Category Archives: gaming thoughts

The Cult of Dakka

There’s always a tension between gaming and blogging: if I’m blogging, then I’m not gaming, and in a world with a finite amount of time, why would I forego playing a video game in favor of writing about playing a video game?

This is my obtuse way of apologizing for my long blogging absence.

Suffice to say, I’ve been really busy in STO. For starters, I got my Romulan to level cap in the second or third week after Legacy of Romulus was released. For those of you familiar with my MMO-gaming habits, this is a big deal. I’m usually unable to commit to a game for an extended period of time, so I surprised myself by so consistent logging in and leveling up. It didn’t hurt that the EXP rewarded from storyline missions is absolutely absurd; I was gaining at least a level per mission. This, combined with my +5% experience boost for being a veteran, made leveling very easy.

But I’ve been done with the Romulan story arc for several weeks now, and I’m still consistently playing. This is another first for me; I’ve not hardcore committed to STO’s end game, but I’m still logging in every day or every other day, earning dilithium and slowly gaining Romulan and Nukara marks. It’s actually a pretty fun experience, slowly working toward some long term goals.

This, finally, gets me to my post’s title: I love my Mogai Heavy Warbird.

For the vast majority of my STO playing experience, I’ve been a fan of beam arrays. In my mind, beam weapons are the quintessential Star Trek weapon. In the same way that Gene Roddenberry said that the Federation wouldn’t have cloaks because good guys didn’t “sneak around”, I’ve always associated beam weapons with the (good) Federation and cannons with the (bad) Klingons. On top of that, I’ve always seen cruisers as the “true” spirit of Star Trek (more random childhood assumptions on my part!), and cruisers and beams were made for each other.

I’ve always known that there was a world of escorts and cannons out there, but I didn’t want to try them. That is, until I read about GeeCee’s continued love of cannons and escorts. So, slightly intrigued, I thought I’d try out cannons on my Mogai.

I… I don’t think I can go back. Decloaking, obliterating my enemies, and recloaking — truly, what is best in life?

Tovan Khev

I’ve got lots of happy, nice thoughts about the the Legacy of Romulus expansion pack. In my experience, however, if I plan on making a lengthy post enumerating many different points, I either never do it, quickly burn out on blogging, or both. So in the hopes of keeping my blogging leaner, meaner, and longer lived, today I’m just posting about one aspect of the new release that I like: Tovan Khev.

One of the major features of the new Romulan story line is that it’s a story populated by actual characters: during your missions you meet and recruit named bridge officers as the plot progresses, not to mention the fact that you meet a series of heroes and villains that you have routine interactions with. A cynic might say that Cryptic is taking a page from The Old Republic‘s “story driven” plot and its personable companions. However, it’s worth pointing out that Star Trek has always been about the character interactions of the bridge crew and away team.

To be fair, the vast majority of your interactions are one-off — you meet a potential bridge officer on a mission, they have a few lines of voiced dialogue, you recruit them, and then they never speak again. The one major exception is Tovan Khev.


Tovan Khev is the first bridge officer you recruit. In fact, he’s the first person you meet in the game. He can’t be dismissed, and the majority of his lines are voiced. Torvan’s dialogue and story adds a personal dimension to the overarching plot arc. He is, for all practical purposes, the main vehicle through which the plot gains resonance.

He’s also, if the official forums are anything to go by, a divisive figure. Some people don’t like having a bridge officer forced on them. For a while, he couldn’t be customized, which added insult to injury. Others point out that everyone running around with the same bridge officer breaks the illusion of MMO individuality.

Maybe running around with companions in TOR has inured me to having the same companions as everyone else, but it’s even less a problem here than in TOR, as you almost never see other peoples’ bridge officers in this game.

For my part, I like Torvan. He’s well voiced and relatable. He also says what I, the player, am thinking a lot of the time, so he’s also a nice voice of reason to have around. Here’s to him, and to me not having to write the backstory of another bridge officer.

Blogging Update

I’ve been back blogging for a few weeks now, so I thought it was worth doing a short “assessment” post of how things have gone.

Statistics
Counting this post, I’ve had nine posts in the past two and a half weeks; before that, my most recent post was 14 months ago. Given that there are only twenty one posts on this blog, that’s quite a prodigious output. It also means that I’ve been posting roughly every other day, which is pretty speedy!

