07/10/2020

A Comparison between Star Wars: Squadrons and The Old Republic's Galactic Starfighter

When evaluating how much I like all the Star Wars films, one of the things I often look at is what their sequences involving starfighters are like. Each of the films has at least one, and some are among the most iconic sequences in their respective films.

This is not to say that I feel a decent or even great starfighter sequence automatically makes such a product “good” as a whole. For example, one of my least favourite Star Wars films, Attack of the Clones, has a sequence which I would probably just place outside of my top five. Sure, the film scores more than a handful of points for it (most of which go to the glorious sound design of the seismic charges!) but nowhere near enough to make up for the majority of its flaws in the grand scheme of things.

When it comes to Star Wars games, I tend to view things just a little differently. Unlike with a film, where a starfighter sequence tends be expected as part of the main plot, starfighter experiences in games depend heavily on the game in-question. Either the entire game is built around them (Rogue Squadron, TIE Fighter, X-Wing), they’re a compulsory part of some campaigns (Battlefront II, LEGO Star Wars), or they don’t feature at all apart from maybe some turret sections (Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed). In the rarest of instances, they are present but are so much of a side thing that you can play the entire game however you want without once having to encounter them (The Old Republic).

Thus, while I still look out for them, I do not always include “has a decent starfighter experience” as part of my criteria for evaluating a game. For example, SWTOR’s original starfighter experience is anything but “fun” to me, since it is purely an on-rails shooter. Furthermore, it eventually ramps up the difficulty to an obscene level and thus becomes impractical as an activity. 2014’s mini-expansion Galactic Starfighter, on the other hand, brought in an entirely different starfighter experience which I still am a huge fan of to this day.

I was therefore quite excited to learn that EA would be publishing a new Star Wars game which focused purely on the starfighter experience. Squadrons is basically a massive love-letter to the starfighter experience from the developers, and it can easily be regarded as “the modern X-Wing game”. It also shares several similarities with SWTOR’s Galactic Starfighter mode. As such, I have chosen to dedicate today's post to a comparison between both games.

To some people playing Squadrons, this choice of comparator will be more than a little bit odd. There have been several starfighter-based games across the years, and many of these will be closer in spirit to Squadrons than Starfighter. However, I have not played all these games and it has been well over a decade since I have played those which I owned. Due to changing focus away from the PC to the PS2 and PS3 between 2004 and 2011, I believe that I can say with confidence that it would have been over sixteen years since I played any game which can be deemed “more relevant” for comparison purposes. Thus, even if I were to pick those games up again, I would still refrain from focusing on them as it would be wrong for me to present myself as a voice of experience after a gap of nearly two decades.

This should go without saying, but this is not meant to be a comprehensive review of Squadrons as a game. Any bugs, game issues, or specific story details will not be discussed. This is purely meant to be a comparison between one game and another for the features that they include.

On with the show!

30/09/2020

An Overdue Perspective on... The End in the Stars

One of the things which has both surprised and impressed me about The Old Republic compared to the other MMOs I have dabbled in is its consistency with its main menu music. It is not unusual for an MMO to change the music with each major expansion or update, and yet SWTOR maintained Clash of Destiny for almost a whopping eight years.

The reason why this surprises me particularly so is because BioWare had previously given themselves a very appropriate expansion to update the menu music alongside everything else. Knights of the Fallen Empire just changed so much of the game, for better or worse, and it was the first time that they were properly promoting the game’s storyline since launch. It would not have been too surprising to learn that the menu music would be updated as one of the many changes.

Not that I minded the piece remaining in situ for so long. It's a great piece of music, and I am such a fan of it that I am currently using a segment from it as my ringtone. 

With Onslaught, BioWare decided that the time was ripe to replace Clash with a new piece of music. Even while it was on the PTS, the new composition received a markedly lukewarm reception for a couple of reasons. One of the most notable issues people had with it was its lack of a slow build-up meaning that the piece opens immediately with a loud choral chant. Since Onslaught's release, more than a few people have been asking for it to be removed and Clash of Destiny reinstated.

The thing which I always found rather irritating about it was that for quite a long time we did not know its name. It was just “the new menu music” or “the Onslaught music” or some other generic description. Identifying pieces of music is something which SWTOR has struggled with for some time as pretty much every single orchestration bar the ones included as free downloads or on the Collector’s Edition CD have been released months if not years after they were first heard in-game.

Music from expansions has pretty much exclusively been released to celebrate something to do with The Old Republic or Star Wars in general. Five pieces including the Oricon and Yavin themes were released in 2016 as part of the #SWTOR5 celebrations. Pieces of music from Fallen Empire were released in the build-up to Eternal Throne, while pieces of music from throughout 5.0 and Onslaught were released on May 4th this year.

