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.

Developer Appreciation Week 2015 – Part 2

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

Blizzard – World of Warcraft Team

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

Bioware – Star Wars the Old Republic Team

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

Zenimax – The Elder Scrolls Online Team

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

Trion Worlds – Trove Team

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

Riot Games – League of Legends Team

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

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

Highlights of Pax South

The Day After

sleepybelondrivehome This mornings post is coming out super late because…  I slept in.  After feeling like I had worked the last few days, I was super thankful to have taken Monday off.  The positive is that since I had gotten up every morning at 5:30 it should not be too hard to shift back into work mode tomorrow.  To the left is a photo I took yesterday when we were gassing up at the altar of excess… the New Braunfels Buc-ee’s.  We decided since it was a short distance from San Antonio that we would stop there for breakfast and gas up for the trip.  So here you have a very sleepy Bel who had not slept terribly well the night before.  When I came back to my hotel room I was kind of riding an adrenaline high from day two.  This meant that nothing that I did seemed to be able to calm my mind down enough to sleep.  Normally this is the point when I get up and play some game, but our hotel internet connection was fairly slow, and I did not really want to go through the process of having to verify to WoW or FFXIV that I was connecting from a foreign IP…  also I had already packed up all of my gear in preparation for getting up early the next morning.

Because all the pre-packing we managed to get on the road about 6:30 am and drove through to Waco before taking our first stop (other than Buc-ee’s) which bought us quite a bit of time.  One of the things I want to ask my Texan friends…  what the fuck is with the lean beef sausage?  I thought maybe the BBQ joint in Austin was an aberration, but upon stopping at Buc-ee’s I got two Kolaches and both were this super lean, super dense beef sausage.  Firstly sausage should be pork, but even that aside it should be a FATTY meat… because otherwise it is just like eating this dry meat log.  That said compared to my beloved QuikTrip I was not terribly impressed with either my or my wife’s breakfast choices.  They got a massive strike from my wife in that they did not have any donuts…  they had EVERYTHING you could imagine, but no donuts.  Anyways lackluster breakfast and fairly insane prices aside…  we had a pretty chill trip back.  I think in part it was the desire to get home that kept me going.  So we stopped in Waco, Allen, Durant to hit a Gas Station, Atoka to hit an old school non-supercenter style Wal-mart and then pushed straight through to home.   So we were on the road from 6:30 am until somewhere between 4:30 and 5 pm.  Considerably better time than the trip out.

Highlights of Pax South

ashgarandpip I have to say hands down the best thing to come out of Pax South was getting to meet my long time friend, guildie, and podcasting compatriot Ashgar in person.  There are always those awkward moments when you see someone in the flesh that you already know their vocal mannerisms as your mind adjusts to seeing a body attached to them… but that faded extremely  quickly.  I snapped a photo of him dominating a cool indie game, and I believe it was snapped without him really knowing I took it… but considering he didn’t seem to mind the picture from yesterday going ahead and posting it anyways.  For the last several years this man has been one of my closest friends, and I cannot wrap up the magic that was meeting him in person and realizing that yup he is in fact exactly like how I expected him to be in the flesh.  I am of course sad that we only got to hang out that one day… but it was a pretty awesome day.

oldgregWhile I didn’t stop and take pictures of many of them… I have to say seeing all the people dressed up as things they loved was another huge plus of the experience.  The entire convention has this entire vibe of “everything is awesome”.  The past year has been a rough spot for gamers as a whole, and I was pleasantly surprised that I did not witness any creepy or reprehensible behavior.  I did witness a socially awkward kid addressing a woman dressed as Teemo as “hot teemo” but a random guy from the crowd stepped up to say “man you are being a little creepy” and the socially awkward kid apologized and walked away.  The thing that made me the happiest were the pairs of fathers and daughters roaming around the convention… when you could tell the daughter was the one who was really excited to be there.  Pax South gave me a lot of hope for the future, and I am sure there were bad things that came out of the con, like there are anywhere…  but it did not at least seem to be super prevalent.  The photo to the side was so spectacular that I stopped and asked the guy if he minded me taking it.  For those who are not familiar… this is a spot on “Old Gregg” from The Mighty Boosh.  To make things even better… he pretty much nailed the Old Gregg voice and mannerisms as well.  Was kinda bummed that he did not offer me warm baileys from a shoe.

Another moment that was absolute magic was sitting in the crowd waiting for the Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns announcement.  I am not even a fan of Guild Wars 2 really… and I even felt pumped to see what was going on.  They had left these inflatable “thunder sticks” with the Guild Wars 2 logo on them.. and folks were using them to great benefit.  The noise was deafening so I attempted to take a video to give folks an example.  Moments before Jennifer Hale took the stage the crowd had started a slower rhythmic thump which was awesome.  I’ve seen a number of expansion announcements before but it is difficult to grasp the hype of the moment while watching a twitch stream from the comfort of your home.  I was roughly six to eight rows back in the dead center of the auditorium and the excitement was just infectious.  I have no clue if I will play Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns at launch, but having Jennifer Hale come out to work up the crowd was an awesome choice.  She as always is a badass.  Even if I don’t play the game, I am happy I got to participate in its announcement.

