Dead State: Get your scripted story out of my sandbox!

November 2, 2015

As readers here know, I’m a big fan of sandbox gameplay, MMO or otherwise. The core thing that attracts me to the sandbox experience is the sense of unpredictability, of seeing a bunch of tools laid out for you by the developers and seeing what happens when you interact with them.

Dead State is an interesting, if ultimately frustrating quasi-sandbox game. I don’t want to get into the details of the game or do a full review, as I honestly think it can easily be summed up as “turn based State of Decay”. Now on paper, TBS State of Decay is right up my alley, and honestly the game does play like that for the most part.

The main issue I have with the game is that it’s not a sandbox experience, but rather a directed experience posing as a sandbox, which is initially very odd and gets more and more frustrating as you go. Quick example; the game has an infection mechanic, where if someone is infected they will turn undead after a few days. This can be delayed by using antibiotics daily. That’s actually a fun mechanic, because it adds the burden of finding or making antibiotics, and getting infected isn’t a total dealbreaker as any one character dying isn’t game-over.

Dead State however has an event that gives you an infected character which then drives an infection-based storyline. That’s fine, other than being a little heavy-handed in terms of driven content. The issue is that, at least in my game, I had another character already infected from some random encounter and was already treating them with antibiotics, yet because the event is scripted, everyone was acting like this is something totally new and unexpected. Hell, my previously infected character even had scripted dialog talking about how horrible being infected would be. Not only is that just a laughable immersion breaker, but it reminds you that while bits of the game are sandboxy, you aren’t really playing in a true sandbox.

The really frustrating thing about Dead State is that it SHOULD be a 100% sandbox game, or at least have that mode. It really feels like the story-driven part is tacked on, often ungracefully, to what is otherwise a fairly open and player-driven setup.

It’s also very clear that the ambition of the game heavily outmatched the budget here. The low graphics I can deal with (in fact I think the environments are fantastic, but the character models are pretty meh), but the disconnects and inconsistencies of the game just scream “ran out of money/time”. There is a reason Skyrim cost a fortune to make; to get a sandbox setup that still has heavy scripted stories, you NEED a giant budget to make it work, and clearly Dead State didn’t have that going for it. But again, it would have been a MUCH better game if it never tried to go heavy on a pre-written story, and instead just dropped you onto the map, said good luck, and let you play things out.

Maybe that will be patched in at a later date, but I doubt it, which is very unfortunate, as Dead State has a lot of good stuff going for it. Still somewhat recommended, especially heavily discounted, but know you are getting something that while fun, is a bit flawed and taunts you with unlocked potential.

PS: The zombie-based combat is also pretty stupid since 99% of the time you will fight them one at a time, which feels terribly lame and gets boring fast. The encounters with other humans, who make noise with guns, are far superior, and again taunt you with what could have been, especially since zombies already have noise-based AI, but its so terribly imbalanced that melee never triggers another zombie, even one standing a few squares from your current fight.

‘Dumb it Down’ is dead

October 29, 2015

This post is sparked by Loire’s post about the Overwatch beta, specifically this line:

The “simplified genre” idea is successful because it opens up games to a much wider audience, including the still-massive World of Warcraft audience.

Certainly back in the day, gaming was this obscure, hard-to-get-into niche that nerds in basements wasted hours with. It made sense to take that and make it easier to get into, just like it made sense to take the relatively hard-to-access EQ and release the more accessible WoW.

I think we might already be past a tipping point here however. Look at the most successful mobile games to date; Clash of Clans isn’t a simple game (in fact its far deeper/harder than most games once you get into clan wars), nor is Boom Beach. If Blizzard or anyone else released a ‘simpler’ CoC, I think they would lose more people due to the lack of depth than they would gain by being more accessible.

