtle and cerebral gives us a nice departure. We can emphasize that by pulling in the SIS, and adding a touch of an “intelligence/black ops agent” feel to the class. We run the risk of having a “dark” Consular story, but that works in this case, I think, since the point is to be more subtle and clever.

Here’s the basic pitch: the Jedi Consular is a Seer, able to have clear visions through the Force, and uses that power to help the Jedi and the Republic on missions that would never have been possible without a Seer’s farsight and impossible knowledge. It’s a story about being one step ahead of your enemies, and helping people who would have gone unsaved but for your mystical foresight. You don’t just have visions through the Force, you act on them.

I’ll go act by act.

Prologue – Tython

Not a lot has to change here, I don’t think. I would drop a moment extremely early on where you have a vision of your ultimate enemy, and have the other Jedi argue your visions only to have you be proven right. It gives you the opportunity to attach to your Master, who believes your visions, and an early sense of your power. I’d also have the Twi’lek you face have gotten his information from somewhere else, a manipulator from the shadows. Otherwise, you complete your training and finish Tython as a full Jedi. Rather than introducing Qyzen Fess here, I would introduce your ranged tank, the Twi’lek you face at the end who joins you both because his village cast him out and because he wants revenge on the puppetmaster pulling his strings. We can keep Qyzen as a melee tank later, when he makes more sense and isn’t a weird adjunct to the story. This is also a much more interesting use of Zenith, who can be a more complex character who’s both bitter about the plight of his people and his exile but excited to be seeing the galaxy.

Act 1 – Healer of Worlds

Reports of criminal groups on Coruscant fencing stolen Jedi relics concerns the Jedi Council, and you’re dispatched to Coruscant to find out what’s going on. It’s a problem, but the more established Jedi are busy elsewhere and this is a good use of a junior Jedi, as well as a good opportunity to work with the Republic. You’re assisted by an SIS agent who’s providing intel, and you wind up working through the Coruscant underbelly tracking down these relics and using your Force visions to guide your way. You wind up facing down a Sith Lord’s apprentice who’s ransacking the Jedi Temple and was using the criminal organizations to smuggle certain relics offworld. In places of deep sadness or trauma, the Force can become dark and be a font of power if left unchecked. By recovering the relics and ousting the Sith, you can ‘heal’ the wound at the Jedi Temple and purify it.

The pattern will be similar to what happened on Tython, and your companion will be able to comment that he was supposed to stir up pain and conflict as well, to generate this kind of power.

You have a vision of other places of power, at which point, with the help of the Jedi Council and the SIS, you’re off to find out what this Sith Lord is up to and stop him/her. The four planets that are a part of the Republic Act 1 work nicely for this– Taris has obvious “tragic event” overtones, Nar Shaddaa is a great place to engineer a tragedy, and longstanding suffering is common there, Tattooine is somewhat similar to Nar Shaddaa (and has some hints at serious tragedy surrounding the Sand People), and Alderaan is a historied planet with a ton of longstanding bad blood.

These are all ripe for both existing or upcoming tragedies, and while the overall theme of healing a wounded place and restoring balance is maintained, the ways in which you do that can vary pretty wildly from planet to planet. On Coruscant, you might restore parts of the Jedi Temple and recover important relics. On Taris, you can heal sick people and stop a madman from spreading the rakghoul plague. On Nar Shaddaa, you can restore and fortify an organization that aids and protects people from gangs and slavers. On Tattooine, you can delve deep into Sand People history and restore lost knowledge to a wandering people. On Alderaan, you can take part in a diplomatic summit and put a stop to the bloodshed and strife on the planet. In all cases, you’re doing some mystical, some mundane things to heal these ‘wounded’ planets in your own way, opposed by a Sith at each step of the way.

There’s a great opportunity here to solve these problems BEFORE the Sith even arrives, because you have awesome Force visionary powers. It lets the Big Bad show up at the end, but gives you a sense of proactive cleverness that you don’t get in other stories. You’re prepared, because you can glimpse the future, and your Sith opponents can be very surprised to find you already stopping their plans.

