DAW2016: Final Day

DAW2016_logo

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.

The Roundup

Today draws to a close this years Developer Appreciation Week and there are always more things that need to be talked about than there was time to do so.  During the week I wrote about five different studios.  Some of them were pretty pointed discussions, and others were just nostalgic romps.  What is always left at the end of the week however are a bunch more than I COULD have talked about. So the purpose of today’s post is to recap where I have been this week and do a few shorter blurbs.  Here is the rundown of studios discussed this week.

Now here are some topics that ultimately got left on the cutting room floor for lack of time.

Bethesda Softworks / Zenimax Media

Ultimately had I not taken a break for a day this would have been the missing topic.  I have this huge love for Bethesda games in their own right, but over the years they also snatched up iD software and became a third party publisher for amazing studios like Arkane.  The root of my love however comes from the modern Fallout and Elder Scrolls Franchises.  These are games that I can lose myself in for hundreds of hours and still feel like I have not even begun to scratch the surface on what there is to see.  There are so many times in the past where I have lost entire weekends to exploring Tamriel or the burnt out husk of the Capitol Wasteland.  I will also always have a soft spot in my heart for Elder Scrolls Online, since it feels like I have a closer connection to that title than most.  It has made me pretty happy to see that the game is now thriving after a pretty rough start.

Larian Studios

I love this company, in spite of the fact that they have seemed horribly confused as to what sort of game company they actually wanted to be.  They have this world that is amazing, and each game they have released has told a piece of the story of its background.  The only confusing part is that each game for the most part has been in a vastly different genre.  You have Divine Divinity which was originally a Diablo style game… and then the follow up Divinity II which has a very Elder Scrolls/Dragon Age type feel to it.  Then there is Dragon Commander which is this strange 4X mixed with RTS elements.  Finally you have Divinity: Original Sin that feels like the game they always had been meaning to create.  The title is so insanely content dense that I have trouble actually making any progress because I keep finding something else that is interesting to check out.  In the very first town it felt like every single NPC had some interesting backstory to delve into.  I just love that a game company is out there trying to create all of these different game types, and for the most part succeeding at it.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every single Larian game that I have set my hands on, and look forward to playing more in the future.

Supergiant Games

This company makes some really amazingly detailed and well crafted games.  Bastion had so much going on, from the physical mechanics of gameplay… to the amazing running narration.  I was also a huge fan of the soundtrack and have spent many an hour with it running in the background.  When Transistor came out, I was shocked that I loved everything about that game even more.  We have devoted at least three podcasts where we have gushed about Transistor, and how well written the story was…  which combined amazingly with the soundtrack and gameplay.  Now Supergiant has a brand new game that they showed at Pax East called Pyre.  At first look it doesn’t exactly seem to be my sort of game, but I know from past experience that if they have crafted it…  then chances are I will ultimately love it too.  I am amazed how they can seem to do it every time… build this completely unique experience that I still love just as much as their others.

Gearbox

This company comes with some baggage.  I unequivocally love the Borderlands series of games.  It has such amazing characters and writing, and manages to pull off a sort of self aware comedy that is extremely hard to do in a game.  Most “comedic games” fall short, and end up not quite translating into actual humor.  Borderlands has mastered the art of telling a real story while making me go into full on belly laughs at times. This in itself wouldn’t been all that amazing, but it is on top of a really damned solid shooter.  When I first heard the concept of “Diablo with Guns” I was not 100% sure I would be sold.  However playing the first Borderlands I was completely bought into the concept, and then Borderlands 2 came after improving quite literally everything.  Now I am not sure if I am sold on the notion of Battleborn, but I am giving it a shot because of the pedigree and some of the single player videos remind me a lot of the things I loved from Battleborn.  Now when I say the company has some baggage…. this is also the studio that released Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines.  I am just hoping that Battleborn ends up feeling more Borderlands… and doesn’t add to the detractor column.

Bungie

I feel like I have to write about Bungie, but I also didn’t really feel like I had enough ammunition to really do a full post.  I was never a Halo player.  I never owned an Xbox, and when I played the PC port it didn’t feel all that amazing as compared to the game I was super into at that time Unreal II: The Awakening.  I feel like Microsoft did a massive disservice by keeping a strangle hold on the Halo franchise, and does to this very day.  However when I first saw Destiny… I knew this was going to be a game for me.  In fact this was the game that ultimately made me buy my PS4 and learn how to play a shooter with a controller.  While the game didn’t really grab me and keep me during year one… year two and the Taken King expansion have been amazing.  I love this game so much and over the course of the last few months it is really my primary game.  While I loved the Diablo 3 season launch last night, there was a little part of me that would have rather been playing Iron Banner in Destiny.  The game has its hooks in me hard, and it really has become this perfect package of game play feel, with a reward system that makes it feel like my time spent was worth it.  Seriously bravo to Bungie for the creation of this game… the only thing that could make it better is if it released on the PC as well.

