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.

 

 

Second Winds and Diablo

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Desi Wonderfulness

Last night was a bit unusual as far as our Friday nights go.  Generally speaking we come home from work, and I play video games while my wife attempts not to fall asleep… always failing that battle around 9/9:30 ish.  Instead we went out for dinner with some friends, and I got to eat at one of my favorite restaurants…  Desi Wok.  I generally refer to it as an “Indian restaurant” but in truth it is a “Desi” restaurant as the name implies, focusing on an amalgam of traditional Indian cuisine mixed with some more Chinese inspired dishes.  My wife got the always tasty Chicken Tikka Masala, and I went with my most recent favorite an ambiguous dish called “Chicken Desi Fried Rice”.  The dish comes out bright red and spicy as hell, pretty much the way I like it.  The problem is it is way more food than you can eat in one sitting so I always end up taking home about half of it.  My wife decided to order a Mango Lassi which she had never actually done from Desi Wok, and in my confusion I wound up getting one for me too…  but no actual other drink.  This meant I consumed a lot of water in my vague attempt to control the spice of my dish.

By the time we finally got home last night I was drained.  We made a stop off at Target, and all the while I was moving around the store at a snails pace.  I literally think my wife would have been dragging me through the store if I had a rope tied onto me.  She kept having to stop periodically and look back at me to see if I was keeping up.  I am guessing it was the beginnings of a tasty food coma.  But in all honesty it could simply be the weight of this week crashing down upon me.  Each and every day there has been some major crisis that I had to deal with.  We had a production database get wiped one day, and another day we were trying to diagnose why a piece of software built in Visual Basic 6 wasn’t working any more.  For starters I had no clue that anything built in VB6 would run on a Windows 7 machine.  Visual Studio 6 was the brand new technology…. when I was in college almost two decades ago.  All the while during each of the issues I acted as the manager and facilitator, which is a bit of a new role for me.  I am not used to being the one directing the action rather than the one with my hands buried deep in the guts of the software trying to sort things out manually.  Putting your faith in someone else to fix things for you, is way the hell more stressful than being under the gun to fix something yourself.

Second Winds and Diablo

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Yesterday was the beginning of the brand new Diablo 3 fourth season, and this time I wanted to get in on the ground floor instead of creating a character a few days from the end.  Earlier in the week I had talked about my plans on what exactly to create for this new seasons and I finally settled on rolling a Femme Barbarian.  I have an absolute love of Sonya in Heroes of the Storm so any attempt to recreate that character seems amazing to me.  However I spent the first half hour or so of gameplay complaining to my friend Grace about her lack of armor.  She was awesome about it and I am sure was just patting me on the head as I complained about something that every woman on the planet has complained about at some point…  the shitty armor options they give female characters in video games.  Yes I realize the male barbarian starts in essentially a furry diaper, but  that changes pretty quickly as you find gear and at this point at level 37 I am still wearing a bra of some sort.  I finally learned to ignore it mostly and got on with the game play.

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Grace had started her traditional Wizard earlier in the night, and was about five levels ahead of me by the time we both managed to get on at the same time.  We proceeded to spend the rest of the night running bounties and rather quickly I was able to catch up in levels.  I am not sure what it is about Diablo right now but it is really hitting the spot.  The only negative being that the Barbarian starts out in a fashion that I don’t really enjoy that much.  The first attack and the first secondary attack… are both not really my thing.  Thankfully you get Cleave pretty quickly, and before the end of the night I finally was able to pick up whirlwind which serves as not only a great group attack but also a decent way of getting out of things since you seem to ignore slowing effects when you are spinning.  My hope is that at some point today we can hook back up and start leveling again.  Other than that I am looking forward to tonight’s AggroChat show because we are finally going to talk about Birb boyfriends and why that game is pure madness.

Pax Prime Hopes

The Big Show

It feels like we live in this world where there is always another big games show around the corner.  I remember when quite literally all that existed was the Consumer Electronics show, at least for the United States.  Now we have dozens of shows sprinkled throughout the year, all of which vying for exclusive announcements.  As a result companies have to trickle information out so that everyone that attends one of the shows feels like they are getting to see something unique or special.  This weekend of course is Pax Prime, and I had hoped this year I would be attending.  The truth is however that Pax Prime will likely never be in the cards, as the husband of a teacher…  August is a HORRIBLE time for me to be travelling.  During this month my wife is in full on panic mode as she gets adjusted to another school year, and while for a bit I was bummed at not being able to attend, I am realizing it was ultimately for the best.  As a result I will be a loyal yearly Pax South attendee and pretty much brush aside the thoughts of doing the Pax Prime thing.  Instead at some point I will just go out to Seattle to meet my friends that seem to be pooling there, instead of trying to make one big combo trip.  Having been to a Pax, I have to say in truth the folks at home have a much better view of what is going on there through the live stream.  As a result I am looking forward to spending much of the weekend watching as much as I can.  Which gets to the point of this mornings post.  I thought I would talk a bit about the various things I am hoping to get out of Pax Prime 2015.

