Week In Gaming 11/8/2015

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Reapers Attack

Yesterday was N7 day and what I can only imagine as reapers… continued to dismantle my house.  What I mean by that is that this week contractors have been working on siding our house and other little home improvement things.  Friday during the day and all day Saturday I have had to listen to them tearing parts of the exterior of my house off, and sawing bits to put back in their place.  I have a headache that is completely insane and I think its simply from all the noise over the last few days.  Another thing that happened yesterday was the ExtraLife Marathon, and at one point we had these grand plans to try and do it as AggroChat.  I am extremely glad those plans fell through because with the contractors traipsing in and out of my house there would have simply been no way I could have done that yesterday.  I did however get to hang out a bit with Liore on her stream, and my hope was that anyone who would have supported me would end up supporting her.  Last I heard she raised something like $2200 which is pretty damned awesome!

Seeking Stimulant

This week once again has been largely devoted to me playing Destiny.  As I had hoped it does in fact seem like the Sleeper Stimulant quest is going to be reappearing about once a month.  I managed to complete the First Firewall and the follow up Shadow Call missions that are the ones that were time sensitive.  Shadow Call in itself was pretty damned insane because it is a mission where you have to reach the top of a tower in three minutes.  This tower is full of tons of Taken Fallen mobs, and essentially you don’t have time to fight ANY of it.  You need to run past as best you can, and the only thing I ultimately took out were the blight orbs that robbed me of my ability to jump.  When you get to the top you have to take down three Wizards all within the original time limit.  It took me about eight tries to get to the top of the tower… but when I finally did I was able to take down the mobs without much issue.  Now I am just left with the task of gathering up all of the elements required to recharge the Ikelos fusion core.  The problem I am having is of course the Warsats… I spent most of last night waiting on Earth in the supposed area where the Warsat spawns.  I waited through three different blights and did not see any Warsats at all during that process, so I am wondering if for some reason they have moved where the Warsat drops.  I am getting conflicting reports of it happening in the Mothyards and Skywatch… which while next to each other are only connected by a series of tunnels that makes them hard to move between.

The other big thing I worked on this week was my Warlock, and I have managed to get him up to level 30.  Doing the level 20 strikes I thought initially would be a great way to level, but for some reason I seem to only get the Omniguul one which is freaking annoying.  I have a few more of those Red Bull experience stimulant things… and I plan on chain running some strikes with them up in the hopes of maximizing the experience gain.  I still need to finish up the Black Garden quest, because ultimately when I am on I spend more time faffing about in patrol missions than I actually do in directed combat.   I have a slew of quests that the various folks on the tower have given me as well that I should probably finish up.  I am not sure what I have this drive to get the Warlock to 40 and geared, but in theory I guess I just want one of each.  In an MMO it always bugs me when I get exclusive gear for a specific class but cant use it… and that has always been my strongest drive to level said class… because I knew I had it waiting on me when I got to level.  I have most of a level 40 gear set waiting in my bank, and I am amped to be able to get the Warlock up to use it.

Halo: Combat Evolved

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Another side project this week has been to go through and play the original Halo: Combat Evolved, or at least start it.  The original Xbox and honestly the GameCube as well are like the biggest voids in my gaming history.  They happened at a time when I was largely in an Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot shaped hole.  As a result I never got to play Halo other than the pretty lousy PC port, and I never really caught back up when I finally got an Xbox 360.  In my travels I have picked up copies of the Anniversary edition of Halo for 360, as well as 2, 3, and 4 and plan on playing through them at some point.  What ended up peaking my interests is the fact that apparently on of the elder races in Halo were the Ecumene, which during the Book of Sorrows in Destiny you find out was a race destroyed by the Hive.  So in theory at least it seems like the Destiny universe is the “future” of the Halo universe, or at least Halo is a universe that exists before the coming of the Traveler and the dawning of the golden age.  I am not exactly sure why I am so fascinated with the lore of Destiny, but I guess in a way it reminds me a lot of the universe of Dune.  Super complex… but you also have to dig hard to find that connective tissue that brings everything together.

I have to say that so far Combat Evolved holds up pretty solidly.  My only real complaint is that I cannot actually remap my controls.  You can choose from one of many presets, but you can’t actually swap around the buttons.  If I had my druthers I would map things to match Destiny more closely… but I did manage to find a set that is “close enough” for me not to instinctively do anything stupid.  I am mostly wanting to know the story of the Halo universe, so that I can maybe glean more information about the Destiny universe.  Also I seem to be on an FPS kick so playing another one just seems to be in the cards.  I am honestly considering playing Fallout 4 on the PC with an Xbox 360 controller just to continue this pattern.  I do at some point need to get back into the swing of playing FPS on PC with the mouse and keyboard because I absolutely intend to play Overwatch that way.

Heroes of the Storm

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As I mentioned briefly above… I ended up playing a bunch of matches with Liore and Elly yesterday during their Extra Life stream.  It had been a really really long time since I had played any Heroes, more than likely not much since the game officially launched awhile back and reset.  They have really added a bunch of nifty stuff, and I noticed that one of my previously “cool” but largely just a recolor skins.. has turned into this elaborate Diablo Tyrael thing which I absolutely approve of.  Unfortunately while playing I just saw a bunch of skins that I really want to get… like Marshall Raynor… and Judgement Uther.  Later last night I poked my head in again, this time alone and noticed that I had more than enough gold to purchase Uther, which is one of those characters that I have enjoyed on free weeks, but never actually picked up.  I have also heard that Rehgar is equally enjoyable in the melee support role, but not really played him either.  I ended up winning a game as Uther which completed a quest.  I guess at some point they backed away from the concept that you could not complete quests in bots only games, which makes me happy because I can actually pop in and get stuff done on days that I don’t feel like dealing with other players.  This is still a really fun game, and probably the only MOBA that I would actually play by myself and solo queue.  Funny how making chat option improves my experience, the only negative is that you always seem to have one player that is off by themselves and not really paying attention to what the team is doing.