By managing to be a step ahead of the shadowy Sith Lord’s plans, she’ll make things personal, and make a point of calling you out. There’s a great opportunity here for a sequence in which you make your way through a heavily booby-trapped area, with your visions guiding you past the traps, and calmly walking through the traps and facing off against a Sith Lord would be great. I would also make THIS character a companion, who joins you when you show her that your power, despite not being borne of the dark side, is vastly beyond hers. Rather than using ‘wounded’ planets as a font for more power, she’ll join you and learn where you get your power from. This also gives you a chance to redeem her or not, depending on your alignment, giving a nice analogue to the Sith Warrior story and separating the Consular yet further from the Jedi Knight.

Act 2 – Light from the Shadows

At this point, you’ve got something of a reputation for being in the right place at the right time, and the SIS wants you for some extremely difficult black ops missions. You’re able to get intel that they can’t through the Force, and you can help solidify the Rift Alliance by pulling off these missions. It’s a very similar structure to the existing Act 2, but it’s more focused around clandestine humanitarian operations rather than taking orders from politicians. Absolutely have an SIS agent as a companion somewhere in here.

As a finale, we have a confrontation with an Imperial warship who’s trying to strongarm the Rift Alliance and is using a brother-sister pair of Inquisitors, both members of the Dark Council, to outmaneuver you and convince the diplomats to join them. This is aided by their influence over one of the politicians, who is being manipulated with Force Persuasion and poisoning the other politicians against the Republic. You slip aboard the warship and collect information to discredit them and disrupt their mind control, then present it and send them packing, though not without a fight. You manage to escape with the siblings vowing revenge.

Act 3 – Dark Rivals

As a proven diplomat and healer, you are now assigned to the most sensitive diplomatic missions possible, both trying to undermine Sith control of planets and establish Republic holds. This puts you on Belsavis, where Imperial agents are trying to use the secret prison planet as a massive propaganda campaign against the Republic, where once again you face the siblings working to undermine you. You discover that the siblings, together, also have future-sight powers and limited mind control, and that you can’t stay one step ahead of them. You follow up on Voss, where they’re trying to brutally undermine negotiations with the Voss and you have to prove the validity of your visions versus the siblings’, which impresses the Voss, who value their own seers.

The pair then changes tactics, using their own visions to hunt down Jedi on Corellia and cripple the offensive. You need to meet them where they’re going to get hit, slowly gaining ground until you can hit them at their base. This proves to be a ruse, and they’ve attacked your own ship and your crew. You have to retake your ship, fending off your own crewmembers who are being controlled. However, before you manage to retake the ship, the siblings steal a crucial piece of information: the location of the Republic Fleet, and are racing to bring warships for a surprise attack.

In the Act 3 finale, you fend off an Imperial assault against the unprepared Republic Fleet, rallying troops throughout the Fleet area and preparing for the conflict. With many Jedi and warships on a “secret mission” (which is happening in parallel during the Jedi Knight story), the fleet is vulnerable. You prepare the defense, then fend off the twins and bring them both down on the bridge of their own vessel. Defeated, they call on the Dark Council for aid, but the Dark Council shuns them for their failure. You are a hero of the Republic, and a defender of the people in a way that the Jedi Knight isn’t.

Final Thoughts

This is obviously a draft, but it’s the kind of structure that I think addresses a lot of the issues with the Consular story while giving it its own theme and maintaining the general concepts it’s going for. It’s a story that makes equal sense for both Sage and Shadow, and where your actions are tied into the story a lot more closely. Having Force Visions is a neat, mystic-y concept but actually acting on them is satisfying. There’s a possibility for this type of Consular story to make you feel smarter then your enemies and more proactive in general, and it leaves a lot of room for more interesting companions.

It’s also easy to make alterations based on which planets wind up being used. The overall concept for each Act doesn’t change much, and planets could be added or removed (say, during development) without the story being heavily impacted. It keeps a fairly episodic structure, much like the Agent story.

SWTOR Class Story Reviews (Part 3)

I’m not really looking forward to writing this one. In general, I like to be positive about the games I talk about or at least constructively critical. SWTOR is almost four years old now, and I can’t imagine my critique at this point is able to be constructive. Still, it’s something that weighs on my mind, especially as someone who does their own writing, and perhaps I can put the thoughts to rest by writing them down. As per usual, spoilers ahead, probably more significant than the others of these I’ve written.


