Mordheim is coming!

November 21, 2014

I am interested in this.

Two immediate thoughts; one is that I love the grid-less turn-based system. Assuming its pulled off correctly it should fit Mordheim perfectly. Two, the game looks slow as hell based on the videos, which I’m 100% ok with. At a time where games need to be over in 5 minutes, it will be nice to have something that takes a little longer (assuming of course the extra time results in depth, not just animation watching).

Still sad that we don’t have a Necromunda game though. I need to write up how I’d make that game, business model and all, as I’ve had it planned out for some time and in my head the whole thing remains brilliant.


Hearthstone: This kiddie pool sure has a lot of leaks

November 18, 2014

More observations as I roll my face across the iPad ‘playing’ Hearthstone:

Just like MtG (or basically most card games of this type), Hearthstone is a major Pay-4-Power game. Epic and Legendary cards are silly strong, and as soon as you see someone drop a few on you in a game, you might as well take your participation trophy and move on (unless of course you also have a stacked deck). The fact that you can’t trade cards further pushed Hearthstone into a wallet-warrior game, because smart trading can’t help you catch up; only grinding or cash.

Speaking of participation trophies, Hearthstone has a few major design flaws in its setup. For one, having a bot automate conceding ranked games for you is amazingly effective. You still get XP for your ‘effort’, and you don’t lose anything. Plus, should you run across another concede bot who goes first (roughly 1 in 5-6 games for me currently), you get a free win to grind towards the gold card/character rewards and the 3-win 10 gold reward.

The whole ranked setup is also a bit of a joke. The only reward is at rank 20, and you can’t drop below rank 20 once you get to it. Also you can’t lose progress while working towards rank 20, so that auto-concede bot will eventually (surprisingly quickly) get you to rank 20. At rank 20 things are an expected mess. Concede bot farmers aside, you will also run into a whole bunch of ‘smurf’ decks just looking to smash people, again because Blizzard designed the system to not only allow, but actually made it incredibly easy for them to sit at that level. Safe to say a solid 50% or so of ranked games aren’t competitive (generously calling any relatively even deck game of Hearthstone competition here).

The game is perfect for ‘playing’ while you do something more interesting, because during your opponents turn whether you are looking at the screen or not doesn’t matter; you can’t do anything anyway. On the surface this is just boring while you wait with nothing to do, but go a bit below the surface and this is actually a major, major removal of interesting decisions and strategy.

In MtG you had to always be aware of the status of your opponent. How many cards they have, how much untapped land they have, how much land could they potentially need to use during your attack phase based on the creatures they have out, etc. None of this exists in Hearthstone.

If it’s your turn, whether someone ends their turn with 10 crystals or 0 doesn’t matter. Whether someone has 10 cards in hand or 0 doesn’t matter (overdrawing aside). They can’t have tapped or untapped creatures. There is no regen they need to pay for. No creature abilities they need to pay for. So many tactical player decisions are gone. Not your turn in Hearthstone? Nap time!

Regeneration is one creature ability completely missing currently, as is its counter bury. Flying is another, as is landwalk (landwalk would be impossible since Hearthstone only has one type, not five like in MtG), so is first strike. So are any player-active abilities beyond on-summon stuff. The game does have a whole bunch of dice roll abilities; such as one creature who randomly deals 3 damage to anyone; friend or foe. Sure you can attempt to limit the randomness by having fewer potential targets, but that critical creature you need killed who has one hitpoint might still be standing if Hearthstone randomizes the card not in your favor and decides the damage is all going to go to heroes rather than that card. Super fun when that happens, and a silly amount of cards are designed with such randomization.

Then there are just more general problems. For instance, there are a TON of board-clear cards/combos. A ridiculous amount honestly. On top of this there are even more single-removal cards, and of course none of this can really be countered since when it’s not your turn, you just sit and spin until it is. Imagine if every deck in MtG had 10 copies of Swords to Plowshares (but without the healing aspect, and the card destroying everything) and you get a decent idea of what I mean.

This leads to basically only playing enough cards to gain board advantage, but not ‘too many’ to lose card advantage when the inevitable board-clear happens. Game after game this is the pattern, and because Hearthstone has so few real patterns, it’s just boring. Arena is again a bit better, but only slightly so, and Arena is (or should be, anyway) like the ARAM to the real meat of ranked/SR, to bring this into LoL terms. Imagine if ARAM was the only interesting/balanced version of LoL? That’s Hearthstone in a nutshell, except if you removed 99% of the needed ability from actually playing ARAM and gave every hero a 1m damage Karth ult on a 30sec cooldown.

It really is not only a shockingly shallow game, but a basically flawed game as well, not just by Old Blizzard standards, but just general game design standards. If this was an SOE or EA product, it would still be a sub-par effort from those studios. For Old Blizzard? This is Ghost/Warcraft Adventures, only released instead of rightly aborted.

 


Hearthstone: New Blizzard vs Old Blizzard

November 13, 2014

TL:DR – Hearthstone is the perfect example of New Blizzard, and the perfect example of why I miss Old Blizzard so much.

