FPS Evolved Genre

gigantic_beckett

Thoughts for Motiga

gigantic_beckett

One of the aspects of Pax South 2016 that felt strange for me, was the complete and total lack of Motiga and Gigantic.  I cannot fully express how much of my experience this game was in 2015.  I had a great time hanging out with the Motiga crew thanks to Lonrem brokering a connection, and then kept dragging people to the booth to play Gigantic.  It felt like the sort of MOBA experience I had been looking for.  When I played a tanky character, it felt like playing an MMO tank.  When I played a ranged character, it felt like playing a really good ranged shooter.  I feel like hands down they were the belle of the ball last year, and when I heard about their layoffs in december, and the fact that they were not on the roster for 2016… I started to get concerned.  Since coming back from Pax last year I have been lucky enough to have access to all of the alpha and beta events, but I have to admit I didn’t really play much of it.  For the longest time it just played lousy on my then Geforce 750ti video card…. and now that I have at least upgraded to a 960 I am wondering if maybe it would perform a little better.  As of yesterday however I am really starting to worry for the folks at the company, because according to a Gamasutra article the just underwent some pretty significant staff reduction in a last ditch attempt to get more funding to finish the game.

Now that the NDA has lifted I don’t have to worry quite so much about how I talk about Gigantic.  I really need to reinstall the game and see what its current state happens to be.  The biggest problem  that the game had was that its back end systems were not quite as polished as the front end game play.  Matchmaking was a big issue, and the fact that in order to get valuable feeling matches… you realistically needed to hang out on testing ventrilo and and form some sort of a custom game.  The last time I attempted to boot up the game I sat in a matchmaking queue for thirty minutes and then finally gave up.  My friend Rae apparently has played it more recently, but ran into a pretty elitist player base… with her catching shit for not doing the right thing at the right time.  This is one of those games that is so damned close to really good…. but I worry that maybe they missed their window by a year.  I’ve always said that in order for this game to be really popular it needed to be first to market, since it is essentially launching an untested IP.  The awesome thing is though, that the characters…. well… for lack of a better term have character.  They are interesting and are animated in a way that they spring to life.  This game has what League of Legends has… but so many other games in the MOBA genre have lacked…  personality.  I really hope that they can pull this off, but as always I worry about the folks that were just let go.  This game deserves its time in the sun, and I think it will flourish on consoles….  quite possibly more so than on the PC that already has a fairly entrenched first person MOBA genre.  The critical date however is that they HAVE to beat Overwatch to launch, or they are pretty much toast.  Even thought those two games are vastly different in feel… players are still mentally lumping them all together in this “fps evolved” genre of folks taking the FPS template and doing new things with it.

Overwatch Beta Returns

overwatch_cell

Speaking of the 500 lb gorilla that Gigantic has to beat to market…  as of yesterday the Overwatch Beta is back on, and with it has also returned much gnashing of teeth as more folks failed to get in.  At this point I am pretty much resigned that I will not likely get to play until open beta testing at some point.  For a brief period of time I thought that maybe I had access, because in the launcher the install button suddenly started showing up for me.  The only problem being that it was grayed out, and not clickable.  I am guessing this was a temporary glitch because later that evening when I popped into WoW to do my garrison gold farming… it was back to hiding the install button again.  The truth is…  even if I had beta access I probably would not be playing it much.  My recent return to Elder Scrolls Online has taught me that… maybe I am just not a good beta candidate these days.  I absolutely blame the almost two years of regularly ESO testing for my diminished desire to play after getting to the veteran ranks.  I quite literally had burned myself out on all of the newbie content, so that the thought of alting my way through it again just felt painful.  I poured my heart and soul into that testing experience, because I wanted that game to be the best damned game it could be… and honestly judging it today through very clear eyes…  I think it turned out pretty great.

