Instant Relevance

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King of Match Three

King

Yesterday morning was the Activision Blizzard earnings call for investors, and much of the focus has been on one particular tidbit of information.  They announced that they are acquiring Candy Crush maker King Digital for the sum of $5.9 Billion dollars.  The reaction to this announcement has been pretty varied, because in truth…  many “core” gamers loath the concept of games like Candy Crush.  First off there is some confusion to clear up.  Activision Blizzard is not the same thing as Blizzard Entertainment, so early reports I saw talked about Blizzard buying King Digital…  which caused some outrage.  Activision Blizzard is the big parent company that pulls all the strings of the various products from Call of Duty to Skylanders to of course the Blizzard franchises.  At first I have to admit I was taken by surprise by the announcement but that pretty much went away immediately when I thought about it.  In doing this deal ActiBlizz is essentially buying instant relevance in the traditional mobile gaming market.

Now you might be saying to yourself… But Bel, Activision and Blizzard already doing mobile gaming.  Sure they do… but they do it in a way that attempts to appeal to “core” gamers that are wanting something on their phone to play when they don’t have access to their normal gaming platforms.  This is a vastly different market than the one that King Digital generally focuses on which are for lack of a better term “casual” and “mobile exclusive” users that would never in a million years… consider themselves gamers.  Essentially King Digital targets people like my wife, that spends plenty of time playing games on her iPad but does not in any fashion think of herself as a gamer.  So in essence with this one… albeit expensive acquisition, they now cover a market that they did not serve in any fashion.  Sure Hearthstone is a great mobile game… but it really only draws in people who already are in the fold of “gamers”.  The big thing is all of these “non-gamers” have prove time and time again that they are in fact willing to spend money on micro-transactions.

What This Means

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In truth I doubt for the short term it really means anything.  Activision will continue releasing big budget shooters like Call of Duty and Destiny… and Blizzard will continue flirting with e-sports while still not quite certain what to do with World of Warcraft.  Another big chunk of this earnings report was a note that the WoW subscription numbers have more or less stabilized from their post Warlords of Draenor free fall.  I feel like there is some fuzzy math at work here, but according to the official figures they have dropped from 5.6 Million to 5.5 Million.  There was a strange little definition that was released to explain what they determined a subscriber.

Subscriber Definition: World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.

This makes me think that these subscription numbers are in fact counting WoW Token players… seeing as how that would count as “prepaid” access.  So the actual month to month subscription numbers would be a bit lower.  To some extent I wish they would have broken those numbers out separately… since a monthly sub is semi-guaranteed income, and a token is a one time purchase.  The other big news however is that they plan on this being the last month they actually announce subscription numbers.  Instead they have a new sort of engagement number formula that they are working on to determine the health of the game.

At first glance this sounds a bit odd… and maybe like they are trying to hide losses within the cloak of mathematics.  However… we are just days away from Blizzcon and it makes me wonder.  Will this finally be the year that they announce World of Warcraft going to a free to play model?  Cutting the ties of relying on subscriptions to convey the health of the game… would at least be one step in that direction.  If I were Blizzard I would be seriously considering it… because honestly Free to Play seems to work.  With the recent high publicity relaunch of Wildstar… that game is doing significantly better now than it was, and the same was essentially true with Star Wars the Old Republic went to the model.  Free to Play has been the salvation of otherwise dying games… and even though World of Warcraft is far from dying…  I still think they would benefit from the switch.  It would be a massive shift in methodology and would probably change the way content is delivered, but it would also bring back a bunch of players that want to dip their toes in the game every now and then… but not feel like they are chained to a subscription.  Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone are both wildly success as Free to Play experiences… and with Overwatch starting to ramp up and following that same model…  it just seems like Blizzard has wrestled with how to make it work.

What I Hope Happens

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So while I don’t think anything will change for a bit… my hope is that through this deal there is some cross pollination of skillsets.  I would love to see better integration of mobile platforms and traditional games.  As you know I have been playing a lot of Destiny… and quite honestly the way that game works is just not as clean as it should.  There are a lot of things that you can do through the website…  slightly different things that you can do through the mobile app… and even a different set of things through the game itself.  The entire process feels cludgy as hell… but an attempt to move in the direction of giving players access to tools outside of the game.  Now if you take that basic desire and match it with a company that has proven that they can spin the same old match three schlock into infectious gold…  you can maybe create really interesting experiences that span traditional platforms and mobile gaming ones.

What I would love to see is a better mobile app for World of Warcraft.  Why can’t we fish on our mobile phones and have it grant skill-ups and materials for our characters in game?  Why can’t we do the normally tedious action of Archaeology in a mobile mini-game?  Garrisons themselves were essentially the same sort of thing as a tiny tower like mobile game…  why didn’t exist on mobile platforms allowing people to do the upkeep and maintenance activities when they couldn’t otherwise play the game?  Why can’t we have a significantly better auction house integration system?  Essentially…  give players a reason to stay in the game by making them feel more connected to it.. on their own terms.  A big part of my frustration with Garrisons is that I knew I had a one to two hour ritual waiting on me every time I logged into the game, before I could feel like I was free to do interesting things…  like slay internet dragons.  If I could do Garrisons while walking to my car at night, or on my lunch break… it would take some of that burden away so that I knew once I got home… I could do the fun stuff without having to worry about the “paperwork”.  Essentially we live our lives on our phones…  and the games that integrate better with how we live our lives are going to feel more “real” to us.

 

 

Week In Gaming 8/30/2015

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Stressed but Still Here

This week turned out to be a shockingly stressful one, but thankfully all of said stress happened at work… and I could more or less leave it there as well.  There has been a twinge of sadness as well because months ago I had hoped to be able to attend Pax Prime and get to hang out with friends there.  However that didn’t quite work out, and since I lacked tickets to go there…  because AggroChat was not apparently qualified as a media outlet, I stopped pushing quite so hard.  The beginning of the school year is especially rough on my wife, and it would have been even more stressful to be travelling during this time.  As such I am doubting that Pax Prime will ever really be in my cards unless for some reason they decide to move it either earlier or later in the year.  I will always have Pax South however, and I fully intend to go this coming year.  I am going to be trying to talk as many people into attending as I can, and hopefully can organize a meetup or something while there.  There were plenty of people at Pax South last year but I was completely overwhelmed by it being my first real convention, and the internet was pretty horrible…  so I missed most of them.  Anyways…  on with what is I hope becoming a Sunday tradition, where I review the games I played over the past week.

Final Fantasy XIV

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Currently “The Rising” event is going on in Final Fantasy XIV that marks the yearly anniversary festival.  This year the quest that goes along with it is one of the most touching quests I have experienced in a game before.  I don’t want to spoil too many details about it, but suffice to say there is a little bit of fourth wall breaching going on.  Diehard Final Fantasy XIV fans have this hero worship for Naoki Yoshida and the rest of the team, and it is absolutely well earned.  It feels like there is very much a symbiotic relationship going on there, and they understand fully just how important the loyal fans are to the continued success of the title.  The game is in this interesting place where it is extremely humbled by the fact that it launched in 2010 and failed to capture hearts and minds.  They are putting everything into the game and leaving nothing on the table, and it shows.  Other than the anniversary event we worked on Ravana Extreme attempts, and I have every hope that we will be able to down him this coming Monday.  Past that I have honestly been taking a bit of a break from Final Fantasy XIV, or at least not really logging in every day.

