Are You Experienced

As part of patch 4.7 last year, SWTOR introduced a new pack opening experience that included a number of quality of life changes to how items from Cartel Packs are acquired and stored. It also came with a brief animated sequence complete with Aurebesh readouts as each box disgorges its treasures.

I don’t open a ton of packs, but I recently remembered to snap a screen shot of the new animation. The information displayed includes the exact dimensions of a Cartel Pack and the steps needed to slice into each box of goodies. Sadly the security scan cannot reveal its contents prior to opening. If you want to know if you scored an awesome new lightsaber or just another pair of bronze pants, you’ll have to peak inside yourself.

 

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Corus Can’t

This week, let’s take a look at a sign that contains an infamous spelling error in which the proud capital of the Galactic Republic is misspelled “Coruscnat.” A second error even snuck into the small text at the base of the poster. For historical purposes I recreated the sign with the errors intact.

I point this out not to make fun of the mistakes. In my own work as a designer, I can admit that this sort of thing happens all the time, and I don’t even have the excuse of working with an alien language.

So how should we chalk this up? Human error? A catastrophic shattering of the players’ suspension of disbelief? Just another use of fake space letters to which the rules don’t apply? Or can we imagine that a minister at the Republic Bureau of Tourism and Trade fobbed off responsibility for the final review of a new advertising campaign on an intern who both did not speak Basic as a first language and also had hit the spice a little too hard the night before? Well, probably the first, but I can go with the last too.

Errors aside, this is a fun poster with a lot going on from the starbursts and speed lines to the bold swathes of color and distressed text.

The M logo which I’d previously thought simply applied to a random cosmetics company seems in fact to be the branding used by the Coruscant Market, and is seen on many posters around the Republic’s capital.

A second, similar poster uses many of the same elements as the first, but in a vertical layout. It does not contain the same spelling mistake, which perhaps proves that the good ol’ intern wasn’t completely asleep at the wheel.

 

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I’d Buy That For a Credit

I received a suggestion via twitter to take a look at the GTN screens, and as my consular often reminds me, “The Jedi way is to serve.”

The Aurebesh used on the four large monitors adorning the Galactic Trade Network kiosks seen on the Fleets, Nar Shaddaa, Odessan and possibly your stronghold is primarily used as a design element. While the screens can be translated into actual, though often fragmentary words, they don’t make sense in context.

Read a lot of Aurebesh displays in the game and you’ll eventually see a stock group of phrases repeated over and over. “Will proceed as scheduled.” “At full power” “All systems active.” There are many others. Fragments from these can be read in the two GTN screens featuring the weapon and armor graphics. This collection of phrases is SWTOR’s version of lorem ipsum. The nonsensical writing is meant to evoke the kind of text on monitors you’d see around the galaxy rather than have specific meaning.

The GTN’s other two large screens display a random selection of letters and numbers much like a stock market ticker. Similar information appears in the holographic “crown” rotating above the kiosk. Whether the letters and numbers have any significance I can’t say. Perhaps the artists snuck in their initials and birthdays, or just pulled them out of a hat. All I can say is that I know what I would’ve done.

This last screen is on the interface players click on to access the GTN, and it does contain text that makes sense in context. The monitor flashes through a variety of items while displaying sale, refund credit, and purchase labels and prices. When it comes to their customers the Hutt Cartel, which runs the Galactic Trade Network, wants to make it clear that they appreciate their patronage.

The War For Iokath

Thursday’s long awaited live stream finally gave us some details regarding the next major content patch for SWTOR. My first comment is that the broad strokes of what they announced absolutely should’ve been shared in October, if not sooner. Fans and subscribers should’ve not have had to wait until two months after the launch of the expansion to know that more story, a daily area and operation content are indeed coming. Certainly details surrounding the setting and story could’ve been held back, but, as both a fan of SWTOR and a guild officer trying to keep my friends engaged, I was very frustrated that KotET launched without even a hint of what the end game is to be. And, no, Galactic Command is not end game. Not even close.

