Friday, November 18, 2011

Spoiler-Free Review of Karpyshyn's Novel "Revan"

Short version: For SWTOR fans, Revan will be a fascinating introduction to the Sith Emperor and a setup for Revan's appearance in the game.  For KOTOR fans, unfortunately, Revan will be a disappointment.

Now for the longer version.  There were two main things I imagine every KOTOR fan wanted to see in this book: (1) the story of how Revan (and Malak) turned to the dark side, and (2) the old crew from KOTOR at least make some appearances if not participate in the action.  Unfortunately Revan fails to deliver on both, at least not satisfactorily.

Yes you do get the story of how Revan fell to the dark side, but it was executed poorly.  Rather than show us how it happened, Karpyshyn instead has that event described through dialogue.  Even beginning writers know the maxim "Show, don't tell", but unfortunately Karpyshyn didn't follow that tried and true advice.  So instead of getting a vivid presentation of one of the most interesting moments in Star Wars history, we get a few lines of dialogue describing it.  Bad writing choice, in my opinion.

As for the other characters from the KOTOR games making an appearance: one makes brief appearances mostly at the beginning and end of the novel, three rejoin Revan and are main characters of the novel, and the rest are only mentioned in passing.  Now I had no problem with only having select people come back for the novel, but where I think again we have wasted opportunities is that the characters who do show up don't develop at all.  Another basic rule of writing is that every main character in a novel should have some kind of significant internal change or transformation over the course of the story.  Unfortunately, there's no real transformation for any of the KOTOR characters (even Revan, but to make my case I'd have to spoil things).  Big things happen to them, but they essentially remain the same people throughout.  It's fun at first, but eventually leaves them uninteresting.

The one character who does have an interesting development is the new character introduced in this novel: Lord Scourge.  He is a compelling character because we see him mature as a Sith Lord as he navigates his way through the political labrynth of the Dark Council on Dromund Kaas.  By the end of the novel he is a significantly different person than who he was at the beginning, and that is satsifying to see.  If only the other characters had the same journey.

Ultimately Revan is worth reading for the SWTOR lore and for the Sith Emperor, who is probably the most terrifying and fascinating villain yet in the Star Wars universe (though it should be noted that the Emperor was Daniel Erickson's creation, not Karpyshyn's).  Understanding the Sith Emperor sets the stage for what the story arc of SWTOR is really about, which can definitely enhance your appreciation of the game.  To keep this review spoiler-free, however, I will have to leave it there as any further comments would require more detailed discussion.

EDIT: There is a good review on Amazon that explains in more detail about the disappointing aspects of the book, but it has some spoilers so be aware.

EDIT 2: Karpyshyn has written his own response to the criticisms of the book (he specifically mentions the Amazon reviews).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SWTOR @ NY Comic Con 2011

Darth Malgus, a major character in The Old Republic era.

There has already been a ton of great coverage on NYCC on the web, so there's really no point in me repeating things that have been discussed very well elsewhere.  What I can do is share some pics and video that I took while there, mostly so that I have it all in one place for myself.  Also, I do have one small story to share (unfortunately a bad one):

With the vids below you would think I can share my experience of playing the warzones. Well unfortunately, despite waiting in line, I never actually got to play. You see, just as I sat down to play a warzone for the very first time...the server crashed.  

Server down!
Now I understand things like that happen (it in fact happened earlier that same day, Friday), but the response to this was what disappointed me. All of us who had patiently waited in line for quite a while and had just sat down to play for our first time were told we were not going to be able to play. We had to get up and leave the booth while they worked on fixing the server

This, too, would have been fine...except we were not given anything special (beyond posters and tshirts which everyone who played got) or given a pass of any kind to come back to the front of the line when the servers were back up. In other words, we just had to go to the very back of the line and start all over again through no fault of our own. I wasn't angry, just very disappointed. I didn't think it was the right way to handle it: the people who never got to play due to this should have been given passes of some kind to come back to the front and get into the next game due to this error.

In the long run, I know that soon enough I will be playing warzones constantly and this is small stuff. But with now four people I know personally who have played the game either in general testing or in a weekend beta, it's very frustrating that, with the one exception of playing the origin worlds at the NYC Meet & Greet, I just seem destined to never play this game until Early Access starts. But oh well.

Waiting in line to play SWTOR.

Screens were up outside the booth to watch the action while in line.

Coming soon: My experience watching John Williams, famous composer of the Star Wars film scores, perform with the New York Philharmonic!

Monday, October 17, 2011

SWTOR Meet & Greet NYC

On October 12, 2011, I had the good fortune of attending the SWTOR team's NYC Meet & Greet.  I thought I'd share my personal experience of the event so that those of you who weren't able to go could still get a feel for what it was like.

The thing that impressed me the most about this event, by far, is just how open and friendly the people at BioWare are.  Stephen Reid and David Bass both personally came out to say hi to people in line, chat a bit, and keep morale up.  It was a drizzly, blah evening outside and some people were standing out in it for quite some time (here's a video from of the line).  In fact, when you entered the venue it was David himself at the door who tied your wristband--if you were at least 21 and wanted to get drinks, that is.