Diablo 3

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If you are wondering where the bulk of my game time was spent, you can look no further than Diablo 3.  I am not sure if it was my time playing Hellgate London, or the fact that I finally pulled my head out of the sand and realized there was such a thing as a “season”.  Whatever the combination I have been pumped to be playing Diablo 3 again and have been spending a lot of time with my friend Grace was we worked on pushing up our seasonal characters.  At the beginning of the week I managed to get my Crusader from last season to 70 with the help of Grace and her crazy torment farming ways.  Then Friday when the new season opened I started work immediately on a female Barbarian.  As of last night I am now level 60 and making the final push to 70.  That is really what I intend to spend most of my time today working on, and hopefully by tonight I will be sitting at 70 and starting to work on gearing up for doing torment and beyond.  I am having a blast, and I am not sure whatever mental block cleared that has allowed me to get involved once more with the click to attack madness.

Wildstar

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I can’t say that I have made stellar progress since last week, but I am continuing with my new tradition of trying to play Wildstar Tuesday nights.  At this point I am level 25 still in Whitevale but I think maybe I can see the end of the zone.  My hope is to move on past it this week and hopefully into something less desolate.  I feel about Whitevale the way I feel about most desert zones in MMOs.  I have come to realization this week that it is never the biome necessarily that I like or dislike, but instead the zone design.  I was warned that Malgrave is coming up, and a desert… but from what I have seen of the imagery inside it seems like something I will enjoy.  I want to devote more time to this game, but for now I am going to settle with making it a Tuesday night thing.

Hearthstone

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The game that I played that shocked me the most this week was Hearthstone.  I have not really spent much time playing it since release, and with the addition of a new expansion of cards I decided to poke my head in.  This is where I found a brand new game mode called Tavern Brawl.  Apparently you have a different weekly challenge, and this week was essentially playing with a randomized deck.  I played hunter and had a good amount of success.  Playing with a random assortment of cards, including many of the brand new Grand Tournament cards gave me a nostalgic feeling much like the early days of Magic the Gathering.  I used to love the days when I was limited based on the  cards I physically owned and as a result made some odd decks to try and weave in my favorite elements.  In truth I would probably play Hearthstone more often if this random brawl option thing was a fixed item.  I know this coming week there will be a completely different Tavern Brawl, but I will likely poke my head in to see what it is and give it a shot.  This might breathe new life into the game for me, and for that I am kinda pumped.

Fallout Shelter

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My week in review would not be complete without at least talking a bit about Fallout Shelter.  Now I have been technically playing this game for awhile now but since I do not regularly use my iPad, the sessions were limited and I went weeks between opening the app.  With the release of Fallout Shelter for android I have been playing it far more often on my phone, and it has now become my default “moment of downtime” game as I check in on my little post apocalyptic ant farm.  All things said I learned a lot of lessons playing it on the iPad that I have now applied to this new vault.  Where Vault 999 was a relative failure, Vault 861 is pretty damned idyllic.  Through a bit of luck of drops, and some careful planning I have managed to create a pretty safe environment that can absolutely shred raider attacks.  I had a random person show up at the vault that was fairly warriorly, and once I equipped her with power armor and a plasma pistol she has been roaming the wastes dispensing justice.  At the same time she has become a major source of income and the gear she brings back I am slowly outfitting all of my settlers in.  I have jokingly started calling the restaurant on the first floor Cafe Death, because the raiders always go there…. only to get shredded by all of my shotgun toting vault dwellers.  The only thing that I feel bad about is that I essentially  have one couple that is slowly populating my vault.  I have left them in the room for weeks now and they have half a dozen offspring roaming around as a result.

Hatoful Boyfriend

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The last game that I played a significant amount of this week was of course Hatoful Boyfriend, and last night we recorded the AggroChat game club show for it.  This was Grace’s pick and I think a lot of us went into this assuming that we would end up hating the game.  We were mostly wrong as the vast majority of us had lots of good things to say about the game. To make it even crazier this is the first game that the majority of us have actually played through more than one… but given that an individual play session tends to only be around the hour long mark that makes sense.   If you want to hear our length discussion about dating “Birbs” after the apocalypse you should totally listen into the show.

[AggroChat] [Direct Download] [iTunes] [Stitcher]

Communing with Fae

Freemium Magic

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While I still have aspirations to cease the swiss army posts…  I guess in reality I live a fairly swiss army life.  This weekend was really no different, and the one hundred plus degree temperatures just caused us to spend more time than normal indoors.  When this happens I start to get a little wanderlust at least from the standpoint of what games I am playing.  As a result this weekend I played a mixture of Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars the Old Republic, Minecraft, and some Magic Duels.  You can blame the podcast we recorded Saturday for the later, because both Thalen and Kodra talked about playing it.  I have several assorted versions of the Duel of the Planeswalker magic game cluttering my steam account.  I end up picking them up when they go on sale and then only ever playing them a few times.  Ultimately part of the excitement of magic for me is playing with physical cards and opening physical packs.  We have joked about it before but “that new pack smell” is really a thing, and it can be intoxicating.  That little tingle of excitement as you rush through the “commons” to find out what rare you got in that pack is a thing I have repeated thousands of times over the years.  So is the sinking feeling when I see that rare is a blue or a white… the two colors that I most have a negative reaction towards.  The real life magic really really wants me to play White, because I have an insane number of rare angels…  but all I ever really want is the dark and sinister Black cards.

Right now I am still about halfway through the unlocking story of the White deck of Gideon Jura.  The game does a really cool job of telling you the story of how each of the planeswalkers found their spark, which according to Kodra is the central focus of the Origins story line.  The only negative that I have so far is that you have to wade through a lot of tutorials before the game just lets you play.  Normally I would say these could be skipped but the game rewards you in gold for watching them, and that is gold that you will need later for purchasing packs.  Where this gets really frustrating is when a new card mechanic is introduced and it stops whatever duel you are in the middle of to show you a tutorial on how that mechanic works.  I can absolutely see however how this would be beneficial to brand new players, and even for me there are card mechanics that are being called by names that I don’t recognize in spite of fully understanding the game play behind them.  The other big frustration with the Duels client is the fact that it crashed on me, numerous times…  so I am guessing they are still having some issues.  From what I can tell you stay connected to their servers even though you are essentially playing a single player match, and if that server connection wavers your game cannot seem to recover gracefully.  I figure this is going to be something I piddle with from time to time when I am not in the mood for other games.

Communing with Fae

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As I wrote yesterday Arcanist has always been the class that I struggled the most in playing.  For whatever reason I have caught the desire to play it, and I spent most of yesterday working my way through content doing a mix of low level roulette, Haukke Manor, and guildhests.  As a result early yesterday evening I managed to push across the line and ding 30 while in one of those Haukke Manor runs.  After that it was chasing down two different job quests and learning how to be both a Scholar and a Summoner.  The thing that I did not initially realize was the fact that the two Carby summons ultimately become the Faerie summons.  I guess this makes sense, as without them somehow overwriting those low level abilities there would be no way for the job to scale down and effectively heal low level content.  The other thing that I was not really expecting was how “un-healer-like” low level instances ultimately felt.  My first dungeon as a Scholar ended up being Halitali… where I have exactly one useful heal button.  So instead I just made sure I was standing next to the tank and dotted everything up.  I am not sure when the class feels more “healer-ly” but until then I am just pretending I am still playing an Arcanist.