It’s still Blizzard, so they still have the whole polish thing going. For a great example of this, open up Trion’s Glyph, then open up Blizzard’s Battle.net. They both do the same thing (try to be Steam), but it’s immediately obvious that one is well-crafted while the other is a clownshow.

Hearthstone has that polish. As a mobile game its well done and ‘works’ as you would expect a game to work. It has a ton of nice touches like bringing back classic Warcraft sound bites and themes, and there is just well-executed detail all over the place. The PC port of Hearthstone isn’t bad, but it’s bare-bones and very minimal; it’s very clear Hearthstone is intended to be a mobile game that also happens to run on your PC.

Hearthstone also has Blizzard’s easy of entry design. It gets you in and playing quickly, and ramps you up well. This again is critical in the mobile space given the amount of competition, and the expected patience/time the average player will have.

Where New Blizzard steps in is the depth and longevity aspects. Hearthstone is a very, very dumbed down version of Magic the Gathering. The number of difficult decisions you need to make in an average game is rather minimal (a scary number of games don’t even require one), and even deck building is heavily neutered compared to MtG.

For example, in MtG you have colors, which Hearthstone replaces with classes. Only classes lock you into one set of cards. No mixing. You then fill out the rest of your deck from a ‘open to everyone’ stack. This alone cuts heavily into deck building, and ultimately deck variety and strategy.

Another example; deck size is 30 cards with a max of two of the same card (one for legendary super-power cards). MtG (perhaps back in the day, its been a while) had a deck limit of 60, with a max of four of the same card (max 2 for certain cards in tourney format). On the surface this might look like it comes out to the same thing, yet it’s not. Plenty of decks benefited by having just one copy of a card, but still using that max of 60 as an advantage. All of those decisions are gone in Hearthstone.

The fact that you can’t trade cards in Hearthstone is a giant removal of ‘gameplay’, and it’s replacement (crafting) is a math-tax test of idiocy.

There are likely hundreds of other examples, but at the end of the day Hearthstone is just a much simpler, much easier card game, and that poor and short-sighted design kills its longevity as mastery comes rather quickly.

Now some might argue that because Hearthstone is a mobile game, it has to be simple and shallow. “That’s what works in mobile SynCaine!”. Except that’s not actually true. The most popular and profitable mobile game out (for years now) is Clash of Clans. CoC has Blizzard-level polish and easy of entry, but it also has Old Blizzard design in terms of depth. If you want to just pick the game up and derp around, you can do that. If you want to dive into the deep end, the game has one. Hearthstone doesn’t, as was made embarrassingly clear at the world championships.

If we move past Hearthstone and look big-picture, since when is Blizzard the studio that produces middle-of-the-road titles? Because that’s exactly what Hearthstone is; it’s a good-enough mobile game, but it looks like an SOE product compared to top mobile games like CoC. Heroes of the Storm, the upcoming MOBA title, sounds like a good-enough game that again won’t really compare/compete with League of Legends (another game with Old Blizzard levels of quality/design). Overwatch turnout out to be a good-enough TF2 clone won’t be a surprise. WoW going from vanilla/TBC to Cata/MoP? Old Blizzard vs New, and the sub numbers reflect that.

For whatever reason (talent drain, resting on past success, the Activision merger) Blizzard isn’t the company putting out instant classics like Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo 1-2 anymore. Instead we have been getting decent/meh titles and WoW updates, which is what’s most disappointing. I miss Old Blizzard.


I’m officially back in WoW!

November 10, 2014

Little note: If you are going to smash your face into the keyboard over and over again in blind rage, at some point you need to move past believing in clickbait and actually answer why financial numbers submitted to regulatory authorities don’t line up with what you want to believe. The conversation is cute in that ‘debate on the internet’ kind of way, but once it reaches “because that’s god’s will” logic, I’m out.

Speaking of Blizzard, and recent surprises from customer service following my Comcast interaction, over the weekend I reached out to them to get my ancient Battle.net account back (rolling my face across Hearthstone as we speak, and we seriously need a new term than dumbed down, because yikes!). The account is so old WoW was never linked to it, and I went into the whole thing 50/50, part of me thinking the account with the associated email was lost forever.

My first attempt was through email, but that ticket was rather quickly closed with the advice to do this over the phone. Bad start, but on some level it made sense, plus filling out a form with your phone number isn’t all that painful; it’s not like you are sitting on hold waiting.

In the 15-20 minute estimate that was given, someone called me. They spoke English and sounded human, so we were already off to a very promising start. After some basic info was provided, the agent found my old Battle.net account. Success. He then tracked down my long-since hacked WoW account to link together. The funny thing about that? Even though the account was hacked and linked to some random Battle.net account, it wasn’t looted since I didn’t have enough ‘stuff’ for the hacker to bother adding time to loot it. WoW inflation helping me out, who knew. As a final nice (I think?) gesture, my old WoW account has 15 days on it, so I can check out all the recent (since TBC) changes. I guess I should?

By contrast, my ticket with SquareEnix for my FFXIV account still sitting in limbo days later. (I recently reformatted, tried to reinstall FFXIV, used the Steam key, and the game says the Steam key has already been used (by me, duh) Any ideas?).


