Friday, 11 May 2012

Gauntlet = Thrown

So my blog has stayed quiet the past couple days, and for a specific reason. I wanted to share what's been happening with me and explain why I won't be able to continue updating this blog.

Last week, I applied for a position as an editorial contributor with Darth Hater.

I am happy to report that I am now a staff writer for them, and have been working the past couple days on some writing for them. Since writing in the gaming industry is what I ultimately want to do, this is an exciting step forward for me, and I can't wait to see where this opportunity takes me.

The downside is that while working at Darth Hater I am not able to maintain a competing website. As a result, I will not be updating Thrown Gauntlet for the duration of my position with Darth Hater.

I will continue to be active in the SW:TOR community, though. I'll continue to weigh in on the posts, guides and videos of others, and help out where I can. If you want to see more of my writing, you'll just have to see it on Darth Hater. I will still be very active on Twitter and in the comment fields of your blogs.

I want to thank everyone who ever commented on this blog or featured it, started a discussion on Twitter with me, RTd one of my posts, or helped to improve the SW:TOR blogging community. You guys and gals are a big  part of the reason that the community of this game we love will remain populated and healthy for a long time to come.

Peace is a lie, there is only Tanking.

~Burek


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Augment slot creation confirmed for Patch 1.3

"I should probably get Vette an ergonomic chair or something..."

The first episode of the Official SWTOR Podcast has been released, and in it we have a fairly important confirmation! Besides the group finder and expansion of the legacy system (which we knew already), we have confirmation that you will be able to add an augment slot to any piece of custom armor in Patch 1.3.


This is exciting news for people like myself that have whole cargo bay pages devoted to old orange gear! What we know for sure is that you will need to use a modification table in order to add the augment slot to the piece of gear. I would be very surprised if there was not also a substantial cost in credits or maybe some materials required, or else this will really hurt armormech/synthweaver business.

In addition, since the armor levels of social gear will be scaling with the wearer's armor proficiency, the options you have for customizing your look are even more varied. If you haven't already checked it out, you should take a look at my Darth Revan Appearance Guide so that you can look like the legend himself when the patch drops!

Another thing to consider is that the cost of augments will likely go up substantially in price as soon as Patch 1.3 lands. If you can get them cheaply, you may want to stock up now. I recommend keeping a close eye on this and speaking to any guild crafters about what they normally pay for augments or materials.

With this news, I'll likely post some of what I consider to be the more attractive appearance options for Sith Warriors in a future post, so you can get stocked up in advance and be ready for when the patch drops.

My feelings on "The lost 400,000"


Since EA's Q4 2012 Earnings Conference Call earlier today, the SW:TOR community has basically been in a state of constant discussion. Battle lines were drawn on Twitter, with those already leaving the game pointing to this as a sign of the game's imminent demise while some on the other side basically said "We won't miss you and don't care how many people leave with you".

I'd like to point out a few things about SW:TOR's current situation that I think are worth considering in this discussion:

A matter of numbers


The problem with the numbers we're given here though is that as far as we know, the 1.3 million active subscribers includes those who are on a free month because of the April promotion. How many of those are planning on re-subscribing is not something anyone can know at this point in time, but it will be interesting to see come the end of May.

Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that the numbers we've been given are not very useful for judging the health of the game. Having got that all out of the way, with the information we've been given...

Not the end of the world

The game still has 1.3 million subscribers. Just think about that number for a moment. Yes, it is less than "that other game". It is also more than every other MMO besides that other game. This game, by average industry standards, is a runaway success.

This makes the game profitable and means that it will continue to be supported by Bioware. If you like SW:TOR and are going to be continuing to play it, this news doesn't mean much besides whatever impact this has had on server population. In any case, the impact to server population had already happened when the population numbers were announced, so it's bascally moot.

The coming storm


As you may or may not know, patch 1.3 is slated to be mostly a "game systems"-type patch. We'll get a dungeon finder, and possibly other quality of life features. We'll get an expansion of the legacy system. There won't be any new content in terms of PvP or PvE, though.


I personally wonder if this isn't a huge gamble. The dungeon (or flashpoint) finder is definitely a highly-requested feature, but is it enough to pull people back into the game and/or retain existing subscribers? Will being able to find groups easily suddenly make people want to run mostly-outdated content (Lost Island and Kaon excepted)? Again, I will be interested to see it.

In any case


I personally love this game, and will be sticking with it for a long while. Even if the game were to lose another 400,000 subscribers, Bioware would still be deriving a profit from it, and we'd still see updates. Still, it does worry me a bit that subscribers have dropped off as much as they have. What do you think?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

PvP Tank Basics: Using your AoE Taunt Effectively


PvP Tank Basics is a series of articles in which I'll examine the baseline PvP tank abilities and discuss strategies for maximizing their effectiveness. I will keep these articles up to date, so that they can be referenced at any time by new PvP tanks. Today, we're looking at your AoE taunt.




Your AoE taunt is a highly effective tool for turning the tide in a heavy pressure situation. The word "game-changer" literally applies here. Here's the ability for Juggernauts:


Threatening Scream
Instant
Cooldown:
 45s
Taunts all enemies within 15 meters, forcing them to attack the Warrior for 6 seconds. Player targets deal 30% less damage when attacking anyone other than you. Lasts 6 seconds.


This ability is named Challenging Call for Jedi Guardians. For Sith Assassins and Jedi Shadows, it is called Mass Mind Control. For Powertechs it is named Sonic Missile, and for Vanguards it is called Sonic Round. All these abilities function identically, except that Sonic Missile and Sonic Round are targeted on an enemy instead of being centered on you. You do not need to be in your "Defensive Stance" to use your AoE taunt ability (see the section below called "What if I'm not a tank?").

The ability is useless if used on someone who is attacking you. It has a fairly long cooldown compared to your other damage-reducing abilties, so it's important to use it appropriately.


AoE Taunt Usage


My personal guidelines for using an AoE taunt are as follows:

1. Is heavy pressure being applied to a healer or ball carrier? If so, get into a position to hit as many of the attackers as possible with your AoE taunt. You can easily save a healer's life with this ability while racking up a lot of protection.