I’ve been doing these in pairs for a particular reason. SWTOR class stories tie together in thematic pairs surprisingly nicely. Whether this is an intentional sort of duality or not I don’t know, but as I’ve played them, the classes seem to arrange themselves into tidy pairs. Trooper and Agent are stories about being a dutiful member of an organization. The Sith Inquisitor and Warrior stories are about paths to power and respect. The Smuggler and Bounty Hunter stories are about being on the outside looking in (and I’m interested in seeing more of both). Finally, the Jedi Consular and Knight stories are about being superheroes, the key piece that sets Star Wars apart from other settings.

I talked before about “Star Wars stories” vs “stories that happen to be set in Star Wars”. Both of the Jedi stories are the former. In general, I’m a lot less of a fan of these stories, and in the case of the two Jedi classes, one works and one doesn’t. I’ll start with the one that does, so I can talk about the other one.


Jedi Knight

The Jedi Knight storyline is, in a variety of ways, the “main story” of SWTOR, as much as it has one. It draws from the great moments of KOTOR, the prequels, and the original trilogy to deliver a focused beam of cool Star Wars-y content. It has companions that pull from the “standard” characters throughout Star Wars and the events that occur during the Jedi Knight story are not only referenced in other class stories more than pretty much any other class, but in fact are the catalyst for (at least) an entire expansion’s worth of content, as well as frequent callouts elsewhere.

The story is comprised of pretty much every Jedi-y concept in Star Wars, and it’s very clearly thoroughly thought out. The first Act of the story is about finding and disarming superweapons. You’re plunged pretty much instantly into Serious Business, and the game slowly weans you off your older, snarky master. Of note here: your master is basically Qui-Gon Jinn, and throughout the first act you are Obi-Wan Kenobi circa the Clone Wars, complete with your very own not-entirely-light-side Padawan, who hides a secret from you. You get to be better than Kenobi, though, and while your master is killed, he comes back as a spirit and advises you from beyond the grave, and you can keep your Padawan on the straight-and-narrow, with a bit of leeway and understanding.

Throughout Act 1, there’s this continual choice to kill your foes or to try to redeem them. Almost all of these characters are set up very well to make these choices not so cut and dry. There’s a lot of doubt surrounding the ability for fallen Jedi or Sith to be redeemed, and you also deal with the political fallout of “traitor Jedi” which tarnish the Jedi reputation. The choices were compelling enough (and my lack of care about being “full light side” or “full dark side” being pretty significant) that I actually spared some and killed others, based on the situation.


Acts 2 and 3 are where things really pick up. While other classes are embroiled in internal rivalries or military actions or what have you, as a Jedi Knight you are gunning for the Emperor himself. It’s a bold move, and Act 2 is about setting your strike up, bringing together some other dedicated Jedi, and attacking the Emperor’s secret base. It’s a very KOTOR-like segment, with you working towards a clear, obvious project. I like the delivery here because what you’re doing is notable every step of the way, and you’re reminded what you’re doing and why, so there’s none of the usual “why am I on this planet again?” sense of disorientation. The characters you meet along the way are generally interesting as well (I especially like the Jedi Master who has several “meedee” droid pets).

Act 3 begins after your (failed) attack on the Emperor, during which you gain a lot of insight into the Emperor’s (horrific, galaxy-destroying) plans as well as gaining an unexpected Sith ally. Lord Scourge is an interesting character, and contextualizes for the Republic what the Sith opinion of the Emperor is. He wants to see the Emperor go down just as much as you do, but has no faith in the Dark Council’s ability to fight him. He’s had a vision and made a deal with the devil to be able to see it through. In Act 3, you get an interesting inversion of the redeem/kill choices in Act 1, as you find yourself face to face with the rest of your Jedi strike team, all controlled by the Emperor.

Throughout Act 3, you are Luke Skywalker, hero of the Rebellion Republic, and helping out with military actions while setting up to take down the ultimate evil in the galaxy. The final confrontation with the Emperor is distinctly reminescent of the end of Return of the Jedi, with you going (mostly) alone deep into enemy territory, and the story’s finale looks more like the awards ceremony at the end of A New Hope than anything else in the game. The music is exciting, the applause raucous, the lights gleaming, and the camera hitting the right notes.