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The other shocker for me was just how relatively easy the Summoner job quest ended up being.  As you can tell by the Summon III icon, I had to fight Ifrit and after fighting him in several different versions… I have to say it was way easier than I expected it to be.  I cast dots on all of the things, and then eventually he fell over…  which I am guessing is how summoners are supposed to play?  This play style is just so weird to me because it feels oddly passive.  Maybe a better way of putting it is it feels like I am playing a completely different game than the rest of the people in my group.  Much of the time leveling to 30 was spent tabbing through targets, applying dots, and then tabbing back to the first one to reapply dots after I had finished one circuit of the mobs.  This just doesn’t feel natural to me I guess because it feels like the sort of triage that I do as a healer…  but to damage all the mobs rather than heal all the players.  I guess the truth is that I have never really successfully played a damage over time class, and it almost makes me want to fire up and play my Warlock again to see if this new outlook makes that class more enjoyable.  In any case I now have a Scholar so I can begin leveling that through the instant duty finder queue.  I should try and catch up to Tzi and Rylacus and run up with them.

Blame Acti-Blizz

Closing in on Turn Nine

ffxiv_dx11 2015-06-28 17-42-52-03 Monday night is traditionally the raid night of our static group in the Greysky Armada Free Company.  I had been wondering if we would actually raid since… well the expansion was released and we are all busy leveling.  We were wondering just how a lot of things would work out, how our gear levels would scale appropriately and how effective we would be down leveled back to 50.  It turns out I was pleasantly surprised on almost all counts and we stepped foot into turn nine once more making some of the most progress we have ever made.  We actually managed to make it through a dive bomb phase unscathed, so at least now we know what that feels and looks like.  The problem is shortly after doing so…  we started our normal “death by simple mistakes” meaning we were all getting too tired to continue on.

I have hope however that maybe this weekend or next week we can step back in there and finally get a damned victory.  Right now turn nine is our white whale…  which is ironic in a game that literally has a giant flying white whale for a boss.  This is one of those things that I just want deep down in my bones now, to move past this barrier and be able to say we have beaten it.  I realize at this point it is outdated content…  but that doesn’t matter to me.  What matters to me is taking down Nael and being able to move into the Final Coil of Bahamut.  I am hoping that we will continue plugging forward and taking down this stuff even when it is no longer relevant.  It makes me happy that the game continues to be challenging even though some of our members have long since reached the new level cap of 60.  I however was on my dragoon last night which is still only level 51.

Blame Acti-Blizz

activision-blizzard I was having a conversation yesterday with a good friend of mine, about the 6.2 patch and what has worked and what has not worked.  During the course of this chat, he threw something out there as though it were just fact… that surprised me a little bit.  This friend of mine is as diehard a World of Warcraft fan as they come, and both he and his son play on a daily basis.  So to hear it from him really took me back to an earlier conversation he and I had back in 2008, to the announced merger of Activision and Blizzard.  His comment was, that the current state of the game and the seeming lack of forward momentum… is entirely to blame on the merger with Activision.  Back when this happened he said that his greatest fear was that it would change the way Blizzard interacts with its games and with its players.  Last night he said that essentially all of his worst fears have been realized, and that the game we today is a direct result of this merger.

While we cannot say this with any certainty for me at least Blizzard has been on a downhill slide since the release of Wrath of the Lich King.  That was the last “great” expansion for me personally, and represented the closing of an era when I was completely enraptured by the game.  Granted lots of things have changed, and so many other games have hit the market… but it feels like Blizzard stopped being the revolutionary market leader… and started trailing behind in the days post Activision merger.  My question is more did they simply shift focus… did they no longer care as much about the World of Warcraft community as they did their other product offerings?  It feels like WoW is a game that has been left to largely fend for itself.  There is a large amount of hype drummed up each time a new expansion releases, but then that quickly dies down and we are thrown right back into the cycle of doing just enough to keep hope alive in their player base that things will eventually get better.  The problem is… this sense of hope is fading as players are staring down the barrel of potentially another Siege of Orgrimmar like lapse in content.

Following the Money

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-06-03 23-26-08-94 I think the problem is that quite literally World of Warcraft is no longer Blizzards most important asset.  You can see that pretty clearly as you look at the attention paid to each of their product offerings.  The favored children of Blizzard right now are Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, and this is evident by how much attention they seem to be getting by the company.  You have to think about the simple economics behind that decision.  If you can create a game where people will gladly plunk down $4 for five virtual cards, and potentially do so multiple times a month…  what is the pure money benefit of spending much effort on a game where the players are ONLY paying you $15 a month.  Similarly with Heroes of the Storm you have a game where you can churn out multiple new heroes a month and sell them for the priced to own rate of $10 a piece roughly, not including the skins which are also often around the $10 price point.  I saw a recent article stating that it would cost around $1000 to purchase everything that is currently available in the in game Heroes of the Storm store.

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t begrudge them either of these games because I play both of them.  The problem is… if you can churn out a few champions a month, or a new hearthstone expansion… the potential investment of time to the money it makes the company is far greater than spending the year it takes to make a brand new World of Warcraft expansion.  Even factoring in the box sales it is no wonder that the Warcraft team seems to be starved for resources when the rest of this company is thriving.  So I guess I get back to my friends point…  that the Activision merger shifted the focus of this company from making great games “whenever they were ready” to making games to maximize investor profits.  I cannot be so naive as to believe that the Blizzard of old didn’t care about profits, but I think for a long period of time they were simply shocked and baffled by their own success.  I’ve said for awhile that when you start to believe your own hype… you are setting yourself up for the fall.  I think with the Activision merger…  Blizzard saw their valuation and consumed their own hype completely.  Ultimately as I watch the company change, I fear for the state of World of Warcraft, this game that in spite of all of my better sense…  that I still care about.

Pairing Down

The Struggle

One of the biggest challenges about this whole “blog every day” concept is that some mornings there is just nothing at all in my head to talk about.  When I am sick like I was yesterday, I tend to turtle and pull my head up inside my shell, disconnecting me from the interwebs and all of you fine people.  Unfortunately when my biggest source of inspiration is gone, I can get a little bit of writers block.  It is mornings like this that I feel outline the importance of just allowing yourself to write whatever happens to pop into your head.  It might not be epic and exciting, but it is staying true to the mission as a whole.  Unfortunately we are well based the NBI 2014 initiative, otherwise I would spin this into some sort of an inspirational post about struggling through.

This is not a slight in any way to the previous NBI groups, but I have been really impressed with just how tenacious the Class of 2014 has been.  Generally speaking there is a significant drop off the month after the initiative as folks take a massive breather after having survived being the focus of so many folks attention.  When the spotlight fades a bit, it is rough to keep posting when you inevitably notice fewer people are reading.  However this group either is blissfully oblivious to the existence of blog statistics, or they really are writing for themselves, because they seem to still be going strong.  A few of the “newbies” are among the most prolific posters in my blog reader, and I am amped to still see them enjoying the whole experience.