In fact, I think we already have the perfect example of this in action; League of Legends is the most popular game out right now and has been for years, and Blizzard released the more casual HotS, yet HotS is an afterthought in the MOBA market, and many players see it as an overly simplified gimmick-fest. Technically HotS has the Blizzard polish, uses all of the Blizzard IPs, and had the marketing push of a AAA game. In short, it has failed to gain traction not because it’s a cheaply made game or has crippling bugs/flaws, but IMO it has failed because the average gamer views LoL as accessible-enough, and anything lower is overly simplified. Blizzard lost more gamers than it gained by ‘dumbing down’ LoL.

I think this trend is only going to continue as gaming becomes more and more mainstream, and the ‘average gamer’ goes from someone who is relatively clueless to someone with years of gaming under their belt and who is looking for something with real meat to play. There will always be room for the bottom feeder ‘click and watch’ games like Farmville, but that group of uneducated gamers will continue to shrink into a smaller and smaller minority, while the expectations of the ‘average gamer’ will continue to rise and mature.

‘Dumb it down and polish’ was a successful business model in the past, but times have changed, thankfully for the better.

Feed the troll some poison already

October 1, 2015

I’m not a Star Citizen backer, personally don’t believe the game is going to ‘live up to the hype’ (mostly because at its current hype level, that would basically be impossible), and have in the past taken small shots at either the game itself or the ‘true believers’ heavily backing it. Taking shots is what happens here on occasion.

That said I’ve always believed you only shoot stuff that’s fair game. I’ll make fun of Smed doing Smed things because Smed is a public figure who puts himself out there. I’ll take shots at WoW or LotRO or Trion. I’ll take plenty of shots at other bloggers. The line I have never crossed is pulling something that wasn’t originally in play just to further my cause. I won’t dig up a bloggers real identity just because they made fun of Darkfall, or post the home address of Forumfall idiots who found this blog that one oh-so-special time. What we do here under our blogger names is its own weird little world, and it should stay that way.

Derek Smart is a public figure, and his obsession with SC has long crossed the line of ‘random gaming nerd raging about a game’ and into “you should be in jail or worse” territory. Trying to bring down SC because he himself is a failure of a developer is low, but almost understandable. It must drive him crazy that no matter how hard he tries, he can’t produce anything of value, and here is this huge company with a massive following doing things he can’t even dream of.

Bringing Robert’s daughter into this whole mess is so insane it honestly shouldn’t be legal. Ignoring a troll is IMO only an option until the troll goes so far that you are forced to respond, as Roberts was forced when The Escapist published Smart’s words under the disguise of ‘sources’. Lost respect for The Escapist aside, pulling a stunt like that has to have serious consequences, or the next bitter little Smart-wannabe is going to do it, or take it up a notch further when he/she doesn’t get the attention they so desperately need but can’t get on their own merits.

Blood Bowl 2 is a UI-driven nightmare right now

September 15, 2015

The Blood Bowl 2 beta has started, which is good, because dear god does BB2 need more time to bake.

Rant incoming.

Making BB2 should be the easiest game in the world to make. You go into it with all of the rules, balance, lore, art style, characters, etc done for you. Not started, but 100% done. All you are responsible for is creating an engine that can emulate the rules, creating the characters and stadiums, and making sure the expected features (online leagues, single-player mode, replays) work. Again, the normal heavy lifting of making a game is 100% done before you even start, so its mind-blowing that BB2 is in such a rough state right now.

The good: Graphics are much improved over BB1, and everything so far does look as you would expect. It also runs well, at least on a high-end machine. Sound is also solid, though the commentary could use more variety. Multiplayer works, doesn’t lag, and so far I haven’t run into any errors or crashes.

The bad: The UI related to everything but actually playing a match is subpar. It takes too many clicks to get into basic stuff like editing your team or viewing a league. I think this is due to the game also being released on consoles, but yea, it’s not good. Also disappointing is that you can currently only play four teams. I don’t know if this is just to limit the beta a bit or if the other teams aren’t ready, but either way pretty lame considering official release is right around the corner.

