Archive for the ‘gameplay’ Tag

Same-Gender Romance in TOR   4 comments

Disclaimer: These are only my opinions, pretty much me thinking aloud on the subject at great length. Please do not construe anything I say here as hints from Bioware, because I have no idea what their game plan is, nor did I ask.

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Recently, Bioware did a developer spotlight on one of their SWTOR writers, and as is standard, they opened up a thread in the forums for players to ask the dev questions.  The overwhelming response was ‘when are we getting Same Gender Romance?’  The questions ranged in tone from polite requests to outright threats and demands.

The notion of SGRs is one in which Bioware has had a leading role in opening up in their video games, pleasing many LGBTQ advocates, and seriously pissing off the folks who oppose seeing ‘that sort of thing’ in ‘their’ games.  The fans (and the haters) of SGRs are a very vocal group of gamers, with both sides very passionate (pun entirely intended) about their beliefs and that SGRs should (or should not) be in TOR.  Given today’s political climate regarding gender and sexuality issues, this is, at best, a highly sensitive topic, not one anyone should be charging about carelessly or making thumping sweeping statements that their way and only their way is the way to go.

That being said, I’ll tell you straight up right now: I am an ally and have utterly no problem with there being SGRs in my video games.  Even if it’s not content I personally would play as my first choice, I have no objection to seeing it and won’t freak out if the default (or even only!) option in a game I play is LGBTQ.  I’m a fan of equality in as much as it’s possible to create it, so the folks who go all bananas that a game has Takei content are not my target audience here.

If this is not something you can accept, then I politely suggest you stop reading, because this post is likely to make you very unhappy.  Comments are moderated and I will delete any hateful ones.  The rest of you with open minds, come with me on a journey.

Disclosure: My personal beliefs are that SGRs should be available, and players should be able to choose which romantic content (if any) they will see.  Ideally in my world, someone could go into the interface and choose which option they want (none/OGR/SGR/all of the above), with the default being ‘none’. This way, everyone is on an equal footing based on their preference.  Again, it’s not content that I personally have an interest in playing, so I don’t have a horse in this particular race.  I’m not threatened by SGRs, and given any romantic content in-game is currently optional, I’m not forced to play through OGRs if I don’t want to either (although I do let the defaults run as long as it won’t turn my Jedi dark side – although I will be playing a DS Jedi at some point just to see how the content differs).  While I would be uncomfortable playing an SGR myself due to personal preference, how uncomfortable must it be for someone who’s LGBTQ to be continually  bombarded with games whose only romantic options are ones many of them are uncomfortable playing?

Much of the tone of those asking for SGRs in TOR was centered around frustration that there is no such content after previous statements from Bioware staff that it was coming down the pike at some unspecified point in the future.  The last time I remember someone from Bioware saying something publicly on the matter ages ago, it was stated that SGRs are going to happen, but they’re very low priority versus other content that needed to be done first, the implication being generic content geared toward every player of certain levels, not just a subset of players within the various levels.

On some level, I understand the frustration. In my experience, the folks who like to play SGRs tend to fall into one of two groups: LGBTQ people who want to play their preference and often feel like outcasts and undesirable because the content isn’t there (much less on an equal footing with OGRs), and non-LGBTQ folks who simply like playing LGBTQ content and possibly don’t feel they’ve completely played a game until they see what happens if they play their character(s) through SGRs too.