I want to be able to walk into Overwatch and have the game feel free and exciting, and be able to experience the new player rush along with everyone else.  Sure I would love to be able to play the game when the whim hits me right now, but I am not going to be the sort of hard core tester and bug reporter that they really need right now.  In this sort of game, balance and gameplay statistics are key… and they need a sheer volume of data to sift through to be able to shape their design decisions.  So for me… who is going to maybe play the game once a month…  I am not exactly a great resource and if you replaced me with someone who is going to stream the game every night… you would be far better off in the end.  I’ve developed this aversion to playing games before they are officially released.  Now granted… I still do regularly…. but I have begun to learn my lesson.  Torment: Tides of Numenera for example is absolutely available to me to test because I backed the project…. but I have zero desire right now to do so.  I want to play the finished version of the game, when it is “ready for primetime” and not have to sift through crippling bugs.  Maybe my tolerance for “broken games” is less than it used to be… or maybe there are just so damned many things that I want to be playing that spending my time on an unfinished product feels like a waste.  In any case… I am a bad beta tester, and will continue to be super happy for those who are getting invited and enjoying their time playing games like Overwatch.

 

Week In Gaming 11/8/2015

My Great Capture Screen Shot 2015-11-08 08-58-27

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

My Great Capture Screen Shot 2015-11-08 08-58-27

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

HeroesOfTheStorm_x64 2015-11-07 16-55-41-96

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

rift 2015-11-08 08-52-37-54

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.

 

Instant Relevance

maxresdefault

King of Match Three

King

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

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

What This Means

maxresdefault

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

Wow-64 2014-11-29 19-24-38-79

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

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

 

 

Chasing a PVE MOBA

A Meaningless Term

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

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

Keep the Interesting Bits

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

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

Chasing a PVE MOBA

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

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

About League and HotS

“Last Hit” Builds Contention

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

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

Item Build is Too Fiddly

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

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

Champion Design

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

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

eSports Needs Name Change

What is Sport

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

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

eSports Needs Name Change

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

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

ESPN Needs eSports

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

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

Heroes of the Storm

Odd Weekend

With all the excitement of the weekend, yesterday I needed to just recharge a bit and do a bunch of stuff around the house…  namely lots of laundry.  My wife got up early yesterday morning, as she had planned a trip to Dallas for the day with friends, so this left me completely up to my own devices all day long.  I ended up sleeping in until around 9:30 at which point I did my FTL Steampowered Sunday play, and the subsequent blog post.  Then it was lots and lots of laundry for several hours.  I feel like I might be coming down with something, so I really wasn’t much more useful than that.

On the Grandmother front, she is doing as well as could be expected.  She woke up yesterday for a bit before they sedated her again.  Her kidney functions have not returned, but she was severely dehydrated.  They have a nephrologist coming into the hospital today that is going to look at her and see what they can do to stimulate activity.  Once the kidneys start working again they will be much closer to “in the clear”.  Mostly they think she just needs to rest and let the body do its natural recovery.  She is a really tough woman, so I have faith that she is going to pull through this.  Her vitals all look okayish and seem to be improving by the day. so here is hoping time is really all she needs.

As far as the sick cat, she seems to be doing much better.  She was extremely needy of attention yesterday, and her appetite seems to have returned.  For the majority of the week she had not eaten much of anything, so yesterday whenever she acted hungry I was opening a cat of food for her.  I think she ended up eating five different times yesterday.  She had lost quite a bit of weight over the course of this ordeal so while I will taper back her feeding eventually… for now I am just happy she is eating.  She demanded attention, which is good… because while she was sick she was pretty scarce.  Preferring to just lay down on the couch by herself instead of wherever we happened to be in the house.

Elder Scrolls Final Beta Weekend

Since this past weekend is the final beta weekend before launch in a few weeks, and since we had been given leave to stream whatever we wanted…  I did as much playing and streaming as I could fit in.  All told I think I streamed a little bit over four hours, split up between four different videos.  Most of the time was spent faffing about on my Orsimer Dragon Knight in the Daggerfall covenant area.  I closed the weekend sitting a little bit away from thirteen.  However because of the absolutely illogical pattern I followed I know I missed a good number of the quests from the first area of Glenumbra.  I would love to say that the beta weekend was completely smooth, but it seemed as though a lot of the systems were bugged out.  Dark Anchors for example seemed to spawn, and then just stay active even after the forces had been defeated and a player got credit for destroying them.

