Wasteland 2 isn’t doing it for me

March 11, 2015

I picked up Wasteland 2 on a recent Steam sale, and I honestly can’t get into it, which is surprising and has me taking a step back and wondering what I want in a game these days.

I should like Wasteland 2. It’s an RPG, it has turn-based combat, and it’s a throwback to games like Fallout 1 and 2, and in some ways Baldur’s Gate. To make things even more complicated, I don’t hate the game. I can see the appeal, and sometimes it has its moment, but I feel like I’m working way too hard to get to those moments, and even when I do, half the time they don’t seem worth the effort.

Graphically the game is decent, but just that. The character models I’d say are below average, especially your player characters. Character creation immediately makes this painful, as you can select different faces but they all look like the same blurry mess. That’s not a huge deal, really none of the issues with the game are, but it’s a negative. The character models combined with the camera view also result in some encounters feeling too similar, as it’s difficult for any one character to stand out and really have a personality based on how they look. I’m also not a fan of the portrait art, but that is purely subjective.

The landscapes do look good, but become their own challenge when you spend a lot of your time playing “find the pixel” to spot a hidden safe or box. The overworld map is, honestly, horrible. Your party is a badge icon moving across a map that would have looked bad in 1995. The big problem with that map is every time you finish an area, you are reminded that you are a traveling badge on an ugly blur. It’s jarring and really kills what immersion you had going. I get that budgets are small, but damn.

The UI is another problematic area. A lot of the game is clicking something (safe, door, person) with the right skill (hacking, lockpick, etc), but in order to do that you must not only have the correct part member selected, but then also click that skill from the hotbar before clicking on whatever object you are interacting with. If this was only required a few times per map, no big deal, but as you have to repeat it over, and over, and over again, it quickly becomes a huge drain and motivation killer.

Combat is fine, but again nothing has jumped out at me as being awesome. I haven’t had a fight yet that felt like a tactical victory; everything so far has just been a slugfest where hopefully the dice are in my favor and things die. Much like the UI complaint, if combat was less of a factor, this again wouldn’t be a major problem, but the game is so combat heavy, it should be a highlight rather than something to get past to move things along.

So far the story has been above average, but it’s not blow-me-away quality to make everything else really worth plowing through. Some parts have been more interesting than others, but to make an unfair comparison, in Skyrim 90% of the content was great, with maybe 10% feeling meh or generic. In Wasteland I’d say 50% of all quest text has been pretty generic, and while that other 50% has my attention, it doesn’t grab it enough to justify more click-character->click-lockpick->click-box gameplay.

Maybe things get better? I’ve only just completed the two areas you are sent to put the repeater units down (went Ag Center), and I think I’m going to try and press on, but for a game that I thought I would really, really enjoy, so far Wasteland 2 has been somewhat disappointing.


Trolls aren’t always people either!

March 4, 2015

Theme day on the blog!

Somewhat random, but this video is a good glimpse into the winter we are having here in Mass. I post this from my office as the bedroom above me is not-so-slowly turning into a waterpark, and I have icicles over twenty feet tall and close to a foot thick hanging from basically every part of the roof. Let’s not talk too much about the weird yellowish ‘water’ pooling in the basement either.

The home insurance guy I talked to sounded like he was one call away from jumping out of a very tall window (and not into a fluffy snow bank), and I can’t blame him. Credit where it’s due, he gave me all the info I needed and basically said they cover everything related to this mess, so that was good.

But hey, at least I’m not selling hotbars for a living, so it’s not that bad.

:off to rotate bucks and play “what’s leaking now”:

 


Great interview about indie gaming

February 18, 2015

VentureBeat has an excellent interview with Jeff Vogel, the creator of Avernum and other indie RPG games. Very much worth your time.

H/t to Armagon for the link


Quick thought about the next Fallout game

February 16, 2015

The next Fallout game from Bethesda will hopefully be a two-to-five hour, linear, on-rails ‘aim for you’ shooter with a bit of story, but most of the story will be comic relief rather than a more series take on a post-apocalyptic world.

Wait Blizzard isn’t making the next Fallout? It’s still Bethesda so I don’t have to massively lower my expectation and will still likely get a game that reflects previous quality deliveries from the studio? Sweet.


As has been said and proven countless times, niche MMOs work

February 14, 2015

I’ve bagged a lot on Mortal Online in the past, mostly because at launch it was a trainwreck. Amazingly this was sometime just after the release of Darkfall 1. Since that time DF1 closed to make room for DF:UW, and then Aventurine decided having a slowly increasing population was bad and removed classes and tanked DF:UW, all while Mortal Online has kept on going and improving/expanding.