 

DAW2016: Square Enix

SquareEnix

DAW2016_logo

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.

SquareEnix

I knew sooner or later I would end up needing to do Square Enix because at various times during my life they played a huge role in shaping how I looked at games.  Lets go back to a time and a place where the only gaming news I got was through Nintendo Power magazine.  In one of those issues I was first introduced to a game called Final Fantasy.  For ages I had been looking for the personification of Dungeons and Dragons in game form, and while the gold box games did a decent job of doing just that… there was always something missing.  Final Fantasy bridged the gap and gave me precisely that, along with a story line that made me care about all of the dungeon crawling.  I remember being so insanely excited when I went to a nearby Walmart and they had this game in stock.  The only negative was that within a short few days I would be heading to Boy Scout camp for an entire week.  While I normally loved camp, this was quite possibly the most miserable week of camp I have ever experienced.  All that I really wanted to be doing was playing Final Fantasy from the comfort of my bedroom… and instead I was making campfires, and hiking up sharp flint rock strewn paths.  When I finally got home, firing up that Nintendo and playing Final Fantasy was quite literally the best feeling ever.  Regardless of how exhausted I was from a week of camp, I still ended up pulling an all nighter and getting through that damned Marsh cave.

When Final Fantasy 2 was released… aka Final Fantasy IV for the rest of the world… it once again dominated my life for a period of time.  I was completely blown away by the graphics at the time, and also amazed at how much more complex the story line of that game was.  This was also the point at which I learned the hard lesson of save at every single save point, because of a bad mishap with the Magus Sisters.  The game also introduced the term “Spoony Bard” into my vocabulary and for that I will always be grateful.  This was also the first game that gave me characters I had no interest in playing…  I am looking at you Edward and your inability to do any real damage.  The game also gave my quite possibly my favorite goofy archetype of character…  the Dragoon, with its amazing but also sometimes frustrating jump attack.  I was completely hooked on the notion of having this huge cast of characters that I could switch between at will…  but then ultimately only ever seemed to play with the same party ever.  For the most part that party was Cecil, Rydia, Kain, Rosa, and Edge… with that last spot being highly variable as I went through the play session.  This is really something I do even today when I play for example a Bioware game.  In Dragon Age Inquisition, my party is pretty much permanently Cassandra, Dorian, Sera and my character.

It wasn’t until High School that Final Fantasy 3 was released…  or Final Fantasy VI for the rest of the world.  I remember it coming out around Christmas break and at first I rented it…  which was a truly dumb idea given that the Super Nintendo didn’t have memory cards.  The main reason for this was because the game itself was something stupid like $85 when it released, which was an awful lot of my limited resources at the time.  However after a few days of playing the game I was making a trek to the big city to try and find a copy.  After searching a dozen different stores I finally found a copy at Target, and much to my shock it was on sale for only $65.  I am not sure exactly sure what it is about Final Fantasy VI, but for whatever reason I think this game will always be my favorite.  I tend to love games that pull a bait and switch on me, when you think you are nearing the end of the game… only to realize that the world just got much larger and instead of being nearly done… I was just barely starting.   I also have a soft spot for a lot of the characters in this game, because it managed to make me feel things that video games had not really succeeded in doing up to this point.  Ashgar and I have had a conversation about this… and for me the game that did all of these things was Final Fantasy V.  However for me… that game was not available and didn’t even receive a fan translation until I was well into college.  The two games do a lot of the same things, I just happened to experience six first.

Over the years there has been a string of Final Fantasy titles always in my life, and several non-FF series games that I loved as well.  For example I love beyond love Vagrant Story, and I remember playing the hell out of it when it came out on the PSX.  I also spent more than my fair share of time playing Chrono Trigger, and the subsequent follow up games.  Then there are games that I wish would get a reboot like Parasite Eve that were so amazing for the time in which they came out.  Essentially there has always been some Square Enix game somewhere in my life, be it Bravely Default that I am slowly working my way through on my 3DS downstairs on my bedside table, or the Kingdom Hearts collection I have sitting beside my PS3 ready to start in earnest.  All of these are in fact great experiences, but the one I feel like I really need to talk about is the miraculous rebirth of Final Fantasy XIV.  This game was released in 2010 and was essentially universally despised.  I remember getting into the beta for it and finding it just largely uninteresting more than anything.  I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t really feel anything about it.  So I was more than happy to return to World of Warcraft, and forget that the game existed.