I was lucky enough to be one of the first in line, so I was also one of the first in.  And it begins: We enter through the doors, and are directed upstairs.  I get to the top of the stairs, and none other than Daniel Erickson himself is waiting with a big smile and his hand out to welcome us to the event.  After shaking his hand and regaining my bearings after that exciting surprise, someone behind me said: "Computers! On the left!"  I glance that way, and sure enough there are stations set up to play the origin worlds. 

I walk over as calmly as I could manage, sit down, and see that they've got all 8 classes premade at Level 1 for you to try out.  Myself and the new friends I made in line were the first group to sit down at the stations.  They look over at me, I look over at them, and we have these huge grins on our faces.  I give them a thumbs-up (we had our headsets on already), and turn to the screen for my very first experience of actually playing SWTOR.

First thing to do: class selection.  I plan on playing a Sith Warrior when SWTOR releases, and I didn't want to spoil the opening levels of that class story.  So instead I chose the SW's mirror class, the Jedi Knight, in order to get a tiny taste of the mechanics.  I click on the big, older, white-bearded Jedi Knight, and off we go.

Not me, someone else playing a Smuggler.

What immediately strikes you as the game begins is that this game is beautiful.  BioWare always countered accusations of the game being too "cartoony" by saying it's stylized, not a cartoon.  Now having seen the game in person, I absolutely agree.  The visuals are truly artwork.  It's the same kind of feel as, say, the Clone Wars TV series: it's highly stylized animation, and inaccurate to call a cartoon.  And here's the biggest compliment I can give it: even though this was my first time playing and I only had 30 minutes to play, I still took a few of those precious moments to just soak in the architecture and landscapes of Tython.

OK, so I get my first quest and I'm off to enter some combat.  A note on the quests: the beginning quests are, strictly speaking, "kill 10 of these" type quests.  The difference however is that your character is given a compelling reason to do this (in the Jedi Knight's case, to save Padawans who've been captured by the 10 things you have to kill).  While that may not sound like much, if you allow yourself to enjoy the story then you are rewarded by feeling that your quest is really accomplishing something.

The first enemies are, not surprisingly, pretty easy.  There is a tiny boss fight in a cave, too.  It's clear that these quests are more about orienting you to the game than challenging you right off the bat.  So I beat the first boss, go back to train, and then I get the ability that will become the staple of my SWTOR diet even as a Sith Warrior: Force Charge (aka "The Leap").  I have read others say that the first time you Force Charge is an experience you never forget.  I have to agree, it's awesome and I could see how you could never get tired of it.  Even before I had Force Charge, I already had two attacks that were animated nicely and gave you a sense of really being in melee combat.  And I also noticed that every once in a while your character will do a "finishing move" that is a bit flashier, and very satisfying.

In what feels like only a few moments later, my 30 minutes are up!  Seriously, that has to be the quickest 30 minutes of my life.  I'm fine with it, though, as I definitely wanted everyone else to get their turn.  There were a lot of people waiting to play, in fact it got very crowded in that area very fast.  Here's a quick video I took of the crowds that built up at the stations (and the bar):

So like I said, our 30 minutes were over and we all got up.  Next objectives: (1.) get a drink at the (open!) bar,  and (2.) talk to Daniel Erickson!  The bar is not as crowded now, so I get an Amstel Light and walk over to the circle of people crowding around Daniel as he answers their questions. 

Daniel Erickson responding to a question.

So what is Daniel Erickson like in person?  Super friendly, very animated in discussion, and hilarious.  I get the impression that he is genuinely excited to meet the community, and loves to hear their questions.  After all, as lead writer for SWTOR, the Star Wars universe has been his home of sorts for the past few years.  He's put a lot of thought into this game, and it shows when people ask him questions.  If you've thought about something for the SWTOR story, trust me: him & the writing team have thought about it way more and decided what they did for good reasons.  And, importantly, those reasons may not be ones players even know about yet.

For example, one thing you might not have thought of is this: Daniel shared with us that when he was tasked with this project, he had to keep in mind that the game could potentially go on for something like 10 years.  I don't know if any of you have tried to create a story, but 10 years' worth of material is gargantuan.  So he had to sit down and think of a story arc that could keep going for that long. That long.  This means that what we're seeing in this very first batch of content (I have no doubt more is to come), is just the first part of a much larger story that will continue to evolve.  You thus can't necessarily judge everything that's going on as the be-all, end-all of that story arc.  More may be planned.

I did get to ask Daniel a question, and you can see my Reddit post on that specific exchange.

In case you're wondering, no they didn't hand out any beta invites.  And honestly I didn't go for that reason.  In fact, no one there really complained about it.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  What they did hand out were free T-shirts and posters (in addition to the free snacks and drinks!).

Overall, I had a wonderful experience at the Meet & Greet.  If the SWTOR team ever swings by your area, you should absolutely go.  They are really nice people and do want to hear from you.

Well, I hope my post here gave you a taste of what a SWTOR Meet & Greet was like!  Coming soon: my experience with SWTOR at the 2011 New York Comic Con!