One of the systems that was completely new to me, were the Dark Fissures.  These are essentially mini versions of the Dark Anchors and can just spawn almost anywhere around the map.  Think of these as “soloable” Rifts.  I say soloable in quotes because really unless you are prepared to take on boss level monsters they will be pretty freakin hard.  I defeated two of these and did so just barely.  If you go into them make sure you have your health potions hotkeyed and ready to go.  The awesome thing about the Dark Fissures is that they seem to drop really awesome stuff.  The final one I closed out yesterday evening dropped a level 12 blue fire staff, which I am sure would have been awesome… had I used staves.  If the beta weekend were going longer I would have tried to find that a good home.

Heroes of the Storm

I know I mentioned this the other day, but I am still pretty pumped that I am in the Heroes of the Storm technical alpha.  One of the really cool things about it is that it is completely sans-NDA.  This means that I can stream the hell out of the game, and I intend to.  I recorded a few videos over the weekend, the first of which was just me playing around in practice mode working on the weekly quests for getting victories with heroes from each of the franchises.  The second video however I dipped my toes into cooperative mode fighting bots with other players.  I have to say I found the jump in AI to be quite extremely between practice mode and cooperative.  I earned enough gold through the various quests to purchase two of the cheaper heroes Muridan and Raynor.  At some point I hope to pick up Falstad, because while he is in the free to play rotation currently… I am sure this will change similar to how it does in League of Legends.

Right now I am enjoying the game far more than I ever did League.  Basically it has all of the aspects of league that I really enjoyed… namely fighting people with awesome champions, and none of the aspects that I didn’t like.  League build path was always an enigma to me, and I tended to play champions that I could use the same build on over and over.  League gameplay is far more nuanced, but Blizzard has done for League what they did for the MMO genre.  Streamlined, simplified, polished and created something that the masses can latch onto.  Instead of a huge list of items for you to purchase, you build your character by making a few simple choices.  In the beginning at least all of these are either or choices like “survival” or “damage”.  Over the course of the map this ends up building a semi-custom champion.

However once you reach level 8, they open up these choices significantly.  While playing Muridan yesterday there was one of these levels where I had five different choices for how I wanted to proceed.  Each choice causes you to give up other options with no real way of getting those back.  For me… a player that found the item buying system of League completely unfathomable this works so much better.  For a player who wants a deeply nuanced and unique approach to each match… they are probably still going to favor League.  The champions as a whole feel more well rounded than League champions, in that they have a wider “kit” of abilities and the option to choose between two different “R” attacks really seems to help this.

Play 2014-03-14 10-13-23-03

The place where the game really shines is in their map creation.  At their core, each of the maps is essentially “Summoner’s Rift”.  That said each of the maps has a unique sub game to them, while League tries to do this with the various map types… it simply does not work as well as it does here.  For example in the map shown above Blackheart’s Bay… you have a really awesome coastal city/pirate theme going on.  When one team collects enough doubloons they can turn them in to call in a bombardment from the pirates on the enemy team.  In one map the mini game is all about controlling two shrines which allow you to waken the Dragon Knight.  When you do so the player transforms into this unstoppable juggernaut perfect for diving straight into towers and destroying the enemy resources.  I have only played the game a little bit, but I have to say I am deeply hooked.

Gamer Hangout

Another odd happening this weekend is that I ended up participating in Beau Hindman’s Gamer Hangout show.  I’ve been friends with the members for some time, and there was a week where they had asked me to join in the show… but I until recently I simply did not have a camera.  Now you will be able to see the WHY I didn’t have a camera.  I have always been pretty closed with separating the real me from the gamer me… so it took quite a bit of courage to appear on camera like this.  I am always far more comfortable behind the scenes than being out front and animated.  What was cool about the show is that in essence they based this week on one of my blog posts.