To the ‘outcast’ thing… I feel the same way whenever I see a game that doesn’t really talk to me specifically. It’s the rare game that I can immerse in and truly pretend I’m the one having the adventure. I spoke about it in a previous blog about how TOR didn’t have any fat chick avatars or NPCs. Same basic core concept here, yes?  So, I’m used to simply setting myself aside and deal with it more as an actor would, to play another character.  I don’t see it as a deliberate choice to offend me by excluding content I would enjoy more, and I think some of the folks yearning for SGRs have forgotten this, considering some of the hostility I’ve seen on the forums whenever there’s silence or the answer (paraphrased) ‘we’re gonna get to it, but not right now’.  I pretty much just assume that any game’s devs (not just TOR’s) simply aren’t thinking about me specifically when they’re making a game.  I can think that much of that default attitude is simply due to background, many games are mostly made around the presumed preferences of a white, heterosexual male gamer ranging in age from 12 to 40ish.  It’s a statistical reality that the majority (however slim) of game devs are themselves in that demographic.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t devs who aren’t white, het, or male, it’s just that their viewpoints aren’t often the default for the dev process.  There’s going to have to be some thinking outside the box necessary for the default demographic sort of dev.

Now, let’s be fair about it, I’m sure there are some game devs out there working for a number of companies who might feel uncomfortable creating SGR content.  Perhaps it’s their political view, perhaps it’s religious, whatever reason they have.  It can simply be a case of being uncomfortable to outright hating the very existence of such content.  I can respect their difference of viewpoint, as long as they’re not a douche about it (although I have to wonder why anyone would work at Bioware if they’re that firmly against SGR content).  I can even respect their possible unwillingness to write such content because they don’t feel as if they could do it justice.  Hell, I respect that even more, because it shows a sensitivity to doing it right rather than half-ass it like Anne McCaffrey did when she included gay male dragonriders in her Pern series but made it canonically impossible for them to hold any leadership role.

But it’s Bioware, some will say, they’ve done this before with previous games. However, tellingly, there were no obvious/easy-to-locate SGRs in KotOR.  While Bioware didn’t make it, KotOR 2 also had no obvious/up front SGR content.  Other Bioware games, it was their own IP or they had more control of it.  But this is Star Wars, it’s not just a Bioware property, and it’s one of the two biggest and most beloved fandoms in the US right now.  Bioware’s already taken the brunt of multiple campaigns against it from anti-LGBTQ advocates, including at least one well-documented one specifically about TOR because HOLY SHIT, THERE WILL BE GAYS GETTING IT ON IN STAR WARS!  Yes, an IP that has been shockingly family-friendly (y’know, aside from that whole incest thing with Luke and Leia, and the Ewoks wanting to cook Han Solo, and oh the massive number of on-screen murders) might allow a segment of the population that is often ignored or derided or worse get to have some content that they feel more comfortable about.  Heaven forbid.  Yes, as you can see, I don’t personally consider LGBTQ content to be ‘adult’ or ‘mature’.  I don’t believe the ESRB should change a game’s rating (would they?) if it now included SGR content.  However, that is another mine in the minefield of political, religious, and societal injunctions against that sort of content.  It also makes Bioware’s job in presenting such content that much more difficult.  I can easily see why they’d want to take their time, even simply in terms of how the hell do they announce that it’s available to minimize the public outcry from the vocal minority of rabid anti-gay advocates?  I’m sure they really adore having their employees targeted by these nasty bigots and being lambasted all over the airwaves and ‘tubes because they were trying to show some equality and support to a community that often gets treated poorly by the so-called mainstream.

Still, this is Star Wars, and therefore that means Lucasfilm has a huge huge say in what happens, even if they normally might not exercise their veto (that we’re aware of).  I have no idea what Lucasfilm’s opinion on the topic of SGRs is.  I would hope that they have no objections to them.  However, logic suggests that if LFL had a problem with Takei content in their IP, Bioware would have already announced several years back that SGRs would never appear in TOR, just to shut down the conversation ages ago, be done with it, and focus instead on what they were allowed to do.  The verbiage of previous BW posts would make it highly unlikely that Lucasfilm exercised the banhammer.

It’s far too early to consider how the Disney deal will affect matters, but for the moment, I presume all LFL/BW contracts remain in force as-is, so whatever rules already exist still do. Business as usual.  Regardless, I don’t personally see Disney flipping out that much about it.