Belle of the Ball

I have to break this photo out again, because it makes me so happy to have a picture of Rae, Ash and Me playing Gigantic.  This game was really my own personal “best in show”, in part because it was not something I expected to like at all.  They really did an outstanding job both in the staging of the product, their booth, and building buzz around the convention.  They also had what looked to be a pretty awesome party Saturday night.  I swung by for a bit to say hi, but knowing I had a long drive ahead of me I simply did not stay for long.  That party honestly was the only time during the entire weekend that crowds got to me… but that was in part due to the fact that it was quite literally standing room only.  Finding enough free space to move around between the various areas of the room was a bit of a challenge and folks had spilled out onto the nearby balcony as well. giganticbooth Everyone I dealt with from Motiga the company behind Gigantic was simply awesome and welcoming.  It was so many things that made them my pick of the show, for starters it is a game I had no real interest in but only sat down to play it due to my personal connection to Lonrem who was helping them out that weekend.  The booth downstairs was impressive, and really dominated the floor which is saying something considering both Twitch and Intel had some pretty intense booths as well.  On top of that… the lines to play this game were insane.  At one point Saturday the line almost wrapped around twice.  I’ve never been one to watch other people play games… I don’t watch a lot of twitch unless the caster is a friend of mine.  While my circle of friends are big into watching the LCS play in League… I get bored within a few minutes of a match starting.  However at various points during the weekend I found myself hanging out upstairs in the scrimmage room just watching the various teams playing.  I found myself drawn to this game in ways I can’t quite grasp.

gigantic_scrimroom2 Largely I think this is in part because the game is visually exciting to watch.  There is constant action and the characters are animated beautifully.  Every attack you perform feels important, because there is weight to the animations that make them feel epic.  Another huge thing for me was just how “at home” I felt with the controls.  During the first match I picked up the controls of The Margrave within a few seconds and landed the first kill of the game.  It felt and controlled exactly like I thought that character should.  In my second game I wanted to try a champion, only to find it was already taken… so picked Roland on a whim.  I don’t normally like ranged characters, but I felt Roland’s mid to short range game play compelling with the hookshot escape mechanism to get away when things went bad.  So there I was playing a ranged character and loving it, in spite of it going against everything I traditionally like in games.  I have a feeling I could probably pick up ANY character and find something I liked about it.  The skill sets just seem to have a lot of depth to them, and the various specializations give players way to tweak them and make them their own.  I am really looking forward to seeing more of this game as it moves forward towards the planned late 2015 release.

AggroChat 41 and Pax Day Two

A Tale of Two Days

PaxPlaysPokemonIt was not until today that I realized that yesterday at Pax was a bit of a downer.  I had a lot of fun playing around with various games that I had media appointments with, and I am so happy I caught moments like “Pax South Plays Pokemon” where a guy in a costume was accepting and mimicking commands just like Twitch Plays Pokemon.  The problem is I mostly focused on the four appointments I had, and treated the day like I was working the convention.  In theory I guess I was but the biggest thing that lead to this feeling was the fact that more or less I was completely alone.  Sure there were people at the convention that knew but since I was so focused on making sure I was on time for the four meetings I didn’t really focus on mingling much other than with the random strangers I stood in line with.  That was one of the things I found most interesting is just how comfortable I felt around strangers.  I think part of it is that I knew if conversation did happen… it would at least be about something I was probably knowledgeable.  It was like the entire weekend was this safe little bubble of geeks and dorks… and we all inherently sense we were among our own kind, and somehow safe.

gigantic_aggrochat_trio Today however was a completely different experience.  Upon arriving there I got into the line for the Guild Wars 2 expansion reveal, and immediately after that I met up with Ashgar who was also watching the panel but had arrived late.  Shortly after that we met up with Rae and her brother and from that point on at least two of us were together at all times.  This completely changed the entire dynamic of the show for me.  Instead of being about milling around looking for something interesting… it became about having this grand adventure with friends.  I of course had to sho them everything I thought was cool from day one, which involved trying to get them a play session of Gigantic.  Sure enough the folks were amiable to the idea of having two more members of the podcast playing.  While I wasn’t really expecting to play along as well we all ended up on a team opposite Angry Joe of the Angry Joe Show.  It seems like the Gigantic Live twitter feed caught us playing, and while it was an extremely hard fought match our team pulled ahead in the end and seized the day.  For those playing at home… faces right to left at the machines are Myself, Ashgar, and Rae…  with the every awesome Lonrem beside Rae offering words of advice.

Heart of Thorns

This morning of course was the big announcement of the Guild Wars 2 expansion pack.  The fact that it was happening was of no real surprise because apparently the ending of this most recently living story episode concluded with some heavy hints about the expansion.  What was a surprise to me at least is that Arena Net seems to be shoving aside the MMO tradition of releasing an expansion and raising the level cap.  Instead they are introducing an alternate progression path called Masteries.  This system will apparently be account based so once something is unlocked it is available to all of your characters.  Some of the unlocks will be quality of life things like a new hang gliding skill, and others will be as game changing as brand new specializations.  The only one that they gave examples of is that the Ranger will apparently be able to specialize into a Druid giving them access to staff weapon type and brand new druid abilities.

gw2boomstickhype The other big announcement for me at least is that they are adding a third heavy armor class to the game.  It seems their flagship character Rytlock has gone through a transformation turning him a warrior to the brand new revenant class.  It seems the revenant focuses on channeling the mist and gives access to retelling certain legends that give it special abilities.  In the video above it shows him summoning a giant dragon spirit, or dashing around the battlefield striking all targets.  I have to say both the trailer and the expansion content sounded cool, but at the same time I know my history with Guild Wars 2 in general.  I am not sure if the revenant is enough to make me care about the game, but it is at least a step in the right direction since I love me some “shadowknight” style classes.  They plan on trickling out information between now and the expansion about what will await players in Maguuma.  I had to share the above photo because people were pumped for the show… they gave us these boom stick things and folks were putting them to good use.