However in August of 2013 the game relaunched as A Realm Reborn, and I have to say I was shocked at just how much I liked the title.  We played for a handful of months until our group ran out of content that we could realistically complete.  Then July of 2014 I decided to fire the game up again, because I wanted to see how it had progressed in our absence.  Final Fantasy XIV was one of those games that our group left on good terms.  What I found waiting on me was this rich cache of content that laid untapped.  Over the next several months we had what could only be termed as a renaissance of MMO gaming all centered around this game.  I was happy to raid once again, and happy to be doing pretty much all of the tropes of a MMORPG.  What made all the difference was the loving way in which this game was being crafted.  I have to give huge shouts to the localization team and namely Koji Fox.  Final Fantasy XIV is so amazingly well written and is packed full of more feels than most games ever manage to muster.  There is content that will make you painfully belly laugh, and other times infuriate you for all of the right reasons.  Then there are moments that will make you cry… and there are certain cut scenes in this game that even the mere thought of will summon up the waterworks.

While I am currently on a break from the game after burning myself out again with the launch of Heavensward, I know sooner or later I will return and be happy to do so.  Heavensward was quite possibly the expansion I have looked forward to the most from any MMORPG that I have played, since maybe the launch of Trials of Atlantis in Dark Age of Camelot.  Unfortunately much like ToA…  I got my expectations up way too high, and the content drought that followed the launch ultimately ended up with me stopping playing.  However as a couple of patches have built up for me, I plan on returning soon…  probably after I get the upcoming Diablo 3 season out of my system.  I am happy to know that there is still a very thriving guild presence in this game waiting on me.  I have a feeling that sooner or later we will all return for yet another renaissance of MMO gaming and when it happens… it will be in huge part to just how great Final Fantasy XIV turned out.

DAW2016: Bioware

BiowareLogo

DAW2016_logo

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.

BiowareLogo

This is going to be a difficult one to tackle, especially since I didn’t get a ton of sleep thanks to the tornado warnings.  However I am going to give it to good college try, and hope that the end result turns out at least not too shabby.  I first became aware as Bioware as a company with the release of Baldur’s Gate, or more so the existence of what I later came to know as the “Infinity Engine”.  I have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons since I first found a players manual abandoned in a locker on the last day of school in second grade.  Finding that book spawned a lot of things, not the least of which was trying to hungrily gobble up anything TSR related.  I played the “gold box” series of games, namely because I had read the novels behind a lot of the stories.  There was just something missing with the game, and while I enjoyed them at the time they never really felt that good.  The story that was being told felt limited by the meager technology, and while I was happy enough with the end product…  that only lasted until I had played my first Final Fantasy game.  Baldur’s Gate was the title that brought me back from my console days into once again believing that the PC was a great platform for role-playing games.

Subsequent games were released…  Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate II and even one of my all time favorites… Planescape Torment… all using this “Infinity Engine” I have to admit I got a bit of the wrong idea behind what exactly the company Bioware really was.  In my mind it seemed like Bioware was the tools company, and Interplay, Black Isle, or later the reboot Obsidian were the game creator.  It wasn’t until Neverwinter Nights was released that I really started to understand that Bioware was both the tools division and a lot of great storytelling wrapped into one package.  Neverwinter Nights was one of those revolutionary games for me personally.  While the original campaign was awesome… it was the inclusion of the aurora toolset that set my mind on fire.  At this time I was playing a lot of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot so I tried to replicate some of my favorite features of those games using the Neverwinter engine.  I learned the C Script language and figured out how to code things like randomly generated loot from tables when you opened chests or killed mobs.  I also eventually figured out how to create a token based system along the lines of the one that allowed you to purchase armor in the Darkness Falls dungeon.  The end result was this amalgam of the EQ Plane of Hate and DAoC Darkness Falls that I called the “Plane of Spite”.  While I never did anything really interesting with it, I loved every single moment of working on it and figuring out the inner machinations of this engine.