So, let’s assume that SGRs will happen. As much I personally would have preferred SGRs to have been simply included with the game at launch, because it requires less work after the fact, there are a few other ideas about the delay and what might be causing it:

1) I would want such content to be good.  I trust Bioware enough to realize that if they don’t do this right, then they’re gonna have a bigger mess on their hands than people being frustrated there is no such content available at all so far.  I honestly would rather never see the content at all than have it be shoddy.  Half-assed content will most likely infuriate the SGR fans more than none at all.  If Bioware couldn’t get the content to their usual standard before launch, better to wait on it.

2) Socio-political grenade: you can marry OGR companions. Just think about this for a moment. If you favor same-sex marriage RL, this isn’t gonna bother you if you follow through with the corollary that SGRs could involve marriage.  But in America right now, the day before the presidential election, one of the major talking points is gay marriage. What Bioware puts in the game for SGRs, whether it simply makes them equal to OGRs or whether they shy away from allowing SGR players to marry their preferred companion, is a huge, huge deal.  One choice says ‘screw you, haters, we’re IDIC fans even if that’s a Trek thing’ and makes things equal. The other tells not only SGR fans but also LGBTQ players that they’re not the same, that they’re different, that they’re not allowed to have the same ‘normal’ choices as a het-only player.  I imagine this reason, far more than any other option or logistical problem they’d have to overcome, is why Bioware has been almost infamously mum on the subject beyond a few vague official comments about SGRs and how and/or when they’ll be implemented. Timing is everything.  Aside from the logistics of actually making the content, this IMHO is probably the most critical factor of all.  I wouldn’t blame Bioware at all if they chose to hold off until after Silly Season so they’ll know what sort of political landscape they’ll have to deal with after the election.  Sure, it’s ‘just’ a video game, but in today’s highly-charged political season, Bioware has to do a bit of CYA.  That’s fair dinkum.

3) Considering the current amount of content in the game, adding SGRs isn’t just like flipping a switch and all of a sudden, the [Flirt] options are on different companions.

Let’s break down # 3 a lot more, get into the actual mechanics of how such a change would need to be implemented.

As I mentioned toward the top of the post, I would favor a toggle in the Preferences where the player can pick which romance path they want their character(s) to follow: none, het (i.e. current content), SGR, or ‘Captain Jack Harkness’. 😉  I believe it’s also important that such a toggle should not default to het.  It should default to ‘none’ and simply let the player choose.  But even the creation of such a toggle and what would need to happen after that toggle is flipped, that’s like a snowball being rolled down a mountainside.  It leads to a whole lot of ‘under the hood’ stuff that we as players don’t see, but probably would give the programmers triple excedrin headaches for months.  Look how long it was after launch before we got a UI we could monkey about with. Even a simple UI change wouldn’t be that crazy, but it will still take time to make it happen, if BW chooses to go that route.

Having three sets of romantic options (four if you count ‘none’) in essence ensures that the game pretty much has to have three (four) sets of stories to write and be internally consistent and otherwise be playable.  It requires rewiring the UI on the 3-choice wheel to either turn it into a 6-choice or otherwise major recoding to add or delete the various [Flirt] options based on which toggle(s) are set.  With the current 3-choice wheel, if someone chose the ‘all of the above’ romance option, then you’d have to add a romance option to a great number of conversations, and thus they’d either have to get rid of the 3-choice wheel, or otherwise rework how many romance options show up and how often.  Then someone will no doubt complain that X romance path has more options than Y, such as how people have already observed that the male smuggler gets far more flirt options than the female.  James Vacca’s series of posts called Romancing the Force over on TORWars.com pretty much delve into the game’s current romantic content.

I’m an altaholic, so I’ve played a lot of the various options at low levels just to see where things are different.  The game is incredibly complex with the various choices a player can make every time that little wheel comes up.  Choices in-game matter on some level and will change what content the game presents next to the player.  Just plotting out on paper, let’s say the Smuggler’s quests on Ord Mantell until level 10, it’s like a flow chart from hell.  And that’s just with two or three choices per decision!