Rift

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I also popped my head into Rift for a bit while we podcast last night, and continued to work on my primalist.  At this point I am level 14 and I feel like I am starting to wind down the content in Silverwood.  I guess I am just a die hard Defiant… because I just don’t have near as much fun when I am playing Guardian side.  I liked the idea of a Dwarven Primalist, but man do I wish I had the option of choosing to play the Defiant content instead.  I mean I know you can race change, but it simply was not worth it for me to roll a Defiant and then race change to Dwarf.  I just kinda wish that races were independent of the path you choose to take faction wise… since the faction as fiction patch made all of that really a personal preference not a hard line.  I mean Freemarch has all sorts of awesome Undead that you get to fight… and what does Silverwood have?  Goblins…  Fae… and more Elves…  just not nearly as cool on the “fun to slaughter” meter.  Complaints aside I am continuing to progress but not really playing that often.  This is one of those games that I keep returning to when I want some low key activity, and I don’t feel like I have time to get into something more serious.  I guess I play Rift much the same way as a lot of people play Guild Wars 2.  Get in, do a few things… and get right back out.

 

Media Consumption – Blizzcon 2015 Edition

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Interesting Day

MediaConsumptionLast week I had this grand plan of hanging out at home and watching BlizzCon 2015, so I took the day off work.  Then as we got closer to the day, it suddenly filled up with other things I needed to do.  Our house looked like madness yesterday with three vehicles of the contractors working on the siding and minor renovations, and another truck for the heating and air company.  All of this while my wife and I were being forced to park in the next door neighbors driveway.  Thankfully they were not here the last few days, otherwise I have no clue what we would be doing for parking.  I am sure the neighbors are wondering what manner of insanity we are up to… as at one point yesterday we had a guy stop and gawk for a few minutes without asking anything.  I guess that is the benefit of not actually knowing half of your neighbors is that you don’t have to make the same small talk over and over when something like this happens.  This morning in honor of BlizzCon however I am going to talk about the things that interested me.

Diablo 3

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I am leading off what was I originally thought going to be the big disappointment of the day.  Blizzard did what they always do and rolled out everything that was new and shiny in their opening ceremony.  The problem being… they said absolutely nothing about Diablo 3 which has turned out to be probably the game in their lineup that I care the most about.  I had hoped they would announce another expansion this year, but alas that didn’t happen.  However I am completely fine with this because the Diablo 3 panel later in the evening pretty much showed me that the team is quietly doing awesome stuff, in spite of apparently being ignored by Blizzard as a whole.  The presentation was essentially a rapid fire series of announcements of new features.  The one nearest and dearest to my heart surrounds the season play functionality.  They have essentially sorted out that they are going to make seasons three months long, meaning at the end of that three months there will be new content leading into the next season.  They said this gives players enough time to really deeply experience it… and also fits players like myself that swoop in… play enough to get the easy rewards and stop playing for a bit.

The biggest announcement as far as I am concerned is the “Rebirth” feature, which will allow you to essentially reboot a previous character and turn it into a new seasonal character.  All of the gear that was on the character gets mailed to the account, and that character gets dialed back to level 1… but keeps achievements, hours played etc.  It sounded like maybe there would be a special set of achievements for reboots, but essentially it solves the problem I always have of feeling like I have to create something brand new to be able to play along in the season again.  They are also adding additional stash space… and the ability to earn slots by completing the seasonal journey on a character, up to 10 slots total.  This all honestly would have been enough for me, but they are revising the buff system, changing the way damage is shown…  adding a whole item set dungeon functionality where specific dungeons will require you have an item set equipped and then have challenges based on the strength of that set.  On top of all of this… new zone and some expanded areas which makes 2.4 pretty damned awesome and it apparently goes up on the PTR next week.

Heroes of the Storm

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The highlight of the Heroes discussion is the fact that we are getting Genn Greymane as a playable champion.  This is absolutely hands down my favorite Alliance leader… that isn’t given the respect of having his own damned town to govern.  I am still a little sore that Gilneas never became someplace we could actually use as a capitol city.  I would seriously bank in that town all of the damned time if they allowed me to.  All the same however it is awesome to have him as a champion and it looks like the gameplay is going to be based around changing in and out of Worgen form.  The other interesting tidbit is that it seems like they are introducing ARAM for Heroes of the Storm.  The details were pretty scant and I have not watched any of the panels for Heroes yet… but from the sounds of it, the mode seemed to put a random group of champions against another random group of champions just like “All Random All Middle” mode in League of Legends.

I am honestly all about that because ARAM is probably my favorite mode to play in League.  Mostly because it takes all of the pressure off in that if you are getting randomly assigned a champion… no one can complain too much about you not being able to play it terribly well.  I’ve found it a great way to get my feet wet and get used to how a champion performs under actual combat situations.  The other interesting thing from the show was the introduction of Cho’Gall the two headed ogre.  This is a champion that is literally played by two different players.  I am assuming that one controls the movement and the other controls the combat at least to some extent.  Everyone with a BlizzCon virtual ticket will be getting it added to their account… and then they can play matches with other players to pass the character on.  After two matches a player will earn their own copy of Cho’gall and after I think they said four matches the original player gets a sack of gold for spreading the madness.  It sounds cool and it is awesome to see this game thriving.

Hearthstone

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The highlight of this announcement was awesome new Brann Bronzebeard artwork.  Hearthstone is one of those games that I like, but rarely actually boot up to play.  I am not sure what it is about the game, but essentially I keep playing the same deck over and over without changing it up much.  It is like this game requires too much of me to actually get in and sort out the decks I might want to build.  I am happy that it seems to be doing well, and I am happy that it has a meta that is very much alive.  That said I felt generally meh when listening to them talk about the gameplay.  I feel like maybe if it ran for shit on my iPad I would play it more, but I struggle with this game in the same way that I struggle with so many mobile games.  It requires too much of me to pop into it while waiting on something…  but it just isn’t sticky enough to make me choose to play it over literally any other game I have installed on my computer or consoles.  There just is rarely ever a situation where I am going to pick this over an MMO or a single player game experience.  I have so many other games to play… and honestly most of the time too damned many.  The hearthstone fans seemed to be really happy, so I am never going to rain on their parade with my own “meh”.