2. Does stalling here make sense? If one of your allies is being attacked in a position which is advantageous for your team, you can use your AoE taunt to stall them, keeping them in this position longer. A good example is in Voidstar - you want to keep enemies away from the doors. If multiple enemies pile on one of your teammates in a bad position, it usually makes sense to use your AoE taunt.

3. Are more enemies about to join the fight? For example, maybe you're defending a turret on Alderaan Civil War. You and a healer are fighting two enemies, but you see another enemy inbound as well. As long as your healer is okay, it makes sense to wait until the third enemy joins the fight to use your AoE taunt, to cut down on potential burst.

4. Are enemies likely to be attacking me right now? For example, if you have the huttball and are carrying it across the middle, you likely are being attacked by almost everyone on the other team, so your AoE taunt could just be wasted.

The Psychology of your AoE Taunt


Your AoE taunt only lasts 6 seconds, and few opponents will be perceptive enough to see that they've been taunted and switch to you. It does happen sometimes, so have those defensive cooldowns ready.

Using your AoE taunt at the right time can literally save your team. The damage reduction can give your healers time to catch up or at least stall long enough for your DPS to win the day. If enemies notice you taunting repeatedly, you could find yourself the target of focus fire. Don't be afraid to break line of sight to enemies trying to focus you - it buys your healers even more time.

What if I'm not a tank?


Not primarily a tank, but your advanced class has access to an AoE taunt ability? No problem. I'd recommend you still use it.

If you are DPSing in PvP, you often find yourself in the thick of combat. Feel free to throw out your AoE taunt during a big pile-up: you'll be helping your team and getting free medals, assuming you aren't being attacked by everyone on the other team. I would argue that if you play an advanced class that has access to an AoE taunt, even if focused on damage, you should be using it. It is a unique and highly-effective part of your toolbox which often becomes forgotten. It is part of what separates a good DPS-specced Juggernaut/Powertech/Assassin from a great one.


What now?


Check out my PvP Tank Video Guide on using your AoE Taunt:



Saturday, 5 May 2012

An idea for SW:TOR's next May the 4th


I was a little disappointed that Bioware's celebration of Star Wars day basically consisted of a Fan Friday and a sale on the game. As someone who has owned the game from the moment it became available for purchase, buying a copy obviously doesn't interest me. The Fan Friday was cool I suppose (and grats to Dulfy for the community feature) but they've done it before, so it isn't something all that special.

I got to thinking: how do you celebrate something like Star Wars day in-game, anyways? I had a small discussion on Twitter with Psynister and B.J. Keeton about what would be a cool thing to do for it. Ultimately, I propose the following idea. Please bear in mind I have absolutely no background in game development, so this is just my own opinion of what I think would be cool.

Concept

An NPC on the fleet alerts you to a matter requiring your attention. A particularly-strong Dark Side nexus has been discovered on some backwater planet called Dagobah.

  • If you're Empire, you probably have an interest in acquiring greater power and it makes sense to check this out.
  • If you're Republic, perhaps the NPC suggests that you try to eliminate the corruption, or if you're a smuggler maybe indicate there might be valuables present.

You go to Dagobah on your ship. It need not be an entire planet. In fact, make it an instanced story area, in my opinion. This is something you should have to do alone. Make sure to have the eerie music, taken directly from Empire Strikes Back.

Then, you go into the cave...

"Only what you take with you."
This is where my idea gets a bit fuzzy. I propose:

  • If you aren't level 50, you face a force apparition of a prominent character from your storyline. Won't name names here since this would be spoilers for basically any class, but every class story I've played has a nemesis of some sort at any given point in the storyline. If there isn't a good one at a particular point in a character's storyline you can substitute a major faction leader like Satele or Malgus or something, or use the level 50 option below. The fight will scale to your level.
  • If you are level 50, you face a copy of yourself which is the opposite of your alignment. So if you're Dark side, you fight a Light-sided you. If you're Light side or Gray, you fight a Dark-sided you.
  • Before the fight begins, maybe you get some dialogue options to help you understand what is happening.

After the battle, you get a Force Ghost vanity pet! Perhaps, to make it unique, give it a limited duration and/or cooldown. 

I'd recommend making it a quest you can only do once, but let people have a couple days (starting on May the 4th) to complete it.

Why this?

I think this is one of the iconic moments from the series. It is a moment of introspection, mystery and darkness. It is a good example of why the mysteries of the Force are often seen as alien to normal people. 

In addition, since May the 4th plays off the word "Force", a force-focused event seems natural.

So what do you think? Would this be a cool in-game event? Do you have anything to add? Please leave me your comments below!

Friday, 4 May 2012

What has SW:TOR done for Star Wars?



I figured there was no better time than May the 4th to write this article. It's something that's been occupying my mind in some way or another since the game was first announced, but until now I haven't really felt comfortable writing it. My question was: What will this game do for Star Wars? How will it expand upon and lay the groundwork for that which has already been written, filmed, and produced? What will its legacy within the Star Wars IP be?

The game having been out for a while now, and having experienced multiple class stories, I feel finally comfortable attempting to address this question.

A galaxy at war: The Setting


A duel on the shattered doorstep of the Jedi Temple. Yeah, that's not dark.


The most obvious contribution is that the writers at Bioware have written an entire time period for the Star Wars universe, complete with their own characters and events. The imagery and themes are, in many ways, unique. Yes, the galaxy is at war, but this isn't your standard galactic warfare plot. The setting itself is incredibly dark when compared to many other time periods in the Star Wars universe. Some examples (none of these should be spoilers, really):

  • The Jedi Temple on Coruscant is utterly destroyed, and the Jedi withdraw to Tython. 
  • Coruscant is occupied and then bartered back to the Republic. 
  • Alderaan, Corellia and Balmorra all become warzones. 
  • The Mandalorians more or less side with the Sith Empire.
  • As a result of the Sith Empire, slavery becomes a common, accepted practice in a large part of the galaxy.
  • An ancient Rakata Warlord awakens.


I could go on, but I think that's sufficient. I could point to many things that are definitely spoilers to enhance this point, but I won't. You should experience all the class stories for yourself.

In essence: things are bad for the Republic, and their survival isn't the only thing at stake. In fighting this war, they could lose the essence of what the Republic really is. This theme is very common on the Republic side of things, but I feel it is done very well here.