Time gated raid content is not my favorite thing, but I agree that launching one boss at a time is preferable to delaying the whole thing until the autumn, so I will take what I can get.

I am looking forward to exploring Iokath and having a go at the Master chapters and uprisings. And, yeah, I’ll be charging into that Operations instance day one. If all I cared about was raiding, then I’d probably sit out the next few months, but if there is other new stuff to do, I’m on board. What I liked about KotFE is that that the chapters came at a steady and reliable clip, and in the meantime, it is up to Bioware to do the same and keep KotET interesting.

 

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The Last Jedi

As a long time fan of Marvel’s Star Wars comics of the 70’s and 80’s, I’m always amused to see how prescient those old four color classics were in ways large and small. We are not likely to see Jedidiah on the big screen next December, but it’s neat to be reminded of one of Expanded Universe’s better Star Wars stories.

Central Circle

It is a real thrill to be included amongst the fine group content creators featured by SWTOR Central’s first installment of Central Circle. Sam is easily the most enthusiastic evangelist of SWTOR out there, and his videos are always an entertaining and even handed look at the game. The other creators’ content featured in this video are also worth your time from yet another great guide by Swtorista, FibroJedi’s tips for saving credits, OdBucko’s progression videos, and Aravail’s fantastic commentary on Galactic Command which I really, really hope the good folks at Bioware watch.

I’ll be translating more Aurebesh later the week as I keep my fingers crossed for good news from Thursday’s Bioware livestream.

 

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Between Jedi and Sith lies obsession

Despite the war between the Jedi and the Sith, women are still expected too look their best, and even in a galaxy far, far away sex sells.

This sultry advertisement can be seen on several planets across the galaxy but is featured most prominently on the Republic’s fleet hub, Carrick Station. The ad draws inspiration from Calvin Klein’s famous Obsession campaign right down to the to suggestive tag line across the model’s mouth.

As is often the case, the Aurebesh on this poster is mirrored and must be flipped to be properly read. The design element of the mirrored M or “mern” glyphs works regardless of the flipped design, which may explain why this mistake slipped through the cracks.

I don’t know the meaning of the double M’s but I’m happy to provide baseless speculation after a few minutes poking around on wookieepedia. Moltokian Maquillage is the provider of the galaxy’s finest, all natural makeup and cosmetics. If you’ve embraced the Light, you’ll find the most elegant lip-glosses and blushes. Even if you’ve turned to the Dark Side, MM has you covered with discreet foundation to hide even your most debased corruption blemishes. Moltokian Maquillage can be found on sale at the poshest establishments in Coruscant’s Core Plaza, Nar Shaddaa’s Promenade shopping district, and Dromund Kaas’ shadow markets.

Update: The M logo which I’d guessed applied to a cosmetics company may in fact be the branding used by the Coruscant Market, and is seen on many posters advertising the fabulous shopping options available around the Republic’s capital.

 

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Zakuulan Language Primer

Knights of the Fallen Empire introduced a new planet to the Star Wars galaxy: Zakuul, capital of the Eternal Empire. Zakuul included a host of new characters, architecture, droids, spaceships, customs and perhaps most subtly a new form of writing.

The artists at Bioware designed the Zakuulan script with several variations suggesting an idiosyncratic and evolving language while maintaining a cohesive style whether the context is a fancy sign on a building or a technical readout on a computer monitor.

After pouring through my screenshots, I’ve put together a basic Zakuulan primer of letters and numbers.

I should admit up front that this project is a work in progress. I’ve found no examples of the letters J, Q and X, so folks looking to score big in Scrabble may be disappointed. As with Aurebesh, it’s not unusual for Zakuulan signage to be inverted or reversed; this is most common in the holographic displays in the Twin Rails tram station. The flipped signs made deciphering the numbers tricky, especially since I have not yet come across the number 7, but I think I can extrapolate it based on other numbers in the sequence. Likewise, I’m also not sure what the glyph for zero is, but don’t feel confident enough to guess.