It just happened to be where I was available to join in and chat about it.  While most of us only actually got through two different games on our list, we somehow managed to talk over an hour about them.  They have apparently extended an open invitation for me to participate more in the future, so I guess that means I did not completely make an ass of myself.  My office is a pit, and if I do this more often I think  I would want to rearrange things some… however that involves me cleaning and moving and not sure how likely that is to happen.  It was really enjoyable, and the other folks were great.  Was very much an odd end to an odd weekend.  I just wish that youtube would not have picked a thumbnail of me talking for the video.

Technically Alpha

I Need an Off Switch

There are times I absolutely hate that my wife can sleep through almost anything, and get to sleep so easily.  There is this thing she does that drives me insane, where right before sleep she winds up my brain by revealing some tidbit of knowledge that my mind takes the next hour and a half to digest before it allows me to go to sleep.  Over the week we have had a really sick cat, and are treating her for her hyperthyroidism with a cream that I have to rub into her ear twice daily.  She is getting better, but doing so very very slowly, so I had planned on calling the vet this morning to see if she needs to be seen again.  Moments before my wife went into her nightly coma, she dropped the bombshell that she is not sure that “Little Shit” has been peeing.

Not only did this wake me up, but I went into a full blown panic attack playing the “what if her kidneys are shutting down game”.  There was absolutely nothing I could do to calm down and I was up half the night literally… I finally laid down around 2:00 and drifted off to sleep about thirty minutes later when “little shit” decided to join us in bed.  Her constant purring I guess clamed me down, because she “seemed fine”.  This morning one crisis was adverted when I saw her pee in a place she isn’t supposed to, and another one started when she vomited and there were little red spots in the mixture that looked suspiciously like blood.  All the while I am envious of the fact that my wife can sleep on command, and I end up fighting incessantly to get the few hours a night I end up getting.  There was one night this week, that I thought was a “normal sleep” and my fitbit told me I had 32 periods of restlessness throughout the course of the evening.

Woah We’re Halfway There

I guess that is a bit misleading since dinging level 30 is by no means halfway to 60 effort wise… but it is at least numerically!  Once again I engaged in leveling my Night Elf Mage while hanging out with friends on mumble.  These are starting to feel a bit like impromptu podcasts, since we end up talking about the days gaming news and various sundry bits of geeky information.  We seem to talk about everything other than the game I happen to be playing at the moment I am streaming.  Originally my intent was to stream some Landmark last night, however the servers did not come back up until the wee hours in the morning.  I know this because I also streamed some of that during my panic attack state to try and calm the hell down.

All in all as much as I hate to admit it, I am starting to like playing a mage.  I am beginning to feel more useful in dungeons now that I have some semblance of an AOE in the form of Cone of Cold.  It is still not my preferred method of game play, but I am not absolutely disliking the experience of pushing this character to 60.  Yesterday the Godmother of Faff herself, @AlternativeChat posted about a new contest of sorts.  The idea is with all the boosting going on, to level your way to 90 proudly with purpose.  While I am fully in support of this notion, I am not sure if I qualify for it.

I currently have 6 90s, 2 85+, 2 70+, and my baby mage that my intent was to push to 60 and boost the rest of the way to 90.  I feel like I have experienced the leveling content in World of Warcraft more times than most players.  So I don’t really feel any shame in using my free boost to jump the character class I am least likely to play to the finish line.  However I do feel that most of the folks who have never had a 90, and are using their boost to get there are missing something in the process.  Some of the quests you have to struggle through along the way become a shared cultural experience.  As much as I hate the “poop” quests of Burning Crusade, I like that I did them and shared in the same frustration as other players.  Maybe that is an odd thing to say, but there are very few moments that all players have experienced.  Anyways… you should definitely check out the post that sparked this discussion.

Like There is No Tomorrow

Also on the docket of last nights streaming, I decided to take a break from the mage after dinging 30 and play some Wildstar.  In truth, once again I checked to see if the Landmark servers were back up yet… and since they were not, I opted to play the thing with the most current NDA drop.  I have to say there are certain aspects of the game that are growing on me.  The “soldier” archetype and the quests associated have definitely nailed my personal style of game play.  Namely… explore the world and kill everything that gets in my path.  Once again the “impromptu podcast” aspect of my streams continued as we discussed lots of gaming tidbits.  I have literally considered stripping the audio from these videos and stitch them together into a podcast.