It was not really until Knights of the Old Republic that I hopped back on the Bioware fandom, and I remember being crushingly disappointed when I learned that the title was going to be Xbox Exclusive.  Thankfully later that year it came out for the PC and I was absolutely thrilled to be dissecting that game world as well.  I loved Neverwinter Nights for its technical precision, and the Aurora and Infinity engines for giving me this awesome framework to go out and explore worlds in.  However KOTOR was the first time from Bioware that I was completely stunned by the storyline.  Last week we went into a discussion on AggroChat about the best Star Wars stories, and by the end of that show all of us pretty much came to the consensus that Knights of the Old Republic was if not the absolute best story, it was at least among them.  There are moments in this game that had shocking revelations that I have never quite recovered from.  Even though the engine is dated, and the graphics look like crap compared to what I am used to… I can still play this game happily over and over just because it was so damned well crafted.  I’ve bought it for others, and even own the mobile port of the game.  I feel like this game more than any set the tone for the modern incarnation of Bioware.

I ultimately for one reason or another skilled Mass Effect at launch, and instead picked up the Bioware banner once again with the release of Dragon Age: Origins.  During this period of time I was raiding in World of Warcraft rabidly… but there were a few weeks where I completely dropped off the face of the planet, and it was thanks to this game.  I was just completely enthralled with the world and the setting, and the concept of the dark spawn and deep roads.  I am a Dwarf at heart, so I loved every single moment of Orzammar.  My first play through was as a Dwarven Noble, and I have to say after all of the subsequent play sessions that is still the one I cherish the most.  Much the same as KOTOR, it was ultimately the characters that set this game apart from the others I had played.  They felt so fleshed out and three dimensional, and I actually cared about interacting with them.  I am a huge proponent of smashing things with a big weapon, and games that allow me to slaughter by the hundreds… but it is significantly harder to find a game that makes me feel.  Dragon Age made me feel so much, and during this time I had a really interesting encounter.  One of my guildies invited me to tank for some friends of his, and when I popped onto voice chat we had some of the usual getting to know a new person discussion.  I mentioned that I had been playing a ton of Dragon Age… and it was at this point that they started grilling me about this character or that, or what decision I made where.  It turns out that I was ultimately raiding that night with a bunch of the writers, and you could almost hear them beaming as they proudly chimed in that they wrote this or that as I gushed about various details.

With the release of Mass Effect 2, I later went back and became an addict of that series as well.  I still wish that someone would make that into a Walking Dead style serialized television show, because the story that is being told is among the best science fiction tales ever.  It just seems a crime that the only folks that will ever see the story, are the ones who have played through the game.  Then you of course have the release of Star Wars the Old Republic, that my friends and I tore through rabidly when it launched.  I burnt myself out on that game but recently a bunch of us ended up going back and remembering just how damned well written all of the story arcs really are.  At some point soon I want to go back and finish where I left off which is the start of the Revan content, and try out the new experience fallen empire content that I have heard so much about.  For sake of time though I am going to wrap things up, because otherwise I could probably carry on for a dozen more paragraphs talking about all of the things from Bioware games that I love.  It is a great studio, and while I was scared that EA would destroy its spirit… I have been pleasantly surprised that the core values of the company and the creative might seem to keep trucking along happily.  I look forward to more adventures be it with Andromedia or the next great IP that we have yet to experience.

DAW2016: Blizzard Entertainment

BlizzLogo

DAW2016_logo

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.

BlizzLogo

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.

DAW2016 – Undead Labs

undeadlabs

DAW2016_logo

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.

undeadlabs

I was first aware of the existence of Undead Labs back in November of 2009 when articles started filtering onto the various MMO news sites that this company had spun off of ArenaNet to create a zombie themed MMO.  Firstly I am a huge fan of all things Undead, and I started watching any news about this upstart company to try and glean bits of information about the upcoming game.  Few things make me happier than slashing my way through hordes of the walking dead, and I’m enough of a fan of the George Romero movies that I have a vial of dirt from the graveyard that the original Night of the Living Dead was filmed in.  With time it was announced that they had set their sights on creating a really solid single player experience instead of an MMO, which honestly was probably a really solid move given that by the time the game would have released…  the MMO market was looking a little shaky.  On June 5th of 2013 the resulting game, State of Decay was released exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade, and I bought it the moment it was available for purchase.  If you were to craft a perfect Zombie game…  you’d have State of Decay.  I loved everything about it… minus one little detail.  The game felt like it was originally designed to have co-op support if not a fully fleshed out MMO experience.  However as excited as I was about the game I took to my blog and made a post talking about my day one impressions.