I somewhat recently played the game a bit, and while still not my cup of tea, its a solid MMO that knows what it’s focus is (clan-based open-world PvP, crafting-focused economy) and doesn’t try to do too much. Per MassivelyOP, the CEO recently posted that the game has ‘a few thousand’ subs, that the total is slowly increasing, and that a bigger increase is expected when the next free expansion hits.

All of that is good stuff, both for MO players and for everyone else tired of ‘AAA’ MMOs that end up being FFF MMOs when it comes to the stuff that should really matter in the genre (community, long-term engagement, a greater sense of purpose and world). And like a few other titles, MO is another nice example that you can be successful without having to change what you do, even if ‘what you do’ is only for a few thousand players at a time. MO is also a good example of a game with a rough start, that must have been seriously hurting in terms of population, but where the devs stuck with it and eventually dug themselves out.

The MMO genre can both be extremely harsh and also extremely forgiving. If you deliver something that doesn’t have legs, no amount of polish or sizzle will save you. If you appeal to an under-appreciated group and don’t sell them out, all while improving and fixing your mistakes, you will be rewarded eventually. It’s kinda nice that things work like that sometimes, although unfortunately not often enough just yet.

 


Hearthstone is Blizzard’s first non-hit, that’s important

February 11, 2015

Let’s keep talking about Hearthstone, if only because talking about it is way, way more fun than playing the game, and because HS is IMO a perfect example of New Blizzard in a nutshell and perhaps a good indicator of things to come.

Latest post from Az can be found here, where he admits that HS made $5m or so in revenue. Respect for that. Also if a game has an interface designed for one gaming platform, and said interface is constrained for other platforms, that’s a port Az. HS being as awkward with its UI on the PC is because the game was designed as a mobile app, as Blizzard continues to remind us. That it’s mostly failed as a mobile app (unless we consider a AAA developer hanging out in the 50s in revenue as success now, but more on that later) and instead somehow has a decent monkey following on PC doesn’t suddenly make the game a for-PC designed title, sorry.

“But Syn, HS is like really, really popular on twitch, with some people even getting like, a few thousand views! It must be making a truckload!”

Yes, because twitch views = money, as we can clearly see by WoW being a fraction of HS on Twitch. Guess that drop in subs must be like a 99% drop if the oracle that is twitch is to be believed. Who needs dodgy financial reports; the famewhores and their sheep can’t be wrong!

(Since calling them famewhores seems to confuse people; the term is a play on the more common term ‘instawhores’, the ‘models’ who will do basically anything for a ‘like’ or ‘follow’ on Instagram or beg for attention on other social media platforms. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with that, how new to the Internet are you? Anyway, some (not all, relax) of these streamers are little different, taking every opportunity and basically doing anything for attention, no matter how much personal respect and dignity has to be sacrificed for said ‘like’. If you are entertained by that in a non-mocking way, we likely wouldn’t be friends in RL.)

Jokes and stupidity aside, and now that we have confirmed that, while profitable, HS is a little footnote amongst such giants as WoW, Destiny, CoD, Skylanders, and… well basically everything not called HS over at Activision, let’s talk why someone like Az and others still sees this as a major victory for Blizzard.

Blizzard, at least prior to HS, wasn’t a studio known for making ‘me-too’ products. They weren’t the studio putting out flawed, poorly designed titles that were barely a blip on the gaming radar. When Blizzard made an RTS (Warcraft, StarCraft), those games defined that genre and became the standard. When Blizzard made an action-RPG (Diablo), that series become the standard, with everyone else making Diablo-clones. When Blizzard made an MMO, well we all know that to many the MMO genre is WoW.

So why, just given the above, is a Blizzard release that has failed in its intended market (mobile) basically given a pass or even seen as a great thing? Why is it crazy to say a Blizzard mobile game SHOULD be competing with other top mobile games? Let’s look at this this way; bigger barrier of entry and harder hill to climb, the MMO genre back in 2002 with EQ1 being the top title, or 2015 with CoC? It’s not even close, and remember back in 2002 everyone though the 500k subs mark was THE top a title could achieve in the ‘niche’ market that was the MMO genre, so don’t bring up how dominant and mainstream CoC is today; for all we know in 2020, 2014 CoC will look just as dominant as EQ1 did back in its prime. The point being, a major AAA developer like Blizzard not only can, but absolutely SHOULD be making a top-tier mobile game (imagine how great it would have been to get a real Blizzard-quality mobile game? I’d love to play that!), not something lost amongst the dregs of the app store.