Final Fantasy XIV

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The thing that I want this weekend… is a release date for 3.1.  I know we are getting close, but I want to know a firm release date so I know just how long I am going to have to wait.  Right now Final Fantasy XIV is going through a bit of a content lull much like it did after the release of A Realm Reborn.  Quite frankly at this point I am tired of running Neverreap…  since that seems to be the dungeon I get most often.  Two dungeons in a roulette rotation simply is not enough, and I am honestly a bit concerned with the news that 3.1 is only going to add two more as well.  My hope is that they create a four dungeon expert roulette instead of moving Neverreap and Fractal to Hard Roulette and making expert just be the two new dungeons.  The other piece I am really looking forward to is the next 24 player dungeon the Void Ark, aka the creepy airship you sometimes seem flying around in the Sea of Clouds.  The game needs a shot in the arm of content, because folks are starting to slow down… myself included.  More so than this… I would like to see some future vision type stuff for 3.2 and beyond.  In the past we have usually had this list of things that Yoshi P had promised for “future” patches and we are a bit low on that right now.

Wildstar

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Similar to FFXIV…  and honestly a lot of the things I am going to talk about this morning….  I just want a date for when the Free to Play conversion will happen.  They keep putting new patches on the test server and it is starting to feel like maybe they are close, but what I need from them is a date.  I am enjoying Wildstar so much more than I have at any point in the past, and a lot of the changes that are coming in with the free to play conversion are going to be generally good for the game as well.  Past the free to play conversion… I would like to see some information about what their long range plans are.  I don’t even know if they have a presence at Pax Prime this weekend, but even if folks don’t they tend to time announcements around major shows as well.

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns

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Since the expansion announcement at Pax South, I have had a strange connection with this title.  Traditionally speaking I do not really enjoy Guild Wars 2 that much.  That said I have to say the revenant looks more interesting than any of the previous classes. I fully expect that I will be picking this title up when it launches if for no reason other than the fact that it is once again “buy to play” and I have gotten my original purchase out of the game.  This has been the year of announcements completely unfettered by timelines, and it is starting to get frustrating.  Once again we have a big title looming on the horizon with zero date announced for when we will be expecting to play it.  I am expecting that this one is going to be a lot like Heavensward was, where they announce the launch date and it is only a few months away.  My hope is that Pax Prime finally is going to be the show where they talk about this at.  Give your fans some firm dates.

Blizzard Titles

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I am honestly not expecting anything new to come out of this conference from Blizzard.  They did their big reveal of the World of Warcraft expansion at Gamescom, and I fully expect that with Blizzcon coming up in November that they will be holding everything else closely waiting on their big show to reveal it.  I fully expect that they might announce a new Overwatch champion at Pax Prime, and potentially some more Heroes of the Storm champions or maps.  What I am really wanting from them is an announcement for when Overwatch testing will begin and a beta key delivered in my mailbox.  Everytime I launch the patcher and see that Overwatch button at the bottom of it…  I get a little sad in side.  I really want to play this game, and I sincerely doubt I will be doing so anytime soon.  Over the last few weeks I have come to the realization that I still very much love Blizzard games… it is apparently only World of Warcraft that I am on tentative terms with.  I would love beyond love them to announce something for Diablo 3…  like maybe another expansion?  They have already hinted that they might be doing a Warcraft RTS after they wrap up with Starcraft II… so that alone has me pretty pumped.

No Man’s Sky

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I am so irrationally hopeful about this title, even though I keep telling myself that there is no way it can deliver on everything it has been promising.  I love exploring new areas, and I love killing strange and interesting creatures.  No Man’s Sky promises to give me a procedural generated world where I can do this… over and over again throughout the galaxy.  On top of that the graphics are kinda cool as well with their hyper saturated version of reality.  Again…  all I really want from Hello Games is a release date.  I have a feeling that we will have an announcement for some sort of beta testing to begin soon.  Supposedly Amazon UK is already taking pre-orders so hopefully we will get a date this weekend.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

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At this point I just want more information on this title.  We saw a short trailer from E3 and I have been wanting more information since.  Once again I have no clue if there will be a presence at Pax Prime, but I am hoping!  I want to know more about the nuts and bolts of how this title is actually going to work.  I want to know if there is going to be a multiplayer aspect, or if this is just one big single player skyrim-esc sandbox.  I also want to know more about the world that surrounds the game.

Devilian

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With my recent foray back into Diablo 3, it has made me extremely interested in Devilian a Diablo like Korean game that Trion is going to be publishing.  I know Trion is going to have a good presence at the show so I am hoping we find out when the beta process is going to begin.  I ended up with a key from Gamescom and I keep checking my Glyph launcher expecting it to show up in the list of games that are playable at some point soon.  While on the topic of Trion Games, it is too soon to hope for a Rift expansion but I would still like to get more information about where that game is heading, and some more detail on the future plans for ArcheAge.  The folks at Trion Worlds are awesome so I am always interested in what they have to say.