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that my uptick in posting has also seen a sharp uptick in visitors. However, this is a “sharp uptick” over a very, very small amount, so the actual numbers are quite modest and not worth mentioning.

Friends
I’ve slowly been reaching out to all of my old blogging friends, and a few new ones. It seems that much of “the old crew” is still around, but either with very limited posting, or they’ve gone on to other games. At least it looks like Blue Kae and Harbinger Zero will be in STO! In that vein, I was able to renew my membership in the Federation News Service fleet — once I get promoted above the rank of intern, I can start contributing to fleet projects!

Future
My brother is looking to get back into STO, so we’ve talked about each purchasing the Steam starter pack and flying around in Steamrunner-class vessels, one of his favorite ships. There are also ROMULANS on the very near horizon.

Also, I saw Star Trek Into Darkness and thought it was great.

Legacy of Romulus, i.e. Talking Myself Down From Buyer’s Remorse

This deal is getting better all the time.
– Not Lando Calrissian

In a fit of madness, I purchased LoR’s Legacy Pack. I… don’t completely know why I did. I convinced myself that I was going to get the Remans (so 600 Zen, or $6), and the Starter Pack ($20). And then there was some sort of mental gymnastics in which I said, “well, I’m already going to spend $26, and $99 isn’t that much more!”

This is why my wife runs the budget of the household.

Regardless, I’ve really not been feeling much buyer’s remorse, mostly because I’ve deluded myself into thinking that I’m going to maximize every drop of play out of these half dozen plus ships. (“And a Special Reman Duty Officer Mini-Pack! Oh man!”)

Anyways, today STO’s devblog announced two separate updates concerning the Romulan ship line, both of which make the Legacy pack a better deal. First, the Legacy pack now comes with the Haakona Advanced Warbird, as well as the TOS Romulan uniform costume pack. I hadn’t originally been sold on the Haakona, both intellectually or actually (ha, see what I did there?) — but the new pictures, plus the “vector mode”, make it much more interesting. While a ship that is actually shaped like a warbird is a little silly…

… it’s also completely awesome, shut up. And while I think the TOS uniforms are terribly gaudy, at least I now own them.

Secondly, the consoles that come with the Refit and Retrofit versions of the same ship can be combined for a passive set bonus. This makes my purchase of all Romulan C-Store ships a more comprehensive purchase, too. Especially that turn rate bonus for the D’deridex…

[Flirt]: Gender and The Old Republic

I knew, long before The Old Republic was actually released, that my first character would be a female Smuggler. The Smuggler part was obvious; the rough-and-tumble, roguish classes have always appealed to me. And compared to the pseudo-magical background of the Jedi, all I needed was a trusty blaster and a handsomely-aged ship.

The "female" modifier, though – well, I’ll be the first to admit that was a gendered choice, insofar as gender had everything to do with it. In my mind, pretty much the only thing sexier than Han Solo is a female Han Solo. I won’t argue that a female character who can outdrink, outshoot, and outfly everyone else in the cantina is inherently strong – the whole “ideal” of the "strong female character" is really problematic – but I will admit that "independent and sassy female" is a trope that appeals to me. In short: this is my escapist fantasy, worrying sexist overtones be damned.

And The Old Republic delivered. My Single Female Smuggler stumbled from galactic cantina to galactic cantina, doing exactly what I wanted her to do – killing a bounty hunter here, saving a Wookie there. And, of course, there was the flirting, because what smuggling experience would be complete without an undertone of charming, flirtatious sexuality? Granted, I’d only been able to flirt with a handful people out of the hundreds I had encountered – my designated romance option, the snake that stole my ship, a card shark, a pansy aristocrat – but that hardly mattered. "My smuggler has standards," I told myself. "I probably wouldn’t have flirted anyway."

Eventually, I decided to make a male smuggler. This had nothing to do with my Single Female Smuggler, but everything to do with a female character: I’d bumped into a fun female companion that, thanks to Bioware’s choice to exclude homosexual options, I couldn’t romance. So Mr. Muttonchops was born. And it was the same roguish experience I had come to expect, with the same down-on-your-luck plot and the same cast of colorful characters. That is, with one important exception: I could flirt with everything.

Everything might be an overstatement; the NPC still had to have breasts to be eligible for a [Flirt] conversation option. But cops, Senators, planetary governors — I could flash a wink and make a sexually suggestive comment to each and every one of them. I hadn’t realized what I was missing with my female smuggler. "This," I said to myself, "this is what it means to be a smuggler in The Old Republic."