Shortly after making the post I had Annie Strain the wife of Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain interacting with me on twitter.  This really told me that this game studio was a little different than the big polished institutions I was used to interacting with.  Everything about Undead Labs seemed like a big family, rather than a business.  I had the fortune to interact with a handful of them at Pax South 2015, as they were ramping up to launch both their pokemon-esc mobile MMO Moonrise and the State of Decay: Year One Survivor Edition.  Just talking with them really brings home this feeling of them all being in this together.  The best part however is that they really do make amazing games, and over the years since State of Decay has launched I have purchased it for so many of my friends.  I even purchased the disc copy of YOSE for my boss, when I found out he had just purchased a Xbox One.  While he is not a big gamer, he was a huge fan of The Walking Dead… and as a result is now also a huge fan of State of Decay.  Once again… the only problem with the game is that it begs to be a multiplayer experience.  We’ve talked about this before on our podcast, but if we could explore that game world with friends it would truly be one of the best games released on any platform.

Another huge boon about Undead Labs is the insanely hard working Sanya Weathers.  If you have been around the MMO industry since the early days, there is a large chance you know that name.  I became aware of her during my time playing Dark Age of Camelot, and always appreciated the job she did trying to wrangle the crazies and help out the folks who really needed assistance.  Within the community management circles she is a bit “infamous” for her blogging days.  Regardless of how you might remember her, she is one of those forces that it wouldn’t matter what company she was working with… I would pay attention to them from that point on.  I am hugely thankful of my own interactions with her during the lead up to, and after Pax South 2015.  I would not have actually had the interview with Undead Labs were it not for her reaching out to me on twitter, and that sort of proactive nature is just awesome.  It was heartbreaking when the Studio announced that they would be cancelling Moonrise because I was right there with them pulling for it to be the next big breakout hit.

One of the folks that I met with during Pax South was Geoffrey Card the Lead Designer for State of Decay.  Since the convention I’ve followed his movement a little more closely and found that he does this amazing series of live streams.  What is awesome about these streams is that he tends to grab various folks from Undead Labs and streams over the pacific timezone lunchtime.  The thing that I find valuable about them is the way that the various folks end up breaking down the games as they are playing them, and deconstruct what elements are really well done and what elements could use improvement.  A lot of the games that I have seen him play are other zombie genre titles, and it feels like he is trying to grok everything that is going on in the title so that he can absorb it like a sponge and burn it down to the purist element to use for inspiration on State of Decay.  As someone who has always been a bit of an armchair designer myself, I find the process valuable and it also serves to give the watchers a bit of a glimpse into the inner workings of the game studio itself at times.  If you are into that sort of thing, I highly suggest you check the stream out sometime.

The best thing about the Developer Appreciation Week construct, is it gives me open season to write love letters to the various companies that I really respect and appreciate.  Undead Labs is one that I knew without a doubt that I would be touching on during this week, and I am really excited to see whatever the next thing is that they are working on.  Part of me is crossing my fingers hoping that we finally get either a co-op experience or a full fledged MMOized State of Decay.  Regardless I will be watching any news about this great studio with interest.

DAW2016: Trion Worlds

DAW2016_logo

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.

trionworlds_wht

So this year I am kicking off developer appreciation week with Trion Worlds.  2011 was a bit of a fraught year for me as far as gaming goes.  Cataclysm had just landed in World of Warcraft, and I was reaching this point where I found myself falling out of love with that game.  Early in the year I had friends who were talking about this new and exciting game called Rift.  It turned out that it was precisely the sort of experience I was looking for.  If you had put onto paper every single feature that I ever wanted in World of Warcraft… you would end up getting a feature list that looked a lot like Rift.  While it failed to gain serious traction with a number of my friends, it was my gaming “main squeeze” for quite a long time.  So much so that I ultimately rebooted this blog into a Rift fan blog, and became an official fansite listed on the Rift game website.  From that point onwards Rift has been one of those games that is always somewhere in the background of my life.  One of the most awesome things about the launch is that I ended up striking up a friendship with some of the folks responsible for building the game.

Now over the years I have done the same for various companies, but I was remarking the other day how few of those folks are even in the industry these days.  The ones that are still in the industry are rarely at the company I first knew them through.  However in the case of Trion Worlds, all but one of the folks I knew there… are still there and seemingly happy five years after the launch of Rift.  That tells me that Trion as a whole is doing something right to keep employees engaged for that length of time.  As with every company in the MMO space there have been a lot of false starts, and some cancelled projects… but I have been pleasantly surprised that they have managed to weather that cancellation of these projects.  Rift for example started as a subscription game, and successfully navigated the transition to free to play, with one of the more viable cash shop models out there.  Sure there are some things that they do that I find egregious…  like the various mounts that can only be found on lockboxes, or the constantly limited sale mentality.  Overall though even with all of these things taken into account, I find them a really great company and I am always interested in whatever they happen to have going on.