You also get a real sense of vulnerability from the Jedi Order in this period. In Knights of the Old Republic 2, the Order is almost completely decimated. We're talking about what is almost a "starting from scratch" scenario. By the time SW:TOR starts, the Order has bounced back somewhat, and they are looking to rediscover their past - but they are immediately thrust into a destructive conflict as some of the first casualties.


The setting as a whole fills a large gap in the timeline, but also manages to be unique and compelling. In a sense, it's a wonderful sweet spot for Bioware: they are still close enough to the Great Hyperspace War for those events and the Ancient Sith to be relevant and compelling (hence the historical analysis of Master Gnost-Dural's journals), but they still draw on their Knights of the Old Republic storylines and expand on what, exactly, the Republic has been through in the thousands of years before we finally get to the movies.

One last quick mention that goes along with the setting is the music. A massive amount of original music was composed for the game, and all of it is fantastic. It is recognizable as Star Wars, but maintains a uniquely dark feeling. You can find the game's music on the official Star Wars: The Old Republic Youtube account. 

Agents of change: The Characters



The characters that have been written for the setting are, in standard Bioware fashion, thought-provoking and convincing.

Darth Malgus is perhaps one of my favourite Star Wars characters of all time. I'm talking Top 10 material. Hate me if you must. Simply put, he is in my opinion one of the most interesting Sith characters ever written in the Star Wars universe.

His anti-racism stance and rejection of Sith Imperial decadence is a refreshing change. His theory that the Force is conflict, and that the existence of a Light and Dark side are evidence of this are extremely insightful and lead to a very unique philosophy.

In a strange way, you see how one could admire Malgus's viewpoint. He demands that passion be allowed to run its course, regardless of race. He demands that inhibitions be stymied, and that conquest be allowed to continue - because the survivors of the conflict become more powerful, and move closer to a perfect understanding of The Force.

I don't want to spoil too much here, because if you didn't read Deceived by Paul S. Kemp, you really should. Here are his words on Malgus:




"He's definitely not a hero, and he's not an anti-hero. My goal was to create a character that readers can respect but still abhor. I very much enjoy writing characters who live in a moral twilight."
―Paul S. Kemp, on developing Malgus for The Old Republic: Deceived


Besides main story arc characters like Malgus, though, are another important contribution: companions.

"Have I ever told you that you meet the most wonderful people?"
I think that the writing for the companions in the game is simply inspired. Most of these companions are interesting enough to be the focus of their own stories! I, for one, would totally read a story about Gault. I'm interested to see if these companions end up popping up in related fiction, and what is in store for them in the future.


The stories seldom told



I think that one of the great legacies of this game will be that it told stories that had been neglected, to varying degrees, throughout the Star Wars Universe. More specifically, while some of these stories had been told in other media, most of them were under-represented in video games.

An example is the Smuggler class. The Han Solo Adventures books by Brian Daley were some of my favourites as a youngling. However, in video games, there really was no equivalent that felt like you were in charge of your destiny as a smuggler. 

Yes, there were games where you played as a Smuggler. One of my favourite expanded universe projects, Shadows of the Empire, had an N64 game where you played as Dash Rendar, a smuggler. The story's focus really wasn't on Rendar though, but rather the Empire and Xizor's hunt for Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance's acquisition of the second Death Star plans. Even though you were playing a character who happened to be a smuggler, you didn't get the feeling that your status as a Smuggler mattered in the story at all.

The Imperial Agent is perhaps even a better example, with almost nothing having been produced about intelligence operatives in the Star Wars universe. I guess you can count the Dark Forces games, but even then, we know how that storyline turns out.

The Bounty Hunter and Trooper have had video games with them as the focus, but they are almost singular examples and, in my opinion, are not very exceptional games.


Igniting the blade of Fandom



Finally, one thing that I think that SW:TOR did that may not have been highlighted: it brought people back to the Star Wars Universe. 

Whether we're talking about long-time fans who had never considered an MMO before, estranged Star Wars: Galaxies communities re-uniting in the next iteration of the Universe, or even MMO fans who had never enjoyed Star Wars, one thing is clear - Star Wars is back on the map, and it's here to stay.

Feel free to share what you think SW:TOR has done for Star Wars in the comments! May The Force be with you!


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Community Spotlight: Galactic Public Radio

Available in the Sith Empire as "Radio Free Korriban".

Welcome to another installment of a recurring feature on Thrown Gauntlet, the Community Spotlight. Each week I'll be looking at a site that supports the Star Wars: The Old Republic community, be it a blog, podcast, information database, or otherwise. My hope is to point people to other websites they may also enjoy and to bring the SW:TOR fan community closer together. 



Galactic Public Radio is currently my podcast hub of choice (though I do obviously listen to others as well), and you owe it to yourself to check it out. They have a number of programs which I listen to regularly. I'd like to go into detail a bit on each of them, and why you'd be interested in listening to them.

Consider yourself educated.

All Classes Considered is a fun and informative show hosted by the fantastic Porter Williams. Each week he focuses on a new Advanced Class, going over all the skill trees while highlighting the class's key ideas and concepts.

Even if the ACC Episode this week is about the class you play, I recommend you tune in. There is a strong chance you will still learn something. And, if it's a class you don't play, you're guaranteed to get a good idea of how another class plays. It could help you decide to play that class, or it may just give you insight in to how best to counter that class in PvP.

I was given the opportunity to help with the Juggernaut episode which came out last week, and it was a lot of fun. 

Porter himself does a fair amount of prep before the show, too. The resulting discussion is engaging enough to come back to week after week.

Porter is also looking for class experts (most recently a Shadow, Sentinel, Guardian or Sage expert), so if you think you're cut out for this, please lend him your voice and your talent!


All the news that's fit to... holobroadcast, I guess.

Talk of the Galaxy is GPR's weekly news podcast, bringing you up to speed on the happenings in the galaxy over the previous seven days. The program has the news of the week, but it also has a weekly discussion topic. Even if I don't always agree with 100% of the opinions expressed, it always gets me thinking - and that's the point. It's an enjoyable listen.

One thing I really like about the program is their "Around the Community" feature, which features blogs and fansites from the SW:TOR community. I've found a lot of new and interesting blogs and podcasts this way. Obviously, since this article is a Community Spotlight, I believe very much in highlighting the work of others. I hope they continue to include this and maybe even spend more time on it in the future!