This is what nights on mumble are usually like, as we discuss more than just what we happen to be playing at any given time.  I still am not really used to hearing my own voice yet, but I will get over that.  As far as Wildstar goes… I cover this in the video, but after this weekend the Beta is significantly changing.  Up until this point I have had essentially 24/7 access to the servers, and feel like I have generally squandered that by not playing.  Once this change occurs I am honestly not sure what kind of access I will have.  I know preordering gives you something, but I do not believe that we will keep fulltime access unless we have a 32+ character when the transition happens.  Additionally I think those players will be unable to progress past level 17.  The whole scenario is rather complicated, and I am not sure yet if I really grasp it.  As the thread says, the only sign of a successful compromise is that no one is happy.

No Sleep Til…  Landmark!

I had attempted to sleep for about thirty minutes, and then I realized that I was on the verge of going full blown panic attack… I opted to get up for a bit to try and calm myself with the dulcet tones of gaming.  Generally speaking in the past when I have needed to relax like this I would play Minecraft, and since Landmark is my new Minecraft…  I was thankful the servers were back online.  I figured while I was running around anyways, I might as well stream some of it.  I didn’t broadcast the fact I was doing so, because really I did not intend to be entertaining or talkative.  What the video does show however is the inside of my claim and my latest project… completely redoing the dungeon.  I have to admit at this point… it had been a few weeks since I had played Landmark.

Essentially I had gone high center on some of the crafting requirements.  In order for me to get better machines and better tools it involved absolutely silly amounts of Burled Wood farming.  For those of you who need a refresher, Burled Wood was a rare drop from almost any tree.  You originally needed 100 to make a single Burled Wood plank, and then most of these extremely high end crafting machines and tools required 50 or more of these planks.  This was one of the worst RNG grinds you could imagine.  I simply reached a point where I could not bring myself to chop down the number of trees that it would need to get the things crafted that I wanted crafted.

Thankfully in yesterdays patch they completely turned this mechanic up on end.  Now when chopping down trees they drop a single guaranteed “Heartwood” drop, with a rare chance of dropping more than one at a time.  These are now the items needed to craft machinery and tools, and Burled Wood has been relegated to a “lesser” and also more reliable drop crafting material off of certain trees.  What this means is if you need 27 Heartwood, you know that you will have to farm a maximum of 27 trees to craft that item.  Even if you need 90 Heartwood…  still having a fixed point that you have to farm is so much better than relying entirely on luck to get the drops you need to complete your projects.  Thank you so much for taking this one back to the drawing board.

Technically Alpha

Play 2014-03-14 00-40-29-95 Another very exciting thing happened yesterday…  I received an invite to the Heroes of the Storm technical alpha.  One of the more interesting tidbits about this, is that there is apparently no NDA.  We can blog about it, stream it… do whatever we want, with the caveat that we treat it like the alpha that it is.  I am perfectly fine with this notion because I have been looking forward to “HotS” as it is lovingly referred to… for some time.  Essentially Heroes seems to be set up to fix one of the problems I have with League of Legends.  I am all about team play, and when I am playing as a team I only really care about the end objective… our win.  When I play shooters I tend to be heavily objective and role based shooters that focus on the win condition and not individual player stats.

So much of the way game play works in League seems to be counter intuitive to playing as a team.  Progression is almost solely based on personal performance, not performance of the team.  One of the most frustrating mechanics I have experienced is that of “last hitting”, and this concept is entirely gone from Heroes of the Storm.  Granted I don’t have a lot of first hand experience with the game play… since I did not realize I even HAD access to the Alpha until about 1 am in the full force of my panic attack.  I think I made it about halfway through the tutorial before I made another futile attempt to sleep.  So far everything feels like I expect it to, and the tutorial character of Raynor was rather fun to play.  I look forward to cracking this open and experiencing the content for real over the weekend.  I hope to stream some of it, but with the last beta weekend going on in Elder Scrolls Online… not sure how much of that will actually happen.