AggroChat 41 – AggroChat Game Club

Since we will be on the road super early in the morning I am writing this post after coming home from my last day at Pax South.  I had a phenomenal time and spent the day hanging out with some of my favorite people on the planet.  However since myself, Ashgar and Rae were all at Pax this weekend… we were unable to do our normal aggrochat recording thing.  We actually got our shit together and planned ahead for this eventuality and recorded double episodes last saturday night releasing the first as AggroChat 40, and then I have just published the second episode tonight through the magic of “publish on date” functionality.  With the second part we are announcing a new idea we had.  The idea is relatively simple… we have a book club but with games.  We will pick a game, play it through a given month and then record a show where we spoil everything allowing us to tear into the game completely.  We did this some time ago for Transistor, where we recorded a very non-spoiler show first… and later recorded a deep dive show about the plotline.

Leading up to this show we each compiled a list of games we wanted to nominate for the inaugural game club game.  During the course of this show I made the folks who posted each game defend their title, explaining why they thought it would be a good pick.  At the end of the show we arrive at title, but I am not going to spoil what our pick is just quite yet.  You can of course skip to the tail end of the show and find out for yourself really quickly, but where would the fun be in that?  In any case whatever game we chose… on Saturday February 28th we will record a game descending into the title and picking it clean.  From this point on we will figure out a more equitable scheme for picking games, to make sure we also get some “non-consensus” titles but I figured for the first pick it was probably good to grab a game we were all wanting to play.  As we play the game I encourage our listeners to play along and then share your comments about the game, but I will give more details on that later.  In any case… I am going to close down this evenings post and start packing up.  It was a great weekend at pax, but I am amped for life to return to normal, so see you all soon in the regularly scheduled social channels!

Day One

The First Day

paxline It was pretty early on in the day when I had my first realization that I had no clue what I was getting myself in for.  I got up yesterday morning at 5:30, showered, blogged, ate the free complimentary hot breakfast (sausage and eggs) and started roaming towards the convention center around 8 am.  When I got there I noticed there was absolutely nothing for parking, and the garage across the street from the convention center had a massive line of cars backed up in both directions.  After not find any real alternatives I got in that line and waited, hoping the “Open” side on the side of the garage would not change.  I was quite literally in that line for an hour before I finally got in and parked on the roof of the parking lot.

I have to say I have never been quite so happy to be parking on a rain drenched roof in my life.  I made my way into the convention hall where I entered a line of people…  quite honestly not really knowing why I was lining up.  It turns out I was doing mostly okay since this was the line for the opening of the expo hall at 10 am, the area that I had planned on spending most of my day.  I mingled with folks standing in line waiting on things to happen.   They had us line up five across and the entire length of the hall.  When I got there I was towards the front of line three, so people had been there in theory since at least 7 am.  By the time the halls actually opened up there were I believe eight of these lines all waiting to stream into the convention hall like an invading army.  Most were in search of the illusive swag…  me I was mostly trying to get my bearings and figure out where my media appointments would be.

Go Gigantic

gigantic_scrimroom Gigantic is one of those titles that I have known about for some time.  The art style and character designs appealed to me, but when I had a friend describe it as a “MOBA” my brain closed down shop.  Right now I am engaged in both League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm for various reasons…  and I just did not feel like I had enough room for “yet another moba” in my life.  Gigantic however is only a moba in character and skill designs, but the rest of the game play borrow elements from many genres the biggest is that of the first person shooter.  A match feels like a fast paced objective based deathmatch.  The gameplay starts with two teams of champions defending their teams “Guardian” which are these insanely huge monsters at either end of the arena.  The goal of the game is to score three wounds on the opposing teams Guardian.  You can either do this by dealing damage directly, or sending summoned creatures in to fight for you.  The challenge is that when you are summoning a creature you can be interrupted by taking damage from the other team.

Where the game play gets interesting is when “The Clash” happens, which is an end game condition that keeps matches from going too long.  When this happens the game arena shrinks in size as your guardian moves up to actually start fighting directly with the enemy guardian.  At this same time it funnels the players into much tighter quarters.  There are a lot of nuance to the mechanics, and since I have only gotten to play a single match it is hard for me to guess at much of it.  My background is that of an MMO tank… and having played mostly that…  I have to say picking up The Margrave the “tanky”champion felt right at home.  He has a kit with a big ground slam, frontal cleave attack, channeled defensive, and a charge that  can be used to hit other players or simply cover ground.  I actually landed the first kill of the match because the controls felt so natural.  The biggest highlight of my trip through Gigantic land is that I got to meet and hang out with Lonrem, better known for his community role with Anook.  Apparently he has been in the Gigantic community for some time, and when they made a call for experienced players to help act as “coaches” for the convention he jumped.