We finally know why Titan was cancelled

November 7, 2014

Answer? Because it was looking like this little derped-up TF2 clone. Let the “but how dumbed down is it?” speculation start now.

Silly Blizzard interns, get it together already will you? Or is what’s left of real Blizzard working on Warcraft 4? Because if that’s the answer, I’m OK with letting the kids put stuff like Overwatch and HotS together between snacks and nap time.


Games I’m playing these days

November 4, 2014

Little roundup of what I’ve been playing recently, because this is info you need to know.

Clash of Clans: “Supreme Cream!” has hit 50 clan member, although a few are alts as we are holding two spots for former members taking a break. Wars have been interesting and really fun, though we haven’t had a real nail-bitter in a while. We got smashed by a clan with way more TH9s and 10s during a recent war, but otherwise we have been rolling everyone rather consistently. Good times. I’m at TH9 now working on upgrades, and really enjoying the added depth at this level. Very much looking forward to TH10, although that’s still a few months off at my current farming pace.

Payday 2: Started playing this little gem again recently and loving it. All of the new additions are great, and the devs (Overkill) do a really good job of mixing free content updates with new DLC releases. Currently my favorite loadout is a heavy with two shotguns, as the new weapon and ammo options give you more flexibility while still retaining that ‘shotgun’ feel.

Civ:BE : The more I play the more I’m thinking that this game would be a blast multiplayer, but I haven’t been able to line that up just yet. Coming off the wealth of options and systems in Civ V with all expansions/dlc, Civ:BE does feel a bit too limited to play single player over and over again. Still worth the cost to play a few rounds IMO.

Endless Legend: I’m enjoying this one more than I expected, but its on the back burner right now as I do run into some slowdown on larger maps, something I expect the new machine (Xmas gift) to solve. Another title I think would absolutely shine with a second player in the game.

LoL: Season 4 has just about come to an end, and I’ll finish it in platinum in the solo queue. Watching the world championships on a big screen TV in the living room with the wife thanks to a wireless bluray player was pretty great. Speaking of Aria, she is going to finish solo queue in Gold, meaning we both moved up a tier since Season 3. Doubt I’m going to hit diamond in season 5, but you never know.

FFXIV: Subbed but not playing due to time constraints. Expecting us to get back into this in a big way after Xmas when we have two machines capable of running it maxed out. Been somewhat keeping up with the news on this game, and the new additions of late sound good.

EVE: EVE Offline’ing my main. 40 day skills never felt so easy.


So dumbed down its just dumb

November 3, 2014

There is a good post and fun comments thread over at K&G about Blizzard’s upcoming League of Legend’s clone (get it), Heroes of the Storm.

Here is Keen’s basic statement of the game:

Heroes of the Storm is, essentially, a dumbed down version of other mobas at least where mechanics are concerned. There isn’t last hitting or denying. There are no items. Experience is shared across your entire team. Everything is super basic, but remarkably it works.

My initial reaction to reading this is “so what exactly do you do?”. Obviously you fight the other team, but the above sounds like an extremely simplified version of LoL’s ARAM game, which itself is already a really, really dumbed down version of LoL you fire up to kill some time, but if it was the main game, I’d have quit LoL years ago. Go even further and remove items from that equation and yikes, wtf are we even doing here?

But that’s not the real point here; the real question/speculation is how well will HotS ultimately do. LoL is, by a wide margin, the most popular game out right now (outside of Asia, because :Asia:), and DoTA2, while only being a 1/3rd of what LoL is, still ranks in the top 5. Blizzard being Blizzard clearly wants a piece of that pie and has fired up the cloning factory, but what slice are they aiming at is the current debate.

Blizzard cloned EQ1 to make WoW, they were taking a successful niche product and smoothing out the rough edges to make something that would appeal to more people, but the key here is they were starting with something that was complex and difficult to get into, with design flaws begging to be fixed. LoL is the WoW to DoTA1’s EQ1. A dumbed down WoW is Farmville, and once Zynga was forced to stop their shady/illegal practices, they went poof. HotS sounds like the Farmville of MOBAs, and that’s not a good thing IMO.

As I said over at K&G, Blizzard could get 10m+ free accounts out of people if they produced a grass growing simulator. But 10m active players is a blip on the LoL radar, especially if that 10m doesn’t stick around for years and years. A lot of LoL’s success is not only that Riot made DoTA1 easier to get into and fixed a lot of the core issues (no hyper-carry, very limited snowballing), but that they retained the depth and growth potential that kept people playing DoTA1 for so long. Combined with the best implementation of F2P going, along with top-tier talent that continues to improve, and the result is an industry juggernaut.

2014 Blizzard isn’t the Blizzard that made Diablo 2 or even vanilla WoW. 2014 Blizzard is the studio that released Cata/MoP and Diablo 3. To say they have lost some talent is a rather large understatement, and now they are going to compete not with SOE and EQ2 (lulz), but Riot/Valve and LoL/DOTA2. It will be interesting to see what ultimately becomes of HotS, but I’m betting the under.


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