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.


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.


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.


Who hasn’t wanted to kill someone over a balance change?

October 16, 2014

Oh Gamergate, why are you so entertainingly funny? The fact that comments aren’t enabled on that story is a crime, because the CNN comments section makes the Massively comments section look like a Mensa meeting.

I’m not going to fully dive into this little media-created bruhaha because lets be honest, it’s really a story about nothing. Someone getting death threats because they did something someone else didn’t like on the internet? Yea that’s never happened before. An entire group being labeled by another group based on a few outliers that people run with? Are talking about the perception of PvP MMOs again? This is a debate about the SNES vs Genesis, right?

I think my favorite part though is this idea that ‘core gamers’ don’t matter anymore. I mean, I guess if you pretend CoD, LoL, CoC, Battlefield, GTA, FIFA, etc don’t exist, and that Farmville is still a thing, then sure, you might have a point. It’s like when fools state that PvP-based games drive more people away than they attract. Again, if you want to create a fantasy-land and run with it, go nuts, but until the top-seller list ISN’T filled with the exact type of game you claim isn’t popular, I’ll just keep laughing at your stupidity.

Which isn’t to say that the gaming market overall hasn’t expanded, because it has, and that’s a good thing for everyone, but to suggest that people are honestly concerned that the next CoD won’t be made because Barbie Princess Time (get it?) is getting made instead? Please.

PS: Nice of the guy in the video to wait until 3 minutes to throw out the race card. Was really expecting it much sooner. Also would it have killed him to prepare for maybe a minute here? Was he trying to maintain the whole ‘gamers can’t handle public situations because lulz basement’ thing, because if so A+ work. Guy should kill himself after that performance.


AA: Today in Trion being Trion

October 7, 2014

If you have been keeping up with all of the issues AA is facing thanks to Trion (queues, bots and hackers going unpunished, spammers destroying public channels for hours at a time), my guess is you have also picked up on this theme: Trion laying blame for the issues with XLGames, or at least deferring to them to take some heat off.

Now granted, Trion isn’t the developer of AA (thank god, or this would be a Trove-level game), so they don’t have control over things like skill power, general bugs, or when new content is coming. That’s all fine and understood. But Trion DOES have control over server numbers, how queues are handled, and what actions they allow their GM’s to take. XLGames can develop better tools to track and catch hackers, but if Trion has an insufficient or incompetent GM staff, that’s on them.

For example, in a reply to hackers picking up housing spots as buildings decay:

We’ve been closely following the accusations of unfair land claiming methods. The team is actively investigating accounts that appear to some players as outliers in terms of number of properties owned. This data point alone isn’t sufficient evidence of foul play as some players are focusing all of their gameplay on real estate and flipping properties.

We agree that one player claiming multiple properties that many other players are simultaneously trying to claim is suspect, which is why we’re taking a close look to determine the cause, prevent it, and remove the players using it. Additionally, we’re proposing new methods for land claiming to XLGAMES that will remove the benefit of fastest ping or most clicks per second.

So Trion is aware that certain players own silly amounts of housing, yet currently haven’t done something about it like, oh I don’t know, have a GM look into how that player got all that property? Maybe flag that account to see what they do? Look into who owns that account? See what happens to the houses they claim (wonder what’s happening if they are being traded for next to nothing in-game…)? We don’t need weeks worth of investigating here, not when housing spots are being picked up daily.

It’s 2014. This isn’t 1997 where all of these basic MMO issues are something new. Hell, this isn’t even Trion’s first big MMO, not to mention the fact that Trion was founded by ‘MMO vets’. If AA’s design is an example of learning from MMO history to make a better game, Trion’s handling of AA as the EU/US publisher is currently a textbook example of how to royally screw a successful launch in every possible way.AA is a fun game DESPITE Trion. All they had to do was be decent. That’s it. The bar is so freaking low here, and yet Trion continues to knock it down day after day.

I mean, how is gold-seller spam in your global public chat channels something that caught you by surprise and the added tweak (need to be level 15 to type) not something you had in on day one of a massively popular, free-to-make-accounts MMO? Did you really thing “gee, surely no one will attempt to spam our global chat channels with throwaway characters, better just focus on copy/pasting text into Google translate”?

Are Trion and SOE in some sort of hidden bet for who can be the king of incompetence, with MMO players as the unaware test subjects? That has to be it. Entire companies with prior MMO experience can’t be unintentionally this terrible… right?


AA: Trion is really doing a great job, example 1 billion

October 6, 2014

Take your time Trion, no rush. It’s not like the economy in a sandbox is important or anything.


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