One of the more interesting experiences with Trion was the development cycle for Trove.  This was really the first time that I had ever seen a AAA title do a fully NDA free Alpha program.  Even more interesting than this however is the way that this game community embraced Reddit.  There are no official forums for Trove, but instead they have an open community on Reddit that has also spawned a separate sub Reddit for users to submit creations.  I love that when you pick up an item in game, it tells you which user in the community designed it.  The only problem with this development style is that it felt like Trove was constantly changing, and in drastic ways.  There was a period of time when I would log in and never quite know what design decisions would have been made in my absence.  The end result is a really fun experience, but it was interesting to see these false starts and reworks happening in real time.  Trion as a whole seems to genuinely care about and cherish their player base, and they were one of the first companies that I can remember embracing Discord as a means of keeping in contact with the player base.  There are a number of discord servers that I am on that have devs and community staff publicly available for conversation, which goes a long way into making players feel connected.

I feel like Trion also has set the gold standard for interacting with the community on a regular basis.  Each Friday they do a lengthy Twitch stream where they alternate through a series of back to back shows dedicated to each of their games.  During these shows they of course do the standard give away construct, but also have the folks actively working on the games in the hot seat to answer questions live from the community.  These also serve as a place where players often get a first glance at upcoming tech, features and content.  Savvy players have learned how to read the comments from the community folks, and been able to glean additional information pretty regularly.  While updates have slowed down significantly since the frenetic launch days of Rift, they still put out a steady stream of content.  The negative over the years has been that two of their products they have limited control over.  So I feel like they have maybe taken unnecessary flack over both ArcheAge and Devilian at times, when in truth they only run the servers and manage the localization… but have little to do with the overarching development direction.  Localization is going to be a structure that we see more and more of, since South Korea is still going through a bit of an MMO renaissance, like we did in the 2000s.  I feel like they have done a better job than some other localization efforts, but could still have some room for improvement.

Ultimately… while I can go for long periods of time between playing Trion games, logging into them always feels a bit like coming home.  So if you have never played Rift, Trove, Defiance, ArcheAge, or Devilian I highly suggest you download Glyph their proprietary launcher and check them out.  The upcoming Atlas Reactor seems really interesting, like a sort of competitive X-Com, but also not really my sort of gaming experience.

 

 

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 2

Yesterday I kicked off my own versions of the Developer Appreciation Week with five companies and game teams that I greatly appreciate it.  It seems like we are starting to get some traction because yesterday MMOGames.com independent of my own intervention ran a piece of what we are doing.  I still hope to see more people join in the fun and talk about the development staff that they really appreciate it.  I play a lot of games… so I have a lot of love to go around.

Blizzard – World of Warcraft Team

WoWScrnShot_033115_220604 Last night was quite possibly my single best night in World of Warcraft raiding.  After some sluggish weeks we strolled into Blackrock Foundry and cleared seven normal bosses, then popped out and took down two heroic bosses… one of which was our first kill.  To make the night even more special we managed to one shot all of them.  After riding that high last night, it is impossible to do a developer appreciation week post without talking about Blizzard.  World of Warcraft has been the juggernaut in the room for so long that I can barely remember a time when they were not the clear market dominator.  While I have some disappointments about Warlords of Draenor, I feel like they are legitimately trying to turn the franchise around after what felt like years of neglect.  It feels very much like they have doubled down on this game, and at the end of the day I am still enjoying playing it with my friends.  For a ten year old game to still maintain relevancy is a pretty mighty feat, so my hat is off to the Blizzard staff who have supported it throughout the years and made it this experience that we judge all other MMOs against.  It has been the gold standard for good reason.  Even if World of Warcraft is not your game, you have to marvel at the level of polish that they deliver when they roll out a new expansion.

Bioware – Star Wars the Old Republic Team

swtor 2013-08-13 23-38-38-65 Star Wars the Old Republic and I have somewhat of a checkered past to be honest.  I went into this game feeling like it was going to be the WoW Killer for myself and my friends, but ultimately we lasted the same three months that we normally do in this sort of game.  When they chose to go free to play, I was frustrated by how insanely restrictive the system ended up being.  All of this said… if you can some how push past all of the limited time loot boxes and free to play cludge…  there is a great game there at its core.  With the launch of SWTOR I tried something that I don’t normally do… I leveled as part of a dedicated duo with my friend Euron.  I played a Jedi Guardian and he a Jedi Consular, and we participated in each others stories.  The way those two tales interweave was something to behold, and while it felt a bit confining to always have to make sure you and your friend were on at exactly the same times…  it was a leveling experience unlike no other.  The thing that stands out about SWTOR is the story, and what ultimately killed the game for me was when I ran out of it.  Now I know I have several expansions that I can go back and experience and I keep thinking that one day I will do precisely that.  In the meantime I have fond memories of the time we were all obsessed with this game, and give massive props to the folks who built such engaging content… that we pulled some fourteen hours a day to get through it all.