It probably won't, but don't let that stop you from trying.

Wait...wait... The Force will tell me is formatted like a game show, and is a lot of fun to listen to. The show normally has a guest from somewhere in the SW:TOR community (this week it was Stephen Reid, Senior Community Manager, and is definitely worth a listen. Stephen Reid never disappoints, except apparently when being quizzed about Punch-Out!). Questions are answered and fun is poked at the loser.

This is a great podcast to listen to to unwind. The guys are all really funny and the questions are well thought out. It's more of a casual, fun listen.


Other shows:


There are other shows on GPR which seem to have fallen inactive for the moment. Having said that, you can actually submit a segment to GPR. If you have a great idea, go to their website and submit it!


To Conclude:


So there you have it: Galactic Public Radio! You can listen to these podcasts on their website, or you can subscribe via iTunes or RSS. If you like the show you've listened to, I recommend voting for it on iTunes. This data is important for the success of their show!


Have a website you think I should look at, or that you think should be in the spotlight? Let me know at throwngauntlet@gmail.com, or contact me on my Twitter account, @ThrownGauntlet. I'm always looking for new blogs, resources and fansites to review!




Regarding Server Population

"The delegation from Ord Mantell moves to install stairs."
The fine folks over at TORWars have put up their most recent podcast, which addresses among other things the perceived server population issue. Since this is a common complaint, I thought I'd weigh in on this.

I'd like to preface this post by saying that I play on The Fatman-US (PvP) so if my server has a population issue, it is one of overpopulation and not a lack of players. This overpopulation is not currently a problem, but it could eventually become one. On Free Weekends at peak times, you're looking at an hour wait to log in.

I think that the best case scenario here is for us to get real, hard numbers on server population that we can take a look at. Most other MMO companies do not do this, so I don't have my hopes up. In the absence of hard numbers, discussing server population becomes a lot harder.

As Asros pointed out today on Twitter, you end up in a discussion where one side cannot produce any facts and is acting solely based on their "feelings" on server population. The honest truth is that, without numbers, people are guessing. They can tell you what the amount of people on the fleet was at 6pm, but they can't tell you what the total number of people logged into the server are. Dulfy has done a population survey, but it is obviously a snapshot of each server's users at a specific point in time and is not indicative of how many active players actually play there.

There is no doubt that peak concurrent users is down, which is believable. As TORWars reported, the initial playtime was unsustainable. We've been told subscriber numbers are more or less stable, which also seems reasonable.

Now having said all that, I do believe that some of the stories of servers starting to empty are valid - mostly because I think people are re-rolling to more populated servers like mine in the absence of hard data. In my opinion, the best realistic scenario here involves a complete population review of all servers once paid transfers have been open for a couple weeks. I have no doubt that Bioware will be keeping an eye on this.


Stretching out with your feelings probably won't do you much good on this topic.

Bioware needs to be honest with themselves and seriously consider server merges if things look grim a few weeks after paid transfers open. Thankfully, Daniel Erickson has said that server merges, while not a preferred option, are a possibility. I hope it doesn't come to that; I really hope it doesn't. But I think it might, and here's why:

Unless additional incentive is given to players to transfer off of high-pop servers, I don't think you'll see many people leaving them.


Even if the transfers are free (Bioware has said free transfers will be offered to high-pop server players), there's really no incentive to leave. So there's the occasional queue - so what? People have had plenty of chances to leave my server a lot earlier on, like at launch when there were multi-hour queues. People play here despite queues. Lots of guilds have transferred here in recent weeks. I doubt these people will want to relocate again.

On top of that, you're looking at a situation where we're really not given any data by Bioware on server population. Why take a chance and transfer to a light population server, only to pay to transfer back later? With more data, people might make an informed decision. As it stands right now, it's a shot in the dark.

Hate to tell you the odds, but...

There are two scenarios I can see where you will have substantial traffic off of high population servers:

1. Paid transfers open, hundreds if not thousands of people transfer to high population servers, and queues become unbearable for the veterans of the high population servers. If Bioware is smart, they keep unpaid transfers open during this period, because this might actually cause people to abandon ship.

2. Free transfers open and there is some kind of incentive to jumping ship, or some kind of "trial period" where you can transfer back for free. I'm not going to say incentive is everything here, but excepting people who have burned all their bridges on their current server or just have personal problems with their current server, why would someone leave a high-pop server right now with all the uncertainty?

Here's hoping that Bioware offers some incentive to repopulate lower-pop servers. If not, the free transfers will likely be underutilized.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Mixing it up


As mentioned in my Maintaining Composure post, I've been trying to get a feel for all the dedicated PvPers in the guild so that I can assess where our strengths are, and where we need to improve. Also, though our guild screens for disruptive and rude behaviour, people are obviously capable of lying so it also lets me make sure that the guild's name isn't being ruined out on the field.

Last night, I finally had the chance to PvP with one of our newer recruits, a Marauder that I'd heard some good things about. I had been trying to work him into a group, but it seemed for a while that we were playing "Guild Chat Tag": our availability never seemed to line up. One of us always seemed to be AFK when there was a vacancy, or else one of the two of us was already in a full group of four guild members.

I'm also still new to the whole "PvP Officer" thing, which I'm sure didn't help things. Sure, I've acted in an Officer capacity before in other guilds, but normally that was as a class or role officer or raid leader. Never before have I had the responsibility of playing with someone who likely is not playing my class and analyzing their playstyle, strengths and weaknesses. Oh, yeah, I also have to try to help my team win while I do this. I don't resent the duty - on the contrary, I'm honoured to do it. It's just that I'm not comfortable with myself in the role yet, so I guess I probably missed some opportunities to invite this Marauder previously, and I felt bad about it.

Once I got on the field with him, my feelings changed completely.

I'm not sure why exactly, but PvPing with someone for the first time is always a breath of fresh air for me. I'm often exposed to new strategies and playstyles. Instead of intuitively knowing where my teammates are and what they're doing, I'm forced to keep my head up and take it all in. If the class is not normally one I play with, I experience new synergies and group capability.

Perhaps the most interesting part is seeing someone mentally integrate themselves into our group.