Decay and Moonrise

Undead-Labs_1Color_KO_onDark After hanging out with the Gigantic folks it was time for me to go to the floor and talk to Undead Labs the first of my press appointments for the show.  I have to give huge credit to Sanya Weathers for being so awesome in setting this up.  I’ve long been a fan of the stuff Undead Labs is doing and I was a day one buyer of State of Decay on XBLA and then later re-bought the game when it came out on steam.  Since then each time it has gone on sale I have picked up copies for various people to keep spreading the game.  I describe it to my friends as “Fallout with zombies and base building”, and I was pleased to find out that the folks at Undead Labs are completely happy with that description.  What is coming out in April is what they were showing off at the show, the Year One Survival edition.  Since it is targeting the PC and XBox One they have gone back and re-mastered the entire game so that it looks glorious at 1080p.  Additionally as Breakdown and Lifeline were released a number of improvements were made to the gameplay in each expansion.  All of those quality of life changes have been applied to the entire game as a whole and you can also play all of the characters from Breakdown and Lifeline in the original game as well.  For folks who own the previous release of the game there is going to be a special veteran only character with a sword and a suppressed rifle.  I asked the million dollar question of what the future plans were for the franchise and if it would include multiplayer.  As expected they could not commit to anything concrete, but did say that multiplayer was their original goal and still something they very much want to happen.  They said that when they did it, they wanted to build a game from the ground up with multiplayer, not try and tack it on as an afterthought… and that much I definitely agree with.

combat_10 Also while in Undead Labs land I got to get my hands on Moonrise their new mobile targeted pet battle rpg.  The idea behind the game is that every so often a condition happens that cause the animals of the planet to get infected with a sickness and become “Lunari”.  You play the role as a Warden, a public servant of sorts that does battle with the enraged Lunari, curing them and turning them back into the peaceful Solari.  If you have ever played the game Jade Coccoon, it feels very similiar… and in talking to Richard Foge it seems like the team had not actually played that game until after folks like me started comparing Moonrise to it.  The game is highly influenced by Pokemon, but the game plays out in a much more realtime fashion.  Not only do you have to have the right combos at the ready..  you have to be able to play them in rapid succession without your opponent somehow throwing a monkey wrench in your plans.  When we got around to playing PVP I happened to have one of those monkey wrenches and I kept throwing it often.  The game plans on being free to play with its monetization focusing on speeding up actions.  However they did not want to build a game where the player spent all of their time waiting on something to free up to be able to continue.  The goal was to create a game where there was always something to do, and from the sounds of it keep the player from going into maintenance mode.  I definitely look forward to seeing the game launch which is started at “sometime 2015” on consoles, iOS, Android and supporting both phone and tablet form factors.

Uncanny Valley

elitedangerous The last media appointment of the day was with the folks at Frontier to show off Elite Dangerous.  I cannot explain how phenomenally bad I am at star ship flight simulator type games.  I can do relatively well when I am constrained by gravity…  but when you throw in that element of being able to fly upside down in the mix I get completely lost.  To make matters even more difficult, they opted to show me the game using the Occulus Rift, hardware I had as of yet not been able to play with.  To say it was disorienting is a bit of an understatement.  That said after sitting in this virtual cockpit for a bit I noticed myself doing things instinctively like looking up through the top of the canopy to follow smoke trails or looking down at the dashboard indicators.  The only thing that I found really disturbing was the render hands that took actions similar to mine but not quite mine.  When you fire your weapons, the hand in game would fire your weapons… when you raised the shield the hand in game would raise the shield.  The problem is the rest of the time the hand largely sat there lifeless.  It was a really cool experience and I quizzed them about their future plans.  They said they would not be happy until you could do everything you would want to do in the setting including planetary exploration.  That however will take a long time, and they are prepping the 1.1 patch to becoming soon and adding new content.

The first day was a whole for me was almost as disorienting as playing Elite Dangerous with the Occulus Rift.  I am not entirely certain what I was expecting, but the reality turned out to be all the more strange.  I wish I could catch and bottle some of the enthusiasm of some of the other participants.  The whole place has this “summer camp for dorks” feel to it that is magical, and please don’t misunderstand…  I am absolutely a dork, just a deeply jaded one at this point.  Maybe it is because I have friends on the other side of the looking glass, that makes me able to see that there really isn’t magic at work… just a lot of clever programming and determination.  I also am not in a rabid search for free stuff mode, that it seems most of the conventioneers are so there is that.  I think if I were going to do this again I would try and schedule my entire day with nothing but press appointments.  That is what I found interesting, talking face to face with the folks behind the games.  I guess after writing about games for so long my interests have become far more nuanced.  At this point its time to hit publish and get ready to go do day two where I am hopefully met by Ashgar and Rae.

AggroChat Episode 34

Bad Name Great Cat

lilshitgametime This is going to be a really rough post to get through, so I am sitting here avoiding writing.  That said I need to actually get through this, otherwise I will sit here staring at the empty page all day.  Yesterday started off fairly normally, I got up, got showered and went out for breakfast like I have for years.  The problem is what happened during the middle of the day pretty much broke my heart.  Fifteen years ago this past Thanksgiving weekend, the above cat entered our lives as we rescued her from the cold of my parents barn.  There is some confusion about her name, because I originally named her Sasha having always liked the name.  My wife however had a living terror of a student named Sasha in her class that year…  so the name actually stuck.  The only people who ever called her that were the veterinarian and my mother.  When we got her, she was tiny and into everything like kittens always are… there was a common refrain of “you little shit” as we cleaned up one mess she made after another.  Well the name stuck and she was forever called “Little Shit” from that point on.

conkedwithcats She never would have guessed her name was a bad thing however because we said it with the utmost love.  She was my baby girl, but she spent as much time being my wife’s baby as she did mine.  There were so many nights I fell asleep with her purring loudly on our pillows.  She had the most amazing purr that you could literally hear like three rooms away.  For most of her life she always wanted to be somewhere near us, as evidenced by the two pictures above.  In fact I always tried to make sure she had room to lay down either at my feet or on the sofa near me.  You don’t realize how much you have changed your life to fit someone else.  She had all sorts of quirks, like while we were getting ready in the morning she would hop in the shower first and get a drink of water while the shower was running.  Actually that was only one of two ways she was willing to get a drink, the other being from a bright red cup we left on the bathroom floor.  There were many times in the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of that cup banging around, letting me know that I needed to get up and fill it up for her.