Zenimax – The Elder Scrolls Online Team

eso 2014-07-14 21-46-45-167 Since Daggerfall I have been in love with the Elder Scrolls franchise.  Each time a new one comes out I end up devoting hundreds of hours to playing it, but all the while I keep thinking… this experience would be more enjoyable with my friends.  So when I found out that Elder Scrolls was in fact being made into an MMO I was completely over the moon about it.  I was lucky enough to be in the first round of alpha testing, so ultimately I participated in this game for over a year before launching it.  Unfortunately this was a bit of a double edged sword because I got to see some features that worked better in early versions of the game, as compared to later more minimalistic ones.  When you test a game that long it skews your vision of what the game actually is.  Elder Scrolls Online has some of the best story content I have experienced in any game, and there are a number of quest lines that stick out in my memory.  The whole concept of being able to continue into another faction after you have finished yours was inspired.  The problem is by the time I hit the Aldmeri content I had lost a lot of my steam, and our guild was suffering the traditional drop off in players.  Now that the game has shifted to buy to play however I am able to experience this game again and realize just how great it actually is.  A lot of the problems I had with it early on have been smoothed out, and the post 50 progression no longer feels quite so grindy.  I really appreciate the staff that has been plugging away quietly on making this game a better place to be, and I look forward to playing it more in the coming months.

Trion Worlds – Trove Team

trove 2014-10-16 22-40-54-21 Trove is this quirky world building game that blends MMO combat, MOBA style character design, and Minecraft style exploration and construction.  I was lucky enough to be including in the first round of alpha invites for trove, and it has been insane to watch this game evolve.  What I love the most is the way the developers have been meshed with the community since day one.  Instead of a traditional forum, they decided to open up the process with a reddit, in fact I think this is the first game I can ever recall doing that.  In those first days the community was so amazing, because it was so tight knit.  You would log in and get welcomed by people that might recognize your name from the Reddit, and there was rarely a time when a developer was not in game talking to players.  As the game has progressed the community has gotten larger, and the rigors of development have degraded this closeness a small bit, but it is still very much a game that draws its inspiration from the players.  While I don’t play it as much as I should, I have loved watching it evolve around me.  It feels like the sort of game you get when you throw a bunch of seven year olds in a room and tell them to solve a problem.  It is pure unbridled joy and imagination… and has been good for my jaded soul to see that a game like that can exist.

Riot Games – League of Legends Team

League of Legends 2013-08-15 20-37-32-38

League of Legends is 100% not my type of game.  In fact I might never have played it were it not at the suggestion of my friends.  Actually I rarely ever play this game other than when a bunch of friends want to do so.  That said the experience of playing with a team of friends is contagious.   There are a lot of aspects about this game that are problematic for me, a huge one being the still very toxic community.  That said I give the biggest credit I can possibly give to the character designers.  What League has in spades is the personality that seems to be lacking from so many other MMOs.  The characters in League of Legends have a life of their own, and they make you fall in love with them.  I have joked for some time, that this isn’t actually a game, but a modern sticker album… because I seem to largely collect characters and skins rather than actually play with them.  Each character is really a triumph of taking what are mostly remixed elements and making them feel fresh and new.  I tend to stick to the characters I know and love however like Darius, Graves, WuKong and Garen.  My favorite gameplay mode however will probably always be ARAM simply because no one expect you to know what you are doing, which is about perfect for me.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 1

A few days ago my good friend Rowanblaze tagged me in his post about Developer Appreciation Week 2015.  To the best of my knowledge this event was actually started by Scarybooster, but I cannot for the life of me remember if I actually got a post in while it was going on.  If not then this is something I absolutely need to remedy.  This morning as a result my post is going to be a little contorted but I really enjoyed the format from Ravanel of Ravalation… so I am rolling with that.  Thus begins my super contorted and rambling Developer Appreciation Week post.