In Kira's words, "Isn't teamwork grand?"
I don't prep people when I PvP with them. I guess I could say, "Hey, when we're in there, I'm going to be asking you for information and asking you to do things... if you have any questions, feel free to ask me", but that would be far less fun. I get a certain amount of excitement out of seeing people get it, so to speak. Even if they had done PvP in a group setting before, there's that moment when they become comfortable with us and things just start clicking.

The Marauder in question did really well, and I'm glad to have him on our side. As a result of last night's experience, I'm going to focus on scrambling groups as much as I can. I know there are some people who will still want to play together if possible, and that's okay too. But I feel that we all still have a lot more to learn from each other.


Monday, 30 April 2012

PvP Tank Basics: Using Taunt Effectively



PvP Tank Basics is a series of articles in which I'll examine the baseline PvP tank abilities and discuss strategies for maximizing their effectiveness. I will keep these articles up to date, so that they can be referenced at any time by new PvP tanks. Today, we're looking at Taunt.




Taunt is a great way to cut down burst damage, which is one of the prime killers of healers in PvP combat. The ability itself is fairly simple:


Taunt
InstantCooldown: 15s
Range:
 30 m
Taunts the target, forcing it to attack the Warrior for 6 seconds. Player targets deal 30% less damage when attacking anyone other than you. Lasts 6 seco
nds.


This ability is named Taunt for Jedi Guardians, also. For Sith Assassins and Jedi Shadows, it is called Mind Control. For Powertechs it is named Neural Dart, and for Vanguards it is called Neural Jolt. All these abilities function identically. You do not need to be in your "Defensive Stance" to use your Taunt ability (see the section below called "What if I'm not a tank?").

The ability is of course useless if used on someone who is attacking you. It has a fairly short cooldown, which means that you can (and should) use it often.


Taunt Priority


My priority for using taunt is as follows:

1. Any class capable of heavy burst damage who is currently attacking a healer. Good examples are Operatives/Scoundrels who have just opened on a healer; Marauders/Sentinels who have just charged a healer; Rage/Focus-specced Juggernauts/Guardians; Gunslingers/Snipers.

2. Any damage class attacking a healer. This is fairly self-explanatory. The less healing healers need to use on themselves to stay alive, the more they will be throwing on your team, including you.

3. Burst damage-capable enemies focus-firing friendly DPS. Again, self-explanatory. Give your healers a chance to save this person. There are better abilities to use in this situation, but if none of them were available and Taunt was, I'd at least use it.


4. Any enemy DPS focus-firing friendly DPS.

As a side note, never Taunt an enemy healer. They aren't doing damage, so the ability has no effect.


The Psychology of Taunt


Taunt only lasts 6 seconds, and few opponents will be perceptive enough to see that they've been taunted and switch to you. It does happen sometimes, so have those defensive cooldowns ready.

If Taunt is used at the right moment, it may demoralize an enemy and get them to switch targets, especially when combined with other abilities. A good example are Operatives/Scoundrels who open from stealth on a healer. If you taunt them, you are going to be reducing their burst damage significantly, and they may give up or vanish in an attempt to re-open. Burst damage is one of their primary strengths; you are drastically decreasing their effectiveness by taunting them and they don't have a great way to adapt to that.


What if I'm not a tank?


Not primarily a tank, but your advanced class has access to a taunt-like ability? No problem. I'd recommend you still use it.

If you are primarily dealing damage in PvP, you often find yourself attacking enemies who are attacking your healer. Obviously, enemy healers are the highest priority and there is little point to taunting a healer, but once they are defeated your enemies are often stuck to your healers.

Spend the global cooldown to throw your Taunt on one of them. Not only will you get free medals, but you'll  be helping your healer out. You may be primarily a damage dealer, but you can still save someone's life. I would argue that if you play an advanced class that has access to taunt, even if focused on damage, you should be taunting often. It is a unique and highly-effective part of your toolbox which often becomes forgotten. It is part of what separates a good DPS-specced Juggernaut/Powertech/Assassin from a great one.



Sunday, 29 April 2012

PvP Tank Basics: Using Guard Effectively

PvP Tank Basics is a series of articles in which I'll examine the baseline PvP tank abilities and discuss strategies for maximizing their effectiveness. I will keep these articles up to date, so that they can be referenced at any time by new PvP tanks. Today, we're looking at Guard.

Guard is a frequently misunderstood ability. While keeping it on a healer is a prudent strategy, it doesn't do anything for someone who isn't taking damage in PvP. Guard will almost always be your main source of Protection on the scoreboard at the end of a warzone if you are a dedicated PvP tank. It also allows your healers more time to react to incoming focus fire. Used appropriately and with healer support, it can turn the tide.

This means that the most effective way to use guard is to make sure that it is always redirecting damage to you. The only way to ensure this is to swap it as different members of your team are selected as targets. Do not be afraid to switch your Guard to someone new. The only possible exception to this is if you are the ball carrier in Huttball and do not wish to risk taking more damage.

Any advanced class with access to a tanking skill tree will learn Guard at level 14. From Torhead:


Guard
Instant
Range:
 30 m

While active, the guarded player takes 5% less damage and generates 25% less threat. In addition, so long as you remain within 15 meters of the guarded player, 50% of all incoming damage from enemy players is transferred back to you. Requires Soresu Form.


Regardless of your advanced class, Guard always requires that you use the "Defensive Stance"  for your advanced class (Soresu Form for Juggernauts and Guardians) in order to be able to use it; if you switch stances it will immediately be removed. There was talk in Beta that Guard let your guarded target use your damage reduction. This has since been proven to be false, however they do still get the flat 5% damage reduction bonus while guarded.

The most important thing to remember about Guard is that you must be within 15 meters of your Guarded target in order to intercept 50% of their incoming damage. If you overextend, you may be responsible for the guarded player's demise, especially in a heavy-pressure situation.


Guard Priority

Guard does a good job of making healing easier to handle for your team's healers. But who should you be guarding at any given point in time? My priority is as follows:

1. If one of my healers is being attacked, I put my guard on them until they are no longer in danger. This aspect of using Guard is often a judgement call. Look around for Ranged DPS that may still be focusing on your healer before you leave them alone. If possible, ask your healer if they are okay (voice communication is helpful here).