Overwatch

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I won’t lie the highlight of the Overwatch presentation for me was seeing just how awesome the Mercy Wings are in Diablo 3.  Other than that I loved the Mei reveal, because she was freaking adorable… and also looked like a really fun zone control champion to play.  Similarly I thought D.Va was a pretty cool concept, but I doubt I could ever see myself playing her.  The boot up sequence of her HUD was awesome, in that it showed a cute bunny icon while it was loading.  I really don’t care for the design of her Mech, which is my main problem with her as a champion.  There is just something wrong looking about it… I get they were going for a jet with legs after the reboot that allows her to fly…  but a Guardian Mode Veritech is a better version of what they were trying to accomplish.  Though I think the design they came up with was largely a compromise to save space on the screen.

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I have to admit I was largely tempted when they announced this would be coming to PS4.  The problem there is that the Xbox and PS4 Blizard games are disconnected from Battle.net.  That is my biggest problem with playing Diablo 3 on the PS4 is that I am stuck with only having access to my PSN friends… which are in no way as long of a list of Blizzard fans as the Battle.net account.  So even though I am going through a bit of a renaissance of console gaming… I am ultimately going to go with the mouse and keyboard of the PC and essentially have to reacquaint myself with that sort of game play.  I agree with Kodra in his belief that playing with a controller on a PC is a trap when it comes to a competitive FPS.  There are times I have even considered picking up a XIM4 for my PS4 so I have the option of playing with a keyboard and mouse there as well.  The PS4 natively supports USB and Bluetooth keyboards and mice… but very few games actually support that.  Mostly right now I just want to get into the Overwatch beta… and I am hoping that will be a thing that happens soon.

Warcraft Movie

I have to admit on this one that before this trailer I had not really given much of a shit about the Warcraft movie.  But man…  those feels while I watched this.  I have just been burned in the past when a franchise that I love was turned into a movie… at least from the gaming side of things.  Does anyone remember how horrible the Dungeons and Dragons movie was?  or Doom?  This however…. looks like it is going to be a really good movie and revitalize the Warcraft franchise for a whole new generation.  Maybe it is just the hype I am feeling about Star Wars spilling over into Warcraft… but I am feeling like now is the time to set aside old grudges and just embrace any fandom wholeheartedly.  Both Durotar and Lothar were awesome in the trailer, and I think they were probably right to make this a Warcraft movie… and not a World of Warcraft movie.  My hope is that along with this we maybe see a rebooted version of the original Warcraft RTS franchise.  In any case regardless I know what I will be doing next June… sitting in the theater and watching this movie.

Legion Expansion

Now we finally get to the low point of Blizzcon… which I guess tells you how far my tastes have changed.  I was completely amped about most of the above announcements other than maybe Hearthstone.  I wholeheartedly love Blizzard games… but I have just reached the point where World of Warcraft is my least favorite of them.  The cinematic trailer was nice… but I honestly had hoped that maybe we would have seen Varian die during it…  or at least I thought that was what we were going to see for a bit.  For years Varian was supposed to be “our thrall” but he has always been this paper thin super one dimensional character.  His son on the other hand… Anduin has gone through some actually interesting changes especially during Pandaria.  So my hope was that we would see Varian dying during this siege and passing the banner to his son who is more than likely far more capable a leader.  The trailer also gave me hope that maybe just maybe they would finally be retiring the tired old shtick of Alliance versus Horde and giving us the ability to play with friends from both factions.  Look… it is a dream that I am not going to let go of ever… I hate faction bullshit.

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For the most part there is a lot of interesting things at work here… but I lack the faith that they are going to be carried out in a fashion I am going to like.  It is my honest hope that I get into the beta testing process so I can see if I like it or not.  I big nail in the coffin for Warlords was how badly they made the Deathknights feel…  so I guess there are a lot of things that sound good on paper but never quite work right when you put them into practice.  I am absolutely willing to give this game a shot, but I want to know that I will actually like it before I plunk down that pre-order.  The new zones do look absoultely amazing however.  They are pushing this aging engine for every ounce of oomph that it can muster, and I love that.  The way WoW looks right now, reminds me of the way late in a generation console games look… when they have really figured out how to make the most of the resources they have to work with.  This expansion is a bunch of really good ideas, that just don’t seem to be connected by enough tissue to hold them together.  My disappointment largely was that the game didn’t really give me that moment of “fuck yeah!” that I have had in previous expansions.  It did however give me a lot of moments of “that sounds cool”, especially when it comes to the non-linear leveling process for the new content.  Unfortunately that same level scaling won’t apply to the rest of the world… so we are again creating this walled garden of “good” content and everything older will feel like crap as a result.

 

 

 

 

Instant Relevance

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King of Match Three

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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.

 

 

Chasing a PVE MOBA

A Meaningless Term

League of Legends 2013-04-30 20-12-49-94 Yesterday I witnessed a conversation unfold that I have had a dozen times myself with various folks.  A friend of mine made the idle comment that they would really like to see a “PVE MOBA”, to which someone else predictably replied that you cannot have a “MOBA” without PVP.  The problem is that there is absolutely no clear definition of what exactly a “MOBA” is.  Additionally each player seems to refer to a slightly different set of mechanics when someone says “MOBA-like”.  So for some people it is all about the match based pvp action, and others it is all about the interesting class design.  If you simply dissect the term “MOBA” you get Multiplayer Online Battle Arena…  which in itself is another absolutely meaningless term.  Multiplayer Online is clear enough but the Battle Arena part is complete nonsense.  What are you battling and what sort of arena are you battling in?

