Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (PC) - Part 1

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic title screen
And this year's final 'K' game is... Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic!

I've spent forever trying to capture screenshots from the Xbox version of this game, but the best I've managed has been fuzzy black and white footage from an old DVD recorder. But then one day a copy of the game miraculously appeared in my Steam library. I'm taking it as a sign that fate does want me to play this game, it just wants me to play the PC version instead.

I admit I have played through this before on the Xbox, about a decade ago perhaps, but thankfully my crappy memory means it'll likely be as if I'm seeing it all for the first time! I didn't even remember it has its own unique theme tune instead of reusing music from the films: youtube link.

Though here's one big difference I've noticed between the two versions: the PC version does not like my Xbox 360 pad one bit. Mouse and keyboard only, controllers not allowed.

(Click the pictures to view them at 1280x960 resolution. Except for the next one and the one after that.)
Knights of the Old Republic character generation choose class screen
Straight away I'm asked to choose my character's class, but there's not actually all that many to pick from as they've cunning included the gender selection here as well to boost the numbers. It's a bit of a change from BioWare's earlier games like Baldur's Gate which give you a million different classes to choose from, plus a bunch of different races on top of that. In SW:KotOR though it's humans or nothing.

Well I am tempted to pick the soldier class (as having no equal in combat sounds like it could be handy), but that duck egg blue outfit they're wearing is putting me off. I'm not so keen on the scoundrel class's red coat either though, so I think I'll go with the Han Solo looking scout class. Yeah I realise that the outfit is getting changed the second I pick up armour, but the game's not exactly giving me much else to base my decision on. I mean can you see any stats around?

Sadly this came out a bit before face creation screens started showing up in RPGs, so I have to choose my character's portrait from the (very reasonable) limited selection provided.

I get just one feat to activate out of this huge list, so should probably think carefully about what kind of fighter I want to be. Do I want to be someone who wields two weapons? Or maybe I want to be someone who... nope, screw the other options, I want two pistols!

Oh by the way, there's a reason why I didn't upload the original resolution version of these particular shots. The game uses a pretty unusual system of adding borders to the screen instead of scaling up the interface as the resolution increases and, as you can imagine, double the res means...

...huge borders. They've hidden the first transition pretty well by continuing the lines and panel shading of the original Xbox sized screen, but the others are a bit easier to spot as it goes from 800x600 to 1024x768 and then to 1280x960

Anyway this is the character skill screen, here I can set my character skills! Hacking computers, disarming mines, breaking into things... basically a whole lot of thief tricks. The game explains that "to open a lock with a DC of 15, take your skill rank in Security + Wisdom modifier +d20 roll. If the total is 15 or greater, the lock is opened," which all seems very reasonable. Though I do have just one question: "what?"

D&D may have been BioWare's comfort zone at the time, but the reason why this is all dice rolls and DC is actually because it's based on the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Roleplaying Game. Thouh understanding where it comes from doesn't make it any easier to understand what it all means.

After revealing that the traditional opening crawl is present and accounted for, the camera pans down to reveal a starship flying in from the top right of the screen while getting torn apart by lasers. Okay okay, I believe you already, it's a Star Wars game!

It takes a good long while, but eventually the chaos outside the ship is enough to wake my character up.

Yep, that's what my character wears when she sleeps. Also combat boots.

Trask is my bunk mate here on the Endar Spire and he's come in to wake me up so we can protect our commanding officer. He's also full of handy information on everything from who my commander is, to how to turn the camera.

Though the game has its roots in the Baldur's Gate's Infinity Engine, this time I'm controlling my character directly with the keyboard and using the mouse to turn and interact with things. Seems simple enough to me.

Knights of the Old Republic inventory screen
Alright I have managed to open up my footlocker and retrieve my blaster pistol, plus I have successfully equipped my pants. If only all my mornings could start so well.

Hang on, I've found a problem. I managed to slot a gun into my right hand no trouble, but it seems that I can't hold a sword in the left at the same time. My dreams of one day becoming a proper space-buccaneer are in shreds. Hang on, I have 8 hit points and my standard blaster pistol does 1-6 damage per shot? Man, I am not liking my survival chances right now.

Oh right, this is Star Wars, I forgot that guns never actually hit anything! Seriously, they've hit the floor more times than they've hit me so far.

To attack an enemy I click on them and... well that's pretty much it, my character can handle it from there. However if I want to use special move feats like sniper shot or rapid shot, I click the icon that appears above the target's head. I can queue a few moves up and then watch the fight play out. Moves don't require stamina and there's no cool down, but they have some disadvantages that I have to take into account. Or at least I would if I could remember what they all were.

