Friday, January 27, 2012

Shhh! Don't tell! She's a DPS . . .

As my husband and I are questing on our mains together and trying to remain at pretty much the same level as we go, it puts me in something of a quandary if he has to travel.  You see, his laptop doesn't run SWTOR very well at all, so we can't play together when he's on the road.

With this in mind, I created a Smuggler bearing my real life given name, with the intent to play her only when I really couldn't play my Consular.  In spite of the name, my Consular is the one with whom I identify the most and who bears my identity in the game.

The other day, my Smuggler reached level 10, and I was faced with a choice:  what Advanced Class should she pursue?

To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it, as I hadn't really thought I would have sufficient time to play her all the way to level 10.  Now, I am a healer; that's what I do best.  So when finally faced with the decision, I naturally first looked at the Scoundrel healing spec.  But as I read more about the choice, I became more uncomfortable.  I realized a Scoundrel's dps forte is at melee range, with stealth.

I've done that kind of thing before.  Playing a Druid in WoW gave me the chance to try that style out, leveling as a feral cat.  The really wonderful thing about playing a Druid in WoW is it gave me the chance to try out tanking, melee fighting, ranged fighting, and healing, at various points over the years, which is how I figured out I am a lousy tank and a good healer.  So I can say with some experience that, given the choice between melee and ranged fighting, I vastly prefer ranged.

But if I picked the Gunslinger Advanced Class, which really focuses on ranged dps, I would be cutting myself off forever from the option to heal on my Smuggler.

Ugh.  (Or, as the Sea Witch said on Disney's The Little Mermaid, "Life's full of tough choices, idn't it?")

I stared at the talent trees.  I read on the SWTOR forums.  And I kept coming back to the idea that I just didn't want to play the sneaky melee style.  But . . . to not be able to heal . . .

Finally, I had a thought which tipped the balance.  This character would be running solo most of the time.  Why would she really need to be a healer?  She had no plans to raid or even run flashpoints--just to quest her way through adventures and story lines, with perhaps a bit of PVP tossed in on the side.

Besides, dual-wielding blasters is sexy.

So, while it may come as a surprise to people that I did not choose to specialize my Smuggler as a healer, her future is set.

/furtive looks . . . This could be a lot of fun.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Legacy Names

When I finished Chapter one as a Jedi Consular and had the Legacy name creation window popped up, I stared at it with a blank expression.  Unlike most people I knew, including my husband, I had no idea what to do for my Legacy name.

Feeling rather foolish, I somewhat timidly typed in guild chat, "If I do not pick a Legacy name now, can I come back and do it later?"

Nobody was really sure, but it made sense.  After a little research on-line, I discovered that, yes, I could come back and pick it later.  The Legacy name creation window would pop up again, awaiting my input, when I opened my Skills window.  I sighed in relief and closed the window.

You see, <looks furtively both ways>  I had not really been looking forward to having a Legacy name.  It wasn't a point of pride for me.  And, knowing how much I hated Legacy names while healing Huttball, I did not plan to display it as a surname, anyway.

Legacy names are a pain for a healer in warzones. Picture this . . . You're in Huttball, staring at a large cluster of players--some teammates, some opposing--and your team has the ball.  (You can tell by the pillar of yellow or purple light reaching above and below the players.)  "Aha!" you say, "With all those enemies around him, he certainly needs a quick heal!"

There is no way you can target the ball carrier by simply clicking in that mess, and you cannot tell who is carrying the ball by looking at your raid frames (If there is an icon in the raid frames indicating the ball carrier I haven't noticed yet, it is so small you would need a magnifying glass, anyway), so you frantically search for his name, only to be stymied by the plethera of information floating and being jumbled together over his head in a chaotic mess.

Above each character in that group floats a title, a name, and a surname.  The title may be at the beginning of the name or at the end and may be one word or many.  While you can easily distinguish friend from foe, thanks to the differing colors, there is no way to immediately be able to separate out the player name by simply finding a certain position on the green line above his head.

Finally seeing a name appear out of the jumble, you look down at your raid frames for quick targeting.  He's not there.  You look again, search one more time and exclaim in frustration, "There's nobody on my list by that name? What's going on?"  Then you realize you were reading the person's Legacy name . . . (By this time, said person with Legacy name and perhaps a three-word title to boot has died because you couldn't find him on your raid frames to toss him a bubble or heal.)

So, knowing how much these names frustrate me in warzones, and having resolved not to display a Legacy name as a surname, I had not given the matter much thought until I was faced with the choice.

"Even if I never display this," I thought, "a name is still a part of my identity, and it should mean something to me."