For me personally the key elements of what make a MOBA intriguing have nothing to do with player versus player combat.  I like the different characters and their unique sets of abilities, and the way they interact with other characters and their abilities.  In fact I would be happy spending my time in lane killing creeps because I honestly enjoy doing that way more than engaging with other players.  When I play League of Legends I will almost always play against bots, and have long thought that it would make an interesting game to make it purely co-operative against interesting challenges.  The problem is if you say this.. you get the reaction above that it cannot be done… because MOBAs are PVP games dammit!  But what I am presenting is that folks are assigning a specific mindset to a term that is absolutely meaningless on its own merit.  Multiplayer Online Battle Arena can describe so many games and is likely why the term gets blurred so much to describe games that are absolutely nothing like the original Defense of the Ancients roots.

Keep the Interesting Bits

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 For me the interesting bits about what we generally refer to as a MOBA are the Character design that I have talked about before, and ultimately the payment model.  I like this concept of purchasing individual champions, and having a rotation of free champions to play to consistently keep testing the waters and trying to branch out.  The key part as well for me is the way that MOBA titles grow over time.  If you look at the evolution of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, in both cases they are constantly releasing new content to satiate the appetites of players.  I think this has been key to the success, that every few weeks there is something new being introduced to the game to shake up players expectations.  League for example has over 120 different unique champions that they are doing a decent job of keeping balanced against each other, and Heroes is adding at least one champion a month it seems to catch up.  So I feel like the big success of this genre has been constant incremental evolution of the product.

This variety helps deal with the “special snowflake” syndrome that happens in MMO design.  Often times there is a demographic of players that wants to play a specific class in a manner that was not intended to be played.  Granted this happens to some extent in build system MMOs like league, but it is always clear that this is not necessarily a “supported” play style.  The champion system instead lets companies roll out lots of hyper focused characters that play to very specific niches.  So in this case what would be a “special snowflake” like the “melee hunter” would simply just be another champion they could build to fill that desire.  So instead the focus becomes on mastery of a specific set of abilities unique to that champion, rather than a much larger set of abilities as seen in most “talent tree” systems.  I feel like this is crucial in allowing someone to adapt to a brand new champion quickly, but at the same time feeling confident enough to branch out into things they have yet to try before.  There are game play modes like ARAM (All Random All Mid) that encourage this branching out because it forces players to play with a random champion.

Chasing a PVE MOBA

Diablo III 2013-08-21 20-12-09-60 So the quandary I am in is that I love the League of Legends lore and champion design, but don’t love the game itself.  I have long thought that it would be awesome to have a PVE centric version of League of Legends where you play the same champions with the same abilities in a Diablo like setting.  Instead of fighting in Summoner’s Rift against five other players in a battle to destroy the opposing teams nexus, it would be a co-operative experience as five players venture into a procedurally generated dungeon with a treasure at the end.  The idea is that each map would be harder than the previous until you reach a boss battle for the final treasure in the dungeon.  You could even keep the build mechanic in the form of at the beginning of each map level you could have the same merchant that exists just outside of your teams Nexus in the Rift.  After venturing a certain way into each map level he could travel to the next level, making it so that players could only buy new items at the beginning of each map.

For the hyper competitive players, you could still keep all manner of stats from number of monsters killed, their average difficulty rating, how fast it takes your team to clear a map, and of course how many times you have died during a specific encounter.  Personally I would go with a counter strike approach where each player gets a single life per map, making it progressively harder the more players that you have lost.  I would introduce the ability to purchase resurrection potions, but again that is an opportunity cost… since you have limited item inventory slots and limited gold to keep purchasing items with.  Similarly I would introduce a “lives” mechanic in the number of times your team can retry during a specific dungeon crawl sequence.  This would encourage the team to stick together and work on group tactics rather than going off on their own and risking getting overwhelmed.  The thing is… I would absolutely pay to play a game like that, and would probably rope my friends into playing it to.  The key impediment however is that folks seem to keep thinking that “MOBA” style mechanics cannot also apply to PVE game design.  Someone make this game happen…  I am looking at you Riot.

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.

Storm Surge

Wall Jumping

Wow-64 2015-06-04 19-41-58-49 World of Warcraft feels really damned weird when you have not logged in for over a week.  What I mean by this is that some is strange with the perspective of that game as compared to most other games.  I have noticed this a few times when swapping between the various games I have been playing, but never quite so strongly as last night.  I have no clue what it is, or how to describe it better but something is just “different” with the way the world spreads out around me.  It always takes me a few minutes to get adjusted to the perspective as my eyes freak out a little bit.  I am really hoping someone out there understands what I am talking about… because otherwise I just sound like a mad man.  Life had conspired against me, and for various sundry reasons I missed the last two raid sessions, and even more troubling was that it had been two weeks since I had actually taken a shot at Blackhand.  I would really love to be able to close the Blackrock Foundry chapter of my raiding life with a a kill, and last night we got close.

The biggest adjustment for me is the fact that we were really short on melee dps… which is an odd problem for our group to have.  This meant I got to be on the wall group during phase two.  Every so often Blackhand smashes the current tank, and the wall jumpers need to get behind the tank… but also in the circle of impact so they get knocked up in the same direction the tank is going.  This works similar to the Bladefist crowd group, and the end result being kill as many things as you can and then jump down when your health gets low or you have cleared the entire group.  In the grand scheme of things I guess I am a decent choice for the job because of my self regen and tanky cooldowns.  We have phases one and two down solidly, and right now it is just phase three where everything is falling apart.  On our best attempt we managed to get him to 11% so I am thinking next week given another full night of attempts we might kill us a Blackhand, and there will be much rejoicing.