Again, prior to HS, every other Blizzard release not only competed with the top titles in those genres, they generally dominated and set a new standard. HS is the ONLY title released by Blizzard to not only fail to live up to that standard, but not even come remotely close.

That high Blizzard standard and track record of delivery has value too, a great deal in fact. How many people bought the originally flawed Diablo 3 because it was a Blizzard game? How many people might not insta-buy the next Blizzard title after that experience? How many people played HS and had the perception of “everything Blizzard makes is awesome” shattered? So yes, HS itself is profitable (mostly based on the likely fact it cost next-to-nothing to produce and had free advertising due to being on battle.net, but hey, details), but how much brand damage has the title caused by being a below-average-at-best title?

Moving past HS itself, what does the delivery of HS hint at for Blizzard’s next title, Heroes of the Storm, which is already not exactly blowing down doors as the next big thing? Is HotS going to be called a success by some if it has to fight tooth and nail with some random minor game for the coveted 4th or 5th spot in the MOBA genre, accomplishing a tiny fraction of the success LoL see’s, much like HS is today compared to CoC? Is that what New Blizzard is now, just another Ubisoft or any other second/third tier studio putting out something we maybe pick up for a few weeks before moving on and forgetting them entirely? If so, that’s a huge, huge drop from what Blizzard was in the past, and sooner rather than later Blizzard titles won’t automatically attract attention based on the studios previous track record.

And that, ultimately, is the real story of interest related to HS. The game itself, other than getting a chuckle at some of its sillier aspects (famewhores, world championship of dice rolls), isn’t all that important. It’s a footnote. But the low expectations for the game (at least from the outside by people like Az, as I’m not sure Blizzard is thrilled to have launched a mobile game that isn’t moving the needle in the mobile space, and is just a marginal success overall) and being the first non-hit title for Blizzard, is in my opinion a significant event and worth discussing.


The little tent-pole that could, and the little blogger that couldn’t

February 10, 2015

Because some people are getting a little too excited over next-to-nothing, lets actually look at everything said recently from everyone’s favorite video-game producer.

“Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the #1 release of the year and the franchise’s cumulative revenue is now over $11 billion. Destiny was the #3 new release of the year and attracted over 16 million registered users. Skylanders, with over 240 million toys sold life to date was, again, the #1 kids console game. World of Warcraft reached over 10 million subscribers and remains the #1 subscription-based MMORPG in the world. Diablo III is the #1 PC role-playing game of the year; and Hearthstone, which is named Game of the Year, has already attracted more than 25 million registered players.”

Quick, which one of the above numbers isn’t directly linked to generating money?

“Destiny and Blizzard’s Hearthstone. Combined, they attracted over 40 million registered players worldwide and generated more than $850 million in non-GAAP revenue”

Why are we grouping the 3rd biggest release of the year with a title that struggles to stay in the top 200 of app downloads? Why o why… (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to that 850m number later, but spoiler alert: nope)

“Blizzard generated record avenues and near-record operating income. The year was driven by Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, both of which generated significant revenues and income that will not have comparable releases this year. In addition, we expect WoW subs to decline as we have seen historically in the year following the release of a large-scale expansion.”

So wait, a title sometimes in the top 40 in app revenue wasn’t a driver of record revenue? What, we couldn’t lump it in here somehow? Why do we exclude Hearthstone when we start talking about significant revenues? (Props to Blizzard for realizing WoW subs will drop (have already?). Maybe release content that holds up to avoid that? I heard Old Blizzard was able to do that, maybe ask them how they did it during vanilla/TBC times?)

“Turning to our quarterly outlook. In 2015, we expect a lighter first half of the year as compared to last year as we don’t have a comparable launch to the high-margin Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, and we only expect modest contributions from Call of Duty Online and Heroes of the Storm, as I mentioned earlier.”

Wait a minute, but what about your new tent-pole Hearthstone? It’s still ‘growing’! And it wasn’t as big a factor in Q1 2014, so Q1 2015 should be awesome right? Right…? Hello?

Actual numbers talk below:

“(CoD)Advanced Warfare the #1 console game globally, which has delivered well over $1 billion in sell-through, and far and away the #1 title worldwide on next-gen platforms.”