The Jedi Knight story is an example of a “star wars story” done well. It’s comprised of lots of hints and callouts to the rest of Star Wars lore, but it’s woven together into a coherent, compelling story that hits all the right notes without directly stealing from anywhere (except possibly that awards ceremony). You do incredible, heroic things, you do all of the cool Jedi stuff you’re used to seeing, and you get recognized for your awesomeness. It’s not a story you can remove from Star Wars, but it’s the kind of story that you can only tell in the Star Wars universe, and it’s a pretty good one, with some neat twists and interesting moments. And then…


Jedi Consular

For all that the Jedi Knight story does well, the Jedi Consular stumbles and falls. I’ve played through this story twice now, and the Consular is mechanically my favorite class in the game, but I am extremely glad I played it first, before playing any other class story. I don’t want to go on and on about how it’s just a bad story, but I do want to talk about why.

For the Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor, and Jedi Knight, there are clear, obvious characters in the Star Wars mythos that are being evoked. For the Consular, not so much. There aren’t a lot of Consular-type Jedi who take front-and-center; you’ve got… Yoda, and… Yoda. Talking backwards at people is not exactly compelling gameplay and a core conceit of Yoda’s character is that he’s crazy powerful. Being crazy powerful right at the start of the Consular story doesn’t work, and it’s pretty clear from the word go that the story is kind of adrift.

Notably, playing Consular and Knight side by side, it feels like the Jedi Knight was a story built on the big, notable “Jedi” moments and the Consular was kinda left with the scraps. Throughout the Consular story, there are these hints at cool “Jedi” moments, but they’re never delivered as well as they are in the Jedi Knight story, or as coherently. There’s a ton of mysticism, which is appropriate, but it ultimately doesn’t affect much– the mysticism quickly becomes a hand-wavey way of telling me that I’m doing “something cool” without showing me why it’s cool.


As an example: Act 1 is about… a virus, kind of, that sort of affects Jedi Masters. Your Master falls ill and one of your first acts is trying to cure her. You’re looking for some Jedi artifacts that are unique and special and put you face-to-face with some old wise Jedi Masters, some of which are callbacks to KOTOR and all of which are lore faucets, telling you a bunch of things that boil down to “we have no idea what’s wrong with your Master”, up until you find the very last one. There’s no sense of progression other than a few throwaway lines along the lines of “oh, yeah, we can think about this more clearly because you found the other ones for some reason”. Bear in mind: during this same stretch of time, the Trooper is hunting the squad that betrayed them up close and personally, the Smuggler is seeking revenge for their stolen ship, and the Jedi Knight is racing to stop a superweapon. The Consular is… looking for some forgotten lore to help fight some mysterious ailment that’s affecting their Master? Eventually you find this cure, some kind of ritual that blocks the virus and the mind control (?) that comes with it. You’re warned that doing so weakens you in some unspecified way, but that’s about it.

This is the big story hook that’s supposed to draw you into the rest of the story, and it’s vague and uncertain. It’s also littered with holes that make it feel even more uncertain and not super well-thought-out. One of the first things you find out in this whole hunting-the-cure segment is that your Master is mostly delirious or comatose and attacked one of the medical staff. A little later, this happens again, and you have to fight her yourself. She’s equipped with her lightsaber. There isn’t even an option to ask the medical staff why they let a delirious, violent, martially-trained patient keep their deadly weapon. The story is full of these “wait, what” moments that further weaken the already uncertain story. These kinds of things exist elsewhere, and it’s possible to accuse me of nitpicking here, but the point I want to make is that a minor plot hole like this in a strong story like the Agent’s is a lot less noticeable and more easily forgiven than a similar issue in a weaker, less compelling story like the Consular’s.


Act 1 continues with you finding out that some Masters might also be afflicted, so you travel around the galaxy checking on them and finding out that, yep, they’re all afflicted. You track them down, find out they’re preparing to do something awful while mind controlled, stop them from doing said awful thing, and then decide whether to save them or not. There’s a parallel here to the Jedi Knight story, except that in the Jedi Knight story the people you’re “saving” aren’t necessarily innocents, whereas every single one in the Consular story is an innocent who is literally being mind controlled. Your choice is to save them, like you came to these planets to do, or murder them with no real rationale. There’s the occasional person on the planet who clearly doesn’t understand the big picture who tends to urge you to kill whoever you’re there to save, but you don’t really get the opportunity to explain things.