Funcom Games – The Secret World Team

TheSecretWorld 2013-06-04 06-15-22-12 This game is absolutely phenomenal.  I was lucky enough to get on board early and do one of the lifetime subscriptions and I have to say I have never once questioned that investment.  Knowing that it is always waiting there for me to return to the world of the Templars and the Illuminati…  makes me happy inside.  While there are a lot of interesting things about the game, the part that always floors me is just how well written the quests are in this game, and how well the whole cinematic feel of them works.  I greatly prefer silent protagonist games, because they allow me to substitute my own inner dialog into the scenes.  What is awesome about TSW is they manage to do this is a way so that the silence feels like an answer.  I desperately need to poke my head back in and try out the new combat changes, because the nightmare level content was ultimately what crushed the hopes of my group.  From what I hear a lot of these rough spots have been ironed out.

Square Enix – Final Fantasy XIV Team

ffxiv 2015-03-28 20-48-43-91 I am constantly amazed at just how damned good this game really is.  Every detail of the game has a loving care applied to it.  Once again it is the storyline that first sold me on the game.  It gave me a series of characters that felt like my party in a traditional Final Fantasy game… and then made me care about each and every one of them..  yes even Thancred.  What has kept me coming back however is just how good their content is, and how frequent their updates are.  I’ve heard that the team is only around fifteen people…  and that they are doing both the live patches and expansion development at the same time.  I am floored that they can manage to crank out a new patch every month, and major patch every few months…  all the while working on a brand new expansion?  The way they manage to make content remain relevant to the players is pure magic, because I really enjoy running low level content with friends… and making it feel like it matters again.  Last night they patched in the 2.55 content… and I am completely amped to log in and play it.

Turbine – Lord of the Rings Online Team

ScreenShot00004 If there was a list of games that I wish I played more of, Lord of the Rings Online would be near the top.  There is so much for me to enjoy in the game, even not factoring in the fact that I love the franchise behind it.  The gameplay is a bit of a throwback to an earlier era, and more than anything it has always reminded me a bit of a modern updated Dark Age of Camelot.  That said the part that has always stood out for me is just how well they have managed to create the world of Middle Earth…  everything is how I had imagined it while reading the novels.  There are so many moments like the above picture where I reach some fabled destination and I have to just stop and sit in awe that I am in this or that place.  Another strange thing that I love about this game are the horses.  They have the absolute best horse movement of any game.  As you are moving around the horse feels right, which adds so much to the feeling that you are in a living breathing world… and not just a themepark.

Trion Worlds – Rift Team

rift 2013-06-24 21-10-59-03 This was the game that finally came along and successfully dislodged me after playing seven years of World of Warcraft, and that in itself is no small feat.  What makes me love the game however is its class system.  I love being able to mix and match bits and pieces of class trees to make something unique that does exactly what I want it to do.  Especially from a tanking front, this game will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first game to give me both charge and deathgrip in the same build.  The raid content was absolutely insane, and I greatly enjoyed the times I was able to experience it.  This is one of those games that I boot up every few weeks to poke my head in, especially now that it is free to play.  I’ve spent a lot of its four year history with an active subscription, and there is just something about the world that keeps me coming back.  With the impending release of the new Wardrobe system I am looking forward to popping back in and playing some more.  Trion was the first team to make me believe that a company could keep a monthly content release schedule, and through it all they have created some very impressive work.

SOE/Daybreak – Everquest II Team

EQ2_000009 Everquest II for me is a tale of the path not taken.  With EQ2 and WoW releasing at the same time, some of my friends went to EQ2, and I and the majority of my friends went to WoW.  That said this has been one of those games that I keep coming back to so that I can re-experience this ball of nostalgia that is Norrath.  This game has hands down the best world building of any game on the market.  I love the world of Norrath 2.0 with all its detail and quirkyness.  Sure it is not exactly how I remember it from the original Everquest, but that is part of the charm for me.  Every now and then you will be knee deep in a dungeon, and you will see some little call back that makes you realize “oh my god this is that place” that you recall from your memory, changed over time and presented in so much higher fidelity.  While I have issues with the combat system and likely always will… this is a game that I cannot seem to keep myself away from for long.  Even today EQ2 is a sort of comfort food for me… where I will hang out inside and vege out on the couch dusting off my Shadow Knight and exploring Norrath with new eyes.

To Be Continued…

I feel like I have so many developers that I want to show my appreciation for…  that I had to break these up into multiple posts.  Tune in tomorrow as I talk about several more developers.  Hopefully this will cause your own upwelling of nostalgia and end up with you posting your own thoughts in blog form.  If you don’t have a blog, feel free to use my comment space for that same mission.  There is so much negativity out there, that I believe completely in this notion of the Developer Appreciation Week.  Reach out and show your appreciation to those games you love.