Developer Appreciation Week is here! For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster. The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios. As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better. That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole. So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there. If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.
This morning marks the conclusion of three years of daily blog posts, and the beginning of year four. As a result I thought it was fitting to do Blizzard Entertainment today since it is one of the companies that I have the most longevity with. I have a complicated relationship with this company, and if you scroll through the back log of this blog you will find times when I am bashing them and times when I am praising them. While I knew of the existence of Orcs vs Humans, I didn’t really come into the fold until Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of RTS gameplay, but the thing that sold me on this game and the company as a whole was the level editor. Prior to WC2, my life pretty much revolved around Doom II and making custom maps for it using MapEdit for windows. Trying to get things to work as I hoped they would was always a struggle, and MapEdit had this nasty habit of completely destroying maps in the process of making them. That said I didn’t want to mess with constantly having to shell out into DOS to get the “good” Doom map editors to work. So when I encountered a “good” windows map editor for Warcraft 2 I was enthralled and hooked, and began churning out “PUD” files left and right. To be honest I spent far more time in the level editor than I actually did playing the game.
However when I truly became sold on Blizzard as a company was with the release of Diablo. They essentially took everything I ever wanted in a hack and slash dungeon crawler and made it work in vibrant isometric rendered 3D glory. I can remember many an hour in the Art Department lab that I was supposed to be monitoring playing Diablo, or fiddling with the meager modding tools available for it. I even own a copy of the barely mentioned Hellfire expansion that allowed players to crawl through the dungeon as a Monk. What made this game so revolutionary however was the introduction of Battle.net. Prior to Diablo networking in games was pretty much limited to IPX/SPX which meant that you had to more than likely be sitting on a corporate or college Novell network to play them properly. There were clients that you could use like Kali that you could run to emulate IPX/SPX networking over TCP/IP, but in doing so you also added a bunch of lag to the process. The introduction of Battle.net meant that over a TCP/IP connection you could dial into a server and play in a hosted environment… and it just worked with minimal fiddling. So much of that time sitting in the lab was because I was connected to the college T1 line and able to play lag free on the Battle.net servers.
Later on with the release of Starcraft I ended up building my own windows network back at the trailer my wife and I lived in during the last years of college. The middle bedroom was my computer room and in it were two desks with two computers connected together over a super cheap coax peer to peer network. With this setup my cousin and I played so many co-op and versus games, but the majority of these were afternoon long matches of Starcraft. We were both base builders, and in the process kept trying to build impregnable fortresses to keep the other out. There was a sweet joy in sneaking that ghost over and listening to him scream obscenities as the game told him “Nuclear Launch Detected”. The next big game that I devoted large chunks of my life to was Diablo 2 which launched shortly after I entered the work world, and what was ultimately my second job out of college. I had by then been pulled heavily back into console gaming, devoting most of my time to playing the Sony Playstation and imports on the Sega Saturn. When Diablo 2 launched however all of that halted and I was back to being chained to the PC, devoting every moment to figuring out the inner workings of this new game. When the expansion launched and the Druid class was released, that became my jam. I am really hoping that at some point down the line they give us another druid to play with because that class was insanely fun. I loved having the various animal companions fighting with me, which in part is why the World of Warcraft Hunter class appealed to me so much at first.
In large part by the time Warcraft 3 was released, I was largely tired of the RTS genre and instead addicted beyond reason to a series of MMO games…. starting with Everquest, continuing into Dark Age of Camelot, Horizons, and ultimately City of Heroes. We were happily playing CoH when everyone started talking about the next Blizzard game… The World of Warcraft. At first I was super snarky about it, joking that I didn’t see how Blizzard could do an MMO given that most of their games only had just enough story to keep them from falling flat on their faces. Then I got to see the game when a friend of mine got into the closed beta and he brought the client up to work. I was completely and totally hooked and wanted more. Most of us managed to get into a stress test weekend, and I remember that it was the weekend of my ten year high school reunion. All I could think about was getting home and playing more with my friends. During the beta weekend I played a paladin and a friend of mine played a holy priest, and those two classes had this amazing synergy together. I would crusader strike things, debuffing them against holy damage… and he would burn them down with smite. Sadly this ultimately died by the time the game was launched, but it hooked me on the concept of the game… so much so that when I returned to playing City of Heroes after that weekend it had just lost its luster.
I was a devoted acolyte of World of Warcraft from the day it launched, forming House Stalwart that morning by creating a couple of throw away characters to generate the money needed to buy that guild charter. From there I stayed happy and engaged through two expansions, and it was ultimately not until the sweeping changes of Cataclysm and several years worth of pent up frustrations and drama that ultimately caused me to leave the game. Now World of Warcraft is much like a friend from High School that you get along with extremely well… in small doses. This is the part of my relationship with Blizzard where things get complicated, because it is hard sometimes for me to remember that they are not the “World of Warcraft Company” but instead this company I have had this storied history with since 1995. They are this friend that has given me countless hours of enjoyment and wonder as I wander around the the worlds they have created. So while the shine on Warcraft has dimmed for me… it is still polished to a sheen on Diablo 3 and Overwatch and I hungrily gobble up every last morsel of information on them both. I also greatly appreciate games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, even though I am not really regularly playing them.
The truth of Blizzard is they have this innate ability to take an idea, and render it down to only the bones… and then build back upon that notion this fun and polished experience. The RTS genre was cludgy and unwieldy before Warcraft. As much as I adore Baldur’s Gate… it is not the clean and easy to pick up experience that Diablo was. Similarly Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot were these arcane and difficult to begin experiences, and World of Warcraft finally brought MMORPG gaming to the masses. This invokes so many different feelings in people, but you have to respect their ability to distill the pure essence of a thing and then amplify those “best characteristics” into a finished product. For me this is exactly what they have done with Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and ultimately Overwatch. Even though I sometimes am critical of Blizzard, I will always be among their biggest fans.