I thought about it all the rest of the evening and most of the next day at work, but my mind remained a complete blank on the subject.  My husband had offered a couple of suggestions:  "House of Five Princesses" (Huh? Can you use multiple words?  Too long, anyway.) and my maiden name.

Finally, I threw my hands in the air and took the latter suggestion, as it is a meaningful legacy I carry in real life.  (My ancestors were influential pioneers in their region in American history and passed down a proud heritage to their descendants.)  Besides, it's spelled oddly enough, it looks like it may have actually come from a fantasy world.

My Consular does display the Legacy, but as a title beneath her name, not as a surname.  This way, there will be less confusion for healers in warzones if they try to target me in a crowd.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jedi Mind Tricks

My SWTOR guild website has a "getting to know you" thread with 20 fun questions.  One of them asks, "How often have you tried to force choke or use Jedi mind tricks on someone?"

I answered that I'm a mom, so I do it all the time.  "You do not want to disobey me. You will pick up the shoes you left in the living room." Sometimes I'll even do that little hand wave in front of my face. (Ask my kids.)

Well, yesterday, my 8-yr-old proved she's been paying attention.

It was school Spirit Day at her rural school, which shares a campus with the high school and so shares their Homecoming week celebrations.  The kids had been frantically running around the house, finding their requisite green and white to sport in support of the basketball team.

The 8-yr-old, with her unique sense of fashion, had dressed herself in white tights, white capris, and a white turtleneck, with a green and white dress-up cheerleader costume over it.  As the bus was driving up the hill and preparing to turn around at the cul-de-sac before stopping in front of our house, I reminded her to get her winter coat, which is blue and pink.  I couldn't see it by her backpack.

"Where did you put your blue coat?"  I asked her.

"Mom, my coat is green," she replied.

I understood she would rather be wearing only green and white, but the fact of the matter was her coat was blue.

"No, it isn't. Where is that coat?" I said, a little anxious now that the bus was getting closer.

She turned to face me and with that gesture characteristic of all Jedi, waved her hand in front of her and said, deadpan, "My coat is green."

I stopped in my tracks, stared at her and burst out laughing.  Mommy stress diffused, she turned around and picked her less heavy coat off the hook--a light green coat which had completely slipped my mind.

As she headed out the door with her sisters, I couldn't help shaking my head in amazement, still chuckling.  She surely is a precocious little Jedi.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Prodigy

Yesterday when my husband returned home from work, he heard a call from behind my computer.

"Dad!  I need help with this boss!"

It was our 8-yr-old, who had stayed home from school that day with a nasty cold, along with her teenage sister.  My headphones looked like big Princess Leia buns on the sides of her head, while her eyes peered up through her glasses around the monitor.  Her Jedi Knight was somewhere in level 12.

"Ok, honey, let me get my smuggler."

As he headed out with her, he found to his surprise that the boss she was trying to tackle was an elite target in her class quest . . . a level 16 elite located at the Jedi Temple ruins on Coruscant.

What??  (No wonder she couldn't take it down herself . . .)

He came to discover that this little twerp really had somehow managed to run her class quests all the way to this point, without help from anyone in the family.  (The sick teenager plays Sith.)  What's more, he realized there was no way his smuggler of a similar level was going to be able to help her.

There was only one thing to do, given all the work she had done:  bring his level 16 Jedi Consular Shadow and help her finish her quest.

The sum total of this adventure is that our 8-yr-old's Jedi Knight now has her ship plus her first two companions . . . at level 12.

I don't suppose this should surprise me, given that this kid at age 7 was trouncing opponents in World of Warcraft's Goldshire on her rogue . . .

I'm sure there are those who would say we should have made her wait until she was closer to level 16 instead of helping her with that last boss.  But after all the independent thought and effort she had put in to reach that point in her quest chain, it seemed right to reward her initiative and raw nerve.  (Nobody needs to teach her to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome"!)

Maybe I'll let her display the Legacy name, after all.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"You Want to Turn Yourself In"

Some time back, when my husband and I were leveling our characters at a much lower level, we encountered a quest on Coruscant which I did not want to do.

It wasn't that the quest looked terribly difficult; it didn't.  But I was so tired, I was about to fall over on my keyboard.  All my begging to quit and go sleep had been met with, "But we just need to finish this quest right over here," or, "But if we finish this quest, we won't have to come back to this area," or some such statement.

So when we ran into this quest on our way back "home", I wanted to ignore the poor injured security officer, log off, and go to sleep.  (After all, she would still be standing there, injured, in the morning.)