Being able to flirt my way across the galaxy seemed natural for a male smuggler, and for a precious, fleeting moment I appreciated that Bioware had coded a whole host of Smuggler-centric flirt options. It took me a while to realize the truth: every male player character, from the most upstanding Jedi to the most roguish smuggler, had the same flirt options.

Being able to flirt wasn’t what it meant to be a smuggler in The Old Republic; that’s what it meant to be male.

I’m not certain why Bioware chose to not include more flirt options for females, but the disparity is extremely stark. In her first twenty five levels, my female trooper had the opportunity to flirt with precisely two characters. On the other hand, my male smuggler – and, by extension, every male player character – has the option to flirt with at least that many female NPCs per planet.

This creates a strange and terrible storytelling imbalance that can only be described as sexist: female characters are explicitly disallowed from deploying their sexuality in the same way that their male counterparts can. Male characters can do what they want, when they want, with the women they want; women stay chaste and unflirtatious, automatically precluded by the game itself from any sort of lewd behavior with strangers.

And in those fleeting moments when a female character is allowed to flirt, it’s always with the exact same type of character: the sort of roguish, disarming character that would probably make a pass at them first – say, the trooper’s Nar Shaddaa contact Jonas Balkar, or the smuggler’s Coruscant acquaintance Darmas Pollaran. In effect, only obviously receptive males are "safe" to flirt with, ensuring that any female-instigated flirting is still at the discretion (and thereby tacitly allowed by, and controlled by) the male NPC.

I am not making the argument that Bioware has some sort of covert misogynistic agenda. But somewhere in the years leading up to The Old Republic‘s release, someone made a conscious choice to create male flirt options and to not create corresponding female flirt options. Or worse, maybe there wasn’t a conscious choice. Maybe this is just part-and-parcel of the same sort of reasoning that gave every female character in the game a D-cup, or that thought a sexualized female hologram made a great Collector’s Edition item: a game designed by men, for men, reflecting male wants and desires.

Yippee-ki-yay

As Harbringer Zero notes, spoilers for the Trooper’s Ord Mantell story.

In your mind, I want you to conjure up the plot of Die Hard 2.

Now imagine that, for whatever reason, John McClane isn’t at the airport to save the day; for the purposes of this thought experiment, his car isn’t towed away, but rather stolen by hooligans, and he has to go get it back.1 Without our perpetually-luckless cop, Colonel Stuart and his rogue special ops unit pull off their dastardly scheme, rescue General Esperanza, and then — we’re imagining here — go on to cause havoc and mayhem by joining a resurgent Soviet Union.

But now — remember that luckless new guy in the Special Force’s unit, the one that didn’t realize Major Grant’s team was also going rogue? (His name is Corporal Telford, by the way.) Imagine that Cpl. Telford doesn’t get his throat slit ingloriously, but rather escapes. And imagine that, as the sole remaining loyalist in an otherwise completely defunct spec ops unit, Telford is charged with bringing each and every traitor to justice. And then, imagine that Die Hard 3 isn’t the trash that was, but is instead the story of our new hero Telford traveling the world, from Timbuktu to Phnom Penh to St. Petersburg, hunting down these fugitives using whatever badass means that he wants to.

That is the story of The Old Republic‘s trooper.

And it only gets better! Apparently, my trooper is a Paragon fem!Shepard turned Orion Slave girl turned Republic loyalist. She and her sexy, brooding catman go around cosplaying as stormtroopers and shooting Republic traitors with gattling guns.

Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker, indeed.


1 This would make John McClane SW:TOR‘s smuggler, and… I’m really okay with that.

The Future

When I renamed my blog, I was motivated by a desire to do more than narrowly write on Star Trek Online. I’ve wanted to write about The Old Republic, sure, but I also wanted to slowly gather up the steam to write on science fiction and fantasy more generally.

Up until this point, that intention was signaled only tacitly, through my choice of a non-MMO name for my blog. Now, however, I think I’ve hit on a blogging series I’d like to do, that’s a perfect fusion of nerdy and thoughtful and serialized:

I’d like to read, story-arc by story-arc, a Star Wars comic, and then post thoughts and reviews as a finish. So starting next week, I’m going to start talking about Knights of the Old Republic.