Pairing Down

WoWScrnShot_061314_062051Right now I have come to realize that I am playing entirely too many MMOs to feel like I am making any significant progress in any of them.  Over the last two months I’ve played Warlords of Draenor, Rift, ArcheAge, Wildstar, Star Wars the Old Republic, Elder Scrolls Online, Defiance, Everquest II, Landmark, The Secret World, Diablo 3, Lego Minifigures Online and Trove.  While I embrace the whole polygamerous thing, I think even for me this is a bit too much especially when you throw in League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm on top of those… and occasionally some Hex and Hearthstone.  Mostly I think I need to drop some of the games that feel similar to me from the rotation, or at least games that scratch the same itch.

rift 2014-02-13 06-28-10-40 I feel like I have to keep testing Warlords of Draenor in part out of remembrance for River, and him being so damned excited to have gotten into the alpha process.  While I won’t be playing with the same wide eyed amusement that he would have, I am trying my best to enjoy the experience in his honor.  However I can safely say that I will not be playing the actual live World of Warcraft anytime in the near future.  I think maybe WoW has run its course with me for awhile, and Wildstar has stepped in to take its place in my heart without me really wanting it to.  Wildstar really is a much better version of WoW, and I am just embracing that fact.  As a result Rift and SWTOR are also losing out, because to me they still fill the same “wow-like” niche.  As a result I won’t be renewing my patron account in Rift.

The Non-WoW Itch

ARCHEAGE 2014-05-08 20-13-50-11It was fun trying to get into Defiance, but the problem is I got into the Destiny alpha… and it was pretty much everything I had hoped Defiance would be.  So I won’t be spending much more time trying to get into that game when I know there is something I will like much better coming later this year.  ArcheAge I want to like, but it has without a doubt the worst community of griefers I have experienced anywhere.  So unless Trion comes out and announces there will be a co-op server… it is pretty much a nonstarter for me and no sense really spending much more time on it.  Landmark on the other hand has an amazing community, but right now there just isn’t much game there for me to play.  They have built this amazing crafting sandbox, but without combat it isn’t all that interesting to me past the initial build phase.  They have added caves so I figure at some point I will poke  my head back in, but exploration without combat just sounds boring to me.  I’ve officially allowed my claim to be repossessed at this point.

EverQuest2 2013-10-02 06-37-39-56 I still have a special place in my heart for Everquest II, and I can’t say I won’t return to it in the future… but for now I think there are just too many other options.  EQ2 was one of those games where I hated the combat system but loved everything else about it.  Wildstar with its systems within systems is really filling the niche that EQ2 always did, which might be why it is feeling so sticky considering it is replacing both EQ2 and WoW for me.  The Secret World is one of those games I love to remember fondly, but never seem to have a desire to log into on a regular basis.  I know there is a bunch of storyline that I have yet to participate in, and I keep thinking that some weekend I will play through all of it.  That weekend just has yet to arrive, and lately the only time I seem to log in is when I get new hardware and want to test how it performs.

The Also Rans

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-07-06-52 Diablo 3 is enjoyable, and at some point I would really like to get a crusader to 70…  hell I would like to get my monk to 70.  I just struggle to find any drive to play it when my own personal internet zeitgeist… aka the folks I hang out on voice chat nightly, are not also playing it.  It was really fun up until the release of Elder Scrolls Online and then boom we all vacated the premises.  For the time being I am pretty much crossing it off my list until there is another upwelling of desire among my friends to play it.  Trove is similarly really fun, but without a lot of people that I know playing it on a regular basis I have fallen back out of love with it.  I will likely continue to poke my head into the game irregularly but when I do play… so much has changed that the experience feels very off-putting.  The game is in a pretty much constant state of flux, which is awesome if you are devoted to this game, but confusing if you are a “sometimes” player like me. Play 2014-03-14 10-12-29-25 League of Legends will be a permanent fixture in my gaming rotation so long as I have friends who are devoted to playing it.  I don’t necessarily love the game, but I enjoy playing with my friends.  I personally like Heroes of the Storm so much better, but the problem is with it being in a limited release “technical alpha” state there just are not enough people around regularly to play with.  The MOBA genre is really only fun for me if I am playing with a group of friends, and in this scenario League wins out every time.  That is not to say that I won’t keep poking my head into Heroes especially as they add new waves of players.  As far as Hearthstone and Hex…  I am back playing Magic the Gathering in real life with friends at lunch time…  so the draw of these games is minimal right now.

Those Who Made the Cut

WildStar64 2014-06-20 22-30-01-908 So after spending all of this time culling games for this or that reason, I figure I should talk about the games I am deciding to keep in the rotation.  Warlords of Draenor I am actually enjoying when I do manage to get in and play it.  So yes I am partially doing it in honor of River, and his desire to be in the Alpha, but there is something charming about the new content.  I don’t feel like it will be enough to keep me in WoW, but for the time being I am enjoying it while I can.  Wildstar has pretty much filled the corner of my heart that desire to play a theme park MMO, and it really is the most glorious theme park of experiences once you give yourself over to it.  I feel like I have barely scratched the surface on what it has to offer, and I am intrigued at the schedule they have put out before us.  I really like that they are choosing to put in “hardmode” single and small group content before augmenting the raid game.  That says a lot that they understand that they need to focus on both going forward to keep players.

eso 2014-02-23 12-41-25-63 I still feel like I have so much more that I want to do in Elder Scrolls Online.  I want to finish the Aldmeri Dominion content and see the Ebonheart Content, as well as spend time exploring Craglorn.  I love this game even though I am not playing it much, and I can’t see dropping it from the rotation anytime soon.  I realize that not many players feel the same way about the game as I do, but really for me it is like the best possible version of Skyrim.  I have been out so long at this point that I feel like I am going to be extremely rusty.  There game has problems, namely it is awkward as hell to do anything as a group other than Cyrodil.  They really need to fix this, and I hope that the good folks at Zenimax are looking into things like mentoring.  Right now it is a really awesome single player experience, but gets cludgy when you start adding in more people.  That said it still does have amazing dungeon design, and there are so many of them that I have yet to experience.

LMO 2014-06-23 06-41-14-037 Last but not least is a game that has come in and taken my heart by storm.  Lego Minifigures Online is absolutely adorable and I love everything about this game.  Last night this was the only thing I actually played, and grouped up with Rae she managed to catch me up almost to her level in experience.  Right now we have a vastly different set of mini figures, and it is really enjoyable to group together.  We have both opted to get memberships, and the pocket dungeons are awesome… some of them ending up extremely challenging like the Dragon’s Lair dungeon with I think five different boss fights in it.  I’ve already gotten more than my moneys worth of enjoyment out of it, so this is definitely going to be in my weekly rotation for a long while.  It basically scratches the itch that Diablo 3 did, and cashes in on my absolute love of all things Lego.