2. With my healer no longer in danger, I look at the health of those around me as I move into the thick of the fight. If I see someone is being focus-fired, I use guard on them immediately and, if available, Intercede to them or Force Charge to an enemy nearby so that they will be getting the benefit of my Guard as soon as possible (other ACs can substitute their own gap closers here). Very often, the enemy's focus fire target is a melee DPS on your team who has made themselves a threat by antagonizing the enemy's healers. If possible, call the enemy's focus fire target to your healers (again, voice communication helps) in case they are not yet aware of it.

3. While guarding the focus fire target, I continue to monitor our healer's health as I help support the DPS. Setting your healer as your focus target helps make this a lot easier. You need to enable this in Preferences and the keystroke is Alt+F by default. Your healer should also communicate with you, if possible, in the event that they are being attacked. That way, you know to go back to help them.


The Psychology of Guard


A lot of the time, DPS will continue to attack a guarded healer, either not noticing or not caring that they are doing only 50% of their normal damage to the healer. As a tank, this is what you want them to do. Even if your healer is only able to keep you and themselves alive, they are likely occupying the time of 3+ enemies who are not attacking other people on your team, and you are able to utilize your taunts to further decrease the damage. In other words, you are buying time for the rest of your team to kill them.

However, smart DPS will usually do one of three things to counter this:

1. They will switch to you, attempting to burn you down while the healer recovers from recent pressure. Since they are attacking you, you're taking full damage from their attacks and your taunts are useless. The exact threat this poses to you depends on the type of classes attacking you, but it's not usually a good situation. Here's where you use your defensive cooldowns. If possible, throw out stuns on your attackers to let your healer respond to the target switch. Keep your guard on your healer for the moment, in case they choose to switch back.

2. They will switch to another member of your team. This scenario is actually more favourable for you than the first one. Intercede to that target, swap your Guard to them, and utilize taunts and/or stuns to make the enemy's team difficult. Keep your eye on your healer; they may switch back once they realize you're responding to their pressure. Use this opportunity to throw out snares on the enemy in case they decide to switch back to your healer.

3. They will attempt to separate you from your healer. Not much you can do here besides use your gap closer to get back as soon as possible. This is possibly the worst scenario for you, depending on your healer's status when you get separated and on how much damage is being thrown at your healer in your absence.


We stand on guard for thee


Having read these tips, get out there and start supporting your allies on the field with Guard! It is, without a doubt, the most powerful ability tanks have in PvP to protect their allies. Using it well is the first step on your PvP tank journey. As always, any feedback is appreciated.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Q&A Analysis and Commentary: April 27th, 2012

So, the Q&A this week was informative enough that I feel it should be highlighted. Some of these answers have been given before (at the Guild Summit for example), but others are new. You can click the link above to go directly to the Q&A, but here is my summary and my comments:


Dual Spec will not be making it in for Patch 1.3.

That awkward moment when you realize you're not specced for healing, so you call a medical capsule immediately.

This is a disappointment, but I can live another patch without Dual Specialization. I know a lot of people in the community and in my guild will be upset by this one, but this is something that needs to be done correctly and thoroughly before it is added to the live client. This was probably the biggest thing to come out of the Q&A.


Character transfers will be available in early summer of this year.


Exciting news. Basically they will be allowing free transfers from high-pop servers to lower-pop ones first, and then after all of that is done they will open up paid transfers. This is good as it will allow players to re-assess the community of their server before forking over money for paid transfers. Kudos to Bioware for having this done so quickly.


Social gear will scale to your armor type automatically in Patch 1.3.

You can't tell just by looking, but she has a 23% chance to deflect and a military-grade shield generator.

This is exciting news for all those who do not wear Light Armor. What I would love to see in the future is some limited functionality to allow you to wear different kinds of modifiable armor (for example, there are some Light Armor legs that look a lot like Revan's robe, but I can't use them because they are Light and I am a tanking Juggernaut). As far as we know, this armor scaling feature will work only with Social gear - but I would love for them to expand it to all gear. Probably a pipe dream, though.


New species will be added sometime this year.

This cheerful looking guy could be the nail in my Chiss Operative's coffin.

No word on what kind of species we're talking here, but this is exciting. Hopefully they add extra character slots around the same time, because mine are already full. If they put Nautolan in, someone is going to be getting deleted.


Datacrons may be made Legacy-wide!


They are considering it, so this is not 100% guaranteed. I liked the datacron hunt thing, but a lot of people seem to dislike it based on the fact that it requires a time investment on mutiple characters. The stat bonuses individually are very minor, but they do add up. I'm interested to see where they go with this.




Update on Mr. Robot

"Query: Have you perused my updated analysis subroutines, meatbags?"

The fine folks over at Ask Mr. Robot have added a FAQ for their combat logging tool. The FAQ addresses common concerns and explains some of the new functionality added recently to the tool. I recommend checking this out if you are a user of the tool, as quite a few things have changed from the previous iteration.

In my previous article, I noted that there were a couple of improvements I'd like to see to the tool, but the most important was the ability to merge multiple combat logs at once. Thankfully, this has been addressed as of the 20th. In addition, users that are logged in can remove merged logs in the event of an error or if someone is attempting to mess with your data.

As the tool continues to improve, I will be updating accordingly. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to use it for merged logs since I last posted about it. Operations attendance in the guild has been down somewhat due to RL issues and an increased focus on PvP. I've been using it for DPS tests, as I acquired the Operations Dummy for my Legacy, but that doesn't require any merging.

Here's hoping that I can get into a group PvE situation soon so that I can give the merging a fresh shot. Perhaps a flashpoint is in order.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Maintaining Composure

I had a rather jarring experience the other day, and thought I should perhaps share it, because it taught me some things about myself.

I had queued up for warzones with three other guildmates. My guild doesn't have "tryouts" or anything, we just foster a culture of learning and support. That means there is no "skill" requirement to get into our guild, but if you want to get better, there are tons of people willing to help you do just that.

These guys that were in my party are some of the best in our guild, and I had no question in my mind that we would be doing a strong service to our team when we got into the warzone. 

When we got into Alderaan Civil War, I immediately saw our group was accompanied by another 4-person premade from a guild on our server. I won't name them here because, honestly, there's no point. I wasn't terribly familiar with them, but had played with them on a couple of occasions. Some experiences had been very positive, and some had not been. On Ventrilo, my fellow group members shared their thoughts about the guild in question.