Some Rough Times

lilshit We have had two boy cats that had thyroid issues, so we were well aware of the tell tale signs.  A bit over two years ago we started seeing them in her, so we got her into the vet and had been treating her with a topical cream that I had to smear into her ear morning and night.  She was an absolute trooper and stayed still as I “greased” her ears as I referred to it.  About one in three cats experience some digestive problems associated with thyroid disease, so when she started having issues with inappropriate elimination… we thought it was all tied to the issues as a whole.  It became a nightly task for me to come up and pick up the messes left by her during the day.  Frustrating as it might have been, she was worth every bit of the effort.  Over the last two weeks however it had gotten noticeably worse.  She was spending pretty much all of her time sleeping on the couch, and then barely making it off the couch before having to go potty.  Yesterday afternoon we took her into the vet to see if maybe we needed to tweak the dose of thyroid medicine again.

Little shit had always been a waddly cat with a huge belly, and we always attributed it to her just being built “stocky” she reminded us of one of those strong country women, that while they might not win a beautify competition had the sheer presence to get job on the farm done.  As she lost weight her belly became more distended, which again we attributed to her odd body shape.  However upon seeing it the vet was immediately concerned.  Upon taking some X-Rays the news was pretty grim.  There was a massive growth in her stomach region pushing in on her bowels and likely causing pain to eat and got to the bathroom as well.  With her age there was nothing really surgery wise that they would recommend as the likelihood of recovery was pretty slim.  We were left with the extremely hard choice of either taking her home and waiting for her to get worse and die, or letting her go.  She had always been a very clean girl, with extremely preferences in her potty habits.  She hated a dirty litter box, and there were certain kinds of litter that she absolutely refused to use.  I could tell the last year was rough on her, because when she was force to used to bathroom in a bad place there was a look of panic on her face.  With the extreme increase over the last two weeks it felt like we were not terribly far from her messing herself in her sleep, and that is something she would not have wanted to happen.

kitties_sunning So we made the decision that seemed like it was going to be the best for her.  She had struggled with many things over the last few years.  She was struggling to move around the house, and we had to install pet stairs on the sofa for her to get up and down easily.  She had not slept with us for about a month, spending nearly 24 hours a day sleeping in my chair on the sofa, snuggled into blankets that I am sure smelled like me.  When we tried carrying her to bed, she would last for a bit but ultimately hop down and return to the sofa.  Cats do an amazing job of hiding what ails them… and I think she was trying to keep away from us from showing how much she hurt.  I wish I could have fixed her, made it all better…  but I couldn’t this time.  Truth is she has probably always had this mass in her belly, and we always thought it was just her unique shape.  This might have been the first time she ever had an x-ray… and unfortunately it happened far too late.  I wish I could go back in time and have caught this earlier, but I am not really sure how we could have known.  All I know is that I lost one of my best friends, and one of the sweetest animals we will likely ever have.  Yesterday it felt like my world was falling apart, and I am still not sure if the gravity has really hit me.  Laying down last night, as I called for the cats to come to bed… I had to stop myself from yelling for Little Shit.  We will miss you baby girl.

AggroChat Episode #34

I am so thankful to the awesome people that I record with.  During the day yesterday I was not sure if I could go on that night and record a podcast.  Then something happened over twitter.  Someone mentioned me stating that they had found the podcast that day and was really enjoying it.  Turns out they listened from show 33 to 24… so some 14 hours of our podcast in a row.  I have to say hearing that greatly improved my day and gave me that push to keep going last night.  I just was not sure if I could be my normally jolly self, and carry the show…  so Kodra stepped up and did an excellent job as master of ceremonies.  Actually he did a phenomenal job matching pretty much everything that I normally do and then adding his own flourish.

There was much discussion of Final Fantasy XIV as usual with Raven talking about completing her second Novus weapon and beginning a second Nexus grind, and several of us talking about our victory over Ultros and solid attempts on Tier 5 in Binding Coil of Bahamut.  I talk World of Warcraft raiding, and looking forward to beginning the Highmaul Raid after missing Thursday and my raids first two boss kills.  We talk Heroes of the Storm, since this week they finally saw fit to give Rae an invite.  That game is exceptionally fun and better suited for a more casual gamer than League of Legends is.  Over the course of the week we have played quite a bit of it and talk about our personal hero preferences and playstyles.  Kodra runs a much tighter ship than I seem to, because we actually clocked in at just barely over an hour once editing was finished.  Extra special thanks to Kodra for steering the ship while I couldn’t quite muster the oomph to do so.

Tower Diving Time

Server Go Boom

Last night was the launch of Highmaul in World of Warcraft, or at least it should have been.  For the majority of the night we tried in vain to log into Argent Dawn.  While a handful of us made it to the character select screen, even fewer of us made it in game.  Those in game however could not actually play the game, as the world was just fundamentally broken…  mobs un-lootable or not spawning at all.  All of the problems seemed to be related to the Chicago data center, where the Ruin battle group that Argent Dawn is attached to is located.  Lately there has been a lot of talk of Distributed Denial of Service Attacks going on against the various MMO providers, but this is a nebulous concept that most people struggle to really understand.  Thankfully there is a site like IPViking that can visualize this traffic in a way that it makes sense.  Watching their attack map is like watching missile launches in some war game simulation…  both terrifying and mesmerizing at the same time.  The above image sadly is not from last night, but just one they have as an example on their website.