 

 

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

The Elephant in the Room

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I figure this morning I would cut with any sidebar discussions and get straight into the topic that was on everyones lips yesterday…  the Blizzard Q2 Earnings call.  If you remember during the Q1 2015 earnings call they announced a drop to 7.1 million subscribers after a peak of 10 million during the Warlords of Draenor launch bump.  I think we all knew that the numbers would be down, at least incidentally based on our own experiences from the game.  I have to say that I thought WoW token would be more of a game changer, and when they announced that World of Warcraft was down to 5.6 million subscribers I figured that the Token numbers would bolster this amount.  However based on further information it appears that this number does include token subscribers as well.  In truth this number likely does not fully account for the actual loss.  Personally I would consider myself no longer playing World of Warcraft, but my account does not actually die until mid September.  There are several folks in similar holding patterns in our guild waiting on their time to tick down as well.

MMOChampGraph As always MMO Champion has a spiffy graph charting the subscription numbers since the release of the game.  To put things into proper perspective, the subscription numbers are exactly what the subscription numbers were in December of 2005 roughly a year after the initial launch of the game.  This has lead some folks to point out that when you iron out the outliers like the Warlords of Draenor bump you end up with a standard curve that you might expect for a game of this longevity.  There was a lot to be gleaned from the earnings call, but one of the major points I got out of it.. is that while they have already announced that the World of Warcraft expansion would be revealed Thursday at Gamescom, they left it off of the list of products planned for the rest of the year.  That tells me that at the very best the expansion will be a Q1 2016 release.  That means that there will be at a minimum of a six month lag between content patches, and at worst…  honestly who knows what the worse case scenario could be.  Hopefully this will not be anywhere near as long as the content drought after 5.4, but I am seriously hoping that they reconsider Hellfire being the final patch of the expansion.

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

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I feel like the takeaway from the earnings call is not that World of Warcraft has fallen by 1.5 million subscribers in a quarter.  Anyone who was not expecting this was living in a rose colored world.  Quite honestly I half expected it to be a bigger drop just based on my own experiences.  The real take away for me however is that in spite of losing this many players Activision Blizzard had one of its strongest quarters yet.  During the earnings call there were repeated mentions of “diversification of product offerings”, which tells me that Blizzard no longer considers themselves the “World of Warcraft” company.  They see the writing on the way, that their juggernaut is winding down, and they have replaced its revenue by more agile games that are significantly easier to support.  The hard truth is that Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are making them lots and lots of money.  When Overwatch launches you can damn well bet that it is also going to make them equally large piles of money, further diluting the need for World of Warcraft.

There was a time when Warcraft was the prize bull, but that is simply no longer the case.  If you think of it from a pure numbers perspective it makes sense.  Hearthstone for example is a digital card game, and the bulk of the assets that are created for it are two dimensional images.  Granted they are awesome looking but they do not require the amount of time it takes to create three dimensional textured models and even more so huge three dimensional worlds for players to explore.  The type of content that goes into games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm is just simply cheaper to produce than the amount of time that goes into building an entire world filled with hundreds of quest givers that have to be debugged and cross checked to make sure they are not breaking something else.  To make matters worse… this expensive content is something we are extremely good at either avoiding or burning through as quickly as possible.  The hunger for new content is never changing, there is never a point where we the players will ever be satiated.  Adding a new playfield to Heroes of the Storm changes that game and its meta for months, and requires only a faction of the work that a single zone would take in a traditional MMO.

The Movie Tie In

warcraft-movie-logo The timing of all of this seems to coincide with the release of the Warcraft movie, but I question what exactly that means for the franchise.  All of the details behind the movie so far seem to point at this being a “Warcraft” movie and not necessarily a “World of Warcraft” movie, meaning that it takes place in a time before the MMO is set.  So does this mean that we will be doing more “timey wimey” stuff with the expansion, and we are somehow trapped in the timeline that we created by following Garrosh to Draenor?  Are we going to play a role in trying to stop a new invasion of Azeroth by Guldan and the Burning Legion?  The bigger question is… if all of this is going to happen are players going to stomach yet another storyline retcon?  These are all questions that I really don’t have an answer for.  I feel like if Blizzard has a shot in hell at rekindling the love of this game, they have to take us someplace new and unexplored, but do it in a way that feels epic like never before.  I still mark Wrath of the Lich King as the best expansion to date, and it built upon the success of Vanilla and the Burning Crusade polishing both to a mirror sheen.

This is simply something that going back in time cannot provide for me.  We’ve done the reboot of the world thing before with Cataclysm, and I found the whole process frustrating and annoying that places I once loved… simply no longer existed.  I feel the only real option is for us to take the fight to the Legion, and have an expansion where we are the ones laying siege for once.  What I want to see is an expansion where the Alliance and Horde finally put aside their difference, and with it the artificial barriers between players fall down.  I want to see an expansion that places us squarely in the path of epic battles as we lay siege to the worlds that the Legion has conquered before, slowly working our way back to their base of operation and banishing their evil from the universe.  That is the adventure that will bring players back, and anything less than that I think will ultimately feel hollow.  We have run out of villains that we care about… and the whole “Dances with Orcs” feel of both Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor has been infuriating for anyone who really doesn’t care a damn about Orcs.  Blizzard needs to prove to us that it can still create an opposition that is worth of the lineage of Arthas and Illidan, and I feel the only way they can do that is by having us take on the Burning Legion on their own territory.

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.

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.