Because I always try to communicate well, I asked if they could send two of their guys to left, the rest to mid. Their response: "No". They didn't offer any other advice, nor did they expand on why. As a result, I respectfully asked them what they thought we should do. 

One of them said, "We're going right and if any of you follow us we will leave and you can enjoy your loss".

I politely explained I was just trying to be helpful. They responded with "Stop trying to pretend you're good, you're in Section One."

I would be lying if I said this didn't make me angry. I don't (and never will) claim to be the best PvPer out there. What I do claim is that I do my best to play the objectives, support my team, and communicate. I also do my best to make sure that my guild members do the same, or are given the opportunity to learn how to do this. This person had not only insulted me, they had insulted my entire guild.

This is what I wanted to do.

"Gooooood, gooooood."

Instead, I responded with: "I'm sorry if you've had problems with my guild in the past. I'm trying to change stuff like that." To understand what I mean here, I'll remind you that there's no "skill requirement" for Section One. The guild has history dating back to Star Wars Galaxies, where they were known as a formidable force on the popular Bloodfin server. However, we also have people recruited in this game (including myself). We have people with varying degrees of commitment and time to dedicate to the game. Not everyone is playing at the same level. I'm working, as PvP Officer, to try to elevate everyone as high as they are willing to go.

Anyways, a funny thing happened when I was polite to this guy.

He absolutely backed off. He was still arrogant, and did not call for our help and ended up losing his precious flag on the right (although it was too late for the other team, also made up of two premades, so we still won), but he definitely backpedaled. I think maybe he realized how obtuse he sounded, or maybe someone in his group just decided to scold him.
 
I realize now that I could have freaked out, I could have told him that I've run into players from his guild who weren't great, but that I still tried to work with him in this warzone, strategize with him, and extend him the courtesy of anyone who was on my team. 

In the end, it wouldn't have been worth it. The guy obviously had no interest in being polite to anyone. I'm happy with the choice I made. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Community Spotlight: Taugrim's MMO Blog

He knows his stuff, and he's happy to share it with you.

Welcome to another installment of a recurring feature on Thrown Gauntlet, the Community Spotlight. Each week I'll be looking at a site that supports the Star Wars: The Old Republic community, be it a blog, podcast, information database, or otherwise. My hope is to point people to other websites they may also enjoy and to bring the SW:TOR blogging community closer together. 

I debated holding off on spotlighting Taugrim's MMO Blog because, quite honestly, most SWTOR players (and MMO players, even) have at the very least heard of him. In the end, I figured that if there was a chance that I could introduce someone to his material, the post would be worth it.

Even (or perhaps especially) if you're new to PvP, you should check out his site. The information is valuable to both newcomers and veterans alike.

Taugrim exemplifies what is, for me, the spirit of community in PvP. I truly hope that this trend becomes the norm for the PvP community generally. He is trying to help those around him by informing them. He explains mechanics and answers questions from readers or those watching his stream. He promotes and encourages discussion about changes. He stays away from elitism and responds patiently to inquiries. In his own words:

That is what my Guides are all about: helping gamers raise their gameplay and learning from and with them in the process 

Basically, he's doing an immense service to the PvP community of whatever game he is involved in at the time.

His style is a far cry from many who PvP. We've all seen those other PvP videos - filled with 3 second snippets of massive crits set to overly-loud music. You know, the ones that don't teach you anything. Taugrim turns this formula on its head, normally streaming himself queuing for warzones alone, explaining what's happening as he plays, and answering questions between warzones. I always try to catch his stream when it's up, because I actually learn something about the class and spec he's playing.

In addition to his stream and explanatory videos, Taugrim maintains a series of guides for different PvP topics. These guides are always informative and well-researched, and you should check them out. He also often posts about design choices and recent PvP changes, which normally make for an excellent discussion.

On top of all of this, Taugrim still finds the time to co-host two different shows on Gamebreaker.tv.

So check him out! He has tons of great stuff, and I guarantee you'll learn something.


Have a website you think I should look at, or that you think should be in the spotlight? Let me know at throwngauntlet@gmail.com, or contact me on my Twitter account, @ThrownGauntlet. I'm always looking for new blogs, resources and fansites to review!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Burek on Galactic Public Radio!


I've had the great opportunity to speak about the Juggernaut advanced class on Galactic Public Radio alongside Porter. You can find the podcast here. I really like the way it turned out, and I hope you enjoy it!

Overall, I really enjoyed myself, though I was a bit nervous at first. You'd think doing commentary for a video guide would be similar to doing a podcast, but my commentary doesn't always come out correctly the first time, whereas I have to make sure it does for the podcast. It looks like I may get opportunities in the future to return to GPR to talk about the Juggernaut, which is very cool.

Porter is a really great host and he's actually looking for other class experts for future installments of the show (All Classes Considered). If you're a class expert, you can contact him at his twitter if you'd like to volunteer to help.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

In Defense of Expertise


I was listening to the TORWars Podcast #74 today and there was a discussion regarding expertise and whether or not it made sense to have a "PvP stat" in the game. Jeff, Deirdre and Brian seemed more or less on board with the idea of letting PvE gear function just as well as PvP gear in PvP scenarios. I really like TORWars and their podcast, but I think I need to step into the pro-expertise corner on this one.

For those readers who may not know what expertise is or how it works, it is a stat which appears only on PvP gear and increases damage, damage reduction, and healing in PvP only. Due to the recent changes in Patch 1.2, it is basically the best possible stat you can have in PvP.

I understand that it can be frustrating to have gear only work in specific scenarios, but I believe that a "PvP stat"-type system is the best solution for preserving balance. I also understand that many people object to it from a design standpoint, saying that it is clunky or that it wouldn't be necessary if class balance was truly perfected. I disagree.

It needn't necessarily take the same form as the one we have (you could make it more complicated, have PvP gear lack essential PvE stats, or have multiple PvP stats that do different things), but overall I believe that expertise offers the developers the best tools to balance PvP while continuing to offer exciting and engaging content in both PvP and in PvE without fear of ruining the prevailing order in both systems.