The ugly: The UI during the match is torture. At first I thought this was simply a learning curve thing to adjust, but I’ve now played 6+ matches and I still fight the UI more than I do the other team. It’s actually hard to describe the way you move units and commit actions because it’s so terribly insane, but here goes; you first left-click a unit to select it. Assuming nothing else was already selected, this will bring up that units movement range and tackle zones. You then right-click to a different square to show the expected action. Right-click again on the new spot to commit the action.

If you right-click on a different spot, the game will update the expected action. So if you clicked to move two squares up, and then right-clicked a square to the left, the expected action will be two up, one to the left. The major issue is clearing the actions to start fresh with a unit (something you normally do a whole lot every turn), because left-click does it sometimes, but not always. Also right-clicking the unit itself works sometimes, but not if you have a blitz or other possible action. I’ve easily spent half a turn time limit trying to just move one unit because the movement mapping and remapping is so terrible.

Dice are seen rolling on the screen, which is nice, but their location isn’t constant, so sometimes the dice will be dangerously near the ‘end turn’ area that is, horribly, located near the bottom-right of the screen. It’s very common right now for someone during a match to hit end turn by accident, either when clicking dice or trying to select a unit.

I could go on, but I’m actually growing frustrated just thinking about it. What really sucks about all of this is that Blood Bowl is a ton of fun to play online, as the game itself is awesome. How a group getting paid to make a video game takes such a good baseline and makes it so, so much worse is really beyond me. I’m hoping the beta leads to some major UI work, but I doubt it.

As fun as BB is, right now in its current state I just can’t recommend BB2.

Trion being Trion: Trove edition

August 20, 2015

Trion’s statement: One million monthly users.

Scott’s clarification: It’s anyone who has ever created a free account since launch.

Trion launched July 9th.

So Trion it hurts.

HS: New Blizzard’s method of balancing the game is to not balance it at all

August 10, 2015

When Blizzard’s MOBA game was first announced, one of the items I wanted to keep an eye on was how well Blizzard would do at balancing the game, because Blizzard is always slow to make changes, and most recently hasn’t been very good at much of anything when they finally DO release something.

Unfortunately HotS is such an abortion I can’t even be bothered to keep up with it on any level, but ‘luckily’ I do keep up with Hearthstone, and can see how well New Blizzard does in balancing that PvP game. Spoiler alert: Not well, not well at all.

First the ‘how often do they balance anything?” question can be answered by this link, showing not only that balance patches don’t come often, but that when they do, they aren’t much of anything anyway.

But beyond the somewhat expected “Blizzard doesn’t do anything quickly” issue, we have this quote from Blizzard I pulled from Az over at In An Age:

“I think we’re going to keep making some crazy cards in every set that are dangerous and hopefully going to work out.”

Another spoiler: It hasn’t worked out. Patron Warrior is an absurdly strong, very easy-to-play deck. It’s also a cheap deck to make (been playing a version myself since the release of the card, before finding out its also a pro-level deck), so perhaps I’ll find the motivation to faceroll myself up the ranks with the refined internet version just to prove that point. Likely spoiler: Won’t happen because my patience with rolling my face across the keyboard is pretty low, especially for no gain other than “SynCaine’s right again”, and that happens so often anyway even I’m growing tired of it.

The biggest problem however isn’t even the strength of that deck (a huge problem), but the fact that in a serious environment where someone cares if they win or lose (which, given how hard Blizzard is trying to push HS as an eSport title, would suggest HS should be considered such a game), having something so strong means other options aren’t viable, which leads to not just a boring pro scene, but a boring game overall.

Imagine if Riot was Blizzard, and left LoL’s champions as brokenly powerful as Patron Warrior in the game; in every pro game you would see that option banned or picked, and if Riot was Blizzard, the pool of viable champions would be a fraction of what it really is today.