Oh crap, this door has a Jedi fight on the other side! Man, can you image how bright those lightsabers would have to glow to be pure white like that under any lighting? Watching this fight would be like staring into a pair of fluorescent strip lights.

Whoa, sudden death by exploding wall! It took both of them out with one blast. It seems that the power of the Force can do nothing against a power overload; a tragedy that could've been avoided if starship designers would just start using fuses for once. At least now I get to run over and nick their weapons.

Huh, no sabers? I'm lucky if I'm even permitted to search a defeated enemy in this, but it seems even rarer that I'm allowed to take their good gear. 19 credits and a medpac from a pair of high level lightsaber users, wow such a good haul.

Knights of the Old Republic Endar Spire bridge
Before entering the ship's bridge Trask told me that I should switch from pistols to my sword as it's suicide to use a blaster in close quarters. I'm sure the SAS is taught the same thing.

I would've taken a screenshot of the tense battle that followed, with sword clanging against sword between the computer consoles of the ship's nerve center, but that would've gotten in the way of the view! Best to wait for the dust to settle first I thought. I can't stay too long though as we're spinning out of control straight into a planet!

Though really I can stay here all I want. It's only the illusion of imminent danger.

Trask's next bright idea after making me storm the bridge with my guns holstered, was to go take on a Dark Jedi in a sword fight alone, so I left them to it and made a run for the escape pods instead. There I met up with a Republic officer called Carth Onasi and we decided to share the last boat off the sinking ship. Well, the exploding ship.

It was a bit of a rough landing though, leaving my character knocked out for days. Fortunately Carth found us a abandoned apartment to hide out in and the Sith in the area have no idea what we look like, so we're safe for now. We're just two heavily armed humans covered head to toe in combat armour, just like everyone else.

Every world in Star Wars has a theme: there's the desert planet, the forest planet, the ice planet and this place definitely seems like this is one of the city planets. Nothing here on Taris but skyscrapers.

Carth tells me that we need to find another survivor, a Jedi called Bastila, because she's a whole lot more important to the war against the Sith than either of us is, so I guess now I just walk the streets asking people if they've seen an escape pod. Sorry, I mean the street, as this area is basically just a long I shape, with a clinic on the far end, and my apartment building, an equipment shop, and a cantina on this side.

Actually I don't have a whole lot of dialogue options in conversation, so it seems that asking around isn't going to work out all that well. Time for plan B then: shopping.

Knights of the Old Republic shop screen
I never knew how much I wanted a Bonadan alloy heavy suit until now. Look at that max dexterity bonus! I don't know what it means, but it's a pretty high number so that must be good right? Unless this is following the classic D&D armour class rules where lower is better (and that's not impossible).

Oh hang on I've just figured it out: while I'm wearing the armour my dexterity stat would be limited to a 4 or lower. It's a shame that I have to close the shop screen and open my inventory to check if it's better than what I'm already wearing. C'mon BioWare, Square had this figured out by Final Fantasy 6 a whole decade earlier.

Knights of the Old Republic party inventory screen
Fortunately I've collected a lot of crap to sell from dead Sith on the doomed Endar Spire, so I'm already close to being able to afford my new armour.

This inventory is a big change from BioWare's D&D games as it's shared between all characters and is apparently infinite in its capacity; I'm not seeing any weight or space limits mentioned here. By the way, the game has a perfectly good explanation for why people are fighting with swords on the decks of their sci-fi spacecruisers: personal energy shield tech is at the stage where it can absorb the energy from blaster bolts (but not a sharp metal blade).

It's really annoying how the developers have apparently thought all this out properly. How am I supposed to joke about all the stupid things I come across now that I know that the next NPC I chat to likely has a perfectly sensible explanation for them? Huh?

Now that I've lightened my load I've decided to check out the cantina next door to the shop in search of information and cash earning opportunities. Man I am so glad that BioWare resisted the urge to drag out the cantina music from the first Star Wars movie again. KotOR: 1 - Jedi Knight: 0.

Look at this though, I haven't a clue what those aliens playing the instruments are called, but they're the same as the ones in the cantina in Star Wars, and the dancers are the same species as the dancers in Return of the Jedi. This is a problem that a lot of sci-fi has, where alien races get locked in a role and suddenly everyone from that entire planet has the same job. Every Hutt is involved in crime, every Klingon is a fearless soldier obsessed with honour, every Xenomorph wants to put you in a cocoon and shove an egg down your throat etc. It doesn't exactly add depth to a setting when the characters are two dimensional.