During the launch of Warlords of Draenor, there were very clear attacks against Blizzard.  Last night however I did not actually see attacks targeting blizzard, but instead attack after attack targeting the St Louis area.  I could only assume that the attacks are associated in some way to the things surrounding Ferguson in the St Louis metro area.  This however speaks to the way the internet actually works, instead of the way that we all assume it works.  The hard facts are there are a limited number of pathways across the United States, and if an attack is blocking traffic from reaching the Chicago data center, it is effectively also blocking anyone from reaching those servers.  I ran a traceroute last night and from Tulsa area my packets went to Dallas before going over to the AT&T network somewhere in the vicinity of Wichita before the packets just died.  I can only assume that the packets kept getting lose in the maelstrom of attacks between me and the Chicago data center.

Tower Diving Time

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2014-12-02 22-35-45-233 After a point I gave up on trying to get into anything within World of Warcraft, and wandered between a couple of games.  My original intent was to do some Syrcus Tower on my Bard job, but when I got into Final Fantasy XIV the dps queue for Syrcus was reporting 30 minutes… which is significantly longer than I have ever actually seen it.  So I abandoned that notion and instead decided to play some Heroes of the Storm.  My good friend Rae finally managed to get her invite from Blizzard and apparently spent the better part of last night playing it as well.  I had a strong feeling that she would like the game, based on her seeming love of League of Legends.  For me it is a much stronger game because I like its focus on the team win, and not so much on individual performance.  That said Rae was still constantly checking the meters during the matches, which I can only hope will be something that fades over time as those League tendencies potentially fall away.

I had really not played it much since the game reset that happened awhile back, wiping out our progress.  As such I had completed the tutorial but was still sitting at level 1, having not actually played any real matches to level up with.  Thanks to the +50% xp friend bonus, I managed to level up last night to five, and unlock many of the features of the game.  I’ve noticed that they have front loaded a lot of the stuff so that you get the interesting items sooner.  At level 5 it feels like I have all of the tools needed to really play the character how I would want to.  I am a huge fan of Muradin and in all the  times playing the game, that has been the character that most fits what I want to play.  That said I am also rather fond of Raynor and Tyrael… and if I am going to play a support you can’t beat Uther.  I think the main reason why I like Muradin is his Avatar ability that causes him to grow in size and become extremely sturdy, allowing me to tower dive obstacles if I really need to, or survive team fights.  With passive health regeneration he has some serious sustain, and most of the time I never actually needed to return to base.

Bloggy XMAS Countdown

I feel bad that I did not advertise this sooner, but there is an event that I am going to be part of that is happening in the blogosphere.  The awesome Syl of MMO Gypsy had this idea of creating a virtual advent calendar of sorts within the blogging community.  Apparently in her country it is custom to decorate the various shops and houses around town to represent a day of the advent.  As such she has created this truly awesome Advent Calendar of gaming blogs.  I am currently scheduled to be one of the posters for 12/9 and I will begin prepping for that soon.  The problem is I am still not quite sure what I am going to talk about.  I have a few ideas, but we will just have to see how that sorts out.  In the meantime this is day three of the postings and I highly suggest you go back to the first and read your way forward.  I thank Syl for coming up with the idea and making it happen, and once again there has been this massive outpouring of support which is truly awesome.

Blizzard Spirit

Christmas Spirit

I tend to be a scrooge when it comes to holidays.  I am not sure exactly why I have reached this point, but it wasn’t always that way.  Over time the world seems to have warn me down, and each year that passes I find it harder and harder to get into the right frame of mind.  There are lots of reasons why it might be the case, not the least of which is the fact that my family has gone through far more deaths around Christmas time than I care to recount.  I think in part this is just the way I am, as I don’t really get excited over any of the holidays, or at least have a harder time with each passing year mustering some excitement.  It might also be due to the fact that in general we start seeing Christmas decorations showing up in the stores around July, and by the time the holiday actually shows up I am in full tilt overload mode.

Without a doubt all of this changes the moment I am face to face with a child.  I can see the amazement, excitement and wonder in their eyes as they take in the experiences of whatever holiday it happens to be.  This raises a torch to the little fire inside of me, and causes me to remember just how magical these events used to be before I became a “grown up”.  Ultimately holidays are for the children, and it is only in them that they can be truly appreciated.  Since I don’t spent my time around that many kids, it takes longer and longer for this little flame to be renewed each year.  So while I don’t necessarily want to be a scrooge, that is ultimately what ends up happening.  I am not out on my lawn yelling at the kids, but nonetheless we don’t do much if anything to celebrate holidays on our own.

Blizzard Spirit

blizzcon_spirit So you might be thinking…  Bel… why are you telling me all of this?  Well once upon a time, no matter how forlorn I was about Blizzard as a company, Blizzcon was this magic bullet to relight the fires of wonderment inside of me.  Whether or not I was actually playing anything from Blizzard at the time, when Blizzcon rolled around each year it would hold a torch to the little fire inside of me and stoke my nostalgia to a fever pitch, causing me to renew my subscription.  This has long been referred to as the “Blizzcon bump” and can pretty much be charted on the subscription numbers every single time.  This is part the majesty of Blizzcon itself, and part the fever pitch of excitement that reverberates through the community as a whole.  It becomes contagious as you watch friend after friend succumb to a certain kind of madness and raise their Blizzard fan flags high.