There are two major styles of Zakuulan writing: a digital font seen on monitors in which the letters are rendered with straight lines and hard angles, and a second version that features rounded corners and elegant curves. This script is, to my eye, evocative of the Art Deco style of the early 20th century. There are more gaps in this second style and while I feel comfortable making educated guesses about a few of the missing letters, several others remain unknown to me.

Typically, letters are similar across both styles, but there are variants of a few letters: A, B, C, Y and Z can all be rendered using two different glyph shapes, and I’ve seen examples of both in the “digital” and “deco” styles. In addition, the deco style seems to employ a distinct numbering system from its digital counterpart. With only one example to work from, I’m not confident in even making basic guesses about how to render numbers in that style.

In addition to signs and computers, Zakuulan script is also readable in the costumes of Vaylin and the Scions. The lining on their cloaks and hoods repeat five words thematically significant to both the game’s story and Zakuulan culture. However, so far the writing on Arcann and Thexan’s robes defies translation.

The game has gotten a lot of mileage out of a few graphics; the “administraton” and “RNG Main Office” signs are everywhere for example, but I hope in the future we’ll see more examples of the Zakuulan script. The addition of new and alien writing has been a nice touch to set the Eternal Empire apart from the rest of the galaxy and to make it feel like a real, lived in world that’s not quite familiar to both the characters and the players. It’s perhaps an easy thing to miss while adventuring, but I applaud the artists at Bioware for this cool addition to Star Wars lore.

I want to also give a tip of the hat to this thread on SWTOR’s official forums, which confirmed some of things I’d suspected about Zakuulan writing and pointed me in the direction of a few things I missed.

 

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Rest in Peace Carrie Fisher

 

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Rogue One Review

I liked Rogue One a lot, but I can’t say I loved it. It’s interesting that this is a movie that George Lucas would never have made. It was the mission of the old Expanded Universe to tell stories like this (indeed, this very story had been told several different ways already), but for me Star Wars was always a cinematic experience; neither the books nor even my beloved comics were ever fully able to capture that feeling of watching Star Wars on the big screen, nevertheless I cannot deny that Rogue One does a good job of getting me there.

The things that held it back for me seem to be pretty common complaints. I got used to the “new” Tarkin in an Okay-Dick-Sargent-is-now-playing-Darrin kind of way, but the second computer generated cameo took me out of the moment. I didn’t think “Hey! It’s Princess Leia!” Instead it was, “Oh, that’s CGI Leia.” The Force Awakens and Rogue One end on almost identical beats, but I don’t feel like’s Leia’s appearance matched the power of Luke’s. On an extremely nitpicky note, I also felt like Vader was just a little off. Maybe it was the way the helmet was filmed, but it seemed like his neck was too thick.

I think a fair argument can be made that Rogue One leans too heavily into the fan service, but as one of those fans, I’m not going to complain. I do think it keeps the movie from standing on its own. I would not suggest to someone who has never seen Star Wars that they should watch Rogue One before Episode 4.

Probably the most damning thing I could say is that Rogue One kind of felt like a Marvel movie: Jyn’s arc is straight from the Tony Stark playbook, the villain was the least interesting character, and Vader fills the role of Loki. I was left feeling like many of the characters’ best stories happened before the movie. Who wouldn’t want to watch a Baze and Chirrut buddy movie? Or see Jyn’s life on the run with Saw Gerrera? And I can even imagine a paranoid workplace drama featuring Galen, Bodhi and Krennic. I thought the cast was very good, but a bit under-used and part of me wishes I could’ve seen them in a story where I didn’t already know how it ends. That’s probably where the Expanded Universe might have had an edge over Disney. A comic book series featuring Cassian Andor, Rebel Spy and his sassy droid would’ve made perfect sense back in the day.