So there you have it, going forward I am mostly going to be focused on Wildstar, Elder Scrolls Online and Lego Minifigures Online.  I of course reserve the right to change my mind and undo all of these in the blink of an eye.  That said I do have a ton of single player games that I want to play through, and both the PS3 and PS4 ready to stream content.  I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing Assassin’s Creed 4 for example… and I am absolutely horrible at it, but enjoying myself quite a bit.  As far as online games, I am going to try and limit myself to just these games above for the time being.  I know in September I will be digging into Destiny and playing that online with friends quite a bit, but it doesn’t directly conflict with the types of games I chose above.  Maybe with this abbreviated list, I won’t constantly feel overwhelmed when I sit down at night and try and figure what exactly I am going to do.`

Rebooting Minecraft

Guild Meeting

I have an exciting evening planned that I have been looking forward to for a few weeks.  One of my long time House Stalwart guild members is here in town, and tonight we plan on having a board game night.  Dallian/Doctor Hannah appeared on Episode 5 of AggroChat, and we mentioned the upcoming visit there.  He lives in the Little Rock area which makes him a neighbor of ours as far as the internet is concerned.  I always think its cool when I get to meet someone in the flesh that I have gamed with for ages.  I think the plan tonight is to play loads of Munchkin and eat pizza at Rae’s house.  We’ve tried to invite several of the locals to meet up, so it should be really fun.  I am contemplating bringing some magic starter decks, but that might be a little too involved.  We’ve been talking with a co-worker about maybe trying to play some magic over lunch soon.  Apparently his wife is super into the game and would probably even come up over lunch to play it.

chickenandtots I don’t really do this sort of thing that often.  I guess the last guild member that I met up with was Lummox who happened to be about fifteen minutes away from where I happened to be staying in Albany.  It is always interesting to see how someone is in real life verses their in game persona.  For the most part, a lot of the people I have met have been fairly similar.  I have to say the closest was probably Urcasio and Ravener, who were pretty much exactly the people I would have expected based on in game interactions.  Since I generally find it easier to meet over food, Dal and I are meeting up before this evening for lunch.  For years I have been talking about how amazing Ron’s Hamburgers are, and more importantly their hot and spicy chicken and cheese tots.  So we are meeting up at my favorite location today around 11ish.  I would love to somehow steal him to town like I managed to do with Rae.  I feel like I am trying to build this little gamer community, one person at a time.

Rebooting Minecraft

Last week one of my new friends Missysmojo decided to try her hand at playing Minecraft. I joked with her that she would end up losing the next three months of her life.  She opted to stream a little bit, and it got me thinking.  It has been years since I have played Minecraft with any regularity.  There have been a few times I patched up my client and connected to the guild server just to see what folks were doing, but I had felt like I had “beaten” Minecraft for some time.  In this last year there have been significant changes in the game, and probably even more before that I really never noticed.  So I thought I would start a brand new game and play completely legit.  No mods, no helpful minimap… just the vanilla client and a texture pack (because yeah that is necessary).  The above video is the results of that process last night.  I am not really sure yet how often I will be streaming Minecraft, but I expect to continue where I left off each time.

For starters…  I am really not used to the game any longer.  I kept trying to “suck in” blocks and drops like you do in Trove.  The low performance of the game frustrated me, because I am not used to it “chunking” and loading in parts of the game slowly freezing my client momentarily when it does.  I am sure this is something I can tweak, because I probably just don’t have enough memory flowing to the default client.  There used to be a tool called Magic Launcher that handled a lot of the memory allocation for me, so I might look into that.  Another dumbass move is I totally thought I was on “survival” mode for the first little bit, running scared from potential monsters… only to find out that I actually was in peaceful mode on the client.  Once I noticed that and changed it things started to get interesting.

For starters, it seems like the creeper spawn rate is insane.  I maybe saw one or two zombies and skeletons the first night after flipping it to a normal mode, but I saw what felt like half a dozen creepers.  I managed to trap four chickens inside my base and I dug a pit like I often do and have them down there for a constant source of eggs, feathers and meat.  At some point I want to try and drag a couple of cows and pigs in there as well so I have all of my livestock needs handy.  Most of the video involves me setting up “base” as I hollow out a mountain, search for coal and finally start digging down into the earth in search of steel.  I encounter a cave with a skeleton spawner in it… and have a pretty epic battle trying to break the cave and torch it off.  I had quite a bit of fun, or at least more fun with Minecraft than I have had in ages.

Bunny Doom

Hex 2014-05-15 23-48-43-201 I love everything there is to love about the Shin’hare, and the fact that they exist makes Hex so much more enjoyable than Magic the Gathering ever could be.  It’s an entire race of adorable evil samurai bunnies…  you could slap that into ANY game and I would play it.  As a kid one of my favorite comic book characters was Usagi Yojimbo… so everything about this deck feeds my enjoyment.  Not to mention that my favorite deck combination in Magic the Gathering was Green and Black… and the Shin’hare are exactly that…  Life and Blood aka Green and Black.  In some ways it reminds me of playing my thalid deck circa Fallen Empires.  I would constantly use that deck to feed my black “sacrifice or I feed” cards.  While I am lacking some of the cards in Hex to make this work really well, the starter deck mixed with a few cards I got from my packs seems to be working okay.

Last night I got in and played a few hands against the AI, mostly because it was getting late and I didn’t want to deal with people.  I am anxious for when trading comes into play, because of my group of friends I think I am really the only hardcore bunny player.  I should be able to help some of them out with cards they are looking for and bolster my bunny army.  My all time favorite card is still the Uzume, Grand Concubunny.  Not only is the artwork adorable, but the card is insane when you get it out into play.

When I first read this card, I assumed it would start dropping the 0/1 battle hopper tokens that the other Shin’hare cards do on the table.  While that would have been good enough, considering the normal concubunnies you have to expend resources and tap them to get this effect.  The real effect however is so much better, in that it summons a random non-unique bunny card into play.  This can be ANY card, even ones you don’t currently have in your deck.  It is literally generating cards for you, but the problem is this makes the card and insane aggro magnet.

I need to formulate some ways to protect the card, because really it is too damned valuable to not have it on the board for more than a few turns.  Hopefully soonish I can get together with my other friends currently in the closed beta and play some actual matches.  I feel like Kodra is in a completely different league with me, and like to play a style of magic that I do not… but this will not stop me from attempting to beat him.  He royally kicked my ass in hearthstone, but it didn’t stop me from coming back for more.  These type of games for me are about the moment to moment play and not whether or not I win.  In fact that can pretty much be said with any game I play, I am just not that competitive.  It is about the journey not the win conditions.

2013 Retrospective

Grand Experiment in Review

2012 was an extremely horrible year for me and at least professionally I would rank it as quite possibly the worst year I have ever had.  I would put it as worse than the year I was out of work for six months after the dotcom crash.  On September 11th 2012 my company suffered what they thought was a network attack, that only later the security guy pulled his head out of his ass and realized it was a regularly scheduled security scan… that he himself authorized.  The results of this was a massive overreaction that caused me and my team to spend the rest of the year and a good chunk of the beginning of this year rebuilding damned near everything that touched the web.  Why did we have to do this?  Because they quite literally pulled the servers out of the racks and sent them to the FBI, leaving us next to nothing to work off of.

So next to that year, this year has seemed like an absolute dream.  However it has been more than that for me.  2013 has been a year of personal growth and exploring new things.  In April when I finally pulled my head above water after the “faux” security incident, I really wanted to make a break back into blogging.  I fell off of the planet shortly after the security event and simply could not bring myself to write about anything.  Coming back I devised what I called a “grand experiment”, namely to blog each and every day even if I didn’t think I had much to write about.  At this point there are 237 posts categorized as “The Grand Experiment”, and without fail I have blogged every day even when it was a struggle to do so.

Has the experiment worked?  Well functionally yes I have managed to blog every day, but more importantly has it provided an interesting stream of content?  Quite honestly I don’t know.  Most of the time I feel like I am a little kid writing to a make believe audience.  When I talk to someone who mentions something I have written… I am always shocked.  I feel like no one actually reads my stuff, that I am mostly just writing it for my own benefit.  People seem to enjoy what I write, and I have a regular stream of readers… but I will never have the type of audience that the bigger bloggers have.  I am just too rough around the edges for that sort of thing.  For the most part I am happy with the results of a year of blogging and my long-term goal is to make it at least one full year of posts without pause.  That of course will be up April 26th of 2014, which seems like it is far in the future right now.  However I don’t see myself losing steam at any point soon.