Storm Surge

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-06-04 19-14-22-89 Since it had been over a week since I had actually logged into WoW last night, I had to go through the song and dance of making sure I had consuming and collect my “disappointment tokens” to allow me to re-roll on the loot that will never actually drop.  After doing all of that I parked my butt at the entrance to the raid and took up the offer of Damai and Mor to join them in some Heroes of the Storm fun.  Last night my quest was to play two matches as a Starcraft Hero, and at that point I realized… that quite honestly I don’t play a lot of Starcraft heroes in this game.  Probably my favorite of all of the Starcraft Heroes is Sergeant Hammer, but unfortunately I do not “own” her yet because she is a truly silly amount of gold.  Instead I have Raynor, a Hero that I played quite a bit in early alpha so I opted to use him.  The problem being he no longer plays quite like I remember him playing.  Just like my disconnect I had with Muradin, they have changed the way he feels and made him significantly less sturdy.  The end result was me taking a lot of deaths and doing a generally piss poor job playing the game.

Part of the disconnect also was that last night we were playing with actual human beings, and the night before we were playing bots.  Essentially one of our trio had been playing quite a bit that day and managed to cap out on the amount of gold you can earn from bot games, thus pushing him into the solo queue to keep slowly earning gold.  Our first match we managed to win, and then in our second match… we ended up with a team that actually knew how to play together.  This is probably a side effect of the fact that three of us queued together.  Even though we were on voice, this really didn’t make much of a difference in the outcome because we are all not exactly amazing players yet.  I took a screenshot of my defeat screen because it was my very first so far in post release play.  Unfortunately before I had a chance to switch back to my beloved Sonya…  it was time to log out for the raid.  Even though we made a lot of progress on Blackhand I have to admit I probably would have rather been playing Heroes of the Storm.

Who Needs Sleep

WildStar64 2015-05-01 23-46-03-53 Shockingly last night I did not log into Final Fantasy XIV at all, in part because of the other things I had going on like the WoW raid.  Lately I have had two real world friends of mine start playing Wildstar again, and this has caused me to want to try and sort out exactly where I was in questing.  It had been several weeks since I had logged in and I could not remember the level or even what zone I was in, so I wanted to know at least that so I could adequately communicate it.  I am apparently seventeen and in Galeras, in fact as of last nights play session I have just made the transition to the second area of the zone and have picked up that taxi point.  I want to play this game some more, and I am thinking next week while my wife is travelling I might stream it off and on throughout the week.  Last night unfortunately I managed to get sucked into questing and once again did not end up heading to bed until midnight.  I had not played the game much since the last drop, and I think a few of my addons might have broken because I was suffering from all manner of UI issues last night.

All of this aside I had quite a bit of fun running around and causing mayhem on my warrior.  There is part of me that wonders about going over and completing Celeston instead of digging too far into Galeras, but I am managing to stay a few levels ahead of my quest mobs right now so there isn’t much of a problem yet.  I kinda feel bad for joining the Black Dagger Society and then simply not being terribly active.  They seem like a really great guild lead by a great group of people.  This is the problem when you are pulled in so many different directions, and with playing a game that is ultimately not your “main game”.  Right now Final Fantasy XIV is the game I care the most about, and I am absolutely in love with the guild we have there.  They keep me logging in on an almost daily basis if for no reason other than to see them.  Wildstar I feel could be a similar environment, but with the sensory overload that is the world and the user interface… I find it exceptionally hard to follow the chat window.  There is just so much stuff going competing for my attention that I have not figured out how to dial things down enough to where I can actually watch chat.  I hope to get to know more of my guildies however because they really do seem like awesome people.

Playing as Women

Chaos in Motion

ffxiv 2015-06-03 20-46-13-39 Last night I had no real intentions of doing anything serious.  I started off the night on my gaming machine upstairs, but had every plan to eventually filter downstairs to the sofa with my laptop for some more casual gaming while watching television.  For a period of time I was spending my Wednesday nights helping out the second free company static raid, but as they started getting more people interested I became scarce by intention.  I never really wanted to be part of two different raid groups, but was willing to help so long as my presence was really needed.  Last night however they had four absences, so while I did not intend to do anything I stepped in to help out as best I could.  What made last night all the more important is that it was the inaugural raid night of my good friend Wulf, the paladin tank from our World of Warcraft raid.  The only problem being that even with me being pulled in we were still sitting at only five players.

So we shifted around our sights on simply knocking out some early content and opted to queue for Garuda Extreme instead.  It is at this point I realize that while I know how to do these fights…  I suck at explaining them.  Wulf is very much a tank that likes to know all of the information about something before going into the fight.  I on the other hand tend to be very much an “adjust to things on the fly” player, and as a result I only ever have a vague cliffs notes versions of fights in my head.  There are a lot of things I “know” about a fight, but I don’t really “know I know them”.  This makes me the least reliable source of information for someone who craves to make order out of the chaos.  To make matters more tenuous we were pugging in three players on each attempt, and Wulf was being hit by the dreaded instance server lag that sometimes hits me in FFXIV.  All things considered we had a great night and managed to take down Garuda Extreme for him as well as Binding Coil of Bahamut Turn Four.  I am hoping he enjoyed himself at least a little, even though most of the night was pretty much unbridled chaos.

Playing as Women

johanna Over the last few months I have come to a bit of a realization, that apparently my brain works slightly differently than I thought it did.  For years now I have thought that I simply did not like playing female characters in video games.  When I attempted to do so I felt like I just could not get into playing the characters as much as I could the male counter part.  All this time I thought it was simply me favoring a character that was “more like” me personally, much the same way as I tend to create all of my MMO characters as some sort of idealized version of my self.  It turns out I am apparently completely wrong about the motivation behind this.  Granted when it comes to a character like Sheppard in Mass Effect I will always still prefer the one that is more like me.  I’ve come to the realization after a series of tests of this theory…  that I simply have a problem playing female characters with horrible armor and weapon choices.  If you give a female character proper armor and really good weapons then I seem to be perfectly happy bashing things in the face as them.