"Ah, c'mon," my husband insisted.  "We can't just pass by and not help out."  I glared at him between my half-closed eyelids around our back-to-back monitors as he initiated the conversation with the security officer.

It turns out this security officer was supposed to arrest a big wrestler-type-or-something dude who was holed up in the cantina right next to us.  She obviously needed some help.

It was easy to find the guy, as he was the largest person in the room.  In the course of the conversations associated with the quest, the dude told us in no uncertain terms he was not going to allow himself to be arrested.

At that point, there was the opportunity for we, the players, to respond to his statement.  One of my options as a Jedi Consular was to Force Persuade the guy.  (You know, the "old Jedi mind trick".)

I was tired.  I wanted to sleep.  I wanted this quest finished as quickly as possible.  Blinking bleary-eyed at the monitor, I chose Force Persuade.  Amazingly enough, I won the roll.

My husband's jaw dropped as my Consular made a hand gesture and said, "You do not want to fight us.  You want to turn yourself in."  The wrestler agreed and headed out the door.

"I'll have you know," said my husband as we returned to report to the security officer, "you have just severely disappointed Qyzen, Aric, and my character, who all wanted a good fight.  But I guess that's what you get sometimes when you quest with Jedi."

We were asleep in ten minutes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Huttball Healing

I've long maintained that the best way for a healer to become familiar with their keybinds in a healing atmosphere is to go heal in a PVP setting.  Back in WoW, every time I rearranged my interface, I'd head to the battlegrounds and heal anything within healing distance, just so my fingers would learn to associate the spells with whatever keybind I had set.  So it seemed natural to do the same thing while leveling in SWTOR.

Unlike my first battleground experiences in WoW, when I headed to the SWTOR warzones, I did so with much more anticipation than dread.  You see, being repeatedly flattened at certain bottleneck points in Kalimdor had left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to PVP in all forms, so when I first queued for battlegrounds in WoW, I was surprised to discover I enjoyed them. The SWTOR warzones did not disappoint me.

Let's face it:  warzones are a major adrenaline high.  (Almost as much as role playing for law enforcement training scenarios . . .)  Once you learn the basic rules of engagement, it's all improvisation--thinking on your feet.  You need to have a fairly decent grasp of your abilities and strengths and understand how you can use those to your advantage to help your team.  Contrast this with PVE operations, which, while a lot of fun, are usually carefully planned out beforehand, so everyone knows exactly what they will be doing.  (If everyone is doing their job, surprises are kept at a minimum.)

As a healer, you can quickly gain a reputation for yourself in warzones.  But in SWTOR, this is not always a good thing. "Wait," I can hear you say, "If you're a good healer, don't you want to be known as such?" Well, it depends on who knows it and against whom you are playing.

There is great satisfaction and pride to be found in knowing you are the one keeping that Sentinel alive, while two or three of the enemy are doing their best to hammer him into the ground. (Feel the power of the bubble, the Healing Trance and the Force Wave . . . Muahaha . . . oh, wait, a Jedi isn't supposed to have an evil laugh.) And teammates greatly appreciate a good healer on their side and tend to recognize them when the match is over.  It is a rare warzone when I do not end up with at least one vote for MVP which didn't come from my husband.  (The most I have had to date is four votes in a single game, out of the seven possible if everyone voted for me.)

But there is a flip side to having a reputation as a decent warzone healer, which becomes obvious in Huttball.

I expect to be killed by the opposite team when they figure out I am a healer, but unlike the other two warzone scenarios, in Huttball, we frequently find ourselves facing members of our own faction on the opposing team. This means the people whom I worked so hard to keep alive in the previous match may well be on the opposite team . . . and they remember me.  (They may have even voted for me!)

It's rather frustrating to find myself piled upon by those whose lives I saved repeatedly in the previous warzone. I have had some Huttball matches when I have been killed over and over by the same person I remember healing as they carried the ball to a glorious victory just a few minutes previously.  One particular match, I was targeted so much I wondered if it was worth jumping back down into the arena after rezzing, as I was most likely not going to make it more than ten steps in, anyway, before being flattened.

Sometimes after an especially brutal pounding by people I had formerly thought friendly to me, I have pondered what to do about this.  Stop healing in Huttball?  No way!  Healing is what I do, and I refuse to change that just because I happen to do decently well at it.  (That sounds all wrong, doesn't it?)

One day, in an "a-ha!" moment, a partial fix occurred to me:  stop chain-queueing warzones.  After finishing a warzone, I get out of the queue and go work on crew skills or auctioning items or something else for a few minutes.  By the time I requeue, I have a prayer of playing with a different group of people, who may be strangers.