Act 1 wraps up with you working some mysticism with your Master to find the location of the person behind all of this. You get pretty much no clues about where to find the guy or who he is up until this point, and then you perform some unspecified ritual and then hunt him down. When you get there, surprise, it’s some guy you’ve never met but has been hinted at throughout Act 1, except everyone thought he was dead, because that provably stops the Force elsewhere in lore. During the showdown, he mocks you, saying that you can’t kill him because he’s infected TONS of Jedi Masters somehow, despite the disease spreading by touch, and if you kill him all of those Jedi Masters will die.


The frustrating thing for me is that I’m trying to be charitable. I’ve played through this story twice and it’s still vague and uncertain for me, and almost every major plot point in Act 1 boils down to “because magic”. The first Act is not without its bright spots, too. There’s a really cool moment where you can save some people from a burning wreck using Force Lift, because you’re just that awesome, and it’s a moment of greatness unlike anything the Jedi Knight gets to do. Later, you get to take part in a diplomatic summit, which is another neat moment and wraps up that planet very nicely as well as foreshadowing the next Act. The Jedi Consular is at its best when it’s getting to do things the Jedi Knight doesn’t get to do, and at its worst when it’s doing the same things as the Knight but less interestingly.

Act 2 shifts gears considerably, and is, I think, the most interesting part of the Consular storyline while being the most frustrating. Your role shifts to diplomat, and Act 2 becomes about getting a particular group of people to join the Republic by, essentially, solving their problems on their home planets. This would actually have been really compelling if any of the representatives you dealt with were likable; they’re pretty much all either sniveling or entitled, and doing work for them leaves you feeling unappreciated– you get a lot of grudging thanks and bickering that mars an otherwise compelling story arc.


Act 3 returns you to mysticism land, where once again you’re dealing with mind controlled people, mostly Force-users, who are the Children of the Emperor, secretly doing his bidding as sleeper agents all over the galaxy. This is a really compelling concept that unfortunately just becomes mystical nonsense because it doesn’t have enough build time. You sort of get a few infodumps about who these people are and why they’re bad and then you do some magic to find them and stop them before they complete their inevitable betrayal. This culminates in you facing off against a notable Jedi Master who’s one of the few recurring characters in this story, which is an honestly really great moment. It’s overshadowed by the Jedi Knight getting a nearly identical fight at the exact same time with a better-developed character, right BEFORE a much more impressive, much more epic sequence that the Consular lacks entirely.

The storyline can, in theory, be held together by its characters, though. The Smuggler story, from what I’ve seen thus far and what I’ve heard, is more about the cool characters than the actual plot, and the Consular storyline could easily have been saved by a selection of interesting characters. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really happen. You start with a Trandoshan melee tank, whose philosophy is about hunting and killing, and who is hanging around with you for some kind of unclear lore reason, whether you want him to or not. You also get a character whose defining characteristic is he’s a military guy, and another whose defining characteristic is that he’s a freedom fighter. Neither are terribly memorable. The Consular’s padawan (and potential love interest if you’re a male) is a naive teenaged girl who’s excited to see the galaxy (making the whole love interest thing really creepy), and who you don’t get until extremely late in the story, making her companion arc feel rushed. That having been said, the Consular does get one great companion in Tharan Cedrax, who is annoying and narcissistic at first but winds up being both extraordinarily useful and genuinely funny, and is a lot more complex of a character than most.

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What’s frustrating to me is that I’m trying to be as charitable as I can. For a story with so much potential, it’s riddled with problems and is punctuated by a few bright spots, but otherwise spends a ton of time telling you about Star Wars mysticism minutiae. It’s very similar to the Sith Inquisitor storyline in that respect, except that the mysticism you’re hearing about doesn’t have much bearing on what you’re actually doing, it’s just a loose justification. You get all kinds of lore about the mind-control virus that was invented by [ancient sith lord] and employed in [historical moment] and rediscovered on [planet you never visit], but in the end it’s just a reason for you to go save some people, and it leaves things feeling hollow.

I don’t want to leave this without talking a bit about what I would have done to improve it, and why, but I’ve gone on for quite a while at this point. More tomorrow.