All that said, oh, what fun! My previous complaint about the CGI characters aside, the effects were great. Every single shot of the Death Star was terrifying. The sight of a Star Destroyer looming over Jedha sums up the Empire perfectly. The climatic battle in space and on the planet was amazing. And I will never, ever complain about new types of Stormtroopers. I even bought my first Black Series figure to get a Scarif Trooper since I couldn’t find a regular size version. No regrets.

 

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Cat’s-eye View

Just a quick post this week (it’s that time of year), but here is a look through the targeting scope of the great Aric Jorgan from KotFE’s chapter 11, “Disavowed” in which everyone’s favorite Cathar finally gets to show off his much vaunted skills as a sniper.

Unlike the view through HK’s optical sensors, the information displayed here is much more economically presented with significantly less editorializing on the target’s potential status as a meatbag.

The translation was straightforward, but there are a couple non-standard bits of Aurebesh. The comma symbol is used in the numbers, but I substituted decimal points since that seems to make more sense in context.

The krenth (kh) and onith (eo) symbols are used as angle brackets on account of how the font handles those symbols. Given that the Aurebesh ligatures are almost never properly used, I’m sure they’re at least glad to see the light of day for a change.

Galactic Command Update

I wrote this entry while listening to Bioware’s latest Producer Livestream during which they discussed upcoming changes to the Galactic Command system. There are details to come, but since this week’s post is short, I might as well toss in my two credits. I’m most curious to know how many Command Tokens and Unassembled Components will be needed to buy gear. Assuming that number isn’t ridiculous, I think these are very positive changes, targeting the people, raiders and PVPers, who need certainty in gearing the most, while preserving the benefits of the system for everyone else.  If you do run operations or compete in pvp, gearing alts and off-specs should also be easier. We’ll still be able to throw tokens at fresh 70’s, but I imagine they will still need to get a few Command Levels before they can cash them in. Given how quickly the first few levels come, I don’t think this is too much to ask. I also like the changes to how tokens will be dropping since it may at last encourage folks to raid places other than Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace.

All that said, while I think these changes to gearing are good, I’m still eagerly waiting for some place new to use that gear.

That’s all for now. Have a Rogue One-derful weekend, everyone!

 

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Filed under Aurebesh to English, KotET, KotFE

First Impressions: Knights of the Eternal Throne

With a week or so of the new expansion under my belt, I’d like to share some first impressions of Knights of the Eternal Throne. To folks who haven’t finished or started yet, fear not, I promise to avoid spoilers.

The Story

Following up on the events of Knights of the Fallen Empire, the nine-chapter conclusion is a terrific ride. Once again, Bioware has crafted a story where you get to be the center of a massive Star Wars adventure. The scope is epic, and the stakes couldn’t be higher, but the drama stays focused on the characters. I’m not embarrassed to admit I got choked up a couple times and sat at the edge of my seat during the climax. While not everything is explained and a few plot threads dangle, the major characters and story beats come to an extremely satisfying conclusion. If you enjoyed the previous chapters, it’s worth hopping on to see how it all ends.

New Abilities

Most of the classes have received some tweaking and several abilities have been revised or replaced with others. Operatives’ new ability to throw ninja throwing stars already feels like something they should’ve been able to do from day one. However, I already miss some of the other old animations. Flame thrower is such an iconic Bounty Hunter ability that not only was Boba Fett shown shooting fire on both his first action figure card and poster but it is also the icon for SWTOR’s Bounty Hunter class. The Jedi Knight’s and Sith Warrior signature channeled attacks have also been replaced with instant abilities. Mechanically, the Jedi’s Blade Dance and the Sith’s Ravage were the same thing, but the animations boldly set the classes apart: the Jedi’s attack was acrobatic and precise and the Sith’s was an overwhelming display of power. The new animations are nice, but they just don’t compare. I understand that these changes were made in the interest of giving melee classes more mobility, but from an aesthetics point of view, I can’t help but feel like something has been lost.

