Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

TOR: Bad Publicity

GameTrailers.com has a new developer diary type video on the combat in Bioware’s upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. I said the other day that developers should only fear bad publicity from giving customers access to early versions of their games when those games are actually bad but I feel that publishing this video was a bad idea on Bioware’s side. The game’s graphics look pretty terrible and the combat looks like ground combat in Star Trek Online, which is not a good thing at all.

I suppose the graphics are just this bad because the game is running on development machines who are probably running a whole bunch of inefficient middleware. Most players won’t extrapolate that far, however, but just look at the video and find the graphics lacking a lot. Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad if the trailer showed us actual gameplay mechanics instead of putting a focus on displaying flashy abilities and on how Star Wars-like the combat will feel. Force lightning really doesn’t impress me if I have to watch it in 15ish frames per second and I can actually see aliasing on it as if it was 1995. (Yes, this is an exaggeration. Sue me.) And how could they think it clever to show us a sequence in which a robot stands completely still for about 4 seconds, with his gun pointed at the jedi while the jedi dismembers it with a lightsaber? The enemy should either be shooting or running or at least evading. But I suppose it has to wait for its shot cooldown to be up again – and who moves in MMO combat? And they actually have the impudence to follow that up with a comment talking about “a sense of combat that’s just plain exciting”.

I suppose some of the bad graphics might come from video encoding. I'm watching the HD version - encode better!

I love the idea of a developer diary giving us insight into the game development process and telling us what the game is actually about. The shame is that they don’t really give us any information. So lightsaber combat will look choreographed, that’s cool, but we’ve already established that your trailer doesn’t win me over on looks. Will players actually have the ability to control the way their jedi uses the lightsaber though or are we just seeing auto-attack animations? It looks as if the latter is true and this is never addressed in the commentary. The rest that’s shown to us in the video has to be seen in a similar light. Shooting an enemy with a grappling hook, pulling him near you and finishing him with your two pistols might look cool (if, you know, there were good graphics) but it very much looks like it’s done on the press of a single button. Essentially we’re just talking about a stun with a damage component.

I would assume that there are two kinds of players watching this video, and both will be disappointed. The Star Wars fan who is looking for a flashy, immersive Star Wars experience  will be put off by the graphics while the analytical gamer looking for a new good MMO to play will see the same old ability / action bar focused style of gameplay that’s already available in so many varieties. And yeah, the fact that the whole thing looks like Star Trek Online ground combat really doesn’t make it better.

After watching this trailer I’m a bit afraid that TOR will be just another letdown, just like pretty much every single MMO I’ve tried since World of Warcraft launched. I still have hopes though as it will be a while until the game gets launched and I’m very sure at least the graphics will be better in the end. What really gets me is that Bioware published this video in the first place, surely they must know how not-awesome it is?

Then again, the video has a rating of 9.2 out of 10 on GameTrailers. What do I know?