Zarya Admittedly the trend of placing women in video games in ridiculous outfits has always bothered me on some level, but I had no clue it was my actual impediment for enjoying playing women characters.  The realization of this slowly started creeping in when I found myself really enjoying the newest Tomb Raider awhile back, after never really being able to get into the original during college.  Since I am not really big into narrative game play, I was trying to figure out what made the difference all the sudden… and the only thing I could land upon was “because she is a badass”.  The original one always bothered me because it seemed to focus more on showing off her pointy polygon boobs more than anything else.  Then when I was presented with a character like Zarya, I immediately thought…  “I would  totally play as her, she is a badass” and I had a similar reaction yesterday upon seeing Johanna in Heroes of the Storm.  Give me a woman decked in armor and wielding a badass weapon… and I will happy play as her any day of the week.  Give me a wilting flower in what is essentially a bra and panties… and you can have all of my “NOPE!”.

Finding my Groove

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-06-03 22-03-50-29 Last night after the raid in Final Fantasy XIV I decide to poke my head into Heroes of the Storm to check out what Johanna looked like in game.  I had intended to do the “try” option to poke around as her for a bit, when Damai asked if I wanted to play for a bit.  Now I have been poking around in this game since alpha, and played a significant amount when the game went into beta and I finally had people to play with.  That said over the last several months I have not played at all, and was completely out of touch with the current state of the various heroes.  Previously my champion had been Muradin because I could build him tanky or I could build him extremely “murdery”.  The problem being that I was just “off” on playing him because it feels like maybe his survival got a whack from the nerfbat.  I was spending more than my fair share of time running back in from the nexus because I kept dying to stupid crap that I would have been able to survive when I played the game last.

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-06-03 23-26-08-94 Damai mentioned that he wanted to switch to playing support so that he could work on one of his quests… and I had honestly forgotten this was a thing that Heroes of the Storm had.  I had the quests “Play 3 Games as a Warrior” which I was already doing and “Play 3 Games as Diablo Character” so I opted to play some Sonya.  This was a champion that I got through a hero bundle that I purchased, and had never really spent much time playing her.  My god..  I think I have found my champion because upon switching over to her I started having a blast last night.  I went ahead and ponied up for the more armored “Wrath” set look from the store, and it is pretty badass that she is wielding Ashkandi in one hand and Quel’Serrar in the other.  What I like the most about her is that she quite literally uses “Fury” as a mechanic meaning you are not gated by running out of mana, but you are instead gated by having to earn fury through combat just like a World of Warcraft Warrior.  We played a half dozen games or so before I decided to head on to bed.  I could have easily stayed there playing another half dozen more.  The state of the game is extremely fun, and I need to grab Damai and do this more often.  At some point I am absolutely going to have to also pick up the Shatterstar themed skin since I am a sucker for all things New Mutants/X-Force.

About League and HotS

“Last Hit” Builds Contention

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 Yesterday Heroes of the Storm officially launched around the world.  As a result there has been some gnashing of teeth lately discussing how HotS is essentially a “dumbed down” version of League of Legends.  The complaints I am seeing revolve around the lack of complexity in the individual champion builds, and the team focus rather than the single player focus.  All of these things I see instead as positives.  I have spent more than my fair share of money and time on League of Legends because I have a significant number of friends who really enjoy it.  It is one of those game experiences that I find enjoyable only when I am playing with and against friends.  When you put me out into the community as a whole, the toxic environment surrounding the non-ranked community is a massive turn off.  I have heard that as you move up through the ranks the community starts to get better and more professional, but I lack the desire to play that game or any game for that matter “competitively”.

The big problem I had with League was the fact that it felt like I was not only competing against the players on the other team, but also competing against my own team mates for resources.  The concept of last hitting feels so divisive that I am shocked it exists in any team based game.  The fact that a team mate can either purposefully or accidentally snipe the last hit on a minion and gain all of the gold just seems like a horribly selfish tactic to introduce into a supposedly “team focused” game.  While I feel like the higher tiers of competitive play more than likely focus on the team effort and winning games, the low tier players tend to focus entirely on making themselves look good.  The best way to that end result is to feed heavily in lane and go on a murder spree, which means the other player in that lane is going to be starved out of resources and won’t be able to help the team later in the game.  Essentially all I am saying is that I think the concept of the “last hit” breeds contention between team mates more than it ever supports positive play.

Item Build is Too Fiddly

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 21-54-34-025 While the first problem I have with the game I consider a fundamental design flaw, the second big problem I have with League of Legends is a “me” thing.  I detest the item build system, in part because it asks me to care far more about that game than I actually want to.  League is never going to be a game that I play on a serious level, but instead a game I play with my friends when they decide that they want to play it.  I want to play just good enough not to shoot my team mates in the foot.  The problem is doing the item build system well, requires you to have actually research your champion and what sorts of things they need.  What I want is a more universal path to “this item adds more awesomeness” so I struggle to find items to build that make sense for whoever I am playing.  Now on champions I have played a lot like Garen, WuKong or Darius I have finally figured out how I want to build each of them for my own play style.  The problem being this was something that happened over lots of trial and error.  Quite frankly I don’t want to have to devote the processing cycles to figure that out, I just want a sequence of choices that add some flavor but in which there is no real “wrong” choice.

Essentially the system I am describing is the system that Heroes of the Storm uses, and from the moment I saw it I immediately felt at home.  I know that I can make small tweaks to the way my Hero performs, but at the end of the day no single choice is going to make or break the game for me.  Essentially even if I just blind pick abilities to get back into the action there is nothing that I can do to screw it up.  Someone described it as MOBAs with training wheels, and I am completely fine with that.  Essentially the MOBA audience is already solidified around either League of Legends or DOTA 2, and there is nothing that will change the fact that those two audiences are extremely devoted to their chosen game.  I see Heroes of the Storm being the game for the rest of us, the folks that are mildly interested in MOBAs but simply don’t want to have to memorize the amount of information needed to play either of the other games effectively.  I still play League with friends but HotS is the only game I would consider solo-queuing in.