The problem is…  the pilot light deep inside of me keeps flickering and as of yet no amount of fire seems to be stoking it.  I tuned in yesterday to watch the Blizzcon opening ceremonies stream, because I knew more than likely something would get announced that we would probably talk about tonight during the podcast.  I had heard rumors of a big announcement, and honestly I halfway expected that big announcement to be Warcraft 4, since it was the 20th anniversary and all.  Other than that I expected whatever was announced to be on a tablet, since that has been a major growth market for them with Hearthstone.  I was completely wrong in all accounts, and while what announced was awesome looking…  it didn’t really do what I thought it would and reignite the flame.

This is the first Blizzcon since the introduction of the Virtual Ticket, that I have not watched.  While I pre-purchased my copy of Warlords back when I was actually regularly playing the game… this also looks to be potentially the first Warcraft expansion that I will not actually be playing at launch.  I am jealous of the folks like Alternative Chat and Qelric that have kept their fires of nostalgia burning brightly.  Maybe this will be like Christmas, and I will be overcome with the “Blizzard Spirit” days or maybe even minutes before the official launch of Warlords of Draenor.  I am not a person of firm stances, and absolute positions.  I change my mind about at least one long held belief on a nearly daily basis.  So maybe just maybe I will be a late bloomer in my nostalgia and end up happily playing this expansion.  Currently the signs are pointing to no, and while my account is still active I have gone through all the preparations to not be playing at all.  I quietly handed over the reins of House Stalwart to my friend Rylacus during the dark of night.  In any case I will try my damnedest not to be a true Scrooge and ruin anyone’s fun during the launch festivities.

Overwatch Looks Awesome

Reaper_Overwatch_002 All of this said, is not to take anything away from the fact that Overwatch does indeed look like a really awesome game.  When it was first announced I had mixed emotions about it.  It felt very much like “Blizzard Does Team Fortress 2”, and I didn’t quite understand why this was going to be a ground breaking thing.  Then again in truth nothing that Blizzard does is really ground breaking.  They have this way of taking an existing genre and polishing it to a mirror shine, improving the playability and accessibility during the process and making the gameplay itself infectious.  I have no doubt at all that when we actually get our hands on Overwatch all of these adjectives will be true, and it will be yet another blockbuster game in the crown of a company that is known for them.  We still don’t know a lot of details about the game but my general theory is this will be “MOBA” like in that we will more than likely have a rotation of free characters that we can play, with the option to purchase them permanently and also purchase nifty skins for them.

What made me excited about the game was when I watched the above video of an actual match.  I am not your traditional FPS player, in that I don’t really enjoy twitchy deathmatch back and forth gameplay.  As such I have always favored games with hard fought objectives be it capture and hold or capture the flag.  My all time favorite competitive FPS is Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory because it gave me something to focus on other than just my kill count.  Watching the above video… feels like Wolfenstein.  I love that the maps have tight corners, because the last few generations of shooters just feel too open to me.  I prefer to play run and gun, and wide open maps pretty much mean certain death from above for my particular style.  Though from the looks of it these maps seem like they will provide adequate places for folks who like to ambush like snipers as well.  The focus on the objective tightens the focus of the map, since everyone will be swarming that one location, and the six versus six group size makes for more intimate play.

heroselect_047 So while I am not just enraptured by the Blizzcon conference as a whole, that does not mean that I am not absolutely looking forward to this game.  Right now the champions that I am looking forward to playing the most are Reinhardt because he is tanky and melee, and Winston… because he is an gentleman ape.  Another champion that looks really awesome is Torbjorn because if you have followed me for long, you will know my love of Dwarves.  Additionally when it comes to Enemy Territory games I almost always play the engineer, so that pretty much seems to fit right down his alley.  Another champion that looks interesting is Symmetra for her awesome mini turret placing mechanics.  The champion that I am not sure if I will like or not is Bastion, because he seems really quirky… but often times quirky is also interesting.

It has been over a decade since Blizzard launched a new IP, and I have to say so far I approve.  The cinematic trailer is great, when it started I was like “Blizzard does Super Heroes?  Sign me up!”.  I really want to play an MMO in this universe because I have not given up hope on a really good super hero MMO.  DC Universe Online is fun enough, but it feels really limited in scope, but it is still the best we have.  City of Heroes was a long time favorite of mine, and I miss it quite a bit at times…  that said it had been years since I had actively played it when it shut down.  Champions Online on the other hand has been a barely playable abomination… which is sad because I had so much hope for it.  If project Titan was in fact going to be Overwatch the MMO…  I mourn its loss.  However the game that rose from its ashes looks amazingly fun.  At the end of the day… I just really want to see a full length movie dedicated to the adventures of Winston and Tracer.  Hopefully I can manage to get into beta because I am very interested in seeing how this game progresses.

Open-mindedness

This one is going to be a bit of an odd one, but in part it syncs up with what I have said today.  I am thankful that my upbringing has instilled in me a sense of curiosity towards new ideas.  I can’t really say how it happened, but I have a pretty malleable sense of self, and as such I’ve always been hungry for new viewpoints on different subjects.  I gobble up as much information as I can, and each piece of information could potentially “upgrade” one of my existing views, or cause me to trash a “rough draft” and start over.  There are very few things in me that are not open to discussion, other than a core barometer of justice and basic human decency.  So at this very moment I can’t tell you how I will feel about something next week, or a year from now… because I am constantly evolving.

I think this is a strength and not a weakness, and it has allowed me to adapt to the line of work that I do and the ever changing cavalcade of new technologies and programming practices that I have to evaluate.  All the while I try my best to keep a firm sense of all of my experiences, and the history behind them… while still putting myself out there and looking to take the best bits of knowledge that I happen to find along my journey.  So Mom, Dad, Priests, Scout Leaders, Teachers…  all are to be thanked for somehow instilling in me this sense of willingness to pick up new ideas and abandon the ones that no longer make sense.