A Healthier Me

Another big change in my life over the course of 2013 is that I am considerably lighter.  In March my wife and I began to shift the way we relate to food.  I say it in terms like that because really we have completely changed our relationship to food as a whole.  To say we went on a diet doesn’t really encompass the level of change.  Diets are about the short term, but we wanted to make permanent and long-term changes in the way we ate.  Namely we focused on trying to find a new and sustainable way to live.  At this point I am 70 lbs smaller and have hit a bit of a plateau over the last month.  However the fact that I survived both Thanksgiving and Christmas without breaking that plateau makes me happy enough.

My wife on the other hand continues to lose at a steady pace and is now down roughly 60 lbs.  At some point I need to get super serious again, as I have become lax of late.  However the current weight seems to be a place I can comfortable stay without any real intervention.  I have reached my goal and it is time for me in this new year to refocus myself and set a new one.  I will never be a small man, I come from a long line of really big people.  I am however happy enough being able to say I am a “smaller” man.  The thing I was not expecting to be honest were the health benefits.  As a whole I am far healthier than I was a year ago, and the primary benefit is that my Asthma that I have struggled with my entire life… and have even been hospitalized for… is really a mere nuisance these days.  I can go months on a single inhailer, and that is not a thing I have ever been able to do in my life.

Professional Growth

In the last year I have grown more into the role of the manager of my group.  I have learned to delegate more, which is something I have always struggled with in my life.  I was good at accepting assignments, but never very good at passing them on to my troops, instead trying to take them all on myself.  My team is pretty amazing and I would be lost without them.  I guess in some small way I have learned to have more faith in them, and trust that they will do as much diligence with an assignment as I would have.  As a result I have shifted more into the architect role for my group and part-time project manager and full-time traffic cop.  Making sure all of the assignments are going to the right places and all seeing at least some progress.

We usually have 50-60 active projects for a team of three people.  So it involves lots of juggling.  Various forces in my company want me to move up into a permanent management position.  However I simply do not want to distances myself from the “real work” enough to take them.  Additionally right now I am responsible for three extremely highly functional people, and I don’t think I  could cope with being put over less functional people that I would some how have to whip into shape.  I am not really great with confrontations, and as a result I think I would flounder.  Either that or it would be similar to me as a raid leader, and I would turn into a real asshole.  For the time being I think I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

I Wrote A Novel

One of the things I have always wanted to do in my life was to write a novel.  I made several false attempts at various times over the years but never could seem to push myself to do it.  This November I joined the NaNoWriMo event, and over the course of the month knocked out my first novel.  I have no idea if it is actually any good, because honestly I have not even read it since finishing it up.  I plan in the new year to tear it asunder as I edit it, and fix any issues.  However regardless if it completely sucks, I have accomplished a goal.  I managed to write a novel, and that is a thing most people can’t say about themselves.  I didn’t do it to get famous, or be published, I did it mostly just to prove to myself that I could.

The weird thing about it is, November seems like a lifetime ago.  The whole concept of writing 1500 words per night was just absolutely draining.  My entire life revolved around that novel for those thirty days, which is honestly longer than I have stuck with anything like that in my life.  More than anything I feel like it was a venue of personal growth.  I did a thing I never thought I could, and I did so in a methodical way in which it felt like success was assured from the moment I started.  Sure I faltered a few times along the way, and there were a few days I didn’t write a blessed thing.  However I kept moving forward towards the eventual 50,000 word count goal and I achieved it.  I think more than anything I am proud of this accomplishment from 2013.

A Year of Gaming

This is a gaming blog afterall, so during 2013 I played a lot of games.  I played way more games than I can ever manage to remember, but I will try and run down a few of the big ones.  The list of major titles is as follows.

Oddly enough I am beginning this new year not entirely differently than I began the last year.  January 2013 I was still involved in the launch of Mists of Pandaria, and it was not until April that I really began to distance myself from that game entirely.  World of Warcraft and I have this love/hate relationship.  I get frustrated with it so much, because it seems that they always seem to take the most short sighted solutions to problems, and there are so many games that there that do various things it does…. so much better.  However as a total package I feel like the game is unbeatable.  It offers the most good things in one package.  The realization for me however after my 2+ years of absence from being serious about the game is that it is not about the game at all.  World of Warcraft is about the people playing it, and I had missed the ragtag group of people known as House Stalwart immensely.

The game I probably played the most often during the year however was Rift.  I want to love rift so badly, the promise of the game is really great.  The problem is it just lacks something that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It is a technically superior game in every aspect, but it is like it lacks a cohesive narrative that makes me care about the world every single day.  The dragons were a thing I thought I  could get behind.  But now that we have systematically killed each of them off, I cannot say in a single sentence what the world of Rift is.  I think that might be the problem, there is no one clear narrative to the game.  You cannot say “this game is” and have even half of the people agree on it.  I still play it occasionally and there is still an incarnation of House Stalwart there that Psynister and Fynralyl are keeping alive.  I thank them so much for being there, but I just can’t seem to care about the game right now.  I am sure at some point I will again.

Final Fantasy was another major force for the year.  This was a game I never intended to like because really I feel like me and Japanese RPGs had a messy divorce quite some time ago.  I had a group of friends actively wanting to play it, so against my better judgment I went along for the ride.  What I found however was a really well crafted narrative and dungeon experience.  If I could have kept experiencing new bits of immersive content, I would have likely stuck around.  However once you reached the end of the game, it was exactly that…  the end.  All paths lead to massive amount of grinding, and for whatever reason… while I can stomach grinding all day long in World of Warcraft… I could not stomach the particular FFXIV brand of grinding.  Namely I blame this on the overall lack of meaninful drops in the game.  If I have a chance of getting something cool while killing mobes, no matter how remote the chance… it feels exciting to me each time I open a loot window.  There was nothing that could drop from mobs in the world that I would ever care about.  Additionally gearing up to get to a point where we could raid, was just not a bridge I was willing to cross.

Games for 2014

There has been a game I have been in super secret closed door testing since February.  I cannot name the game by name, but I have to say I am still extremely excited about it even after most of a year testing it.  I have watched the game grow from something that felt polished to something that really is amazingly rich and polished.  I don’t think I will quit WoW this time for another game, because I have set down some pretty solid roots there again.  However I know I will also be playing this game, at the very least two to three nights a week.  It is probably the least wow-like game I have played in a long while, and because of that I feel like there is room in my heart for both games to have a unique space.

Past that I am really not certain what 2014 will hold.  I know that I am not really interested enough to purchase a PS4 or an XBox One, so I think I will be exiting the console mainstream once again.  I am mostly a PC gamer to be honest, and since my gameloft has been taken over by my wife I am okay with not having access to the consoles.  More than anything I am looking forward to the various stores beginning to liquidate their stocks of PS3 and XBox 360 games, so I can pick up the titles I always wanted to play but didn’t have the desire to pay for.  Additionally there are still a lot of things on the DS/3DS that I want to play, and I am looking forward to picking up the newest Zelda game.  I am sure there will be a number of surprises along the way, games that catch my fancy enough to deserve lots of blog posts.