So, seven months after it made its way onto the menu, we learned what this replacement for Clash of Destiny is called. The End in the Stars.

I am absolutely baffled by this name. While it may yet have some connection to SWTOR's current storyline (possibly 6.2's final (final) end to Vitiate's schemes?), it is too specific to really work for future expansions. Clash of Destiny at least is a practical enough name to work for any period of the game's lifespan. Who knows? Maybe The End in the Stars is intended to be the first of a number of different menu themes, in which case it would only apply to Onslaught

I do not really have a lot to say about the actual piece. I think it is decent as a composition and I do quite like its melody, but even I must agree that it is not as satisfactory as hearing Clash of Destiny was. Then again, Clash has had the advantage pretty much since day one. Its numerous variations can still be heard in-game at various points in cutscenes, including in Eternal Throne and at the end of the Republic Onslaught storyline. As such, it has made itself known in more ways than just being “the menu music”. The End in the Stars is so far “just” the menu music, and it has yet to become more than that.

I would certainly not be opposed to hearing it in a different setting. Sometimes even a mediocre piece of music can become “great” in the right environment, and SWTOR’s menu is just not that environment right now. This is primarily just because the player-base is so used to its predecessor that several pieces of music would likely have struggled to suit in its place.

~~~

SWTOR has given us a few pieces of music which I believe will be remembered as part of the legacy of original Star Wars video game music. Chief among these is Clash of Destiny. I do not get the impression right now that The End in the Stars will be remembered anywhere near as fondly in the years to come. Maybe things will change, and it will indeed evolve to become as iconic for SWTOR as its predecessor was. 

I sadly doubt it.

For now, though, this is what we have. Whether or not we will see it changed again any time soon is anyone's guess.

23/09/2020

An Overdue Perspective on... The All Worlds Ultimate Swoop Rally

"An Overdue Perspective on..." is a new post series intended to allow me to explore the various updates and activities for SWTOR which I had not commented on prior to the blog's face-lift. While a couple of these will be based on post-6.0 updates, this will also enable me to focus on some of the topics which I had originally intended to cover as part of my Thoughts on 6.0 series.

Swoop biking has been a common request among SWTOR’s player base. It is easy enough to see why, as both KOTOR games featured the sport as a minigame and podracing remains to this day one of the most popular and memorable additions to the franchise from the prequel era.

Nine years after SWTOR launched, BioWare created their fifth "traditional" recurring event which was themed all around swoop bikes: The All Worlds Ultimate Swoop Rally, hereafter AWUSR. Its title is a bit of a misnomer, as rather than being on “all worlds”, it is only available on three: Dantooine, Onderon, and Tatooine.

The event itself takes the form of obstacle and time trial tracks on each of the planets, with three swoop gangs asking the player to do different things. As the player gains reputation with them, three story missions per gang will gradually make themselves available.

This event apparently has a fascination with the number three…

16/09/2020

Looking Forward to Star Wars: Squadrons

Star Wars features many things which speak to its audience in different ways. Whether it is the characters, the duels, the lore, the settings, the stories, or the weapons, there will be something that everybody will cling to as what “defines” Star Wars for them. For me, this must be the starfighter battles. Growing up, I absolutely loved the space battles at the end of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi and in games such as Activision's Battlefront II I spent so much more time in the space modes than in any ground battles. 

Indeed, long-term readers will have noticed this bias seep through a couple of times in the past. When discussing EA’s take on Battlefront II, I wrote exclusively about its mode Starfighter Assault and compared it to Star Wars: The Old Republic’s own space Player-vs-Player mode Galactic Starfighter. While I have rarely written about GSF itself on the blog, it remains one of my favourite activities in SWTOR to this day.

When news about a starfighter game being published by EA were leaked a few months ago, I was immediately hooked by the idea. It has been an awfully long time since we have had a game focus exclusively on starfighters, the last one being (according to Wookieepedia) Flight of the Falcon in 2003. That said, prior to this point there were quite a few games which were dedicated purely to space and low-atmosphere combat: X-Wing and TIE Fighter games, the first two Rogue Squadron games, and Starfighter and its sequel Jedi Starfighter.

Point being, it has been almost two decades since a game dedicated purely to starfighters has been released. Yet here we are, less than a month away from the release of the newest addition to that line-up, Star Wars: Squadrons. While I can never claim to have had a lot of experience in its spiritual predecessors such as X-Wing, I have at least played them. I was, I feel, too young to have properly appreciated them at the time (7 or 8), and I haven't got around to playing them since. I really should do that.

There are numerous things which have me interested in Squadrons as a game beyond its base principle, so I would like to use today’s post to demonstrate just what I am looking forward to.

09/09/2020

Things Left Unsaid