Knights of the Old Republic Pazaak screenshot
Excellent, I've found a card playing minigame called Pazaak! It doesn't matter if I'm playing Final Fantasy VIII, Rage, or Fallout: New Vegas, I've noticed that card mini-games inevitably end with me walking away with less money or cards than I started off with. But I think I'm in with a chance this time, as I actually understand these rules.

Every turn a random card is placed on my side of the table and I have to decide whether I want to play a card from my hand or click 'end turn' and let my opponent have his go. The goal is to end up with a set of cards that equal 20, and the person that comes closest without going over wins the round. So right now I could put down that +4 and give myself a score of 18 this turn, or click 'end turn' and take a chance I won't get dealt a 7 or above.

Of course I go and make the wrong choice each time without fail and end up having to hand over my cash. 130 credits this has cost me so far! I need that cash for medpacs dammit.


I'm still struggling to pinpoint Bastila, but I have managed to steal a Sith uniform and use it to ride the elevator to the Lower City. It seemed like a good idea before I found out that the place is full of people that want to stab me.

900 credits I spent on this Bonadan alloy heavy suit armour and these Black Vulkars have still managed to cut me down to half health in three fifths of a seconds. I guess Trask was right: using pistols in close quarters really is a dumb idea. Or maybe using two pistols is just a terrible idea in general as it throws my accuracy way off. No point having twice the firepower if it means I couldn't shoot the broadside of a barn if I was standing on the Star Wars barn planet.

Fortunately Carth is a little more resilient than I am and I was able to switch to him when my character fell to escape back to the elevator for a medpac break. The enemies don't respawn so I can keep killing them one at a time this way if I have to, at least until my medpac money runs out (there's no regenerating health or resting so I'm reliant on the health kits).

Huh, the Lower City cantina is exactly the same as the Upper City cantina. Same layout, same decor, same everything. Well the people are different at least, giving me new opportunities to fail to find out where Bastila is.

Mission Vao here is unusual for a Twi'lek as she speaks Basic, the human language, which means that she gets her own voice actor. Most of the alien races here speak in alienspeak with subtitles, so that that the developers could get away with recycling the same few voice clips over and over again for everyone in that species. As if we wouldn't notice.

Vao's a quick witted street urchin type who knows everything that goes on around here. Everything except where Bastila is that is. Well it was worth a shot anyway. Where's the next NPC with a name floating above their head at?


So it's come to this. I'm helping a dancer pass her audition by being her dance partner. Believe it or not, this is an animation of me getting the moves right. The animation in the game isn't all that great to be honest but it is often hilarious, with characters somersaulting on the spot in sword fights. It almost feels like a classic Infinity Engine with the camera pulled in closer at times.

My reward for completing the dance successfully: some XP!

Seems that I'm slowly crawling up that light/dark scale. I've never been a big fan of morality systems though, as more often than not they reward mindlessly picking the same kinds of responses each time. I'm playing a light side character so if I see someone being mugged I rush to help them and then pay for their taxi ride home every time. If I was playing dark side I'd kill the muggers, kill the victim, then go find a puppy to kick while I was at it, because the evil choice is often comically extreme. No decisions required, just pick light every time, or dark every time.

Hey, the game's finally letting me put a point into one of my attribute stats this level up! I think I'll put it into dexterity as that "adds modifiers to ranged attack rolls" and I'm a shooty character. The thing is though, it's apparently only the attribute's modifier in the right hand column that has any real effect, and to get it to +4 I'm going to have to get dexterity up to 18. So I guess I'm going to have to wait a few more levels until I get another point before I can get the benefit from that.


What, something's bothering him again? Man, if I actually wanted to talk to Carth I'd go talk to the guy.

I seem to remember that in Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate conversations between party members would happen automatically as I travelled around, but it was rare that they'd actually interrupt me as I was walking around like this. The funny thing is, he doesn't much want to talk to me about his issues, so every time this happens we just end up pissing each other off.

The good news though is that I've finally found a lead to where Bastila is. It seems that she has been captured by a gang down here and is being given away as the prize in a swoop race (kind of like a hover bike I guess). So all I need to do is convince one of the other gangs to let me race for them by stealing a prototype engine and I can save Bastila!

One catch: to get into the rival gang's garage I'll need to recruit Mission Vao, and she's disappeared off on an adventure down in the Undercity. I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever get off Taris.


Okay clearly I'm doing something wrong here. I'm running low on medpacs and I can't even survive down in the Undercity long enough to find the person who's supposed to lead me through the fields of these poisonous zombie werewolves to the entrance of the swoop gang base that I'm going to have to fight my way through.

I'm in desperate need of money and XP now, so I guess I'm crawling back up to the Upper Level streets again.