Champion Design

Volibear_0 The big area where I have to crown League the king however is in the area of Champion design.  They have managed to create this extremely malleable mythos that allows them to quite literally create a champion that can do ANYTHING and make it work thematically.  The reason why I keep returning to the game is to keep playing these new and interesting champion designs.  HotS I feel does a better job than most of the other competitors with making champions feel like fully fleshed out beings, but the key problem there lies in the fact that they can ONLY draw upon Blizzard characters.  League of Legends can create brand new characters on the fly without having to worry too much about them not fitting into the lore of their world, because said world is ridiculously open ended.  Right now every single champion in Heroes of the Storm has to fit into the Diablo, Warcraft or Starcraft universes.  Given time I can see them also adding in Overwatch, but even then those are very specific genres that they can draw on, whereas League tends to take inspiration for designs from other pop culture iconography.

Lucian for example is a blending of Morpheus from The Matrix and a Grammaton Cleric from Equilibrium.  Twisted Fate is absolutely Gambit from X-Men, and Draven is extremely influenced by Kraven the Hunter from Spiderman.  Volibear is absolutely Iorek Byrnison from the HIs Dark Materials trilogy.  League essentially has free reign for what they can adopt and adapt to fit into their world.  Granted in each case they have absolutely made the champion into their own thing, but that initial inspiration still sits there oh so thinly veiled.  Heroes of the Storm on the other hand is forced to eat its own, as it can only consume characters that are already in the existing Blizzard Intellectual Property Universe.  I feel the end result is going to always mean that League feels far more fresh and interesting, and HotS to some extent will always need to rehash nostalgia to inspire its player base to keep playing.  The positive is however that Blizzard players have proven time and time again to be deeply susceptible to fits of nostalgia.  I am happy that both games exist, but the only one I actively want to play on my own is Heroes of the Storm.

eSports Needs Name Change

What is Sport

RBIBaseball Yesterday I managed to get into a conversation that I never really intended to, but I thought it might make for interesting blog fodder.  Over the weekend ESPN 2 hosted the Heroes of the Storm “Heroes of the Dorm” collegiate competition, with college teams competing for scholarship money.  Now this is not the first time ESPN 2 has shown “eSports” because the 2014 International DOTA 2 Championships were shown on the channel as well.  Both times now there has been a backlash from traditional sports fans calling the showing of video games on their precious sports channel all manner of expletives.  That said in both cases ESPN 2 got seemingly plenty of viewers because in both cases they brought in an audience that would not have normally watched that channel.  I personally have had trouble getting into either traditional sports or eSports, so as a result I am somewhat of a neutral observer to this phenomena.  However after both events twitter has been set ablaze with back and forth between sports fans and gamers.

I made a few sideways comments yesterday and one of the spin off threads was about the definition of what exactly a sport was.  One definition suggestion was presented as “I always took sport to feature/focus on physical exertion/athleticism”.  The actual dictionary definition looks similar “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”  The problem is I feel like the competitive gaming scene also fits this definition.  “Physical exertion” is such a generic term and the reflexes and fine motor skills required to play competitively in League of Legends, StarCraft 2 or DOTA 2 surely would qualify as such I would think.  “Sport” to me really has no meaning attached to it, because I do not hold it up to some higher standard than what the dictionary defines it as.  There is no nostalgia towards sports, and they don’t serve any greater purpose in my mind other than to entertain people.

eSports Needs Name Change

leagueworldchampionshipo One of the problems brought up yesterday was the fact that “eSports” in itself is a name that you can’t quite take seriously.  To tack the “e” onto Sport immediately tells you it is something that is trying to be but not quite achieving the same quality as the “real” Sports.  This to me sets up a false dichotomy between the two that really doesn’t exist.  For me at least they are both just “sports” because as a neutral observer, I see absolutely no difference between the two.  In both cases people are paid to play a game for the entertainment of others.  In both cases they are spectator driven events, and in both cases they draw huge crowds of people.  While they have not quite reached the level of the Super Bowl (114 million) or the World Cup (188 milion) as far as viewership, they are definitely juggernauts in their own right.

Last year the League of Legends World Championship had 32 million viewers, and “The International”DOTA 2 championship over 20 million viewers.   This tells me this is a phenomena that is not going to go away, and will only continue to get bigger.  I feel like the name somehow cheapens the experience by showing that it is trying to be something else.  Sports itself is rife with all manner of problems and embedded social issues.  Over the last several years we have been seeing these same issues playing out in the “eSports” arena as leagues attempt to emulate their traditional sports counter parts.  I question if it is time to just sever the ties with the “Sports” concept entirely and go off and create something new.  As it was pointed out yesterday, “eSports” shares some serious ties to the professional Poker or Pool circuits, so maybe all of these should just resurrect under the banner of “High Stakes Gaming” or something similar.

ESPN Needs eSports

cuttingcoax I feel like at this point these two attempts for ESPN 2 to show competitive gaming are more a bid for continued relevance more than anything.  ESPN is the juggernaut of traditional sports but I feel like there is an entire generation of people not being served by it.  The network of channels does a great job at covering their core demographic, but I would guess that demographic is slipping in total viewership.  If they did not see the need to branch out, they would keep doing the same thing they are doing.  32 Million and 20 Million are not small numbers, and the ESPN management understands this.  I would be surprised if ANY game they show currently gets those kind of numbers, because we are living in this era when television viewership as a whole is on the decline.  I think the calculus in the executives head is that there is a need to try and hook the  generation that is simply not watching their programming, and when they look to what it is being replaced by… they see Youtube.com and Twitch.tv.