I hope that 2014 will be as positive force in my life as 2013 has been.  Additionally I hope each and every one of you out there can say the same.  My friend @AlternativeChat has declared 2014 the “Year of Faff”, and I am down with this notion.  I think we all need to learn how to faff about in the game worlds we are in, because stopping and smelling the roses is the only real way I know to break the cycle of burnout.  I have tried my best to embrace this concept, and hope to continue to do so in the year to come.  More than anything, I feel like I am sick of jumping games every three months, and I get the sense that the gaming world as a whole is somewhat sick of that as well.  I hope we can each embrace our own faff, whatever that might mean.

Nostalgia Won

Crackception

WoW-64 2013-10-29 16-51-01-30

That’s right… you are seeing the above image correctly.  That is two in game npcs in World of Warcraft playing Hearthstone.  The game that has caused such an upwelling of nostalgia… is being played in the game I am nostalgic about.  I feel as though they are missing an amazing opportunity here however.  If you could ACTUALLY play hearthstone inside of World of Warcraft, the same way you can play Legends of Norrath inside of Everquest 2… it would quickly become the ultimate piddling around waiting on someone experience.  I can remember how amazingly popular the bejeweled and peggle became as pre-raid activities and those were just addons.

It would be amazing if they wove hearthstone into every aspect of the game.  Peggle loot was a thing that existed, and while it took forever it was an extremely fun way to settle loot disputes.  Would be equally cool if you could do something like that with hearthstone.  However that would also be a sure fire way to derail the gameplay, but still an enjoyable one.  I guess the hearthstone game board feels all the more enjoyable… when you see it in a three dimensional table top version in the above screenshot.

Nostalgia Won

WoW-64 2013-10-30 06-15-00-46

The fact that you are now seeing fresh World of Warcraft shots on my blog means that I lost the battle with nostalgia.  I caved last night and renewed my account for a month so I could get in and satiate the urge to play that has been brought on by hearthstone.  I go into this knowing full well that this decision almost always ends up in tears of frustration, but I felt like it was something I needed to “get out of my system” nonetheless.  I have to say… once I got past the extreme awkwardness of seeing people I had not seen in years, that the overall gameplay was rather enjoyable.

I spent some time piddling around Timeless Isle and managed to find a chest with some purple shoulders in it.  Of course my friends immediately told me those were “not good”, but hell when I left the game I was still in blues.  I did not manage to stick around for much raiding at all in Panda-land so anything I could get was a massive upgrade for me.  I liked the concept of the timeless isle overall, the fact that you could get decent purple gear just by killing random stuff out in the world.  Additionally apparently there are lots and lots of chest out there that have the random chance of dropping something that can turn into a piece of gear like I found.

Similarly I had quite a bit of fun leveling Belghast.  For whatever reason post Wrath, Belghast has not really seen any action.  Right before the release of Panda-land I managed to push him up to 85 only to stable him again.  For whatever reason it feels somehow wrong to have Belghast NOT be at the level cap for an expansion.  Even though I pretty much transitioned to playing my Deathknight in Wrath, I would like to see him at least hit the cap here.  The game is always enjoyable when I still have quests to do, but once that slows down I am sure I will get bored with it yet again and wander off in another direction.  I know for certain that I am not back fully, because even if I end up landing for awhile… I will be gone once again when Elder Scrolls Online comes out.  Right now every game that is not ESO is just a placeholder.

How Diablo Ought Be

Hibernation Weekend

Hearthstone 2013-10-17 20-50-14-32

This is one of those mornings when I really wish I did not have to write a blog post.  I guess in the grand scheme of things… there is nothing forcing me to do so, but I would hate to break my streak of daily posts.  This is one of those hibernation weekends when neither my wife or I really want to leave the house.  In fact I went out and got breakfast in my fuzzy slippers that look like shoes this morning and a hoodie.  Not like the folks at the convenience store really pay too much attention to what people are wearing, but it was a reasonable facsimile of “dressed”.

Yesterday I was completely all over the place game wise.  I started off the day by playing quite a bit of Hearthstone, this was a side effect of me wanting the gold from my daily quest and a new friend just getting into the game.  Once he got through the tutorial and unlocked a few decks we played a few games.  The first game he trounced me liberally, and the second two I managed to pull ahead significantly mostly due to him not getting the cards he needed when he needed them.  Playing against actual players has made me extremely aggressive when it comes to Hearthstone, and I am not really sure how to tone that back a notch.

Mixed Bag of Gaming

AOgame 2013-10-25 06-56-42-61

After hearthstone I poked my head into Rift for a bit, but really didn’t find much enjoyment there.  I am not sure what it is but right now Rift is just not that fun of a game for me.  I am sure before long I will cycle back around to it and it will once again be the next best thing to sliced bread.  I have the same sort of thing going on with EQ2 as well.  I have a desire to play some, but when I actually log in I have no desire to do anything.  So in both cases I poke my head in and then log back out almost as quickly.

Right now I am still enjoying Allods quite a bit, but I have a feeling that very soon the bottom will drop out.  I have heard that after a certain point there are very few non-group quests.  Currently at level 8 I am still having no problem at all, and this is sufficiently scratching that World of Warcraft itch.  However I get the sense that I am nearing the end of the starter city of <Insert Russian Sounding Name Here>.  I am really enjoying the game, and it is extremely well crafted, but as a whole the storyline and missions are forgettable.  There is really little “special” about the game other than the awesome soviet era steampunk feel.

Forced

FORCED 2013-10-27 10-16-36-94

After a bunch of mucking around yesterday, I settled into playing a brand new game with some friends.  Forced had been a title that popped up on our radar during the Kickstarter, and was subsequently picked up as a Steam Greenlight title.  Well it has officially released this week, and one of my friends decided to buy a four pack and distribute copies.  They describe the game as Diablo meets Left4Dead… and to some extent that makes sense.  However I do not think that description really explains just how much cooperation is needed to make it through the levels.  In many ways it reminds me of Gauntlet Legends… if Gauntlets Legends required you to use the NES Rob the Robot to make it through the levels.

Each of the gladiators chooses a weapon that will dictate their active and passive talent trees as well as set the overall flavor of the arena combat.  Above you can see an image of three weapons in the preparation room leading into any of the arenas.  I am currently holding the magma hammer and all of the attacks both passive and active are somehow fire based.  To the left of that pool is the green daggers, most of the attacks being about speed, stealth and health regeneration.  In a way they are the support class in that they can generate combo points on the target than the heavier hitters can then consume.  On the bottom left you have the Ice Shield, and this is the tank of the group focusing on being able to negate large amounts of damage.  Finally you have the D&D Animated series style lightning bow, with chain lightning and energy based attacks.

How Diablo Ought Be

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The controls are also extremely unique… or at least unique to me.  In many ways it reminds me of Ikari Warriors in that you have one set of controls to move your body and another to control your facing.  If you choose mouse and keyboard this means that WASD will move you physically around the arena and your mouse will choose your facing with Left and Right mouse buttons being your primary and secondary attacks to start out.  Later on you will pick up additional attacks Q being the first of these.   I assume with a controller one stick is likely your movement and the other your facing with your triggers being your primary attacks, but quite honestly I have not tried this out.