Fortunately for me, regardless of what happens, I do not measure success in warzones by the number of deaths I experience or don't experience.  Death is "merely a setback", and soon I can jump right back in, buffing in the air as I leap from the platform, to find the nearest teammate in need of help and save the day . . . or at least, the minute . . . once more. Success is counted in the small moments when I frustrate the enemy for a short while longer, hoping the Huttball carrier can make it over that glowy line or the gun turret will be held just long enough for reinforcements to arrive.  (The other day, success was achieved in that "Hail Mary" Huttball pass I made to my husband, who was healed by another healer as he crossed the goal line.)

In the end, whether we win or lose, it's still a rush.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lord Vivicar's End

Normally, my husband and I run all our SWTOR quests together.  Not only do we gain social points in the process, but we have the opportunity to see each other's class quests without having to raise a character of that class.

But when the time came for our climactic adventures at the end of Chapter 1, we decided to run those separately.

We knew we could, if we wanted to do so, board each other's ships and help out.  But when we discussed it, we decided it would be more epic if we did these particular quests with only our companions.  (After all, between the two of us and our companions, we routinely succeed at green Heroic 4 quests.  It might take away some of the joy of achievement if we found ourselves rolling over these quests--the culmination of all our class quests to this point.)  We were higher level than many players tend to be when they finish their Chapter 1 adventures, so we figured it would be no big deal, even if our gear was a few steps lower than our levels.  What's more, we did no research beforehand, to experience all the fun of meeting an obstacle without prior knowledge of the challenges.

Accordingly, I set out to defeat Lord Vivicar accompanied only by Qyzen Fess and armed with my lightsaber and the "persists through death" stim I had in my backpack.  My husband sat in a nearby chair to watch the proceedings.

Clearing the hanger upon boarding the ship was not a problem.  Step by step, Qyzen and I worked our way around the room, pulling and defeating groups.  ("You play like a rabbit," my husband said.  "Like you're frightened all the time that something is going to attack you."  Well . . . it might . . .)  Finally, the hanger was cleared, and we were on our way.

Everything went fine until I had to shut off a force field on the way.  It must have set off some kind of alarm, because suddenly, a huge group of mobs ran down the hall, over Qyzen and me, and before I could do much more than try to heal and Force Wave some of them off me, I was dead.

I laughed, shaking my head, then rezzed.  "Ok, seems I've got a gauntlet here," I commented to my husband.  "Not sure how I can handle quite that many mobs at once."

When I returned to look at the situation, however, I found the mobs lined in neat rows, ready for controlled pulling.  "Well," I thought, "Perhaps it was worth dying, if this is what I find afterward."

The first pull went without a hitch, although I was surprised it didn't end up pulling two groups, as they seemed to be very close to each other.  The second pull consisted of one strong droid and a couple more mobs.  I pointed Qyzen toward the strong droid and prepared to hit one of the other mobs.  To my surprise, he walked completely past the row before attacking something which seemed to be in the far distance.  It was the droid.  Although it had been displayed in the second row, it was in reality a couple rows beyond that.  This meant we ended up with three rows' worth of mobs beating the two of us up, which, of course, resulted in another death.

I sighed and made some sort of comment about bugs, then rezzed again.  This time, the droid was showing up in its proper spot, and the rest of the pulls went without a hitch.

Qyzen and I continued our slow progress until the next time a large group of mobs appeared and lined themselves up for neat pulls.  As we rushed out of the room to face them, I found to my horror that Qyzen ran down the hall and around the corner.  "Qyzen!  What are you doing?!"  Sure enough, he ended up pulling everything in the entire zone . . . . which ended up being Death #3.  (I had never been so happy for a preponderance of medical droids.)

I was about to beat my head against my keyboard.  With this many deaths, I would have considered myself something of a failed Sage, except for the fact I recognized much of my trouble was due to bugs of one sort or another, about which I could do little or nothing.  My husband had abandoned me, deciding to go start clearing his own trash, commenting as he went that he'd most likely take much less time than I was on my quest.  (Thanks, Hon . . .)

Qyzen and I rezzed, cleared the remaining trash, and managed to make it to Lord Vivicar's presence without further trouble.  And after the opening conversation with said Lord, we were one-shotted in very short order.

Great.  After all the wiping due to bugs, I was wiping to my main challenge, which as far as I could tell, was working as intended.  I was tired and annoyed, and I wondered if I should just walk away and come back later.  How could I hope to fight something which could one-shot me with an ability about which I knew nothing?