#Blizzcon #Overwatch

MOBA Crash

Falling Down

dawngate logo

Yesterday we had an interesting bit of news released as the first big MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena if you are not familiar with the term, announced that they would be closing their doors.  Dawngate was the product offering by Electronic Arts and entered closed testing in May 2013 but quickly fell from the buzz cycle.  Quite honestly when I saw this announcement I had quite literally forgotten there was a game called Dawngate.  Some of the complaints about the game was that it felt like a rather lifeless clone of League of Legends.  Many of the Champions or “Shapers” as they called them seemed to have one to one relationships to league of legends champions.  However the game did try to fix some of the things that were broken with the existing Summoner’s Rift map type, adding in more interesting gameplay elements.

The problem is that no one that I knew was actually playing it.  There were a handful of people who got into the beta process last June and then I never heard anything again about the game.  For whatever reason they lost at producing enough forward hype for their game to drown out the other MOBAs or at least fight for a place at the table.  The game looked very pretty, but I just don’t think they did enough to excite players.  My only hope is that Riot will take some of the ideas that Dawngate had and try and incorporate some game modes that are similar to that into League of Legends.  I am not the biggest fan of MOBAs in general, but I have played enough of them to know some good ideas when I see them.  The fact that Dawngate had this mechanic where taking down each tower was essentially the equivalent to like 1/3rd of an inhibitor seemed like a cool idea.  Instead in League you reach a point where taking down additional towers is a waste of time… and I don’t think you would ever reach that point in Dawngate.

MOBA Crash

league-of-legendsOne of the interesting things about the games industry is how much it repeats itself.  When someone has a successful idea, it seems that the “investors” all get involved to dog pile on that genre and try and crack out as many look alike games as they can.  That is not to say that each of the new games does not have merit, nor is it to say that they are not good games.  The problem is there is a certain point at which the market has reached saturation and can support no new offshoots.  Unfortunately I think we have reached that point already with the MOBA genre.  Dawngate was really the first major game in the genre to call it quits, and Turbine the developer of Infinite Crisis does not look terribly strong right now after a round of layoffs in October.  I feel like we are just about to enter the same area we have been with MMOs for some time now… where there is no “easy money” left in the market.

hotswallpaper Right now you have the juggernauts of League of Legends and DOTA2.  To a lesser extent Heroes of Newerth still has a bit of a following, but their latest product offering of Strife seems to be struggling to gain traction.  Smite on the other hand… seems to have found a niche in the fact that it is a WASD controlled MOBA and for folks like me that hate click to move…  it offers a new way to play this game genre.  Heroes of the Storm on the other hand has done what Blizzard does best…  polish a game to a mirror shine and lower the barrier of entry.  As such HoTS is a much easier entry point into the MOBA genre for non-MOBA players.  Personally of all of the titles it is my favorite in part because it leverages characters that I already know and love and just extends that nostalgia into another genre.  Apart from these few games though I think pretty much every other MOBA is suspect, fragile and vulnerable to be the next announced cancellation.

The Cycle Repeats

doom_logo I think my first experience with this cycle of trying to cash in on the next hotness was the massive amount of vaguely playable games that came out after the release of Doom during the early 90s.  For every Dark Forces there were a few Depth Dwellers or Nerves of Steel that were barely playable.  Then Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans came on the scene… which itself borrowed heavily from the mechanics of Dune 2.  But immediately following was an equally confusing cavalcade of RTS genre games finally ending up with only a handful of series surviving.  We are seeing this same thing playing out currently with the string of “Minecraft clones” fighting for your dollar.  Essentially if a game comes out that is popular enough you can bet that somewhere in a back office someone is willing to pour money into something vaguely similar in an attempt to rush their version of the trend to market.  Eventually someone comes along with a box full of straight pins and the bubble popping begins.

2013-04-17 06_54_46-Greenshot The thing is that I don’t really even think this is a bad thing, other than for the folks who get caught up in the round of layoffs that almost always follows.  It is possible for a game to move the genre forward even if it doesn’t end up a success itself.  Warhammer Online for example had quite possibly the best quest objective visualization system I had played with, and many other games came through after its launch and offered a similar system for their own product.  The next release of World of Warcraft offered a version of quest visualization that looked almost exactly like this one.  So even though Warhammer Online turned out to be a failure, it imparted on the genre a few features that have stuck around.  As such I feel like if we are starting to head towards a MOBA crash, the ones that failed to find a niche will still have an impact on the games that ultimate end up dominating the market.  There will always be a market for MOBAs, just like there was always a market for Adventure games, FPS, RTS, Survival Horror, MMO, Sandbox Building or whatever the next big fad becomes in gaming.

Fuzzy Blankets

This month I am talking about something each morning that I am thankful for.  This morning as I am wrapped tightly in a fleece blanket while typing this…  I am reminded just how thankful I am for our array of very warm and very fuzzy blankets.  Oklahoma is an interesting place, in part because we go through this seesaw act with our weather towards the end of Fall.  Until a week ago it was pretty reliably 70*-80* days and I was mostly wearing shorts on the weekend.  Then a cold snap hit is and it has gotten down to the 30s.  The problem is I fully expect that we will be back in the 70s within a weeks time.  During this back and forth I am always reluctant to turn on my heating, just because I know it isn’t “really” winter yet.  As such we spend a month bundled up in blankets and honestly due to the weight loss I find myself more cold natured than I used to be.  So this year like so many years I am thankful that fuzzy blankets exist to keep us warm, when our weather is still deeply confused.

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.`