The quote above shows a gross misunderstanding of how game balance works in a PvP environment. Players always flock to whats powerful, and they do it so strongly that anyone NOT doing so is simply fodder. Proper balance means not just fixing a broken aspect of your game (Patron Warrior IMO isn’t strong, it’s broken), but also allowing more options for players, and more options means more diversity and a more interesting pro scene. I recently watch (don’t ask why) a few minutes of a HS ‘pro’ broadcast, and deck diversity was a joke. In fact, it was almost as big a joke as the games themselves (insert dice rant here).

As a random, ‘who cares’ game, you can have broken stuff like Patron Warrior exist, because people won’t care enough to win meaningless games and will more focus on finding the fun. But when you push a game as being serious, that changes, and you have to change how you run the game as well. So far, Blizzard is failing horribly in that aspect with HS.

Finally MMO genre is free of Smed, at least for now

July 27, 2015

Back from vacation, and this reentry Monday is ROUGH. After every vacation I question whether actually going on vacation is ‘worth it’, because coming back to 500+ emails to dig through isn’t a lot of fun, especially then all 500+ can be summed up as “we held off doing anything until you got back, but now every deliverable is overdue, enjoy!”

While I was away we had a little bit of SOE being SOE, or more specifically, Smed being Smed. Only here it’s Smed (likely temporarily) going away, in about the timeframe that someone predicted. Being constantly right is the cross I bear, and yes, its heavy.

Now before I get into the meat of the post today, let me get this here first. I don’t have a personal issue with Smed. I’ve only talked to him once or twice in person, and interacted with him a few more times on the web, all of which was cordial. I also don’t support or feel good about the harassment stuff he has dealt with; there is a certain price for fame, but having your plane delayed and some of the other stuff is way over the top. Now, with that out of the way…

Smed ‘moving on’ is a good thing for the MMO genre, and as an MMO dev, I think Smed is about as overrated as you can get. I also hate seeing this ‘Smed was a gamer dev’ notion, because while true (Smed does play games), it didn’t help other MMO gamers one bit.

Smed was and will forever be tied to SOE, so how much of this is Smed’s fault vs just general SOE is up for debate, but when you are the figurehead, you eat the blame.

SOE sucks. Did when they were officially SOE, still do as Daybreak. If you take away EQ1 (and if EQ1 never happens, maybe we don’t spend a decade mired in clone-world themeparks, eh?), SOE has nothing. Planetside, perhaps the only other somewhat successful product they made, was meh at best, and PS2 is a joke. EQ2 was a disaster. Their entire “F2P, ALL THE WAY” push was a disaster that didn’t work out, but sure helped mire the genre once again. They have shut down numerous terrible games, if it wasn’t for EQ1 being such a major cash cow, they perhaps don’t survive past the EQ2 launch.

If Smed is such a gamer, why allow so much of the above to happen? After SOE ruined SWG, why dump a truckload of salt by calling H1Z1 ‘home’ for SWG players prior to it’s release? Hell, why as an MMO gamer are you releasing a DayZ clone years after the DayZ fad has passed, and then releasing something as putrid as H1Z1, and having the gall to call it an MMO? And if the response is “it wasn’t Smed’s call”, then what kind of CEO are you, and what exactly were you doing besides collecting a paycheck, posting on reddit, and tweeting?

What are you doing with Landmark? Again, why are you jumping on the Minecraft bandwagon so late, and bringing nothing to the table? When Trion’s Minecraft clone is ‘better’ (Trove), you know you have hit absolute rock bottom (get it?). And what kind of ‘gamer’ dupes your core audience into forking over $150 for access to Landmark when you know its not going to amount to anything? Just how long as Smed been cashing out at the expense of core SOE/EQ fans?

I could go on, but really just look at the Daybreak wiki page and the list of games and the story writes itself. SOE dying was a good thing. Smed leaving is also a good thing. The MMO genre is better off with both gone, just like it would have been much better off without them originally.


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