“Destiny now has over 16 million registered users with a massive audience of active players still averaging over 3 hours of game play per day, a figure that has stayed remarkably stable since launch. Destiny also performed the rarely seen console gaming feat of growing active players from November to December, driven by the release of the new expansion pack, the Dark Below. And it was the #1 played game in North America on a PS4 in December.“

“On to our third tent-pole franchise, Skylanders. As of today, life-to-date retail sales for Skylanders has exceeded $3 billion. And in 2014, Skylanders outsold all action figure lines and was the #1 kid console game globally for the fourth year in a row, and as a franchise, outperformed its nearest competitor by 30%.“

One of these tent-poles is not like the other

Strange isn’t it, that they give us numbers like player activity for Destiny, or actual sales numbers for Skylanders, or game sales rankings for CoD. Wonder why they didn’t just group them all together, or only provide how many free accounts were created. What, was the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook for each title not a number worth mentioning? Are dollar figures really that important on an earnings call?

“Hearthstone was released first on Windows and Mac and later on iPad and Android tablets, bringing Blizzard into the mobile space for the first time.”

And not just bringing Blizzard into the mobile space, but damn near cracking the top 200 downloads chart at that. Take that “Random shitting slot machine app” at number 201, Blizzard is here to ‘dominate’ the mobile space with its very own graphic dice simulator!

“All this activity helped drive Hearthstone’s highest monthly active players ever in December as well as our highest revenue quarter-to-date for Hearthstone”

Ah final, here come the real numbers…

“Registered players for the game have now reached over 25 million, capping off a spectacular start for Hearthstone. It’s gratifying for us to see how the global Blizzard community has responded to our first foray into a new genre as well as the free-to-play market and gaming on tablets. We’ll keep working hard to build on last year’s momentum with more content in 2015 as well as the upcoming Android phone and iPhone versions of the game.”

And…. that’s it?

Just “keep working hard”?

The big take away number is that a free process that takes maybe a couple of minutes was completed 25m times to date. That’s the only concrete number in this entire report about Hearthstone; the number of free accounts created. What, was Turbine unavailable to provide number of cards draw or something equally meaningless?

Why can’t I get Destiny-like activity numbers, or Skylander-like sales numbers? Why isn’t Blizzard telling us that Hearthstone is the #1 mobile app? The #10 mobile app? What, is stating you are maybe sometimes a top 50 revenue app not a good look for a Warcraft IP, Blizzard-backed, WoW-boosted new app? Do investors not want to hear that?

The only somewhat concrete and significant line about Hearthstone is here:

“We created 2 new tent-pole franchises with Destiny and Hearthstone that are profitable right out of the gate. Destiny and Hearthstone also have great comp and pipelines that we expect to contribute to our results every year in a significant way.”

Destiny coattails aside, Hearthstone is profitable, so it has that going for it. Who would have imagined using existing WoW art to lower the development costs of your dice simulator and cashing in on your very popular IP would result in quick, not-going-to-give-a-number profits. Really shocking. It’s almost like any low-cost turd (the game runs like a dog on the ipad, which is impressive considering there is almost nothing going on graphically OR in terms of data being sent compared to most other multiplayer apps) put out by Blizzard that had WoW behind it and cost a few bucks to make would have been a quick small success, huh?

I wonder if the tent-pole line was a little dig from Activision to Blizzard. Like one side launched Destiny, while the other launched Hearthstone, which is sorta like coming up to a new Ferrari owner and telling him how awesome your new Kia is. I can just imagine someone from Activision patted the intern doing the copy/paste work for Hearthstone on the head and handing him a celebratory lollipop. “Great work nerfing gravedigger kid, can’t wait to see what huge update you deliver next month!”

Good try, good effort?

PS: How about Brian J. Pitz just bringing the heat during the Q&A?

“Brian J. Pitz – Jefferies LLC, Research Division

Our question on Hearthstone monetization. The game is already a big hit. We continue to be impressed with the size of Twitch audiences, suggesting basically off-the-charts engagement.”

Think Brian realizes its one fame-whore on Twitch who streams 24/7 that makes up 80% of those Hearthstone views? (Which I just checked, are now 1/3rd of LoL, and yes, the one-fame whore is streaming.) Better keep that guy on the payroll Blizzard or that “off-the-charts” engagement might go down, and we just can’t have that now can we?

PPS: Dear Az, you might want to rethink that indicative reasoning math there bud. I mean sure, maybe every single dollar collected by Destiny was on the first day, and it was just zeroes after that right, but somehow I just kinda doubt it.

I believe we call that kind of next-level analysis”when Hearthstone players do math”, and it’s about as entertaining as rolling graphical dice to determine a world champion. To the unstable portal everyone!


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