And while Mercenary Bounty Hunters can still use Death from Above, my Powertech has had it replaced with a move a friend has dubbed “Backpack of Doom.” In this case, the change strikes me as a solution to a problem I’m not really sure exists. I’ve always described Death from Above as my all time favorite MMORPG button to press, and I’m disappointed that the Bounty Hunter I play can no longer blast into the air and rain down missiles on her foes.

Galactic Command

Upon reaching level 70, characters will unlock the Galactic Command interface, which provides a wide array of activities in which to participate and the framework from which gear upgrades are now earned. The loot boxes with random rewards have been the cause of much uproar, but I can’t say it’s bothered me too much. After a week and a half, between crafting and drops from the boxes, I feel like my character is appropriately geared considering how early into the expansion it is.

The transition to Galactic Command has been a shock to be sure, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the gearing system we had during KotFE was outright terrible. That we could farm content that ran the entire gamut from trivial to easy for 220 gear every week, and best-in-slot gear two out of every eight weeks was horrible design. It had the net result of rending every other bit of content irrelevant. Crafting and flashpoints and storymode ops (some of which are harder than HM Eternity Vault and Karagga’s Palace) yielded worse gear, so why bother? As for other Hard Mode Operations, there was no incentive to attempt tougher content. Why spend hours banging your head against Hard Mode bosses for gear you can get for free elsewhere? I’m not blaming the players for taking advantage; heck, I got my 224 mainhand from Soa just like you did, but I won’t fault Bioware for wanting to move away from that system.

Is Galactic Command the solution? I don’t know, but I’d argue it is a step in the right direction. Players can participate in whatever content they like, and still work towards rewards whether their thing is farming heroics or wiping on HM Revan. Yes, there are flaws in the system. It’s not friendly to off-specs and alts; for now crafting is going to have to cover those gaps. And you have to feel bad for folks on cold streaks. A friend has opened twice as many crates as me, but is still waiting on her first set piece. That’s just not fun. In addition I truly believe teams running Hard Mode content beyond EV and KP should have more control over how their group gears up since they are actually doing stuff where that loot matters. However, these are not insoluble problems that require scrapping the entire Galactic Command system.

The last thing about Galactic Command upon which I want to comment is in regard to the Galactic Command XP boosts. It’s not my place to tell people how to spend their money or cartel coins, but I will not be buying any. Having to pay extra on top of my subscription to maximize GC advancement is something I simply refuse to do. These boosts are something more than cosmetics or conveniences, and I think everyone knows that.

Uprisings and Veteran Chapters

I’ve only just dipped my toes into SWTOR’s latest group content, Uprisings, but so far they are a blast. These are flashpoints without the fluff. They are intense and fun with hilariously over the top power-ups and genuinely neat boss fights. So far the best part for me has been how great it is again to be discovering challenges where I have no idea what the junk is going on. Learning fights, getting lost and screwing up with friends is a great way to pass the time in an MMO.

I’ve also tried a few story chapters in Veteran mode and was pleasantly surprised how challenging they are. I expected that they’d be nothing more than non-face roll mode but quickly learned that I couldn’t spam AOE on every pack and expect to survive. I had to use my cool downs and play smart to finish many fights. I’m truly looking forward to learning these a bit more.

Now What?

As I write this, it is a weird time for SWTOR. For the first time, I’m not really sure what to expect of the game next year. Beyond more Uprisings, Bioware has been frustratingly coy about their plans. With previous expansions, I felt like I knew what to expect in the months ahead. I don’t have the impression that more story is coming anytime soon, and “operations” remains “the word that must not be spoken.” Uprisings are great, and I expect I’ll get some mileage out of replaying chapters on increased difficulties, but I’ve got to wonder how long that stuff will hold my interest. It really is long past time that Bioware let the players in on their roadmap for the game in the coming year. The ball is in your court, Bioware. No pressure.

 

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