By this point, my husband was watching again, and we realized Vivicar's success had been due entirely to a single attack which had a cast time.  Even if it was an attack which could be dodged, there was no way I could get Qyzen to dodge anything.  Perhaps it could be interrupted.

Yet again, Qyzen and I rezzed and stared at Lord Vivicar.  (Thank goodness my stim was one which lasted two hours and persisted through death . . .)  With a sigh, I sent Qyzen in to start tanking and my husband kept an eye on Lord Vivicar's casting bar.

Yes!!  It was called Force Crush, and it could be interrupted.  At last, there was hope!

Eventually, there came a moment when I lost Qyzen.  Desperately, I kept myself alive while keeping DoTs and some other damage on Vivicar.  It was a very slow process, but if I could keep it up, never missing an interrupt, I knew I would succeed.  The question, as I stared at my Force bar with some concern, was whether or not I could keep it up . . .

As I watched the relative lengths of my and Vivicar's health bars, while also watching out for that Force Crush with the power to one-shot me, it became more iffy.  Finally, my husband pointed to a med pack on my right bar and said, "Hit this."  I did.

To our great amazement, out of nowhere Qyzen showed up with a small amount of health, ready to tank.  I stared at him, wondering what on earth happened, as I let him take the aggro and worked to keep him alive.  Together we defeated Lord Vivicar and proceeded on the course of redemption for Parkanas Tark.

In the calm after the battle, I took a look again at that med pack.  It was not an ordinary med pack; it was a med unit, which would restore health to both the player and the companion.  Somehow, although Qyzen had been defeated, using this med unit had brought him back to life.  (I'm not sure it was supposed to do that, but you know what they say about gift horses.)

All in all, this questing adventure was definitely a memorable experience, made even more so by the bugs encountered along the way.  While I wholeheartedly support tests of skill, especially at pivotal moments along the class story chain, and while I enjoyed the actual encounter with Lord Vivicar, I hope the developers take a minute or three to correct a few of the unintended challenges of this quest.

(Oh, and by the way, my husband's Trooper ran his class story quest with nary a problem.  Made me want to scowl in his general direction . . .)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Choose the Light

When my husband and I decided to dabble in Star Wars: The Old Republic (hereafter referred to as SWTOR), our daughters naturally wanted to check out the game, as well.  There was no question as to which faction we would play:  Rebublic.

It was a surprise when some of our five daughters wanted to make Empire characters.

"But Dad," the 10-yr-old said.  "I want to make a Bounty Hunter, because I really like their rocket packs."

How could we argue with rocket packs?

We were, however, a little concerned at the environment on the Empire side and the possible choices and attitudes which might carry over into their interactions with their sisters. Face it, what you fill your mind with affects the way you act. If you find yourself in a position where someone is saying, "I won't let you hurt these innocent people," and you're saying, "Die, scum!" while killing said protector of innocent people, it's not necessarily the best influence for kids.

So we came to a compromise: they could make Empire characters, but their choices had to be Light-side choices.  We even made a little song parody from a church hymn so they could remember . . .

Choose the Light, choose the Light
Use wisdom as you're planning out your course
So go do right and choose the Light
And you'll be always aided by the Force.

This restriction chafes a bit on our 17-yr-old, who says it's a little odd for a Sith Warrior to be choosing the Light side, but she follows it.  (While firmly maintaining that the Jedi Order is misguided and deceitful . . .)  After all, she knows we can pull the plug on her game-playing if she doesn't . . . And when it comes down to it, she's not as heartless a kid as she likes to pretend.

My main character (Who am I kidding?  My only character of any importance) is a Jedi Consular named Anachan.  She is very loyal and tries her best to portray the ideals she thinks are embodied in the Jedi Code.  She was flattered by the attentions of her companion, Theran, but she would not dream of turning her back on the Code enough to have a romantic relationship with him.  (Besides, Holiday is like a sister to her, and she could never do that to Holiday.)  Qyzen is her bud; they've been through everything together, including taking down Lord Vivicar on an incredibly bugged ship.  Amazingly enough, there were three medical droids situated in convenient corners, or they would never have made it through that adventure.

On a usual evening, you can find her questing or running through warzones with her Trooper friend, Quinndarius, naturally played by my husband.  The two of them and their companions have been found running green 4+ Heroics on a semi-regular basis, in addition to their usual questing.  Sometimes it takes a toll, but they love the challenge.  (Nothing quite like taking on eight elites in rapid succession . . . gauntlet style . . .)

This blog is about the adventures of Anachan, Quinndarius, and the five little princesses who each eagerly await their turn to "Choose the Light."