Man this game really needs a fast travel option, it takes bloody forever to walk anywhere because everything's so spaced out, and I have to constantly walk back and forth between places to get anything done. I can fast travel back to the apartment at any time, but that's much help because there's no jobs or shops at the hideout is there? It's a bloody useless option most of the time.

Hang on, HANG THE FUCK ON... I get healed to full health by visiting the hideout! So I don't have to burn through medpacs anymore, I can just treat it like the rest option in an Infinity Engine RPG and fast travel back to base to heal up after every fight or so! The load times are negligible on a modern PC so there's no downside I can see.

Alright, now I can finally start bringing more cash than I'm throwing away on health kits.

Knights of the Old Republic arena
I tried a bit of bounty hunting for folks down in the Lower City cantina to raise some funds, but the targets are well hidden and most of them seem like decent people who've gotten on the wrong side of the Space-Mafia, so I've moved on to becoming champion of the Upper City arena instead.

I'm not sure if the cash I'm earning is enough to make up for all the grenades I'm wasting, but I'm getting some XP out of it as well so it's all good. Guns are definitely starting to lose their appeal though, as even with a blaster rifle I can barely hit anything.


Alright, I've finally found Mission in the Tarisian Undercity and now the game is starting to click a lot better with me. By that I mean I'm actually winning fights now with my three character party, and progress is being made. I may be the most skilful scout in the galaxy, but Mission's got a few tricks I'm missing out on, like bomb disposal, so she helps round out the team.

In fact I'm so grateful that I'm getting some momentum going now that I barely even care that I'm stuck in a modular sewer maze built from three or four identical rooms that keep showing up over and over.


Anyway we had a long an exciting trip through the sewers, up into corridors of the Black Vulkar gang's base, through to their garage, and out again, and now I'm this close to saving Bastila. I'll leave this planet eventually, I swear it.

First though, a racing minigame!

I like how I get to see the dashboard even though the camera is floating behind the hover car I'm sitting inside. It's a very nice dashboard as well, looks very... painted.

Yep, the swoop gang I helped out decided to just let me race with the prototype engine I stole for them because... I have the look of a racer I guess. My character admits that they've never raced before, but that's not going to stop them breaking records with this stolen prototype engine part installed.

Basically what I'm doing here is sliding left and right across the screen to hit these boost panels on the floor for a burst of speed, while avoiding things that might slow me down (like walls). Those arrows on the dashboard show when I can shift up a gear by momentarily releasing the accelerator. As minigames go it's really not so bad, though I doubt I'd miss it if it was gone.


Man, the dialogue in this honestly cracks me up at times. I don't know if the writers were going for Saturday morning cartoon camp deliberately or if that's just the way it turned out, but it does feel like they're aiming for a slightly younger audience than the movies at times.

Then again the films had actors like Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Christopher Lee and Ian McDiarmid reading the lines and they could make Sesame Street sound like Shakespeare, so it's hard to really tell.

Anyway Bastila just climbed out of her cage herself and killed him for me, so I can finally use my 'I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you' line I've been saving up forever:

By the way, that bottom line is another reason why I hate the dark side/light side system. It sounds like it could be said as a joke, but if I chose it I'd probably end up getting dark side points. Gotta go with the humourless options every time just in case! It doesn't help that the protagonist never speaks, so I have no idea what tone they're using. Also if the designers knew from the start they weren't giving the hero a voice, maybe it would've been smarter not to pull the camera right in close to their face every time they have something to say. Might have been a smart move for them to take the goofy headgear off as well.

But anyway, that's all over with now, so I can finally leave Taris! 

Except no, we can't leave, because we don't have a starship and the Sith are blockading the planet. So we need to sort out both of those issues as well before we can go anyway. Man, it's like Midgar in Final Fantasy VII all over again. I wonder if it mentions this anywhere on the box; something like: "40 hours of epic RPG adventure spanning seven Star Wars worlds (you'll spend 10 of them on Taris)," perhaps.

Oh hang on I just took a look at the box art and it's so obvious where I've gone wrong now. I'm a total idiot, I've been playing the wrong game the whole time!

It turns out that I've actually been playing Star Wars: Taris, a Star Wars RPG adventure set exclusively on just this one planet. Well that explains everything!

Crap, now that I look at that art again I realise that I didn't cut out Bastila's fingers all that well. That's going to bother me forever. Anyway, the photoshop break's over now I guess. I should probably go back to the game and finish up on this bloody planet. I ain't quitting until the game gives me my own lightsaber, I promise you that.

Continued in part two!

Semi-Random Game Box