Things Left Unsaid is a story mission in SWTOR which players will only access in one specific circumstance. They have initiated a romance with Koth Vortena, Lana Beniko, or Theron Shan at the end of Chapter IX: The Alliance of Fallen Empire and then a companion who they were in love with beforehand comes back. Reinitiating the romance with them unlocks this mission, which is essentially the “break-up” conversation.

It is something which I have often seen people regard as “heart-breaking”, as this is one of the few times when any of these characters – two of whom have apparently been beloved for years – are genuinely upset.

I have only one experience with this mission myself, but not in the way you might expect.

04/09/2020

Fully Operational Again

The face-lift is finished, and so Galactic Antics lives and breathes fully once more. Huge thanks to Shintar of Going Commando for being kind enough to review the changes before they went live.

I hope you like the blog's updated look. I decided that, as I was no longer going to have an official primary focus, the blog’s theme should be similarly generic to match. Besides, as much as I loved the old Defender class corvette header, I cannot deny that it could be deemed a tad “too busy”.

I do of course appreciate that the whole “trying to emulate the series’ main titles” theme has been done to death already, but I couldn’t really think of much else which would be generic and yet undeniably Star Wars.

So, what specifically has been updated as part of the overhaul?

09/08/2020

Six Years and Future Developments

It is strange to think that this blog has now been going on for almost a quarter of my life so far. Galactic Antics has seen me through two full university courses and now it is seeing the working world begin knocking on my proverbial door.

When I set out to start this blog six years ago, it was because I had a lot of thoughts on various goings-on in SWtOR and, while I had been sharing them with a former friend of mine, I felt it would be better-served to get them out into the wider world. I had no idea at the time that I would still be here over half a decade later, as most of my personal projects before this would last barely a year.

I feel incredibly lucky. While the prime of this blog has long since passed (2016), I am incredibly grateful for the readership which I have had over the years since then. It feels like I say this every year, but the fact that people still willingly read the words I chuck up on this big scary old internet is still something of an amazement to me.

A little over a month ago, I took a long hard look at things in my life just to gauge where I am at. Not for any particular purpose – I’ve just (unsurprisingly) had a lot of time to think to myself about such things this year. This sort of thing last happened three years ago while deciding what paths were open for me at that time, although that was after pulling out of a third university course that just was not right for me. Unlike in 2017, one of the things which reared its head among this period was the future of the blog.

I have come close to considering stopping outright a couple of times, but partway through June I was this close to pulling the plug for good. I cannot remember the exact reasons, and I do not particularly wish to try.

This is the main reason why I had not been posting that much despite having things to write about. I was not sure whether it would be "worth" posting if, ultimately, I was going to pull the plug soon after anyway. This anniversary and the direction my life is hopefully going to be taking have both helped me come to some conclusions about what I want this blog to be. I will not be stopping, but things will certainly be different. 

From this point forth, I will no longer feature Star Wars: The Old Republic as the primary focus of the blog. Instead, I will shift its focus to having a more generic Star Wars gaming theme. This is because I have been spending proportionally less time in it compared to other games for the past couple of months for various reasons and this will only continue as time goes on. This change is intended to hopefully increase its longevity by giving me more things to "officially" focus on.

SWtOR will still probably feature the most out of the games which I intend to cover because it'll be the one which has the most frequent and varied updates so, practically, things won't be changing too much besides some occasional variety.

I am not going to be changing the name. Galactic Antics is probably the best name I could ever have come up with in hindsight. I certainly do not think Smuggling with a Cool Head or Blaster-Whipped Cream could transfer across anywhere near as successfully!

I don't know what the full extent of the changes is likely to be yet, but I certainly intend to have the face-lift finished before October as I already have a post mostly-written which will go live during that month. Fair warning, though: it will be a long one. Seriously.

One thing which I do know is that the long-postponed Thoughts on 6.0 series is now officially cancelled. Back in April my computer mysteriously malfunctioned and with it I lost all the videos and screenshots which I had so diligently been recording throughout Onslaught's story. I feel it is better to just cut my losses and move on.

I have other things to work on alongside this face-lift, namely a potential career to get off the ground which will require its own website. I am curious to see what lessons I learn in the process which I may be able to transfer over to this site in terms of potentially improving its aesthetic. I'm going to be a bit busy with this sort of thing, that's for sure!

I will be pulling the blog down from public viewing on the 16th of August at 13:00 BST, exactly one week from this post's publication date, to begin work nice and early on the changes. If you have this blog linked via your blogroll or website, be sure to remove the link until it is back live. 

All that remains is to thank you all so much for your patience over the past six years. 

See you soon!