The problem of motivation


Vader does NOT need to find new ways to motivate them.
Before the Patch 1.2 changes were put into effect, making PvP gear even more effective in PvP, a curious thing was happening. Players who wanted to start doing Operations and Flashpoints were being told by their friends to start PvPing. Sound silly? To most people, it wasn't - because not only was it far easier to acquire PvP rewards, but they were almost as effective as their PvE counterparts. People tend to do whatever is easiest to complete goals, and in this case it was extremely easy to acquire PvP rewards when compared to assembling a group of people and then trying to do a Hard Mode Flashpoint.

Now, not everyone who wanted to do Operations also wanted to do PvP, so these people were left with a choice: do something you're not really interested or invested in for the easy gear, or spend a lot more time doing what you want, but which may or may not be effective and has no guaranteed reward for time invested.

If both sets of gear work equally well in both scenarios, we'll see pretty quickly that most people will feel pressured to take the quick and easy path which, with the current evolution of PvE content, will almost definitely be PvP, since winning is not a requirement and losing continuously, while slow, would likely still be faster than trying to PuG with an 8-person Explosive Conflict group. And again, even if it were faster to PuG EC, there is no guarantee that you get what you need.

Ultimately, the best choice should be to let players to what they love, and reward them by giving them better tools to continue doing it - not to do something else.

Not everyone can be Yoda-like and avoid the quick and easy path.


A controlled environment


Another thing that a PvP stat offers is the ability to make across the board adjustments to all classes in the areas of damage, damage reduction, and healing.

As of 1.2, these things all scale differently with expertise (eg. You get a larger damage bonus from expertise than you do a damage reduction or healing bonus), but Bioware has shown that they are not afraid to re-balance ratings to better accommodate the play experience of their subscribers. They currently have the ability to look at any of those three things via their metrics, decide that one of them needs to be adjusted, and then adjust it across the board. Now that's flexibility.

Ultimately, I wouldn't be surprised to eventually see an "expertise co-efficient" on abilities to change their effectiveness in PvP. We've already kind of seen this with all healing abilities (Trauma, for example), but I'm talking for specific abilities. Maybe particular abilities will be encouraged in PvP, and so they gain some bonus damage or healing in PvP. Maybe some abilities will have their potency toned down for PvP, but some of this penalty will be offset by expertise.

Palpatine calls for a PvP nerf to reactor shafts.
In "that other game", before their first expansion, the roles of the two were reversed - it was far easier to get top-tier PvE gear than PvP gear, but not having a PvP stat resulted in players literally being two-shot by players wearing top tier PvE epics with no way to balance it short of class changes (which honestly weren't the problem). PvE and PvP environments are different beasts that require their own balancing efforts. Getting rid of a PvP stat makes this task even harder, as values in PvP cannot easily be modified without changing core class mechanics, which will also change the character's ability in PvE.

To conclude


I believe that players should be doing what they want and getting rewarded appropriately for doing it. Clearing PvE content should not entitle you to top tier PvP gear, nor should achieving an amazing warzone rating allow you to breeze through PvE content. That they are separate isn't a bad thing! It's just more game to explore and experience.

Quick Notes: Patch 1.2.1

Patch 1.2.1 was applied to the live servers this morning and though the majority of the changes are bug fixes, there are a few points of interest:

- The cost of PvP consumables has been reduced to 10 commendations. In my opinion, this is a much-needed change. At 20 apiece previously they were overly expensive, but now if you get a big win you can buy some consumables and still save for that next piece of gear.

- Sniper and Gunslinger received 5% buffs to numerous damaging abilities. I had heard from others that the numbers for Snipers and Gunslingers were not looking too hot in comparison to other classes in PvE environments, so I welcome this change.

Corrected an issue that prevented players from adding offline players to their friends list. Not the first time I've seen this on patch notes, so we'll see if it's actually fixed this time. It seems like it is, at least, because I just did it successfully.

Helmets now work correctly when unifying colors on the character sheet. This is nice. Glad they got this fixed so quickly.

The full patch notes can be found here. Thanks to Eric (@Torkar1982) for the tip on the PvP Consumables.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Burek's PvP Tanking Guides, #2: Force Push (Knockback)



I am proud to announce the public release of my second PvP Tanking Guide, which focuses on using your knockback ability! This guide should be useful to many advanced classes, since almost all advanced classes have a knockback. Even if you don't have one, the video should show you how to make yourself a little harder to throw.

The guide aims to help players make more efficient use of their knockback. It uses freeze-frame explanations and play-by-play commentary to help viewers understand the decisions made in the video. I recommend viewing the video in 1080p or 720p in full screen mode for the best viewing experience.

I had a lot of fun making this video, and I hope it shows. I hope you enjoy it, and that some part of it is useful to you!

I'm always happy to accept feedback from any of my viewers. If you have a topic you'd like to see for a future video, please share it with me!



Georg Zoeller on Time To Kill (TTK) in PvP


You may have missed my previous post based on Taugrim's evaluation of the Patch 1.2 PvP changes. In it, I expressed (like Taugrim) that the recent changes to time to kill (or, TTK) in PvP were not positive. Since the patch, TTK has dropped quite substantially, which I feared might represent a shift away from Bioware's previous design philosophy of longer, tactical battles instead of the extremely bursty PvP in other MMOs.

It seems that my fears may have been misplaced. A post by Georg Zoeller on the official forums on Friday has clarified that they are aware that TTK is lower than intended and that they are monitoring the situation, though no changes besides the Tracer Missile/Grav Round bug fix were confirmed. 

He also explains that some of the TTK is caused by expertise disparity, since expertise has intentionally been buffed to be the single most important PvP stat. While I agree that expertise should be incredibly important for PvP to dissuade people from using PvE gear, I am afraid of the stat inflation this could cause. Ultimately though, Bioware has shown that they are not afraid to rebalance ratings in order to make the game work better, so I remain cautiously optimistic.

It also comforts me greatly that they have acknowledged that there is an issue, though their explanation is fairly vague beyond the expertise mention. Georg notes that "stacking debuffs are creating a real TTK issue", but there's no real example of what debuffs are stacking, whether or not this is a bug, and how exactly one could fix this if it isn't a bug.

At least we didn't get a confirmation that design goals had shifted and they were aiming for lower TTK - that really would have broken my resolve (see what I did there?). In all seriousness, this is reassuring news.

I've included the post below for your convenience; you can click to enlarge.