Spread that over 8 classes to 50 levels of content, flashpoints, warzones, ops, etc. etc., with each of these choices voiced on some level, both by the PC and the NPC(s) we’re interacting with.  There have to be considerations for how the choices change companion affection, game balance issues, and probably a host of other things I’m unaware of.  I imagine that most of the voice actors won’t mind more work, but seriously, adding in essence a whole separate set of content for SGRs would have increased the amount of money Bioware would have to pay to hire these voice actors (and good voice actors ain’t cheap [nor should they be]), and it would have massively increased the amount of data the game is churning through, thus generating complaints about the size of the client downloads. Also, it’s possible that there may be some voice actors who are uncomfortable voicing SGR content. I would hope none of them would decline to participate, but I would respect their decision if they felt they couldn’t do it.  That throws a monkey wrench into things too.  Would Bioware simply shop around for a soundalike?  Would they just hire someone completely new and have them redo all of that character’s lines?  Would they hire someone new and only have them do new stuff and pray we don’t notice? (Note to casting folks out there: we do notice, unless you manage to hire James Arnold Taylor, just about the only Hollywood VA who isn’t in TOR [yet].)

Now, let’s focus on those companion characters for a moment.  We’ll use my favorite example, Doc.  Right now, he thinks he’s soooo slick. We know he’s been married at least once, so consider the massive amounts of writing changes that would need to happen to make Doc romanceable by a male Jedi Knight.  But he’d still have to be romanceable by a female Jedi Knight.  There’d have to be both light side and dark side options and content and story… how does his past marriage work into that?  How would a future marriage to a male character work into it?  Although, come to think of it, if you add SGR to Doc, you just pretty much turned him into Captain Jack Harkness.  😉

There’s the question of when and how the companions become romanceable. Fairness says it should be available at the same time for SGR as it is for OGR, but how much work is that going to be?  How these companion characters were written to begin with would have to be rewritten from the ground up in order to make them viable SGR candidates from the get-go, so that folks who have been holding off playing, say, a female Smuggler who wants to romance Risha, can do so.  I don’t honestly see Bioware simply shrugging at current content and say ‘SGRs will only apply to future companions’.  I can see that seriously pissing off a lot of the SGR fanbase.  Also, it should be seamless and thus not suddenly an endgame bit of content.  What if some of the companions were specifically written so they weren’t intended to be SGR fodder?  After all, Bioware had its reasons for which characters were set to be romanceable at all. That question can’t be answered that easily, and simply reversing the [Flirt] options is a sloppy way of doing things.

This has long been my problem with slashfic, a character is created a certain way by a writer.  Even with specific clues as to sexuality, many slashfic writers will just randomly turn a character to the opposite sexuality for little to no reason at all.  It doesn’t feel as genuine to me as a character who was always a specific sexuality.  Playing my female Agent opposite Kaliyo, I get the vibe that she’s game for any flavor of romp, the same as playing a female Smuggler opposite Risha. However, I don’t get the same vibe when I play a female Jedi Knight opposite Kira.  It would feel forced to me (no pun intended) to romance Kira and that she’s magically somehow amenable to a lesbian relationship.  Then throw in the grenade for the Jedi that you get Dark Side points for choosing the romance options… and that also sends a dangerous message, even if you now currently have DS points in-game for OGRs with Jedi.  That’s another migraine for Bioware to get to deal with.

At the end of the day, there is no singular magical easy answer to this hotly-contested issue.  When the basic question of ‘do we include this’ is answered by a rampaging horde of haters, it’s often hard to even get to the point where you start brainstorming the reality of a ‘yes’ answer, much less implement it.  For many in the LGBTQ community, no matter how far a company might go to appease them and appeal to their sensibilities, it will not be enough.  It will never be enough until there’s no such thing as ‘gay romance option’, but rather ‘romance’ and letting the player choose for him or herself which path to walk and with which companions.