The pace of the action was so intense most of the time, that I quite honestly forgot to hit the screenshot last night.  However the gameplay revolves around using the glowing sphere of light Balfus your “spirit mentor” to move around the arena and active switches and traps for you.  As a team this gets super tricky since you have ONE balfus and each of you can call it at any given moment… so this involves a lot of communication to figure out who can use it next.  Additionally if your timing is right you can position the next person to call it as soon as one objective is done.  It is hard to fully understand how the gameplay works cooperatively without seeing it in action.  So as a result I am going to embed the trailer that shows quite a bit of play.

Challenging Co-Op

 

So essentially there are so many ways to fuck over your friends while playing this game.  There are maps for example where Balfus provides a protective bubble, and if you stray outside of that bubble you take large amounts of damage per tick.  So these force your team to be placed JUST right as you pay your way through the map.  It becomes progressively easier to abandon a player on the edges of the map and trap them.  So for us… access to voice chat was SUPER handy.  We kept communicating and I was generally the dullard that tried his best not to ever call the ball.  My job was to call down orbital strikes in the form of meteors upon the heads of the big baddies and consume combo points with my heavy hitting attacks.

You get a crystal for each objective that you complete.  On each map there is a completion shard, a time based shard, and one for getting a specific objective.  They have made these in such a way as it is super difficult to get all three within one run.  So as a result you can do each arena over and over to try and gain as many crystals as you can.  Last night in our little 2.5 hour play session we managed to rack up 15 shards.  The first world was honestly rather straightforward but as we entered world two… the frequency of cursing increased massively.

Downright Brutal

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Face it… you are going to be seeing a lot of this screen.  The game excels as forcing various no-win scenarios if you are not fast enough or clever enough to figure out the trick on the first attempt.  We would have probably continued on for another hour and a half had one of our players internet not taken a massive dump.  At that point we figured… it was a good place to take a break.  The gameplay is extremely frenetic, but also amazingly rewarding when you and your friends manage to complete a scenario.  If you too have a group of friends to game with… I highly suggest buying a four pack and distributing copies because forced provides an extremely unique gameplay experience for multiple people.  As a whole I give the game a big thumbs up.

Hearthstone

Battle of Cards

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I am getting around super late this morning to make a blog post.  On a whim I decided to take Friday off, since for my wife it was her fall break.  I figured the two of us could hang out around the house or do whatever.  Then over night I noticed a rather frantic message from my boss.  It seems like after 5 his boss had requested something by noon today… that would involve a lot of feedback and information from us worker bees.  So as a result I got up around 8 am, got dressed, went out and grabbed breakfast and have been remote into work for the last hour working on the list of information.  As a result… my normal early morning post is delayed.

Yesterday I was extremely pumped to get home, because over night I seemed to have received an email from Blizzard saying that my account had finally been flagged for the Hearthstone beta process.  Since everyone and their brother is live streaming this on Twitch… I am assuming there is no actual NDA going on… or at least not one currently enforced.  So as a result I snapped multiple pictures last night as I played and will be weaving them in here and there.  I have to admit I went into this a bit skeptical… not really sure if I would like it or not.  From the video I had seen, everything about the game feels rushed much like a LFG dungeon group.  Even though you rarely think more than one round ahead… there is still a lot of strategy going on.

The Education

 

Day[9] has a really good series of videos walking through his first experience with the game, and I highly suggest you watch it if you are curious about how you get into the game.  Basically Blizzard has done an amazing job of user education, in that to get started in the game you HAVE to play through a tutorial.  Fortunately it does a really good job of slowly introducing you into the various mechanics, and as a result you can pick up the strategy of the game extremely quickly.  You play through a series of NPC card fights…starting with Hogger and finishing with an Azerothian Super Villain that I won’t spoil for now.

Once you have finished with the tutorial it has taught you basically everything there is to know about the Mage deck.  Essentially the decks are all themed after one of the World of Warcraft classes.  I notice that Deathknight is conspicuously absent… so they must be intending to add that in as an expansion opportunity.   For those who are familiar with the Duel of the Planeswalkers series of MTG games for consoles and steam… you will be used to the way you progress from here.  Now you can take your mage deck and challenge the other classes, by defeating them you unlock the ability to play as that class.

The Sticky-ness

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The biggest surprise for me is just how sticky this game was.  I got home around 5 pm and started playing around 5:30.  I ended up playing this game without pause until around 9:30.. and only then because some guild members needed me to tank a FFXIV dungeon run.  I have to say that is fairly unheard of for me, when it comes to card games.  I have copies of all of the Duel of the Planeswalker games that have been released, but have maybe logged 50 hours total among ALL of them.  There was just something about the physical card game experience that never quite translated to the online version.

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Last night over the course of the evening, I managed to unlock all of the different class decks.  At various points through the evening I was rewarded with either gold or actual packs of cards.  The game uses a quest like system to give you little goals to work towards.  If you look above you can see that in the screenshot I have 2 of the 3 wins needed to earn 10 gold.  There was another quest I had to level one of the classes to 10, and in doing so I unlocked a pack of cards.  Essentially it seems like there are two kinds of cards you can get… Basic cards that are unlocked through completing quests and scenarios and leveling… and Expert cards that are unlocked through either purchasing or winning packs of cards.

The Money

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Since this game is free to play, you have to be asking yourself… where do they make money.  Well like always with any card game it is in the packs.  I took a screenshot of the current store interface.  You will notice that the packs that be bought with either in game gold currency that you earn by completing achievements or be purchased with real world currency.  You can purchase a single pack with 100 gold, 2 packs for $2.99 ($1.49 each), 7 packs for $9.99 ($1.42 each), 15 packs for $19.99 ($1.32 each) or 40 packs for $49.99 ($1.24 each).  So as you can see in buying in bulk like you would expect you keep getting more and more of a discount on the per pack price.

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Through the course of play last night I earned 5 packs of cards either through a combination of gold or actually winning the packs outright.  I have to say the sound design and animation are amazing… and really capture the same excitement of opening a real pack of cards.  You can double click the pack to open it… or for a more tactile experience drag it open.  Similarly all five cards in a pack come flying out onto the screen… but do so face down.  This allows you to flip them over one by one similar to sifting through a physical pack of cards.  They know their audience well and have put in a number of tactile hooks to increase the sense of suspense to see if you have something good or not.

Versus Players

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Currently you have the option of playing progressively harder NPC decks, or setting out and playing some physical players.  Quite honestly I have found playing players a bit easier than playing the expert decks.  There are two PVP modes of play… the first of which is simply building a custom deck and then taking it on the road to fight against other players.  The second of which is the Arena, which serves as this games “draft” mode, giving both a more random experience but also potentially a more balanced one.

I am not sure if this regenerates but you get at least one free Arena token, after that it appears to either cost 150 in game gold or $1.99 to unlock additional tokens.  In the Arena you choose a class and then are presented with a series of three cards.  The card you keep goes into your arena deck, and the other two are discarded.  This continues on until you have chosen 30 cards for your deck.  An Arena deck lasts until you have lost three times.  At the end of the match you are rewarded based on how well you did.  For me I got 2 sacks of gold 2 packs of cards and a rare paladin card for playing.  I won three times and lost three times.

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The interesting thing about the Arena is the fact that you don’t have to play it all in one sitting.  So long as you have not lost your three matches you can continue playing arena.  There is some bar of gems that fills up each time you win, but I am not 100% certain how that works.  You might get punted out of the Arena if you win too often as well.  Last night I played through a single arena match and then was off playing custom games with players.  My little hunter deck seems to be doing pretty well, so I will likely return to doing some of that today.  I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised in just how good of a game Hearthstone is.