The problem is I think this is ultimately going to work backwards.  I don’t see “eSports” hooking new viewers on traditional sports like ESPN might be hoping.  What I do see is that for all of the bluster and banter… that more than likely some people stayed and watched the Heroes of the Storm tournament instead of flipping the channel.  Those people are going to look into that game, and when it launches probably play it.  I think the net positive is in the favor of gaming, and not necessarily sports.  ESPN is very much the kingpin of the outdated cable television model, and I don’t really see “eSports” somehow changing that.  I personally get frustrated every time I look at my cable bill and realize that I am essentially paying an “ESPN Tax” to help subsidize a channel I will never actually watch.  Maybe just maybe if they do end up playing more competitive gaming coverage, especially something along the lines of EVO…  I might actually watch it.  In the mean time I will continued to be confounded as two side argue over doing essentially the exact same thing in my eyes.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 3

Over the last several days I have been rattling off a series of studios and game teams that I appreciate.  Today will mark my final day of this process, but I am hoping that it has inspired some of you out there to make your own posts about the developers you appreciate.  The person I really appreciate is Scarybooster for getting this thing started back in I believe 2010?  Scary has a way of coming up with these great ideas, like he is the person who decided the Alliance of Awesome needed to happen as well.  Unfortunately he no longer updates his blogs, and has deleted more of them in the past than I can count.  So if you know Scary tell him he needs to stop doing that shit and keep coming up with interesting and awesome ideas.

Blizzard – Heroes of the Storm Team

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 I talked about League of Legends yesterday, and there is no denying it’s market domination in the MOBA arena.  The problem is League is far more complicated of a game than I care to play.  I get frustrated trying to figure out what I should build when, and then Blizzard comes along and creates an MOBA for someone like me.  This game does what Blizzard does best, boil a genre down to its most basic essence and polish it until it shines.  This is precisely how I feel about HoTS and its impact on the MOBA genre.  Through a series of quick this or that choices you can build out your character and get right back into the action without constantly being afraid that you built the wrong thing.  While friends have pointed out that this greatly limits what you can do with any given champion…  I am fine with this and in fact welcome it.  As much as I enjoy a “Tanky Darius” I would rather just have some clear messaging on what the intent of every champion was, and Heroes of the Storm gives this to me.  On top of this the map design is awesome, and each one feels equally enjoyable with its own specific mechanics.  I think the entire world is tired of playing Summoner’s Rift.

SOE/Daybreak – Landmark Team

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-14 06-10-23-64 Every time I talk about the company formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment, I do so with a little bit of heartbreak.  Daybreak is not the same company, but I feel like the people that are still there are trying their damnedest to make this situation work.  There is a lot of negative press that I could be talking about on my blog, about the poor decisions of the company managing Daybreak but for the most part I have tried not to.  I feel like there is plenty of negativity out there already on this subject, and that the people who are still there need our support now more than ever.  With that said this post goes out to everyone who has ever been a part of the Landmark game.  While I am not playing it right now, I still think it is an extremely cool concept and I keep meaning on jumping right back in.  Landmark is essentially the ultimate building game in every possible way, and the amount of stuff that the community has been able to create because of the excellent toolset developed by this team is phenomenal.  This game blew me away, and I am still constantly amazed by the sort of things I am seeing built.  So bravo to the folks who are no longer with the team, and bravo to the folks still there fighting to keep the ship going forward.

Undead Labs – All of the Them

StateOfDecay 2013-09-28 21-17-40-13 For most of these I have singled out an entire team to talk about, but this time I am breaking that trend and instead talking about an entire studio.  I love Undead Labs.  I love their spirit, and I love their dedication…  and quite honestly I love the way they interact with the public.  I remember when State of Decay was about to release on the XBox 360 I was completely pumped for it.  I went home that night played the game for several hours and then wrote a pretty gushy blog post the very next day.  Within moments of posting the blog I had it being retweeted by Annie Strain the wife of Undead Labs Founder Jeff Strain, who then proceeded to engage with me in a back and forth about my blog post and the game in general.  That sort of genuine interaction is just so damned refreshing, and it seems to extend to every single team member.  I was lucky enough to get to hang out and talk to several of them during Pax South, and they all had this infectious joy over the games they had created and were creating.  While I still desperately want a multiplayer version of State of Decay, I have faith that sooner or later the team will give me something akin to that experience.  In the meantime they just seem like a really damned cool studio, and I look forward to watching as their latest game Moonrise progresses to launch.  Additionally I feel like I am probably buying yet another copy of State of Decay as the special Year One edition should be landing shortly.

Motiga – Gigantic Team

GiganticScreenshot-TheMargrave This is another tale of me just really liking a game studio.  I went to Pax South knowing next to nothing about this game other than the fact that it existed, had a cartoony art style and used a teal and orange color scheme it all of its marketing.  I walked away from Pax South being both a fan of the game and of the team behind it.  I was lucky enough to participate in several plays of the game, and got some time to talk to several members of the development and community staff.  They all seem just as amped about this game as the players did, and it was awesome to be coached by the folks who built the game…  or have them marvel when I apparently found a bug that nobody had actually found yet.  The game is just really damned fun, and that seems to be the focus on making sure the various champion interactions are enjoyable.  I have no clue what the timeframe for this games launch is but I look forward to it anxiously.  Playing it with two other members of the AggroChat crew against a minor YouTube celebrity, and defeating him…  was pretty much the highlight of my Pax South experience.  So keep up the awesome work and I look forward to playing this game with my friends when it releases.

Every Single Game Developer

While I have singled out a handful of individuals for specific games that I really love playing…  I feel like for this final day of my #DAW2015 love fest…  I want to change things up a bit.  Basically this goes out to every single game developer out there, regardless of what you are working on or for what company.  You guys are living the dream of so many of us who did not  choose to chase it.  While there are absolutely days I’m thankful I am not in that industry, especially as another studio decimates its staff to realign for this or that reason, there are other days where I pine over the path not taken.  You folks are my rockstars, and even if you are making a game that no one will ever play…  you are being awesome.  Games bring me so much joy, and there is a cast of often nameless and faceless people who struggled through crunch time to get that product into my hands.  As I talk about the games I talk about, I try my best to always be aware of the folks behind the scenes that made it happen.  So to all the game developers out there…  keep making awesome stuff and I will keep playing it.  Thank you all.