Hex+Hearthstone: What should have been

December 5, 2014

Having just wrapped up an arena winning 7 games, my main thought for the last 3-4 games was “make it end”. I kept playing just because, but yea, not really fun. Mage deck that happened to pull 4 flamestrikes, zzzz but effective. Oh and the new cards are in the arena, and let me tell you, they are a HOOT with all the random BS they cause. A total hoot!

On the flip side was my experience with Hex. The intro tutorial had no sound. The default size of the chat window is so small its kind of a joke. The whole thing doesn’t feel as polished or solid as Hearthstone, and Hex is a PC game where Hearthstone is an ipad app.

On the other hand, even two games into the PvE series (campaign?), I’ve already made more interesting decisions and felt more in control of the game than 99% of Hearthstone games, and that’s using the intro deck which I’m pretty sure is designed to be really basic (though maybe not, see less polish issue above). I could see myself playing Hex for a long time, if once I get over the learning curve it overall ‘works’. Too early to say just yet, but so far so good.

Playing Hex actually made me realize just HOW dumbed down Hearthstone is. I mean I had a good idea of what a normal game of MtG plays like, but it’s been a few years since I’ve actually done it. Playing Hex reminded me just how many decision points during one full round Blizzard removed, to say nothing about the actual cards or other game systems.

Which highlights why I’m so hard on Hearthstone; there is no reason Blizzard couldn’t have gone with the design of Hex, and the polish of Hearthstone. Yes, I know Blizzard was hoping to capture the masses with this ‘casual’ app, but they failed. “The masses” isn’t a game in the top 50 for revenue, and out of the top 200 in terms of downloads when it has the Blizzard name and Warcraft IP behind it.

If Hearthstone was a massive success I wouldn’t be ranting about it, but rather would just accept that its a game not for me but clearly for a lot of others. But it isn’t. Maybe with future updates it might be, but right now it isn’t. And it could have been something far more interesting and successful. Old Blizzard would have delivered that. New Blizzard didn’t. Maybe they can’t.


Hearthstone: Wake up, roll dice, return to nap

December 4, 2014

If you’re like most people, well actually if you are like most people you aren’t playing Hearthstone. But if you are among the select few who found the game way, way down in the app store somehow, I’m sure by now you are really annoyed at the games biggest flaw; sometimes when you are awake-enough to notice what is happening, you are very, very occasionally forced to make a decision that might actually effect the outcome of the game. Super frustrating right? Give me dice or give me death! Player decisions and skill are for weirdos and such game never succeed to attract the masses! (please ignore the fact that many of the top games today are heavily skill based, please!)

But fear not fellow fans of Candyland, Blizzard is set to fix this horrible problem shortly! Check out all of the wonderful new cards coming. Now count up the number of times you see the word “random”. Or just stop after the count of 50, no need to spend half a day here. Awesome right?

Random weapon for BOTH players, random minion summoning, random damage cards being put into your deck, minions going back into your deck randomly, 50% chance to attack something randomly (this is a whole new monster skill line, which is almost too sad to mock. Almost), summon a random LEGENDARY monster, random skills to your minions, random random random…

I love that New Blizzard is trying to fix Hearthstone being a shallow, sleep-inducing title not by expanding the cards to add more depth, but by going in the exact opposite direction and just making even more things random and further removing the impact of player actions. I’m honestly surprised one of the cards isn’t “50% chance to reduce your opponent to zero health, 50% to reduce you to zero”. Oh what a fun silly goblin card that would be, wheee!

Can’t wait to watch the next world championship played out between two dice cups sitting at a table. Heavily leaning towards betting on the blue cup, his dice seem to have that ‘it’ factor.


The Settlers 2 – Lessons from the past

December 2, 2014

I’ve been playing The Settlers 2: Tenth Anniversary edition (via GoG.com) a good bit lately, and it’s been a nice reminder to what gaming was ‘back in the day’, mostly in a good way.

I won’t explain the basics of Settlers, but ultimately the core challenge comes down to managing traffic congestion; avoiding having any spot get too busy so as to cause a bottleneck. This is rather simplistic in the game as the only travel options are roads, and roads only have one auto-upgrade to a stone path that doubles the rate at which goods move from one point to the other. Everything else, from when to build something, finding resources, organizing buildings into logical groups, the entire military aspect; all of that ultimately boils down to how well the busiest part of your road network performs.

Yet that simplicity still leads to a lot of interesting decisions, and ultimately a fairly challenging game. Because each map is different, you can’t repeat the same building layout, so while general themes work (smithy near mines), you never get too comfortable and unexpected issues arise all the time. This however is only noticeable when the map challenges you, which is another critical factor in my current enjoyment; the game isn’t easy.

A challenging game basically forces you to improve, and one way to improve is to really understand the various game systems you are playing with. Without that challenge, you could fully complete a game and not pick up on some of the depth, and if that depth is critical to the overall ‘vision’ of the game, you won’t enjoy things nearly as much as you might/should.