Personally, I’ll be happy when that day comes, because I would want games to appeal to as many players as possible and not slap them in the face by implying through omission that their way of life, one that in general is harming nobody, is not valid and not equally deserving of attention and respect in a video game.

Thanks for reading. I’ll remind you that I expect comments (if any) to be respectful, even if you have a different opinion.

Posted November 5, 2012 by druidsfire in Uncategorized

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The Disparity of Lowbie Datacrons in TOR   2 comments

This is not the super-long intense blog I’ll hopefully be posting later today about something else in TOR. This is an idle grump about how it’s a billion times easier to get the datacrons on Dromund Kaas than it is on Coruscant.

Let’s break it down:

Dromund Kaas has 5 datacrons, same as Coruscant.

1) Spaceport. The datacron is in a hangar right at the spaceport and you can get it by going up stairs, falling down onto a pipe, walking along the pipe a short distance, and taking a running leap to a crate.

2) Near Spaceport. You go up a path near the spaceport, avoid or kill an elite (not too hard), follow another path, get the datacron.

3) Near the Dark Temple. You go up a path into a heroic area (you’re not near any of the mobs), do a couple of easy jumps, run out (again, not near any mobs).

4) Lord Grathan’s Estate. You go into a quest hub area, kill/sneak your way to the front of Lord Grathan’s estate, hang a right by the wall, walk up a path with no mobs, get the datacron.

5) Malignant Bog. You go into the Malignant Bog heroic area near the estate, run like hell through the heroic mobs, up a path, get the datacron.

On only *ONE* of these are there any mobs that you pretty much have to kill in order to get past, and even that one can be avoided if you want. The Bog datacron is easy to get if you learned the trick to run, let your companion get aggro and die, keep running until you’re out of combat, dismiss/summon companion, keep running.  I’ve never died once getting the Bog datacron.  Didn’t stop to fight anyone either.

Now, on Coruscant, we have:

1) Migrant Merchant Guild Docks.  Have to fight an elite with 3 adds (or hope someone else just killed him). He’s not too hard to beat, although I’ve died a few times due to not nuking the adds quickly enough.

2) Graffiti Square. You get all the fun of playing Mario by jumping up onto a barrel, then a crate, running jump at an angle to another bunch of crates, then swear at collision plates at the top of those crates when you’re trying to get onto the pipes to leap across to the balcony, then more jumping/vertigo attacks, lengthy pipe-walks and jumping onto a sign and then falling down and hoping you don’t aggro a mob at the bottom after you get the datacron and jump (and thus lose a good chunk of your health).

3) Justicar Territory. Kill some mobs near some crates. Climb up on the crates. Jump over to some pipes, swear more at collision plates.  Fall down several times, have to re-kill the mobs if you don’t get it before they respawn. Up across some pipes, more vertigo, and… I dunno, I never managed to get past the first jump onto the pipes.

4) The Works. Kill your way past rogue droids near the starting point, up and around, kill some mobs of chtons. Jump up onto a wide pipe. Run along pipe, jumping several times to other pipes.  If you fall at any point, you have to go all the way back (generally fighting all the mobs again cos they respawn fairly quickly), and try it again. The jumping angles aren’t all that awesome, and even the use of Sprint can’t save you if you land badly on a round pipe.  I just did this on my Sage on Saturday, and it took me over 10 tries to make it over to the part where you just have to walk slowly along a smaller pipe to where the datacron is.

5) Jedi Temple. This one has a Champion Dark Sith posted near it, but you can actually get the datacron without aggroing him.  Not hard.

However, overall, the Imp side has it tons easier to get datacrons on their capital planet than the Reps do.  I’m not really sure it’s fair or balanced, and I would hope that perhaps sometime down the line in the future, Bioware might change a couple of the parameters, either make it harder for the Imps to get a couple of their datacrons, or make it easier for the Reps by altering those freakin’ collision plates and making the paths along the pipes less torturous for the Justicar and Works datacrons.

Posted November 5, 2012 by druidsfire in Uncategorized

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