On the other hand, having to fully restart a map in Settlers is a bit brutal, as a restart easily wipes away an hour or more of progress, and playing the same map again means you already know where a lot of resources are located and when you will encounter the enemy. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of gamers today would simply walk away from the game after the first failure, and leave with a negative view of the game. While this problem isn’t beyond solving using more modern design techniques (random maps, scaling difficulty, etc), the core issue of challenge vs frustration is interesting.

Ultimately I am pleasantly surprised to see how well the game’s core design has held up. More modern city builders have far more features, options, and tech-driven bells and whistles, yet few if any amount to the number of interesting player decisions and critical thinking that The Settlers requires from you. Certainly recommended, just make sure not to rage-quit when things get a little tough!


Reader vote: Wasteland 2 or Divinity?

December 1, 2014

Both are on sale right now for $26. If you could only pick one, which would it be?

(I’m going to own both at some point, but which one should I grab first to fill time until after Xmas?)


/taunt

November 28, 2014

Can’t use till after Christmas.

It whispers sweet nothings while I play

It whispers sweet nothings while I play

 

Not playing Total War: Rome 2, Farcry 4, FFXIV, and Endless Legends right now because I want to play them without a single hitch maxed out. Luckily The Settlers II – 10th Anniversary edition isn’t a demanding game, and a great reminder of what gaming was ‘back in the day’ (it gets brutally hard, but that’s a post for another day).


Burnout is a myth

November 25, 2014

When WoW was declining due to one crappy expansion after another featuring accessibility-inspired dumbing down, some people tried to write this off as not being about the content, but just due to ‘burnout’. They would have you believe that after 1, 2, or 4 years, people were just getting burned out on WoW and that’s why sub numbers were declining. The counter point the entire time was EVE, but now you can toss WoW itself into the mix.

Related is this recent info about Payday 2. The highest activity in the game, which is now more than a year old, just occurred this October. Perhaps FPS gamers are just immune to burnout? Or maybe its because the content that is constantly added to Payday 2 is fantastic. Deathwish difficulty raised the bar and gave even the most experienced players a real challenge (or for most people, an unreachable/impossible tier, which sounds vaguely familiar to something else…), the mix of paid DLC and free updates have been solid and steady, and the game today doesn’t just have more ‘stuff’, but it has more stuff that fits and actually expanded all of the original content, rather than replace it (now where have I heard about that approach working long-term…).

LoL (4 years+, peak numbers), CoC (2 years+, top grossing app today (oddly Hearthstone didn’t show up in the top 150 for either downloads or revenue, wonder why)), DoTA2 (crazy growth this year), etc etc etc. I think you get the point.

If a game is great and keeping being great, while giving you more of that greatness, you don’t get burned out. If a game stagnates, or especially if it gets worse (hi Trion), people leave because of that, not burnout.


Someone make this: Necromunda

November 24, 2014

So when Mordheim was announced/posted on Steam, I mentioned how I’ve been mulling over the idea of a Necromunda game. Much like the PvE sandbox posts (though far shorter), here goes.

All of the game rules, setting, and characters would come directly from Necromunda itself. None of this ‘inspired by’ stuff, just straight up copy/paste like Bloodbowl. The beauty of this is you are taking something that is not only already established, but well balanced and proven to be fun, and just bringing it out of the basement and into the modern age by taking advantage of things like computers and the internet.

The gameplay would feel like a slightly more tactical version of something like XCOM, with games ;asting about an hour. Turn-based, visual indicators for things like cover or hit percentage, and then let the game handle all of the dice rolls and rules.

Outside of playing a scenario, the game would be an online lobby where you could make changes to your gang, review the current status of your base, territories, and equipment, and do other lobby stuff like chat and see if your friends are online.

Game options would include free form mode (no permanence or carryover, just pick what you want and go at it), practice (use your current gang, but not have the result count or XP carry over), and campaign mode, where you would face off against others in your ‘city’, gain XP, and basically play the long-term game that is Necromunda. These campaigns could be public or private, just like Bloodbowl handles them.

The business model would be the LoL F2P model, as that continues to be the absolute best version of F2P by a mile. The core game (say 5 gangs) would be free. Additional gangs could be purchased for either real money or currency you earn by playing (note that this isn’t the currency you would use to buy gear and new gang members). New gangs would be released every two months or so. Additionally, real money only options would include skins for weapons, characters, and base fluff. You could also sell new fluff animation and sound packs.

I would not expect this to be a AAA mega-seller given that it’s both turn-based and rather deep/difficult, but given the business model I think it could be a steady revenue generator thanks to a dedicated, loyal core. If it was pulled off and supported well, it has solid growth potential. Plus given the current game engines that exist, the development cost wouldn’t be anything crazy either. You wouldn’t need cutting-edge graphics, just something similar to XCOM or even Bloodbowl; so long as what is on screen does a good job of representing what is happening, that’s all that matters.

Fairly simple, using an old IP I don’t think GamesWorkshop even remembers anymore, that could provide some fun niche gaming. Someone please make this, thanks.

 

Edit: Just did a quick search and I’ve posted something very similar here before, in 2011.


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